The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is back on the legislative table — again — as GOP lawmakers search for revenue to help pay for a massive package of tax cuts.
As part of a budget bill passed by the Senate last month, lawmakers instructed members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find $1 billion in additional revenue — a maneuver widely seen as designed to open the refuge to drilling.
With the tax package on center stage yesterday in the House, senators sparred in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the other side of the Capitol over whether to allow drilling on one of few undisturbed parcels of land in the United States. The tiff foreshadows the partisan rifts that are likely to divide the upper chamber over paying for a tax package that Republicans need to claim as an accomplishment.
On one side of the debate sat Republicans and virtually every Alaskan elected to statewide office, including Chair Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who argue that opening ANWR to drilling will boost the state’s economy and the nation’s energy security. Using modern drilling techniques, they argue, it can be done with little environmental impact.
On the other side sat virtually every Democrat, including ranking member Maria Cantwell (Wash.), who contend that the region is too ecologically critical to indigenous caribou hunters and the broader Arctic ecosystem to bore for oil.
The committee meeting turned tense at times, with Cantwell pressing her Republican counterpart about why the bipartisan energy bill she and Murkowski introduced in June has been abandoned to take up the ANWR question yet again.
“This hearing is a great departure from the strong working relationship that Sen. Murkowski and I have set to work together on an energy agenda that will move our country forward,” Cantwell said.
Meanwhile, Alaska's independent streak was on display among the plethora of elected officials from the state in the hearing room. “For those of us who call Alaska home, to suggest that we would despoil our environment for short-term gain is offensive,” Murkowski said. (You can read more about the hearing here.)
Tucked against the Beaufort Sea in Alaska’s North Slope, a 1.5 million-acre coastal plain in the refuge has been part of a heated political debate since the 1980s. In 1989, Congress considered the issue of drilling in the refuge, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed a pro-drilling bill. But it was shelved after the Exxon Valdez ran ashore in the Prince William Sound. In the 1990s, then-Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Lisa’s father, tried unsuccessfully, again. A 1995 attempt to open the refuge passed the GOP-controlled House and Senate but was vetoed by President Bill Clinton. A group of moderate Republicans defeated a similar attempt in 2005.
Alaska’s elected officials turned out in force for the hearing. Rep. Don Young, Alaska’s long-serving and lone member of the House, shot back at opponents of the drilling plan, without naming names, for what he saw as their ignorance on Alaskan issues.
“I don’t feel too comfortable on the Senate side,” Young said. “I need a flashlight most of the time because sometimes it’s pretty dark over here.”
Saying "I am Alaska," he went on to compare the size of the area that would be drilled to a dot on his nose.
Alaska Public Radio Network's Liz Ruskin:
The hearing was attended by seemingly every Alaskan elected to statewide office, including Gov. Bill Walker (I), Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), who all supported drilling in the refuge.
During the four-hour hearing, Murkowski and other Republicans emphasized only “one ten-thousandth,” or 2,000 acres, of the refuge would be open to drilling if restrictions were eliminated.
Cantwell and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) countered that that figure discounts the impact of roads, airports and pipelines necessary to bring the oil out of the refuge and to the state’s primary petroleum artery, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
At one point, Cantwell held up a map showing, she said, that drilling “will take up a significant portion of the refuge.”
Later, Young offered a rebuttal. “The map that the ranking member showed was actually drawn up by the Sierra Club,” he added. “That bothers me. That’s old information.”
ANWR, the largest national wildlife refuge in the country, is owned by the federal government — and is, in turn, an asset of all Americans not just Alaskans. But Alaskans — along with other Western representatives, like Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) — are fiercely defending the right of those living and working in the state to have an outsize role in deciding ANWR's fate.
As Jennifer A. Dlouhy of Bloomberg News noted:
It's "a bit arrogant" for politicians in Washington to be dictating to Alaskans what to do on ANWR, @SteveDaines says.— Jennifer A. Dlouhy (@jendlouhyhc) November 2, 2017
Many residents of Western states with significant federal footprints, including Alaska, would like to see their states take more control — and in some cases, outright ownership — of federally held land, which they see as often un- or underdeveloped. In turn, environmentalists worry that state officials are more likely to acquiesce to interests from the fossil-fuel, lumber and other industries.
Because Republcians had more spots for invitees than Democrats at yesterday's Senate hearing, most of the Alaskans in attendance supported drilling. But not all of them.
