with Paulina Firozi


Want more stories like this? Get The Energy 202.

Ever since Donald Trump's dramatic election victory last November, California has played the role of chief antagonist to the Trump administration -- particularly with regard to energy and environmental policy.

But one year later, there's another election and, if polls swing Democrats' way in some key states, new players will enter the stage to vex the president with their green agendas.

On Tuesday, there are three races in three states that will shape how the states see and implement climate policy.

Here's the rundown:

Where: New Jersey. The Garden State's gubernatorial election hasn't received much national attention because the contest is pretty much a lock for Democrat Phil Murphy after Republican Gov. Chris Christie's plummet in popularity there following his administration's entanglement in the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal and Christie's endorsement of Trump for president.

What's at stake: Murphy  -- who handily lead his GOP opponent, Kim Guadagno, by 12 points in one recent Quinnipiac University poll — has campaigned on an aggressive renewable-energy agenda that would rival California's efforts, if he gets elected and the Democratic legislature signs on.

Murphy has pledged to bring the Garden State to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and set what his campaign calls "the most ambitious offshore wind target in the country" by promising to bring 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind power online by 2030. That's a sea change for a state with a significant oil and gas refining sector. (ExxonMobil was once Standard Oil of New Jersey.) Even into 2016, natural gas met more than half the state's electricity demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Where: Washington state. In the Pacific Northwest, a seemingly small-potatoes state Senate race in the Seattle suburbs could finally tip the balance of power leftward in a state where the Democrat has won in every presidential election since 1998.

Should Democrat Manka Dhingra prevail in her race against her Republican opponent, fellow political newcomer Jinyoung Lee Englund, the GOP will lose its one-seat majority in the chamber, making Washington just the seventh state in the nation to be fully controlled by Democrats, compared to the 26 states fully controlled by Republicans, according to NPR

That count becomes eight with the addition of New Jersey.

What's at stake: If his party gains control of the Washington's legislature, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has a clearer shot at enacting an agenda to fight climate change. In a front-page story on Monday, the New York Times provided an excellent overview of Inslee's ambitions: 

[Inslee] harbors dreams of enacting a muscular carbon pricing plan along with California, Oregon and officials in Canada. In an interview, Mr. Inslee said the special election in Eastside Seattle could open the way for broad action, including taxing carbon but also joint initiatives on energy efficiency, research and clean water. “We intend to make a full-scale effort in the next session of the Legislature if we win,” he said. “It will be a bell in the night, showing hope for the country, rejecting the Trump agenda of denying climate science.”

The outsized importance of the state Senate race has brought in "more than $9 million in campaign spending, a record-breaking sum for Washington State," according to the Times. At least two billionaires, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, have donated to Dhingra's campaign, while oil company Phillips 66 has contributed to a political action committee that backs Englund, according to NPR.

Where: Virginia. One of the closest — and therefore most heavily covered — state-level contests in 2017 is the race for Virginia governor. In October, the race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Republican Ed Gillespie tightened to the consternation of Democrats in a state that Hillary Clinton carried by five percentage points. Read my colleague James Hohmann in The Daily 202 on what's at stake in that contest.

What's at stake: Given that Republicans control the statehouse in Virginia, there's isn't a far-reaching progressive environmental agenda at stake as in New Jersey or Washington. For environmentalists, they're looking to play defense. Gillespie has campaigned on reinstating Virginia's coal tax credits and opening the state to offshore oil and gas exploration, actions very much in the mold of Trump's energy agenda.

More broadly, the race is an early test of how effective environmentally themed messaging plays to voters in the age of Trump. 

The League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Northam, says it has internal polling showing "electing someone who will stand up to Trump’s attacks on our clean air and water was just as important as cuts to healthcare, even more so with select voters," according to a memo from the environmental group.

Northam aired a handful of ads that touched on environmental protection, including one in which he says, "I trust the science on climate change." That's a notion not in vogue among very many federal government officials to Virginia's northeast.

Residents of Sutherland Springs, Tex., grappled with the mass shooting that took 26 lives from the community in November 2017. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Here’s what we know about the mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. that left 26 people dead and 20 injured. The massacre came amid a “domestic situation” between the alleged gunman, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, and his family, some of whom attended the First Baptist Church. In suggesting a motive behind the attack, officials pointed to his issues with his relatives, report Eva Ruth Moravec and Mark Berman, noting the gunman sent “threatening texts” to his mother in-law, who was not at church when he opened fire Sunday morning.

Kelley, who was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct after being convicted for assaulting his then-wife and stepson and serving 12 months in confinement, should not have been able to buy a gunThe Air Force “failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement,” about the gunman’s past, our colleague Alex Horton reports. “enabling the former service member... to obtain firearms before the shooting rampage.”

Speaking in Seoul yesterday, President Trump insisted that tougher gun laws would not have prevented the mass shooting. Instead he spoke of a man, Stephen Willeford, who grabbed his own gun and exchanged fire with the gunman outside the church. Trump called Willeford a “brave man” and said “if he had not had a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead… It’s not going to help,” David Nakamura reportsRead Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-Conn.) plea here for his colleagues to “think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets.”

Here’s what we know about the lives lost in Texas. A state official said Monday the victims ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years. And the New York Times wrote about the Holcombes, who lost eight members of their extended family in the shooting.


-- Investigating "weird" parts of the Whitefish contract: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called for more oversight over what he called a “weird” no-bid contract Puerto Rico signed with Whitefish Energy ahead of his panel’s hearing on Tuesday.

In an interview with several reporters on Monday, Bishop : “I am still not willing to totally criticize the selection of Whitefish," adding there are "some elements of the contract that are weird." These include the above-market pay scales for repairmen and a clause that said terms of the agreement could not be audited or reviewed by FEMA or other government entities.

Bishop’s comments came ahead of a hearing during which these officials are slated to testify: Natalie Jaresko, the executive director of Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board; Noel Zamot, a retired Air Force colonel chosen by the board to oversee the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority; and Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of PREPA. San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez Otero are also on the witness list.

More on Puerto Rico:

  • Nearly half a million Puerto Ricans may leave the island in the two years after Maria, about 14 percent of its population, according to The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, per Marketplace.

  • Whitefish Energy isn’t the only small company to land a multimillion-dollar deal from PREPA. Cobra Acquisitions, an offshoot of Oklahoma City-based Mammoth Energy, acquired a $200 million contract from PREPA last month to work on repairs for the island’s infrastructure over the next 120 days, CNN Money reports. After the controversy over Whitefish, the contract with Cobra is now being scrutinized.

  • FEMA says it has been disappointed by public comments from celebrity chef José Andrés. An agency official told BuzzFeed News the chef is a "colorful guy who gets a lot of exposure" and "a businessman looking for stuff to promote his business." Andrés, whose organization was reportedly the only one able to offer hot meals to island residents responded that, “for them to say I was a businessman trying to make a buck, whoever said that should be very ashamed of themselves.”

-- The video that has Pruitt in hot water: The Government Accountability Office is probing whether the EPA head violated any rules by appearing in a video ad produced by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The video, shown abovee, features Scott Pruitt describing his opposition to an Obama-era water-pollution rule.  

“We’re trying to fix the challenges from the 2015 rule,” Pruitt said, “where the Obama Administration reimagined their authority under the Clean Water Act and defined a Water of the United States as being a puddle, a dry creek bed, and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country, which created a great uncertainty.”

Like other federal agencies, EPA is barred from using agency resources to lobby Congress on any legislative issue or to fund any propaganda items. The GAO has told Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), the Hill reported, that it accepted his request to review Pruitt’s cameo in the promotional video.

Sound familiar? It should. In 2015, GAO ruled the EPA under Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, broke the same anti-propaganda law in play here when the agency launched a social-media campaign to counter opposition to the same water rule from the farming and construction industries.

Read the letter from the watchdog’s office, shared from the Transportation Democrats' Twitter account:

-- Rick Perry’s power grid plan would largely benefit a big Trump backer: coal giant Bob Murray of Murray Energy. The proposal would bolster ailing coal and nuclear plants by paying them more than they might normally earn in a competitive market. It would mostly affect plants in the Midwest and Northwest, where Murray’s company is a major supplier, according to a new piece from Politico that does a good job of connecting the dots.

And Murray Energy has “publicly acknowledged that its future depends on whether Perry’s plan flies,” per the report.

"Murray Energy has a vital and critical interest in the outcome of this rulemaking proceeding," the company wrote in its comment to Federal Energy Regulatory Comission. "Given the current threats to those resources, Murray Energy, along with other coal producers and related industries ... is threatened with bankruptcy and significant economic harm if those resources are forced out of the market by unreasonable and unsupportable market pricing mechanisms.”

Perry has asked the FERC, which will ultimately decide the proposal's fate, to make a final ruling by Dec. 11, though it can choose to delay.

-- More on Perry and FERC: A bipartisan set of of lawmakers is fighting Perry’s proposal to revamp the electricity markets. Comments published by the FERC n on Monday called on the commission not to rush to a decision.

“We do believe that a renewed focus is needed on this issue, and we have been heartened by your outspoken interest in the matter,” wrote Reps. Pete Olson (R-Tex.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the vice chair and ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, per The Hill. “We ask you to continue addressing this matter through existing proceedings at the federal and regional level rather than quickly moving to make a sweeping, top-down decision in the near-term.”

More than a dozen Democrats also wrote a separate letter warning about the proposal’s dismissal of the importance of renewable energy. “Actions to reduce carbon emissions are intimately linked with actions to increase resilience because reducing carbon emissions in the near-term can prevent the worst impacts of climate change change in the future,” they wrote, per the report.

-- A "profound failure of journalistic integrity:" Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has accused Fox News of a breach of contract after the network pulled an ad from the prominent Democratic donor that called for Trump’s impeachment.

Brad Deutsch, a lawyer for Steyer, wrote in a memo to the network that Fox News had "unconditionally" agreed to air the advertisements for another week and that taking them off the air was "a profound failure of journalistic integrity, a suppression of constitutionally protected speech, and likely a consequence of inexcusable political pressure,” Politico reported.

Fox co-president Jack Abernethy told Politico the ads were pulled over negative viewer response. “Due to the strong negative reaction to their ad by our viewers, we could not in good conscience take their money," Abernethy said in a statement to Politico.

One of those negative responses came from President Trump himself, who responded to the ads by slamming Steyer on Twitter last week:


-- Bringing an oil boom back to Houston: The historic flooding brought by Hurricane Harvey will likely result in a boost of economic activity for Houston that will bring back the jobs that were lost and create a $2.6 billion surge in retail sales as people replace what was damaged in the storm, reports the Houston Chronicle.

But the pace of this economic growth may hinge on how much oil drilling in the region recovers, the Chronicle’s Collin Eaton writes.

“If the drilling recovery in Texas oil fields like the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford Shale continues to slow,  but does not reverse, [economist Bill Gilmer ] forecast that  Houston could add 69,900 jobs in 2018,” Eaton reports. “That's about just as good as the average year when the region's economy was booming before the oil bust. But in another scenario, in which drilling activity declines until early 2018, Houston would add 42,000 jobs; in a third scenario in which the oil industry regains its footing only late in 2018, the city will gain some 20,500 jobs.”

-- What the royal purge means for Saudi Arabia — and its oil: The nation is planning an initial public offering of a roughly 5 percent slice of the state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco. But as investors await what's poised to be the biggest IPO in history, the shake-up in Saudi leadership and a wave of arrests of royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent business executives over the weekend have rattled would-be investors in the kingdom’s ambitious modernization drive, reports The Post's Steven Mufson.

The power play from the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, could push Saudi Aramco away from the United States and Europe and toward China and Russia. Mufson has more: 

Investors will be looking carefully at plans for the Aramco IPO. So far it hasn’t been clear whether the IPO would be launched in London or New York... But recently many Saudi experts, who believe Saudi Aramco’s books hide large payments to the royal family, doubt that the king and crown prince will be able to make the offering transparent enough for international investors. Now, the shake-up will give investors further pause. Some analysts believe a private placement with Chinese or Russian companies is a possibility.

Despite the unrest, there's at least one American who still wants Aramco stock trading in the United States:


-- Update on Tesla's recharge: Tesla’s director of battery engineering has left the company just as the company attempts to regain its footing on production of its new Model 3 sedan, Reuters reports. Jon Wagner signaled on his LinkedIn that he is launching a start-up in California on batteries and powertrain. “Contact me to find out more - now hiring,” Wagner wrote on his profile, which seems to indicate that he still works at Tesla. The change comes as Tesla works on manufacturing problems at a factory in Nevada that caused a three month delay in production of its latest model.


-- Utah’s Great Salt Lake has about half the volume that it did in 1847, but the drastic drop in water level may not be a result of climate change. A new study published late last week in Nature Geoscience found that instead, the water loss is due to the fact that streams that feed the lake are being diverted for human use before they can reach the body of water.

“The records showed that precipitation and temperature patterns had hardly fluctuated during the period, meaning that the amount of water flowing into the lake from nearby streams is likely the same today as it was in 1847,” wrote Sarah Derouin in Science Magazine about the study.

This is a potential problem for migratory birds and aquatic species that rely on the lake. The team that published the study found that the inflow of water into the lake will need to increase 24 to 29 percent in order to remain healthy. And Wayne Wurtsbaugh, the lead author, warned that population growth in Utah creates the need for long-term planning about the health of the body of water.


POST PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Post and Live Nation will bring the “Can He Do That?” podcast to a live audience at the Warner Theatre today. 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.


  • The American Wind Energy Association’s fall symposium begins.
  • The Stimson Center holds an event on nuclear security.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on discussion draft legislation to overhaul the Federal Lands Energy Policy.
  • Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service holds an Energy and Climate Policy Research Seminar.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing on Puerto Rico’s recovery.

 Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a markup on the bipartisan offshore-onshore energy bill on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White to be a Member of the Council on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Securing America’s Future Energy holds a discussion on “Heavy-Duty Innovation: Energy, Automation & Tech in the Trucking Sector” on Thursday.
  • 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.

These are the nine talking points that are repeated after every mass shooting:

As America grapples with the increasing frequency and deadliness of mass shootings, politicians are turning to scripted reactions to respond to the tragedies. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

What you need to know about semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15:

The AR-15 and its many variants are popular among gun owners, and they have been used in several mass shootings. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Stephen Colbert on the latest mass shooting in Texas:

Watch Elton John surprise a ‘Lion King’ audience:

Elton John gave a surprise performance of “Circle of Life” at the 20th anniversary celebration of “The Lion King” musical on Broadway on Nov. 5. (Reuters)

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter identified a video in which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared as having been produced by the American Farm Bureau Federation. It was actually produced by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.