Clean energy Czar John Podesta’s job of overseeing $369 billion under climate and tax legislation just got several degrees more difficult now that Republicans have taken control of the House — and been given the power to scrutinize his office closely. to keep an eye on.
A lack of confidence from Republicans could throw sand at the Biden agenda, which aims to cut emissions by 40% over the next eight years through a combination of tax credits and investments in solar panels, batteries and other green technologies.
Podesta, the president’s senior adviser on clean energy innovation and implementation, potentially makes the road ahead more difficult as he is already a divisive figure. Detractors see him as the ultimate Washington insider, having served in senior positions for the last three Democratic presidents, and as the tip of the spear for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid against Donald Trump.
“John will have to bend over backwards to show that clean energy has value for the entire country, including red states,” said Paul Bledsoe, who worked closely with Podesta as director of communications for the White House climate change task force under President Bill Clinton. “He has taken his work off his hands.”
A White House spokesman declined multiple requests for details about Podesta’s role beyond those in President Joe Biden’s September directive. But in a November 2021 podcast hosted by the Center for American Progress — the left-wing think tank he founded — Podesta pushed back his critics.
“In the past, the skeptics have always said, ‘If you try to tackle the environment, if you try to clean up pollution, you’re going to cost jobs, you’re going to tax the economy, and so on,'” Podesta said. been a big lie.”
Several House Republicans now lining up for leadership positions have already declared their intent to scrutinize spending under the climate and tax legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act (Public Law 117-169).
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who is likely to become the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last month when announcing the hiring of a new chief counsel: “We have a packed schedule to meet President Biden and government officials are responsible for how they shut down US energy.
For Sean Moulton, senior policy analyst with the Project on Government Oversight, GOP threats underline how important it is for Podesta to ensure that money is spent wisely.
“Their main goal is to ensure that, despite all the political allegations, there is no scandal,” he said. “There will almost certainly be some fraud, some waste. To some extent it is inevitable. But it’s about minimizing it.”
No play favorites
According to Ali Zaidi, Biden’s new national climate adviser, there is little evidence so far that Republican states do not want government climate funding. He noted that all 50 states have submitted plans to the Biden administration to build electric vehicle charging under the infrastructure law.
Another tranche of climate funding went out earlier this month, when the White House announced $53 million for 132 air pollution monitoring projects across the country, funded by both the climate bill and the Covid-19 stimulus package.
But only 29.9% of that funding went to states that voted Republican in the 2020 presidential election, aside from a small number of joint awards that went to both the red and blue states.
The discrepancy is almost certainly a function of either the number of grant applications EPA has received from different states, or the quality of the applications — not political calculations, according to Kevin Minoli, former EPA acting general counsel and chief deputy general counsel and now a partner at Alston & Bird LLP.
Bledsoe said he doesn’t envision Podesta becoming a favorite with the funding — if only because it would undermine the Democrats’ long-term argument that clean energy is a reliable technology that can create jobs across the country.
“It’s the administration’s job to demonstrate that this legislation will be applied in a dual fashion,” said Bledsoe, now a professor at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy.
Minoli agreed, saying the incentive for Podesta would at least be to direct resources to states less hospitable to the government.
Rapidly funding projects and delivering benefits to voters will be an important part of Podesta’s job of securing support in future elections, said Trevor Higgins, acting chief of the energy and environmental group at the Center for American Progress, a leftist group. thinker tank that founded Podesta.
One place where Podesta could be most effective would be to act as a central clearing house for the many tax credit provisions of the Climate Act, coordinating policies in categories such as hydrogen, carbon capture and production of wind and solar components, it said. Hunter Johnston, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP specializing in energy and tax policy.
Even some of Podesta’s allies said they were surprised the White House selected him, given his political background.
“It was a choice that raised eyebrows,” said Bledsoe.
But apart from harsh congressional oversight, Podesta won’t face excessive friction on a daily basis because most of his job will be working with Democratic-led federal agencies, Moulton said.
Both Bledsoe and Moulton agreed that Podesta’s hiring gives the White House a highly experienced manager with numerous connections across the country.
“When you bring in someone with the visibility, influence and experience of someone like Podesta, you make it clear to the agencies that this is someone the president wants you to listen to,” Moulton said. “Putting someone of this stature in charge will help cut through the red tape and help these agencies understand there are expectations.”
—With assistance from Courtney Rozen.