THE LIGHTBULB

And then there were two.

This week, Nicaragua, one of the few holdouts from the Paris climate accords, did an about-face and said it will sign the agreement.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced that the Central American nation of 6 million people ― about the size of Maryland ― would sign the landmark pact voluntarily committing nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to El Nuevo Diario, one of the nation’s major newspapers.

After President Obama, who orchestrated the pact bringing together more than 190 nations, only two nations had yet to sign the agreement in April of this year.

One was Syria, which was and still is in the middle of a bloody civil war. The other was Nicaragua, which attended 2015 talks but refused to sign the accord.

President Trump announced his intent to make the United States the third nonparticipant in the pact because of, as he said in a speech in June, “the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

But Nicaragua declined to participate not because its leaders thought the agreement went against its national interests. Instead, they felt the agreement did not go far enough.

“We’re not going to submit because voluntary responsibility is a path to failure,” Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s climate envoy, said during the Paris talks in 2015. Nicaragua argued that rich countries should pay more to mitigate global warming because they were largely responsible for it.

As a developing nation, Nicaragua produces only a fraction of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But the country, economically dependent on agriculture and in the path of Atlantic hurricanes, is ranked the fourth-most vulnerable to climate change in the world, according to the 2017 Global Climate Risk Index.

When making his announcement, Ortega this week struck a note of solidarity with other poorer regions affected by a changing climate.

“We have to be in solidarity with this large number of countries that are the first victims, that are already the victims and are the ones that will continue to suffer the impact of these disasters and that are countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, of the Caribbean, which are in highly vulnerable areas,” Ortega said, according to the Nicaraguan newspaper.

As the United Nations General Assembly met this week, Trump administration officials reiterated the U.S. commitment to leaving the Paris deal unless, as the president said in June without defining what fairness meant, “we can make a deal that’s fair.”

“The president decided to pull out of the Paris accord because it's a bad deal for the American people and it's a bad deal for the environment,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Sunday before the U.N. gathering. Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, carried that message to foreign counterparts in New York later in the week.

Nicaragua’s decision is far from likely to change minds in the White House, which has withstood lobbying from the leaders of France and elsewhere to reconsider.

But according to Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute who was a senior climate adviser at Obama’s State Department, Nicaragua’s decision after the U.N. meeting is “further demonstration that the administration is isolated on this issue.”

POWER PLAYS

-- Borrowed time: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail is consuming the time of special agents that would otherwise be spent investigating environmental crimes, reports The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis.

Now the EPA is bringing in pinch-hitter agents from across the country two weeks at a time to help guard Pruitt. "The practice has rankled some employees and outside critics, who note that the EPA’s criminal enforcement efforts already are understaffed and that the Trump administration has proposed further cuts to the division,"Juliet and Brady write.

One the one hand, extra scrutiny is sensible for Cabinet members when they, like Pruitt, are engaged in bold, controversial projects — regardless of politics. For example, former President Obama's energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, switched to constant protection after helping broker the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

On the other hand, the problem of pilfering the criminal enforcement unit for bodyguards is one of the EPA's own making given the agency's internal hiring freeze. The agency is looking into whether it can make an exception to the hiring freeze to add additional full-time protection for Pruitt, who Juliet and Brady note is receiving three times the protection of his predecessors.

-- Trump's other Rocket Man: Trump's pick to run NASA, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), wrote in a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that he wants to urge the federal government to better understand climate change — but on Mars.

Bridenstine wrote: "Mars once had a magnetic field, rivers, lakes and an ocean on its north pole. At some point, Mars changed dramatically and we should strive to understand why. Studying other planets can inform our understanding of Earth."

Scott Waldman at E&E News decodes that sentiment: "The notion that Mars is experiencing climate change is a talking point among climate skeptics who say the planet has been changed by solar radiation. If Mars is experiencing climate change, the assertion goes, then warming on Earth can be blamed on the sun. The claim comes from research comparing two images of Mars, one from the 1970s and another from the 1990s. It concludes that darkening of the planet's surface meant Mars is warming." 

A couple other issues here:

  • NASA has beaten Bridenstine to the punch because, unsurprisingly, it has been studying the Martian atmosphere for years, including with the space probe called Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, sent to measure the planet's atmosphere.
  • The study of other planets' atmospheres has already greatly contributed to our understanding warming in our own. Take Venus, whose thick atmosphere composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide results in surface temperatures higher than 880 degrees Fahrenheit

-- Trump vs. these United States: A handful of states that have allied to combat the effects of climate change are still on target to meet standards set by the Paris climate accord, bucking the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the deal.

The states, part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, have together slashed their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since 2005, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday. That puts them on track to reach a national goal of cutting at least 26 percent of emissions by 2025. Bloomberg News also noted the rest of the country has reduced its emissions by 10 percent.

Us too: And on Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced that his state would join the existing 13-state (plus Puerto Rico) alliance.

Why that's significant: Though two Republican governors, Phil Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, have brought their states into the coalition, North Carolina will become by far the reddest member of the group. North Carolina is the only state on the list that voted for Trump.

-- A legal strategy emerges in California's fight against Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall. According to Reuters, the lawsuit from Xavier Becerra, the state's attorney general, "will allege that Trump's wall violates federal environmental standards, as well as constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers and states' rights."

The challenge to Becerra's challenge: The Department of Homeland Security is whacking away environmental rules in order to expedite the construction of a wall, which has yet to be funded. But the department has pretty sweeping authority to do so under a 2005, Bush-era security law. 

"It's an uphill battle," Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Energy 202 in August.

-- We'll be there for you. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) pledged funding to pay for recovery following Hurricane Irma after a tour of the state with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday.

Multiple photos shared from Ryan’s Twitter account show Ryan alongside lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). The speaker vowed that the “federal response will be complete,” the Associated Press reported.

Ryan also shared a clip from his flyover of Miami and the Florida Keys:

THERMOMETER

-- Hurricane Maria update: The storm restrengthened to a major Category 3 hurricane on Thursday morning as it moved toward the Dominican Republic after ravaging Puerto Rico, leaving behind catastrophic flood waters. The storm will head across the northern coast of the Dominican Republic before nearing the Turks and Caicos and  the southeast Bahamas by Friday, Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow reports. The storm could strengthen further while it passes Turks and Caicos.

By the weekend, Maria is expected to shift north, parallel to the U.S. East Coast. Samenow adds, “but just how close it tracks to the coast next week, while enormously consequential, is not yet clear.”

He adds that tropical storm Jose could help keep Maria away from the United States by drawing it northeast, unless it weakens too quickly

Jose was still 150 miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass,. on Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported, with “high surf and rip currents likely to continue” on the East Coast and the system is “expected to meander off the coast of southeast New England for the next several days.”

-- Maria's wrath: By noon on Wednesday, hours after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, the island had entirely lost power.

Puerto Rico's director of emergency management, Abner Gómez, told El Nuevo Dia that all 1.5 million customers were without power, Vox reported. Anyone who still has power is using a generator. And it’s unclear when the power could return. Puerto Rico’s utility company was in need of more than $4 billion to overhaul its outdated and underfunded power plants even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit, reports The Post’s Steven Mufson. Post-storm, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is looking at millions more in repairs.

“Repairing the transmission lines could take weeks. PREPA was still restoring power to the last of the 1.4 million customers who had lost service with Hurricane Irma when Maria hit,” Mufson writes.

“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed," Gómez said at a midday news conference, The Post’s Samantha Schmidt and Sandhya Somashekhar report. "The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path.”

At least ten people are dead across the Caribbean as a result of Maria, the Associated Press reported. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN at least one person had died due to the storm but that "we still don't have a lot of information" due to a lack of communication with parts of the island.

-- ...and of Irma and Harvey: One of the problems following back-to-back hurricanes hitting in Florida and Texas was the aging sewer systems that were unable to withstand the flooding. The result was untreated sewage overflowing into streets, waterways and homes. The Wall Street Journal reports that local governments in Florida have filed hundreds of notices of pollution following Irma, and in Texas, wastewater facilities have been destroyed.

The bottom line, from the Journal: "...the recent storms magnified a problem that occurs regularly across the country albeit on a smaller scale: sewage spills from overburdened and underfunded wastewater treatment systems... Sewage spills can contaminate drinking water, kill fish and close beaches to swimmers."

Though the storm had weakened Wednesday and moved past the island before it regained its Category 3 status, Samenow reported that torrential downpour would continue over Puerto Rico as “the most severe danger.” "The Hurricane Center described ongoing flash flooding as 'catastrophic.' Rivers on the island rapidly rose, some reaching record levels in a matter of hours."

 

 

From CBS Boston’s chief meteorologist Eric Fisher:

From planetary scientist Antonio Paris:

From NBC News's Gabi Schwartz: 

-- PSA: Don’t forget to read the fine print: Some homeowners in Fort Bend County in Texas are learning the hard way in the aftermath of Harvey’s devastating rainfall and flooding. A 1997 warning from the county said that in case of a storm, the federal government could flood the subdivision in the area to protect the greater Houston area, the Dallas Morning News reports.

So you can probably guess what happened after Harvey.

As the Los Angeles Times's Matt Pearce points out, we're talking about extremely fine print here:

If you can't read it yourself, here's the warning: "This subdivision is adjacent to the Barker Reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation under the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Naomi Martin at the Dallas Morning News reports how it happened:

Now, as Houston begins a massive recovery effort projected to cost as much as $180 billion, it is increasingly clear that government officials at every level did little to warn residents in some of the hardest-hit areas that they were buying into risk — living in areas designed to flood.

Many of the victims knew little or nothing about the risk they faced. They never purchased flood insurance. They had no clue their homes were built within government reservoirs engineered in the 1940s to fill with billions of gallons of water in case of heavy rains. The undeveloped, government-owned land inside the reservoirs had a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year. But residents' homes just upstream, in the so-called maximum pool of the reservoirs, had a significant chance of being intentionally flooded in the event of a major storm.

-- And here's some good news: "On this planet, so many plants and animals are disappearing that scientists worry we’re experiencing a sixth mass extinction," writes Joanna Klein in the New York Times. "Many of these organisms are taking hits from a variety of angles — habitat loss, climate change and more — that it’s hard to get a grasp on how to stop their declines... But sea turtles may be an exception, according to a comprehensive analysis of global sea turtle abundance published Wednesday in Science Advances."

The National Science Foundation said that all staff on site were safe as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Sarah Kaplan
LOCAL ENVIRONS

-- “The bill has come due:” Two big California cities have filed a lawsuit against a handful of major oil companies over concerns about rising seas.

The suits, filed separately by San Francisco and Oakland against Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, charge that the “slate of oil, gas and coal producers not only caused the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but knowingly did so, a challenge akin to litigation against big tobacco companies in the 1990s,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

The cities are asking the industry leaders to pay billions for both past and future damages associated with climate change.

“The bill has come due,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “It’s time for these companies to take responsibility.”

In an email to the Chronicle, Chevron said the lawsuits will not serve to combat the effects of climate change.

“Chevron welcomes serious attempts to address the issue of climate change, but these suits do not do that,” spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie wrote, according to the report. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit continues.
EXTRA MILEAGE

Satellite images show Hurricane Maria pummeling Puerto Rico:

Hurricane Maria leaves Puerto Rico, regains strength:

Maria brings down trees, power lines in Puerto Rico:

'This was the longest night.' Puerto Rican journalist shares Hurricane Maria experience:

Late-night laughs: President Trump's speech at the U.N.: