THE LIGHTBULB

Environmental issues usually don't register with voters, who often rank health care or taxes as higher priorities when they go to the polls. 

But if any race bucks that trend in 2018, it may be Florida's tight Senate battle between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and his challenger, Gov. Rick Scott (R). The Post's Darryl Fears and Lori Rozsa report on how some voters are turned off by what they see as Scott's lackluster response to a toxic crisis along the state's shores:

Forget about a blue wave. Scott is dealing with red tide — a gigantic outbreak of toxic algae that has bedeviled this part of the Gulf Coast for more than a year. Although polls had earlier shown Scott locked in a dead heat with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, the governor is behind. His environmental record threatens to cost Republicans what had been seen as a prime opportunity to pad the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

Scott suspended his campaign to oversee the state’s response to Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle. Meanwhile, voters whose support he desperately needs on the southern Gulf Coast ... are contending with two algae blooms — saltwater red tide and a separate outbreak of freshwater blue-green algae — that have hurt tourism and tarnished the Sunshine State’s image as a vacation paradise.

In a race that many thought was Scott’s to lose, polls show his opponent, Nelson could retain his seat. The governor is being taunted as “Red Tide Rick,” and some Floridians have made him the butt of jokes on social media, contrasting the state’s beautiful beaches with the dead fish littering its shores.

Scott's campaign contends his critics are unfairly sliming him with the algae outbreaks. His spokeswoman notes the algae is "naturally occurring." That's true, but scientists say pollution flowing into state waters can feed algae growth.

Under Scott, the budgets of state agencies that manage fresh water were cut by nearly a billion dollars, and a steep drop in pollution enforcement cases coincided with the decimation of staff at the state environmental protection department.

When Scott entered office on a wave of tea party populism in 2011, the South Florida Water Management District was on the verge of closing a deal to purchase more than 150 acres of land owned by sugar-cane farms that sent nutrient pollution into Lake Okeechobee.

The transaction stood to significantly reduce pollution that’s choking the lake. Scott helped nix it, calling the agreement a boondoggle.

For that reason, some voters are associating the outbreaks of algae with the state's governor rather than its senior senator:

Bruce Nathan is a gun-loving Republican gubernatorial candidate who finished sixth in the last state primary. He said he won’t vote for Scott or anyone else.

“I think people are so upset with the environment,” said Nathan, a Trump voter who recently switched to NPA [or ‘no party affiliation,']. “This has been a situation we’ve never had after eight years of his rule. This is at his doorstep. This will send a lot of Republicans to say I will not vote for him.”

POWER PLAYS

— Zinke inquiry deepens: The Interior Department has referred one of its investigations into Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Josh Dawsey report. The department’s acting inspector general is currently conducting at least three probes related to Zinke, which “include his involvement in a Montana land deal and the decision not to grant two tribes approval to operate a casino in Connecticut.”

Why it's important: “A referral to the Justice Department means prosecutors will explore whether a criminal investigation is warranted."

What we don't know: It's still a mystery which investigation was referred to DOJ, but a White House official told The Post that the investigation is probing whether Zinke “used his office to help himself.”

— New EPA rule to exempts farms from emissions reporting: The Environmental Protection Agency's acting chief, Andrew Wheeler, signed a proposed rule Tuesday exempting some livestock producers from emissions-reporting requirements for gases that come from animal waste, like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

The reaction: Agricultural groups like the National Pork Producers Council praised the proposal, which still needs to be finalized, while environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity condemned it. 

Ag impact: Dairies, rice farms and other agricultural businesses are a significant but overlooked source of air pollution. When it comes to greenhouse gases, for example, agriculture accounted for 9 percent of emissions in 2016, according to the EPA.

— North Carolina sets greenhouse gas goal: North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order this week that sets a goal for the state of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the year 2025. “The order commits North Carolina to adhering to the 2015 Paris Agreement environmental treaty,” the News Observer reports. Cooper "is among 17 state governors who have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance to commit to the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

What Cooper did not do: Pass any law, like ratcheting up the state's renewable energy standard, that would help the state toward that goal. Such a move would require the cooperation of the state's GOP-led legislation.

THERMOMETER

— “The numbers are astonishingly bad”: Human activity has led to the death of more than half of the world’s wildlife population, a new report reveals. The report from World Wildlife Fund found that mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians have seen a 60 percent decline since 1970. “The animals that remain will fight against warming oceans choked with plastic, toppled rain forests may zero out fragile species, and refuges such as coral reefs may nearly die off,” The Post’s Alex Horton writes.

— The weather is what you wear: Brian Brettschneider did a fun analysis for The Post on how the clothing people wear is connected to the weather and the climate in the United States. Here are some of the highlights from his findings:

  • Anchorage and Minneapolis most frequently have winter-coat weather
  • Portland and Seattle are light-medium coat weather areas
  • Oakland and San Francisco are fleece weather cities
  • Honolulu and San Diego are short-sleeve weather areas
  • Miami, Honolulu and Phoenix are mostly shorts-weather regions
OIL CHECK

— Government expands probe into GE: General Electric announced that federal regulators are probing the accounting practices of the industrial giant following a $22 billion write-down from its power business, The Post’s Taylor Telford reports. “The $22 billion charge highlights the failings of GE’s investments in its power unit,” Telford writes.

The company’s chief financial officer announced during a Tuesday conference call that the charge, “tied to acquisitions in GE’s power businesses, had prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to expand its investigation. The Justice Department is also looking into the charges.” The charge also led to a net $22.8 billion loss for the company in the third quarter, Telford writes. The company was already under SEC scrutiny for how it "recognized revenue from long-term service agreements for the maintenance of power plants."

— U.S. electricity generation sets record: Electricity generation in the United States has hit its highest level since before the 2008 recession, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “Growing electricity generation is good news for all producers and generators of electricity, which have for the last year been battling it out for a piece of the mostly stagnant market as President Trump seeks to boost financially struggling coal and nuclear power plant,” Axios reports.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The United States Energy Association holds a briefing on resilience in the electric power sector.

Coming Up

  • Bracewell's Policy Resolution Group hosts a post-election webinar on Nov. 7.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider FERC nominee Bernard McNamee, Rita Baranwal to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Raymond David Vela to be director of the National Park Service on Nov. 15.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Three quarters of Venice just flooded: The coastal Italian city is experiencing the worst storm-surge flooding in a decade, The Post’s Angela Fritz and Stefano Pitrelli report. It also comes as sea level in Venice has been rapidly rising “at a rate faster than in other parts of the world — in part because the city itself is sinking,” they write.