THE LIGHTBULB

Repealing a major clean water rule issued under President Obama has been such a priority for the Trump administration that the White House launched a landing page in January explaining why the rule needed to go just moments after Trump took his oath of office. Trump vowed to rescind the regulation, called the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule during his first 100 days as president.

But six months later, the rule still stands — for now — as the executive order issued by Trump in February rescinding the rule is tied up in bureaucratic tape.

Now Congress wants to slick the skids for the water rule's removal.

An energy and water spending bill on the House floor this week contains a provision exempting Trump's efforts to the repeal the WOTUS rule from review by judges through challenges brought by environmental groups -- and from review by the public through a comment period required under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

"This is such a radical provision," of the energy and water bill, Madeleine Foote, legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters, said.  

The WOTUS rule greatly expanded the number of waterways that fell under federal protection after years of uncertainty from the court system about what rivers and streams were encompassed by the 1970s Clean Water Act, which requires the government to stop pollution in "navigable waters."

But for years, Republican officials critical of the rule — including current Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who through a lawsuit as Oklahoma attorney general stopped the WOTUS rule from taking force — along with industry allies in farming and other sectors have argued the Obama-era regulation infringes on the rights of landowners by defining dried streambeds as navigable waters. Foes contend the rule unduly subjects land around them to federal oversight.

The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, from which this bill originated, has run out of patience with the WOTUS rule. 

"The committee believes this rule is an unnecessary regulatory burden that constituted one of the largest federal lands grabs in history," a GOP aide on the appropriations committee said. "The rule would have harmed the economy and stymied job creation in areas of the country that need it the most."

But Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia University, argues that the APA, enacted in 1946, is one of the few avenues by which regular people have a say in Washington decision-making.

"Otherwise only the lobbyists who know how to navigate through the bureaucracies or Congress have a voice," Gerrard said. "So exempting the WOTUS rule from the Administrative Procedure Act would rob the environmental and public health communities of the formal opportunity to comment and to build a record for review by the courts. It would also establish a terrible precedent for other regulations — not only EPA's."

What happens next? The House is slated to vote on the energy and water spending bill this week. The chamber will also vote on an amendment, offered by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), to remove the WOTUS rider from the legislation.

What about the Senate? Environmentalists' best chance of removing the provision might be in that chamber, where Republican hold a much narrower majority. Right now, the Senate version of the energy and water bill does not contain language fast-tracking WOTUS repeal — meaning that, should the House spending bill pass as written now, the final decision on the rider will be hammered out in conference between the House and Senate.

POWER PLAYS

-- OOPS #1: Energy Secretary Rick Perry spent 22 minutes on the phone with someone he believed to be Ukraine’s prime minister. But it was actually two Russian prank callers.

During a winding and wonkish conversation with pranksters Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, Perry chatted about natural-gas exploration in Ukraine, defended Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and... fielded a pitch about using pig manure as a power source.

“Secretary Perry is the latest target of two Russian pranksters," an Energy Department spokesperson told The Post. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and singer Elton John have all been had by this pair of pranksters as well. 

American Bridge spokesperson Harrell Kirstein had this to say about it:

BuzzFeed's Tom Gara:

From The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff:

-- OOPS #2: Just before the Senate was set to vote on a motion to proceed with the GOP health-care bill on Tuesday, the Energy Department’s communications office shared on Twitter an op-ed from Perry in which the energy secretary called for Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"The debate over health care has consumed Washington for over a decade," Perry wrote. "America can't afford another decade of spiraling costs, political bickering, or inaction."

The problem: The tweet, now deleted, goes against department social media guidelines, against “promoting political viewpoints" on Twitter.

-- Pruitt's "top-10" list: "Pruitt vowed Tuesday to cut through bureaucratic red tape that has slowed the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites and follow a task force’s recommendations to act more boldly in holding companies responsible for past contamination," reports The Post's Darryl Fears. "Pruitt said the EPA is creating a 'top-10 list' of key sites where nearby residents are in harm’s way so that the agency can aggressively address those locations."

The context: While scaling back the agency's reach elsewhere, Pruitt has emphasized cleaning up Superfund pollution sites as a priority under his so-called back-to-basics approach at the EPA.

The problem: The White House budget actually calls for the EPA to reduce funding for Superfund sites by $330 million annually. 

"It’s happy talk,” Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told The Post. “They’re going to take 10 sites and try to push them along. What about the other 1,300 sites? The reason they’re not moving is not addressed. We have Superfund sites, but we don’t have a super fund.”

-- On Tuesday, the House passed its Russia sanctions bill by a huge 419-to-3 margin, creating a veto dilemma fo Presidentr Trump despite the bone GOP lawmakers threw to U.S. oil and gas interests.

-- Two more on the boat: The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (a.k.a. the Noah's Ark caucus) added Reps. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) on Tuesday, bringing total membership to 50.

-- "A group of Democratic senators hopes to ban a pesticide the U.S. government has greenlighted for use, according to a bill unveiled on Tuesday in a challenge to Republican President Donald Trump's push to loosen environmental regulations," Reuters reports. "The bill, introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, would outlaw chlorpyrifos, an agricultural insect-killer that has been found to cause brain damage in children."

OIL CHECK

-- Diesel free fall in Europe: "A consumer rebellion against diesel — once the fuel of choice in Europe — is gathering momentum after the region’s antitrust authorities said this week that they were looking into accusations that German carmakers secretly agreed to cut corners on pollution equipment," reports Jack Ewing in the New York Times. "A swell of forces that started with the Volkswagen emissions scandal is now engulfing the industry, putting the future of diesel in doubt and, with it, a technology crucial to European automaking. Public opinion is turning as consumers become aware of the health hazards. Sales of diesel vehicles are in free fall."

-- Two activists who protested the Dakota Access pipeline admitted to repeatedly causing damage to the project. The protesters were taken into custody following a news conference on Monday, during which they detailed efforts to sabotage the pipeline’s construction, including setting fire to multiple pieces of equipment, according to the Des Moines Register.

Immediately following the news conference outside the Iowa Utilities Board’s offices, they took a crowbar and hammer to the sign outside the building. They were then taken into custody, taken to the county jail and booked on charges of fourth-degree criminal mischief.

ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE

-- Not-so-sunny days: "Domestic consumers and businesses have been embracing solar energy at a furious pace — thanks to a big assist from China," Reuters reports in an in-depth piece worth a read. "But signs of a chill are already visible as the industry waits to see how President Donald Trump responds to a recent trade complaint lodged by a Georgia manufacturer named Suniva. The company has asked the administration effectively to double the price of imported solar panels so that U.S. factories can compete. About 95% of cells and panels sold in the U.S. last year were made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines."

-- Google is getting into nuclear fusion now, too: “Google and a leading nuclear fusion company have developed a new computer algorithm which has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas, the ultra-hot balls of gas at the heart of the energy technology,” reports The Guardian.

The context: Google joins a crowd. The company Google has partnered with, Tri Alpha Energy (backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), is one of the big-name start-ups trying to make fusion energy commercially viable along with General Fusion (backed by Amazon founder and Post owner Jeff Bezos) and Helion Energy (backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel).

THERMOMETER

-- Does Greenland have an algae problem? A new five-year research project aims to understand how warmer climate conditions affect the rate of ice sheet melting on Greenland, BBC reported. The project, called Black and Bloom, will look at different species of algae and their impact on sea level rise. Scientists have found that as temperatures rise, conditions allow algae growth to darken the surface of the ice, which increases the rate of ice melt as darker surfaces absorb more sunlight and heat than white ice.

Andrew Tedstone, a glaciologist at Bristol University, told BBC: “We still don't think we've reached a point where we've seen the maximum darkness that we're going to see in this area so the fieldwork we're doing is to try to find out in a warming climate 'do we think the area is going to get any darker than we've already seen in the last 15 years?'"

LOCAL ENVIRONS

-- Delaware’s Democratic senators released a joint statement on Tuesday calling on the Trump administration to oppose requests from companies that want to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean in order to map sites for offshore drilling.

Sens. Christopher A. Coons and Thomas R. Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, said their opposition reflects concerns from local leaders and members of the coastal communities.

The statement reads: “Their concerns are well-founded. While offshore oil and gas development could present economic benefit in selected areas along the coast, these areas are already the beneficiaries of greater economic benefits derived from and contingent on a healthy, vital and sustainable ocean environment off their shores."

-- Schwarzenegger vs. Trump: Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lashed out at President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord on Tuesday during an event while current Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the state’s cap-and-trade legislation.

“America did not drop out of the Paris agreement. America is fully in the Paris agreement,” Schwarzenegger said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “The states and the cities in America, the private sector, the academic sector, the scientists – everyone is still in the Paris agreement. There’s only one man that dropped out.”

He also warned Republicans to “stop lying to the people” on climate science.

Earlier this month, California lawmakers voted to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires polluters to gain permits to release greenhouse gases, until 2030. 

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The American Enterprise Institute hosts an event on carbon taxes with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on wholesale electricity markets.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining will hold a legislative hearing on various bills.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee meets to mark up legislation.

Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hosts a legislative hearing on three bills on Thursday.
  • The United States Energy Association hosts the 10th Annual Energy Supply Forum on Thursday
  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit a uranium plant cleanup site in Ohio on July 31.
EXTRA MILEAGE

President Trump made 29 false, misleading, or flip-flop claims in 26 hours, from The Post's Fact Checker: 

Watch a baby panda get weighed: 

An Alaska fishing boat captain jumps into frigid waters to rescue crewman:

The Scout Law vs. President Trump:

Stephen Colbert says the president needs validation from boy scouts:

And there was an outcry after footage of fishermen dragging a shark was released: