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House Democrats to launch three climate task forces

The Climate 202

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we learned that the International Institute for Environment & Development has created a version of Wordle for climate experts. It's called A Greener Wordle, and it features five-letter words such as “adapt” and “clean.” 

House Democrats to launch three climate task forces as Build Back Better stalls in Senate

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition today will formally launch three task forces focused on tackling key aspects of the climate crisis, The Climate 202 scoops this morning.

The move by the coalition, a group of more than 70 climate-conscious House Democrats, comes as President Biden's Build Back Better proposal remains stalled in the Senate.

While leadership ultimately controls the party's agenda, the move signals that rank-and-file members are looking for creative ways to advance climate legislation, regardless of the fate of Build Back Better and its $555 billion in climate spending.

Each task force will seek to ensure that must-pass legislation, including annual policy and appropriations bills, contains robust climate provisions:

  • Coalition Vice Chair Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine) and Rep. Kim Schrier (Wash.) will co-chair the Climate and Agriculture Task Force, which will aim to ensure that the next farm bill empowers farmers to address the climate crisis.
  • Reps. James R. Langevin (R.I.) and Katie Porter (Calif.) will co-chair the Climate and National Security Task Force, which will propose climate-related amendments to the annual defense policy bill as well as the defense appropriations bill.
  • Reps. Sean Casten and Raja Krishnamoorthi, both of Illinois, will co-chair the Power Sector Task Force, which will draft legislation aimed at achieving President Biden's ambitious clean energy goals, building on the provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“In terms of how we move climate legislation, we can leverage annual must-pass bills like the NDAA,” Langevin told The Climate 202, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“We can use the vehicles at our disposal,” he added. “But I remain dedicated to getting the climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act over the finish line.”

Climate change is already threatening U.S. national security by fueling extreme weather, global instability, violence and migration. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is a massive emitter of greenhouse gases, sending more carbon into the atmosphere than entire countries.

Langevin has previously sponsored several climate-related amendments to the NDAA, including amendments requiring the Pentagon to update its climate adaptation road map and to report on heat illnesses in the military.

Climate-friendly agriculture

Pingree, a longtime organic farmer who will co-chair the agriculture task force, told The Climate 202 that agriculture often gets overlooked in climate policy discussions, despite its crucial role in curbing planet-warming emissions.

“There's a tendency to think about it very simplistically and say it's all about energy sector or it's all about the transportation sector,” Pingree said. “People don't generally have a good understanding of the role that agriculture can play. So this is a great opportunity.”

Pingree said that while the task forces were not formed in response to Build Back Better, she has been “frustrated” to see the bill stall in the Senate amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

“I'm extremely frustrated that we haven't been able to move on Build Back Better, particularly because many of the agriculture and climate-related practices are not the controversial sections,” she said. “They're places where there's broad agreement.”

In addition to Build Back Better, the agriculture task force will make recommendations to the Agriculture Committee ​​​​​​regarding the farm bill​ in 2023 while seeking to involve farmers in those discussions.

Farmers could really be our magic solution to a lot of the climate crisis,” Schrier, the co-chair of the agriculture task force, told The Climate 202.

Power sector struggles

Casten, a former clean energy executive who is co-chairing the power sector task force, told The Climate 202 that it will have members from every committee of jurisdiction and will work in concert with the White House to meet Biden's clean energy goals.

  • In 2019, the electricity sector accounted for about 25 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
  • Biden has set an ambitious target of making the U.S. grid run on 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.
  • However, Democrats dropped the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would have rewarded utilities for transitioning to cleaner energy, from Build Back Better because of opposition from Manchin.

Notably, Casten said he would be open to crafting something similar to the program, although he acknowledged the difficulty of moving such legislation through the narrowly divided Senate.

“I would love to see us do something like that,” he said. “But let's do it in a holistic way where we look at the realities of the electric grid and harmonize with existing state policies.”

Climate in the courts

Federal judges skeptical of oil industry in Baltimore climate case

A panel of federal judges yesterday appeared skeptical of oil company claims that Baltimore's climate change lawsuit against the fossil fuel industry should be heard in federal court.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ​​​​​​seemed inclined to side with attorneys for Baltimore, who maintain that the case belongs in the state court where it was filed originally. 

Arguing on behalf of 26 fossil fuel companies, Kannon Shanmugam, an attorney with the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, asserted that Baltimore's claims arise under federal common law, which is displaced by the Clean Air Act.

But Judge Stephanie Thacker took issue with that reasoning. "That sort of seems [like] a circular argument that at least for me defies logic," said Thacker, a Barack Obama appointee.

​The three judges had few tough questions for Vic Sher, a founding partner at the firm Sher Edling who represents Baltimore as well as other states and municipalities that have brought similar climate cases.

Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School who has informally advised Sher, told The Climate 202 that he thought the hearing was a "slam dunk for Baltimore."

Karen Sokol, a professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, agreed with that assessment. 

“They were definitely more skeptical of Shanmugam's arguments,” Sokol told The Climate 202, adding that Thacker “really brought out some of the logical flaws in his argument, and I don't think he ever really recovered.”

Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers Accountability Project, an initiative of the National Association of Manufacturers that opposes the litigation, had a different interpretation.

“The judges clearly understood the fact that this litigation involves the production of fossil fuels and the City acknowledged that its allegations are about the worldwide emissions of [greenhouse gases],” Goldberg said in an email. “So, although Baltimore’s claims were creatively packaged under state law, the facts, legal issues and remedies are all beyond the scope of any state’s law.”

International climate

As possible Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, Europe fears gas shortages

The United States and its allies are scrambling to line up natural gas supplies for Europe in the event that Russia ​​​​​​invades Ukraine, potentially triggering shortages, The Washington Post's Steven Mufson and Michael Birnbaum report.

In recent years, Europe has relied on Russia to meet about 40 percent of its natural gas needs, according to E.U. figures. But now Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening to cut off the gas if his country faces economic sanctions related to aggression against Ukraine.

In response, Biden plans to host Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House on Monday to discuss sending more gas from Qatar to Europe. 

“If Russia decides to weaponize its supply of natural gas or crude oil, it wouldn’t be without consequences to the Russian economy,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House has not announced specific policy responses.

Agency alert

EPA announces steps to monitor pollution in ‘Cancer Alley’

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan yesterday announced bold steps to address complaints from residents of environmental justice communities about tainted air and drinking water, The Post's Darryl Fears reports.

Regan said the agency will spend $600,000 on “mobile air pollution monitoring equipment” to deploy in a stretch of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley” for its clusters of chemical plants, oil and gas refineries, and other industrial facilities located near homes and schools. 

The move comes two months after Regan embarked on a “Journey to Justice” tour of overburdened communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Extreme events

Climate change could make weather harder to predict

Research suggests that climate change could not only make weather more severe but also harder to predict, Jeremy Deaton reports for The Post

The study focused on the middle latitudes, which include the United States, Europe and China. It found that storms grow faster in warmer climates, potentially allowing small errors in weather models to balloon into larger errors more quickly.

"It seems that colder climates are just inherently more predictable than warmer ones,” said Aditi Sheshadri, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University and lead author of the paper.

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