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Scientists say the world urgently needs to cut methane emissions. The politics aren't as simple. – POLITICO

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The Biden administration’s emerging efforts to slash emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas triggering alarms across the globe — is setting the stage for a new clash among lawmakers, agricultural interests and the energy industry.

Carbon dioxide commands most of the attention when it comes to plans to combat climate change, but the Biden administration and some Democrats are shifting focus to methane, the greenhouse gas second-most responsible for heating the planet.

Methane emissions have boomed since 2007, largely from oil and gas production propelled by the fracking revolution, and atmospheric concentrations are at their highest level in 800,000 years, according to the latest United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Scientists around the world increasingly say that curbing the gas — which traps heat 86 times more effectively over 20 years than carbon dioxide — is the clearest near-term way to put the planet on a more sustainable temperature trajectory.

But wrestling methane is presenting a new round of political and practical complications for the Biden administration: Agriculture, including livestock and land-based systems, accounts for 40 percent of global methane emissions — spurring concern among Republicans and farm-state Democrats about regulatory efforts to tackle the problem.

Senate Democrats plan to include a so-called “methane polluter fee” in their $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would hit energy producers that vent or burn off excess methane and compressors used to pressurize and transport natural gas. Several also introduced legislation this month requiring refiners and oil and gas producers operating in the United States to pay into a fund based on a share of their global carbon and methane emissions.

“The methane polluter fee targets industry leakage, which even the fossil fuel industry has a hard time defending,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told POLITICO. “I think that the public more and more cares about climate change and people understand that methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas – indeed more powerful than carbon dioxide. So it seems like addressing it is a good thing.”

Whitehouse said the Senate Budget Committee informed him that his bill with Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will form the basis of the polluter fee. That legislation calls for a $1,800 per ton fee on oil and gas producers whose emissions rate perform worse than regional averages.

Environmental allies who have joined Democrats in challenging the fossil fuel industry’s political power, misinformation tactics and for causing climate change also believe addressing methane is a winning political strategy.

“It’s to help the worst performers to clean up their act. It’s to get them to avoid paying the fee because we’re basically setting money on fire,” National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O’Mara said. “It’s great policy, but I also think it’s good politics to be incentivizing companies to reduce their waste, which in the long run is going to end up saving consumers money.”

Mark Brownstein, senior vice president for energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, drew connections to ongoing wildfires, droughts and floods in reasoning the public is ready to embrace a fee on methane emissions. He noted that already available technology can reduce oil and gas methane emissions 75 percent from current levels, and that the evolution of remote sensing by drone and aircraft has also reduced costs for curbing methane.

“Over a quarter of the warming we’re seeing right now is being driven by methane emissions from human activities,” he said. “We know that by controlling methane pollution from the oil and gas industry we can make a major difference in addressing the climate problem that’s affecting all of us today. That’s the key issue.”

But Republicans are preparing to fight Democrats’ efforts by saying it would increase costs to everyday Americans for things like home heating, electricity and groceries.

A fee on methane emissions would function as an implicit tax hike on Americans with less disposable income, making it “violative” of Biden’s pledge to avoid raising taxes on people earning less than $400,000, said Mike McKenna, a Republican lobbyist who works with energy companies.

“What the Republicans need to do is just remind everybody there has to be cheaper ways to do this,” he said.

Some have taken to calling the proposed methane polluter fee a “cow tax” — tied to longstanding GOP efforts to portray Biden and Democrats as going after Americans’ hamburgers.

“Our hard-working livestock producers should not have to worry about being subject to onerous regulations and increased production costs,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said this month on the Senate floor about Democrats’ proposal for a fee on methane emissions. “This ‘cow tax’ will just result in higher food costs for Americans at the grocery store at a time when inflation already has caused prices to skyrocket.”

The Biden administration is weighing in on the side of curbing methane emissions, teasing it has big plans it will soon announce, but understanding that it will walk a fine line in doing so as any comprehensive policy to curb methane would have to tackle agriculture. That presents challenges to Democrats wary of alienating rural and centrist voters. So the administration has been careful to avoid talk of new regulations for agriculture, where livestock like cows account for a large share of emissions, instead speaking in terms of carrots such as incentives and voluntary programs for agricultural methane.

On the energy side, EPA Administrator Michael Regan tweeted after the IPCC report release that “we are developing strong standards to reduce methane — a potent greenhouse gas identified by the IPCC for urgent action.” Those rules would build on Obama-era standards for controlling methane leaks at new and existing oil and gas operations. They are on track for completion in September and would utilize new technology to help locate so-called “super-emitting” methane leaks, according to an EPA spokesperson.

“Reading the tea leaves, I think this administration is likely to use its whole of government approach and make sure all of its relevant departments — including Agriculture and Energy — are doing everything possible to reduce this potent climate pollution,” said Sarah Smith, super pollutants director at environmental group Clean Air Task Force.

The Biden administration is calculating just how much damage methane causes. White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy’s office is working on a social cost of methane, which would assign a monetary value to the benefits of reducing methane that the administration could use to justify regulations.

“We absolutely are looking at climate change and looking to ensure that we consider climate across the administration every action we take. And part of that is revisiting the social cost of carbon and the social cost of methane, which is an ongoing reassessment at this point,” McCarthy said in a recent interview.

Another potential complication lies in the international approach to combating methane emissions. The governments of Japan and other countries and pressure from U.S. oil and gas firms are working to keep options for natural gas open for countries that currently run on coal, such as those in energy-poor Africa, since burning that fuel produces half the carbon dioxide when burned for electricity.

But greens say an instant switch to zero-emitting energy like wind and solar is all that can save the planet, arguing that methane leaks from producing and transporting natural gas outweigh its supposed climate advantage over coal.

Departments of Treasury, State and Energy also are putting the final touches on an international climate finance plan, which is expected to include an emissions performance standard that would guide investments in overseas projects, said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director for international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Kate DeAngelis, international finance program manager at Friends of the Earth.

The finance plan will likely include some exemptions that would allow fossil fuel finance — particularly oil and natural gas — in cases where it promotes development or national security objectives. Between 2008 and 2018, nearly two-thirds of the additional 47 gigawatts of energy capacity supported by bilateral U.S. finance went to fossil fuel projects, particularly natural gas, according to research published last week by researchers at Boston University Global Development Policy Center and Princeton University.

Environmental campaigners hope to limit exemptions and are pressing the Biden administration that any investments in natural gas, such as financing facilities in other countries to import liquefied natural gas, are inconsistent with its goals of keeping the planet from heating 1.5 degrees C — a case the IPCC report makes all the more clear, Schmidt said.

“What they’ve been signaling to folks is it’s going to be an aggressive standard, it’s going to be a strong signal to the rest of the world,” Schmidt said. “But we haven’t seen the details.”

The oil and gas industry contends it is self-motivated to stop methane leaks, given any escaping gas is something they would otherwise sell. But the burdens for detecting and repairing those leaks are less significant for larger producers that have said they are open to methane rules compared with smaller U.S. drillers who find regulations onerous — and potentially a death knell. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents small drillers, criticized EPA’s efforts as a “‘one-size-fits-all’ approach” that is “inappropriate and disproportionally impacts conventional operations, low production wells, and small businesses.”

Larger companies are concerned about their social license to operate given ever-restrictive climate rules and growing public angst to address rising emissions, said Kevin O’Scannlain, vice president of upstream policy with the American Petroleum Institute. API and major oil and gas companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil have thus advocated for methane regulations, though they also are still significant methane emitters.

API officials have met with top Biden administration personnel, including Regan and McCarthy, to discuss methane regulations.

“We are actively working with the administration in support of the direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources,” O’Scannlain said in emailed responses, adding, “[W]e know there is more work to be done and federal policymaking can play a role.”

But O’Scannlain said API does not support the Democratic push to impose a methane fee on oil and gas producers, which he said would be duplicative of existing regulations while failing to address emissions from agriculture.

Three sources from the oil and gas sector told POLITICO that they see Democratic proposals to include the fee in a $3.5 trillion Senate budget resolution as an avenue to imposing a price on emissions.

“It’s going to be tough,” said an oil and gas industry official, who asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations with companies. “This administration is moving without the wild fluctuations of the previous one on policy, and it seems to be moving directly.”

Ben Lefebvre contributed to this report.

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Politics Briefing: Quebec introduces legislation to ban pandemic-related protests near hospitals, other facilities – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Quebec’s Premier says he is taking a cautious approach to proceeding with legislation to outlaw COVID-19-related protests within 50 metres of hospitals, vaccination sites and testing centres, among other facilities.

