VP Harris pitching U.S. climate action in NY as COP26 gets underway – NBC News

Vice President Kamala Harris plans to travel to Queens on Monday to pitch heavy-duty electric trucks, climate friendly home heating and other domestic steps to combat global warming as the U.N. climate summit gets underway in Scotland, White House officials tell NBC News.

Just after President Joe Biden arrives in Glasgow, Harris is scheduled to join Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at a hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport to announce $127 million in new federal funding for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that produce zero carbon dioxide emissions.

They also intend to announce a new partnership the Energy Department will forge with HVAC makers to try to speed up development of electric heat pumps that can operate in colder climates. Homes and businesses make up one of the largest sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and shifting from gas-fired systems to heat pumps that can run on renewable power is seen as a key step to meeting long-term U.S. climate goals.

Harris’ visit comes as the Biden administration is working to show it can credibly deliver on its promise to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2050 even as climate legislation in Congress remains in limbo. Granholm, a longtime advocate for electric vehicles, will head to Glasgow after the stop in New York as one of about a dozen Cabinet members attending the summit, known as COP26.

“It’s a one-two punch,” Ike Irby, the vice president’s climate advisor, told NBC News. “He’s abroad advocating for climate leadership internationally. The vice president is here in the United States underscoring how Build Back Better, the bipartisan infrastructure deal will create jobs here at home, address the climate crisis here at home.”

At JFK, Harris and Granholm are to meet with semi-truck driver Pat Brandon, who has shifted to operating a gas-guzzling truck to an electric one, White House officials said. Cars and trucks are responsible for about 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other source, according to the EPA.

The push for climate-friendly heating systems will involve six HVAC manufacturers working to make their heat pumps more resilient to winter temperatures, a challenge historically for a technology that relies on transferring heat from outside air into homes.

Harris also plans to meet with New York state officials and union leaders to emphasize the need for jobs in offshore wind and other renewable energy projects to be unionized. Offshore wind farms are expected to advance rapidly off the U.S. coast amid a Biden administration push to approve them and designate waters for wind turbines. Yet in the past, renewable energy jobs have been lower paying and less likely to be unionized than those in fossil fuels.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Gregory Meeks, both New York Democrats, will join Harris and Granholm for the afternoon event at JFK, the White House said.

Although the Democratic spending plan, known as “Build Back Better,” that Democrats hope to vote on this week includes an unprecedented $555 billion in climate-related spending, the administration had to scale back initial ambitions that included a carrot-and-stick plan to force electric utilities to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Those challenges have complicated Biden’s argument during COP26 that the U.S. has stepped up climate and that other major polluters must do so as well.

In another potential obstacle for the Biden administration, as the president headed to Europe late last week the Supreme Court said it would consider whether the Environmental Protection Agency has gone beyond its authority by attempting to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. A ruling that undercuts the EPA’s authority would severely hamstring the Biden administration as it tries to replace the stronger measures that got dropped from the spending bill with federal regulations.

“We’ll see what the Supreme Court might have in mind,” Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, told reporters late Sunday. “But we’re confident that the Supreme Court will confirm what those [courts] have before them, which is, EPA has not just the right but the authority and responsibility to keep our families and communities safe from pollution.”

Josh Lederman is an NBC News correspondent.