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Michigan's Snyder charged over Flint — U.N.: Nations lag on adaptation — API's outlook for Biden

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Presented by POET: Delivered daily by 10 a.m., Morning Energy examines the latest news in energy and environmental politics and policy.
Jan 14, 2021 View in browser
 
POLITICO's Morning Energy newsletter logo

By Kelsey Tamborrino

Presented by POET

With help from Eric Wolff and Ben Lefebvre

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Morning Energy will not publish on Monday, Jan 18. We'll be back on our normal schedule on Tuesday, Jan 19.

Editor’s Note: Morning Energy is a free version of POLITICO Pro Energy's morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

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Quick Fix

— The former governor of Michigan has been charged on two counts of willful neglect of duty stemming from the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis.

Nations need to urgently step up their action on climate adaptation or else face steep costs, according to a new U.N. report this morning.

— The Biden administration will be making climate change one of its core issues over the next four years, but the oil and gas industry is calling for the incoming president to keep in place the regulatory rollbacks from the Trump era.

A message from POET:

Our planet is warming faster, and as we witness the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand, Americans are looking for solutions. Making E15 America's fuel can help President Biden build back better by jumpstarting his climate agenda while improving public health and strengthening the economy. Net-zero emissions will take time, but with E15, the new administration can begin fueling the shift to a greener economy on Day One. Here’s how we can get started.

 

GOOD MORNING AND WELCOME TO THURSDAY! I'm your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Bracewell's Frank Maisano gets the trivia win. Two presidential elections have been decided in the House: The chamber elected Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824. For today: Who was Barack Obama's opponent in his 2004 Senate run? Send your tips and trivia answers to ktamborrino@politico.com.

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: Pausing political donations

Driving the Day

FLINT FALLOUT: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged Wednesday with two counts of willful neglect of duty over his handling of the Flint water crisis. The charges, as the Associated Press reports , are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but they're historic given that no current or former governor in the state's history has been charged with crimes related to their time in office, the AP notes, citing the state archivist.

Rick Snyder speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the Flint, Mich., water crisis, on Capitol Hill in March 2016.

Rick Snyder speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the Flint, Mich., water crisis, on Capitol Hill in March 2016. | Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

News first broke Tuesday that Attorney General Dana Nessel was preparing to file charges against Snyder, a Republican, and other former officials over the water crisis — which a spokesperson for the former governor had called a "public relations smear campaign."

The charges reportedly stem from a new review by the AG's office into the outbreak of lead poisoning and Legionnaires' Disease that sickened and killed many in Flint. Nessel has not yet said anything publicly on the matter, but is expected to make a virtual announcement at 11:30 a.m. regarding the criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis.

Nessel's office in 2019 had dropped earlier charges against former Michigan health department director Nick Lyon and other officials stemming from the water crisis, saying it would need to conduct a new investigation.

Climate Change

U.N.: NATIONS LAG ON ADAPTATION: Adaptation to climate change is a key part of the Paris agreement that President-elect Joe Biden has promised to re-enter on Day 1 of his administration. But a new report this morning from the United Nations Environment Programme finds that countries across the globe need to urgently step up their action on adaptation or risk being saddled with steep costs.

The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020 finds 72 percent of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning strategy or policy, while a further 9 percent are in the process of developing one. But they lack adequate financing and implementation, the report found. Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion, and are forecast to rise to between $140 billion to $300 billion in 2030 and $280 billion to $500 billion in 2050.

Related: Under an unreleased and yet-to-be finalized report obtained by POLITICO, some of the country's biggest banking and insurance trade groups are poised to pledge trillions of dollars in financing to fight climate change in a move that could give them greater clout in the debate as Democrats step up scrutiny of Wall Street's role in global warming, Pro's Zachary Warmbrodt reports.

UPDATING THE SOCIAL COST OF CARBON: New analysis this morning recommends a two-step approach for the Biden administration to immediately update the social cost of carbon. First, the report calls for using a "discount rate" of no higher than 2 percent and including global damages, which would increase the social cost of carbon to $125 per metric ton.

Then, the analysis calls on the Biden administration to re-launch an Inter-agency Working Group to comprehensively update the social cost of carbon. The report was co-authored by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago Director Michael Greenstone and Tamma Carleton, an assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara. Greenstone, notably, co-led the original Inter-agency Working Group that set a government-wide social cost of carbon while serving as chief economist for Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

"Over the last four years, the Trump administration reduced the social cost of carbon to near zero by ignoring science and economics," Greenstone said in a statement. "The Biden Administration can best serve the interests of the American people by returning the social cost of carbon to the frontier of understanding about climate change, including all that has been learned in the last decade."

 

SET THE GLOBAL ENERGY AGENDA: POLITICO is a proud partner of the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Forum, the premier international gathering of government, industry, and thought leaders. Join us virtually January 19-22 to explore the post-pandemic energy system, emerging net-zero carbon goals, the Middle East's role in the energy transition, and what America's energy priorities will look like in the Biden administration. REGISTER HERE.

 
 
On the Hill

TRUMP IMPEACHED TWICE: In a historic first, the House voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time. Ten Republicans joined all Democrats in a 232-197 vote supporting a single impeachment count, "incitement of insurrection," the gravest charge ever lodged against a sitting president, as POLITICO's Sarah Ferris, Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle report. Among the Republicans who supported impeachment: No. 3 GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, E&C Energy Subcommittee ranking member Fred Upton, and Washington's Dan Newhouse , who chairs the Congressional Western Caucus.

The process now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that a trial won't begin until Trump is out of office.

Transition 2021

TEMP JOB OPENINGS: The Biden transition will look to Obama alumni and its agency review staff to pinpoint federal officials who could be elevated to key acting positions until the president-elect's nominees are confirmed, POLITICO's Natasha Korecki reports. Biden is trying to "identify people of integrity; people who can be solid leaders" at federal agencies between the time Biden is sworn in and Cabinet nominees are confirmed, transition spokesperson T.J. Ducklo said. And, Ducklo acknowledged, they've not ruled out keeping on professionals brought in by Trump.

Nominee for secretary of Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, speaks after President-elect Joe Biden announced his climate and energy appointments at the Queen Theater on Dec. 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Del.

Nominee for secretary of Interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, speaks after President-elect Joe Biden announced his climate and energy appointments at the Queen Theater on Dec. 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Del. | Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

INSIDE HAALAND'S FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: Marking a sharp contrast from her predecessors, Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland received no income outside of her job in Congress except for a $175 annual stipend from the Laguna Pueblo to which she belongs, according to her financial disclosure documents released Wednesday. Haaland reported having no savings over $5,000 nor a retirement plan, Pro's Ben Lefebvre reports. She also reported carrying between $15,000 and $50,000 in student loan debt incurred from when she earned a law degree from the University of New Mexico in 2006.

Current Secretary David Bernhardt, when nominated to lead Interior in 2020, reported receiving income from lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck as well as five energy companies and the Westlands Water District in California.

ME FIRST — MAIL CALL! More than 100 local elected officials across the West sent a letter today to Biden, Haaland and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, calling for them to reverse course on Trump's energy dominance agenda. Among the asks, the letter calls for halting new oil and gas leases and restoring protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The letter coincides with a report today from the Mountain Pact, which organized the letter, on the effects of Trump's policies to public lands and public health.

 

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Around the Agencies

TRUMP OPENS UP CALIFORNIA: The Trump administration unveiled proposed changes on Wednesday to a land-use plan guiding renewable energy development in southern California that was initially approved under the Obama administration. The Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan and environmental impact statement that recommends changes to the plans underlying the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, including eliminating 1.8 million acres of areas of critical environmental concern and 2.2 million acres of California Desert National Conservation Lands, which are defined as containing nationally significant landscapes with ecological, cultural or scientific value.

"This proposal will add over 800,000 acres for renewable energy development and create a more measured approach to foster responsible off-highway vehicle recreation, rural broadband, and other important multiple-use projects — including those needed to meet California’s renewable energy mandates," said Deputy Interior Secretary Kate MacGregor.

But green groups say the plan is another last-minute attack by the Trump administration on conservation, and they point out that the current plan was the result of close consultation between BLM and California. "The Administration's stated goal of enabling more renewable energy development is a complete farce," said Phil Hanceford, the conservation director at The Wilderness Society. "The changes they propose would gut conservation and recreation aspects of the plan, harm efforts to accelerate development of renewable energy projects in the most appropriate places and place California's beloved desert wild lands at risk." The public comment period for the changes ends April 15, and greens are already clamoring for the Biden administration to reverse course.

45Q PUBLISHED: The IRS will publish its rule explaining how developers can access expanded carbon capture credits in Friday's Federal Register, though it took effect on Wednesday, according to the rule.

SOOT YOURSELF: A coalition of 17 states and New York City, led by California, is suing EPA for not strengthening the national air quality standard for particulate matter, or soot, Pro's Alex Guillén reports. They argue that EPA's review of the health science on particulate matter was "flawed and unlawfully biased," according to the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

 

KEEP UP WITH THE FIRST 100 DAYS OF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION WITH TRANSITION PLAYBOOK: It was a dark week in American history, and a new administration will have to pick up the pieces. Transition Playbook brings you inside the last days of this crucial transfer of power, tracking the latest from President-elect Biden and his growing administration. Written for political insiders, this scoop-filled newsletter breaks big news and analyzes the appointments, people, and the emerging power centers of the new administration. Track the transition and the first 100 days of the incoming Biden administration. Subscribe today.

 
 
Oil and Gas

INDUSTRY OUTLOOK: The oil and gas industry wants the Biden administration to keep in place Trump-era regulatory rollbacks that eased rules on issues like pipeline permitting and emissions, Ben reports. The American Petroleum Institute, which released its annual "State Of Energy" report on Wednesday, specifically cited the Trump administration's loosening of the National Environmental Policy Act and changes to Nationwide Permit 12 program as two changes that are "critically important in advancing needed energy infrastructure."

API, the largest oil and gas industry trade group, also urged Biden to keep EPA's new cost-benefit rule for Clean Air Act rulemakings and not to reconsider EPA's December decision to keep the current national particulate matter standard.

The response: "It's disappointing to see API defending these regulatory rollbacks rather than leading industry to step up to the scale of the climate challenge," Jason Bordoff of the Center on Global Energy Policy told ME. "The goal is to get to net-zero, and if API wants to ensure industry has a seat at the table, it needs to articulate a clear vision for what industry’s role is in getting there and what the industry looks like in a decarbonized world."

Beyond the Beltway

GREENS DIVERSITY PUSH STALLS IN 2020: The number of people of color across environmental organizations dipped slightly, from 63 people on average in 2019 to 62 people last year among the groups, which had an average staff size of 232 people, according to the fourth annual scorecard from Green 2.0, a group that monitors environmental organization diversity. Women occupied 148 staff roles on average, up from 146 in 2019, as Pro's Zack Colman reports.

The report also found that diversity among senior staff, which is seen as a key indicator for whether an environmental organization is creating leadership roles and expanding decision-making power, rose to six people of color from five in 2019. The number of women in those roles climbed to 15 — up from 14 in 2019. The average senior staff size was 27 people.

THE LAST OF THE FPL COAL PLANTS: Florida Power & Light Co., owned by renewables giant NextEra, announced Wednesday it shut down the last of its coal-fired power plants in Florida, Pro's Bruce Ritchie reports. The state's largest utility said the Indiantown Cogeneration Plant was shuttered Dec. 31 as part of a plan to convert to cleaner and more affordable energy plants. It also is converting Plant Crist, a coal-burning plant that has been shut down since September because of damage from Hurricane Sally, to natural gas.

NEW YORK COMPANY SEEKS CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE: One of the best-known symbols of environmental injustice in New York City is attempting a clean energy makeover, Pro's Marie J. French reports this morning . The company that owns Ravenswood Generation Station, one of New York's largest power plants that has long been blamed for harmful emissions in the Queens neighborhood it calls home, is pitching a proposed transmission line to pump clean energy from upstate along with battery storage plans as part of the state's transition away from fossil fuels.

The pivot by LS Power, which bought Ravenswood in 2017, highlights how some energy companies are seeking to fit in with the state's goal to decarbonize electricity generation by 2040.

Movers and Shakers

— Biden announced Wednesday that Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall will serve as homeland security adviser and deputy national security adviser. Sherwood-Randall served as deputy Energy secretary under the Obama administration.

A message from POET:

During COVID-19, we saw miles of empty roadways create clear skies in cities across the globe, but it also exposed the heavy toll of tailpipe pollution on the health of America’s fenceline communities. As the incoming Biden Administration elevates environmental justice issues as part of its climate agenda, Americans need solutions that will benefit communities across the country. E15 is a renewable fuel blend that can reduce the harmful emissions and pollutants that are poisoning the air and warming our planet, making communities healthier by replacing harmful carcinogens and toxic additives in gasoline. E15 is homegrown, cleaner, and less expensive than petroleum, compatible with 95% of existing vehicles on the road, making it accessible and affordable to everyone. It’s time to equitably fuel America’s shift to a green economy with E15.

 
The Grid

— "Equinor secures massive New York offshore wind contract," via POLITICO Pro.

— "Fracking pioneer Chesapeake Energy cleared to exit bankruptcy," via The Wall Street Journal.

— " Solving climate crisis will be at center of Biden's job agenda -Deese," via Reuters.

— "Sage grouse review done, but scant time for Trump's changes," via Associated Press.

— "Justice Department memo targets environmental mitigation," via Bloomberg Law.

— "Denmark's Orsted's shares drop after it forecasts lower wind speeds," via Reuters.

THAT'S ALL FOR ME!

 

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