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In 2017, the loudest — and with President Trump, potentially the most persuasive — debate over energy and environmental policy is not happening in a Senate committee hearing. Nor is it happening in a White House meeting room.
It's occurring between segments of “Fox & Friends.”
Fox News’s three-hour morning talk show, like much of the rest of the conservative cable news network’s programming, is a staple of President Trump's media diet. On Twitter, he seems to parrot ideas he just heard on Fox, often tagging "Fox & Friends" in his tweets.
Knowing this, lobbyists for various energy and environmental causes have purchased ads on Fox in the hopes of fixing ideas in the president’s head as he deliberates taking certain executive actions. The ads, often just 30 seconds long, are crafted for a time-constrained but still TV-obsessed commander-in-chief known for signaling to his national security team that he favors concise points whittled down to a single page. It's worth re-reading Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker's story -- "Upstairs at home, with the TV on, Trump fumes about Russia indictments" -- for a sense of how this dynamic works.
The most prominent example of a green player using Fox to sell their message is that of environmentalist-turned-Trump impeachment advocate Tom Steyer, whose ads encouraging Congress to impeach the president were thrown off the cable network because, the network said, they were unpopular with its conservative viewers.
But Steyer wasn't the first environmental stakeholder to turn to Fox.
“We decided that that was the straightest line to the president from a television perspective,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, which helped fund a “Fox & Friends” ad about biofuels.
In fact, the energy and environmental debate has been playing out on Fox -- for the president's benefit -- for some weeks now.
One of the fiercest tiffs in the energy sector is between representatives from oil- and corn-producing states over just how much agriculturally produced ethanol and other biofuels need to be mixed into the nation’s gasoline and diesel supply.
In October, Scott Pruitt acquiesced to the demands of Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Midwestern senators who demanded the Environmental Protection Agency chief back away from a proposal to water down the required volume of a certain biofuel.
Grassley had hounded the president by phone to remind him that “he ran on a platform of supporting ethanol,” as the senator said in an interview last month.
But after the Trump administration made that decision, oil refiners struck back with a 30-second spot on Fox last week in the hope of, like Grassley, catching the president’s ear and swaying him to their side.
“President Trump is caving to ethanol lobbyists, raising costs on American refiners to appease foreign biodiesel special interests,” the ad from the Fueling American Jobs Coalition intones. Coalition members include Monroe Energy, PBF Energy and Valero Energy, the nation's largest oil refiner.
In response, a coalition of biofuel producers -- this one calling itself Fuels America -- began airing its ad on “Fox & Friends” on Monday after “the president kept his promise, protecting manufacturing jobs.”
The ad says: “But now some oil refiners are attacking him,” the ad continues. “Don’t let oil refiners kill American farm jobs.”
“The president last week reinforced and said he would protect the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Coleman of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, which was among the organizations that paid for that ad. “That’s when we decided to thank him.”
“We chose Fox because it’s very clear that the president watches Fox,” he added.
Although Trump has committed to ratcheting up renewable fuel volumes this year, the EPA resets the bar annually. With their advertising, oil refiners and biofuel producers are setting the stage for next year’s fight.
Solar energy advocates are also using Fox to get their message to the president.
A group of domestic solar manufacturers put together an ad that has aired over the past month across cable news — including "Fox & Friends" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" — advocating against a key tariff over which Trump holds sway.
They hope Trump will make a decision in their favor regarding a move by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which ruled in favor of a pair of U.S.-based solar panel manufacturers who argued that imports were hurting their business. Now, the president has to decide whether to levy a tariff against such imports.
Sometimes, Fox News hosts follow Trump off the TV screen. In another anti-tariff spot airing on the radio, the solar industry recruited Fox News pundit and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity to provide the voice-over.
Noelle Clemente, vice president of S-3 Public Affairs, the firm that produced the ad, said "that was recorded and ran in South Carolina around the president's trip down there last month."
Meanwhile, Steyer starred in an ad for about the past two weeks calling for Trump's impeachment until Fox pulled it (the ad is still airing on other networks).
The ad aired across cable news — on CNN, MSNBC and Fox — as well as on broadcast stations in Iowa, New Hampshire and California, Steyer's home state, in which he has not ruled out a run for Senate in 2018.
“We put it everywhere. It's in every state,” Steyer said in an interview Wednesday. “We've tried to be across the board."
But his team made sure the spot appeared during “Fox & Friends.” “We were being clever,” Steyer said.
That placement got the ad in front of the president, who called Steyer "[w]acky & totally unhinged” after seeing it:
Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2017
Trump was not the only unhappy Fox viewer. After apparently receiving a “strong negative reaction” to the ad, Fox News co-president Jack Abernethy said in a statement, the cable news network pulled the spot.
“We have done some things to get attention, and one of those things was 'Fox & Friends,' " said Kevin Mack, a consultant on Steyer's “Need to Impeach” campaign. “We were hoping for a response. We got it.”
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-- “I’m not a scientist:” Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s controversial pick to lead the Council on Environmental Quality, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, expressing her long-held skepticism about human involvement in climate change as she faced tough questions from the panel.
“I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity, I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy,” Hartnett White told senators, reports The Post's Chris Mooney. “I think we indeed need to have more precise explanations of the human role and the natural role.”
She added there was probably some human contribution, though “the extent to which is very uncertain.”
Democratic lawmakers and climate activists pounced on her remarks and took to social media both before and after the hearing:
From the Center for American Progress Action Fund:
Kathleen Hartnett-White is Trump's nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality. Her Senate EPW Cmte hearing is happening NOW. Her highlights?— CAP Action (@CAPAction) November 8, 2017
❌Said coal helped end slavery
❌Fossil fuel champion#DirtyDeputies
From Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.):
Reporters at the hearing also noted Hartnett White’s comments were at times confusing. From the Texas Observer’s Naveena Sadasivam:
Very confusing testimony from Kathleen Hartnett White today. Said CO2 is NOT a pollutant & climate change is among top 3 enviro problems.— Naveena Sadasivam (@NaveenaSivam) November 8, 2017
From HuffPost’s Alexander Kaufman:
Kathleen Hartnett White stumbles on climate change:— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) November 8, 2017
"I am uncertain."
She stutters, and stops herself. "No I'm not. Of course the climate is changing."
"I'm not a scientist but I, in my personal capacity, I have many Qs that remain unanswered by current climate policy."
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) asked “some of the most detailed questions about climate change,” Mooney said, and also referred to a figure from the recently released National Climate Assessment, which was reviewed and released by the Trump administration.
Hartnett White told the senators she viewed the report “really as the product of the last administration, not of this president.”
What's notable is that, unlike other Trump nominees for environmental posts who have expressed skepticism of climate change in the past, Hartnett White did not temper her remarks for a committee half-full of Democrats.
-- Which brings us to Andrew Wheeler, a former staffer on the Environment and Public Works Committee and nominee to serve as deputy administration of the EPA whose nomination was also considered yesterday.
Wheeler took a back seat during the joint hearing, assuming a generally "conciliatory stand" as Democrats “trained most of their critical fire on Hartnett White," Mooney noted, despite being a former coal lobbyist who drew some of the loudest criticism of the administration from environmentalists to date when first named to the No. 2 EPA post.
“I have always believed that the career employees at the EPA are some of the most dedicated and hard-working in the federal government,” Wheeler said. (He himself is a former career employee at the agency.)
-- Durbin blocks Interior nominees: Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) put holds on all four Interior Department nominees currently being reviewed by the Senate, according to a letter obtained by The Energy 202. The issue: Durbin wants a meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the move to potentially shrink national monuments out West. "Please let the Secretary know that while my colleagues and I await his scheduling decision, my holds on Department of Interior nominees continues," the senator wrote to the department.
Earlier this week, Zinke penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) venting that his "nominees have been forced to wait significantly longer than either the Obama or Bush Administration’s first-term nominees."
-- It's official: In a widely anticipated move, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a bill directing at least two major lease sales in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a move aimed at finding revenue for the Senate's tac package. More from The Post's Juliet Eilperin: "The budget measure directs federal officials to auction off mineral rights in areas encompassing at least 400,000 acres each in the refuge’s coastal plain, which is also known as its '1002 area.' The measure requires at least a 16.67 royalty rate and dictates that the revenues would be evenly split between the federal government and Alaska. Surface development on the coastal plain must not span more than 2,000 acres, according to the bill."
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that such sales would raise nearly $1.1 billion over the next decade, thought it's unclear how much industry in actually interested in drilling in the controversial wildlife area. The entire Senate tax package will be released today.
-- Closer to launch: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted along party lines to advance the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to be NASA administrator. The 14-13 vote followed a fiery initial hearing during which Democrats questioned Bridenstine’s qualifications.
“The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional who is technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the committee's top Democrat, said last week. “Frankly, congressman Bridenstine, I cannot see how you meet these criteria.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Nelson, himself a former astronaut, repeated that he believed Bridenstine’s qualifications fell short.
"Now my position is, I have come to believe that the position of NASA administrator as I have said so many times in front of this committee, obviously should not be one that is partisan," Nelson said Wednesday, according to CNN. "It is a position where a failure of leadership can quite literally mean the difference between life and death.”
-- "Does this report have any bearing on that? No it doesn’t.": EPA chief Scott Pruitt said he would continue to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations, namely the Clean Power Plan, even after the release of the National Climate Assessment showing human activity is the main driver of global warming.
"We’re taking the very necessary step to evaluate our authority under the Clean Air Act and we’ll take steps that are required to issue a subsequent rule. That’s our focus," Pruitt told USA Today in a Tuesday interview. "Does this report have any bearing on that? No it doesn’t. It doesn’t impact the withdrawal and it doesn’t impact the replacement."
The assessment, released late last week, “warns of a worst-case scenario where seas could rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100, and details climate-related damage across the United States that is already unfolding as a result of an average global temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900," our colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis wrote.
But Pruitt downplayed the significance of the federally mandated report, which is released every four years, suggesting it was just part of the ongoing debate over climate change, USA Today’s Ledyard King reported.
"Obviously the climate is changing and has always changed, (and) humans contribute to that. Measuring with exact precision is very challenging," he said, repeating a talking point he has used before.. "So I think the report (is) good to encourage an open dialogue on this."
- Here’s how a lobbyist for a top coal producer was able to turn his advice into ideas that fueled an Energy Department coal study: After Energy Secretary Rick Perry solicited the study on supporting coal-fired plants, Raymond Shepherd, a lobbyist for Peabody Energy Corp. contacted Travis Fisher, a senior adviser at the department to offer his ideas, Bloomberg reported. One such idea, emphasizing that “on-site fuel storage increases reliability,” as Shepherd wrote in an email to Fisher, was highlighted in the resulting study that the department released in August.
Why is that significant? Bloomberg’s Ari Natter notes “that regulation, if adopted, would be a boon for coal companies like Peabody. Neither natural gas nor renewable energy, coal’s chief competitors in electricity markets, have the fuel-storage attributes of coal, supporters say.”
Not all of Shepherd’s ideas were adopted, Bloomberg noted.
"These documents show the influence certain private interests had and the extraordinary access they had while the Department of Energy was conducting this study," Casey Roberts, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club told Bloomberg. "The communications between Peabody and Department of Energy staff show a shared understanding that the objective of the DOE study was to preserve coal generation."
-- Icahn eyed by investigators: Federal investigators have issued subpoenas for billionaire investor Carl Icahn over his efforts to change biofuel policy while in his role as an adviser to President Trump.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York is looking for information related to Icahn’s “activities relating to the Renewable Fuels Standard” as well as Icahn’s “role as an advisor to the President", according to a disclosure from Icahn Enterprises filed in a quarterly report, per CNBC.
The company said it was cooperating with the subpoena and added that “the U.S. Attorney’s office has not made any claims or allegations against us or Mr. Icahn.”
Here's the disclosure via NBC News' Tom Winter:
NBC News: Former Trump adviser, Carl Icahn, has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's Office according to this financial filing: pic.twitter.com/B52yb20r7J— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) November 8, 2017
-- Not just Russia: A new report from NBC News found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s shipping company may benefit from the Trump administration's deal with China to increase exports of liquefied natural gas, an initiative Ross himself led.
From NBC News’ Suzy Khimm: “The shipping company in which Ross still has a 31 percent stake, Navigator Holdings, exports a different energy product, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). But Navigator’s own statements, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, say that when there’s a global expansion in LNG production facilities, that benefits the trade in LPG. That in turn could help Navigator’s bottom line, and thus Ross himself.”
Khimm continues: “Ross’s heavy involvement in the trade agreement with China raises the question of whether his work as commerce secretary has had a “direct and predictable” effect on Navigator’s bottom line, potentially pushing the bounds of federal conflict of interest laws, according to Richard Painter, who served as the White House’s chief ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration.”
-- Official National Park Service account goes "rogue"? The Twitter account for the Joshua Tree National Park sent a series of tweets Wednesday saying there is an “overwhelming consensus” that “human activity is the driving force behind today’s rate of global temperature increase.” The account didn't leave very much room under the new 280 character limit.
An overwhelming consensus—over 97%—of climate scientists agree that human activity is the driving force behind today's rate of global temperature increase. Natural factors that impact the climate are still at work, but cannot account for today’s rapid warming. pic.twitter.com/keLh7CNWg2— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) November 8, 2017
Emissions from burning of fossil fuels have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This amplifies the greenhouse effect.— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) November 8, 2017
Human activity is affecting the land, oceans, & atmosphere, altering the balance of the climate system & causing global changes.
Natural (and often cyclical) processes such as ocean currents, volcanic eruptions, geologic events such as mountain building and continental uplift, and variations in the amount of solar radiation (energy) reaching the Earth's surface also influence the global climate.— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) November 8, 2017
It’s not the first time a National Park Service account has tweeted about the climate. In January, the Badlands National Park sent out a series of tweets that were later deleted.
“Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years,” the account posted in one of four tweets.
Back in January, an official said the tweets “were posted by a former employee who was not currently authorized to use the park’s account."
As the New York Times’s Lisa Friedman said:
Looks like a National Park Service account has gone rogue again, tweeting facts about climate change! https://t.co/giJ35KBS3M— Lisa Friedman (@LFFriedman) November 8, 2017
-- The latest on Puerto Rico:
FEMA is finalizing plans to fly 3,000 residents who are still in shelters to New York and Florida, the New York Times reports, as recovery continues on the island more than seven weeks after Hurricane Maria. An agency spokesman told the Times that it had not previously offered transportation assistance, and was doing so at the request of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
Puerto Rican officials released new information about the death toll on the island. They said that 472 more people died this September compared with the same month last year, per the Times. But the government’s official death toll for the storm, which hit the island on Sept. 20, remains at 55.
Despite some skepticism from families, local government officials insist it's up to the doctors to certify someone's cause of death. “We are not going to question 29,649 doctors who signed all those death certificates,” Héctor M. Pesquera, the secretary of public safety, said Wednesday. “There’s a process, and there’s the law, and we follow the process and the law.”
-- Air pollution was so hazardous in New Delhi this week that it prompted a temporary shutdown of thousands of schools for a week. The chief minister of Delhi said that the city had “become a gas chamber:"
Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a soln to crop burning in adjoining states— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) November 7, 2017
"The situation as it exists today is the worst that I have seen in my 35 years staying in the city of Delhi," said Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, reported Bloomberg. "As a doctor, I have no problem saying that the situation today is a public health emergency. If you want to protect people, we should be ordering the evacuation of Delhi. Closing down all schools. Closing down all offices."
In some parts of the city, the levels of tiny particulate matter small enough to be lodged into people’s lungs (fine particulate matter, or PM2.5) had reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the New York Times.
Here’s how the Times described the toxic air: “For those of us living here, the air pollution saps our strength. Many people feel nauseated all day, like from a never-ending case of car sickness. The air tastes smoky and irritates the throat, and in some neighborhoods, it smells like paint.
Even if you have air filters in your house, as some of us do, a faint lingering chemical smell always seems to find its way in, through air-conditioner vents, open windows and cracks in the doors.”
- Securing America’s Future Energy holds a discussion on “Heavy-Duty Innovation: Energy, Automation & Tech in the Trucking Sector”.
- 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.
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