The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: 2020 Democrats play up climate plans as a way to win in New Hampshire

with Paulina Firozi


As Democrats running for president pivot to New Hampshire after the debacle in Iowa, they have already spent much of this week in the Granite State trading grabs over which one of them can best tackle another, big crisis — climate change.

The elbow-throwing was subtle at times, more pointed at others. What it shows is that Democratic candidates are heeding calls from the party base in New Hampshire to do something — anything — about what many of them see is an existential threat.

Climate change and the environment ranked as the most important issue among likely Democratic voters in the Feb. 11 primary, with 19 percent naming it in a CNN-University of New Hampshire poll conducted last month. That slightly ahead of health care (16 percent) and well ahead of beating President Trump and other Republicans (11 percent).

Sensing that concern, several presidential candidates trekked from Iowa, where the state party is still trying to figure out just who won the caucus there, to New Hampshire to speak at a youth climate town hall in Concord on Wednesday.

There, the two moderates who beat expectations in Iowa — former South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — vowed to undo President Trump’s many rollbacks of environmental regulations. 

But in veiled digs at their competitors to the left, each also emphasized what they see as the practicality of their plans. 

“The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is that a plan is something you can actually get done,” Klobuchar said, without naming any rival by name, after noting her promise to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord was doable because it does not need to pass Congress.

During his appearance, Buttigieg, who is neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders in the Iowa vote tally, distanced himself from the Vermont senator over the issue of nuclear energy.

“I don’t believe that we should be adding new nuclear,” he said. But he went on to suggest that taking existing nuclear power plants offline, which is what Sanders wants to do, would be a “meat cleaver solution." 

Nuclear energy has turned out to be one of the sharpest divides among Democrats running for president. Today, nuclear stations supply half of the nation’s carbon-free energy. But it has always come with other risks, like that of potential meltdowns.

Sanders wasn’t at the forum to respond. He was stuck for much of the day in Washington as the Senate voted to acquit Trump after a three-week impeachment trial.

But Buttigieg was still on the receiving end of some direct criticism — from Joe Biden.

Aiming to recover from a fourth-place showing in Iowa, the former vice president took credit for helping broker the Paris agreement, which his boss, Barack Obama, inked with more than 190 other nations in 2015.

Later in the day, Buttigieg struck back in an interview on MSNBC. "The bulk of credit for the achievements of the Obama administration belong with President Obama," he said.


— Changes considered for Natural Gas Act: The House Energy and Commerce energy subcommittee questioned witnesses, including former FERC commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, on Wednesday about potentially modernizing the Natural Gas Act. Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) said in a statement that the century-old law needed a fresh look to see whether it “is truly serving the needs and interests of all Americans, not just those of the gas industry.”

  • Industry response: Ahead of the hearing, 11 industry associations and labor unions wrote to the committee members supporting the Natural Gas Act and calling it “a clear road map for how new energy infrastructure is evaluated and built.” They said the law ensures access to natural gas, benefiting all Americans. 
  • Environmentalists' response: Activists who spoke at the hearing, including Maya van Rossum, of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said FERC had abused the law to allow increased fracking and benefit to the natural gas industry. FERC has misused its power and the language of the Natural Gas Act to the detriment of the public and the environment in a myriad of ways,” she wrote in her testimony, citing the PennEast pipeline as one project that progressed under FERC's lax regulation. 

— Breakfast break: A long-awaited vote on a resolution that would grant the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee subpoena power will be delayed because of a scheduling conflict with Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast. The committee will now meet Feb. 12.

  • Background: Since September, Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has threatened to subpoena the Interior Department for data and other documents explaining the rationale behind considering moving more than 200 positions from the Bureau of Land Management based in Washington to offices out west, The Energy 202 previously reported
  • The other side’s response: Republicans have expressed hesitation giving Grijalva subpoena power. “This is a change to our Rules mid-process intended to wipe out input of Minority members and take Committee decision making behind closed doors,” ranking Republican Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) said in a statement. “It’s an unprecedented power grab that, if adopted, provides unchecked subpoena authority over private citizens and agencies.”

— Decades-long extension approved for what will be world's oldest nuclear plant: Federal regulators approved a request to let Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear plant continue its operations through at least 2053, which means it will then be the oldest reactor in operation in the world, Bloomberg News reports. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision drew criticism from some environmentalists concerned about aging infrastructure and praise from the industry, which called it a validation of its technological advances. 

  • Elsewhere: The regulatory commission “is poised to decide this year on requests by subsidiaries of Exelon Corp. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at its Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, about 100 miles from Washington, and Dominion Energy Inc. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at a power plant in Surry, Virginia,” Bloomberg writes.
  • Up next: Several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth, are challenging the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., saying that the commission didn’t take updated sea level rise numbers into account. Kelly Cox, the general counsel for Miami Waterkeeper, a six-person environmental group, said the reactors at the site “are going to be flooded. “If we are relicensing a major utility we need to be preparing for the impacts of sea level rise,” she told Bloomberg.

— Landfills = wind turbines' tombs: Blades from wind turbines are gathering in landfills, and there will soon be even more with nowhere else to go but the trash, Bloomberg News reports. These blades are typically a decade old, which is alarming considering that there are five times the number of turbines being installed now than 10 years ago. 

  • By the numbers: About 8,000 a year will be too old for use and taken off turbines in the United States for the next four years. Europe will also remove 3,800 annually through at least 2022, Bloomberg reports. 
  • Solutions: Some entrepreneurs are finding opportunities in the burgeoning dilemma, per Bloomberg. One start-up tried grinding the turbine blades into dust to find chemicals to extract. Another company with factories in the United States found a way to use the blades for flooring and walls.


— ‘Another mega-scale consequence of climate change’: Researchers have found the circulation of the world’s oceans is picking up speed, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. The acceleration in three-quarters of the world’s waters may be the result of faster winds. This development was unexpected, as scientists had originally thought it would happen when the climate was warmer. 

  • Piling up: Mooney reports this is yet “another mega-scale consequence of climate change” to plague Earth’s waters. “It’s the latest dramatic finding about the stark transformation of the global ocean — joining revelations about massive coral dieoffs, upheaval to fisheries, ocean-driven melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, increasingly intense ocean heat waves, and accelerating sea level rise,” Mooney writes. 

— The problem with trees: As Republicans push for legislation to plant a trillion trees, citing science that they absorb greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, in hotter climates trees are ripe for wildfires, the New York Times reports. In 2019, 15 percent more of Europe’s land area was burned than the decade’s annual average, the Times reports. 

  • Where is this happening: “In Europe last year, wildfires raged as far north as Sweden,” the Times writes. “Drought and beetle infestations killed swaths of forests in Germany, prompting a debate over what trees to plant in their place. Britain had more wildfires last year than ever before on record. Spain saw one of the sharpest increases in the number of individual fires.”

— A hotter world means smaller oysters: Researchers have found that oysters in one Florida river are at least 2 ½ inches smaller than they were in prehistoric times, the Tampa Bay Times reports

Increasing temperatures reduce oxygen in water, probably affecting the oysters’ size, per a study published Biology Letters, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Royal Society in England. 

Scientists also consider the urbanizing landscape as another possible factor, the Times writes.

  • It has happened elsewhere: Researchers published another study last year, finding a similar trend in oysters along California's coast, Science Daily reported then. 


Coming up:

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies holds Non-Tribal Public Witness Days today.
  • The National Association of State Energy Officials holds its 2020 Energy Policy Outlook Conference and Innovation Summit in Washington, DC until Feb. 7.
  • The New Hampshire Democratic debate will be on Feb. 7.


— Curious couple: An unexpected animal pairing, a coyote and badger, was spotted traveling together through a drainage tunnel in California. They might have been hunting together, experts say.

Coyotes and badgers are known to hunt together, but researchers say this may be the first video showing both species as traveling companions. (Video: Peninsula Open Space Trust)