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Democrats eye Defense Production Act for clean energy

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! If you were on Capitol Hill yesterday, we hope you steered clear of the fox that was reportedly biting people, including Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Politico reporter Ximena Bustillo. 🦊 But first:

Exclusive: Bill would boost clean energy through the Defense Production Act

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will introduce legislation today to spur domestic production of clean energy technologies through the Defense Production Act, according to details about the legislative push shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The Energy Security and Independence Act would lay the groundwork for President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to shore up domestic supply chains for heat pumps, solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies crucial to the nation's transition to clean energy.

While the co-sponsors have spoken with White House aides about the legislation, it's unclear whether Biden will again invoke the Defense Production Act, an emergency national defense law, to bolster the nation's energy security amid the war in Ukraine.

The bill comes after Biden last week invoked the law to boost U.S. output of critical minerals used in electric vehicle batteries and reduce dependence on foreign supply chains. Climate advocates have pushed Biden to go a step further and use the Defense Production Act to shore up U.S. manufacturing of heat pumps, while moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) wants Biden to invoke the law to rush completion of a stalled natural gas pipeline.

The new measure would invest $100 billion in “reinvigorating the domestic clean energy industrial base using the Defense Product Act,” according to a summary from Bush's office.

  • The bill would also create a Domestic Renewable Energy Industrial Base Task Force to engage with environmental justice communities, manufacturers, scientists, labor unions and others about the nation's transition to renewable energy.
  • In addition to the $100 billion to fund the Defense Production Act, the measure would provide $30 billion for the Energy Department to weatherize and insulate 6.4 million homes over the next 10 years, as well as $10 billion to procure and install millions of heat pumps.

In an interview with The Climate 202, Crow said his office has continued to speak with White House aides about the measure.

“We have had some preliminary discussions, and those remain ongoing,” Crow said. “And the president last week showed his willingness to use the DPA for these efforts with the EV battery issue.”

White House spokesman Vedant Patel did not respond to a request for comment about the bill.

Support from the Squad and moderates

The lawmakers unveiling the legislation hail from both the liberal and moderate flanks of the Democratic Party, signaling broad support for clean energy investments across the caucus. 

  • Bush is a member of “the Squad,” the group of liberal lawmakers that includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
  • Crow, a former Army Ranger, belongs to the moderate “gang of nine,” a group of lawmakers with military and intelligence backgrounds who flipped red districts blue when they were first elected in 2018.
  • Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is a standard-bearer of the party's progressive base.

The bill has 27 co-sponsors in the House, including Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). In the Senate, the bill has six co-sponsors, including the liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The national security case for clean energy

Presidents from both parties have used the Defense Production Act, which was enacted in 1950 in response to the start of the Korean War, to classify certain products as critical to national security.

  • Donald Trump issued an executive order in March 2020 that defined ventilators and personal protective equipment as “essential to the national defense” — the standard required by the law — at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Biden also invoked the Defense Production Act in September to increase the supply of fire hose amid wildfires in the West.

Crow, who served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, argued that deploying more clean energy would enhance national security by reducing America's dependence on petrostates and the volatility of global oil markets.

“We see with Russia the risks of relying on autocrats and dictators for our energy,” Crow said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And we know that the climate crisis is actually the biggest national security threat that we face in the long term.”

Pressure points

Advocate promotes fossil fuels for poor nations he once denigrated

As countries around the world grapple with how to curb their reliance on fossil fuels to fight climate change, conservatives are increasingly making the argument that the poorest nations should pursue the opposite course, Maxine reports.

Alex Epstein, one of the most prominent proponents of this strategy, has testified before Congress and delivered public lectures arguing that the shift to clean energy is “immoral” because it denies developing countries the cheap electricity needed to lift people out of poverty. His new book, “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas — Not Less,” will come out May 24.

His critics have previously characterized the defense of fossil fuels he has helped inject into the climate debate as ethnocentric and paternalistic. Now they are pointing to newly resurfaced articles he wrote in 1999 while in college that dismissed non-Western cultures as inferior, saying the articles raise further questions about whether his argument is rooted in a “moral” concern for developing nations or is a cynical attempt to promote the use of oil, coal and natural gas.

Epstein defended his college writings after being contacted by The Washington Post last week.

On the Hill

Democrats find themselves on the defensive over gas prices

In California, Democratic Rep. Mike Levin tells his constituents, who pay about $6 a gallon for gasoline, that the three P’s are to blame: the pandemic, Russian President Vladimir Putin and alleged price-gouging by oil companies, Marianna Sotomayor and Tony Perry report for The Post. 

Although those factors are outside of the party's control, some people remain convinced that President Biden and Democrats are responsible for rising gas costs, putting many congressional lawmakers in a vulnerable spot ahead of the midterms as people decide where to direct anger over the hit to their wallets. 

Casting around for solutions, Democrats largely agreed that one path forward is by holding oil companies accountable for high gas prices despite the price of oil falling back under $100 a barrel. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will get its chance to grill the top executives of six oil companies at a hearing today.

Fred Upton, former House Energy and Commerce chair, will retire

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Tuesday announced he will retire at the end of the session after 36 years in office, E&E News’s Timothy Cama reports. 

In an emotional speech on the House floor Tuesday, Upton recounted his time as chair of the committee from 2011 to 2017, during which he sought to improve pipeline safety and better protect the Great Lakes, among other environmental priorities. 

Upton's chairmanship of the panel overlapped with Barack Obama's ambitious climate agenda. In 2015, he led Republican opposition against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, later resulting in the committee passing a resolution to overturn both the plan and a regulation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from newly built power plants. Upton is one of 10 Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach President Donald Trump. 

House Democrats urge Postal Service to pump the brakes on gas-guzzling truck contract

House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday accused the U.S. Postal Service of ignoring “its responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of its fleet" by moving ahead with a contract to purchase up to 148,000 new gas-powered trucks, despite calls from the Biden administration to electrify the federal fleet, our colleague Jacob Bogage reports.

At a hearing, Maloney said there was compelling evidence that the Postal Service relied on faulty calculations in deciding to purchase the gas-powered trucks rather than battery-powered vehicles.

Victoria Stephen, head of the mail service’s program for “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles,” testified that the agency had purchased as many electric vehicles as its current financial conditions allow.

“If the funding was made available to us, we would absolutely adjust our plans,” Stephen said. “Our plans today reflect what we can afford with our own resources.”

International climate

E.U. proposes ban on Russian coal after killing of civilians in Ukraine

The European Commission is proposing a ban on Russian coal — not oil or gas — as part of new sanctions in response to possible war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine, Emily Rauhala and Quentin Ariès report for The Post. 

While the package marks the European Union's first move to block Russian energy imports, it falls short of meeting demands for a full embargo. The reason the commission proposed coal, not oil or gas, “is likely because it is the easiest to be replaced,” said Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that oil could be next but offered no timeline. “We are working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports,” she said. 

Agency alert

EPA moves to ban the most common type of cancer-causing asbestos

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed a ban on chrysotile asbestos, the most common form of the toxic mineral still used in the United States. Research shows that it is a carcinogen linked to about 40,000 deaths nationwide each year, The Post's Anna Phillips reports. 

The proposed ban could help both workers handling asbestos and people living near industrial chlorine manufacturing facilities, said Michal Freedhoff, head of the EPA’s chemical safety and pollution prevention efforts. 


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