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The Climate 202

Sen. Jon Tester, one of the Senate's only farmers, is an unlikely champion for climate action

The Climate 202

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Correction: A previous version of today's newsletter referred to Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) as the only working farmer in the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is also a working farmer. 

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! 

🚨 President Biden and European leaders are expected to announce a major initiative to direct shipments of liquefied natural gas to Europe, our colleagues scooped last night. More on that below. But first:

Sen. Jon Tester, one of the Senate's only farmers, is an unlikely voice for climate action

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has something in common with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.): They both hail from red states that President Biden lost to Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

But there's one key difference: While Manchin has emerged as a major obstacle to the passage of Biden's climate and social spending agenda, Tester has thrown his weight behind aggressive action on climate change.

That has made Tester, one of the Senate's most centrist Democrats, an unlikely hero of major environmental groups, including the influential League of Conservation Voters.

It helps that the Montanan, who is known for peppering his comments with profanity, is one of the Senate's only working farmers. He has witnessed firsthand how climate change has threatened wheat crops on his land near Big Sandy, Mont., whether through droughts, record high temperatures or swarms of wheat stem sawflies.

The Climate 202 sat down with Tester on Wednesday to discuss the prospects for the climate provisions in Biden's stalled reconciliation bill, including the tax credits for electric vehicles, which have him dreaming of driving an electric tractor someday.

Here are highlights from the surprisingly swear-free conversation:

Build Back … smaller?

Talks over the reconciliation bill that passed the House in November, formerly known as the Build Back Better Act, have evaporated since Manchin came out against the measure in December.

Still, Tester continues to think that the climate portions of the measure could get 50 votes in the Senate.

“I think there's a chance that we could do some things on the climate side,” he said. “I think it will be much smaller than what the House put forward. I don't think that's breaking news.”

Tester added that the tax credits for clean energy, which Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has described as the “linchpin” of the climate provisions, have broad support across the caucus.

“I think the tax credits for renewable energy would probably be at the top of the list — for solar and wind in particular,” he said. 

Going electric

Manchin has voiced concern about providing tax credits for electric cars, telling attendees of a recent energy conference in Houston that he is “very reluctant to go down the path of electric vehicles” because of their dependence on foreign supply chains.

Tester, for his part, walked a fine line when it came to federal subsidies to help Americans go electric.

On one hand, Tester said he would prefer to support research and development for electric vehicles and their batteries, which would go through the appropriations process rather than the budget reconciliation process.

“The tax credits for electric vehicles are nice, but I think it could be better spent on R&D,” he said. “What oftentimes happens when you put a $10,000 tax credit on cars, manufacturers just increase the price of the car by 10,000 bucks. … The bottom line is, if we put the money into R&D, it allows folks like me to have a car that I can drive 400 miles, which is basically a day's drive in Montana.”

On the other hand, Tester said that he “longs” for the day when his tractor can be powered by a battery rather than diesel fuel. He noted that he was using hearing aids on Wednesday because of a noisy diesel-powered tractor that he drove during high school.

“Electric tractors would make no noise,” he said. “So there's all sorts of benefits to this.”

Fans in many places

Tester's down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach has endeared him to some Republicans and environmentalists alike.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who served as a lead negotiator with Tester of the bipartisan infrastructure law, praised the Montanan in a recent interview with Politico. “He cuts through the BS that’s around here and says what makes sense,” Romney said.

Whitney Tawney, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters, an affiliate of the League of Conservation Voters, told The Climate 202 that Tester has consistently engaged in tough conversations about climate policy while remaining approachable to constituents and listening to their concerns.

Tawney recalled remarking at an event that Tester is “Montana's favorite Carhartt-wearing senator,” to which he replied that Carhartts were too expensive and that he was actually wearing a Dickies jacket.

“It was definitely something he had worn directly from the farm. And he probably had a swear word in there," she said with a laugh.

Pressure points

Biden and Europeans to announce major plan to redirect gas to Europe

President Biden and European leaders are expected to announce a major initiative on Friday to direct shipments of liquefied natural gas to Europe, part of a broader effort to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter, The Washington Post's Tyler Pager, Ashley Parker, John Hudson and Jeff Stein report

The initiative, whose details have yet to be finalized, will be unveiled when Biden meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels before departing for Poland. 

Speaking to European Union lawmakers in Brussels on Wednesday, von der Leyen said she planned to discuss supplies of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, with Biden. “We are aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies for the next two winters,” she said.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that Biden would make an announcement about LNG with the European Commission on Friday, although he declined to provide details.

On the Hill

Sen. Manchin lays out his energy priorities in Paris

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday touted a tax credit for clean energy manufacturing known as 48C, saying it would help rebuild manufacturing in coal communities that have had power plants shut down over the past decade.

““Preserving and creating new opportunities for our coal miners and coal communities is always front of mind and one of my top priorities,” Manchin said during remarks at the International Energy Agency’s 2022 Ministerial Meeting in Paris. 

Manchin also reiterated his support for hydrogen, nuclear power and carbon capture, while he repeated skepticism about a transition to electric vehicles, saying he is worried about the supply chain for the minerals needed in batteries

“I am very much concerned about … relying on China to supply the necessary resources we need to have that transition happen," he said.

Sens. Markey and Warren urge Biden to invoke Defense Production Act for clean energy

Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to invoke the Defense Production Act to scale up the development of clean energy such as heat pumps to reduce Europe's and allied countries’ reliance on Russian fossil fuels and to cut emissions. 

“Combined with our continued efforts to pass a legislative package that includes $555 billion in climate justice and clean energy investments, these executive actions would provide additional support for our national security, climate action and consumer protection goals,” the Massachusetts Democrats wrote.

The Climate 202 previously reported that the White House was considering invoking the Defense Production Act to counter Europe's reliance on Russian gas amid the war in Ukraine. Wednesday’s letter was joined by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Sen. Barrasso introduces legislation to stop FERC climate guidance

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to stop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from implementing its new policy on considering how natural gas projects affect climate change until gas prices have gone down.

“FERC’s destructive new policies will make it nearly impossible to build or upgrade any natural gas infrastructure. They will choke the world’s most efficient and safe natural gas delivery network,” Barrasso, ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. 

International climate

Forecasting initiative could deliver early weather warnings worldwide, U.N. says

The United Nations on Wednesday announced a push to ensure that within the next five years, “every person on Earth” is protected by early warning systems that can alert communities to impending weather disasters, our colleague Brady Dennis reports. 

The World Meteorological Organization will spearhead the effort, which involves building systems to give advance warning to people about looming heatwaves and drought, fast-spreading wildfires, rapidly rising floodwaters and powerful tropical storms.  

A third of the world’s population, mainly in developing and small island nations, are still not covered by existing early warning systems. “This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in remarks announcing the initiative.  

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Tuesday advanced legislation that seeks to improve tornado forecasting and how weather threats are communicated to the public, Diana Leonard reports for The Post. Over the past two days, more than 50 tornadoes have ripped through Texas and Southeastern states.

Russia’s sustainable development adviser quits over the invasion of Ukraine

Anatoly Chubais quit as presidential envoy on sustainable development — a role created for him last year by Russian President Vladimir Putin the Kremlin confirmed Wednesday after reports surfaced that he had left the country, Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina report for The Post. 

Although Chubais is the most senior official to sever ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, he was not a member of Putin’s dwindling inner circle. His job was to coordinate with international partners to push sustainable development goals forward. 

Ruslan Edelgeriev, Putin’s delegate on climate issues, confirmed Chubais’s resignation in remarks to a state-owned news agency.

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