Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We survived another week of congressional dysfunction. But first:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is crusading against Nord Stream 2. Climate isn't his main concern.

For months, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has been stalling the confirmation of dozens of President Biden's foreign policy nominees, leaving dozens of key posts vacant at the State Department and other agencies.

On Wednesday, Cruz finally relented. The lawmaker agreed to lift several holds on Biden's nominees if the Senate voted on an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would reimpose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Europe natural gas pipeline.

To environmentalists, it might seem strange that Cruz wants to sanction a gas pipeline. Closer to home, Cruz has championed the U.S. fossil fuel industry and blasted the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The League of Conservation Voters, which gave Cruz a 3 percent lifetime score, has called him an "extreme, out-of-touch climate change denier."

But the move makes perfect sense to some Democrats and foreign policy experts, who say Cruz's maneuvering on Nord Stream 2 has less to do with concern about climate change, and more to do with geopolitical calculations involving Biden and Russia.

"I don't think they're concerned about it for environmental reasons," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Climate 202 of Cruz and other Republicans. "They have strong supporters in the American oil and gas industry."

Dan Fried, the former ambassador to Poland and assistant secretary for Europe under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said Cruz is sending a political message that Biden must take a harder line against Russian President Vladimir Putin amid Russia's military buildup on its border with Ukraine. 

Fried noted that while Democrats also oppose Nord Stream 2, the White House has refrained from reimposing sanctions on the German-backed pipeline in an effort to preserve relations with Berlin.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, originally introduced the Nord Stream 2 amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Risch's office didn't respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Dave Vasquez, Cruz's press secretary, said in a statement: “Sen. Cruz’s holds are meant to ensure that the Biden administration applies immediate, mandated sanctions to Nord Stream 2. He’s lifted holds throughout the year for that progress, including and especially amendment votes. For the NDAA, Sen. Cruz has negotiated to lift more holds in exchange for advancing immediate sanctions.”

Nord Stream 2's climate impact

If completed, Nord Stream 2 could release significant amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, according to environmentalists and a recent Washington Post investigation into Russia's natural gas industry.

The investigation found that Russia, the world's second-largest natural gas producer, allows massive quantities of methane to leak from underground pipelines. Methane is 80 times more powerful at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The German environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe last year filed a lawsuit over a German mining authority's decision to issue a permit for Nord Stream 2. The suit explicitly cited the pipeline's potential to leak methane — and to release 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. 

"It's a project with an immense impact on the climate. It's the largest fossil fuel project in Europe," DUH CEO Sascha Müller-Kraenner told The Climate 202 in a phone interview. "We don't believe that this project is compatible with our climate goals."

An administrative court recently dismissed the suit. But DUH is appealing the decision, and Müller-Kraenner expressed confidence that the group would prevail, particularly after Germany's highest court ruled that the country must do more to protect young people from the effects of climate change.

When asked about the environmental consequences of the pipeline, Vasquez, Cruz's press secretary, said in an email: "Sen. Cruz has consistently discussed the potentially catastrophic environmental impacts of NS2, including constructing and maintaining a gigantic pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea — which is littered with toxic war munitions. Those implications pale in comparison to the national security risks posed by NS2, including exposing Ukraine to potentially existential Russian military aggression."

After averting a government shutdown on Thursday evening, senators left town before taking up the NDAA that they had been haggling over all week. The annual defense policy bill may not become law until 2022.

On the Hill

Congress avoids a government shutdown

House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday evening approved a bill to fund the federal government into early next year, averting a government shutdown that could have led to the closure of national parks and furloughed many federal workers, The Post’s Tony Romm and Mike DeBonis report. Lawmakers were dangerously close to missing their deadline amid a threat by some conservatives to block the bill over Biden's vaccine mandates.

The new spending bill will fund the government until Feb. 18. At that point, lawmakers must pass another short-term measure or finish a number of long-stalled appropriations bills. 

When the prospect of a government shutdown still seemed imminent Thursday afternoon, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told The Climate 202 that the Biden administration should close national parks to prevent damage and safety risks. In 2019, the Trump administration tapped visitor fees to keep parks open, a move that some budget experts said violated federal law.

“I think the first order must be the protection of the park itself. That has to be the highest priority. And then public safety is the second-highest priority,” Cardin said. “So it's difficult to see how you can manage by keeping them open or partially open. I think it's probably safer to close them.”

Lawmakers are demanding that companies disclose data on methane leaks

The House Science Committee is asking 10 oil and gas companies to divulge more data about their methane emissions. The lawmakers wrote in a letter on Thursday that the companies must do more to curb methane leaks if the United States hopes to achieve its pledge to cut the potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent before the end of the decade, The Post's Steven Mufson reports.

“The existence of these leaks, as well as continued uncertainty regarding their size, duration, and frequency, threatens America’s ability to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, in a letter sent to the chief executives of companies including ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Chevron

The companies operate in the Permian Basin, an oil and gas producing region extending from West Texas to New Mexico. The lawmakers are demanding information about intermittent, large emissions leaks and how companies’ methods for calculating emissions differ from those of the Environmental Protection Agency

Extreme events

Hurricanes are increasing in number and intensity

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study identified a long-term trend toward increasing numbers of Atlantic hurricanes — a finding that comes just days after the close of the 2021 hurricane season, the sixth consecutive above-average season on record.

While previous research has suggested an increase in hurricane intensity tied to human-caused climate change, this study is notable because it also supports the more controversial idea that Atlantic hurricanes are becoming more frequent, The Post's Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow report.

The study, published in Nature Communications, used climate modeling to reconstruct a record of hurricane activity over the past 150 years. In doing so, it bypassed some of the challenges inherent in using often-spotty historical records on storm observations. 

A winter heat wave set records in four states

Washington, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota saw the warmest December weather on record Wednesday, as a heat dome spread across North America, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. And the elevated temperatures in the United States continued on Thursday with Oklahoma City, Denver and Kansas City all seeing highs in the 70s.

“While the configuration of weather systems is the primary driver of such warm patterns, human-caused climate change is increasing their frequency and intensity," Samenow writes. 

Corporate commitments

Companies are not fulfilling their pledge to save forests

Ten years ago, a number of major companies including Cargill, Nestle and Carrefour pledged to end deforestation in their supply chains by 2020. But no company has completely fulfilled that commitment, meaning that chocolate bars sold in New York might be linked to razing forests in Ghana for cocoa production, the New York Times’s Lucy Tompkins reports

After making the commitment in 2010, some companies appeared to make little effort to follow through, said Didier Bergeret, sustainability director for the Consumer Goods Forum, an industry group of more than 400 retailers and manufacturers that organized the pledge.

Environmental justice

A Tampa factory is spewing lead into the air, probe finds

A Tampa lead factory owned by Gopher Resources is jeopardizing the health of more than 800 nearby residents, many of whom are low-income people of color according to an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times. The factory owners have attempted to side-step oversight by lowering pollution on the days that county regulators are monitoring air quality, in an effort that one expert likened to “cooking the books.”

When Gopher bought the factory 15 years ago, the new owners promised to be more environmentally friendly. But the investigation found that the company has pumped more lead into the air than any other factory in Florida over the past two decades. 

Viral

Thanks for reading!