There is a trope among U.S. opponents of the Paris agreement that former President Trump helped to popularize in 2017 when he said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
It would be easy to brush off Trump’s comments except that they were part of an action that had serious consequences, which was his decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement.
Last week, when President Joe Biden signed an order for the country to re-enter the Paris agreement, we saw callbacks to Trump’s comment.
“By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a Twitter post.
But the one that stopped me in my tracks came from newly elected U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).
“I work for the people of Pueblo, not the people of Paris,” she said on Twitter.
For people like me who write about clean energy, Pueblo, Colorado, is a well-known example of a place that is leading the way in the transition to a clean energy economy, a fact that adds to the ridiculousness of Boebert’s comment.
Actions in Pueblo—which is in Boebert’s district—are setting the city up to benefit from the Paris agreement, the international treaty that seeks to cut global emissions enough by mid-century to stave off the most destructive effects of climate change.
Pueblo, with a population of about 110,000, has a rich industrial history and has suffered with the decline of U.S. steel manufacturing, which was a foundation of the city’s economy. Rather than continue to watch the erosion of the local employment base, regional leaders are working to attract new jobs in growing industries like renewable energy.
The Pueblo City Council voted in 2017 to commit the city to getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035, which supporters said was part of a broader embrace of clean energy.
The utility Xcel Energy is helping to lead the transition with a plan announced in 2018 to close 660 megawatts at a coal-fired power plant in Pueblo and build 650 megawatts of solar power and 225 megawatts of battery storage projects, all located in the city or close to it.
By developing renewable energy in the same region where two generating units of a coal-fired power plant are closing, Xcel is steering economic benefits to the places that stand to lose from the decline of fossil fuels. Local leaders hope that the investment from Xcel will attract other companies and help the region become a hub for clean energy jobs.
Pueblo’s transition is “proving itself as a sustainable business model for other cities,” said a 2019 case study about the city’s efforts written by researchers at the Colorado School of Mines, along with Pueblo’s economic development director.
The upshot is that Pueblo has a lot riding on the clean energy transition. By re-entering the Paris agreement and placing climate change at the center of the national agenda, Biden is sending a signal that the clean energy transition, in Pueblo and everywhere else, has clear momentum.
I reached out to Boebert’s office and did not receive a reply.
Since being elected in November, she has gained notoriety for saying she would carry a Glock to Congress. Before the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, she tweeted, “Today is 1776,” referring to the Revolutionary War, part of a series of communications that sympathized with the protesters.
In addition to tweeting about the Paris agreement, she has introduced a bill that would block the United States from participating in the Paris agreement without approval from the U.S. Senate. The bill is unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled House. Even if it did pass the House and Senate, Biden would veto it.
In an interview with a Colorado television station last week, Boebert said steelworkers in Pueblo stand to lose jobs because of policies that will drive down demand for metal parts used by the oil and gas industry.
The steel plant, owned by EVRAZ North America, employs about 1,000 people. The company laid off about 200 workers last year, citing a drop in demand from the oil and gas industry, according to the Pueblo Chieftain.
But Pueblo is more than just a steel town. The largest employer in the region is the hospital system. Vestas, a leading maker of wind turbines, has a plant that employs about 900 people at one of the largest wind energy manufacturing sites in North America. Trane, the air conditioner manufacturer, employs about 450.
And, EVRAZ North America has been a key player in the city’s energy transition, not an adversary. The company is working with Xcel and Lightsource BP on a 240-megawatt solar array, announced in 2019, to be located next to the plant, which would provide a cleaner source of electricity and cost savings for the plant. The project is in addition to the other solar projects that Xcel is already building in the area.
The EVRAZ solar development is in line with the priorities of the company’s London-based parent, EVRAZ plc, which has acknowledged the importance of the Paris agreement. The company said in its 2020 climate change report that it “recognizes the significance of the challenges posed by climate change and the urgency at which society must respond.”
I should note that I don’t know if Trump, Cruz, Boebert and others really think that the Paris agreement is about helping workers in Paris, or if this is largely a trolling exercise on their part.
Either way, it’s nonsense.
New Minnesota Clean Energy Proposal Faces Difficult Road
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has a new proposal to get the state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040, but it will be difficult for him to pass in the state’s divided legislature.
The governor’s plan would set the 2040 target and have interim goals along the way. It would require that utilities prioritize using carbon-free energy sources and energy conservation to meet their needs before looking at options that involve burning fossil fuels. The plan also would set a goal of cutting emissions from buildings in half by 2035.
“Not only is clean energy the right and responsible choice for future generations, clean energy maximizes job creation and grows our economy, which is especially important as we work to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic,” Walz said in a statement.
Minnesota is a place where many of the major players are ready for a change like this. The state’s two largest utilities, Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power, both have plans to get to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.
But Walz, a Democrat, will have a tough time getting his bill through the Minnesota Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Senate Republicans support a clean energy bill, but their version doesn’t include hard deadlines like Walz wants, as reporter Jennifer Bjorhus reports in the Star Tribune.
“I don’t think we’ll be taking up a percentage goal,” said Minnesota Sen. David Senjem, a Republican, who is chairman of the committee that handles energy policy. “We’re focused on affordability and reliability.”
Democrats, who already control the Minnesota House, had hoped to gain control in the Senate in November, but they fell short, in keeping with the party’s underperformance in many statehouse races.
Still, there is a decent chance lawmakers will pass something. The larger issue is that Minnesota, like many states, needs to move quickly to accelerate its transition to clean energy if it is to do its part to address climate change.
Those needs, which exceed what is politically possible, are why some environmentalists greeted Walz’s plan with less than adulation.
Jessica Tritsch, of the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter, said the provisions of Walz plan are “positive steps,” but not enough, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
“That timeline is not what scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” she said.
Biden Keeps Going, with EV Comments and Energy Efficiency Rules
The Biden administration is moving so quickly on energy policy announcements that it’s difficult to keep up with them all.
For example, he issued a bunch of executive orders dealing with energy and climate on Wednesday, which you can read about here at ICN.
But I want to direct your attention to something Biden did last week that could get lost in the flurry of actions: a review of federal rules dealing with energy efficiency in lighting, air conditioning and appliances.
The Trump administration weakened many energy efficiency rules, and now the Biden administration has said it will review those actions with an eye toward undoing them.
Energy efficiency is an underappreciated part of the transition to clean energy. By using less energy, we need fewer power plants, which means fewer emissions. The Trump administration didn’t appreciate this and instead had a “misplaced nostalgia for old technology” like incandescent light bulbs, said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the nonprofit Appliance Standards Awareness Project.
His comments initially appeared in the story I wrote with some of my Inside Climate News colleagues about Biden’s initial actions on federal rules. deLaski said it’s a good sign that Biden’s team understands energy issues well enough to immediately identify such a long list of Trump rules for review.
“In the 2020s it’s time to take advantage of the incredible innovations that are happening, whether they are in lighting or in air conditioning or in appliances, and raise the minimum efficiency standards so all consumers save money and we reduce emissions,” he said.
Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to email@example.com.