Senate’s ‘quiet’ local weather hawk sells a CES to moderates — Tuesday, July 13, 2021 — www.eenews.internet

Under the dangling chandeliers in the reception room in the Minnesota State Capitol, Democratic Senator Tina Smith awakened her climate.

It happened in 2015 when she was Lieutenant Governor. A group of teenagers brought in by Will Steger, the famous polar explorer, begged them to do something about climate change.

They gathered on chairs in a circle. The young people were visibly overwhelmed by the ornate room, where oil paintings of historic Minnesota scenes hung between wood paneling and carved ceiling beams.

You had a simple but profound request: you have the power to save our future, please use it.

She thought of Minnesota farmers in flooded fields. She thought of becoming a grandmother. She thought about what older generations owe younger generations.

Something in her was changing.

“What’s the point of being Lieutenant Governor, what’s the point of being a Senator, if there’s nothing you can do about it?” she said in a recent interview with E&E News, her voice cracking at the memory.

Now, just six years later, Smith’s quiet climate work on Capitol Hill could have repercussions across the country and into the future.

She works with Senator Ben Ray Luján (DN.M.) on drafting laws for a clean electricity standard, which is referred to as the “backbone” of Biden’s climate policy. It stipulates that 80% of the electricity grid will be decarbonised by 2030. It would free up federal investment to help states move to clean energy faster.

Details are still being worked out, but Smith said the CES bill won’t pass the cost on to consumers.

“The key aspect of how we designed it is that it’s a payment, an incentive for utilities to add clean energy and keep the clean energy they have so there is no bait and no bills,” said Smith.

The path of their CES bill remains to be seen. It could fail. Or it could become an important part of the Democrats’ budget reconciliation bill, which the Biden administration sees as their best option to pass comprehensive climate change policies.

But first your bill has to survive a long, hot summer with tense negotiations.

Whatever Biden brings to Congress on climate will be one of the most powerful tools he has to get leaders to raise their own ambitions at international climate talks in Scotland later this year.

“Always in battle”

Polar explorer Will Steger is pictured at his home near Ely, Minnesota, in 2014 as he prepares for a 2,000 mile Arctic expedition. Bob King / KRT / Newscom

Steger couldn’t have imagined so much was at stake when he took the students to the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul six years ago.

Steger remembers that day well, because he won a powerful advocate in a lifelong climate search. He is the fourth person in history to visit both poles and hike more than 3,000 miles through Antarctica.

He has seen the effects of the warming planet more closely than most people and has been working for four decades to raise awareness among politicians. He said Smith’s embrace of the subject was one of the fastest “transformations” he can remember. He said Smith has been working behind the scenes on the climate ever since.

“She is calm and does not draw attention to herself or her performance, that is one of her strengths,” said Steger. “She doesn’t make a lot of noise, but she’ll get up if she has to.”

Since then, Smith has been concerned with the technical aspects of climate policy. It focuses on laws that can convince moderates. In April, she and Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) Tabled a bipartisan climate bill to help farmers improve soil health and reduce CO2 emissions with catch crops. Other bipartisan efforts included bills to encourage utilities to use carbon capture and storage, and to improve energy storage technologies.

As a former lieutenant governor in a swing state, Smith has experience with various coalitions. She has met with farmers who are concerned that pests will move north and destroy their crops. In the north of the state, where long winters once reigned, outdoor enthusiasts have told her how fishing huts fall through the ice and the snowmobile season ends prematurely because of record temperatures.

Some people in Minnesota want wind turbines to cover abandoned farm fields. Others don’t want to have anything to do with them. Smith spoke to all of them.

“Putting all of these interests and the clean electricity standard together came to my mind, and I thought that maybe this is a place where people come together who care about climate change, people who care about good unionism, people who economic competitiveness is important. Said Smith.

This type of work doesn’t always make headlines, and Smith is used to being overshadowed by more visible, and often male, climate hawks in Congress. But her work on decarbonizing the electricity grid is among the top climate policies that Congress is working on, said Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“She was always fighting, she was always pretty pragmatic, trying to solve the problem of how to get the pollution out of the electricity system,” said Stokes. “She may not be as well known as other climate hawks, but she is at the top of the list when it comes to being a climate champion in Congress.”

The $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal brokered by moderate members of Congress and the White House last month is a far cry from Biden’s campaign climate pledge. Progressives and climate hawks in Congress are increasingly frustrated with the White House. Interest groups that worked with the Biden administration are now protesting outside the White House.

They want aggressive action against climate change.

Smith’s job now is to convince the moderates to support a clean electricity standard while demonstrating to the progressives that this goes far enough. She will draw on the job message to attract centrist Republicans to show how clean energy can create economic opportunity.

“This is a huge opportunity for a lot of red congressional districts, if only people could see it,” said Smith.

Smith has a unique résumé that could qualify her for the job.

Long before becoming a politician, she was a focus group moderator, logging hours behind a one-way window, and watching thousands of people from very different perspectives answer questions. It taught her something important, how to get people to think differently, she said.

“If you come into a room and try to explain to someone why the view they have is wrong and your view is right, you will get absolutely nowhere,” Smith said. “But if you try to understand what’s important to them and then find a way to take it over and build on something productive, you can go so much.”

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