On Capitol Hill, Democrats are struggling to pass the Build Back Better Act, which contains a historic $555 billion investment in clean energy. They face a narrow window to advance the legislation before the midterm elections in November, as well as the next United Nations climate summit in Egypt.
A few steps away from the Capitol, the Supreme Court is poised to hear oral arguments in February in cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Environmental lawyers fear that the conservative majority on the court could take the opportunity to limit the agency's climate authority.
“It's utterly true that 2022 will be a crucial year of the Biden administration," John Walke, director of the clean air, climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Climate 202.
Here's what we're watching at the start of the new year:
Will Build Back Better pass before the midterms and COP27?
While centrist holdout Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday offered his strongest support yet for the climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act, it remains unclear whether Democrats can pass the legislation before the midterms, when Republicans could retake control of one or both chambers of Congress, dashing any prospects for sweeping climate policy.
Pundits have pointed to some serious warning signs for Democrats: The party in power has historically lost seats in the midterms, and Republican voters generally have better turnout during midterm election years.
“It's time to put the pencils down and do something, because we might only have until the midterms," Danielle Deiseroth, senior climate strategist at Data for Progress, a liberal think tank, told The Climate 202.
John Podesta, who served as a counselor to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said that without Build Back Better, it will be impossible to meet Biden's goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030.
“I've been a proponent of executive action, particularly in the face of Republican opposition, going back to Clinton. And I certainly would urge them to use every tool they have. But without these investments, you just can't get the job done," said Podesta, who is also the founder of the Center for American Progress and a contributing columnist at The Washington Post.
If Democrats fail to get Build Back Better across the finish line, the United States could also lose credibility at the next U.N. climate conference in Egypt, known as COP27, said Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project.
“Other countries will be looking at what commitments we have made," Jackson said. “If we can't pass a more substantive bill, they will look at us and say we're not putting our money where our mouth is."
The looming Supreme Court fight
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument on Feb. 28 in consolidated cases brought by coal companies and Republican-led states challenging the EPA's authority to limit carbon emissions from power plants.
The Climate 202 covered the cases in depth here. But in a nutshell, the petitioners argue that the EPA lacks the authority to issue sweeping climate regulations for the power sector under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which directs the agency to consider the “best system of emission reduction” for existing coal plants.
That legal question is top of mind for EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is working to craft a new climate rule for the power sector. Regan has already said he does not intend to resurrect Obama's Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the Supreme Court, or former president Donald Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule, which was scrapped by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Kirti Datla, director of strategic legal advocacy at Earthjustice, said she found it “concerning" that the justices decided to hear the cases.
“The fact that the court went out of its way to take up this challenge to EPA's authority," Datla said, “means that it seems interested in limiting the Biden-Harris administration's ability to address climate and environmental issues."
Extreme weather could cause the next supply chain crisis
Extreme weather events can be hard to predict, and their effects can quickly spread along the supply chain. In Texas, for instance, record low temperatures in February disrupted the petrochemical industry, affecting the supply of resins, plastics and some widely used chemicals. Meanwhile, droughts, floods and heat waves have affected agriculture in Brazil, India and California.
To prepare for a warming world, experts say companies must map their supply chains and identify nodes that might be vulnerable to extreme weather events. But companies “don’t even know the locations of their first-tier suppliers, let alone who their suppliers are buying from,” Jason Jay, the director of the Sustainability Initiative at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told Bloomberg.
Fossil fuel company ads look like Google search results
Fossil fuel companies are buying ads designed to look like Google search results, the Guardian’s Niamh McIntyre reports.
The Guardian collaborated with the think tank Influence Map to analyze ads that appear on Google search results for 78 climate-related terms. Over 1 in 5 of the more than 1,600 ads included in the study were placed by fossil fuel companies or firms that collaborate closely with them.
These types of ads are appealing to businesses because they appear similar to Google search results. In fact, one 2020 survey found that more than half of users could not tell the difference.
“Google is letting groups with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels pay to influence the resources people receive when they are trying to educate themselves,” Jake Carbone, senior data analyst at InfluenceMap, told the Guardian.
Climate in the courts
A California judge halted a mega-resort in a wildfire zone
A judge for California’s Lake County suspended a major resort development, ruling that county developers had signed off too quickly on the project's environmental documents without considering what would happen if a wildfire forced an evacuation, the Sacramento Bee's Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler report.
Lake County Judge J. David Markham wrote that the Guenoc Valley Resort would bring up to 4,070 people to a sparsely populated county where roads could be overwhelmed if a wildfire triggered an evacuation.
“A significant number of wildfire related deaths in California occur during attempts to evacuate,” the judge wrote.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last year vetoed a bill that would have required new developments in high-risk wildfire zones to add design elements focused on reducing the danger, including evacuation routes.
KFC and Chipotle are launching plant-based products
KFC is introducing a plant-based product developed by Beyond Meat, and Chipotle has debuted plant-based chorizo, The Post’s Paulina Firozi reports.
Those offerings probably won’t be the last: “The announcements come amid an expanding landscape for plant-based alternative meats — with options increasing in restaurants and in grocery stores,” Firozi writes.
The global climate
Lithium, a critical material for EVs, under political scrutiny in Chile
Lithium is a crucial material for electric car batteries. But in Chile, the world’s second-largest producer, plans to expand production are coming under scrutiny amid concerns about environmental effects and Indigenous rights, John Bartlett reports for the New York Times.
The outgoing government of President Sebastián Piñera had invited bids from companies to expand lithium production. But opposition lawmakers have filed a legal challenge to the bids. Meanwhile, incoming president Gabriel Boric, a leftist former student leader, has said little about the future of lithium in Chile, except to propose the creation of a national lithium company.
This Twitter user noted that individual actions to combat climate change, such as remembering reusable tote bags instead of plastic bags, don't matter as much when airlines are running thousands of empty polluting flights 🙃:
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