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Manchin spat with energy regulator could be self-sabotage, experts say

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Happy hump day. 🐪 What’s your favorite way of describing “permitting reform” without actually saying “permitting reform”? Send suggestions (and tips!) to maxine.joselow@washpost.com. But first:

Manchin’s spat with FERC chairman could undercut his own transmission goals, experts say

For years, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has pushed to overhaul the nation’s permitting process for energy projects, including for the transmission lines needed to carry clean power across the country.

His longtime quest reached a dramatic conclusion this week, when Democratic leaders tried — and ultimately failed — to attach Manchin’s permitting bill to the annual defense policy legislation. (More on that below.)

In an ironic twist, however, Manchin’s refusal to hold a confirmation hearing for the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could further undermine his own efforts to build out America’s transmission infrastructure, experts say.

The details: Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has declined to schedule a confirmation hearing for Richard Glick, the Democratic chairman of FERC, in the lame-duck session of Congress. President Biden renominated Glick for a second, five-year term in June.

Manchin’s move raises the possibility that Glick will lose his job by the end of the year, when his current term expires. That would leave a 2-2 split between Democratic and Republican commissioners at FERC, a lesser-known independent agency that has enormous influence over the nation’s transition to clean energy.

Such a split could stall the commission’s work on updating transmission policies to support the deployment of more renewable energy, a crucial part of Biden’s climate agenda, said Jill Tauber, vice president of litigation for climate and energy at Earthjustice.

“If you care about getting transmission built, recognizing the very real bottleneck problem that we have, you’ve got to be supportive of a fully constituted FERC, putting the agency in the best position to move forward on that,” Tauber said.

Howard Crystal, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice Program, agreed.

“Manchin holding up Glick’s reappointment seriously calls into question whether he even thinks the transmission provisions in the [permitting] bill are necessary or important,” Crystal said. “Maybe the fossil fuel provisions in that bill are the things that Manchin really cares about.”

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon declined to comment, while a FERC spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Manchin has not said publicly why he raised the barrier to Glick’s renomination. But the decision came days after Manchin slammed President Biden’s comments on shutting down coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy.

The moderate Democratic senator has also criticized Glick’s role in proposing rules requiring the commission to consider the effects of new natural gas pipelines on climate change and environmental justice. FERC later backtracked on the rules, voting to recategorize them as mere drafts in the face of opposition from Manchin and many Republicans.

Some observers have speculated that Manchin, who represents a top coal-producing state, is trying to pressure Biden and FERC to take a friendlier approach to the fossil fuel sector. But others have been left scratching their heads.

“I just don’t really understand what his endgame is here,” said one environmental lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

If Glick is not confirmed by the end of the year, Biden could nominate one of the two Democratic commissioners — Allison Clements or Willie Phillips — to take over as chair. Clements is more senior and is seen as the more liberal choice.

The White House could also tap a Democrat as a fifth commissioner while renominating Republican commissioner James Danly, whose term expires in June. Traditionally, presidents of both parties have nominated FERC commissioners in bipartisan pairs.

Asked for comment, White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said in an email, “We continue to hope our FERC nomination can move this year.” She declined to elaborate.

To be sure, a 2-2 split at FERC would not grind all work to a halt, said Neil Chatterjee, a Republican who was tapped by former president Donald Trump to chair the commission in 2017 and again in 2018. (Trump ousted him as chair in 2020.)

“FERC definitely works best when it has a full complement of five, but I was actually 2-2 for a significant portion of my tenure as chair, and it was some of the most productive and bipartisan time that we had at the commission,” said Chatterjee, who is now a senior adviser at the law firm Hogan Lovells. “I think that’s what’s going to happen here.”

Ari Peskoe, who directs Harvard Law School’s Electricity Law Initiative, echoed that sentiment. He noted that the vast majority of FERC’s votes are 5-0 or 4-1, with the exception of votes on “controversial, significant issues.”

But Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who has sought to boost FERC’s profile, expressed concern that a 2-2 split would stall the commission’s closely watched proposal to require utilities to conduct long-term planning for regional transmission projects.

“We need to deploy transmission at three to five times the annual rate we’ve deployed transmission in this country” to realize the full potential of the Inflation Reduction Act, the recently passed climate law, Casten said.

“We need commissioners and chairmen and chairwomen who are committed to fulfilling FERC’s mission — not trying not to hurt the feelings of certain coal-state senators,” he added.

Manchin’s permitting bill not included in annual defense measure

Controversial legislation from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that would speed up the approval process for new energy projects was not included in the text of the annual defense policy measure released Tuesday evening.

Democratic leaders had sought to include the permitting bill in the National Defense Authorization Act as part of a deal that won Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. But it became clear Tuesday that the permitting bill lacked enough support, with liberal House Democrats and Senate Republicans both coming out against the measure.

House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the permitting bill probably would not be attached to the defense legislation because “it doesn’t have the votes.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday that “if Democrats wanted these controversial items so badly, they had two years to move them across the floor,” referring to the inclusion of the permitting bill and marijuana banking in the NDAA. 

In a statement Tuesday evening, Manchin slammed the exclusion of his permitting bill from the NDAA, saying it would have “long-term consequences” for the nation’s energy independence. “The American people will pay the steepest price for Washington once again failing to put common sense policy ahead of toxic tribal politics,” Manchin said.  

The defense legislation did include a few notable environmental provisions. For instance, it included a package of oceans bills aimed at protecting vulnerable marine mammals, promoting ocean science, and improving ocean and coastal mapping.

Warnock fends off Walker to give Democrats a 51st seat in Senate

In the last outstanding Senate race in Georgia, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael G. Warnock was projected to defeat Republican Herschel Walker on Tuesday evening, giving Democrats more leverage in the chamber, The Washington Post’s Amy Wang reports

The two candidates had staked out sharply divergent positions on climate change and the environment in the closely watched race in the battleground state.

Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia, has touted his role in passing the landmark climate law, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, and bringing clean-energy jobs to the state. Walker, a former pro football player who was encouraged to run by former president Donald Trump, has made comments about climate and environmental issues that have drawn ridicule.

In July, Walker suggested that Georgia’s “good air decides to float over” to China, replacing China’s “bad air.” And in August, he criticized the climate law by claiming that “a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

Extreme floods expose flaws in FEMA’s risk maps

Government flood-insurance maps have failed to illustrate the growing risk that communities across the country face amid a warming climate, leaving thousands of residents unprepared for the destruction, according to a Washington Post analysis of videos taken by people who endured the extreme deluges in the past year, our colleagues Samuel OakfordJohn MuyskensSarah Cahlan and Joyce Sohyun Lee report.

The investigation found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year and 500-year flood plain maps do not illustrate the current and growing threat of storm water inundation in several areas, including places like Red Lodge, Mont., and Summerville, Ga. As a result, homeowners, prospective buyers, renters and cities have been left unaware of where to restrict development.

The agency has said that the maps are not intended to forecast flooding, and that residents considering buying flood insurance should take into account other aspects of the overall risk to their property.

Renewable energy to surpass coal by 2025, IEA says

Renewable energy is on track to displace coal as the largest source of electricity generation by early 2025, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, Elena Shao reports for the New York Times. 

Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, has recently seen a resurgence amid the global energy crisis driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine. But the report found that in the long term, the crisis is expected to accelerate clean-energy growth as countries embrace renewables in response to soaring gasoline costs, energy security concerns, and the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point toward a cleaner and more secure energy system,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

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2022-12-07 07:52:23

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