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The Climate 202

How Biden can meet his 100% clean electricity goal

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! 🌎 Tomorrow, The Washington Post will launch “Climate Coach,” a new column and newsletter that will help readers navigate the choices they face when seeking to live more climate-friendly lives. You can sign up here

Below, we’ll dive into how six Republican leaders will shift Congress on climate. But first:

Exclusive: Report details how Biden can meet his goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035

It’s one of President Biden’s most important and ambitious climate goals: eliminating carbon pollution from America’s power sector by 2035.

Meeting this goal will necessitate a massive transformation away from fossil fuels. It will slash planet-warming pollution from power plants, which rank as the nation’s second-biggest contributor to global warming. And it will allow Americans to power their electric cars, heat pumps and other appliances with clean electricity from renewable sources.

Yet achieving this target is far from guaranteed. Last year, only about 40 percent of U.S. electricity came from clean sources. The landmark climate law that Biden signed last summer, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, is projected to leave the nation off track from meeting this goal in the coming years.

However, a detailed new analysis finds that the Biden administration can still keep this central climate goal within reach if the Environmental Protection Agency enacts strong carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. 

And the administration can ultimately meet this goal if state and federal policymakers take additional steps to accelerate the deployment of clean energy nationwide, according to the analysis by the environmental groups Evergreen Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which was shared exclusively with The Climate 202 before its broader release Monday.

“The last two years have featured really important progress on climate and clean electricity, but it’s not ‘mission accomplished’ for the Biden climate agenda,” Sam Ricketts, a co-founder and senior adviser for Evergreen and co-author of the report, told The Climate 202.

“It’s really incumbent upon the administration to use these next two years to make important progress on cleaning up the power sector, which will benefit the climate and also public health and environmental justice,” Ricketts added.

Powering up

The report looked at how the nation could achieve 80 percent clean electricity by 2030, an interim target consistent with the path to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

  • It projected that the investments in the Inflation Reduction Act would increase the nation’s share of carbon-free electricity to 66 percent by 2030.
  • But if the investments are coupled with strong power plant rules from the EPA, the United States could achieve a 76 percent clean grid by 2030, within striking distance of the 80 percent target, the analysis found.

Strong power plant rules also would help cut carbon emissions from the power sector to 77 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, according to the report:

“Setting strong power plant standards is a critical step this decade to get on the path to 100 percent clean energy by 2035,” Amanda Levin, director of policy analysis at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a co-author of the analysis, told The Climate 202.

Earlier this month, however, the EPA pushed back its self-imposed March deadline for proposing the carbon pollution standards for power plants. The agency now plans to propose the rules by April and finalize them by June 2024.

The delay has sparked concern among environmentalists. If the rules are issued in the waning days of Biden’s first term, a future Republican-controlled Congress could overturn them using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to scrap any regulation within 60 legislative days of its finalization by a simple majority vote.

“It is critical that the EPA keeps on track and does not further delay these rules,” Levin said, “because we only have a limited amount of time.”

Additional actions

Even if the administration enacts strong power plant rules and effectively implements the climate law, the country would still only achieve 76 percent clean electricity by 2030, just shy of the 80 percent target.

To make up the difference, the report concludes, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state policymakers could take additional steps to spur the deployment of clean energy across the country.

  • For instance, FERC could require utilities to conduct long-term planning for regional transmission lines needed to carry clean energy to urban centers.
  • The commission could also address bottlenecks — known as “interconnection queues” — preventing thousands of clean-energy projects from connecting to the grid.

Meanwhile, states could set or strengthen their own targets for achieving 100 percent clean electricity within their borders.

  • At the moment, 15 states and territories have enacted requirements for reaching 100 percent clean electricity, including Hawaii, California, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 
  • In Minnesota, Democrats are now pledging to use their majorities in the state legislature to require 100 percent clean electricity by 2040.

“FERC and states have a vitally important role to play in the transition to clean power,” Ricketts said. “And more states are stepping up to pass clean electricity standards or accelerate their timelines in line with the transition that needs to happen.”

The full analysis is available here. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Manish Bapna, chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, will discuss the report during an online event Tuesday.

On the Hill

These 6 GOP leaders will shift Congress on climate

After advancing his climate agenda for the past two years with a slim congressional majority, President Biden now faces a Republican-controlled House of Representatives hostile to his policies and determined to slow the country’s shift away from fossil fuels, Maxine, Vanessa, Anna Phillips and Steven Mufson report for The Washington Post

The following six GOP leaders will have an outsize influence on these decisions. While they might not be able to push legislation onto Biden’s desk, they and others can scrutinize his policies, grill his appointees in oversight hearings, go after corporate leaders for their sustainability policies and try to redirect climate funding authorized under last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

While none of these lawmakers responded to questions about their positions on climate change, all represent constituents dealing with the effects of a warming world. Here’s a look at who they are and the districts they represent:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.)

McCarthy, who said in 2019 that Republicans “should be a little nervous” about where their party will be in 20 years if it does not recognize global warming, helped prepare the party’s climate plan in the months leading up to the midterm elections. It gave hope to younger Republican lawmakers and conservative environmental groups, who have pressed the party to abandon its previous stances rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change.

The plan backed carbon-free hydropower and streamlined permitting that could bolster both renewable energy and fossil fuel projects, but it didn’t include targets for cutting planet-warming pollution. Climate advocates panned it as a status-quo proposal that would fail to reduce emissions as quickly, or to the degree, that scientists say is necessary. 

To win over opponents in his campaign for the speakership, McCarthy also agreed to cap discretionary spending, which could strangle government funding for clean energy and conservation measures.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.)

The second-most-powerful leader in the House hails from Louisiana, a state that is a giant in the production — and consumption — of fossil fuels. Louisiana ranks third nationwide in production of natural gas, and its 14 oil refineries account for one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Scalise, whose district reaches from just north of Lake Pontchartrain to the rapidly disappearing coastal wetlands, has advocated for the petroleum sector since he was elected in 2008.

“Steve Scalise will always be a rock star in the eyes of the oil and gas industry,” Stephen Brown, a former lobbyist for Tesoro, an oil refining company, said in an email.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.)

McMorris Rodgers has shifted her stance on the scientific consensus on climate change since coming to Congress in 2005, moving from denial to acceptance. Still, she has sponsored legislation that would deepen the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a bill that would bar Biden from tapping the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless he opens up more federal lands to oil and gas leasing.

As the first female chair of the Energy and Commerce panel, McMorris Rodgers will be at the forefront of House Republicans’ plans to pass energy legislation and conduct oversight of Biden’s climate policies.

House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (Ark.)

Westerman has long advocated for natural solutions to climate change and environmental issues, such as widespread tree planting and better forest management to prevent wildfires. However, he does not support a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, which scientists say is necessary to avert the worst consequences of global warming. 

As chair of one of Congress’s most crucial environmental panels, Westerman has said he plans to focus on oversight, legislation to boost mining for the minerals needed in green technologies, and a bipartisan push to overhaul the nation’s permitting process for energy projects, including for oil and gas. 

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.)

As a young lawmaker, Stefanik introduced the first Republican resolution saying House lawmakers should act on “economically viable solutions” to address climate change. She also criticized former president Donald Trump for his decisions to withdraw America from the Paris climate agreement and to continue drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But now, Stefanik is talking about climate change less, said Benji Backer, president of the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative climate advocacy group. 

These days, Stefanik “doesn’t engage,” Backer said. “Her priorities are just not the same as they used to be.”

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (Minn.)

Speaking on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2007, Emmer dismissed climate science as “Al Gore’s climate porn” — a reference to former vice president Al Gore, who wrote and hosted the 2006 climate documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since climbing the political ladder, however, Emmer has not talked much about climate change. 

Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from the state, said Emmer’s silence may amount to a tacit acknowledgment that climate action is popular among Minnesota voters.

“As Americans and Minnesotans are moving toward clean energy and fighting the climate crisis, we see Republican politicians moving away from it and seeking to politicize it,” Smith said. “And that puts leaders in the House more and more at odds with their constituents.”

International climate

The U.S. imports uranium from Russia. What if sanctions end that?

The United States and the European Union face pressure to place sanctions on Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear power conglomerate, after it was found to be supplying materials to major Russian weapons makers, aiding Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. 

Sanctions could ripple through the U.S. nuclear power industry, since Rosatom exports uranium for use in nuclear reactors. In 2021, the United States purchased 14 percent of its uranium from Russia.

The scramble for more uranium supplies is already underway, with the United States looking to Canada, where the world’s second-largest uranium supplier has agreed to reopen two of its major mines.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) last year introduced a bill that would direct the Energy Department to establish a strategic uranium reserve. The measure also aims to increase domestic uranium production, conversion and enrichment. 

In the atmosphere

Viral

A candid shot of Maxine stuffing her face with dumplings at a Lunar New Year party yesterday: 😂

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