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Columbia Energy Exchange

U.S. Climate Policy After Midterm Elections


Aliya Haq and Rich Powell


Bill Loveless [00:00:04] The November midterm elections in the United States proved better than expected for Democrats, in spite of many predictions of a Republican wave sweeping across the country. After a close race in Nevada, the party will hold a majority in the Senate, even if Georgia elects the Republican candidate Herschel Walker, after a December runoff. The 5050 split chamber’s tie breaking vote will go to Vice President Kamala Harris. But Republicans have taking a narrow majority in the House of Representatives where they can contest President Biden’s climate and energy agenda. Most notably, they could try to minimize the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act and other new laws through oversight and investigations into funding for various agencies. How will climate and energy policy shake out over the last two years of President Biden’s term? And will regulatory agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission be the focus of the action with a split Congress? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show, Rich Powell and Aliya Haq. Rich is the CEO of Clearpath and Clearpath Action. Both are DC based organizations advancing policies that accelerate innovations to reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors. Is also the co-chair of the Conservative Climate Foundation. Aliya is the vice president of U.S. Policy and Advocacy at Breakthrough Energy. Her team pushes for ambitious climate and clean energy policy to help the U.S. achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Previously, she was the federal climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. I spoke with Rich and Iliya about the election results and how they will impact policy over the next two years. We discussed the possibility of bipartisan action and how a Republican House could influence energy and environmental policy. Here’s our conversation. Aliya, Rich Powell, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange. 

Rich Powell [00:02:24] Good morning. 

Aliya Haq [00:02:25] Thanks for having. 

Bill Loveless [00:02:25] Us. There’s been some dust settled over the past day or so. We now know that the Republicans have officially captured the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress. And we learned a few days earlier that the Democrats have held on to control of the U.S. Senate, both by a very narrow margin. So, you know, let’s let’s first look at it broadly, Eliot. What will a split government mean? You know, for energy and climate issues in Washington starting next year or maybe even sooner. 

Aliya Haq [00:02:56] The split government will make things much different compared to last year. Of course, there are a number of bills that turned a law last year. There’s the Inflation Reduction Act. There was the chips and science bill and there was the bipartisan infrastructure law. And as we move to a divided government, we shouldn’t expect major pieces of legislation like that to move, of course. But that said, there’s a lot of bipartisan support for a clean energy and climate solutions. And I think that some of the many things that I think may become conflicts next Congress. I think clean energy and climate could actually be a place where we might see bipartisan support hopefully grow. 

Bill Loveless [00:03:39] Yeah. Rich, do you see room for some discussion, some compromise? 

Rich Powell [00:03:43] I do. You know, the the last four big climate energy bills that we’ve passed now in the past 24 months or so, three of those have been robustly bipartisan. One of those was during a period where, you know, Republicans still controlled the administration in one branch of Congress. That was the Energy Act of 2020. You know, up until that point, it was the biggest climate and energy bill we’d ever done. Right. It was a mix of sort of a major energy innovation push, sort of a manhattan Project scale effort for new technologies. It was a significant extension of clean energy incentives to deploy technologies across all the technologies, across wind and solar and carbon capture. And it was it also had a significant new regulatory program on phasing down climate super pollutants that was championed by Republicans in the Senate. So, you know, I think that kind of significant compromise legislation is the sort of thing that’s quite possible going forward. But obviously, we’re going to we’re going to return to bipartisanship. We want we want to see more of the sort of partizan reconciliation style approach that we saw with you, Ira. 

Bill Loveless [00:04:52] Yeah, And you see this even despite I mean, you know, after an election and certainly in this one, there is a lot of there’s some rancor right between the parties. And I’ve. 

Rich Powell [00:05:02] Never known. 

Bill Loveless [00:05:02] And or, you know, I wonder about the political climate if it lends itself to to compromise. 

Aliya Haq [00:05:12] Well, I would say the political climate is a tough one. Every every year that goes by, every cycle that goes by, it feels like political polarization gets worse and worse. But even even that said, maybe that’s just comparative. But what I see, the kinds of things that the parties are fighting over compared to where climate used to be, used to be, that a number of members of Congress might deny that climate change existed. There would be zero movement or ability to talk about it. And I think what we’re seeing today is a much different environment for that. I think we’re seeing a lot more Republicans who are leaning in and realizing that climate change is affecting their constituents. They’re starting to see there’s potential for clean energy jobs that are already real in a lot of states. You know, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma have a number of clean energy jobs. They’re major wind power producers. And the reality of that right, that climate impacts don’t care about politics, that clean energy potential doesn’t care about politics starts to change. The game for what this issue means. 

Bill Loveless [00:06:25] Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I was reading a comment by a fellow named Edward Maybach. He’s director of George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. And he said the fact that Republicans were not running against climate change, I think was the single most telling thing in this election, though I don’t know if that was the single most telling thing in this election. But Rich, I think he does raise an interesting point in terms of the extent to which climate change came up or did not come up. 

Rich Powell [00:06:52] Yeah, I think that that for me, one of the most exciting things about this election was that climate change was a boring issue that was very rarely in the headlines, which is squarely, I think, where we were. All of us that are working on bipartisan climate policy want it to be right. We don’t want this to be a flashy wedge issue. We want this to be a place where there’s significant scope for compromise. Obviously, you had a number of energy adjacent issues like inflation and energy costs and sort of the global geopolitical situation. And, you know, the current administration’s handling of that certainly is certainly there. And I think that that will speak a great deal to how conservatives would approach the energy issue. Right. They they very much think of it as a coequal issue with energy affordability and reliability and resilience. And so they’ve got a very particular way of of approaching this that tries to balance all of those things equally as opposed to sort of putting emissions reductions foremost. But all that said, this wasn’t just to that point. This was certainly not a top tier issue. And in fact, you saw a number of Republicans talking about their, you know, conservative clean energy plans, conservative climate plans as a as a proactive part of their campaigns. Right. You had Leader McCarthy had set up a number of task forces to sort of set policy and then messaging going into the campaigns. There was an energy climate and conservation task force was one of those things. Representative Garrett Graves was the ranking member on the Select Committee for the Climate crisis, was sort of in charge of that task force, put out a six point plan about how conservatives were going to respond to all of this should they take power. They they did a lot of campaign style events to launch the various pillars of that plan, the things like doubling down on American innovation, streamlining permitting so we can build cleaner, faster, unleashing American resource independence. So thinking of critical minerals and LNG exports and hydrogen exports tomorrow and all that sort of stuff, there’s a competitiveness piece. They called it Beat China and Russia. And then there’s a natural climate solutions and a and a resilience and adaptation piece to it as well. So that kind of gives you a sense of the sorts of things that folks were were messaging on and running on. 

Bill Loveless [00:09:06] We really see meaningful congressional action either in this coming year, Ali, you know, especially for those who may not be, you know, that familiar with the way Congress operates, where should we be looking? Is it going to be in the appropriations process where they make decisions on funding or authorizations, where they determine whether or not programs should or should not exist or oversight? Where should we be paying most of our attention? 

Aliya Haq [00:09:34] I think the most the most obvious place where we’re going to see some good progress on climate energy might be in the appropriations process. I feel like traditionally the appropriations committees are very good at working in a bipartisan manner. They’ve got to get real stuff done. They got to fund the government. And there are areas where we I think we will see a climate programs and clean energy programs be funded. Maybe something increases. It will be a lot of downward pressure in those appropriations processes because an iota in the weeds there. But the a lot of the authorized language in the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act don’t require appropriations. And so there might be a sense of well, there there was a lot that already happened on this stuff. You know, we don’t need to increase significantly. But I will say the Chips and Science Act, which getting back to competitiveness, which Rich mentioned, that that bill is all about seeding innovation. It is all about innovation on multiple fronts, including clean energy. And a lot of it was about how do we make sure we are keeping pace with China? Ultimately, it’s a really bipartisan issue. It was a bipartisan piece of legislation that passed and that did not get that. They had no appropriated money in it when it passed. And so that’s a piece that the Appropriations committees are going to need to think about how what level of funding that ends up getting. And it’s an important area for us to be leading in innovation tends to also be a place that Republicans feel enthusiastic about, too. So we’re hopeful that we see something good happen there. 

Bill Loveless [00:11:11] Yeah, Rich, I mean, again, the appropriations is where Republicans who may disagree with the amount of spending authorized in the Inflation Reduction Act for cleaner forms of energy like. Vehicles, etc.. That would be the place if they if they could try to to pare back some of the Biden administration’s ambitions by providing less money than was anticipated under that law. They could do the same, I guess, under those other laws as well. Do you see that as likely to be a battleground? 

Rich Powell [00:11:42] Well, you know, I think we should start just by considering the baseline. So the baseline is that starting in 2017, under full Republican control of Congress, we’ve seen incredible increases in clean energy R&D funding as sort of a bipartisan consensus in Congress. And that continued steadily across split government in 19 and 20. It’s continued in 21 and 22. So there’s just very bipartisan consensus now in smart, targeted investments in clean energy research and development and in even in demonstrating new technologies on the grid. So we now have this massive program to demonstrate and across sort of six or seven technology families, you know, billion dollar scale, public private cost, shared demonstrations of these things, There’s there’s a lot of consensus around that. And I would expect that to largely continue in the next Congress of the folks that will be running the Appropriations Committee, both at the at the top level and then running the Energy and Water Committee have pretty deep commitments to a lot of these programs. And so I’d expect continued support for that going forward. Obviously, you know, Charlie’s point, there’s there’s already a lot of money in the system, Right. So I think now some of the more important appropriations priorities may actually be less about like adding more dollars to the system and more about constructively directing those dollars. So in some cases, there are programs that remain unfunded that still need to be funded. In others, you know, there are pools of pools of dollars that were sort of established that sort of a $10 billion without very much congressional direction at all. I think we can expect to see more congressional direction for what happens in those programs. For example, there’s a lot of money now that’s gone toward industrial decarbonization, which is the sort of the next and most important frontier after after power and transportation is projected to be the biggest emitting sector of the economy, these new programs have been established. A Do we just with very large pools of resources to do demonstrations, but they haven’t really yet had the blessing of the normal appropriations process to go through. And I’d expect those programs and those pools of money to get some significant direction in all this going forward. 

Bill Loveless [00:13:46] So you don’t see the Republicans or at least the House Republicans, as as likely to to try to undo in a fundamental way, say, the Inflation Reduction Act in the, you know, hundreds of millions of billions of dollars that that bill authorized for clean energy spending. 

Rich Powell [00:14:02] Well, you know, first and foremost, I think people realize that, you know, the last time I project President Biden still has the veto pen. Right. And so, you know, folks, folks could make attempts at doing that. But it wouldn’t you know, there would be it would be massive energy bills. And typically that’s not how the appropriations process works. Right. The old joke is that there are Democrats and Republicans and there are House members and there are senators, and then there are appropriators, right? They’re their own thing. They operate in a different way. It tends to be a relatively stable process, you know, going forward. One thing I will say, and I think that, you know, do we ought to be moving expeditiously to spend the resources that were put into doing across all of these different across all these different programs, from the Energy Act to the energy and ships and science and and IRA folks should remember that, you know, Senator Harry Reid, Majority Leader Harry Reid was reprograming dollars from the Democrats are a bill in 2009 that had not been spent three years after the case. Right. So there’s a clear precedent for even someone’s own party going and reprograming dollars if if they don’t feel like doing or quickly moving those dollars and they need to plug holes in other places in government. And so I really think that, you know, do we needs to be focused on getting us out quickly and showing that there’s been real solid performance. On moving quickly to get these demos up and running. 

Bill Loveless [00:15:19] Finally, I’m reminded that you have to see where the money’s flowing and money will be flowing from these bills. The infrastructure bill, as well as the Inflation Reduction Act to the districts and states of many of these lawmakers, regardless of what their perhaps their overarching political views of some of those things may be. And that makes it a little difficult to to fight too hard against some of these things. 

Aliya Haq [00:15:42] Well, that’s exactly the point I was going to raise as well. To the extent that there might be some members of Congress that want to oppose or roll back the Inflation Reduction Act or anything else that was passed last year with bipartisan support. The reality is, to this point, President Biden can veto that. The Senate wouldn’t even take that up. So it would all just be messaging. But more importantly, the the money, these federal clean energy investments that are going to be flowing to renewable energy, but also to emerging technologies like clean hydrogen, direct air capture or sustainable aviation fuels. Energy storage. There’s a number of technologies that traditional energy states can remain clean as well, become clean energy states. And that’s, in fact happening with places like Texas, where it’s virtually been an energy state. And, you know, folks, now a lot of folks realize Texas has great wind and solar potential. It also has a lot of ability to sequester carbon and it also has a lot of ability to become an industrial a clean industrial hub for advanced manufacturing. Right. So there’s there’s real dollars here that will create real jobs in these states. And at the end of the day, a lot of times economics will trump ideology and it makes just really good dollars and cents for a lot of these more red leaning states or purple leaning states to transition their economies and develop these industries, because it’s not just the U.S., but the globe is moving in this direction. For the U.S. to stay competitive, the U.S. needs to be at the forefront of this. You know, we can think about what happened with cars in the eighties and nineties where U.S. automakers didn’t keep pace with fuel efficiency, and then Americans started wanting smaller cars that came from overseas. And that’s the kind of thing where the U.S. can be innovating and at the forefront and leading on the clean energy industries. And leaning into that, I think makes really good political sense where the ideology part that’s why I think that there’s real hope for bipartisan progress as we move forward over the years, because that starts to become real for people. And I’ll just say one other thing that I think is fascinating. When you take the long view. We’re, of course, just talking about this particular midterm election and what it means for the next Congress. But when you think back to the last time there was a chance of passing a climate bill and the Waxman-Markey days of 2010, and that bill failed, of course, but a lot of the reason that bill failed was not just because of Partizan Republican opposition, it was also because there were Democrats and coal states that didn’t want to see a cap and trade bill passed. And you saw Senator Joe Manchin take the piece of paper of the Waxman-Markey wall and put it on a tree and he shot it with a gun in his campaign ad. Fast forward to today where that same human being, Senator Joe Manchin, was the deciding vote on the Inflation Reduction Act. And I think a big reason he voted for it is because he didn’t want to be the one guy that meant that we didn’t solve climate change. He didn’t want to be the guy that did that. Ultimately, there’s a lot of other reasons he voted for it, but I think that factored in for him. This whole issue is transitioning in a different way, in part because the climate impacts are getting so much more severe, but also in part because the economics are really changing in these states. So I think that that’s really important to take that long view of where all of this is going to be heading. 

Bill Loveless [00:19:13] Yeah, Rich, the climate has changed quite a bit, hasn’t it, over the past ten years or so. 

Rich Powell [00:19:18] Yeah, Yeah. Obviously this conversation has evolved quite a bit on the right of center. You know, you’ve seen across the past now three Congresses, just a, you know, a very different tone on whether the problem, you know, is one we’re solving in the first place and then what kind of things, you know, people would go and do constructively. There’s now in the House as of last year, the conservative climate caucus, headed by Representative John Curtis from Utah that has more than 70 members. I think it’s up to 77 members now, notably. And I think the statistic is two right after double check this. But this was true as of two days ago. Not a member of the conservative climate Caucus lost their general election and that that was not true universally of of House members. And so I think folks are going to see that there’s, you know, significant political upside to this. I think, you know, one example, Marinette Dynamics, who I just was a part of a with her with another organization, the Conservative Climate Foundation, took Representative Mozambique and a few other people on a coattail delta to Egypt just just these last couple of days for for COP 27. She went from a six vote victory. She won by six votes in in 20 in 2020, leaving a dead this last then this this last cycle to a 6.6% vote or 6.6% victory going into next cycle. And she’s been very open and public in talking about her sort of her interest in clean energy and the kind of policy that she’s excited about working on it and all that, going for the kind of committees that she wants to be on. So I think folks are realizing that that there’s political upside in all of this, obviously, that there’s significant interest from from voters. Folks are also just seeing climate impacts around them. Right. I mean, that’s a lot more severe and obvious today than it was ten years ago. And it’s pretty clear that it’s just going to become increasingly obvious. And also just heavy industry is in a is in a totally different place on this. You know, again, just coming back from you know, from the cop. In Sharm el-Sheikh, you know, just the representation, not just of, you know, the folks that you’d expect to see there. Right. Like the the Microsofts and and sort of the, you know, the big clean technology and renewables developers that, you know, have been long time participants in the cops a bit playing a really constructive role in this. But you’re starting to see, you know, senior executives from, you know, major oil and gas players there as well, very excited about all the opportunities in in clean hydrogen production and then sort of reversing the flow of the materials that go into their into their oil fields and and pore space and all that kind of stuff, because there’s now going to be a huge market for carbon dioxide removal technologies to pull this stuff out of the air and sort of stored safely underground in making, you know, clean synthetic fuels and all that sort of stuff. It’s just this whole new area opening up. And a lot of members are hearing from people that they never used to hear from about this. You know, I’ve got a refinery right in in your district, and I’m really interested in putting carbon capture on that and and monetizing that stream of CO2 or making clean hydrogen out of that or I’ve got a, you know, trucking company that makes engines. And I’m really interested in converting that over to, you know, clean hydrogen fuel cells for long haul transportation. Right. They’re just hearing about this kind of stuff all the time from big energy players and manufacturers and in their districts that they just weren’t hearing it from it before. 

Bill Loveless [00:22:39] Rich, you mentioned some members of Congress. I remember when I cut my teeth as an energy reporter in Washington covering John Dingell, the House Democrat, very powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was a different time in Congress. Congress operated differently just in terms of its rules and procedures and all that sort of thing. But if you were covering Congress in those days and you covered energy, you paid close attention to one John Dingell, who would be the members of Congress in the let’s start with the House of Representatives, that we should be paying attention to going forward. 

