Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy & Environment — White House announces new climate office

Welcome to Wednesday's Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we're looking at a new division of the Office of Science & Technology Policy with a climate focus, another Exxon lobbyist recording and the energy issue the Beto O'Rourke campaign thinks will help make him governor.

Programming note: We won't be publishing a newsletter on Thursday or Friday. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and we'll see you back here next week!

For The Hill, we're Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let's jump in.


Executive office to coordinate climate policies 

The White House is set to create a new division of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that will coordinate federal climate change policy.

The Biden administration will appoint Sally Benson, a professor of energy engineering at Stanford University, to head the newly created division, according to The Washington Post, which was the first to report the news. The Hill has confirmed the creation of the division.

What's its mission? In an announcement Wednesday, the White House said the OSTP Energy Division will be focused on planning the transition to renewable energy and ensuring the U.S. meets its target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The OSTP has also appointed Costa Samaras, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, to serve as principal assistant director for energy and chief adviser for energy policy at OSTP.

In her role as deputy director for energy and chief strategist for the energy transition, Benson will work closely with other officials such as White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and OSTP Deputy Director for Climate and Environment Jane Lubchenco.

"We have a 120-year-old energy system that was built over a long time period, and we're talking about very quickly changing that to a new system," Benson told the Post. "And this is a huge opportunity for American industry, for American workers, to lead."

"Science and technology have done things once thought impossible: making solar energy the cheapest energy and dramatically lowering the cost of wind power and batteries," OSTP Director Eric Lander said in a statement. "Now we need to do the same with smart grid technologies, clean hydrogen, fusion power, and more - to make carbon-neutral energy the cheapest energy, so it's always the easy choice - by driving the virtuous cycle of invention and deployment that brings down costs."

Read more about the new division here.



Lobbyist suggests climate change not 'catastrophic, inevitable' risk

A lobbyist for Exxon expressed doubt that climate change carries "catastrophic, inevitable risk" in remarks made earlier this month, which were obtained by the watchdog group Documented.

In the Nov. 9 remarks to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, lobbyist Erik Oswald states, "The way I look at it as a scientist is, all's I need to think about is, is there, is there a risk? Yes, there's risk. Is it catastrophic, inevitable risk? Not in my mind. But there's risk."

"And so if we're going to work on this, you know, as a, as a society, if we're going to work on this risk, then my only ask is, let's do it as efficiently as possible," Oswald continues in the recording.

What else did he say? "Find me the cheapest way to put the most CO2 in the ground," he says in reference to carbon-capture technology. "And that's what I'm willing to engage in a conversation on."

In the recording, first reported by The Washington Post, Oswald says the company thinks of such technology "not as the crusaders who are going to be the climate fix" but rather "looking at markets," comparing the business opportunities of a "green premium" to consumers' willingness to buy sugar-free foods.

Exxon leaders have said they acknowledge the reality of climate change and fossil fuels' contribution to it, and that they take the threat seriously. In October testimony before the House Oversight Committee, CEO Darren Woods testified that the energy company "does not ask people to lobby anything different than our publicly supported position."

Read more about the recording here.

O'Rourke seizes on Texas power grid 


Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) is seizing on Texans' concerns over their energy grid following the devastating winter storm earlier this year in his bid to oust Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

The O'Rourke campaign sees the grid as a solid wedge issue in the traditionally red state and will emphasize what it characterizes as failures by Abbott to protect his constituents from deadly temperatures and soaring power bills.

"People in their homes were literally freezing, and it was because their government had failed them," campaign manager Nick Rathod said in an interview. "They literally felt it, and that's why it resonates well with Texans."

And O'Rourke's already hitting the issue: O'Rourke launched his bid earlier this month talking about the February blizzard and deep freeze that has been estimated to contribute to as many as 700 deaths amid the power outages.

"I'm running for governor, and I want to tell you why," the 2020 presidential candidate said in a video. "This past February, when the electricity grid failed and millions of our fellow Texans were without power, which meant that the lights wouldn't turn out, the heat wouldn't run, and pretty soon their pipes froze and the water stopped flowing, they were abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them."

O'Rourke has also brought up the storm at campaign events, telling a crowd in Corpus Christi: "Some of you told me that you were without lights or heat or running water for more than a week."

Read more about the O'Rourke campaign's strategy here.


The Interior Department on Wednesday announced its approval of the second offshore wind project in federal waters off the coast of Rhode Island.

The South Fork wind project marks the second commercial-scale offshore project approved by Interior. It will be sited some 19 miles off Block Island and generate about 130 megawatts of wind power, according to the department. The first such project located off the shore of Massachusetts, broke ground last week.

"We have no time to waste in cultivating and investing in a clean energy economy that can sustain us for generations," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

"Just one year ago, there were no large-scale offshore wind projects approved in the federal waters of the United States. Today there are two, with several more on the horizon. This is one of many actions we are taking in pursuit of the President's goal to open the doors of economic opportunity to more Americans."

The announcement comes as the Biden administration has set a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power, amid a broader goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by the end of the decade. In October, the administration issued an offshore wind power roadmap that would have the green energy source installed along nearly the entire U.S. coastline in the years ahead.

Read more about the announcement here.



Offbeat and off-beat: Driven to distraction


That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's energy & environment page for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Monday.