With President Biden’s first two weeks highlighted by a sweeping set of executive orders outlining his administration’s climate and clean energy agenda, action has shifted to Capitol Hill, including more movement toward Senate approval of Biden’s energy and environment cabinet.
The Senate Tuesday approved Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, 86-13. Buttigieg will help oversee a ramping up of vehicle fuel efficiency standards and other measures to reduce heat-trapping emissions from the transportation sector.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 13-4, approved the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s to helm the Department of Energy. At her confirmation hearing, she pledged not to leave fossil fuel workers behind during the transition to a clean economy and touted locating clean energy manufacturing in states that have historically relied on fossil fuel production and refining to boost their economies. She also spotlighted the need to allocate unused DOE loan program funds to spur clean energy and expressed interest in working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop transmission lines linking populated and rural areas with consistent wind and solar power.
The Senate Commerce Committee, 12-3, approved Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be commerce secretary. Raimondo hasn’t ruled out using existing powers to impose climate-related trade restrictions.
The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously voted to forward to the full Senate the nomination of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reprise that role under Biden. Vilsack already has a $30 billion pot of money at the department that will be used to tackle climate change and other programs without waiting for Congress. That includes creating a “carbon bank” to pay producers for using sustainable farming practices to capture carbon in soil.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee gave bipartisan praise to North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan’s nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Republicans still cited concern that the agency will go too far in regulating carbon emissions from power plants. Regan told the panel that the lack of either an Obama or Trump administration power plant carbon rule, following the Trump administration’s version getting recently tossed out by federal appeals court, opens the door for a fresh start. He largely dodged details on that, as well as efforts related to vehicle carbon emissions and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
NASA named Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science, as its first-ever senior climate adviser. He’ll be acting in that position until a permanent appointment is made.
The Biden administration has also picked Satyam Khanna to be the first senior policy adviser for climate and ESG at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Khanna, a resident fellow at New York University’s School of Law and former Obama SEC official, will help the SEC examine how climate change intersects with its regulations at a time when the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department are also adding climate staff.
Biden tapped Amanda Lefton, a former adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who helped develop the largest offshore wind commitment in the U.S., to lead the Interior Department’s Bureau of Offshore Energy Management and implement Biden’s executive order to double offshore wind production by 2030. That includes resuming the permitting process for Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.
Back on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this week asked Democratic committee chairs to begin hearings on finding climate solutions. “It’s long past time for the Senate to take a leading role in combating the existential threat of our time: climate,” he said on the floor Wednesday. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) introduced a bill requiring the president to declare a national climate emergency.
The Senate on a 51-50 party-line vote early Friday (with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaker) approved a non-binding budget plan that would nevertheless allow for a $1.9 billion COVID relief package to move through Congress without fear of a filibuster. That could also include climate and clean energy provisions.
Schumer has said he’s indeed interested in moving some climate language in the filibuster-proof reconciliation plan and there are those arguing that it should include some elements of a national clean energy standard. That could include new federal “zero-emissions electricity credits” that utilities would earn by increasing the amount of carbon-free power they deliver to customers or by purchasing the credits from the federal program.
But Senate Energy panel Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) warned he is reluctant to move legislation on purely party-line votes through tools such as budget reconciliation and he has serious doubts about zero-carbon electricity mandates. Reminder: Democrats need to stick together in the Senate in a 50-50 chamber.
We told you Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) would be someone to watch this Congress. And this week, Kelly not only retained a spot on the Senate energy committee but was also named to the Senate Environment and Public Works panel.
Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) is the new chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing EPA and Interior Department funding and wants to pursue “rebuilding” both after staff and oversight reductions under the Trump administration.