“It’s never easy to say you cannot go on the street,” Premier François Legault told a news conference on Thursday, responding to a media question about why he had decided to proceed now with Bill 105.

The legislation, with details on prospective fines, was tabled Thursday by the province’s Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault in response to recent anti-vaccine protests outside such facilities.

“It’s not something that you can do every day. You have to be careful. We want to make sure that people will not win, trying to say that the law is unacceptable, and we cannot enforce it,” said Mr. Legault.

“We wanted to do it correctly and I think that also we need to have the support of all the other parties, and I think that it’s the right time.”

Provisions of the bill will cease to have effect when the public health emergency declared in March, 2020, ends.

More details on the legislation here.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

ELECTION AFTERMATH:

TRUDEAU FACES CABINET CHALLENGES – Justin Trudeau will have to contend with the defeat of three female cabinet ministers as he crafts his senior leadership team in what’s expected to be a quick return to governing. Two senior government officials told The Globe and Mail Mr. Trudeau will outline his government’s next steps once Elections Canada has finalized the seat counts, which could be as early as Thursday. Story here.

QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT O’TOOLE LEADERSHIP – In the first public challenge to Erin O’Toole from within his own ranks, a member of the Conservative Party’s national council says the Tory Leader should face an accelerated leadership review for “betraying” members during the election campaign.

LIMITED DIVERSITY IN TORY CAUCUS – CBC has crunched the the numbers, and concluded that the vast majority of the MPs making up the new Conservative caucus — nearly 95 per cent — are white, even as the country’s racial makeup is diversifying. Before this election, 9 per cent of Tory MPs were BIPOC. Story here,

LPC CANDIDATE ACCUSED OF TAKING RIVAL PAMPHLET – A Calgary resident says he has doorbell security camera footage showing Liberal candidate George Chahal, the night before the election, approach his house in the Calgary Skyview riding and remove an opponent’s campaign flyer before replacing it with one of his own. He posted the footage to Facebook, which has now received thousands of views. Story here.

FORMER LPC CANDIDATE TO SERVE AS INDEPENDENT – Kevin Vuong, who won the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York as a Liberal candidate, said he will serve as an Independent MP, days after his party said he will not sit as a member of the caucus. Story here.

TWITTER BERNIER BAN – Twitter restricted People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier’s account, preventing him from posting any new messages for 12 hours after he used the platform to encourage his supporters to “play dirty” with journalists covering his campaign. From CBC. Story here.

MEANWHILE:

KENNEY FENDS OFF LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE – Jason Kenney appears to have quelled another challenge from within his own caucus. A non-confidence vote against the Alberta Premier was withdrawn on Wednesday, but he committed to an earlier-than-planned leadership review, to be held well in advance of Alberta’s 2023 general election. Don Braid of The Calgary Herald writes here on how Mr. Kenney survived this fight against his leadership.

NEW CHARGES AGAINST FORMER SNC-LAVALIN EXECS – SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and two of its former executives are facing new criminal charges related to a bridge contract in Montreal nearly 20 years ago, plunging the Canadian engineering giant into another legal maelstrom as it tries to rebuild its business after years of crisis. Story here.

FORD LOOKING FOR CHILDCARE DEAL – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he wants to make a child-care deal with the federal government. The province has acknowledged it was in discussions with Ottawa about a potential agreement into the last hours before the federal election was called in August.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on whether this is the end of majority governments in Canada:But in Canada, for one reason or another, the grip of two-party politics has been broken – irrevocably, it seems. As a result, something else that is not supposed to happen under first past the post has been happening, with remarkable frequency: minority governments. This is not just the second straight federal election to produce a Parliament without a majority party: it is the fifth in the past seven, 11th in the past 22.”

Lawrence Martin (The Globe and Mail) on why, if any federal leader should be stepping down, it’s the likeable Jagmeet Singh: ‘Strange business, politics. While a bit short of a majority, Justin Trudeau wins a third successive election by a large margin in the seat count. Yet some critics say he should be put out to pasture. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suffered a drubbing in the 2019 election, losing almost half his party’s seats. With much higher expectations, he did badly again in Monday’s vote, electing (pending mail-in vote counts) only one more member. Yet hardly anyone says a word.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on why the knives are out for Erin O’Toole, but not Jagmeet Singh: “Theoretically, Mr. O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should be in the same boat. Both failed to channel national frustration over a pandemic election call and turn it into material support; both delivered underwhelming results. But Mr. Singh, who led a campaign that saw the party claim 25 seats as of this writing – just one more than it held before – doesn’t appear to be in immediate jeopardy of losing his job. The saga of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who was turfed by his party when the NDP won 44 seats in 2015 (that is, about 75 per cent better than it did on Monday), offers an explanation for why.”

Jen Gerson (Maclean’s) on why Tories should not “do that stupid thing” they’re thinking of doing: “If you dump your affable, moderate, centrist leader at the first opportunity because he didn’t crack the 905 on his first try, and you replace him with someone who will chase Maxime Bernier’s vanishing social movement like a labradoodle running after the wheels of a mail truck, you will wind up confirming every extant fear and stereotype this crowd already holds about you and your party.”

Steve Paikin (TVO) on advice for Justin Trudeau, inspired by the political experiences of former Ontario premier Bill Davis: I think if Davis were still alive, he’d tell the current Prime Minister: “A lot of people are underestimating you right now. They think you’re damaged because you called this snap election, and it didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Well, I’ve been there. My advice, Prime Minister, is to reach out. Be more collegial and less ideological and adversarial. Establish a good working relationship with your opponents.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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Japan’s ruling party puts legacy of Abenomics in focus.

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Japan’s widening wealth gap has emerged as a key issue in a ruling party leadership contest that will decide who becomes the next prime minister, with candidates forced to reassess the legacy of former premier Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” policies.

Under Abenomics, a mix of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies and a growth strategy deployed by Abe in 2013, share prices and corporate profits boomed, but a government survey published earlier this year showed households hardly benefited.

Mindful of the flaws of Abenomics, frontrunners in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race – vaccination minister Taro Kono and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida – have pledged to focus more on boosting household wealth.

“What’s important is to deliver the benefits of economic growth to a wider population,” Kishida said on Thursday. “We must create a virtual cycle of growth and distribution.”

But the candidates are thin on details over how to do this with Japan’s economic policy toolkit depleted by years of massive monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Kono calls for rewarding companies that boost wages with a cut in corporate tax, while Kishida wants to expand Japan’s middle class with targeted payouts to low-income households.

The winner of the LDP leadership vote on Sept. 29 is assured of becoming Japan’s next prime minister because of the party’s parliamentary majority. Two women – Sanae Takaichi, 60, a former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, 61, a former minister for gender equality – are the other candidates in a four-way race.

Parliament is expected to convene on Oct. 4 to vote for a successor to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced his decision to quit less than a year after taking over from Abe.

A government survey, conducted once every five years and released in February, has drawn increasing attention to trends in inequality during Abe’s time.

Shigeto Nagai, head of Japan economics at Oxford Economics, said the survey revealed “the stark failure of Abenomics to boost household wealth through asset price growth.”

Average wealth among households fell by 3.5% from 2014 to 2019 with only the top 10% wealthiest enjoying an increase, according to a survey conducted once every five years.

Japanese households’ traditional aversion to risk meant they did not benefit from the stock market rally, with the balance of their financial assets down 8.1% in the five years from 2014, the survey showed.

“We think the new premier will need to consider the failures of Abenomics and recognize the myth that reflation policies relying on aggressive monetary easing will not solve all Japan’s problems without tackling endemic structural issues,” Nagai said.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda defended Abenomics and said the pandemic, not slow wage growth, was mainly to blame for sluggish consumption.

“Unlike in the United States and Europe, Japanese firms protected jobs even when the pandemic hit,” Kuroda said when asked why the trickle-down to households has been weak.

“Wage growth has been fairly modest, but that’s not the main reason consumption is weak,” he told a briefing on Wednesday. “As the pandemic subsides, consumption will likely strengthen.”

 

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Politics Podcast: FiveThirtyEight Goes To Canada And Germany – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

On Monday, Canadians granted Justin Trudeau a third term as Prime Minister but did not give his party a majority in Parliament. Germany will have an election on Sunday to determine who will be the next Chancellor now that Angela Merkel is stepping down after sixteen years in power. In this installment of the Politics podcast, polling analyst and writer at The Writ, Éric Grenier along with FiveThirtyEight’s Kaleigh Rogers come on to discuss the outcome of the Canadian election. Later, Politico Intelligence Analyst and co-founder of Poll of Polls Cornelius Hirsch and Berlin-based journalist and Politico Europe contributor Emily Schultheis join to talk about how the race is playing out in Germany.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


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