A time to heal the nation and climate

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

(source: Dallas Morning News)

Issue No. 60

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 

Let’s reset in 2021.

This week was exhausting. I thought for sure the news of the week would be the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs. Instead, those historic results were eclipsed by the breach of the Capitol. It was shameful to watch, and painful to discuss with my family.

I’m ready for a change. I’m ready for a new President and Administration. I’m ready for a new Congress. Let’s reset the nation. Let’s decarbonize the economy. Let’s heal in 2021.

IN THIS ISSUE we discuss the impact of the Georgia Senate flip on the Biden climate agenda, the implications of Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to be AG, and the rare convergence of faith and climate in 2021. It should be an interesting read.

If you have an opinion on this or any other topic covered in this newsletter, please feel free to send me an email at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com. 

Thank you for your viewpoint and the value of your time.

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NOW, LET’S GO DEEP!


Government

(source: Fox News)

Senate flip changes everything on climate

Democrats will control the entire executive branch for the first time since 2011 as Georgia sends two Democratic senators to Congress. The last time this happened, Barack Obama was entering the White House in 2009, backed by commanding Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

What followed was a stimulus bill that transformed the US economy in ways that accelerated the clean-energy transition faster than anyone imagined.

History is poised to repeat itself. Joe Biden ran on the most ambitious climate plan in US history. From redirecting the $500 billion federal government procurement budget to reestablishing methane pollution limits and rejoining the Paris climate agreement, the new White House has planned a sweeping climate term.

Biden’s ability to make good on his campaign promises would have been substantially limited by a Republican-controlled Senate. Now backed by a Democrat-led Congress, the incoming administration will come under enormous pressure to make its agenda even more ambitious during the next two years.

But that doesn’t mean that the greatest ambitions of progressive climate activists will be easily within reach. To start, here are the main climate promises that Biden could be positioned to beef up with congressional backing.

Build a new clean economy, and fast

Biden’s campaign presented a 2050 timeline for achieving a net-zero economy, and the White House’s newfound power will likely give it the ability to enshrine that timeline in legislation.

But goals placed that far in the future allow federal leaders and industries to avoid the most painful emissions-cutting changes, like phasing out petroleum vehicles and coal. That gives Democrats a reason to push Biden to sign off on more ambitious—and detailed—targets for specific sectors.

Accelerating the campaign timeline will require big bucks. Biden’s original plan called for a $1.7 trillion package over the coming decade, paid for in part by rolling back Trump’s tax cuts. Yet the need—and the ease of paying for it given historically low-interest rates, pent-up stimulus demand, and even some bipartisan support—means this figure will likely swell, especially when rolled into infrastructure spending.

To get a sense of how much that budget could expand, researchers at Princeton University estimated $2.5 trillion will be needed over the next decade to put the US on track to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century (and that’s without decarbonizing major sectors outside steel and cement).

Democrats also want to turn climate into a jobs program. A Republican Senate was never likely to bless funding for a massive new works program around climate change. But now, the Democratic party could make a renewed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) the centerpiece of its climate efforts. It also happens to poll incredibly well (pdf): 78% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans are in support of it, according to Data for Progress.

Cut industry-specific emissions

Biden’s current plan calls for “accelerating the deployment of electric vehicles” by expanding EV incentives and building more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030. But that’s a modest goal compared to California’s 2035 target for eliminating most combustion engines on the road. This July, 15 states signed on to an initiative phasing out fossil fuels for heavy-duty trucks and buses.

A new federal target to phase out petroleum-powered vehicles could massively accelerate this transition in the US. A truly aggressive approach to vehicle emissions wouldn’t just support the growth of EVs: It would phase out new fossil-fueled passenger vehicles by 2035 or 2040.

The same ambition can be applied to airline emissions. The European Union is aiming for “zero-emission large aircraft” to hit the market by 2035, and ensure all short domestic flights are carbon neutral by 2030. Given Biden’s vow to “lead the world to lock in enforceable international agreements to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation,” stepping up aviation goals is likely to be on the agenda.

Streamline swift climate action in Congress

Democratic control of Congress will decrease the likelihood that federal climate initiatives will come under needless oversight. High-profile, Republican-led hearings in 2011 over the failure of federally-backed solar company Solyndra left a lasting reluctance among bureaucrats in key agencies to push for innovative climate technology and policies, said Adam Zurofsky, executive director of Rewiring America, a clean energy research and advocacy group.

One of Biden’s first priorities will be to ask the Senate to confirm his nominees for cabinet positions. With New York Democrat Chuck Schumer as Senate majority leader, there’s little reason to expect any of his nominees will fail to be confirmed.

Removing Mitch McConnell as majority leader also decreases pressure on Republican climate moderates like Mitt Romney and Rob Portman to toe the party line, and frees them up to work on bipartisan climate bills.

Moderates will rule the Senate

Democrats once faced the prospect of negotiating with Republican leader Mitch McConnell over every bill to clear the 60-vote hurdle presented by the filibuster. That’s no longer true. But Democrats in the Senate are not a unified bloc on climate, and with such a narrow margin over Republicans, they will need every vote.

That makes Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia the most powerful senator in the US. Manchin, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, and Montana’s Jon Tester all have mixed environmental records and are unlikely to go as far as climate hawks like Vermont’s Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts’ Ed Markey will want.

Zurofsky said Biden now has a better chance to integrate climate into all the workings of the federal government, and break through the antiquated stigma around such programs as risky and expensive.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Michael J. Coren & Tim McDonnell for Quartz.] 

Creed Comments: The Senate flip is the biggest political surprise of the new year. It enables the Democrats to pass both covid-stimulus and climate-infrastructure spending bills in the first 2 years. This must be the top priority for the Administration, because the midterm elections could easily bring back gridlock. Democrats would be wise to spread the climate spending across the two bills - loading up one bill is a losing proposition.


POLICY

Judge Merrick Garland nominated for Attorney General: environmental avenger

Judge Merrick Garland would bring an uncommon level of environmental law expertise to the Justice Department’s top spot if confirmed as attorney general in the incoming Biden administration.

The former Supreme Court pick, whom President-elect Joe Biden will nominate as attorney general, has helped decide the fate of dozens of federal air, water, and energy policies in more than two decades as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That bench carries a heavy load of environmental cases.

Previous attorney general picks from Democratic and Republican administrations had “nothing comparable on environmental and administrative law” on their resumes, Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan H. Adler said of Garland’s experience.

It’s unclear exactly how Garland’s environmental law chops would come into play as attorney general. The Justice Department’s leader typically handles big-picture issues and leaves environmental litigation specifics to a division devoted to the issue.

But Biden plans to prioritize climate action throughout the executive branch. His campaign has committed to revamping parts of DOJ with that goal in mind, and some environmental advocates are already pressuring Garland for follow-through.

What’s the AG’s Role in Environmental Law?

DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, led by an assistant attorney general, handles nearly all environmental law issues that reach the Justice Department, enforcing federal statutes and defending agency actions in court.

But the attorney general oversees the division and referees any disputes it has with other parts of the executive branch, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Garland’s D.C. Circuit experience will be an asset as the Biden administration pursues an ambitious environmental agenda and works to unwind Trump-era moves.

What Environmental Issues Will Garland Face?

Garland would helm the Justice Department during a transformative time. The agency is poised not only to shed Trump-era priorities, but also to move in a drastically different direction in nearly every policy area.

On the campaign trail, Biden promised big changes to how DOJ approaches enforcement and environmental justice issues. He committed to ramping up criminal prosecutions against polluters, creating a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division, and supporting climate litigation against the oil industry.

What’s His Environmental Track Record?

Garland’s record as a judge provides extensive insight into his views on environmental regulation and agency authority. The D.C. Circuit hears an oversize load of environmental cases. Provisions of the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other statutes give it exclusive jurisdiction over certain challenges arising under those laws.

Garland has often backed environmental regulations by relying on a legal standard known as Chevron—a longstanding doctrine, criticized by many conservatives, that gives agencies broad deference to interpret murky laws. In White Stallion Energy Center v. EPAin 2014, for example, he joined colleagues in upholding Obama-era standards for mercury and air toxics from power plants, citing ambiguous Clean Air Act language on pollutants.

Garland used the same doctrine in a 2002 dissent in American Growers Association v. EPA, arguing that the EPA reasonably justified its anti-haze standards for national parks. 

“There’s nothing in Garland’s record that suggests environmental groups should be concerned,” Case Western’s Adler said. “He might be a little more risk-averse than some in the environmental community might prefer. But given the current Supreme Court, you probably want someone who’s more risk-averse because you want to win.”

What’s Next for the D.C. Circuit?

As attorney general nominee, Garland is expected to sit out pending cases as the D.C. Circuit, including some environmental disputes argued in recent months.

Those include a challenge to EPA efficiency standards for truck trailers and a National Environmental Policy Act dispute involving the Interior Department.

When the Senate confirms Garland, Biden could appoint a new, presumably younger, judge on the D.C. Circuit. One name circulating for the role is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

A district court judge since 2013 and nearly 20 years younger than Garland, she’s heard recent environmental cases involving air pollutionSuperfund sites, and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Ellen M. Gilmer & Jennifer Hijazi for Bloomberg Law.] 

Creed Comments: Will Mitch McConnell vote to confirm Garland this time? We’ll see.


INSIGHTS

(source: ABC News)

2021: the climate and faith convergence


From national economies to personal lives, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 placed much of the world on pause. But one thing didn't stop: climate change.

While global emissions declined an estimated 7% because of halts in activity that were related to COVID-19 restrictions, climate scientists project 2020 will rank among the two hottest years on record

While the 2020 pandemic delayed attention to climate at the start of a critical decade, in many ways 2021 will be about making up for lost ground.

Within the U.S., that means a new president — and new Democratic majority in Congress — making up for four years of environmental deregulation and climate denial.

At the international level, it means making up for missed deadlines after COP 26, the United Nations climate summit now scheduled for November 2021, was delayed by the pandemic.

And within the Catholic Church, it means making up momentum to begin a wider, deeper implementation of Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." No, that’s not a typo folks.

Promise of a Platform

For the Catholic Church, the first five months of 2021 will continue the Laudato Si' special anniversary year, which the Vatican declared in May 2020 as part of activities marking five years since the socio-environmental document's publication.

The year is part of an effort to bring about the "ecological conversion" Francis says is necessary to address this decade's urgent challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and the need to create a more just and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

The end of the Laudato Si' Year will mark the beginning of the Laudato Si' Action Platform. The platform, set to launch on May 24, is a project of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which has invited Catholic institutions of all types and sizes to commit to a seven-year journey to become "totally sustainable in the spirit of the integral ecology of Laudato Si'."

The platform's seven sets of Laudato Si' goals include steps like achieving carbon neutrality, defending all life, using less plastic and eating less meat, and divesting from fossil fuels while reinvesting in renewable energy.

From Pledges to Policy

The election of Joe Biden as president is expected to bring an environmental about-face from the federal government after four years of regulatory rollbacks.

Biden has made the climate crisis one of four priorities once he enters the White House Jan. 20. On that day, he has pledged that the U.S. will return to the U.N. Paris Agreement on climate change.

While Biden has made clear through Cabinet picks his intention for a full press on climate from the federal government, legislation has to happen in Congress to enact his ambitious $2 trillion climate plan pledge.

That effort to convert climate plans to policy got a boost this week with the two U.S. Senate wins in Georgia.

Interestingly, The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been "actively communicating" with the incoming Biden administration's transition team and appointees.

The Conference has outlined a long list of environmental priorities shared by the group and Biden. At the top was environmental justice, an issue considered a top priority of the group and one that the president-elect emphasized throughout his campaign.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Brian Roewe for Earthbeat.] 

Creed Comments: I don’t typically write about religion and climate, but this is too important to ignore. It is noteworthy that Biden, who will become the nation's second Catholic president has cited Laudato Si' when talking about international climate policy. Biden has also named John Kerry — a fellow Catholic who as Secretary of State was involved in the Paris Agreement negotiations in 2015 — to a newly created position as special envoy on climate.

Although I’m not Catholic, I understand the considerable size and influence of this faith community. Consider the facts:

- Roman Catholics are 23% of the U.S. population and its largest religious denomination
- Globally there are 1.329 billion baptized Catholics
- Catholics comprise 50 percent of all Christians worldwide

As the U.S. inaugurates a new President, seats a new Congress, and reenters the U.N. Paris accord, climate advocates should feel encouraged that Biden and Kerry will likely apply principles from Laudato Si' in their efforts. This synergy of faith and climate leadership could make 2021 a historic year - let’s hope so.


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