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WE’VE GOT GEORGIA ON OUR MINDS:
LOOKING BACK: The incoming Senate Democratic majority opens new avenues for the incoming Biden administration to reverse a host of last-minute environmental rollbacks by President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies have finalized numerous rules in the last several months of Trump’s presidency, but Democrats can now consider going the legislative route to essentially rollback the rollbacks, sidestepping the lengthier rulemaking process.
Even the slim majorities in both chambers gives Democrats better prospects for accomplishing their goals by way of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to nix any regulations finalized in the previous 60 legislative days, stretching back to mid-August.
Within that time period, the Trump administration has finalized its so-called secret science rule, which could limit consideration of landmark public health research; gutted protections for migratory birds; limited habitat protection for endangered species; blocked future administrations from setting greenhouse gas regulations on many industries; and reduced the cost of drilling on public land.
The EPA recently boasted in a release that it has finalized 78 deregulatory actions during Trump's presidency.
Biden’s policy agenda will soon collide with those rollbacks.
Experts say Biden won’t be able to achieve his goal of putting the U.S. on track to meet net zero emissions unless many of the Trump regulatory actions are reversed.
Biden has already pledged to sign an order on Day One that would block any “midnight rules” from the Trump administration that have not yet taken effect, but those that have already been implemented will be much tougher to unwind.
The CRA was a legislative tool favored by Republicans in the early days of the Trump administration, used by a GOP-led Congress to strike down 14 regulations from the Obama era.
But Democrats have been more reluctant to use the CRA, partly because they’re more ideologically aligned with imposing regulations but also due to concern over statutory language in the CRA that then blocks the relevant agency from crafting another rule that’s substantially similar.
“There’s an issue of Democrats being opposed to the CRA on principle, but over the last year there’s been a conversation where folks basically acknowledged it’s a tool in the toolbox and that Trump’s policies are so awful that you can’t rule out the CRA,” said Matt Kent, a regulatory policy expert with Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group.
“This isn't something that the left all of a sudden thinks is great and is going to be using all the time. It’s going to be a targeted, really kind of a handful of actions, and there’s got to be communication between Biden, agencies and Congress. And they’re going to identify the rules that are the best candidates.”
There are signs that some congressional Democrats are preparing their own lists of Trump rollbacks to target with the CRA.
“One of the consequences of irresponsible governing is that the vast majority of the Trump administration's hallmark policies will be easily undone by the courts, by Congress or by the Biden administration itself. Several options are available to make that happen, including in some cases the Congressional Review Act,” an aide to Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperIs the Biden administration afraid of trade? Congress sends 30-day highway funding patch to Biden after infrastructure stalls Senate to try to pass 30-day highway bill Saturday after GOP objection MORE (D-Del.), who is set to be the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told The Hill.
“We are confident that the worst policies of the Trump administration — most of which are deeply legally flawed — can expeditiously and effectively come undone.”
Environmental groups are eager to help the Biden administration make that determination, sorting out which rules are better dismantled by the agency or in court rather than the CRA. But they too have fears about a provision in the law that could block the administration’s agencies from crafting a similar rule in the future.
“The catch you run into with the CRA is it’s a blunt instrument. It ties the hands of an agency going forward by preventing them from creating another similarly substantial rule. And because the CRA has been invoked so infrequently, there is not a ton of case law on what is ‘substantially similar,’” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director with the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group.
Read more about CRA pros and cons here.
AND LOOKING AHEAD: Now that Democrats will control both chambers of Congress and the White House, lawmakers see new chances to enact a range of climate change legislation.
Lawmakers and environmentalists anticipate pushing measures to promote clean energy, decarbonize the transportation sector and tackle environmental inequality.
But there are hurdles to achieving those goals, most notably the lack of 60 Democratic votes in the Senate to avoid a likely GOP filibuster. Democrats will also need to win over moderate members in their own caucus.
Still, the recent Senate runoff victories in Georgia that will give Democrats control of Congress starting Wednesday have given the party a renewed sense of optimism on climate legislation.
“Now the conversations are a little bit different,” said Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorSenators gear up for bipartisan grilling of Facebook execs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Manchin expresses his misgivings Pelosi says it would be a 'dereliction of duty' if infrastructure goes in 'wrong direction' on climate MORE (D-Fla.), who leads the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, during a virtual town hall last week. “We are now thinking in very ambitious terms.”
House Democrats are also energized by knowing that their bills will no longer languish in the Senate.
"There's a very big difference between what happened over the last four years -- where everything that the House passed, just sat in a graveyard on the Senate side and there was never any action on it -- versus legislation being brought to the floor and Republicans having to actually vote it down...especially the extent to which a lot of this is incredibly popular," said John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s global climate policy director.
Measures that could be brought to the floor in either chamber include a range of environmental and climate priorities.
A spokesperson for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said the panel’s priorities will include: working toward a zero-emissions future for the transportation sector; fighting against environmental inequality in marginalized communities; improving the country’s drinking water systems; and promoting biodiversity by protecting wildlife and preserving public lands.
Congressional climate committees last year put out reports detailing measures they’d like to take to reduce emissions.
Among those were Democratic-backed measures that included tax incentives for clean energy and emissions reductions, carbon pricing and setting federal clean energy standards.
They also promoted investing in zero-emission vehicles and increasing funding for public transportation.
But Democratic control of each chamber does not guarantee success.
One significant hurdle is the need for 60 votes to advance most legislation in the Senate.
While some environmental legislation, like last summer’s Great American Outdoors Act conservation bill, may have enough bipartisan support to meet that threshold, measures taking aim at the fossil fuel industry would face an uphill battle.
Another obstacle could be Democrats themselves.
In a recent interview with the Washington Examiner, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised Progressive coalition unveils ad to pressure Manchin on Biden spending plan MORE (D-W.Va.) expressed wariness of measures like a clean electricity standard.
“The market will take you there,” the incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman said. “We have moved the date farther ahead than we ever thought we would have, and we have done it without total mandates.”
Read more about the curves in the road ahead here.
A KEY FIRST STEP: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE is reportedly planning on canceling the permit for the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) first reported the news on Sunday after it obtained an apparent briefing note from Biden’s transition team. On the list of executive actions meant for Biden’s first day in office "Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit" reportedly shows up.
As the outlet notes, Biden indicated months ago that he planned on canceling the pipeline, though supporters of the project had been hoping he would change his mind. The project crosses over the U.S.-Canada border and has the support of the Canadian government.
"The Government of Canada continues to support the Keystone XL project and the benefits that it will bring to both Canada and the United States," Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman said in a statement.
"Not only has the project itself changed significantly since it was first proposed, but Canada's oilsands production has also changed significantly. Per-barrel oilsands GHG emissions have dropped 31 per cent since 2000, and innovation will continue to drive progress."
Read more about Keystone here.
BUTTING HEADS WITH BUTTIEGIEG? Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Build Back Better items on chopping block Buttigieg says delay in climate action will cost lives amid reports of Manchin roadblock Sunday shows - Buttigieg warns supply chain issues could stretch to next year MORE’s confirmation hearing for the role of Transportation secretary will be held Thursday.
Just a day after President-elect Joe Biden is slated for inauguration, Buttigieg will face questions from members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Buttigieg rose to national prominence while running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination before exiting the race and endorsing Biden.
If he’s confirmed, he’s expected to play a key role in helping to shape Biden’s climate change agenda by working to reduce emissions from the transportation sector.
Last month, he called for putting “millions of new electric vehicles on America’s roads" and building “public charging infrastructure powered by clean energy,” in a tweet.
Buttigieg may face questions on Biden’s plans to expand electric vehicle infrastructure, reduce transportation emissions and funnel more money to transit.
Read more on the hearing here.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Climate fight could doom efforts to make Big Oil pay, E&E News reports
Survey Finds Majority of Voters Support Initiatives to Fight Climate Change, The New York Times reports
Ben Goldey, comms director for gun-toting congresswoman quits, Axios reports
In Trump’s last days, a spree of environmental rollbacks, The Washington Post reports
ICYMI: Stories from Monday and over the weekend...
Buttigieg confirmation hearing slated for Thursday
Democrats eye action on range of climate bills
Biden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports
Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks