Climate Politics/Capitol Light (17)

Joel B. Stronberg
15 min readJul 19, 2019

Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion

This is the first time I’ve posted the 2x weekly newsletter, which offers commentary on a listing of curated news stories on climate politics. Readers can sign up for the newsletter by going to Civil Notion, and filling out the newsletter request. The newsletters are under the Climate Politics tab.

Volume 1 July 18, 2019 Issue 17

This Week’s Notion:

Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden released his “Plan for rural America.” He joins other Democratic candidates, e.g., Warren, Klobuchar, and Sanders in reaching out to a constituency that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.

Whatever else one might think the meaning of the 2020 national election to be, it represents a line in the sand for the fight against rising global temperatures. While the nation’s politicians fiddle, Earth continues to burn, and the rate of species extinction accelerates, with grave impacts on people around the world.

According to the Pew Research Center Trump won comfortable majorities of both rural white men and women, according to the exit poll. While Trump held a 10-percentage-point advantage over Clinton among white women nationally (53% to 43%), his victory margin nearly triples to 28 points among rural white women (62% to 34%). Trump led Clinton by 32 points among all white men nationally (63% to 31%), but he beat the Democrat by 48 points among white men living in rural areas (72% to 24%).

Although rural America is only 20 percent of the nation’s population, it presents an outsized opportunity for the 2020 Democratic contender for the presidency in terms of the Senate and the electoral college. Big or small, every state has the same number of Senators.

In terms of electoral votes, rural voters have proportionally more weight than large urban population centers. It’s the way the founders designed the system — until its changed presidential candidates can lose the election while garnering millions of votes more than their competition.

Democrats need to pay attention to rural America both to improve their chances to capture the presidency and the Senate while holding on to the House. The future of national climate policy is riding on Democratic shoulders.

Two and a half years into Trump’s first term, his administration has managed to roll back or is in the process of rolling back 83 climate-related regulations. (See Figure 1)

Rural America has a big part to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. It’s not just about the 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the agricultural sector. Rural America has much to offer in the way of solutions.

“Soil is the next frontier for storing carbon,” as Biden says in the plan. He wants to incentivize soil carbon sequestration and proposes allowing corporations, individuals, and other polluters to participate in carbon trading markets.

Biden’s rural America plan also focuses on sustainable agricultural practices, creation of new markets, and features a raft of policies aimed at bolstering rural health care access, including doubling the funding for community health centers and expanding the use of telehealth services and rural medical residency programs.

Combined with the policy proposals of Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar and other Democratic presidential candidates the Democratic Party can make inroads into rural America — not with slogans or slights — but with integrated policies that create new income streams through rents from solar and wind installations, biofuels, credit carbon sequestration and sustainable agricultural practices, and value family farms.

Rural communities are at as much risk as urban neighborhoods — a truly just transition to a low-carbon economy builds bridges between cities and farms. The worst mistake Democrats can make is to turn the 2020 elections a battle between urban and rural voters.

Note to readers: This Week’s Notion is now a regular feature of the Climate Politics newsletter. Each Thursday I will be commenting on one of the week’s news stories that captures my attention and bringing to your attention.

Bridging the gap. A coalition of environmental and social justice groups today rolled out their standards for addressing climate change.

The organizations, including the Center for American Progress and the Sierra Club, say the National Climate Platform is intended to guide policymakers in addressing climate change with what amounts to a series of idealized policy outcomes.

“Our vision is that all people and all communities have the right to breathe clean air, live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, access healthy food, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant clean economy,” the platform says.

It’s light on specifics but brings together a diverse set of groups, which advocates say will be important to craft climate policy that touches virtually every sector of the U.S. economy.

Other signatories on the document include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthjustice and the League of Conservation Voters.

Deal or No Deal? Congressional Democrats and the White House are racing for a budget deal by next week that would set the course for energy and environmental agency spending over the next two years.

Both sides want a deal that would raise spending for the next two years as well as increase the nation’s debt ceiling, something the administration says needs to happen before September.

“We would like to have something on the floor next Thursday so that we can send it in a timely fashion to the Senate so that they can go through their, shall we say, particularly senatorial process to get it done in time before they leave,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday afternoon.

Pelosi said negotiators would need a deal by tomorrow to allow the House to have the bill written and ready for the floor next week.

EPA and the Energy and Interior departments would likely receive modest increases as part of the overall boost for domestic programs.

Negotiators are aiming for a deal that would lift overall defense and non-defense budget caps for fiscal 2020 and 2021, which were set by a 2011 budget law designed to cut the deficit.

For next year alone, the discretionary spending cap is set at about $125 billion, or about 10%, below current spending, a reduction that both parties see as unrealistic and want to be reversed.

A compromise would likely lie somewhere between flat spending that the GOP wants for domestic programs next year compared to a 7% increase sought by Democrats.

For EPA, lawmakers would seem certain to maintain at least level funding of $8.8 billion overall or go a bit higher, but probably not as high as the $9.5 billion backed by the House.

The Energy Department could see more funds directed toward research aimed at clean energy, an area both parties say can help combat climate change.

Moreover, at Interior, additional money could go toward addressing maintenance backlogs at national parks, a bipartisan concern.

The emergence of a budget framework will lead to a scramble by Senate appropriations to write all 12 fiscal 2020 spending bills before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

“We’re ready to go. So, the challenge that we face is you’ve got 12 bills, and we’ve got to do so how we line it all up. Is it going to be a challenge? Absolutely. Impossible? Nothing is impossible,” said Murkowski.

Senate appropriators have yet to unveil any of their annual bills, while the full House has approved 10 of the 12 measures, including those funding Energy, Interior, and EPA. (E&E News, along with other sources)

· Despite the progress being made by Congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, it remains anyone’s guess when or if an agreement will be reached before the negotiations turn to a Continuing Resolution and the threat of another government shutdown — this time for the whole government.

· Congressional negotiators refused to work with Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, which is why Mnuchin is the one doing the negotiating.

· It’s still unknown what Trump will or won’t accept.

· Although the Democrats in the House have been busy attaching climate-related riders on authorizing and appropriating bills, it is unlikely many — if any — make it into a final budget deal.

Is it tax time already? The U.S. solar industry on Wednesday kicked off a lobbying push aimed at convincing Congress to extend the tax credit for solar energy systems set to begin be phased out next year.

In a letter sent to congressional lawmakers and signed by more than 900 solar companies, the Solar Energy Industries Association argued that the 30% tax credit for solar energy systems should be preserved because it has helped generate $140 billion in investment. The subsidy has also created more than 200,000 jobs even though solar energy accounts for only a little more than 2% of U.S. electricity generation, the letter said.

The letter to lawmakers highlighted the sector’s growth in the Midwest and Southeast, regions with many Republican-controlled states, and focused on its economic and job-creating benefits.

If allowed to sunset, the subsidy will drop to 26% next year and will continue to step down annually until 2022, when it will settle at a permanent 10% for utility and commercial projects and disappear for residential projects. (Reuters)

· Extension of the tax credit has been discussed in various House Committees both as a stand-alone and as part of an extenders package that includes other clean energy technologies.

· Although Democrats and some Republicans are on board with the extension, at least one influential Republican continues to oppose it — Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

· Word is that Grassley is making good on a promise he made in 2015 that if the tax were extended, then he wouldn’t back any further extensions.

· It’s at least possible that Grassley is keeping his word on the solar tax because he’s concerned about the fate of corn ethanol and is unsure of how many wishes he has with Trump.

· Trump is currently being pulled in opposite directions by the ethanol lobby and oil companies who are fighting to keep ethanol out of consumers’ gas tanks.

Disasters in more than one way. If the wind, rain, and heat weren’t already bad enough, new research shows that the extreme weather and fires of recent years, similar to the flooding that has struck Louisiana and the Midwest, maybe making Americans sick in ways researchers are only beginning to understand.

By knocking chemicals loose from soil, homes, industrial-waste sites or other sources, and spreading them into the air, water and ground, disasters like these — often intensified by climate change — appear to be exposing people to an array of physical ailments including respiratory disease and cancer. (New York Times)

A lease on trouble. Donald Trump’s leases of public lands and waters for oil and gas drilling could lead to the production of more climate-warming pollution than the entire European Union contributes in a year, according to a new report.

That projection, released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society, includes emissions resulting from extraction and end-use of the fossil fuels. The emissions range does not include methane, a short-lived potent greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas.

If methane were included, emissions from the development of oil and gas leases on federal lands could be as high as 5.2 billion metric tons.

The US government has offered close to 378m acres (153m hectares) of public lands and waters for oil and gas leasing since Trump became president through April 2019, according to the group. That’s more than any previous administration, according to the Wilderness Society. (The Guardian)

In the name of what? Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved a petition from the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute to create a new class of less efficient dishwashers.

The Energy Department published the action in the Federal Register. It is expected to be challenged in court by advocacy groups arguing the agency is not fulfilling the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which established an energy conservation program for consumer products.

“It’s outrageous to see the Trump Administration rewarding elitist right-wing think tanks by granting their energy efficiency rollback petitions,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ). “This announcement penalizes both the innovators giving us better, more efficient appliances and the consumers who use them.”

The agency has also weakened efficiency rules on specialty light bulbs, furnaces, and other appliances. (Washington Examiner)

He must just have forgotten. The number of unhealthy air days for ozone and fine particle pollution in 35 major U.S. cities increased from a combined 706 in 2016 to 799 by the end of 2018, the highest number since 2012 and higher than the 10-year average.

Concentrations of coarse particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) also increased over the last two years nationwide, according to the data — something EPA attributed mainly to severe wildfires that hit the west.

The American Lung Association found that approximately 43.3% of the U.S. population is concentrated in counties that have monitored unhealthy ozone and/or particle pollution.

Just last week, Trump said things have never been better — air-wise — since he took over. The Trump administration has rolled back or is attempting to roll back 83 environmental regulations — including ozone and fine particulate matter. (Reuters)

Drive-thru. The Trump administration appears to have abandoned its initial strategy for defending the rollback of Obama-era clean car rules from court challenges, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The administration was previously rushing to finalize the rollback in early summer. Experts have said that would have given Trump lawyers more of a chance to defend it in court during the president’s first term in office.

However, the administration seems to have forsaken that aggressive timeline and the rollback is now expected to be completed after Labor Day.

Once the rollback is finalized, litigation is certain. California and a host of environmental groups have promised to sue. The case is widely expected to reach the Supreme Court.

If the rollback had been completed in June, it could have reached the high court before November 2020, allowing Trump administration lawyers to defend the move — though some experts have contended even that timeline may be unrealistic.

Now the case likely won’t be litigated until after the elections, in which a Democrat could oust Trump. A new Democratic president would likely restore the Obama-era clean car standards, rendering the litigation moot. (E&E News)

· The auto industry is already not happy about the way the Trump administration is dealing with the clean car rules.

· The administration has failed to understand — or they’re just indifferent — to the impact of the uncertainty they’ve sown in the market.

· The auto industry had hoped for some flexibility in meeting the standards they agreed to with the Obama administration — not necessarily a lower standard certainly not the withdrawal of California’s waiver to set a more strident standard, although the industry had hoped for a single standard.

· The only groups happy about what’s happening now are Trump’s core supporters and the oil and gas industry.

Dirty words. The Agriculture Department quashed the release of a sweeping plan on how to respond to climate change that was finalized in the early days of the Trump administration, according to a USDA employee with knowledge of the decision.

Staff members across several USDA agencies drafted the multiyear plan that outlines how the department should help agriculture understand, adapt to, and minimize the effects of climate change. Top officials, however, decided not to release the plan and told staff members to keep it for internal use only.

A recent POLITICO investigation found that the department had largely stopped promoting its own scientific findings of the consequences of climate change. The USDA has also moved away from using phrases like climate change, climate, and greenhouse gas emissions in press releases and social media posts. (Politico)

Anyone having any information should contact us. The Department of Energy is looking for information to help energy companies steel themselves against the impacts of severe weather events.

The department released two requests for information last week aimed at bolstering the resilience of America’s energy infrastructure. One is seeking “cost-effective ways” for strengthening the electric grid in the face of extreme weather events like “windstorms, floods, and wildfires.” The other made a similar request of the oil and gas industry. It’s also asking for ways to improve cybersecurity.

Climate change is not mentioned in either request.

A DOE official said the department was responding to a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help identify best practices for hardening energy infrastructure against weather-related disasters. FEMA is preparing to issue funding to help disaster-ravaged communities rebuild and plan for future events. DOE’s goal is to make the information available to the public to help guide policymaking and investments, the official said.

The requests seek information on codes, specifications, and standards for electric and oil and gas infrastructure. They also ask for best corporate business practices and analytical tools for estimating the economic benefits of resilience measures. Moreover, while the requests do not mention climate change, they acknowledge an increase in the disasters that scientists say will become more frequent as the planet warms. (E&E News)

Let’s talk about it later. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday advanced 22 energy bills, ranging from nuclear power to energy efficiency and fossil fuel research, through largely bipartisan support.

The bill markup did not include proposals for energy storage-related bills, despite a range of bipartisan legislation focused on research and development. The storage industry has been advocating for a technology-specific tax credit to enable further competition in the market and has noted the introduction of bipartisan bills in both the Senate and the House.

Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), said another energy-related markup in September would consider more energy storage bills, without specifying plans for a potential tax credit. “What I’m trying to do is bring together some proposals, energy-related proposals, that I think could make good packages for floor time,” she told reporters. (Utility Dive)

What’s your plan, Stan? Financial credit rating institutions want answers from coastal cities about how they’re preparing for climate-change impacts like sea-level rise, and whether they can pay for their adaptation plans, the mayor of Honolulu said July 17. (Bloomberg Environment)

Well, this is a surprise. The number of environmental lawsuits in federal district courts has declined slightly in recent years, new research says.

Despite the barrage of legal action from green groups opposed to Trump administration policies, a total of 518 environmental cases were lodged in lower courts in 2018 and 578 in 2017 — a drop from most years during the Obama administration.

That’s according to a new report from the legal research firm Lex Machina, which is owned by LexisNexis. Last year’s cases included:

· 146 with claims under the Clean Water Act.

· 99 under the Superfund law.

· 113 under the National Environmental Policy Act.

· 69 under the Endangered Species Act.

· 45 under the Clean Air Act.

· 21 under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The report looks at cases filed under those key environmental laws and excludes certain suits affiliated with multidistrict litigation that bundle multiple filings based on one major event, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (E&E News)

Oh yah, make me. A few surveys last month revealed that not only do Americans welcome rooftop solar — they don’t mind if it’s mandated, as California plans to do on its new homes starting next year.

A Morning Consult poll revealed that about two-thirds of adults in the US support a mandate that rooftop solar panels be required on new homes in their state, under either “strongly support” or “somewhat support.” Those numbers go up a bit when it’s explained that higher mortgage payments would be more than offset by monthly energy savings.

Another survey, from CITE Research, reveals the same thing, though the numbers were even higher — about 70% total said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported mandated rooftop solar nationwide, as Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater told CITE Research.

Also interesting: CITE poll respondents said their significant others would have the most influence when it comes to deciding to install solar panels, followed by environmental experts. Politicians ranked last. (Electrek)

Hot enough for you? According to data released Monday by NASA, the global average temperature was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.93 Celsius) above the June norm (based on a 1951-to-1980 baseline), easily breaking the previous June record of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.82 Celsius), set in 2016, above the average. (Washington Post)

· I find it somewhat surprising that the Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t saying anything about this. Although blaming climate change for any single incident, e.g., a hurricane is hard to do, today’s heat and the 100-degree temperatures being forecasted for the coming weekend is part of a sustained pattern.

· A time when the day’s weather can be linked to climate change and Trump has nothing to say about it.

We’ll do it ourselves, thank you. A new climate committee formed by Senate Democrats is scheduled to hold its first hearing tomorrow, and as its initial topic, the panel will examine the ways that cities are dealing with global warming.

The committee — which has no legislative power — was formed earlier this year by Senate Democrats to protest the reluctance of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to create a select committee on climate change, which House Democrats did earlier in the term.

Invited to the Senate Democratic hearing are the mayors of five major U.S. cities: Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta; Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu; Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minn.; William Peduto of Pittsburgh; and Ted Wheeler of Portland, Ore. (E&E News)



Joel B. Stronberg

Stronberg is a thought leader in the climate community with over 40 years of experience covering environmental and sustainability issues as a freelancer.