THE LIGHTBULB

Motivated by a pair of recent court decisions regarding grizzly bears and gray wolves, Republicans are renewing their calls to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, the law credited with saving those and other animals from extinction.

Over the summer, a federal appeals court ruled to retain protections for the wolves around the western Great Lakes. And just this week, a U.S. District Court restored protections for some 700 Yellowstone grizzly bears at the behest of conservation and tribal groups. Judge Dana L. Christensen ruled that the agency illegally failed to consider how removing the grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered-species list would affect bear populations scattered throughout the rest of the United States south of Alaska.

For many GOP members of Congress, that court decision shows exactly why the 45-year-old law that protects Yellowstone grizzlies and other endangered species is outdated. 

The grizzly ruling is a "prime example why Congress should modernize the Endangered Species Act," Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso (R), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. The state’s lone congresswoman, Liz Cheney (R), went a step further by introducing legislation that would reissue the decision to remove protections the grizzly. 

Republicans believe that wildlife managers face too much hassle when trying to take species whose numbers have recovered off of the endangered list and that the courts have too much power to overturn those decisions when environmentalists bring lawsuits.

For years, both Barrasso’s committee and its counterpart in the House have proposed and advanced amendments addressing those concerns to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which Republicans note has only recovered about 1 percent of the species ever placed on the endangered list. In the case of grizzlies, ranchers out West worry about the carnivores picking off their livestock.

On Wednesday, Republicans running the House Natural Resources Committee revved up those efforts. In the morning, the panel marked up a bill that would remove gray wolves in the Lower 48 from the endangered-species list.

And in the afternoon, it held a hearing on a spate of nine amendments to the endangered-species law. Among those debated were provisions that would encourage landowners to make voluntary conservation efforts, give states more power over listing decisions and limit judges’ ability to intervene — like a federal judge did this week with the Yellowstone grizzly.

“Science and best practices rather than litigation and judges should guide our decisions,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chair of the House committee, said Wednesday during the hearing. 

“Everything needs to be updated occasionally,” Bishop added. “It’s been far too long since this was updated.”

Democrats responded by saying the proposed changes would defang the law. The bills, they said, mainly benefit ranchers, farmers and oilmen who often have to work around and avoid harming endangered species.

“These attacks on one of the most successful and popular conservation statutes in the history of the world are old, they’re tired and they’re not fooling anyone,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Many wildlife experts also agree the law needs updating. Collin O'Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said "there's a kernel of a good idea" in many of the proposals considered Wednesday. But he added, "These bills are much more extreme versions of anything that the coalition of folks who work on these issues have ever proposed."

While in the past many of the GOP's Endangered Species Act amendments have passed out of committee, they have not received votes on the House floor. "We hold these hearings and hold these votes, and we have to wonder exactly why," Grijalva said.

The committee, however, has become a test kitchen for ideas the Trump administration can act on independently. Several recent regulatory revisions from President Trump's Interior Department concerning endangered species align with past proposals from Bishop's committee, such as one to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than relying solely on science to make decisions. That and other proposals put forward in July have yet to be finalized.

In the short term, the grizzly decision upended hunts planned in two of the three states the park encompasses, Wyoming and Idaho.  The bear hunts were scheduled after an official U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding that the Yellowstone grizzly had exceed its recovery goals with an estimated 700 bears roaming the Yellowstone area. The Obama administration first proposed delisting the Yellowstone population.

But Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, notes the the grizzly's total numbers between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains are nowhere near its historic population of 50,000 in the early 19th century. She and other conservationists want to see the Yellowstone population grow to the point where it merges with other pockets of grizzlies, like one near Montana's Glacier National Park near the Canadian border.

"This piecemeal approach that Fish and Wildlife is taking is nonsensical," Santarsiere said.

POWER PLAYS

— "I’m not happy with OPEC": During a wide-ranging solo news conference Wednesday evening, President Trump reiterated his irritation at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for failing to produce enough petroleum to lower oil prices, even though other factors — like U.S.-led sanctions against Iran — are posed to depress supply. "I’m not happy with OPEC," Trump said. "We take care of all of these people, we defend them, they wouldn’t be there for two weeks if it wasn’t for me and the United States and our much-stronger armed forces." 

— Meanwhile, Perry touts oil market stability: Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, told reporters he is not worried about a jump in oil prices after U.S. allies stop buying oil from Iran in November. Analysts predict 1 million to 1.5 million barrels per day of oil will be cut from the market, but Perry suggested other nations will increase production to fill the gap, The Hill reports. “It’s not in anyone’s interests for these oil prices to spike,” Perry said. “So everything that we can do to send a message to the global market that we’re going to do everything within reason to keep a stable supply of crude — which in turn basically says there’s going to be a stable pricing of their cost of energy — is a good message.”

