Daily on Energy, presented by Renew Biodiesel: ‘Dead man walking’ US won’t be in a position to pressure China at climate summit

  • Dec 02, 2019
  • Washington Examiner

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‘DEAD MAN WALKING’ US WON’T BE IN A POSITION TO PRESSURE CHINA AT CLIMATE SUMMIT: The U.S. absence at the COP25 climate summit starting Monday will limit the potential for the world to strengthen the Paris agreement.

Democrats in Congress, along with states, cities, and companies are trying to say otherwise, delivering a message that “we are still in” on the ground at the summit in Madrid.

“By coming here, we want to say to everyone the United States is still in,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday at the summit, where she led a group of congressional Democrats. “Our congressional delegation is here to send a message that Congress’ commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron-clad.”

But without high-level U.S. federal government officials there to deliver “tough love,” the pressure likely won’t be enough to force other big emitting countries like China to boost the climate pledges they made under the 2015 Paris agreement.

“I have no doubt there are going to be parties in other countries who will argue their country should not enhance its current commitment under Paris because the United States is pulling out,” Andrew Light, a former senior climate change adviser at the State Department, told Josh. “And there will be parties in other countries who will wait until the outcome of the U.S. election and decide what to do.”

The U.S. will have a presence at COP25, with the Trump administration sending a delegation of career officials to act as technical experts, rather than influential negotiators, with representatives from the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury Department, Agriculture Department, and more.

However, even that low-level of participation will end next year, when President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris becomes official the day after the U.S. election, assuming he wins.

“This is the beginning of the end for now of the U.S. participating in this process,” said Light, who is currently a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. “The U.S. is like a dead man walking at these negotiations.”

This was always going to be a quiet COP25: Countries still have time before a deadline in 2020 to submit updated pledges to the Paris agreement.

However, countries are under pressure to increase their emissions-cutting targets, with current pledges putting the world on pace for around 3 degrees Celsius of warming, which is off track from the overall Paris goal of limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

The two-week COP25 will signal how much countries are feeling the pressure.

So far, signs from the biggest emitters are not good: Several big emitters, such as the U.S., Brazil, Australia, and Canada, are off pace from meeting their original Paris pledges.

China, the world’s largest emitter, is not promising additional action in the wake of the United Nations’ “bleak” report released last week finding emissions need to fall 7.6% a year across the world to reach the 1.5 degrees target.

Chinese officials did not pledge deeper emissions cuts beyond its original Paris commitment of halting the increase in its emissions by 2030, which experts consider insufficient, even as China invests more in wind, solar, and electric vehicles than other countries.

“China is not going to go farther than what's it is already doing if there is an administration in Washington that is moving backwards,” Nat Keohane, vice president for international climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Josh.

What might have been: Light and Keohane blame China’s reluctance to do more, such as stopping the buildout of new coal plants, at least partially on the U.S., which is not exerting pressure on the climate change front while also harming Beijing’s economy with a trade war.

“They are feeling the lack of pressure from the U.S. on this issue [climate] while feeling pressure from the U.S. on other issues,” Light said. “There are concerns there might be a swing back to coal use in China and the U.S. has not taken a position to criticize that. China could still get there [boost its climate goals], but it will be a slower process, and we will never really know how much different it could be if the U.S. were a player.”

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COP25 COUNTER-PROGRAMMING FROM THE GOP: House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans plan to host a "Energy & Environment Innovation Showcase" next week, with attendance from companies working to reduce emissions, to highlight their approach to combating climate change.

They invited companies, universities, and other organizations from their districts to D.C. to showcase how “successful energy policy is best secured through “realistic, innovative public policy,” as a press release describes the Dec. 9 event.

Participating organizations include NuScale Power, a company developing small modular nuclear reactors from ranking member Greg Walden’s home state of Oregon; Georgia-based Green Power EMC; DTE Biomass Energy of Michigan; and NET Power, a North Carolina-based company developing a carbon capture natural gas plant.

PASSING THE TORCH AT ENERGY: The Senate will vote to confirm Dan Brouillette to lead the Energy Department on Monday night, on the first day after Rick Perry officially ended his nearly three-year run as secretary.

Brouillette, a known commodity who is currently DOE deputy secretary, should be confirmed easily, with a vote scheduled for 5:30 p.m. He sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a bipartisan 16-4 vote, and has worked to assure Democrats of his commitment to developing clean energy technologies, along with continuing Perry’s “energy dominance” agenda focused on producing and exporting fossil fuels.

Perry, meanwhile, signed off with a tweet Sunday night, calling his tenure and “honor and privilege of a lifetime,” and sharing a video touting the U.S. becoming the world’s top producer of oil and gas and making progress in developing small modular nuclear reactors.

‘FATHER OF THE EPA’ PASSES: Before he was defying former President Richard Nixon in the height of the Watergate scandal, William Ruckelshaus was leading the EPA as its first administrator. Ruckelshaus, 87, passed away Wednesday in his Seattle home.

Ruckelshaus is well-known in environmental circles not just for leading a newborn agency in its first few years — but also for restoring public trust in the EPA during a second stint as the agency’s leader in the 1980s. Ruckelshaus was called back to lead the EPA by President Ronald Reagan after his first EPA administrator — Anne Gorsuch (Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother) — resigned amid a scandal over mismanagement of the Superfund cleanup program.

The EPA’s current administrator, Andrew Wheeler, praised Ruckelshaus in a statement, calling him the “father of the EPA” who “solidified our country’s commitment to protecting human health and the environment.”

Ruckelshaus, though, wasn’t known as one to stay quiet: And he was fairly outspoken in his criticism of the Trump administration’s environmental policy. In an interview with the New Yorker in 2018, Ruckelshaus said Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, and his appointees “don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency.”

He was also adamant the EPA and the U.S. should more ambitiously take on the challenge of climate change.

“I think we should adopt a Policy #1 that global warming is a real problem, and we are a major contributor to carbon in the atmosphere and we need to take serious steps to reduce it,” Ruckelshaus told reporters in an interview in 2006.

INDUSTRY GROUPS SHELL OUT TO PROMOTE COOLANT CLIMATE BILL: Appliance and chemical makers are putting their money where their mouth is, launching an over $100,000 ad buy this week to support bipartisan legislation to limit climate-warming refrigerants.

A coalition of bipartisan senators — led by Louisiana Republican John Kennedy and Delaware Democrat Tom Carper — introduced a bill in October to give the EPA authority to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, chemicals typically used as refrigerants that warm the earth at a rate hundreds of times faster than carbon dioxide.

The bill, which now has nearly two dozen co-sponsors, allows industry to meet the requirements of a 2016 global deal to limit HFCs, even though the Trump administration hasn’t signed onto the agreement yet.

Industry’s six-figure ad buy — led by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute and backed by the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy — will run on Politico, CQ/Roll Call, and The Hill. The groups will also sponsor a food truck on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

CALIFORNIA TO EPA: PLEASE RECONSIDER: California is leading a coalition of 23 states and five cities urging the EPA to reverse course on eliminating the state’s power to set its own clean car standards.

The states’ petition for reconsideration, filed with the EPA last week, isn’t likely to change this EPA’s mind. The Trump vs. California war will rage on, and the two sides are set to fight bitterly in the courts over the future of the fuel economy standards. The Trump administration could unveil its final fuel economy rule by the end of the year.

So why file the petition at all? The states argue in their petition that the EPA has to reconsider its move because it introduces new claims the public didn’t have an opportunity to comment on — a regulatory process foul the courts don’t take kindly to. The petition could bolster states’ legal case against the EPA’s move.

The petition is also something any new Democratic administration, should they win in 2020, could pick up to help undo the Trump administration’s actions. The Trump EPA used various industry petitions for reconsideration to strengthen their case for rolling back or weakening Obama-era regulations.

GOVERNMENT NON-RESPONSIVENESS HOLDING BACK CORPORATE RENEWABLE SHIFT: More than 200 companies around the world are aiming for 100% renewable electricity in the next decade — but governments aren’t acting quickly enough to break down market and regulatory barriers to companies meeting their goals, according to a new report.

The report released Monday by RE100, a global group of companies committed to 100% renewable electricity, finds the U.S. ranks eighth in the list of countries where companies are finding it the most difficult to source renewable electricity. The list also includes other top emitters like China, which tops the list, and India.

JOHN KERRY’S NEW WAR-TIME CLIMATE COALITION: The former secretary of state is calling on Americans to start treating climate change as though the country is fighting a war, launching a group called World War Zero.

Kerry’s bipartisan coalition includes Republicans such as former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio; former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; along with celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, and Ashton Kutcher.

“We have unlikely allies coming together here,” Kerry said during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. “There’s no group that has people as diverse as ours in terms of nationality, age, gender, ideology, background, life experience, and all of these people have come together saying, 'We’ve got to treat this like a war.'”

Kerry’s group will not endorse any single climate plan, but rather plans to focus on public awareness with town hall meetings across the country starting in January. The meetings will take place in battleground states, and also at military bases to highlight the national security implications of climate change.

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3 p.m. 406 Dirksen. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold a hearing on the nomination of Robert J. Feitel, of Maryland, to be Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

10:30 a.m. 2322 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Building a 100 Percent Clean Economy: Solutions for Economy-Wide Deep Decarbonization.”

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