OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA nominees may face challenging Senate confirmation path | Bipartisan bill aims to help solar producers take advantage of tax credit | Greens urge Biden away from Treasury picks with fossil ties 

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA nominees may face challenging Senate confirmation path | Bipartisan bill aims to help solar producers take advantage of tax credit | Greens urge Biden away from Treasury picks with fossil ties 
© istock

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.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

ADMINISTERING AN ADMINISTRATOR: Filling the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be one of the more challenging Senate confirmation efforts facing the incoming Biden administration as the team eyes picks that have been vocal Trump administration critics.

ADVERTISEMENT

The EPA is expected to play a vital role in a Biden administration determined to change the U.S course on climate change and sharply reduce emissions. 

Among those on the list to lead the agency are Mary Nichols, currently the head of the California Air Resources Board, National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara, former EPA regional administrator Heather McTeer Toney, and Dan Esty, a Yale University professor who previously held senior roles at the EPA during former President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Nichols, one of California’s top environmental regulators, has been through a confirmation battle before, securing the nomination to lead the Office of Air and Radiation under the Clinton administration.

But this process could be different, and Democrats haven’t been shy about voicing concerns over the leverage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) will hold over the process assuming Republicans win two Senate runoff elections in Georgia and keep the majority.

“I take McConnell at his word. I understand he said that he will make it clear who he's prepared to support and not support and that's a negotiation that I'm sure we'll have,” President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room MORE told reporters Tuesday.

The candidates...

Nichols: Nichols has earned wide praise in the environmental community and many see her as the front-runner for the position.

But the so-called Queen of Green has also not kept a low profile during the Trump administration. 

California has been one of Trump’s biggest foes, suing the administration 56 times over environmental rollbacks or other similar issues, including a decision to strip the state of its ability to enact tougher vehicle emissions standards.

Though Nichols could face more Senate resistance than some picks, one senior Obama-era political appointee familiar with the candidates on the list called her the best pick who “could handle the technical side of the job and also the political side of the job.”

O’Mara: O’Mara comes into the mix with strong Delaware ties, having served as secretary for the state’s department of natural resources. He’s led the National Wildlife Federation since 2014, a conservation group that normally deals with issues under the purview of the Department of the Interior.

But under O’Mara the group has also frequently criticized a number of Trump environmental rollbacks that have taken place under the EPA. 

Still, sources say he has good relationships with more moderate Senate members that could help advance his nomination, particularly given his organization’s work on a number of popular bipartisan conservation bills. 

Toney: Toney, a former Atlanta-based regional EPA administrator, was appointed by former President Obama in 2014 after a stint as the first African American, first woman and youngest mayor of Greenville, Miss.

Betsy Southerland, who was director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water under the Obama administration, said Toney could be a good pick given the breadth of experience she already would have had at the agency.

“She has a strong background in air but as regional administrator she would have touched everything,” Southerland said.

Esty: Esty, the Yale professor previously served as commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. His time at the EPA came under the George H.W. Bush administration, but he also served on the Obama campaign’s 2008 transition team.

Read more about the potential nominees and the hurdles some of them could face here

HERE COMES THE SUN: A new bipartisan bill aims to help the solar energy industry take advantage of a tax credit.

The House legislation introduced Thursday by Reps. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) and Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) would temporarily make the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) refundable, meaning that the amount of money that solar producers receive from the tax credit may exceed the amount that they owe in taxes. 

It would also slow the credit’s phasedown, under which the maximum amount solar producers could receive under the tax credit gradually reduces, by one year. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The legislation was praised by a solar industry trade group as a way to help an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

“This bipartisan legislation would help address key issues facing the solar industry as a result of the COVID crisis, and support hardworking men and women deploying clean solar energy across the country,” said Jeremy Woodrum, director of Congressional Affairs, Solar Energy Industries Association, in a statement. “Enacting these pro-solar measures would go a long way toward jumpstarting clean energy projects and easing some of the economic impacts of COVID-19.”

The legislation doesn’t currently have a Senate companion bill, but some Senate Republicans have indicated support for giving companies more time to take advantage of the ITC credit. 

Read more about the legislation here. 

MAILBAG: A coalition of major environmental groups is pushing the Biden camp to avoid future Treasury Department picks with connections to the fossil fuel industry.

A letter from Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of 130 organizations including environmental groups and some financial institutions, sent a letter to the transition team offering a checklist for potential appointees. 

“A key first step for your administration to address the climate crisis is to ensure that all financial-sector appointees to your Administration are fully vetted regarding their commitment to shifting at full speed into economic principles and practices which completely support renewable energy and fully divest from the fossil fuel industries,” the organization wrote in a letter.

ADVERTISEMENT

The group stressed the need for candidates to “have a proven ability to creatively apply the tools of government” and a willingness to put pressure on financial institutions to prepare for climate change. 

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Audubon Society hit by claims of ‘intimidation and threats,’ Politico reports

A whistleblower speaks out over excavation of Native sites, High Country News reports

How One Firm Drove Influence Campaigns Nationwide for Big Oil, The New York Times reports

Brazil president warns Biden of 'gunpowder' reaction if US imposes sanctions over Amazon deforestation, we report

Biden EPA transition team member helped DuPont dodge responsibility for PFOA, The Intercept reports