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Climate politics: the view from Washington

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By Joel B. Stronberg

· 9 min read

The past week in Washington saw the expulsion of a member of the House—George Santos—for only the sixth time in U.S. history. The expulsion vote followed on the heels of the House Ethics Committee report accusing Santos of “defrauding donors and enriching himself with his campaign.” The fallen representative is facing a slew of 23 federal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and lying to Congress.” Among other things, Santos was found to have used campaign funds for Botox injections and Ferragamo footwear.

House Speaker Johnson told Republican House members they were free to vote their conscience. Although Johnson and 111 other House Republicans voted against the expulsion motion, 105 GOP representatives joined with 206 Democrats. An expulsion requires a two-thirds majority.

Notwithstanding statements about his not being found guilty in a court of law, it’s likely that the slim Republican House majority was a major factor in the thinking of Johnson and others when it came time to vote. A special election will be held. In the meantime, the GOP House majority is down to eight—making it more difficult for Johnson to pass legislation without Democratic support.

The Hill is reporting that the Republican House majority may be getting thinner still with the intended resignation of Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), who has been hired to head up Youngstown State University. It’s now official that former Speaker McCarthy will be leaving Congress midterm at the end of the year. 

McCarthy remains royally p****d over his ousting. He’s following a well-trod path. Foremer Republican Speakers Boehner and Ryan packed up after having tired of dealing with the Freedom Caucus. The last straw that may have cemented his decision to leave is the willingness now of the uber-conservative House Freedom Caucus to accept the $1.59 trillion federal budget number that he negotiated with President Biden and was booted by way of thanks.

McCarthy is not alone in his fury. Other members of the Republican House conference are wondering why they went through over three weeks of turmoil to end up where they first began—with the exception of a new speaker.

Should McCarthy resign from the House before the next election, the GOP’s nine-vote majority would shrink to six, with the exits of Santos and Johnson. The numbers may go back up again—as both McCarthy’s and Johnson’s districts are safely Republican. However, the vacancies will precede the elections, leaving Johnson with a weaker hand.

The focus of the FY2024 appropriations debate is now squarely on the 12 bills.  

The Freedom Caucus has now indicated its acceptance of the total $1.59 trillion that Biden and McCarthy agreed to in September. The Caucus’s acceptance removes a major problem for House Speaker Johnson—making it arguably possible to meet the January and February deadlines in the two-step Continuing Resolution passed by Congress just before the Thanksgiving recess. (See here for the specifics of the CR) The focus of the appropriation debates is now squarely on the twelve appropriation bills.

House and Senate passed FY2024 appropriation bills


Below are the appropriations for the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs and the totals for Interior, Environment, and related agencies. I’ve listed the dollar amounts as examples to show the considerable differences between the House and Senate versions.

The Senate bills have bipartisan support, whereas the House bills were passed along party lines. Total appropriations are central—however, equally important is the language of the legislation.

The House looks to limit severely the regulatory actions of the Environmental Protection Agency, supports fossil fuels, and curtails EERE programs that support clean energy alternatives—including the efforts to clawback Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funds.

The bills will go to a Senate and House conference committee for reconciliation. The differences between the bills are considerable. Readers should note that Congress has until the January 19, 2024 deadline to pass the reconciled bill.

Should the House or Senate reject the reconciliation numbers, Congress must pass another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the agencies open. Speaker Johnson told Republicans no more CRs when he was whipping votes in support of the resolution.

The Freedom Caucus may force the issue, putting Johnson in the position of having to rely on Democrats for the passage of the reconciled legislation. Should that happen, Johnson could be faced with a motion to vacate the chair for the same reasons, e.g., collaboration with Democrats, that conspired to oust McCarthy from the speakership.

House appropriations

The House of Representatives met to consider H.R. 4394, The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The House approved the measure by a vote of 210 to 199.

The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies bill provides $56.958 billion in discretionary spending, $2.963 billion below the FY24 President’s Budget Request. 

The House appropriations bill rescinds $5.58 billion of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

EERE would receive $2.994 billion for FY2024, including several programs the administration proposes to fund separately. The House level would constitute a decrease of $466 million (-13%) from the FY2023 amount and $1.798 billion (-38%) below the president’s request. The House committee bill would rescind $5.700 billion in previous EERE energy efficiency appropriations in the Inflation Reduction Act (P.L. 117-169).

Total cuts for EERE would amount to around 42 percent.

The total budget for Interior, Environment, and related agencies is $25.417 billion. (HR 4821)

Senate appropriations

The Fiscal Year 2024 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act provides $58.095 billion in total funding for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and independent agencies.

The bill provides $3.686 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, $227 million above fiscal year 2023. It includes increased funding for wind energy, water technologies, and advanced manufacturing to strengthen our global leadership in renewable energy technologies and manufacturing.

The total EERE budget reflects an increase of $227 million over FY2023.  

The total budget for Interior, Environment, and related agencies is $42.86 billion. (S. 2625)

  • Biden administration releases proposed tax credit rules for electric vehicles (EVs) with prohibitions on vehicles with components made in China and other targeted countries.

The White House tightened domestic sourcing requirements within the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which prevents EVs from qualifying for the full federal rebate if a certain percentage of their components or raw materials are produced by a “foreign entity of concern,” namely China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The Treasury Department announced proposed regulations governing EV tax credits. The proposed rules would bar EVs from qualifying for subsidies if their batteries are made in China or with Chinese materials.

The updated guidelines will also prevent U.S. automakers from relying solely on technology licensed from businesses in one of the previously mentioned countries, largely in response to a now-suspended partnership between Ford and Chinese battery manufacturer CATL.

As reported by E&E News,Automakers, environmentalists, and some lawmakers greeted proposed rules for lucrative electric vehicle tax credits with a sigh of relief, saying the administration’s strategy will likely allow some cars and trucks to qualify for the rebates.

“An auto industry trade group Friday said the proposed rules, which aim to block hostile countries and companies from EV supply chains, wouldn’t undercut the 20 vehicles that currently qualify.”

However, “the Treasury Department’s proposal hit a sour note with Republicans, some mining companies, and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who helped write the tax credit provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Manchin has taken exception to the proposed provisions that make exceptions for certain trace critical minerals, which the Treasury Department said comprise less than 2 percent of essential minerals used in batteries.

According to Manchin:

“The proposed Treasury rules on Foreign Entities of Concern are another example of the Biden administration clearly breaking the law to try to implement a bill that it could not pass.”

Expect Manchin to try to block the regulations from becoming final through a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution.

Impeachment of President Biden

According to The Hill, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) boosted the House GOP’s efforts to hold a vote on an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, saying Congress “has a duty” to bring the issue to the floor.

Johnson based his statement on what he called “evidence so clear” that “you cannot look away.” In an interview on Fox & Friends Weekend, he also indicated that “The Constitution requires the House to follow the truth where it leads. We have a duty to do this. We cannot stop the process.”

There seems to be some disagreement over what the investigation has turned up, to-date, on President Biden. Witnesses that have testified before the House Oversight Committee have indicated that there is no there, there when it comes to the president. The actions of Biden’s son Hunter may be a different matter.

The impetus for Johnson jumping on the impeachment bandwagon seems mostly to be his belief that it will be viewed by the uber-conservatives as a quid pro quo—at least a partial one—for their no longer opposing the $1.59 billion total appropriations figure negotiated by McCarthy and Biden in September. Johnson’s willingness is also geared to appeasing and appealing to ex-President Trump.

There is a difference of opinion within the Republican House conference as to the wisdom of impeaching Biden. Moderates believe it will be viewed by voters as spite and performative politics by the GOP leading to losses in the 2024 congressional elections.

COP28 US commitments

As reported by Bloomberg: “The U.S. will pledge $3 billion toward a United Nations fund meant to help developing countries slash greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change — an effort that could help rebuild trust in rich nations’ promises of aid amid pivotal climate talks in Dubai.

The pledge of support for the Green Climate Fund, described by State Department officials ahead of a planned speech by Vice President Kamala Harris at the COP28 summit Saturday, would come on top of $9.3 billion in new commitments by the UK, France, Germany, Japan and other nations.

President Biden may have trouble making good on the $3 billion pledge given Republican opposition—particularly in the House. Any promises by the administration are somewhat suspect by other nations and climate activists, given the possibility of a second Trump administration.

It doesn’t take a seer to predict that Trump will announce on Day 1 of his second administration that the US will no longer be a signatory on the Paris climate accord and the negation of any dollar assistance proposed by President Biden.

That’s it for this edition of Climate Politics: The View from Washington.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Joel B. Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney and the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients.

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