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House Republicans’ climate strategy draws Democrats’ jeers

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! As a scheduling note, the newsletter won’t publish tomorrow — we have a short week with the congressional recess. But first:

House Republicans’ climate strategy draws Democrats’ jeers

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plans to unveil a strategy today outlining how Republicans would address climate change, energy and environmental issues if the party gains control of the House in the midterm elections, according to three individuals familiar with the matter, Maxine and our colleague Jeff Stein scooped on Wednesday evening.

The strategy calls for streamlining the permitting process for large infrastructure projects, increasing domestic fossil fuel production and boosting exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas, which proponents say is cleaner than gas produced in other countries, according to the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details that are not yet public.

However, the GOP plan drew immediate criticism from congressional Democrats, who noted that leading scientists have said the world must rapidly phase out fossil fuels to stave off catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

To meet the more ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris agreement, the world must eliminate coal use within 30 years, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Gas dependence should be reduced by 45 percent, while oil use must fall 60 percent by the middle of the century, the IPCC said in a recent report that concluded humanity is running out of time to meet global climate goals.

“I welcome the efforts of anyone, regardless of party, who is willing to seriously tackle climate change — but on its face this does not look like a serious proposal,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “Most people understand that a serious climate solution requires a shift toward cleaner sources of energy, but the Republicans apparently want to take us in the opposite direction, with more dependence on dangerous, dirty energy sources.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has been participating in bipartisan energy talks led by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), echoed that sentiment.

“Any climate plan must be judged on whether it reduces emissions and invests in renewables to diversify energy sources and bring a long-term reduction and stability in prices for all Americans,” Khanna said. “Based on what’s been reported, this plan is just a Big Oil wish list.”

Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D-N.M.) cautioned against undermining the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental consequences of major actions, in order to accelerate the permitting process. “This plan is out of touch with reality and is an end-run around environmental protections that have been in place for decades,” she said. 

McCarthy, who would probably become speaker if the GOP picks up enough seats in the midterms, last year tapped Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) to lead a task force on climate, energy and conservation. The strategy is the result of months of deliberations within that task force, which includes 17 GOP members.

Spokespeople for McCarthy and Graves declined to comment on the record ahead of today’s official rollout.

The House GOP plan comes as Republicans seek to make gains with educated suburban voters in November’s elections. Some of these voters may want to see Republicans take a more proactive stance on climate change and energy policy, rather than letting Democrats dominate the debate, said George David Banks, a Republican climate policy expert who served as a White House climate adviser under President Donald Trump.

“It’s the competitive seats that make a difference,” he said. “And most of those run through the suburbs. So there’s certainly a recognition that you’ve got to win a critical mass of those to control the House.”

Correction: A previous version of this item incorrectly said Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury represents a district in Arizona. She represents a district in New Mexico.

National Hurricane Center director expects another monster season

Wednesday marked the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, and it’s expected to be another active one.

In its annual seasonal outlook, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast the seventh-straight above-normal Atlantic season, with 14 to 21 named storms — compared with 14 in an average year — and three to six major hurricanes.

The Climate 202 spoke virtually on Wednesday with Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, about the link between climate change and supercharged storms. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

Climate 202: How is climate change playing a role in more intense hurricanes? 

Graham: In a warmer climate, we’re starting to see heavier rainfall — not just in terms of the total amount, but also in terms of the rainfall rates. That’s important, because if you get three to five inches of rain in an hour, that’s a big difference from getting three to five inches of rain over a 24-hour period. And that will continue to have a significant impact on inland flooding.

The other thing is that with sea-level rise, the water from storm surge could be higher and could push farther inland. So areas that never experienced storm surge in the past could experience storm surge in the future. 

Climate 202: The 2021 hurricane season produced 21 named storms, the third-most on record, exhausting all of the names of the National Hurricane Center’s conventional naming list. Could that happen again this year?

Graham: Yes. I mean, look at the forecast. We’re forecasting 14 to 21 named storms, and if we get 21, we’ll run out of names once again. That’s not a common thing. We’ve only run out of names in 2005 and then again in 2020 and 2021. To have that happen two years in a row was pretty significant.

That being said, scientists still aren’t sure whether climate change is increasing the number of storms. We have technology now from aircraft data and satellite data, so we’re actually seeing more storms and naming more storms than we were before.

Much of the country could face blackouts this summer as temperatures rise

The nation’s power grid is facing unprecedented stress, with regulators warning that rolling outages — familiar in states like Texas and California — could affect large areas of the country as an abnormally hot summer arrives, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper reports

Already, New Mexico’s attorney general has launched a readiness task force to prepare for “worst-case scenarios,” while Arkansas power officials are establishing emergency conservation measures. 

The unexpected warnings come as extreme weather tied to climate change strains the grid, and as the nation shuts down fossil fuel plants to help reach carbon neutrality by 2050. 

New York suspends its gas tax in response to rising costs

In an effort to address high gasoline prices, New York on Wednesday became the latest state to temporarily suspend its gas tax ahead of the travel-heavy summer months, The Post’s Tony Romm reports.

The decision, which halted the state’s roughly 16-cents-per-gallon charge through the end of the year, came as the average cost of unleaded gasoline nationwide exceeded $4.67 per gallon, according to AAA.

At the same time, high fuel prices stem from a complicated combination of economic and geopolitical forces, Abha Bhattarai reports as part of The Post’s ECON 101 series. The economy’s rapid recovery from the pandemic created more demand for gasoline, pushing prices higher. Then, the invasion of Ukraine led to a global backlash against Russia, which produces more oil than all but two other countries, so prices rose again.

Another oil company backs out of Arctic leases

Regenerate Alaska has canceled the lease that it purchased in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last year, becoming the latest company to abandon plans for oil and gas drilling in the 19-million-acre refuge, Alex DeMarban reports for the Anchorage Daily News. The Trump administration had sold the lease in its final days in January 2021.

Last week, Hilcorp and Chevron also exited separate leases on Indigenous-owned land in the refuge. Those companies spent $10 million to withdraw from their deal with Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

Harris unveils plan to ‘elevate’ water security in foreign policy

Vice President Harris on Wednesday announced an action plan that considers water security as a national security issue, Rachel Frazin reports for the Hill

The White House Action Plan on Global Water Security outlines how the United States will use diplomatic resources to help ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation services around the world. It comes as America faces water issues of its own, with roughly 76 percent of the West suffering from a severe drought fueled by climate change.

In a speech, Harris noted that water insecurity can drive migration and armed conflicts. “This action plan will help our country prevent conflict and advance cooperation among nations, increase equity and economic growth, and make our world more inclusive and resilient,” she said.

Haaland tests positive for coronavirus

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday and has mild symptoms, the agency said in a statement. She tested negative during a visit to the White House on Monday and was not in close contact with President Biden.

Haaland, who is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots, is quarantining in Nevada, where she participated in a roundtable discussion on Tuesday about increasing clean energy development on public lands. She has canceled travel plans elsewhere in the American West.

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