Rich Powell [00:23:13] Well, the equivalent of of John Dingell going into next year is going to be Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She she has multiple distinctions. One important distinction, She will be the first female leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and she’ll be a Republican. So she’ll be should be Chair McMorris Rodgers coming into next year. She’s been very constructive on the climate issue. You know, she’s from Washington State, you know, huge fan of hydropower, as has really worked for a long time on approving the licensing for that so that the state can keep its hydropower abundance up and running and keep its power grid as clean as it is today. She’s done a lot on the innovation agenda generally and specifically on permitting issues. So she’ll be she’ll be sort of in charge of that at Energy and Commerce, a little a little less clear who’s going to run the key subcommittees beneath her. But you’ve got multiple members there who have who have done a lot of work on an energy innovation and permitting reform. Topics over at House Science will have Chair Frank Lucas. So he took that committee over to Congress as it goes. He was the former chair of the AG Committees and ag economist, also very constructive on this, who’s probably the single most active House leader on the Energy Act of 2020 from back last year. And let’s see, you will have and obviously just, you know, from the top, you know, very likely Speaker McCarthy. You know, again, he’s the person that, you know, in 2019 sort of came out with a conservative platform for addressing climate change. You know, that weighed heavily in on an innovation and natural climate solutions. And then he set up this task force process to to make a broader, fuller agenda going forward. So he’ll be he’ll be running a lot of the stuff. I think that Garret Graves is is likely to stay very involved in this, whether there is a there is an a House Climate Select Committee, and I expect he’ll still probably be a leader on a lot of this. 

Bill Loveless [00:25:06] Safe to say that committee, which was created by Speaker Pelosi, will be eliminated in the new Congress. You know, I think that’s unclear. 

Rich Powell [00:25:14] I think there’s there’s arguments on both sides of that. You know, the argument for would be, you know, we should actually return the focus to the actual committees of jurisdiction. I think, you know, the chairs of those committees that have usually waited two decades to to run their committees are never thrilled with having another kind of non-legislative committee coming and, you know, coming in and taking some of the jurisdiction. The argument of the other side would be that, you know, unfortunately, when these committees were set up, we didn’t really know much about the issue of climate change. And so, you know, the various jurisdictions are not ideal in the way they’ve been split apart to deal with an issue that’s this broad and complex. And so it’s a good thing to have something that’s kind of knitting everything together. So I think, you know, the leadership is weighing both sides of that and trying to decide what to do. 

Bill Loveless [00:26:00] Now, Leila, whom will you be looking to? 

Aliya Haq [00:26:03] Well, much like I said, I mean, it’ll be interesting once the Republicans have taken the leadership, because the what the what the committees are going to be focusing on may shift somewhat. But of course, like Frank Malone, as a as one who becomes ranking member working with Cathy McMorris Rodgers, I. Merely hopeful that they find a way to work together on some of this stuff and find the places of common ground where we can see progress. I will say Republicans for a long time of focus on innovation and always and supporting small businesses, entrepreneurs. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there and energy and commerce to be able to move forward on some of those pieces. I think that there’s a lot to be done on R&D in that house space science and technology side. So it should be. I’m hopeful that we will see something productive despite the divided government coming through. And as you just know, I keep bringing this back to history for some reason, but because you mentioned John Dingell, that got me thinking. For one, when he passed, it was real. It was very sad for Twitter because he was one of the most prolific, best tweeters of all time. For for someone of his age, I was really impressed. But I’ll also say that in the 2627 era, I remember deeply that despite loving John Dingell for a lot of his positions at the time, and he followed some of my politics personally, he was a real obstacle on climate and clean energy issues as the RNC chair, and it was deeply frustrating. And in fact, I had at the time I was doing field organizing. I had organizers in his district trying to get him to care more about climate and clean energy because he represented automakers. And so that was he was a real roadblock. And Rick Belcher was also a Democrat from Virginia who is chair of the subcommittee and, you know, was a quasi Democrat. It was really hard to get them to care. And I just note it’s very noteworthy because I think we think a lot about partizan politics when we think about climate change. But if you really look at history, it really follows the dollars and cents in economics as much as it follows the Partizan politics. And I’m hopeful that as a lot of these federal clean energy investments start to take root in states and that money does not follow the partizan lines as much as it follows where you can make money on these technologies, that we will see a lot of opportunity for progress. That’s the hope. And maybe that’s not next year. But, you know, if you take the long view, I think that that’s where we’re going. 

Bill Loveless [00:28:30] Ali, you mentioned Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia before. Of course, he’s the chairman now of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, presumably will be in that position in the new Congress. What do you what do you make of who will you be watching in the in the Senate next year? 

Aliya Haq [00:28:49] Well, you know, Patty Murray, we train the Appropriations Committee and Susan Collins will also be leaving on the Republican side. And Rich already spoke about that piece. But I think they’re going to be I’m optimistic. That’s a good pair. I think they’re two strong, strong senators who both take a good approach to climate clean energy issues. So that that I think will be helpful. I think that, you know, Senator Joe Manchin has come a long way on this stuff. It remains to be seen what he plans to do in a divided Congress with this work. I think he and Senator Barrasso can, you know, have they have a lot in common to talk about. You know, I think that there’s opportunities for positive engagement on that front. And then, you know, I think honestly, a lot of where we’re really focusing is in the federal agencies. I mean, there’s just so much for federal agencies to do. And I think a lot of what the Senate might be doing is trying to support that and more probably messaging communication. This is my assumption. So I assume, you know, Leader Schumer and Senate leadership will be thinking a lot about that. 

