House clears clean energy package

With help from Alex Guillén and Bruce Ritchie

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The House passed a sprawling clean energy and jobs package on Thursday, despite a White House veto threat and opposition from most Republicans.

California’s goal to ban the sale of new gas vehicles within 15 years is likely to run into headwinds with the Trump EPA over a critical waiver under the Clean Air Act.

The president’s recent expanded offshore drilling memorandum doesn’t extend to exploring the area for oil or natural gas, lawyers from the Justice Department argued this week.

FINALLY FRIDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Duke Energy’s Vicky Sullivan gets the trivia win. Two Supreme Court justices have been featured on U.S. currency: Salmon P. Chase on the $10,000 bill and John Marshall on the $500 bill. President William Taft, who served as a chief justice, also was on a presidential $1 coin in 2013. We’ll close out the week with one last SCOTUS question: What is inscribed on the front facade of the Supreme Court building? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments 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

HOUSE CLEARS CLEAN ENERGY PACKAGE: The House on Thursday passed a $135 billion clean energy and jobs package, H.R. 4447 (116), that includes provisions from dozens of bills that moved through the Energy and Commerce, Science and Natural Resources committees during this Congress, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports.

Democrats argue the package, titled the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, would boost the next generation of clean energy technology and help combat climate change. The bill passed by a 220-185 vote, with seven Republicans voting yes and 18 Democrats voting against it. The White House said earlier this week it would veto the measure if it reached President Donald Trump’s desk.

The package notably does not include any sweeping greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals that had been envisioned in draft legislation put forward by the E&C and Natural Resources committees earlier this year. But Democrats say it offers a potential jumping off point should they win the White House and the Senate in November’s election. Proponents of the bill, notably E&C Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), expressed hope it would be the basis for negotiations on a compromise bill with the Senate this year, if that chamber succeeds in passing their version of the energy package, S. 2657 (116).

Across the Capitol: That Senate bill faces an uncertain future, Anthony reports. Senate Energy Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said during an event earlier this week that lawmakers “can finish debate in just a few hours, at most, if we’re just given the chance.” But the looming Supreme Court vacancy battle, the fast-approaching Nov. 3 election and a hyper-partisan Capitol Hill present significant obstacles — and it’s unclear if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would again give the measure floor time.

DRIVING THE DAY: California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order this week to ban sales of new cars with gasoline engines in the state by 2035 will run headlong into a wall put up by EPA — unless Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the presidency, former EPA officials tell Pro’s Eric Wolff. Newsom’s executive order directs California’s state agencies to take actions to phase out gasoline cars and diesel-fueled trucks, and implement a variety of other zero-emission transportation initiatives. But it included no citations of legal authorities.

California has implemented a low-carbon fuel standard, and it has traditionally used a waiver it received under the Clean Air Act to mandate increasingly stringent mileage standards in conjunction with the federal government. But Trump’s EPA withdrew the waiver last year. “Because EPA has now rescinded the waiver that allows California to have its own vehicle [greenhouse gas] standards, a future EPA will need to reinstate it or grant a new one,” said Jeff Holmstead, EPA’s air chief under former President George W. Bush. “If there is a Biden administration, I suspect that this would happen fairly soon.”

Labor pains: Newsom also got a swift reminder Thursday that his clean car agenda could hit a snag with California’s powerful labor unions if it doesn’t protect jobs, Pro’s Jeremy B. White reports. California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D) tweeted Thursday: “Can we immediately start talking about jobs? We can hate on oil, but the truth is our refinery jobs are really good middle class jobs. Union jobs. Jobs can’t be an afterthought to any climate change legislation.”

EPA SHUFFLES WATER OFFICE: EPA announced a “limited reorganization” of its water office, centralizing economists under its political leader and building out teams focused on water infrastructure financing and water reuse, Pro’s Annie Snider reports. In an email sent to employees on Wednesday and shared with POLITICO, EPA water chief David Ross announced four structural changes that he said are intended “to better align its institutional structure with the agency’s water priorities.” It is the third reorganization of EPA offices announced in recent weeks.

THAT DON’T IMPRESS HIM MUCH: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler doesn’t seem too bothered by criticism he got by Bush-era EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman or the rest of a bipartisan group of ex-EPA chiefs who endorsed Joe Biden this week. Speaking virtually with Yahoo News’ Alexis Christoforous at the Concordia Summit, Wheeler played down Whitman’s credentials. “I hate to see that because some people just crave the limelight and want to get on TV and radio and do interviews,” he said. “You have somebody who was EPA administrator 20 years ago, I think she was there for about two years at the time. She wasn’t the — President Bush had three EPA administrators. She’s not paying attention to what we’re doing and accomplishing.”

Doing the math: Whitman served 877 days as EPA administrator between 2001 and 2003. Counting his time so far as the head of EPA and the 236 days he spent as acting administrator, as of Thursday Wheeler had served 810 days, more than two months shorter than Whitman.

DEMS CALL FOR LEGATES REMOVAL FROM NOAA: Eighty-five Democratic lawmakers, led by Reps. Jamie Raskin (Md.), Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.) and Kathy Castor (Fla.), wrote to the Commerce Department on Thursday to oppose the appointment of David Legates to NOAA, saying he will “discredit the dedicated researchers at NOAA in their essential work.” The agency recently hired Legates, an academic who has questioned the seriousness of climate change, for a top political role, riling many in the agency.

New chief scientist questioned too: House Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) separately wrote to NOAA’s Neil Jacobs on Thursday to express “dismay” at the hire of Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who has challenged the link between extreme weather and climate change, as NOAA’s new chief scientist. Maue’s appointment “is now only one of many examples of a larger pattern of corrupting federal agencies to support the anti-science agenda of the White House,” they write.

AD TARGETS SENATORS ON PENDLEY: Clean Water Fund is out with a digital ad campaign today calling for senators to demand Trump remove William Perry Pendley as the de facto head of the Bureau of Land Management. The president recently withdrew Pendley’s nomination to be permanent director, but he remains at the agency exercising the authority of director.

DRILLING DOWN: The president is expected to give remarks in Newport News, Va., tonight — though his intended audience is a bit further south. POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt reported earlier this week that Trump will aim to woo voters in neighboring North Carolina, a key battleground where he is polling neck-and-neck with Biden. The trip comes as we await an expected, expanded offshore drilling moratorium from the White House that would include North Carolina, according to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). He said earlier this week Trump assured him the state would be included in a moratorium that initially included only Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

About that: Lawyers from the Justice Department argued this week the memorandum doesn’t extend to exploring the area for oil or natural gas, Pro’s Ben Lefebvre reports. Trump placing the waters off limits to drill ships earlier this month “has no legal effect on the status of the applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic OCS that are pending before” the Interior Department, DOJ lawyers wrote in a filing with the U.S. District Court for South Carolina in Charleston. “The authorization of geological and geophysical permits, including for seismic surveys, by [the Interior Department] is a separate decision process from whether to offer oil and gas lease sales.”

Interior has yet to approve seismic survey applications the Trump administration started to review in May 2017 to look for oil and gas deposits in the region. But seismic testing could hasten the start of drilling there if Trump decides to reverse his moratorium. “It’s not surprising that Trump’s executive order does not fully protect Florida’s beautiful coastline,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) through spokeswoman Olivia Hodges. “His devastating environmental record speaks for itself.”

BP, OTHERS BACK CARBON PRICE IN TRANSPORTATION: The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, BP, Ford, Exelon, National Grid and Shell Oil Company have joined forces to launch the Coalition for a Better Business Environment to support the multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative, which seeks to cut emissions in the transportation sector, and put a price on carbon across the sector. The coalition “will educate key stakeholders throughout these states through paid and direct advocacy, earned, digital and social media, and thought leadership events, among other channels,” BP said Thursday.

WORLD LEADERS PUSH CLIMATE IN COVID RECOVERY: Leaders of the U.K., Canada and the European Commission called for using public money devoted to economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic to help address climate change, Pro’s Zack Colman reports. “Humanity was caught napping by coronavirus,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a high-level roundtable Thursday. “For climate change, nobody can say that we have not been warned. And nobody can say that we are not capable of making the preparations.”

Mark your calendars: The U.K. also announced it will hold a virtual summit Dec. 12, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. Johnson said he hopes the event will drive more ambitious national pledges. It comes as the U.N. will skip this year’s conference on climate change because of the pandemic, and instead hold the event in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.

TO THE STREETS: Youth climate activists around the world will protest today for the latest Global Climate Strike — the first global action day of the year. Fridays For Future has announced protests across 3,000 locations, and Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg told reporters last week the protests will be carried out both on the streets and digitally, “whichever way is safe,” Reuters reported.

BIDEN COUNCIL PUSHES CLIMATE PLAN: Members of Biden’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council pitched the vice president’s climate plan Thursday, reiterating it will spur both “good-paying” union jobs and advance progress for environmental justice communities, during a public meeting.

Biden’s plan would create jobs spanning electrification in the rail system, manufacturing, electric vehicles and new charging infrastructure, retrofitting buildings and upgrading the water supply across the country, said International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International President Lonnie Stephenson, a member of the advisory council. “The way we produce energy today is going to change,” he said. While there may still be opportunities for those working on coal thanks to carbon capture sequestration, “we also know that we are going to be transforming into more renewables,” he said.

“We’re basically going to rebuild the United States of America in a clean, green way,” added Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist and co-chair of the council.

FRACK CHECK: The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, which has endorsed Biden, has released a new member-to-member digital spot on Biden’s fracking stance. “When someone tells you Joe Biden opposes fracking, show them this,” the video says, before showing a clip of Biden declaring that he is not banning fracking.

BIDEN NOTCHES ANOTHER PROGRESSIVE ENDORSEMENT: Progressive environmental group Friends of the Earth Action announced Thursday its endorsement of Biden for president, after an initial lukewarm reception to the Democratic nominee’s climate plan. The endorsement lands the same day 350 Action also endorsed Biden for president. Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, released a statement calling the endorsement a “clarion call” to all progressive environmentalists to elect Biden and “support his campaign in every way possible.”

— “Trump administration to announce plan to open Tongass forest to logging,” via The New York Times.

— “Oil and gas companies must monitor fracking emissions as Colorado adopts first-in-the-nation rules to reduce air pollution,” via The Colorado Sun.

— “A growing toxic threat — made worse by climate change,” via NBC News, InsideClimate News and Texas Observer.

— “Shell: ‘No plans’ for Alaska exploration,” via Upstream Online.

— “William Perry Pendley discusses Chaco drilling plan, outdoor recreation and energy,” via Farmington Daily Times.

— “Trump, eyeing Farm Country, starts working on ethanol industry’s year-old wishlist,” via Reuters.