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The Energy 202: Climate concerns help boost Sanders and Buttigieg in New Hampshire primary

with Meryl Kornfield


Voters in the Granite State just cemented climate change as a major election issue — one that just helped vault both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg to the top of the race for the Democratic nomination.

One in 4 people who voted in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday said that climate change was the issue that mattered most to them, according to network exit poll results.

For Democratic voters, climate change ranked higher than income inequality and foreign policy — both more traditionally the fodder of presidential campaigns in past elections. The only issue of more concern was health care.

Once an electoral afterthought, the issue of rising global temperatures has rocketed in prominence in the race for the Democratic nomination amid dire headlines about how the world has just over a decade to get climate change under control.

Just how do Tuesday's results compare to 2016? We don't know. The exit poll four years ago didn't even offer climate change as an option. 

Concern about climate change shows no sign of going away in the 2020 race. Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, who voted last week, ranked it as their second most important concern, again after health care. Potential voters in Nevada, which will hold a caucus on Feb. 22, also picked it as the No. 2 issue, according to a Suffolk/USA Today/Reno Gazette Journal poll in January.

Sanders, with about 26 percent of the vote, won the primary itself, beating Buttigieg by less than 2 points. But among those most concerned about climate change, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. won a larger share of the vote (30 percent) than the senator from Vermont (22 percent).

The results show that Sanders and Buttigieg stand apart from the rest of the field in offering a message on climate change that resonates with progressive and moderate voters, respectively.

Though several other candidates have endorsed the Green New Deal, a manifesto calling for sweeping cuts to climate-warming emissions in the United States, it is Sanders alone who has emerged as its champion in the 2020 race.

Sanders has earned the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement and its swarm of volunteers who knocked on doors for him in New Hampshire. His supporters spontaneously started chanting "Green New Deal" at his victory rally Tuesday evening. In speech after speech, he has hammered "the greed of the fossil fuel industry," as he said on the debate stage in Manchester on Friday.

But it was Buttigieg — with an emphasis on technocratic solutions — who lured more New Hampshire voters concerned about climate change. 

Speaking in Concord last week, Buttigieg contrasted himself with Sanders on the issue. He reiterated his support for placing a price on carbon, a policy many economists say is the fastest and most efficient way to slash carbon emissions. Sanders once supported, but now opposes, a carbon tax.

And while the Vermont senator wants to shut down all current nuclear power plants over concerns about radioactive waste, Buttigieg made clear taking the largest source of carbon-free power offline would be a “meat cleaver solution."

A response like that may have resonated in New Hampshire. The state gets more than half of its electricity from a single nuclear power reactor in Seabrook.

Emily Guskin, Dan Keating and Scott Clement contributed to this report.


— Debbie Stabenow wants answers about 'climate censorship': The Michigan Democrat, who is the top senator on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to the Forest Service asking about the apparent removal of the term "climate change" from an official notice about new oil and gas leasing in Texas.

  • What happened: According to the Houston Chronicle, which broke the story in January, "a U.S. Forest Service administrator allegedly directed agency employees to remove references to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from proposals to open national forests and grasslands in Texas to new rounds of oil and natural gas drilling." The agency is denying the allegation.
  • What Stabenow says: "Interfering with the professional and impartial assessments of government officials obstructs important analysis that is needed to ensure environmental concerns are addressed." The senator wants an explanation from the agency by Feb. 25.

— New Senate bill requires net-zero carbon emissions by 2050: Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Clean Economy Act of 2020 on Tuesday. The legislation would compel the Environmental Protection Agency to set rules to eliminate U.S. contributions to global warming by the middle of the century. 

  • Who is sponsoring it: The bill is co-sponsored by 32 senators — all Democrats — as well as Angus King of Maine, who is an independent.
  • Who isn't: While the legislation has the support of several environmental groups, others said it moves too slowly to reduce emissions. Lukas Ross, a policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, said the bill "falls far short of what the climate crisis demands."

— Reduce, reuse, regulate: Another Democratic bill called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, introduced Tuesday, attempts to hold the plastics industry and beverage makers financially responsible for the waste they create. Sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the bill includes provisions to require producers of plastic products to design and pay for their own waste and recycling programs, create a nationwide beverage container 10-cent refund program, reduce and ban certain single-use plastics and invest in improving the domestic recycling and composting infrastructure. 

  • Chance of passing: The bill, which has no Republican co-sponsors, is a long shot, the New York Times reports, because it has several provisions that seem sure to be nonstarters in an election year.
  • Response: Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization supports the bill, especially the measures to curb pollution. “Plastic pollution is an absolute scourge for our communities and our oceans,” Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney for the center, said in a statement.
  • What does this have to do with e-cigarettes?: The bill would also direct federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of cigarette filters and e-cigarette parts over the next two years. The vape liquid as well as the plastic casing and lithium ion batteries in electronic vapes all pose environmental risks, ABC News reports

— Barrels on barrels: More than 1 billion barrels of oil were produced from leases on federal and American Indian-owned lands and offshore areas in fiscal 2019, the Interior Department announced Tuesday. This is up more than 29 percent from the Obama administration.

  • Why: The rise is attributed to the advent of fracking, the rollback on conservation rules under the Trump administration and a broader definition of federal lands, the Associated Press reports
  • Democrats are not celebrating: "These numbers are not making our energy supply more sustainable – they’re just padding Big Oil’s bottom line," said Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

— Australia leads the world in liquefied natural gas, despite the environmental implications: The country’s liquefied natural gas exports have grown fourfold since 2011, contributing about 2.5 percent to the country’s economy but still polluting, The Post’s Steve Mufson reports

  • Global-scale: The largest importers of Australian natural gas are Japan, China and South Korea, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  • How clean is liquefied natural gas?: During combustion, natural gas is cleaner than coal, but leakage from wellhead valves, pipelines and liquefaction equipment offset much of the difference.
  • Australia on coal: Ominous signs for coal, including the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef system and recent fires, have cooled support among Australians for their country’s leading export, The Post’s Scott Wilson reports. “The introspection has come with new international criticism over Australia’s role as one of the world’s main suppliers of coal, including to China and India — where greenhouse-gas emissions have been increasing,” Wilson writes.

— How Louisiana passed laws to quell residents’ protests of the oil industry: Louisiana was the first state to make trespassing near a “critical” oil and gas infrastructure a felony, in 2004, according to a new ProPublica report. The lawmakers also barred a lawsuit to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damaging coastal wetlands and considered penalizing student law clinics that represent communities fighting industry.

  • Up next: During this year’s legislative session, which begins in March, state officials will consider bills to restrict local input into industrial tax exemptions.
  • National implications: The sponsors of the trespassing bill were members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts “model legislation” for other states. Fifteen years later, 10 states have similar laws.

Want a green Valentine’s Day gift? Don’t buy chocolate. Or roses. (Sarah Kaplan)

Grizzly bear death rates are climbing (The New York Times)

BBC to produce TV series about Greta Thunberg's life (The Hill)

Instead of releasing this greenhouse gas, beer brewers are selling it to pot growers (Jennifer Oldham)


Coming up:

  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will markup Better Energy Storage Technology Act, Clean Industrial Technology Act of 2019 and more on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing entitled Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Public Transportation Stakeholders’ Perspectives" on Tuesday, Feb. 25.


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