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3 trends to watch in U.S. climate policy in 2023 – The Washington Post

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Good morning and welcome back to The Climate 202! Happy new year. 🎉

While individual actions alone won’t solve the climate crisis, they can certainly help. So today, we’re sharing our climate-related New Year’s resolution: washing our clothes on cold more often. By washing four out of five loads of laundry in cold water, you can avoid 864 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in a year, our colleague Allyson Chiu reported.

What are you doing to go green this year? Send a note to maxine.joselow@washpost.com or vanessa.montalbano@washpost.com. But first:

2023 is a crucial year for U.S. climate policy. Here’s what to watch.

2022 was a banner year for climate policy in America. On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats passed the biggest climate bill in U.S. history, while in state capitols across the country, lawmakers pushed to accelerate the adoption of clean energy, electric vehicles and other green technologies.

2023 promises to be just as eventful for climate advocates. Here are three top trends we’re tracking:

States could lead on climate action

The landmark climate law that President Biden signed in August, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, was made possible by narrow Democratic control of both chambers of Congress.

But with Republicans taking control of the House, dimming the prospects for more ambitious climate legislation at the federal level, the epicenter of U.S. climate action could shift to the states this year.

  • At the moment, 15 states and territories have enacted requirements for achieving 100 percent clean electricity, including Hawaii, California, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 
  • Six states have enacted requirements for phasing out sales of new vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel, while two states have updated their building codes to phase out gas appliances, according to a tally by Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group.

More states could adopt or strengthen such standards this year. In November’s midterm elections, Democrats gained a “trifecta” — control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature — in four states that are expected to pursue bolder climate policies:

  • In Maryland, Gov.-elect Wes Moore has called for 100 percent of Maryland’s power to come from clean sources by 2035, with an interim target of 80 percent by 2030.
  • In Massachusetts, Gov.-elect Maura Healey wants the state to achieve 100 percent clean electricity by 2030. She has also pushed for ending the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, and she has appointed the state’s first Cabinet-level “climate chief.”
  • In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order requiring the state to become carbon-neutral by 2050 during her first term. With the state Senate flipping for the first time since 1983, she could now pursue major climate policies through legislation as well.
  • And in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz has adopted stricter vehicle emission standards, but the Republican-controlled state Senate has stymied his goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. Now under Democratic control, the state legislature is expected to start considering a clean electricity bill as soon as this month.

“States will take center stage this year in confronting climate change,” said Casey Katims, executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord.

“Governors are assuming office and entering second terms with fresh energy, new resources and increased momentum to move boldly on climate — particularly where there is strengthened legislative support,” he said.

Climate law could challenge agencies

Back in Washington, 2023 will also be a big year for federal agencies that need to implement key provisions in the landmark climate law.

The Treasury Department last week issued long-awaited guidance on how Americans can claim generous tax credits for transitioning from fossil-fuel-burning heaters, stoves and cars to cleaner versions, our colleague Shannon Osaka reported.

But other agencies are just getting started. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency is working to establish a $27 billion national green bank that provides low-cost financing for clean-energy projects.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office is preparing to issue billions of dollars worth of new loans. House Republicans have said they plan to intensify oversight of the office, noting that the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011 after receiving $535 million in federal loans.

Jigar Shah, who directs the Loan Programs Office, wrote on Twitter that “2023 is going to be the toughest year of my life”:

EPA could race to finalize rules

The climate law will put the United States on a path toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, according to multiple independent modelers. Yet Biden has pledged to cut emissions at least 50 percent within the next decade. 

To make up the difference, his administration must take ambitious executive action, activists say. In particular, advocates have called on the EPA to meet a self-imposed March deadline for proposing new greenhouse gas rules for power plants, which rank as the nation’s second-biggest contributor to global warming.

“We need the administration to put the pedal to the metal on environmental rules, and in particular on Clean Air Act standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants,” said Sam Ricketts, a co-founder and senior adviser at Evergreen Action. 

“If they don’t do that,” he said, “these rules will not get done in President Biden’s first term, as they need to be.”

On the Hill

House Democrats will not send Big Oil documents to Senate

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee will not send a trove of subpoenaed documents from oil and gas companies to the Senate, effectively ending their year-long investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s alleged efforts to mislead the public about climate change.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment, confirmed to The Climate 202 that the panel has “no plans to send documents to the Senate.” The Intercept first reported on the development.

Khanna had previously told the Intercept that before Republicans took control of the House, the committee would release the documents to the Senate to continue reviewing them — a task the panel’s staff lacked the time or resources to complete.

An initial batch of documents, released last month, showed oil company executives dismissing the potential for renewable energy to quickly replace fossil fuels, while working to secure a future for natural gas.

House Republicans tee up vote on oil reserve bill

With the 118th Congress set to convene Tuesday, incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Friday outlined legislation that will be brought to the floor for a vote in the next two weeks, including a bill that would bar the Energy Department from sending oil from the nation’s strategic reserve to China.

The Protecting America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve from China Act was introduced in July by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who is expected to become chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has introduced a similar bill that would also prevent oil sold from the reserve from being exported to Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Last spring, President Biden ordered the gradual release of 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower gasoline prices. But critics, including many Republicans, have argued that Biden is misusing the reserve for his own political purposes while helping the nation’s adversaries.

In a letter sent to Republican colleagues on Friday, Scalise wrote that each of the bills set to hit the House floor “will address challenges facing hard-working families on issues ranging from energy, inflation, border security, life, taxpayer protection, and more,” adding that “they should garner wide support and provide an indication of our bold agenda to come.”

Agency alert

EPA broadens protections for U.S. waterways, reversing Trump

The Biden administration on Friday unveiled a rule that broadens the definition of waterways that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate under the Clean Water Act, reversing a Trump-era change but stopping short of a controversial rule from President Barack Obama, The Washington Post’s Scott Dance reports. 

The new rule increases the number of wetlands, streams and rivers that federal and state governments can protect from pollutants, including livestock waste, construction runoff and industrial effluent. Unlike the Obama-era regulation, the rule excludes ephemeral streams and ponds, or those that last for a short period of time. 

Environmentalists hailed the rule, calling it crucial for restoring the health of the nation’s waterways. But Republicans and industry groups blasted the rule as an example of regulatory overreach that could stall infrastructure projects. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement that the rule will “unfairly burden America’s farmers, ranchers, miners, infrastructure builders, and landowners.” 

The rule comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court ruling that could limit the agency’s authority over the nation’s waterways in the future.

Extreme events

Thousands of records shattered in historic winter warm spell in Europe

At least seven European countries saw their warmest January weather ever recorded on New Year’s Day, as an unprecedented heat dome raised temperatures by 18 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 Celsius) above normal from France to western Russia, Ian Livingston reports for The Post. 

The extreme winter warmth comes after the continent experienced a historic year overall for heat. A severe summer drought and intense hot spells helped to push the United Kingdom to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) for the first time on record in July — providing yet another example of how climate change is causing such extraordinary weather events to intensify and occur more frequently. 

In the atmosphere

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