Minority leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday hosted a "climate innovation showcase" on Capitol Hill, featuring technologists working on new ways to reduce heat-trapping emissions endangering the planet.
Attendees ranged from a start-up, MOVA Technologies, Inc., seeking to recycle pollutants pulled out of coal smokestacks, to Fortune 500 electric power company Duke Energy, there to promote how it can use batteries to store power during off-peak hours.
They also included a laboratory that crushes coal into potential building materials, a lumber company that makes structural beams by gluing together smaller and otherwise less useful pieces of wood and a biofuel maker that harvests methane from the emissions of dairy cows.
Altogether, the list of 18 companies, university programs, and other organizations represent what the GOP sees as the conservative solution to climate change — one with private enterprise, rather than government regulators, at the forefront of cutting emissions.
Monday’s event is a culmination of a shift among some congressional Republicans away from denying or ignoring climate change toward acknowledging the warming globe, even as the party is led by President Trump, who often dismisses the problem as nonexistent.
“This is the first kind of event like this I’ve seen from the Republican side,” said Chris Colbert, chief strategy officer of NuScale Power, which is trying to pioneer a new type of safer and smaller nuclear reactor.
Many Republicans, such as Sen. John Barrasso from the uranium-mining state of Wyoming, have long supported the nuclear energy business. But more recently he has cast the carbon-free source of energy as a solution to climate change.
“It should be a central, growing share of our nation’s energy mix if we are going to be serious about addressing our changing climate,” he said during a hearing last month.
That rhetorical repositioning over the past year, ever since Democrats won back the House, comes as many GOP voters are beginning to acknowledge the way humans are altering Earth’s atmosphere.
According to a poll conducted this summer by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a majority of Republicans — 60 percent — say they believe climate change is caused by human activity.
Since Trump became president, congressional Republicans have bucked suggestions from the White House to slash or entirely eliminate funding for alternative-energy research at the Energy Department.
But most congressional Republicans have stopped short of endorsing any measure to make companies pay for putting carbon dioxide into the air.
“I don't think it's just Republicans,” said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who is retiring at the end of the term. “Voters overall would prefer a process that doesn't put a big, heavy hand on the American economy.”
Walden added that the public has been able to pressure firms to cut emissions without government intervention. “Consumers are demanding carbon reduction, and companies are responding,” he said.
But many Democrats and environmentalists say it is hard polluters to think beyond their bottom line, and need to be prodded into innovating with actual regulation on carbon emissions.
“We definitely view innovation as critical, but it’s only a part,” said David Doniger, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You need the limit on carbon to make sure they’re actually deployed.”
Indeed, many of the firms at the GOP fair, held in a marble-adorned foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, would not exist without the help they are already getting from the federal government.
NuScale, for example, has received hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from the Energy Department. And the firm that refines gas from dairy cow waste into fuel, DTE Biomass Energy, similarly relies on a renewable fuel program at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The relatively new tactic of talking about climate change hasn’t stopped Republicans from painting many Democratic ideas for tackling climate change as too extreme.
In particular, Republicans have unified in opposition to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal, which calls for a 10-year program to drastically reduce emissions and end the use of fossil fuels.
— Americans are shaky on the details of climate science: In five years, the percentage of Americans who say climate change is a “crisis” has gone from 23 to 28 percent. Still, people remain unclear about the details of climate science even as their concern about the impacts grows, The Post’s Emily Guskin, Scott Clement and Joel Achenbach report, citing the latest poll by The Post and Kaiser Family Foundation.
- What Americans got wrong about climate change: The poll found 43 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens said “plastic bottles and bags” are a “major” contributor to climate change, which is incorrect. More than a third said “the sun getting hotter” is a major contributor, and another 21 called that a minor contributor. In reality, the sun is “negligible factor in the observed spike in atmospheric temperature, according to NASA.”
- What they got right: Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of adults correctly said driving cars and trucks is a “major” contributor. Another “3 in 10 called it minor and the rest said it’s not a contributor or they simply didn’t know. In fact, the transportation sector ranks at the top of the major sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions... Overall, the top sources of greenhouse gases that cause climate change include electricity generation, transportation, agriculture, industrial production and deforestation,” Guskin, Clement and Achenbach write.
- Does that ignorance matter? "Several experts on science communication said it’s not essential for people to know the precise details about climate change so long as they understand the gravity of the issue, the role of humans and the need to take action.”
— How extreme weather affects the risk of a global food crisis: A pair of new studies warn that extreme weather patterns linked to heat waves and droughts could raise the risk of harvest failures, and could eventually lead to more food price increases, food shortages and social unrest, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. And these extreme weather patterns could affect multiple areas simultaneously.
- The impact on food production: One study found that if two or more weeks of a summer experience one of a particular kind of weather pattern, “regional crop production could see decreases of up to 11 percent or 4 percent when averaged across all of the affected areas.”
- How the climate plays a role: “A second study took a different, more Earthbound route to researching food production failures. By examining how temperature and precipitation extremes have been changing over time from a spatial perspective and comparing that to the location of global food-producing regions, the researchers found that the risks of simultaneous breadbasket failures have already increased.”
— Potential pick to lead nation’s product safety regulator was a former chemical industry executive: The White House is weighing nominating Nancy Beck, previously an executive with top industry trade group the American Chemistry Council, to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Beck is in the final stages of the vetting process for the role at the agency in charge of determining the safety of 15,000 everyday products, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Todd Frankel report.
- Beck’s résumé: Beck, who is currently at the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, joined the Trump administration in May 2017 to be the top deputy in the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic chemical unit. There, Beck “helped scaled back several policies aimed at curbing federal limits on toxic chemicals.” She could join the CPSC as the agency assesses how to regulate organohalogen flame retardants.
- What’s next: “President Trump still needs to formally nominate her for the CPSC’s top job, which requires Senate confirmation. Beck’s nomination was expected to be announced in the coming weeks.”
— A memo shows Warren in action as corporate consultant: In 1996, then-Professor Elizabeth Warren was working as a consultant for a development company trying to avoid having to clean up a toxic waste site. In a previously unreported memo, as The Post’s Annie Linskey and Matt Viser report, Warren wrote: “Environmental claims, product liability claims, and mass tort claims, for which we have currently only seen the tip of the iceberg, are multiplying against American businesses.” Warren’s campaign says she was arguing that a different company should cover the cleanup costs.
- Why it’s notable: The memo “offers a rare glimpse of Warren in action during her past work as a corporate consultant — one whose arguments were at times out of step with the liberal presidential campaign she is running today,” they write. Warren was paid about $21,000 for her work on the case, according to a summary released by her campaign on the about $2 million she was paid as a legal consultant while she was a professor, mostly between 1995 and 2009.
- What the campaign says: “There was no question the rail yard would get cleaned up; the question was which company would pay,” Warren spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said. “Elizabeth’s memo was not about the merits of environmental laws, which she strongly supports and has fought to expand both in the Senate and as a presidential candidate.”
— What happened with the PFAS provisions in the NDAA: Democrats worked for months to include provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would address a dangerous class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. But the negotiations “fell apart late last week much to the dismay of environmental groups and lawmakers who thought compromise was at hand,” E&E News reports, which adds the talks fell apart at the hands of Democrats themselves.
- More details: “With the House and Senate wanting to leave Washington, D.C., in two weeks, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) was eager to finish work on the NDAA. In the Senate, Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other leaders were accusing Democrats of putting national security in jeopardy,” per the report. “House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) settled the issue. The provisions under discussion were too weak, he thought, so negotiators might as well call it quits in the NDAA.”
- What's next: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was “disappointed” and announced that following the failure to get PFAS provisions in the NDAA, the House will take up a bill on cleaning up the chemicals in January.
— Secret meeting shows farming industry starting to talk climate change: A closed-door meeting last June brought together Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, two other former agriculture secretaries, and 100 leaders in the agriculture industry, including the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation on the topic of tackling climate change. “Even a year ago, such a meeting would have been improbable, if not impossible. But the long-held resistance to talking about climate change among largely conservative farmers and ranchers and the lobbying behemoths that represent them is starting to shift,” Politico reports. “The veil of secrecy attested to just how sensitive the topic remains, but over the course of the two-day gathering, the group coalesced around big ideas like the need to pay farmers to use their land to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.”
— PG&E wildfire woes: The company’s wildfire-related charges could increase to a total of more than $25 billion following an expected $4.9 billion fourth-quarter charge related to the settlement PG&E has made to pay out to wildfire victims, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- Not yet a sure thing: “However, obstacles remain to making the settlement a reality — notably, it requires approval from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is demanding concessions from the company, including the potential addition of public board members chosen by the state, as part of any deal,” the Journal adds. “Mr. Newsom is also pushing for governance changes that could give the public members more authority if the company fails to meet certain safety metrics, the governor’s office has said.”
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on research and innovation to address the critical materials challenge.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the upcoming implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s new global sulfur standard for marine fuels.