New fronts and new alliances in the war over fuel economy standards

Source: By Josh Siegel & Abby Smith, Washington Examiner • Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

FUEL ECONOMY’S DIVIDED HIGHWAY: General Motors was one of three automakers that filed Monday night to support the Trump administration’s effort to rein in California clean vehicle rules — but it was the one facing the brunt of Democrats’ criticism Tuesday.

That’s because California courted General Motors, hoping to get it to support a deal the state struck with four other automakers, including Ford, to follow fuel economy and greenhouse gas limits stronger than what the Trump administration is proposing.

Instead, General Motors — along with Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and the Association of Global Automakers — are siding squarely with President Trump in a move that is sure to escalate the fuel economy fight.

The group of automakers is intervening in litigation challenging the Trump administration’s move to eliminate California’s power to set its own greenhouse gas limits for passenger cars stronger than federal standards.

California has had that authority since the Clean Air Act was crafted in the 1970s. But now the Golden State’s waiver is a flashpoint in the ongoing battle over climate policy, as the Trump administration tries to clamp down on California’s aggressive climate regulations that in many cases set the tone for the rest of the country.

Since the Trump administration revoked California’s authority, the Justice Department has also sued the Golden State over a portion of its centerpiece climate regulation, its cap-and-trade program.

Do actions speak louder than words? The lawsuit over California’s authority is likely to be a lengthy and hard-fought legal battle, a scenario all automakers have said they wanted to avoid.

Even the automakers that are supporting the Trump administration in court say they still want a compromise on future fuel economy rules.

“We can still reach an agreement that is supported by all the parties,” John Bozella, chief executive of Global Automakers, told reporters Monday night, according to the New York Times.

He added, though, that automakers have “historically taken the position that fuel economy is the sole purview of the federal government.”

Nonetheless, Monday’s legal filing may only drive California and the Trump administration farther apart: Former California Governor Jerry Brown had some choice words for the Trump administration and General Motors on Tuesday, during a hearing in a House Oversight subcommittee.

General Motors has tried to “torpedo” California’s air pollution regulations in the past, Brown said. “Now they’ve come for a third round,” he added, calling the automakers’ intervention a “shameless effort” to protect profits.

Brown said General Motors would do well to remember what happened when other countries like Japan began building smaller, more efficient cars. Neither China nor Europe are cutting back on their vehicle standards, Brown said, noting they’re actually doubling down.

“California is the way of the future,” Brown said. “The combustion car is going away to the dodo bird. You’ve got to get with it or get out of the way.”

Chaos on the Hill: Brown’s remarks in Tuesday’s hearing came after Republicans on the committee tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to adjourn the hearing, citing impeachment hearings.

The motion to adjourn from Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona drove the committee into an all-out fight that lasted more than a half hour, as subcommittee Chairman Harley Rouda of California stalled a vote on the motion.

“We’re here to talk about the very pressing issue of cutting our carbon emissions and saving our planet, and we have an entire political party that’s trying to get out of their job,” New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an exchange with Republicans on the panel.

“I just want to know what the reason is for such a disrespect of this process,” she added.

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REPUBLICANS LOSE ANOTHER CLIMATE LEADER: Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden’s retirement leaves another void for Republicans looking to address climate change.

Walden’s surprise announcement Monday that he won’t seek re-election follows the planned retirements of John Shimkus, R-Ill., his second-in-command on the energy committee, and Francis Rooney of Florida, the Republican co-leader of the Climate Solutions Caucus.

Walden could have continued as the top Republican on Energy and Commerce for another term until the end of 2022. He has held Oregon’s 2nd District seat since 1999.

In his position, Walden, with Shimkus and Fred Upton of Michigan, has pushed the GOP to shift from skepticism of climate science to promoting private sector innovation as an alternative to regulation, taxes, or mandates.

“I got tired of having the Democrats try to define what the Republicans were for or not for,” Walden told Josh in an interview for a profile this year. “We wanted to define it.”

The horse race begins: Walden’s departure will prompt a competition among committee Republicans to win the top GOP spot.

The next most senior Republican on the committee is Upton, who has already served as chairman and is reportedly also considering retirement.

Former GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington plans to run for ranking member.

Sources tell Josh that other likely candidates include Michael Burgess of Texas, Bob Latta of Ohio, and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky.

Burgess said in a statement that he “intends to be the next Republican leader” of the committee, noting he has been chairman or leader for three of six subcommittees.

Guthrie, a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, has “been receiving encouragement to run for the next leader of the committee,” his office said.

SPREADING THE BOUNTY OF OIL IN SYRIA: Defense Secretary Mark Espersays by keeping several hundred American troops in Syria to prevent oil fields from falling into Syrian, Russian, or terrorist hands, the U.S. will be able to remain engaged with the Kurdish allies who helped liberate Syria from ISIS.

The U.S. is continuing to reinforce the defenses of the oil facilities in the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor in the eastern part of Syria, the Washington Examiner’s Jamie McIntyre reports.

“The United States will retain control of oil fields,” Esper said Monday during a press briefing at the Pentagon, noting during the brutal reign of ISIS the oil was the prime source of revenue for the terrorist group. Now he says the oil will be used to benefit the Kurds. “We want to make sure that SDF does have access to the resources in order to guard the prisons, in order to arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the Defeat ISIS mission,” he said.

But that’s not how Trump characterized it in a speech to a gathering of police chiefs at a conference in Chicago yesterday. “We’re keeping the oil,” the president said. “Remember that. I’ve always said that, ‘Keep the oil.’ We want to keep the oil.”

IT’S INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK FOR CARBON CAPTURE: Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois wants to break down barriers to moving captured carbon dioxide around the country.

Her new bill, introduced today, would set up a number of financing tools for construction of carbon dioxide pipelines, including an authorization of $500 million for loans to trunk and feeder lines that would carry CO2 from power plants and other industrial facilities

The legislation — the Investing in Energy Systems for the Transport of CO2, or INVEST, Act — is part of Bustos’ Rural Climate Partnership, which she launchedearlier this year.

“It’s a jobs, an economy plan, and also an environment plan,” Bustos said of the bill at a briefing Tuesday.

The bill could be a critical step to building out carbon capture in the U.S.:Brad Crabtree, who co-directs the Carbon Capture Coalition, said at the briefing Bustos’ bill is the first-ever legislative effort to finance carbon dioxide pipeline infrastructure.

There are about 5,000 miles of carbon dioxide pipelines in the U.S. currently, but advocates for the technology say more is needed to help accelerate carbon capture buildout.

Bustos, for example, said carbon dioxide infrastructure is critical for her state and others in the Midwest, where there’s significant potential both to attach carbon capture systems to ethanol plants and to store carbon underground. Illinois alone could store 27 billion to 109 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, Bustos said.

LESSONS ON BUILDING TRANSMISSION, FROM MICHAEL SKELLY: To succeed in overhauling the nation’s transmission lines, Democrats running for president would have to go further down the path forged by Houston-based entrepreneur Michael Skelly.

According to Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold, Skelly was “tantalizingly” close to building what would have been an “electricity expressway” delivering renewable energy across the country.

Gold profiled Skelly and his company’s nearly decadelong effort to fix the nation’s Balkanized power grid in a book this year titled, Superpower: One’s Man’s Quest to Transform American Energy.

An important case study: The book, and Skelly’s story, function as both a warning of and a guide to the challenges of building transmission lines, which Democratic presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have made a focus of their aggressive climate plans.

Skelly folded his company, Clean Line Energy Partners, in 2017, after local organizing, political agitating, federal government delay, and utility disinterest killed his plan.

His 720-mile proposed line, called Plains & Eastern, would have moved power from Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee, with the capacity to carry 4,000 megawatts of wind and solar, enough to power 1.5 million homes.

“Skelly will play a role in getting this across the finish line,” Gold told Josh in a recent interview. “He may not get the glory of being there for the ribbon-cutting, but he is certainly one of the fathers of the idea.”

Read more of Josh’s story in this week’s Washington Examiner magazine.

CONGRESS TAKES ON TRUMP’S ‘BACK ROOM’ RFS POLICY: House Democrats agitated Tuesday for the Trump administration to provide more transparency regarding its generous granting of exemptions to small oil refiners from having to blend biofuels into their supply.

“There is simply no transparency in this process, and these decisions are far too consequential to be made in a dark, back room without any sunlight,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey said at a hearing on the exemptions.

Pallone criticized EPA’s latest proposal to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is aimed at appeasing farmers and ethanol backers who claim the waivers for refineries have hurt demand for biofuels.

“President Trump is pitting farmers and refiners against each other to the detriment of all stakeholders and consumers,” Pallone said. “As a result, the RFS does not appear to be working the way it should for anyone involved.”

Pallone and other Democrats pushed for passage of bipartisan legislation, the Renewable Fuel Standard Integrity Act, which would require public disclosure of information related to petitions for small refinery exemptions. Applications are currently confidential.

Chet Thompson, the CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, warned the bill would “eliminate” the waiver process by exposing “critical confidential business information protections.”

While the ethanol industry has blamed idled plants and loss of jobs on the refinery exemptions, Thompson said, “all available data shows that there has been no decline in domestic biofuels consumption as a result of small refinery waivers.”