with Paulina Firozi


At the United Nations COP23 climate conference, underway this week in Germany, one of the most anticipated events was hosted by a U.S. delegation sent by one of the most reviled figures among attendees — President Trump.

During a Monday talk that attracted scores of protesters, the U.S. delegation offered a message on climate and energy that George David Banks, Trump’s lead climate adviser, insisted would be a breath of fresh air for often insular climate conferences.

“This panel is controversial only if we chose to bury our heads in the sand,” Banks told the crowd in Bonn, per The New York Times.

The reality, attendees said, is that the Trump team is recycling old arguments used by American politicians against past global warming agreements. Based on the reaction, such arguments don't seem  particularly suited for this political and economic moment globally. A lot has changed since these arguments were advanced — President Obama negotiated the Paris climate accord in which all nations other than the United States promise to cut global emissions; and there is an even stronger scientific consensus that global warming is caused largely by humans.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, called the U.S. talking points "zombie arguments from the 1990s and 2000s."

For example, during that lone official event hosted by the United States in Bonn — a forum promoting coal and nuclear energy as solutions to reducing global warming — Banks said that cheap fossil-fuel energy is necessary to help modernize developing nations and lift people out of poverty.

“We need to lift 1 billion-plus people out of energy poverty,” Banks said.

It’s an argument Republican administrations have made before. As President George W. Bush said in Kyoto in 2005, after scuttling U.S. participation in the climate pact brokered in that Japanese city: “The best way to create opportunity and alleviate poverty is through economic growth. As their economies grow, they are using more energy.”

“Energy poverty,” or lack of access to electricity in poor parts of the world, is a real problem. Indeed, the poorest nations in Africa and Asia continue to bring coal plants online to meet the energy needs of populations growing in size and wealth.

Here's the context: As they face a more difficult time competing with natural gas and renewables in the developed world, coal producers are pitching their product as a way of affordably powering less fortunate nations. President Trump has also made bringing back coal a major plank of his "energy dominance" agenda.

But the cost per kilowatt of solar and wind energy has plummeted since the last time a Republican sat in the White House — making them at times more viable energy options in the developing world, especially for rural communities unconnected to the power grid.

“That’s such a bogus argument,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a phone interview from Bonn of the coal push. “It’s amazing that the White House is recycling it. The cost of renewables has fallen dramatically over the last five to 10 years.”

Pollution is also a big problem for developing countries that rely on fossil fuels to power their economies (see the latest in India). The burden of breathing of low-quality air near fossil-fuel power plants, as well as the various health costs of climate change, disproportionately falls on low-income people — both at home and abroad. For example, a new analysis published Tuesday by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found that poor, black Americans are disproportionately exposed to oil and gas pollution.

Banks also insisted that rich and poor countries not be held to different standards under any climate agreement.

“We want to make sure that we do what we can to avoid bifurcation,” Banks told reporters after the event, according to the news site Climate Home. “Bifurcation is a major flaw in the framework convention and we certainly don’t want to see it in the Paris Aagreement. So, I would say that’s probably the number one priority.”

Indeed, the Senate made that argument — two decades ago.

In 1997, the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying treaties, passed a resolution, 95-to-0, saying the United States shouldn't sign on to any climate agreement requiring the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions unless developing countries are required to curb emissions too. The Kyoto treaty created different classes of countries — some with binding emissions targets and others without them.

So, the Obama administration knew it had to convince nearly every signatory of the Paris climate accord to reduce emissions (not just rich nations). It did so by making reduction targets voluntary. The Paris accord allowed China and India, two of the biggest pollution emitters, agreed to emissions targets unlike under the Kyoto agreement.

“The reality is that Paris clearly moved away from a bifurcated approach,” said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative, also in Bonn. “That was the point of Paris.”

But the Trump administration — criticized for ignoring the best climate science, despite recently publishing the National Climate Assessment that did say humans are largely responsible for climate change — seems to be ignoring the political moment. It remains to be seen how effective its strategy will be as the rest of the world moves ahead of us.

The government’s National Climate Assessment cited human influence as the "dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

-- What do a taxidermied bison named “Rosie,” a bronze bust of Teddy Roosevelt and a $1,749 leather couch have in common? They’ve all found a home in the office of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. A new report from HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo outlines the slew of changes that Zinke made upon taking office. A week after taking the job, he asked about redesigning the agency’s flag, which has “gone largely unchanged for a century,” D’Angelo writes. He revived an arcane military ritual regarding the department’s flag: A security staffer hoists the banner whenever Zinke enters Interior's headquarters, as The Post's Lisa Rein reported last month. When Zinke leaves for the day, the flag comes down.

Inside Zinke’s office are other trappings requested by the secretary, emails reveal.

“A large stuffed grizzly will arrive at [main Interior building] today at approximately noon,” Daniel Jorjani, who was appointed in May to the position of principal deputy solicitor, wrote to seven agency employees March 21, per HuffPost. “If possible, please make sure it clears security and is taken to the Secretary’s office. He would like it placed in the corner where his collection of Navy SEAL knives are currently located. He would like that table moved to the other side of the room, next to where the doors lead out of his office into the main corridor.”

Other decor items include the heads of a bison and elk, a $1,749 leather couch from California that included “white-glove delivery service,” a stuffed bobcat and a bronze bust and black-and-white portrait of his presidential hero, Teddy Roosevelt.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Joe Nassar, director of Interior’s Office of Facilities and Administrative Services, wrote in an email to several department employees regarding the stuffed bobcat.

Zinke himself has shared images of several of these items on Twitter:

-- More on the United States in Bonn: The State Department said its third-ranking diplomat can no longer participate in the climate conference in Germany. Tom Shannon, the under secretary of state for political affairs, will not attend because of a family emergency -- Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans, International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber will lead the delegation instead, per the Associated Press.

Axios’s Amy Harder pointed out the optics of the switch are bad for the administration. “The Trump administration has said it's going to withdraw America from the Paris deal and doesn't acknowledge climate change is a problem in need of addressing. This shuffle makes it appear like the administration — the politically appointed people versus the career staff — is divided over how to position itself at the conference."

-- Speaking Interior: A group of former Interior Department officials sent a letter to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee urging against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which they call “a crown jewel among America’s public lands.”

“Although we support responsible energy development and energy security for our nation, oil exploration and development risks significant damage to this national, cultural and ecological treasure, and it is currently a needless risk,” they wrote. “Simply put, we don’t need to develop the Arctic Refuge – one of the costliest, and riskiest places to develop energy resources – to promote American energy security.”

The letter challenges estimates that drilling in the ANWR would raise $1 billion to offset the costs of tax cuts, noting that “revenues may only amount to millions, misleading American taxpayers.”

The letter is signed by Nathaniel Reed, assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks under President Richard M. Nixon; Lyle Laverty, assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks under President George W. Bush; Donald Barry, assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks under President Bill Clinton; Jamie Rappaport Clark, Fish and Wildlife Service director under Clinton; Steve Williams, Fish and Wildlife Service director under President George W. Bush; and Daniel M. Ashe, Fish and Wildlife Service director under President Barack Obama.

The letter was sent ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled markup of legislation from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would allow for oil and gas drilling in long-contested refuge.

-- "The public has a right to see them": Joel Clement, the scientist and climate policy expert who resigned from the Interior Department after he was reassigned to a position unrelated to his expertise has filed a lawsuit to get the skinn on the transfer of several of his former colleagues, E&E News reported Tuesday.

"We know these documents exist and we know the public has a right to see them, but Secretary Zinke and his staff are determined to work in secret and take the 'public' out of public service," Clement said in a statement, per the report.

Clement was reassigned to an accounting position from his role as director of the Office of Policy Analysis shortly after publicly reporting on how climate change affects Native Alaskan communities.

Clement filed a Freedom of Information Act request in September to obtain various documents on senior executive service transfers before filing another request in October. The lawsuit claims that “to date, [the Interior Department] has not produced a single record” and calls on the agency to “conduct a search reasonably calculated to uncover all records responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA requests.”

-- “Real failure of due diligence": A senior Bureau of Indian Affairs official quietly resigned Monday after the department’s internal watchdog issued a report that criticized the loan program he oversaw, The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports. Before joining the administration, Gavin Clarkson worked as a consultant for the tribes that received loans under the program he would later run in the Interior Department. One such loan was a controversial $22.5 million loan for the Lower Sioux Brule tribe that helped finance the purchase of a brokerage firm that eventually went under, Eilperin writes. The agency is being sued over refusing to guarantee the $20 million balance on that same loan.

Arvind Ganesan, head of the Human Rights Watch’s business of human rights division, wrote a 2015 report about Clarkson's work with the tribe, and told Eilperin that Clarkson’s hire was a “real failure of due diligence. He’s being hired at a time when the BIA is being sued for millions of dollars for a deal he arranged,” adding “It’s not as if a Google search wouldn’t have worked.”

-- Monuments update: Zinke told the Salt Lake Tribune that he thinks President Trump will take his recommendation to trim Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument but that the protected area will still remain larger than Zion and Bryce national parks combined. That means Bears Ears, which Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) requested be trimmed to 120,000 acres, will still be more than 180,000 acres. Zion is 147,000 acres and Bryce is about 36,000 acres, per the Tribune. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) opened the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources hearing on hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. (U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources)

-- The latest developments on Puerto Rico:

  • Water on the island may be the most contaminated in the United States, a Republican congressman said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday. "Residents across the island are still without power and a reliable source of drinking water," said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), per the Washington Examiner. "Many are drinking potentially contaminated water because water purification systems have largely failed because of the storm."
  • Ricardo Ramos, executive director of energy grid operator PREPA, defended the controversial decision to hire the small Montana-based company Whitefish Energy, to work on repairing the grid. “In retrospect, there are some steps in our contracting process with Whitefish that we could have done better,” Ramos said before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, per the Examiner. “I chose to contract with Whitefish because my priority was securing the immediate assistance that we needed to begin restoring power as quickly as possible to our most critical customers.” 
    Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló testified before lawmakers after calling for $94 billion to rebuild the island. House Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop (R-Utah) called the figure “unprecedented,” per BuzzFeed: “You’re asking for an unprecedented $94 billion. That’s a lot of money. That’s not going to happen unless people are going to see some changes in the way cooperation is made, and the way that money’s going to be spent.”
  • Rosselló suggested increasing the use of wind and solar power to provide up to 25 percent of the island’s electricity, Bloomberg reports. "We certainly see a collaboration with the private sector," Rosselló said. Last month, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk tweeted the would work with the local government to rebuild the island's electric grid. 

  • The Post's Justin Wm. Moyer tells the story of the Olivieri family, some of whom are now taking refuge in Virginia following Maria. They are among the estimated 100,000 that fled the island after the storm. “Enid Olivieri stayed — and endured Hurricane Maria,” Moyer writes. “It quickly became clear that clean drinking water wouldn’t last and electricity wasn’t consistent enough to power the breathing machine she uses to battle sleep apnea. The family decided she should lead their elders on a sojourn from San Juan to Virginia in what Maria Olivieri called a ‘parade of wheelchairs.’”


--  "I was shocked": NASA scientists have captured close-up images of a behemoth iceberg — one of the largest every recorded when it detached from one of the floating ice shelves in Antarctica in July. Its volume is twice that of Lake Erie.

“I was shocked, because we flew over the iceberg itself and it looks like it’s still part of the ice shelf, in terms of how large it is and the surface texture,” Nathan Kurtz, a scientist with the NASA-led initiative Operation Icebridge that traveled to Antarctica near the end of October to get a closer look at the iceberg, told The Post's Marwa Eltagouri and Chris Mooney.

The space agency shared photos from the expedition on Twitter:

There is a debate over whether the detachment of the iceberg can be attributed in any way to climate change, which is one of the reasons NASA is collecting data.


-- Summer softball players, take note: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and six other lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia have asked the National Park Service to reconsider a proposal to prohibit recreational activities on the grounds of the Washington Monument and increase fees for the use of fields elsewhere on the Mall and in Rock Creek Park.

The letter comes after the Park Service said late last week that it wants to permanently close the Washington Monument grounds to recreational activities and increase fees on 28 athletic fields from a flat fee, which was in some cases as low as $7 per season, to $70 for a two-hour block.

“We understand that Congress has underfunded NPS over the years, and we are committed to ensuring that NPS’s budget is increased,” the lawmakers wrote, our colleague Michael E. Ruane reports. “Nevertheless, we are dismayed by this proposal, which limits access to the Mall and places enormous financial barriers to recreation …The Founders and the original planners of the District of Columbia always intended the Mall to be a gathering place for public activity — including . . . recreational use.”



  • Roll Call hosts Energy Decoded.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a legislative hearing on national park, fish and wildlife service bills.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set to hold a business meeting to consider reconciliation legislation.

Coming Up

  • The Progressive Policy Institute & Common Good host “Rebuilding America: What are we Waiting For?” on Thursday.

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) described incidents of sexual harassment in Congress at a House Administration Committee hearing, including one by an unnamed "member who is here now:"

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) described lewd behavior from an unnamed House member "who is here now," she said. (House Administration Committee)

Inside the Twitter messages between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks:

President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Here's what the messages say. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Watch Stephen Colbert on Attorney General Jeff Sessions's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee: