Going Off-Piste

Shutdown update, report alert, bye-bye Big Coal Joe


I’m gonna start by admitting that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La., no relation) is subverting my cynical expectations and deciding not to play a high-stakes game of chicken about a government shutdown. I’ve got the wonky details on how that’s playing out in Congress today, but if you want to get to hot climate content, you can skip to the Big Duck.

The Senate has signed off on Johnson’s two-step continuing resolution discussed in yesterday’s Hill Heat. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced:

“We are pausing on our plans to move forward on a Senate vehicle to allow the House to move first with their proposal. The speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts while avoiding a costly government shutdown.”

But in a big shocker, the House Republican caucus is far from agreement on Johnson’s proposal. Because of the internal revolt, the planned Rules Committee vote yesterday was nixed, and the CR is being put on today’s floor schedule under a suspension of the rules, which means it will need a bipartisan, two-thirds supermajority vote to pass. This path will allow the extremist Republican Freedom Caucus to vote against keeping the government open while being made irrelevant by Democratic votes.

Which also means that Johnson’s speakership is on very thin ice. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bipartisan continuing resolution now funding the government led to him being deposed by a handful of GOP hardliners in October. It would now only take four Republicans to depose Johnson to show their anger about bipartisan governance, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has publicly put Johnson on notice.

That said, it looks like the hardliners are willing to hold their fire on Johnson to let the much-delayed appropriations package get completed and sent to a House-Senate conference committee. With today’s expected party-line passage of a theocratic Labor-Health-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 5894), the House will have passed 8 of 12 appropriations bills to the Senate’s three, putting pressure on Schumer to catch up.

With COP28 around the corner, climate reports are hitting the tarmac like Dom Toretto.

The White House’s Fifth National Climate Assessment is out today, and the reviews are in: “grim!” “dire!” “alarming!Wired’s Matt Simon noted this staggering fact:

In the 1980s, on average, the US experienced one billion-dollar disaster every four months. That’s now one every three weeks.

The report has some unfortunate circumlocution about fossil fuels 1 but also a newly strong look at climate injustice. The biggest thing new about the report, other than catching up on the past five years of climate disasters and the fracking boom, is that it’s now accessorized! There’s an interactive atlas of our warming future, and a podcast with the scientists who authored the assessment, including the report’s director Allison Crimmins and inveterate posters Kate Marvel and Zeke Hausfather, as well as Poet Laureate Ada Limón, who penned a companion poem and curated a forthcoming climate poetry anthology. And there’s even an art gallery, several of whose works are in this newsletter, because they’re pretty damn amazing.

Today also sees the release of the State of Climate Action Report, from World Resources Institute and funding from a guy trying to be Kenny Chesney. As summarized by Seth Borenstein, “The world is off track in its efforts to curb global warming in 41 of 42 important measurements and is even heading in the wrong direction in six crucial ways.”

“We are woefully off track,” study co-author Kelly Levin, science and data director at the Bezos Earth Fund, told Borenstein. “This is not the time for tinkering around the edges, but it’s instead the time for radical decarbonization of all sectors of the economy.”

And also out today is the United National Global Stocktake report,2 which analyzes nations’ Paris Agreement climate-pollution plans. Disagreeing with Levin, Executive-Secretary of UN Climate Change Simon Stiell concludes that “we are severely off track.”

On the upside, however, congressional climate hawks are calling on the Biden administration to stop approving liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects. In a letter organized by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.) and signed by 60 more Democratic colleagues, they demand the Department of Energy “assess the climate, environmental justice, and consumer impacts when determining whether exports are in the public interest, especially as the agency considers its current pipeline of 16 LNG export projects under review.” (Psst: they’re not in the public interest.)

Andrews Glacier: Romo, the Last Glacier. Woodcut by Todd Anderson

Whoa, Associated Press ticker time:

Good job, AP climate desk!

San Francisco Air Quality Fall 2020, quilt by Lorraine Woodruff-Long

At 10 am, the Senate Agriculture Committee looked at new agricultural technology, including so-called artificial intelligence; the all-male panel of witnesses included John Deere’s top technologist, Dr. Jahmy Hindman; former Apple technologist and agricultural machine-learning scientist Dr. Mason Earles; and agricultural technology lawyer Todd Janzen.

Also at 10 am, the House Transportation’s Coast Guard subcommittee looked at the Coast Guard’s efforts in drug enforcement, illegal migration, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

At 10:15 am, the House Natural Resources energy subcommittee examined the Biden Administration’s abandoned coal mine lands and active coal mining programs, which have been significantly modified by the bipartisan infrastructure act. Witnesses include Interior mining deputy director Glenda Owens, coal-mining officials from Wyoming, Alabama, and Ohio, and Sierra Club senior attorney Peter Morgan.

At 10:30 am, the House Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee held a hearing on EPA’s proposed greenhouse pollution standards for the power sector. The Biden administration is taking yet another crack at setting greenhouse pollution standards for electric utilities, after Trump and the Supreme Court killed Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The proposed standards include shifting gas-fired plants over to carbon-capture and hydrogen in the 2030s. Witnesses were Republican officials from North Dakota, Wyoming, and Tennessee as well as Maryland secretary of the environment Serena McIlwain.

House Natural Resources subcommittees are holding two hearings to receive testimony on proposed legislation. At 10:30 am, the water subcommittee looked at four non-controversial waterways bills. At 2 pm, the federal lands subcommittee looks at seven bills, including Rep. Young Kim’s (R-Calif.) wildfire technology bill and Rep. Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) biochar research bill.

At 2:30 pm, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) chairs an environmental subcommittee hearing on wildlife migration corridors with California fish and wildlife director Chuck Bonham, Center for Public Lands director Madeleine West, and Wyoming game warden Richard King.

Managed Retreat, a photograph by Nathan Kensigner

Have I bothered to mention that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he’s not running for reëlection? No? Okay, let’s stick that announcement here. It’s counterintuitively possible Almost Heaven’s departure will make it easier for Democrats to hold the Senate, because they won’t be throwing away $20 million and hedging on messaging to save a doomed candidate.

Hearings on the Hill:

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. If you’ve got job listings, event listings, or other hot news, I want to hear it. Connect with me@[email protected] and @climatebrad.hillheat.com on BlueSky. We’re done with our mission . . . climatenauts, at ease, until our next adventure!

1 “While atmospheric GHG concentrations continue growing at historically high rates due to factors such as increased global energy use, energy system decarbonization is reducing the rate of GHG emissions.” Later: “Demand for oil and gas is projected to remain stable in the US through 2050, with technological advances including electrification and electric vehicles reducing potential consumption. However, with high international demand for liquified natural gas, US production may rise, and the US will remain a net exporter of natural gas.” Oops!

2 Aka the 2023 Nationally Determined Contributions Synthesis Report, which I mention merely for SEO.

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