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The Climate 202

EPA head says he'll act on climate even if Congress doesn't

The Climate 202

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Hello and welcome to the very first edition of The Climate 202! 🎉 I'm Maxine Joselow, a veteran climate reporter, and I'm excited to meet you in your inbox every morning. As always, feel free to reach out with tips and feedback. But first:

The EPA is planning to unveil aggressive climate regulations

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan says he’s willing to wield broad regulatory power to enact President Biden’s climate agenda if Congress fails to pass meaningful climate legislation. 

Regan says his agency will issue a robust greenhouse gas rule for power plants, a stringent methane rule for oil and gas infrastructure, and sweeping emissions standards for new cars, regardless of Congress's actions.

EPA is at the center of the president's ambitious climate agenda,” Regan said in an interview with The Climate 202. And in addition to the legislative pieces, EPA is already aggressively using its rulemaking authority to deliver the types of emission reductions that we need to protect people from climate pollution.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are debating a wide-ranging social spending bill that contains climate provisions aimed at slashing planet-warming pollution and boosting clean energy. But Democrats are battling over the price tag, and some climate provisions are bound to go.

That doesn't faze Regan, who said the EPA's forthcoming regulations will help achieve Biden's overarching goal of reducing emissions 50 to 52 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

“There is a central role that EPA has to play. At the same time, we're watching this legislative negotiation play out,” Regan said, adding that “we're trying to paint the picture that there is a marriage between the legislative discussion and the existing statutory authority that EPA possesses.”

The power play on clean energy

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has repeatedly raised concerns about the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which would reward utilities that deploy more clean energy and penalize those that do not.

Even if lawmakers cut or scale back the CEPP in the social spending bill, however, Regan said the EPA is forging ahead with a new greenhouse gas rule for power plants that will accelerate the nation’s transition to cleaner energy.

In particular, Regan said the agency is striving to develop a rule that can survive legal challenges after the Supreme Court froze implementation of President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan and a federal appeals court struck down President Donald Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule.

“We have some lessons learned from past attempts,” Regan said. “We have looked very closely at what has worked and what the courts would not accept.”

👀 What we're watching: Tim Profeta, founding director of Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, recently took a sabbatical leave from the university to join the EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards as special counsel for the power sector, according to an email viewed by The Climate 202. Profeta worked on bipartisan climate legislation in the early 2000s as an aide to then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and he co-chaired a group of former Obama administration officials and experts that drafted a climate road map for Biden.

Regan declined to reveal what Profeta is working on at the agency, but stated “Tim is a well-known individual who is very knowledgeable on air quality and climate issues” and that “EPA is lucky to have him.”

The methane wars

The EPA is expected to soon issue a rule targeting leaks of methane from oil and gas operations after both chambers of Congress voted to overturn a rollback by the Trump administration.

The rule could pack a big climate punch: While methane breaks down in the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide, it is roughly 80 times more potent at warming the planet in the short term.

Whether it's the American Petroleum Institute or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all have said that they believe that EPA should set standards for methane,” Regan said. And so we need to lean in and set a very aggressive standard so that the industry understands what the rules of engagement are and what the expectations are.

Ultimately, experts say Biden will need to show up to a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, next month with demonstrable progress toward his emission reduction targets.

Asked whether he planned to attend the conference, known as COP26, Regan demurred, although a posse of Cabinet members has historically gone to past climate talks (and your Climate 202 host will be reporting from Glasgow).

“The president has yet to announce the U.S. delegation,” Regan said, “but what I can say is EPA is very central to what needs to occur on the domestic and international stage.”

Countdown to COP26

First in Climate 202: Bloomberg will donate $25 million to detect methane emissions

The funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity run by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, will help spur the deployment of remote sensing technologies that can pinpoint sources of methane and carbon dioxide emissions. The initiative involves a number of partners, including Carbon Mapper, which plans to launch the first of several satellites that detect greenhouse gases in 2023.

Bloomberg, who now serves as special climate envoy for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, has committed to taking one climate action every day in the 60 days leading up to COP26.

“Methane is a major contributor to climate change," Bloomberg said in a statement, “and if we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it.”

Antha Williams, who leads the environment program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, told The Climate 202 that the money will help track progress under the Global Methane Pledge, in which countries committed to reduce global methane emissions by nearly a third by 2030.

The European Union’s top climate negotiator, Frans Timmermans, and the White House special envoy for climate, John F. Kerry, announced on Monday that two dozen additional countries have joined the methane pledge. Canada, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Pakistan were among those that signed the pledge, which is now backed by nine of the world’s top 20 methane-emitting countries. But the pact is still missing some major methane emitters, including Russia, China, India and Brazil, The Washington Post’s William Booth and Steven Mufson report.

Pressure points

Indigenous activists are calling on Biden to block new fossil fuel projects

Native American tribes from across the country kicked off five days of protests outside the White House on Monday. Activists at the demonstration are urging President Biden to halt new fossil fuel infrastructure and declare a climate emergency, The Post’s Ellie Silverman reports. Indigenous leaders say they have been stewards of biodiversity in the fight against pipelines and drilling around their reservations but they are still feeling the severe impacts of climate change. 

Extreme events

At least 85 percent of the world’s population has been affected by climate change

Scientists used machine learning to map more than 100,000 studies of events that could be linked to climate change, including crop failures, floods and heat waves. Researchers paired that analysis with data on temperature and precipitation shifts caused by carbon emissions. The combined findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, show that global warming has affected 80 percent of the world’s land area. 

“The study provides hard numbers to back up the lived experiences of people from New York City to South Sudan,” The Post’s Annabelle Timsit and Sarah Kaplan report. In the United States alone, climate disasters caused more than 388 deaths and $100 billion in damage this year, according to analyses from The Post and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Palm oil executives disclose corruption and brutality in hidden tapes

An investigative report from Global Witness provides a behind-the-scenes look at the corruption, human rights abuses and environmental destruction in the industry producing the world’s most common vegetable oil. The environmental and human rights group sent undercover investigators to dig into the palm oil industry, which has come under scrutiny from climate advocates for its greenhouse gas emissions and clearing of carbon-rich rainforests, The Post’s Desmond Butler reports.

Corporate commitments

Chevron announced an “aspiration” to be carbon neutral by 2050

The pledge covers Chevron’s direct emissions and energy use, but it doesn't cover Scope 3 emissions — the greenhouse gases released by products such as gasoline once they are used by consumers, Axios’s Ben Geman reports. Still, the news is notable because U.S.-based oil supermajors like Chevron and ExxonMobil have so far avoided this type of commitment, even while many European oil companies have set net-zero goals.

The power grid

Fossil fuel CEOs get big bonuses despite spills

Many of the largest fossil fuel companies have adopted incentive programs to reward executives for meeting environmental goals. But an investigation into six of the largest U.S. oil and gas companies found that companies continued to give executives their full bonuses even in years when emissions increased or major environmental damage occurred, Douglas MacMillan and Julia Ingram write for The Post.

The same year that Marathon Petroleum released 1,400 barrels of diesel fuel into an Indiana creek, for example, the company’s then-CEO earned $272,251 for environmental progress. The company’s performance reviews account for the number of oil spills, not the total volume, so the Indiana spill in 2018 was just one of 23 incidents, even though it was the worst the company had seen in years.

Viral

Zebras are threatened by climate change, drought and habitat loss, but these zebras that escaped from a Maryland farm seem like they're living their best lives.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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