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The Climate 202

Biden's nominee for a top role at Interior is in limbo. Will Schumer act?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! At 10:30 a.m. Eastern today, our colleague Michael Birnbaum will sit down with German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan to discuss Europe’s climate policies and energy security. You can register to watch the interview here. But first:

Laura Daniel-Davis still awaits Senate confirmation. The clock is ticking.

One of President Biden’s nominees for a key post at the Interior Department has been waiting more than 500 days to be confirmed by the Senate.

The delay in confirming Laura Daniel-Davis as assistant secretary for land and minerals management has angered environmentalists, who say she is highly qualified for the position, which plays a pivotal role in the administration’s climate and clean-energy agenda.

Environmentalists are especially frustrated at Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has instead prioritized the confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees before the end of the year, when all nominations are set to expire.

The details: Biden first nominated Daniel-Davis in June 2021. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held two confirmation hearings for her and has twice deadlocked on her nomination, with all 10 Democrats on the panel supporting her and all 10 Republicans opposing.

In March, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) temporarily delayed his panel’s advancement of Daniel-Davis’s nomination while he assessed Interior’s commitment to pursuing fossil fuel leasing and production on federal lands “in a robust and responsible way.” But Manchin ultimately supported Daniel-Davis at her second confirmation hearing.

That brings us to Schumer, who could file a petition to discharge the nomination to the Senate floor. The chamber has had to vote to discharge nominations 24 times this Congress, with 22 waiting in the wings.

Some advocates fear that if Schumer does not bring her nomination to the floor by the end of the year, Daniel-Davis will leave her position rather than sitting through a third confirmation hearing. However, Schumer has instead sought to confirm as many judicial nominees as possible during the limited time left for nominations this Congress. 

“Obviously Laura Daniel-Davis’s nomination is not as much of a priority for Senator Schumer, and it would be great to know why,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy group.

In a floor speech last week, Schumer boasted that “we’re on pace to finish this year with more judges confirmed to the bench than were confirmed in the first two years of either of the previous two administrations.”

Schumer spokesman Alex Nguyen and Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz declined to comment on the record, while the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Not an exaggeration’

The assistant secretary for land and minerals management oversees four bureaus within Interior: the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The position plays a central role in realizing Biden’s ambitious climate and clean-energy goals, including his targets of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and conserving 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by the end of the decade.

Supporters of Daniel-Davis say she is highly qualified for the role, having served as the chief of staff to former interior secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar during the Obama administration, as well as in a leadership role at Interior during the Clinton administration.

“She should’ve been confirmed long ago. I feel like she’s been a hostage to circumstances out of her control,” said David Hayes, who served as deputy interior secretary during the Clinton and Obama administrations and recently left his post as one of Biden’s advisers on climate policy.

In a letter to Schumer last week, more than 100 prominent women warned that a failure to confirm Daniel-Davis would undermine the investments in the recently passed climate law known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It is not an exaggeration to suggest that leaving this position vacant puts the commitments agreed to in the IRA at risk, not to mention the president’s clean energy and climate goals,” they wrote.

Janice Schneider, who served as assistant secretary for land and minerals management under President Barack Obama, said she signed the letter because Senate confirmation would enable Daniel-Davis to more effectively work with lawmakers, states and tribes.

“Lack of Senate confirmation is like being asked to do a very tough job with one hand tied behind your back,” said Schneider, who is now a partner at Latham & Watkins and global co-chair of the law firm’s Environment, Land and Resources Practice.

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly said the assistant secretary for land and minerals management oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Agency alert

Energy Dept. to announce fusion energy ‘breakthrough’

The Energy Department on Tuesday is expected to announce that scientists have been able for the first time to produce a fusion reaction that creates a net energy gain — a major milestone for the carbon-free power source that researchers have been chasing for decades, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper and Pranshu Verma report. 

The announcement, first reported by the Financial Times and confirmed by The Post, would follow a multibillion-dollar global quest to develop a technology that provides unlimited, cheap, clean power. The technology replicates the nuclear reaction through which energy is created on the sun, The Post’s Shannon Osaka reports.

Scientists cautioned that it might be decades before the process can be used commercially, since the reaction puts a tremendous amount of stress on equipment. However, they said it has the potential to bring cheap electricity to impoverished parts of the world without generating any carbon emissions or radioactive waste.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office on Monday announced the closing of a $2.5 billion loan to Ultium Cells to help finance the construction of new lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities in Ohio, Texas and Michigan. Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, is expected to create 11,000 jobs across the three facilities.

Auto industry makes slow progress on efficiency, EPA says

American cars and light trucks are on track to become about 5 percent more fuel-efficient in model year 2022 — averaging more than 26 miles per gallon for the first time — after Biden officials restored rules that were weakened by the Trump administration, according to an annual report on the nation’s auto fleet released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency, The Post’s Timothy Puko reports. 

However, the report also found that the auto industry made limited progress between model years 2016 and 2021, with planet-warming emissions from U.S. cars and light trucks falling by only 5 percent over that period, despite a deal struck with carmakers during the Obama administration that required fuel efficiency gains of more than 20 percent. 

The federal data comes as the auto industry makes a huge shift to manufacturing more electric vehicles, which have no tailpipe emissions and, according to the EPA, now regularly get the equivalent of more than 120 mpg.

“With the transition to electric vehicles, there’s a lot less resources being put into better fuel efficiency than 10 years ago,” said Jessica Caldwell, lead analyst at Edmunds, a car-shopping support company. “Automakers have hit sort of the ceiling on the levers they can pull to get better fuel efficiency for gas-powered engines that aren’t hybrid or plug-ins.”

On the Hill this week

On Tuesday: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Interior Department’s progress in implementing last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law. 

On Wednesday: Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will release a final report before the panel will likely be scrapped when Republicans take control of the House in January. The report is expected to highlight the panel’s accomplishments and opportunities for continued action. 

  • The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing on promoting sustainable environmental practices through trade policy.

On Thursday: The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Chemical Safety, Waste Management, Environmental Justice and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing on solutions for curbing plastic waste and its effects on public health and the environment.

In the atmosphere

Viral

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