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The Climate 202

Manchin delivered for Democrats. Can they return the favor?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Our colleague Theodoric Meyer, a co-author of The Early 202, helped report and write the top of the newsletter today. (Unfortunately, Maxine's cat, Ollie, didn't get a byline.)

As a scheduling note, The Climate 202 won't publish on Friday or next week in observance of the congressional recess. We'll be back in your inbox on Sept. 6. But first:

Manchin delivered for Democrats. Can they return the favor?

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is accustomed to being a kingmaker in Washington, with Democrats ready to offer him almost anything to secure his elusive vote. 

But Manchin's latest effort to overhaul the rules for approving new energy infrastructure is testing the bounds of his once-limitless influence on Capitol Hill.

To gain the centrist senator's vote for an ambitious law to tackle climate change and lower the deficit, top Democrats and the White House promised to pass a separate bill this fall to speed up the permitting process for new energy projects, an important issue for Manchin's home state.

Manchin is hoping to attach the permitting package to a stopgap funding bill that must pass by Sept. 30 to prevent a government shutdown.

“It either keeps the country open, or we shut down the government. That’ll happen Sept. 30, so let’s see how that politics plays out,” he told West Virginia MetroNews this week.

But it's unclear whether the gambit will work.

For one thing, liberal House Democrats have said they have serious concerns about potentially undermining the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions.

“Destroying NEPA has long been on Republicans' wish list,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the House Natural Resources Committee’s chairman, said in a recent interview. “But now, in a bizarre twist of history, Democrats are in a position to deliver on that agenda.”

And GOP lawmakers might be loath to help Democrats pass the legislation weeks after Manchin angered Republicans by announcing that he’d negotiated a secret deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass a climate package that GOP leaders thought was dead.

Chris Treanor, a Democratic lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said it might take some time for Republicans “to meaningfully engage in negotiations over policies that have been a priority of theirs for a decade or more, just given the bad blood.”

The bill would need the votes of at least 10 Republican senators — or more if any Democrats refuse to support it — to overcome a filibuster. Whether Republicans ultimately agree to support it could depend on whether the bill is as aggressive as they want.

If the final bill is similar to a recently leaked draft, “it’ll be hard to get Republican votes,” said one GOP lobbyist, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “It doesn’t really have any teeth.”

Policy details

The leaked draft of the bill, which bears the watermark of the American Petroleum Institute, would shorten environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and require President Biden to designate 25 energy projects of “strategic national importance,” among other provisions. (API didn't draft the bill, according to a person familiar with the matter; the draft was shared with API and other trade groups for comment.)

A second person familiar with the matter confirmed the authenticity of the leaked draft and said it was about a month-and-a-half old. 

A new draft has been circulating in recent days among Manchin, Schumer and a small number of others, according to three people familiar with the matter. A two-page summary of the legislation obtained by The Washington Post has also made the rounds among Senate Democrats.

The bill would expedite not only fossil fuel projects such as natural gas pipelines but also the transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity, according to the summary.

  • “The proposed Senate Permitting Package would help expedite the nationwide buildout of power sector transmission infrastructure that is critical to deploying the cleaner generation needed to hit President Biden's climate goals of a 50-52% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 beneath 2005 levels,” the document says.

Neither the leaked draft nor the two-page summary mentions the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project under construction that Manchin has championed to transport Appalachian shale gas about 300 miles from West Virginia to Virginia.

But a person familiar with the matter said the permitting package would still help the pipeline, which has been mired in litigation and other delays, by expediting permitting and licensing under the Clean Water Act.

One of the companies behind the pipeline, Equitrans Midstream, and two other natural gas companies hired Larry Puccio, Manchin’s former chief of staff and longtime friend, last year to lobby on their behalf. Puccio and another lobbyist, Angel Moore, have lobbied the Senate and the Energy Department on permitting issues, according to a disclosure filing.

Reached by phone, Puccio said he wasn’t lobbying on the permitting bill.

“I’ve done nothing on permitting,” he said.

Equitrans Midstream declined to comment.

Green angst

Meanwhile, the permitting proposal has put environmental groups in a tough spot. While many environmentalists have voiced serious concerns about the side deal, others privately concede that it was necessary to secure Manchin's vote for the biggest climate bill in U.S. history. 

A coalition of 650 climate groups on Wednesday sent a letter to Democratic leadership expressing “strenuous opposition” to the deal. Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, has also circulated an analysis of how the permitting proposal could accelerate the approval of fossil fuel projects, according to a copy of the analysis obtained by The Post.

“There's a misconception right now that we won't be able to build out the clean energy infrastructure we desperately need unless we roll back environmental laws,” said Earthjustice President Abbie Dillen.

But Heather Zichal, a former White House climate adviser who is now the chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, said the permitting proposal will play an essential role in realizing the benefits of the climate bill, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act.

“There are so many terrific new opportunities for clean energy deployment within the Inflation Reduction Act,” Zichal said. “If you don't have a parallel call to modernize the way these projects are permitted, it's hard for me to see that these projects will come online in a timely manner.”

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement that agreeing to overhaul permitting rules was essential to passing the climate package.

“Most of us believe we can improve the federal permitting process for energy projects in a way that doesn’t strip away critical protections for our environment and our health,” he said.

International climate

What it’s like to toil in India’s dangerous, unrelenting heat

Temperatures in India soared for months this spring and summer, marking the most persistent, widespread and severe heat event in the country’s recorded history and causing the deaths of at least 90 people. The sweltering conditions have taken a particular toll on outdoor laborers, who make up half of India’s workforce and see little relief from the sun during the day and nights at home without air conditioning, The Post's Gerry Shih, Sarah Kaplan, Ruby Mellen and Anu Narayanswamy report.

To depict how summer has become a season of peril amid the warming climate, forcing society’s most vulnerable members to live and work in conditions that are tough on the human body, The Post spent two of the hottest days in New Delhi in June following delivery driver Mohammad Hussain and bricklayer Ganesh Shaw as they worked, measuring the surrounding temperature indexes. 

The team found that the consequences of extreme heat are unequal, with those living in low-income countries or communities who contribute the least to global warming facing the most dangerous climate effects. Both Hussain and Shaw worked for hours each day in broiling heat that was considered too much for professional athletes to endure, often without consistent access to drinking water, because they had no other option from their employers and needed to earn money for their families. 

The Indian heat wave was made 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change, according to the World Weather Attribution Network. In the next 30 years, the number of extremely hot days in India is on track to triple. If humanity does not drastically reduce planet-warming emissions, experts say, some places may become too hot for workers to make a living outside without putting their cardiovascular health at risk.

Agency alert

Former Interior secretary Zinke lied to investigators in casino case, watchdog finds

Trump-era Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to investigators on multiple occasions about conversations he had with federal officials and lobbyists about a petition from two Indian tribes to operate an off-reservation casino in New England, the department’s watchdog said in a report released Wednesday, Lisa Rein and Anna Phillips report for The Post. 

The report from Interior's inspector general comes six months after the same office accused Zinke of lying about his role in negotiations over a land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont. In that case, the department found that Zinke had violated an ethics agreement after communicating with project developers 64 times to discuss the project’s design, the use of his foundation’s land as a parking lot, and his interest in operating a brewery on the site.

An attorney for Zinke, who is poised to win a new House seat in Montana this fall, criticized the department's findings as “misleading and inaccurate” and said the former secretary was “completely candid in his interview” with investigators.

Pressure points

California to ban new gas-powered cars by 2035

California is moving closer to blocking the sale of new cars that run only on gasoline by 2035, a major step in the state's fight against climate change that could have far-reaching effects on the auto industry, The Post's Dino Grandoni and Evan Halper report. 

The proposed regulation, which comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) set a goal in 2020 to electrify California’s fleet, would force automakers to boost the production of cleaner vehicles starting in 2026. However, the move does not ban the sale of any used vehicles, so old-fashioned gas guzzlers will still be allowed on California’s roadways. The state’s Air Resources Board is expected to approve the measure during a meeting Thursday. 

The Golden State has considerable sway over the nation's environmental agenda and the auto industry because of a waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to impose stricter tailpipe emission standards than the federal government. The state’s regulations could send a signal to the auto industry and buyers that the car market will soon be closed to gas-powered vehicles, helping speed up provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that invest in the nationwide transition to electric vehicles.

In the atmosphere


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