Last week, a bipartisan group of House members made a demand of congressional leaders: Block any provisions curtailing the federal government’s ability to deal with climate change from the next spending bill.
The letter came from members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of representatives who have vowed to find “economically-viable” ways of dealing with sea-level rise, drought and other effects of climate change.
Half of the group's 78 members are Republicans. These GOP members are bucking the rest of their party, and their president, on climate change by at the very least acknowledging that it is real, giving some progressives hope that Republicans writ large will one day again take climate change seriously. But critics say the caucus is all talk, and accuse the group of granting green credentials to Republicans without requiring any consequential votes or other actions of its members.
When it came time to sign the May 18 letter pushing back against a right-wing effort to prohibit or limit the federal government from researching climate change or preparing for its impacts, only nine of the group's 39 Republicans in the caucus put their pens to paper.
“I’m very disappointed,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), one of the co-founders of the caucus, told The Post. “I’m really serious about the Climate Solutions Caucus. It’s been a place where we can bring together Democrats and Republicans to talk about climate change, and that’s been really helpful. But the caucus was created to come up with bipartisan legislation to address climate change. Part of that should be to reject any anti-climate language or bills that would undermine our efforts.”
Deutch added that he thought the letter addressed to Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, “would be an easy sell.” A majority of the climate caucus’s Democrats did sign the letter.
It was hard to lock down members signatures before Congress went into recess next week for Memorial Day, a key time for House members to lay the groundwork for reelection campaigns, Deutch explained. “In the next weeks, we’re actually going to consider appropriations bills,” Deutch said, “and the fact is that actions speak louder than words and what’s really going to matter is their votes.”
Spokespeople for two Republican climate caucus members, Reps. David Joyce (Ohio) and Mark Amodei (Nev.), said the members are both part of the Appropriations Committee and generally do not sign onto letters addressed to committees they serve.
Founded by Deutch and Republican Carlos Curbelo, two South Florida congressmen whose constituents are already grappling with sea-level rise, the Climate Solutions Caucus was designed to be bipartisan from the start. House members can only be admitted a pair at a time — one Republican for every Democrat — leading some to dub it the “Noah’s Ark Caucus.”
The young caucus is still growing, adding eight members since February and three new GOP members just last week. But the additions of some House members with what environmentalists consider checkered legislative pasts on climate issues have caused confusion about what exactly the group is stands for.
Among the head-scratchers is Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who in 2017 introduced a bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. After joining the caucus, Gaetz told the Pensacola News Journal, a newspaper in his Florida district, that he believes the Earth is warming but that the EPA has a poor track record on conservation.
"We should be focused on solutions," he told the paper.
As a group, Republicans in the climate caucus receive low marks from environmentalists. The League of Conservation Voters gave GOP climate caucus members only a 16 approval rating in the group’s annual scorecard, with a majority of them dinged for voting to block agencies from considering the social cost of carbon when writing rules and for voting to open a coastal plain in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, a provision of a much larger Republican tax cut package.
“When faced with real votes that will take real action on climate,” said Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club, “the Climate Solution Caucus Republicans are nowhere to be found.”
Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, a grassroots environmental group that helped organize the caucus, wrote in February that “we don’t think the scorecard accurately captures the emerging work being done by the caucus to develop bipartisan solutions to climate change,” noting that a plurality of caucus Republicans’ scores improved between 2016 and 2017.
When it comes to proactive legislation on climate change, critics say the caucus falls short, too. Last year, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and two other Democratic caucus members introduced a carbon-pricing bill designed to be business-friendly, but failed to find any GOP co-sponsors. Beyer’s office said it continues to seek Republican support among Climate Solutions Caucus members.
However, caucus leaders take credit for helping defeat a defense amendment last year from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) that would have stripped out language directing the Pentagon to assess the vulnerabilities of military bases to the effects of climate change.“Last Congress, many Members worked behind the scenes to defeat harmful amendments,” Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez wrote by email. “We expect a similar effort this year.”
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―Another day, another study unreleased: The EPA has delayed the release of a study on the cancer risks from formaldehyde, after pressure from the chemical industry, according to Reuters. According to internal communications, top agency officials would not review the study or receive briefings on the studies findings from experts. “The EPA already lists formaldehyde, used in building materials like plywood and foam insulation, as a probable carcinogen. The new report is expected for the first time to detail its links to leukemia,” Reuters reports. “The delay could further heighten scrutiny of EPA, already fending off complaints that it and the White House considered blocking a study on water contamination by PFOA and PFOS, chemicals used in Teflon and firefighting.”
― Time is on your side: The EPA announced Thursday will extend the public comment period for its controversial “secret science” rule. The comment period was initially meant to conclude on May 30, but will now continue until August 17. Under the proposed rule, the agency would only consider studies where the underlying data is publicly available. But scientists and public health groups warn such a restriction would prevent the agency from using long-standing studies on air pollution and pesticide exposure when crafting regulations.
― Energy funding cuts, rejected: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to advance an energy and water spending bill for next year, rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed cuts, the Washington Examiner reports. A $43.8 billion bill was advanced on a 30-1 vote, $566 million more than the funding for 2018 and $7.2 billion more than what was proposed by the administration. The bill includes $6.65 billion for the Energy Department's Office of Science and $375 million for its energy startup incubator, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
― For the birds: A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the Trump administration’s move clipping the wings of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. “For 100 years, the United States has committed with other nations to protect migratory birds through international treaties and laws,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s meddling with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act threatens to reverse decades of progress."
The law was used to prosecute Exxon following the Exxon Valdez crash and BP following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. But under the Trump administration's new interpretation, the MBTA will no longer apply after such catastrophes.
― Panel urges chemical plants to weigh disaster risks: The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is calling on chemical plants to consider natural disaster risks in the same way they consider risks from pipes and production equipment, Reuters reports. The recommendations follow an analysis of the chemical fire at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Tex. that occurred as a result of damage from Hurricane Harvey. “Such facilities should perform an analysis to determine their susceptibility to extreme weather events,” the board said in its final report, per Reuters. “In addition, companies should assess seismic hazard maps to determine the risk of earthquakes and consider the risk of other extreme weather such as high-wind events.”
― Pompeo urges limits on uranium enrichment for Saudis: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration wants Saudi Arabia to accept the same limits on uranium enrichment as other Middle East nations that are seeking commercial nuclear energy deals with the United States. “Saudi Arabia has said it wants to build two nuclear reactors to burnish its international prestige, keep up with Iran and free up oil now being used to generate electricity,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. “Yet to use U.S. technology, Saudi Arabia needs to negotiate an agreement with the United States called a 123 Agreement, named after a section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. And previous administrations have insisted on what is called the gold-standard terms accepted by the United Arab Emirates. That agreement bars uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent fuel.”
― Trump team defends Keystone XL in court: The Trump administration defended the Keystone XL pipeline in federal court on Thursday against the environmental and Native American groups who have sued to stop the line. The Obama administration rejected the proposed pipeline in 2015 because of its potential to exacerbate climate change, but Trump revived the project soon after taking office. “U.S. government attorneys asserted that Trump’s change in course from Obama’s focus on climate change reflected a legitimate shift in policy, not an arbitrary rejection of previous studies of the project," according to Reuters.
― Climate change in colors: A climate scientist at the University of Reading in Britain created a visualization of temperature over time using 123 red, white and blue stripes. The blue stripes portray cooler years and the red stripes are hot, as The Post’s Jason Samenow reports, in “scientific representations that unambiguously reveal a long-term warming signal.”
As the researcher, Ed Hawkins, put it: “This visualization removes all the distractions of standard graphs and allows the viewer to just see the long-term trends and variations in temperature without needing to interpret anything else.”
― Fish feel pain, and that could change the fishing industry: In recent years, scientists and biologists have been pushing back on a certain U.S. attitude toward fish -- that their brains are not complex enough to feel pain. Victoria Braithwaite, professor of fisheries and biology at Penn State University who co-authored a groundbreaking study in 2003, told The Post’s Tim Carman the scientific consensus is that fish do feel pain, though it is "not that they experience the pain that we do, which is more sophisticated," she added.
So why is decades worth of research coming up again now? “For starters, the U.S. government might have to amend the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, both of which exclude fish,” Carman reports. “Weekend anglers might have to kill their fish first before throwing them in a cooler. Fish farms might have to adopt new methods of slaughter. Commercial trawlers, the boats that roam the world’s oceans, might have to upgrade their equipment to kill fish humanely.”
― Camouflage mismatch: In the Bialowieza Forest along the border of Poland and Belarus, one subspecies of a species known as the least weasels, sheds its brown coat each autumn into a bright winter white, which evolved as a way to blend in with the snow. But according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports, snow is no longer covering the forest as long as it once did, and there are fewer white weasels, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports. “This drop is a case of what wildlife biologists call camouflage mismatch: White fur, which should be a stealthy trait, becomes a vulnerability when there's no snow,” Guarino writes. “Camouflage mismatch may cause the local extinction of white subspecies,” Karol Zub, at the Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, told The Post.
― Closer to normal: After a record and catastrophic hurricane season last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the next one will likely be closer to “normal” or slightly above normal, The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. Here’s what NOAA is predicting for 2018:
- 10-16 named storms
- 5-9 hurricanes
- 1-4 major hurricanes (category 3 or stronger)
That’s compared with 17 named storms in 2017, 10 of which became hurricanes. It was the most destructive and active season in a dozen years, Fritz writes. The 2018 hurricane season starts June 1.
According to a Time magazine examination of 15 years of forecasts, the agency’s predictions “are usually correct or close to correct.” But Time notes there are “major exceptions.” “The estimates that NOAA’s model produces are accurate about 70 percent of the time, its developers say, and are often only off by one or two storms outside the projected range,” per the analysis. “In the mythically tricky world of predicting the weather even a day in advance, this is not a bad track record.”
― Meanwhile: A cluster of showers and thunderstorms in the Caribbean is likely to spin up into at least a tropical depression, and perhaps the season’s first named tropical storm within the next five days, Fritz reports. The National Hurricane Center on Thursday said the cluster has a 40 percent chance of developing in the next 48 hours and an 80 percent chance over the next five days. “At the very least, several inches of torrential rain are likely across the Gulf states east of Texas,” she adds.
― New study says dino-killing catastrophe created global hothouse for 100,000 years: Scientists have long believed that when a massive mountain-sized object slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, there was an initial pulse of heat followed by a global winter — but that as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged, the planet began to warm. “A new study published Thursday in the journal Science has produced hard data to support that global warming hypothesis, and it may have unnerving implications for the world we live in today,” The Post’s Joel Achenbach reports. The researchers concluded the effects of the impact in modern-day Mexico produced a 9 degrees Fahrenheit average warming in a subtropical sea, which persisted for 100,000 years.
― Nuclear push: The United States is leading an international alliance to promote nuclear power and urge investment in new nuclear technology, Reuters reports. Dan Brouillette, the No. 2 official at the Energy Department, launched on Thursday the effort with international partners Japan, Canada, Russia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Argentina and Romania. “The group of nations aims to promote areas such as improved power system integration and the development of technologies like hybrid nuclear-renewable systems,” per the report.
— And finally, here are some great longreads for your long weekend (that is, if you have Memorial Day off):
- Former EPA head still has hope: Even as Gina McCarthy has watched her successor at the EPA work to dismantle the Obama administration’s environmental efforts, she is hopeful, Neil Swidey writes in a Boston Globe Magazine profile. “McCarthy has always been known for her blunt, no-nonsense style. But as the 64-year-old new Harvard professor travels the country these days, feeling unencumbered because she’s out of government for the first time in nearly four decades, and dumbfounded by the demolition work going on at the EPA, she is letting loose even more. She now comes across as one part tent-revival preacher and one part take-your-lumps therapist.”
- “I expect great science from this event:” The volcanic eruptions at Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island that began on May 3 are giving scientists a lot of raw data to work with. They’re studying oozing fissures, explosive eruptions and magma flow patterns, The Post’s Scott Wilson and Sarah Kaplan report. “What they are learning is not simply a boon for pure science, though it certainly is that. Where the volcano cracks into fissures, how the magma tracks through the ground and what warning signs may exist that point to future eruptions will be used to better plan and protect Hawaiian communities in the future.”
- Congress is in recess for all of Memorial Day week.
- The US Energy Association holds a forum on coal mine drainage on May 31.
- EIA holds its annual 2018 Energy Conference June 4-5.
- The Atlantic Council holds an event on “The State of America’s Energy Transition” on June 7.
— As Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island entered the fourth week of its ongoing eruption, lava from volcanic fissures can be seen from space: