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The Climate 202

A key senator presented an alternative power plant program. But will it stick?

The Climate 202

Good morning! My colleague Dino Grandoni helped with today’s edition of The Climate 202. Loyal Post readers will remember that Dino used to write The Energy 202, and apparently he missed the newsletter life. 😆 But first:

A key senator unveiled an alternative to a major climate program. But will it gain traction?

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) floated an alternative approach to reducing planet-warming emissions from power plants during a virtual meeting with Democrat lawmakers on Wednesday, two people on the private call confirmed to The Climate 202.

But it remains unclear whether the proposal, which would involve providing grants to states that deploy more clean energy, will garner the support of key moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) or gain traction among liberals who are adamant about significant emissions reductions.

The details: Smith was the chief architect of the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which would reward utilities that increase their share of clean energy by 4 percent per year, while penalizing those that don’t. 

  • After Manchin told the White House that he couldn’t support the CEPP, Democrats will probably drop the program from their massive tax-and-spending package, leaving Smith anxious to replace it.
  • Smith made an appearance on the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s call on Wednesday to describe a new grant program that would reward states for accelerating their transition to clean energy, according to the two people on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the discussion.
  • The program would rely on carrots rather than sticks, meaning it wouldn’t punish states that did not meet certain clean-energy targets — a change seemingly designed to appeal to Manchin.

But Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that any replacement to the CEPP must make significant progress toward President Biden’s goal of reducing emissions at least 50 percent by 2030.

“You can’t just throw money at any old thing and call it a deal,” Huffman told The Climate 202 on Wednesday. “So we’ve really got to replace it with something that provides comparable emission reductions in the power sector.”

Meanwhile, a lobbyist close to the negotiations said Smith appears to be ignoring the political reality that the CEPP is dead and that Manchin is likely to reject a replacement that harms the coal industry, to which he has financial ties.

“The body’s not cold, but there’s no pulse. I think she is trying to resuscitate something that is not going to get resuscitated,” the lobbyist said. “I don’t think she’s hearing what Manchin’s been saying. And frankly, I’m not sure she’s been hearing it for the last three to four months.”

In an interview with Dino on Wednesday, Smith said that she was continuing to look for alternatives to the CEPP, although she declined to disclose specific details.

“To get a little nerdy, the Clean Electricity Performance Program was going to generate about 350 million metric tons of carbon reductions,” Smith said. “And so we’ve got to figure out how to fill that gap if it’s not going to be with the clean electricity program. And so those are the things we’re working on.”

A spokesman for Smith confirmed that the senator joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus meeting but declined to provide more information. A spokeswoman for Manchin didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Emissions trading plan among new policy proposals

Another proposal under consideration would establish a voluntary emissions trading system among aluminum, steel, cement and chemicals manufacturers, The Post’s Tony Romm, Jeff Stein and Tyler Pager reported last week.

The White House is continuing to push for the program, which would establish a price on carbon as well as a carbon border adjustment tax, according to the lobbyist close to the negotiations.

In a sign that the emissions trading plan is being seriously considered, the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) briefed other Senate staffers on the plan Wednesday, the lobbyist said. A spokesman for Schumer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

About those clean energy tax credits

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has continued to tout a suite of clean energy tax credits as the “linchpin” of the emissions reductions in the budget bill.

Huffman told The Climate 202 that “any attempt to weaken the tax credits or shorten the duration of the tax credits” would cost his vote.

“I don't do a lot of red lines and ultimatums, but if someone messes with these tax credits, they better find a vote other than mine,” he said.

Optimism from democratic leadership

Despite the frantic negotiations over replacing the CEPP, Democratic leadership projected optimism during a news conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at the event that Biden will attend a United Nations climate summit next month in Glasgow, Scotland, with a clear mandate to urge other nations to strengthen their climate pledges.

“The president … will go there with great pride because we will pass legislation enabling him to not only meet our goals, but to do so in a way that helps other developing countries,” Pelosi said.

Journalists attending the news conference couldn’t help but notice protesters standing nearby waving a puppet that portrayed the fossil fuel industry and Manchin’s role in scaling back climate efforts on Capitol Hill:

Agency alert

A Department of Energy official is touting executive action on climate

Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk says the Biden administration can do a lot to combat climate change through executive action, regardless of Congress.

“There’s an awful lot that this administration has done, is doing, with existing funding streams, with existing authorities, and will be doing in the coming months,” Turk, the second-highest official at the Department of Energy after Secretary Jennifer Granholm, said in a recent interview with The Climate 202. “And sometimes I think we lose sight of that.”

Turk cited several ways that federal agencies are addressing climate change, including the Energy Department’s Energy Earthshots Initiative, which aims to accelerate the deployment of clean hydrogen and other clean-energy technologies, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s forthcoming rule to curb methane leaks from oil and gas operations. 

He also pointed to the department’s Loan Programs Office, which famously provided funding to Tesla that helped the electric-vehicle maker get off the ground. After being dormant under the Trump administration, he said the office is ramping up under President Biden and the leadership of Jigar Shah, a former clean-energy entrepreneur.

Turk, who is close with Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, said he is “confident” that Biden will help Democrats secure a budget deal with strong climate provisions.

However, Turk said he thinks Biden will still have credibility on climate at the conference in Glasgow, known as COP26, if the legislation hasn’t reached his desk yet. “Whether it comes before COP, during COP, or right after COP, I think the leverage will still be there,” he said.

Biden launches environmental review of a Minnesota copper mine

The Biden administration will conduct an environmental review of a proposed copper and nickel mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. The move will restart a study that the Obama administration began but which was halted under former president Donald Trump.

The results of the study could determine whether 225,378 acres of federal land in the Rainy River Watershed, which includes Boundary Waters, will be protected from mining for 20 years. In seeking to exempt the land from mineral extraction, the Bureau of Land Management cited climate change and the carbon output from mining.

Pressure points

Climate change threatens millions of lives, a top medical journal warns

If the world stays on its current trajectory, climate change will become the “defining narrative of human health,” a group of doctors and researchers wrote in the journal Lancet on Wednesday. 

The analysis from 100 doctors and health experts warns of food shortages, dangerous heat, deadly disasters and disease outbreaks that could imperil millions of lives if immediate action is not taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports.

On the Hill

Manchin has gotten $400,000 in fossil fuel money

The contributions to Manchin’s campaign coffers came from executives and political action committees of the energy giant ConocoPhillips, the Texas oil and gas exploration company Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and the natural gas company EQT Corp, among others, E&E News’s Timothy Cama reports.

While Manchin has long advocated for West Virginia’s coal industry, most of the donations came from oil companies and the natural-gas sector, which stand to benefit if Manchin is successful in his attempts to block the CEPP.

Countdown to COP26

Putin won’t be going to Glasgow

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not planning to attend the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Glasgow in person, although he may deliver a speech via video conference, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

While Russia is still expected to send a large delegation to the summit, the absence of key leaders “has deepened the uncertainty over whether the climate talks can achieve the lofty goals that organizers had hoped for only months ago,” The Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan and Brady Dennis report.

Putin won’t be the only world leader missing in Glasgow. Both Pope Francis and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are not expected to attend. Other world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have not yet announced their plans.


Some positive environmental news:

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.