Welcome back to the Climate Crisis News Roundup. We are now fully in the throes of election season!
If you have a story you think deserves a spot in the roundup, or story pitches in general, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SteveAHorn. You can read the previous edition here.
House Dems Pro-Oil Drilling Climate Bill
House Democrats passed legislation to boost the fortunes of the oil industry as one of their last acts before going to recess until after Election Day. The bill passed as funeral ceremonies were held in Washington for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Only 18 Democrats opposed HR 4447, called the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, in the Sept. 24 220-185 vote, including “The Squad”—Reps. Alexandria Ocacsio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. The bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate in its current form and the White House has pledged to veto it.
Buried within the House climate bill is a provision that was once a standalone bill called the Fossil Energy Research and Development Act (HR 3607), which extends $1.64 billion in subsidies to the Energy Department to “maintain robust investments in carbon capture technologies for coal and natural gas applications” and oversee the creation of three natural gas or coal power plant pilot facilities for carbon capture. The bill further extends $722 million to the Energy Department to “carry out large-scale carbon sequestration demonstrations for geologic containment of carbon dioxide” in utilizing the captured CO2 for a drilling process called enhanced oil recovery (CO2 EOR). That’s over $2.3 billion in industry subsidies.
HR 3607 had lobbying support from electricity utility company Ameren, the Coal Utilization Research Council, and Arch Coal. It also received labor union lobbying support from the Utility Workers Union of America and the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition whose green group members include Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Its union members include the Utility Workers Union of America and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. The Coal Utilization Research Council is also a mixed membership group consisting of both coal companies and labor unions.
One of the most important nodes of influence for the bill, though, came from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
LCV is best known for fundraising for candidates running for office, and for its scorecard used to rate congressional members on their environmental votes. Initially taking a neutral stance on the bill when first proposed, according to a climate justice group lobbyist who requested anonymity due to proximity to the negotiations process, the group sent a letter to House members on the day of the bill’s passage explicitly mentioning weaponization of the scorecard if they voted against it.
“Each year, LCV publishes the National Environmental Scorecard, which details the voting records of members of Congress on environmental legislation,” wrote LCV. “The Scorecard is distributed to LCV members, concerned voters nationwide, and the media.”
While acknowledging that the bill could “potentially exacerbate environmental racism,” the LCV said it “rightly focused on increasing investments for clean energy solutions at a time when we are clearly seeing the dangerous and devastating impacts of the climate crisis” in a press release attached to the letter. Before the vote, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave a floor speech citing LCV’s endorsement of the legislation.
According to disclosure filings, LCV did not lobby for HR 3607. But a member of the Board of Directors of the group’s lobbying arm, the League of Conservation Education Fund, former general partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs and Biden donor Larry Linden, did lobby for it through a group he registered in 2019 called LTC Action. Linden has given $410,000 so far to the LCV’s political action so far during the current two-year election cycle, according to the federal election filings. He gave $250,000 during the previous election cycle.
According to the Linden Trust for Conservation—Linden’s philanthropic foundation—LTC Action “was created as a separate, related entity…funded solely from Larry Linden’s personal funds.” LTC Action deployed lobbyists from the firm Cassidy & Associates with revolving door connections to Democratic and Republican Party leadership in advocating for HR 3607.
That included Ryan Mulvenon, former senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff for policy for Senate Majority and Minority Leader Harry Reid, Kai Anderson. Amelia Jenkins, former deputy staff director for the House Committee on Natural Resources when led by then-Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Peter DeFazio, also lobbied for the bill. So did Kelley Hudak, former director of coalitions and state outreach for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Linden Trust is also a major funder of the World Wildlife Federation, which also supported the legislation.
The bill also received the backing of the Carbon Capture Coalition, a consortium of labor unions and fossil fuel companies advocating for CO2 EOR formerly known as National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. The group is a creation of the Center for Climate and Energy Security, which is led by former Deputy Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Bob Presicape, who held the position during the Obama administration. In May 2019, two months before the House introduced HR 3607, the group published a report titled “Federal Policy Blueprint.” That report called for expanding CO2 EOR. Among its funders: Linden Trust.
Linden has other key Obama/Biden connections, too.
One is LCV board member Carol Browner, former top climate aide during Obama’s first years in the White House. The other Ernest Moniz, a top climate aide for the Biden campaign who was Energy Secretary in Obama’s second term.Moniz has earned over $500,000 for his position on the Board of Directors of Southern Company, a gas electricity company which backs carbon capture, while simultaneously co-owning a gas exports company seeking carbon capture market access.
Moniz now runs a nonprofit called the Energy Futures Initiative, which in Sept. 2019 published “Clearing the Air,” a report advocating for CO2 EOR. Like the Carbon Capture Coalition report, it was funded by Linden. The report calls for $2.5 billion in federal money to go toward boosting CO2 EOR, which nearly matches the House bill figure of $2.3 billion. When Moniz served as executive director of the industry-funded MIT Energy Initiative before his days as Energy Secretary, Linden—also a major donor to Obama—served on its External Advisory Board.
LTC Action also has lobbied for the USE IT Act, another piece of legislation which would subsidize CO2 EOR and which passed in the Senate in July as part of the Defense Appropriations Act. It still awaits a House vote.
Before the House climate bill passed, over 100 climate justice groups came out in opposition to it. One of them was Food and Water Watch, which tweeted that it was “disappointed” in House Democrats.
“This bill is little but a hodgepodge of false solutions & half-measures that will make climate chaos worse for all of us,” tweeted the group. “We can’t waste time with bad climate legislation. We need bold, transformative solutions that truly embrace the climate crisis at hand – not more handouts to Big Oil & Gas.”
Both the Biden campaign and Trump have ardently supported CO2 EOR.
Trump’s Trillion Trees
Climate change played a surprisingly prominent part in the back end of the Sept. 29 presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden.
Climate wasn’t originally slated for discussion, but debate over the topic began when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, “What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?” Trump never acknowledged climate change itself, responding: “I want crystal clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon … If you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally.”
Beyond his usual talking point about managing brush on forest floors to prevent wildfires, Trump also named one related policy he does support: planting a trillion trees (which he mistakenly called a “billion trees”). As far-fetched as it sounds, as I pointed out in our post-debate show (mistakenly repeating the President, referring to it as “billion trees”), that was a key part of the Trump administration and Republican Party climate policy plan in the weeks before COVID-19 swept through the United States.
As I stated on the show, it is a policy advocated for by the World Economic Forum, a global alliance bringing together business and political elites together best known for its annual global summit in Davos, Switzerland. Some, such as author and activist Naomi Klein, refer to people who attend this summit as the “Davos Class.” The group announced its Trillion Trees Initiative at its 2020 Davos summit, and Trump pledged White House support for the policy there. Trump lent his support for a trillion trees again at his State of the Union address, and days later congressional Republicans proposed the Trillion Trees Act.
Touted as a way to control carbon emissions, the bill is instead a Trojan horse for the logging and biomass industries. The latter is an energy source heavily reliant on using wood from trees as a power plant feedstock, seen by climate scientists as dirtier than coal on a lifecycle carbon emissions basis.
In a Feb. 25 letter signed by 95 environmental groups, they denounced the legislation as a “false solution for addressing the climate crisis by misallocating resources to focus on industrial logging rather than on urgently needed steep reductions of fossil fuel emissions.”
“The bill would significantly increase logging across America’s federal forests, convert millions of acres into industrial tree plantations, increase carbon emissions, increase wildfire risk, and harm wildlife and watersheds,” the groups wrote.
The groups also specifically call out bill language promoting biomass.
“The bill’s directive to EPA to reflect the carbon neutrality of forest biomass as carbon neutral is not scientifically supported,” they wrote. “Burning wood to generate energy puts more CO2 into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels to create the same amount of energy, because wood has a lower energy density.”
The House bill got as far as a committee hearing on Feb. 26, though it has advanced no further.
Like any legislation in Washington, it didn’t advance by accident (see above). Instead, it had the lobbying support of fossil fuel industry groups such as the National Mining Association and Edison Electric Institute and pro-logging entities, such as International Paper, the American Wood Council, and the National Alliance of Forest Owners.
Though the legislation has stalled, the broader corporate Trump administration efforts have continued.
On Aug. 28, the Trillion Trees Initiative announced the launch of its US chapter and its leadership council, and a commitment to plant 855 million trees. That council includes two Trump administration officials—Michelle Bekkering, assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education, and Environment, and Jim Hubbard, undersecretary for natural resources and environment for the Department of Agriculture. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is another prominent Democrat on the council. So is Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who is also a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Corporate members of the US chapter include Pepsi, Microsoft, Mastercard, Hewlett-Packard, Bank of America, and Amazon.
1% Causes Climate Change
A shocking new report by the nonprofit Oxfam International concludes that the top 1% of the global population is responsible for three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as the poorest half of humanity.
Titled “Confronting Carbon Inequality: Putting climate justice at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery,” the report, done in conjunction with the Stockholm Environment Institute, examined data between 1990-2015 and found that the emissions from the 1% “was more than all the citizens of the EU,” in addition to being more than the poorest 50% of humanity.
It’s not just the top economic 1%, either. The top 5% “were responsible for over a third (37%) of the total growth in emissions,” the report details. And the top 10% created as many emissions as the rest of the world combined.
The report concludes that if the economic inequality continues, it could have horrific consequences in a number of years for the climate crisis: “The inequality is such that the richest 10% alone would fully deplete it by just a few years later, even if everyone else’s emissions dropped to zero tomorrow,” the report reads. “Over the past 20-30 years, the climate crisis has been fuelled and our limited global carbon budget squandered in the service of increasing the consumption of the already affluent, rather than lifting people out of poverty.”
Geographically, elites in North America and the EU are particularly extravagant in their greenhouse gas-causing consumption patterns.
“Around half the emissions of the richest 10% (24.5% of global emissions) are today associated with the consumption of citizens of North America and the EU, and around a fifth (9.2% of global emissions) with citizens of China and India,” the report states.
The report shines a light on what climate justice advocates have said for decades about the impact of individuals, which is that those who did the least to cause the climate crisis will be the first to feel its brutal effects.
“The two groups that suffer most from this injustice are those least responsible for the climate crisis,” the report reads. “Poorer and marginalized people already struggling with climate impacts today, and future generations who will inherit a depleted carbon budget and a world accelerating towards climate breakdown.”
The solution, Oxfam states, is a fundamental undoing of the neoliberal economic order itself.
Neoliberalism “has seen income and wealth inequality in most countries soar, reflecting deeply entrenched systems of patriarchy and colonialism that prioritize domination and enrichment of some, at the cost of others,” the report argues. “These systemic causes require systemic solutions: new economic models that don’t depend on the endless growth in consumption of the already affluent. Beyond shifting energy supply, policies are needed that reduce demand among the richest, highest emitters, while prioritizing efforts to ensure everyone can realize their human rights.”
Turkey’s Climate and Energy Politics
My colleagues Andrew Corkery, Taya Graham, and Oscar Leon published a new video investigation this week examining the geopolitical chaos and climate implications behind Chevron’s entrance into the Mediterranean Sea, a region rich with natural gas. If you missed it, check it out here:
But as with any piece of journalism, and especially with video, you can only include a small percentage of what you learned as part of the reporting process. At the 8:51 minute mark of the video, we cited a great piece of environmental reporting by the Istanbul-based independent freelance reporter Selin Ugurtas, the only one of its kind in recent months, which asked hard questions about what a natural gas spill could mean to biodiversity and endangered species in the sea.
We exchanged emails and she shared even more of her work this year on environmental and climate issues facing Turkey, including how the country is becoming a plastics waste dumping grounds for the region, a piece on the growth of coal consumption in the country and the grassroots fight against that, as well as the proposed massive canal, a major initiative by the increasingly authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which would run through the heart of the country. We also discussed what that authoritarianism means for the type of reporting she does and for the media at large in Turkey—about which she has also written—as well as what it means for Turkish civil society.