With help from Eric Wolff
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— Former Vice President Joe Biden is launching an effort to counter complaints from activists that his campaign has taken environmental issues for granted.
— President Donald Trump signaled the federal government would begin to reopen shuttered national parks and public lands around the country.
— Former Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to POLITICO on the coronavirus pandemic and why postponing this year’s U.N. climate conference might be beneficial.
WELCOME TO THURSDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. 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 politico.com/energy-podcast.
No surprise here — a lot of you knew the Earth Day trivia answer, but the win goes to Jenny Wang of kglobal. Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson is credited as Earth Day’s founder. Today’s trivia question: Who was the first former senator to then be elected president?
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BIDEN’S CLIMATE PUSH: Biden — now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president — is planning to build out “environmental justice” policies aimed at combating pollution that affects minority and poor communities, Pro’s Zack Colman reports. The new push is aimed at winning over supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and some on the environmental left who have said his campaign has taken environmental issues for granted.
A Biden campaign official told POLITICO that his $1.7 trillion climate change spending plan announced last year would be increased, especially to address the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and that it would come with more specific clean energy targets. But, Zack reports, Biden will have to do so while also making sure not to alienate the blue-collar voters more interested in economic issues than environmental ones.
“I wouldn’t trade places with Joe Biden for all the whiskey in Ireland right now. But if you’re going to be speaking to environmental justice communities, you’ve got to be talking about ‘just transition,'” said Anthony Rogers-Wright, policy coordinator with Climate Justice Alliance. That transition calls for shifting workers — particularly low-income workers and people of color — away from polluting industries and paying them higher wages to develop a clean economy.
Case in point: One of the major sticking points for Biden is the fracking industry — a practice some activists have called on Biden to ban. The Trump campaign targeted Biden this week for comments he made to a Pennsylvania radio station, though he said he would not shut down the state’s fracking industry. Biden instead reiterated that his plan calls for no new leases on federal lands. It’s an issue the party is not united on, Zack reports, as shown in a recent Pennsylvania poll where a slight plurality in the state opposed stopping fracking.
On Wednesday, Biden laid out nine “key elements“ of his clean energy plan, which keys in on how air pollution, which disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities, is linked to a higher risk of death from Covid-19, according to early research. The vice president also pledged to “hold polluters accountable” — something Sanders has long called for throughout his presidential bid. Biden said he will direct his EPA and Justice Department to pursue cases against polluters to the fullest extent permitted by law and signaled he could seek legislation to hold corporate executives personally accountable.
Biden’s backers: Biden also earned endorsements from former Vice President Al Gore and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday. Inslee — who ran against Biden in the early stages of the Democratic primary by focusing singularly on climate change — told The New York Times that he’s confident Biden is “willing to aim faster and higher” on climate policy than in the earlier stage of the primary.
COMING SOON: The Energy Department is expected to release today a delayed report from the Nuclear Fuel Working Group on domestic uranium production. Trump last year ordered the formation of a working group to look for ways to “reinvigorate the entire nuclear fuel supply chain.”
TRUMP CALLS FOR REOPENING PARKS: The federal government will begin to reopen shuttered national parks and public lands around the country, Trump said Wednesday. “Thanks to our significant progress against the invisible enemy, I am pleased to announce that in line with my administration’s guidelines for opening up America again, we will begin to reopen our national parks and public lands for the American people to enjoy,” Trump said at a White House event.
Pressed by Trump, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt threw in that the park facilities will begin to reopen “right alongside with the governors” as states individually ease restrictions, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports.
GREENS CHALLENGE FERC CLIMATE POLICY: Environmental groups lodged a legal challenge to how FERC weighs climate change when it evaluates applications for natural gas pipelines, Pro’s Gavin Bade reports. Food & Water Watch and Berkshire Environmental Action Team filed a challenge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where they contend that FERC is ignoring the 2017 D.C. Circuit decision in Sierra Club v. FERC that directed the agency to consider climate change impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act when approving gas pipelines.
OVERSIGHT DEMS PRESS WHEELER ON ENFORCEMENT: Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are requesting a briefing and documents related to EPA’s March memo on easing compliance with environmental regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the Democrats, led by Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Subcommittee Chairman Harley Rouda, call the guidance “a signal to polluters that they will not face any penalties for poisoning our air and water.” The Democrats ask for a briefing before May 1 on the decision-making process for the memo, how it’ll affect the environment and vulnerable communities, and its anticipated end date.
The Democrats also request documents from private industry representatives regarding potential changes to EPA enforcement actions from Feb. 26 until March 26, as well as copies of all incidences of non-compliance by a regulated industry on a rolling basis.
An EPA spokesperson called claims in the letter “false.” The spokesperson said the agency isn’t suspending enforcement of environmental laws and said the guidance does not allow any increases in emissions. “Calling the policy a ‘moratorium’ only continues to amplify false information and misunderstanding for the public,” the spokesperson said, adding that “making facility specific determinations at this time regarding the impact of this emergency would truly shut down EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance program.”
GAO CALCULATES UNUSED DRILLING PERMITS: The oil and gas industry held 9,950 unused drilling permits on federal lands as of the end of 2019, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday. The report, requested by House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), found wellhead inspections were down 14 percent in 2019 compared to 2016.
The report said that, according to Bureau of Land Management field office officials interviewed by GAO, operators applying for permits that go unused create additional demands on staff time and interfere with “certain BLM staff’s ability to fulfill other job responsibilities, including conducting well inspections.”
Grijalva said the report underscores a problem with Trump’s energy dominance agenda. “Forcing federal employees to drop what they’re doing to grant more oil and gas drilling permits that won’t even be used is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration,” Grijalva said. “This is government by corporation, pure and simple.”
In a letter to GAO responding to the report, acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond said the department is committed to improving oversight of the permitting program, while also noting “Applications for Permit to Drill” generate revenues for the BLM — which totaled $51 million in FY 2019.
JOHN KERRY TALKS CLIMATE: Former Secretary of State, ex-U.S. senator, and long-time environmental advocate John Kerry spoke earlier this week to your ME host about the U.N.’s climate talks and his effort to create a war-like mobilization effort to fight climate change:
— Kerry has attended his fair share of U.N. climate conferences over the years, but said he was supportive of the decision to postpone this year’s COP26. “Postponing this is probably beneficial, providing there’s a change of administration,” he said. “I think that this is a moment of truth for the entire U.N. process, which many of us worked on very, very hard for many years.”
— He said the coronavirus offered a wake-up call on climate. “The bigger message is really, ‘Hey, folks, wake up.’ You just saw what happened when you didn’t respond to science, to medical professionals, to experts, and you delayed and now you see exactly what it’s done. It shut down your economy, cost you lives, etc. That’s the lesson.”
— And Kerry, who has endorsed Biden, said he’s offered advice to the candidate about climate change when asked, and commended Biden’s approach to hearing new proposals. “I think it’s a very valuable process to keep looking at how you can refine your approach and strengthen, if you think it’s strengthening, and create a larger majority to try to get things done. I’m all for it.”
CRUDE PRODUCTION FALLS: U.S. crude oil production is down 100,000 barrels per day from last week, to 12.2 million bpd, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. The agency also calculated crude production is down 800,000 bpd from the end of March.
CO-OPS IN TROUBLE: The nation’s electric co-ops, which often must maintain miles of powerlines to support small numbers of customers, say they have been slammed by the decline in electricity consumption due to the drop in economic activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. A study released Wednesday by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade association, said co-ops anticipated a 5 percent decline in power consumption which, along with unpaid bills, could amount to $10 billion in losses though 2022. “As the economic impact of this pandemic spreads, electric co-ops will be increasingly challenged as they work to keep the lights on for hospitals, grocery stores and millions of new home office,” Jim Matheson, NRECA’s CEO, said in a statement.
STATE OFFICIALS BACK OUSTER OF LEE RAYMOND: Two top state finance officials who manage portfolios containing shares of JPMorgan Chase said Wednesday they supported an effort to oust Lee Raymond, a former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, from the bank’s board of directors, Pro’s Kellie Mejdrich reports. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Pennsylvania State Treasurer Joe Torsella, both Democrats, said they will vote against Raymond’s renomination to the board for what would be his 34th consecutive year. JPMorgan Chase renominated him in a 2020 proxy statement released April 6.
TRUMKA, MONIZ FORM LABOR-ENERGY PARTNERSHIP: Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s Energy Futures Initiative signed an agreement this week with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to create an effort, dubbed the Labor Energy Partnership, to provide policy analyses with solutions “to the technological, social, and regional barriers to implementing a 21st Century energy transition,” according to a release. The effort, which will be staffed by EFI and the AFL-CIO, will be guided by four principles, including that successful social solutions to climate change must be based on an “all-of-the above” energy source strategy.
— Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CEO Bill Johnson will retire June 30, Zack reports. Johnson’s retirement will cap his brief tenure overseeing the California electric utility’s bankruptcy process following disastrous wildfires, after joining in the spring of 2019. PG&E Board Chairman Bill Smith will serve as interim CEO.
— “Super-polluting methane emissions twice federal estimates in Permian Basin, study finds,” via InsideClimate News.
— “Without fanfare, Houston unveils Climate Action Plan, shooting for carbon neutrality by 2050,” via Houston Chronicle.
— “Earth Day: Greta Thunberg calls for ‘new path’ after pandemic,” via The Guardian.
— “Arctic will see ice-free summers by 2050 as globe warms, study says,” via USA Today.
— “Brothers duke it out from opposite sides of climate fight,” via E&E News.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!