with Paulina Firozi

The South is behind on climate change, Stacey Abrams says. She has a plan to change that.

The region, already battered by raging hurricanes and sweltering summers, is among the most vulnerable to the dangers posed by rising global temperatures.

But it is lagging behind other parts of the country in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from a group Abrams founded after losing the Georgia governor’s race in 2018.

“The South is doing bits and pieces,” Abrams said in an interview Tuesday. “We have not taken the concerted and, I would say, persistent action that we need.” 

The wave of protests nationwide over racial injustice after the police killing of George Floyd, she added, underscores the “persistent systemic inequities” that lead poor and minority areas to face higher pollution and more difficulty keeping the lights on. 

“Those inequities have one of their strongest grips in the South,” said Abrams, who has pushed publicly to be Joe Biden’s pick for vice president.

Abrams is using her status as the candidate who almost turned Georgia blue to press Southern states to do more to support cleaner electricity and cars.

The report released Tuesday by her think tank, the Southern Economic Advancement Project, offers a road map for the South to catch up to the rest of the country.

Her group is calling on Southern states to pass laws requiring utilities to adopt renewable or carbon-free sources of power.

A majority of U.S. states have set goals for increasing the share of electricity they get from clean sources. But of the 13 states with no targets, even voluntary ones, nine are in the South. 

The transition away from coal wouldn't break the bank, Abrams's group argues. All but three of the 77 coal-fired power plants in the 12-state region could be replaced by cheaper wind and solar energy by 2025, the report said.

One area where the South — specifically, Georgia — is leading the country is in nuclear energy. The ongoing expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant is the only new construction of commercial nuclear reactors in the United States. 

Yet despite federal support, the project 25 miles southeast of Augusta has run over budget and past deadline

“What we've seen from Georgia's experience is that that is unlikely to be the leading solution across the South,” Abrams said.

At the municipal level, Abrams is calling for cities to enact building codes requiring energy-efficient structures, and to expand and electrify bus and rail networks. 

She is also calling for state legislatures to give residents financial help to purchase electric vehicles. 

Georgia once rivaled California with one of the nation’s largest subsidies for electric vehicle buyers — until state lawmakers repealed it in 2015.

Southern states need to look toward each other — not just toward California or Northeastern states — for inspiration, Abrams said.

Virginia and the Carolinas each have passed renewable energy legislation, she noted. And even Alabama has a loan program for energy-efficient construction.

Southern lawmakers, Abrams said, “have to be armed with that information.” They also need to be told just how vulnerable the region is, she said.

Rising temperatures are making the hurricanes and other storms that the region weathers more intense. And stronger heat waves will further strain electric grids and lead to more heat-related deaths.

Altogether, the South, along with the lower Midwest, will suffer the largest economic losses from climate change in the country, according to a 2017 analysis.

“Instead of arguing about whether climate change is real,” she said, “we talk about what climate change looks like in the South.”

But one reason for the South’s slowness in working to reduce climate-warming emissions, according to Leah Stokes, a co-author of the report, is the political power of investor-owned electric utilities that own coal- and gas-fired plants.

“The reason why we’re behind on renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards is because electric utilities oppose them,” said Stokes, a political scientist specializing in climate issues at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Abrams demurred when asked whether she is talking to the Biden campaign about the veep pick.

The Biden campaign is going to run their vetting process as they see fit,” she said Tuesday. “My focus has been and continues to be on the work we need to do to not only recover from covid, but to build the strongest country possible.

She also declined to tell Axios on Tuesday whether she was still in the running for the No. 2 role.

Last month, Abrams mounted an unusually public effort to get the veep nomination. The competition for the vice presidential slot usually involves contenders feigning they are happy just to be considered.

But the job normally goes to senators and governors. Abrams's highest office was minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the selection process.

Power plays

House Democratic leaders said they will take up a major conservation bill by the end of July.

After they initially signaled a vote before July 4, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said this week he could not expedite the bill due to resistance from House Republicans.

The Senate last week approved the Great American Outdoors Act, which would dole out billions for fixing roads, trails and other infrastructure in national parks and other public lands

"While I am disappointed that Republicans have indicated they would oppose this bill under suspension, which is why I will bring it to the floor under a rule later in July, I look forward to seeing it pass the House with strong bipartisan support and being sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law,"  Hoyer said a note.

Coronavirus fallout

Hundreds of cities are pausing plans to repair water systems, roads, parks and other critical infrastructure. 

Local officials are cutting spending on infrastructure projects and upgrades in more than 700 U.S. cities as they deal with the catastrophic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on their budgets. Cities have nixed plans to purchase new firetrucks, service parks or replace water pipes as a result, Tony Romm reports

“The decision to suspend or terminate some of these long-planned purchases, upgrades and repairs threatens to worsen municipal services and harm local businesses, according to the National League of Cities, which deduced from a new survey released Tuesday that more federal aid is necessary to ensure that local financial woes do not imperil the country’s economic recovery,” he writes.

Nearly three months after President Trump signed the Cares Act, “some local governments are signaling that worst fears have come to fruition. The National League of Cities found 69 percent of municipalities have not received any money from the $150 billion federal program, either allotted to them from the Treasury Department or their home states,” Romm adds. “…About 65 percent of cities either delayed or outright canceled their planned capital expenditures or infrastructure improvements. These cuts in particular could deprive local vendors, manufacturers and construction workers of critical business, experts said, meaning cities’ financial troubles could metastasize into a greater economic ill.” 

Yosemite National Park is closing campgrounds again. 

The park announced it would shutter several campgrounds following a spike in coronavirus cases in California. 

Two weeks after reopening, park officials said they will cancel reservations at least through July for six campgrounds, while 50 percent of the Upper Pines campgrounds will remain open, the Associated Press reports

“Following a closure that lasted nearly three months, Yosemite reopened its 800 miles of park trials on June 11 for visitors with reservations. The decision to shut down the park, however, follows a surge of confirmed cases in the state of California,” our colleague Candace Buckner writes. “On Monday, California set a state record, exceeding 6,000 new infections reported in a single day.”

Global warming watch

Most Americans say the federal government should do more to combat climate change. 

That’s according to a survey by the Pew Research Center that found nearly two-thirds of Americans say the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. Nearly the same percentage of Americans say climate change is affecting their community in some way, Brady Dennis reports.

The survey found significant majorities of Americans support policies such as planting trees, restricting power plant emissions, requiring fuel-efficient vehicles and taxing corporations’ emissions. 

“Despite the growing numbers of Americans who believe climate change poses a serious threat, deep partisan divides remain about whether humans are fueling the problem and how much of a priority it should be for the nation’s leaders,” Dennis adds. “Pew has found that 60 percent of the U.S. public now views climate change as a ‘major’ threat — up from 44 percent about a decade ago, said Alec Tyson, the Pew Research Center’s associate director for science and society.” 

Amazon is launching a $2 billion internal venture-capital fund to help address climate change. 

The fund is meant to help the e-commerce giant and other companies toward a “net zero” carbon emissions goal by 2040, the Wall Street Journal reports. But the company, whose chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post, did not indicate a timeline for the funding.

The Climate Pledge Fund will “invest in companies across a number of industries, including transportation, energy generation, battery storage, manufacturing and food and agriculture,” per the report. “…Amazon and a number of other companies are seeking to reduce the climate impact of their operations, both through reduced use of fossil fuels and investments in projects such as reforestation.”

Wells Fargo will work with Shell Energy to purchase 150 megawatts of solar power. 

The big bank is buying the solar power from the oil giant from three locations in Virginia and one in California, and the renewable source will account for about 8 percent of its global energy needs, Steven Mufson reports. The Wells Fargo contract for energy from California is for seven years and the contract for energy from the Mid-Atlantic will be for six years and seven months.

The deal “carries symbolic value,” Mufson writes. “Wells Fargo, the second-biggest lender to fossil fuel companies over the past four years, is buying carbon-free electricity from Shell, a company that’s been in the oil business since the 1880s. The deal also shows the appeal of solar projects even in the midst of the punishing economic downturn brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

There’s a layer of desert air from the Sahara suppressing Atlantic hurricane activity. 

“The dust heralded a layer of hot, dry desert air that has largely ‘capped’ the lower atmosphere, putting a lid on thunderstorm development across the tropical Atlantic," Matthew Cappucci writes. That in part has lead to a break in storms after hurricane season began with record activity. But the season usually peaks in September, and there’s still a chance for more foul weather ahead.