With help from Annie Snider, Gavin Bade and Anthony Adragna
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— President Donald Trump signed two executive orders Tuesday, creating an interagency council to bolster the United States’ role in the One Trillion Trees Initiative and an interagency “water subcabinet.”
— EPA signed a guidance memo last week declaring that states can implement rules that allow power plants and refineries to avoid punishment for exceeding pollution limits during startup, shutdown and malfunctions.
— A Biden administration could support legislation to tax U.S. fossil fuel production and slap carbon tariffs on imports, according a former U.S. trade official who’s also an informal adviser to the campaign.
WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Michael McGarey of the Nuclear Energy Institute gets the win for knowing the Philadelphia Warriors, as they were named at the time, were the first team to win the NBA championships title, in 1947. For today: Which U.S. states don’t observe Daylight Saving Time? 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 at politico.com/energy-podcast. On today’s episode: California’s climate policy meets nightmarish reality
WISHING YOU A GREEN OCTOBER: Barreling toward an Election Day where suburban women’s votes will be of out-sized importance, the White House on Tuesday unveiled a pair of executive orders meant to cast President Donald Trump in a greener light.
One of the executive orders aims to advance the president’s commitment to the One Trillion Trees initiative, a World Economic Forum program representing a rare climate initiative with bipartisan support. But, although the initiative’s stated goal is to “restore biodiversity and help fight climate change” by expanding the world’s carbon sinks, Trump’s order makes no mention of climate change.
It does establish a council tasked with furthering federal efforts on “growing, restoring, and conserving trees.” The groups will be co-chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, with Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, and Christopher Liddell, deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, serving as vice chairs, the White House said. Other members include Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, CEQ Chair Mary Neumayr, OMB Director Russ Vought, and representatives from a host of agencies. No word yet on when this new council, which will operate through 2030, will hold its first meeting.
The second executive order creates a “water subcabinet” chaired by the Interior secretary and EPA administrator that is meant to coordinate across the agencies with a hand in water infrastructure, supplies and quality. Such a group has informally existed for months, with meetings spearheaded by EPA Water Chief David Ross, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James.
Stay tuned: The Trump administration’s most significant ante into its push for a greener image is yet to come: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has been saying for weeks that his updated lead and copper rule will be coming soon. Although green groups have criticized the rule as too weak, it offers the Trump administration a powerful talking point on an issue of basic health importance, particularly for children.
On the campaign trail: Trump has stuck to his pitch that he supports clean air and water, while attacking his opponent Joe Biden’s environmental plans. That approach was on display again last night at a rally in Johnstown, Pa. — a crucial swing state home to thousands of fracking jobs — where Trump repeatedly alleged that Biden would ban fracking. Biden meanwhile has forcefully said he would not ban the practice, but would instead end new permits on federal lands. “One of the most important issues for Pennsylvania is the survival of your fracking industry,” Trump said Tuesday.
“Did you see his party now is really angry at him because he’s saying maybe there will be fracking,” Trump said of Biden. “It’s a very conditional, it’s a very weak. But with me, you’re going to frack.”
The president also pointed to Sen. Kamala Harris’ support of the Green New Deal resolution, which she co-sponsored, and pointed to Biden’s clean energy plan to mandate net-zero carbon emissions. That “means fossil fuel, coal, everything is gone and it’s gone soon. OK?” Trump said last night. “And with that goes our economy and with that goes our country. The Democrat party hates fracking, they hate coal — they hate clean, beautiful coal — they hate domestic energy production and Biden will shut you down.”
UP IN THE AIR: States can implement rules that allow power plants, refineries and other industrial sources to avoid punishment for exceeding pollution limits during startup, shutdown and malfunctions under a guidance memo signed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Friday. Under the memo, EPA argues it was wrong to bar exemptions or affirmative defense provisions from state air plans under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program because of redundancies in how those pollutants are regulated and the need for “state autonomy and flexibility” under the program, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports.
The memo sets the stage for EPA to pick apart an Obama-era action that would have forced 36 states to remove those pollution exemptions from their plans that have shielded the plants from civil penalties.
DOE ANNOUNCES ADVANCED NUCLEAR RECIPIENTS: The Energy Department selected Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower LLC and X-energy of Rockville, Md., to receive $80 million each in initial funding under the new cost-sharing Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program that was created in May to help deliver first-of-its-kind advanced reactors into commercial U.S. operations.
“These partnerships will help maximize DOE’s investment in advanced reactors, which play a vital role in our clean energy strategy,” Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement.
The money goes toward the building of two advanced nuclear reactors that can be operational within seven years. TerraPower will demonstrate the Natrium reactor, a sodium‐cooled fast reactor, and X-energy will deliver a commercial four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100 reactor design.
GREENS SUE OVER CHEMICAL PLANT RULE: Activist groups sued EPA on Tuesday over what they contend is a weak new air emissions rule governing hazardous pollutants from roughly 200 chemical manufacturing plants across the country, Pro’s Annie Snider reports. The challenge to EPA’s Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing, or MON rule (Reg. 2060-AT85), was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by Earthjustice on behalf of 11 community, environmental and scientific advocacy groups. At the same time, the groups filed a petition for reconsideration with EPA.
The groups say the Trump administration rule exposes communities across the country to levels of the gas ethylene oxide that pose double the cancer risk beyond what EPA typically considers acceptable.
BIDEN COULD SUPPORT CARBON TAX AND TARIFF: Joe Biden is likely to support legislation to impose carbon tariffs on imports and tax domestic coal, oil and gas production, an informal adviser to his campaign said Tuesday. “There is … legislation that I think is likely to gain support from a Biden administration to impose a carbon tax in the United States that would also have as part of it an import border adjustment as well as an export rebate,” Jennifer Hillman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and informal Biden adviser, said during a POLITICO virtual event.
The former USTR official and WTO Appellate Body judge said under that plan “you’d be taxing coal, oil and natural gas as it comes out of the ground, a very high tax.” That would be combined with “a border adjustment, meaning a tax on imports and an export rebate that would go to those companies that are in energy-intensive areas,” like steel or cement.
Just one part: The tax-and-tariff plan would be combined with regulatory actions like stricter limits on methane emissions, tougher fuel economy standards for cars, and other aspects of Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, Hillman said. Biden’s trade agenda also calls for other measures, like conditioning new trade deals on climate commitments from partners.
Biden camp mum: The Biden campaign would not weigh in on Hillman’s comments, but a spokesperson noted she is not a formal campaign adviser and that Biden’s climate plan goes no further than calling for an “enforcement mechanism” to limit carbon emissions.
Striking resemblance: Biden’s “Buy American” trade plan, however, does endorse the idea of a “carbon adjustment fee” applied at the border. And the policy Hillman described bears a striking resemblance to the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, H.R. 4926 (115), introduced in 2018 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-Ore.) who chairs the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on trade, along with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
ED MARKEY VIBES: The Sunrise Movement released an ad Tuesday featuring a union electrician making the case for the Green New Deal and the election of Mike Siegel in a rapidly shifting Texas district spanning the outskirts of Austin to the Houston exurbs. “Every day I see jobs being obliterated with no backup plan for us to transition to something better,” the electrician, Ryan Pollock, says in an explicit pitch to fossil fuel workers. “What use is a good job if you don’t have a job to come home to.” Siegel, a proponent of a Green New Deal, is challenging Rep. Michael McCaul in a race rated by the Cook Political Report as “Leans Republican.” An internal Democratic poll released Tuesday had McCaul up just a point over Siegel.
NEW ANTI-ERNST PUSH: The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund is spending $1.2 million on a mail campaign against Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst down the home stretch of her competitive reelection bid against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. In the first three pieces of the campaign, the group is funding non-environmental messaging that “Senate Majority PAC has found to be effective,” according to a spokesperson (one example here). Those will be followed with environmental mailers on Oct. 22, 23 and 27. The Real Clear Politics average of the race has Greenfield up 4.8 percentage points.
ANOTHER DAY OF SCOTUS HEARINGS: The Senate Judiciary Committee continues its hearings today on Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In marathon questioning on Tuesday, Barrett tried to put some distance between herself and her mentor, late Justice Antonin Scalia. “You would be getting Justice Barrett, not Justice Scalia,” Barrett said. “I don’t think that anybody should assume that just because Justice Scalia decided a decision a certain way that I would too.”
— During Tuesday’s questioning, Barrett was also asked about climate change, telling the Senate panel: “I’m certainly not a scientist. … I’ve read things about climate change. I would not say I have firm views on it.” Evergreen Action campaign director Jamal Raad said in response Americans can’t afford to add a “climate denier” to the high court. “A nominee without ‘firm views’ on climate science should be firmly viewed as unqualified for the Supreme Court,” Raad added in a statement.
— Invoking both the Waters of the United States rule and the Renewable Fuel Standard in questioning from Ernst on agency rulemaking, Barrett was also asked about how agencies should interpret laws passed by Congress. “When a court reviews whether an agency has exceeded its lawful authority, it goes to the statute that you in Congress enact, and interprets that statute, looks at the text, and tries to tell whether you’ve given the agency, given the EPA in your example, leeway to adopt policies. … But if the agency goes farther than the text of the statute permits, then it is the role of a court to say that that action was in conflict with the statute, and therefore illegal,” Barrett said.
DEEP DIVE: New research led by NOAA shows the deep sea is warming at a significant rate — challenging assumptions that the deep ocean is distant enough to avoid warming that’s occurring at water layers nearer to the surface, Pro’s Zack Colman reports.
In a study published Tuesday in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers observed a warming trend of 0.02 to 0.04 degrees Celsius between 2009 and 2019 across four points at depths of 1,360 to 4,757 meters in the Atlantic Ocean’s Argentine Basin near Uruguay. Researchers noted the spike was sizable, as deep sea fluctuations typically register in the thousandths — not hundredths — of a degree.
— Paula Glover is the Alliance to Save Energy’s new president, beginning Jan. 4, 2021. Glover currently serves as president and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy.
— Ted Boling and Stacey Bosshardt joined Perkins Coie’s environment, energy and resources practice, the firm announced last week. Boling, who joins as a partner, most recently served as the NEPA lawyer on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, while Bosshardt, who joins as senior counsel, served as an assistant chief in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
— “McConnell dares Democrats to block ‘targeted’ Covid relief before election,” via POLITICO.
— “Warming has killed half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, study finds. It might never recover,” via The Washington Post.
— “Researchers find elevated radiation near U.S. fracking sites,” via Reuters.
— “Environmentalists and dam operators, at war for years, start making peace,” via The New York Times.
— “BP’s climate reinvention dodges politics,” via Axios.
Did we miss anything? Send future events to: [email protected].
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!