Let this woman do her job
Big Oil is Slow-Walking Important Nominees
So the 2022 election season has finally come to an end (huge shout out to Davante Lewis who closed the election season last night with a ”stunning upset” win in the Louisiana public service commission race; he’ll be an important voice for renewable energy in an oil state) and the shape of the next two years on Capitol Hill has come more clearly into focus.
With the Democrats losing control of the House (mostly because of ineptitude in the New York state party, of all places), there won’t be much “progressive legislation” to speak of; in fact, it will be hard enough to get basic governmental functions (passing a budget, raising the debt ceiling) taken care of, since whoever ends up trying to drive the clown car that is the GOP House caucus will have to somehow bring Marge from Crossfit et al under some kind of effective control.
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That means that progress, such as it is, will come largely from Biden exercising “executive authority”—those powers that don’t require Congressional approval. They can be fairly expansive, but he shied away from using them much in the first two years, largely because he was trying to get his signature win—the Inflation Reduction Act—and so he didn’t want to offend his necessary 50th vote, Joe Manchin.
But Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia gave the Democrats 51 seats, and Krysten Sinema didn’t quite take back that win—she’ll register as in independent, but like Bernie Sanders and Angus King she’ll caucus with the Dems. (Until she decides not to). So Manchin will become marginally less important come January. Which would be a good thing, because he’s really abused his power—he stripped the Inflation Reduction Act of some of its core principles, and he has also prevented truly talented people from serving in public office.
Consider Sarah Bloom Raskin, nominated by Joe Biden to a seat on the Federal Reserve. An expert in climate risk to financial institutions, she would have given clearly needed guidance in the transition to a cleaner-energy economy. But Big Oil knew that, so they deployed the guy they’d given more money to than any other. Here was Manchin: “Her previous public statements have failed to satisfactorily address my concerns about the critical importance of financing an all-of-the-above energy policy to meet our nation’s critical energy needs,” he harrumphed. “I have come to the conclusion that I am unable to support her nomination to serve as a member of the Federal Reserve Board.”
The other great example—and the subject of this small essay—is Laura Daniel-Davis, nominated in June of 2021 to be assistant secretary of the Department of Interior for land and minerals management. She is clearly highly qualified for the job—as a letter from more than a hundred prominent women this week advocating for her confirmation points out, she was Chief of Staff to both Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar, and served in a leadership role at the Department during the Clinton administration. But in the 500 days since her nomination, and despite two full-bore confirmation hearings, she’s still awaiting a floor vote in the Senate.
We take it for granted, of course, that every Republican senator will vote in lock-step with the oil and gas industry: after all, they didn’t produce a single vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, even though it was about as business-friendly a bill as it was possible to imagine, all carrot and no stick. So that left Manchin, chair of the Energy Committee, and he refused to even schedule a vote on her nomination until he was assured that the Department of the Interior "intends to get back to the business of leasing and production on federal lands and waters in a robust and responsible way.” That is, until they repudiate what climate scientists have made clear (that we need to quickly wean ourselves off fossil fuel) and what Joe Biden ran on (that we would curtail fossil fuel leasing on federal lands). Eventually, last summer, Manchin allowed the vote to take place, and did back her—but likely knowing her nomination would then languish because, with an evenly divided Senate, each side gets the same number of members on committees, and each of the Republicans voted no.
To get her nomination approved, Chuck Schumer would in this lame duck session have to use what’s called a discharge petition, a cumbersome bureaucratic maneuver that tkaes up a lot of floor time. That’s why those women wrote that letter last week. “It is not an exaggeration to suggest that leaving this position vacant puts the commitments agreed to in the IRA at risk, not to mention the president’s clean energy and climate goals” they said. “For example, the White House has said it wants to pledge 30 gigawatts of new offshore wind energy by 2030,requiring the approval of 16 wind farms by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, one of the agencies under the ASLM’s purview. The Assistant Secretary will play a critical role in reviewing and approving the permits for these projects.”
They argue that women in particular have been bullied by Manchin and the Republicans in confirmation after confirmation over the last two years. Bloom Raskin is a clear case; Tracy Stone-Manning was eventually confirmed to lead the Bureau of Land Management, but only through via the discharge petition maneuver, and only after she’d been ludicrously accused of ‘eco-terrorism.’ My guess is that they’re simply not members of the old-boy networks that have long governed land policy; Big Oil understands that they’re bringing new thinking to bear, and it knows that their tactic of delay depends on squelching that new thinking.
So it’s a good day to write to Senator Schumer, or your Democratic senator, and urge them to put this on the to-do list for the lame-duck session. Maybe with Warnock’s win she’ll get approved after yet another set of hearings, but it would be nice to avoid that. Because the climate crisis is a timed test.
More news from the world of climate and energy
+In case you thought coal barons were confined to West Virginia, the Washington Post has a revelatory investigation of India’s Gautam Adani, one of the country’s richest men, whose ties to Narendra Modi mean that India will build far more coal power than it needs to, even as the price of solar power keeps plummeting
+Join us at Third Act in sending a holiday card to the CEOs of the giant banks, asking that they make a New Year’s resolution to stop funding the expansion of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, many thanks the PBS Newshour for laying out the argument for Third Act in compelling terms.
+Giant asset manager Vanguard, cowed by a few GOP money guys, has fled the net zero coalition it had joined a year ago. Al Gore has a few things to say about that timidity
+Ro Khanna’s House committee will have to end its investigations of the oil industry in the new Congress, but he has released the documents they’ve compiled. As the Washington Post explains
They reveal oil company executives dismissing the potential for renewable energy to quickly replace fossil fuels, while working to secure a future for natural gas. They also detail industry efforts to secure government tax credits for carbon capture projects that might relieve them of the need to drastically alter their business models.
+If you’re in the DC area, there’s a rally on Thursday to stop the proposed Willow petroleum complex in Alaska, a giant folly completely out of synch with any realistic climate goals. If you can’t make it, send a note to the White House urging them to stop this boondoggle.
+Harkening back to the early 18th century, Rishi Sunak’s infant UK Conservative government has approved a…brand new coalmine. The decision “cancels out all the progress Britain has made on renewable energy”, said Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader who is the party’s environment spokesperson and a member of Parliament from the Cumbria region where the mine is located.
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