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— It’s Election Day, America. Voters have mailed in ballots and will head to the polls today to determine our next president after an unprecedented primary and general race that elevated issues such as climate change and environmental justice to the future of the oil industry to the top of the ticket.
— Democrats will use budget reconciliation to help pass their agenda if voters hand the party control of Congress and the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday.
— Amy Coney Barrett made her debut on the Supreme Court bench, where justices struggled to determine what type of rulemaking documents must be released to the public under FOIA.
IT’S ELECTION DAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Congrats to Dana Wood of Kelley Drye and Warren for correctly naming the 1973 oil embargo as the event that led Congress to enact a trial, year-round Daylight Saving Time in an effort to conserve fuel. For today: What state was the first to lower the voting age to 18 years old? Send your answers and tips to [email protected].
Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast.
A ‘CLIMATE ELECTION’? Voters across the U.S. are casting their ballots between two presidential candidates who have staked their candidacies on diametrically opposed visions for America’s energy future. Climate change and the environment have emerged as key distinctions between the candidates, having been vaulted to the general election debate stage for the first time as polling shows the issues are a top concern.
“The climate crisis went from side stage to center stage during the 2020 presidential election campaign, receiving unprecedented attention from voters, candidates, and the media,” Jamal Raad of Evergreen Action wrote in a memo sent out this morning. “2020 will be remembered as a climate election.”
Where they stand: President Donald Trump is running for a second term that will allow him to cement his regulatory rollbacks, as his administration prepares to defend many of its policies in court. Trump’s road map calls for continuing that deregulatory agenda, while building out the “world’s greatest” infrastructure and joining with other countries to clean up the oceans. Trump has tried to portray himself as an environmental champion, touting his signature on the Great American Outdoors Act, H.R. 1957 (116), as well as the offshore drilling moratorium off some Atlantic coast states. Members of his Cabinet have also pledged to address environmental justice and continue to pursue an “all-of-the-above” energy approach.
But the waning days of Trump’s presidential campaign has focused on one message: a Biden administration would be disastrous to the oil and gas industry. Though the industry has not exactly seen its best days under the Trump administration, Trump has positioned himself as the candidate loudly backing fracking, mining and natural gas, while he’s falsely tried to link Biden to a fracking ban. “Biden has vowed to abolish the American oil and natural gas industries and ban fracking,” Trump said in North Carolina on Monday. Biden’s “energy ban will send every state into crushing poverty from North Carolina to Michigan, to Pennsylvania,” he added. “As long as I’m president, we will remain the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas. And we will remain energy independent.”
Biden has said his potential administration would tackle the existential threat of climate change with a vision to shift the country away from fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Biden emerged from his primary race with beefed up plans for tackling climate change, increasing clean energy and promoting environmental justice. He has promised to re-enage on the global climate stage and positioned his $2 trillion plan as one that will create “millions of good-paying jobs,” transition the U.S. toward renewable energy and achieve net-zero emissions from electricity by 2035, while walking a tightrope by saying he would not seek a ban on fracking. Still, in the closing days on the trail, the Biden camp has leaned into its climate change messaging.
“I’m going to ask the big corporations, the wealthy, to step up. … We’re going to invest the money that we collect in working people, creating millions of good-paying union jobs,” Biden told a crowd in Pennsylvania on Monday. “Two trillion dollars to build a more resilient infrastructure, roads, bridges, water systems. A whole lot more. Done by certified labor. And by the way, no matter how many times Trump tries to lie about it, I will not ban fracking. I never said I would.”
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH: Americans will answer big questions today about the future of fossil fuels and how to address climate change. ME has been spotlighting some of those dynamics for the last few days, but here’s a quick rundown on what else to watch:
On Capitol Hill: Several of the House Democrats with the greatest odds of flipping GOP seats don’t hail from the center, but from the Medicare for All and Green New Deal-touting left flank, POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle report. Nearly a dozen Democrats in some of the nation’s most competitive districts, from Texas to Iowa to Nebraska, are running on unabashedly liberal platforms, betting that their brand of progressive populism, including aggressive climate action, can win even in GOP strongholds.
But elsewhere Democrats battling it out in other redder areas of the country have tried to distance themselves from progressive ideas. In New Mexico, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small has been running ads featuring her standing at an oil rig, and Rep. Kendra Horn (Okla.) — whose endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stirred up controversy — made a similar push in one of her ads.
In the Senate, Democrats’ path to the majority runs through several key environmental issues. Public lands and conservation has emerged as a through-line between tight races in Colorado and Montana, while PFAS contamination has been a prominent focus in Michigan, as has the the Renewable Fuel Standard in Iowa.
On the ballot: One of the more expensive ballot measures up this cycle has seen oil majors ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP, as well as Hilcorp Energy, pour millions into defeating an Alaskan measure that would raise the tax on oil and gas produced in certain areas of the North Slope. Proponents of the measure argue it’s crucial to fix a broken oil tax system that has led to a budget crisis in the state, but its passage could have wide implications. Opponents say it will kill any hope of restarting drilling in the state and could cause oil companies to shift capital elsewhere.
Measuring greens success: Green groups have spent record amounts of money on ads and mailers this cycle to turn out climate voters. But will it turn into electoral success? The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund has invested a landmark $115 million, while EDF Action, EDF Action Votes and EDF Action PAC spent nearly $19 million combined this cycle. The youth-led Sunrise Movement meanwhile plans to mobilize its members today across 1,000 polling places in their bid to deliver a Biden win.
At the local level: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has poured millions into three key local races. The Washington Post reports Bloomberg is hoping to build support for renewable energy and oversight of utilities and oil and gas companies by delivering wins for a candidate to the Texas Railroad Commission, three Democrats running for the Arizona Corporation Commission, and a state lawmaker hoping to become North Carolina’s next lieutenant governor.
Check out POLITICO’s election rig — informative, visually compelling and impressive in its ambition. Follow along with our live coverage and share with your social networks. You can track overall results and get real-time updates for the presidency, the Senate and the House. We’ve also used live data and our Election Forecast to allow users to predict how the electoral math could shake out. Follow our Live Chat Tuesday evening for live analysis and get the latest battleground state polls and updates from our California ballot tracker.
WHAT A BLUE SWEEP COULD BRING: Should Biden win and Democrats gain the majority in both chambers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday they will plan to deploy budget reconciliation procedures to enhance the Affordable Care Act and provide additional pandemic relief next year. “We’ll almost certainly be passing a reconciliation bill, not only for the Affordable Care Act, but for what we may want to do further on the pandemic and some other issues that relate to the well-being of the American people,” she said.
That’s notable, POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma reports, as Democrats are eyeing the special legislative vehicle as a way to pass potentially trillions of dollars in policy priorities while avoiding GOP roadblocks and evading the Senate filibuster’s 60-vote threshold. Democrats have discussed the possibility of using reconciliation to pass an enormous green infrastructure package under a prospective Biden administration, among other initiatives.
How it works: A simple majority in the Senate is needed to pass reconciliation legislation, though certain limitations apply. It can only be used to pass legislation that affects spending and revenues. But while Congress is limited in how often it can use the procedure, there’s a chance that Democrats could tap it twice next calendar year, Caitlin reports. That’s because Congress never adopted a fiscal 2021 budget resolution, and it still can pass one for fiscal 2022.
BARRETT’S SCOTUS DEBUT: The Supreme Court is weighing where to draw the line on what type of rulemaking documents must be released to the public in a case that could have wide implications for the federal open-records law, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports. In oral arguments Monday, the justices struggled with that question. Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh indicated they see a bright-line test under which any records created before a final agency decision would be exempt from public release, though Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor hinted agencies should release documents if they have a significant effect on an agency’s decision-making process.
At issue are 2013 documents from the Fish and Wildlife Service known as a “biological opinion” that criticized a draft EPA regulation governing cooling water intake infrastructure at power plants and other industrial facilities. But before that agency formally issued its finding, EPA learned of its overall conclusions, overhauled the regulation and subsequently got a positive review from FWS. Lower courts previously sided with the Sierra Club in its lawsuit to obtain those documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
GREENS SUE OVER POWER PLANT POLLUTION: A coalition of environmental groups sued EPA on Monday challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era rule that sought to protect drinking water supplies from toxic discharges from coal-fired power plants. The final rule weakened the 2015 standards, altering the technologies required for treating two waste streams and offering power plants more time to install the new systems. It also expanded a proposed exemption for power plants that are slated to retire soon to also cover plants that switch their fuel source.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C., calls on the court to review the rollback, which the nine green groups argue puts water quality at risk from toxic wastewater generated by coal power plants. “Many power plants could easily adopt affordable technologies that dramatically reduce toxic discharges, but with this rule, the EPA is telling their polluter friends not to bother with these common-sense measures,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.
ANALYSIS: FRACKING UP AHEAD OF ELECTION DAY: Drilling and fracking activity has been on the rebound, according to new analysis from Rystad Energy. North American fracking likely peaked in October at around 780 started jobs, while analysis from Rystad of Baker Hughes data shows that the U.S. horizontal oil rig count increased by 10 to 188 — up for the seventh straight week. Rystad said the recent rally came as oil prices stabilized in the third quarter, but it also pointed to operators that fast-tracked permitting processes on federal acreage in the Delaware-New Mexico and DJ basins this year.
— “Environmental groups ask federal court to once again stop construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” via West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
— “Oil rises nearly 3% as U.S. presidential election looms,” via Reuters.
— “Exxon’s climate fix is algae. Experts say it won’t work,” via E&E News.
— “Greta Thunberg hears your excuses. She is not impressed,” via The New York Times Magazine.
— “Coal sees diminished role in U.S. presidential race with odds slim for new plants,” via S&P Global Market Intelligence.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!