Democrats are already planning to probe the policies and personnel of the Trump administration when they take control of the House, including the rollback of environmental rules imposed on emitters of pollution.
But environmentalists are trying to rally Democrats to investigate one company in particular: ExxonMobil.
On Monday, the environmental group 350.org began circulating a petition calling on the new Democratic majority in the House to open an inquiry into the largest U.S. oil and gas company “for misleading the public and wrecking the climate.”
“Democrats have not always shown the backbone to stand up to Big Oil,” 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn told The Washington Post. “We hope that changes.”
Since 2015, Exxon has drawn the attention of investigative journalists and state prosecutors interested in understanding how much Exxon knew about climate change in the 1970s and 1980s as it began publicly questioning the science behind climate change, which found that its products were helping warm the planet.
Last month, New York's inquiry came to a head when the state sued Exxon for allegedly misleading investors about the risk that climate-related regulations posed to its bottom line. Even though by 2007 Exxon publicly conceded that climate change was occurring, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood (D) sued Exxon for allegedly defrauding shareholders through more recent communications about its calculations for the potential costs of carbon emissions.
Henn said the House Science Committee, which has been led by retiring Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) since 2013, would be a “good place” for an inquiry into Exxon to start. During his time with the gavel, Smith was one of the most vocal critics of climate science in Congress.
“It only seems appropriate,” Henn said.
But a spokeswoman for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), who appears likely to lead the science panel next year, declined to comment.
A new slate of Democratic attorneys general elected last week, some of whom are taking over from Republican incumbents, could also potentially use their new offices to look into the climate work of Exxon and other oil companies. However, current some Democratic prosecutors have been reluctant to join in on the probe from the attorney general in New York, where state law grants prosecutors sweeping power.
At the very least, environmentalists may see an opportunity now that state attorney general offices in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin will be led by Democrats next year. The outgoing top prosecutors in those three states, each Republican, had either publicly or privately supported Exxon in its bid to squash New York's investigation.
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— California is on fire: The Camp Fire in Northern California is the deadliest wildfire ever in the state, with the death toll on Monday rising to 42. It’s also the most destructive fire in the state’s history, with more than 6,000 buildings destroyed, The Post’s Scott Wilson reports.
More from his dispatch from Paradise, Calif.: “There are many pieces to be picked up here. What they will eventually assemble is an open question and will determine whether Paradise — population 27,000, but empty now — remains a town at all... Everything is dangling or tilting or burning here. Only the chimneys stand straight and tall, strange new landmarks amid the ashes in a state where fire season no longer has an end."
More on California...
The search for those still missing continues: Of those whose bodies have so far been found, “most of them were found inside burned-out homes in and around the town of Paradise or in cars that were overwhelmed by fire as locals desperately tried to outrun the fast-moving flames,” The Post’s Lindsey Bever, Joel Achenbach and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report.
California has one more day of risky fire conditions, as the National Weather Service warns “it’s still bone-dry, but winds have begun to relax, and by Tuesday, the fire risk is expected to return to normal,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. The air quality in the state, however, is terrible as smoke fills the air in the northern and southern parts of the state.
Disaster relief update: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the party will urge that $720 million be approved for wildfire relief for California. “The push for funding to help California fight fires will come as Congress reconvenes this week for a post-election lame-duck session,” The Post’s Erica Werner reports. “The administration has not made an official disaster funding request to Congress, but Leahy said Democrats would push for congressional action anyway.”
Leahy said there “will need to be additional disaster relief money for ongoing hurricane recovery in Texas, Florida and elsewhere, including Puerto Rico where Trump has also criticized the government response," Werner adds.
Eyes on Pacific Gas & Electric: The utility's shares took a steep plunge Monday morning because of the deadly raging fires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported last week that the Camp Fire sparked soon after PG&E experienced an outage. The utility “filed an electric safety incident report Thursday evening, reporting to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) news of the outage and damage to a transmission tower ‘approximately one mile north-east of the town of Pulga, in the area of the Camp Fire,’” Utility Dive reports. “ The cause of the fire remains under investigation.”
