THE LIGHTBULB

President Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office should have hit pause on any legislative effort to curb climate-altering emissions.

Yet chatter about one proposal continunes -- a tax on carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. In February, a group of Republicans -- led by James A. Baker, who served in both Ronald Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s Cabinets -- pitched a version of that emissions-reduction measure to Trump officials.

No new White House policy came out of that meeting. But now a pair of Democratic senators are trying again, reaching across the aisle in their own branch of government to sell a carbon tax as a way to smooth the bumpy road to tax reform.

To make their first pitch to Republicans, the two sponsors of the legislation, Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii), entered the lion’s den.

“I know how crazy this sounds,” Schatz told a crowd at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the pillars of conservative thought in Washington. “But I want you to know that what is more politically palatable than taxing your groceries to reduce the top corporate income tax rate is taxing carbon pollution.”

The senators insisted there are Republican lawmakers out there who would support the legislation -- between six and 10, Whitehouse said -- even if none of them wished to be the first to do so aloud.

“It has to do with the fossil-fuel industry,” Whitehouse said in an interview after the event. Lobbying groups representing U.S. corporations, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute, Whitehouse contended, are content with no action being taken on climate change while company executives themselves can continue offering rhetoric.

“That prevents you from being shunned at Davos cocktail parties,” Whitehouse said, adding to clarify “that is what I’ve observed.”

The bill is a conventional carbon tax proposal, though flexed to fit the whims of Trump’s Washington.

A $49-per-metric-ton fee would be placed on carbon emissions, with the estimated $2.1 trillion raised in the first decade going to fund a top GOP wish list item: A reduction of the top marginal corporate income-tax rate, from 35 percent to 29 percent. Revenue raised would also address other Trumpian priorities like paying for veterans’ benefits and granting states money to help workers find new jobs after leaving declining industries -- like coal.

“With a small fraction of the revenue from a carbon fee,” Whitehouse said in his speech, “we can assure every single coal miner a lifetime of comfort and financial stability.”

But Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEE) and head of President Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, called the proposal dead on arrival.

“I’d like to see the anti-oligarchic leftist Democrats like Sen. Whitehouse defend taking money out of the pockets of poor people and putting it in the hands of people who own shares in major U.S. corporations,” Ebell said on the panel after Whitehouse spoke.

“The reason that’s in there,” Ebell said of the corporate tax break, “is that they want to lure some Republicans to front this effort, and that is not going to work because conservatives are the stupid party but not that stupid.”

On the surface, Republican opposition to efforts to reduce the emissions of climate-warming gases -- or even to admitting climate change exists -- is slowly chipping away, even under Trump. While failing to find GOP co-sponsors for this bill, Whitehouse along with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) were able to get two Republicans, Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.), to sign onto a carbon-capture bill earlier this month. 

And on the other side of the Capitol, a bipartisan caucus committed to acknowledging and addressing climate change is up to 50 House members from only 18 in January.

“There are quite a number of other Republicans in the wings, waiting to do this,” former vice president Al Gore stated in a March interview. “I know that for a fact.”

But Republicans deeply skeptical of climate science, such as Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), suggest that silent majority within the GOP -- that doesn’t talk publicly much about climate change -- swings his way.

For example, 22 GOP senators sent a letter to Trump in May asking him to pull out of the Paris climate accord. “We could have gotten a lot more signatures,” Inhofe, who helped organize the letter, said in an interview at the time. “There’s no question about that.”

As for the temperature in the AEI auditorium on Wednesday, where representatives from disparate groups like Ebell’s CEE and the Environmental Defense Fund gathered: One of the few lines to draw applause from the eclectic audience was a call to action for conservatives.

“There are so many potential benefits and such a real threat,” Adele Morris of the Brookings Institution said, “that it boggles the mind why people who are conservative are still debating whether there’s a case to be made for action or not.”

POWER PLAYS

-- You've got a nice state here, it would be a shame if something happened to it...: The Alaska Dispatch News has a chilling account of a pair of phone calls Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made to Alaska's two Republican senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, in which Zinke suggests Murkowski's vote against starting debate on health care (read the latest here) could have lasting consequences in the Last Frontier. 

Here's how Sullivan described the "troubling message":

I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop... I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans… We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear... 

A few points:

  • The conversation is not hearsay, or based on anonymous reporting. Sullivan decided to disseminate the message by talking directly to the Alaska Dispatch News, the most widely read newspaper in the state. Murkowski was not available to comment to the paper, but Sullivan said Zinke also contacted Murkowski.
  • It's a brazen broadside to make against Murkowski in particular because, as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she oversees the Department of the Interior and the confirmation process of its top political officials. 
  • At the same time, one of Murkowski's top priorities at the moment is passing a bipartisan energy bill sponsored by her and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Should the health-care effort fail, that bill could be the biggest piece of legislation to land on Trump's desk since taking office.
  • Trump's feelings about Murkowski, though, is no secret  -- even if it surprising that his administration would suggest such retaliation against an entire state for the vote of a senator not even up for reelection until 2022. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted:

Erica Martinson, the Alaska Dispatch News reporter who broke the story, suggested that for Trump that wouldn't be enough:

-- More on Zinke: The secretary is scheduled to travel to New Mexico on Thursday as part of his continued review of national monuments, according to local news station KRQE.  He will visit the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, according to the report, as well the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The Las Vegas Review Journal also reported that Zinke will travel to Nevada next week. Two monuments, Gold Butte and Basin and Range, in Nevada designated under President Obama are part of the 22 national monuments and five marine monuments the Trump administration is reviewing.

-- Zinke mistakenly referred to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin as a “fellow veteran” in a group photo of members of President Trump’s administration:

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Shulkin and senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway were in the photo as the group headed to Youngstown, Ohio on Air Force One.

Perry is a veteran from the Air Force, the Associated Press reported, but Shulkin, a medical doctor who President Obama appointed as under secretary for health in the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2015, has not served in the military. He is the first head of the department who is not a veteran himself.

-- Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the Trump administration: Michael Lewis, of "Moneyball" and "The Big Short" fame, has a compelling if not disturbing look into Trump's Department of Energy — or, as one source put it to Lewis, the part of the government working on "the two biggest risks to human existence, nuclear weapons and climate change."

Great anecdotes abound, like this one about the man in charge of nuclear weapons at the department (emphasis added):

In the run-up to the Trump inauguration the man inside the D.O.E. in charge of the nuclear-weapons program was required to submit his resignation, as were the department’s 137 other political appointees. Frank Klotz was his name, and he was a retired three-star air-force lieutenant general with a PhD in politics from Oxford. The keeper of the nation’s nuclear secrets had boxed up most of his books and memorabilia just like everyone else and was on his way out before anyone had apparently given the first thought to who might replace him. It was only after Secretary Moniz called a few senators to alert them to the disturbing vacancy, and the senators phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed, that the Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office. Aside from him, the people with the most intimate knowledge of the problems and the possibilities of the D.O.E. walked out the door.

Or as Lewis reports on Perry himself:

The question on the minds of the people who currently work at the department: Does he know what it does now? D.O.E. press secretary Shaylyn Hynes assures us that “Secretary Perry is dedicated to the missions of the Department of Energy.” And in his hearings, Perry made a show of having educated himself. He said how useful it was to be briefed by former secretary Ernest Moniz. But when I asked someone familiar with those briefings how many hours Perry had spent with Moniz, he laughed and said, “That’s the wrong unit of account.” With the nuclear physicist who understood the D.O.E. perhaps better than anyone else on earth, according to one person familiar with the meeting, Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a D.O.E. staffer told me in June. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.”

Similarly, The Post's Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney report that Perry "is seen as lacking influence over the agency’s direction."

The whole piece is worth a read.

-- Oh, Canada: “Two months before beginning a purge of scientists from his agency, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt met with former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ― a head of state who became infamous for muzzling climate researchers during his tenure,” HuffPost's Alexander C. Kaufman reported Wednesday. “According to emails HuffPost has obtained, the March 27 meeting, scheduled to last 30 minutes, was meant to establish a rapport between the new environmental regulator and the conservative former premier. But it’s notable that Harper was accused of transforming Canada into a petrostate and overseeing an assault on scientific research during his nine years in Ottawa. He left office in 2015, after losing to now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau."

-- One EPA employee is hoping to milk impending buyouts for all its worth. "Make me an offer I can't refuse," the employee wrote in reply to an internal EPA request that was surveying interest on buyouts, E&E reported. Trump’s proposed cuts to the agency’s 2018 budget could result in about 3,800 fewer jobs, though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have challenged those proposals. Wednesday was the deadline for EPA employees to respond to the agency’s first round of buyout offers. The EPA hopes to cut the staff by 1,227 by September, per the report.

-- Senate and House leaders struck a deal late Wednesday to send a long-debated sanctions bill imposing new measures against Russia, Iran and North Korea to the president’s desk, The Post's Karoun Demirjian reports.

The Russia portion of the sanctions — and the energy industry consequences of them — appear to be hammered out. At issue during this latest round of negotiations were “enhancements," as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it, to the punitive measures against North Korea.

OIL CHECK

-- Britain plans to ban new diesel and gas cars by 2040: "Scrambling to combat a growing air pollution crisis, Britain announced on Wednesday that sales of new diesel and gas cars would reach the end of the road by 2040, the latest step in Europe’s battle against the damaging environmental impact of the internal combustion engine," the New York Times reported. "Britain’s plans match a similar pledge made this month by France, and are part of a growing global push to curb emissions and fight climate change by promoting electric cars. Carmakers are also adjusting, with Volvo notably saying recently that it would phase out the internal combustion engine in the coming years and BMW deciding to build an electric version of its popular Mini car in Britain. But the shift to electric vehicles will be a gradual one, and the target set by Britain is less ambitious than some of the efforts elsewhere. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord has also dented optimism."

ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE

-- "I got there the next day": On Wednesday night's "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, relayed an anecdote from her time as an energy correspondent while reporting on Three Mile Island:

Meyers: What happened when you tried to report from Three Mile Island?

Mitchell: Well, a very kindly, paternalistic bureau chief, a lovely man, said – when I noticed that I was the only correspondent not going in and covering this thing. I went, and said, “how come I’m the only one not going to Three Mile Island?” And he said, “because you are a woman of child-bearing age.” And I said, “has it occurred to you that men’s balls areas vulnerable to radiation as women’s ovaries?” I mean, I got there the next day.

-- President Trump may be doubling back on a pledge to save the ethanol industry, Bloomberg writes in a long-read published yesterday. Trump traveled to counties with ethanol plants across the Midwest during his campaign, repeatedly vowing to protect and support biofuels. On June 21, Trump traveled to Iowa and told the crowd “we’re saving your ethanol industries in the state of Iowa just like I promised I would do in my campaign… Believe me, they are under siege folks.”

Just two weeks later, Trump’s EPA proposed a cut to renewable fuel mandates. A relatively small cut thought it was, Bloomberg notes that it that it sends a message to the investors in the industry, and to the counties across the country that support Trump by 95 percent.

“If he was looking to do something that would have taken care of the agricultural sector that got him elected, this was a no-brainer,” Tom Brooke, who runs a biodiesel plant in Iowa told the publication. “That’s the disconnect. It should’ve been a slam-dunk.”

The proposed cuts will get a public hearing on August 1, and the deadline for the EPA to finalize the rule is November 30. 

THERMOMETER

-- Another consequence of climate change — corn: A new study found that drought that results from climate change could impact areas that produce 40 percent of the world’s corn all at one time, Bloomberg reported.

"We haven't seen a major drought in the U.S. and China in the same year in the last 30 years," Chris Kent, the lead researcher on the study, told Bloomberg. "Our simulations indicate that that type of scenario is possible in the current climate." According to the National Corn Growers Association, the U.S. produced more than 15 billion bushels and harvested nearly 27 million acres of corn in 2016.

More from Bloomberg: “In the U.S., the chance of all six Corn Belt states simultaneously experiencing severe water stress is about 20 percent per decade… For the three provinces of the North East China Plain, the probability of one province to experience severe water stress is 33 percent per decade, consistent with other observational estimates. However, the model also included simulations—unprecedented in observational data sets—in which two, or even three, of these global regions experience severe water stress concurrently.”  

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hosts a legislative hearing on three bills.
  • The United States Energy Association hosts the 10th Annual Energy Supply Forum.
  • The Smart Electric Power Alliance hosts the Grid Evolution Summit with events through Friday.

Coming Up

  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit a uranium plant cleanup site in Ohio on July 31.
EXTRA MILEAGE

Rick Perry was tricked by Russian pranksters. This isn't his first 'oops' moment:

This company plans hundreds of panda-shaped solar farms in China:

Watch polar bears overjoyed with snow delivery: 

Watch Stephen Colbert on Trump's claim his rally in Ohio "broke all records":