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— The House pushed a vote on its latest coronavirus relief bill to today, buying Democrats more time to try to strike a late agreement with the White House.
— FERC saw support from power companies for a carbon price during a technical conference on Wednesday, but no consensus emerged on a market structure.
— The Interior Department suppressed a government study finding that oil and gas drilling on public lands in Alaska would likely harm the region’s polar bear population, according to The Washington Post.
WELCOME TO OCTOBER! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. The trivia win goes to Pebble Partnership’s Peter Robertson, who correctly named John Quincy Adams and Charles Francis Adams — the first father-son pair to chair the same House committee, which was the Committee on Manufactures. For today: What event in 1974 marked the first time the Senate chamber was broadcast on television? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to [email protected].
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 here. On today’s episode: Solar power in the Sunshine State.
HOUSE TEES UP RELIEF BILL: The House pushed a vote on Democrats’ latest coronavirus aid package to today in order to give Speaker Nancy Pelosi more time to try to reach a deal with the White House. If those talks fail, the Democrats will take up their own bill and go home, POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report.
What’s in Democrats’ bill? The $2.2 trillion relief package includes an additional $1 billion for FEMA firefighter funding to address wildfires in West as well as $1.5 billion for drinking and wastewater grants for low-income households. The measure also includes $50 million for EPA environmental justice grants and would require states and utilities receiving federal funds to prevent energy and water shutoffs for residential customers during the pandemic.
Talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are widely seen as the final chance to deliver more pandemic aid before the election, the trio reports. Several centrist Democrats had urged party leaders to hold off on the vote Wednesday, arguing it would be fruitless to take a party-line vote if a deal may be clinched.
“We’ll have to see. If we have an agreement, we’re going to pass that agreement, then we’re done until after the election,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.
Pelosi and Mnuchin met in the Capitol for 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, following days of calls between the two with both parties under immense pressure to reach a bipartisan agreement. In a statement, Pelosi offered no details on whether a deal was imminent.
FERC SEES SUPPORT FOR CARBON PRICE: Power companies told FERC they supported putting a price on carbon dioxide, at least at the regional level, while legal experts said the existing framework of laws gave the regulator the ability to implement it.
That was the takeaway from FERC’s technical conference on Wednesday, where academics, power company investors and executives gathered virtually. Each offered divergent views on how FERC should incorporate the costs to account for the greenhouse gas into the electricity markets, Pro’s Eric Wolff reports, but there was near unanimity among the participants that putting a price on the pollution from fossil fuels was the most efficient way to curb the emissions driving climate change.
“We’re at a pivotal point when it comes to these discussions — a point that I think, will ultimately lead to action in some shape or form,” FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee said in his opening remarks.
There was no consensus on how FERC should build a carbon price into the market, and participants questioned whether such prices needed to be transparent in all bids, whether it had to be applied nationally or regionally, and how to deal with the problem of “leakage” in which a region with a carbon price imports power from another that does not include one. But business leaders touted the potential of carbon pricing in creating regulatory certainty for investors seeking to fulfill state policy mandates.
POLAR VORTEX: U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly is delaying the release of a study that shows how oil and gas drilling in Alaska threatens the survival of polar bears, according to The Washington Post. Reilly refused to make public the study by USGS scientists — which has been ready for at least three months — on the number of female polar bears that den and give birth in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska near the southern Beaufort Sea, the same area the Trump administration has opened up for oil and natural gas development.
Reilly questioned why the study uses “data collected by a former agency scientist now working for an advocacy group and why it doesn’t count each polar bear den individually, among other things,” the Post reports, according to internal memos.
A spokesperson for the agency denied that the move was unusual, as Pro’s Ben Lefebvre reports. “The USGS leadership routinely reviews and requests additional information on scientific reports to best understand the technical data of key references that are used in the model conclusions,” agency spokesperson Hannah Hamilton said.
TO TRUMP’S DESK: The Senate passed a short-term spending bill Wednesday to fund the government until Dec. 11 and avoid a shutdown. The upper chamber cleared the measure in a bipartisan 84-10 vote. It now heads to President Donald Trump for signature.
HOUSE PANEL ADVANCES LEASING BILL: The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation, H.R. 3225 (116), that would boost community input in federal oil and gas lease sales and raise royalty rates on public lands, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. The bill, from California Rep. Mike Levin (D), would set a minimum acceptable bid for leases at $5 per acre while requiring disclosure of companies behind the bids. It would also hike the royalty rate for onshore leases to 18.5 percent from the current rate of 12.5 percent and shorten leases from 10 to five years. The measure advanced on a 20-15 vote, despite opposition from committee Republicans who argued it would harm investments in domestic energy production, add inefficiencies to the permitting process and likely increase dependence on foreign suppliers.
HAALAND, GREEN INTRODUCE BILL TO RENAME LANDMARKS: Democratic Reps. Deb Haaland (N.M.), vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee, and Al Green (Texas), a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced legislation Wednesday to address landmarks with racist names on public land. The United States Board on Geographic Names currently oversees the naming process for such geographic units, but the bill would create an Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names made up of Tribal members and individuals with background in civil rights and race relations. That committee would make recommendations to the Board on Geographic Names on features that should be renamed and recommendations to Congress on removing offensive names from federal land units.
REPUBLICANS UNVEIL CHINA BLUEPRINT: House Republicans rolled out recommendations Wednesday to crack down on China following a months-long probe into the Chinese Communist Party over the origins of the coronavirus outbreak and flaws in medical supply chains, among other things, POLITICO’s Melanie Zanona reports.
The GOP report lays out 83 key findings and makes 430 policy recommendations, two-thirds of which are bipartisan, according to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The report, in part, calls out the Chinese Communist Party’s “rampant environmental destruction, including its status as the world’s largest carbon emitter.” It also calls for advancing energy security in the U.S. to be “a global counter” to China, particularly on the nuclear energy front, and suggests an overhaul of federal permitting for mineral development in order to prioritize advancements in mineral refining.
Related: Trump signed an executive order Wednesday declaring a national emergency to expand domestic mining and reduce dependence on China for critical minerals, Bloomberg reports.
ANALYSIS: DEBATE MARKED CLIMATE MILESTONE: Trump has mocked electric vehicles and previously tried to eliminate tax incentives for them. So why, then, did the president say during Tuesday night’s debate that he’s “all for electric cars?” His answer, POLITICO Magazine’s Michael Grunwald writes, marks a “milestone in the history of climate politics.”
“Global warming has been dismissed for years as a niche concern for the tree-hugging fringe, but not only has it become the kind of mainstream issue that even a moderator from Fox News deemed worthy of prime time, it has become the kind of hot-button issue that even a Republican president who used to call it a hoax manufactured in China feels the need to dissemble about,” Grunwald writes. “If hypocrisy is the tribute that virtue pays to vice, political lies are the tribute that unpopularity pays to popularity — and 2020 polling has found that climate science and climate action are both popular.” Read the full story.
CONSERVATION GROUPS TO FACEBOOK: STOP MISINFORMATION SPREAD: Conservation groups called on Facebook to “do some serious soul-searching” in order to stop the spread of bias, racism and disinformation on its platform. In a letter Wednesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the groups say the tech company “simply needs to do more” to stop racist engagement, including fixing its “algorithmic lean to boosting racist posts.” The letter, led by the National Wildlife Federation and Conservation Northwest, said groups “are seeing the impact of hate and racism in our work.”
“We will not succeed as a nation until nature and a healthful environment are truly available to all,” they write. “Facebook has to recognize its role in fostering an environment that perpetuates the culture of racism and hate that puts nature out of bounds.”
Facebook has faced repeated criticism from both Democrats and environmental groups related to the spread of disinformation about climate change on its platform. The company recently announced the launch of a “dedicated space” to provide users with facts from the world’s leading climate organizations.
THE COST OF ORPHAN WELLS: U.S. state and federal regulators have put taxpayers at risk of $280 billion in cleanup costs by not requiring oil and gas companies to provide sufficient financial assurance when drilling wells, according to a new report this morning from environmental research firm Carbon Tracker. The report examined the financial risk facing taxpayers across major U.S. oil-producing states, finding that the total undiscounted cost to retire existing onshore wells totals $117 billion in Texas, $31 billion in Oklahoma and $15 billion in Pennsylvania.
The report also said fracked wells will likely have shorter lives and cost more to close than expected. “The combination of more wells, greater depths, and shorter lifespans means shale drillers will incur higher [plug and abandon] costs sooner,” the report said. “This unfavorable math increases the likelihood that operators will default, passing these liabilities on to governments who are equally unprepared for the new math of shale drilling.”
SHELL TO CUT UP TO 9,000 JOBS: Royal Dutch Shell will cut between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs by the end of 2022 as it moves toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, CEO Ben van Beurden said in an internal interview published Wednesday. That includes 1,500 people who have agreed to voluntary redundancy this year, the company added, but excludes anyone who may leave the company because of divestments. Along with other measures, the company predicts an annual cost saving of between $2 billion to 2.5 billion.
— Mark Grundy joined the intergovernmental organization Coalition for Rainforest Nations as managing director of global marketing and communications. Grundy previously was the managing director of global marketing and communications at the Rocky Mountain Institute.
— The Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association, added Stephanie Maez as its new managing director. Maez currently is the senior fellow for race and diversity at the Topos Partnership.
— “NextEra, renewable-energy giant, seeks greater scale with a Duke takeover,” via The Wall Street Journal.
— “Greenland could lose more ice this century than it has in 12,000 years,” via National Geographic.
— “Bob Murray, who fought against black lung regulations as a coal operator, has filed for black lung benefits,” via West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
— “Interior employees raise concerns after department celebrates ‘European Heritage Month,’” via Government Executive.
— “$215M in BP oil spill money to restore Louisiana marshes,” via Associated Press.
— “Brazil’s Bolsonaro slams Biden for ‘coward threats’ over Amazon,” via Reuters.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!