Note to readers: Dino is on vacation this week. Paulina Firozi, who helps prepare The Energy 202 every day, wrote today's Lightbulb. Follow her here.
In 2017, tens of thousands of people descended upon Washington to protest an administration skeptical of climate change. President Trump declared his intent to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement. In the United States, there were a number of record natural disasters, including the latest spate of wildfires in California that will probably last through early next year. Reporters across the energy and environment beat at The Washington Post and beyond traversed the globe to bring you stories from the Arctic to Puerto Rico.
In our last edition of The Energy 202 before the new year, we rounded up some of the most memorable — and consequential — stories on the beat from the past year.
Here are some of the stories, and events they portray, worth reflecting on as we head into 2018:
Thousands protested the Trump administration’s environmental policies. And states and cities vowed to set their own climate agenda:
The Post’s Chris Mooney, Joe Heim and Brady Dennis reported on the record-hot day in late April when tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington to mark President Trump’s first 100 days in office and his rollback of numerous Obama-era environmental policies.
The moment presaged more significant change in the nation's capital: “On the eve of the march, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was beginning an overhaul of its website, which included taking down a long-standing site devoted to the science of climate change, which the agency said was ‘under review,' ” they wrote.
Just 33 days later, Trump made one of the biggest announcements of the year, declaring his plan to withdraw from the landmark global warming accord. In a June 1 speech from the Rose Garden, the president said: “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France.” The New York Times's Michael Shear explains that in following through on a campaign promise, Trump’s decision was a “remarkable rebuke to heads of state, climate activists, corporate executives and members of the president’s own staff, who all failed to change his mind with an intense, last-minute lobbying blitz.”
In the months since, local and global leaders have denounced Trump’s decision and promised to uphold the agreement's standards with or without the administration’s help. Politico’s David Siders profiled one such leader, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D): “Crusading across Europe in his Fitbit and his dark, boxy suit, Brown advances California and its policies almost as an alternative to the United States — and his waning governorship, after a lifetime in politics, as a quixotic rejection of the provincial limits of the American governor … In the growing chasm between Trump’s Washington and California — principally on climate change, but also taxes, health care, gun control and immigration — Brown is functioning as the head of something closer to a country than a state.”
In Trump’s first year, dozens of environmental restrictions have been overturned — most of which were put in place under former President Barack Obama. The New York Times's Nadja Popovich, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Kendra Pierre-Louis have an interactive breaking down all the environmental rules on the way out.
Natural disasters broke records, and people are still living in the dark:
Washington debated days before the holiday recess whether to send $81 billion in disaster relief to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico — hit hard by forceful hurricanes this season — and to California to help it recover from damaging wildfires. House lawmakers passed the bill, although it's not yet clear whether the Senate will be able to pass it before the end of the year.
But there is no arguing the extent of the damage.
When the hurricane season finally ended on Nov. 30, it became one of the most destructive and busiest ever, Brian McNoldy, Phil Klotzbach and Jason Samenow wrote for Capital Weather Gang. Three storms in particular — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — were responsible for most of the damage. It was the first year on record that the continental United States experienced two Category 4 hurricanes: Harvey and Irma. Harvey brought a record 60 inches of rainfall to Southeast Texas, as the storm dumped the equivalent of 33 trillion gallons of water on the United States. The Texas Tribune has a great ongoing series assessing the aftermath of the storm and the recovery process.
In the more than 90 days since Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, power has fluctuated throughout the island. As of this week, about a third of the island still didn't have power. FiveThirtyEight’s Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote about why the island’s electric grid was doomed even before the storm hit. And the graphic by The Post’s Denise Lu and Chris Alcantara showed how many of the U.S. territory’s residents were still in the dark.
Meanwhile, California has been burning. The Los Angeles Times’s Priya Krishnakumar and Joe Fox explain why this fire season has been one of the worst for the Golden State. Fires raged across Northern California in October, which led to 44 deaths and destroyed more than 8,400 buildings. In early December, another series of blazes swept through Southern California. And the biggest of the recent fires is still raging, on track to become the largest fire in the state’s modern history.
Natural disasters didn't happen just at home this year. In August, a catastrophic monsoon led to flooding in Mumbai and was blamed for some of the more than 1,000 deaths in floods in South Asia. Sunita Narain wrote for the Hindustan Times on why such floods are part of a new normal.
Monuments were adjusted:
The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears reported extensively on the administration’s plans to drastically cut the size of two major national monuments in Utah. Trump’s plan to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half followed their reporting on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to the White House for cuts to at least four national monuments, and adjustment the boundaries to a half-dozen others.
Our colleagues went on a mission in the Arctic:
The Post’s Chris Mooney and Alice Li traveled across the Northwest Passage aboard a Canadian coast guard vessel called the CCGS Amundsen. They accompanied a scientific team on a research trip through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic and broke down their exploration in a five-part series. Mooney’s dispatches and Li’s extraordinary visuals are worth revisiting: Read parts one, two, three, four and five.
