THE LIGHTBULB

For nearly three decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has funded the Bay Journal, a publication with a print circulation of 50,000 focused on covering environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay.

Since its inception in 1991, and through four presidential administrations, the EPA financially backed the monthly newspaper — until last month when, without warning, the agency cut off the Bay Journal’s funding. 

"If this brings about the demise of the Bay Journal, it will be a devastating loss," said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The cancellation of the $325,000 grant to the Bay Journal may just be one small piece of EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s “back-to-basics” effort to reorient the agency toward its bare-bones, statutory responsibilities. But some Chesapeake Bay environmentalists note the decision comes shortly off the heels of the Bay Journal’s scrutinizing coverage of President Trump’s environmental priorities.

It “seems suspicious to me that the Trump administration announced this cut after the Bay Journal reported, accurately, on how the administration’s elimination of all federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program would be devastating to the bay,” said Tom Pelton, director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project and host of a radio show on Baltimore’s WYPR about environmental issues in Maryland.

"I could see that that would be threatening," Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said of the Bay Journal's coverage, noting that she couldn't be sure why funding was cut. She added the loss of the grant "took everybody as a surprise."

In late June, the Bay Journal wrote a story on the “wide and deep swath” the White House’s proposed budget would cut through Chesapeake Bay-related environmental initiatives, including most notably the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership meant to restore water quality in the bay that the Trump administration proposed to eliminate.

The proposed cuts, the article said, would “delay key environmental initiatives, end important research and spur experienced workers to leave their jobs.” And the loss of the Chesapeake Bay Program could “dramatically set back cleanup efforts.”

Another article, from March, that described Trump's proposed budget cuts as "steep" and "massive" was titled "Trump budget plan would slam Bay."

The EPA decided to cut off its funding to the Bay Journal two years into a six-year grant, citing in its notice a “shift in priorities” at the agency, without elaborating further. It is the only grant of its kind to come up for review by the EPA in 2017, according to an EPA official.

“It is highly unusual in that EPA is canceling the support in the middle of the award period rather than deciding not to renew,” said Donald Boesch, a marine scientist at the University of Maryland and president of the school’s Center for Environmental Science. “In my experience, EPA has only done that when there has been noncompliance with the terms of the agreement or misconduct." Boesch added that neither appeared to be the case here.

When asked for the reasons that the grant was canceled, including whether the Bay Journal’s coverage was a factor in the decision, EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said in a statement: “It's not unprecedented for a new administration to conduct a thorough review of the previous administration's funding decisions, which is currently ongoing for all grants.”

Graham added that the EPA is “focused on ensuring taxpayer funds are spent responsibly on programs that yield tangible results to protect clean air, land and water, and as part of that effort, funding for the Bay Journal will now go back into the Chesapeake Bay Program to fund other Chesapeake Bay grants.”

Under Pruitt, the EPA has taken the unusual step of putting a political appointee, John Konkus, in charge of all grants it awards. So far, Konkus has canceled close to $2 million in competitively awarded grants to universities and nonprofit organizations. One priority, according to reporting from The Post's Juliet Eilperin, is to eliminate references to “the double C-word” — climate change — in solicitations.

The Bay Journal was slated in February to get the EPA grant, constituting about a third of the publication’s overall budget. The monthly newspaper gets the rest of its funding from nonprofit grants and individual contributions.

Tim Wheeler, managing editor of the Bay Journal, was confident in an interview Tuesday that the publication could endure the loss of government funding.

“It’s not going to put us out of business,” Wheeler said, before adding that the editors “would like to be able to persuade the EPA to rethink its reasoning here.”

When asked about the possibility of the Bay Journal’s coverage playing a role in the decision, Wheeler said he couldn’t say.

“Well, I would hope not,” he said, noting that the stories went unchallenged by the EPA. “They were pretty much straight reporting.”

POWER PLAYS

-- Seven months into his presidency, Trump has finally nominated a new NASA administrator: Jim Bridenstine.

Here are the three biggest challenges to his confirmation: 

  • He's a politician. The 42-year-old has served as a (very conservative) House member from Oklahoma since 2013. If confirmed, Bridenstine would be the first politician to run the space agency. Those opposed to his nomination, particularly Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) of Florida, have pointed to his political career as a flaw. "It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history," Rubio said to Politico
  • He's a “climate denier,” in the words of Columbia University environmental law professor Michael Gerrard. In a 2013 House floor speech, Bridenstine incorrectly said that “global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago." Expect to see political headwinds against this nomination from environmentally minded Senate Democrats. Since then Bridenstine has tried walking back that comment, seemingly realizing the difficulty of misrepresenting the temperature record while running the science agency that produces that record. In a 2016 interview with Aerospace America, he said that the climate “has always changed,” though remained open to “studying it.” Or as researcher Kelvin Droegemeier of the University of Oklahoma at Norman, who worked with Bridenstine on a bill related to studying the weather, told Science magazine: "He absolutely believes the planet is warming, that [carbon dioxide] is a greenhouse gas, and that it contributes to warming."
  • He's a Trump nominee. Whatever honeymoon period that existed between the president and senators in the early days is over. In January, the White House was able to convince Republicans leery of certain Cabinet choices, such as Rubio was of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, to ultimately vote for the president's pick. After seven months of intraparty fighting, Trump has less leverage now.

-- Irma is coming: Three Senate Democrats are urging President Trump to reconsider flood regulations he undid just weeks ago. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote a letter to the president pointing to Hurrciane Harvey as underscoring the importance of federal regulations that ensure infrastructure can stand up in extreme weather events.

“As Congress works to provide relief to communities as they begin rebuilding after the most significant rainfall event in United States history, we urge you to reverse your decision and reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard,” they wrote.

“This common-sense, flexible approach provided agencies with many different options for complying with the new standard, including taking into account available climate science or building to withstand a 500-year storm — he same kind of destructive event that the residents of eastern Texas just endured. The decision to revoke this standard is fiscally irresponsible and potentially life-threatening. It will result in the federal government spending billions of dollars to construct projects that are vulnerable to destruction from future storms.”

The Post’s Juliet Eilperin wrote over the weekend that the Trump administration was considering whether to issue similar requirements in the aftermath of Harvey’s devastation. 

— The EPA is looking into banning the agricultural herbicide dicamba after a set deadline, following reports from farmers across the United States that the chemical moved from where it was sprayed and damaged millions of crops, according to a report by Reuters.

THERMOMETER

-- Irma could be worse than Harvey. Far worse: "Hurricane Irma is a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5, barreling toward the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Southern Florida. It is the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and is likely to seriously affect Florida over the weekend," report Brian McNoldy and Jason Samenow.

"This is a life-threatening storm for not only the United States, but also Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas."

The storm made landfall overnight in Barbuda and Antigua in the northern Leeward Islands, write Brian and Jason. More: "Barbuda took a direct hit and the weather station there clocked a wind gust to 155 miles per hour before it went offline. The storm surge on the island, or the rise in water above normally dry land, reached at least 8 feet.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour when it swallowed the island are the strongest on record for any landfalling hurricane on record in the Atlantic, tied with the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane."

Here are some ways to visualize the impact:

Trump is already touting the storm's magnitude:

Big preparations are underway to brace for the monster storm:

-- In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) asked President Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency, and urged residents to heed mandatory evacuation calls from certain areas (Trump declared an emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

Florida officials are most worried about Key West, which the storm is expected to pass directly over during the weekend before turning north, report Francisco Alvarado, Mark Berman, and Sandyha Someshekhar. Scott "has activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard and said he has directed all 7,000 members to report for duty on Friday." The governor suspended tolls on the state's roads as of 5p.m. Tuesday.

Miami-Dade County, the state's most populous with 2.7 million residents, where the Miami mayor urged residents to stock up on food and water and warned evacuation orders could follow.

-- In Puerto Rico, residents are preparing to be without electricity for up to six months, The Post’s Andrew deGrandpre. He continued that "there was widespread fear Tuesday night and early Wednesday, even in the face of preemptive emergency declarations, that this ferocious and possibly historic Category 5 storm will bring with it a devastating storm surge, destructive winds and dangerous flooding and lead to a long, painstaking journey back to normalcy."

-- In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth Mapp called for a territory-wide curfew for 36 hours. “This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,” Mapp warned. “It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

-- Other problems: Harvey recovery is still underway, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday morning that it was expecting to run out of money by the end of the week. That means the agency would be out of money as Irma could make landfall on Florida’s coast.

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund had $1.01 billion, with $541 million “immediately available,” according to Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg added: “The $1.01 billion in the fund Tuesday morning is less than half of the $2.14 billion that was there at 9 a.m. last Thursday morning — a spend rate of $9.3 million every hour, or about $155,000 a minute.”

What that means: Congress's already cramped September schedule just got even tighter because lawmakers must use floor time to approve more funds for FEMA.

 -- In more funding news: A star-studded event is being scheduled for September 12 to benefit Harvey victims featuring Beyoncé, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey.

Houston rap artist Bun B and Scooter Braun are organizing the event, which will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CMT and will be streamed live on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Bloomberg News reported.

Other celebrities have taped messages for the fundraising event, which will include charities such as United Way of Greater Houston, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, Direct Relief, Feeding Texas and The Mayor's Fund for Hurricane Harvey Relief.

OIL CHECK

-- Resuming operations: The Colonial Pipeline, the biggest fuel pipeline in the United States, which supplies gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel across 12 states, is operational after it shut off service because of Harvey-related flooding. One line transporting oil from Houston out east resumed operation on Monday and another line between Houston and Lake Charles, La. was set to come back online Tuesday, the Washington Examiner reported

-- Worth a read: The Post's Robert O'Harrow Jr. has a long, investigative look into how President Trump took cues from tax-exempted charities when setting environmental policy. Under IRS rules, these nonprofits — such as those under Myron Ebell's Cooler Heads Coalition — are supposed to not devote a substantial part of their work to lobbying. But this spring, Ebell leveraged connections to arrange a White House briefing in opposition to the Paris agreement, which the president decided to pull out of in June.

ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE

-- New look for nuclear: The Nuclear Energy Institute has a new ad campaign aimed at an “inside the Beltway” crowd, according to spokesperson John Keeley. The “It's not new. It's nuclear” campaign is designed to remind federal policymakers that nuclear energy stays on in all weather (unlike wind and solar) while emitting a negligible amount of carbon dioxide (unlike oil, coal or natural gas).

The context: The U.S. nuclear energy industry is ailing financially, with only one new nuclear reactor completed since the 1980s. Faced with cost overruns, two South Carolina utilities stopped construction on a pair of new reactors in July. Similarly, another electric utility in Georgia has requested help from Congress and the federal Energy Department to complete construction on its own pair of nuclear reactors in that state.

The nuclear energy lobby is also dealing with ailing public support. In 2016, for the first time, a majority of U.S. adults surveyed by Gallup — 54 percent — opposed nuclear energy. Gallup didn't attribute that dip to meltdown concerns, but to low gas prices:

Gas prices have been relatively low over the past year, likely because of the sharp decline in oil and natural gas prices and the apparent glut of oil around the world. This seems to have lessened Americans' perceptions that energy sources such as nuclear power are needed. 

LOCAL ENVIRONS

-- Meanwhile, out West: More than a dozen wildfires continue to rage across western Oregon as of Tuesday, with air quality diminishing, people being forced to evacuate, and winds pushing one wildfire into Washington, the Oregonian reported.

FEMA has already authorized federal funds to fight the Eagle Creek fire. And on Tuesday, state and federal politicians in the state called on lawmakers and the Trump administration to provide further funding to help battle the wildfires.

All five congressman from Oregon sent an “urgent request for emergency funding” to House leaders, calling on them to include wildfire suppression funding in the Harvey relief bill that lawmakers are considering today.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also sent a letter to the president, requesting he “include a wildfire funding fix in any disaster aid request you send to Congress.”

“It is long past time to address the ongoing, devastating natural disaster of wildfires raging across western states.” 

As self-described futurist Alex Steffen said on Twitter:

DAYBOOK

Today

  • House lawmakers are scheduled to consider the Harvey relief bill.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on unimplemented recommendations for the EPA from the OIG and GAO.
  • The House Science Subcommittees on the Environment and Oversight holds a hearing on the EPA’s IRIS program.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on three bills.
  • Georgetown Univesity hosts an event on the social, economic and financial challenges in energy inclusion with Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources holds a hearing on the nominations of Joseph Balash to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management,  Richard Glick and Kevin McIntyre to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Ryan Nelson to be Solicitor of the Department of the Interio on Thursday.
  • Atlantic Council holds a panel discussion on “Science Exchanges with Iran” on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

President Trump seeks reduction of 'crushing' tax burden:

Seth Meyers takes a closer look at President Trump's choice to end DACA:

Stephen Colbert says 'North Korea Is In The News' is never a good thing: