Nearly as soon as President Trump announced he wouldscale back the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, those wishing to preserve the Obama-era designations battled back.
Democratic politicians denounced the decision, done at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Native American tribes and environmental groups filed lawsuits against the Trump administration.
None of that reaction was particularly surprising. What was: Outdoor clothing retailers joined the fray.
Last week, visitors to the website for Patagonia looking to do some holiday shopping were greeted with a blunt message: “The President Stole Your Land.” REI, another recreational gear seller, registered a similar protest on its website: “Despite the loss of millions of acres of protected lands this week,” the company said, “REI will continue to advocate for the places we all love.” Arne Arens, president of North Face, yet another outdoor clothing maker, called the decision “deeply disappointing.”
But what was also surprising was the Trump administration, along with Republicans in Congress who support Trump unwinding what they see as federal overreach, punched back.
The ensuing Twitter exchange is reminiscent of the no-holds-barred tactics Trump himself — along with the Environmental Protection Agency — has frequently employed to push back against his critics. Congressional Republicans cast urban "elitists" in blue America, who they say don't understand the problems of their rural counterparts, as bogeymen. It also raises some legal questions.
On Twitter, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department, said Patagonia was disingenuous in its ad campaign.
“Patagonia Is Lying To You,” the committee's account wrote, using the same font the retailer had on its website. It continues: “A corporate giant hacking our public lands debate to sell more products to wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco.”
The chair of the House panel, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), has fiercely defended the administration's decision, commending Zinke for “actually listening to the people on the local level” and Trump for showing “some real courage against well-funded litigation machines.”
Zinke, Bishop and other Republicans note the land targeted in the national monument reductions will remain under federal control, and won't be sold to private interests or transferred to states. One Utah Republican, Rep. Chris Stewart, has put forward legislation to turn a portion of Grand Staircase-Escalante into a national park.
“The assertion that 'the president stole your land' is designed to mislead and terrify the uninformed,” the committee explained in a statement. “Their deception speaks volumes about their contempt for rural Americans in Utah.”
And then, Zinke retweeted that message.
In an interview with Fox News last Tuesday, the interior secretary criticized Patagonia as one of many companies “that make their products in other places on foreign shores.” Separately that same day, Zinke called the claim made on Patagonia's website “nefarious, false and a lie,” telling reporters on a conference call that land withdrawn from the national monuments would remain under federal control.
It's the retweet, however, that opens Zinke to legal liability, according to Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama. On Twitter, he called the message “wildly inappropriate:"
Secretary of Interior Zinke has misused his official position by retweeting this wildly inappropriate tweet calling an American company a liar without any due process in an effort to coerce the company and its employees into ceasing the lawful exercise of a First Amendment right. pic.twitter.com/oNL598Xfy4— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) December 10, 2017
Zinke is the poster child for this lawless administration’s misuse of governmental authority & resources. His thuggish interference with a business is outside the scope of his duties, raising a question as to whether a sovereign immunity defense might fail if @patagonia sues.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) December 10, 2017
Patagonia has filed a lawsuit over the 85 percent reduction in size of Bears Ears.
But the political battle is also just beginning.
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-- Zinke fires back again: In addition to dinging Patagonia, Zinke dismissed reports that he used $14,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for helicopter rides from Washington to points in West Virginia and Virginia. “Here are the #facts the DC media refuses to print,” Zinke tweeted alongside a full statement, calling last week’s report by Politico “total fabrications” and a “wild departure from reality:”
The problem: Even if Zinke does not like the way the flights were characterized ("Zinke using taxpayer-funded vehicles"), the reporting is not a "total fabrication" because Politico obtained travel logs through a Freedom of Information Act request — meaning the publication had Interior's own documentation.
-- Perry’s proposal, delayed: Rick Perry granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until the middle of next month to respond to the energy secretary's proposal to compensate coal and nuclear power plants for being able to produce power reliably. Perry said the commission’s inability to meet the original Dec. 11 deadline puts the nation’s electric grid at risk.
Last week, Kevin McIntyre, the new FERC chairman, wrote a letter to Perry requesting a 30-day extension. “The commission has sworn in two new members within the last two weeks,” McIntyre wrote. “The proposed extension is critical to afford adequate time for the new commissioners to consider the voluminous record and engage fully in deliberations.” He also cited the fact that FERC had received more than 1,500 comments on the proposals as reasons for the extension.
An observation from Utility Dive's Gavin Bade:
This letter is quite something. Perry says he "made clear" grid is threatened, and FERC has "immediate responsibility" to act. He's speaking to an independent agency like they report to him. https://t.co/AsT6gnvgYo— Gavin Bade (@GavinBade) December 9, 2017
The backstory: The Post's Steven Mufson explains the lobbying effort made by Robert E. Murray, founder of Murray Energy and a major Trump supporter, for Perry and other administration officials to prop up coal-fired power plants through regulations. Perry had been in office less than four weeks when he took a meeting from a coal magnate, who presented the new energy secretary four-page "action plan" to rescue the coal industry.
The Trump administration rebuffed Murray's pitch for it to invoke emergency powers, normally limited to extraordinary circumstances like wartime or blackouts, to keep a debt-laden unit of FirstEnergy, one of the chief buyers of Murray Energy coal, from going bankrupt. But Murray was content with the plan Perry produced. FirstEnergy chief executive Charles E. Jones applauded the proposal, saying it would correct “faulty market conditions.”
The FERC commissioners themselves, who have final say, appear more skeptical. Mufson writes: "One of the four commissioners appointed by Trump, Robert F. Powelson, in a speech in October praised competitive markets, saying 'the moment we put our thumbs on the scale is the moment we bastardize the process.' Two others are Democrats: Cheryl LaFleur, appointed by Obama, and Richard Glick, by Trump."
-- Superfund priority list: The EPA released a list of 21 toxic Superfund sites nationwide that it says are priorities for “immediate and intense” cleanup. “By elevating these sites, we are sending a message that EPA is, in fact, restoring its Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency’s mission,” EPA head Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites.”
However, The Post’s Brady Dennis reported the agency acknowledged that “there is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list.”
-- Lobbying for Bears Ears cuts: A uranium company lobbied to push for the scaling back of Bears Ears Monument in Utah, according to documents obtained and reported by The Post’s Juliet Eilperin.
Zinke has repeatedly insisted that President Trump’s decision to drastically cut the Utah site by 85 percent was not about mining or drilling, telling reporters on Tuesday that “this is not about energy,” Eilperin writes.
But documents show that Energy Fuels Resources pushed the administration to cut the monument to the smallest possible size in order to gain access to the site's radioactive ore. The nation’s sole uranium processing mill is located next to the boundaries originally set for Bears Ears, per Eilperin.
She added that Energy Fuels Resources hired a team of lobbyists, led by Andrew Wheeler, awaiting Senate confirmation to serve as the EPA’s deputy secretary, to work on the project. The company paid the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels $30,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 for its work.
-- EPA's slowdown against polluters: An analysis from Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory at the New York Times reveals the EPA has been more lenient than the previous administrations toward polluters. In a comparison of civil cases filed by the agency under the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations, the agency started about 1,900 cases in the first nine months, which the Times notes is a third fewer than under the Obama administration and a quarter fewer under the George W. Bush administration over the same time period.
Lipton and Ivory's entire front-page story is worth a read here.
-- More tweaks to the EPA's website: On Friday, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, which has been monitoring changes made to the EPA's website since Trump took office, reported the agency's "Greening EPA" page has been altered to remove access to links on climate adaptation — and, according to the report, "to remove wording related to EPA’s own goals for climate change resilience and adaptation."
-- A fork at the road: Zinke is pushing a controversial plan to allow a new road for the first time through a federally protected wilderness area in Alaska's Izembek National Refuge. CNN reports that local authorities believe the road is critical for transporting residents of the tiny King Cove city in case of emergencies. But critics believe it would set a precedent for construction in wilderness areas outside of Izembek. They also cite the millions of dollars spent to establish alternate means of transportation in emergencies that limit the need for a road.
"The absence of the road has meant life-and-death for the inhabitants of King Cove,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift told CNN. "The careful construction of an 11-mile single lane gravel road in a manner that conforms with all applicable environmental laws, rules, and regulations ... makes sense."
Sally Jewell, who vetoed the road in 2013 as then interior secretary, said a “road through this critical area would kill the refuge, would kill the wilderness and the intent that was set aside when this was protected back in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower.”
-- California is still burning: New evacuation orders were put in place on Sunday as fires burning across Southern California now enter a second week. As one of the largest fires moved north toward Santa Barbara, the flames left residents in Ventura Country to begin to pick up what’s left.
The Thomas Fire, the largest of the half dozen fires blazing through the southern part of the state, had burned through more than 230,000 acres by Sunday evening, destroying more than 500 buildings, per the Los Angeles Times. The blaze was about 15 percent contained by Sunday afternoon, with more than 4,000 firefighters working to contain it. The fire, the Los Angeles Times noted, is now the fifth largest in the state's history.
As of Sunday, at least one death had been confirmed as a result of the Thomas Fire.
Most of Los Angeles and Ventura counties were under “red flag warnings” for high fire risk through end of the weekend, Rob Kuznia, Mark Berman, Max Ufberg and Soo Youn write for The Post, as winds were expected to strengthen. The National Weather Service warned any new fire could see a “very rapid spread of wildfire … and extreme fire behavior that could lead to a threat to life and property."
Officials did make progress on most of the six fires. The Creek fire in Sylmar was 90 percent contained, according to the Los Angeles Times, as was the Rye fire in Santa Clarita. The Skirball fire in Bel Air was 85 percent contained. And the Lilac fire in San Diego County was 60 percent contained.
President Trump approved a disaster relief declaration for the state on Friday after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wrote him a letter calling for federal resources. Brown acknowledged the role of the changing climate in addressing the fires at a Saturday news conference, per Rob Kuznia, Max Ufberg, Soo Youn and Amy B. Wang for The Post.
“This is kind of the new normal,” Brown said. “We’re facing a new reality in this state, where fires threaten people’s lives, their property, their neighborhoods and, of course, billions and billions of dollars.”
He warned that the warming global could mean residents could expect similarly extreme fires in the state for decades.
“I know that’s maybe a little remote, but it’s real, and we’re experiencing what it’s going to look like on a very regular basis,” he said.
- Axios hosts an event on “Energy Under Trump.”
- Greentech media hosts the U.S. Energy Storage Summit starting Tuesday.
- The Gas Technology Institute holds the Methane Emissions Conference starting on Tuesday.
- House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce Consumer Protection holds a hearing on the “Corporate Average Fuel Economy Program and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Motor Vehicles” on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on “permitting processes at DOI and FERC for energy and resource infrastructure projects” on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Commerce holds a business meeting on various nominations on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting on various nominations on Tuesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing on “Examining Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Minerals” on Tuesday.
- The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on advancing sola energy technology on Wednesday.
- Resources for the Future holds a seminar on “What does repeal of the Clean Power Plan Mean for Future Climate and Energy Policies” on Wednesday.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the “Impacts and Future of North American Energy Trade” on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the “Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a legislative hearing on Grand Staircase-Escalante Bill on Thursday.
- National Journal holds a webinar on Trump and NAFTA on Thursday.
- The Dialogue holds an event on the Trump administration, Latin America and Energy on Friday.
During a rally in Pensacola, Fla., President Trump told Alabamians to “get out and vote for Roy Moore:"
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct “should be heard:"
Saturday Night Live's Christmas-themed cold open takes on allegations against Al Franken, Roy Moore and President Trump:
Watch one of the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, Mei Xiang, roll around in the snow: