Good morning and welcome to the second-ever edition of The Climate 202! We're enjoying the mist in D.C. this morning, which feels appropriately spooky for October 🎃. But first:

Big Oil executives will have their day on Capitol Hill

The CEOs of six major fossil fuel companies and trade associations will testify at a blockbuster hearing this month about their role in spreading climate disinformation, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) confirmed to The Climate 202.

In the history of Congress, the fossil fuel executives have never come before the committee … to explain climate disinformation and address the climate crisis. That will change, Khanna, who chairs the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, said in an interview. 

The context: Khanna and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) sent letters last month to the executives of ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell Oil, the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asking them to testify about their reported efforts to mislead the public about climate change.

  • API has said CEO Mike Sommers “welcomes the opportunity to testify” at the Oct. 28 hearing. But until now, it was unclear whether the other CEOs would show up.
  • Oil company executives previously declined invitations from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) to testify before the Senate Budget Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, respectively.

But Khanna has threatened to subpoena the executives this time around. And the threat alone appears to have worked.

“I just don't think it's going to be necessary,” Khanna said of wielding his panel's subpoena power. “I've said we would use any tool but so far, candidly, I've been pleased at the compliance that we're seeing.”

The Climate 202 reached out to all six companies and trade associations that received letters from the Oversight Committee:

  • BP said in a statement that Chairman and President Dave Lawler plans to testify, adding that the company is “actively advocating” for climate policies such as carbon pricing and methane regulations.
  • Chamber of Commerce spokesman Matt Letourneau said that President and CEO Suzanne Clark “plans to participate in the hearing” and will discuss the Chamber’s “work to forge bipartisan solutions to our climate challenge.”
  • API spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt said that “API welcomes the opportunity to testify again before the House Oversight Committee and advance our priorities of pricing carbon, regulating methane and reliably producing American energy.”
  • Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall said: “As we informed the committee, Chevron is committed to participating.”
  • Both Shell and Exxon confirmed via email they were cooperating with the investigation.

Big Tobacco parallels: At an infamous hearing on April 14, 1994, the CEOs of the seven biggest U.S. tobacco companies — dubbed the “seven dwarfs” — testified under oath that they believed nicotine was not addictive. 

“The major mistake in the tobacco hearings was that they lied under oath,” Khanna said. “And if I had one piece of advice for these executives, it would be, 'Don't lie. Tell the truth.'”

The Exxon sting

In an explosive secret recording released in June by Greenpeace UK, Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy admitted that the company has relied on “shadow groups” to fight government efforts to address climate change.

McCoy, who spoke to Greenpeace UK representatives masquerading as job recruiters, said Exxon also prefers to let trade associations be the “whipping boy” and answer tough questions before Congress.

E&E News reported last month that Exxon had cut ties with McCoy, but Khanna said the former lobbyist was “still complying” with his panel's requests. “Of course we're also working on McCoy and bringing him into the committee, and McCoy has already produced documents to the committee,” Khanna said.

Asked for comment, Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton said the company “will continue to communicate with committee staff” and redirected further questions to McCoy, who couldn't be reached by press time.

👀 About that Zoom call: Meanwhile, on a 90-minute Zoom call with liberal lawmakers last week, Khanna asked President Biden why he had not simply locked Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sanders in a room and forced them to cut a deal on the Democrats’ economic package, The Washington Post's Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim reported.

Biden responded with a joke: “Ro, that would be like asking for a homicide,” according to two people on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the exchange.

Khanna told The Climate 202 that he was “very serious” when he made that suggestion and that progressives should “listen to Senator Manchin's concerns” about the climate provisions in the package, adding that he has a “good relationship” with Manchin despite their differences. 

“A good relationship — great is probably too far,” he said.

Agency alert

FEMA will update building standards for communities at risk because of flooding

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking public input on how to revise federal flood plain management standards, which have not been meaningfully changed in 45 years, The Post’s Kasha Patel reports. Those standards establish how homes in high-risk areas can become eligible for flood insurance, such as by building above flood levels. 

  • Updated standards could curtail unchecked development in flood-prone communities. The request for input comes less than two weeks after the agency raised rates for many homeowners in flood-prone regions by factoring in climate risks. But some environmental groups have warned that the federal government’s flood maps are out of date. 
  • The plan to revise the building standards was one of several initiatives the White House announced at a Climate and Equity Roundtable in Detroit on Tuesday. The administration also launched a redesigned website aimed at making climate information more accessible to the public.

Countdown to COP26

China pledged $230 million to protect biodiversity in developing countries

The announcement came at COP15, the United Nations biodiversity summit taking place in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming. Speaking by videoconference, Chinese President Xi Jinping also called on other countries to contribute to the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, the Associated Press’s Ken Moritsugu reports.

The round of biodiversity talks this week will be followed next spring by a second session aimed at setting 10-year biodiversity targets. The world has largely failed to meet most of the current 10-year targets, which were set out in Japan in 2010.

COP15 comes less than three weeks before COP26, a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, that is expected to draw President Biden and other world leaders. Xi has not yet confirmed whether he will attend COP26 in person.

Pressure points

California’s attorney general will investigate an oil spill off Huntington Beach

The investigation led by Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) will seek to “determine the cause of the spill and what could have been done to prevent or minimize the disaster,” The Post’s Adela Suliman reports.

  • The spill, detected in early October, threatened Southern California wetlands and wildlife and closed beaches. It marks the third time that California has suffered a major oil spill. 
  • Huntington Beach, a popular destination for surfers, reopened to swimmers on Monday after water-quality testing. The cause of the spill is still unknown, although officials have raised the possibility that a ship anchor ruptured a pipeline carrying crude oil from the offshore platforms of Houston-based Amplify Energy.
California will become the first state to ban gas-powered lawn equipment

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law that requires small off-road engines, including those in lawn mowers and leaf blowers, to be plug-in or battery-powered by 2024, The Post’s Tik Root reports

Supporters say the law will address climate change and reduce harmful pollutants. According to the California Air Resources Board, operating a gas leaf blower for an hour can create as much smog-forming pollution as driving a Toyota Camry 1,100 miles. 

Climate solutions

A new type of grain could make farming more environmentally friendly

The Post’s Sarah Kaplan tells the story of the scientists and farmers pioneering the use of a new grain, known as Kernza, that could have big implications for efforts to address climate change and make agriculture more sustainable.

  • Most commercial crops are annual and must be replanted each year, but the practice of turning over the ground depletes the soil and releases carbon into the atmosphere. Efforts to counter soil degradation by introducing fertilizers only add to the environmental harm.
  • By contrast, Kernza is perennial, and a “single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year,” Kaplan reports. The grain was developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute, whose research suggests a one-acre plot of Kernza could pull 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air in the first four years after planting.

The grain is expensive, and it has a long way to go before it could replace regular wheat in cooking. Still, it has promise. Kaplan teamed up with her friend Jenny Starrs, the founder of artisan baking company Starrs Sourdough, to see how bread made with Kernza tastes.

The verdict: “It's delicious.”

Viral

We're so excited to procrastinate by watching baby cheetahs. 😍

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.