These congressional staffers helped clinch the historic climate deal

Source: By Maxine Joselow, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2022

These Senate staffers helped negotiate the Inflation Reduction Act behind the scenes

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Adrian Deveny, his top environmental aide. (C-SPAN)

When Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) presided over the Senate’s passage of a historic climate bill on Sunday, he noted that one of his staffers had had a baby two days earlier.

But the staffer refused to stop calling in to meetings about the landmark legislation, Schumer said. Her baby’s cries were audible on the calls.

The staffer, whose story has gone viral on Twitter, was Anna Taylor, Schumer’s tax and trade counsel, according to a person familiar with the matter. She had toiled for months on the revenue side of the package, and she wanted to see it cross the finish line, the person said.

Like Taylor, dozens of congressional staffers worked around-the-clock and made personal sacrifices to clinch a deal on the package, which represents the largest climate investment in the nation’s history, according to interviews with six Senate Democratic aides, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

To be sure, House Democratic staffers played a significant role in negotiating the Inflation Reduction Act, which was formerly known as the Build Back Better Act. But in the Senate, a small group of aides worked feverishly over a period of about two weeks to secure a surprise agreement between Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the lone holdout on the package.

At the center of these private talks was Gerry Petrella, a trusted Schumer aide. “Gerry held it all together at a point in time when everyone thought it was dead or going to be dead,” said Rich Gold, head of the public policy practice at Holland & Knight.

Other key participants included Lance West, Manchin’s chief of staff; Renae Black, the Democratic staff director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and Luke Bassett, a staffer on the committee, according to people familiar with the matter.

Adrian Deveny, Schumer’s top environmental aide, also attended many of the private meetings. Deveny and his wife welcomed a baby boy in February, but he postponed his paternity leave until after the bill passed the Senate, said Leah Stokes, an energy policy expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a friend.

West, Black and Deveny declined to comment on the record for this report. A Schumer spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

On July 14, Manchin told Democratic leaders that he could not support new climate spending until he had seen the July inflation figures.

Many observers — including Senate Democratic staffers who had worked on the bill — assumed for the next two weeks that the negotiations were dormant. They had no idea that Manchin and Schumer — and the small group of their aides — were hashing out a final agreement behind closed doors.

During that roughly two-week period, about eight to 10 staffers attended a going-away party for an aide to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of Congress’s most vocal climate hawks. Only two of them — Deveny and Bassett — knew about the negotiations. The others were mourning the climate bill’s demise.

“It was a funeral for a bill that only two people knew wasn’t dead,” said one staffer who attended the gathering.

Meanwhile, Pete Wyckoff, a climate aide for Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), was frantically calling staffers for other senators who refused to give up on the climate bill. Smith referred to these senators, including Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), as the “Never Give Up Caucus,” according to a person familiar with the matter.

Many staffers were caught flat-footed when Schumer and Manchin announced July 27 that they had reached a deal on the climate package, as well as a separate agreement to pass permitting reform legislation.

Bobby Andres, a staffer on the Senate Finance Committee who helped craft the tax credits for clean energy and electric vehicles, found out around the time that the news release went out, according to people familiar with the matter.

Andres soon learned that the final agreement included significant changes to the EV tax credit, including a requirement that to qualify for the credit, an EV must contain a battery built in North America with minerals mined or recycled on the continent. The auto industry has warned that this requirement will be impossible to meet.

Still, Andres said in an interview that he thinks the credits are designed to be “difficult but achievable.”

“There’s any number of things in this bill that if it were up to me, I would’ve written it differently,” he said. “But it’s not just up to me.”

Meanwhile, staffers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were surprised that a one-page fact sheet about the permitting agreement mentioned a commitment to complete the Mountain Valley pipeline, although they had heard Manchin publicly champion the project.

They were not surprised, however, that the climate package included a program to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. That’s because EPW Committee Chair Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Mary Frances Repko, the panel’s Democratic staff director, had spent months working to address Manchin’s concerns with the program.

Repko said in an interview that she benefited from her close relationship with Black on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and her experience working for moderate Democrats during nearly 30 years on the Hill.

“Listening to concerns of Democrats who have fossil fuel interests in their states, and who need those concerns addressed in legislation in a way that they can explain to their constituents, is really not something new for me,” she said.

Is sustainable mining possible? The EV revolution depends on it.

A proposal for a “sustainable mine” in central Minnesota has the potential to accelerate President Biden’s goal of eliminating emissions from the nation’s transportation sector by transitioning to domestically sourced electric vehicles. But first, it must win the support of the local community, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper reports. 

The Tamarack region of the state, which sits atop an oasis of metals used in clean technologies such as EV batteries, has taken on newfound importance now that the Inflation Reduction Act appears poised to become law, requiring that all EVs be built with components from the United States or a handful of allied nations. However, some local residents and Native American tribes have long resisted new mines for the critical minerals, citing concerns over air and water pollution.

“The history with these types of mines is pretty terrible in the U.S.,” said Tom Anderson, whose family has owned property in Tamarack since his great grandfather built a homestead three miles from the proposed mine in 1896. “They could make it clean if they spent enough money, but nobody has ever done that.”

Talon Metals, which aims to mine in Tamarack, has sought to reassure the community of its commitment to environmental protection.

“Everybody who lives in this area, including our employees who live here, wants to protect the environment,” said Todd Malan, Talon’s head of public affairs and climate strategy. “We want people to come and voice their concerns so when we come out with our plan, we can show we addressed them in a meaningful way, even if it costs us money.”

Meanwhile, our colleague Allyson Chiu has a helpful explainer on what the new EV tax credits in the climate package mean for consumers who are interested in going electric.

While many Americans want to buy an EV, there is limited supply. It might make sense to hold off on making a purchase to avoid long wait times and high dealer markups, unless you’ve already been in the market for an EV and have found one available to buy, said Chris Harto, a senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports.

Biden finally has a climate bill. What happens next?

For about 18 months, President Biden’s climate agenda was in limbo, as the White House and Democrats held bumpy negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) over their signature climate bill. Meanwhile, the administration punted on decisions on key issues, such as fossil fuel drilling on public lands, as it waited to see whether Manchin would come on board, Dino Grandoni reports for The Post. 

Now, Biden is on the cusp of finally signing bold climate legislation with the House’s expected passage on Friday of the Inflation Reduction Act. But the hard part is not yet over, as several tough environmental decisions await the administration.

In particular, the Environmental Protection Agency is still working to finalize a major regulation aimed at limiting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The rule would complement the methane fee that is a central part of the new climate bill.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department has the daunting task of finalizing a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing. The climate bill mandates new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, making it difficult for Biden to honor his campaign pledge of “no more drilling.”

Antarctica’s ‘sleeping giant’ risks melting, threatens spike in sea levels

The East Antarctica Ice Sheet was previously considered less vulnerable to climate change than the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, which have been rapidly losing ice as ocean water warms. But now, research in the journal Nature reveals that the world’s largest ice sheet could bring an additional 16½ feet to sea levels over the long term if global climate goals are not met, Rachel Pannett reports for The Post. 

The team of researchers from Australia, Britain, France and the United States found that if the planet warms 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, as outlined in the 2015 Paris agreement, the ice sheet could add 1.6 feet to sea levels by 2500. Any increase above that temperature has the potential to raise sea levels by as much as 16.4 feet over the same period.