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The Climate 202

Sen. Manchin voiced his strongest support yet for Democrats' climate provisions. Will it be enough?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Our sympathies go out to all of the motorists who were stranded on Interstate 95 in Virginia during the snowstorm, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

Manchin voices support for the climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) yesterday offered some of his strongest comments to date in support of the climate provisions in Democrats' social spending bill, providing a measure of relief for climate advocates, even as the timeline for voting on the bill was delayed yet again.

I think that the climate thing is one that we probably can come to agreement much easier than anything else, Manchin told reporters, including The Washington Post's Seung Min Kim, in his first remarks on the Build Back Better Act in the new year.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has previously expressed concerns about several climate provisions in the roughly $1.75 trillion measure, including a fee on methane emissions and a bonus tax credit for union-made electric vehicles. 

His concerns culminated in a Dec. 19 statement in which he asserted that BBB would “risk the reliability of our electric grid” and would spur the transition to clean energy “faster than technology or the markets allow.” 

Still, the senator added yesterday that he has had “no conversations” with the White House since he released the bombshell statement more than two weeks ago. He also repeated his laundry list of other concerns with passing the legislation now, including rising inflation, geopolitical uncertainty and the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

Jamal Raad, executive director of the environmental group Evergreen Action, told The Climate 202 that Manchin's comments on climate were “certainly encouraging.”

“I think it underscored what climate advocates have been saying since this unraveled last month, which was the climate provisions are the most fully baked of all of the proposals in Build Back Better, that there's widespread agreement on 95 to 99 percent of the provisions in there,” Raad said.

Sinema isn't standing in the way

Before Manchin's comments, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another moderate who has raised concerns about some aspects of BBB, has not complained about the climate language to him.

“I can only speak to my experience with Senator Sinema, and although we disagree on a ton, she has been nothing but supportive of the climate provisions here,” Schatz said on a virtual call yesterday hosted by Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters

Asked for comment, Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley pointed to the senator's interview with the Arizona Republic in September. Sinema told the publication that “we know that a changing climate costs Arizonans. And right now, we have the opportunity to pass smart policies to address it.”

‘Hell and high water’

Democrats on the call yesterday also cited recent climate disasters as proof of why passing the legislation cannot wait.

Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said his constituents were devastated by the record-breaking wildfire there last week, which scientists said was fueled by extreme climate conditions, while Schatz alluded to the rising sea levels that threaten Hawaii.

“We're going to get this done, come hell or high water,” Schatz said. “Because right now we have both hell and high water.”

A recent Washington Post analysis found that 1 in 3 Americans lived through a weather disaster last summer, including hurricanes, floods, heat waves and fires.

Durbin acknowledges delay

Still, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said yesterday that the Senate would pause work on BBB until Democrats have considered voting rights legislation, pushing a vote until the second half of January at the earliest.

“We are focused on voting rights, as we should be,” Durbin told reporters. “And I think the White House is joining us in that effort, and clearly we’ll return to Build Back Better as soon as that is done.”

Raad of Evergreen Action said he felt “immense frustration” that BBB has been delayed repeatedly “and that it hasn't been moved along at the same speed as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

“That's a real concern,” he said, “because as anyone knows, the later you get into an election year, the harder it is to get anything done.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.):

On the Hill

Retiring congressman criticizes Republicans' stance on climate change

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) announced yesterday that she would retire at the end of her term, making her the 25th House Democrat that will not run for reelection this year or seek another office as the party faces tough odds to hold its majority.

The Climate 202 caught up with one of those Democrats, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), who has been one of Congress's most vocal advocates for slashing carbon emissions from transportation, the nation's largest source of climate pollution.

DeFazio, who plans to retire at the end of his term after more than three decades on Capitol Hill, said that Republicans have played down the severity of the climate crisis and repeatedly resisted his efforts to include climate provisions in infrastructure legislation.

There is almost universal [climate] denial on the Republican side of the aisle in the House,” he said. “Certainly the public is way more concerned.”

DeFazio said that Republicans are out of touch with their constituents, who are increasingly contending with wildfires, hurricanes and sea-level rise. Without naming Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a member of the committee, he said that “you can't deny that Louisiana is going underwater.”

DeFazio acknowledged that many Republicans have voiced support for “resilience,” a term that describes hardening infrastructure to help it withstand extreme weather events. But he said the GOP has refused to endorse the need to phase out fossil fuels, which he called the “root cause” of such climate disasters.

Asked for comment, panel member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said in a statement to The Climate 202: “We all want to ensure a clean environment, but what we disagree on are heavy-handed, government-knows-best mandates. These types of costly and unrealistic mandates make the United States more reliant on other countries, whose practices are frequently less environmentally sound and labor friendly – like China.”

Graves added: “The market has been driving a lot of the progress on environmental solutions due to consumer demand. We need to harness this without hamstringing ourselves with excessive regulations that prevent us from being more self-sufficient.”

The global climate

Undersea electric cables from Norway to England prove to be vital for clean energy

A widening network of undersea cables is connecting Britain to green energy in Europe. Experts say that linking power grids across national boundaries will be essential to creating more diverse power systems that can withstand temporary local shortages in wind or solar power, Stanley Reed of the New York Times reports.

A cable recently laid across the North Sea, for instance, will connect a hydroelectric plant in Norway to an industrial port in northeast Britain. The idea behind the 450-mile twin cables is to take advantage of different assets in the two nations’ power systems: Norway’s abundant hydropower and Britain’s surges of electricity from wind farms that might otherwise be wasted.

Europe is running out of natural gas

With its natural gas stockpiles dangerously low and the two coldest months still to go, Europe is grappling with the troubling possibility that it could run out. Already, benchmark gas prices are more than quadruple what they were last year, Bloomberg’s Isis Almeida, Ewa Krukowska and Anna Shiryaevskaya report.

“The crisis has left the European Union at the mercy of the weather and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wiles, both notoriously difficult to predict,” they write.

It was already clear last summer that Europe might struggle with its gas stockpiles. Russia’s Gazprom began capping flows of gas to the continent, even as countries like China and Japan boosted their own imports of liquefied natural gas. But European leaders remained focused on their long-term vision of eliminating fossil fuels, potentially overlooking some of the more immediate consequences.

Europe’s own natural gas supplies have been in decline for years, making the continent more reliant on imports, particularly from Russia — a situation that critics say constrains Europe’s ability to counter Russia on other issues. Meanwhile, Gazprom and its European partners have spent $11 billion on Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

The power grid

Oil producers will boost output amid the omicron surge

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other oil-producing countries decided on Tuesday that they would increase oil output, betting that demand will continue even as coronavirus cases surge in many countries because of the omicron variant, David McHugh of the Associated Press reports.

Climate solutions

These homes are off-grid, climate resilient and made of trash

The houses in the Earthship community have long been a curiosity for travelers passing Taos, N.M. But as the effects of a warming world become ever more apparent, the off-grid, self-reliant houses, built of tires, dirt and garbage, are looking more and more appealing as a haven for climate doomers, Nick Aspinwall reports for The Post

“Residents of the 630-acre flagship Earthship community treat their own waste, collect their own water, grow their own food, and regulate their own temperature by relying on the sun, rain and earth,” Nick writes. “New Earthships once used to sit dormant for years, but many are now sold before they’re even completed as the pandemic has drawn people to an oasis of self-sufficiency.”

Viral

We think Juliet Eilperin, the deputy climate and environment editor at The Post, could probably get a great interview out of a tree. 🌳

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