House Science Committee’s taxpayer-funded email newsletter now features Breitbart, other deniers

The daily news email is compiled by an outside firm and sent to members and staff as a resource.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Drew Angerer

For months, daily news emails sent from the House Science Committee majority to members and staff have included links to outlets with a strong history of climate denial, such as Breitbart and the Daily Mail, as well as Koch-affiliated outlets like the Washington Free Beacon and the Daily Caller, ThinkProgress has learned.

The emails, which are not publicly available, fit into a pattern of the Republican-led House Science Committee embracing unscientific and highly partisan information. And, according to some experts, at least one email might have violated House ethics rules.

The daily emails are compiled not by House Science staff, but by an outside media monitoring company called Synoptos. According to its president, Andrew Einhon, emails are compiled by an editorial team that collects related news clips based on unique parameters for each client. The emails go through several rounds of editing, and are then sent to a few points of contact on the House committee to distribute internally.

Einhorn said they work to avoid including “anything that reeks of politics” or “anything coming directly coming from political parties or direct op-eds.”

But there seemed to be more leeway in terms of ideological bent. “In some cases, it is important to represent viewpoints,” Einhorn said in response to inclusion of links from sites like Breitbart or the Daily Caller. “It’s tough these days, especially when you have a well-read publication that has a certain bent and bias, but can you completely ignore it when it has a particular readership?”

The emails rarely feature articles from left-of-center publications, however. On December 1, ThinkProgress published a story about the House Science Committee’s official Twitter account sharing a misleading article from Breitbart News; that article was not mentioned in the following day’s email. On January 31, Rebecca Leber published a story for Mother Jones titled “House Science Committee takes a page from the Inquisition.” A link to that article did not appear in the February 1 news email. Mother Jones also published a story on March 29 detailing a House Science Committee hearing on climate science; the article did not appear in the March 30 news email. On May 18, ThinkProgress published a piece about House Science Committee Democrats writing a letter to President Donald Trump, in response to reports that his staff had been feeding him fake news about climate change. That story was not included in the May 19 press email (though a similar story published by Quartz was included).

The House Science Committee has used Synoptos to compile its daily news email for 14 years; during that time, Einhorn said that the committee has “never tried to direct our editorial selections and have remained non-partisan in the news coverage they seek.”

The House Science Committee did not immediately return ThinkProgress’ request for clarification on whether the committee ever edits the news email— including deleting particular links or sources — before they are sent from the committee’s official account.

CREDIT: House Science Committee News Email Archive

The vast majority of links included in the daily emails come from mainstream media sources like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Still, particular emails sent from the committee’s official email — even if compiled by an outside firm — include links to partisan websites with a history of climate misinformation or denial. In addition to Breitbart News, the Daily Mail, the Washington Free Beacon, and the Daily Caller, archives of the daily email accessed by ThinkProgress reveal links to articles published on sites like Russia Today and Before It’s News.

Breitbart, an alt-right news site with a track record of white nationalism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, has a long history of publishing climate science denial and misinformation. The Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid, also has a history of publishing climate misinformation; in February, the tabloid targeted NOAA researchers for their work looking into a so-called global warming “hiatus.”

Both the Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon are conservative outlets which regularly publish articles questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. Both outlets have either financial or personnel ties to petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have funded climate misinformation campaigns for years.

Russia Today is the international news arm of the Kremlin, an entity that the Christian Science Monitor described as a “propaganda machine.”

And Before It’s News bills itself as news community where “anyone can join” and “anyone can contribute.” Its front page currently features a story claiming that official NASA documents show that the agency is planning a massive culling of the population.

CREDIT: House Science Committee News Email Archive

On June 1, the day Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, the House Science Committee’s email featured a press release from the Friends of Science Society. The press release argued that NASA’s web page on the scientific consensus on climate change, which explains that 97 percent of actively-publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is both occurring and a result of human activity, should be updated to show wider debate within the scientific community.

In reality, an incredibly small minority of scientists debate that climate change is both occurring and a result of human activity; to elevate such a small minority would constitute false balance. Friends of Science is a Canadian non-profit group that receives a third of its funding from the oil industry. Its official position is that the sun is the primary driver of climate change.

And while spreading misinformation merely runs afoul of the House Science Committee’s general mission, one email may have actually violated House ethics rules by using official resources for political purposes. On Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the leading link in the email was to a pro-Trump press release created by the Republican National Committee (RNC). House ethics rules expressly prohibit using official resources for campaign or political purposes.

CREDIT: House Science Committee News Email, Archive

“To me, it would violate the rule, as it is partisan politics and encouraging partisan politics, and using taxpayer resources to do so,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told ThinkProgress.

According to Holman, while the link to the RNC webpage constitutes a violation of the House ethics rules, it’s not unprecedented, and would be unlikely to trigger any official investigation from the House Ethics Committee.

“The ethics committee has not stepped in and intervened and prohibited this type of activity, which means they are defining the rule very, very loosely,” Holman said.

According to Synoptos’ Einhorn, the RNC link was included in error and was not caught through the editing process.

Since taking over chairmanship of the Science committee in 2013, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has often used the committee as a means of furthering his own views on climate science. At a Heartland Institute conference on climate change held in March of 2017, Smith told the crowd that he feels the scientific method has been “repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.”

Smith was an early supporter of Donald Trump’s bid for the White House; Smith’s campaign committee donated $2,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign in late May of 2016, making him one of the first members of Congress to support Trump. During a speech on the House floor in January, Smith said that Americans should get their news “directly from the president,” rather than the “national liberal media.” Trump, like Smith, does not accept the mainstream consensus on climate change.

Under Smith’s leadership, the House Science Committee has regularly held hearings aimed at undermining the scientific consensus on climate change, or challenging scientific methods used by federal agencies or outside scientists. Smith, a prominent climate science denier, has used hearing after hearing to question the scientific consensus on climate change, often stacking witnesses sympathetic to his viewpoint to create the appearance of a lack of scientific consensus on climate change.

In March, Smith held a hearing that featured three scientists who reject the mainstream consensus on climate change, while inviting just one witness who accepted climate science. That witness was Dr. Michael Mann — director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and recent recipient of the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications, awarded each year by the Commonwealth Club of California, the nation’s oldest public affairs forum.

Mann has been an outspoken critic of Lamar’s chairmanship, charging him with intimidating climate scientists and spreading climate misinformation.

“Smith has a long-established history now of abusing his office to by promoting fake news and untruthful claims, engaging in smears against honest scientists, and serving as a mouthpiece for the polluting interests that fund him,” Mann told ThinkProgress.

Smith has also used his power as chairman of the House Science Committee to subpoena groups involved with climate science or climate-related investigations. In 2015, Smith issued a subpoena to the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asking for all internal notes, emails, and correspondence concerning a NOAA study which challenged the notion of a “global warming hiatus.” Smith also accused NOAA scientists of manipulating data to “advance [the Obama administration’s] extreme climate agenda.”

In 2016, Smith issued subpoenas to the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general, as well as the SEC, asking for documents related to their investigation of ExxonMobil. He also issued subpoenas to eight nonprofit environmental groups requesting all communications with attorneys general and other nonprofits “related to the issue of climate change.”

But, recently, the committee’s anti-science campaign has spilled from its chambers into its official communication channels. In December, the committee’s official Twitter account made headlines when it tweeted an article from Breitbart News claiming that a 1ºF (0.6ºC) drop in land temperatures disproved the concept of global warming. Land temperatures alone are not an accurate proxy for global temperature rise, as they ignore other sources, like the ocean, which has absorbed much of the planet’s warming.

The House Science Committee’s tweets are an embarrassment to science

Scientists were quick to publicly criticize the tweet, and the committee’s Twitter account has since featured more mainstream sources for its links.

Shielded from public view, however, the committee has continued to allow the inclusion of links from climate-denying sources in its daily press email.

“It’s disappointing that the Science Committee leadership seems to be more focused on discrediting and dismissing the overwhelming majority of the scientific community rather than mitigating the effects of climate change or supporting the research and development of innovative technologies,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), a member of the House Science Committee, told ThinkProgress in a statement. “I’ve long urged the Committee majority to stop tweeting Breitbart articles and start reading substantive, respected news reports.”

House Science Committee’s taxpayer-funded email newsletter now features Breitbart, other deniers was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rick Perry loses his cool when confronted by Sen. Franken on climate science

When told “humans are entirely the cause” of recent warming, Perry said, “I don’t buy it.”

Energy Sec. Rick Perry. CREDIT: AP/Andy Wong, File

After a week full of misleading and inaccurate statements, Energy Secretary Rick Perry remained incredulous and defiant when confronted with climate science-related facts in a budget hearing Thursday.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) informed Perry that scientists have concluded that “humans are entirely the cause” of recent warming, to which Perry responded, “I don’t believe it” and “I don’t buy it.”

And when Franken reminded him this was the conclusion of a team of climate science skeptics funded by conservative petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, Perry raised his voice and said: “To stand up and say that 100 percent of global warming is because of human activity, I think on its face, is just indefensible.”

CNBC allows Rick Perry to spout nonsense on live TV without any fact checking

What is indefensible is that the U.S. Secretary of Energy continues to reject established climate science and remain completely impervious to facts — which was made all too clear by a review of this week’s events.

Monday on CNBC, Perry falsely claimed that carbon dioxide was not the primary cause of recent global warming, along with a bunch of other nonsense. He also defended his right to be a “skeptic.”

On Wednesday, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) wrote Perry a letter informing him that he was simply wrong. The central role of greenhouse gases — of which CO2 is the “most important” — is “based on multiple independent lines of evidence that have been affirmed by thousands of independent scientists and numerous scientific institutions around the world,” the letter read.

The AMS called these “indisputable findings,” and pointed out, “we are not familiar with any scientific institution with relevant subject matter expertise that has reached a different conclusion.”

The AMS also explained that while some aspects of climate science are not fully resolved, this wasn’t one of them, adding, “skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.”

On Thursday, at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Franken asked Perry to defend downplaying the role of CO2 — and Perry reiterated his denial. Oblivious, Perry repeated, “what’s wrong with being a skeptic?”

Franken vs. Perry on climate science

Perry went on to call for a so-called “red team” exercise where scientists argue back and forth with a “blue team” on the issue. “But that is exactly how science works,” replied Franken, with teams of scientists pushing back and forth on one another until a consensus is reached.

Franken then pointed out that the Koch brothers had actually helped set up a “red team” of skeptics to take a new look at all of the historical data on global surface temperatures. He then quoted what the head of that team, Dr. Richard Muller, said in the New York Times about their findings:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

At that moment in the questioning, Perry lost his composure, not merely rejecting this scientific reality but asserting angrily that it is “just indefensible.”

For the record, not only is it defensible, but in 2013, the world’s leading climatologists concluded in their summary of the latest science that “the best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”

To clarify this science-speak from U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the best estimate is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950. Every major government in the world signed off on this conclusion back in 2013.

But the U.S. Energy Secretary is not just unaware of the science; when presented with it, he’s sure it can’t be true. That’s what makes him a denier and not a skeptic.

Rick Perry loses his cool when confronted by Sen. Franken on climate science was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Mississippi realizes how to make a clean coal plant work: Run it on natural gas

How to make a ‘clean coal’ plant work: Run it on natural gas.

Lignite coal mined in Mississippi for “clean coal” plant. CREDIT: AP/Rogelio V. Solis, File

At his Wednesday rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump once again touted his imaginary revival of coal and the importance of “clean, beautiful coal.”

That same day, Mississippi utility regulators finally figured out the best way to make the state’s wildly expensive “clean coal” plant much cleaner and more affordable: Skip the coal part entirely.

Sadly, this realization comes after spending billions on cost overruns in a complicated scheme to convert coal to gas while capturing and burying some of the CO2 released in the process. The new plan is to use natural gas.

Conceived over a decade ago when natural gas and renewables were both more expensive, Southern Company’s Kemper plant was originally supposed to cost $2.4 billion. It broke ground in 2010 and, like most clean coal projects, was plagued from the very first by mismanagement, delays, and cost overruns.

Carbon Capture And Storage: One Step Forward, One Step Back

By 2015, the 582-megawatt plant was running primarily on natural gas because the coal-to-gas part of the scheme had proved too challenging. Last summer, the New York Times published a scathing expose on the project, run by Southern Company’s Mississippi Power unit. Internal emails, documents, and secretly recorded conversations provided by a whistleblower “show that the plant’s owners drastically understated the project’s cost and timetable and repeatedly tried to conceal problems as they emerged.”

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Public Service Commissioners passed a motion telling its lawyers to draft an order requiring a solution “that eliminates ratepayer risk for unproven technology” and that would “allow only for operation of a natural gas facility at the Kemper Project location.”

The commissioners want ratepayers to cover only the $840 million in equipment to burn gas. Otherwise, as the AP explains, “Southern shareholders, who have already taken $3.1 billion in losses, could absorb roughly another $3.5 billion.”

With that kind of money at stake, this could end up in court for years. But the order will no doubt send a chill through any utilities still pursuing or imagining a clean coal plant.

Ironically, Trump’s proposed budget for the Energy Department slashes funds available for clean coal by more than half. It seems even his own administration understands what he doesn’t: Clean coal is an oxymoron.

Mississippi realizes how to make a clean coal plant work: Run it on natural gas was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

EPA tweets about scented candles causing asthma, delays pollution standards that could save lives

At the same time, the agency is delaying regulations meant to cut down on dangerous pollutants.

CREDIT: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

The Environmental Protection Agency is charged with the protection of two things: the environment and public health. So it’s no surprise that the agency would use it’s social media presence to tweet about asthma, something that as of 2009, affected 1 in 10 children and 1 in 12 adults in the United States.

Asthma can be triggered by a number of irritants, from pollen and dust spores to pollution in the air. And, as the agency that regulates air pollution, it seems like an EPA concerned about asthma would draw the connection between asthma attacks and pollution such as smog, ozone, and particulate matter.

That, however, is not what the EPA has been doing. In two tweets sent from the official U.S. EPA account during the month of June, the EPA singled out just two potential triggers for asthma attacks: incense, and bonfires.

CREDIT: Twitter

“They are just distracting from the larger issues by focusing on the really small ones,” Liz Purchia, a former EPA communications official under the Obama administration, told ThinkProgress. “I’d love to see the last time they talked about carbon pollution from power plants and the threat that they posed to public health.”

Just days before the EPA sent the first tweet, warning about the dangers of incense and scented candles, the agency announced that it would be giving states another year to develop air quality plans meant to comply with the agency’s 2015 ground-level ozone standard, which created stricter limits for ozone pollution. Ozone pollution is a known trigger for asthma, especially in children, who are at greater risk of exposure to ozone because they tend to spend more time outside than adults — something that the EPA’s own website acknowledges.

Days after sending the tweet about incense and scented candles, the EPA also announced it would seek to a two-year delay in the implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies to detect and repair leaks of methane and other air pollutants from oil and gas wells. In announcing the delay, the EPA acknowledged that it could have a disproportionate impact on the health of children, but argued that delay was worthwhile because it would save the oil and gas industry roughly $173 million.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Purchia said. “They are using smoke and mirrors to make it appear like they are trying to protect public health, and meanwhile they are doing everything that they can do rollback regulations and work with the fossil fuel industry to bend to their will. They are showing a willful blindness towards the health of the American public.”

EPA acknowledges delaying methane rule might make more children sick, but will help industry

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was asked about the high occurrence of childhood asthma in Oklahoma, where he had served as Attorney General for six years. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Pruitt why he had not brought lawsuits against polluters on behalf of any of the more than 88,000 children with asthma in the state.

“You can’t just bring lawsuits if you don’t have standing if there’s not been some injury to the state of Oklahoma,” Pruitt responded.

As attorney general, however, Pruitt actually worked against the interests of childhood asthma sufferers, suing the EPA to stop the implementation of its methane rule, which would help cut down on the amount of air pollution that can trigger asthma.

Pruitt has not, as of yet, taken any legal action against incense or scented candle manufacturers. The EPA did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for an explanation regarding how the agency chose which asthma triggers to highlight in its tweets.

EPA tweets about scented candles causing asthma, delays pollution standards that could save lives was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Zinke screws up 3 denier talking points while dodging Franken’s climate question

Sen. Franken just wanted Zinke to answer a simple question on warming. He got a bunch of nonsense instead.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, March 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP/Molly Riley

The President’s cabinet may be filled with science deniers aimed at destroying America’s livable climate — but they still don’t have their talking points down cold.

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s dodged questions from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) with nonsense answers that one climate scientist called “stupid and ignorant.”

At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee budget hearing, Franken first debunked Zinke’s false claim that the vanishing glaciers at Glacier National Park have undergone a “consistent melt” since the end of the last ice age — explaining that “scientists who work for you” have found the melting has “dramatically accelerated” in recent decades.

Then Franken tried to get Zinke to answer one question: “Can you tell me how much warming government scientists predict for the end of the century under a business-as-usual scenario?”

Zinke’s non-answers repeat many of the standard falsehoods we’ve heard from the President and his team — but he still mangles most of them.

At first, Zinke dodged the question entirely. “The Paris accord” he began. “In the president and my judgement, it wasn’t about climate change, it was about a bad deal.” (In reality, Paris is an amazingly good deal for America.)

Franken interrupted to ask Zinke to answer the question. In response, Zinke claimed, “I don’t think the government scientists can predict with certainty. There isn’t a model that existed it can predict today’s weather given all the data.”

This was “a stupid and ignorant answer,” climatologist Kevin Trenberth told ClimateWire. Yes, long-term weather prediction is hard because on any given day months from now the possible temperature range could span tens of degrees Fahrenheit. But the climate is much easier to predict precisely because climate is the long-term statistical average of the weather. Greenland is going to be much colder than Kenya during the course of a year and during almost every individual month. The Amazon is going to be much wetter than the Sahara desert virtually year-round. The global climate is getting warmer.

Zinke didn’t even get this standard denier talking point right. Rather than talking about the difficulty of long-term weather forecasting, he said models can’t “predict today’s weather given all the data.” Actually, as NASA’s Gavin Schmidt told ClimateWire, weather forecasting is “excellent at the 1 to 5 day range.”

As the exchange went on, Zinkes continued to ignore the original question. Instead, he repeats an erroneous claim that “if everyone adhered to the Paris climate accord, that change would be roughly 0.2°, which is insignificant.”

“No, no, no,” Franken countered, while Zinke lamely interjected, “That was an MIT study.” (Both MIT groups that worked on the study in question debunked this erroneous understanding of the data when Trump first made the claim.)

“I just want you to answer the question that I asked you,” Franken said. “That’s all I want you to do.”

Trump falsely claims Paris deal has a minimal impact on warming

Zinke’s last dodge is to completely screw up a talking point, still fail to answer the question, and then make an impossible promise.

“Can you tell me, sir, whether or not China increased its co2 between now and 230 [sic] under the agreement and by what?” Zinke asks. “I’ll be glad to give you that answer.”

Zinke was probably trying repeat one of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s favorite (again, erroneous) talking points — claiming that in the Paris deal, China “didn’t have to take steps until 2030.” That is false. China pledged to peak in emissions by 2030 — and “to make best efforts to peak early.” That requires a lot of effort by the developing country, which is why even before the Paris agreement, China agreed to peak coal use by 2020.

Zinke appears totally ignorant of the fact that China’s coal use peaked back in 2013–2014 — and that the country is already plateauing in CO2 emissions.

Still, Zinke cannot possibly give the answer to the question of “by what” amount China increased its CO2 between now and 2030 — unless he has prophetic powers. He told the senator he would provide the answer in written follow up.

Trump Even Gets Climate Denial Wrong

But none of this should come as a surprise. Zinke’s confirmation hearing made clear he is a garden variety climate science denier. And the guy who he works for also routinely screws up denier talking points.

Zinke screws up 3 denier talking points while dodging Franken’s climate question was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Obama energy secretary says Trump’s budget is a ‘nonstarter’

Ernest Moniz wants to see a “fact-based approach” to energy R&D funding.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks out against the Trump administration’s proposed DOE budget cuts. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz believes President Donald Trump’s planned cuts to energy research and science programs at the Department of Energy make the administration’s budget proposal a “nonstarter” and one that Congress will not pass.

The proposed DOE budget “doesn’t do the job” required to allow the United States to conduct research and develop technologies needed to address climate change, Moniz said Wednesday at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Moniz isn’t convinced his successor at DOE, Secretary Rick Perry, is fully on board with Trump’s budget proposal. “Secretary Perry has made some very strong and positive statements that I fully endorse in terms of the importance of R&D, the importance of innovation. And yet, there’s a disconnect to the budget,” he said. “There’s no credible way to say how the budget supports the kinds of activities that … Secretary Perry has shown every indication of wanting to pursue.”

In its FY18 budget, the administration requested cuts to DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability by almost half, specifically targeting smart grid, cybersecurity, and energy storage programs. “I just don’t see how these things work where you undercut a major programmatic area, but then say, ‘Oh, this is one area where we’re going to do something bigger,’” Moniz said.

6 GOP senators warn Trump not to gut funding for science, clean energy research

At a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday, Perry emphasized that electric grid reliability will be a priority of DOE under his leadership, even though the Trump administration plans to slash funding for these programs. “It’s one of the reasons that… I will ask at the appropriate time on the funding side to make sure that that part of our responsibility is appropriately funded,” Perry told the committee members.

The American Energy Innovation Council, in a report released Tuesday, argued for a strong federal role in energy research and development funding that could spur the development of innovative energy technologies. The council is composed of 10 executives in the energy, technology, and aerospace industries.

The council’s report demonstrates that many corporate executives support increases in federal support for energy research and development, Moniz said. “Frankly, that’s what investors need as well to get that innovation pipeline open for the kinds of opportunities they need,” he said.

Similar to the industry executives, Moniz wishes the Trump administration would take a “fact-based approach” to funding research and development. “There’s a lot of naive repetition of shopworn ideas about where the federal government should invest,” he said. “Look at the program — don’t look at the ideology — and see whether it’s working or not.”

Moniz served as President Barack Obama’s energy secretary from 2013 to 2017. Prior to joining Obama’s cabinet, he was a professor of physics and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Cities and states pledge swift climate action in the face of Paris withdrawal

At the press conference, Moniz highlighted one of his post-DOE career plans: overseeing the Energy Futures Initiative, a nonprofit group he co-founded earlier this year to “provide evidence-based analysis on decarbonizing energy systems.” Joseph Hezir, one of the group’s co-founders and former chief financial officer at the DOE, amplified Moniz’s comments, stating the federal government should invest in research on a program-by-program basis and and not simply take an “across-the-board ideological perspective” on funding.

Investments in projects where the payoff may occur in the long-term remain perfect for the federal government because the private sector often views these opportunities as too risky, Hezier said at the press conference. Companies that have quarterly financial targets often prefer to spend money on projects that will produce favorable shareholder results in the short-term. The federal government may wish to avoid investing in a research project with “a very quick payoff in terms of return,” he suggested.

One of the group’s first projects will be putting out a report on the nation’s electricity grid. The report is expected to be published in the fall and could have some overlap with an upcoming DOE grid study, Moniz said. The DOE study was originally scheduled to be completed next week but reportedly has been pushed back to July.

The Energy Futures Initiative also could provide assistance to states and cities that have pledged to take action to reduce carbon emissions in the wake of Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Moniz applauded the governors, mayors, and business leaders that have stepped up. These officials “want to fill some of the leadership void in advancing our climate actions, both domestically and internationally,” he said.

Meeting “deep decarbonization goals” by mid-century will require “some pretty extraordinary innovation breakthroughs,” he emphasized. One example, according to Moniz, is ongoing efforts to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

In the near term, withdrawal from the Paris agreement could “dampen our trajectory” on carbon reduction and could lead to other nations taking a less aggressive approach on climate change, Moniz said. With less focus on climate change mitigation, the United States and other nations will need to focus more on climate adaptation. “And adaptation in and of itself is very expensive,” he said.

In Florida, electric utilities have spent billions of dollars hardening their systems to withstand severe weather linked to climate change. Florida Power & Light, the largest electric utility in the state, spent $2 billion to harden its system and plans to spend an additional $1.75 billion to counter “what is effectively impacts from higher sea level and warmer seas,” said Moniz, who met with the utility’s leaders in early 2016.

After Hurricane Matthew struck the state last fall, Florida Power & Light was able to restore power to almost all its customers within a couple days instead of three weeks, “which they feel would have been the benchmark before” the utility invested billions of dollars in hardening its system, Moniz said.

Obama energy secretary says Trump’s budget is a ‘nonstarter’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

California seeks to lead on emissions with program that will boost U.S. steel

California lawmakers are debating a bill that could increase demand for U.S. steel.

The new Oakland Bay Bridge. The old bridge lies in the background. CREDIT: Steve Jurvetson

By Jeremy Deaton

There was time in Los Angeles when the smog was so bad you couldn’t see down the block. Then, the state mandated that catalytic converters were installed in every car, which had to be submitted to regular smog checks. The new requirements were a boon for auto mechanics, who were authorized to carry out the emissions tests.

In that instance, California showed that regulations can be a blessing for business, while dramatically improving environmental quality — and it’s about to do it again. The state is debating a new climate policy that even Donald Trump could get behind.

The Buy Clean California Act would require the state to consider the carbon footprint of materials used in infrastructure projects when purchasing steel, glass, iron, and brass. The measure, which has passed the state Assembly and is being considered by the Senate, would direct billions of dollars in spending to low-carbon suppliers. California would likely buy more steel from local steel mills and less from firms overseas.

Globally, steel production is huge source of carbon pollution. To make steel, manufacturers heat iron, limestone, and a carbon-rich form of coal in a furnace. The process yields enormous sums of carbon pollution. Globally, steel accounts for 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than every plane on Earth.

Manufacturers can limit pollution by recycling scrap metal in an electric furnace instead of refining iron ore in a blast furnace, among other methods. California mills tend to be cleaner, by virtue of the state’s strict emissions limits — California has some of the most ambitious climate policies in the country.

“A steel mill in Rancho Cucamonga, California that produces rebar from recycled steel, complies with state and local emissions control requirements, and uses energy complying with the state’s renewable energy portfolio requirements, produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions as a mill producing identical rebar in Arizona,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

Under the proposed law, the state would likely do more business with steel companies based in California and less with firms based in China. Direct emissions are only part of the equation. The state will also take into account emissions from transportation, meaning California will likely buy more locally sourced steel, cutting down on pollution from shipping beams, pipes, and rebar long distances.

For this reason, the bill has earned the support of labor unions, including the United Steelworkers of America and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union. The bill would likely drum up demand for California steel, while discouraging U.S. companies from shipping operations—and job—overseas.

“Our members in California work in facilities that are complying with the toughest climate law in the country,” said Robert LaVenture, director of United Steelworkers District 12. The Buy Clean Act “will give companies and their workers preference if they are doing the right thing.”

California will spend around $10 billion a year on infrastructure over the next decade. That includes construction at public universities along with transportation infrastructure—roads, bridges, and a multibillion dollar high-speed rail system that will stretch from Sacramento to San Diego. The state government is the largest purchaser of steel and concrete in California, and it can transform markets through the power of the purse.

Advocates championed the Buy Clean Act after discovering the state had purchased steel for the new Oakland Bay Bridge from a carbon-intensive Chinese mill, even though cleaner mills in Oregon and California had bid on the project. The measure will help level the playing field for local, low-carbon manufacturers.

Compare this approach to President Trump’s order that new oil and gas pipelines be made of U.S. steel. Rather than use environmental policy to direct purchasing decisions, he issued a memorandum calling on the Secretary of Commerce to “develop a plan.” By all accounts, a federal mandate to buy American-made steel would have only the flimsiest legal grounding, and would almost certainly fail to stand up in court.

“The State of California can’t reach out and set regulations in other states or countries,” Phillips said. But, it “can use its consumer power to motivate manufacturers to invest millions in pollution reduction to be competitive in a market worth billions.”

That has happened with the car industry. Following California’s regulation requiring catalytic converters, car companies began making the technology standardized. Since California buys 10 percent of all new cars in the United States, the industry tends to follow the state’s regulations. In addition, 13 states have officially adopted California’s car program, which now includes requirements for electric vehicles.

California’s steel bill does have one conspicuous omission—concrete. Like steel, concrete comes with a sizable carbon footprint. That’s because cement, the binding agent in concrete, is made by heating clay and limestone, with carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Producers can limit the carbon footprint of concrete by using alternative binding agents, such as fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

Some members of the industry are disappointed that concrete was not included in the latest draft of the bill.

“It would have provided the state with an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is,” said Jeff Davis, vice president of U.S. Concrete, a producer of low-carbon concrete. “I’m disappointed. I thought we had this thing headed in the right direction.”

Environmental protections can spur the development of new technologies and new jobs. Emissions limits have bolstered jobs in auto shops that carry out smog checks. Fuel standards have buttressed hundreds of thousands of jobs in facilities that produce parts for fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Now, the Buy Clean California Act is expected to support jobs in low-carbon steel mills. For this reason, the policy has earned the backing of both environmentalists and labor unions, two groups that historically have found themselves at odds.

“The policy needs to work for working people,” said JB Tengco, West Coast director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups. “The crazy thing is, it’s not that hard. Sometimes it requires compromise, but oftentimes it’s about searching for common ground.”

The Buy Clean Act has passed the state assembly and is currently wending its way through the state senate, which is expected to vote on the measure sometime this summer.

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

California seeks to lead on emissions with program that will boost U.S. steel was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

EPA accelerates purge of scientists

Members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors were told that they would not see their tenure renewed.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Dozens of Environmental Protection Agency scientists were recently informed that their contracts would not be renewed this August, leaving a key EPA office without important scientific guidance.

According to an email sent to EPA scientists and obtained by the Washington Post, the EPA has decided not to renew the posts of any scientists working for the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC). The BOSC functions as an advisory board for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and helps the office make sure that it is using sufficiently rigorous science in its research and development programs.

“The Board of Scientific Counselors was formed to make sure the EPA does the best possible scientific work with limited taxpayer dollars,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “This independent advice is needed now more than ever. By sacking dozens of scientific counselors, Pruitt is showing that he doesn’t value scientific input and the benefits it offers the public.”

Board members are chosen by the EPA administrator, and serve three-year terms. It is customary for first-term members to receive a second three-year appointment, though reappointment is granted at the discretion of the administrator.

Scott Pruitt removes scientists from EPA advisory panels to make room for industry advocates

In May, Pruitt notified nine BOSC members to tell them that they would not be receiving a second-term when their tenure ended in August. At the time, the New York Times reported that Pruitt wanted to make space for representatives from industries — like the chemical industry, or oil and gas industry — which the EPA is charged with regulating. In an email to the Washington Post, Scott Openshaw, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, said that the dismissals would help address industry concerns that “EPA advisory boards did not include a diversity of views and therefore frequently presented a biased perspective on issues before them.”

The new wave of dismissals brings the total number of BOSC members who will be out of a job in August to 47, which will leave just 11 members serving on the BOSC and its five subcommittees. None of the subcommittees will have a chair or vice chair, and all committee meetings scheduled for late summer and fall have been cancelled.

“Pruitt has pulled off a devious process here: he’s signaled that he intends to dismiss experienced advisors whose terms are expiring over the next year — and he’s using the fact that he’s dismissing them to immediately block them from doing any more work,” UCS’s Kimmell said.

The Trump administration has a notably antagonistic relationship with science, from top administration officials blatantly contradicting the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change on national television to deep proposed cuts to science programs across the federal government. Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA has scrubbed climate science from the agency’s website, and has rejected scientific advice from its own agency scientists while issuing regulatory decisions. Pruitt is also currently being reviewed by the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer for his false comments about climate change made on CNBC in March.

“The decision to suspend the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors and dismiss numerous scientists from its ranks is another brazen act of disregard for science by Scott Pruitt.”

“The decision to suspend the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors and dismiss numerous scientists from its ranks is another brazen act of disregard for science by Scott Pruitt. I’m concerned that he may continue to replace scientists with industry insiders or simply leave the Board in limbo,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), told ThinkProgress via email. “Pruitt’s longstanding antipathy to the agency he leads, and its mission of protecting clean air and water, will become a greater menace to public health as he cedes more and more influence to industry at the expense of sound scientific advice.”

According to an administration official, who spoke anonymously with the Washington Post, the dismissal of BOSC scientists could just be the beginning of a larger scientific shakeup within the agency. According to the official, the administration is also looking into replacing members of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, a body of scientific counselors meant to provide scientific advice to the administrator.

The news of the most recent round of dismissals broke the same day as news that the EPA is planning whittle its overall workforce by more than 1,000 employees, through buyouts and early retirement.

EPA accelerates purge of scientists was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rick Perry avoids defending Trump’s proposed DOE cuts in budget testimony

Democratic lawmaker blasts budget proposal as “another broken promise” on jobs.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended the administration’s FY18 budget for his agency. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Energy Secretary Rick Perry offered a lackluster defense of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts on Tuesday, with some of his spending priorities appearing to diverge from the administration’s goals for the Department of Energy.

Perry, in his testimony before the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, emphasized that electric grid reliability will be a priority of DOE under his leadership. “It’s one of the reasons that… I will ask at the appropriate time on the funding side to make sure that that part of our responsibility is appropriately funded,” he said. “If we don’t get that right, it could be devastating to our citizens.”

In its FY18 budget, though, the administration requested cuts to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability by almost half, specifically targeting smart grid, cybersecurity, and energy storage programs. The department’s electricity delivery and energy reliability funding would be reduced to $120 million for FY18, down $86 million from the FY16 enacted funding level of $206 million.

Renewable energy groups rebut ‘faulty premise’ of Rick Perry’s electric grid study

Perry, who described himself as a big supporter of smart grid technologies, also informed the committee’s members that DOE’s grid reliability study will be available at the end of the month. One of the primary reasons why he directed his staff in April to prepare the grid study was that electric system reliability is not only about national security, it’s about the nation’s economic security, Perry said at the hearing.

When he was governor of Texas, Perry said the state became a “shining example” of both energy growth and economic growth.

In the Trump administration’s budget proposal, the DOE requested $28 billion for fiscal year 2018, a reduction of $1.6 billion from the FY16 enacted level of $29.6 billion.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to DOE’s budget “would do grievous harm to American families by abandoning scientific innovation and ignoring the pressing threat of climate change.”

The proposed budget would terminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by 70 percent, from $2.1 billion to $636 million.

Since its official start in 2009, ARPA-E has provided more than $1.3 million in grants and funding to more than 475 projects across the nation. These projects have created more than 30 new U.S. companies and attracted more than $1.25 billion in new, private-sector funding.

Earlier this month, all seven former assistant secretaries of EERE, from 1989 to 2017, sent a letter to House appropriations members and Perry, warning that the EERE cuts would cripple the office’s work and undermine the nation’s competitive advantage in clean energy research and development.

House members applauded the Trump administration’s proposal to resume work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site. CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher

The United States currently has 678,000 jobs in renewable energy, a number that could be much higher if the DOE continues investments in the sector, Lowey said. “Reducing investments in clean energy jobs [is] just another broken promise by the Trump administration,” she said.

Responding to concerns about the proposed cuts in technology research, Perry noted that even though the United States is no longer part of the Paris climate agreement, “we are still the leader in clean energy technology.”

In his opening comments, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told Perry that he is a “strong believer in nuclear power as being one of the solutions to our vast energy needs.”

Frelinghuysen applauded the administration’s proposal to revive the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada. “It should come as no surprise we are very supportive of the work we need to do at Yucca Mountain,” Frelinghuysen said. “We’ve made huge, billions of dollars of investments there. We need to get it open and used as a repository for the future.”

The Trump administration has proposed $120 million to work on resuming the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. DOE began pursuing a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license for the Nevada site in 2008. But under President Barack Obama, the department pulled support for the repository, explaining it was not an attractive solution for storing nuclear waste. The administration then closed out funding for the site.

Rick Perry avoids defending Trump’s proposed DOE cuts in budget testimony was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.