Bill Loveless [00:29:58] You know, Rich, speaking of Senator Manchin, he was pushing for legislation that would reform, permitting in the United States an issue that enjoys support among Democrats as well as Republicans. There’s that likely to come up again soon, perhaps even in the lame duck session that’s underway currently in the Congress or next year. 

Rich Powell [00:30:20] I think broadly this issue of permitting reform is probably the the largest thing one could imagine in the most impactful thing, what one could imagine moving through even next year through some kind of regular order process. I’m not terribly optimistic about it happening this year in the lame duck. I think there’s this is a it’s a super complex space. Ironically, it’s a place where your average conservative policymaker is far more sophisticated than your average progressive policymaker just because they’ve spent a lot more time almost every conservative policymakers on is already on multiple permanent reform bills. And it’s just thought really deeply about, well, if we were to administer NEPA a little bit differently, what would what would that take? Progressive policymakers have come around to this. And so a lot of folks supported the mansion proposal just this last, you know, in the last couple of months, although kind of ultimately it was it was a combination of progressive policymakers that were concerned about any change to NEPA with folks on the right of center that are very concerned about states rights and the. Particular ways that the transmission reform provisions in that legislation were were designed that that sort of took it down and maybe combined with a a very, very broad concern about bad process. You know, that the idea that we should be passing anything that was agreed on, you know, as a as a secret agreement between, you know, one senator and and leaders of both chambers and had no other participation across, you know, across across the aisle or across the other house or anything else. So I think a regular order process next year has has a lot of chance of this. I think actually just this morning, you know, Chair Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers to be on Energy and Commerce, said that this is going to be her number one priority next year. And so, you know, I think that there’s a lot of prospects there. It’s a little bit more complicated on the Senate side. The leadership of the Environment Public Works Committee, the on the Democratic side has been much more skeptical of any changes and reforms to the EPA. And I think what we learned from the Manchin Bill experience is that there needs to be a different formulation on the transmission side to get enough conservatives that are really interested in states rights on board. I think everybody agrees that we need to be building more transmission and faster if we’re going to capture all the benefits of clean energy across the country. It’s not just a renewables thing. It’s it’s for everything. For every clean technology. We need more transmission. We need it fast. I’m the NEPA side. I think it’s pretty clear we need a much higher ambition reform proposal on NEPA to get conservatives excited. I think the Manchin proposal was a good first step. But, you know, things like the Aspen Institute Cleaner, faster dialog, for example, have laid out a much more ambitious roadmap to reform of of the application administration and adjudication of NEPA than what was included in that. And then the third thing is, I think there’s going to be a lot of people that have individual fixes that they need. And so I imagine that you’re going to have Senators Manchin and Carpenter from West Virginia still very excited about getting their specific pipeline, the Mountain Valley pipeline, approved through this. I think a lot of other senators will have very specific asks. I know Senator Cassidy, for example, is very, very concerned about making sure that the state of Louisiana, the great state of Louisiana, can actually permit CO2 going underground and commoditize that. And that’s very, very challenging today through the existing EPA process and sort of fixes for that. And so we need to find, you know, what are those individual things that will bring along, you know, individual members in both chambers. 

Bill Loveless [00:33:53] Right. We had Jim Connaughton and Katie McGinty on recently who coauthored that report at Aspen on permitting. And for an interesting discussion, Ali, I saw you smiling during Rich’s remarks on on permitting. Of course, our listeners can’t see. 

Rich Powell [00:34:07] He has heard me too many times on this rap. 

Aliya Haq [00:34:10] Yeah, well, you know, Richard, I might not agree on everything in the world, but on this area we are very aligned. So I have been working on climate change my entire adult life. It is something I feel deeply passionate about. And when I think about what are the obstacles between here and achieving net zero emissions globally by 2050, this is something that keeps me up at night, is that we have the ability to build these technologies fast enough and we’re just going to get in our own way from doing it. It’s crazy. So we you know, I’m very hopeful that we find a path forward. And I’ll say it to it’s of course, not just Congress needs to act, but also state permitting. Local pieces knows better than me. Right. But it’s just really important that a lot of constituencies and jurisdictions and organizations align on. We all have a common goal here. And there’s a lot of groups that traditionally have not wanted to work together that need to start working together, which includes industries, companies, environmental NGOs and others that need to say like, wait, we all kind of want to get to the same place here, so let’s find it. Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work. And it’s it’s really important, you know, whether it happens in the lame duck, I think it’s probably unlikely. But I have learned to not not try to use my crystal ball to predict what Congress is going to do. So Lord knows what’s going to happen. This past year definitely taught me that the crystal balls don’t work. So I hold out a little bit of hope that something might happen despite the odds are low. But that said, hopefully in a divided government we can get to some kind of a yes. That means we will actually solve climate change. That is the hope. 

Bill Loveless [00:35:43] In the few minutes we have left. I don’t want to forget what happens outside of Capitol Hill. Significant actions. 

Rich Powell [00:35:51] Things happen outside of Capitol. 

Bill Loveless [00:35:52] Hill, believe it or not. Yeah, the whole world does not revolve around Capitol Hill as much as those of us who have worked in Washington for a long time tend to think that’s the case. But there’s significant actions taking place at agencies. Rich, briefly tell us, what are some of the ones we should be looking at? 

Rich Powell [00:36:09] You know, I’ll quickly say three at the Department of Energy, they’ve been empowered and now have these resources to do the largest thing they’ve ever done. Like literally, it’s a larger scale effort now than the Manhattan Project. And which was the original impetus for the Department of Energy or its predecessors. That’s that’s a that’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of performance risk, frankly. They’re already running a little bit behind the schedules that Congress set out for. Those may have been unrealistic schedules that were set out, but but they’re a little bit behind. And it’s challenging to find people to staff these things up, to do all these things well. But but there’s a huge opportunity there. And so the hope is that all of these authorizations and all of this money will allow them to demonstrate a whole suite of the technologies that we need to get the power sector and the industrial sector, for example, all the way to net zero emissions and actually have things that are available globally. So that’s degree EPA is going to have to weigh in on a lot of these things as well. One of the things that we work on quite a bit is, is carbon capture and sequestration. The long pole in the tent there is this really nerdy thing called Class six permitting. It’s the permitting for putting CO2 back underground. I think it’s fair to say it is broken right now. The last classics permit issued by the EPA took six years to issue. So it’s kind of game over for the climate. If you can’t can’t get around to getting this right, there are millions of tons, tens of millions of tons of projects either announced or in development or especially across the Midwest and the Southeast. Every single one of those begins with one of these plastics permits, either an EPA or one of the states that they give primacy to on that process. And so there are a lot of execution risk we’re looking at there. Lastly, I’ll just say we work a lot on advanced nuclear energy, which is really important, sometimes forgotten about climate solution. The the NRC is also working on modernizing its processes so that it can support a whole wave of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. It’s very capably chaired right now by by Democrat and Chris Hansen and Chairman Hansen, and also that has a full complement of folks at both both Democrat and Republican commissioners. They also have a huge task ahead of them when required by Congress to modernize their processes. And they’ve got a bunch of big, weighty decisions ahead about how they’re going to deal with advanced reactors and the different risk profiles those things bring. And so we’re watching all of that pretty closely as well. 

Bill Loveless [00:38:37] Yeah, Ilia I’ll be watching those agencies, maybe the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, others. 

Aliya Haq [00:38:42] We sure are. So at the FERC, we’re deeply focused on the transmission issue. Rich alluded to this earlier that to solve climate, we’ve got we need something like 2 to 3, maybe more times the amount of electricity we’re using today in order to electrify transportation, to electrify buildings. And that means we have to take out the fossil generation, a lot of the fossil generation that’s currently on the grid and then replace it with clean electricity and then double that room, triple it, which is crazy. That means a ton of transmission needs to be built. FERC has a few notice of public rulemaking in the hopper where, you know, we need to work through. What does it mean for regional planning of transmission lines, Like we can’t just be building the transmission lines within one service territory for one utility. Those lines need to be built across regions, across regional transmission organizations or independent service operators. We need to get connections between the Eastern and Western Interconnect. Texas did not have a great experience with ERCOT being isolated and then having major extreme weather that took that grid down for a long time last year, as we remember. So this is a real issue not just for clean energy and climate, but also for for reliability, for an aging grid that’s more than 100 years old and has not had proper infrastructure investments to keep up with what the country needs. So FERC is a really important place where some of that’s going to happen. Of course, a lot of it’s also going to happen in the regions where a lot of the planning happens. And in state PUC is where a lot of these things get approved. So stuff most transmission lines take like ten years to build and we don’t have a lot of ten year chunks left to get this problem solved. So that’s a huge place that we’re watching as FERC and the states and regions that will be moving ahead on transmission decisions. Another place we’re looking at, of course, is the Department of Treasury, where, you know, the estimated three are 250 plus billion dollars worth of tax credits. They need to come up with guidance quickly on what this means for the myriad of technologies that are eligible for tax credits. So they’re in that process now where they’ve put out requests for input RF EIS, that, you know, get your bill, get your RFI in. Now if you haven’t started already, those deadlines are coming up for a lot of things. I think clean hydrogen is up right now, and so it’s going to be really important for Treasury. Treasury is not a clean energy agency. It’s not an energy agency. It’s a tax agency. They’re working a lot with. And with the demand of labor, because whether you like it or not, in the in the law, it is written that, you know, there are domestic control requirements or some of these tax credits. There are prevailing wage requirements, there are apprenticeship requirements. So Treasury needs to work with the Department of Labor and Treasury has worked with Department of Energy on how should they develop this guidance, which interagency processes don’t tend to be fast. But we’re very hopeful that they’re thinking. I’ve been very impressed, actually, with how quickly Treasury has been moving on some of these pieces because they’re not slouching there. So we’re hopeful to see some guidance by final guidance by next year and next year, hopefully. 

