With help from Alex Guillén and Daniel Lippman
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— President Joe Biden will address the UN General Assembly today as the U.S.’ climate credibility remains in the balance.
— The Senate Energy Committee will consider an Interior nomination, setting up a fresh fight over the administration’s oil and gas leasing practices.
— The White House announced it planning federal labor guidelines for heat exposure to address the growing risks workers face from climate change.
HAPPY TUESDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. Congrats to EPRI’s Rachel Gantz for knowing Molly Davidson went to Yale in “Booksmart” (the most accurate high school movie of your host’s generation). For today’s trivia: What is the world’s least densely populated independent country? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected]. Find me on Twitter @matthewchoi2018.
Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast. On today’s episode: OSHA brings down the heat.
BIDEN’S UNGA DEBUT: President Joe Biden will address the United Nations General Assembly for the first time as president today in a speech widely expected to lean heavily into climate change. Biden certainly also has a lot of other pressing international issues on his plate, from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to global Covid vaccine inequality to the importance of democracy in the face of authoritarianism.
Biden’s speech “will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time,” a White House official said Monday, according to POLITICO’s NatSec team. Those challenges include “Covid-19, climate change, emerging technologies, rules of the road on trade and economics, investments in clean infrastructure … a modern approach to counterterrorism, and vigorous competition with great powers — but not a new Cold War.”
Biden campaigned on returning the U.S. to the global climate stage after four years of open hostility toward international climate cooperation from former President Donald Trump. But despite announcing some aggressive goals, the U.S.’ credibility on climate is still in question, with the path toward achieving the administration’s emissions targets blurred by the intraparty drama jeopardizing hundreds of billions in climate-related spending in the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the reconciliation package.
And it wasn’t particularly reassuring when Biden, along with the leaders of other high-emitting countries Russia, China and India, sent delegates to a meeting on climate change at UN headquarters in New York when organizers had specifically invited the heads of government (Brazil’s delegation didn’t even bother to show up). The presidents of small countries most at risk to rising sea levels blasted the high emitters during the closed-door meeting for not doing more, with Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada saying: “We talk and we talk about ambition … and things remain the same. It is absurd. Gladly this is not a public meeting because it would be weird to talk like this in a public meeting. But it is absurd.”
The U.K. called the meeting — along with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres — and was the largest emitter whose head of government attended. Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the occasion to hammer that “climate change is realpolitik” and “in the years to come, the only great powers will be green powers.” The U.K. is hosting the U.N.’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in only a few weeks. POLITICO Europe’s Karl Mathiesen has more from the meeting.
Guterres told reporters later that COP26 runs a “high risk of failure” unless major emitters substantially up their game to cut emissions, The Wall Street Journal reports. He called Monday’s meeting “a wake-up call to instill a sense of urgency on the dire state of the climate process.”
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry later told Britain’s Sky News that the U.S. would “do its part” in helping finance poor countries to combat the impacts of climate change, adding: “I’m telling you to stay tuned into the president’s speech, and we’ll see where we are.” (ME is interested to see if the president can draw more viewers than BTS).
NOM HEARING SETS UP NEW LEASING BATTLE: The Senate Energy Committee is holding a hearing on three nominations today: Laura Daniel-Davis for assistant Interior secretary for lands and minerals management, Camille Touton for commissioner of Reclamation and Sara Bronin, nominee to chair the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Daniel-Davis is lined up to take one of the most important roles in the Interior Department’s handling of federal oil and gas leases — a major concern for Republicans who have accused the administration of stonewalling new leases and for energy-state Democrats whose states often rely on the leases for local funding. Ranking Member John Barrasso plans to grill Daniel-Davis, who, in her current job as the principal deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management, was an architect of the administration’s oil and gas leasing pause.
“Under Ms. Daniel-Davis’ supervision, Interior imposed an oil and gas leasing moratorium on federal lands. She has rescinded previously granted grazing permits. In March, she directed all Interior agencies handling energy and land management decisions to go through her office for approval,” he plans to say according to excerpts shared with ME. “The action undermines energy projects on federal lands. It creates unnecessary bureaucracy and backlogs, delays and uncertainty, costs and headaches.”
But she has her allies as well. A group of 46 environmental organizations wrote to Senate and committee leadership last week citing her extensive experience with public lands, wildlife and clean energy. The groups include the National Wildlife Federation (where she previously served as chief of policy and advocacy), Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and Earthjustice. Daniel-Davis is a veteran of the Obama DOI, serving as chief of staff to the secretary.
REPUBLICANS REQUEST RFS RETHINK: A group of seven Pennsylvania House Republicans are pushing for reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standard, fretting that the current market for Renewable Identification Numbers is becoming too financially burdensome for many small refiners in the state. The lawmakers wrote to President Joe Biden with their concerns Monday after Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation made a similar plea in their own letter.
“The entire system as it stands is unsustainable,” the lawmakers write. The Republicans urged Biden to direct EPA to issue safeguards to stabilize prices on the RINs market.
Meanwhile, biofuel interest group Growth Energy led its own letter to Biden urging against shortchanging renewable fuels in EPA blending obligations, specifically asking that “conventional biofuel blending targets meet the 15-billion-gallon minimum required by law, restore 500 million gallons of improperly waived fuel blending requirements, and drive ambitious targets for growth in advanced and cellulosic biofuels.”
NEW HEAT RULES IN THE WORKS: The White House is putting together federal labor standards aimed at protecting workers from extreme heat — the number one climate-related cause of death in the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to publish an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register next month, kicking off the process for designing new federal regulations, Pro’s Zack Colman reports.
“Throughout the nation, millions of workers face serious hazards from high temperatures both outdoors and indoors,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “Amid changing climate, the growing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is increasing the dangers workers face, especially for workers of color who disproportionately work in essential jobs in tough conditions.”
Zack and E&E News’ Ariel Wittenberg took a deep dive into the challenges of setting a national standard for heat protections last month. In 2019, there were 43 work-related deaths due to environmental heat exposure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At least 2,410 others suffered serious injuries or illness. But the Labor Department says heat-related problems are often underreported. Many of the workers most vulnerable to severe heat are undocumented and may be more hesitant t report dangerous conditions.
PROTECT THE GRID: The Government Accountability Office called on FERC and the Energy Department to do more to fortify the grid against extreme weather and cyber threats in a report released Monday, saying the agencies had not followed through on several GAO recommendations. GAO said DOE should create a department-wide climate and extreme weather strategy, and that FERC must assess the climate risks that the grid faces that it laid out in a March report, Pro’s Catherine Morehouse reports. FERC said it was reviewing the new document.
INCLUSIVE CODES: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is calling on the International Code Council, which handles model building codes adopted by a majority of states, to include perspectives from state and local governments in their code writing process — a pointed commentary after the ICC nixed many local governments’ voting rights in the process earlier this year (an issue The Huffington Post covered at the time). The move was condemned by activists at the time as shutting out community perspectives that were more gung-ho on green standards and delivering a win for construction and gas groups who were less keen on stringent environmental codes.
“I’ll be honest: Shutting stakeholders out is only going to drive the resulting codes towards irrelevance,” Granholm said virtually during the group’s conference in Pittsburgh on Monday. “Without those voices, the process really risks overlooking critical steps and, worse, not moving forward quickly enough to meet our nation’s challenges. The big climate challenge. So with the stakes this high, we just can’t afford to shy away from workable avenues for reducing emissions.” Read more on the meeting from your host.
REPORT — TISSUE MAKERS STILL DOING CRAPPY JOB ON SUSTAINABILITY: Most of the major brands of toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissue continue to get failing grades on sustainability, but new competitors are offering some high-scoring alternatives, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s third annual review of the tissue market. The group reviewed almost 100 different brands and products, with scoring based on how much came from recycled materials or bamboo, as well as bleaching process and other factors. Products made from recycled content have significantly lower carbon emissions, as does sustainably sourced bamboo, while certain bleaching processes can emit chlorine into the surrounding communities.
Major brands like Charmin, Quilted Northern, Cottonelle and Angel Soft scored F’s from the NRDC, as did products from Amazon, Walmart and Costco. Smaller start-ups won the top slots, with the “Who Gives a Crap” and Green Forest brands leading. But there are well-known high-scoring options available, including Whole Foods’ 365 brand, Target’s Everspring line and Scott’s Essential Standard Roll, which previously was only available in the “away-from-home” market.
BIG OIL OFF THE BIG STAGE: Oil and gas majors will not have any organizing role in this year’s UN climate conference, with COP26’s British organizers barring companies that haven’t set carbon reduction targets in-line with current climate science from actively participating in the event, The Wall Street Journal reports. A U.N.-backed third party “Science Based Targets” initiative determines if would-be participants meet the criteria.
Fossil fuel companies have participated in past COPs, particularly when they took place in the companies’ home countries, though environmentalists often raised objections. Officials from BP and Shell were disappointed in being unable to have a more active role in the conference, the Journal reports, but still plan to send staffers as observers. Both companies are listed in London.
— Carol Browner is joining Covington’s Washington ESG practice. Browner was EPA administrator under the Clinton administration and director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama White House.
— Mimi Braniff is now head of U.S. policy and deputy D.C. office manager for Exxon Mobil. She most recently was managing director at Delta Air Lines.
— Anand Gopal is joining Energy Innovation as executive director of strategy and policy. He was previously an environment program officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
— Wayne Nastri, Brian Swett and Melissa Vargas were elected to the Environmental Protection Network’s board of directors. Nastri is the executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Swett serves as director of cities and sustainable real estate for Arup in the Americas. Vargas serves as Rep. Jimmy Gomez’ (D-Calif.) district director.
— “BP gambles big on fast transition from oil to renewables,” via Reuters.
— “Gates Raises $1 Billion as Corporate CEOs Join Race to Scale Clean Tech,” via Bloomberg.
— “Hochul pushes two transmission lines to support climate goals,” via POLITICO.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!