with Paulina Firozi


Since taking office, President Trump has failed to make good on some high-profile campaign promises, such as appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton and banning all Muslims from entering the country (not from lack of trying, however).

But one area in which Trump has achieved tangible success is slashing energy and environmental regulations. Trump said he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, and he began doing so. He said he would undo the Clean Power Plan and other Obama administration rules, and he began doing that, too

So it may come as a surprise to hear that before the end of the year, Trump is expected to sign a bill saying that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

That's how one provision of the National Defense Authorization Act reads. For years, the Defense Department quietly studied how to adapt its facilities susceptible to climate change. One 2016 study, for example, found that a 3-foot rise in the sea level could submerge 128 military installations.

In addition to declaring a “sense of Congress” that global warming is a national security threat, the defense reauthorization bill would also require the Defense Department to assess the vulnerabilities of the 10 bases most threatened by climate change in each service.

​​​​​​It was never a sure thing that a bill with such language would ever land on the desk of a president who once said he is “not a big believer in man-made climate change.”

The climate-change provision was inserted by Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and survived an effort in a 185-to-234 vote led by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) on the House floor to strip it out. 

Shortly before the Thanksgiving break, both the Senate and the House passed a $700 billion deal on defense struck by negotiators. The climate provision emerged from that haggling “completely intact,” according to Langevin's office.

“It's a signal that Congress is willing to be practical on the issue,” said Sharon Burke, a senior adviser at the liberal-leaning think tank New America and former assistant secretary of defense for operational energy under President Barack Obama.

In conference, the House also rebuffed a Senate-led effort that could have had the effect of eliminating Senate-confirmed assistant secretary positions in each branch of the military meant to handle energy and environmental work at military facilities.

“These are important jobs,” said John Conger, who as a former principal deputy undersecretary in the Defense Department’s comptroller’s office and in other positions there oversaw the energy and environmental policy at bases. He is now a a senior policy advisor to the Center for Climate and Security.

“They have sprawling portfolios,” he said, adding the Pentagon controls about 25 million acres of land.

The climate provision is one small part of a massive reauthorization bill for the U.S. military worldwide, and the White House has not signaled it will veto the legislation.

But the GOP-led Congress has passed several pieces of legislation reversing environmental rules enacted under Obama. And the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department under Trump have been even more ambitious in rolling back Obama-era rules.

The Pentagon says it continues to take climate change seriously, even under Trump. "“I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate in written testimony this year.

By keeping intact the climate language, lawmakers from both parties may be responding to the competing desires of Trump Cabinet officials.

Mattis has said he thinks that climate change poses a real threat to national security, while EPA chief Scott Pruitt has questioned the scientific conclusion of his own agency, as well as that of the broader scientific community, that carbon dioxide emissions are creating that global warming threat. 

The Pentagon retains a “pragmatic and apolitical approach to climate change,” Conger said, “and Congress respects that.”

He added the passage of the global warming provision in the NDAA “reflects that the center has moved” leftward in debate on climate change — at least when it comes to addressing the consequences rather than the causes.

“It is a different thing to let someone deal with the effects of climate change,” Conger said, “verses reducing emissions.”


-- Showdown in West Virginia: Starting Tuesday, supporters and opponents of the Clean Power Plan will air their differences at a two-day hearing in the state's capital hosted by the EPA. Given the choice of venue for the public hearing in the heart of coal country, expect to see EPA head Pruitt and other CPP opponents, such as representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Arch Coal who are expected to speak, emphasize the detrimental effects Obama-era pollution controls would have had on the coal sector.

And of course, expect to see environmentalists and Democrats show up, including representatives from the New York attorney general's office, the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP, to make their case on the detrimental effects of coal-fired power pollution. 

-- FEMA in control: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the island has handed over the Federal Emergency Management Agency authority over disaster-relief spending. The governor said the agency would be able to pre-approve the use of any federal funds and noted the unprecedented move is aimed at increasing transparency in  the massive recovery efforts (think Whitefish).

"We want to embark in the most transparent, effective, and efficient recovery process in the history of our nation," he said, per Bloomberg News. "We want to create a certain set of controls that have been unprecedented, robust in nature and that work in collaboration with all of the federal agencies."

-- Monument in Montana: After recommending last summer that the Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana become a new national monument, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hasn't said anything else on the subject.

The land is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation tribe in Montana, Zinke's home state, and sits just a couple hours from Whitefish, Mont., where Zinke grew up, according to a report from NPR. A monument designation would protect the area from any oil and gas development. Trump is expected to announce next month his decision on which national monuments to shrink, following earlier recommendations from Zinke.

Blackfeet tribal chairman Harry Barnes told NPR that the proposed designation may be related to Zinke’s connection with his home state. And Land Tawney, president of the Montana-based sportsmen's group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, suggested that Zinke’s recommendation may stem from broader political goals.

"I think the people of Montana hold our special places very near and dear," he told NPR. "If you do not protect those places, I think it's a political nightmare for you in this state."

-- Former Zinke backers dismayed: When Trump announced the nomination of Zinke to run Interior, hunters and anglers generally cheered the choice of someone who supports keeping public lands public.

"But nine months into the job," writes E&E News in a good one-year-later overview, "many of those who initially supported Zinke say they are surprised by his actions in office. They express dismay over Zinke's review of national monuments, his decision to reopen debate over Obama-era greater sage grouse conservation plans, and the targeting of dozens of policies as 'burdensome' to oil and gas development." Among the rattled are Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, whom The Energy 202 profiled last month.


-- Three spills in seven years: TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline has had more spills occur more frequently than the company initially indicated to regulators in risk assessments before operation began in 2010, according to Reuters. The report follows the latest leak of about 210,000 gallons of oil in Amherst, S.D., which led to a shutdown of the pipeline.

Before construction of the line began, the company’s risk assessment said the chance of a spill of more than 50 barrels of oil would occur “not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States,” per the operating permit, according to Reuters.

More specifically in South Dakota, the assessment said there would be leaks “no more than once every 41 years.” The line has had leaks in South Dakota twice, one time in 2016. There have been three major leaks in total, with another in North Dakota in 2011.

As of Monday, the company had excavated the section of pipeline involved with the spill in Amherst, per Reuters. Brian Walsh, environmental scientist manager with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the cleanup was “going as fast as we would hope; they are working 24 hours a day.” 

The pipeline will resume operation today, TransCanada announced, per the Hill. But it will operate at a reduced pressure "to ensure a safe and gradual increase in the volume of crude oil moving through the system."

-- More on TransCanada: The Canada-based company has now asked the Nebraska Public Service Commission to reconsider its approval of a sister pipeline, the Keystone XL, per Reuters. Rather than approving the company’s preferred route, the commission approved an order for a pricier alternative that would add five miles of pipeline.


-- Our personalities are shaped by the climate we grew up in, a new study says. We know anecdotally that weather affects our mood, writes The Post's Angela Fritz. But a new study published in the journal Nature finds the climate one grows up in can affect one's entire personality, too.

"Specifically, people who grew up in regions with average temperatures close to 72 degrees tend to be more agreeable, conscientiousness, emotionally stable, extroverted and open", Fritz writes. While describing the results as "fascinating," Antonio Terracciano, a professor of geriatrics at Florida State University, notes Canadians, despite the colder climate, "generally are not less ‘nice’ than Americans."


-- Texas: A reclaimed golf course in the Houston area will drain up to half a billion gallons of storm water when its completed in 2021 and will save up to 3,000 homes, Dylan Baddour writes for The Washington Post. The effort passed a first trial with Hurricane Harvey, during which the Exploration Green project saved about 150 homes from severe flood damage.

“Flood control experts say the project sets an example for Houston as it grapples with improving its flood control and drainage systems after Harvey,” Baddour writes. “Space for needed projects may come from scooped-out city parks or bought-out neighborhoods.” 

-- Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Canadian company Enbridge Inc. have reached a deal to increase safety precautions for a pair of 64-year-old pipelines that travel beneath the waterway where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.

"Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources," Snyder said Monday, per the Associated Press.

Safety procedures in the agreement include replacing one section of the line with new pipe and temporarily halting the oil flow during storms producing waves at least 8 feet high for more than an hour. The company will also evaluate options including rerouting parts of the line, per the AP.

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, criticized the agreement. "Instead of shutting down this dangerous pipeline, our state leaders continue to place an enormous amount of trust in Enbridge to operate it responsibly — even while the company continues to repeatedly break that trust,” she said.



  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold a subcommittee hearing on the nominations of Kenneth E. Allen, A.D. Frazier, Jeffrey Smith, and James R. Thompson III to be members of the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event about the “Status of Carbon Capture 2017.”

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will launch a new energy report.

  • The Center for Climate and Security hosts a discussion on the security risks of climate change in the Asia-Pacific.

  • The Heritage Foundation hosts a discussion on the history of climate change activism.

  • The Brookings Institution holds an event on “Can tax reform include a carbon tax?”

  • The EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan in Charleston, W.Va. today and Wednesday.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a business meeting on the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White to be a member of the Council on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler to be the deputy administrator of the EPA on Wednesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “Examining the Role of Financial Trading in the Electricity Markets” on Wednesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing on “Modernizing NEPA for the 21st Century” on Wednesday.
  • The New York Times hosts a climate summit in San Francisco on Wednesday and Thursday.

  • The Natural Gas Roundtable hosts FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee at its luncheon on Thursday.

  • The Heritage Foundation holds an event on the Department of Energy’s grid resilience proposal on Thursday.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on “Zero-emission Fuel in the Maritime Sector” on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds a legislative hearing on a bill to streamline water projects on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on Thursday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on HUD and community block grants for disaster recovery on Friday.
  • The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on "Conservation programs, the waters of the United States, and the Renewable Fuel Standard" on Dec. 6.


Here are 8 issues on Congress's December to-do list:

President Trump revived his nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), calling her "Pocahontas" at an event honoring Native American code talkers:

Listen to full exchange between a Post reporter and woman who made false accusations against Roy Moore:

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: "Trump's Christmas Gift to the Poor: Tax Hikes:"