As Samuel Alexander, a member of the Gwich’in tribe, put it during his committee testimony (via, again, the Sierra Club):
Gwich’in Samuel Alexander calls opposing drilling in Arctic Refuge an issue of ‘freedom’ for Alaska Natives. #savetheArctic— Sierra Club Lands (@WildLegacy) November 2, 2017
|You are reading The Energy 202, our must-read tipsheet on energy and the environment.|
|Not a regular subscriber?|
-- Clovis, out: President Trump’s nominee to be his top scientist at the Agriculture Department withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday after it surfaced as part of the investigation into the relationship between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, report The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Philip Rucker.
Clovis had encouraged Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to have an “off the record meeting" with Russian officials, court documents from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III investigation show. In withdrawing his nomination, Clovis told Trump he didn't believe he would get a fair hearing from the Senate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released a blistering statement following Clovis’s withdrawal, calling him a “comically bad nominee, even for this administration.”
“He is inarguably unqualified, and he is wrong on almost every major issue relevant to the chief scientist post to which he was nominated," Leahy said. "His nomination is all too typical of the anti-science agenda and the know-nothingism pushed by President Trump and his administration. But President Trump already knew that when he nominated Mr. Clovis, and that is not why his nomination was abruptly pulled today. Not because of his association with birtherism or as a climate change denier, or his other repugnant assertions.”
-- Perry blunder alert: Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday suggested the increased development of fossil fuels could help prevent sexual assault. After recently returning from a trip to Africa, Perry described an interaction he had during his visit at an energy policy discussion.
"I just got back from Africa, I'm going to finish up with this, because I think I heard a lady say there are people dying. Let me tell you where people are dying, is in Africa, because of the lack of energy they have there,” Perry said at a talk held by Axios and NBC.
“And it's going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, 'one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I'm not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people.' But also from the standpoint of sexual assault. When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people's lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it's going to play a positive role."
In addition to a broader effort by the energy secretary to endorse the use of fossil fuels, Perry’s comment drew criticism for the connection he tried to make between their prevalence and any sexual-assault prevention:
From The New Republic's Emily Atkin:
But Perry's comments also willfully ignore the renewable energy boom and increasing potential in the developing countries he claims he wants to help.— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) November 2, 2017
The Energy Department's press office said in a statement that Perry was "making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are peple in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity" adding that while on his trip to Africa, "he was told how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and can provide security in remote areas."
Read the full statement:
The Sierra Club has called for Perry to resign over his remarks, calling it an “inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue.”
Read the statement from the group’s Executive Director Michael Brune here, shared by The Hill’s Devin Henry:
The Post's Christopher Ingraham also explores further the concept of "more lights, less crime." "Although it's an assumption that many of us take for granted, evidence is mounting that nighttime brightness may do little to stop crime, and in some cases may make it worse," Ingraham writes, citing five studies from 1991 to 2005 that explored lighting practices and crime in the United States and in England.
He adds: "Going back to Perry's remarks, the notion that light deters crime is probably the least baffling part of the line he drew from fossil fuel burning to sexual assault prevention. But there's little indication that the 'righteousness' of nighttime lighting will do much to stop crime in general — to say nothing of sexual assault in particular."
Andy Revkin, a climate reporter at ProPublica, defended Perry's remarks in part in a tweetstorm, arguing that academic studies focused on the developed rather than developing world:
-- Perry on Puerto Rico: Also at the Axios event, the energy secretary conceded that the Trump administration was slow to respond to hurrican damage in the U.S. territory compared with recovery efforts in Texas and Florida. But he defended the reasons for the delay.
“So, were we slow getting it back? Yes, I would suggest to you we were slow getting it back, if you use Florida and Texas as your model. Puerto Rico’s not Florida and Texas, for a lot of reasons,” he said.
“Puerto Rico is very, very different from any other natural disaster that I’ve seen in my 30 years of public service. Partly because it was an island,” Perry added.
He also noted that Bruce Walker, the department’s assistant secretary for electricity was in Puerto Rico and teased that “we’ll be announcing some, I think, very positive changes to get electricity back on,” per The Hill.
As of Thursday, local government data reported that about 63 percent of customers on the island were still without power.
-- Here's something about the Whitefish contract that was normal: Amid criticism over Puerto Rico’s decision to award a no-bid contract to Whitefish Energy, FEMA itself has issued similarly noncompetitive contracts at a record rate, Bloomberg reports.
The agency awarded $200 million in single-source contracts in the latest fiscal year, the most since 2008, per the report. And in the last month, FEMA gave $189 million in no-bid contracts, reporters Christopher Flavelle and Paul Murphy continue. The agency has not granted that many noncompetitive contracts in a single month since 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.
Though no-bid contracts are sometimes awarded as a way to hasten processes in times of need, experts say it’s a worrisome practice.
Neil Gordon, an investigator from the Project on Government Oversight told Bloomberg that “lack of competition in contracting is a recipe for trouble” as competition “acts as a natural check on contractor abuses.”
And Bloomberg reports that the Government Accountability Office is now looking into FEMA’s actions.
-- A rare bit of good news for climate scientists in 2017: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the long-serving chairman the House Science Committee who has long been a climate change skeptic, announced his retirement from Congress on Thursday.
My full statement on not seeking re-election in 2018 - pic.twitter.com/tvDhlSz7Dg— Lamar Smith (@LamarSmithTX21) November 2, 2017
-- And then there were five: On Thursday, the Senate approved two new members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. By voice vote, the chamber gave the thumbs-up to Richard Glick, a Democrat, and Kevin McIntyre, a Republican who will also be FERC's new chairman.
The additions to the five-member body come at a key moment for Perry and his proposal, currently in front of the commission, to rewrite the rules for how power companies are compensated for the electricity they produce — in a way, the proposal advocates, that would ultimately benefit nuclear and coal facilities. Two of the current commissioners, Rob Powelson and Cheryl LaFleur, have signaled their apprehension over the plan. But McIntyre and Glick could change the math for Perry.
-- "Back-to-basics:" Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will travel next week to address the American Chemistry Council’s board meeting at a high-end resort on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, the agency confirmed to The Post on Thursday. “This is part of Administrator Pruitt’s ‘back-to-basics’ tour as he continues to meet with as many stakeholders as possible,” an EPA spokesman said in a statement. “Administering the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), amended by the 2016 Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, is one of EPA’s core functions.”
-- Electric vehicles targeted: Included in the tax plan that House Republicans finally unveiled on Wednesday is a proposed elimination of $7,500 of tax credits for electric vehicles, a development that may threaten projects by companies like Tesla.
Even with the launch of its cheapest new model, the repeal of the credit would make it more difficult for a broad range of consumers to be able to afford the less-expensive model, Bloomberg reports. Trade groups have already expressed opposition to the proposed repeal.
”The potential elimination of the federal electric vehicle tax credit will impact the choices of prospective buyers and make the electric vehicle mandate in 10 states - about a third of the market - even more difficult to meet,” Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing companies including GM, Toyota Motor Corp, and Volkswagen AG told Reuters
-- Renewables, too: The tax proposal also strikes a blow against wind and solar credits, "reneging on a bipartisan deal made in Congress in 2015," according to The Post's Steven Mufson. Here's more from Mufson: "The credits were extended and will be phased out under a deal made by President Obama in exchange for allowing crude oil exports. Solar and wind companies were eager to make sure those credits remain untouched. But the new bill would increase how much work must be done to qualify for a production tax credit and it would reduce inflation adjustments for future production tax credits. The changes would generate $12.3 billion in revenues — ultimately an added cost for renewable energy sources."
-- Ten million Americans will be “substantially affected” by the changing climate by 2075, according to a new projection by the Congressional Budget Office. That kind of massive effect from rising seas and natural disasters will eventually lead to $39 billion in annual federal disaster spending, up from the current $28 billion, the office projects, per Bloomberg.
But the CBO is suggesting that rather than spend on preventive measures, local officials should bear more of the financial burden. "To the extent that households, businesses, and state and local governments in coastal areas do not bear the full cost of hurricane damage, such growth is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers," the budget office wrote, per Bloomberg. "Shifting costs would increase incentives for private and public entities to take measures to limit expected damage."
The CBO is now part of a trend, along with the Government Accountability Office, of non-partisan agencies issuing climate-related reports the Trump administration can do nothing to stop. In a report issued last month, the GAO concluded that the economic effects of climate change will be widespread — both geographically and across sectors of the economy in the United States. Read more from The Energy 202 here.
POST PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Post and Live Nation will bring the “Can He Do That?” podcast to a live audience at the Warner Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In this live taping, political reporters Bob Woodward, David Fahrenthold and Karen Tumulty will join host Allison Michaels to review the past year in President Trump’s White House and the biggest moments that made people wonder “Can He Do That?” Tickets can be purchased now at Live Nation. Attendees will also receive a free 30-day digital subscription to The Washington Post.
House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing for “Examining Challenges in Puerto Rico's Recovery and the Role of the Financial Oversight and Management Board” is set for Nov. 7.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a committee hearing on the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett-White and Andrew Wheeler on Nov. 8.
House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled for an oversight hearing on “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories’ Disaster Recovery Efforts” for Nov. 14.
President Trump jokes that his mother would have never thought he’d be president:
A hippopotamus from Israel’s central safari zoo ventured out of its enclosure:
Seth Meyers takes a closer look at the GOP tax plan and President Trump's recent comments after the attack in New York: