Trump’s renewables report card
— Despite President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs, lease hikes and bogus accusations against renewable energy, growth of wind and solar power has accelerated since he took office.
— Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers are looking to leverage trade to fight climate change should they win control of the Senate and White House in November.
— Housing markets are beginning to respond to damages stemming from weather disasters made worse by climate change, according to new research.
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TRUMP’S RENEWABLES REPORT CARD: While actions under the Trump administration hampering renewables have created speed bumps, the momentum behind wind and solar power has only grown since President Donald Trump entered office, Pro’s Eric Wolff reports this morning.
Trump’s energy agenda was built around trying to boost production of coal, oil and natural gas. He levied tariffs of 30 percent on imports of the photovoltaic panels and cells, and has frequently expressed hostility toward the clean energy sources that are overwhelmingly popular in both blue and red states. “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer,” Trump falsely claimed last year.
But Trump’s rhetoric on its own hasn’t slowed new project development, nor has it driven up prices. “At a broad level if you look at what’s happened, you see renewables developed in various markets. Those who thought Trump would destroy the industry have missed the mark,” said Todd Snitchler, CEO of the Electric Power Supply Association, a trade group for electricity generators.
Still, industry leaders say they are mystified by Trump’s attitude. “The president’s dislike for wind energy is odd, because so many of his supporters support wind energy,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Approximately 80 percent of Americans of all political stripes support wind energy,” he added, citing his group’s own polling.
Trump administration officials defended their record, saying their policies helped boost the industry. “We definitely should get some credit for over 110 percent growth in solar production during the Trump administration,” said Daniel Simmons, DOE’s assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “You look at where the market is today — the administration is very supportive of free markets in energy, and wind and solar is going to continue to be built in record numbers.”
BIDEN EYES TRADE AGENDA TO COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE: Joe Biden and key Democrats in Congress say they want to use the trade agenda to fight global warming if they win the White House and Senate next month, POLITICO’s Gavin Bade reports. Biden’s trade agenda calls for a global ban on fossil fuel subsidies, new trade deals to include climate commitments, and import tariffs on goods that produce a lot of carbon.
Key trade leaders say they are on board. If they are successful, the moves could add financial teeth to global climate commitments that so far have only been voluntary. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to work with a Biden administration to, in a cooperative way, make sure that we are taking into account carbon emissions,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), head of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee. “We can look at things like having a carbon border adjustment tariff, so that we don’t have countries importing or exporting carbon pollution.”
Details sketchy: Biden’s camp has so far been reluctant to detail how he would seek to curb carbon emissions. But his “Buy American” plan endorses a “carbon adjustment fee” applied at the border — an idea popular with trade leaders in both chambers. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who would head the powerful Senate Finance Committee if Democrats win the chamber, will only consider supporting a domestic carbon price “if it includes a well-designed border adjustment,” a spokesperson said, “to ensure American workers are on a level playing field with overseas competitors.”
FORCE OF NATURE: Scientific journal Nature endorsed Joe Biden for president, citing the former vice president’s plans on climate change and countering the Covid-19 pandemic while also calling out Trump’s attacks on science. Biden “is the nation’s best hope to begin to repair this damage to science and the truth,” an editorial published Wednesday said. The New England Journal of Medicine announced its opposition to Trump last week, while Scientific American endorsed Biden last month in its first-ever presidential endorsement.
SALAZAR BACKS HICKENLOOPER IN AD: Former Interior Secretary and Colorado Sen. Ben Salazar (D) backed former Democratic governor and Senate candidate John Hickenlooper in a Spanish-language ad released Wednesday. “I’ve seen the attacks against John. They are lies,” Salazar says in Spanish. “I know John as if he were my brother. He is an honorable man.” A Morning Consult poll released this week showed Hickenlooper ahead of incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner(R-Colo.) by 10 points.
LCV SPENDS $2.5 MILLION BOOSTING WOMEN OF COLOR: The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund announced it would spend at least $2.5 million boosting five women of color running in House races, including four in seats currently held by Republicans. They’ll spend $720,000 to help Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s reelection bid (including this first ad); $300,000 for Patricia Timmons-Goodson’s challenge to Rep. Richard Hudson in North Carolina; $200,000 toward Jackie Gordon’s bid for an open seat in New York; $130,000 for Gina Ortiz Jones in an open south Texas seat (including this radio ad); and $1 million to boost Candace Valenzuela (including this spot attacking her challenger, Beth Van Duyne).
THE FERC-ING CLASS: The big question at FERC’s open meeting today will revolve around whether it will approve PJM’s implementation of its Minimum Offer Price Rule. PJM’s proposal for implementing a price floor in its capacity auction offers far more flexibility in the revised filing submitted in June than the original filed earlier in the year. It leaves space for renewables, nuclear power, and other beneficiaries of state subsidies to find their way into the 13-state power market’s auction. ME will be listening for Chairman Neil Chatterjee’s comments to see if FERC’s approval left that flexibility intact.
When’s the right time? There is also a complicated question around exactly when PJM will hold its next auction. The grid operator suggested it hold an auction six months after FERC approves its filing, which would put the auction in May, two years after the most recent one. But the exact operation of the rule is tied to other policies under development at PJM, and some generators, particularly nuclear plant operators, want to make sure everything is out in the open before any auction. Meanwhile, fossil fuel generators just want to get the auction underway. Times have been especially tough for coal power in particular, which has seen peak hour sales dry up as more people work from home.
Carbon-based action? The FERC agenda includes a new entry in the docket covering last month’s carbon pricing technical workshop. After getting almost unanimous agreement that it could implement a carbon price on a market-by-market basis during the conference, Chatterjee indicated there would be some kind of follow-up action from the commission, though it’s unclear what this would be.
Winter check-in: FERC staff will also present its biannual assessment of how power supplies look for the upcoming season. The winter outlook could be interesting this year as wildfires in the West have forced outages while unexpectedly intense storms have already hammered parts of the country.
MORTGAGE COMPANIES TAKE CLOSER LOOK AT CLIMATE: New U.S. government-backed research shows housing markets are beginning to respond to damages from climate change-fueled floods, storms and disasters, Pro’s Zack Colman reports.
Mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recorded changes in home sales prices and an uptick in mortgage defaults among damaged properties in Texas after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. Freddie Mac found housing prices inside the federal floodplain fell sharply compared to those outside the vulnerable zone, after the storm. Separately, Fannie Mae discovered homes outside the 100-year floodplain — which aren’t required to have flood insurance — were more likely to experience mortgage defaults after severe flood damage.
“In general there has been increasing concern on increasing flood and storm risk on mortgage markets,” said Carolyn Kousky, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.
SAB STORY: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler appointed a chair and 16 new board and subcommittee members Wednesday to serve on the agency’s influential Science Advisory Board, including several who have done industry-funded work challenging findings from EPA’s staff scientists linking chemicals with cancer and other health ailments. The new appointments will reshape the 42-member board for years to come, even if there is a change in administration, since members serve three-year terms, Pro’s Annie Snider reports.
BARRETT DOUBLES DOWN ON CLIMATE RESPONSE: Amy Coney Barrett told senators Wednesday that her views on climate change weren’t relevant to her potential role on the Supreme Court. “I don’t think my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough, and I haven’t studied scientific data,” Barrett said in response to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who asked whether she believed humans cause global warming.
Later Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Barrett whether she accepted that Covid-19 is infectious and smoking causes cancer. Barrett agreed with both. When Harris then asked her if she also believed climate change was happening and is threatening air and water, Barrett said: “You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial … and then trying to analogize that to eliciting an opinion … from me that is on a very contentious matter on public debate and I will not do that.” Harris shot back: “You’ve made your point clear that you believe it’s a debatable point.”
Greens have pounced on the comments as a matter of scientific fact, not debate. “If someone is unable to accept science, then they’ve proven they’re unable to serve on the Supreme Court,” Courtney Hight, the Sierra Club’s democracy program director, told ME. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court said it would hear an appeal from oil companies aiming to quash a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages from climate change.
CLASSROOM CLIMATE: Just six U.S. states have policies in place that target net-zero energy consumption in schools, according to a report today from the recently launched K12 Climate Action by the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. According to the report, 29 states and D.C. require teaching climate change as human-caused in science classes, and 29 states have career and technical education programs that prepare students for green careers. Twenty-four states and D.C. have policies to reduce school bus idling, the report found.
TV GUIDE: Several of the largest television manufacturers signed onto an agreement Wednesday alongside the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy to develop an updated test method for measuring television energy use and to discuss voluntary commitments to improve energy efficiency in new TVs sold in the United States. Funai, Hisense, LG, Samsung, TCL and Vizio signed onto the agreement, which was facilitated by the Consumer Technology Association.
— Holland & Knight hired Sydney Bopp as a senior public affairs adviser, POLITICO Influence reports. She previously worked on energy issues at the Bipartisan Policy Center and is also a veteran of the Energy Department and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
— “The number of global methane hot spots has soared this year despite the economic slowdown,” via The Washington Post.
— “U.S. oil production has already passed its peak, Occidental says,” via Bloomberg.
— “Bribery probe into a nuclear plant bailout examines facilities’ owner,” via The Wall Street Journal.
— “A Trump-tied law firm ‘played both sides of the ledger’ during oil market crash,” via Huffington Post.
— “Bezos said warming is ‘biggest threat.’ Then he helped GOP,” via E&E News.
— “Earth breaks September heat record, may reach warmest year,” via Associated Press.