With help from Anthony Adragna, Catherine Morehouse and Zack Colman.
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— President Joe Biden picked Willie Phillips of the D.C. Public Service Commission to be the next FERC commissioner, filling Neil Chatterjee’s old seat.
— The House Natural Resources Committee advanced its $31 billion energy and climate package that will be folded into Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.
— The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to take on a $150 billion Clean Energy Performance Program in its reconciliation mark up on Monday.
HAPPY FRIDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. Has anyone else listened to Secretary Granholm’s summer playlist? What would you add to it? Holland & Knight’s Beth Viola gets the trivia for knowing Guangdong is the most populous region of China. For today: What was the last Swiss canton to grant women full suffrage in 1991? 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: Biden taps D.C. utility regulator Phillips for FERC.
PHILLIPS GETS THE FERC NOD: President Joe Biden named Willie Phillips, chair of the D.C. Public Service Commission since 2018, as his nominee to fill the FERC seat recently vacated by Neil Chatterjee. If confirmed by the Senate, Phillips would give Democrats a majority on the five-person commission at a time when Chair Rich Glick is aiming to weave more ambitious climate, renewable and environmental justice efforts in the regulators’ purview.
Under Glick, FERC is hoping to blossom renewable energy on the grid, and he started the commission on a proceeding in July designed to overhaul transmission permitting and cost allocation policy to foster the transport electricity from clean energy sources. Glick is also eyeing changes to the implementation of the Minimum Offer Price Rule to make sure power markets align with state clean energy goals — an effort Phillips is expected to support, Pro’s Catherine Morehouse reports.
Phillips enjoys support in renewable circles, including from the Solar Energy Industries Association, as well as Gregory Wetstone, head of the American Council on Renewable Energy, who lauded his “deep legal understanding of the issues at stake and clear recognition of the benefits that renewable energy provides our nation’s communities.” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who has spent the summer highlighting FERC’s role in combating climate change, called Phillips’ pick “FERCalicious”.
But not everyone is so keen on his selection. Environmentalists who have cast FERC as a rubber stamp organization for fossil fuel projects are fretting that Phillips may tilt toward the big industry players in his decisions. Drew Hudson, senior national organizer at Friends of the Earth, called Phillips’ nomination a “gift to corporate utilities and the fossil fuel industry” in a Thursday statement, and vowed to work with Senate allies to scrutinize Phillips’ record as he heads into his confirmation process.
HOUSE DEMS’ GO BIG ON CLEAN ENERGY: House Energy and Commerce Democrats released some details of their portion of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. The highlight of the climate change measures: a $150 billion Clean Energy Performance Program that would offer DOE-administered grants to utilities that increase their clean energy portfolios through 2030 and charge those that don’t. A recent paper by Evergreen Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that a CEPP could lead to 8 million new jobs and $1 trillion in economic growth.
The committee’s legislation, which will get a mark up on Monday, would also direct $9 billion to upgrade the country’s power grid and levy fees on emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry. Other priorities include $27.5 billion for the creation of a green bank, a further $30 billion for lead pipe removal beyond the $15 billion offered in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and $13.5 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Pro’s Anthony Adragna, Zack Colman and Annie Snider break it down further ahead of the E&C mark up.
MEANWHILE, over in the House Ways and Means Committee, some Democratic wariness around the party’s fast paced consideration for the measures was on display after moderate Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) expressed her unease during a committee markup over the reconciliation bill until she sees final text.
“I don’t think it’s asking too much to want to see this bill in its entirety before voting on any part of it,” she said, adding: “Unless something changes, I have no choice but to vote ‘no’ on each subtitle and on final passage.” Brian Faler has more for Pros.
AND IN THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, lawmakers voted Thursday to advance their $31 billion energy and climate package for the reconciliation bill after hours of Republican amendments that quickly devolved into partisan attacks. The committee’s package includes several of progressives’ key climate priorities, including funding for a Civilian Climate Corps, a mandate on mining companies to pay royalties for copper and other minerals produced on public land, a ban on new oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and fees on methane emissions by oil companies. More from your host and Ben Lefebvre here.
FIRST IN ME: GREENS WANT MORE FOR CORPS: Over 120 progressive climate, labor and social justice organizations are demanding the House include at least $30 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps as part of the reconciliation bill that pays members at least $15/hour. The groups, which include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement, wrote to Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today outlining some of their key priorities for the CCC, including that at least half of investments be directed to frontline communities and at least half of corps recruitment coming from those areas. Read the letter here.
SHOW YOUR NDC WORK, PLEASE: A quartet of Republicans want Biden to release any reports, assumptions and communications that were used to help develop the administration’s Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, under the Paris climate agreement. Under that pledge — which is non-binding — the U.S. aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The Biden administration will present that NDC as the U.S. goal at global climate talks in November in Glasgow, Scotland, and has contended it can achieve its target with or without Democrats’ plan to spend $3.5 trillion.
“Despite promises of transparency, Administration officials have dodged our continued requests during the past months in hearings, letters, calls, and questions for the record,” Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and David McKinley of West Virginia wrote. “We have yet to be provided with any data or any analysis used or generated to inform the NDC target.”
ON SHELDON’S MIND: ME caught up with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), one of the chamber’s most outspoken climate hawks, as crunch time in the reconciliation discussion approaches:
The Rhode Islander is clear-eyed on the stakes: “If Republicans take back the House or the Senate, as they say they’re going to do, the prospects for serious climate legislation evaporate. That means that the only prudent conclusion to be drawn is to treat this as our only shot. That means we can’t prevaricate and indulge ourselves in halfway measures. We’ve got to grapple with the climate problem effectively now, as if this was once and for all.”
On Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) reported ongoing concerns over climate provisions: “Every senator is entitled to look at what we’re trying to do and kick the tires and propose better, more effective alternatives. I think we’re well past time for the answer to be ‘well, we’ll get around to this later’.”
He’s also concerned Democrats’ infrastructure plans as modeled would bring reduction of only about 45 percent of 2005 emission levels — not the 50 percent mark sought by the administration: “The five percent difference is a very big difference. Add to that an uncertainty quotient in the modeling, which could break either way, and you not only really want to try to hit 50 percent, you really want to also build in a margin of safety, particularly if this is our last chance to build a pathway to climate safety.” (Majority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that gap would be filled in through state and administrative actions).
BRISTOL BAY BLOCK: The Biden administration is moving to restore environmental protections for Alaska’s Bristol Bay region that were removed by the Trump administration in 2019. The Trump administration subsequently rejected a proposal to build the massive Pebble copper and gold mine there, but the latest move by EPA would restore an Obama-era plan that had been lauded by environmentalists for seeking to prevent such developments in the pristine sockeye salmon fishery in the first place.
The administration said Thursday that it plans to ask a federal court to reverse course from the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Obama-era plan, which is seen as a de facto veto of mining plans there.
“What’s at stake is preventing pollution that would disproportionately impact Alaska Natives, and protecting a sustainable future for the most productive salmon fishery in North America,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. The administration’s move was praised by environmental and Indigenous activists, but Pebble Partnership, which has been planning a mine in the area, is likely to challenge EPA’s actions, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports.
“We will continue to monitor these developments closely to determine the possible impacts to the project and permitting process,” Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said in a statement.
FLYING CLEAN: The White House revealed a spate of cross-agency initiatives to boost sustainable aviation fuels Thursday, hoping to tackle one of the hardest industries to decarbonize. The initiatives include a “grand challenge” at the Agriculture, Energy and Transportation departments to increase sustainable aviation fuels by 3 billion gallons per year by 2020; $4.3 billion in funding opportunities for SAF projects and research; and a to-be-released aviation climate action plan. Pro’s Kelsey Tamborrino and Oriana Pawlyk have more.
Related: “United makes historic investment in sustainable fuel,” via Pro’s Lorraine Woellert.
COURT DENIES BIOFUELS’ E15 REHEARING REQUEST: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request Thursday to rehear its decision vacating the 2019 regulation that allowed the year-round sale of 15 percent ethanol blends in gasoline. Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association had sought the rehearing, arguing the panel’s decision conflicted with Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit precedent. “Our petition for rehearing was an opportunity for the D.C. Circuit to remedy a decision that runs counter to legal precedent and which, if maintained, threatens our nation’s rural economy and progress on moving toward a clean energy future,” the groups said in a response Thursday. They added they’ll continue to push for “a permanent remedy” before next summer’s driving season.
CRIMSON GOES GREEN: Harvard President Lawrence Bacow outlined the university’s efforts to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable technologies in an email to the university Thursday. Harvard disclosed a major divestment from fossil fuel investments earlier this year, and Bacow said the university will not make any new future investments in companies engaged in fossil fuel exploration. The university is also creating a vice provost for climate and sustainability, Harvard Magazine reports.
LEFT OUT OF THE TRANSITION: Black and women workers risk being sidelined in the energy transition to renewable power, with only 8 percent of the clean energy workforce being Black — more than a third below Black participation in the overall economy, according to a report by BW Research Partnership. Women hold less than 30 percent of clean energy jobs, though occupying about half the U.S. labor force, the report found. Recent data from EPA found racial minorities and low-income communities are particularly at risk from climate change, and the Biden administration has been seeking to make environmental justice a major component of its energy transition work.
“This is not about us lamenting where we are,” said Paula Glover, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, which was one of the groups that funded the study. “We are where we are. This is about us now building a strategy and developing a plan to be and do better.” Kelsey has more for Pros, including demographic breakdowns in clean energy sectors.
RENEWABLES PAY MORE: Transmission upgrade costs are disproportionately shouldered by new wind and solar projects, even though their benefits are enjoyed by many power industry players, according to a new report from the American Council on Renewable Energy. The analysis comes as FERC grapples with how to reform U.S. transmission policy, and Glick has said cost allocation questions are expected to be particularly thorny. Projects that upgrade power lines can reduce congestion and allow more renewables onto the grid, but saddling a single generator with the high costs can discourage companies from wanting to connect to the grid at all.
— “Battery Makers Tied to Power Grid Attract Big Investors,” via The Wall Street Journal.
— “California Senate sends Newsom bill funding oil well cleanup,” via POLITICO.
— “New South Jersey port project seen as key to burgeoning offshore wind industry,” via POLITICO.
— “Offshore operators face big Ida losses as insurers trim cover,” via Reuters.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!