Biden Administration Staffs Up With Climate Hawks: Department of Energy

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 21 Jan 2021 21:55:00 GMT

The Department of Energy has announced numerous senior hires, the vast majority of whom are climate hawks. As with the transition team, the picks range from lifelong environmental justice activists to corporate technologists. Most but not all have previous administration experience.

David G. Huizenga will serve as Acting Secretary of Energy, and Richard Glick is becoming chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Energy

  • Shalanda H. Baker, Deputy Director for Energy Justice. Shalanda H. Baker was mostly recently a professor of law, public policy, and urban affairs at Northeastern University. She was the co-founder and co-director of the Initiative for Energy Justice, which provides technical law and policy support to communities on the front lines of climate change. Baker served as an Air Force officer prior to her honorable discharge pursuant to the then existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and became a vocal advocate for repeal of the policy. She earned a B.S. in Political Science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a J.D. from Northeastern University, and L.L.M. from the University of Wisconsin.
  • Robert Cowin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement. Robert Cowin was most recently director of government affairs for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to that, Cowin worked for the National Environmental Trust, where he helped organize national campaigns focused on climate change, clean energy, and clean air. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a B.A. from Boston College.
  • Tanya Das, Chief of Staff, Office of Science. Tanya Das was most recently a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where she worked on legislation on a range of issues in clean energy and manufacturing policy. She was an AAAS Congressional fellow in the Office of Senator Chris Coons. She earned her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
  • Christopher Davis, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy. Christopher Davis served all eight years of the Obama Administration — first in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and then in several senior roles at the Department of Energy. Prior to that, he worked for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. More recently, Davis worked with Co-Equal, a non-profit organization providing expertise and knowledge to Congress on oversight and legislation.
  • Ali Douraghy, Chief of Staff, Office of the Under Secretary for Science & Energy. Ali Douraghy was most recently Chief Strategy Officer for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area. He led the New Voices program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which brings diverse leader perspectives into science policy. He received his Ph.D. in biomedical physics from the UCLA School of Medicine.
  • Todd Kim, Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement. Todd Kim most recently was a partner at Reed Smith LLP, and before that was the first Solicitor General for the District of Columbia, serving in that capacity more than 11 years. Kim was an appellate attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and a clerk on the D.C. Circuit. Kim graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an executive editor of the Harvard Law Review, and received his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in biology from Harvard College.
  • Jennifer Jean Kropke, Director of Energy Jobs. Jennifer Jean Kropke served as the first Director of Workforce and Environmental Engagement for IBEW Local Union 11 and the National Electrical Contractors’ Association-Los Angeles’ Labor Management Cooperation Committee. She focused on creating clean energy, port electrification, and zero emission transportation opportunities for union members. She is a graduate of the UCLA School of Law.
  • Andrew Light, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs. Andrew Light has worked on international climate and energy policy in and outside of government for the last 15 years. From 2013 to 2016, he served as Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, as well as a climate adviser in the Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning. Light was an international climate and energy policy volunteer for the Biden campaign and was one of the chief architects of Governor Jay Inslee’s plan for global climate mobilization. He is an environmental philosopher and is married to Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin. He completed his undergraduate work at Mercer University and doctoral work at the University of California, Riverside with a three-year post-doctoral fellowship in environmental risk assessment at the University of Alberta.
  • David A. Mayorga, Director of Public Affairs. David A. Mayorga most recently served as Director of Communications for the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl A. Racine. Previously he was Senior Spokesperson for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led communications for DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, with the SunShot Initiative. He earned a B.A. from the University of Florida and began his professional career at the U.S. House Committee on Science.
  • Shara Mohtadi, Chief of Staff, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Shara Mohtadi has focused her career advising policymakers and international organizations on mitigating climate change and advancing clean energy policies. She most recently led the America’s Pledge initiative and managed grants focused on the coal to clean energy transition in Asia and Australia at Bloomberg Philanthropies. Previously, Shara served as a senior advisor on climate and energy policy for New York State government. During the Obama Administration, Mohtadi served as an advisor for the energy and environment portfolio at the White House, in the Office of Management and Budget. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University.
  • Tarak Shah, Chief of Staff. Tarak Shah is an energy policy expert who has spent the last decade working on combating climate change. At the Biden-Harris Transition, Shah was the Personnel lead for the Climate and Science team. From 2014-2017, he served as Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Science and Energy at DOE. Shah has also worked on political campaigns, including President Obama’s Senate and presidential campaigns. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and his M.B.A from Cornell University.
  • Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Kelly Speakes-Backman most recently served as the first CEO of the Energy Storage Association, the national trade organization for the energy storage industry. Speakes-Backman has spent more than 20 years working in energy and environmental issues in the public, NGO and private sectors. In 2019, she was honored by The Cleanie Awards as Woman of the Year.
  • Narayan Subramanian, Legal Advisor, Office of General Counsel. Narayan Subramanian was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment at Berkeley Law leading a project tracking regulatory rollbacks, and served as a Fellow at the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at Johns Hopkins University and Data for Progress. He was lead coordinator of the Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign’s climate and energy policy advisory group. Subramanian holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School, an M.P.A. from the School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University, and a B.S. in Earth & Environmental Engineering from Columbia University.
  • Shuchi Talati, Chief of Staff, Office of Fossil Energy. Dr. Shuchi Talati was most recently a Senior Policy Advisor at Carbon180 where she focused on policies to build sustainable and equitable technological carbon removal at scale. She also served as a policy volunteer on the Biden-Harris campaign. She was a UCS Fellow on solar geoengineering research governance and public engagement with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr. Talati earned a B.S. from Northwestern University, an M.A. from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. Her doctoral research focused on the climate-energy-water nexus looking specifically at the impacts of domestic climate regulations and carbon capture and storage technology.
  • Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. Jennifer Wilcox is a direct carbon air capture expert. She was most recently the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute. Wilcox’s work examines the nexus of energy and the environment, developing strategies to minimize negative climate impacts associated with society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Wilcox holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and M.A. in Chemistry from the University of Arizona and B.A. in Mathematics from Wellesley College.
  • Avi Zevin, Deputy General Counsel for Energy Policy. Avi Zevin is an attorney with experience advancing policies that enable the provision of carbon-free, reliable, and cost-effective electricity. Until joining the administration, he was energy policy counsel for Google. He was a senior attorney and Affiliated Scholar at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law and an attorney at Van Ness Feldman LLP. He was a policy advisor for the corporate-funded Third Way think tank from 2008 to 2009. Zevin holds a J.D., magna cum laude, from New York University School of Law, an M.P.A. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a B.A., with high honors, from the University of California, Berkeley.

