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The Climate 202

Meet the House Republican who could lead a key environmental committee

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! If you're looking for a new book to read and you don't mind a little climate dystopia, here are four science-fiction novels that “accept the inevitability of climate disruption.” 📚 But first:

Rep. Bruce Westerman eyes Natural Resources Committee gavel

If Republicans regain control of the House in November's midterm elections, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) would become chair of the Natural Resources Committee, one of the most consequential panels for environmental policy.

In that role, Westerman would be tasked with helping to carve out a Republican agenda on climate and environmental issues, even as some GOP lawmakers continue to reject the scientific consensus on global warming.

Westerman, who received a master's degree in forestry from Yale University and is Congress's only licensed forester, has introduced legislation aimed at planting 1 trillion trees and has long argued that “conservation is conservative.” 

In a phone interview with The Climate 202 last week, Westerman detailed how he would lead the Natural Resources Committee and what environmental legislation he would seek to shepherd through the new Congress.

Here are our top takeaways from the conversation:

Oversight of offshore drilling

Republicans plan to launch immediate oversight of the Biden administration if they win control of the House, and the Natural Resources panel would be no exception.

“We will have a lot of oversight hearings if I'm the chairman of the committee,” Westerman said. “I think everybody probably understands that.”

In particular, Westerman said he would seek to conduct oversight of the Interior Department's efforts to craft a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing in federal waters.

  • A proposed program released in July opened the door to new drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.
  • But Republicans have called for the administration to further boost domestic fossil fuel production, while environmentalists and Democrats have warned that doing so would hasten a climate catastrophe.
Manchin's permitting reform push

Westerman said he is willing to work with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on a bipartisan bill to overhaul the nation's permitting process for energy projects, particularly after Manchin's controversial permitting bill was pulled from a government funding package last month.

“I think I could work with Senator Manchin on some bipartisan permitting reforms,” Westerman said. “I don't think it can be all just his idea of what he wants to do. But we've got things like the BUILDER Act and other ideas we've put forward, so we could sit down together and work out some hopefully bipartisan legislation that could be passed and signed into law.”

  • The Building U.S. Infrastructure through Limited Delays and Efficient Reviews (BUILDER) Act, which Westerman and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced last year, seeks to speed up project reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The measure has not attracted any support from Democrats, who generally oppose any action that could weaken NEPA.
  • To gain Manchin's vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, Democratic leadership promised to pass a permitting reform bill this fall. But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) dropped the permitting bill from the government funding package after it became clear that the measure lacked the 60 votes needed to pass.

“The Democrats pretty much were turncoats on him with promises they made on permitting reform,” Westerman said. “So hopefully he'll work with us.”

Critical minerals, natural climate solutions

Westerman said he thinks two types of environmental legislation could gain broad Republican support: bills focused on critical minerals and natural climate solutions.

Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to bolster domestic production of critical minerals used in electric vehicles and other green technologies, he said, although they may disagree on the specifics.

“Especially if my colleagues on the left think we need to electrify everything, you've got to have copper and rare earth minerals to do that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans generally support measures that promote natural climate solutions, such as planting trees and sequestering carbon in soil, even as they reject efforts to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, a primary driver of climate change.

“Where Republicans and Democrats differ a lot is Republicans realize the numbers show that you can't just wave a magic wand and get rid of all fossil fuels,” Westerman said.

Climate science

On Saturday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted that Democrats are “so narcissistic that they believe people control the climate,” despite overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is mainly responsible for climate change.

Asked about his views on climate science, Westerman said he agrees with the scientific consensus that humanity has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

“There's over 400 parts per million up there,” he said. “Do I believe that man contributed to that? Absolutely.”

However, Westerman rejected the notion that the world must dramatically reduce carbon emissions within the next decade or face catastrophic consequences — a finding endorsed by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Do I think we've only got 10 years left? No,” he said. “I think we've got a lot longer left.”

International climate

Ukraine halts electricity exports after Russian strikes damage grid

Ukraine's energy ministry on Monday announced that it would halt electricity exports to other European nations, saying Russia's latest missile strikes marked the largest attack on the country's power grid since the start of the invasion, Zach Schonfeld reports for the Hill

“Russia is destroying our energy system, killing the very possibility of exporting electricity from Ukraine,” German Galushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister, said in a statement. 

Galushchenko said Ukraine would stop exporting electricity beginning on Tuesday, noting that the nation had continued to meet its export commitments despite fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s state emergency service asked residents to avoid using energy-intensive devices such as heaters, microwaves, washing machines and coffee makers between 7 and 11 p.m. local time on Monday.

Russia launched massive strikes on civilian infrastructure on Monday in nearly a dozen Ukrainian cities far from the front lines, The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reports. The strikes killed at least 14 people and wounded nearly 100, and left 15 regions with partially disrupted electricity supplies, officials said.

On the Hill

Candidates clash on climate change in tight Wisconsin Senate race

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and his Democratic challenger Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes have expressed vastly different views on climate change in a hotly contested race that could determine which party controls the Senate, Lawrence Andrea reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Johnson has criticized government spending aimed at accelerating the nation's transition to clean energy, arguing that such spending is wasteful because climate change is not solvable. Barnes, who leads Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s climate change task force, has said the government should act urgently to avert the catastrophic consequences of unchecked warming.

During a debate Friday, Johnson and Barnes butted heads over how to address climate change, although the issue has not emerged as a top concern for Wisconsin voters. Climate change ranked as eighth on a list of concerns for voters in the state, according to a mid-September poll from Marquette University Law School, with inflation and crime topping the list. 

“The climate has always changed and always will change, so I don’t deny climate change,” Johnson said during the debate. “The question is: Can you really do anything about it when China, when India — they’re going to be burning fossil fuels. America’s going to have to burn fossil fuels.”

Barnes told listeners that “the climate crisis is already here,” citing his conversations with rural farmers “who have had to deal with the impacts of devastation from these 100, 500-year storms that are happening more regularly.”

Pressure points

England’s summer heat waves linked to record excess deaths among elderly

The scorching temperatures that spread across England this summer caused 2,803 excess deaths among those 65 and older — the highest number of excess deaths ever recorded for the elderly, according to an analysis by the U.K. Health Security Agency and the Office for National Statistics, The Post's Karla Adam reports. 

The government agencies said that was the highest figure among the elderly since they started tracking heat-related deaths in 2004. Scientists previously determined that the punishing heat wave in Britain between June and August was made at least 10 times more likely by human-caused climate change.

Meanwhile, extreme heat could make parts of Asia and Africa uninhabitable for up to 600 million people, the United Nations and the Red Cross said Monday, The Post's Andrew Jeong reports.

Projected death rates from heat waves are “staggeringly high,” comparable to all cancers or all infectious diseases, according to the report released ahead of next month’s U.N. climate summit in Egypt.

Frequent fliers are a problem for the planet. Should they pay more?

A report suggests a novel way of curbing climate pollution from air travel: A global tax on people who fly the most, with the proceeds going toward research and development into sustainable aviation fuels, The Post's Shannon Osaka reports.

The report from the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation recommends a frequent flier tax that starts on the second flight each person takes per year, at a rate of $9. It would then steadily increase, reaching $177 for the 20th flight in a single year. 

While aviation accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, at the personal level, it has an enormous footprint practically unmatched by any other individual action. Avoiding a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, for instance, could prevent 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — about double the impact of going vegan for a year.

In the atmosphere

Viral

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