— And Obama chides Trump for lack of climate action: In remarks to business leaders in Oslo, former president Barack Obama called for “political and social commitment” toward reaching environmental sustainability. “Unfortunately, we have a U.S. administration that deals differently around these issues,” he said to laughs at the forum, the Associated Press reports. “The single highest priority that I see globally at this point is the issue of environmental sustainability.” He added the standards set by the 2015 Paris agreement were a “first step in the right direction. But only the first step.”

— “Please sit down”: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called out protesters who interrupted him during remarks Wednesday for National Clean Energy Week. During a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, two protesters interrupted to criticize Zinke’s ties to fossil-fuel interests while another made a reference to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, the Washington Examiner reports. “That is so inappropriate. Please sit down,” Zinke told the protesters. “It is never nice to be rude.” Zinke also complained about polarization as he continued his remarks. "I am a kid who grew up in Montana. I am not right or left politically."

— EPA halts grants for foreign researchers: The Environmental Protection Agency will restrict federal funding dollars to only U.S. citizens and permanent residents following a report from the agency’s internal watchdog that found it paid $14.5 million to fund foreign fellows, Bloomberg Environment reports. The inspector general’s audit found the funds were doled out under an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences. 

— FEMA frenzy: Agency administrator William “Brock” Long used government vehicles and staff for 40 personal trips, including a family vacation in Hawaii, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. The Post’s Lisa Rein reports Long’s use of government resources “cost taxpayers $94,000 in staff salary, $55,000 in travel expenses and $2,000 in vehicle maintenance.” In a statement last week, Long said he would “accept full responsibility for any mistakes that were made by me.” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said she has ordered Long to repay the government, though Rein notes an exact repayment amount has not yet been determined.

THERMOMETER

— Flooding forecasts ease up: The amount of flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Florence is now expected to be less dire than previously thought. “Officials originally expected flooding in the worst areas of Georgetown County to be from 5 to 10 feet. But the latest forecast lowered that estimate to 2 to 4 feet,” the Associated Press reports. “The slow-moving disaster has allowed forecasters to pinpoint exactly who will flood. There have been few rescues or surprises in South Carolina — just black, reeking water slowly seeping in and even more slowly receding.”

— Surprise! The American weather model had the best forecasts for Hurricane Florence: Both the operational and experimental versions of the U.S.-made hurricane forecast model made more accurate predictions for Hurricane Florence than the vaunted European model, based on an analysis from the National Weather Service. “These results help make the point that, while the European model is in general the top-performing model, results may differ storm to storm," The Post’s Jason Samenow reports.

OIL CHECK

— Owners OK new nuclear power plant: The four owners of the last nuclear power reactors still under construction voted to continue expansion of the troubled plant, but with some conditions. The deal came without a proposed cap on “further cost overruns or clear limits on how much of new expenses might appear in customers’ monthly electric bills,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. “If future overruns become big enough, the deal would require lead owner Georgia Power to cover a larger portion of those costs than it otherwise would have… The agreement also reduces some of the ability of Georgia Power’s partners to pull out of the project."

— Another coal plant shutters: Meanwhile, a coal-fired power plant in Texas is set to shut down in 2020 after it “couldn’t make money in the Texas power market,”  the Houston Chronicle reports. The closure will affect 80 employees and the company says it has no current plans to sell the plant but AEP Texas spokesman Greg Blair says the company is “always looking for opportunities.”

— California considers new electric car subsidy: The California Air Resources Board will consider at a hearing this week increasing the state's subsidy for electric cars sold in the state from $2,500 to $4,500. The decision would comes as the existing federal credit is "designed to start ratcheting downward once the companies have grown enough to sell a total of 200,000 vehicles each," Bloomberg News reports. "Tesla passed this threshold in July and GM is getting close."

— Meanwhile, at Daimler: The German automaker chief executive, Dieter Zetsche, who has served in the role for a dozen years, is set to step down and be succeeded by the company’s research and development head who has been at the forefront of the company’s push toward electric, the Wall Street Journal reports.

— Tariff woes: Ford Motor Co.’s chief executive said the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum has cost the company $1 billion. “The irony of which is we source most of that in the U.S. today anyway," James Hackett in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "If it goes on any longer, it will do more damage.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Science subcommittee on energy holds a hearing on advancing nuclear power.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on DOE Modernization.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— What has four wheels and crawls? A wild Eastern box turtle that was found in a park near the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore was given a Lego-made wheelchair to help heal a fracture on the underbelly of its shell, The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth reports.