Since President Trump took office, environmentalists have accused his administration of burying its head in the sand when it comes to climate change. In public, President Trump and his deputies have downplayed or outright dismissed rising sea levels, more frequent droughts and other effects of man-made global warming.
However, deep in an 500-page government document, the administration makes a remarkable admission. Trump's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) foresees Earth's average temperature rising seven degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.
The administration goes on to argue that the rise in global temperatures will be so large — and so inevitable — that it is useless to try to curb carbon emissions from automobiles, according to a report over the weekend by The Post's Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney.
The line of thinking in the document underscores not only the sheer difficulty of mitigating climate change and the severity of its impacts, but also the Trump administration's mixed messages on the issue.
The draft statement containing that dire prediction was written to justify rolling back rules issued under President Barack Obama trying to make light trucks and cars more climate-friendly. Instead, Trump's NHTSA and Environmental Protection Agency wants to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards for those vehicles built after 2020.
The old auto rule is not needed, according to the administration's analysis, because making the deep cuts in carbon emissions necessary to avoid drastic warming “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”
At other times, though, Trump does not dismiss climate science entirely out of hand but offers — as NHTSA does now — that addressing it is too costly."I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax," he said in a 2016 interview.
Yet Trump's former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, has made the opposite argument, questioning whether global warming "necessarily is a bad thing."
"Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018?" Pruitt told a Las Vegas television station in February. "That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100."
The scientists who study the greenhouse gases accumulating from cars, coal plants and other human sources say it is no joke.
A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, would blow past the goal the world's nations set in the 2015 Paris climate accord, from which Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States. At those temperatures, scientist describe nothing short of catastrophe, with swaths of some major American cities like Miami underwater and extreme heat waves rolling through in other parts of the country's interior.
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— The dusky gopher frog goes before the Supreme Court: This tiny, three-inch long frog with a “mating call that has been compared to a humans’ snore” is one of the most endangered amphibians in the world. It is also one of the first items on the Supreme Court’s agenda on Monday, The Post’s Robert Barnes reports. With a “finicky libido” that contributes to its endangered status, a case concerning the dusky gopher frog is set to determine “how far the federal government may go to designate private land as a future habitat for an endangered species — when the creature itself does not live on the land in question, and could not, without modification, and perhaps never will.”
— One for the birds: A federal judge on Friday ruled to keep protections for the Gunnison sage grouse, upholding a 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the bird as a threatened species — one step below endangered status. “State and county governments in Colorado and Utah as well as a Colorado ranching group had challenged the decision, arguing the best scientific data did not support threatened status,” the Associated Press reports. “The Fish and Wildlife Service said only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse remained in 2014 when it was listed as threatened and put the number at 5,000 in 2017. Some environmental groups say the number is much smaller now.”
— Trump could revamp how government values human health: The EPA has sent a proposal to the White House to ease existing rules on curbing power plants’ mercury emissions in a change that would alter how the cost and benefits of curbing pollutants are measured. The proposed rule “would reverse a 2011 Obama administration finding that the agency must factor in any additional health benefits that arise from lowering toxic pollutants from coal plants when evaluating the rule’s costs and benefits," The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. The change would not outright eliminate mercury emissions limits but could "severely weaken" the underlying public health justification for them. The New York Times first reported the news Sunday.
— Never, ever tweet: Tesla chief executive Elon Musk agreed over the weekend to step down as chairman of the company he founded, The Post’s Renae Merle reports. Musk will remain CEO. As part of the settlement, Musk and Tesla will pay fines of $20 million each. The company will also add two independent directors to its board and more closely monitor Musk’s public communications.
The settlement with the SEC followed after it sued Musk two days earlier for allegedly lying to investors when he said in a tweet in August that he had “funding secured” to take the company private. In a statement on Saturday, SEC chairman Jay Clayton said the settlement is “in the best interests of our markets and our investors, including the shareholders of Tesla.”
— "Tiny payout" after massive Deepwater Horizon spill: Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show that oil giant BP made only a $25.5 million payout to the Mexican government to absolve the company of responsibility after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “The tiny payout was part of a confidential settlement to dismiss a lawsuit relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster,” BuzzFeed News writes. By comparison, the company has set aside a $66 billion as a result of the spill.
— Oil watch:
- Iran’s foreign minister said an oil deal is close with European nations even as the United States threatens sanctions against any countries that would do business with Iran. “If the arrangement comes to fruition — some British and French officials say they have their doubts — it would constitute the most open break between President Trump and European allies that objected vociferously to his decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal,” the New York Times reports.
- Trump spoke on Saturday with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and “discussed efforts to maintain supplies to ensure the stability of the oil market and growth of the global economy, plus the strategic partnership between the two countries,” Bloomberg News reports. On Twitter and in person, the U.S. president has repeatedly criticized the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia is the de facto leader, for curtailing oil supplies and raising prices.
- Meanwhile, Trump's interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, said the United States can employ a naval blockade to keep Russia from controlling energy supplies in the Middle East, the Washington Examiner reports. "The United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade ... to make sure that their energy does not go to market," Zinke said during Friday remarks at an event hosted by Consumer Energy Alliance in Pittsburgh.
- The Environmental Protection Agency holds a public hearing on its Affordable Clean Energy Proposal in Chicago.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting on pending legislation on Tuesday.
- The Sierra Club holds a panel discussion on the Distributed Energy Resources Authority Act on Tuesday.
- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing on the EPA's implementation of sound and transparent science on Wednesday.
- The Energy Department and Carbon Utilization Research Council will hold an event on fossil energy technology on Thursday.
— DC has a mushroom problem: The wet weather in Washington has been a paradise for mushrooms, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. Add warm temperatures to the record amount of rain the district has seen lately, and you get a “veritable soup to feed a mushroom outbreak.”