In recent months, several Republicans have rallied around a single idea when describing their plans to address climate change: innovation.
They argue that investing in new technology — including in the next generation of nuclear reactors and nascent ways of sucking carbon dioxide directly out of the air — is the best way to address climate change.
But in a vote this week, all but one Republican rejected a spending bill that included increases in funding for government programs researching just this sort of alternative energy innovations.
The measure, approved in a 31-21 vote in the Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee almost entirely along party lines, illustrates how Republicans are still prioritizing getting funding for other Energy Department initiatives over bipartisan provisions on climate change. So much so that they are willing to vote against a bill that would go toward showing they are serious about their calls for innovation as House Democrats raise climate change to the forefront this Congress.
No Republican lawmaker objected to the proposed increases in clean-energy research as the committee reviewed the bill on Wednesday. And some, such as Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), did press for more funding for new types of nuclear reactors, a low-carbon form of energy heavily researched in Simpson's own state at the Idaho National Laboratory..
But they did object to what they saw as insufficient funding for a number of other programs in the package, such as those for the storage of nuclear waste, for the maintenance of the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal and for the construction of water storage projects out West.
Republicans also protested committee Democrats for rushing ahead of top congressional leaders before they agreed upon final spending caps for the next federal budget.
“While there were many provisions in the bill he agrees with,” said Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesman for committee member John Rutherford (R-Fla.), “it makes no sense to advance these bills until we have a bipartisan agreement on top line funding levels.”
Like several Republicans on the committee, Rutherford has praised “free market solutions and innovations” as the best way toward the goal of 100 percent clean energy.
The $46.4 billion spending bill for energy and water programs would increase spending for the Energy Department's technology incubator for such innovations — called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy — to $425 million, a $59 million increase above levels for fiscal year 2019.
That program, better known as ARPA-E, supports the research and development of novel energy technologies by academics and startups. Authorized under George W. Bush and set up under Barack Obama, the program has remained popular with many congressional appropriators in both parties.
Indeed, during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, congressional Republicans and Democrats alike championed the program by keeping funding around Obama-era levels and rejecting a call from the White House to completely eliminate it.
“I was pleased we were able to reverse the administration’s wholly inadequate budget request and provide robust funding for the clean energy technology programs that will spur innovation as we work to mitigate climate change,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water. “A vote for this bill was a vote to support those critical programs.”
The new Democratic spending bill would also up funding for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to $2.65 billion, making for an increase of $273 million over 2019 levels. The White House had requested to cut its budget by almost 90 percent.
Such year-to-year budgetary uncertainty is a drag on long-term research programs investing in technology that may take decades to develop, said Dan Reicher, research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford and former EERE head under Bill Clinton.
“It’s hard to run a long-term innovation program with an annual budget process,” he said.
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— More spending news: The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to advance more than $37 billion in funds for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The measure includes a $1.73 billion bump to the departments compared with the previous year. Among other things, it also includes language that would block fossil fuel leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if bidding doesn’t produce at least $500 million. “Republicans on the committee complained that Democrats were moving ahead with bills while the House, Senate and White House have not yet agreed to overall spending levels, despite some progress in a Tuesday meeting,” the Hill reports.
— Heading for the exits: A group of researchers at two small but critical science agencies have quit as the Trump administration plans to move the offices out of Washington, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports. An abnormally high number of employees at the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture quit after the department announced the relocation, a decision that has been criticized by science and agriculture organizations. One ERS economist described morale as “pretty poor.” In a single day in April, six people quit ERS and the economist said he calculated that the departure rate there has doubled since October compared with the average rate from fiscal 2016 to 2018.
Why the move?: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “presented his idea as a money-saving plan that will move scientists closer to ‘stakeholders’ and ‘customers’ such as farmers,” Guarino reports. “Former Agriculture Department officials, members of Congress and leaders in the agricultural community have warned that the relocation will weaken the agencies and reduce their influence.”
.@SecBernhardt recently told @RepCartwright he hasn’t lost any sleep over unprecedented carbon pollution. So I took a moment today to ask whether he lost any sleep over the lives lost, people displaced, & communities destroyed by the Camp Fire, Hurricane Maria & Hurricane Harvey. pic.twitter.com/MGp1r1dReq— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) May 22, 2019
— “Do you lose sleep over it?” During yet another Capitol Hill hearing featuring Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) used his time to challenge the secretary’s recent remarks that he hasn’t “lost any sleep” over a recent climate record. Bernhardt and Merkley quibbled over his exact comment before the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) had asked the secretary about how concerned he was that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 415 parts per million. This time around, the Oregon Democrat rattled off the impact on people in Puerto Rico, California and Texas as a result of severe natural disasters there. “I absolutely lose sleep over the fact that we may not appropriately respond to crisis incidents,” Bernhardt said in response to a question about Puerto Rico. When Merkley asked whether Bernhardt loses sleep over the carbon pollution driving such disasters, Bernhardt responded: “I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, but I don’t lose sleep over it.”
— Another derailed Infrastructure Week: President Trump abruptly walked out of a White House meeting on infrastructure, insisting he would not work with Democratic lawmakers until they end the investigations over his presidency as well as his businesses and finances. “Afterward, Pelosi called the spectacle a ‘temper tantrum’ intended to obscure Trump’s ‘lack of confidence . . . that he really couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge that we have’ to pursue a sweeping infrastructure deal,” The Post’s Mike DeBonis, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and John Wagner report. “In truth, the infrastructure talks were already on thin ice, with congressional Republicans and Trump’s own chief of staff balking at any hefty increase in government spending to improve bridges, roads and mass transit and bring broadband to rural America."
— One way to pay: The Interior Department has authorized a plan to allow the National Park Service to pay full-time staff from the funding it collects through entrance fees, according to a memo obtained by the Hill. The memo sent by Deputy Director Dan Smith to regional directors said the agency would fund additional permanent positions with the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act fees, a decision that’s sure to frustrate Democratic lawmakers who criticized the agency for using the same fees to keep parks open during the partial government shutdown this year.
— The EPA plans to change how it calculates pollution risks: The Trump administration is planning to change how it assesses the cost and benefits of environmental regulations, and the approach could make it harder to strengthen limits on pollution, Bloomberg News reports. “EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler directed top agency officials to develop the changes, casting them as necessary to eliminate inconsistencies in assessing regulations,” per the report. “Environmentalists say the agency is altering its math to shrink estimates of how many lives are saved by rules governing clean air, chemicals and water contamination.”
—Maryland passes clean-energy bill over governor's concerns: A Maryland bill that will become law without Gov. Larry Hogan (R)’s signature will require the state to get half of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins reports. The Republican governor said Wednesday he would allow the bill to move ahead even with “serious concerns” over the cost and the impact on jobs. “The decision to allow the bill to become law without his signature is somewhat of a reversal for the popular Republican, who is at the beginning of his second term and weighing a presidential bid,” Wiggins writes. “In 2016, the governor vetoed a bill that required Maryland to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, citing concern over increased electricity rates for taxpayers. The Democratic-controlled legislature, which has a veto-proof majority in both chambers, overrode the veto.”
— “This is a huge problem”: A new study found there has been a mysterious spike in emissions of an ozone-destroying chemical in two provinces in China. The production of the compound, known as trichlorofluoromethane or CFC-11, is banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. But the new study in the journal Nature "underscores the need for enforcement of international environmental agreements even when the hazards are clear and profound. And it is a reminder that China’s intensifying environmental challenges have global consequences,” The Post’s Brady Dennis and Joel Achenbach report.
— The water is rising: In the Midwest, the Great Lakes are expected to see experience abnormally high water levels this summer. Lakes Erie and Superior are expected to see their highest levels since 1918, when record keeping started, the Wall Street Journal reports, and the water levels for Lakes Michigan, Huron and Ontario are already above seasonal averages. “High water levels across the Great Lakes are being driven primarily by persistently wet conditions for the past five to six years, including heavy rains and a large snowpack, said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps in Detroit,” per the report. “Because the Great Lakes are connected, and because all now are experiencing high water levels, excess water has nowhere to drain, exacerbating flooding along shorelines and rivers.”
— “There’s no issue more important to our customers”: Amazon shareholders voted down a resolution that called on the company to create a public plan to address climate change and reduce fossil-fuel dependence. “Without bold, rapid action we will lose our only chance to avoid catastrophic warming. There’s no issue more important to our customers or our world than the climate crisis, and we are falling far short,” Emily Cunningham, a member of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, said during the shareholder meeting, according to BuzzFeed News. More than 7,000 employees supported the resolution, which was rejected along with 11 other proposed resolutions, per the report. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
- The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on creasing a climate resilient America.
- Rep. Paul D. Tonko (D-N.Y.) will hold a Climate Town Hall at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. on May 28.
— Rhino watch: An black rhinoceros, a member of a critically endangered species, was born over the weekend at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. A 13-year-old black rhino mother was 15-months pregnant when she gave birth to her calf, which the zoo announced on Sunday:
After 15 months of pregnancy and a relatively quick labor, we’re excited to announce Kapuki gave birth! Kapuki’s maternal instincts kicked right in and she has been seen tending to the calf. The next big milestones will be for the calf to stand and begin to nurse. #rhinowatch pic.twitter.com/IffKhuxFN1— Lincoln Park Zoo (@lincolnparkzoo) May 20, 2019