THE LIGHTBULB

Over the weekend, as temperatures dropped below zero across swaths of the eastern United States, another zeroing-out — this one suggested by President Trump — came into cold, stark relief.

Among the several energy and environmental initiatives the Trump administration proposed to eliminate in its 2018 budget proposal was an Energy Department grant program that helped low-income homeowners make their houses more energy efficient, saving them money on their heat, electricity and health-care bills.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which grants states funds to pay for the insulation of homes against winter weather, is designed to let poor homeowners withstand the brutal winter temperatures such as those since the beginning of the year.

The freezing weather — inclement even for hardy New Englanders as Arctic air, perhaps due to climate change, is drawn southward across North America — has renewed calls from WAP supporters for the program to remain.

“We are witnessing the triple whammy of plunging temperatures, rising heating costs, and the Trump administration’s push to eliminate the low-income home weatherization program,” said Dan Reicher, a former Energy Department official under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who plans to testify about the program in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday. “This is a dangerous situation for poor people in our country.”

Making homes use heat more efficiently — by deploying powerful fans to depressurize homes to discover and plug spots where cold outside air can seep in — has become a popular way for homeowners to retain heat and energy savings during winter months while reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

“What’s frustrating is that a decent amount of the heat that folks are paying for is leaking straight to the outdoors,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a research and lobbying group that advocates for energy-efficiency programs. “If you step back and think about it, it just doesn’t make sense.”

After receiving a $5 billion injection of funding in the 2009 economic stimulus, the WAP program weatherized 340,000 homes in 2010 alone, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which reviewed the program that year. The effort translates to $1.1 billion in household savings and 7.3 million metric tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions.

WAP generally enjoys bipartisan support. Fourteen Democratic and Republican attorneys general wrote a letter asking Congress to support of program. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the program “vital funding to Alaska” when introducing a bill last year with her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), to reauthorize it.

But the Trump administration’s budget proposal, released last year, zeroed out Energy Department funding for the program in an effort to reduce “Federal intervention in State-level energy policy and implementation,” according to the budget.

There are those in Congress, too, who viewed the program as bloated after the economic stimulus, a sentiment bolstered by a finding from the Energy Department’s inspector general that despite being flush with funds, “grantees had made little progress in weatherizing homes” with the stimulus money.

In 2011, Todd Young, then a freshman GOP House member from Indiana who is now serving in the Senate, introduced an amendment that sought to return the program to pre-stimulus levels, which passed unanimously by a voice vote in the House.

“Senator Young believes that every government program should be scrutinized for its effectiveness and every dollar wasted on inefficiency means less assistance for families in need,” a Young spokeswoman said in a statement.

But so far, Congress has been unwilling to drive the budgetary ax into the WAP as deeply as the White House wishes. For Fiscal Year 2018, the House requested $225 million in WAP funding while the Senate asked for $215 million. Both figures are roughly in line with the $230 million Obama requested in his last budget proposal. The Trump budget also targeted another assistance program for home heating, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, for elimination, but that too was funded by lawmakers.

We also don’t know the fate of the program in the 2019 Trump budget proposal, coming soon, and it is unclear, after this frigid winter, whether he will ask to do so again. Presidents sometimes target programs like this to make budget numbers look better, or to appeal to their political base, knowing full well Congress will add funding back in.

Concern has grown that the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda may target energy efficiency programs at the Energy Department.

Pushing the department's appliance standards program (think: more energy-efficient refrigerators and dishwashers) into overdrive as part of its climate agenda, the Obama administration finalized more than 40 new standards. But the Trump team has frozen those rules that failed to be finalized.

Meanwhile, Trump officials at the Energy Department have changed little in the program’s day-to-day operations, according to Dave Rinebolt, who until the end of last year was the WAP's program director.

“They stayed out of our way,” Rinebolt said in an interview. “This program is very well supported in Congress.”

For more on the subject, read The Post's Katie Zezima's dispatch from Vermont from this weekend.

POWER PLAYS

— FERC nixes Perry's grid proposal: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to bolster struggling coal and nuclear plants, delivering a blow to Trump’s vow to revive the coal industry. "We appreciate the Secretary reinforcing the resilience of the bulk power system as an important issue that warrants further attention," the commission said in an order. "We expect to review the additional material and promptly decide whether additional Commission action is warranted to address grid resilience." The Post's Steven Mufson has the full report here.

Perry tried to take the decision in stride, saying in a statement that "as intended, my proposal initiated a national debate on the resiliency of our electric system.” But the decision was a blow to Perry's signature regulatory effort as energy secretary to date. Four members of the independent five-member commission were appointed by Trump — three of them Republicans. None of them voted for the proposal — not even Neil Chatterjee, who in initial comments to the media and members of Congress signaled he might.

What happens next? The commission said it shared Perry’s stated goal of strengthening the "resilience" of the electricity grid and directed regional transmission operators to provide information to help the commission examine the matter "holistically." The operators have 60 days to submit materials. At that time, the agency can issue another order.”'

At the same time, the nuclear power industry, led by its lobbying group the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), signaled its next lobbying target will be the same regional transmission operators being asked to provide information to FERC, reporter Gavin Bade of Utility Dive points out in a tweet:

— He’s not running: Billionaire Democratic donor and environmental activist Tom Steyer announced Monday he will not run for office in 2018,  instead deciding to put his money to work ending Republican control of Congress, The Post’s Dave Weigel reports. Steyer, who founded NextGen Climate, had been mentioned as a potential candidate in California for a Senate seat in 2016 and for the governor's mansion in 2018.

“People have been asking me for 12 months and five days what I’m going to run for,” Steyer said in an interview before his Monday news conference. “I’m not going to run for anything. I’ve said all along, the question I always ask is: Where can I make the most differential impact? And when I look at the jobs I can run for in California, they all have reputable Democrats running for them already.”

Steyer vowed to work toward mobilizing voters in the next year. He will spend $30 million to build NextGen Rising, a campaign to increase millennial voter turnout, specifically targeting 24 Republican-controlled congressional districts and several swing seats held by Democrats in 10 states. “I’m going to continue to work on the grass-roots efforts we had in place, and amplify them, and make them bigger,” Steyer said. “We’re going to register voters, then encourage them to participate. That means we want to talk about issues people care most about. We need to — just go back and look at millennial turnout in 2014, the last midterms. It’s shocking how low it was.”

For months, Steyer has been funding a campaign trying to convince the public President Trump should be impeached, garnering criticism not just from Trump and other Republicans...

...but also from some fellow Democrats who said the money would be better spent on House and Senate races. Those intraparty critics are now getting that wish fulfilled.

Weigel adds on Twitter:

— Controversial nominee, renominated: President Trump renominated Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the Council on Environmental Quality after the Senate declined to consider her for the role last month. The president’s renomination of Hartnett White — as well as that of Andrew Wheeler, picked for the No. 2 spot at the Environmental Protection Agency — will restart the confirmation process for the two officials.

Democrats successfully stymied Hartnett White's nomination by sending it back to the White House rather than automatically tabling it for 2018. The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee had already advanced her nomination once in November, but now will have to do so again. Though the committee approved her, Hartnett White may have a harder time in the full Senate. Although no GOP senators have declared their opposition, according to administration officials who spoke with The Energy 202 in November, some have privately expressed concerns in the wake of her recent appearance before the Senate environment panel.

During that hearing, Hartnett White said although human activity is probably warming the planet, the extent to which people contribute is “very uncertain.” In contrast, climate scientists agree that burning fossil fuels, tearing down forests and other human activity is probably the chief culprit behind climate change. Hartnett White also refused to say whether water expands when it warms, causing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to say “she outright rejects basic science.”

— Meanwhile, another Trump nominee — David Jonas, tapped to be the Energy Department's general counsel — announced on his LinkedIn page he is withdrawing his name from consideration. In 1993, Jonas co-wrote an op-ed expressing opposition to women and gay people serving in the military.

— Resigned Trump official runs for office: Do you remember Gavin Clarkson, a senior Bureau of Indian Affairs official appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in June who resigned late last year after the Interior Department's inspector general issued a scathing report on the loan program he oversaw?

Well, Clarkson announced Monday he is running for a House seat as a Republican in New Mexico, according to Las Cruces Sun-News.

— SCOTUS rejects four environmental cases: The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal from Murray Energy arguing the EPA should evaluate the impact of air regulations on the coal industry.

E&E News’s Amanda Reilly reports it is one of four environmental law cases the high court declined to hear: “The court also rejected a key endangered species case, a Clean Air Act case involving contingency measures for reducing air pollution and a California man's quest to overturn a state ban on a type of gold mining."

The Supreme Court’s decision against Murray means the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, which said the EPA did not have to evaluate job impacts, stands.

Here's the latest Puerto Rico: 

  • More help on its way to Puerto Rico: Federal efforts continue to help fully restore power to the island more than three and a half months after Hurricane Maria. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says materials requested months ago are finally headed to the island. More than 40 percent of power customers in the U.S. territory are still in the dark, the Associated Press reports. Col. John Lloyd, who is helping oversee power restoration efforts for the Corps, predicted most of the island would have power by the end of February or early March but full power restoration would take until May.
  • The future of the island’s power: The federal board managing the territory’s finances is considering expediting a plan for four energy projects on the island as a way to invest in the failed system. Reuters reports: “In a statement on Monday, the board said it was opening a 30-day public comment period on the four proposals, which include a controversial waste-to-energy incinerator plan by New York-based Energy Answers International Inc.”
  • Worth a read: The Post’s Ed O’Keefe writes about a Koch-backed group the Libre Institute, which is looking to woo Puerto Rico residents who are fleeing to Florida ahead of the midterm elections.
Politics
The new system, affecting millions of taxpayer dollars, aims to “promote the priorities” of Trump administration.
Juliet Eilperin
The lawmakers wrote that lobster alone is a $1.7 billion annual industry for the state.
Washington Examiner
THERMOMETER

— Disasters cost top dollar: The disastrous spate of hurricanes as well as the devastating wildfires out West made last year the most expensive year on record for disasters in the United States. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday disasters cost $306 billion in total damage, including 16 events that caused more than $1 billion in damage each, and $265 billion in costs coming from hurricanes alone.

Harvey caused $125 billion in damage, Maria led to $90 billion damage and Irma totaled $50 billion in damage, per NOAA. Before 2017, the costliest year for disasters was 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, causing $215 billion in damage when adjusted for inflation. The Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis write “the record-breaking year raises concerns about the effects of future natural disasters, as scientists fear climate change could make extreme weather events more damaging."

— About all that salt on the road: Across the nation, cities and towns are deploying truckloads of salt, used as an anti-icing agent. The Post’s Brady Dennis reports on new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows the practice has caused rivers and streams across the country to become saltier. “Increased salt poses risks to drinking-water supplies for millions of Americans, threatens urban infrastructure, and has the potential to upend ecosystems,” he writes.

The researchers found over the past half-century, 37 percent of river systems in the contiguous United States have seen a spike in salinity. And researchers also noticed a decrease in acidity in some of the rivers and streams.

Bloomberg News’s Eric Roston breaks down why a change in acidity could be a problem: “Why is less acid bad? Here’s how nature usually works. Raindrops absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, turning them slightly acidic. It’s the same reaction that makes drinking a lot of seltzer potentially bad for your teeth. When that rain hits the ground, specifically rock and soil, the acid frees up ions from mineral salts — and washes things such as magnesium and calcium into rivers and out to sea, a process that scientists call ‘weathering.’ Humanity has put this process on steroids."

— How does the climate affect sea turtle gender? Green sea turtles develop into males or females depending on the temperature outside the turtle egg, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports, and new research published in the journal Current Biology found the warming climate has caused some sea turtle populations to skew almost entirely female.

How it works: There's a pivot temperature that influences the sex of the growing embryo: “For green sea turtles, this temperature is 29.3 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit). A few degrees below 29.3 C, all the sea turtles are born male. Heat up the eggs and only females are born.”

What does this mean for the future of these sea turtles? “Doom will not come for these turtles tomorrow. In fact, the overall turtle population might briefly increase, as long as the more numerous female turtles can find males to fertilize their eggs. Turtles do not need a 50:50 ratio of males to females."

One biologist at California State University at Fresno said it's "hard to say whether it's good or bad, but it’s big and it could have a lot of cascading consequences …Though it does seem a little scary.”

OIL CHECK
U.S. oil prices hit their highest since 2015 again on Tuesday as speculators bet on further price rises amid OPEC-led production cuts and a dip in American drilling activity, though some warned the rally could run out of steam.
Reuters
DAYBOOK

Today

  • The American Petroleum Institute holds a luncheon and press conference on "The State of American Energy 2018.” 
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a discussion on political appointment process in the energy and environmental fields. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on "DOE Modernization: Advancing DOE's National, Economic, and Energy Security of the United States.”
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a hearing on hearing on the "Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act.”
  • New York AG Eric Schneiderman and the mayor’s office hold a Clean Power Plan “People’s Hearing."

Coming Up

  • World Resources Institute holds an event on Stories to Watch 2018 on Wednesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a markup on various legislation on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges” on Wednesday.
  • The EPA holds an informational webinar on how to apply for an EPA P3 Grant on Thursday. 
  • 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 Thursday. 
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a discussion with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday. 
  • Politico holds an event on "Driverless Cars and the Future of Mobility" on Jan. 16.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center hosts FERC commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Cheryl LaFleur for a discussion on the proposed Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule on Jan. 16.
  • The United States Energy Association holds the 14th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum.
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds its 6th annual Lunch & Learn event to decide what topics to cover in 2018 on Jan. 23.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on Canada’s energy future on Jan. 23. 
EXTRA MILEAGE

A group of North Carolina alligators survive frozen in swamp:

Experts fear burning Iranian oil tanker off China's coast could explode:

President Trump attended the NCAA Football National Championship game in Atlanta between the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama: 

Late-night comedians had a lot to say about the possibility of Oprah running for president: