Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Climate alliance suspends Exxon over lobbyist comments | Interior says 35 agency staffers have died from COVID-19 | More than 400 groups ask Biden to appoint environmentalist to energy panel

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TGIF!!! Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day’s energy and environment news. 

Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin . Reach Zack Budryk at zbudryk@thehill.com or follow him at @BudrykZack

Today we’re looking at the Climate Leadership Council’s response to the Exxon recordings, the cost of COVID-19 among Interior Department staff and a push by environmentalist groups on a seat on the federal energy commission.

EXIT MOBIL: Climate alliance suspends Exxon over lobbyist’s comments on carbon tax support

The bipartisan Climate Leadership Council announced Friday that it has suspended ExxonMobil months after a lobbyist for the company told an undercover activist it only backed a carbon tax for the good publicity.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to suspend ExxonMobil’s membership in both the Council and Americans for Carbon Dividends, our advocacy arm,” CEO Greg Bertelsen said in a statement Friday. “We continue to believe that we will establish lasting climate solutions by bringing together a broad and diverse group of stakeholders who can work together to address this enormous challenge. This will continue to be our guiding principle.”

In the June recording, senior lobbyist Keith McCoy told a Greenpeace activist “the cynical side of me says, yeah, we kind of know that but it gives us a talking point that we can say, well what is ExxonMobil for? Well, we’re for a carbon tax.”

Exxon was a founding member of the organization in 2017.

Exxon’s side: The Climate Leadership Council’s “decision is disappointing and counterproductive,” Exxon said in a statement to The Hill. “It will in no way deter our efforts to advance carbon pricing that we believe is a critical policy requirement to tackle climate change. It’s more important than ever for organizations to work together to advance meaningful policy solutions to address shared challenges and society’s net zero ambitions.”

The company also pointed to the council’s comments in the immediate wake of the recording, when it said, “ExxonMobil has helped bring other organizations on board in support of carbon pricing, and its senior executives regularly join us on Capitol Hill to advocate for this climate solution.”

Read more about the decision here:

TO THE LOST: Interior Department says 35 agency staffers have died from COVID-19

The Interior Department confirmed 35 employees have died from COVID-19 as of Friday, prompting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to reimpose a departmentwide mask mandate.

“At Interior, 34 members of our agency family have died from COVID-19,” Haaland said in a video released Friday.

In a tweet, department spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said one more staffer has died since the video was recorded earlier this week.

“More than 3,900 [Interior employees] have reported contracting the illness, and the numbers are actually going up,” Haaland added. “Though many people are vaccinated, our country still faces increased rates of COVID-19 infections and more aggressive variants.”

Schwartz added that the number of infections has also increased since Haaland recorded the video, surpassing 4,000 as of Friday.

What’s next?: Haaland confirmed in her message that the department will resume mask-wearing in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“Each state and community faces different threats, so if you are in an area with substantial to high COVID transmission rates, everyone — employees, contractors and visitors — must wear a mask in all federal buildings no matter your vaccination status,” Haaland added.

She went on to pledge to provide continual updates on vaccination guidance in accordance with the general guidance for federal employees outlined by President Biden this week.

An Interior spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the department will implement a process in the coming weeks for employees and contractors, as well as some visitors, to confirm their vaccination status.

Read more about the announcement here:

THANKS FERC SHARING: More than 400 advocacy groups ask Biden to appoint environmentalist to energy commission

A coalition of more than 450 environmental groups called on President Biden to appoint one of three candidates with pro-environment track records to replace a Republican commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In a letter to Biden, 466 groups identified three potential candidates to replace Neil Chatterjee, who was appointed by then-President Trump in 2017. Although he was named chair of FERC in both August 2017 and again in October 2018, he was removed from the chairmanship by Trump in 2020 after endorsing a carbon-pricing system. Chatterjee’s term was set to expire this June.

Potential replacements floated in the letter include former Georgia Public Service Commission candidate Daniel Blackman; former Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw; and Clean Energy for Biden national co-chair Nidi Thakar.

What do they have in common?: All three hold policy positions that the letter describes as “crucial” to the future of U.S. energy infrastructure, including opposition to new fossil fuel development, support of integrating renewable and decentralized energy into the grid, and a commitment to environmental and energy justice.

“FERC has the power to approve or deny permits for new pipelines and export facilities,” the letter states. “Given that authority, it is critical that you appoint a new commissioner with a demonstrated commitment to phasing out fossil fuels, and who has a track record of addressing and reducing pollution in communities that have been harmed first and most by the extractive economy, including communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-wealth communities.”

Read more about the letter here:

WHAT WE’RE READING:

A Black community in Northeast D.C. is surrounded by industrial pollution. The city plans to add more, The Washington Post reports

Where Republicans Are Starting to Worry About Big Oil, Politico reports

Republican Bill Cassidy’s push to address climate change ‘resilience’ in the infrastructure bill, The Washington Examiner reports

FDA raises alarm over PFAS-tainted food containers, E&E News reports

Analysis: Winter is coming: temperature extremes fuel global gas rally, Reuters reports

ICYMI: Stories from Friday…

Climate alliance suspends Exxon over lobbyist’s comments on carbon tax support

Interior Department says 35 agency staffers have died from COVID-19

More than 400 advocacy groups ask Biden to appoint environmentalist to energy commission

Exxon lobbyist tells undercover activist company sees plastic as ‘growing business’

OFFBEAT BUT (SOMEWHAT) ON-BEAT: Coal comfort

Tags Bill Cassidy Deb Haaland Donald Trump Joe Biden Neil Chatterjee
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