Additional hires without significant reputation as climate policy experts or advocates include:

  • Vanessa Z. Chan, Director, Office of Technology Transitions (Chief Commercialization Officer). Vanessa Z. Chan comes to the Biden-Harris Administration from the University of Pennsylvania where she was the Brassington Professor of Practice and the Undergraduate Chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department. She has spent the past 20 years helping large companies commercialize their technologies and revamping the academic curriculum of engineering students to make a greater social impact. Dr. Chan is a former longtime McKinsey & Company partner. She is a Venture Board Director for Vanguard and United Technology Corporation and a board member at multiple start-ups. Dr. Chan was the first woman and the first East Asian elected partner in McKinsey’s North American Chemicals practice. She is married to Mark van der Helm, the head of Energy, Waste and Facilities Maintenance at Walmart. Chan earned her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Caroline Grey, White House Liaison. Caroline Grey worked for Biden for President as Expansion States Director, managing distributed engagement in 33 states. Previously, she worked on the presidential campaign of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Grey started her career as an organizer for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and worked on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. She co-founded Civis Analytics, a data science firm.
  • Ali Nouri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. Ali Nouri is a molecular biologist and most recently was the President of the Federation of American Scientists, which addresses global health and security risks. He has been working aggressively on fighting COVID-19 misinformation. Prior to that, he served as a U.S. Senate staffer for a decade for Sens. Jim Webb and Al Franken and served as an advisor in the office of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Nouri obtained a B.A. in biology from Reed College and received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

Green New Appalachia: The Smart Way To Sell Climate Action To Joe Manchin

Posted by Billy Fleming Fri, 08 Jan 2021 04:40:00 GMT

This post is an expanded version of a Twitter thread.

With the pair of Democratic U.S. Senate victories in Georgia, the Democratic Party will have control of the White House and both chambers of Congress come January 20th. West Virginia’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, will become the chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and will hold tremendous power over any climate legislation.

While I’m sure that part of bribing Manchin to go along with a series of climate bills as bold as President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign platform will require funds for coal-industry boondoggles like direct air capture and carbon-capture sequestration, as well as for advanced nuclear technology, we ought to be a bit more creative than that.

Here are a few other ideas to consider:
  • New funds for building pumped hydroelectric storage facilities in Appalachia. These use abandoned coal mines to create a low-tech battery for renewable energy storage, pumping water into the uphill mines when production is high and releasing it through turbines when it wanes.
  • Ending the federal grant program that incentivizes converting abandoned strip mines into federal prisons. Those funds should go toward building up the clean energy and electrovoltaic manufacturing facilities in Appalachia on sites that have already been cleared or flattened sites that are adjacent to transportation infrastructure.
  • Decommissioning the network of prisons in Appalachia, converting their onsite and resilient electricity generation infrastructure into community-based electric co-ops. Every prison there has the ability to island itself off from the grid and power itself. Give that power to the people of Appalachia.
  • Investing in the now-closed north-south railway that could connect Appalachia to Atlanta in the South, Pittsburgh to the North, Columbus and St. Louis to the West, and the entire northeast corridor to the East. A massive corridor already exists and just needs track upgrades for it to be active.
  • Offering Appalachia up as the first pilot site for a new Climate Conservation Corps that puts people to work capping orphaned wells, remediating brownfield and other toxic sites, and reforesting the hiking, hunting, and other recreational landscapes of the region.

The best part of it all is that “bribing” Joe Manchin to go along with a more progressive climate agenda is really just a way of driving investment to some of the people and places that need it most—in this case, Central Appalachia.

Billy Fleming is the Wilks Family Director of the Ian L. McHarg Center in the Weitzman School of Design. and a senior fellow with Data for Progress.

Biden Transition Packed With Climate Hawks

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 16 Dec 2020 15:06:00 GMT

Even though the loser of the presidential election, Donald Trump, continues his quest for autogolpe, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is hard at work preparing his new administration. Among the hundreds of staff and volunteers comprising the agency review teams are dozens of climate hawks. These are people with significant experience in climate policy and politics. Some have careers rooted in environmental justice, while others are technologists.

Cabinet departments are listed in order of creation, an approximate reflection of their power and significance within the federal government. This post will be continually updated.

State (nominee: Tony Blinken)

Treasury (nominee: Janet Yellen)

  • Andy Green, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer from 2014 to 2015 and a longtime counsel for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), worked on pricing climate risk while at the SEC. As a Center for American Progress fellow, he has been an outspoken advocate for ending the financing of carbon polluters.
  • Marisa Lago, former Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development, has experience with international climate finance as well as urban climate adaptation planning. Lago is presently the director of city planning for New York City, having held similar roles in the 1990s for Boston and New York City. Before joining the Obama administration, Lago was Global Head of Compliance for Citigroup after a similar role at the S.E.C. running the Office of International Affairs.
  • Damon Silvers, long-time counsel and policy director for the AFL-CIO, has served on the board of Ceres for many years, advocating for labor’s interests in a green economy. He received his B.A., M.B.A., and J.D. from Harvard University and supported worker and divestment campaigns while a student there.
Defense (nominee: Gen. Lloyd Austin) Justice
  • Prominent environmental law scholar Richard Lazarus, a Harvard Law professor. His most recent book, The Law of Five, reviews the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court case which affirmed that greenhouse emissions are pollution. He served as the executive director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Future of Offshore Drilling. In 1992, he was part of Clinton’s transition team for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In a recent interview, he stated, “There’s no greater problem that overwhelms us these days in environmental law than climate change.”
Interior (nominee: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.))
  • Maggie Thomas is the political director at Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group run by veterans of Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign. Thomas was climate policy advisor for the Elizabeth Warren campaign after Inslee’s campaign ended, where she was deputy climate director. She joined Inslee’s campaign from Tom Steyer’s NextGen America organization. She holds a B.S. in biology and environmental management from Trinity College and a masters in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
  • Kate Kelly served in the Obama administration as senior adviser to and communications director for Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. She is the director of public lands at the Center for American Progress. Previously, she was communications director for Sen. Arlen Spector (R-Penn.) She has written on how the United States can equitably abandon fossil-fuel extraction and embrace renewable energy development on public lands.
  • Elizabeth Johnson Klein, an environmental attorney and former Deputy Assistant Secretary at Interior for Policy, Management & Budget during the Obama administration and served as assistant to the Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration. Klein is now the Deputy Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law. For years she worked with Obama and Clinton Interior official David Hayes, the center’s director. She received her B.A. in economics from George Washington University and her JD from American University, where she was president of the Environmental Law Society. She has written on environmental justice and the dire need for climate leadership.
  • Robert (Bob) Anderson is a legal scholar whose career has been focused on protecting Native American water rights and environmental protection. In 2016, he reviewed the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict, noting that “the colonial process is on full display.” (He also wryly noted, “One might think that a multi-state project to carry a toxic substance would require an extensive federal appraisal, safety, and permitting process. Not so here.”)
Agriculture (nominee: Tom Vilsack)
  • Team lead Robert Bonnie, former U.S.D.A. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment and Senior Advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for environment and climate change, is the co-author of the Climate 21 Project’s U.S.D.A. chapter, which lays out a comprehensive climate agenda for the agency. Now a scholar at Duke University’s environmental policy institute, Bonnie was formerly the vice president for land conservation for the Environmental Defense Fund. He has a master’s in environmental management from Duke and a B.A. from Harvard.
  • Meryl Harrell, now the executive director at Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, worked for Bonnie at the U.S.D.A. and was his co-author on the Climate 21 Project chapter. She has a B.A. in geoscience and environmental studies from Princeton and a J.D. from Yale Law School.
  • Jonathan Coppess, former chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee and administrator of the U.S.D.A. Farm Service Agency, has worked on biofuels programs including the Renewable Fuels Standard and biomass crops as well as several land, water, and soil conservation programs for farmers.
  • Andrea Delgado is a co-founder of Green Latinos, a national Latino environmental justice organization. Currently the chief lobbyist for the United Farm Workers Foundation, she was previously legislative director of the Healthy Communities program at Earthjustice.
  • John Padalino is the former administrator for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, having also served as Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary for Rural Development to Acting Principal Deputy General Counsel in the department. He works on rural water and electric cooperatives and is now general counsel to Bandera Electric Cooperative, a rural Texas electricity provider that has been working on smart grids and solar deployment for its members.
  • Jeffrey Prieto is a long-time Department of Justice environmental lawyer who helped set up its environmental justice division. He rose to general counsel at USDA during the Obama administration. He is presently general counsel for the Los Angeles Community College District.
Commerce
  • Karen Hyun, Ph.D. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior and was Interior Secretary John Bryson’s senior policy adviser on energy and environment issues. She is now Vice President for Coastal Conservation at the National Audubon Society. She has a Ph.D. in Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island M.S. and B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford University.
  • Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., former NOAA administrator. Both an oceanographer and astronaut, she is the only human to have both walked in space and visited the Challenger Deep. She served as NOAA’s chief scientist during the Clinton administration. She received her bachelor’s in earth sciences from U.C. Santa Cruz and her Ph.D. in geology from Dalhousie University. She has written on the urgency of the climate crisis and fought attempts by climate denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to hobble her agency.
  • Political scientist Todd Tucker, director of governance studies at the Roosevelt Institute, author of The Green New Deal: A Ten-Year Window to Reshape International Economic Law. Tucker has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He was the long time research director at Public Citizen.
  • Kris Sarri, President and CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. She was a climate and oceans Senate staffer with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) from 2006 to 2010, and worked in the Obama administration as chief climate and oceans staff in the Commerce Department, and rose to senior positions at the Office of Management and Budget and Interior. An Ann Arbor native, she received her MS and MPH from the University of Michigan and BA from Washington University in St Louis.
  • Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, oceanographer and marine policy expert who has studied the impacts of climate change on our oceans. She is a senior policy advisor for the Nature Conservancy and the wife of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Dr. Whitehouse holds a B.S. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in biological oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. As her husband has done on the Senate floor, Dr. Whitehouse has raised the alarm about the crisis of climate pollution. “We are just beginning to understand the far-reaching impacts temperature change is having on ecosystems and wildlife. We are seeing the entire collapse of deep-sea ecosystems, and we don’t know what those ramifications are.”

Labor

  • Josh Orton, senior policy advisor to climate champion Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). As Orton said when Sanders unveiled his climate plan during his presidential campaign, “This threat is beyond ideology — it’s a question of life and death.”

Health and Human Services none

Housing and Urban Development none

Transportation

  • Patty Monahan, lead commissioner on transportation for the California Energy Commission. Monahan has worked on clean transportation policy and advocacy for the Energy Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She received a B.S. in environmental studies from U.C. Berkeley and an M.S. from the Energy Analysis and Policy program of the University of Wisconsin. Monahan: “Climate Change was and remains the single biggest problem facing our world and energy is a major piece of the puzzle.”
  • Dr. Austin Brown, executive director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, the Environment, and the Economy. Brown was the Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Transportation in the Obama White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. He has also worked in the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He holds a B.S. in physics from Harvey Mudd College and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University. He is working towards a zero-carbon transportation sector.

Biden Names John Kerry As Special Climate Envoy, With Seat on National Security Council

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 23 Nov 2020 21:08:00 GMT

President-elect Joe Biden has named former senator and Secretary of State John Kerry as his special envoy for climate, sitting on the National Security Council. Throughout his long career of public service, Kerry has been an ardent environmentalist who seeks to find common ground through diplomacy. His approach has found greater success on the international stage than with American conservatives, despite repeated attempts.

As a Massachusetts senator, Kerry worked desperately to salvage climate legislation when it was abandoned by the Obama White House following the Tea Party uprising of 2009. Lacking a unified Democratic caucus, Kerry tried without success to find Republican votes for climate legislation by working with former running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

As Obama’s second Secretary of State, John Kerry’s diplomatic leadership was key to the successful Paris agreement, which marked a dramatic turnaround from the 2009 debacle of the Copenhagen climate talks. His support for killing the Canada-to-US Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline – in response to powerful pressure from climate activists – was also a change in direction from Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, who fast-tracked the permit process for the project. Like Clinton, however, Secretary of State Kerry was bullish on fracking as a means of energy diplomacy, despite its threat to the climate.

Kerry’s diplomatic approach has borne less fruit at home. Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump mocked Secretary Kerry for calling global warming “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” presaging the burn-it-all-down Trump presidency.

During the Trump years, Kerry founded a new organization called World War Zero, still attempting to find Republicans to get on board with climate action. Although Kerry’s organization supposedly intends to build a broad coalition of climate activists, World War Zero’s Republican participants include climate-science skeptic John Kasich, who mocks youth climate activists and vilifies the Green New Deal.

In his role Kerry will face several challenges unresolved by previous administrations. To date, immigration, trade, peace, and climate policy have been treated as wholly distinct milieus by government and advocates alike. Remarkably, even energy and climate diplomacy have largely operated on parallel tracks, with clashing agendas.

A critical test will be whether Kerry has say over international trade agreements which have always trumped climate negotiations. The so-called free-trade agenda has rendered international climate deals moot.

Similarly, it remains to be seen if Kerry will be an effective spokesman for the global South as it is ravaged by fossil-fueled storms and floods and drought, destabilizing governments and fueling the global migration crisis.

The military euphemism is that climate pollution is a “threat multiplier” – in other words, global conflict is now defined by the devastation to human civilization that results from the industrial destabilization of a habitable climate.

In response to this rising destabilization, right-wing movements around the globe have seized on the politics of militarized nativism and environmental exploitation, described approvingly by white-nationalist ecologist Garrett Hardin as “lifeboat ethics” in 1974.

One hopes that Kerry’s position on the National Security Council could mean the US military may shift away from its longtime role as the armed protection for the global oil industry. Kerry is highly interested in the military’s role during the Anthropocene. With his World War Zero campaign, Kerry has brought together a long list of military brass and former Defense Department officials.

Unfortunately, the primary narrative for climate policy within military circles is one of responding to the rising threats of climate destruction, with little to no engagement in ending climate pollution.

Of course, Kerry can’t guide international climate policy on his own. The makeup of Biden’s team will determine what is possible.

Rahm Emanuel, the neoliberal who was instrumental in killing White House support for climate legislation as Obama’s chief of staff, is being considered for U.S. Trade Representative. His selection would be a devastating setback.

Biden campaign advisor Heather Zichal, who has become notorious for joining the fracked-gas industry after leaving the Obama White House, came to prominence as the top Kerry climate policy staffer on his presidential campaign and in his Senate office. Zichal has been mentioned as a possible high-level staffer in the Biden White House despite broad opposition from climate activists.

Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, began his career studying fossil-fuel geopolitics. He wrote his dissertation in the 1980s on the Siberian pipeline crisis, in which the Reagan administration imposed far-reaching sanctions on oil-sector technology sharing in an attempt to block the pipeline’s construction. Blinken criticized the sanctions effort. His career since has been interventionist and pro-fossil-fuel development.

Surmounting the challenges of being Biden’s international climate czar will be a life-defining test for the 76-year-old statesman.

Biden Names John Kerry As Special Climate Envoy, With Seat on National Security Council

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 23 Nov 2020 21:08:00 GMT

President-elect Joe Biden has named former senator and Secretary of State John Kerry as his special envoy for climate, sitting on the National Security Council. Throughout his long career of public service, Kerry has been an ardent environmentalist who seeks to find common ground through diplomacy. His approach has found greater success on the international stage than with American conservatives, despite repeated attempts.

As a Massachusetts senator, Kerry worked desperately to salvage climate legislation when it was abandoned by the Obama White House following the Tea Party uprising of 2009. Lacking a unified Democratic caucus, Kerry tried without success to find Republican votes for climate legislation by working with former running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

As Obama’s second Secretary of State, John Kerry’s diplomatic leadership was key to the successful Paris agreement, which marked a dramatic turnaround from the 2009 debacle of the Copenhagen climate talks. His support for killing the Canada-to-US Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline – in response to powerful pressure from climate activists – was also a change in direction from Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, who fast-tracked the permit process for the project. Like Clinton, however, Secretary of State Kerry was bullish on fracking as a means of energy diplomacy, despite its threat to the climate.

Kerry’s diplomatic approach has borne less fruit at home. Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump mocked Secretary Kerry for calling global warming “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” presaging the burn-it-all-down Trump presidency.

During the Trump years, Kerry founded a new organization called World War Zero, still attempting to find Republicans to get on board with climate action. Although Kerry’s organization supposedly intends to build a broad coalition of climate activists, World War Zero’s Republican participants include climate-science skeptic John Kasich, who mocks youth climate activists and vilifies the Green New Deal.

In his role Kerry will face several challenges unresolved by previous administrations. To date, immigration, trade, peace, and climate policy have been treated as wholly distinct milieus by government and advocates alike. Remarkably, even energy and climate diplomacy have largely operated on parallel tracks, with clashing agendas.

A critical test will be whether Kerry has say over international trade agreements which have always trumped climate negotiations. The so-called free-trade agenda has rendered international climate deals moot.

Similarly, it remains to be seen if Kerry will be an effective spokesman for the global South as it is ravaged by fossil-fueled storms and floods and drought, destabilizing governments and fueling the global migration crisis.

The military euphemism is that climate pollution is a “threat multiplier” – in other words, global conflict is now defined by the devastation to human civilization that results from the industrial destabilization of a habitable climate.

In response to this rising destabilization, right-wing movements around the globe have seized on the politics of militarized nativism and environmental exploitation, described approvingly by white-nationalist ecologist Garrett Hardin as “lifeboat ethics” in 1974.

One hopes that Kerry’s position on the National Security Council could mean the US military may shift away from its longtime role as the armed protection for the global oil industry. Kerry is highly interested in the military’s role during the Anthropocene. With his World War Zero campaign, Kerry has brought together a long list of military brass and former Defense Department officials.

Unfortunately, the primary narrative for climate policy within military circles is one of responding to the rising threats of climate destruction, with little to no engagement in ending climate pollution.

Of course, Kerry can’t guide international climate policy on his own. The makeup of Biden’s team will determine what is possible.

Rahm Emanuel, the neoliberal who was instrumental in killing White House support for climate legislation as Obama’s chief of staff, is being considered for U.S. Trade Representative. His selection would be a devastating setback.

Biden campaign advisor Heather Zichal, who has become notorious for joining the fracked-gas industry after leaving the Obama White House, came to prominence as the top Kerry climate policy staffer on his presidential campaign and in his Senate office. Zichal has been mentioned as a possible high-level staffer in the Biden White House despite broad opposition from climate activists.

Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, began his career studying fossil-fuel geopolitics. He wrote his dissertation in the 1980s on the Siberian pipeline crisis, in which the Reagan administration imposed far-reaching sanctions on oil-sector technology sharing in an attempt to block the pipeline’s construction. Blinken criticized the sanctions effort. His career since has been interventionist and pro-fossil-fuel development.

Surmounting the challenges of being Biden’s international climate czar will be a life-defining test for the 76-year-old statesman.

"Climate Mandate": Sunrise and Justice Democrats Call For a Green New Deal Biden Cabinet

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 17 Nov 2020 14:32:00 GMT

The youth-led Sunrise Movement and progressive political group Justice Democrats have teamed up for the Climate Mandate campaign to push President-elect Biden to assemble a progressive governing team. Their message:

“President-elect Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump with the highest youth turnout ever. Now, Joe Biden must assemble a powerful governing team to stop the climate crisis, create millions of good-paying jobs, address systemic racism, and control the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The “Climate Cabinet” should have no ties to fossil fuel companies, or corporate lobbyists; be representative of America; and “fight with the urgency that the climate crisis demands,” the groups say.

In addition, they are calling for the formation of the White House Office of Climate Mobilization to coordinate efforts across agencies.

They offer three recommendations each for many Cabinet-level agencies, with a top pick listed first. The list leans heavily into the progressive caucus of the House of Representatives, not surprisingly previously endorsed for election by the groups. The list does not include some major departments, like Defense and Energy. Some of their recommendations, like Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) for Interior, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for Treasury, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for Labor, are known to be on Biden’s short list of candidates.

People can support the effort by signing a petition for a “fierce and creative governing team” to “build back better from the crises we’re in.”

In an aggressive video promoting the effort, the groups ask of Biden: “Will he be the leader of the American majority, or will he be Mitch McConnell’s vice president?”

Their recommended picks:

Harvard Magazine "Climate Crisis" Cover Article Features Nine White Men (And One Woman)

Posted by Brad Johnson Sat, 31 Oct 2020 01:49:00 GMT

Climate Crisis: Can We Dial It Down?,” the November cover issue of the magazine sent to all of Harvard University’s thousands of alumni, is yet another in a long line of climate-change think pieces by white men interviewing other white men.

(Understandably, all of the interviewees are professors or alumni of Harvard University.)

The piece, written by managing editor Jonathan Shaw ‘89, hits the traditional technocratic notes with such an approach – a physics-heavy understanding of the enormity of the global crisis, some trenchant words from Bill McKibben questioning neoliberalism, and then several pages of discussion of the potential deployment of new technology, from electric vehicles to direct air capture and solar geoengineering (blotting out the sun with stratospheric pollution to cool the earth).

Nine of the ten interviewees are white men:

  • Dan Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment
  • Bill McKibben, Harvard ’82, journalist and climate activist
  • James Stock, professor of political economy
  • Richard Zeckhauser, professor of political economy
  • Joseph Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy
  • David Keith, professor of public policy and applied physics
  • Peter Huybers, a professor of earth and planetary sciences and of environmental science and engineering
  • Raymond Pierrehumbert, Harvard ’76, professor of physics at Oxford
  • Frank Keutsch, professor of engineering and atmospheric science

The tenth, Katharine Mach, Harvard ’04, an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, provides a voice of caution about geoengineering.

Shaw gives the last word to Schrag’s perspective that the catastrophe of man-made global warming may compel the catastrophe of deliberate man-made global cooling. This hubristic logic of destructive escalation has of course led to great tragedy throughout human history. Harvard’s role in one such disaster, the Vietnam War, was detailed in David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest.”

Shaw was not able to incorporate a section on climate refugees into the cover article; the piece appears as a sidebar in the printed magazine. It features his other female interviewee, Jennifer Leaning, professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The nine men interviewed are highly intelligent and accomplished men who have dedicated their lives to understanding and combatting the climate crisis. But like all people they do so within the constraints of their skills, experiences, and social position; their numerous commonalities (including those with the author of the piece) lead to a stunted vision of what is at stake and what can be done, let alone what should be done, about the poisoning of our climate system for the profit and power of the few.

An intentional corrective to this bias and limited perspective can be found in the newly published All We Can Save, an anthology of climate essays and poems by 50 racially and geographically diverse women, co-edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Harvard ‘02.

Biden: Climate Change Is 'The Number One Issue For Me'

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 28 Oct 2020 17:16:00 GMT

Speaking on the Pod Save America show, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden explained that acting on climate change is his top priority and why he doesn’t expect another fossil-fueled electricity plant to be built in the United States.

Biden told hosts Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Lovett, both former Obama White House staff, “It’s the number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me.”

Biden’s campaign is running multiple ads on television and the Internet highlighting the costs of climate pollution to Americans and Donald Trump’s climate denial.

Biden argued that because of the Recovery Act “which [Obama] gave me the authority to run,” “we were able to invest in bringing down the cost of renewable energy to compete with coal, gas, and oil.” The Recovery Act did play a significant role in spurring renewable energy deployment, including wind manufacturing, although other countries have seen solar power costs decline even more rapidly than the U.S. (The Recovery Act’s energy components were primarily overseen by Joseph Aldy.)

“It’s becoming a fait accompli,” Biden continued, “No one’s going to build another oil or gas-fired electric plant. They’re going to build one that is fired by renewable energy.”

Biden’s prediction runs counter to current industry projections, which bullishly expect continued growth even though Biden is right about the financial advantage of renewable power. If a Biden administration restores sanity to the U.S. power market by eliminating distortionary subsidies for the construction of new natural-gas plants, his expectation may come true.

In the interview, Biden went on to claim that in the 1980s he was “the first person ever to lay out the need to deal with global warming,” and that Politifact said “it was a game changer.” This bit of puffery refers to his successful introduction in 1987 of the Global Climate Protection Act, amending Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.)’s 1978 Global Climate Program Act (15 USC Chapter 56) to explicitly discuss manmade global warming as a U.S. policy priority.

Biden was far from the first in the world (or in the U.S. Congress) to call attention to the greenhouse effect, however. Scientists raised the specter of global warming in congressional testimony in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Clean Air Act of 1970 explicitly mentioned climate pollution. Hearings for Rep. Brown’s legislation began in 1976.

Politifact has confirmed Biden’s considerably less grandiose claim that he was “one of the first guys to introduce a climate change bill,” which is entirely accurate. However, Politifact did not call his bill a “game changer,” a false claim Biden has repeatedly made. Rather, they cited Josh Howe, a professor of history and environmental studies at Reed College, who said it was “important not to overstate the impact of Biden’s bill.”

Consistent with the campaign spots, Biden explained why he believes “we have a moral obligation to everyone” to act on climate change:
Look what’s happening right now. You just look around the United States of America. Forests are burning at a rate larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined being lost. People are losing their homes, their lives. In the middle of the country, we’re in a situation where you have 100-year floods occurring every several years wiping out entire, entire counties, and doing great damage.

He argued that the United States makes up “15 [percent] of the problem” and other countries are responsible for the rest. (The United States is actually responsible for about 25 percent of cumulative climate pollution.)

Calling it “bizarre” that everyone doesn’t recognize the economic potential of climate action, Biden noted that “the fastest growing industries are solar and wind.” This remarkable claim is essentially correct: solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians share the top three spots with nurse practitioners as the fastest growing professions in the United States.

Biden noted these jobs are “not paying 15 bucks an hour, they’re paying prevailing wage.” He did overstate the quality of these jobs, saying they pay “45 to 50 bucks an hour, plus benefits,” or a $90,000 annual salary. The actual median wage of solar installers and wind technicians is closer to $50,000, which is still considerably more than a $15-an-hour ($30,000 annual) salary.

The solar industry largely opposes unionization, something Biden has elsewhere pledged to change.

Full Transcript:

2020 Climate and Energy Ballot Initiatives

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:09:00 GMT


Columbus' ballot initiative would give Ohio's largest city 100% renewable electricity.
Although there are fewer climate ballot initiatives than in 2018, there are some important local measures on the ballot this November. In particular, Columbus, Ohio has an initiative to confirm AEP as its monopoly electricity provider as part of a plan to rapidly reach 100% renewable electricity.

The only major statewide initiatives are in Alaska and Louisiana, both of which have ballot measures to increase oil drilling taxes.

Here is a review of climate and energy initiatives, measures, and state constitution amendments on the ballot this November 3, drawn from Ballotpedia and Earther's Dharna Noor:

Statewide

Alaska Ballot Measure 1, the North Slope Oil Production Tax Increase Initiative: The campaign Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share proposed the ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska's North Slope that exceeded certain output minimums. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—met those criteria. BP ($4.54 million), Conoco Phillips ($4.70 million), Hilcorp Energy ($4.3 million), and ExxonMobil ($3.74 million) are funding the campaign to defeat Measure 1.

California Proposition 15, the Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative, would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price, overturning part of 1978's Proposition 13.

"Oil and gas companies are among the biggest forces lobbying against this measure because they could stand to lose out on a lot of money if it passes," according to Noor. For example, Contra Costa County, the home of Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, would gain about $400 million a year in property taxes.

Opponents are falsely claiming Prop 15 would harm California's solar industry.

Louisiana Amendment 2, the Include Oil and Gas Value in Tax Assessment of Wells Amendment: This amendment would allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes. It is supported by Louisiana's oil and gas industry.

Louisiana Amendment 5, the Payments in Lieu of Property Taxes Option Amendment: amends the state constitution to authorize local governments to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with new or expanding manufacturing establishments -- such as the oil and gas facilities -- and allowing the manufacturing establishments to make payments to the taxing authority of whatever amount instead of paying property taxes.

This amendment is widely opposed by environmental, religious, and other civic organizations.

"The main lobbying force behind this measure is Cameron, a liquified natural gas firm," writes Noor. "Last year, based on a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, the company paid just $38,000 in taxes. But if it had to pay their full taxes, it would have paid $220 million. The company’s agreement is now expiring, so it’s fighting to make it—and other agreements like it—last forever."

These kinds of industry tax breaks are why Louisiana stays poor forever, explains Together Louisiana:

Michigan Proposal 1, the Use of State and Local Park Funds Amendment: makes changes to how revenue in the state's park-related funds can be spent, including (a) making projects to renovate recreational facilities eligible for grants and (b) requiring that at least 20% of the parks endowment fund spending be spent on park capital improvements, and (c) removing the cap on the size of the natural resources trust fund. The initiative has split the climate movement in the state, as the measure "would allow Michigan’s Parks Endowment Fund to sell off oil and gas leases on public lands," Noor writes. "After that fund is full, any additional oil and gas money would go into a Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is also used for natural resources protection and recreation."

The Michigan Democratic Party, conservation organizations, and the Michigan Oil and Gas Association support the measure, but the Michigan Sierra Club and the Environmental Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party stands in opposition.

Nevada Renewable Energy Standards Initiative Question 6 (2020) is the required second vote on the initiative, passed in 2018, to add language to the Nevada Constitution requiring the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard to increase to 50 percent by 2030. In 2018, this ballot initiative was approved as Question 6, and therefore needs to be approved again in 2020 to amend the Nevada Constitution. On April 22, 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed Senate Bill 358 (SB 358), which was designed to require the same RPS percentage by 2030 as the amendment on the ballot.

New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 1, the Public Regulation Commission Amendment: changes the utility-oversight Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission. New Mexico's PRC is currently dominated by fossil-fuel supporters. Climate organizations overwhelmingly support the amendment.

"Supporters of the measure say that New Mexico is unlikely to meet its 100% clean energy target under its current system because the commissioners’ elections are so often riddled with corporate money," Noor writes. "Under the new system, a bipartisan nominating committee, which would include at least one representative from a local Indigenous group, would come up with a list of environmental experts from the state, and the governor could choose which ones to appoint."

Local

Albany, California, Measure DD, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7% to 9.5% and application of a 7.5% tax on water service, generating an estimated $675,000 per year for general services including disaster preparedness, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, emergency response and environmental services.

Berkeley, California, Measure HH, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7.5% to 10% on electricity and gas and a 2.5% increase to the gas users tax, generating an estimated $2.4 million per year for municipal services including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Boulder, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2C, Public Service Company Franchise, and Measure 2D, to Repurpose the Utility Occupation Tax: These initiatives would allow the city of Boulder to abandon its efforts to establish a 100% renewable-electricity municipal utility and instead enter a long-term monopoly agreement with Xcel Energy with less ambitious renewable targets.

Local climate organizations overwhelmingly oppose 2C.

Denver, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2A, Sales Tax to Fund Environmental and Climate-Related Programs and TABOR Spending Limit Increase: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city and county of Denver to levy an additional 0.25% sales tax generating an estimated $40 million per year to fund climate-related programs and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, thereby increasing the total sales tax rate in Denver from 8.31% to 8.56%.

Columbus, Ohio, Issue 1, Electric Service Aggregation Program Measure: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city to establish an Electric Aggregation Program, which would allow the city to aggregate the retail electrical load of customers within the city's boundaries, and allowing customers to opt-out of the program. If passed, the City of Columbus will develop a detailed plan for operation and management of aggregation; include in the plan a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy; and commit to encourage development of renewable-energy facilities in Central Ohio. AEP is financing the campaign in support of the initiative. If voters approve the aggregation program, AEP Energy would lock in most of Ohio’s largest city as its power customer for up to 15 years; the program would be the largest outside California, the company says. The initiative is also strongly backed by local and national environmental organizations and trade unions. The Ohio Coal Association stands against the proposal.

Portland, Oregon, Measure 26-219, Uses of Water Fund Charter Amendment: A "yes" vote supports amending the city's charter to authorize the city council to spend monies from the Water Fund and increase rates to cover expenses for general public uses, such as neighborhood green areas and community gardens.

The various other tax, policing, infrastructure, and campaign finance initiatives on the ballot have climate justice implications, as do, of course, the candidate elections.

Report: Big Law Overwhelmingly Supports Big Carbon

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 01 Oct 2020 21:11:00 GMT

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard is the first to detail the scale of top law firms’ role in the climate crisis. Using the best data available, the Law Students for Climate Accountability assessed litigation, transactional, and lobbying work conducted by the 2020 Vault Law 100 law firms—the 100 most prestigious law firms in the United States—from 2015 to 2019.

Their findings:

  • Vault 100 firms worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change: 286 cases compared to 27 cases.
  • Vault 100 firms were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry: $1.3 trillion of transactions compared to $271 billion of transactions.
  • Vault 100 firms lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies: for $36.5 million in compensation compared to $6.8 million in compensation.
There are four firms that have only engaged in pro-climate work in the covered period, earning an A grade:
  • Cozen O’Connor
  • Schulte Roth & Zabel
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
The worst firms include:
  • Paul, Weiss worked on as many cases exacerbating climate change as 62 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Allen & Overy was the legal advisor on more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than 78 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Hogan Lovells lobbied more for fossil fuel companies than 92 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Latham & Watkins is the only firm to be in the Top 5 Worst Firms for both transactions and litigation exacerbating climate change

The report also details the work that Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, Vinson & Elkins, Gibson Dunn, Baker Botts, and Greenberg Traurig did on behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, including numerous efforts to crack down on the water defenders.

The group is calling on law students and firms to take the Law Firm Climate Responsibility Pledge to stop taking on new fossil fuel industry work, continue to take on renewable energy industry work and litigation to fight climate change, and to completely phase out fossil fuel work by 2025.

Top 5 Worst Firms for Litigation
  • Paul Weiss: 21 cases (7x the average)
  • Gibson Dunn: 18 cases
  • Sidley Austin: 16 cases
  • Latham & Watkins: 13 cases
  • Tie: Baker & Hostetler / Baker Botts / Munger, Tolles: 10 cases
Top 5 Worst Firms for Transactions
  • Allen & Overy: $153,365,000,000 (15x the average)
  • Vinson & Elkins: $108,217,000,000
  • Latham & Watkins: $94,815,000,000
  • Clifford Chance: $83,708,000,000
  • Milbank: $59,180,000,000
Top 5 Worst Firms for Lobbying
  • Hogan Lovells: $7,085,000 (24x the average)
  • Akin Gump: $6,820,000
  • Squire Patton Boggs: $4,755,000
  • McGuire Woods: $2,320,000
  • Steptoe & Johnson: $1,920,000

Download the full report.

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