America’s ambivalence- POLITICO

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES — Everyone comprehends the role of fossil fuels in enabling Russia’s war on Ukraine. But Democrats can’t seem to sustain the messaging that would back that up and make it otherwise.

President Joe Biden hasn’t drawn an explicit connection between the West’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his attack on a neighboring state. Instead, the first month of the invasion has been characterized by lots of attempts to soften the impacts of high gas prices, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal this week to give drivers $400 each.

“This could have been a moment for moral clarity on the dangers of fossil fuels — but so far, Democrats have fumbled that message,” the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo laments.

There have been strikingly few high-profile calls for demand reduction compared with the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon lowered speed limits and asked for “voluntary conservation” in a State of the Union address, as Adam Aton reports for POLITICO’s E&E News. (Biden buried climate in his SOTU.)

While the International Energy Agency put out a 10-point plan last week calling for reducing highway speed limits by about 6 mph (estimated to save 290,000 barrels daily), working from home three days a week (170,000 barrels a day) and curtailing air travel for business (260,000 barrels daily), no one’s talking about it here. Those are pandemic-proven behavioral changes, for the most part, but they seem to be irretrievably in the rearview mirror, with gasoline demand rising each of the past six weeks.

“From the perspective of trying to fill a Russia-size hole in the global oil market, it’s really significant what we’ve shown we can do through behavioral measures,” Pete Erickson, climate policy program director at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Adam.

But there are some green shoots:

— Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm pitched a Marshall Plan-style transition to cleaner energy at the IEA on Tuesday, POLITICO’s Kelsey Tamborrino reports.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) might be OK with restarting Build Back Better talks, which could pave the way for a slimmer measure that still contains some climate measures, Emma Dumain, Jeremy Dillon and Nick Sobczyk report for POLITICO’s E&E News.

— And Biden is drafting an executive order to invoke the Defense Production Act to boost production of critical minerals for EVs and energy-storage batteries, the Intercept reports. It comes on the heels of a letter from five senators urging him to use the DPA and military sales to boost manufacturing of electric heat pumps, electric appliances and renewable energy technology.

— Biden’s two-pronged announcement today from Brussels, which aims to boost liquefied natural gas shipments to Europe but also reduce energy demand through increased efficiency. (Turning thermostats down by 1 degree Celsius, as WaPo points out, would reduce gas demand by 10 billion cubic meters per year.)

Another example of ambivalence in the face of energy challenges: Universities that train future oil and gas workers are seeing declining enrollment, in response to the industry’s increasingly uncertain future. They’re responding by pivoting to cutting-edge programs focused on quantum engineering, advanced manufacturing and data science — but they’re also turning to PR firms to help polish their recruiting messages, as Corbin Hiar reports for POLITICO’s E&E News.

The Colorado School of Mines saw the number of petroleum engineering degrees awarded fall by nearly half from 2018 to 2020. To help boost enrollment, it hired a PR firm started by a former Clinton administration education policy adviser.

“Remember when talking to parents that students may not know what they want to do, and your job is to sell petroleum engineering,” a director at the firm, Group Gordon, said in an email last year to the head of the school’s petroleum engineering department.

Mining would seem to be a safer bet than petroleum as demand for minerals is projected to rise, but students don’t seem to think so: The number of mining graduates nationwide peaked at 533 in 2016, and has fallen by nearly 40 percent through 2020. Manchin and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation Thursday that would create a grant program to help universities recruit mining students and fund research and demonstration projects related to mineral production.

“Young people either don’t know about mining at all or they assume that with the green economy…mining will be irrelevant,” said Kwame Awuah-Offei, the director of the mining and explosives engineering department at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “It’s actually quite the opposite.” Read more from Corbin here.

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MINE — The Biden administration has taken several steps to ban Russian diamonds from the U.S., but they’re still likely finding their way into the country, Jael Holzman reports for POLITICO’s E&E News.

The diamond industry already has international supply chain standards, created in response to the “blood diamond” concerns of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the Kimberley Process was created to stop diamonds linked to conflict while they are in their unpolished and uncut state. And Russia’s state-backed Alrosa PJSC, the world’s largest diamond miner, usually sends its stones to India for cutting and polishing.

India has no restrictions on importing Russian diamonds, and diamonds are often mixed during transit, muddying their provenance.

Hans Merket, a researcher with human rights nonprofit IPIS, said the diamond industry has “so far escaped most of the sanctions” implemented by the Biden administration.

“It’s one of the few sectors where it’s business as usual,” Merket said.

GAME ON – Welcome to the Long Game, where we’re delivering the latest on efforts to shape our future. Tuesday through Friday, we’ve got data-driven storytelling, compelling interviews with industry and political leaders, and more news to keep you in the loop on sustainability.

Our team is sustainability editor Greg Mott, deputy editor Debra Kahn, reporters Lorraine Woellert and Catherine Boudreau and digital producer Jordan Wolman. Reach them at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].

Thanks to Kelsey Tamborrino and Adam Aton, Corbin Hiar, Jael Holzman, Emma Dumain, Jeremy Dillon and Nick Sobczyk of POLITICO’s E&E News for contributing today.

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March 29 – The Electric Power Supply Association will host its summit on March 29 at 7:30 a.m.

March 29 – The Bipartisan Policy Center discusses how to decarbonize the natural gas sector at 10 a.m.

March 29 – The House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee holds a hearing on drinking water infrastructure at 10:30 a.m.

March 30 – The Urban Institute’s and The Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center holds a discussion on carbon pricing at 1:30 p.m.

March 31 – A House Natural Resources subcommittee holds a hearing on pollution clean-up programs at 10 a.m.

April 1 – The House Select Climate Crisis Committee holds a hearing on investing in healthy ecosystems at 9:30 a.m.

Events are listed in Eastern Time

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