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As Democrats await Build Back Better CBO score, experts argue it may not account for global warming

Climate advocates in Congress are anxiously eyeing the Congressional Budget Office, which plans to release a full cost estimate for President Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending bill by Friday.

The highly anticipated estimate from the CBO, a nonpartisan federal agency, has major climate implications: The Build Back Better Act represents the biggest clean-energy investment in U.S. history, with a $555 billion package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at reducing planet-warming emissions.

Democrats got some good news yesterday, when the CBO released a preliminary cost estimate for the portion of the bill drafted by the House Committee on Natural Resources, E&E News reported. The CBO projected that the natural resources title would raise approximately $2.5 billion in new revenue over 10 years, including $2.3 billion from major reforms to the federal oil and gas program.

But as Democrats await a cost estimate for the entire bill, some experts are warning that CBO scoring models were not designed to account for a slow-moving problem like global warming.

CBO scoring models evaluate the costs and benefits of legislation over 10 years. That means they don't fully account for the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which can take longer than a decade to materialize, Jonathan Herz, a senior fellow at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, argued in a recent piece.

"When you start talking about things like health impacts from the future of reductions of coal use, those will stretch out over time," Herz told The Climate 202. "Ten years makes sense in sort of the purest economic sense, but it doesn't make sense when you're analyzing problems like this."

In search of solutions

A couple of proposals to address the problem are floating around Capitol Hill, although they have failed to gain traction so far.

  • In a majority staff report last year, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis called on the CBO to update its methodology to better account for climate risks.
  • And in March, Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) introduced the Carbon Cost Act, which would require the CBO to "project the net greenhouse gas emissions likely to be caused by Federal legislation." But the lawmakers' push to include the measure in the Build Back Better Act was unsuccessful.

"We really need someone with their caliber doing greenhouse gas scores," Casten said in an interview with The Climate 202 yesterday off the House floor.

"Rhodium and all these other groups do good work," Casten said, referring to Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. "But on the other hand, you want somebody who has no agenda."

Moderates insist on CBO score before vote

Moderate lawmakers such as Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, have insisted on seeing fiscal information from CBO before voting on the bill. But there are some encouraging signs that moderates won't object to the cost of the climate provisions.

For instance, at a news conference on Capitol Hill yesterday organized by the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power, Gottheimer voiced support for provisions aimed at helping communities prepare for hurricanes and other climate disasters.

"If you look at Hurricane Ida and what it did to my state just recently, flooding homes and businesses and schools, washing away roads and, sadly, taking many lives, you realize just how important it is that we act and that we not delay," he said. "These costs will only get worse if we fail to act."

In a September letter to House leadership, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) — two members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition — also signaled openness to climate provisions that add to the deficit.

“The provisions in the bill that increase deficits should be offset, with the possible exception of measures to combat climate change,” they wrote, “in light of the fact that cost estimates prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation do not adequately account for the future costs associated with inaction on the climate crisis.”

Still, Cuellar is one of three House Democrats representing Texas oil country who has objected to a fee on methane emissions in the bill.

Will the House and Senate meet holiday deadlines?

The House was supposed to begin debate on the Build Back Better Act yesterday, but that didn't happen because of a time-consuming vote to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

The House is now set to begin two hours of debate on the bill today. And Democrats and aides projected confidence that the House vote could come on Friday or Saturday before the chamber recesses for Thanksgiving, setting up Senate consideration of the bill before the holidays.

"The Senate needs to receive that package and to then pass it before Christmas. I am dreaming of a green Christmas," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said at the news conference yesterday.

Even if the House passes the spending package this week, however, the legislation will probably undergo changes in the Senate, where centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has objected to several climate provisions, including an extra $4,500 tax credit for union-made electric vehicles.

Agency Alert

Trump's Bureau of Land Management move reduced Black staff, report says

When former president Donald Trump moved the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Colorado two years ago, critics worried about an exodus of Black employees from the overwhelmingly White agency.

In a letter obtained by The Post, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, warned then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt: "One of the most alarming statistics is that there are only 312 Black/African American employees nationwide at the agency, less than 3.5 percent of the BLM workforce” of about 9,000 people.

Grijalva's fears were not unfounded. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that the relocation pushed out experienced staff and created widespread vacancies that "sometimes led to confusion and inefficiency," The Post's Joshua Partlow reports.

Pressure points

Biden promotes electric vehicles as his climate agenda hit road bumps

President Biden took the wheel of an electric Hummer during a visit to General Motors "Factory Zero" plant in Detroit on Nov. 17. (Reuters)

Biden continued his infrastructure sales tour yesterday with a visit to Detroit, where he attended the grand opening of a General Motors plant reconfigured to build electric trucks and SUVs, even as the rest of his climate agenda hung in the balance in Washington, The Post’s Dino Grandoni and Seung Min Kim reported.

The visit came after the president signed into law an infrastructure bill that includes $7.5 billion to construct a network of electric vehicle charging stations. The administration is also working to tighten tailpipe emissions standards for newly built cars, SUVs and pickups.

Biden asks the FTC to investigate oil companies over high gas prices

Biden called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether higher prices at the pump are a result of “anti-consumer behavior” on the part of oil and gas companies.

“​​His attack, which top aides quickly amplified on social media, comes as the White House is attempting to hit back at critics who allege the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to counter GOP allegations that inflation and rising prices are holding back the economy,” The Post’s Jeff Stein and Cat Zakrzewski report.

Biden did not cite any specific illegal behavior by oil and gas companies, but he urged the FTC to determine whether any had occurred. 

“The bottom line is this: gasoline prices at the pump remain high, even though oil and gas companies’ costs are declining,” the president wrote in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.

The NHL is promoting potent pollutants, advocates say

In 2017, the National Hockey League touted an eco-conscious program known as “Greener Rinks,” which aimed to use refrigerants that had lower greenhouse gas emissions. The following year, however, the NHL entered into a marketing deal with chemical manufacturer Chemours and began promoting refrigerant products that contain potent pollutants, The Post’s Rick Maese reports

The Chemours refrigerants hyped by the NHL contain synthetic hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a greenhouse gas that can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. The league has already pocketed $2 million from its Chemours contract and stands to earn even more as community rinks convert to the company’s product, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency

Climate solutions

This young climate innovator is targeting food waste

Katherine Sizov is just two years out of college, but she’s already making an impact on the climate one apple at a time, The Post’s Michael Birnbaum reports

Sizov, 24, has pioneered sensors that monitor methylene, a gas key to the ripening of fruits and vegetables. These sensors are now keeping watch over 15 percent of U.S. apples, helping ensure that they end up at the supermarket at just the right time, before they get mealy and risk winding up in a landfill. 


An inconvenient convenience store bear:

Rachelle Ducusin, an employee at a 7-Eleven store in Olympic Valley, Calif., shouted at the bear that entered her store on Nov. 13. (Rachelle Ducusin via Storyful)

Thanks for reading!