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Kevin McCarthy weighs future of special committee on climate change

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re wishing a happy 50th anniversary to the Clean Water Act, which Congress passed on this day in 1972. 🥳 

In other news, we’re thrilled that Tim Puko is joining The Washington Post as a climate correspondent. You’ll probably read his work in this newsletter soon. But first:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy weighs whether to keep Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created a special committee to examine climate change in 2019, the panel’s days seemed numbered.

If Republicans regained control of the House, many observers assumed, they would immediately scrap the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, since the GOP has historically opposed ambitious measures to tackle global warming.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to become speaker if Republicans pick up enough seats in the midterms, has not yet decided whether to keep the committee, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Garret Graves (La.), who would become chair of the committee, have privately urged McCarthy to keep the panel, according to one of the individuals.

If the panel does exist in the new Congress, it would likely look dramatically different and focus on policies scientists warn would exacerbate not ease the climate crisis. The committee would probably focus, in part, on boosting America’s oil and gas production, despite the scientific consensus that the world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels to avert a climate catastrophe.

And the panel would probably have a different name, such as the Select Committee on Energy Security and Independence, that does not contain the word “climate,” the people familiar with the matter said.

The fact that McCarthy might be open to keeping the committee, even with less of a climate focus, signals that GOP leadership recognizes the value of carving out a Republican agenda on environmental issues, said George David Banks, who served as a White House climate adviser under former president Donald Trump.

“It’s in the GOP’s interest to maintain some form of the committee to help educate the American public on the advantages of the Republican approach on climate, energy and economic security policy,” Banks said.

Marty Hall, the former Republican staff director for the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, noted that it’s still early for GOP leadership to be deciding the committee’s fate.

“It’s a little premature because the speaker is the one who picks select committees,” Hall said. “You really don’t want to have that conversation until after the election.”

A spokesperson for McCarthy declined to comment, while a spokesperson for Graves did not respond to a request for comment.

If Republicans keep the committee, they would probably pursue aspects of McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” agenda, which details the party’s priorities if it takes control of Congress after the midterms.

In June, as part of that agenda, McCarthy unveiled a climate and energy strategy that called for increasing domestic fossil fuel production and boosting exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas. Proponents argue that U.S. LNG is cleaner than gas produced in other countries, despite warnings from scientists about the need to quit fossil fuels altogether.

“In the 118th Congress, House Republicans will focus on our commitment to America, which could include realigning the committee’s priorities to offer real and innovative solutions like unleashing American LNG and carbon capture,” Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.), a member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said in a statement.

“Under Chairman Graves, I’m confident a select committee would be a platform for Republicans to highlight our energy agenda, engage industry stakeholders and experts, and offer the American people real results,” Miller added.

So far under the leadership of Chair Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a Pelosi ally, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has held several hearings on the benefits of bold climate action. In 2020, the panel’s Democratic staff also released a 547-page action plan with detailed policy recommendations for reducing emissions and bolstering clean energy.

Castor said in a statement that read in part: “We know there is more work ahead and will continue to urge our Republican colleagues to actually vote in favor of cost-saving and lifesaving climate solutions.”

‘That stinkin’ committee’

The select committee has a long and winding history. In 2007, when Pelosi created the panel, it was called the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and chaired by then-Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Republicans disbanded the committee when they took control of the House in 2010. Then in 2019, when Pelosi reestablished the committee, she faced questions about whether it would overlap with existing panels, including the Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

GOP leadership could face similar questions if they keep the panel in the new Congress. But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who could become chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee if Republicans take the House, noted that the select committee lacks the authority to advance legislation to the House floor.

“The climate Select Committee did not have legislative authority, and I do believe it’s important that the authorizing committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, keeps the authority to legislate,” McMorris Rodgers said in an interview last week.

Meanwhile, a House Democratic aide expressed skepticism that GOP lawmakers would pursue serious climate solutions if they retain the panel.

“Half of what they say on that stinkin’ committee is that they don’t think climate change is that big of a problem,” the aide said.

Treasury takes next step to assess climate-related financial risk

The Treasury Department‘s Federal Insurance Office on Tuesday proposed collecting data from insurers to better assess climate-related financial risks across the country.

The move is meant to help the agency assess the potential for major disruptions of private insurance coverage in regions that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In a news release, the office said it is seeking public comments on its proposed collection of data from property and casualty insurers on current and historical underwriting on homeowners insurance.

“Today’s action by the Federal Insurance Office is an important step in determining how Americans are being affected by the increasing costs of climate change,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement. “The recent impacts in Florida from Hurricane Ian demonstrate the critical nature of this work and the need for an increased understanding of insurance market vulnerabilities in the United States.”

Truck makers fight climate rules while touting an electric future

Under pressure to phase out diesel-powered trucks, which account for nearly a quarter of all planet-warming emissions from vehicles in the United States, major truck manufacturers have pledged to go all-electric in the coming years. But privately, the non-passenger car industry is pushing to delay that clean future, The Washington Post’s Anna Phillips reports.

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation’s largest truck makers, has worked behind the scenes to weaken proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency that would strictly curb pollution from trucks, buses and delivery vans. The industry says that new tailpipe emission standards for nitrogen dioxide, which contributes to smog, would be too costly and that the market is not moving fast enough to accommodate the industry’s rapid electrification goals.

At the same time, the sector is fiercely opposing new rules from California that require more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035. The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association has challenged the state’s request for a waiver under the Clean Air Act, which has historically allowed California to set stricter tailpipe rules than the federal government, arguing that the rules don’t give manufacturers enough lead time.

Environmentalists warn that if the truck manufacturers successfully stall green deadlines, they will be able to sell the gas-guzzling trucks for longer, postponing the nation’s transition to clean vehicles and locking in emissions for decades to come.

White House plans another oil reserve release this week

The Biden administration plans to release another 10 million to 15 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve this week in an effort to prevent gasoline prices from rising further, according to people familiar with the matter, Jennifer Jacobs, Ari Natter and Jennifer A Dlouhy report for Bloomberg News.

The release would be the latest step in a 180-million-barrel program that began this spring. Separately, the administration is still considering whether to limit gas and diesel exports, according to two of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on internal deliberations.

The idea of limiting exports has caused divisions within the administration, with top Biden energy adviser Amos Hochstein arguing in favor of the proposal while Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk voices concerns, the individuals said.

Meanwhile, Energy Department and White House officials have met this week with oil companies, including ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, to notify them of the plans and encourage them to increase fuel production.

Russia targets Ukraine’s energy grid ahead of winter

Russian forces targeted critical energy facilities in central and northern Ukraine on Monday with what appeared to be Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones, cutting off hundreds of areas from the electricity grid, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Rachel Pannett, Nick Parker, Leo Sands and Sammy Westfall report for The Post.

The attacks prompted the state’s power operator to urge citizens to limit electricity use in an effort to avoid emergency shutdowns. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it targeted Ukraine’s “energy system facilities” as part of a concerted attempt to weaken the country’s power infrastructure as winter approaches.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday evening characterized the electricity conservation as a way to reduce the human costs of Russia’s attacks.

Spooky season but make it sustainable: 😂

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