House Democrats don’t touch oil and gas company aid in new coronavirus bill

Source: By Dino Grandoni with Paulina Firozi, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2020

House Democrats unveiled a huge, new coronavirus relief package that would inject more than $3 trillion into state and local governments, health systems and other parts of the economy rocked by the coronavirus pandemic.

But absent are any new policies to boost renewable forms of energy and wean the country off of fossil fuels that could gum up passing the massive package expected to receive a vote on Friday.

Green groups and Democrats on the party’s left flank are growing increasingly frustrated their environmental priorities are being sidelined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants when trying to stabilized the economy with their sprawling 1,800-page bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (Saul Loeb/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The activists appreciate efforts to ensure electric and water utilities don’t shut off service and to send a second round of stimulus checks to those who need them. But they are irked the bill doesn’t turn off the spigot of aid money being distributed to ailing oil and gas companies.

“Oil and gas lobbyists have thrown the book at Congress asking for tax breaks, additional subsidies and loans,” said John Noël, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA. “Congress needs to shut the door in their faces.”

The Sierra Club, one of Washington’s biggest green groups, struck a similarly tone. “A final package must include guardrails that protect against any additional handouts to fossil fuel executives,” said Melinda Pierce, the group’s legislative director.

On the flip side, Myron Ebell, a longtime climate skeptic and former head of President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, said it was “good news” the bill in “contains no green energy boondoggles.”

House Democrats aren’t trying to stop oil, gas and coal companies from getting coronavirus relief.

A group of liberal House members, including Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), had pushed unsuccessfully for including language blocking fossil-fuel firms from getting emergency aid meant for small and midsize businesses coming from the Federal Reserve.

“It would be unconscionable to bail out big oil and gas corporations with money intended to help families, workers and small businesses survive this global pandemic,” Barragán said.

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.). (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Associated Press)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of the same measure in the Senate, said he was “disappointed” to see it not included in the House bill.

“The last thing we should be doing is diverting funding from urgent response efforts to prop up polluters that threaten our future,” he said.

Some oil and gas companies struggling with a historic crash in energy prices stand to gain after the Fed recently loosened rules around which companies are eligible to take out emergency loans.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg TV that the administration “worked very closely with the Federal Reserve” to make adjustments to the program to allow more oil companies to access the money. In response, the Fed said its intent was to expand the program broadly and not for any specific sector.

House Democrats also rebuffed efforts to boost renewables.

In another lobbying push, two renewable energy groups, the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, asked lawmakers to bolster tax credits that wind turbine and solar array builders rely on to underwrite construction in the next round of stimulus. But House Democrats left those tax credits untouched in the latest package.

“We will continue working with Congress and other renewable energy leaders to find solutions to the specific challenges COVID-19 is causing our members,” said Tom Kiernan, chief executive of the wind lobbying group.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Trump administration said last week it is preparing to throw to renewable companies one of the lifelines they had been asking for — extra time to meet construction deadlines to qualify for the tax breaks.

Democrats and Republicans share little common ground on energy issues.

In stark contrast with liberal Democrats, President Trump has pushed explicitly to save “our great oil companies.”

And the last time congressional Democrats pushed for expanding tax breaks for alternative sources of energy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) excoriated them for trying “to dust off the Green New Deal,” a much more sweeping proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg)

Pelosi and her top lieutenants assembled the bill without input from the GOP-led Senate or the White House, and “Republicans rejected the legislation even before they saw it,” my colleague Erica Werner reports. “This is not a time for aspirational legislation,” McConnell said.

Yet for liberals, the bill is not all bad news.

Crucially, the legislation aims to block utility companies from shutting off service to customers struggling to pay their bills.

“We’re heartened that the House has moved to protect millions of suffering families,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program.

The bill would also funnel $1.5 billion into help low-income households pay for energy bills. Another $50 million would be distributed by the Environmental Protection Agency in environmental justice grants.

Many states and major investor-owned utilities have imposed their own moratoriums on disconnections during the pandemic. But House Democrats say they want to give low-income Americans extra assurance by etching those restrictions into federal law.

“Now more than ever, Americans need to feel confident that their access to safe water and reliable power will continue uninterrupted, and this legislation provides that peace of mind,” said Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), three leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

House Democrats also want to try to stop the next pandemic by empowering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restrict potentially infectious animals from being trafficked into the country.

Disease researchers say the novel coronavirus’s original host was almost certainly a bat, and the virus may have hopped through another species on its way to infecting humans.

Coronavirus fallout

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is working with the Biden campaign on climate policy.

The liberal congresswoman from New York is “serving on a climate policy panel that the former vice president created as part of a larger effort to woo the party’s left wing,” Annie Linskey reports. She will act as a representative for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who she supported in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

“She has not formally endorsed Biden, but she has said she plans to vote for him,” Linskey adds.

Democratic lawmakers want energy-related firms to return relief loans.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the new select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, sent letters last week calling on five publicly traded firms, including a pair of energy related companies, to give back Paycheck Protection Program loans they received in April, E&E News reports.

“One of the letters went to EVO Transportation & Energy Services Inc., a trucking company that also operates compressed natural gas fueling stations,” per the report. “Another went to Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc., a company that sells a variety of steel products to power generation and oil and gas companies.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The letters urged the company to return the $10 million loans “so that these funds may be used to support truly small businesses that are struggling to survive during the coronavirus crisis.”

People are slowly returning to the road.

U.S. drivers have been more active this week compared to any week since the middle of March, the Associated Press reports, noting traffic volumes are still lower than before states’ lockdowns.

Vehicles drive in light traffic along Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

“The most recent data shows that activity during the seven-day period ending May 8 was 60% higher than the lowest point since the COVID-19 crisis began. However, activity still was down 49% compared to January 2020 and well below what would be expected in the spring under normal circumstances,” per the AP, which analyzed data from StreetLight Data Inc.

Elon Musk has the support of the president as he seeks to reopen Tesla’s California plant.

President Trump tweeted that local officials should “let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW,” a message that received a note of thanks from the electric automaker’s chief executive.

California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2020

“Musk has been pushing to restart its California production that had stopped March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, though attempts to return have been met with heavy resistance from local authorities,” CNBC reports.

General Motors has had no coronavirus transmissions since deploying new protocols.

The company’s head of global manufacturing said none of its plants around the world – including in China, South Korea and North America — have experienced transmissions since the facilities issued new safety guidelines that include mandating social distancing and masks for workers, Reuters reports.

A General Motors assembly plant in Detroit. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)
The dearth of aircraft data may be affecting weather forecasting.

Weather forecasting data is normally gathered by commercial aircraft, which means a lot of the data has stopped flowing as the pandemic has meant many canceled flights, Andrew Freedman reports.

Aviation-derived weather observations on May 3 and 4, via the AMDAR network. (WMO)

“At the global level, networks that vacuum up data from planes flying in Europe, Asia and South America have helped to ensure an ever-growing flow of data that’s benefited modeling centers worldwide, boosting model skill and forecast accuracy,” he writes. “However, with the paucity of flights in the air now, the pandemic has disrupted that data flow, turning it from a fire hose to more of a trickle. Meteorologists don’t know exactly how much of an impact that’s having on forecast skill.”

That uncertainty could be a problem ahead of the looming hurricane season.

Tropical storm Arthur could form this weekend.

The National Hurricane Center is meanwhile tracking a disturbance that could become the first named storm, even though the Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t start officially until June 1.

The European weather model shows possible subtropical storm north of the Bahamas on Sunday evening. (WeatherBell)


It would be the sixth straight year this has occurred. “The weather system might be a harbinger of an active Atlantic hurricane season. Preseason forecasts are almost all predicting a substantially busier than normal season, with one forecast out of Pennsylvania State University calling for one of the stormiest seasons on record,” Jason Samenow reports.