Bill Loveless [00:42:04] And I would add to that the Securities and Exchange Commission, which earlier this year issued a proposal for companies to adopt some climate disclosure requirements as early as 2023 and provide details on the financial toll that a changing climate costs their business. That’s still a pending measure over at SCC. And last question. Well, will the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the West Virginia versus EPA case significantly impact these various regulatory actions here in Washington? 

Aliya Haq [00:42:38] I can speak to that, each of you. So, of course, yes, Mr. Potter makes a decision. It matters. So the authorities that are likely to be used in whatever rulemaking is happening around the Clean Air Act will have to hew very closely to what was in the West Virginia decision. Some of it is not clear and some of it is clear. Right. So I think there is clarity from that decision that if you are doing things inside the fence line of the power plant, so, you know, heat rate improvements or fuel switching or those types of things, rather than using a system wide approach to increase the amount of renewable energy on the entire grid, it’s safer to go with the inside the fenceline approach. So I think that EPA is likely to do something like that and think about things like how to use carbon capture and storage on plants. How do you, you know, and that that’s likely where the regulatory process will go. I think what’s more impactful about the West Virginia case was the major questions doctrine where beyond just Clean Air Act authority, but just more broadly for any thing that Congress is passing, and then agencies need to write the guidelines for, they have to really think about that and think even more closely about what’s in safe territory and what the Supreme Court may or may not do. And it’s an untested doctrine at this point. So I think that creates some uncertainty for the federal government as they move forward. 

Bill Loveless [00:44:02] Truly across the government agencies will have to think much more about how they’re characterizing their proposals, their regulations to make sure that they don’t run astray of of the Supreme Court’s decision. And that EPA case, well, it’s never too soon to start thinking about these things now that, as we say, the dust has settled. They’ll be interesting to watch next year when the new Congress comes into session. And as the Biden administration begins its next two years of its administration, we’ll have a lot more to talk about. Alia Haque, Rich Paul, thank you for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange. I learned a lot from this conversation and I enjoyed it. 

Aliya Haq [00:44:45] Thanks very much. Thanks for having us. 

Rich Powell [00:44:46] Thanks so much for having us, Bill, to be back on the exchange. 

Bill Loveless [00:44:55] Thank you again, Rich, Paul and Alia Hawke, and thank you for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and me Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Alexandria, her Erin Harnick, Stephen Lacy and Cecily Mason Martinez from Post Media. Additional support from Daniel Prop, Natalie Volk and Kyu Lee Gregory Vill Franke is our sound engineer. For more information about the podcast or at the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energy Policy dot Colombia, dot edu or follow us on social media at Columbia U. Energy. And if you like what you heard, consider giving us a rating on Apple Podcasts. It helps the show reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll see you next week. 

The November midterm elections proved better than expected for Democrats, in spite of many predictions of a Republican wave sweeping across the United States.

Regardless of what happens in the Georgia run-off in December, Democrats will hold a majority in the Senate. 

Republicans, however, have taken a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, where they can contest President Biden’s climate and energy agenda. Most notably, they could try to minimize the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act and other new laws through oversight and investigations into its funding for various agencies. 

How will climate and energy policy shake out over the last two years of President Biden’s term? Will the administration look to regulatory agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission to move the needle on climate action with a split Congress? 

This week host Bill Loveless talks with Aliya Haq and Rich Powell. 

Aliya is the vice president of U.S. policy and advocacy at Breakthrough Energy. Her team pushes for ambitious climate and clean energy policy to help the U.S. achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Previously, she was the federal climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Rich is the CEO of Clear Path and Clear Path Action. Both are DC-based organizations advancing policies that accelerate innovations to reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors. He is also the co-chair of the Conservative Climate Foundation.

Bill spoke with Aliya and Rich about the election results and how they will impact policy over the next two years. They discussed the possibility of bipartisan action and how a Republican House could influence energy and environmental agencies.

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