THE LIGHTBULB

Some states aren’t waiting around for Congress to pass a Green New Deal to tackle climate change.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) plans to announce today that he's joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, his staff confirmed to The Energy 202.

Evers is the latest of four newly elected Democratic governors to join the group of states that have pledged to meet the goals outlined in the Paris climate accord, even though Trump vowed to withdraw the United States from the global pact meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced their participation in recent weeks.

These latest commitments expand the bipartisan coalition from a group of mostly coastal states to a group of 21 that is more representative of the broader country. 

“It feels new and like a sea change as we’re thinking about who is leading on climate change and identifying policies that really resonate across the country and not just with constituents in the more liberal states,” said Julie Cerqueira, executive director of the alliance. “What is significant is you are seeing a new region on the rise."

The coalition was formed in June 2017 by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and then-California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) as a response to the Trump administration’s vow to withdraw from the Paris deal.  While the Midwest and Southwest regions were already represented in the alliance by Minnesota and Colorado, there are now "more states in the neighborhood that are really showing leadership on climate change," Cerqueira said. 

The most recent additions to the alliance say their participation is critical. "It's a new day in Wisconsin and it's time to lead our state in a new direction where we embrace science, where we discuss the very real implications of climate change, where we work to find solutions, and where we invest in renewable energy,” Evers said in a statement. 

"If the federal government is not proceeding with greenhouse gas reduction policies, then we’re going to do it . . . There’s no reason for us to wait for a national program," said Sarah Cottrell Propst, cabinet secretary designate of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Having New Mexico, the nation’s third-largest oil producer, join the alliance can send a message to other states and to the federal government to act, Propst said. “It’s a bold statement for a state like New Mexico that does have a significant — and I want to emphasize, very important — oil and gas production sector,” she said. “That part of our economy is really important and we’re not trying to minimize that. We want to work with industry partners to minimize waste and minimize emissions.”

These states are joining the coalition as scientists increasingly point to how climate change will affect the interior of the country, not just the coasts. The National Climate Assessment released by the federal government last year details how increases in humidity have eroded soils and created favorable conditions for pests in Midwestern farms while water resources have declined in the Southwest because of droughts in part caused by climate change. 

Devashree Saha, director of energy and environmental policy at the Council of State Governments, said as state leaders across the aisle start to take climate change seriously, “it seems like the rationale for holding out is shrinking.”

“The outlook for U.S. emissions is going to be a lot worse if we don’t have states doing something,” she said. 

This growing momentum from states follows a midterm election that saw a groundswell of campaigning from Democratic candidates for governor on goals of renewable energy and a path away from fossil fuels. The alliance points to increased public concern about climate change as one reason for state-level momentum. Meanwhile in Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a sweeping Green New Deal measure last week with dozens of co-sponsors that quickly prompted division among Democratic lawmakers worried about the ambitious plan.

Even as states look to avoid the division seen at the federal level, one expert argued that without binding emissions targets, joining the Climate Alliance goes only so far.

None of the alliance’s targets are binding, but by joining, member states commit to working toward the target U.S. contribution to the Paris goal of reducing emissions by at least 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The states also pledge to track and report their progress and accelerate the implementation of new and existing environmental policies.

“It doesn’t commit or obligate these states to anything; they don’t force any formal decision or commitment, and so I think for a newly elected governor they are relatively easy steps to take that are symbolic,” said Barry Rabe, a climate policy expert and professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. “It’s not a carbon tax, it’s not a renewable energy mandate; there’s some real limits to this.”

Cerqueira pushed back on the idea that joining the alliance is just symbolic. She said some of the executive orders signed by governors show a commitment to making climate action a priority and have “already been indicative of more than just a political maneuver.”

Lujan Grisham’s Jan. 29 executive order, for example, orders the creation of a climate task force that will recommend a state climate strategy and calls on the state to cut emissions by 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The order also directs agencies to develop a plan to reduce methane emissions, which Propst said was motivated by the Trump administration's move to roll back federal methane rules. 

“It’s ambitious,” Propst said of the order. “But the governor shares the other participating states’ vision that we have to do our part in the U.S."

POWER PLAYS

— “Everybody wants to get to the same goal”: New York Gov. Cuomo said he supports the goal of the proposed “Green New Deal” announced by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, but signaled concern about how those goals would be reached. “I would support a national framework that was feasible,” Cuomo said, Politico reports. “Everybody wants to get to the same goal. The question is how you do it . . . The problem has always been the how, not the goal. I get the goal. Zero carbon emissions, yes. How?” The governor has proposed a “Green New Deal” in his state, but “his plan lacks a deadline for the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions,” per the report.

Meanwhile: The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House Republican leadership, launched digital ads targeting Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and Colin Allred (D-Tex.), by linking them to the Green New Deal even though neither have sponsored the resolution. The ads are part of a five-figure digital campaign, Roll Call reports. “Antonio Delgado and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have begun their radical Green New Deal assault on the American economy,” the narrator says in one of the ads. “Delgado and AOC: a bad deal for New York.” The group's vice president Zach Hunter told Roll Call: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the new leader of the Democratic Party and Colin Allred and Antonio Delgado are already falling in line with her radical agenda.”

Trump slams Green New Deal again, too: During a speech in El Paso, Trump denounced Democrats' Green New Deal for sounding “like a high school term paper that got a low mark,” He accused Democrats of pushing policies “taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights.”

What is going on? Trump and other Republicans are conflating the Green New Deal resolution with an erroneous fact sheet regarding the proposal published by Ocasio-Cortez 's office. That “frequently asked questions” document included language about transportation and other issues (like nuclear energy) that ultimately did not make it into the official resolution.

“The muddled messaging around the Green New Deal marks an initial stumble for a lawmaker whose profile has risen steadily since her primary win over the incumbent Democrat, Joseph Crowley, a pillar of the party establishment who at the time of his loss was the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus,” The Post's Jeff Stein and David Weigel write. “The incident underscores both the power and peril of the first-term lawmaker’s power within the party, which is bolstered by her tremendous reach on social media and her name recognition.”

— Trump weighs in on TVA vote: Trump called on the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority to consider “all factors” before voting to shutter coal-fired plants, citing coal’s contribution to the power mix. The power generator has shut down numerous coal-fired plants and is considering closing another unit at its Paradise plant in Kentucky, Bloomberg reports

More context: "Trump has been very vocal about wanting to keep coal plants operating and the governor has also weighed in on the fate of the Paradise plant," per the report. "But even though the TVA is a federal government agency rather than an investor-owned utility, their ability to sway the board may be limited. That’s because the agency doesn’t receive any taxpayer money and has to make its revenue through sales of electricity, just like a private generator."

— Bipartisan group looks to ban ANWR drilling: A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a bill to ban oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced a measure to repeal the part of the 2017 Republican tax overhaul that allowed for the refuge to be opened to drilling, the Hill reports. “Not only is the refuge one of the last great expanses of untouched wilderness in America, it is home to tremendous ecological diversity. It’s one of the last bastions of true wildness left on the planet,” Huffman said at a news conference. “This is a deeply unpopular thing in the United States. People don’t want it. They haven’t asked for it.” Fitzpatrick has said he’s opposed to the tax bill’s ANWR provision, even though he voted for the bill in 2017.

— Senate stops measure to block Utah national monuments: Senators voted down a proposal that would have blocked presidents from unilaterally declaring land in Utah as national monuments. The bipartisan 60-33 vote tabled a proposed amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to the Natural Resources Management Act. In an op-ed in the Deseret News published Monday morning, Lee said the bill “does nothing to address the imminent threat that Utah faces from unilateral executive land grabs through the Antiquities Act.” He criticized former president Bill Clinton’s creation of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, saying “presidents have abused the law by designating vast million-acre swaths for monument protection. These vanity projects can hit local communities hard.”

— Steel expands as a result of tariffs on imports: U.S. tariffs on imported steel are proving to be a boon for steel in the country. United States Steel Corp. is expecting to expand steelmaking capacity by 1.6 million tons next year, the Wall Street Journal reports. Construction will resume of a new furnace in Alabama, which will be U.S. Steel’s second major expansion since tariffs on imported steel were imposed last year. “Nucor Corp., Steel Dynamics Inc. and other domestic steelmakers also have rolled out plans to build or restart mills that would add more than 10 million tons of steelmaking capacity in the U.S. over the next three years,” per the report.

— Interior’s Bernhardt pushes for a policy benefitting an ex-client: Acting Interior secretary David Bernhardt has been working to roll back endangered species rules protecting the tiny delta smelt, the same rules he opposed on behalf of the farmers he previously represented as a lobbyist, the New York Times reports. “Mr. Bernhardt received verbal approval from an Interior Department ethics official before initiating the rollback of protections for the smelt, delivering on a campaign pledge by President Trump to release water for the farmers,” per the report, which adds the tiny fish is “at the heart of one of the fiercest battles in California’s decades of water wars.” Bernhardt, who Trump said he will nominate to lead the department permanently, stressed to the Times that he went through “ethics officers first.” “This is an area where I try to be very, very careful,” he said.

— A legal hurdle cleared for Trump’s proposed wall: In a win for the Trump administration, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected some environmental objections from the state of California and advocacy groups that challenged the administration’s authority to waive environmental laws to build prototypes of Trump’s proposed border wall. The court ruled the Department of Homeland Security “had legal authority to waive dozens of environmental laws in 2017 when it authorized building the model concrete barriers and replacing 28 miles of fencing in San Diego County and 3 miles at the border near Calexico,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

 — Trump pick’s family company paid sexual harassment and discrimination settlement: The private weather company whose former CEO Barry Myers is Trump’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paid a $290,000 fine as part of a sexual harassment and discrimination settlement. The settlement came after a federal oversight agency found AccuWeather subjected women to “sexual harassment and a hostile work environment,” The Post’s Michael Brice-Saddler reports. “The agreement alleges that AccuWeather did ‘not exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct’ the improper treatment and harassment against women there,” he writes. “It includes a letter that was sent to former employees who worked at AccuWeather between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 21, 2017, who were notified they were eligible to receive a payment of at least $7,250 as part of the settlement.” Myers stepped down at the beginning of the year, “agreeing to divest himself of any company ownership in accordance with an ethics pledge to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.”

THERMOMETER

California braces for an “atmospheric river” event: The event could arrive Wednesday, and there’s a chance the warm rain could send “torrents of snowmelt thundering into rivers, canyons, channels and arroyos,” Mike Branom writes for The Post. The event would be another notch in an eventful winter on the West Coast that has seen record snow in Seattle, an above-average rain season in Los Angeles and plenty of snow.

OIL CHECK

— “The administration’s policy is putting Iraq in a tough position”: The Trump administration is urging Iraq to stop purchasing energy from Iran, following Trump's sanctions against Iran, but Iraq has so far defied the demand. The tension between Washington and Baghdad “has frayed American diplomacy with Baghdad as Iraq tries to steady itself after the United States military withdrawal in 2011 and the campaign against the Islamic State,” the New York Times reports. “And the Trump administration has told Iraq’s leaders that they have until late March to end electricity purchases, amounting to about 1.2 gigawatts. Officials in Baghdad say there is no easy substitute for either one because it would take three years or more to adequately build up Iraq’s energy infrastructure.”

— Venezuela watch: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro wants support from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is a founding member, as it grapples with U.S. sanctions on the country’s oil industry. Maduro is concerned about the impact sanctions will have on oil prices and the effect on other OPEC members, Reuters reports, but OPEC has declined to make a formal statement, saying it’s “concerned with oil policy, not politics,” per the report.

— PG&E’s wildfire woes: No more than five members of PG&E’s current 10-member board will be up for reelection at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, the company’s board announced amid restructuring following the move to file for bankruptcy last month. The board said it “intends that a majority of the directors of the company will be new independent directors,” the Wall Street Journal reports. It added: “We recognize the importance of adding fresh perspectives to the board to help address the serious challenges the business faces now and in the future.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department's "inaction on efficiency standards."
  • A House Appropriations subcommittee holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Seattle sees record snowfall: More than 11 inches fell on the city over the weekend, surpassing a snowfall record for February. “The weekend storminess officially dropped 11.4 inches of snow on the city, pushing its February total to 14.1 inches, an inch ahead of the previous record of 13.1 inches set in 1949,” The Post’s Ian Livingston reports.