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Republicans are embracing carbon border fees to counter Putin

The Climate 202


Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We hope your expectations for President Biden's first State of the Union address were more reasonable than ours. 😂 More on that below. But first:

Republicans are embracing carbon border fees to counter Russia

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Republicans are increasingly voicing support for carbon border fees to weaken Moscow's influence over Europe's energy security.

It's a notable shift on climate policy for Republicans, who in recent years have been mostly silent on carbon border fees, which would slap a tax on imports from countries that aren't taking aggressive steps to cut planet-warming emissions.

“As a longtime observer of how climate policy and politics evolve on the right, I do see a shift,” Heather Reams, president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a right-leaning environmental advocacy group, told The Climate 202.

How it works: Joint E.U.-U.S. carbon border fees, also known as border carbon adjustments, would levy a tax on polluting goods such as aluminum and cement from countries like Russia and China. They could eventually be broadened to affect oil, gas and coal imports.

In theory, the fees would incentivize Europe to import lower-carbon goods made in the United States with higher environmental standards, including U.S. liquefied natural gas, which proponents say is much cleaner than Russian gas.

Ultimately, backers say this would undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin's power to coerce Europe, which currently relies on Moscow for nearly 40 percent of its gas supplies, amid the unfolding Ukraine crisis.

What they're saying

In December, when the possibility of Russian aggression against Ukraine loomed, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) wrote an opinion piece in Foreign Policy with Donald Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, laying out the case for carbon border fees.

Cramer and McMaster noted that the European Commission has already outlined plans to impose a carbon tax starting in 2026 on polluting imports. They added that Igor Sechin, chief of the oil giant Rosneft and a close Putin ally, has reportedly told the Kremlin that carbon border taxes could inflict far greater damage to Russia's economy than sanctions.

In an interview with The Climate 202, Cramer said he's trying to convince his conservative base that carbon border fees are consistent with longtime GOP advocacy for “energy independence” and an “America First” approach.

People expect us or want us to deal with climate, but it's not a natural thing for conservative Republicans to talk about, Cramer said. “Here is an ‘America First’ solution that reduces emissions in a realistic way and has the additional advantage of freezing out Vladimir Putin.

In a separate interview with The Climate 202, McMaster said that his push for carbon border fees was a logical outgrowth of his 2020 memoir, which detailed the risks that Russia and other countries pose to U.S. national security.

“Some things in life are like black swans and some are like pink flamingos — right in front of you,” said McMaster, who resigned from the Trump administration in 2018 and is now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on the campus of Stanford University.

The catch

However, neither Cramer nor McMaster supports a domestic price on carbon, which could complicate efforts to design U.S.-E.U. carbon border tariffs that comply with World Trade Organization rules.

It could also be a nonstarter for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a vocal climate hawk who mounted an unsuccessful push last year to include carbon pricing in President Biden's reconciliation bill.

“I'm glad my Republican colleagues are interested in this issue but we will need some form of domestic price on carbon pollution for border adjustment to work the way they intend,” Whitehouse said in a statement to The Climate 202. “A border adjustment requires a denominator and a carbon price makes the best one.”

But Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally who co-chairs the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, last year introduced legislation with Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) to establish a border carbon adjustment without a domestic carbon price. Coons said in a statement to The Climate 202 that “as we confront the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I am working to advance this proposal that people across the political spectrum can support as a means to promote energy security.”

Ben Pendergrass, senior director of government affairs at Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots organization that trains volunteers to advocate for carbon pricing, said he doesn't necessarily oppose carbon border fees without a complementary climate policy at home.

“We obviously think it's a good idea to have a domestic carbon price,” he said, “but I can certainly see the benefits of enacting a border carbon adjustment now instead of waiting for every single thing to be in place.”

Drill, baby, drill

Still, several other Republicans have responded to the Ukraine crisis by urging the Biden administration to lift restrictions on domestic fossil fuel production, echoing demands from the American Petroleum Institute.

“America, not Russia, is the world's No. 1 energy producer,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said on the House floor yesterday. “We should act like it and lead. President Biden must restore American energy dominance.”

In response, many climate activists have countered that the Ukraine crisis illustrates the need to transition away from fossil fuels toward a clean energy economy.

“Russia's main weapon against Europe is its threat to cut off oil and gas,” tweeted the author and climate activist Bill McKibben. “So it might be wise to stop using oil and gas now that we have workable alternatives … Also saves the planet.”

On the Hill

At State of the Union, Biden says climate action will cut costs for families

Despite campaigning on a promise to prioritize the climate crisis, President Biden made only two references to climate change in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, which largely centered on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and soaring inflation.

But when the president did mention global warming, he framed climate action as a means of reducing costs for American families — a strategic move at a time when rising gas prices are on voters' minds.

"Let's cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change," Biden said in an apparent reference to the clean energy incentives in the Build Back Better Act, which remains stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). 

“Let's provide an investment tax credit to weatherize your home and your business to be energy-efficient, and get a tax credit for it,” he added. "Double America's clean energy production in solar, wind and so much more. Lower the price of electric vehicles, saving another $80 a month that you're not going to have to pay at the pump."

Some climate advocates were disappointed by Biden's infrequent mentions of global warming, as the speech came one day after the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that humanity has a “brief and rapidly closing window” to avert the worst effects of rising global temperatures. But other advocates praised the president for continuing to push Congress to act on the stalled clean energy incentives.

International climate

U.S., other nations to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves

The United States and other world powers plan to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves, a move intended to reduce crude oil prices that have climbed to nearly $113 a barrel following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the International Energy Agency announced on Tuesday and The Washington Post’s Anna Phillips reported. 

The Energy Department said it plans to release 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In separate statements issued yesterday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that the Biden administration may release more.

While the sanctions that nations have recently imposed on Russia don't directly target its oil and gas sector, fighting is expected to disrupt supply routes through Ukraine and the Black Sea, significantly shrinking crude oil stocks.

Corporate commitments

Exxon becomes latest oil major to cut ties with Russia

ExxonMobil yesterday said it plans to pull out of a large offshore oil and gas project in Russia and halt new investments in the country, becoming the latest energy major to sever ties over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, The Post's Jeanne Whalen reports.

The project, located off the coast of Sakhalin Island, was a priority for former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who formed a close relationship with Putin before being named Trump's first secretary of state in 2017.

BP, Shell and a host of other Western companies have announced plans to depart Russia in recent days.

Pressure points

Hunting dogs chased a mountain lion up a tree. Then Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte shot it.

On public land north of Yellowstone National Park last year, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) shot and killed a mountain lion that was being monitored by the National Park Service after hunting dogs chased it up a tree, The Post’s Joshua Partlow reports. 

The hunt, which has not previously been reported, took place on Dec. 28 on U.S. Forest Service land southwest of Emigrant, Mont. The governor and friends tracked the 5-year-old mountain lion, which was wearing a satellite GPS collar used by park staff to study the animal’s population, before sending it up a tree and shooting it.

Gianforte’s press secretary, Brooke Stroyke, confirmed that the hunt occurred and said it was legal, noting that the governor had a valid license.

Less than a year before the hunt, Gianforte killed a Yellowstone wolf that was wearing a tracking collar, sparking an outcry among environmentalists enraged by Gianforte’s personal hunting exploits as well as his support for hunting laws in the state that passed last year.


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