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— President Joe Biden and China are set to engage in a delicate but high-stakes waltz over financing foreign coal projects and influence over developing nations.
— Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says Biden must keep in mind the benefits of natural gas as his administration plans leasing and regulatory overhauls.
— FERC Chair Rich Glick is hiring an environmental justice adviser, a sign of the movement’s burgeoning influence.
IT’S FINALLY FRIDAY! I’m your fill-in host, Alex Guillén. Congratulations to Amy Conway of FTI Consulting for knowing that Dr. Mae Jemison was the first real-life astronaut to appear on “Star Trek.” For today: In 1967, Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols considered quitting “Star Trek.” What noted Trekkie convinced her to stay on the show? The incomparable Annie Snider will take over ME for the next few days, so send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected].
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PAS DE JOE — BIDEN, CHINA DANCE AROUND FOSSIL FUEL FUNDING: Biden’s directive to look at blocking money from international institutions like the World Bank from funding overseas fossil fuel power plants will place a spotlight on China’s own bankrolling of coal projects. But the move could push poor countries closer to Beijing’s orbit and threatens the U.S.’ position as a leading financier for the developing world, Zack Colman reports this morning on Pro.
John Podesta, who led the Obama administration climate strategy and is close to Biden’s team, said the White House would need some “diplomatic choreography” for its plan to work. The U.S. move “leaves China isolated,” he said. “The pressure will build on China to stop its coal finance and to green the Belt and Road Initiative,” which supplies 70 percent of the financing for the world’s new coal-fired plants.
Circumstances may have already presented a window of opportunity for Biden’s team. Belt and Road Initiative coal finance fell last year during the pandemic, while declining renewable power costs have made new coal-fired power plants less attractive in places like southeast India.
MANCHIN PRESSES BIDEN ON NATURAL GAS BENEFITS: Biden must consider the benefits of natural gas — including 1.5 million industry jobs and improved energy security — as he moves forward with climate regulations and leasing reform, according to Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In a letter setting the tone from the Senate’s most influential member, Manchin says that his home state and others have benefited from the “shale revolution” and notes that natural gas liquids are used to make medical equipment like PPE and disinfectants.
Manchin also aired support for capturing the industry’s methane leaks and deploying more carbon capture technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “I encourage you to bear in mind these many benefits of responsible domestic natural gas production as you consider any future executive or administrative action,” Manchin wrote.
INTERIOR UNDOES TRUMP-ERA LWCF LIMITS: Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega issued an order on Thursday overturning Trump-era limits on how funds are spent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Anthony Adragna reports. Among other things, the limitations issued in the days after last November’s elections included an effective veto for states and localities over federal land acquisitions for conservation purposes.
HELP WANTED AT FERC: Glick will create a senior position to advise on the environmental justice impacts of the commission’s decisions, which he said was designed to rectify the agency’s failure in previous years to take into account how projects affect the communities where they are built, Eric Wolff reports. “I believe the commission should more aggressively fulfill its responsibilities to ensure that our decisions don’t unfairly impact historically marginalized communities,” Glick said.
FROM ARPA-E TO ARPA-C: The Energy Department will offer up $100 million in funding for “transformative” clean energy technology research projects, part of the Biden administration’s plans to act aggressively on climate change across the government, your host reports. The Biden administration has also created a working group to prepare to launch a new effort to fund decarbonization research known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate, or ARPA-C.
TRUMP SAGE GROUSE ACTION OVERTURNED: A federal judge on Thursday struck down a Trump-era action by the Interior Department that had canceled a proposed Obama-era withdrawal of 10 million acres in Nevada and Idaho from new mining activity in order to conserve habitat for the greater sage-grouse. Trump’s Bureau of Land Management failed to provide a “reasoned justification” for changing its position on the need for withdrawing the lands, Judge Lynn Winmill of the U.S. District Court for Idaho ruled. “If anything, this new data indicated a greater need for the withdrawal from locatable mining than the previous data,” he wrote.
Winmill also ruled that BLM failed to consider the effects on the bird of habitat loss and population fragmentation as well as “the possibility of severe localized impacts of mining activities.” The ruling allows the Biden administration — after completing another environmental review — to reconsider the matter.
David Zalubowski/AP Photo
GREENS SUE OVER COAL ASH CLOSURE RULE: Several environmental groups are challenging a Trump-era coal ash regulation that allows utilities to continue operating some unlined coal ash ponds even though a court ruled such ponds are too dangerous to allow to remain open. The “Part B” rule (Reg. 2050-AH11) was one of a suite of actions EPA took regarding coal ash, with environmentalists calling it a gift to industry. Power plants in six states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona — indicated they want to take advantage of the rule, though the Biden administration is expected to revisit it, as with many other Trump-era actions.
