THE LIGHTBULB

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While a cold snap gripped much of the United States at year’s end, President Trump mocked the majority of Americans who think man-made climate change is real.

Pointing to the thermometer in his adoptive home of Washington and elsewhere along the East Coast while vacationing in Florida, Trump suggested that what the country might need is a bit of warming:

Predictably, Democrats and activists who bemoaned Trump’s ignorance of climate science since he began running for president howled in indignation. 

But less conspicuously but more consequently, the gears within the administration, which have spent much of 2017 unwinding former President Barack Obama's energy and environmental policies, were also humming away over the holidays.

Trump officials within the Interior Department were particularly busy over the break.

  • On Dec. 29, the last business day of 2017, Interior rescinded a 2015 Obama administration rule that would have tightened standards for well construction and wastewater management for hydraulic fracturing and required the disclosure of the chemicals contained in fracking fluids. The agency rescinded the rule it said would save “up to $9,690 per well or approximately $14 million to $34 million per year” in industry compliance costs.
  • Also that day, another office within Interior, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, published new regulations rewriting rules regarding devices used during offshore oil production that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Among the rules tossed is one requiring that safety and pollution prevention equipment be inspected by independent auditors — an idea born out of the bipartisan presidential commission that investigated the oil spill.
  • Shortly before Christmas, Interior moved to renew leases for copper and nickel mines that are on the border of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and that are owned by a billionaire who rents a home to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Washington. Unber Obama, U.S. Forest Service had decided not to renew the leases while federal officials launched a formal review of the operation’s environmental impact.
  • Finally, there was one legal decision that, for wildlife activists, was for the birds: Interior’s principal deputy solicitor wrote to other department employees that the Trump administration would no longer prosecute oil and gas, wind, and solar operators for accidentally killing birds under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Over the years, the federal government has used the law to impose large fines after environmental disasters — including, again, the BP oil spill. 

The takeaway: the Trump administration isn't done with its wholesale rolling back of environmental and energy policy as we head into the administration's second year.

HURRICANE-FORCE SPIN

-- The Mooch's climate scooch: Despite a long history of calling climate change science names a family-friendly newspaper cannot repeat verbatim, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci defended the president's recent "good old Global Warming" tweet on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. Scaramucci claimed Trump is actually not a denier of climate change, just an opponent of the Paris climate accord. "I think you guys should ask him directly if he's a climate change denier or not," he said. "I think you will find you will be surprised by that answer."

That sentiment is belied by two facts. One, Scaramucci, who called climate change denial "disheartening" on Twitter, faced criticism he had become a denier shortly after being put on the presidential transition, saying on CNN "I honestly don’t know" whether humans are affecting the climate.

Two, the reason reporters may not have asked Trump directly about his views on climate change is there might not have had much opportunity. The president held only one solo official press conference in 2017

-- But there's probably a simpler explanation for why Trump sent the tweet: "It’s a joke the audience has heard before," writes The Post's Phillip Bump. "Which is largely the point. President Trump uses climate change here precisely because he knows the reaction he’ll get: Cheers from his base and hand-wringing from others, including scientists." Acceptance of climate change has emerged as one of the most polarizing issues in politics, with a 2017 Pew survey finding a 47-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on the need to address climate change, one that's wider than on immigration or race relations.

POWER PLAYS

-- A year-end look at Scott Pruitt's EPA: Given the pace at which the Environmental Protection Agency chief has rolled back his predecessors' work (or at least attempted to), Scott Pruitt secured his place as a one of the most consequential Cabinet-level officials within the Trump administration with an aggressive first year at the helm.

The Post's Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin take stock of Pruitt's achievements at the end of 2017, which include moving assertively to shrink the agency through buyouts and, in his words, “revitalizing" it by focusing on areas such as the Superfund cleanup program. As the chart below indicates, Pruitt has succeeded compared to other department heads:

Despite environmental advocates vowing to battle him at every turn, Pruitt seems confident that his vision of limited government will take hold even after he leaves office. "I’m pretty sanguine about our ability to defend our actions here at the agency, so long as we do things timely and within the text of the statute,” he said in an interview. “The problem the agency had historically is when [officials] have not done things in the time frame they were supposed to do something. That’s invited lawsuits that then allow others to set the priorities.”

OIL CHECK

-- U.S. oil production booms as new year begins: As Trump begins his second calendar year in office, U.S. crude oil production is flirting with record highs, reports The Post's Thomas Heath. In 2017, domestic oil production averaged around 9.6 million barrels per day. The highest U.S. production based on monthly government data is above 10 million barrels per day, which dates back to 1970.

The oil-friendly administration is doing everything it can to continue to build on those levels, loosening offshore oil drilling regulations and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling. But those efforts may not pan out if the price of oil dips below the sweet spot for shale oil profit in the neighborhood of $55 to $60 per barrel.

-- Tax consequences cometh: BP will take a one-time $1.5 billion charge in its 2017 fourth quarter earnings due to the recent passage of the GOP tax plan, according to Reuters. Last week, Shell announced a similar one-time charge that could total the company $2.5 billion.

While the oil firms' short-term profits will be dented by the tax overhaul as they overpay in taxes in advance for the quarter, the companies can expect to get some of that money back in tax relief. And of course, oil companies, like other corporations, will enjoy the long-term benefit of a lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. “The ultimate impact of the change in the U.S. corporate income tax rate is subject to a number of complex provisions in the legislation which BP is reviewing,” BP said in a statement.

-- With cold gripping the eastern United States, here comes coal: As the East iced over with sub-freezing temperatures shortly before New Year's Day weekend, coal outpaced natural gas and nuclear power in electricity generation in the market operated by PJM Interconnection, which serves much of the East Coast. "Coal provided nearly 20,000 megawatts more electricity throughout the day Friday than its primary rival natural gas and over 10,000 megawatts more than nuclear power plants," The Washington Examiner's John Siciliano reported.

ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE

-- Silicon Valley's one sunny spot: Marred by allegations of facilitating the dissemination of fake news and pervasive sexism, Silicon Valley has recently lost a bit of its gleam. But there's at least one reason for that world-changing optimism that once consumed startup engineers, according to technology writer Clive Thompson: Clean energy. "Tech may have served up Nazis in social media streams, but, hey, it’s also creating microgrids," Thompson writes in Wired. "The point is, clean energy has a utopian spirit that reminds me of the early days of personal computers."

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The American Petroleum Institute holds a luncheon and press conference on "The State of American Energy 2018” on Jan. 9.

  • The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy holds a “Better Buildings peer exchange call to discuss what’s on the horizon for residential energy efficiency in 2018” on Jan. 11.

  • Politico holds an event on "Driverless Cars and the Future of Mobility" on Jan. 16.

EXTRA MILEAGE

-- Niagara Falls is an icicle-y wonderland after the New Year's weekend: As historian and author Paul Gromosiak once said, via The Post's Kristine Phillips, winter at Niagara Falls can be so breathtaking that it “diminishes even those skyscrapers” that populate the Canadian side of the border, a honeymoon capital choked with hotels and casinos.

Though Niagara Falls sees fewer tourists this time of year, some visitors came to gawk at the ice. Here a couple walks near the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side:

And here visitors try to keep warm at the edge of the waterfall, again via the Canadian Press's Aaron Lynett:

The photos may not do the falls justice, but here are a few more from Buffalo News photographer Sharon Cantillon: