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The Energy 202: Why climate activists stormed Nancy Pelosi's office again

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with Paulina Firozi


This week, protesters again stormed the offices of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, demanding Democrats in Congress take a stronger stance in halting Earth's changing climate. 

First they staged a sit-in in her Capitol Hill office Monday. Then they occupied the California Democrat's San Francisco office Tuesday.

If those protests give you a case of deja vu, you're not wrong. Members of the year-old Sunrise Movement indeed staged a similar protest in the speaker-in-waiting's Washington office a week after Election Day, when Democrats learned they would regain control of the lower chamber for the first time in a decade. The demonstration grabbed Washington's attention with an appearance from the youngest incoming member of Congress, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

The return engagement suggests that climate issues will continue to be a source of tension for the incoming Democratic majority, with leaders like Pelosi working to appease the demands of those who want what's being called a “Green New Deal” and newer Democrats pushing for dramatic changes to environmental policy.

Climate activists reappeared on the Capitol Hill to pressure Democratic House members to make addressing climate change a top agenda item. The environmental organization said over 1,000 volunteers protested in the offices of not just Pelosi but also those of Steny Hoyer (Md.), the No. 2 House Democrat, and Jim McGovern (Mass.), who is likely to be the next House Rules Committee chair.

The protest in Pelosi's office, clearly well-organized, was fraught with emotion as speakers as young as 7-years-old explained how they expect climate change to impact them. Some said they are already feeling its effects.

Sally Morton, one of Pelosi's constituents from San Francisco, described seeing and breathing smoke from massive wildfires to the east that scientists say have been fueled by warmer temperatures.

“I woke up to smoke the thickest I've ever seen it in my life,” she said, lips quivering. “I felt it in my eyes. I felt it in my lungs.”

In total, Capitol Police arrested 143 demonstrators. The Sunrise Movement, which is helping to promote a “Green New Deal” along with some incoming Democratic lawmakers and other activist groups, brought in about five times as many protesters on Monday than it did in mid-November (though this time Ocasio-Cortez was not one of them). 

After that protest in November, Pelosi pledged to reestablish a select committee on climate change similar to the one she created in 2007. Before being disbanded by Republicans in 2011, that panel held hearings on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and helped shape the last major piece of climate legislation in Congress — a cap-and-trade measure that ultimately died in the Senate and became political fodder against some House Democrats in the 2010 election that swept many of them from office.

Pelosi made that promise with an eye toward securing support from fellow Democrats to be the next House speaker. But for these progressive activists, it was not enough.

Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement want a new committee specifically tasked to take up the "Green New Deal," a catch-all term for a suite of legislative proposals aimed at rapidly cutting climate-warming emissions from nearly all sectors of the economy.

"Over the past three weeks, we have heard excuse after excuse for why our Democratic leaders can't support this committee," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said at Pelosi's office. "We've heard, 'It's not the right committee.' 'It's not the right time.' 'We don't know enough about it.' That is not an excuse for jeopardizing my generation."

The day of protests also included notably less hostile meetings with the offices of about 50 House members to lobby them to support the "Green New Deal."

So far, at least 31 members of the next Congress support the establishment of a committee that would specifically take up those ideas.

And now after this week's demonstrations, the endorsers include, crucially, McGovern, who will hold significant sway over the creation of the select committee if he secures the Rules panel chairmanship.

"Three weeks ago, the Green New Deal was sort of a niche policy. It was not on anyone's radar," said Victoria Fernandez, another Sunrise Movement co-founder who is also the organization's director of data management.



— "Carbon removal is now a thing": Some experts at the international climate conference are zooming in on carbon capture as a solution to the ongoing issue of greenhouse gas emissions. “What has been largely a science experiment now seems to be a vital way to come up with a technological breakthrough that can reduce and maybe one day reverse some of the damage being done,” The Post’s Steven Mufson and Brady Dennis report from Katowice.

The issue of carbon capture was featured at a side meeting Tuesday, where Brad Page, chief executive of the Global CCS Institute, explained while the industry can now permanently remove about 40 megatons of carbon dioxide annually, that would need to increase 200 times to combat severe warming. At the event “experts fielded questions on how to finance projects, what role governments should play and how quickly the industry might be able to grow.”

— At least one country says it has kept its emissions-cutting promise: Brazil announced it had cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1.3 billion tons this year through anti-deforestation efforts and land management, the Associated Press reports. “The figures would mean Brazil has met its national commitments to cut greenhouse gases by up to 38 percent before 2020,” per the report. “Some rich countries, such as Germany, have indicated they will miss their emissions goals.” The country’s environment minister, Edson Duarte, said the feat proves “even developing countries facing economic and social challenges can still deliver on their pre-2020 commitments.”

— The U.N. climate chief opened the “Talanoa Dialogue” on Tuesday by calling on governments to "keep climate action at the top of your political agendas." "I want you to see the example of unity this dialogue has shown - That if we are going to win the race against time and the struggle against climate change, we must act with unprecedented levels of cooperation and once again embrace multilateralism," Patricia Espinosa said.

She later called on nations to reiterate the standards set by the 2015 Paris climate accord. "Many political divisions remain. Many issues still must be overcome. But I believe it’s within our grasp to finish the job,” she said.

— The head of the United Nation’s top science panel called on countries present at the climate summit to “do more and faster” to address the changing climate. “Doing more now reduces reliance on unproven and risky techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Doing less now would commit people today to the known risks of overshooting 1.5 C, with severe risks of irreversible loss of ecosystems and shocks to the basic needs of the most fragile human societies." 

— The Maldives environmental minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan called on foreign officials to get up off of their seats to “stand for a few moments and think about what will happen if we fail to take actions to save the planet now.”

— Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze suggested offering alternative energy job options for mining industry workers as they transition away from coal, per the AP. Schulze said th  government is also working on phasing out coal, which has been a flashpoint at the conference hosted in the heart of Poland’s coal county.

The annual report released Dec. 11 found that 95 percent of the Arctic’s oldest and thickest floating sea ice has been lost. (Video: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio, Photo: Nathan Kurtz/NASA/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio)

—  The Arctic Ocean is in worse shape than once thought: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Artic Report Card has found 95 percent of the Arctic’s oldest and thickest ice has vanished. The major shift may have implications for the pace of global warming, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. “The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers,” he writes. “The new findings about the decreasing age of ice in the Arctic point to a less noticed aspect of the dramatic changes occurring there. When it comes to the icy cap atop the Arctic Ocean, we tend to talk most often about its surface area… and the area is, indeed, in clear decline. But the loss of old and thick ice, and the simultaneous decline in the total ice volume, is even larger — and arguably a much bigger deal.”


— Manchin to be ranking member of Energy and Commerce: Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) has been tapped to be the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the new Congress, even as activists and some Democrats have questioned his environmental record. “The problems facing our country are serious, and I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common-sense solutions for long-term comprehensive energy policy that incorporates an all-of-the-above strategy and ensures our state and our nation are leaders in the energy future,” Manchin said in a statement.

Talk of Manchin in a leading role on the committee drew opposition from potential 2020 contenders and Democrats, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, The Post’s Felicia Sonmez reports. Inslee said Manchin -- who has embraced some of Trump’s environmental policies and famously shot the “cap-and-trade” climate bill in a 2010 campaign ad – is “simply wrong” on climate issues.

— Greens breathe sigh of relief with farm bill: House Republicans who aimed to use the farm bill as a vehicle for passing into law new farming and forestry policies opposed by many environmentalists came up short this week.

  • The Senate version of the bill, which overwhelmingly passed the chamber Tuesday, preserves the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to bolster conservation efforts on farms, The Post’s Jeff Stein reports. House Republicans had proposed merging that program into another Agriculture Department branch.
  • The $867 billion bill also includes forestry provisions that satisfied Democrats. “The Trump administration had pushed lawmakers to adopt the House plan for forestry management, which would have eased federal oversight of certain forest-thinning efforts, like salvage logging,” Politico reports. “But Senate Democratic leadership was opposed to that approach because of environmental concerns. The final deal would waive environmental reviews for some activities, like the removal of insect- or disease-ridden trees, but it doesn’t go nearly as far as the House had proposed.”

— Another day, another environmental regulation rolled back: The Trump administration issued its long-awaited proposal to redefine protection for waterways under the Clean Water Act. The plan would limit the federal government’s authority to regulate the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that run into the nation’s largest rivers, scaling the regulation back to “streams that hold water in a ‘typical year,’ as determined by precipitation over the past 30 years,” The Post’s Mufson reports.

The new proposed regulation would eliminate existing regulations for groundwater, storm water, waste water and land converted for crops, as well as ditches other than canals, used for commercial shipping or impacted by tides. The new rule would also regulate wetlands or waterways “only if they are clearly adjacent to navigable waterways above ground or through ‘direct subsurface connection.’” The move, a win for builders, farmers and frackers, is one the president said he would prioritize when taking office.

— "This is federal money": Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing Interior Department spending, spoke out against legislation that could clear the way for a Washington Redskins stadium on federal land.

In an interview, “McCollum raised two objections — to the potential long-term private use of federal land without a thorough public process and to the team’s name, which she called a ‘racial slur,’” The Post’s Mike DeBonis reports. McCollum also signaled Democrats would keep a watch out for public lands issues, as well as the plan for the Redskins stadium, in the new Congress. “This is federal money,” she said. “This is D.C. money that eventually will be involved. And this is a very wealthy individual [Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder] who isn’t in this except to win football games and make some money. . . We need to do our job. We need to do it right."

— Court fight over Atlantic oil tests: A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over permits granted to allow companies to conduct offshore drilling tests. The administration late last month authorized five requests for companies to conduct seismic surveys to find oil and gas formations below the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports.

But the litigants claim "the National Marine Fisheries Services, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration known as NOAA Fisheries, violated several federal laws that protect animals when it issued ‘incidental take’ permits to five companies that submitted applications to carry out the seismic surveys.” The lawsuit is the latest in a series of moves to vocalize opposition to the Trump administrations’ plans to expand oil and gas drilling.

— Leaked memo warns of oil plan impact on polar bears: The Trump administration wants to allow similar seismic testing for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But there, government scientists warned in an internal memo  the administration’s plan to eventually open up the refuge in Alaska to drilling could put the area's polar bear population at risk.

“The document, authored in September by the head of the state’s US Fish and Wildlife Service office, noted that the threat posed to the bears could make it legally challenging for the agency to authorize a series of seismic surveys of the area’s petroleum reserves—even if steps were taken to mitigate the project’s environmental impact,” Mother Jones reports.

The analysis in the memo, which the report indicates is “preliminary” contrasts “sharply with the administration’s public rhetoric suggesting that the project would be harmless and should therefore be quickly approved.” Interior’s Bureau of Land Management said over the summer that any seismic surveys in the area would have “little or no impact on the region’s environment and sensitive species."



  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing,

Coming Up

  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a holiday reception with the president of American Public Power Association on Thursday.

— From New York Times cartoonist Patrick Chappatte: