Analysis | In key House race in Illinois, climate change is on the ballot

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re excited about the new ice cream station in the Rayburn House Office Building, even if it closes too early for a late afternoon treat. 🍦 But first:

In key House race in Illinois, incumbent Democrats try to prove their climate credentials

Some of the biggest priorities for voters in the midterm elections are the economy, inflation, Ukraine and now, abortion.

But the climate crisis is taking center stage in a key House race in Illinois, where the two Democratic incumbents are criticizing each other’s records on global warming, an increasingly important issue for Democratic voters.

The race pits Rep. Sean Casten, a moderate who sits on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and previously ran an energy efficiency company, against Rep. Marie Newman, a progressive and self-described climate activist who supports the Green New Deal.

The primary has split major environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund and Climate Hawks Vote have lined up behind Casten, while Friends of the Earth Action is backing Newman.

The Sunrise Movement and 350 Action, two progressive climate groups that endorsed Newman in her 2020 primary race against congressman Daniel Lipinski, have not weighed in ahead of the June 28 primary.

“If you’ve been laser-focused on the same issue for 25-odd years, it’s not surprising that the groups that care about that issue are supporting you,” Casten said in an interview with The Climate 202.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else in Congress — much less in this race — who’s got the same breadth of understanding of how climate change affects every part of our lives, and what we need to do legislatively to fix it,” he added.

In a separate interview, Newman said she doesn’t view climate action in a silo, but rather tries to “embed it into everything that I do.”

Asked whether her record on climate is better than Casten’s, however, Newman demurred.

“I don’t know that it’s better; I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I appreciate that Congressman Casten speaks a lot on the topic. But I’ve been a climate activist for 25 years.”

One of Casten’s most memorable moments in Congress came last year, when he rapped on the House floor about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the tune of “Fergalicious” by Fergie.

Invoking the phrase “hot girl summer,” which was popularized by the rapper Megan Thee Stallion, Casten declared the start of “Hot FERC Summer” and launched a lively campaign to educate more Americans about the little-known federal agency.

In addition, the moderate Democrat has introduced nearly 20 climate and energy bills this term as chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition‘s Power Sector Task Force and co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition‘s Climate Change Task Force, including:

“This was definitely an endorsement where we wanted to signal how much Congressman Casten has led on these issues,” Craig Auster, vice president of political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told The Climate 202. “We feel it’s really important to continue to have his voice in Congress.”

Newman is a lead sponsor of the America’s Clean Future Fund Act, which would put a price on carbon emissions and use the proceeds for various climate programs. 

Newman also supports the Green New Deal, the progressive proposal that envisions phasing out fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions within a decade, while guaranteeing Americans well-paying jobs and high-quality health care.

She has signed the Green New Deal pledge, which requires candidates to support 10 bills in line with the proposal, including the Keep It in the Ground Act, which would permanently bar new fossil fuel leases on federal lands and in federal waters.

“Congresswoman Newman is an outspoken progressive who understands the urgency of the moment when it comes to the climate crisis,” Ariel Moger, government and political affairs manager at Friends of the Earth, told The Climate 202. “And she’s actually willing to address fossil fuels and supply-side issues and focus on fighting polluters.”

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Casten ended the first quarter of 2022 with nearly four times more cash on hand than Newman, the Chicago Tribune reported

Newman is also facing a probe from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is investigating whether she gave someone a job to prevent him from running in the primary against her. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Clean energy tax credits are on the table in Manchin’s bipartisan energy talks

At the bipartisan energy meeting convened by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday night, senators discussed tax credits for clean energy and clean vehicles — one of the central climate provisions of Democrats’ stalled reconciliation bill. 

However, there was no indication that Democrats and 10 Republicans would soon agree on a bipartisan energy package, as the clock ticks for Democrats to strike a deal on their party-line reconciliation package.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), one of the attendees, told reporters that participants mentioned a long list of tax credits that could be included in a possible bipartisan energy bill, including subsidies for carbon capture, offshore wind and electric vehicles.

The list “reads like what Santa looks at … on Christmas morning,” Cramer said.

Manchin told reporters that participants were simply “trying to understand” the climate and energy provisions in the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Manchin and Republicans.

“It’s a big lift, and we’re looking at everything,” he said.

Democratic attendees were tight-lipped, with the normally gregarious Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) declining to talk to reporters.

55 environmental groups, 144 EPA alumni urge Senate to confirm enforcement nominee

Citing a sharp decline in enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency, 55 environmental groups and 144 former EPA employees sent a letter to Senate leadership and the Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday urging them to swiftly confirm David Uhlmann, President Biden‘s nominee to lead the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance.

The advocates wrote that Uhlmann, former chief environmental crimes prosecutor of the Justice Department, would be critical to reversing a nearly 50 percent drop in 2018 through 2021 for civil inspections, criminal investigations and prosecution cases compared with 2002 to 2017, according to data they provided.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee approves Kigali Amendment

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. 

The global agreement would phase out hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are potent planet-warming gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. The Environmental Protection Agency is implementing bipartisan legislation that directs the agency to slash the use and production of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years.

“Kigali is critically important to securing U.S private sector competitiveness for next generation refrigeration and HVAC products, and it moves away from the use of antiquated, harmful pollutants,” Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement. 

Senate Environment panel advances major water bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, authorizing investments in new or existing flood control, navigation and ecosystem recovery projects and studies for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — a first since 2007.

The legislation was spearheaded by Chairman Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). 

U.S. plastics recycling rate falls below 6 percent, analysis finds

Americans are recycling fewer plastics despite global efforts to reduce pollution, according to an analysis published Wednesday by Beyond Plastics and the Last Beach Cleanup, The Washington Post’s Taylor Telford reports. The nation’s plastic recycling rate peaked at 9.5 percent in 2014 before falling below 6 percent in 2021, the research shows.

Plastics production contributes nearly 232 million tons of planet-warming emissions each year. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has a goal of reaching a 50 percent recycling rate by 2030, last published recycling data in 2020 that was based on rates through 2018, but it did not release an update last year. 

In an emailed statement, the EPA said it is “aware of the report and will review the data.” The agency said it expects to update its “Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling” webpage later this year.

Meat grown from fungus can protect forests — to a point

A study in the journal Nature found that moving away from animal meat consumption and toward meat substitutes made with microbes from fungus could avert half of the world’s deforestation by 2050 while also reducing emissions, Joshua Partlow reports for The Post. 

The land-saving effect, however, shrinks when more than 20 percent of global consumption of meat from grazing animals is replaced with the alternative, according to the study. 

South Africa climate finance deal could be replicated, treasury official says

John Morton, who serves as the Treasury Department‘s first-ever climate counselor, on Wednesday expressed optimism that wealthy nations could replicate an $8.5 billion deal aimed at helping South Africa transition away from coal.

The South Africa climate finance deal, which was announced at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland last year, could serve as a model for spurring the clean energy transition in Indonesia, Vietnam, India and other coal-dependent nations, Morton said during a virtual event hosted by the nonprofit Center for Global Development.

“I’m very optimistic about the notion of committing large amounts of capital to incentivize expedited energy transitions in high-emitting countries,” Morton said, adding that Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has had “very constructive” conversations with Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani.

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