THE LIGHTBULB

Some Republicans have very slowly come around to an idea that is anathema to their less-is-more governing philosophy: raising the federal tax on gasoline. Even President Trump, eager to find new revenue to fund infrastructure and to take on the mantle of a builder-in-chief, is on board.

That presidential pressure, however, may not matter for vulnerable Republicans in need of campaign cash: A pair of powerful GOP donors, David and Charles Koch, don’t want to see the new tax and are pushing back hard on multiple fronts.

“I urge you to oppose the 25-cent gasoline tax increase to fund infrastructure legislation,” Philip Ellender, president of government and public affairs at Koch Companies Public Sector, told members of Congress last week. 

“Just as many Americans are starting to see more money in their pockets from tax reform, ask yourself: Does the government want to take back a large portion of this tax relief to pay for more government spending?” he continued in his letter. 

The notice was significant for two reasons: First, it came from the government outreach arm of Koch Industries, the private refining and manufacturing behemoth owned by the billionaire Koch brothers. The two conservative industrialists often prefer to communicate their political wishes through affiliated groups instead.

Second, the urging comes after Trump, following months of rumors, asked Congress to pass a 25-cent increase in the gas tax in a closed-door meeting. Before the meeting, Koch-affiliated groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners had already come out against the tax hike.

“Trump came back to the idea of a 25-cent increase several times,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who attended a closed-door meeting between Trump and lawmakers this month.

On Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners doubled down on their gambit with a report tabulating the additional tax burden motorists in each state would face from a 25-cent gas tax increase, which is meant to power the president's proposed $1.5 trillion infrastructure push. Trump won nine of the ten states facing the highest estimated percentage increase in tax liability, according to the report. The numbers provide political fodder against congressional proponents of the tax increase.

The gas tax issue is the latest test of the Koch brothers’ influence after Trump — not exactly their first choice during the 2016 election to run the country — came onto the scene and sucked up all the oxygen. 

Last summer, for example, the Koch network lobbied against the Senate Republicans’ health-care bill for not being conservative enough — or, as AFP chief Tim Phillips put it, being “a slight nip and tuck” of the Affordable Care Act.

The result: The Senate went ahead with the vote, which failed narrowly after three moderate Republicans defected (they thought the bill went too far). A better test of their power was the Koch groups' bid to kill the border-adjustment tax or BAT as a way to pay for sweeping tax cuts (they succeeded and the tax overhaul stoked massive deficit spending).

So far, fighting the gas tax looks like a less difficult challenge since some key Republican lawmakers remain unswayed by the president. And passing the infrastructure bill is a longshot anyway.

“I oppose raising the federal gas tax,” John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of a key Senate committee that is working on infrastructure and heard Trump’s statement firsthand, said after meeting with Trump. “Not everyone who uses the roads today pays the tax, and not all of the money collected goes towards fixing America's aging roads and bridges.”

POWER PLAYS

— What happened to Trump’s pipeline pitch? After touting a plan for his first six months in office to force energy companies to use American-made pipes and steel, the idea has seemingly dropped off the agenda and was not included in Trump’s infrastructure plan released last week. “[A]t least some stakeholders believe this is a case of a president who went very public with a policy idea only to realize that it was unworkable after getting input from both sides of the debate,” CNBC reports.

— Involved in public-land issues, in one way or another: Trump’s potential pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management has just joined a legal team representing a rancher in the middle of a legal dispute with the federal government. Karen Budd-Falen said she is still under consideration to lead the BLM, per the Spokesman-Review (based in Washington state), and added that although she “can’t say that moving to Washington (D.C.) from Cheyenne excites me … if I can help and have something to contribute to the Department of Interior, I’m willing to do that.”

— A plan to reenter the Paris accord? Days after leaving the Trump administration, former White House climate adviser George David Banks told ­­E&E News the administration had plans to reenter the Paris agreement in 2020. In that election year, Trump is “going to want victories,” Banks said.

Again and again, however, Trump has told journalists and politicians abroad he is willing to remain in the Paris agreement, without ever following through. So we're skeptical for the moment.

— Pruitt’s pricey travel: Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined other committee Democrats to call on Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt to detail his frequent first-and-business class travels as well as the reason for the flights. “Americans deserve an EPA Administrator more dedicated to first-class protection of human health and the environment than to luxury travel at taxpayer expense,” the House Democrats wrote in a letter.

— Perry weighs in on veterans' health care: Energy Secretary Rick Perry told the Washington Examiner his agency wants to add veterans' health care to his department's already wide portfolio. "Once you understand what this agency is about, once you understand who it’s populated by, then this whole issue of why DOE is involved in veterans’ health becomes a lot easier to understand,” Perry said, noting 40 percent of the department's employees are veterans.

One way Perry wants to achieve that: Use Energy supercomputers to crunch data and help solve problems like post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide that affect veterans.

— An anti-anti-pipeline protest wave: After the Standing Rock Sioux and environmental groups protested the building of the Dakota Access pipeline, lawmakers in 30 states have introduced 56 bills that aim to block public protests, the Nation reported. “Though only a few of the bills introduced last year became law, several others are pending,” the magazine wrote. “The sheer number of anti-protest bills that have been introduced, along with the heavy-handed policing of demonstrators on the ground, points to a trend towards the criminalization of dissent."

— Wealthy donors ramp up political giving for 2018 midterms: This includes billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer pouring "$15.7 million to Democratic Party committees and to the super PAC arm of his nonprofit NextGen Climate Action, which supports progressive and liberal candidates and groups," The Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy report. Steyer's move shouldn't be terribly surprising given his aggressive nationwide campaign to impeach President Trump.

— Environmental rollbacks “a problem:” Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy told BuzzFeed News the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks won’t hold up in court. "I think the important thing is none of them should be touched unless the administration has a real reason to touch them, other than it was done during the Obama administration, and that is the problem that we see," said McCarthy, who led the EPA under Obama from 2013 to 2017.

— Pruitt may have canceled his trip to Israel, but FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee did not. It's not totally clear what the trip is all about, but according to his Twitter feed, Chatterjee visisted a cybersecurity training center and a power plant there.

The results of the investigation showed that Richard Ruggiero, international conservation chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, vio...
Washington Examiner
THERMOMETER

— Future sea level starts now: New research warns that for every five years the world puts off action to combat climate change, the ocean could rise an additional eight inches by the year 2300, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. “And that’s just the central estimate in the study. At the extreme end of what’s relatively unlikely but still certainly possible, the research found that each five-year delay could mean as much as an additional meter, or over three feet, of sea level rise,” he adds. “That is because of the ever-growing chance of major destabilization of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

— Man, it’s a hot one: A weather pattern in the eastern Pacific is enabling a surge of warmth in the east in what was a record-breaking day on Tuesday. Bloomberg reported temperatures along the East Coast were expected to rise as much as 30 degrees above normal. The report also noted the warmth would mean lower natural gas and electricity prices to heat homes and businesses.

OIL CHECK

— Oil industry’s gender gap: Less than 2 percent of oil and gas companies in North America and Western Europe have women leading them, according to Bloomberg. “Apart from being, above all else, unfair, this is just bad business — especially for this industry at this moment in time,” columnist Liam Denning writes. “Moreover, oil and gas companies cannot afford to exclude any potential employees, intentionally or not. The graying of the industry's ranks has been worrying executives for at least a decade, and the layoffs of the crash saw many experienced employees taking early retirement.”

Here's a visual from from a Bloomberg editor:

— Oil could peak in the next two decades: Oil and gas giant BP is predicting global demand for oil may “plateau” in the late 2030s, in part over the rise of electric vehicles. The company’s annual energy outlook suggested oil will grow until about 2035 before it begins to fall in the years ahead of 2040, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Another thing BP predicts will dampen oil demand: Bans on plastic bags around the world, according to the Guardian.

— Belly up over a costly deal: The Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery that went bankrupt in January has blamed its financial woes on environmental rules, including the Renewable Fuel Standard, but Reuters explains how a deal to make high-dollar payouts to the Carlyle Group regardless of whether the refinery benefited played a key role in its collapse.

Government mandates requiring utilities to procure renewable energy should keep U.S. solar power growing, despite new Trump administration tariffs on imported solar panels that are poised to raise prices.
Wall Street Journal
DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on “China’s Rapid Drive into New-Generation Cars” on Wednesday.
  • The Global America Business Institute discussion on FERC’s response to NOPR.

Coming Up

  • The Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the National Association of Regional Councils hold a briefing on climate and weather risks to America’s coastal communities on Thursday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing on LNG and geopolitical implications on Feb. 27. 
EXTRA MILEAGE

—The loneliest tree on Earth: A new study published this week in Scientific Reports reveals a lone spruce tree on an island 400 miles south of New Zealand may help identify the date we entered the Anthropocene Epoch, the “human-driven era that would follow the 12,000-year Holocene, which began with the rise of human civilization at the end of the last Ice Age,” reports Earther.