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Outside the Beltway

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: Parts of California are warming at double the rate of the continental United States and that pace has only accelerated over the past half decade. 

The shocking finding from our colleagues at The Post who analyzed more than a century of temperature data, helps explain the spate of intense wildfires, mudslides, prolonged extreme drought in once-predictable Southern California. 

  • Key: "The cradle of the Earth Day movement is confronting the consequences of a warming Earth," Scott Wilson writes.  
  • Hotter, drier, windier: "The changing natural world is in turn forcing a fundamental social reckoning, altering the choice of crops on some of the nation’s most bountiful farms, erasing the certainty of electrical power in some of its wealthiest homes and exposing the limits of environmental activism among some of its most liberal voters."

Political context: Despite the uptick natural disasters, President Trump has gone to war with California, targeting the state's efforts to flight climate change. That's on top of the more than 80 environmental rules and regulations on the way out under Trump.  

  • Just this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to a United Nations climate change conference in Madrid to send a message that Democrats are still committed to climate action, despite Trump's decision not to attend and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Local impact: But some California counties, for instance, can't afford to wait on action from federal leadership. Warming there has exceeded the 2 degree Celsius threshold set in the 2015 Paris accords. 

  • By the numbers: “Since 1895, the average temperature in Santa Barbara County has warmed by 2.3 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit)," Scott writes of the Post’s analysis conducted by John Muyskens and Chris Mooney. "Neighboring Ventura County has heated up even more rapidly. With an average temperature increase of 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, Ventura ranks as the fastest-warming county in the Lower 48 states."
  • And temperatures are only going to keep rising: “A recent study of the Santa Barbara-area climate projected that 'the number of extremely hot days will likely double by 2050,'" Scott reports.

A WAKE UP CALL: Twin disasters that hit Santa Barbara county exposed the new realities of a transforming climate, according to Scott: 

  • First it was the Thomas Fire of 2017: "The blaze started in early December, late by traditional standards and a sign that the fire season is now effectively year-round. It was the largest in state history at the time, burning more than 281,000 acres."
  • Then a deadly mudslide in Montecito that killed 23: "Stripped by fire, soaked by rain, the steep hillsides above town collapsed in the predawn hours of Jan. 9, 2018. The torrent of earth killed 23 people, carrying some out of their houses and all the way to the sea."
  • Another cost: $2 billion in damages. 

Changing perceptions: “Before the fire and flood, people here thought of climate change in similar ways as they thought of the refugee crisis in other parts of the world — something important but remote,” Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams told Scott. “Now, I’m confronted with the fact we had a mass casualty event that was climate enhanced.”

INDUSTRY IMPACTS: It's still unclear to scientists why this area specifically is heating up so quickly. But there's no doubt that the effects of extreme weather is hurting California’s bottom line and causing farmers to redirect their efforts. “Last year, Santa Barbara farmers and ranchers took in $1.5 billion in revenue, a nearly 5 percent decline from the previous year, according to an annual report that began with an introduction titled: ‘2018 — A year of extreme weather and events,’” per Scott. 

  • Zoom in: After the state’s historic drought four years ago, one farmer named Jay Ruskey had to scale back his avocado orchard. “At the time, the reservoir in the valley where much of Santa Barbara’s water originates was at just 6 percent of capacity,” Scott notes. 
  • Now, the farmer is pivoting to tropical crops: “…Finger limes native to Australia, dragon fruit, passion fruit, and now, coffee, which he sells under the brand Frinj. The coffee trees run downhill between his avocado trees, benefiting from the shade.”

There's also an emerging tension brewing with the insurance industry: California yesterday banned insurers from canceling people’s policies in parts of the state that have become prone to wildfires — “a decision that exacerbates the insurance industry’s miscalculation of the cost of climate change,” the New York Times’s Christopher Flavelle reports. 

  • 👀: “Natural disasters in 2017 and 2018 generated a record $219 billion in payouts worldwide, according to Swiss Re, a leading insurance company,” the Times reports. 
  • New demographics: "A quarter of California’s 40 million residents now live in high-risk fire zones," per Scott.

NOT JUST TRUMP: The issues in Santa Barbara are a vivid illustration of how even the environmentally progressive are concerned about policies that might infringe on certain business interests. 

  • "Despite Santa Barbara’s heritage as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, the county is falling far short of its own anti-pollution goals, which are meant to serve as a model for others to follow," Scott writes. "The failure has activists here wondering: If a place with Santa Barbara’s predominantly green electorate and political class is unwilling or unable to change, who will?" 
  • Progress report: "In 2015, the county pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent compared with 2007 levels. Two years later, a progress report found that, rather than reducing those emissions, Santa Barbara was actually exceeding its 2007 levels by 14 percent."

The battle over climate change may come down to... parking: Cars are the biggest contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Santa Barbara. And studies show the single greatest predictor of cars on the road is free parking. But the city council has refused the efforts of environmentalists who are lobbying to reduce its availability by replacing lots with housing as the business community argues that parking is key to profitability. 

  • Not even being the inspiration to Earth Day after a massive oil spill wrecked Santa Barbara’s beaches in 1969 caused the county to take drastic action: “The county conducts a full inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions only once every three years. And its Climate Action Plan imposes no mandatory regulations on businesses or individuals," Scott notes. 
  • “We’re always willing to make changes that cost nothing, but never willing to take steps that really change things and that will cost something,” Edward France, the former executive director of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, told Scott.
  • Plus, Big Oil still has a hold on the area: “In 2014, it spent big to defeat a county referendum that would have banned 'high-intensive' drilling operations such as fracking and steam injection," our colleague writes. "And county officials are actively considering a proposal to allow a major drilling expansion in the north, a move environmentalists say would directly contradict their climate goals.”

The Investigations

PELOSI BECOMES THE FACE OF IMPEACHMENT: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "has treated impeachment as a political liability and sought to redirect public attention to the pocketbook issues she considers responsible for her majority," our colleagues Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report. But she became "the ­reluctant face of the impeachment effort" with a five-minute nationally televised address to endorse bringing articles of impeachment against Trump, "donning a role she never wanted at a time when she’d rather be talking about anything else." 

  • Her discomfort was on full display: "Starting with her morning address, in which she gravely announced her decision to move forward with impeachment with the cautionary words of the Founding Fathers," our colleagues write. "Two hours later, she was rattled when a reporter asked if she hates Trump — a question meant to elicit a response to a frequent GOP attack, but one she instead took as a personal slight." 

Even after she made her decision, she wanted attention elsewhere: "During a private huddle with her leadership team Wednesday night after the House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, Pelosi encouraged her fellow leaders to emphasize their policy agenda after informing them of her decision to move forward with articles of impeachment," our colleagues write.

  • She later took her own advice by announcing a vote on a bill to lower prescription drug prices. And began her weekly news conference talking about "insider trading, gender pay equity, violence against women and a minimum-wage hike before dealing with the topic du jour," our colleagues write.
  • Key quote: “It’s like a nuclear sub,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) a longtime friend and ally of Pelosi told our colleagues. “It is just a bit under the surface, and it keeps moving, and it has the best radar on it; it’s not going to make mistakes. That’s Nancy.”

Last word: All the key decisions for the House's impeachment inquiry have been made by Pelosi herself, Politico's Sarah Ferris, John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle report.

  • She "never wanted to impeach [Trump]," Politico reports. "But now that it’s happening, she’s doing it her own way — in 4-inch heels and with an iron grip."

The People

UBER SAYS 3,000 SEXUAL ASSAULTS WERE REPORTED ON U.S. RIDES LAST YEAR: The ride-sharing company revealed for the first time the scale of the problem by releasing a long awaited study amid complaints about rider safety and the lack of transparency about it, our colleague Faiz Siddiqui reports.

The details: "Uber said it recorded 235 rapes last year and thousands more reports of assault that could involve unwanted touching, kissing or attempted rape. The reports involved drivers and passengers," our colleague writes. "The company tallied roughly 6,000 reports of those types of assault in 2017 and 2018."

  • Other safety categories were also examined: "There were 107 motor-vehicle fatalities in 2017 and 2018, with a total of 97 fatal crashes involving users on the app," our colleague writes. "The company also said there were 19 fatal physical assaults over the same time period, during which it said an average of more than 3.1 million trips took place each day."
  • Drivers face issues too: "Data showed that drivers reported instances of sexual assault at the same rate as riders across the five most serious categories it recorded."

The report was applauded by groups raising awareness about sexual violence and assault including It’s on Us, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and others. 

  • But experts say the issue remains under-reported: "Uber noted in its report that the numbers are largely dependent on victims coming forward," our colleague writes. "While Uber said that reports of sexual assaults declined by 16 percent in 2018 compared with the previous year, that could increase again if victims know that the company is taking the issue seriously and feel more comfortable reporting."

Our colleagues want to hear from you if you've ever felt unsafe in an Uber or Lyft ride: You can share your experience via a form the bottom of the story.

The Campaign

BIDEN GETS TESTY: "Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden got into an extraordinary exchange Thursday afternoon with an Iowa farmer who first called him too old to run and then challenged him on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine, triggering Biden to call the man 'a damn liar,'" our colleague Matt Viser reports

  • The exchange: The 83-year-old man, who declined to identify himself to reporters, claimed Biden "sent" his son to work for a gas company without experience to get access to the president. “You’re a damn liar, man," Biden shot back. "That’s not true. And no one has ever said that. No one has proved that.” He then encouraged the retired farmer to do push-ups, go running, or take an IQ test with him. 
  • "Although Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president, there is no evidence that Joe Biden played any role in getting him the job or that Biden was 'selling access to the president,'" Matt notes. 
  • What we learned: "The moment captured Biden appearing to lose his cool when questioned about his son — a topic Trump is sure to press him on if he faces Mr. Biden in a general election," the New York Times's Thomas Kaplan and Katie Glueck report. "But Biden’s forceful pushback also comes as some Democratic voters say they would like to see the former vice president more aggressively defend himself and his family."

Elizabeth Warren goes after Buttigieg: Late last night, the Massachusetts senator challenged South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has passed her in some polls in Iowa, to open his closed-door fundraisers and to release the names of his bundlers, wealthy donors that gather contributions, the Times's Shane Goldmacher and Astead W. Herndon report.

  • The remarks are a departure from Warren's previous approach: She has avoided attacking her fellow primary opponents by name, but she invoked the mayor specifically in a barb. "I think that Mayor Pete should open up the doors so that anyone can come in and report on what’s being said,” Warren told reporters in Boston. “Those doors shouldn’t be closed, and no one should be left to wonder what kind of promises are being made to the people that then pony up big bucks to be in the room.”
  • Buttigieg's team fired back: 

In the Media

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON: "CBS Evening News" officially moved its home to Washington this week, becoming the first network evening news broadcast to originate solely from the nation's capital. 

Power Up caught up with anchor Norah O'Donnell on the move and what viewers can expect. "CBS actually has a history of innovation: the first to create the evening news show; the first color broadcast; and now the first broadcast to originate from Washington," O'Donnell said. "We want to be the smartest and most trusted source for news, and this allows us to strengthen our original reporting."

  • On what this says about the moment we're in: "Our nation’s capital has always had a lot of news. Look at the Tyndall Report that compiles the correspondents that get the most air time; they are almost always White House correspondents or Washington-based," O'Donnell said. "But we also want many of our stories to emanate from the heartland - to explain what’s really happening in America."
  • On how to structure a nightly newscast when news breaks at all hours: "We want our broadcast to go beyond the quick headlines and give viewers depth and clarity," O'Donnell said. 
  • Her favorite thing to do in Washington: "Taking my dog, Ollie, for a walk in Rock Creek Park."