The climate records of House speaker contenders

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re checking Wirecutter’s recommendations for the best new speakers for our house.

Not a subscriber? Sign up for The Climate 202 to get scoops and sharp analysis in your inbox each morning.

In today’s edition, we’ll cover an oil spill near a national monument in Utah, Hawaiian Electric’s insurance woes after the Maui wildfires, and the impending departure of the No. 2 official at the Interior Department. But first:

The House is searching for a new speaker. Here are some possible candidates’ climate records.

An unprecedented race for House speaker is heating up after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted from the role Tuesday, thrusting the chamber into a period of uncertainty and paralysis.

Among the Republicans who are vying for the gavel or whose names have been floated, there isn’t a ton of daylight on climate and energy policy. The GOP lawmakers have all called for boosting America’s production of fossil fuels, a leading cause of global warming, and have voted to repeal parts of President Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It’s clear that any of the names being floated are going to be pro-polluter and would lead the caucus as McCarthy did, in a way that is completely antithetical to environmental justice, to environmental protection and to climate justice,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told The Climate 202.

Still, there are subtle differences in the Republicans’ views and priorities that would shape their approaches to upcoming climate fights on Capitol Hill, including battles over sustainable investing and spending cuts to environmental agencies.

Here’s what to know about these lawmakers and their climate records:

Scalise, the House majority leader, announced yesterday that he is running for speaker. He is in some ways a natural candidate to succeed McCarthy, although a recent blood cancer diagnosis means he will probably face questions about whether he is up for such a taxing role. 

Since coming to Congress in 2008, Scalise has been one of the fossil fuel industry’s biggest backers in Washington. He has taken a dozen congressional delegations on tours of the Gulf of Mexico, where he has pushed to expand offshore oil drilling.

“Steve Scalise will always be a rock star in the eyes of the oil and gas industry,” Stephen Brown, a former lobbyist for the oil refining company Tesoro, told The Washington Post in January.

The industry has been generous to Scalise. Although his seat is safe, he has been one of the top five House recipients of oil and gas campaign contributions since 2016. He has received more than $2.2 million from the fossil fuel industry since 1999, when he served in the Louisiana House of Representatives, according to OpenSecrets.

Last week, Scalise slammed the Interior Department’s plan to approve just three offshore oil and gas lease sales through 2029 — the smallest offshore oil drilling plan in history — as a gift to “the climate mob” that would raise prices at the pump.

Asked by reporters yesterday if he is running for speaker, Jordan offered a one-word answer: “Yes.”

Jordan, a founding member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, has used his chairmanship of the powerful House Judiciary Committee to probe Wall Street firms’ ESG — environmental, social and governance — goals and policies.

  • In July, Jordan sent letters to three of the world’s largest asset managers — BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street — asserting that they potentially violated antitrust laws. He accused the firms of colluding to cut emissions with the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, whose members have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • In June, Jordan issued a subpoena to the sustainability group Ceres seeking documents and communications related to its engagement with Climate Action 100+, an investor-led climate initiative. He alleged these efforts also potentially ran afoul of antitrust laws.

Helen Booth-Tobin, a spokeswoman for Ceres, said in an email that the group “intends to comply with the subpoena” and has already “produced tens of thousands of pages” of material in response to other requests from the committee.

“Climate Action 100+ is not in violation of antitrust laws,” she added. “Investors are independent fiduciaries with responsibilities to their clients and their own internal governance. They have made their own decisions about factoring the risks and opportunities related to climate change into their investment strategies.”

Emmer, the House majority whip, is seeking to move up one spot to majority leader, and he has publicly supported Scalise’s bid for speaker. But some Republicans suspect he is also positioning himself for speaker in case there is insufficient support for Scalise or Jordan.

A member of the Congressional Western Caucus, Emmer has championed efforts to open up public lands to mining and drilling. Last summer, he co-sponsored a resolution that urged the House to “support the safe and responsible development of its energy resources.”

Hern, the chair of the Republican Study Committee, pitched the influential Texas delegation yesterday on why he should serve in the House GOP leadership. He said some colleagues have asked him to consider running for speaker and he is looking into it.

The Republican Study Committee, the largest ideological bloc of the GOP conference, proposed in June to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act in its entirety. Hern has said that he sees “nothing redeemable” in the climate law.

Yet in the Tulsa area he represents, the law helped spur the Italian company Enel to build a $1 billion solar cell and panel manufacturing facility. It marks the largest private investment in the state’s history.

Oil spill cleanup underway near Utah national monument

An oil spill occurred last month near Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, prompting an interagency cleanup effort that is ongoing, the Interior Department confirmed to The Climate 202.

“Within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, impacts have occurred within a heavily vegetated rocky canyon that is difficult to access and thorough cleanup efforts are expected to take time,” Interior’s Bureau of Land Management said in an emailed statement. 

The spill happened Sept. 13 and was contained the next day, the agency said. The cleanup effort involves the BLM, Forest Service, Utah Department of Environmental Quality and Citation Oil and Gas.

The Insider, a local publication, reported that the spill resulted from a mechanical failure at Citation’s Upper Valley oil field. The state DEQ has said that as of Sept. 22, the spill involved 163 barrels of oil.

Citation, which will be responsible for all cleanup costs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident comes after President Biden in 2021 restored full protections to Grand Staircase-Escalante, which had been slashed in size by former president Donald Trump. The national monument is home to Native American art and settlements as well as dinosaur fossils.

Hawaiian Electric’s insurance won’t cover most Maui fire victims

Hawaiian Electric is severely underinsured to pay victims of August’s deadly Maui wildfire and repair its own damaged infrastructure, raising questions about how the utility could cover billions of dollars in damage claims if it is found liable for starting the blaze, The Washington Post’s Brianna Sacks reports. 

In an Oct. 2 filing with state regulators, Hawaiian Electric said it had $165 million in annual general liability insurance, which it could use to help repay residents for their losses if it is determined that the utility’s equipment started the Lahaina fire. That would only cover a small fraction of the potential $5 billion in damage claims, which could grow as more residents and shareholders join lawsuits against the company. 

The discovery comes after the utility publicly acknowledged that its equipment was responsible for igniting a fire Aug. 8. Regulators are deciding whether to hold Hawaiian Electric accountable for another fire that sparked the same day, ultimately devastating Lahaina.

Interior Department’s No. 2 is stepping down

Tommy Beaudreau will leave his role as deputy interior secretary at the end of the month, the Interior Department said yesterday, leaving open a position that oversees some of the Biden administration’s most controversial decisions on oil, energy and conservation, The Post’s Timothy Puko reports. 

As the agency’s No. 2 official for two years, Beaudreau was often the point person for Secretary Deb Haaland on energy policy. It was his signature on the final approval for the Alaskan oil project known as Willow, which sparked intense criticism from climate activists. He also helped craft several new conservation measures across the country, including for the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin and in Alaska and Minnesota. 

Beaudreau, a former energy lawyer, has spent 10 years at Interior during separate stints under the Obama and Biden administrations. He cited the need to have more time with his family as a reason for his departure. 

A department spokeswoman declined to comment on how Interior might fill the role. Beaudreau was the White House’s second pick for the position after senators from fossil-fuel-rich states blocked the original nomination of Elizabeth Klein, who now leads Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Three states agree to coordinate on offshore wind

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut yesterday signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to coordinate on offshore wind projects, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) announced at an American Clean Power Association conference in Boston. 

The memorandum of understanding calls for the three New England states to jointly consider bids from offshore wind developers. The states could collectively issue a solicitation for as much as 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, according to a news release from Healey’s office.

The agreement comes as the offshore wind industry faces financial difficulties, with high financing costs, inflation and supply chain bottlenecks chipping away at the profitability of planned projects on the East Coast.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments