House hearing confronts tree planting push

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With help from Gavin Bade, Anthony Adragna and Zack Colman

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The parties' different approaches to tackling carbon emissions will be on display today during a House committee hearing.

The leaders of the Senate Energy Committee signaled Tuesday there are working to iron out a few remaining issues on an anticipated broad energy package.

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to confirm the president's pick for deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

GOOD MORNING! IT'S WEDNESDAY. I'm your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast.

Natural Resources Defense Council's Ed Chen was the quickest to correctly name former President Ronald Reagan as the first president to lead a labor union. Reagan led the Screen Actors Guild. For today: When President Woodrow Wilson signed the act in 1916 creating the National Park Service, how many national parks and monuments was the agency responsible for? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to [email protected].

Driving the Day

CAN'T SEE THE HEARING FOR THE TREES: The House Natural Resources Committee will examine two bills today with two markedly different approaches to tackling climate change. One bill, H.R. 5435 (116), from Chairman Raúl Grijalva would require net-zero emissions from the nation's public lands and oceans by 2040, and another bill, H.R. 5859 (116), from Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) gives the legislative backing to plant 1 trillion trees by 2050.

While Democrats and environmentalists say they support the concept of planting massive numbers of trees, they fear the bill is Republicans' way to seek political cover on an issue that's a growing concern for voters. Today's hearing will provide them with a chance to highlight the differences between the two parties’ plans to fight climate change, Pro's Anthony Adragna reports this morning.

"By all means, let's plant the trees. Let's start there," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Natural Resources Committee. "But one of these days we have to be able to talk about things that transition us away from fossil fuels to clean energy. We can't just continue to skirt around the edges."

The bill from Westerman, a Yale-educated forester, was unveiled earlier this month as part of a moderate package of Republican bills to combat climate change — earning a mixed reception within Republican circles. The measure incentivizes the use of wood products, but it does not require any specific level of emissions reductions, in line with a Republican emphasis on avoiding new regulations on fossil fuel production or consumption. Westerman said he began crafting it following publication of a July 2019 study in Science that found planting a trillion trees could significantly curb carbon dioxide emissions. "If we can't agree about trees, I don't know what we could agree about," he told POLITICO.

But among the concerns Democrats and environmentalists have raised about the bill are its provisions placing limits on judicial review in forest management cases; defining biomass as carbon neutral — a divisive position in the environmental community — and failing to consider factors like log transportation and building demolition when calculating the carbon lifecycle potential of national forests, Anthony reports. Ahead of today's hearing, more than 95 conservation and climate groups called on lawmakers on the committee to oppose Westerman's bill, arguing it "presents a false solution for addressing the climate crisis by misallocating resources to focus on industrial logging rather than on urgently needed steep reductions of fossil fuel emissions."

Transportation

ME FIRST — GLOBAL EV POLICIES BOOST SALES AS U.S. LAGS BEHIND: Plug-in electric vehicle sales in European Union nations grew 54 percent last year as automakers ramp up production in response to new pollution rules, according to a new report from S&P Global Platts Analytics. That's a marked contrast to the U.S., where analysts said EV sales dropped 9 percent.

By 2021, EU rules say new vehicles from each automaker must average 95 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer traveled. Nearly every major automaker is struggling to meet that mandate, opening them up to multibillion-dollar fines if they do not sell more EVs or cut production of higher-emitting models. That's led to a "landmark push" to get more EVs on the market, said Zane McDonald, senior analyst at Platts Analytics.

EV sales also grew 3 percent in China last year, Platts Analytics found, despite a "large reduction" in total light duty cars sales. As in Europe, analysts credited stricter emissions standards, along with a "ramped up" New Energy Vehicle mandate from the central government, which sets EV and hybrid manufacturing targets.

Meanwhile, EV sales dipped in the U.S. as the Trump administration continues its push to gut Obama-era efficiency standards for cars and undermine stricter rules by California and a dozen other states. Along with the deregulatory actions, analysts blamed the dip on "very limited availability" of electric vehicles across many U.S. regions and the "lack of a long term [EV] adoption strategy" from the federal government.

As U.S. regulations and incentives have stalled, automakers are looking at other markets to launch EVs first. Just this week, General Motors announced a new fully electric crossover vehicle — the Menlo — with a 250-mile range and a base price tag under $24,000. It will only be available in China. Toyota and Honda will launch their first major electric models in China this year as well, while Mazda and Volkswagen will begin their EV rollouts in Europe.

On the Hill

STILL WORKING IT: Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin, the top Republican and Democrat on the Energy Committee, huddled during votes on Tuesday in hopes of ironing out the few remaining issues on the pending energy bills. "We're chasing down all those little bits," Murkowski said, referencing CBO scoring issues and building code language as "our hardest nut to crack." Manchin said the bill needed "a few adjustments" but sounded upbeat they could be worked out. "We're really good on all of it, just about," he told reporters.

CONFIRMED: The Senate confirmed Katharine MacGregor on Tuesday to be deputy Interior secretary on a 58-38 vote, with five members of the Democratic conference supporting the nomination, Anthony reports for Pros. MacGregor also secured support from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had placed and then lifted a hold on her nomination last year over concerns related to the administration's offshore drilling plan. "I am confident that Deputy Secretary MacGregor understands Florida's unique and vulnerable coastal character, and that most Floridians are opposed to allowing offshore drilling off of the state's coasts," he said in a statement Tuesday.

FAIR SHARE: Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced a bipartisan bill Tuesday to update the public lands royalty system for oil and gas production in an effort to make sure taxpayers receive fair returns on leases for public lands production. The Fair Returns for Public Lands Act of 2020 would increase the share of royalties that taxpayers receive from public lands leasing by raising the rate from the 12.5 percent established by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 to 18.75 percent. The bill would also increase rental rates to $3 per acre for the first five years and $5 per acre for the next five years, and it would increase minimum bids for leasing public lands to $10 per acre.

Related: The federal government lost as much as $12.4 billion in revenue from oil and gas drilling on public lands over the last decade under the current Mineral Leasing Act, according to analysis Tuesday from Taxpayers for Common Sense.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced its Energy Subcommittee will hold a hearing on advanced nuclear energy technologies next week. The hearing, titled "Building a 100 Percent Clean Economy: Advanced Nuclear Technology's Role in a Decarbonized Future," is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on March 3.

Around the Agencies

GREENS SUE DOE OVER LIGHT BULBS: The NRDC led consumer and environmental groups in a lawsuit Tuesday against the Energy Department over its decision not to update energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. The environmental group filed a petition Tuesday with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals with the Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, Environment America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The petition asks the court to review the Energy Department's December final rule that determined energy standards for general service incandescent lamps don't need to be updated. The NRDC also sued the department last year, along with 14 states and other advocacy nonprofit groups, challenging DOE's rollback of lightbulb efficiency rules.

Beyond the Beltway

REPORT: BP TO EXIT TRADE GROUPS: BP is expected to withdraw from at least two trade groups over climate policies: American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Western States Petroleum Association, The Washington Post reported last night, citing several industry sources. BP, the Post reports, might also pull out of a third association, though the company is expected to remain in the American Petroleum Institute. The withdrawals follow the oil giant's vow earlier this month to go carbon neutral by 2050 under its new CEO Bernard Looney.

ABOUT THOSE MASSIVE WATER DELIVERIES: President Donald Trump last week might have touted new endangered species rules intended to provide "a massive amount of water" for agriculture in California, but the Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday said Central Valley farmers should plan for relatively low water deliveries this year. Reclamation said that agricultural customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would receive just 15 percent of their maximum contract — including the largest customer of the Central Valley Project, Westlands Water District, which along with other agricultural contractors has been pushing for the new rules, reports Pro's Debra Kahn.

Trump last week said farmers and ranchers could expect "a magnificent amount" of water from the new "biological opinions," which incorporate more flexible pumping rules that would increase exports from the Delta. But more pumping can occur only when snow and rain make more water available. Federal officials meanwhile said conditions were too dry to promise more. A wet end of 2019 has given way to a record-dry 2020, with Northern Sierra precipitation at half of the seasonal average.

Movers and Shakers

— Commerce Department acting Chief Data Officer Ed Kearns will join First Street Foundation, a nonprofit group seeking to map the flood risk to every U.S. home, as chief data officer. Kearns also serves as chief data officer at the NOAA. His last day with the federal government is April 4.

The Grid

— "Climate change and soaring flood insurance premiums could trigger another mortgage crisis," via the Center for Public Integrity, WNYC/Gothamist and Vox.

— "Administration freezes study that considered a NYC sea wall Trump called 'foolish,'" via The Washington Post.

— "Opponents fault Trump proposal to cut environmental reviews," via Associated Press.

— "Oil and gas industry rewards U.S. lawmakers who oppose environmental protections — study," via The Guardian.

— "Hatch Act probe closed for top EPA official," via E&E News.

— "Chevron sends London traders home on coronavirus concern," via Bloomberg.

THAT'S ALL FOR ME!