THE LIGHTBULB

As the Senate is expected to vote today to scuttle the much-hyped Green New Deal that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has championed, other elected officials from both sides of the aisle are teeing up their own climate plans. 

One Republican senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is calling for a “new Manhattan Project for clean energy.” Another Democratic representative, Paul Tonko of New York, is outlining a framework for climate legislation that is “doable.” And a third lawmaker, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is drafting his own resolution dubbed the "Green Real Deal." 

The flurry of proposals — each of them, like the Green New Deal itself, sweeping if vague in their plans for action — comes as polling shows that Americans increasingly recognize the conspicuous effects of climate change in their own backyards after being battered by a series of intense wildfires and hurricanes in recent years.

“We can't try and fail at this effort,” Tonko said in an interview Monday. “We have to get this right.”

The Green New Deal resolution, which calls for the United States to dramatically reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, has energized progressives in ways few if any climate proposals have in the past. But its sweeping proposals, which include guaranteeing every American a high-paying job and high-quality health care, makes it unlikely to pass.

After the vote on Tuesday, there will likely an opening for other proposals to gain traction in the national discussion.

“We should let a thousand climate proposals bloom,” Tonko said. 

Republicans, in particular, are grappling for a way to respond to progressive firebrand Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal without being dismissed as knuckle-dragging climate-change deniers. 

Alexander, one of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans, on Monday outlined a 10-point proposal for boosting research and development into new energy technologies, comparing his plan to the federal government’s 1940s effort to build a nuclear bomb before the Nazis.

“The Green New Deal is so far out of left field that not many are going to take it seriously,” Alexander said in a Senate floor speech. “So as one Republican I’m here today to propose this response to climate change.”

Alexander instead outlined a five-year, Manhattan Project-style plan for finding “breakthroughs” in a number of energy technologies, including those that can capture carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and store electricity from wind and solar generators so they can be useful even when the weather does not cooperate. The plan is similar to one he put forward a decade ago.

He also emphasized putting more federal dollars toward research into developing electric vehicles, harnessing natural gas and inventing new types of nuclear reactors. In total Alexander, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy development, called for doubling federal energy research funding.

The Green New Deal's supporters suggested that principles espoused in these alternative plans fit well within their own resolution, which was designed to be inclusive.

Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, responded: 

A running theme among the alternative proposals is an emphasis on innovation.

Gaetz's “Green Real Deal," according to a draft of the resolution first obtained by Politico, will emphasize creating “more clean energy options through a commitment to innovation.”

In the draft, he also turns to a theme many Republicans mention when talking about climate change: the need to prepare the U.S. military for a warmer world as the Pentagon reports of bases being threatened by floods, fires, droughts and other climate-related risks.

Spokesman Luke Ball said that Gaetz “acknowledges climate change represents a growing threat to the United States and must be addressed.” He added that the proposal is “still being drafted at this time” and subject to change.

Yet perhaps the most consequential Green New Deal alternative comes from Tonko. 

Last week, Tonko put forward a “framework” for climate-related legislation he would like to see before the House.

His proposal, like the Green New Deal, calls for an economic transition to cleaner energy sources that is fair to working-class people who are often employed in carbon-polluting industries. The plan called Congress to “set certain and enforceable targets” to get the United States to net-zero emissions by at least 2050.

Tonko’s opinion matters because the six-term congressman, unlike freshman Ocasio-Cortez, is the head of a key climate change subcommittee in the House through which much climate-related legislation will flow.

But the chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on climate change and the environment says he is not looking to pick a fight. Though Tonko has not officially sponsored Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution, he says his plan “complements the Green New Deal.”

Tonko envisions “a two-track approach” to climate legislation.

First, he wants House Democrats to work with Republicans to build a “consensus” and pass legislation that has a chance of being taken up by the GOP-led Senate.  Areas of potential compromise include, according to Tonko, improving the energy efficiency of buildings and building out the electric grid to better support wind turbines and solar arrays.

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee, including ranking Republican Greg Walden (Ore.), have supported similar efforts when they were in the majority in the House — and are signaling they want to again this term. “Republicans in Congress have pursued these common-sense initiatives to protect our environment and our economy, and we will work with Democrats that want to find practical and achievable solutions,” an aide to Republicans on the committee said.

The second part of Tonko's two-track approach — which he acknowledges may need to wait until Democrats can win the Senate, White House or both — involves passing more comprehensive legislation, such as placing a price on emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

Though the Green New Deal does not mention pricing carbon, many economists say it is the most cost-effective way of reducing climate-warming emissions.

Tonko is keen on finding a way to do that, though he was noncommittal about exactly what form a price on carbon would take.

“We think carbon pricing can be a powerful tool,” Tonko said, “but it in and of itself is not sufficient.”

POWER PLAYS

— Coal power plants are emitting more than ever: While coal-fired power is on the decline in the United States, it is surging globally. Coal-fired plants had higher emissions in 2018 than ever before, according to grim findings by the International Energy Agency. As global energy demand grew 2.3 percent over the past year — the fastest increase in a decade — fossil fuels met 70 percent of the demand, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. “In particular, a fleet of relatively young coal plants located in Asia, with decades to go on their lifetimes, led the way toward a record for emissions from coal fired power plants — exceeding 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide." The agency assesses trends on behalf of 30 countries, including the United States.

— Senior senator from New Mexico retiring: Democratic Sen. Tom Udall said he won’t seek reelection in 2020. In a statement, he said he believed he could win a third term but said “the worst thing anyone in public office can do is believe the office belongs to them, rather than to the people they represent,” as The Post’s John Wagner reports. Udall is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies. He was also instrumental in the revising the nation's main chemical safety law in 2016. His father, Stewart Udall, was interior secretary from 1961 to 1969.

— The latest crisis in Puerto Rico: About 43 percent of residents in Puerto Rico are dealing with sudden cuts to their food stamp benefits, a latest hurdle for the U.S. territory that’s still reeling after Hurricane Maria battered the island in September 2017. “And while Congress may address this issue soon, the lapse underscores the broader vulnerability of Puerto Rico’s economy, as well as key safeguards of its safety net, to the whims of an increasingly hostile federal government with which it has feuded over key priorities,” The Post’s Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey report

Meanwhile in Washington: At an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 22, "Trump asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the president’s private remarks." One of those officials added: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

— Wheeler recuses from work on Alaskan mine: Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler is recusing himself from reviews and decisions related to the proposed Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay because his former law firm represented the developer, Bloomberg News reports. Two years ago, his former firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP set up a meeting between former EPA head Scott Pruitt and the project developer. “Weeks after that 2017 meeting, Pruitt moved to withdraw proposed mining restrictions that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the project to secure an essential Clean Water Act permit.” Wheeler said his recusal was “voluntary” because he never provided services to a client on the mine.

THERMOMETER

— Greenland glacier that was once one of the world's most rapidly shrinking is growing again: The Jakobshavn glacier was previously receding about 1.8 miles and thinning about 130 feet every year. But according to a new NASA study, it began growing again in the last two years, the Associated Press reports. Glaciologists told the AP a natural cyclical cooling of North Atlantic waters likely caused the reversal. But study co-author and NASA climate scientist Josh Willis warned the temporary growth also means ocean temperature, which overall is going up, "is a bigger player in glacier retreats and advances than previously thought,” per the report.

OIL CHECK

— Oil watch: The sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry have been a boon for companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and BP, as U.S. refiners have turned to them as a substitute for Venezuelan crude. “The two major oil companies produce notable amounts of crude oil that refiners have settled on as the immediate replacement for the heavy Venezuelan crude that U.S. refiners relied on for years,” Reuters reports. “Trading volumes in these grades of oil have surged to the highest in months, and prices touched five-year peaks since U.S. sanctions were imposed late in January.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the Interior budget.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing in the Energy Department budget.
  • The Nuclear Energy Institute hosts its annual briefing to outline the state of the industry.


Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a hearing on the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan on Wednesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Interior spending and Trump's 2020 budget request on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Bernhardt to be Interior Secretary on Thursday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on abandoned mine land reclamation on Thursday.&
  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) speak at an event hosted by Resources for the Future on "Putting a Price on Carbon" on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Thousands of poisonous toads cover “every square inch” of a Florida neighborhood: An infestation of thousands of poisonous bufo toads, also known as cane toads, flooded a neighborhood in South Florida, The Post’s Eli Rosenberg reports. The amphibians secrete a toxic milky substance from their heads when they are handled or threatened, he adds, which can burn eyes, irritate skin and pose a risk to pets if they are ingested.