Inside the two-day scramble to add drought funding to the climate law

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Congrats on making it to Friday after an extremely busy week for climate policy, whether you attended the U.N. General Assembly and Climate Week in New York City, the Clean Energy Ministerial in Pittsburgh, or the vote on a climate treaty on Capitol Hill. But first:

Inside the two-day scramble to add drought funding to the Inflation Reduction Act

A week after Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that they had reached a surprise deal on a landmark climate, health and tax policy law, the Colorado River was in a climate-change-fueled crisis — one deepening by the day.

It was Aug. 3, and the water levels of two key reservoirs fed by the Colorado River — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — had declined dramatically amid the worst drought to parch the region in the past 1,200 years.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), one of two crucial Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate, promptly called a Schumer staffer and issued an ultimatum: She would not support the landmark legislation unless roughly $5 billion was added to address the worsening drought across the West.

“I was pretty shocked when I read about the elements of the Inflation Reduction Act and saw that for a very, very significant piece of climate legislation, there was nothing included for drought,” Sinema said in a rare interview, which her office granted on the condition that it would only focus on the drought funding.

“I immediately went to Senator Schumer’s team and said, ‘Look, I know that East Coast senators don’t understand the dire effects that drought has on our economic future. As a Western voice, I’m here at the table now,’” she said. “And this is no secret: I refused to move forward with the bill until significant resources for drought resiliency for Arizona and the entire American West were included.”

What followed was a roughly 48-hour scramble among Sinema and three other Western Democrats — Sens. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) and Mark Kelly (Ariz.) — to secure $4 billion for drought mitigation in the final package that President Biden signed into law on Aug. 16.

Here’s what happened over that two-day period, according to senators and aides involved in the private negotiations:

Kelly, a former astronaut and engineer, asked his staff to include the latest water levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell in his daily briefing memos. Kelly then presented these figures to Manchin, with whom he has a good relationship.

Manchin initially agreed to provide $1 billion for drought resiliency in Arizona. But the Western senators continued to push for $5 billion for drought mitigation across the Upper Basin of the Colorado River — which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — as well as the Lower Basin, which includes Arizona, California and Nevada.

At one point, Sinema met with Cortez Masto and her staffers in the basement of the Capitol to discuss how the drought money “wouldn’t be a gimme for a state or a region, but would be critical for the entire country,” said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

Meanwhile, after Bennet heard that Sinema wanted the drought funding, he called Schumer but didn’t reach the majority leader. Bennet then went on national television and declared that he would “never vote for a bill that didn’t do the right thing” for drought-stricken states, he recalled in an interview.

After he finished the TV appearance, Bennet got a call back from Schumer, who invited him to his office. There, the two senators huddled for more than an hour and went “back and forth on language that would work for both basins,” Bennet said.

“I called Joe in the middle of this, and I said, ‘$1 billion is never going to be enough. We really need $5 billion,’” Bennet said. “And Joe was a no at the beginning of that. But he thought it over, and he was willing to go to $4 billion. And that was a very good outcome for everybody.”

Seeking ‘permanent solutions’

Manchin has credited Kelly’s numbers-based presentations with persuading him to support the additional funding. “Kelly was the one who put the big push on” for the drought money, he told reporters after the bill-signing ceremony at the White House.

Kelly, Bennet and Cortez Masto all face tough reelection races that could determine which party controls the Senate after the midterms. But Kelly said in a recent interview that the drought money “has little or nothing to do with the election” and “everything to do with” preventing an environmental catastrophe.

“We can’t allow the Colorado River to get down to dead pool,” Kelly said, referring to when reservoirs drop so low that they would not be able to produce hydropower.

On Thursday, Bennet led his colleagues in a letter calling on the Bureau of Reclamation to use the $4 billion to enact “permanent solutions” to the drought crisis. The bureau will hold listening sessions on Sept. 30 to hear from tribes, water managers, farmers and others about implementation of the funding.

A spokeswoman for Manchin declined to comment on the record for this report, while spokespeople for Schumer and Cortez Masto did not respond to requests for comment.

Exclusive: Energy Department announces nearly $4.9 billion for carbon management

The Energy Department on Friday will announce that nearly $4.9 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law will support the development of technologies that slash planet-warming emissions from power generation and industrial operations, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The department is making the following three funding opportunity announcements:

  • The Carbon Capture Demonstration Projects Program will provide up to $2.54 billion to develop six integrated carbon capture, transport and storage projects that can be deployed at power plants or other industrial facilities, including cement, pulp and paper, iron, steel, and certain types of chemical plants.
  • Carbon Dioxide Transport, Engineering, and Design will provide up to $100 million to design regional carbon dioxide pipeline networks to safely transport captured CO2.
  • Carbon Storage Validation, and Testing will provide up to $2.25 billion to develop new and expanded large-scale, commercial carbon storage projects with the capacity to store at least 50 million metric tons of CO2.

“Nearly every climate model makes clear that we need to incorporate carbon management technology — especially in hard-to-decarbonize sectors and heavy industries such as steel and cement production — in our toolkit to tackle the climate crisis,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “The bipartisan infrastructure law is helping DOE pick up the pace on projects that can store tens of millions of tons of CO2 that would otherwise be emitted, which will bring jobs to our economy and deliver a healthier environment for all Americans.”

Boebert urges Biden not to make Camp Hale a national monument

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) on Friday will send a letter to President Biden asking him to reconsider his reported plans to designate Camp Halea historic military site in Colorado, as a new national monument.

“For years, partisan big-city Democrats — with the full backing and support of the far-Left green energy cartel — have attempted to implement massive new land grabs,” the letter says.

Biden has not yet created a national monument. The potential designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument would bypass opposition in Congress, where Republicans have rejected legislation from Colorado Democrats to permanently protect these sites.

In the letter, Boebert argues that the designation would represent an overreach of executive power and would trample on private water rights. Eight other Republican lawmakers also signed the letter, including Reps. Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Troy E. Nehls (Tex.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Byron Donalds (Fla.) and Russ Fulcher (Idaho).

Congress races to fund government despite clash over Manchin’s permitting bill

Congress is poised to pass a stopgap funding bill next week, likely preventing a government shutdown even as a clash over a permitting reform bill bogs down negotiations, Caitlin Emma reports for Politico.

It’s unclear whether the funding bill will include the legislation from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) to speed up the permitting process for new energy projects. Republicans and Democrats have expressed misgivings about the measure, and time is running out to strike a compromise.

The Senate is expected to act first on the temporary funding fix. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved Thursday to advance the funding bill, teeing up a test vote on Tuesday evening. (Both chambers are out Monday for Rosh Hashanah.)

Schumer has remained determined to attach the permitting provisions to the funding bill, honoring a deal this summer that gained Manchin’s vote for the Inflation Reduction Act.

Sen. Shelley Moore Got it (R-W.Va.), who introduced a separate GOP permitting plan, said Thursday that she supports Manchin’s version, citing its provisions that would expedite the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Even so, few other Republicans have voiced a willingness to back Manchin’s plan.

Meanwhile, in a Thursday letter led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), nine Senate Democrats called for a separate vote on Manchin’s permitting measure, citing its potential to increase pollution in low-income areas and communities of color, which are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that “there’s no question” as to whether she supports the deal with Manchin.

“I said I support it, yes,” she said. “I said that right from the start.”

Federal government to pay for 100% of Puerto Rico hurricane cleanup for a month

President Biden on Thursday announced that the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of debris removal, power and water restoration, shelter and food for the next month in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, John Wagner and Azi Paybarah report for The Washington Post.

The funding, which Biden revealed before a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on island recovery efforts, will relieve Puerto Rico of the cost of the initial part of the task, as the island begins to rebuild from its second major hurricane in five years.

“We are with you,” Biden said. “We are not going to walk away.”

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