Friday News Roundup — January 7, 2022
The Threat of Political Violence; Latest on Russia-Ukraine; Unrest in Kazakhstan; Setting Space Policy; and What’s Next on Climate
Happy new year and we hope that you have had a restful and healthy holiday break. This week marked the one-year anniversary of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. In some of his most forceful remarks to date — including ones directly aimed at his predecessor, if not by name — President Biden spoke yesterday from the Capitol about that horrific day. The reception to the speech, however, reflected the partisan divisions cleaving our nation. The chill felt in Washington today is not just from the weather.
Still, the 2022 agenda continues to take shape, with Democratic priorities such as BBB in doubt, the looming deadline placed by Majority Leader Schumer on voting rights presages a potential showdown on the filibuster. Conferencing on major legislative proposals regarding competition with China loom, as well as the February 18th deadline for a spending agreement.
During the holiday break, Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs director, Joshua C. Huminski published a look ahead at forthcoming books in 2022 for the Diplomatic Courier and a review of “Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?” a jointly written book by Jan Matti Dollbaum, Morvan Lallouet & Ben Noble on the imprisoned opposition figure. Huminski also published an op-ed in Breaking Defense highlighting the importance of hard power and conventional deterrence, as evidenced by Russia’s “coercive diplomacy” on display in Ukraine. He explores the latest state of play in his piece, below. Also, in the Diplomatic Courier, Ethan examined how the instability in Afghanistan affects Russia and China.
In this week’s roundup, Dan looks at the threat to democracy when we accept or even encourage political violence. Joshua provides an update on the latest tensions with Russia, while Wes covers the unrest in Kazakhstan. Ethan calls for clearer policy on conflict in space, and Robert looks at what is ahead on climate and energy with BBB in doubt. As always we wrap with news you may have missed.
Political Violence & the Threat to Democracy
While yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the assault on the Capitol, today marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the effort to diminish a violent attack on our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. Through false equivalencies, tu quoque arguments, conspiracy theories, whataboutism, political expediency, and partisan media — all fueled by falsehoods about the 2020 election — the magnitude of this act of political violence has been lost to the mentality of our partisan deadlock. Some, citing the 2020 lies, have even sought to justify the actions of the rioters who came so close to inflicting violence upon our nation’s leaders and that transition of power which is the foundation of democracy. That continued threat of political violence undercuts democracy and the rule of law, and we cannot be blind to the threat that it poses.
The recent poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland Center for Democracy and Civil Engagement provides some hard data — both in terms of numbers and the stark realization of how political violence is increasingly seen as acceptable. The poll found that 34% of Americans believe that violence against the government is sometimes justified, with 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents, and 23% of Democrats believing so. The poll also found that 36% of Republicans believe that those who entered the Capitol on January 6th were “mostly peaceful”. The poll also notes historical context, with a rising acceptance for political violence coinciding with a decline in our regard for American democracy.
The attack on the Capitol did not occur in a vacuum, with other surveys in recent years showing that political violence against the other party was increasingly justified, and even more so in cases where respondents perceive the other party winning elections via fraud or using violence first. In that sense it is important to note both the “big lie” surrounding the 2020 election, as well as those who cite the violence of summer of 2020 as an equivalent or justification for January 6th. This ignores that 2020 also saw threats against multiple state legislatures; the murder of a Federal security officer by right wing militia; and, lest we forget, a plot to kidnap, conduct a show trial, and execute the Governor of Michigan.
The overhang of violence over our politics casts a shadow on the rule of law and even the decisions of our lawmakers. One of the most stunning anecdotes comes from Tim Alberta’s excellent piece on Republican freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) — who was among the 10 Republicans who voted for the second impeachment of President Trump. He describes both the threats of violence he has received since that vote, as well as how his other Republican colleague framed their decision-making in the aftermath of January 6th.
On the House floor, moments before the vote, Meijer approached a member who appeared on the verge of a breakdown. He asked his new colleague if he was okay. The member responded that he was not; that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety. “Remember, this wasn’t a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of,” Meijer says. “If they’re willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you’re at home with your kids?”
This violent rhetoric is not just limited to Washington, and increasingly local officials, from election officials to school boards face threats of violence and conspiracy theory narratives.
History and examples from around the world show us that political violence can easily spiral out of control. To those who fantasize about political violence coming to our country, they should take a moment to hear what true civil wars entail in terms of atrocities, suffering, and societal breakdown. Abroad, look to the worst years of what happened in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the Balkans, or other sectarian conflicts. Our own history has its example too, beyond the example of the Civil War: loyalist-vs-patriot violence in the revolution, “Bleeding Kansas” before the Civil War, brutal frontier conflicts, and the racial atrocities perpetrated from those opposed to reconstruction in the 19th century to those opposed to civil rights and desegregation in the 20th. All those examples tell us both the tragedy of such conflicts, as well as how horrific cycles of violence and terror can be sustained by a small minority of fundamentalist sectarians and partisans.
There is no “silver bullet” to solve this. It will require us to address the falsehoods and lies in media and social media echo chambers, the incitement from pundits and politicians who flirt with violence, and the need to reconcile with our fellow Americans who have had their individual, family, and community identities subsumed by partisan ideology. The majority that believes that violence has no place in our politics must make sure that there are social, political, and legal consequences for those who continue to espouse violence and threaten the fabric of our democratic institutions and the representatives and leaders of our republic.
A year-and-a-day ago, we saw the heroism and courage of those who stood up to political violence — from the police officers of the Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan departments to the staffers and pages who made sure the Electoral College ballots were brought to safety. Our shared call to heroism is to arrest this slide towards normalizing political violence, and understand that we have the responsibility to protect and defend our democracy. We have to heed the call of George Washington in his farewell address when he warned of naked partisanship, cycles of revenge, and the descent to authoritarianism:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Russia, Ukraine, and the State of Play at the Opening of 2022
Joshua C. Huminski
The winter holidays of Christmas and New Year’s brought with them a relative pause in the ratcheting up of tensions between Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. The New Year is set to bring U.S.-Russia discussions on Monday in Geneva, but it is doubtful that any breakthroughs will occur.
At the end of 2021, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, spoke with President Joseph Biden who warned that the U.S. and its allies would respond “decisively” if Moscow expanded its invasion of Ukraine. Russia already annexed Crimea in 2014 and has since waged a campaign of destabilization in Donbass. For his part, Putin has not formally ruled out a military option for resolving what is a wholly Russian-created crisis, but has denied that he has plans to invade Ukraine — this despite the mobilization of at least 100,000 Russian troops, with intelligence forecasting an expansion of Russian forces to 175,000 soldiers.
That nothing happened over the winter holidays is to be welcomed, but not wholly surprising. Analysts expect Russia to move — if Moscow is to move at all — in the spring of 2022 due to environmental conditions, not the least of which is winter, which brings with it rough roads, overcast skies, and other operational constraints. That said, the mobilization cannot continue indefinitely without affecting Russia’s overall operational readiness, interrupting training cycles, or yielding decreased performance.
The United States continues to find itself in the challenging position of having few, if any, options to dissuade Russia from acting, and only having tools to respond after the fact. Even then, those options are of limited utility. President Biden has ruled out deploying American forces to Ukraine, which while perhaps sensible (few if any would want a confrontation between U.S. and Russian forces) did eliminate any strategic ambiguity in terms of potential American actions. Post invasion options mulled include the “nuclear option” of severing Russia from the global SWIFT system of financial transactions and potentially halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through Germany. To be sure, these are measures that have not otherwise been discussed, even in response to Russia’s more extreme activities in Europe, even in response to the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Yet, thus far, the threat of these retaliatory measures has not seemed to alter Russia’s behavior.
What Moscow’s activities have prompted has been the thing Russia perhaps fears most — a potentially enlarged NATO. While Ukraine and Georgia’s possible membership in NATO is allegedly a cause for Russia’s security concerns, Moscow’s build-up along Ukraine’s border has prompted a reevaluation of NATO membership in both Sweden and Finland (arguably two more strategically useful countries to the NATO alliance. Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, and prime minister, Sanna Marin both used New Year’s addresses to reaffirm the country’s right to seek NATO membership and Sweden’s main opposition party urged the country to follow Helsinki’s example and stress Stockholm’s right to membership, as well. It should be noted that the governing party in Sweden, the Social Democrats, are opposed to NATO membership.
The European Union, for its part, is demanding a seat at the table of any Russia-Ukraine talks, due to take place early this month in Geneva. What these talks could achieve very much remains to be seen. Last month Russia floated two bilateral accords with the United States and NATO, which were non-starters and well beyond the scope of anything to which either party w ould agree (and excluded Ukraine entirely, for that matter).
The bilateral discussions between Putin and Biden are, of course, to be welcomed. Discussions and engagements are neither a reward, nor is their withholding a punishment. It is a means of communicating both parties’ positions, clearly, and providing a pathway to avoiding miscommunications and miscalculation. That said, Washington is playing a very weak hand as aforementioned. Negotiating from a position of strength is far better than from a position of weakness, which is precisely where Washington finds itself at the moment — few carrots and few sticks with which to alter Moscow’s present course.
On the issue of Ukraine and NATO, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that “Ukraine de facto is already a NATO member,” and reaffirmed Russia’s hardline position on the issue. He warned that economic retaliation could well imperil other bilateral efforts, such as on strategic stability and arms control, and noted that “Our military will be there [Ukraine’s borders], and then we will see whether there is any basis to continue on a diplomatic track.”
What comes next is unclear. The bilateral accords could well have been an opening gambit in the negotiations with Moscow — ask for everything as a starting point and hope for something approaching the middle in this Russia-manufactured crisis. Could Russia expand its invasion of Ukraine? Certainly. Would the benefits outweigh the costs? From a Western point of view, likely not, but that’s not the point of view that matters. What Russia and Putin’s calculus are is very much in question as are the variables that go into the Kremlin’s arithmetic.
Unrest in Kazakhstan Explodes in Scale
What began on Sunday as a limited protest against a sharp increase in liquified petroleum gas prices has developed into a countrywide popular rebuke of the Kazakh government under President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and the persistence of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstani affairs in his role as “Leader of the Nation.” After a combined initiative by the government of Kazakhstan to digitize and deregulate the sale of liquified petroleum gas precipitated a doubling in the fuel’s per-liter price, protesters began to gather in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen as well as the wider Mangystau region. By January 3, protests had begun to spring up across the country in major Kazakhstani cities such as Almaty, Aktau, Aktobe, Shymkent, and the capital Nur-Sultan. Despite the decision by the government in Nur-Sultan to lower fuel prices to a level lower than their pre-protest level and President Tokayev’s dismissal of the cabinet of Prime Minister Askar Mamin, the protests began to intensify into outbreaks of violence in some locations, while government security forces attempted to suppress the protest movement by force in others.
While this wave of unrest and protests was kicked off by the specific issue of energy prices, the reversal of such increases did not stem public anger, as the movement had already expanded beyond that issue alone. While no conclusive list of demands has emerged, issues such as low salaries, corruption, and labor issues are all seen as catalysts for the protest movement. The burning of the presidential residence and city administration buildings in Almaty by protesters on January 5 have shown that the center of gravity of Kazakhstan’s unrest has shifted to the city, which is Kazakhstan’s largest. In addition, the seizure of the Almaty airport by protesters as well as reports of police and security servicemen defecting to the street movement appeared to reveal that the central government of Kazakhstan no longer held the initiative in the situation by Wednesday evening. While a state of emergency had already been declared on January 4, the launch of an “anti-terrorist operation” against the protesters by government security services in Almaty and the Almaty airport in the evening of the 5th saw casualties among the government-aligned forces and protesters alike.
However, the most significant wildcard in the present situation surrounding the protest movement is the introduction of CSTO peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan in response to President Tokayev’s request to the organization for help in subduing what he described as a terroristic threat against the people of Kazakhstan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is a Russian-dominated military alliance founded in its current form in 2002, and which counts Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as members. Revealed in a Wednesday Facebook post by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (who currently serves as the rotational chairman of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO), roughly 2,500 peacekeepers will be sent to the country initially, with the potential for more to be sent as needed. The decision to deploy the “peacekeeping” mission was reached remarkably quickly, as only a few hours separated Tokayev’s request from Pashinyan’s statement on Facebook.
The role which the Russian military will play in quelling unrest in Almaty and elsewhere in Kazakhstan will likely play a significant role in shaping Kazakhstan’s relationship with Russia in the near- and long-term future. While Russian media reports suggest that a Belarusian contingent has already joined the Russian airborne force in Kazakhstan, with contingents from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to follow, the shape and scope of the mission will likely be decided by Russia, the alliance’s largest and most powerful member. As a decision itself, CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan on the request of President Tokayev is unprecedented in context. While CSTO peacekeepers have played a role in matters of national security for member states, such as in the wake of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, the organization had previously refused to intervene in moments of unrest in member states. Following requests from the government of Kyrgyzstan for CSTO peacekeepers to respond to ethnic conflict in the city of Osh in 2010, the then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev stated that the CSTO could not respond to the unrest due to its nature as an internal event in Kyrgyzstan. With CSTO intervention also absent from the large-scale Belarusian protests of August 2020, it is possible that this week’s intervention in Kazakhstan represents an inflection point for the future development of the organization.
With the introduction of foreign troops into Kazakhstan’s unrest, the course of the protests across the country can shift quickly. With forceful attempts to clear the center of Almaty of protesters being conducted, the turmoil in the city has taken on a sharper edge, as the government has claimed that at least 18 police officers have been killed. While the number of civilian casualties has not been made known, thousands of protesters have been arrested across the country, including more than 2,000 in Almaty. Information flows in and out of Kazakhstan have been impaired by the periodic internet blackouts imposed by the government in Nur-Sultan, which impedes efforts by outside observers to discern the contours of events around the country.
The gulf between the people of Kazakhstan and their government may also be accompanied by the emergence of visible cracks among the country’s elite. President Tokayev’s decision to replace former President Nazarbayev as chairman of the powerful security council, who had been the country’s first post-independence leader after serving as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and had previously enjoyed a legally enshrined status as an overseer of Kazakhstan’s politics as “leader of the nation,” may indicate a lack of unity among elites. Nazarbayev himself was very emblematic of the existing government of Kazakhstan that protesters have sought to change or do away with entirely, with a common protest slogan being “Old Man, go away,” in reference to the former president. No matter whether the outcome of this week’s protests ends in victory for the protest movement or the Kazakhstani government, this week will almost certainly prove to be a major moment in shaping the relationship between the government of Kazakhstan and its people, as well as Kazakhstan’s relationship with its neighbors, particularly Russia.
2022: Define Space policy to pressure aggressors and move humanity forward
2022 should be the year in which we define Space conflict standards, and thus unify efforts to push our civilization forward instead of remaining mired in vague conflicts and struggles between authoritarianism and cooperative freedom. 2021 was a bit of a whirlwind in terms of space and orbital defense, and of course the same old problems abound for our Space enterprise (read: acquisitions, and more acquisitions). There were some highs: notably the absolutely booming commercial space sector and technological partnerships between public and private Space entities; and there were some frantic gasps: the Russian ASAT test, for example, as well as USAF Secretary Kendall’s inferences back in September to a Chinese Global Strike platform from space. But overall, the youngest service branch of the DoD moved forward towards defense relevance and readiness, even if they chose a clunky moniker for our defenders of the outer reaches of Earth.
As an aside/primer, it should be recalled that there are two U.S. entities here whose national security concerns involve space (it’s really much more than that, especially when the intelligence community, led by the National Reconnaissance Office, has so much invested in space architecture). The two main parties in the enterprise include the Space Force, whose congressional charge is to organize, train and equip Guardians for the role of space defense activities, and the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), whose charter is to actually conduct operations in, from and to space in order to deter conflict and if necessary defeat aggression, deliver combat power for the Joint/Combined Forces and defend U.S. national security interests.
What Space operations ‘means’…ambiguity for now
Distinguishing between the two entities is in all probability, the nearest yet most challenging hurdle in the short term that the space enterprise can and should climb over. Some of this can be chalked up to the myriad of components involved in the space defense collective. If one were to ask a civilian what a Sailor or a Soldier does in service to our national defense, most answers aren’t going to be wrong. Conversely, ask what a Guardian or Joint Task Force — Space Defense (JTF-SD) Joint service member does, and a blank stare is your safest bet to hedge, because unfortunately, Orbital Drop Shock Troopers aren’t a thing yet since our species hasn’t discovered an alien civilization with whom we’d be conducting interplanetary war anytime soon.
All humor and sci-fi references aside, therein lies a fundamental problem with our current arraignment of the space defense enterprise — no rational person would discount the importance of space, indeed space and connectivity impact literally every aspect of our daily lives, but no one considers the doctrinal or functional employment of the services at a consumable or indeed, a policy level. The root cause of this disparity in common understanding stems from the absence of established space norms and behavior, something I’ve addressed in the previous space-thematic columns of this roundup. But for this coming year and amidst congressional bickering, 2022 is the year in which the defining paradigm can be achieved through one vector — we need to define what constitutes space conflict, and engage the hyperdrive of legislative bodies to steer our defense, diplomatic, and economic systems towards cooperative partnerships to deter the rising threats in our upper combatant commands and isolate those aggressors in Space.
It’s a slow grind to define doctrine, and even the definition of acceptable behavior in low-earth orbit escapes an elevator pitch by legislators or defense leaders. It begins with some plug about ‘open-use’, permissible fields and bands in which our complex constellations can operate, and a lack of tolerance for behaviors — like the Russian ASAT satellite-killer test, which now threatens American Defense Meteorological Satellite Systems, the International Space Station and intelligence satellites due to debris — which threaten those ecosystems. But what we lack at this time, is credible deterrence and consequences for those kinds of reckless acts of aggression that Moscow and Beijing look to constantly exploit along with other avenues of upending the fragile world order.
Threats unify, advancing the human race amplifies
Let’s take a step back and look at how vague conflict slowed the potential of the human race. I am of course referring to the defining conflict of the 20th century, the Cold War. In the war that wasn’t, technological innovation gave rise to the constellation of satellites that now dominate our low-earth orbit, but for one purpose — ascertaining the intents of the wars two main antagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union (you should really check out The Cold War: What We Saw podcast, it’s a favorite and I’m enjoying it for the 5th time over the holiday break). While technological defense systems have also enabled the rise of civilian technology aimed to improve every aspect of our lives, most of which exists and functions in space, an entire generation of eastern and western nations lived under the threat of doomsday, nuclear armageddon, and the penultimate conflict between ideologies instead of unifying our collected efforts towards advancing the human race.
And what did we learn from that war? That collectivism will never be able to compete with the industrialization of free nations, and despite the mess that can be and often is liberal democracy and the free market, the communist systems still went shot for shot in the space race and with systems that use space, albeit with the blood of millions on the hands of collectivism and tyranny. Imagine if, as Dwight D. Eisenhower optimistically opined to Soviet leaders, those streams of conflict investment had gone towards advancing our place in the solar system: “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed”. Note that, while the speech is taken today as a rightful warning against the military industrial complex, the 34th President aimed to appeal to the humanity of the Soviet politburo after the death of the tyrant Joseph Stalin, to end the rapidly escalating arms race.
Indeed, a threat will motivate a nation to advance its own capability better than most other things — just look at the tremendous achievement of the COVID vaccine program, despite its many flaws, in the rise of this new paradigm of existence we live in today, that was a fundamentally cohesive effort between the worlds biggest competitors for global dominance. Space, however, signals the future of our world and the celestial haunts beyond it. It should be the goal of all organized nations to unify efforts in space to move beyond our gravitational limits. Unfortunately, Space currently serves as an avenue for strategic competitors to limit our potential by fometing disorder and not creating a common cause for our species.
Establishing a Space conflict policy
Space then, offers something no other medium of strategic competition does — a chance to transcend differences between antagonists and build, as Eisenhower stated, “a just age of peace, the only fitting monument to honor the dead for guarding vigilantly against the domination of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power”. But so long as the free nations of cooperation do not have a defined paradigm of acceptable space behaviors, to say nothing of a credible deterrence against such aggression, this remains an altruistic pipe dream.
The United States is already engaged in economic and diplomatic efforts to deter the rising Chinese regional hegemony — much of our work here at the CSPC echoes trans-Pacific efforts to build systems that offer a road to prosperity and independence, through cohesion that isn’t coerced from a central power (i.e. Beijing’s slow and steady pressure to bring subjects under heel). It’s a system of cooperation which seeks to offer a resolute line that doesn’t tolerate pontification and flexing of conventional military might, as Moscow seeks to do, for reasons we don’t fully comprehend. What 2022, and the future of our global system of systems needs, is an established policy that continues to isolate the aggressors from a growing coalition of states who aim to advance the human race through Space.
Standing pat and relying on rhetoric isn’t going to make a difference, partnerships and collaborative effort that demonstrates our species potential, however, will indeed serve that purpose. It further offers a chance to defer the ongoing competition, daresay percolating confrontation, between the big three antagonists and instead gives the United States, China, and Russia a common ground, the highest ground. Perhaps such a commonality that even nuclear de-armament, a global pandemic, and digitized economies have not offered to the players in this global game. This should not equal capitulation, or appeasement (the most venomous word during the Cold War era) to tyranny stemming from Moscow and Beijing, but actual cooperation incentivized by everyone not named Moscow and Beijing to dictate what is acceptable in space, and methods for responding to those behaviors that threaten our global future in the beyond.
Looking ahead on Climate after BBB
Where do things stand in terms of achieving U.S. Paris Accord goals now that Build Back Better has been defeated? The legislation’s passage would have helped Biden meet his goal of cutting America’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. BBB would have provided approximately $550 billion in investments and tax credits in clean energy (including nuclear). These included a carbon sequestration tax credit and a new tax credit for hydrogen production. The largest clean energy component of BB was the Clean Energy Performance Program to help pay utility companies to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy and penalize non-compliant companies (1/4 of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity production, according to the Environmental Protection Agency). Sen. Joe Manchin’s “no” on BBB drew loud consternation from environmental voices like Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) who said, “Failing to pass Build Back Better condemns us to higher energy prices, fewer jobs and a back seat to those that take action and lead on technology and innovation.” There are doomsayers on the other side as well: “Costs will continue to rise if politicians remain bent on achieving net-zero emission globally. Bank of America finds that achieving net zero globally by 2050 will cost $150 trilllion over 30 years — almost twice the combined annual GDP of every country on earth,” according to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.
But things do not have to be that bleak. Unlike the broader BBB, which contained major Democratic-sponsored social spending initiatives, green energy has more broad-based support. It was even a pillar of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s energy strategy under the previous Administration (he favored an “all of the above” energy strategy.) Incentives for transition to renewables could theoretically be moved into separate appropriations legislation, and these might have a chance to pass this year, or even if Republicans take over Congress in 2022. Sen. Manchin said January 4 that climate is an area “that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else.” He specifically mentioned clean energy tax credits (but also cautioned that Democrats should be “realistic.”) Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) called on lawmakers not to give up on their efforts to address global warming. “The planet is not going to pause its warming process while we sort our politics out. We owe it to future generations… Despair is not an option.” And Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tweeted after the failure of BBB “This is not over, folks.”
We will see a lot of lobbying to restore the clean energy tax credits. In parallel, the private sector is charging ahead (pun intended) on renewable energy. Hundreds of U.S. companies have announced 2050 “net zero” commitments. On Wall Street, investment in green tech has almost reached bubble status. The price of solar energy has dropped 89% over the past 10 years, making it competitive vs. other power sources. Major auto manufacturers have announced billions of dollars in EV investments, spurred by Tesla’s success. General Motors CEO Mary Barra said at the CES Conference: “Make no mistake, this is a movement” as she announced 10 new GM electric vehicles. Ford has 200,000 pre-orders for its electric F-150 truck. (Here is one thing the Administration needs to jettison: the idea that only unionized auto manufacturers may qualify for EV tax benefits. Almost every new auto plant in the last 20 years was built in a non-union state. The non-union auto industry in the U.S. includes Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Tesla, BMW, and others. Toyota just surpassed GM as America’s largest automaker. Restricting federal EV tax breaks to only union factories is self-defeating from both a political and a jobs standpoint.)
States are taking bold steps without waiting for federal government direction. Utilities in twenty states have committed to being carbon neutral goals. Early in December, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPDD) board voted to be carbon neutral by 2050. The White House has other tools at its disposal outside of legislation. Spending in the 2021 infrastructure bill can be optimized (as we explored in the CSPC July 2 Roundup) in ways that set the stage for lower-emissions transportation. New SEC rules on companies’ carbon emissions disclosure and ESG standards for investments will be unveiled this spring. The Administration will tighten fleet mileage standards for cars and light trucks — although a European-style carbon output tax makes much more sense. The Administration has adopted rules that would curb greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning. New rules on methane are set to come into force. More federal dollars can be earmarked for renewable energy R&D. We can innovate carbon credits markets at both the state and federal level. On the international front, the Administration can keep tariffs on subsidized solar panels and other gear made in the PRC. It can set carbon input rules for steel and aluminum imports. Now that the United States has rejoined the Paris Accord, we can increase pressure on the PRC and India to reduce industrial pollution.
Transition to a green economy will be turbulent. Just ask Europe, which has seen huge price increases for natural gas and fuel in recent months. The pause in BBB is an opportunity for the U.S. to learn from Europe’s missteps. Policymakers must balance inflation pressures vs. climate goals — all while navigating geopolitical events that impact global energy markets. They must weigh the social impact of lost jobs in legacy sectors.
The U.S. needs a flexible and diversified energy system, where renewables can take hold. This will both enhance national resilience and boost national competitiveness. For example, more renewables paired with distributed micro-grids will help us weather storms that disrupt refineries and power grids. And an innovative dynamic green tech sector will create jobs of the future and help America compete against rivals like China. With competitiveness and resilience on the line, the green energy revolution cannot be treated as a partisan issue.
Disclosure: Robert Gerber is an advisor to renewable energy companies including IceWind USA.
News You May Have Missed
In a reversal of the usual flow of defectors from North Korea to South Korea, a South Korean individual defected to the North on January 1, 2022. The whereabouts and status of the individual in question are not known by South Korea according to a statement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite being detected in their attempt to cross the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas by the South Korean military, the individual evaded detection by the South Korean search party and crossed into the North. The South Korean who crossed the DMZ would have had to also contend with North Korea’s current policy of pandemic measure of shooting anyone who approaches the border from outside.
A fire that took two days to extinguish severely damaged the South African parliament buildings in Cape Town. Investigators have arrested a 49-year old man in connection with the blaze, though his lawyer has maintained his innocence. Fire service investigators have also found that the building’s sprinkler system failed to work and fire doors throughout the building had been left open — facilitating the blaze’s spread. While no one was injured, this has raised questions about the security of government facilities and compliance with fire codes.
The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.