An important article just published in Inside Climate News revealed good news from a new federal government report, Short Term Energy Outlook. That study stated that: “Renewable energy is poised to reach a milestone as a new government report projects that wind, solar and other renewable sources will exceed one-fourth of the country’s electricity generation for the first time, in 2024. The report’s authors in the Energy Information Administration are expecting renewables to increase in market share, while natural gas and coal would both decrease.”
Two decades ago in the early days of my active work on the climate issue, that renewables percentage was more like 8-9%, most of it wind. For it to “exceed one-fourth” of total electricity generation next year is a definite reason to have hope for the future.
It is also of special note that it is, indeed, wind and solar, not other questionable forms of energy, like biomass or biofuels, which are overwhelmingly the renewable energy sources. As the Inside Climate News story says: “The growth in renewable energy is coming from wind and solar power, with wind responsible for about one-third of the growth and solar accounting for two-thirds, the report says. Other renewable sources, like hydropower and biomass, would be flat. In fact, the growth of wind and solar is projected to be so swift that the combination of just those two sources would be 18 percent of the U.S. total by 2024, which would exceed coal’s 17 percent.”
Despite the maddening efforts of corrupt coal baron and US Senator Joe Manchin, the Republican Party and the fossil fuel industry, coal in the US is in big trouble.
And it is reasonable to expect that since the major chunk—though not all—of the financial support for new energy in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act will benefit renewables, there is an even more positive upside in the coming years.
Unfortunately, methane gas has also rapidly increased over the past decade in its percentage share of US electricity. It’s now up to about 37%. Coal’s decline is very related to the rise of methane gas. There has been literally a fracking “gas rush” over the past decade, supported by the federal government under both Obama and Trump.
Much of the dirty work to enable the fracked gas industry has been done by the rubber stamp federal agency, FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. An investigation in 2021 by a House committee chaired by Congressman Jamie Raskin reported that over the previous 20 years, only 6 out of 1021 applications for expansion of the methane gas industry were rejected by FERC. 6 out of 1021! That is the definition of a rubber stamp agency controlled by the fossil fuel industry.
For a brief period of time, following Biden’s taking office, from January of 2021 to March of 2022, positive changes took place at FERC. The immediate reason was the chairmanship of Richard Glick, supported by two other Democratic commissioners (out of five). Glick and his allies enacted a number of policies that began to move FERC in a different direction. But the main, underlying reason for these changes was the fierce grassroots resistance to FERC’s rubber stamping ways all over the country in the 10-11 years before, grounded in the growing unpopularity of fracking as it poisoned people’s water, air and land and disrupted communities.
What happened in March of last year, and since?
In late February, by a 3-2 vote, the FERC commissioners voted to enact a new policy as far as decision-making when a company applies for a permit to build new or expand existing methane gas infrastructure. Under this new policy, the climate and environmental justice impacts would be explicitly taken more seriously.
About a week later Manchin directed all five FERC commissioners to come before his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. For over two hours Manchin and Republican members of that committee excoriated the three Democrats, Glick, Allison Clements and Willie Phillips, who had voted for that new policy. And their attacks worked. Two weeks later, FERC put that policy on hold, and almost a year later, that’s still the case. There is no new policy.
It gets worse. The FERC commissioners, clearly intimidated by Manchin, proceeded over the remainder of 2022 to approve projects whose greenhouse gas emissions, according to research done by Beyond Extreme Energy, amount to over 280 million tons of CO2. This is as if they permitted 76 new coal plants, or six Mountain Valley Pipeline-sized gas pipelines.
And even worse: after President Biden nominated Richard Glick in late summer for a second term as FERC commissioner because his term was expiring, Manchin refused to hold a hearing of the Senate ENR committee on that nomination. Glick’s term expired at the end of 2022, and he is now gone. In Glick’s place, and while figuring out who he nominates for that empty commissioner seat, Biden has named Willie Phillips as Acting Chair.
Phillips is a Democrat but he’s a Democrat with corporate connections. An article in The American Prospect in late 2021 reported, “In his time on D.C.’s Public Service Commission and before that as a corporate lawyer, Phillips consistently sided with utilities over the public interest.” I’ve also learned that last year, after the Manchin tongue lashing, both Glick and Clements were prepared to vote in support of the new policy regarding gas industry expansion permit applications, but Phillips would not do so.
President Biden sometime soon will nominate someone to fill the FERC commissioner vacancy. You can be sure that Joe Manchin is demanding and maneuvering so that this nomination is of someone he can live with. That’s not a good thing.
What Biden should do is what I have been told happened which led to Manchin agreeing to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act last summer. Biden was going to use his Presidential powers to declare a climate emergency. Biden should this time not just use that threat as a bargaining chip with Manchin. He should actually declare a climate emergency.
Biden doing so would unquestionably unleash positive political energies and increased economic investments in solar and wind to accelerate the process of shifting off of fossil fuels to renewables. It would mean the White House could do a whole variety of things to address the climate emergency in the way science and the threat to our children, grandchildren and future generations calls for. It would be, finally, action at the scale of the problem.
Be a hero, Joe. Do the right thing now.