With help from Alex Guillén, Eric Wolff, Sarah Cammarata and Anthony Adragna
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— EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will appear before a Senate panel today, just as a top Democrat on that panel lodged concerns over the agency’s rollback of an Obama-era vehicle emissions rule.
— Wheeler’s appearance also comes one day after EPA proposed a rule that would create a public review and comment period for significant agency guidance.
— Clean energy companies and advocates are growing angry with House Democrats for neglecting to give the industry any help in its pandemic-relief bills.
GOOD MORNING, IT’S WEDNESDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. 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.
John Trezise gets the trivia win. Although George W. Bush was once the managing partner for the Texas Rangers, it was Warren G. Harding who was the first president to own a stake in a professional baseball team. Harding owned the minor league team, the Marion Diggers. An ME reader-submitted question for today: What movie gave us this closing line: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold”? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to [email protected].
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to Memorial Day weekend, Morning Energy will not publish on Monday, May 25. It will return Tuesday, May 26.
WHEELER MAKES CAPITOL HILL RETURN: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will testify before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing this morning, in his first appearance before the panel since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S.
Ahead of the hearing, the top Democrat on the committee, Tom Carper (D-Del.), laid out concerns over the agency’s final auto emissions rule and called on EPA’s inspector general to expand a probe he previously requested into whether agency officials were skirting rulemaking requirements for the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule.
In his letter to the IG, Carper cited documents that he says raise transparency and potential legal questions, including ones that show EPA political officials “apparently purposefully and potentially illegally” withheld concerns about the rule “from being placed into the rulemaking docket and made available to the public.” The concerns laid out by EPA staffers included “numerous errors and inaccuracies in the draft final rule,” which were not incorporated by the Transportation Department, Carper wrote to the IG.
In one such document released by Carper, an EPA staffer wrote that “the vast majority of EPA’s comments have not yet been addressed” in a draft of the rule’s preamble made available for inter-agency review. “In the day we’ve had to review the latest preamble, we have identified more than 250 EPA comments that have not been addressed,” the document states.
In a statement, an EPA spokesperson defended the rule and the joint rulemaking process as the same used by previous administrations. “Consistent with that previous practice, written materials reflecting deliberative discussions between the co-authors of a rule on how to draft the notice, or how to respond to comments received during interagency review, are not docketed,” the spokesperson said.
Also likely to come up: Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) may question Wheeler on reducing blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. A group of 15 oil-state Republicans led by Barrasso called on Wheeler to do so in a letter Tuesday, citing the crash in fuel consumption and the rise in RFS compliance costs. “A failure to grant, in part or in whole, the governors’ petitions would render this provision within the Clean Air Act utterly meaningless. It would be a gross example of a federal agency nullifying an act of Congress,” the letter says.
Carper also unveiled a staff report this morning that highlights all of EPA’s proposed or final rules since March 1 that Carper’s staff says will lead to increases in air pollution. The report follows research out of Harvard that linked air pollution with higher Covid-19 mortality, which at least one GOP lawmaker and the American Petroleum Institute have urged Wheeler to be skeptical of.
Also testifying today: Energy Undersecretary Mark Menezes, President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy secretary at DOE, is testifying before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing today. The president first tapped Menezes, a former Berkshire Hathaway Energy lobbyist and House energy staffer, in February.
THE WAITING GAME: Clean energy companies and advocates are watching job losses mount and getting impatient waiting for Democrats in the House to offer help to the sector in the pandemic bills that have emerged, Pro’s Anthony Adragna, Gavin Bade and Eric Wolff report this morning.
“This is an active decision on the part of [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi to say, ‘This is not the right time to bring up your issues.’ And remember she screwed us in December too,” said Jigar Shah, president of clean energy investment firm Generate, referring to the spending deal that omitted extensions of tax incentives for renewable energy sources. “She didn’t go to the mat for us then either. So, it’s not like this is one time. In general, what I would say is we’re not on the top of her list, and that’s a problem.”
Democratic lawmakers contend they haven’t forgotten about renewable energy but say they are wrestling with an overwhelming number of sectors in dire financial need. Several senior Democrats said they were confident that House leadership would prioritize clean energy initiatives as the chamber shifted from addressing the most immediate health needs toward developing economic stimuli and an infrastructure package.
TONKO: FEEDBACK COLLECTING ON CLIMATE BILL: Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), chairman of the E&C Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, acknowledges the ongoing pandemic has “upended” plans for consideration of major climate change legislation this year but said he continues to gather feedback on the CLEAN Future Act, which committee leaders unveiled earlier this year. “We continue to meet with stakeholders and various think tanks about the future of federal climate legislation,” Tonko told ME. “We can now take this time to make it as accurate and as effective as those who have advised us need it to be. We’re not taking any time off.”
EPA OUTLINES NEW GUIDANCE PROCEDURES: EPA proposed a rule Tuesday setting up procedures and requirements for guidance documents, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports. The proposed rule (Reg. 2010-AA13) would create a public review and comment period for significant guidance and establish a system for petitions to modify or withdraw active guidance with a response due in 90 days. And it would require EPA to maintain the online guidance portal it launched several months ago. The proposal follows an executive order on guidance Trump issued in October in response to longtime complaints from the energy sector and other industries that federal agencies have too often used guidance as de facto regulations.
TRUMP PUSHES FOR MORE DEREGULATION: The president signed an executive order on Tuesday directing federal agencies to increase their deregulatory efforts and ease up on enforcement of existing rules to help the economy recover from the steep downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Alex reports. The order directs agencies to identify rules that could “inhibit” economic recovery and do whatever possible to repeal, waive or ease the rules for regulated businesses. The Office of Management and Budget is expected to issue a more detailed memo on how to implement the order in the coming weeks or months.
COVID-19 LEADS TO 17% DROP IN EMISSIONS: Daily global carbon dioxide emissions fell as much as 17 percent in April compared with last year, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Tuesday. The study said annual global CO2 emissions would fall 4 percent for the year if social distancing efforts end in mid-June, or 7 percent if such restrictions remain in force through the end of 2020, Pro’s Zack Colman reports. That range would reflect the largest single-year decline since World War II.
Looking at the data: NPR examined six years of EPA data and found that “in the vast majority of places, ozone pollution decreased by 15% or less, a clear indication that improving air quality will take much more than cleaning up tailpipes of passenger cars.”
ENERGY CHIEF: EMISSIONS DROP SHOWS PARIS ‘UNREALISTIC’: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette weighed in on the decline in emissions seen across the globe amid the pandemic, telling Axios they suggest the targets laid out under the Paris climate agreement are unrealistic. “We’ve practically shut down the world economy and we still haven’t met the goals that were set in the Paris Agreement,” he said. “What more can we do? If we’re going to be serious about this, we have to get more serious about things like nuclear energy.”
WHAT ABOUT RENEWABLES? Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has hurt global growth in renewable power capacity, but it hasn’t halted it altogether, according to new analysis out this morning from the International Energy Agency. The number of new renewable power installations across the globe is on track to fall this year and will mark the first annual decline in 20 years. But IEA forecasts growth is expected to rebound next year as delayed projects return online.
According to IEA, net additions of renewable electricity capacity are set to decline by 13 percent this year compared with 2019. But overall global renewable power capacity will increase by 6 percent in 2020, surpassing the total power capacity of North America and Europe combined, according to IEA’s Renewable Market Update report. But despite any rebound, growth for 2020 and 2021 combined is expected to be 10 percent lower than the IEA previously forecast before the coronavirus outbreak.
MOSCOW ‘VULNERABLE,’ DESPITE ARCTIC EDGE: With assets like the Yamal LNG joint venture, ice-strengthened tankers, and pipelines into Europe, Russia is a global leader in strategic alignment of major infrastructure projects in the Arctic, Mark Myers, the former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, said on Tuesday.
And with strategic vision that developed links to China, Europe and Southeast Asia, Russia has gotten the edge on developments over competitors in places like Alaska and Canada, Myers said, which have “struggled to find the right market at the right time. … If you look at who has done the best, its been the Russians.”
But Myers said the “disincentive” in the oil market, sparked first by the Russia-Saudi price war, and now the low oil prices, leaves Russia “vulnerable.” As more gas becomes available and oversupply of oil continues, “they’re at a competitive disadvantage in a lot of ways … geopolitical competition has led to the price drop and I don’t think they can withstand it for very long,” he said.
DATAPOINT OF THE DAY: The coronavirus pandemic may have triggered dramatic swings in U.S. photovoltaic module shipments and pricing amid supply chain uncertainty and possible stockpiling, according to a report by PV Magazine. More from Pro DataPoint’s Patterson Clark.
STATES SEEK TO BLOCK WOTUS REWRITE BEFORE IT TAKES EFFECT: A coalition of 17 states led by California and New York on Tuesday sought a nationwide preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s rewritten Waters of the United States rule, aka the Navigable Waters Protection rule. In their motion, the states warn of imminent and irreparable harm if the rule takes effect. “Without a strong federal baseline of [Clean Water Act] pollution controls, harmful polluting activities can begin immediately,” they wrote. “Such activities in jurisdictions upstream, which the States and Cities lack effective authority to control, will cause water pollution to flow downstream and harm the States and Cities.” The Trump administration’s response is expected by June 1.
Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California quickly agreed to hold a hearing earlier than usual, on June 18, a few days before the rule takes effect on June 22, though he also warned that he might decide on the injunction without holding a hearing. He also implored the states and the Trump administration to try to reach a deal for a “modest postponement” of the effective date to give the court “adequate time” to consider the matter.
— The American Petroleum Institute announced the hire of Lem Smith as vice president of upstream policy. He was previously a lobbyist at Squire Patton Boggs. API also added former U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Russell Holmes as director of the Center for Offshore Safety.
— Ramón Cruz was elected the president of the Sierra Club’s board of directors for the 2020-21 term. Cruz’s election makes him the first Latino president in the organization’s history. He previously was deputy director of the state environmental regulatory agency in Puerto Rico.
— Jonathon Monken joined advanced energy consulting firm Converge Strategies LLC as a principal in its D.C. office. Monken was previously the senior director of system resilience and strategic coordination for PJM Interconnection.
— “JPMorgan shareholders bat down attempts to remove directors,” via Bloomberg Law.
— “Google says it won’t build AI tools for oil and gas drillers,” via Associated Press.
— “Return of car traffic fuels surge in oil,” via The Wall Street Journal.
— “Aramco is first oil major to regain pre-price-war share price,” via Bloomberg.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!