VW CASE ON FAST TRACK IN SUPREME COURT: The high court is moving relatively quickly on Volkswagen’s appeal seeking to block its “staggering liability” under state and local laws related to its diesel emissions cheating scandal. The automaker in January asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal, and after the localities in the case declined to file a reply brief, the justices plan to discuss the petition at their next private conference on Feb. 19. The rapid timeline doesn’t mean they necessarily will make a yes-or-no decision on the petition right away. The court instead could direct the counties to file a reply or ask the Biden administration to weigh in.
JUDGE TATEL STEPS DOWN: Judge David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will take senior status once the Senate confirms a successor, he announced last night. Named to the bench to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1994, Tatel — a highly regarded jurist who has been blind since 1972 — has joined many, many rulings on energy and regulatory issues. He was widely considered a reliable vote for environmental and public health protections. In 2005, his dissenting opinion declaring that EPA “has authority—indeed, the obligation” to regulate greenhouse gases laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. More recently, Tatel in January wrote an opinion against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
— Tatel’s semi-retirement will allow him to continue hearing cases part-time. It also gives Biden a second seat to fill on the powerful D.C. Circuit, along with Merrick Garland’s seat, assuming he’s confirmed as attorney general.
FOR JUST A DOLLAR A DAY: Transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 can be achieved at a cost of about $1 per American per day, according to a new study in the journal AGU Advances. That cost doesn’t include the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is “significantly lower” than estimates from recent years due to technological progress on renewables and battery storage, according to the study, which was carried out by researchers in California and partly funded by DOE.
The study’s least-cost scenario shows the projected switchovers to zero-emissions electricity, vehicle and heating sources required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. | AGU
Researchers examined multiple strategies for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and concluded that the most cost-effective option has similar near-term targets as the recent National Academies study that advocated for increasing deployment of renewables, switching to electric vehicles and furnaces and building new transmission lines. (That NAS study also said the switch would require “unprecedented funding.”)
“Taking decisive near-term action in the areas that are well understood, combined with laying the necessary groundwork in the areas of uncertainty, puts the United States on a carbon-neutral pathway right away while allowing the most difficult decisions and tradeoffs to be made with better information in the future,” the study said.
CLIMATE SCIENTISTS URGE BIDEN AGAINST BIOMASS: A group of 508 international climate scientists on Thursday urged Biden and leaders in Europe and Asia not to embrace biomass as a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. Harvesting additional wood for bioenergy releases carbon dioxide that would have otherwise remained stored away, and regrowing those trees takes time the world does not have, they argue. “The United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon as the new administration crafts climate rules and creates incentives to reduce global warming,” wrote the scientists in a letter organized by the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts.
PROGRESSIVES PUSH ‘THRIVE’ AGENDA: The Green New Deal Network and more than 200 other groups want Biden to adopt the “THRIVE agenda,” a strategy laid out by congressional Democrats and activists that calls for making economic gains by addressing climate change and other crises. “We call on you to work with us to incorporate the entirety of the THRIVE Agenda into the economic recovery proposal you will soon announce,” the groups wrote.
TEXAS GROUP EYES 2030 FLARING PHASE-DOWN: The Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition, a collection of local and regional oil and gas groups, is promising to end “routine flaring” by 2030. The pledge shows increasing pressure on producers to act on their methane problem, particularly with state regulators and lawmakers more interested in fighting off any Biden regulations on the subject. Still, the aspirational goal and slow timeline aren’t likely to mollify climate experts who say the problem must be addressed immediately.
BofA TARGETS ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050: Bank of America said it aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its financing activities, supply chain and operations by 2050, Pro’s Lorraine Woellert reports. The bank said it will disclose its financed emissions no later than 2023 and establish science-based targets for its high-emitting portfolios, including energy and power.
Tom Kiernan is now president and CEO of American Rivers. He previously ran the American Wind Energy Association and the National Parks Conservation Association.
Brittany Bolen, previously associate administrator for policy at EPA who resigned following the Jan. 6 insurrection, has joined Sidley Austin’s D.C. office.
— “California pledged to achieve 100% clean energy. That was the easy part,” via Los Angeles Times.
— “Other states are making utilities dig up toxic coal ash. Indiana is letting it sit there,” via Indianapolis Star.
— “Embattled Massachusetts climate official David Ismay resigns ‘immediately,’” via Boston Hearld.
— “Pruitt: Trump asked, ‘Should we shut down the agency?’” via E&E News.
— “‘A clear danger’: oil spill in California city revives calls to cut ties with Chevron,” via The Guardian.