THE LIGHTBULB

During the arms race of the 1940s and 1950s, the United States tested nearly two dozen nuclear devices on the tiny Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific — including in 1954 the largest thermonuclear bomb the United States has ever detonated.

The impact of those blasts is still being felt today, not just among exiled Bikinians scattered between Kili, Ejit, and other Pacific islands after the radioactive fallout made their homeland uninhabitable. But it's also being weighed by policymakers in the halls of Congress and the Department of the Interior contending with how to make right the situation.

Until last year, Interior held veto power over how much the Bikini people could withdraw annually from the Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund, which was formed in the 1980s to take care of residents from Bikini who were exiled from their homeland following the nuclear tests.

But in November 2017, the Trump administration, through Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, handed control over the then-$59 million to the Bikinians.

But GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has been pushing behind the scenes — and will do so publicly today at a meeting of her Energy and Natural Resources Committee — for Interior to safeguard the money for future Bikinians. I reported the full backstory here.

Interior believes the fate of the money should be in the hands of the "people of Bikini,” Doug Domenech, assistant secretary of insular affairs at Interior, said in a statement late last year, “rather than be dependent upon policy makers in Washington.”

Meanwhile, Murkowski is concerned about the fact Bikinians withdrew $11 million from the fund within weeks of taking control of it. Interior typically budgeted between $5 million to $8 million for the Bikini community every year.

“Although I agree in with a principle in favor of local decision-making and share your desire to restore trust with local residents,” Murkowski wrote to Zinke in December, “I am also concerned, as I know you are, that the Department meet it legal and fiduciary obligations with respect to the expenditure of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

Murkowski has since introduced legislation capping annual withdrawals from the fund at 5 percent of its market value. The senior Alaska senator keeps tabs on Pacific island concerns not only as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees Interior, but as the lone sitting senator born in a U.S. territory before Alaska became a state.

Since 1982, Congress has appropriated a total of $110 million to relocate the Bikinians to other Pacific islands and to eventually resettle them in Bikini when radiation subsided on the atoll, which is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, Interior has kept a watchful eye over the multimillion-dollar fund and approved the Bikinians’ annual allowance to make sure the interest it generated allowed it to last.

The issues has, to say the least, divided the people of Bikini:

  • In August of last year, 15 members of the 18-member council of the Kili-Bikini-Ejit Local Government voted in favor of a resolution arguing the trust was never intended to last “in perpetuity” and the local government “has been handicapped in developing income-generating projects” without full access to the money. “The U.S. government should meet his promises to take care of us,” Mayor Anderson Jibas said in an interview. “I don’t think anybody should be in the way to prevent us from getting the money that can keep us going in our lives.”
  • But some Bikinians share Murkowski’s concerns, and are worried the money will be wantonly spent without the federal government’s intervention. “I think about my kids: What’s going to happen to them in the future?” said Jukulius Niedenthal, a Bikini councilman. “There could be nothing for them.”
  • Jibas counters by saying the purchases they are considering, which including two boats and an airplane, could be chartered for revenue.
  • Jack Niedenthal, former trust liaison for the Bikini government for over three decades and father of Jukulius, argues the bulk of the money is better off where it was already invested. “Most of our investments was very prudently invested in the U.S. markets and international markets,” he said. “No kind of crazy schemes, like what they’re talking about now.”

In the background of the political fight, both stateside and in the Pacific, is climate change.

In recent years, the island of Kili, a third of a square mile in size, has been battered by high tides as sea levels rise due to the melting of polar ice thousands of miles from the tropics as heat-trapping gases build up in the atmosphere.

Jibas, the Bikinian mayor, said the local government is considering using the money to build seawalls and higher housing. The Bikini government, with the support of the Obama administration, asked Congress in 2015 to change the terms of the fund to allow Bikinians to use it to purchase land in the United States.

POWER PLAYS

— More on Doug Domenech: Last week, Interior expanded Domenech's role at Interior. Zinke signed an order to expand his responsibilities to include overseeing the Office of International Affairs and the Ocean, Great Lakes, and Coastal Program. 

— “An empty vessel:" Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt called Donald Trump an “empty vessel when it comes to things like the Constitution and rule of law” in a 2016 interview, reports CNN. It's the second such awkward-in-retrospect radio interview to come to light in recent weeks. Pruitt went on to say President Obama "has at least tried to nuance his unlawfulness... He at least sits back and says, 'How do we break the law and so where it's really tough to show that we have?' I'm not sure that Donald Trump would."

— Pruitt's “war on lead:” Pruitt has invited his fellow Cabinet members to participate in a meeting of leaders of the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to tackle lead exposure.

“Lead poisoning is an insidious menace that robs our children of their intellect and their future,” Pruitt said in the letter released Monday to the leaders of 16 other agencies. “For decades, efforts have been underway on many fronts to reduce and respond to lead exposure and contamination. Today, there are many separate efforts being undertaken by federal agencies. It is time to bring these efforts together."

— Undecided on international treaty: White House energy adviser George David Banks said President Trump has not yet determined whether to support an international treaty to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons in air conditioners and other industrial products. At an event hosted by the Hudson Institute on Monday, Banks said the administration is assessing the “economic impact” of the Kigali Amendment before making a decision, per the Washington Examiner. “If the president does decide to support Kigali, it will be because he wants to create U.S. jobs and advance U.S. commercial interests," Banks said. 

— "Hater" judge will hear border wall case: District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, whom Trump called a “hater” and disparaged as a "Mexican" (Curiel was born in the United States) during the 2016 campaign, will hear the case allowing the federal government to waive environmental reviews for border security measures, McClatchy reports

“'This is a very significant case,'” said Andrew Gordon, an Arizona lawyer who worked at the Department of Homeland Security for two years during the Obama administration. If Curiel rules against the administration, it could slow Trump’s plans to quickly fortify the unfenced portions of the U.S.-Mexico border, he said, even if a higher court ultimately overturned the ruling."

— Science is running: There’s a historic wave of candidates with backgrounds in science running for office in 2018. That includes at least 200 candidates who have worked in science, technology, engineering and math who have launched campaigns for state legislature seats across the country as of the end of January, HuffPost reports. It’s the “largest number of scientists to run for public office in modern history,” per the news site. 

THERMOMETER

— Not just a lead problem: A new study found the water flowing in Flint, Mich., homes wasn't just tainted with lead. The water carried Legionella bacteria that was the source of at least 80 percent of Legionnaires’ cases from 2014 to 2015, BuzzFeed News reports. The water sickened 90 people and killed at least 12 people. 

— The Arctic is full of toxic mercury, and climate change is going to release it: Along with powerful greenhouse gases, the Arctic’s frozen soil also contains mercury, a potent neurotoxin that would be a danger to human health, new research reveals. The Post’s Chris Mooney reports there are 32 million gallons of mercury trapped in the permafrost. And as the climate warms, and the permafrost thaws, some portion of the mercury will be released into the atmosphere. And the impact on humans and food supplies is not entirely known.  

— Climate change and family planning: More than a dozen people interviewed by the New York Times acknowledged the predicted effects of climate change have affected their decisions about whether to have children. “Among them, there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront" as they are "acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally,” the newspaper writes. It does note, though, that "few, if any, studies have examined how large a role climate change plays in people’s childbearing decisions."

Extreme weather linked to climate change has increased the frequency and severity of flooding, amplifying the risk of toxic spills at chemical sites.
The New York Times
The Atlantic takes a look at the inaugural show of the country’s first climate museum, housed at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
The Atlantic
OIL CHECK

— Ripple effect of coal job losses: A new five-part study warns of the long-term effects the decline of coal will have in Appalachia. Production of coal in Appalachia dropped 45 percent from 2005 to 2015, the study found, per the Knoxville News Sentinel. The rate of decline was more than double the national rate during the same period. “We may see some further declines, but I think the coal industry is close to bottoming out,” said Matt Murray, University of Tennessee economics professor, who in part coordinated the school’s three research groups involved in the study. “So the worst is behind us. I think the real impacts are in those small number of communities that still have some coal activities going on.”

Energy stocks were among the biggest losers in the largest single-day point drop in the history of the Dow Industrial Average on Monday. "The S&P 500 energy sector fell 4.4 percent," according to CNBC. Together, Friday and Monday make for the worst two-day performance for the energy-sector since 2015.

Call it the Super Bowl energy shuffle.
Bloomberg News
DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a hearing on national monument bills.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on nuclear infrastructure.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources holds a legislative hearing on various bills.
  • The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s holds a presentation on the Annual Energy Outlook 2018 on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indiana, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs holds a hearing on tribal land bills.
  • The National Association of State Energy Officials 2018 Energy Policy Outlook Conference begins.
  • Infocast’s Wind Power Finance & Investment Summit begins.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on “The Impact of Federal Environmental Regulations and Policies on American Farming and Ranching Communities” on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing on energy infrastructure on Wednesday.
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environmental holds a Lunch & Learn event on battery storage on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Where’s George?: A nearly 10-foot-long, 700-pound-plus great white shark was spotted in Everglades National Park. It’s the second time the shark, named George, has been located close to shore, the Miami Herald reports. It's being tracked by nonprofit Ocearch, which also spotted George a year ago off Nantucket.