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The Energy 202: Kamala Harris goes big on environmental justice as Biden considers her as running mate

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with Paulina Firozi

Days before Joe Biden makes a final decision on his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris is making her case for the job by issuing a series of environmental justice bills.

The California Democrat put out her second bill tackling the racial injustices of pollution in as many weeks as she is being considered by Biden to join the Democratic Party's 2020 ticket.

During the primary, Harris positioned herself to the left of Biden on climate change. But she and Biden want to tackle climate change and other environmental issues in a similar way — with a focus on racial injustice.

“She checks a lot of boxes that might not be immediately apparent on climate,” said Paul Bledsoe, a Biden backer and former Clinton White House climate adviser.

On Thursday, Harris teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to introduce legislation meant to protect disadvantaged communities.

Their proposal, called the Climate Equity Act, would require relevant bills in Congress to be scored on how much they may adversely impact poor and minority communities, which often bear the brunt of pollution and other environmental damage. 

“COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country,” Harris said in a statement. “The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives.”

The equity score would be akin to the economic scores given out by the Congressional Budget Office on legislation.

Kerene Tayloe, director of federal legislative affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York-based environmental justice group, said the idea of creating such a scoring system “is a really big deal.”

“Nothing like that has ever existed,” said Tayloe, whose group advised Harris and Ocasio-Cortez on the legislation.

The bill would require regulations from the executive branch to undergo similar scrutiny.

Last week, Harris worked with Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce another measure reversing a Supreme Court decision making it harder for African Americans and other groups to sue under the Civil Rights Act for being disproportionately affected by pollution.

Harris may be able to add something to Biden's ticket on climate.

The senator positioned herself as a liberal on climate change when she faced off against Biden during the presidential primary.

In early 2019, the California Democrat backed the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan led by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to aggressively cut carbon emissions over the next decade. 

And she pledged $10 trillion in investment over 10 years to cut emissions — a goal more in line with Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) $16.3 trillion climate plan than it was with Biden's initial $1.7 trillion climate proposal.

Harris said “there’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking” during a CNN town hall in September. But she did not embrace a ban on the practice in her climate plan, also released that month.

Biden has declined to endorse a ban on fracking, conscious of the jobs the natural gas extraction technique supports in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

At the same, Biden has made environmental justice a tenet of his own updated climate proposal released last month, which calls for 40 percent of clean energy money to go to disadvantaged communities.

Bolstering Harris's credentials is her effort in 2005 to form a team to focus on environmental crimes while district attorney of San Francisco. 

But her resume as a prosecutor in California is likely to make progressives more leery of her possible inclusion on the ticket, given the reckoning the country is going through on police violence after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Still, Bledsoe, an energy adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, notes Harris's California roots may be an asset when it comes to climate change. Her state, he notes, has been able to grow its economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Harris has real credibility as a Californian on climate,” he said.

Power plays

The Dakota Access oil pipeline avoided a shutdown order. 

An appellate court ruled Wednesday that oil could continue to flow through the controversial pipeline, despite an earlier order by a district court judge who said the pipeline company and Army Corps of Engineers had failed to fulfill environmental permitting requirements. 

But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also dealt a blow to the pipeline company, saying that it had failed to make a strong showing of likely success on their claims or that the district court had abused its discretion. A district court hearing is scheduled for Monday in the long-running litigation.

At issue is whether the $3.8 billion oil conduit should be allowed to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. Last month, Judge James E. Boasberg ruled the Dakota Access pipeline must be shut down by Aug. 5. Boasberg said federal officials failed to carry out a complete analysis of its environmental impacts under National Environmental Policy Act. The administration is seeking to rewrite those requirements

The pipeline is largely owned by Energy Transfer Partners and its chief executive Kelcy Warren is a major Trump donor. The pipeline, which opened in 2017, has been carrying about half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin across 1,100 miles to Illinois. It crosses the Missouri River half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Several tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, first challenged the pipeline in 2016. While the Obama administration slowed the pipeline’s development as it consulted with the tribes, Trump expedited its construction after taking office.

-Steven Mufson

Climate change activists want Joe Biden to keep away from moderate Obama-era environmental aides. 

It’s the latest signal of the tension between moderate Democrats and the left flank of the party, whose support Biden needs in November.

“Groups such as Data for Progress and the Revolving Door Project are building a case against some people advising the Democratic presidential nominee, such as former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and President Barack Obama’s environment aide Heather Zichal,” Bloomberg News reports. “Both have served on the boards of companies linked to fossil fuels since leaving government.” 

It’s similar to the effort environmental advocates made to pressure Biden to remove Larry Summers from any advisory role on the campaign, citing his record on climate and environmental justice. 

“If you want to maximize the effectiveness of a Biden administration on climate, you need climate warriors,” said Jeff Hauser, founder and director of the Revolving Door Project, which is assembling critical dossiers on the Biden advisers. “If you are going to take the climate crisis seriously, you can’t be seeking a middle-road solution.” 

President Trump said he would “listen to both sides” on the Pebble Mine project after his eldest son called for him to block the mine.  

Trump was asked during a briefing about Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet that “as a sportsman” he was worried about the Pebble Mine set to be built in Alaska's Bristol Bay region in a sensitive fishing area. Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, also tweeted calling on Trump to intervene and direct the Environmental Protection Agency to block the mine. 

 “My son has some very strong opinions, he is very much an environmentalist,” Trump said during the briefing. He suggested there would be a briefing on the issue but did not provide any details. “We’ve done a lot for Alaska, it’s a special place, and I’ll take a look at that,” he added. 

Our colleagues Steven Mufson, Brady Dennis and Ashley Parker wrote earlier this week that the “ultimate decision on the Alaskan mine is with the president, who is trying to polish his environmental bona fides ahead of Election Day after his administration spent years rolling back environmental rules.” 

Coronavirus fallout

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said the city will shut off utilities for houses that have large gatherings that violate health orders. 

“Beginning Friday night, if Los Angeles Police Department officers respond to and verify that a large party is occurring at a property, and there’s evidence that the venue has repeatedly engaged in such behavior, the department will request that the city shut off water and power services within 48 hours,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“The consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond just those parties,” Garcetti said. “They ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread.” 


Forecasters have increased their predictions and say 10 more hurricanes are set to follow Hurricanes Hanna and Isaias.

The team at Colorado State University predicts that there will be 24 named storms throughout the year, including nine that have already formed, USA Today reports. The forecast also predicts five of the hurricanes will reach Category 3, 4 or 5. 

“The team predicts that 2020 hurricane activity will be about 190% of the average season,” according to the new forecast. “By comparison, 2019’s hurricane activity was about 120% of the average season." 

Oil check

General Electric will work with the Energy Department to bolster offshore wind development off the East Coast. 

The company will conduct research over the next year alongside the Energy Department’s supercomputer project — research that is meant to “influence the design, control, and operations of future wind turbines. It’s also intended to advance the growth of wind power off the East Coast of the U.S. by giving researchers a better grasp of the available wind resources in the Atlantic,” the Verge reports. “…Offshore wind has the potential to provide almost twice the amount of electricity as the U.S.’s current electricity usage, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But to make turbines that are hardier and more efficient offshore, researchers need more information.” 

The number of electric vehicle public charging plugs worldwide has surpassed 1 million. 

The industry passed the milestone in May, and most of the new charging infrastructure has come from China and Europe, Bloomberg reports.

“North America, with far less robust public subsidy and support, remains a distant third in the charging race, though there is some hope that a pandemic stimulus plan will catalyze a new wave of construction,” per the report.