President Biden’s prospective environment cabinet is getting mixed reactions in the Senate, representing deep divisions on curbing fossil fuels and the difficulty of taking heavy legislative steps in addressing climate change.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Tuesday, 14-6, agreed to forward to the full Senate North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan’s nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The strong vote came after Regan received bipartisan praise as well at his confirmation hearing, despite pointed Republican concern that the agency under Regan may go too far in regulating carbon emissions from power plants. Former top panel Republican Jim Inhofe (Okla.) noted that while he respected Regan, “I cannot in good conscience vote to confirm him to lead the EPA as he will be tasked with carrying on many failed Obama-era policies.” Inhofe’s former top aide on the committee – Andrew Wheeler – was President Trump’s last EPA administrator.
Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), hasn’t had her confirmation hearing yet but is already getting serious pushback from oil-state Republicans upset at Biden’s move to suspend new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and waters. Top Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Republican John Barrasso (Wyo.) said Haaland’s support of the oil and gas drilling lease freeze “will only encourage President Biden along the illegal and reckless path that he has begun.”
One of the panel’s other Republicans, Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.), has gone further and threatened to hold up Haaland’s nomination, saying he was “deeply concerned” after speaking with Haaland and citing her support on “several radical issues.” That includes her “support for the Green New Deal and President Biden’s oil and gas moratorium” and opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Similarly, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) noted on Twitter that “a simple google search reveals a great deal about” Haaland, also noting her being an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal. “Her confirmation would be disastrous for western states.”
That said, advocates for Haaland point to her history of bipartisanship and historic selection as the first Native American to run the Interior Department and she should still have the votes to be confirmed. Biden’s picks to lead the Energy and Commerce Departments – former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, respectively – received strong support at the committee level last week for their nominations ahead of their expected Senate confirmations.
BIDEN PICKS DOE DEPUTY: Biden plans to nominate former aide David Turk, who helped coordinate international clean energy efforts at the Department of Energy in the Obama administration, to return as the department’s deputy secretary. Turk was also a deputy climate envoy at Obama’s State Department after serving as a congressional aide to former House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Biden himself when he represented Delaware in the Senate.
ARPA-C AS EASY AS ARPA-E: The White House Thursday announced a Climate Innovation Working Group that will be tasked with putting together a new ARPA-C advanced climate research arm at the Energy Department. This Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate would be tasked at looking at a wide range of options, including carbon-neutral construction materials; cheaper energy storage; low-cost zero-carbon vehicles and transit; sustainable aircraft fuels; green and affordable refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps; carbon-free hydrogen and direct air capture systems for industrial and power plant carbon emissions.
It’s unclear if ARPA-C will be modeled after the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which is the Energy Department’s leading effort for promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies and is itself modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Speaking of ARPA-E, the White House Thursday also announced it is seeking proposals to target $100 million of the program’s funding “to support transformational low-carbon energy technologies.”
MANCHIN PRESSES BIDEN ON NATURAL GAS: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a critical swing vote and fossil-state moderate in the 50-50 Senate, pressed Biden in a letter to consider the “many benefits of responsible domestic natural gas production.” Biden, who repeatedly on the campaign trail and now in office has said he opposes efforts to ban the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas, is continuing to straddle a line that doesn’t alienate liberals or key moderates like Manchin.
SPEAKING OF WHICH: Some of those liberals on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are making it clear that they want to move an aggressive climate plan through Congress “with or without Republican support.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week asked his Democratic committee chairs to begin hearings on finding climate solutions.
But spending bills may end up being the most consequential in making strides in expanding clean energy and addressing climate change on Capitol Hill. Democrats will have a new leader on the Senate appropriations subcommittee overseeing EPA and the Interior Department, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). California Sen Dianne Feinstein will once again be top Democrat, and now chair, of the spending subcommittee overseeing the Energy Department.