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The Climate 202

Six congressional staffers who have played a key role in crafting climate policy

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Happy Valentine's Day to everyone except people buying their boo carbon-intensive roses. 🌹

These six congressional staffers have played a key role in crafting climate policy

It's an open secret on Capitol Hill that congressional staffers do a lot of the work that their bosses get recognized for in the press.

Today, we're pulling back the curtain on six staffers who have played a big role in crafting and negotiating climate policy this year, including several provisions in President Biden's Build Back Better package:

Adrian Deveny

As an energy and environmental policy legislative assistant for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Deveny has helped lead negotiations over Build Back Better's climate provisions for the caucus, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Deveny has been "central to the whole thing," said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

In 2019, Deveny also worked on Schumer's "Clean Cars for America" proposal, which sought to accelerate electric vehicle adoption and take 63 million gas-powered cars off the roads by 2030. He previously worked for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Schumer's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Hannah Vogel

Vogel, a policy adviser for Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), last year helped draft legislation from Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to establish a Civilian Climate Corps, which would put thousands of young people to work combating climate change. 

Other Democrats have put forward different proposals for a Civilian Climate Corps. But the bill from Markey and Ocasio-Cortez was ultimately included in Build Back Better.

The Civilian Climate Corps is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and '40s, which put millions of young men to work. The New Deal-era initiative was almost exclusively open to White men.

In an interview with The Climate 202, Vogel said that she was “both inspired and frustrated by” the previous iteration of the program, noting that environmental justice and inclusivity are top priorities for Markey and Biden. “We wanted to make it a program that everyone is able to access," she said.

In addition to the Civilian Climate Corps, Vogel helped write legislation from Markey and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to create a National Climate Bank, which would leverage public and private funds to invest in clean energy technologies. That bill was also included in Build Back Better, which remains stalled in the Senate because of opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

Before coming to the Hill, Vogel served as a press secretary for Climate Nexus.

Pete Wyckoff

As a senior policy adviser for Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Wyckoff helped craft the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which aimed to incentivize utilities to deploy more clean energy. Democrats dropped the program from Build Back Better last year because of opposition from Manchin.

Wyckoff told The Climate 202 that it was frustrating to see the program die after working on various forms of the policy for years. (In 2019, he drafted legislation from Smith to establish a nationwide clean energy standard, while last year, he helped design a Clean Electricity Performance Program that could pass via reconciliation, the budget process that Democrats are using for Build Back Better.)

“We had worked many, many, many hours on it. And so had folks at a lot of think tanks,” Wyckoff said. “We had also gotten a lot of technical assistance from folks at the [Department of Energy]. And any time you work so hard and so long on a climate policy, to have it not get across the finish line, it's going to hurt.”

Before coming to Washington to work for former senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and then Smith, Wyckoff spent 17 years in academia, leaving the University of Minnesota as a tenured professor of environmental studies.

Laura Haynes Gillam

Gillam is the senior policy adviser for clean air and climate for Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Chairman Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.). She has worked on climate policy for Carper and the committee since 2008.

Gillam told The Climate 202 that she is especially proud of her work on a bipartisan bill from Carper and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) to phase down the use of potent planet-warming chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. Congress passed the bill last year as part of a government funding measure.

Also last year, Gillam helped secure $5 billion in the infrastructure law to deploy more electric and low-emission school buses. 

"That investment is going to allow children to breathe cleaner air as they go to school," she said. "That's something I'm really proud of and I wish more people knew about."

Gillam declined to discuss the methane fee in Build Back Better, which falls under the Environment and Public Works panel's purview, citing the sensitive nature of the private deliberations.

Kenneth Russell "Rusty" DeGraff

As a senior policy adviser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), DeGraff has helped enact climate and clean energy legislation, according to his LinkedIn profile and a person familiar with the matter. He previously worked for Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).

Pelosi's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Dustin Maghamfar

Maghamfar, the former air and climate counsel for Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, helped craft the provisions in the House version of Build Back Better related to electric vehicle infrastructure and home energy efficiency rebates, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Maghamfar recently left the committee to become federal program director at the Energy Foundation. A foundation spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Climate in the courts

Federal judge stops Biden administration from using climate metric

A federal judge in Louisiana on Friday blocked the Biden administration from using a higher interim estimate of the social cost of carbon, a key metric that assigns a dollar value to the harms caused by greenhouse gas emissions, Bloomberg Law's Jennifer Hijazi reports.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge James D. Cain Jr., who was appointed by President Donald Trump, is yet another judicial blow to Biden's climate agenda. The social cost of carbon is used to inform many climate regulations affecting the oil and automotive industries.

Biden directed federal agencies to use the updated metric in an executive order last year. But Republican attorneys general in Louisiana, Alabama and eight other states sued over the move, saying Biden lacked the authority to issue the directive. 

The Justice Department unsuccessfully argued that the lawsuit was premature because the interim metric had not yet been used in a final regulation. The department could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Lawsuit against Tesla describes horrific allegations of racism

Tesla, the nation's most successful electric vehicle manufacturer, is under fire after a California civil rights agency filed suit against the automaker on behalf of thousands of Black workers following a decade of discrimination complaints and a 32-month long investigation, the Los Angeles Times’s Margot Roosevelt and Russ Mitchell report

The lawsuit alleges that Tesla managers and supervisors segregated workers and hurled racial slurs at Black employees at a California plant. It further asserts that Black workers were subject to increased harassment, denied promotions and relegated to physical labor jobs.

“Tesla markets its vehicles to the environmentally conscious, socially responsible consumer,” the lawsuit states. “Yet [that] masks the reality of a company that profits from an army of production workers, many of whom are people of color, working under egregious conditions.”

Pressure points

Maryland Department of Environment is failing to protect the Chesapeake Bay, critics say

Environmentalists and community members fear that the Maryland Department of Environment will probably sign off on plans to build a massive development on the Eastern Shore, saying it could cause long-term damage to the local watershed and the Chesapeake Bay, The Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle reports.

Critics say the regulatory agency already has a poor record of overseeing the state's water supply and protecting the bay. After a 20-year battle, they are asking the agency to reject the plans, which call for spraying treated wastewater from more than 2,500 proposed homes across nearby fields. The department and developer Rocks Engineering have repeatedly denied accusations of spotty oversight and improper permit approvals.

Climate solutions

Researchers are trying to store carbon dioxide in rocks

Researchers at Columbia University are one step closer to determining the viability of carbon mineralization, the process of removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in rocks, Erin Blakemore reports for The Post. 

The experiments consist of soaking dunite, an igneous rock that naturally sucks up carbon, in carbonized water to form minerals. Scientists say this process could someday be used to isolate the greenhouse gas underground, preventing it from warming the planet. 

However, researchers are still learning about the technique's feasibility. And some climate activists have urged countries and corporations to focus on cutting carbon emissions, rather than capturing the emissions already in the atmosphere.

On the Hill

Here’s what we’ve got on tap this week:

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a remote legislative hearing on the “Environmental Justice For All Act."

Also on Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a hearing on cleaning up brownfield sites. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will also hold a hearing on investments in the infrastructure law to improve grid resilience.

On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a business meeting to consider pending nominations to the Environmental Protection Agency, including David Uhlmann to be assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. A hearing on challenges and opportunities regarding the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard will follow immediately.

On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a remote hearing on legislation to permanently authorize the U.S. Geological Survey’s National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers.


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