This 85-year-old wildfire was the deadliest in California history — until now: Until the ongoing Camp Fire sparked in Northern California, the 1933 Griffith Park fire held the title as the state’s deadliest. It burned only 47 acres but killed at least 29 people, The Post’s Theresa Vargas reports. “At the time, hundreds of thousands of jobless men had found work through a government relief program aimed at easing the economic collapse. The program called for men to earn money while doing needed manual labor that would take them into parks and forests,” per the report. “On the day of the fire, more than 3,700 of these workers were at Griffith Park, maintaining trails, clearing brush and building a road.”
— “100 percent": Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressed complete confidence that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing in the ongoing investigations into allegations of ethical violations. He told the Associated Press in an interview that he has spoken recently with Trump, as well as with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Vice President Pence who he said were supportive of him. “I’m 100 percent confident that every investigation will always end up in the same conclusion, which is that I follow all rules, procedures and, most importantly the law,” Zinke told the AP. “I have no desire to leave. I know I’m effective and doing the right thing.”
The secretary criticized media outlets that covering his investigations. Speaking on conservative talk show, “Montana Talks,” Zinke said the mainstream media is “very angry, and truth doesn’t matter to these people anymore.” “You know, it comes from the same liberal reporters that have lost their ability to tell the truth," Zinke said, responding to a Politico report that he has been exploring jobs outside of the administration. "Here’s one for you: I think I’m going to probably be the commander of Space Command."
— Trump’s Park Service pick faces grilling: David Vela, Trump’s pick to lead the National Park Service, is set to appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week, where senators will probably grill him on whether the agency should charge protesters for security costs in Washington. “It’s a litmus test that could determine how divisive the nominee may become,” The Post’s Marissa J. Lang writes, adding it is one of more than a dozen proposed Park Service rule changes. The rule has drawn numerous objections, and a national lobbyist for American Civil Liberties Union told Lang the group wants senators this week “not just have questions but demand that [Vela] commit to withdrawing this proposal.”
Hopefully, Saudi Arabia and OPEC will not be cutting oil production. Oil prices should be much lower based on supply!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2018
— Trump vs. OPEC: The U.S. president once again took aim at Saudi Arabia and OPEC’s oil production plan, tweeting his hope that oil output is not reduced. The tweet followed after a committee representing OPEC on Sunday signaled the possibility of oil production cuts. “On Monday, [Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih] told an oil conference in Abu Dhabi that technical analysis suggests ‘there will need to be a reduction of supply from October levels approaching a million barrels’ from the alliance,” CNBC reports. Following the president’s remarks, oil prices fell on Tuesday, per Reuters.
— “Some of the kids call it the singing bus”: In New York, the state’s first electric school buses are battery-powered and silent, having to play a four-tone melody for safety, the New York Times reports. “The school district’s five singing buses — which cost $365,000 apiece, more than three times the price of a new diesel bus with modern pollution controls — are still a rarity,” per the report. “Of the roughly 480,000 school buses in the United States, only a few hundred are fully electric. But that’s slowly changing.”
— Big Oil’s green spending: Major oil and gas companies together spent just about 1 percent of their budgets this year on clean energy, Reuters reports, citing climate-focused research provider CDP. “Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total and BP have in recent years accelerated spending on wind and solar power as well as battery technologies, seeking a larger role in global efforts to slash carbon emissions to battle global warming,” per the report, which also added companies in Europe outpaced those in the United States and Asia.
— Watchdog says Iran is honoring nuclear deal: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations atomic watchdog, Iran has continued to comply with the nuclear limits imposed by the 2015 deal, Reuters reports. “Iran has kept its stock of low-enriched uranium as well as the level to which it refines uranium within the limits set by the landmark deal,” per the report.
- Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on Indian oil and gas strategies in a new age.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on challenges and solutions to improve federal lands management on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rita Baranwal to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy), Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Raymond David Vela to be Director of the National Park Service on Thursday.
- The American Council on Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association and Energy Innovation hold an event on the outlook for clean energy following the 2018 midterms on Friday.
— Trump is blowing smoke on climate change: A new cartoon from Post cartoonist Tom Toles takes aim at Trump's wild wildfire rhetoric.