How the Pentagon could boost Biden’s climate plan

With help from Anthony Adragna, Alex Guillén, Eric Wolff and Zack Colman

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President-elect Joe Biden’s ambitious clean energy plan will need approval from Congress — a heavy lift that’s likely to draw resistance from Republicans. That’s where the Pentagon can help.

— EPA will announce today its decision to keep the current smog standard in place.

— The success in passing energy legislation this week is leaving some in Washington optimistic that it could be a template next year as Biden seeks to deliver on his climate policy promises.

WELCOME TO THE FINAL MORNING ENERGY OF 2020! It’s Wednesday and I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino, wishing you a safe and relaxing holiday. Thanks for spending so many of your mornings here. Now, onto trivia: Chase Huntley of The Wilderness Society gets the trivia win for knowing Herbert Hoover was president in 1929 when a fire consumed much of the West Wing during a Christmas Eve party. For today: First lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of setting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. What was the inaugural theme? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected].

Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast.

IN DEFENSE OF BIDEN’S CLIMATE PLAN: The Defense Department — with its appetite for clean energy sources and massive budget — could play a crucial role in enacting Biden’s ambitious climate plans, Pro’s Eric Wolff reports this morning.

“Start with the fact the Department of Defense is the single largest energy user,” said Sherri Goodman, a deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security under Obama and now a senior fellow at the Wilson Center, a think tank. “What it does and how it uses its energy, how it reduces its emissions, makes it bases more resilient to climate threats — that helps all America by learn by example.”

Though its energy consumption has been declining for years, the Defense Department is still by far the largest energy user in the federal government — accounting for more than three-quarters of total government energy usage and 15 times the energy consumption of the Post Office, the No. 2 consumer — and it emits about 1 percent of the total U.S. carbon emissions.

The Pentagon helped jump start the U.S. solar industry back in 2007 when the Air Force contracted to build a 14-megawatt solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and former President Barack Obama also pushed the Pentagon to experiment with biofuels to reduce its ships’ dependence on oil. U.S. troops saw other benefits from the Obama years: Batteries carried by soldiers to power radios and other equipment went from 13 pounds to nine pounds, easing their load while they are on maneuvers.

Biden is likely to lean on his incoming Defense secretary, former Gen. Lloyd Austin, to ramp up the use of renewable energy sources while hardening the nation’s military bases to the dangers from climate change, Eric reports. Experts say Austin will be keenly aware of the dangers hurricanes and fires pose to bases, and will bring experience dealing with the complexities of fuel logistics.

As commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Austin oversaw the first impact of climate change in a theater of operations, in 2015, said Andrew Holland, chief operating officer for the think tank the American Security Project. “He should know the importance of this, even as he doesn’t have a long record working on this issue,” he said.

HOLIDAY PRESENTS FROM ME: You better watch out, you better not cry, ME’s handing out gifts and we hope these jokes fly.

— For Gina McCarthy, a personal pipeline of coffee from the K St. Dunkin’ directly to her office to fuel her coming 16-hour days.

— For Michael Regan, a gift certificate to Federalist Pig to fill the barbecue hole in his life when he moves to D.C.

— For Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, enough midnight oil to last 30 days.

— Also for Wheeler, a wardrobe update since he almost always goes to plaid.

— For John Kerry, a solar-powered plane to offset the irony of all the jet-setting his job will require.

— For Pete Buttigieg, a Cabinet confirmation, so he can give up high, high hopes for a living.

— For Neil Chatterjee, entry in the 2021 Marine Corps Marathon since he is rumored to like running for things in Virginia.

— For Jennifer Granholm, a Metro card — with the proposed service cuts, it’ll be just as effective a mode of transportation as Detroit’s People Mover. (And it will emit less than a Ford F-150)

— FERC Commissioners Allison Clements and Rich Glick, a brand new chair, but we’re sorry, it doesn’t look like Santa included a note saying who gets it.

— For Rep. Deb Haaland, a national parks passport as she undoubtedly prepares to ramp up her travel schedule.

— For Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Brewing Co. six-pack as she closes out her time at ENR celebrating her energy bill becoming law.

— For Sen. Joe Manchin, nothing. The man has a mason jar of 170 proof moonshine at the ready, Santa can’t beat that.

TAKING THE LEAD: The Trump administration unveiled the final version of the updated Lead and Copper rule on Tuesday — the first update in nearly 30 years — hailing it as the “capstone” of its efforts to remove lead from the human environment. The rule tightens testing requirements, requires swifter public notification and for the first time mandates testing in elementary schools and child care facilities, Pro’s Annie Snider reports. But environmental groups and public health advocates, who had wanted the update to require replacing all lead service lines, said it made only modest improvements and represents a “major missed opportunity.”

ME FIRST — EPA WON’T STRENGTHEN SMOG RULE: EPA will announce its decision today to retain without changes the 2015 ozone standard set under the Obama administration — despite calls from public health advocates and green activists to strengthen it. The Trump administration argues the action streamlines the National Ambient Air Quality Standards review process and meets statutory deadlines. “Our actions today show the Trump Administration is fulfilling its promise of protecting human health and environment for all Americans, regardless of where they live,” Wheeler said in a statement. The ground-level standard for ozone, the main component of smog, was last set in 2015 of 70 parts per billion.

Recall: Obama proposed his ozone rule right around Thanksgiving in 2014, seemingly making this a holiday tradition.

NEW YEAR, NEW CLIMATE PROGRESS? Energy policy players might be wary of overstating the impact of the massive energy bill that passed Monday, but they view the host of energy technology programs it authorizes, combined with the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons and extension of clean energy tax credits, as a significant step forward toward addressing climate change. And, they hope Congress can build on that progress next year, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports.

“Not only is this really significant policy advanced here, but it’s Congress using muscles it hasn’t used in a while,” said Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. “We are going to have narrow margins in the next Congress but that doesn’t mean we can’t get things done.”

For one, lawmakers reached a compromise on phasing down HFCs — a move that helps align the U.S. with an international treaty projected to head off global temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. “There’s a real possibility that [a closely-divided Congress] is the world that we’re going to be in for the foreseeable future and it’s important that Congress learns to compromise in this way,” said John Coequyt, global climate policy director at the Sierra Club.

Looming questions: A key question in determining the ultimate impact of the energy package is whether Congress will deliver the money to back up its more than $35 billion in energy technology authorizations, Anthony reports. “The first thing to do next year is to get the appropriators to fund these programs,” Conrad Schneider, advocacy director with the Clean Air Task Force.

CRUZ URGES TRUMP TO SUBMIT PARIS FOR VOTE: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump to formally submit the Paris climate accord to the Senate for a vote. Trump withdrew from that accord in November, making the U.S. the only country in the world out of the climate pact. “Only by so doing will the Senate be able to satisfy its constitutional role to provide advice and consent in the event any future administration attempts to revive these dangerous deals,” Cruz wrote in a letter as to why he wanted a vote now. Biden has vowed to rejoin the agreement his first day in office.

BILLIONS AND BILLIONS: The Joint Committee on Taxation scored the tax provisions in the omnibus funding bill Congress passed Monday night. Among the big ticket energy items is the two-year extension of the solar tax credit, which will cost $7 billion over 10 years, and the extra year for the wind production tax credit, which will cost $1.7 billion over that same period. The five-year, offshore wind tax credit extension will cost $362 million. The extension of the advanced biofuel credit will cost only $16 million, while the biodiesel tax credit will cost $279 million.

GREENS BACK LEVIN FOR LABOR: Uniting the labor movement behind an aggressive push toward clean energy might be one of the more vexing political challenges for Biden’s incoming administration. But a clutch of progressive environmental groups are arguing that Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who wields both organizing and clean energy experience, is equipped to handle the task, POLITICO’s Zack Colman, Eleanor Mueller and Rebecca Rainey report.

“He has a long record of fighting for working people, and understands the climate imperative but knows the transition won’t happen without proper buy-in and support,” said Collin Rees, senior campaigner with Oil Change International. In a previously unreported letter to Biden endorsing Levin for Labor, Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and Greenpeace said the Michigan Democrat is “someone committed to your vision and who is capable of bringing together the labor and environmental movement to implement it.”

The green groups’ vocal support for Levin comes amid misgivings about Seth Harris, a former deputy Labor secretary in the Obama administration, who is on the shortlist to become Biden’s Labor secretary

CAMPAIGN LAUNCHES IN SUPPORT OF CLIMATE NOMS: Environmental groups launched a national effort Tuesday pushing for a swift confirmation of the president-elect’s nominees to more than 50 key Cabinet-level climate and sub-Cabinet level positions. More than 25 environmental, public health, climate change, public lands and progressive public interest groups joined forces on the effort, dubbed “Confirm Climate.” The coordinated campaign says it will engage key senators to support nominees during the confirmation process.

CENTRALIZING THE CLEAN ENERGY PUSH: Former Obama adviser Heather Zichal said the goal of the American Clean Power Association — the new clean energy trade group she will helm that was formed out of the American Wind Energy Association — is to build a trade group that is “nimble, effective and able to represent the renewable industry with a unified voice.” She said the group spans members from across the renewable energy ecosystem, including producers, end users and everyone in between.

“Practically speaking, we’re just a different industry than we were 10 years ago,” Zichal told ME. “It’s only natural that your trade association should evolve with you.” She added the group will advocate for regulations, policies and programs that help deploy renewables so they can become the dominant energy source in the U.S. “Being a part of a multi-tech renewable energy trade group will give us increased market share and broader influence, and that means higher returns for our member investments,” she said.

The trade group officially launches Jan. 1, and is currently in the internal process of setting policy priorities under the Biden administration. However, broadly speaking, Zichal said the group’s “north star” will be to drive as much deployment as quickly as possible to create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

“My goal as the CEO is to ensure that no one technology or business type dominates the board, and we are focused on allowing all technology, meaning solar, storage, onshore, offshore and all businesses, developers, OEMs, finance, corporate buyers, manufacturers, etc., to have representation and a voice at the table,” she said.

— “Trump takes aim at Covid stimulus bill, raising specter of veto,” via POLITICO.

— “Nuclear weapons agency updates Congress on hacking attempt,” via POLITICO.

— “Flint joins $641M deal to settle lawsuits over lead in water,” via Associated Press.

— “House leadership concerns could chill Haaland Interior nom,” via E&E News.

— “Biden has massive climate plans. Where will he find the money to fund them?” via The Washington Post.

SEE YOU IN 2021!

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