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The Energy 202: GOP directs ire for Biden's climate agenda at John Kerry


It feels like 2004 again.

John F. Kerry has quickly become a punching bag for Republicans who object to President Biden's agenda for addressing climate change.

GOP lawmakers say the former Democratic nominee for president has seized too much power in his White House post as Biden's special climate envoy. They suggest the same, too, of Gina McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency chief who is now serving as Biden's domestic climate adviser. 

Yet every modern president surrounds himself with an inner circle to coordinate actions through the massive federal bureaucracy on issues like the economy, national security and immigration. Biden is no different — he is just the first to hire a big White House team specifically to tackle climate change.

Republicans take issue with Biden enacting his climate plan through Kerry and McCarthy without their input.

But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the two “have already established themselves as the unconfirmed and unaccountable czars on climate” during a confirmation hearing Wednesday for EPA administrator nominee Michael Regan.

“What kind of impacts will that have on you as you carve your own course?” Capito asked Regan, whose position requires Senate confirmation, unlike Kerry's or McCarthy's.

"I think it should be you" in charge, she added.

Similarly, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) criticized Kerry for saying Biden wants to ensure coal workers "have better choices" than going to work in dangerous mines. In a news conference last week, Kerry mentioned manufacturing solar panels as an alternative job for coal miners.

“What President Biden wants to do is make sure that those folks have better choices — that they have alternatives, that they can be the people to go to work to make the solar panels," Kerry had said.

And Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) added during Wednesday's hearing, “The last thing we want is to have senior administration officials — John Kerry, Gina McCarthy, others — telling Americans what's relevant and not. That's not the way to bring people together."

Appointing point people such as Kerry and McCarthy was necessary, the administration reasoned, for enacting the “all-of-government” approach to climate change that involved the help of nearly every federal agency.  

Moving particularly quickly to sign executive actions, Biden has already canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, paused the sale of new oil and gas leases and kicked off a review of Trump administration rollbacks of environmental rules.

Kerry makes for a familiar target for Republicans.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, moved quickly to take his own executive action after taking office in 2017. And, like Biden, he installed his own White House appointees with broad portfolios, such as former senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who worked on immigration, without Senate confirmation.

But with Kerry, Republicans are able to put a recognizable face on Biden's climate policies, reviving a caricature  — fair or unfair — of him as an inaccessible elite built during his 2004 run for president against fellow Yale graduate George W. Bush.

On Fox News, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called Kerry “an arrogant, out-of-touch … centimillionair" for his comments about fossil-fuel workers. And on Wednesday, former House speaker Next Gingrich (R-Ga.) criticized Kerry for flying to Iceland to receive an environmental award — back in 2019.

For Biden, Kerry is someone he can trust. 

The pair are close dating back to their days serving together in the Senate. And Biden knows McCarthy from her tenure as Barack Obama's EPA chief. 

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the three people standing next to me here for what they’ve agreed to do to help, particularly my best buddy, John Kerry," Biden said last week before signing executive orders on climate change, surrounded by Kerry, McCarthy and Vice President Harris. 

He added: "Asking a former secretary of state to come back and do this has been a — I know it was a big ask on the part of myself.” 

Power plays

Here's more from Regan's confirmation hearing:

As our colleague Brady Dennis reports, Biden's EPA nominee vowed to “restore” science and transparency at the agency and move “with a sense of urgency” to combat climate change.

  • Facing wary Senate Republicans, Regan appealed to a collective sense of duty: “We all have a stake in the health of our environment, the strength of our economy, the well-being of our communities and the legacy we will leave the next generation in the form of our nation’s natural resources,” he told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
  • Still, some Republicans said Biden's plan to limit emissions risks worsening an already battered economy: Barrasso likened the administration’s actions to “delivering pink slips to hard-working men and women in Wyoming and across the country.”
  • But the strongest endorsement for the North Carolina native came from his state’s Republican senators: Sen. Richard Burr called Regan “a good man” and “extremely qualified” to lead the EPA. Sen. Thom Tillis added that he and other Republicans are certain to disagree with the environmental policies of the Biden White House, adding adding about Regan: “He will be fair. He will listen."
Jennifer Granholm gets the greenlight from energy panel.

Biden's energy secretary nominee advanced in a 13-to-4 vote out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The four Republican senators who voted against her — John Barrasso (Wyo.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) and Mike Lee (Utah) — are each from oil-producing states.

The former Michigan governor's nomination hasn't generated much controversy, though Republicans on the panel pressed her during last week's confirmation hearing about Biden's swift decision to restrict oil and gas leasing and cancel the Keystone XL pipeline. 

“I wish I could vote for her. I would like to be able to vote for her,” Lee said. But he added, “I so strongly disagree with this administration's energy policies.”

The Biden administration puts big wind project off the coast of Massachusetts back on track.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it would resume an environmental review of Vineyard Wind's 800-megawatt wind energy project, citing its “potential to help our nation combat climate change,” according to the agency's director, Amanda Lefton. A series of decisions by the Trump administration delayed final approval of the project.

The Supreme Court takes up a pipeline case.

The high court will weigh in on whether a private company, PennEast Pipeline Co., can use eminent domain to seize land owned by the state of New Jersey to build a pipeline at its border with Pennsylvania.

Per the Hill: “The state of New Jersey has opposed the project, as have environmental groups, but under the Trump administration, the White House sided with the pipeline.”

The company behind the Empire State Building is now getting its power from wind energy.

Empire State Realty Trust will announce today a major purchase of wind power from Green Mountain Energy and Direct Energy, making it the nation’s biggest real estate user of entirely renewable energy, our colleague Sarah Kaplan reports. The firms owns 13 office buildings in addition to the iconic Manhattan skyscraper.

The choice is both an economic and environmental one, with many of its tenants asking about switching to greener energy sources, Anthony Malkin, the trust’s chief executive, tells Kaplan.

An important caveat: “The realities of the U.S. electric grid mean that the electrons powering ESRT’s lights and elevators don’t necessarily come directly from renewable sources. Green Mountain Energy sells power from certified wind farms around the country. Purchases of renewables through Direct Energy go toward solar and wind facilities in Texas.”