With IRA execution still underway, looming elections step up the pressure

The clock is ticking to make new climate and clean energy regulations “durable,” say DC reporters Jennifer Dlouhy and Justin Worland.

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Voters fill out their ballots

Photo credit: Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Voters fill out their ballots

Photo credit: Brandon Bell / Getty Images

The Biden Administration’s energy and climate agenda is under pressure from the looming November elections and poor market conditions, which could thwart the country’s growing clean energy economy. 

  • What to watch: The November elections will determine the country’s trajectory on major environmental issues. “What happens there will be key to deciding big questions around power plant regulation, around the vehicles we drive, the power we use for years to come,” said energy and climate reporter Jennifer Dlouhy, in a conversation with Bill Loveless on Columbia Energy Exchange.
  • The challenge: Various government agencies are responsible for the technical and tedious task of drafting guidelines for allocating Inflation Reduction Act funds, and the November elections truncates the timeline for finalizing those guidelines. “If you think back to what it took to get that law across the finish line to get it enacted, it's somewhat surprising…to folks outside of DC to realize how much work was left to do, and the burden really has been on federal agencies to fill in a lot of the gaps,” said Dlouhy.
  • The stakes: Congress can overturn federal agencies’ actions using the Congressional Review Act. “The Congressional Review Act would allow a potential  Republican-controlled Congress and a future Republican president to undo a lot of the work,” explained Justin Worland in the same Columbia Energy Exchange interview. “Even if you avoid that Congressional Review Act hurdle…doing things too quickly can lead to Republicans undoing things in the courts.”

The IRA guidelines are not the only rules vulnerable to being overturned by CRA. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations on both power plants and passenger vehicle tailpipe emissions also need to be finalized in the first half of the year.

“If the IRA tax subsidies and grants are the carrots, these regulations are clearly the sticks that will also continue to drive action,” said Dlouhy of the two proposals. “This administration and the EPA in particular sees them as really important to get across the finest finish line and do so in a way that makes them...legally durable.” 

Outside of the election, Dlouhy is watching how the Biden administration responds to the economic headwinds creating challenges for the offshore wind industry, renewables developers, and EV companies.

A year and half ago, proponents of the IRA thought the billions of dollars of subsidies in the bill would move the clean industries forward faster. Clean energy and automotive companies have announced $110 billion in new factories since passage of the law, but Dlouhy says that other factors are creating headwinds for deployment. “I think now we're seeing how the market considerations, the high borrowing costs, et cetera, are really impeding the reach of that law,” she explained. 

Even with these challenges, Worland thinks the Biden Administration will spend the first half of the year promoting the local economic benefits of its green industrial policy. “There's definitely a lot of things happening on the ground that are linked up with the Inflation Reduction Act and with the Bipartisan infrastructure law,” says Worland. “You see the administration wanting to take credit and show up at those ribbon cuttings and make sure that people know that there's some connection to their work,” he added. 

Although Worland doesn’t expect energy and climate to be top campaign issues this year, public support of the IRA would be a big win for the Biden campaign. 

Columbia Energy Exchange is a co-production of the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy and Latitude Studios. Listen to all episodes here.

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Jennifer Dlouhy: It wasn't so long ago that energy policy was a more bipartisan playground, and part of that was because you had moderates. We've obviously seen an erosion of the moderate wing of both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, and that's somewhat contributed to this decline in the ability to find common ground on energy legislation.

Bill Loveless: As 2024 kicks off, energy and climate policy discussions loom large in Washington. With the added complexity of the November presidential elections, it remains uncertain what will happen regarding the increasingly partisan issues of environmental regulation and green industrial policy. The Biden administration plans to continue implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, but Republicans in Congress could take actions to hinder further progress. Government agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency could be significantly impacted by the Supreme Court's ruling on a case that questions agency's ability to enact regulations. This is just the tip of the iceberg on what could happen this year. What can we expect in the nation's capital on the energy and climate front this year? Where are the reporters who follow this beat going to focus their attention? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, I'm Bill Loveless.

Today on the show, Jennifer DLouhy and Justin Worland. Jennifer is an energy and environmental policy reporter for Bloomberg News. Before joining Bloomberg in 2015, she was the Washington correspondent for the Houston Chronicle, where she covered energy and environmental policy with a special focus on oil and gas. Justin is a senior correspondent for Time, where he covers climate change in the intersection of policy, politics and society. In 2022, he received Covering Climate Now's inaugural Climate Journalist of the Year award. I talked with Jennifer and Justin about what they will keep an eye on this year, including important rulemakings at EPA and the FERC, and the Supreme Court's consideration of the so-called Chevron Doctrine. We also discussed how Democrats and Republicans might approach major energy policy issues in this election year. I asked for their take as well on the overall state of energy journalism. Here's our conversation. Jennifer Dlouhy, Justin Worland, welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.

Jennifer Dlouhy: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Justin Worland: Good to be here.

Bill Loveless: Well, it's good to have each of you here as well as we start this new year. It's a program that I always particularly enjoy talking to reporters in Washington about what shapes up to be big issues in energy and climate here in the Capitol. Many of our listeners are familiar with each of you. You've been on the program before, your work and your bylines are well-known, but for those who may not be familiar with you, let's acquaint them with the work that you do for your news organizations. Jennifer?

Jennifer Dlouhy: Sure. I've been covering energy and environmental and climate policy for Bloomberg News in Washington DC for about the past eight years, and I spent a lot of my time focusing on the work of the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, in particular, but also climate diplomacy that the US is engaged in around the world.

Bill Loveless: Yeah. Justin?

Justin Worland: Yeah. I've been writing about climate, Time, for the past nine years. My current, I'm based in DC, I write about policy, but the way we tee up my beat is I write about the intersection of politics, policy and society, so often trying to think about ways that policy and political stories affect people and tell stories through different lenses.

Bill Loveless: With that, let's start. Jennifer, what are the biggest questions on your beat in 2024?

Jennifer Dlouhy: Well, I should address the elephant in the room, which is that one of the biggest questions on my beat won't be decided for about 10 months, and that's really, of course, who's going to control the White House, as well as Congress in January. Frankly, obviously, that dictates the direction and scope of so much energy and environmental policy, so what happens there will be key to deciding big questions around power plant regulation, around the vehicles we drive, the power we use for years to come. Regardless of who wins a Republican presidential nomination, we're seeing very stark differences between what a GOP nominee would do versus what Joe Biden in a second term would do, around things like oil leasing, emissions limits policies to propel a green transition. That, of course, is on our radar and on the horizon.

I would say, besides that, I'm really curious and looking a lot at how this administration is going to respond to some of the economic and other headwinds that we've seen really creating significant challenges for offshore wind developers, for solar manufacturing, even for EV charging companies. There was, I think, a temptation a year and a half ago after the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act to think, "Oh gosh, hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies and grant programs have now been enacted. They're going to be put in place and really propel all of these industries." It felt like a mission accomplished moment, and I think now we're seeing how the market considerations, the high borrowing costs, et cetera, are really impeding the reach of that law, and I think we're also recognizing that the administration is trying to do something about it, particularly on offshore wind, and so, I'm really watching to see what kind of levers this administration and Congress will pull to try to blunt the impact of some of these market dynamics.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, interesting. How about you, Justin?

Justin Worland: Yeah, well, I would pick up on the first point. Clearly, the election is the story of the year probably for any US-based journalist in some fashion. It affects the sustainability of the Biden Climate agenda. It is a big signal to the world. The US, obviously, is a superpower and what we do here affects policy elsewhere. I think the other thing I would just add on these election themes and to broaden it is, it's a big year for elections globally. There are elections happening in Europe, in India. In Europe, in particular, there's a big question around The Green Deal, which is the European climate policy, which has been somewhat controversial as of late. I guess, when I'm thinking about macro trends that I'm covering and writing about is, how are democracies thinking about climate change and how can democracies continue to advance on climate change, even as their whims of political political changes and also popular public opinion changes? I think that's something clearly we're seeing in the US, but I think it's also this global trend as well.

Bill Loveless: That's an important point to make, Justin, and I'm glad that you did that because while we're focused on Washington, it's important to put into context what happens in the United States vis-a-vis what is happening in the rest of the world. Each of you covered the recent COP28 meetings in Dubai. You covered the agreement that was reached there talking about the transition from fossil fuels. Now that you've returned to Washington, so to speak, what do you take back from that meeting and how does it influence what you will be reporting on or looking for here in Washington?

Justin Worland: Well, I think from my vantage point, clearly, one of the things that emerged from that agreement is that there needs to be a discussion around finance, climate finance, and that's something, it's not so much of a Washington story as it were, but it is a story that happens in Washington. You think about the World Bank, the IMF, which meet in Washington twice a year. That's one thread that I'll be following. I think there's an interesting point that I often make about the Paris agreement. People say, "Well, why does that matter?" It's not like policymakers in Washington are crafting legislation based off of the Paris agreement, and of course, that's true.

I do think the Paris agreement has become a North star, so to speak, where you see even the administration refer to it as "Well, this is how our policies might end 10 years align with Paris agreement goals," and so I guess I would expect that the agreement in Dubai might have some similar role where it gets referred to perhaps by this administration or future administrations. I don't actually see what comes out of COP28 as a Washington story necessarily.

Jennifer Dlouhy: I think of it as, on some level, what happened this last year in the UAE and previously in Paris and Sharm El Sheikh that acts to reinforce policymaking around climate, particularly when it's being pushed in the US by a democratic president or lawmakers who want to see more action. One thing that we heard a lot in Dubai was the argument that what happened there, and particularly this historic acknowledgement of the need to transition away from fossil fuels, that that would resonate in boardrooms around the country in a way that previous COP decisions maybe have not, that it would really start to make executives and investors think twice about some investments in fossil fuels. That's a story that will happen around the country, indeed, around the world.

In DC, I think there are still real questions on the government's role in addressing the demand side of the equation and the supply side of the equation. John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy at the end of the climate talks in Dubai, said that the US and other countries will be judged based on how they live up to this agreement, and if a country comes to the next COP having presided over a big surge in oil and gas demand in particular, they're going to be held accountable. But even he drew a distinction with supply side projects, so projects like the Willow development in Alaska that was so controversial a year ago, LNG export projects that are being scrutinized right now and drawing a lot of controversy. Those are the kinds of projects that he said might actually still be sustained in the short term and be consistent with the Paris agreement.

I just feel like that's an area where there's going to be a lot more tension that the agreement coming out of Dubai doesn't make clear that those things that more supply is necessarily off limits. It's not calling for an immediate hard stop, it is calling for this transition in keeping with the science progressing toward net zero by 2050, and there's a lot of wiggle room there that also means a lot of opportunities for confusion and contention in Washington.

Bill Loveless: Justin, this all is happening as the United States is producing more oil than any country ever has. You don't hear President Biden talking about that very much, but it's a big record that has been broken during his watch. What do we make of his position on this even as he pursues a rather aggressive climate policy?

Justin Worland: Well, I think he's trying to thread a political needle. Politicians, or I should say presidents, are often judged on gas prices and there's a difficult challenge to thread a needle to both appear pro-climate and also appear like he's doing something to keep gas prices low. At the same time, he's not actually responsible for determining how much oil we produce. I think it's an interesting communications challenge. The administration has done, I would say, a little bit of an evolution from the early days when they sounded a little bit of a different message on oil and gas, but then, as prices rose and Russia invaded Ukraine, the tone changed. I'm not quite sure I answered your question precisely, but it's definitely a needle they're trying to thread.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, rather perhaps I heard Kevin book, the Energy Analyst, a Clearview Energy partners call it a pragmatic approach on fossil fuels. Good description, Jen?

Jennifer Dlouhy: Absolutely fair, pragmatic, if uncomfortable. This is not an administration that wants to talk about this stuff, even if it wants the benefits of lower gas prices.

Bill Loveless: Yeah. I'm reminded Jen of a story that you and a colleague there at Bloomberg wrote, John Frayer, back in December after COP28, maybe at the end of that meeting, where John Kerry told you that the US can be trusted to act on climate change no matter what happens in next year's election. What did he mean by that?

Jennifer Dlouhy: To be absolutely sure, John Kerry is, I think, very optimistic about the private sector's ability to respond and adapt to climate change and target its investments around a warming world, so that kind of colors his remarks. But the question that he was responding to then and that was hanging over a lot of the US officials interactions in Dubai was what happens if Trump gets a second term or Republican comes into the White House next year with obviously a different set of viewpoints on climate policy and objectives than the Biden administration?

The rejoinder that you heard from Kerry was very much that the private sector is going to keep on going. There's some investment decisions that may flip under a Republican administration that doesn't favor, for instance, EVs aggressively, but by and large, once a factory is retooled to produce EVs instead of a conventional vehicle, for instance, that's not going to be reversed. The amount of money that is flowing to clean energy, he doesn't see that and many analysts would say that that is not going to quickly pivot back to fossil fuels just because of the outcome of an election. He has some faith in the endurance of the private sector's investment in a clean energy future.

Bill Loveless: Justin, you spend a fair amount of time with John Kerry over the past year or so interviewing him, you did so again in Dubai, what's his role going forward here? What do you perceive as his outlook for climate policy in the United States?

Justin Worland: Well, what's his role going forward? There's been rumors of him stepping down, basically, at the end of every year for the past several years, and he's still there. He's insistent that he's going to try to help the administration make progress on climate, and so I guess I expect that to be the case. What is his role, I guess, is the question? I think he provides a helpful link to the rest of the world and a helpful communicator to be able to articulate the administration's policies. I've seen him, I wrote about him in a recent story sitting at a table with him and he's got a couple of ministers who come up and are saying, "John, John," and they want his attention and they all respect him and want to do business with him. I think that's, to a certain extent, what his role is. He's able to rally people in a way that other US officials might not be. What that looks like going forward, I don't know.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, it's an interesting, an important person to watch as is others in the administration. John Podesta for example, who's responsible for implementing a lot of the president's clean energy agenda, as well as the secretaries of the various agencies. Well, let's turn to Congress. Clean energy policy has grown to be a divisive issue in Congress over the past few years, and as we head into this election year, the partisan nature of energy regulation and permitting means we might not see Congress make significant headway on these issues. Plus, there's a big budget issue coming up, right, funding issue for the Congress and just in a matter of days here in Washington. Just to take a step back, Jen, and set the stage, can you explain why energy policy has become so partisan? What are the major concerns for Democrats and Republicans?

Jennifer Dlouhy: I think that's an interesting question because it wasn't so long ago that, as you noted, it wasn't so long ago that energy policy was a more bipartisan playground, and part of that was because you had moderates. You referred to Kevin Book, and he so often talks about how energy policy is shaped by politicians who make voting decisions so much about what they have in the ground at home, and so that's, whether it's oil and gas or they have big wind resources or solar resources, that largely shapes the voting practices and their decisions on policy in DC. You used to have a fair number of blue dog Democrats, moderate Republicans, who in the Republican case might've had some wind and solar in their backyard or in the case of some Democrats, big oil patch Democrats, big oil and gas resources, and it caused them to cross party lines and interact more often with the other side on energy policy and really forge bipartisan consensus.

We obviously seen an erosion of the moderate wing of both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, and that's somewhat contributed to this decline in the ability to find common ground on energy legislation. Permitting ironically feels like a place where you could find that consensus. You have Democrats who really want to see streamlined or at least accelerated permitting of renewable and clean energy projects. Republicans, many of them may be coming at it wanting faster approval of pipelines for oil and gas and carbon dioxide, it could be a point of convergence, and yet we've seen for a year this issue is just, it's stubbornly difficult to find a compromise on partly because there is a resistance to help out the other sector. If you're a fan of renewables, you're not too keen on lowering the environmental review and scrutiny of fossil fuel projects.

I think there is an additional challenge here. We're in an election year, we've talked about that, and if it was difficult to do this last year, it becomes even more difficult with each passing week as we get toward November, and we see a real interest by politicians in doing more messaging work and work that would feed into campaigns as opposed to maybe affecting policy. That's an additional hurdle this year.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, and Justin, I don't see, as Jen notes, there are some issues here in which there will be continued posturing by politicians from both parties, but with some of the bigger issues facing Congress right now, first and foremost, funding the government, which they have to agree on in a matter of days here, there's the whole issue with the border, the US border. I'm not sure that there are men, there's much likelihood of any sort of substantive action by the Congress on energy or on climate change this year. What do you think?

Justin Worland: Well, I would certainly agree with that. There's always the outside chance of something maybe in the lame duck, but before that, I don't really see it. The other caveat, of course, is circumstances can change. We thought build back better was dead and then it wasn't, so things can change, but I don't quite see the path right now.

Bill Loveless: You might see some investigations. I read today where, in fact, I think you carried a story in Bloomberg, Jennifer. I saw it in other outlets that House Republicans intend to investigate the DOE loan program for the $400 billion program hoping to dredge up something there that would be embarrassing to the administration. Investigations are always an option for lawmakers.

We talked before about the Inflation Reduction Act, I'm interested in your views on how things are moving on this important piece of legislation. It depends, of course, on the implementation, depends of course on a number of rules that have to be passed by the Treasury department and other agencies, and that process has been slowly proceeding over the past year. Jennifer, can you give us a sense of where things stand on that law? There's a lot that's been done but there's a lot that still needs to be done to take advantage of all the hundreds of billions of dollars that are available under that law.

Jennifer Dlouhy: Yeah. If you think back to what it took to get that law across the finish line to get it enacted, it's somewhat surprising, I think, to folks outside of DC to realize how much work was left to do, and the burden really has been on federal agencies to fill in a lot of the gaps that Congress left including on things like what kind of electric vehicles or renewable projects might qualify for some of the big tax credits in the measure?

We have seen the Treasury department and the IRS do a lot of work, arguably very slow and methodical work, but they've done a lot of work to build out the architecture of these tax incentives that were created under the IRA, including just recently providing some guidance around what hydrogen projects need to look like to qualify for the highest value subsidies under the IRA, what kind of domestic content requirements are needed to for an electric vehicle to qualify for tax credits of up to $7,500.

Much of that work, it's important to realize though, is still in kind of a preliminary stage, where the Treasury department has issued early guidance but hasn't gone through this formal rulemaking process to really cement it into the law books really, and that is work that can take a long time up to a year really, so we're going to see a lot of that work engaged over the next year. There are still lobbyists in DC for various affected industries that are going to be trying hard to change the outcomes of some of this stuff to make sure that their kind of projects get included, that they can win favorable tax treatment, so that's going to keep playing out.

I should also mention that beyond Treasury, we've seen energy, the Energy Department and EPA take steps to implement those loan guarantees that are being scrutinized by Republicans on the hill to stand up grant-based programs around emission reduction and hydrogen hubs. All of that is also taking place. There's still a lot of work to do. The EPA, for instance, still needs to impose rules on a new fee for methane releases from oil and gas fields and continue standing up a kind of a green bank that was created under the law. A lot has been done, there is still a lot to be done, and frankly, the timeline means that there is a bit of opportunity for mischief by opponents potentially over the next year and a half.

Bill Loveless: Just in time is of the essence, and the administration needs to get these things nailed down before the election just in case there's a Republican in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress.

Justin Worland: Well, that's right. Obviously, the Congressional Review Act would allow a potential Republican-controlled Congress and with a future Republican president to undo a lot of the work. Any rule that was not finalized, I guess basically, they have 60 days, any rule that was not finalized before the election. Yeah, they have their work cut out for them to do things quickly, but also to do things in a way that will stand up to future legal scrutiny, because even if you avoid that Congressional Review Act hurdle that I was mentioning, doing things too quickly can lead to Republicans undoing things in the courts.

There's one other point I want to make on here though is just the politics of it, because we've talked about the election and of course, climate is not necessarily top of the agenda in campaigns or I wouldn't expect it to be, but I do think the administration is trying very hard to show the public that these, well, the Inflation Reduction Act, but also the Bipartisan infrastructure law is actually having some effect in communities, it's actually providing things to people. I just think that's important to keep in mind. I think we'll see throughout the year and we have seen last year and we'll see more of it this year, is the administration trying to go out and show people that these are the things on the ground that have actually been created as a result of all this legislation, trying to finalize the rules in a very technical way, but also trying to get out and show people that this stuff actually matters.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, and in your reporting, have you seen a lot of substantive work begun on projects as a result of these laws?

Justin Worland: Yeah. I think there's definitely ... there's always the question of how do you attribute, say a battery plant, that when exactly did the announcement come? Was it spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act or is it just going to benefit from it? There's a lot of areas where it's a little bit tricky to attribute with a hundred percent certainty that this is the result of something the administration did, but there's definitely a lot of things happening on the ground that are linked up with the Inflation Reduction Act and with the Bipartisan infrastructure law. Definitely, you see the administration wanting to take credit and show up at those ribbon cuttings and make sure that people know that there's some connection to their work.

Bill Loveless: Yeah. I'd like to touch again on regulation. I recall from my years as a energy reporter in Washington that often Congress wouldn't be doing all that much at the moment and people would say, "Well," so therefore, what are you covering? These bills aren't going to pass, you get a lot of hearings, so what? But I was always remind folks that what's important to consider is that a lot of the work has taken place in the agencies. We've talked about EPA and, as well as Treasury, for example. It's at places like EPA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where very substantive regulations are under consideration regulations that are truly going to matter.

I'm just interested in, like you mentioned, Jen, the EPA, and you mentioned the methane fee they need to come up with. We also know there are proposed rather stringent tailpipe emission limits for 2027 to 2032 model years that are the strictest, that would be the strictest ever opposed, and call for more new EV sales than the auto industry has agreed to. There's also a proposal, therefore emissions from power plants that would be rather far-reaching. These, again, we talked about the Congressional Review Act, they need to get these things done by a certain period of time, how likely are these things to be nailed down in the next several months?

Jennifer Dlouhy: The two rules that you mentioned, in particular, the power plant rulemaking and the rulemaking to throttle greenhouse gas emissions from light cars and trucks, those are marquee rules, marquee pieces really of Biden's climate agenda. The administration and the EPA have put a premium on getting them done by the end of spring, which is when that Congressional Review Act window is expected to open up and make them more vulnerable to repeal. These are really important regs, not least because they target the industries and sectors that are responsible for about half of US greenhouse gas emissions. You can think of them as the regulatory cudgel that complements the incentives that we saw on the Inflation Reduction Act.

If the IRA tax subsidies and grants are the carrots, these regulations are clearly the sticks that will also continue to drive action. This administration and the EPA in particular sees them as really important to get across the finest finish line and do so in a way that makes them, as Justin said, legally durable. They've got to be really strong and able to withhold attack that will come almost inevitably, regardless of who is in control in Washington of the White House and Capitol Hill next year.

The EV rule ... I shouldn't call it an EV rule, but in effect, that's what it is, it's an auto rule that would effectively mean that cars and light trucks sold in 2032, 2/3 of them would have to be electric models. That's drawn a lot of scrutiny because from folks who say it's essentially a de facto EV mandate, even though the rule itself is constructed to be technology-neutral, the power plant rule is incredibly technologically complex, legally complex. They've had to at EPA, bring in experts and legal experts to work on that and get it done in a sound way, that would make really big changes in the nation's mix of coal plants, encouraging some retirement of those facilities and also encourage big changes at some of the nation's biggest natural gas-fired units with concerns being raised about grid reliance and resiliency. These are big weighty rules, and this administration is eager to finish them, to put their stamp on them no matter what comes next year.

Bill Loveless: Justin, they operate, the agency operates under some rather tight legal constraints given the previous Supreme Court ruling on emissions that really narrowed the agency's discretion in the rules that it implements that it'll be interesting, I think, to see how they navigate those legal issues.

Justin Worland: It's definitely an interesting and challenging environment for the EPA given the constraints with the ruling that you referenced, West Virginia versus EPA. They also face a judiciary that is increasingly conservative, so exactly how things shake out when some of these things are tested in the courts, I think, is hard to know, and that's why from their vantage point, it's important to get all of that right and make sure that it can stand up to legal scrutiny. Then, we could get into, and maybe we will get into the future or I guess ongoing litigation that might further hamper the EPA and other agencies, but it's definitely a challenging needle to thread.

Bill Loveless: Yeah. Well, now that you brought it up, what are those additional legal considerations?

Justin Worland: Well, there's this coming case. It's Loper Bright Enterprises versus Raymundo, which I think arguments, oral arguments are coming in a couple of weeks. But basically, this case centers on the National Marine Fisheries Service and the ability to impose a fee on fishers. But it's really a question over the Chevron Deference doctrine, which is a case from the eighties that gives agencies significant leeway to interpret the law using their own expertise, really fundamental for interpretation of the Clean Air Act and for environmental policy more broadly. This is up for consideration at the Supreme Court. If Chevron were to fall, it would significantly hem the ability of agencies to create rules based on their own interpretation of the law. Of course, the Supreme Court could also thread the needle, could do something that somewhat constrains their ability, but certainly it could be a game changer.

Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah, it's an important one to watch. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a lot is on its plate, and it's important to point out, I think, that when it comes to transmission, which is an important issue in the United States, the commission is looking at proposals that would ensure planning for transmission keeps pace with the changing energy resource mix in the country while helping to settle who should pay for these new lines across the country. I think it goes without saying that this is an important consideration for the FERC, and it comes at a time when the FERC is down to three commissions out of its five-member panel, two Democrats, one Republican. I don't know what the outlook is for any of those vacant positions being filled anytime soon, but I think, Jen, it's going to be important to keep an eye on FERC and to see if they can manage to push through some of its proposals.

Jennifer Dlouhy: Without a doubt. FERC is the agency that is so central to so much of what we do and is yet difficult to cover, I think, is a fair thing to say, and a former commissioner once complained to me that it wasn't nearly sexy enough. That's the challenge about writing about and thinking about FERC, but clearly on transmission, there's a lot of expectation that they can help deal with some of the concerns about bringing new power projects online and into the grid and incorporating them quickly, and so they're pivotal to those decisions.

Bill Loveless: My boot camp in covering energy back in the 1980s was the FERC, and I figured if I could cover the FERC effectively, I could do anything. It's a tough beat, but an important one, and I find it surprising, Justin, that often in reporting, not by you guys, but sometimes by others, they'll comment that this not so well-known agency is doing such and such. Well, it is rather well-known for those who pay attention to energy in the United States, and it does a lot of very significant and impactful things.

Justin Worland: Well, it's definitely true, and I think you could fault me for not spending much enough time with FERC, I would take that as a legitimate criticism. But I think the truth of the matter is that we need more reporters covering energy and climate and environment, and I think it would be great if we had the resources to devote to good FERC coverage. I think you could say that the same for a bunch of different agencies and a bunch of different areas within the beat.

Bill Loveless: Well, while you bring up covering things, how do your news organizations decide how to cover energy and climate issues? How have those issues evolved over the years, Justin?

Justin Worland: Well, I think I would take energy and climate a little separately. I focus a good deal on energy, and I have one colleague who focuses on energy more from a clean tech perspective. But we think about climate, I think, and we use the phrase climate is everything and try to get reporters from across the newsroom to think about climate on their own beat. We're a relatively small newsroom, so we don't have the resources to say have 20 reporters on climate, but we can try to pull in people from across the newsroom.

But I think the main focus of that climate is everything mantra is thinking about ways that climate connects with people in their lives and in their jobs. When I think about what I said at the very beginning about how I cover climate, thinking about the intersection of policy and society, it's trying to take ways to take this really wonky topic of energy and climate and connect it to people and to their communities in ways that they can grapple with it. I think, how has that evolved over the years? I think the biggest way it's evolved is that there's way more attention and interest than there was when I started, as I said nine years ago and was really doing this alone. There's interest, there's readership, there's internal support for doing more with climate.

Jennifer Dlouhy: If I were to reflect back, I started covering energy, mostly focused on oil and gas around 2008, and at the time, I probably had climate in my stories, and this is a legitimate criticism of my work, that it was not often mentioned in my stories. Now, you cannot write about oil and gas without writing about climate change. You can't write about energy, period, without really acknowledging how it intersects with this bigger story and this phenomenon. I think that's probably the biggest change and it's happened in such a relatively short amount of time. I think in the last decade, we've seen just a real shift in how reporting around this issue, how we handle that reporting. Before, even in five, six years ago, climate stories were often siloed. They were stories about climate change, they were about a report, they were about a new study, they were about maybe some exciting tech that didn't happen as much five, six years ago, it is happening obviously a lot now.

But they were siloed stories and now the coverage really is woven through and the issue of climate change is woven through so many of our stories, not just energy, but as Justin said, what other reporters and other beats are doing. At my organization, we put a premium on reporting about the economic and business impacts of policy and reporters who are covering companies that aren't in the energy business are nonetheless learning how and reporting more on, learning how to report more on their emissions and what they're doing on climate and their ESG metrics. It feels like it's so much more robust and broad the coverage of these issues. Of course, there's a bit of a feedback loop when it comes to policy because climate considerations are factoring into more and more policy coming from a wider array of federal agencies beyond the usual suspects of the EPA and the energy department. There's obviously some feedback loop there that's sustaining this too.

Bill Loveless: Yeah. Well, generally speaking, how adequate do you think coverage of energy and climate change is? I'm speaking broadly across the profession here. How might it be improved?

Jennifer Dlouhy: Justin said it would be great to have more reporters on this beat so that we could really relentlessly cover things like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and every little nuance of policy, but also what's happening in the private sector, and I think that's certainly true. More would be better in this space. There is vast ground to cover and there are great stories and sobering stories to write about that should see the light of day.

I think the more we can do to draw the link between this arcane, maybe difficult to comprehend scientific phenomenon and the weather that we're experiencing, the droughts, the flooding, et cetera, I think that's obviously important where it can be attributed. It's clearly important to make those connections clear for readers. One thing that a lot of my colleagues are doing is really trying to shine a light on the technology that can help, whether it's being employed by a big Fortune 500 company or it's something you can do at your own home, employing a heat pump or buying a gas stove, whatever it may be, that kind of journalism is, I think, probably empowering for readers who care about climate change and yet feel somewhat powerless to address it in their personal lives.

Bill Loveless: Justin, is there a risk of scaring off people with coverage of climate change?

Justin Worland: I think, for better or worse, people tend to engage with what they're interested in. I don't know. I don't necessarily fear. Perhaps, I know this is something that broadcast news thinks about is, are people turning off the TV if they start hearing about climate? But I think for the most part, written word, journalism, I don't see that as so much of a concern. I do want to just pick up on one point though that Jen said regarding the private sector, and of course, Bloomberg does a good job of covering the private sector, but I think that's one area where there's room for growth more broadly. It came up several times across this call, the role of the private sector going forward. I once heard from another journalist who said, "I don't pay attention to the private sector because it's all greenwashing." Certainly, greenwashing is a real phenomenon, but I think there is a need for broadly more nuanced coverage of the private sector.

One other thing I just want to add, and it's to my point of more journalists, is that we need more local journalists covering climate. It's great that Bloomberg and Time are covering climate, but people get their news from, oftentimes from their local outlets, whether that's their local broadcast outlet, their local newspaper, and so I think it would be really helpful to the profession and to public understanding of climate to have more people connecting climate to local news and what's happening in communities.

Bill Loveless: Justin, I'm so happy that you made that point about local journalism, and again, and maybe it's because I'm a fellow who once worked on a newspaper called the Pawtucket Times, a local paper. I agree. I think it's so important that local reporters are engaged in this, covering this topic, and that's a tough one because you look at what's going on in local newsrooms, they're small, staff is declining, they're covering many, many things at once. But a common thread is often going to be climate change issues in the reporting that they're doing.

Thanks again for raising that and while we're at it, gives me the opportunity to note that the Center on Global Energy Policy will soon announce applications for its 2024 Energy Journalism Fellows program. EJF is an annual seminar held in New York City where journalists from the United States and around the world from big and small outlets have an opportunity to study more deeply complex issues associated with energy and climate change. Jen, you are among the 140 journalists who have participated in the program since its inception in 2017, and Justin, you've served on EJF's advisory committee, and I just want to take the opportunity to thanking each of you for your support for that program.

Justin Worland: It's a great program.

Jennifer Dlouhy: Absolutely.

Bill Loveless: Thank you. With that, I appreciate this opportunity to take a big snapshot at the year 2024 for Climate Energy Policy Regulation wherewithal here in the nation's capital and for its implications for regions far from Washington. Thank you, Jennifer Dlouhy, Justin Worland, for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange.

Justin Worland: Thanks, bill.

Jennifer Dlouhy: Thank you for the opportunity.

Bill Loveless: That's it for this week's episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. Thank you again, Jennifer Dlouhy and Justin Worland, and thank you for listening. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and me, Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Erin Hardick from Latitude Studios. Additional support from Lilly Lee, Caroline Pitman and Q Lee. Roy Campanella is the Sound Engineer. For more information about the show or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at or follow us on social media, @ColumbiaUEnergy. You can rate the show on Apple or Spotify. You can also let us know what you think by leaving a review. If you really like this episode, share it with a friend or a colleague. It helps us reach more listeners like yourself. We'll be back next week with another conversation.

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