By ANNIE SNIDER
— The winter storms paralyzing nearly all of Texas are offering a real-time lesson in the chaos climate change can inject into markets, industries and politics.
— The crisis is also offering an opening for the President Joe Biden’s push to invest huge sums of money on hardening the nation’s electric grid.
— Rep. Deb Haaland will go before the Senate Energy Committee next week for what’s likely to be a contentious confirmation hearing to be Biden’s Interior secretary.
WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY! I’m your fill-in host, Annie Snider. Congrats to Cheniere’s Khary Cauthen for knowing that January’s vocab word of the month — bivouac — is also the name for the nest Army ants make out of their bodies. For today: Almost half of all insect species belong to what group? Hint: This group includes ladybugs, fireflies and the insect known by the ancient Egyptians as the scarab. Send your tips and trivia answers to email@example.com, who will take the reins for Thursday’s edition.
DRIVING THE DAY
The winter storms that have paralyzed nearly all of Texas are proving to be a real-time lesson in the chaos climate change can inject into markets, industries and politics. The cold weather front has left almost 4 million people in the state without electricity, sent energy prices sky rocketing and lawmakers everywhere looking to pin blame on their favorite hobby horse.
Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem went so far as to say the catastrophe should convince President Joe Biden to reverse course on his energy policy and allow the Keystone XL pipeline project to proceed, a statement in the running for our “Not Going To Happen” award for February. But ME would suggest that, coming just months after the California wildfires, this week’s eventsshow that climate change isfuel-supply agnostic when it comes to wrecking infrastructure.
On top of the power disaster in Texas, the temperatures dropped far enough in the state’sPermian Basin toknock 20 percent of oil production offline, Bloomberg reported. The benchmark oil prices jumped past $60 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time in over a year — but since the cold also forced refineries that buy the oilto shut down production, oil prices pulled back fromtheir highs.
The weather catastrophe is also unveiling potential rifts among Texas Republicans. George P. Bush, director of the Texas General Land Office, blamed wind power for outages, tweeting “Relying solely on renewable energy would be catastrophic. Many of these sources have proven to be unreliable.” Who would disagree? Well, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, for one. Abbott, who regularly throws out more red meat than keepers at the Houston zoo, made it a point to say that the downed power production “includes the natural gas & coal generators.” Abbott’s anxious to lure high-tech companies to the Lone Star state, and renewable energy developers aren’t likely to appreciate the ad hominem attacks.
DON’T WASTE A GOOD CRISIS: The Texas disaster could be a boon to Biden’s proposal to harden the nation’s electric grid, as the administration seeks to connect giant wind and solar power plants to cities and states thousands of miles away, Pro’s Eric Wolff and Lorraine Woellert report. That infrastructure will beessential to keeping the lights on as more solar, wind and other renewable energy is fed into the grid.
Specific regional conditions worsened the crisis in Texas:The state’s grid, though geographically large, is almost entirely cut off from the rest of the country, so it could not draw power from other regions. In contrast, parts of the Midwest that avoided Texas’ fate are members of regional power networks linked by high-voltage transmission lines. Expanding those interregional power lines would make the grid more resilient, preventing future crises, the American Council on Renewable Energy said.
A message from ExxonMobil:
As part of our ongoing commitment to help mitigate the risks of climate change, we plan to further reduce emissions in our operations by 2025. Our plans are expected to reduce our absolute upstream greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 30%, compared to 2016 levels. Learn more about the details of our plan to reduce our emissions.
THE BALANCING ACT: Biden’s promises to be both the greenest and the most pro-union president in history are on a collision course. Democrats on Capitol Hill have beencranking out bills filled with carrots for developers of zero-emission infrastructure, but with pro-labor strings attached, including prevailing wage, job certification and Buy American provisions, Eric and Rebecca Rainey report.
Labor groups that are skeptical that green jobs can sufficiently replace high-paying union jobs in the fossilfuelindustry argue that these provisions are the bare minimum, but solar and wind producers want to see those labor demands pulled back.
Unions say the renewables industry is well out of its infancy and should now come to the table and engage in collective bargaining like other mature industries. “It’s pie-in-the-sky bullshit about these green jobs being good middle-class jobs, because they’re not,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN ON NORDSTREAM 2: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration “would consider sanctions if action occurs to complete” the Nordstream 2 pipeline that would double exports of Russian gas to Germany, calling the project a “bad deal because it divides Europe.” Construction on the pipeline resumed earlier this month, but the White House has so far not moved to implement sanctions passed by Congress. The administration was due to report Tuesday on companies it deems to be in violation of U.S. laws aimed at halting the project.
KERRY CLIMATE TEAM ADDS TRADE LEAD: David Livingston is joining the State Department to handle the intersection of climate and trade issues, filling a key role on White House climate envoy John Kerry’s international operation, three people with knowledge of the move tell ME. Livingston previously was a senior analyst with Eurasia Group — an email sent to his address there resulted in an automatic reply indicating he’s left the consulting firm. He also has held positions at the Atlantic Council, the World Trade Organization and the U.N. Industrial Development Organization.
BILL GATES BONUS ROUND: LESSONS FROM 2009: When Bill Gates sat down (remotely) with our Kelsey Tamborrino, the billionaire philanthropist had sharp words for some of the energy activities funded under the 2009 stimulus bill. Measures like funding for insulating houses, he said, didn’t make sense as a climate mitigation measure since it was too expensive per ton of carbon avoided.
“You[‘ve] got to have an analytic framework, and going in and spending federal labor rates to insulate houses is kind of insane dollars per tons avoided, and not scalable,” he argued. The Energy Department loan program, on the other hand, is the type of effort Gates wants to see revived. “When it comes to R&D, and if you’re careful about how you do the tax credits — that’s government working pretty well,” he told Kelsey.
ICYMI, Gates’ interview breaks down his take on how to fight climate change. And that loan program? Zack reported recently on the money still available there to jump start Biden’s green priorities.