Washington Insider -- Thursday

Emerging GOP Climate Plans

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

China Tries to Temper Trade Concerns

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng told the World Economic Forum the country’s trade deal with the U.S. will not hurt rival exporting nations as complaints mount from governments that were left out of the agreement.

In the most high-profile remarks on Beijing’s economic policies since the accord was signed last week, Han said that a commitment to purchase more from the U.S. is in line with its World Trade Organization obligations and will not squeeze out other imports. Han also pledged to lower barriers for foreign investors as he set out the case for China’s engagement with the global market.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in Davos that a phase-two accord with China will not necessarily be a "big bang" that removed all tariffs. "We dealt with a lot of important issues in Phase One," said Mnuchin. "If we get [Phase Two] done before the election, good. If not, fine. There is no deadline."

Still Waiting On WOTUS

The Trump administration’s new definition of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) is still awaited, but is now expected to be announced as early as today.

Now, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday he expects EPA to release the new WOTUS rule before the end of the week.

“The Trump administration will set common sense limits on state versus federal jurisdiction over the waterways and make it easier for state local governments and farmers to comply,” Grassley said.

Washington Insider: Emerging GOP Climate Plans

Although President Trump is widely seen as a climate-change skeptic, he announced on Tuesday that the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative launched at the World Economic Forum in a global effort to combat climate change, The Hill reported this week.

The president made the announcement during an address to global business leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland. "We're committed to conserving the majesty of God's creation and the natural beauty of our world," he said, adding that the U.S. "will continue to show strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and our forests.

The Hill reported that the announcement drew “some of the most sustained applause of any portion of the president’s 30-minute speech which focused mostly on his administration's accomplishments and the strength of the U.S. economy. That economic message contrasted with other world leaders who used the forum to highlight issues like climate change and global collaboration.

President Trump has been asked repeatedly at gatherings with foreign leaders about his views on climate change and the environment. He declared Tuesday that he's "a very big believer in the environment" and earlier this month told reporters he does not believe climate change is a hoax, as he once claimed.

But environmentalists have been alarmed by his administration's policies, including rolling back regulations meant to curb air and water pollution and withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

Also speaking at Davos on Tuesday was 17-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Trump, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said he didn't "really know anything" about Thunberg and dismissed her as "very angry."

The Hill also noted that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., “teased” new details about Republicans' forthcoming climate plan Tuesday, highlighting the legislation's focus on trees as a method for capturing carbon pollution. The Republican effort focuses on traditional areas of interest for the party, including spurring green technology innovation and carbon capture.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who is developing the legislation that would commit the U.S. to the goal, said the plan would "go back to something old for something new and trees are the ultimate carbon sequestration."

Republicans had previously hinted the plan would rely heavily on trees but it's still unclear just how many Westerman's legislation would require planting.

The plan would not, however, set any targets for reducing carbon pollution, The Hill said. An ambitious plan from the Democrats outlined earlier this month would require the U.S. to rely on 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Even though Democrats have likewise expressed interest in boosting tree planting as well as green technology, the Republican plan would face an uphill battle in the House as Democrats push forward their own plan with hard targets for carbon reductions.

In addition, environmental groups have already criticized the Republican bill, arguing they were pushing policies they've already thwarted. "Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump just blocked a package of clean energy tax credits from being included in the year-end tax and budget deal," Sierra Club global climate policy director John Coequyt said in a statement.

"That was a serious and limited solution they failed to support, but they are suddenly serious a few weeks later after decades of climate denial."

The Hill also reported that presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer are leaning into climate change as a campaign issue to stand out in a crowded Democratic field. The former New York City mayor and owner of the Bloomberg financial empire has donated millions of dollars to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which has worked to shutter numerous coal plants, and he has pledged to donate $500 million to close the country's remaining coal plants by 2030

Meanwhile, Steyer founded the organization NextGen America, which aims to support candidates who advocate for climate action.

Both have highlighted their commitment to the issue on the campaign trail. Steyer has said that he would declare climate change a national emergency on his first day in office and Bloomberg has also said that fighting climate change would be a focus for him.

"They have been super active and insistent at not only raising the profile of the issue in front of voters, making it a litmus test with elected officials, but also, especially if you look at Mike Bloomberg, using his resources ... to give big cities and major carbon users real incentives to plan for the future and a lower-carbon or carbon free future," Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said of the two candidates.

The Hill also points out that both candidates have faced a certain degree of skepticism on climate issues and are contending with candidates who are polling higher than they are and who have also put heavy emphasis on climate policy.

So, we will see. Clearly the public is worried about the climate and there seems to be growing pressure on candidates to weigh in on those issues which continue to be extremely contentious—and which should be watched closely by producers as these debates continue to intensify, Washington Insider believes.

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