Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We hope you had a great Thanksgiving. 

🥧Many thanks to the following readers who emailed us pie recipes, per our request: Christine Foot (chocolate chess), Mike Speltz (blueberry) and Andrew Bourne (pecan). But first:

Jessica Cisneros is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) on climate, fossil fuel money

Jessica Cisneros is vying for the seat of one of the biggest Democratic recipients of fossil fuel industry money in Congress. And she's making climate change a centerpiece of her campaign.

Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration and human rights lawyer, is mounting a second primary challenge against Rep. Henry Cuellar, a 66-year-old former attorney who has represented south Texas in Congress for nearly two decades. 

In the 2020 primary, Cuellar beat Cisneros by less than 3,000 votes. This time around, Cisneros is seeking to highlight Cuellar's donations from the oil and gas industry, which she says have driven his opposition to certain climate policies.

  • Cuellar is the fourth-biggest recipient in the House of oil and gas campaign contributions in the 2022 cycle so far, receiving $100,200, according to OpenSecrets.
  • He previously received $165,305 from the fossil fuel industry over the 2015-16 campaign cycle, leading McClatchy to speculate whether he was "Big Oil's favorite Democrat."

In the climate policy arena, Cuellar opposes the Green New Deal, the sweeping proposal to wean the nation off fossil fuels in a decade with a government-led jobs program. 

  • He has also expressed concern about including a fee on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can leak from oil and gas wells, in Democrats' climate and social spending bill.
  • While Cuellar voted for the Build Back Better Act when it passed the House this month, he is continuing to lobby the Senate to drop the methane fee from the spending bill, the Associated Press reported last week.

"It's no surprise that as a result of his track record, he's known as Big Oil's favorite Democrat," Cisneros said of Cuellar in an interview with The Climate 202. "And it's no surprise that he's doing their bidding after all the support he's received from them."

As a candidate, Cisneros has supported a methane fee and signed the “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge," which states: “I pledge not to take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”

In comments emailed to The Climate 202 by his chief of staff, Cuellar strongly pushed back on Cisneros's allegations.

  • Cuellar noted that despite her scorn for fossil fuel industry donations, Cisneros accepted $1,000 from an offshore oil and gas consultant and $263 from two Chevron employees in 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records. (The consultant and employees were not covered by the “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge,” which only mentions executives and lobbyists.)
  • “My opponent supports the Green New Deal, which will cost nearly $100 million and is not paid for, but still took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Oil & Gas Industry … that is hypocritical,” Cuellar said.
  • The incumbent congressman also defended his opposition to a methane fee, saying the policy would further raise energy prices for the middle class and would “impose punitive and additional burdens on U.S. production of oil and natural gas.”
  • Despite his 47 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, Cuellar said he has helped secure millions of dollars to address climate change as a member of the Appropriations Committee.
The AOC factor

Cisneros, who mounted her first primary challenge at age 26, is seeking to capitalize on a new political era where youth can be an asset on the campaign trail. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who rose to liberal stardom at 28 after her surprise primary win over incumbent congressman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group that backed Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, recently endorsed Cisneros for a second time. It was the group's first House endorsement of the 2022 campaign cycle.

"It means a lot to be able to count on their vote of confidence again," Cisneros said of Sunrise's support, adding that young people “understand the urgency” of addressing climate change because "we're all trying to fight for a livable planet for ourselves and obviously the generation that comes after us."

Joel Bravo, Sunrise's electoral politics director, told The Climate 202 that the group is supporting Cisneros again after a power crisis hit Texas last winter, leaving millions without electricity. While some Republicans blamed frozen wind turbines, the main problem was record low temperatures that hindered natural gas production.

"As we've seen with the Texas freeze, Henry Cuellar has not stopped taking a single dollar from Big Oil, even as his south Texas community continues to struggle and is being destroyed by the climate crisis," Bravo said.

The political action committee of the League of Conservation Voters backed Cisneros in the 2020 primary, but the organization has not yet released endorsements for the 2022 cycle, nor have several other leading environmental groups.

The primary is scheduled for March 1.

Pressure points

The U.S. could miss its electric vehicle goals, commerce secretary warns

The United States won't meet the Biden administration's goal of widespread electric vehicle adoption without urgently investing in domestic semiconductor manufacturing, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said today, The Washington Post's Jeanne Whalen reports.

A global shortage of semiconductors threatens the production of electric cars, which require more computer chips per vehicle. The Biden administration wants half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be zero-emission vehicles, including electric, plug-in hybrid or fuel cell electric vehicles.

Speaking to journalists in Detroit ahead of a planned speech on the semiconductor shortage, Raimondo called on Congress to pass the Chips Act, which would provide $52 billion in subsidies for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research. The Senate passed the bill in June, but the House has not yet cleared it.

“We are wasting time, precious time, every day that the Chips Act isn’t passed and appropriated in Congress,” Raimondo said.

Agency alert

The Biden administration wants oil and gas companies to pay more to drill on public lands

The Interior Department on Friday released a long-awaited report on potential reforms to the federal oil and gas leasing program. The report calls for making fossil fuel companies pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports.

In particular, the report recommends increasing the government’s royalty rate to be more in line with the higher rates charged by private landowners and oil-producing states. It also makes the case for raising the bond companies must set aside for cleanup.

But many climate activists said the report does not go far enough and violates President Biden’s campaign promise to ban new oil and gas drilling on federal lands. 

“We are destroying life on Earth by extracting fossil fuels,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The process needs to end, not be reformed."

Environmental justice

Michael Regan says the EPA is committed to helping disadvantaged communities

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan covered 550 miles during his “Journey to Justice” listening tour this month, passing through some of the communities hit hardest by pollution. Along the way, he touted a recently enacted infrastructure package that provides $300 billion for projects targeting pollution, including $15 billion to replace lead pipes that poison drinking water.

In Jackson, Miss., Regan spoke with residents about water shortages and contamination; in New Orleans, he heard from people whose houses sit on a Superfund site; and in Houston, Black and Latino residents described flooding, petroleum-plant pollution and giant garbage dumps, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports

Some activists remain skeptical that help from Washington will make it to their communities, but Regan said his trip was meant to convey the Biden administration's intent to follow through on its promises.

“I’ve talked to the president more than once about his commitment to environmental justice and equity, and I know the president is committed,” he said.

On the Hill

Congress is back in session this week as lawmakers prepare for an end-of-year sprint

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is aiming to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes a historic $555 billion investment in addressing climate change, before Christmas. 

But senators will need to work through unresolved policy issues surrounding the bill, including lingering concerns from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) about its price and its climate provisions. This week will also see behind-the-scenes haggling with the Senate parliamentarian, as Democrats work to confront procedural hurdles related to passing the bill via reconciliation, The Post's Tony Romm reports.

Before lawmakers can turn their full attention to the Build Back Better Act, however, they face two impending fiscal deadlines: A Dec. 3 deadline to fund the federal government and avert a shutdown, and a second deadline to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.

Climate solutions

One man’s hobby has shaped climate research in the Rockies

The Post’s Karin Brulliard tells the story of Billy Barr, 71, an amateur scientist who has been measuring snow for nearly 50 years outside his mountainside home in Gothic, Colo. Along the way, his observations have become a chronicle of climate change in a mountaintop location whose snowpack feeds the Colorado River, a key water source for 40 million people in the West.

Viral

The Forest Service's fire prevention mascot, Smokey Bear, attended the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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