Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver

HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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NEW RENEWABLE NEWS: The House on Thursday passed a broad bill that aims to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as part of an attempt to combat climate change. 

The chamber approved the 900-page Clean Energy and Jobs Innovation Act in a 220-185 vote. 

The legislation would create research and development programs for solar, wind, advanced geothermal energy and hydroelectric power as well as lessening pollution from fossil fuel production. 

It would also establish more rigorous building codes and bolster energy efficiency requirements and weatherization programs. 

The bill moved rapidly through the House. It was first introduced last week and did not go through any legislative hearings.

A similar energy innovation package that was introduced in the Senate earlier this year has recently been reenergized after legislators came to an agreement on an amendment seeking to phase down the use of a type of greenhouse gas. 

A senior House Democratic aide told The Hill that if the Senate passes its own bill, the chambers can go to conference to resolve their disagreements. The aide said that House Democrats urge Republicans to take some action on clean energy, either moving by their own bill or taking up the House bill.  

Speaking in favor of the House legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised it as one step in the fight to tackle climate change. 

"It takes actions that scientists, researchers and experts tell us is needed by launching the research and development needed to unleash a clean energy revolution and reduce pollution in our communities, making a bold down payment for future climate action by modernizing America's energy innovation infrastructure," she said. 

The top Republicans on the Natural Resources, Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees released a joint statement criticizing the legislation this week. 

"Here we are in the middle of a global pandemic and Speaker Pelosi wants to spend more than $135 billion on a piece of legislation that will never become law," said Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). "This bill is chock-full of government mandates that would raise what Americans pay for everything from the vehicles they drive to what they pay to heat, cool, and power their homes." 

Read more about the bill's passage here. 

SAY YOUR GOODBYES: The CEO of the company behind the proposed Pebble Mine has announced his resignation after an environmental group released comments that he made describing a close relationship with public officials. 

CEO Tom Collier of the Pebble Limited Partnership will step down after he "embellished both his and the Pebble Partnership's relationships with elected officials and federal representatives in Alaska, including Governor Dunleavy, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and senior representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers," said a statement from Pebble's parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals. 

"The comments were clearly offensive to these and other political, business and community leaders in the state and for this, Northern Dynasty unreservedly apologizes to all Alaskans," the statement read. 

In case you forgot, an environmental group this week published tapes of conversations between Pebble and Northern Dynasty execs and investigators pretending to be potential investors. 

In tapes published this week by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Collier said he and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) are "pretty good friends" and said that the governor's chief of staff formerly sat on a committee that advised Collier on matters related to the Pebble Mine. 

"I've flown down to Juneau where the governor's mansion is and had private dinners with him in the mansion. So the governor and I are pretty good friends," he said.

Northern Dynasty CEO Ronald Thiessen also discussed access to the White House and using the governor's office for said access. 

"We can talk to the chief of staff at the White House any time we want," he said, but warned that there are records about who the White House chief of staff has calls with and said that it's better to go through Alaska's governor.

"It's better for us if we want to push that envelope that Tom talks to the Governor of the State of Alaska and the Governor of the State of Alaska picks up the phone and calls the Chief of Staff to the White House," Thiessen said. 

Collier also made comments about what he believed to be support for the mine from Alaska's two senators, including saying that the chairman of the company's board rents an apartment from a staff of Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).  

"We have a very close relationship with one of his top advisors who in fact - our - the guy who was my predecessor, John Shively, rents an apartment in Alaska from his, from Sullivan's state director. And the two of them have worked together for 20 years so John knows her well and talks to her regularly," he said. 

Both also expressed optimism about support from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), with Thiessen saying that Murkowski's father accompanied him to London while Thiessen courted investors. 

In the tapes, Thiessen projected that the mine could be in operation for much longer than the 20-year period that's currently proposed, remaining in operation for 200 years. 

In the statement released Wednesday, Thiessen called the release of the tapes "unethical" but also criticized comments made within them. 

"The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made or the crass way they were expressed," he said. "On behalf of the Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans." 

And the subjects of the conversations were not pleased: 

The officials mentioned in the tapes disputed the comments made by the executives in statements to local news outlets. 

Dunleavy's office said that executives "embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels;" Sullivan said the comments contained fabrications and said "it's clear that the company executives are floundering;" and Murkowski has said she's not remaining "quiet in the corner."

Both Sullivan and Murkowski have also recently put out statements saying that a permit for the mine shouldn't be issued as it's currently proposed. 

The proposed gold and copper mine would be located in the world's largest commercial sockeye salmon producing region, and has divided conservatives, with prominent figures like Donald Trump Jr. and Tucker Carlson opposing it. 

Read more about Collier's resignation here.

I'M CALLING CORPORATE: Companies are increasingly setting their own goals for carbon neutrality in the absence of a federal plan to address global warming, bracing their business for the stark financial realities wrought by climate change.

But while the patchwork of climate goals may score points with consumers and increase pressure for major action, a corporate-led climate movement would still leave the U.S. lagging behind its global counterparts.

As Climate Week plugs along in New York, the United Nations announced Monday that the number of commitments from local governments and businesses to reach net-zero emissions has doubled in less than a year.

Morgan Stanley, AT&T and Walmart all set new climate goals in the past week, the latest in a string of companies with some $11.4 trillion in combined annual revenue whose goals range from ambitious plans to cut emissions to those that largely continue business as usual but seek to offset their pollution by buying carbon credits.

Tyler Wry, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business who has studied the business response to coronavirus and climate change, said he takes the pledges with "a healthy dose of skepticism."

"On one hand, I think it's great that the discourse is shifting towards taking climate change seriously," he said.

"It's just important that we don't take all of these statements at face value, that we actually have some sort of follow-up and hold these companies' feet to the fire around these commitments. Because it's really easy around these points like Climate Week to signal virtue and support and then not have follow-through because the day to day pressures of corporate decisionmaking don't always lend themselves to continued attention," he added.

The push for climate goals comes amid a broader effort from corporate America to stake out social issues to align their brand with and as studies paint a more dire picture of how climate change will affect a company's bottom line.

"Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy," the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a Wall Street watchdog, wrote in a landmark report earlier this month.

But companies' responses have been as varied as the businesses themselves.

Morgan Stanley, like many other major U.S. firms, has settled on a 2050 target for net-zero financed emissions, mirroring the hard-stop deadline for reaching net-zero emissions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

AT&T pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2035, and Walmart said it would do so by 2040, while acknowledging its plans for doing so are not yet fully fleshed out and rely on technology just beginning to reach the market.

Amazon, has said it will reach net-zero emissions by 2040, but has been open about the uncertainty surrounding its path to reaching that goal.

Read more about what the companies are up to here.

HOSTILE CLIMATE FOR NEW NOAA HIRES: House Democrats expressed opposition on Thursday to two new reported hires at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over their skepticism about the science behind climate change. 

A group of 85 Democrats led by Reps. Jamie Raskin (Md.), Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.) and Kathy Castor (Fla.) wrote to the heads of NOAA and the Commerce Department asking for the appointment of climatology professor David Legates to be withdrawn. 

"As the new deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction-reporting directly to the acting NOAA administrator-Legates would clearly be in a position to seriously damage the agency's scientific integrity," they wrote

Legates has cast doubt on climate science, writing a paper contradicting previous findings about the role that climate change plays in damaging polar bear habitats and has also pushed a discredited theory that the sun is responsible for climate change. 

Meanwhile, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) wrote a separate letter to express their "dismay" at the reported hiring of Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who has been vocal in questioning the science connecting climate change to extreme weather events, as NOAA's chief scientist. 

"Dr. 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 wrote. 

Maue has been critical of Democrats and assertions that climate change is exacerbating natural disasters.

In a now-deleted tweet he wrote, "seems the Democrats have coordinated their efforts to use the devastating California fires as an opportunity to score political points in the upcoming election by blaming them solely on climate change (and Trump).

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Many Superfund Sites are Dangerously Threatened by Climate Change, NBC News, InsideClimate News and The Texas Observer report

NJ Assembly passes nation's toughest ban on plastic and paper bags, NorthJersey.com reports

Forest Service employees ordered to scrub mentions of racism, social justice, E&E News reports

Ocean Heat Waves Are Directly Linked to Climate Change, The New York Times reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday (and Wednesday night)...

Biden picks up endorsement from progressive climate group 350 Action

Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver

Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials 

Nearly 40 Democratic senators call for climate change questions in debates

House passes sweeping clean energy bill 

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGES:

No, President Trump is not the 'environmental president,' writes Jacqueline Savitz, the chief policy officer at Oceana Action. 

Mary Anne Hitt , the national director of campaigns at the Sierra Club, writes in favor of clean energy

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