Four months after the series, Mooney and Li published on Thursday a look at the dilemma facing scientists aboard the CCGS Amundsen. The scientists sought to explore little-chartered seas, recently navigable because of the warming climate, but Mooney notes that there’s a “central irony of their missions”: “While they were conducting research that could help shed light on current environmental challenges, the resulting maps could also help open the door to more tourism, shipping and other forms of commerce that could damage some of the globe’s most pristine waters.”
Read their full report with great visuals from Li on the “Arctic Dilemma” here.
This year was very warm — again:
In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the first half of 2017 was the second-warmest on record. And just this week, federal data revealed that average global temperatures would put this year in third place behind the two warmest years on record: 2016 and 2015, as Axios's Ben Geman reported.
NOAA's new data found 2017's average temperature from November to January was about 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for the 20th century.
We learned some ways the changing climate could affect just about everything else:
— Mooney traveled to Pickles Reef, Fla. for a literal deep dive to the decaying coral reef system, “one of the sharpest impacts of climate change in the continental United States — and a direct threat to economic activity in the Keys, a haven for diving, fishing and coastal tourism.”
“The debate over climate change is often framed as one that pits jobs against the need to protect the planet for future generations. In deciding to exit the Paris climate agreement and roll back domestic environmental regulations, the Trump administration said it was working to protect jobs,” Mooney wrote. “But what is happening here — as the warming of the sea devastates the coral reef — is a stark example of how rising temperatures can threaten existing economies.”
— “The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change,” from the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer, explores what lies in Greenland’s thawing permafrost, and what gets released when it starts to defrost. The slow decay of dead matter long forgotten in the ice means that climate change, Meyer says, could “awaken Earth’s forgotten pathogens.”
— New York Magazine's apocalyptic cover story from David Wallace-Wells sparked a conversation about whether being alarmist is a necessary strategy in fighting global warming. “What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response,” Wallace-Wells wrote in his more than 7,000-word missive. “Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.”
And for at least one day this year, the country focused not on doom and gloom, but on the sun:
For a brief news cycle in August, the sun really was the center of the universe. People flocked to locations from Oregon to South Carolina to catch a glimpse of the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in 99 years in the United States.
Here’s an excerpt from The Post’s dispatch by William Wan, Sarah Kaplan and Leah Sottile: “On Monday, life in America was put on hold — the nagging to-do list, the deadlines at work, the political debates and divisions. Everything receded, overtaken by the celestial event of the century suddenly looming over America. This eclipse felt different, more intimate somehow. It was the first total solar eclipse in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the founding of the republic that will pass directly over only this country."
“At 10:15 a.m. Pacific Time, the total eclipse made landfall on the coast of Oregon. From there, it zipped east across America at the screaming speed of 2,100 mph. It traversed a 3,000-mile path, cutting through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, before finally disappearing off the coast of Charleston, S.C. at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time.”
PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Energy 202 will not publish from Dec. 25 through Jan.1. We'll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, Jan. 2. Happy holidays and we'll see you in 2018!
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-- House passes disaster relief, but further movement is stalled: House lawmakers passed a massive $81 billion disaster relief package Thursday in what is the largest single funding request in response to natural disasters in U.S. history. The package would dole out emergency funds for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California, following the catastrophic hurricanes and wildfires this year. The House bill passed on a 251-to-169 vote, Politico reported, with 69 Democrats voting in favor.
But Politico’s Sarah Ferris reports “the massive assistance package has run into resistance in the Senate, making it nearly impossible for the aid to be delivered by year’s end.” “Disaster is a lot more complicated, a lot more moving parts, a lot more varied interests, competition between various jurisdictions over who gets what. So it’s just not likely,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Thursday. “I would love it if we could, but that’s not likely.”
The Post’s Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner wrote the aid is among several issues still to be resolved after lawmakers passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday to avert a partial government shutdown.
More DeBonis and Werner: “Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Democrats would agree only to a short-term measure as long as broader disputes about spending, immigration and more remain unresolved. ‘We’re not going to allow things like disaster relief to go forward without discussing some of these other issues we care about,’ he said. “We have to solve these issues together.’”
-- Suit filed: A group of current and former members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory board have sued the agency over the move to ban scientists who receive agency grants from serving as outside advisers. The Post’s Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis report the complaint, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia calls the policy “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.”
“Their complaint says that Pruitt's new ethics policy is an unprecedented break from the past, when grant recipients were allowed to sit on advisory committees and potential conflicts of interest were handled on a case-by-case basis … The complaint also alleges the directive is contrary to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which specifically allows recipients of federal money to serve on advisory committees as long as they are not closely involved in the matter on which they're advising."
— Pipeline process, reviewed: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre said the panel would review its 1999 policy for certifying natural gas pipelines. From the Hill’s Timothy Cama: “While the commission did not commit to any particular changes, the announcement is a win for environmentalists who have long complained that FERC acts as a “rubber stamp” and approves too many gas lines…'1999 was quite a while ago, particularly in the natural gas pipeline area. So much has changed. So much has changed in our entire industry, of course, since then,’ McIntyre told reporters after the meeting.’ ‘But it would be hard to find an area that has changed more than natural gas and our pipeline industry.’”
In a statement, McIntyre said the format and scope of the review are still being finalized.
-- Safety study, paused: The Trump administration has halted funding on a study aimed at making offshore drilling safer. And The Post’s Darryl Fears points out the notable timing: The decision comes just two months after the administration proposed opening up an area of the Gulf of Mexico for drilling.
Fears, who also noted it’s the second time in four months th administration has blocked a study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, elaborates: “The [NASEM] announced Thursday that the Interior Department suspended a $580,000 study to update and enhance the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s oil and gas inspection program. … A bureau spokesman, Gregory Julian, said the study was suspended because it might not be needed. ‘Simply put, we paused the study because it appeared to be duplicative of ongoing work,’ he said Thursday afternoon. Julian said the bureau needs time to ensure there would be no overlap. But the National Academies researchers met for the first time only recently, and Julian offered no explanation for why the bureau couldn’t work with them as they moved forward.”
-- Joining the fight against coal firms: The city and county of Santa Cruz, Calif., this week joined other communities in the fight against coal companies.
The municipalities filed two lawsuits against 29 oil, gas and coal companies, urging them to take responsibility for their contributions to climate change, particularly rising sea levels. “We believe enough is enough,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend said in a statement, per the San Francisco Chronicle. “These types of weather events are going to become more common and we can expect more of the fires we saw in Wine Country and Southern California … It is directly related to fossil fuel-based climate change.”
In a statement responding to the complaints, a National Association of Manufacturers official called the move "the latest in a long line of actions taken by wealthy activists and plaintiff’s attorneys with an agenda to undermine manufacturing in America, and rake in millions of dollars through the courts by politicizing natural disasters."
-- The Post’s Scott Wilson's latest dispatch from the Thomas Fire in Southern California describes firefighters' progress finally pushing the massive blaze away from thousands of threatened homes. As evacuation orders were lifted, the fire was contained at 60 percent and Santa Ana winds began to fade.
Wilson wrote it brought “a tenuous end to one of the most destructive years of fire in memory:” “The Thomas Fire, the blaze that began early this month in the Ventura County city of Santa Paul and swept north on heavy, dry winds, has burned more than 272,000 acres. The charred land, much of it backcountry forest and chaparral, makes the fire the second-largest in state history… A firefighter from San Diego County, Cory Iverson, 32, was killed on the fire’s eastern edge. He left behind a 2-year-old daughter and a pregnant wife. While terrifying for many here in recent weeks, the Thomas Fire was only the coda to a year that included the Wine Country fires north of San Francisco, a far deadlier series of blazes that killed 42 people and destroyed 10,000 businesses and homes.”
-- A changing climate makes for a changing population: A new study found the European Union could see the severe consequences of global warming play out in changing human migration patterns. The research, published in the journal Science, found the higher the temperature rises, the higher the number of asylum applications.
From Mooney and Dennis: "The work, by two researchers at Columbia University, examined potential links between swings in temperature in 103 countries and the volume of asylum applications to the European Union over the 15-year period between 2000 and 2014. The authors then tried to determine the likely rise in asylum applications as the Earth grows warmer between now and 2100. Their analysis? That the E.U. could see an increase of 28 percent of applications under ‘moderate’ global warming conditions and as much as a 188 percent spike — or 660,000 more applications annually — under more severe warming.”
-- And here's a troubling but good long read for your holiday: The New York Times examines the mounting threat of climate change to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Rising sea levels and spiking temperatures pose their own problem: One climate researcher, the Times reports, warns that temperatures may rise several degrees over the coming century, and the sea level will also increase three feet.
But a more dire and human-driven threat is that the city is also sinking: “In fact, Jakarta is sinking faster than any other big city on the planet, faster, even, than climate change is causing the sea to rise — so surreally fast that rivers sometimes flow upstream, ordinary rains regularly swamp neighborhoods and buildings slowly disappear underground, swallowed by the earth. The main cause: Jakartans are digging illegal wells, drip by drip draining the underground aquifers on which the city rests — like deflating a giant cushion underneath it. About 40 percent of Jakarta now lies below sea level.”
- Politico holds an event on "Driverless Cars and the Future of Mobility" on Jan. 16.
Congress passes short-term spending measure to avert shutdown:
Phoenix firefighters respond to deadly house explosion:
A Thai dog is running free again after being fitted with the type of blades used by Paralympic runners:
How did Rudolph get his famous red nose? A biologist explains:
Seth Meyers takes a closer look at President Trump's claim he repealed Obamacare: