Climate Politics: The View from Washington

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Original appeared at Civil Notion

Climate Politics: The View from Washington

Joel Stronberg, Esq.
By Joel Stronberg, Esq. and 10/10/23

Dominating politics this week is the war in the Middle East between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas, in which thousands have died and many more have been wounded. Israel’s far-right Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised a scorched earth retaliation against Hamas and other terrorist groups like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It appears that both Israel and Hamas are prepared for a long war.

As with all wars, it’s the innocent—on both sides—who will suffer the most. The Gaza Strip “is home to at least 2.3 million people, considered one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Israeli officials declared a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off water, food and power supplies.”

Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

The war is roiling the energy sector. The price of petroleum is rising towards $100/barrel. Analysts say the crisis “could have disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy.” The price rise will contribute to inflation and could lead to an economic slump in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Republicans in Washington are using the crisis to attack President Biden for his decision to release $6 billion in oil revenues to Iran for humanitarian purposes and the return of five Iranian prisoners facing charges in the U.S. The source of the $6 billion are funds that South Korea owed Iran for oil it purchased “before the Trump administration imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.”

Spokesmen for the administration have stated that none of the funds have been spent. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has said that “the funds that were moved to Qatar would have ‘more legal restrictions’ than in South Korea and that the U.S. would have oversight about where the money is being spent.” 

Ousted Speaker McCarthy set the tone of Republican attacks on President Biden that should be expected to continue over the coming days and weeks. The former speaker said: “Rather than focus on his Green New Deal, he [Biden] should be focused on protecting Americans.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have urged Biden to do more to prevent the sale of Iranian oil, especially to China. A bipartisan group of senators has introduced the Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum (SHIP) Act. The bill, whose sponsors include Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), would sanction anyone assisting Iran to export its oil. A companion bill sponsored by Representatives Mike Lawler (R-NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) has been introduced in the House.

The ousting of McCarthy as speaker is hampering efforts by Congress to respond to the crisis in the Middle East. No business can be conducted until a new speaker is elected, although committees can still meet. The two candidates who appear to be leading contenders for the job are the current majority leader, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), and Jim Jordan (R-H), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Jordan founded the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus (HFC) and was part of the group that booted McCarthy from the speaker’s chair. He’s been endorsed by the leader of the pack of eight, Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Scalise is among the most conservative members of the Republican House conference.

At this point, whether Jordan or Scalise can secure the needed 217 votes to gain the speakership is unclear. It’s not anticipated that a new speaker will be chosen before the end of this week. Much will depend upon what the 210 Republican representatives who voted to keep McCarthy as speaker will do. Although unable to elect a speaker, they can certainly stand in the way of anointing a member of the HFC.

It’s critical to remember that Congress is facing a deadline of November 17th to pass F.Y. 2024 appropriations or face the shutdown of the federal government. The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution. McCarthy’s support for the resolution led to his ouster. A harder-line conservative speaker, e.g., Jordan or Scalise, is unlikely to care whether the government stays open.

The objective of those on the far right is all about chaos rather than compromise. It’s a goal shared by the former president. As if things couldn’t get weirder than they already are, Trump has been talked about as a candidate for the speakership. There’s no requirement that the leader of the House must be a member of it. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) supports the idea and has been quoted as saying: “If Trump becomes Speaker of the House, the House chamber will be like a Trump rally every day!!”

Fortunately, it will never be. Not only has Trump indicated that he has a campaign to win, but the rules of the House are that no indicted individual can be speaker. McCarthy has recently indicated that he would be willing to re-take the speakership if other candidates cannot garner the needed votes. It’s a reversal of the position he took following his ouster. Should that occur, it’s reasonable to assume that he would continue to be under the thumb of the gang of eight that engineered his exit.

The failure of House Republicans to elect a new speaker could lead to a bipartisan solution to the problem. A deal between the Democrats and moderate Republicans could be struck in several ways. A moderate candidate like Tom Emmer (R-MN) could be nominated and elected. Although a much less likely possibility, the Minority Leader of the House, Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY), could also be elected with the help of a half dozen or so Republicans. Stranger things have happened.

On with today’s ten.

Gas lighting? Florida Power & Light will begin operations at its Cavendish NextGen Hydrogen Hub, one of the country’s first green hydrogen facilities. The 25-megawatt project will use solar power to split water into oxygen and hydrogen atoms, and then blend that hydrogen into fossil gas used to power a turbine generating electricity.

It’s one of the first attempts by a U.S. utility to curb emissions using green hydrogen, a fuel that is in short supply today but which experts expect will play an important role in decarbonizing heavy industries.

But according to energy experts, converting clean energy into hydrogen just to use that hydrogen to generate more electricity later is, in most cases, a bad idea. The main concern is that the process will end up wasting enormous amounts of clean power — and green hydrogen far more valuable for use in other ways — in pursuit of a zero-carbon chimera. (Canary Media)

Some hourly rate. The damage caused by the climate crisis through extreme weather has cost $16m (£13m) an hour for the past 20 years, according to a new estimate.

Storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts have taken many lives and destroyed swathes of property in recent decades, with global heating making the events more frequent and intense. The study is the first to calculate a global figure for the increased costs directly attributable to human-caused global heating.

It found average costs of $140bn (£115bn) a year from 2000 to 2019, although the figure varies significantly from year to year. The latest data shows $280bn in costs in 2022. The researchers said lack of data, particularly in low-income countries, meant the figures were likely to be seriously underestimated. Additional climate costs, such as from crop yield declines and sea level rise, were also not included.

The researchers produced the estimates by combining data on how much global heating worsened extreme weather events with economic data on losses. The study also found that the number of people affected by extreme weather because of the climate crisis was 1.2 billion over two decades. (The Guardian)

Union made. General Motors has agreed to place battery manufacturing for electric vehicles under its main agreement with the United Auto Workers union, UAW President Shawn Fain announced.

The UAW was initially prepared to call on members to walk out at one of GM’s “biggest and most important plants” in Arlington, Texas, Fain said. However, after the “transformative win,” he opted not to call for additional strikes.

“What this will mean for our membership cannot be understated,” Fain said. “The plan was to draw down engine and transmission plants and permanently replace them with low-wage battery jobs.” (The Hill)

No longer a Democrat. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and will instead run as an independent. The environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist is poised to visit Texas, Florida and Georgia later this month as his campaign says it is confident it will gain ballot access in every state, adding a complication to what is looking like a close general election contest between Biden and Trump. (CNN)

Cool. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced two new measures aimed at reducing climate-warming chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners that can help the U.S. meet its goals to halve its greenhouse gas emissions this decade. (Reuters)

Greening the EU. The European Council on Monday adopted a new renewables energy directive that would raise the share of green energy used by the EU to 42.5% by 2030 – up from a previous goal of 32%. A “top-up” of another 2.5% that will aim for 45% is offered through the directive, which will be reached through voluntary contributions of member states.

After months of wrangling, the group was able to adopt amendments to the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive that establishes targets within the transportation, industrial, heating and cooling, and bioenergy sectors, and will establish a faster permitting process.

“This is a great achievement in the framework of the ´Fit for 55´package which will help to achieve the EU’s climate goal of reducing EU emissions by at least 55% by 2030,” Teresa Ribera, the Spanish acting Minister for the Ecological Transition, said in a statement. “It is a step forward which will contribute to reaching the EU’s climate targets in a fair, cost-effective and competitive way.”

Some of these targets include an “indicative target” of at least 49% renewable share in buildings in 2030, a requirement that 42% of hydrogen used in the industry be clean by 2030 and 60% by 2035, and a target of 5.5% advanced biofuels and renewable energies be supplied to the transportation sector. (Washington Examiner)

Nuke x 2.The International Atomic Energy Agency said today global nuclear power output needs to double in the next 30 years in order to mitigate “catastrophic” warming levels, stressing the need for more investments from the public sector.

“The main challenge is financing,” IEA chief Fatih Birol said at the IAEA’s quadrennial conference in Vienna.

Since private investors are not factoring in things like the long lifetime of nuclear reactors. governments “need to be in the driving seat,” leaders said.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi also stressed this point, noting that nuclear reactors can run for more than a half century. “We need to think long term,” he said. “Governments and investors need comprehensive science-based data. But they are working with a data hole.”

The conference comes as the IAEA estimates that nuclear capacity is on track to increase between 458 GW and 890 GW by 2050—up from 371 GW in 2022.

Total nuclear energy output has fallen globally over the last 20 years to make up just 9% of all energy supplies, according to agency data. (Washington Examiner)

Where we agree.  “Gallup released new polling last week showing that 63% of U.S. adults currently agree with the statement that the Republican and Democratic parties do “such a poor job” of representing the American people that “a third major party is needed.” It was among the highest figures since Gallup first asked the question in 2003.”

“But an outsider candidate does not need to qualify for the ballot in every state to have a profound political impact. Just ask Brendan McPhillips, the state director for Biden’s Pennsylvania efforts in the last election.

Like many Democrats, he still blames Stein for helping Trump win the battleground state in 2016. While it’s impossible to say for sure, Trump carried Pennsylvania that year by just 44,000 votes, while Stein, an outspoken progressive, won nearly 50,000 votes in the state.”

“In an interview, former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the No Labels founding chairman, said the organization will begin a candidate recruitment and selection process in the next two to three weeks. The group would decide to move forward with a centrist candidate, he said, only if Biden and Trump appear likely to win their party’s presidential nominations after the batch of primary contests known as Super Tuesday next March. (Associated Press)

Biden’s to blame. Soon after Iran-backed militants launched land and air attacks against Israel, Republicans began their own assault on the Biden administration’s energy and climate policies.

At first, the criticism focused on $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues the administration freed up for humanitarian purposes. Lawmakers have also accused President Joe Biden of not doing enough to enforce Iran oil export sanctions.

Then, on Monday, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) launched a barrage of attacks on the president’s environment and climate agenda.

McCarthy called the administration’s decision not to impose tougher sanctions in 2021 against the now-defunct Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany — at the request of the German government — “a Neville Chamberlain moment.”

The former speaker, addressing reporters at the Capitol, also went after Biden’s decision last year to release 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce gasoline prices and for calling climate change an existential threat.

“That is when evil feels they can move. That’s exactly what they did,” McCarthy said of Palestinian militants. He accused Biden of leaving the U.S. and its allies vulnerable.

McCarthy — echoing well-worn GOP comments that will likely reemerge this week — said of the president, “Rather than focus on his Green New Deal, he should be focused on protecting Americans.” (E&E News)

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