with Alexandra Ellerbeck

It's a new year and a new president is about to take office. Right on cue, a new cohort of lobbying groups is setting up shop in Washington to influence the incoming administration's agenda for tackling climate change.

At least two energy trade organizations — one focused on the power sector, the other on automobiles — have launched in recent weeks to make sure their members benefit from the federal government’s amped-up effort to combat global warming under President-elect Joe Biden. 

After Biden takes office in just two weeks, dozens of executive-branch agencies will get to work on a slew of new regulations and other programs over the next four years aimed by reducing emissions.

And Congress will debate spending billions more dollars on clean energy made all the more possible with President Trump out of the White House. 

That is especially true if Democrats eke out a pair victories in the Georgia Senate runoff election, which concluded Tuesday night. Democrat Raphael Warnock beat Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, while Democrat Jon Ossoff holds a narrower lead over incumbent Republican David Perdue. 

A former Obama White House official is at the helm of a new renewable energy group.

Officially launched on Jan. 1, the American Clean Power Association is set to represent solar and wind companies along with firms building transmission lines and electric storage capacity.

The group had found a leader in Heather Zichal, who knows Biden from her days as an energy and climate adviser for President Barack Obama. She helped oversee the creation of the Clean Power Plan and, more recently, advised the Biden presidential campaign on climate issues.

“This was a bunch of CEOs saying, all right, look, we are now a trillion-dollar industry,” Zichal said. “Right now we're not speaking with one voice for the clean power sector.”

The new association was born out of an existing group, the nearly half-century-old American Wind Energy Association, which decided before the election to expand its portfolio of companies to better reflect the construction and manufacturing firms involved in renewable energy. An existing solar trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, is not merging with the new Zichal-led group.

With the cost of wind turbines and solar panels having plummeted, one of the biggest challenges to the industry isn't so much producing power but getting it to population centers from the sunny and windy spots in the country.

Zichal plans to lobby both Democrats and Republicans for more infrastructure spending on clean energy and to push the Biden administration to ease barriers on the construction of transmissions lines and other projects.

In the coronavirus stimulus package signed into law last month, Congress extended a slew of tax breaks for solar and wind generation — a long-sought goal of the renewables sector. Zichal said Congress should consider making some of those incentives permanent, though she added that her association is still hammering out an official agenda.

“Is there a better, more efficient way to structure the tax code to support more clean energy over time and ensure predictability and certainty?” she said.

ACP's members include the major electric utilities such NextEra Energy and Duke Energy; the offshore wind developer Ørsted; the wind turbine maker Vestas; the solar and wind developer Apex Clean Energy; and the tech giant Google.

The group declined to disclose its budget for 2021, but a spokesman said it expects it to be “roughly triple the size of any of the existing renewable trade groups over the coming years.”

Another new lobbying group is going to focus on electric vehicles.

Launched late last year, the Zero Emission Transportation Association will lobby Congress to help pay for the construction of new electric car-charging stations and to bolster tax incentives for consumers to buy zero-emissions vehicles.

With the existing tax credit drying up, the issue of new subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles probably will be a hot-button issue in the new Congress. Republicans from the oil-producing states that sell the gasoline for traditional internal-combustion engines have opposed expanding the incentive. 

But ZETA Executive Director Joseph Britton said Republicans increasingly acknowledge both the scientific reality of climate change and the business opportunity it represents for U.S. firms.

“If you're to look back over the last 40 years, we don't have many products like the electric vehicle,” said Britton, a former chief of staff to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “America is a quantifiable leader in the development and deployment, in the manufacturing of electric vehicles.”

“And we can either cultivate that and make it an American success story, or we can just turn that into a flash point that we've let escape us,” he added.

Members include electric automakers Tesla, Rivian and Lordstown Motors, as well as electric utilities such as Con Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern Co. and the ride-hail company Uber. The group will operate with a $1 million budget this year.

Power plays

Warnock's victory in Georgia puts Democrats closer to control of the Senate.

Warnock won a historic upset in a runoff election against incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, becoming the first African American Democratic Senator from a former Confederate state. Ossoff, meanwhile, currently holds an edge over Republican David Perdue in the tally, although the race was too close to call as of this morning.

If Ossoff wins, the Senate will be split 50-50 between the two major parties. Democrats would control the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. Though overcoming the 60-vote filibuster for most legislation will be an uphill battle, that narrow majority would allow Democrats to pass budget measures increasing green spending and would give the party control over Biden’s nominations for Cabinet positions and federal judgeships.

The Trump administration weakened protections for migratory birds.

A new rule finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects companies and individuals from penalties or prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as long as their actions that result in bird deaths are unintentional, our colleague Darryl Fears reports. Critics say that the new rule will let companies get away with practices, such as failing to cover tar pits, that result in the deaths of millions of migratory birds. 

But environmental groups are optimistic that they can successfully sue to stop the rule based on an earlier federal court ruling that lambasted the administration’s rationale for changing the rule. And if the courts don’t overturn the new rule, the Biden administration could still act to reinstate the protections.

A judge denied an injunction aimed at halting lease sales in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Interior Department is expected to proceed with an oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic refuge today after U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled against a request for an injunction on the sale, the Associated Press reports

Indigenous and environmental groups had asked the court to halt the sale until underlying lawsuits were resolved, but Gleason said that the groups had not shown sufficient likelihood of harm necessary for an injunction, although she left open the possibility for the groups to seek a future injunction before the land is actually drilled.

Biden may face a hard choice as an LNG terminal on the Delaware River divides environmentalists and labor unions.

Conservationists say that the liquefied national gas export terminal, in the New Jersey community of Gibbstown, would be a step in the wrong direction, spurring increased fracking at a time when the country should be moving away from fossil fuels. They also warn that any accidents transporting natural gas from fracking fields in Pennsylvania or carrying it in the Caribbean on ship could be catastrophic, our colleague Will Englund reports.

At the same time, the project is backed by unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Iron Workers that Biden courted during the 2020 campaign.

“The project could be an early test of the Biden administration’s commitment to stronger environmental measures and efforts to combat climate change. It has the backing of local elected officials, business leaders in southern New Jersey and, perhaps most significantly, labor unions that argue it will bring jobs to a distressed area,” Englund writes.

Exxon revealed the full extent of its emissions for the first time.  

The oil company disclosed data on emissions produced by consumers’ use of its products, as opposed to just emissions produced directly by the company's drilling and other activities.

These emissions, which might include the greenhouse gases produced when someone burns fuel to drive their car, account for about 80 percent of oil companies’ emissions. Exxon, which released the data under shareholder pressure, said that they totaled 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019, about the same as the emissions produced by the entire country of Canada, Bloomberg News reports.

The House voted to adopt a new rules package easing the way for climate legislation.

Lawmakers voted 217 to 206 to approve the new rules for the 117th Congress, which will also exempt both coronavirus and climate legislation from the chamber’s “pay as you go” requirement, known as paygo. That rule requires the federal government to offset any increased spending with tax increases or budget cuts, but progressives say that it has stood as a procedural hurdle for ambitious climate proposals.


The amount of warming baked in from pollution already in the air is enough to blow past climate goals.

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that carbon dioxide already in the air will continue to fuel global warming to more than 2 degrees Celsius, even if emissions halt. Scientists have long predicted that carbon, which can stay in the atmosphere for well over a century, will continue to increase future temperatures, but the new study suggests an even greater amount of committed warming.

“It’s like the distance a speeding car travels after the brakes are applied,” the Associated Press writes.  “But it’s not game over because, while that amount of warming may be inevitable, it can be delayed for centuries if the world quickly stops emitting extra greenhouse gases from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, the study’s authors say.”

Extra mileage

New Zealand has an ambitious plan to rid itself of invasive predators.

The island nation plans to eliminate nonnative pests by 2050 in an audacious attempt to save its unique fauna, Naomi Arnold writes for The Post. “Few nations have ever waged a battle like this on such a major scale, and the ‘Predator Free 2050’ plan could offer global lessons in how to utilize scientific advances as well as how to win hearts and minds for the cause,” Arnold writes.

“After four years, more than 5,000 groups and tribes — Maori iwi — have registered to do predator control in their communities, and 117 islands have been declared free not just of the weasel-like stoats but of possums, rats and mice,” she continues.