These governors said no thanks to federal climate money

Source: By Maxine Joselow with research by Vanessa Montalbano, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) at the dedication of a home for a family who lost theirs to flooding. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
In today’s edition, we’ll cover the Biden administration’s looming decision on whether to approve a proposed copper mine near two national parks in Alaska. But first:

These governors turned down federal climate money. Here’s why.

Four states have quietly rejected millions of dollars in federal climate funding from last year’s landmark climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act.

Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and South Dakota have opted out of applying for the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a little-noticed list on the agency’s website. The program will give states $3 million each to develop and implement plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollution.

Political calculations might play a role here. Three of the states have Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida, a presidential contender who has said he wants to “rip up Joe Biden’s Green New Deal.” In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear faces a tough reelection race in a staunchly conservative and coal-heavy state, although he has cited other reasons for rejecting the funding.

Environmentalists have slammed all four governors for spurning cash that could boost clean energy projects, helping their constituents and the climate.

“These states are being offered millions of dollars to get ahead of a growing industry,” said Craig Segall, vice president of policy at Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group. “Rejecting it is a profoundly silly thing to do.”

The governors have defended their approaches. Ian Fury, spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), said the federal funding would contribute to soaring inflation that has raised the cost of consumer goods.

“Governor Noem absolutely believes that the federal government’s wasteful spending, much of it at the behest of President Biden, is the single largest cause of the inflation crisis that our nation finds itself in,” Fury said in an email.

Yet government data released last week showed that inflation has dropped to its lowest levels since March 2021. And the money South Dakota has refused can still be spent by other applicants.

Indeed, if a state declines to apply for the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program, the three largest metro areas in the state can still apply for $1 million each of the rejected funds, according to EPA guidance.

John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said the Beshear administration thinks the state’s three biggest cities — Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green — are better positioned to apply.

“The Beshear administration is actively applying for and receiving a number of federal grants to help boost efforts to build a better Kentucky for all our people,” Mura said in an email. “In this instance, local governments are best situated to apply for and administer the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant funds.”

Yet Beshear is also trying to fend off a tough challenge from Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has sought to link the governor to President Biden’s “radical” climate policies and the decline of the coal industry:

Lane Boldman, executive director of the Kentucky Conservation Committee, noted the unique political environment in Kentucky, a coal-dependent state led by a supermajority Republican legislature and a Democratic governor.

“It would be speculation on my part as to how he sees that politically,” she said. “I’ll just say Kentucky is a challenging state politically….I’m sure that the ability to get support for certain initiatives is something that can be a challenge.”

Regardless of the governor’s rationale, Sumedha Rao, executive director of the Louisville Metro Office of Sustainability, said the city is working with Lexington and Bowling Green to secure the federal funding.

“While we believe that Kentucky’s acceptance of its state CPRG allocation would have led to promising and coordinated state-wide efforts to improve air quality and protect Kentuckians from extreme weather events, we are thankful to be collaborating with the other two Kentucky recipients,” Rao said in an emailed statement.

Yet Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said Beshear should have sought federal funding for a statewide climate strategy, especially as eastern Kentucky recovers from severe floods that killed more than 40 people and left hundreds of families homeless.

“Cities can participate, sure,” said Stokes, who advised Senate Democrats on parts of the climate law. “But the state needs to have a plan.”

In Florida, five of the state’s largest metro areas — Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and North Port — have opted to apply for the program.

Meanwhile, DeSantis has also rejected millions of dollars of federal energy funding from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

Lowell Ungar, director of federal policy with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said it is “unfortunate” that Florida is rebuffing the money as Miami swelters under a record-shattering heat wave.

Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for DeSantis, said in an email that “the governor reviews every bill and appropriation that comes across his desk and uses his authority under the Florida Constitution to veto bills that he believes are bad public policy.”

Redfern did not respond to a follow-up request for comment on the rejected funding from the climate law.

For clean energy, miners want a road in one of the most remote national parks

A proposed copper mine between two national parks in Alaska underscores the Biden administration’s struggle to protect wilderness while rapidly producing the critical minerals necessary to transition to clean energy, The Washington Post’s Timothy Puko and Lillian Cunningham report.

Lodged between the Arctic National Park and Preserve and the Kobuk Valley National Park sits an estimated $7.5 billion worth of copper that a mining company, Ambler Metals, wants to extract to help build wind turbines and batteries used in electric vehicles. To reach the minerals under the area, a 211-mile road would need to be built through an otherwise completely undeveloped Arctic expanse, crossing 11 major rivers and hundreds of streams, disrupting cherished tundra and interrupting the migratory path of tens of thousands of caribou.

The proposal has received intense backlash from environmentalists and some Native groups, who say the project could worsen pollution and harm wildlife. Now, the Biden administration must decide the fate of the road — and others like it across the country.

The Interior Department has yet to release its environmental review of the project — despite promises it would be complete by the end of last year — and told a federal court that it might not be ready until mid-2024. The delay has frustrated Alaska’s three-member congressional delegation, which said “the continued failure” to develop minerals will be a setback for the country’s energy transition and supply chains.

Biden administration proposes new critical habitat for green sea turtles

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday proposed designating new areas of critical habitat to protect threatened and endangered green sea turtles.

The Fish and Wildlife Service suggested designating 8,870 acres of critical habitat on land where the turtles bask, nest, incubate, hatch and travel to the sea. The proposed areas include parts of California, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Texas and Puerto Rico.

NOAA proposed designating marine critical habitat to protect the turtles’ access to nesting beaches, migratory corridors and important feeding and resting areas, including those in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposal comes in response to a settlement agreement with environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity. It also comes as House Republicans launch a working group on modernizing the Endangered Species Act, which they blame for stymying drilling, logging and other development on public lands and waters.

Parts of the U.S. and Asia are sweltering amid unprecedented heat

Extremely hot weather has ramped up this week across the Northern Hemisphere, with the heat index in the Middle East hitting 152 degrees — a level thought to be the most intense the human body can withstand, The Post’s Scott Dance reports. 

In recent days, China set an all-time high of nearly 126 degrees Fahrenheit, while Death Valley, Calif., set a daily record of 128 degrees. Phoenix also experienced a record-breaking 19th consecutive day at or above 110 degrees yesterday, The Post’s Allyson Chiu, Scott Dance and Naema Ahmed report.

Extreme temperatures are increasingly possible and probable because of human-caused global warming. Such conditions can overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature, experts said, and offer a glimpse of the dangers to come as climate change increases extremes in heat and humidity.

The baking heat across the globe comes as U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry is meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Beijing to discuss climate diplomacy after nearly a year of stalled negotiations between the world’s top two polluters. Pointing to the sweltering conditions outside, Kerry urged Chinese officials to significantly reduce emissions before the planet reaches a tipping point, Alan Yuhas reports for the New York Times.

“The world really is looking to us for that leadership, particularly on the climate issue,” Kerry said. “Climate, as you know, is a global issue, not a bilateral issue. It’s a threat to all of humankind.”