THE LIGHTBULB

This week, President Trump tried pinning blame for recent debilitating algal blooms in Florida on the state's Democratic senator, Bill Nelson. Trump claimed the three-term incumbent Democratic senator has done nothing to stop the state's algae problems.

But that scolding tweet came just as Nelson and nearly the entire rest of the Senate voted for a measure meant to mitigate that ecological and economic crisis. That legislation gives Nelson ammunition to not only counter Trump's claim but also to bolster his chances of reelection in a tight race against the state's sitting governor, Republican Rick Scott. 

On Tuesday, Trump wrote on Twitter that Scott has been “relentless” in trying to stop the algae while Nelson has been of “no help.”

But just one day later, on Wednesday, Nelson and nearly every other senator passed  legislation authorizing $6.1 billion in spending on new and existing Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects.

Included in that package at the behest of Sens. Nelson and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was authorization for the construction of a 10,500-acre reservoir near South Florida's Lake Okeechobee that would store and treat water that is polluted with agricultural runoff and that is thought to feed the growth of the twin disasters plaguing Florida — a blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and a major red tide spanning the southern Gulf Coast.

“I’m glad to see this project that Sen. Rubio and I have worked so hard to advance has passed the Senate,” Nelson said in a statement Wednesday. “This reservoir is particularly important right now to help mitigate the toxic algae crisis that’s sweeping the state.”

The measure passed in a 99-to-1 vote, with only Utah Republican Mike Lee siding against it. The bill awaits Trump's signature to become law.

The pungent algae, which has littered Florida's beaches with dead fish and driven away tourists, has cast a pallor over the Florida Senate race. Both candidates blame the other for not doing enough to stem the outbreak in their respective roles in the state and federal governments. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, for example, has slammed Nelson for missing a hearing on the toxic algae blooms.

Similarly, demonstrators in the state blame Scott for exacerbating the problem by cutting funding to Florida’s water management oversight and other environmental programs. Last month, Scott was chased away from a campaign event by environmental activists with signs saying “Redtide Rick.” 

Trump himself waded into the algae issue during his run for president by pairing it with other water issues, such as the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.

During a 2016 speech, Trump told a Panama City, Fla., crowd that President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency "spends billions on failed climate projects, instead of repairing water infrastructure in cities like Flint. Remember Flint? What a shame,” 

He then turned his attention back to the Sunshine State. “My administration will address important environmental priorities, like the Everglades, and ensure quality water all across America, including the fixing of water problems, like Lake Okeechobee.”

Keeping up with the news in President Trump’s Washington is exhausting — whether you live here, work in the nation’s capital, or are just watching from afar. That’s why next Tuesday, we’re launching Power Up by Jacqueline Alemany. It's a new newsletter from The Washington Post that will land in your inbox before you reach for that first cup of coffee. It will bring you Washington, fast.

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THERMOMETER

— Hurricane watch: Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday near the Florida Panhandle as one of the most intense hurricanes to ever hit the United States. There were winds as high as 155 mph, as it crashed ashore as a Category 4 system. At least two people have been killed, The Post reports.

By early Thursday morning, Michael had been downgraded to a tropical storm and “keeps getting weaker as it crosses rain-soaked Georgia and moves northeast towards South Carolina,” per The Post. The National Hurricane Center warns “large parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia could still see deadly flash floods today and remain under a tropical storm warning.”

Trump said Wednesday he was considering soon visiting the areas affected by Michael. He was briefed by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William “Brock” Long, who told Trump that Michael was “a Gulf Coast hurricane of the worst kind” and compared it to an “an EF3 tornado making landfall.”

Indeed, the National Weather Service issued a rare extreme wind warning on Wednesday just hours before Michael made landfall. “THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION,” the warning read. Such warnings are only issued when winds are expected to reach 115 mph, Matthew Cappucci writes for The Post, noting the warning was in response to the strong winds in Michael’s eyewall. To stay safe, Cappucci writes, residents should “treat the eyewall like a tornado.”

More Michael-related news:

  • Meanwhile: On Wednesday night, Trump campaigned in Pennsylvania, though he acknowledged the hurricane at the start of his rally. He said he would be in Florida “very shortly” and vowed his administration would “spare no effort” in response efforts, the Associated Press reports. "We will always pull through,” he added. “We will always be successful at what we do.”
  • In Washington: As the agency prepared for yet another storm, it did so with nearly two dozen senior positions either vacant or filled temporarily, according to Bloomberg News. “One thing that would help is getting my deputy confirmed,” Long said Wednesday at a briefing. “It would be nice to go through a hurricane season with a deputy director inside FEMA.”
  • In the field: The agency has about 3,000 employees, as well as aircraft and search-and-rescue teams deployed in Florida and Georgia, per the Associated Press.
  • On the ground: The Post’s Robert Samuels details the last-minute scramble as inland Florida residents evacuated and headed to emergency shelters. “Eighty miles inland, residents were used to the dangers of downed trees and power lines. But after the hurricane was upgraded to a life-threatening Category 4 storm overnight, residents raced to the city’s largest hurricane shelter,” he writes. “By Wednesday afternoon, there were 330 residents, 149 cats and dogs, and one parakeet.”
  • Canceled plans: The hurricane forced Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) to cancel a Thursday rally in Virginia. “Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was supposed to headline the event in Fredericksburg, but bad weather was expected to hamper his travel to the area,” The Post’s Laura Vozzella reports.
  • City-by-city: Here’s an updated city-by-city forecast from The Post’s Angela Fritz on areas that will be impacted by Michael.

— This technology could be the key to people taking hurricane warnings seriously: Hofstra University is hoping its virtual reality simulation showing the impact of a hurricane on an ordinary neighborhood will make coastal residents more likely to pay attention to storm warnings and evacuate when necessary. According to project leader, "storm warnings become convincing after someone has seen ‘water rising up to chest level’ in the VR simulation," The Post’s Peter Holley writes.

— How will 9 billion or 10 billion people eat without destroying the environment?: The answer in short: Less meat and more veggies. A new study in the journal Nature “concluded that the current methods of producing, distributing and consuming food aren’t environmentally sustainable and that damage to the planet could make it less hospitable for human existence,” The Post’s Joel Achenbach reports. “The report says greenhouse-gas emissions from the global food system could be reduced significantly if people reduce red-meat consumption and follow a diet built around fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.”

POWER PLAYS

— Another step toward building Trump's border wall: The Department of Homeland Security indicated Wednesday that it will waive a series of environmental laws for the construction of barriers and roads at the U.S.-Mexico border in the Texas counties of Hidalgo and Cameron. The decision was decried by environmentalists since that area, in the southern tip of Texas, includes portions of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The department is empowered to issue the environmental waivers by a 2005 anti-terrorism law.

— Moniz puts Saudis at arm's length: Following the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, President Obama's former energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, said he is suspending his participation on a board advising Saudi Arabia in its construction of "a smart city of the future" being built there. "Going forward, my engagement with the advisory board will depend on learning all the facts about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance over the coming days and weeks," Moniz said in a statement. The Post's Shane Harris is reporting the Saudi crown prince himself, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered an operation to lure the frequent critic of the kingdom into Saudi custody. 

— EPA marks Superfund record: The agency announced Wednesday that in the 12-month period ending in September 2018, it has removed all of part of 22 toxic sites from its national priority list, which is the most deleted in a single fiscal year since 2005. Starting under former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the agency's emphasis on addressing Superfund sites stands in contrast to its pro-business posture on many other pollution issues. 

OIL CHECK

— Tesla in dispute with another U.S. agency: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tesla’s claim that the Model 3 electric vehicle has the lowest risk of occupant injury of any vehicle in U.S. government testing went beyond the agency's analysis, Reuters reports. The electric car did receive the top rating of five stars by NHTSA, but the agency said it “does not distinguish safety performance beyond the star rating with five stars being the highest safety rating a vehicle can achieve." The news comes after Tesla chief executive Elon Musk was forced by the Securities and Exchange Commission to resign from the company's board of directors after allegedly misleading investors.

— Dip predicted in coal exports: The Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration predicts coal exports will fall 7 percent next year as demand falters, the Washington Examiner reports. Boosting coal exports has been a key message in the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the “process for returning energy to the power grid after a system-wide blackout.”

Coming Up

  • Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy hold a briefingon climate action efforts on Friday.
  • Securing America’s Future Energy holds a briefing on “The Importance of Fuel Economy Rules for America’s Energy Security” on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Here's what Hurricane Michael looks like from space: