Senate Democrats call for boosting clean energy in response to war in Ukraine

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! ICYMI, the Climate Action Campaign projected the words “Climate can’t wait” on the building across the street from the White House correspondents’ dinner on Saturday. The message was meant to encourage President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass the climate provisions in the stalled reconciliation bill.

Exclusive: Senate Democrats to call for boosting clean energy in response to war in Ukraine

Six Senate Democrats will introduce a resolution on Monday to urge a swift transition to a clean energy economy as a national security imperative, and to condemn oil and gas companies for profiting off Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

While the nonbinding resolution does not carry the force of legislation, it signals that some Democrats view the war in Ukraine – and its impact on energy prices – as a reason to accelerate the transition to clean energy, rather than to lock in dependence on fossil fuels.

The resolution comes as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) pitches an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy by pointing to the war and its effects on inflation — and as President Biden faces criticism from climate activists for responding to the war by adopting some fossil-fuel-friendly policies, at least in the short term.

Led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the resolution is also backed by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.).

The document argues that oil and gas companies have engaged in “profiteering” by using record profits to reward investors and shareholders, rather than to help lower prices at the pump. It contends that deploying more clean energy would bolster the national security of the United States and its allies.

The resolution “shows that there is momentum among the caucus for a better path forward from this crisis other than ‘drill, baby, drill,'” a Senate Democratic aide said in an email.

Merkley said in a statement to The Climate 202 that “the war in Ukraine has underscored how our dependence on oil fills the coffers of tyrants and dictators like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and that a rapid transition to clean and renewable energy is not just necessary for our environment, but critical to our economic and national security.”

ExxonMobil and Chevron, the largest U.S. oil companies, reported a big jump in profits on Friday because of soaring energy prices sparked by the war in Ukraine. Democratic leadership has also sought to blame oil companies for high gas prices, a growing concern for voters ahead of the midterm elections, despite no evidence of price gouging.

Biden has sought to tamp down gas prices by taking several steps that are anathema to climate advocates, such as by pressing oil companies to boost production in the near term.

Manchin’s next bipartisan energy meeting
Meanwhile, Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is set to hold another bipartisan meeting on energy policy on Monday evening.

Manchin and moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) convened the first such meeting a week ago. The gatherings are aimed at exploring the possibility of a bipartisan energy package that could attract 10 Republican votes.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) was the sole Republican to attend the initial bipartisan energy discussion in person. But Mike Reynard, a spokesman for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), confirmed to The Climate 202 that Sullivan plans to attend the meeting tonight.

Cramer told reporters last week that he had encouraged several GOP colleagues to join the bipartisan talks, adding that tax credits for carbon capture technology are “number one” in the potential to garner 10 Republican votes, while credits for nuclear energy are in the “number two” position.

“That might be a good place to start,” Cramer said. “Then again, it’s not my meeting. … Prime Minister [Manchin] called the meeting. So it’s up to Joe.”

Climate advocates fear the bipartisan energy talks could waste precious time that would be better spent striking a deal on Biden’s stalled climate and social spending bill. But a source close to Manchin, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their relationship, told The Climate 202 that there could be broad bipartisan support for tax credits for wind energy.

Manchin has personally expressed concern about shoring up the domestic wind industry, the individual said, while General Electric manufactures wind turbine blades in Cramer’s home state of North Dakota.

Jonathan Kott, a former top aide to Manchin who still advises him, told The Climate 202 that the senator from West Virginia is invoking the same spirit of bipartisan dealmaking that led to the bipartisan infrastructure law last year.

“The senator’s view is, ‘We may disagree on 90 percent of things. But if we can find that 10 percent that we agree on, let’s get something done,’ ” Kott said, adding, “I am a betting man, and I would definitely bet on Joe Manchin being able to find some compromise in that group and pass a bill.”

International climate

Russian threats redraw the global energy map

The Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline that carries natural gas from Algeria to Italy. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)
As European nations rush to replace oil and gas imports from Russia, new players — such as Algeria, Angola, Nigeria and the Republic of Congo — are emerging in the global energy market, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper, Steven Mufson and Chico Harlan report.

At the same time, European nations are untangling themselves from Russian gas by turning to more reliable, but expensive, liquefied natural gas providers such as Qatar and the United States as part of a coordinated effort to combat the energy crisis spurred by the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Even with an increase in imports from African nations with large natural gas reserves, the next 18 months are going to be difficult for Europe, as the impact of high energy prices continues to ripple and governments struggle to power factories, heat homes and keep plants running — while also kick-starting a long-term transition to renewables.

E.U. to propose phaseout of Russian oil by end of year

The European Union is eyeing a ban on imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, according to two E.U. diplomats, after talks began between the European Commission and member states this weekend, Philip Blenkinsop reports for Reuters.

The proposed restrictions would be part of the bloc’s sixth sanctions package in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and would be phased in over time, since some E.U. nations are able to eliminate the imports now, while others are more concerned about the impact on prices.

Germany, one of the bigger buyers of Russian oil that has resisted calls for an energy embargo, says it expects to be fully independent of Russian crude by late summer, the Associated Press reports. On Sunday, German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck acknowledged the ambitious timeline, which “requires an enormous commitment from everyone involved.”

The commission, which is coordinating the bloc’s response, aims to solidify its sanctions plan in time for a meeting of E.U. ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday.

Pressure points

Newsom is reconsidering California’s promise to close its last nuclear plant

The Diablo Canyon nuclear facility in California on Nov. 3, 2008. (Michael A. Mariant/AP) (Michael Mariant/AP)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told the Los Angeles Times editorial board that he will seek federal funds to delay the long-planned closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the state’s largest electricity source, shifting on his previous promise to shut it down because of radioactivity concerns, Sammy Roth reports for the Times.

Diablo Canyon, owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, is preparing to shutter by 2025 after agreeing six years ago to close rather than make costly environmental and earthquake safety upgrades. Now, however, the state is set to submit an application to receive part of the $6 billion in federal funds the Biden administration announced last month to revive distressed nuclear reactors across the country.

Newsom said that submitting an application ensures the state doesn’t miss the opportunity to keep the plant as a short-term, zero-carbon option to combat a projected increase in rolling blackouts amid worsening climate effects, including more extreme heat waves, wildfires and drought.

On the Hill this week

Tuesday: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on President Biden’s budget request for the Transportation Department for fiscal 2023. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will testify.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will also consider the nomination of Maria Duaime Robinson to be an assistant secretary of energy for electricity. The committee will also mark up conservation legislation, including the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), which would protect more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado.
Wednesday: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a markup of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, which authorizes flood control, navigation and ecosystem recovery projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thursday: The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act, which would authorize the Justice Department to sue oil cartel members for antitrust violations. The committee had originally scheduled a much-anticipated vote on the measure last week.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will also meet to examine the Energy Department’s proposed budget for fiscal 2023. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will testify. Granholm appeared before two House panels last week.