A couple of major players in the Biden administration’s climate and energy agenda were officially greenlighted last week, while at least one other nomination is dangling precariously on the edge in a closely divided Senate.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an unusual two-day hearing on Biden’s nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M) to head the Interior Department. While Haaland would make history as the first Native American to oversee federal lands and waters, her support for President Biden’s freeze of new oil and gas leasing permits and Green New Deal legislation drew early Republican opposition.
But her nomination got a boost with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announcing his support. “While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” Manchin said following the two-day nomination hearing.
Haaland also was formally introduced at the Senate energy hearing by another lawmaker representing strong fossil fuel interests, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Young noted that while he is opposed to Biden’s oil and gas leasing freeze, he pointed to several instances where he and Haaland worked together to pass Native American-related and other legislation. While nominee introductions at confirmation hearings don’t usually carry much weight, Young’s just might, especially with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
SMOOTH RIDE FOR GRANHOLM, VILSACK: The final stretch for former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s nomination to be energy secretary had a smoother ride last week, with the Senate confirming her, 64-35. That doesn’t mean she won’t have big challenges in her new role, as Axios’ Ben Geman details. That includes overseeing Biden’s call for $400 billion over 10 years to bolster energy research and innovation and more clean power generation as part of a broader modernization of the grid. It also means tapping into her auto industry and labor ties to help speed up electric vehicle production and charging infrastructure, while not leaving fossil fuel workers behind during the transition to a clean economy and manufacturing. The Energy Department has also signaled it will review Trump administration rollbacks of energy conservation standards for appliances. Granholm covered a range of topics in a Washington Post interview Friday.
The Senate, 92-7, confirmed former Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to return to 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.
RAIMONDO ON TAP: Senate confirmation for Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s nomination to head the Commerce Department is also set for this week. Raimondo would lead a department that includes climate data and experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and hasn’t ruled out using existing powers to impose climate-related trade restrictions.
DEPUTIES NEXT UP: Biden’s nominations of Brenda Mallory as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Janet McCabe as deputy EPA administrator are scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works. David Turk’s nomination to be deputy energy secretary will be considered at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Thursday.
BIDEN, TRUDEAU RELEASE CLIMATE ROADMAP: Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a bilateral roadmap that includes steps the two neighboring nations will take to combat climate change. It includes building “necessary supply chains to make Canada and the United States global leaders in all aspects of battery development and production,” and updating an existing bilateral critical minerals plan to include batteries for zero-emissions vehicles and renewable energy storage. Biden also “restated his commitment to holding polluters accountable for their actions,” while he and Trudeau “agreed to work together to protect businesses, workers and communities in both countries from unfair trade by countries failing to take strong climate action” and reduce oil and gas methane emissions.
FERC, DEMS PROBE CLIMATE IMPACT ON TEXAS, GRIDS: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is probing how grid operators prepare for and respond to climate change and extreme weather threats to the reliability of U.S. electric power systems, including the icy weather that paralyzed Texas and wildfires in California. It comes as congressional Democrats are similarly questioning what went wrong in during the Texas winter storm. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee’s environment subcommittee, announced his panel will look into the “failure of fossil fuels” in Texas and why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s grid, wasn’t better prepared.
GINA MCCARTHY: DON’T BLAME RENEWABLES FOR TEXAS WOES: Biden’s domestic climate policy chief Gina McCarthy pointedly reminded that freezing wind turbines and other green power were not the main culprits of the Texas grid debacle. “What happened in Texas was not a failure of renewable energy – just the opposite,” she told Bloomberg Green. “It was the fact that they had not invested in their own systems of refineries and they did not have a grid that connected Texas with other states in a way that other states are aligned together. So it made the response much more difficult.”
CRUZ AGREES: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) agrees that calling out frozen wind turbines was silly and told the Washington Examiner’s Josh Siegel that Texas should consider reforms that includes requiring power plant operators and oil and gas producers to invest in upgrades that protect their facilities and equipment from cold weather.
GRANHOLM BACKS CONNECTING TEXAS GRID: Newly-confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm backs the idea of connecting the Texas grid to other states.
EPA SIDES WITH COURT ON LIMITING BIOFUEL EXEMPTIONS: EPA sided with a federal appeals court ruling from early last year that restricts the agency’s ability to issue exemptions to federal biofuels blending requirements to small oil refiners. This is a shift from the Trump administration’s EPA and comes as the Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal of the appeals court ruling from several oil refiners.
SEC WANTS MORE CORPORATE CLIMATE RISK DISCLOSURES: The Securities and Exchange Commission will review the extent to which public companies are disclosing how climate change poses risks to their businesses. SEC Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee added that this review will help the commission update 2010 guidance to public companies regarding disclosing these risks. “Now more than ever, investors are considering climate-related issues when making their investment decisions,” she said in a Feb. 24 statement. “Ensuring compliance with the rules on the books and updating existing guidance are immediate steps the agency can take on the path to developing a more comprehensive framework that produces consistent, comparable, and reliable climate-related disclosures.”