Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Congrats to Beyoncé for not only landing nine Grammy Award nominations on Tuesday, but also speaking out about climate change. 👑
A runoff race for a seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission has big climate implications. Here’s why.
Much of the nation’s attention is focused on the runoff election in Georgia between Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, which will determine whether Democrats pad their Senate majority.
But in Louisiana, a lesser-noticed runoff election for a seat on an obscure regulatory body — the state Public Service Commission — could have even bigger implications for efforts to cut the nation’s planet-warming emissions.
One of the candidates has vowed to bring an influx of renewable energy to Louisiana, one of the nation’s top oil-and-gas-producing states, even as the prospects fade for ambitious climate legislation in a divided Congress, with Republicans nearing a House majority and Democrats keeping the Senate.
The details: Davante Lewis, a young activist from Baton Rouge, is trying to unseat Lambert Boissiere III, a member of a prominent New Orleans political family who chairs the commission. Both men are Democrats, although Lewis is more liberal.
Boissiere, who took office in 2005, is seeking a final term on the commission, which oversees electric utilities and natural gas facilities in the state. But in the primary last week, Boissiere fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright, garnering 43 percent of the vote, while Lewis received 18 percent.
Lewis has called for Louisiana to adopt a renewable portfolio standard that would require utilities to reach net-zero emissions by 2035. That’s in line with President Biden’s aggressive goal of 100 percent clean electricity nationwide by 2035, as well as a net-zero plan from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).
The commission has five members, each serving six-year terms. Lewis’s campaign contends that only two of the five current commissioners favor clean energy over fossil fuels. If Lewis prevails, his campaign says, three of the five commissioners would favor clean energy, cementing a pro-climate majority that would probably pass a renewable portfolio standard and other green policies.
In a phone interview with The Climate 202, Lewis said he was motivated to enter the race by recent hurricanes that have hammered Louisiana, exposing the vulnerability of the state’s electric grid to climate-change-fueled disasters.
“As hurricanes and storms get stronger, this is going to be a very big crisis that Louisiana must face,” he said. “And so this is why I strongly believe in 100 percent renewables by the year 2035.”
Lewis added that he hopes to partner with Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, a Republican who has supported some climate investments, including efforts to make the grid more resilient during extreme weather.
Boissiere did not respond to a request for comment. But the Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper, reported that Boissiere has defended his environmental record, saying there is only so much he can do as one of two Democrats on the commission and highlighting his recent vote for new large-scale solar projects.
Friends in high places
To be sure, Lewis is considered an underdog after receiving 18 percent of the vote compared to Boissiere’s 43 percent. But he has garnered support from some well-funded environmental advocates.
A super PAC called Keep the Lights On, which is funded by the political arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, spent half a million dollars to force Boissiere into the runoff, the Advocate reported.
In a 30-second ad that aired on TV and social media, the super PAC slammed Boissiere for accepting “piles of campaign contributions from the same industries he’s supposed to regulate,” including the utility Entergy and its executives. Lewis has pledged to create a rule barring campaign contributions from regulated entities.
In response, Boissiere has said the donations from Entergy and other industry interests do not sway his votes, adding that he is open to restricting such donations in the future.
Liz Russell, chair of the super PAC and Louisiana state director at EDF Action, told The Climate 202 that she has been encouraged to see the race get more national attention than usual, including from some celebrities. (The actor Mark Ruffalo last week encouraged his 8 million Twitter followers to donate to both Lewis and Warnock “to save our climate.”)
“Public utility commission races are generally overlooked,” Russell said. “These commissioners have done their work in relative anonymity for decades. But this race is a tremendous opportunity to set the direction of climate policy for our state and our country.”
The runoff is scheduled for Dec. 10.
On the Hill
Exclusive: House Democrats urge Biden administration to support ‘loss and damage’ fund
Liberal House Democrats are calling on the Biden administration to support the creation of a fund for “loss and damage,” which would help developing countries cover the cost of cascading climate disasters, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt, known as COP27, according to a letter shared first with The Climate 202.
“We have both a moral and a strategic responsibility to provide comprehensive support for countries facing climate disaster, including debt forgiveness and reparations,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry.
Led by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), the letter was also signed by 11 other Democrats, including House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.).
The push comes as Kerry has resisted the establishment of a finance facility for loss and damage, fearing liability for America's outsized greenhouse gas emissions.
“It's a well-known fact that the United States and many other countries will not establish … some sort of legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability,” Kerry said at COP27 on Saturday. “That's just not happening.”
G-20 agrees to phase down coal as Ukraine war looms over COP27
World leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Wednesday agreed to a communique that calls for moving away from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.
The leaders vowed to "rapidly scale up the deployment of clean power generation, including renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power."
This language could pave the way for countries to ramp up their climate ambition at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt, known as COP27, according to experts in international climate diplomacy.
Here’s more key updates from the climate summit:
- U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry on Tuesday met with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua for about 45 minutes, hinting at further progress after the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters resumed talks on climate action, the Associated Press reports. “We had a very good meeting,” Kerry said, adding that while it is too early to talk about any remaining differences, “we’re going to go to work.”
- Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s top climate official, announced a small increase of the bloc’s 2030 emissions reduction target, unveiling a 57 percent cut instead of a 55 percent cut compared with 1990 levels.
- Russia has seen its role on the global stage diminished by the war in Ukraine, and the climate summit is no exception, The Washington Post’s Siobhán O'Grady and Rebecca Tan report. When asked if the Russian delegation felt sidelined at COP27, Viacheslav Fetisov, chairman of the All-Russian Society for Nature Conservation, scoffed and said, “What do you think?”
Trump says he is running again, vows 'energy dominance'
Former president Donald Trump, who inspired a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election culminating in a deadly attack on the Capitol, officially declared on Tuesday night that he is running to retake the White House in 2024, The Washington Post's Isaac Arnsdorf reports.
In a speech at his Florida Mar-a-Lago Club, Trump asserted that President Biden “has intentionally surrendered our energy independence” and vowed to restore the nation’s ”energy dominance,” an apparent reference to boosting domestic fossil fuel production and exports.
Trump added that "the Green New Deal and the environment, which they say may affect us in 300 years, is all that is talked about" on the left. He appeared to be arguing that climate change will not affect humanity for another 300 years, even though leading scientists say rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and deadly extreme weather events around the globe.
Advocates blast Biden administration’s delay on soot pollution standards
Environmental and public health advocates on Tuesday criticized the Biden administration for blowing past a deadline to strengthen soot pollution standards, saying the delay will further harm the health of disadvantaged communities.
Monday marked the 90-day deadline for the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of updated soot standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, but the regulations have still not been unveiled.
In response, 167 climate and public health advocates — coordinated by the Climate Action Campaign — sent a letter to President Biden saying the delay comes at “the expense of improved health and environmental justice outcomes for communities that have borne the brunt of this pollution” for decades.
“We’re out of time,” Raul Garcia, legislative director for healthy communities at Earthjustice, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “We need the Biden administration to act promptly to address this and to ensure that EPA is living up to its mission.”
Spokespeople for the EPA and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday completed its review of regulations from the Bureau of Land Management that would limit the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations across the country, according to Reginfo.gov, a federal rule-tracking website.
In the atmosphere
- One man’s lonely quest to save the world’s corals draws a following — Rebecca Tan for The Post
- The world population just hit a milestone. Here’s where you fit in. — Daniel Wolfe, Ruby Mellen, Leslie Shapiro and Hailey Haymond for The Post
- Facing questions about climate aid, Democrats blame the GOP — Jean Chemnick for E&E News
- Biden administration eyes limiting diesel exports as Northeast stocks dry up — Jennifer A. Dlouhy for Bloomberg News
If you’re feeling stressed today, you otter take a look at this:
'Sea otter and pup' by Suzi Eszterhas, award-winning wildlife photographer known for documenting animal family groups #WomensArt #Tuesday pic.twitter.com/9gYCW8HP7w— #WOMENSART (@womensart1) November 8, 2022
Thanks for reading!