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Texas House race poses test for Democrats on abortion and climate politics

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Congratulations to our colleagues on The Washington Post's climate team, who were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for their coverage of environmental justice. 🎉

Texas House race poses test for Democrats on abortion and climate politics

In November, The Climate 202 wrote about a key Democratic primary race in Texas between Rep. Henry Cuellar and Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration lawyer.

Today we're revisiting the race, which is back in the national spotlight because of the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Cuellar, the most staunchly antiabortion Democrat in the House, will face off later this month against Cisneros, who supports abortion rights.

As the battle over abortion puts more attention on the race, environmentalists hope to rally support for Cisneros, whom they view as a champion of bold climate action, and erode support for Cuellar, whom they have dubbed “Big Oil's favorite Democrat.”

“Henry Cuellar has been on the wrong side of so many issues, climate and abortion being the top two,” Ezra Oliff-Lieberman, electoral organizer with the youth-led climate group Sunrise Movement, told The Climate 202.

“Texans are feeling the infringement of abortion rights and the effects of climate change firsthand, and they absolutely want change,” Oliff-Lieberman said, citing the record heat wave baking much of Texas this week.

While climate activists have rallied around Cisneros, House Democratic leadership has continued to support Cuellar, even after the FBI raided his home and campaign office as part of a federal investigation.

On May 24, Cuellar will face Cisneros in a runoff election sparked by a tight primary race in March, in which neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

Here's what to know about the race's climate implications ahead of the runoff:

Fossil fuel money

Cuellar, who has represented Texas’s 28th District for nearly two decades, is the second-biggest Democratic recipient in the House of oil and gas industry donations in the 2022 cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets. Since 2001, the industry has given Cuellar more than $1.1 million in campaign donations, the data shows.

By contrast, Cisneros has signed the “No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge,” which prohibits candidates from accepting contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and political action committees. 

Cuellar has a 50 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters the lowest of any House Democrat — for his record of opposing environmental legislation. Last year, for instance, he wrote to Democratic leadership that a fee on methane emissions in President Biden's Build Back Better bill was “unfairly targeting American energy jobs.”

Cisneros has earned the league's endorsement for supporting bold climate policies, including a methane fee and the Green New Deal, the proposal to wean the country off fossil fuels within a decade.

Cuellar is “not just accepting money from the fossil fuel industry, but he's also taking the side of the industry over the side of his constituents and vulnerable communities,” Craig Auster, the league's vice president of political affairs, told The Climate 202.

Democratic leadership stands by Cuellar

In January, the FBI raided Cuellar's home and campaign office in Laredo, Tex., as part of a federal investigation into a group of U.S. business executives who have ties to Azerbaijan. The congressman has maintained his innocence and vowed to remain in the race.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in March that she supports Cuellar's reelection bid.

“I support my incumbents,” Pelosi said, according to the Texas Tribune. “I support every one of them, from right to left. That is what I do.”

Other members of Democratic leadership, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.), have also continued to campaign for Cuellar. 

In a statement last week, Cisneros called on Pelosi and her lieutenants to withdraw their endorsement of Cuellar, as the Democratic Party seeks to protect abortion rights before the Supreme Court potentially strikes down Roe v. Wade. The statement came hours before Clyburn was set to rally with Cuellar in Laredo.

Jane Fonda and AOC back Cisneros

Cisneros, meanwhile, has drawn a celebrity backer. On Friday, she was endorsed by the climate PAC of Jane Fonda, the actress and climate activist.

“We're pleased to endorse Jessica Cisneros, a devoted supporter of the Green New Deal and true climate champion,” Fonda said in a statement. “With the climate crisis on the brink of becoming an irreversible tragedy, we need to elect more trailblazers like Jessica, instead of politicians who are content to stall climate action as they rake in thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the original co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution, have also thrown their support behind Cisneros.

Neither campaign responded to a request for comment in time for publication.

International climate

Negotiations over E.U. ban on Russian oil yield no breakthrough

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán ended talks on Monday without coming to an agreement on the European Union's plan to phase out Russian oil imports that was announced last week, Politico’s Barbara Moens reports. 

“This evening’s discussion with PM Viktor Orban was helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security,” von der Leyen tweeted. “We made progress, but further work is needed.”

Von der Leyen traveled to Hungary to talk with Orbán after a meeting on Sunday among all 27 E.U. countries also ended without a deal. In the past few days, Budapest has blocked sweeping E.U. plans to restrict Russian oil sales, a key source of revenue for the Kremlin, saying it would put Hungary in a severely vulnerable economic position. 

According to a draft of the most recent plans that circulated on Sunday and was seen by Politico, landlocked nations such as Hungary and Slovakia, which rely heavily on Russian oil, would have until the end of 2024 to phase out those imports. Other nations would have just six months to comply. 

Agency alert

SEC extends public comment deadline on climate risk rule

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday extended the deadline for public comments on its proposed regulation that would force all publicly traded companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and the risks they face from climate change, The Hill's Rachel Frazin reports. 

The public will now have until June 17 to comment on the landmark proposal because of “significant interest” from investors and others, SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement. 

Conservatives and business groups have criticized the proposal, saying it oversteps the commission's authority. Liberals have praised the rule but say its requirements surrounding indirect emissions don't go far enough.

Corporate commitments

United to purchase sustainable aviation fuel overseas

United Airlines on Tuesday signed an agreement to purchase sustainable aviation fuel internationally, making it the first U.S. airline to do so. 

The agreement with Neste, the world's largest producer of renewable diesel and jet fuel, allows United to purchase up to 52.5 million gallons over the next three years for flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and eventually other airports as well.

“Reducing carbon emissions from fuel is the fastest way United will reach our 100 percent green goal by 2050,” Lauren Riley, United’s chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. “The demand from our customers to limit their emissions from flying is growing exponentially, and this agreement means that United customers flying from Amsterdam and potentially other airports will be partners in our sustainability efforts.”

Extreme events

‘Dire’ wildfire conditions persist in Southwest

A climate-fueled drought in the Southwestern United States, exacerbated by a record heat wave and relentless winds, is bringing what the Weather Service’s Prediction Center is calling a “volatile combination” that could foster “extreme” wildfire behavior, The Post’s Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow report. 

On Monday, the Weather Service designated a top-tier “extremely critical” wildfire risk for northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. Numerous large fires have burned more than 180,000 acres, displacing thousands of residents. 

The fire season picked up speed in April — long before its typical peak in June. Human-induced climate change is known to increase the frequency of intense and prolonged fire events.

As record-setting heat blasts Pakistan, a glacial lake floods a village

A glacial lake flooded a village in Pakistan on Saturday after record high temperatures caused it to melt faster than normal, The Post's Kasha Patel reports. The flooding, fueled by global warming, wiped out part of a key bridge and damaged homes, buildings and power structures in the Hunza District. 

The event occurred as temperatures soared over the past month, with melted snow and ice packs rapidly increasing the lake’s volume and prompting a breach of a nearby dam. Pakistan’s climate change minister warned that the country is highly vulnerable to flooding because of the heat wave baking the region, which helped the lake form a month earlier than usual and nearly double in size over the past 20 days. 

Local leaders said the hazardous floods are expected to occur more frequently as global temperatures rise because of the high number of glaciers that surround the region. Pakistan has already warmed around 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) since preindustrial times, and the country is expected to warm even more by the end of the century under a steady emissions scenario.

In the atmosphere


This koala looks completely innocent to us. 🐨

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