Assist wished within the solar sector – POLITICO – Politico

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With help from Eric Wolff, Anthony Adragna, Ximena Bustillo, Annie Snider and Alex Guillén.

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— U.S. solar will need to quadruple the size of its workforce by 2035 to meet Democrats' emissions goals, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2020 released today.

— House progressives unveiled legislation to aggressively expand EV infrastructure, as Republicans blast Democrats' EV plans as exposing the U.S. to Chinese supply chain dominance.

— The White House is quietly rooting for tax credits for nuclear power plants as they face growing costs and competition.

WELCOME TO THURSDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. Congrats to LCV’s Tiernan Sittenfeld for knowing Simeon II was the last tsar of Bulgaria (and prime minister from 2001-2005). For today’s trivia: What year did ABBA form? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected]. Find me on Twitter @matthewchoi2018.

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SOLAR HANGS A HELP WANTED SIGN: The U.S. solar industry will need to quadruple the size of its workforce by 2035 if it plans to meet President Joe Biden's goal of reaching 100 percent clean electricity by that year, a new report from the industry's lobbying association said this morning.

The U.S. solar industry employed 231,474 workers last year, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2020 released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Foundation, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and BW Research Partnership. That's a 6.7 percent drop from 2019 caused by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and increased labor productivity, the report said. And it's much smaller than the at least 900,000 solar workers the analysis projects will be required to reach Biden's 2035 target. Under the current trajectory, the industry will employ 400,000 workers in 2030, the report said.

Many solar companies have not yet returned to pre-pandemic employment levels. But the drop in overall employment came as the industry also notched record installations and is poised to grow significantly over the next decade. SEIA is advocating for federal policies that spur job training — like the apprenticeship programs included in Biden's infrastructure package — and to help incentivize U.S. manufacturing alongside the growing demand. “It would be naive of us to just hope that the workers show up,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, told ME. “I think that you will continue to see a focused effort from the solar industry to make sure that we have the workers ready.”

Republicans and labor unions have been critical of the transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy jobs, pointing to low unionization rates – which are about 10.3 percent in the solar sector, according to the report — and a lower median hourly wage.

“We're listening and we're engaging and having conversations with folks in the administration and folks across the spectrum to look at opportunities for more unionization, but certainly for ensuring that we're paying a good living wage for our employees,” Hopper said.

ICYMI: Senate Energy Ranking Member John Barrasso released a retort to Democrats' climate plans Wednesday, including repeating a GOP attack on the Department of Energy's funding for the failed solar cell maker Solyndra and citing figures about significant declines in solar jobs in Germany.

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Honda ranks as the EPA’s most fuel-efficient full-line automaker in America and has the lowest CO2 emissions of any full-line automaker, continuing more than 40 years of fuel-efficiency leadership. We make more than just cars here, too. Today, more than 31,000 U.S. associates design, develop and manufacture trucks, SUVs, power equipment and even the HondaJet. Our factories, suppliers and dealers are all integrated into our industry-leading environmental commitment. And we’re not done yet. See Honda’s environmental commitments.

LEVIN, AOC PUSH MASS EV CHARGING BUILDOUT: Reps. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), backed by environmental and labor groups, on Wednesday formally unveiled legislation they said would help develop and build a nationwide network of half a million electric vehicle charging stations within five years.

Ocasio-Cortez called the legislation “part of the Green New Deal suite of bills” that would deliver for frontline, labor and environmental groups. “We have to make sure that our transition to electric is better for workers, it creates dignified jobs and that people are better off with a decarbonized electric economy than they are with a fossil fuel economy,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding the 500,000 charging station goal is “so doable, I'm almost tempted to say let's go a million.”

MEANWHILE IN COMMITTEE: Republicans blasted Democrats’ electric vehicles plans as beholden to a Chinese-dominated supply chain during a House Energy hearing on the CLEAN Future Act on Wednesday. Democrats have been wary about addressing this line of attack directly — China is a top producer of critical minerals needed in EV production and has been accused of labor abuses.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member of the full committee, brought up “the security impacts of the United States trading its strategic advantage in fossil energy for more reliance on supply chains from China.”

Republicans also accused Democrats of trying to mandate a transition to electric vehicles that would be harmful to everyday consumers, even though no Democratic proposals would require Americans to change what vehicles they drive.

In defending their proposals, Democrats emphasized how key EVs could be in reaching economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) also stressed the economic benefits of EVs, which will likely be cheaper than gas-powered vehicles within five years, he said. Pro’s Tanya Snyder gets into the details.

NOMINATIONS TO EPW: Senate EPW will hold a hearing next Wednesday on three of Biden's picks for roles at EPA and the Interior Department: Radhika Fox for assistant administrator for water at EPA; Michal Freedhoff, a former EPW committee aide, for EPA's assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention; and Shannon Estenoz for assistant secretary of fish and wildlife and parks at Interior.

ENDORSED: The Trump administration’s water chief, David Ross, is throwing his support behind Fox, his slated successor. Ross touted her work on affordability, infrastructure and workforce issues in a letter to Senate EPW Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) Wednesday, saying, “There will be times that I may disagree with her policy preferences and we may differ on our view of the legal authorities that govern the various water programs at EPA. And that is okay.”

TODAY'S HEARINGS: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm hits the House, testifying before an Appropriations subcommittee on the department’s budget request for fiscal year 2022.

Other hearings include a Member Day hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, a House Small Business subcommittee hearing on job growth through infrastructure investment and a House Transportation subcommittee hearing on high-speed rail. The House Foreign Affairs committee will also hold a hearing on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang — a region caught in the debate over responsible sourcing of renewable energy equipment and its components.

THE NUCLEAR OPTION: The White House is privately open to the idea of supporting tax credits for aging nuclear power plants to help reach its net-zero emissions goals, Reuters’ Timothy Gardner and Jarrett Renshaw scooped Wednesday. Nuclear is the leading source of emissions-free power in the U.S., but rising costs and competition from other sources has been leading to more plants shutting down.

The new tax credits for nuclear energy would be similar to extant programs for wind and solar, Reuters reports, and Biden has been prodding Democratic lawmakers to include a tax credit expansion for nuclear in their draft of his planned infrastructure package. The preliminary plans wouldn’t allow companies to simultaneously receive benefits from equivalent state-level programs, and companies would need to prove their financial need.

Biden has long voiced his support for nuclear energy, and the energy source has been a major driver in phasing down fossil fuels abroad. But there’s still sizable public opposition, especially with older plants, over waste storage and fears stemming from extremely rare but very high-profile disasters. Friends of the Earth Program Manager Lukas Ross said in a statement that the tax credits would be “courting disaster and guaranteed to slow the deployment of truly clean renewables.”

DATA DIVE: The EPA published a notice in the Federal Register on Wednesday informing obligated parties under the Renewable Fuel Standard, including those that have requested a small refinery exemption, that their data will be turned over to the Government Accountability Office following a request from lawmakers to examine the agency's handling of the waivers. The agency said it will provide confidential business information to GAO, including all documents and data related to all small refinery exemption petitions since the start of the RFS program until now.

There's not much in the way of near-term impact, according to a research note from ClearView Energy Partners, but a critical final report from GAO “could weigh on future administrations that might be inclined to consider returning to a permissive posture on the exemptions in line with the one adopted during the Trump Administration.”

VILSACK ON DEFENSE: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the department’s approach to climate change Wednesday, telling reporters the department has an “enormous set of tools” to help farmers curb greenhouse gas emissions, even as top Republicans are challenging USDA’s ability to take much action without cooperation from lawmakers.

When asked about creating a carbon bank, Vilsack pointed to USDA’s broader options for addressing climate change, like expanding conservation programs or financing innovations in bioprocessing and methane capture technology. But he acknowledged that such efforts will require funding from Congress. Pro’s Ryan McCrimmon and Ximena Bustillo have more.

COAL ECHOES IN THE HALLS OF JUSTICE: A coal company has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the EPA's climate regulatory authority rather than wait for the Biden administration to write a new rule for power plants, echoing a similar petition sent by a coalition of Republican attorneys general last week. The D.C. Circuit’s January ruling wrongly concluded that the EPA can use strategies like generation shifting, according to North American Coal Corp., whose parent, NACCO Industries, is the sixth largest coal producer in the U.S.

If the Supreme Court doesn't rule against the Biden administration now, “crucial decisions” about climate change policy “will be made by unelected agency officials without statutory authority, as opposed to our elected legislators,” the company wrote. As with the AGs’ petition, it remains to be seen whether the high court will take the case since the Biden administration is writing a new rule.

INFLUENCERS: Pioneer Public Affairs is formally launching a new political consulting venture today, with clients focusing on clean energy and other progressive environmental priorities. A major focus for the firm will be supporting budding clean energy technologies in Congress, including carbon sequestration with bio-oils and an expansion of hydrogen. The group is led by Joe Britton, former chief of staff to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

AUDUBON'S AFTERMATH: An investigation of the National Audubon Society confirmed reporting by Pro’s Zack Colman that the environmental organization fostered a culture of harassment, intimidation and fear against women and people of color and recommended sweeping organizational changes.

PIPE FIGHT: Canadian oil and American Democrats are back at it over cross-border pipelines, only this time, it’s an old pipe at the center of the tussle. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is going after the Line 5 pipeline, built in the 1950s, as posing an environmental risk to an ecologically sensitive area of the Great Lakes. Her spokesman called pipes in the Straits of Mackinac a “ticking time bomb”, and Whitmer wants them shut off.

But Canadian energy firms and the country’s liberal government say doing so would do more harm than good. Unlike the Keystone XL project shuttered by Biden, Line 5 is already in operation, putting Canadians and Americans to work and providing heating for thousands of people. And Enbridge, Line 5’s operator, said it won’t shut off the pipe unless ordered by a court. Lauren Gardner dives into the conflict for Pros.

CALIFORNIA HEAT: California may still be vulnerable to rolling power outages this summer if there’s an extreme heat wave, according to the state’s energy officials, in spite of efforts over the past 8 months to strengthen the grid for severe weather. Energy officials said it does, at least, have adequate resources to handle average temperatures this summer, Pro’s Colby Bermel reports.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES OVER COLSTRIP POWER PLANT: Things have gotten ugly at the Colstrip coal power plant in Montana. PGE, PacifiCorp, Avista, and Puget Sound Electric, which combined own 70 percent of the 1.5 gigawatt power plant, say that their majority ownership stake should let them close the plant. Talen Energy Supply and NorthWestern Corp., which each own 30 percent of one of the two generation units, counter that all owners must agree.

But that’s not entirely why the majority owners filed a complaint in federal court this week. The six companies have an ownership agreement which stipulates that these disputes should be resolved by a Washington state arbiter under Washington state law. But Montana meddled in that agreement last month when Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill that requires the power companies to go before three Montana arbiters. Now a federal judge gets to decide where arbitration will happen, and thus who will get to determine the fate of the plant.

A message from Honda:

Honda’s environmental leadership extends well beyond our fuel-efficient vehicles and products.
Our factories, suppliers and dealers are all a part of our industry-leading environmental commitment. Our investments don’t stop at the environment, advancing the U.S. economy is another key priority. We’ve been employing and operating in the U.S. for more than 60 years, maintaining good American manufacturing jobs. Honda vehicles have among the highest U.S. content of any vehicles produced and sold here. In fact, Honda leads all automakers with the most American-made models at the top of’s annual American-Made Index. We have the longest sustained presence in the U.S. of any international automaker. And we’re not done yet. See Honda’s environmental commitments.

— “Conditions coming together for another historic wildfire season in US,” via AccuWeather.

— “Big solar eyes old power plants in congested Midwest grid,” via E&E News.

— “Picking a spot for Biden-Putin summit is a tricky task,” via POLITICO.

— “Environmental Enforcement Tool Still Stymied by Trump Regulation,” via Bloomberg Law.

— “Another delay, cost increase for Mountain Valley Pipeline,” via The Roanoke Times.



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