THE LIGHTBULB

By all accounts, the Trump administration took a hands-off approach in crafting a recent major climate report that outlined the dire economic effects to come from climate change in the United States.

Next time around, that may not be the case. 

In an interview at an Energy 202 event at The Washington Post on Wednesday, Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, suggested that Trump administration officials should be more involved in preparing the next version of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment.  

At the same time, he acknowledged the potential political perils of doing so. 

"If we had intervened and made changes to the report, we'd have been accused of manipulating the scientific recommendations of the career staff," Wheeler told The Post's Juliet Eilperin.  

Wheeler admitted he didn't read the report before it was published by his agency and 12 others in the federal government. The acting head explained he was still reviewing its contents, which included warnings of climate change posing "a severe threat to Americans' health and pocketbooks," according to my colleagues Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney.

Wheeler confirmed there was "no political review by this administration" of the report, but said the Trump administration will have more discretion over the direction of the next one.

"Going forward, I think we need to take a look at the modeling that's used for the next assessment," Wheeler said.

Wheeler's comments were the latest in a series from Trump administration officials calling into question the methodology of the report, which expressed with more certainty than ever the threat climate change poses to lives and livelihoods in the United States. The document described how climate-fueled disasters, like the burning of forests in western states and the bleaching of coral reefs from Hawaii to Florida, are already becoming more commonplace.

The commentary from Trump officials is also a recognition of the political potency of the climate report, which administration officials originally published on the Black Friday following Thanksgiving when many Americans were shopping and not paying attention to the news.

Already, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) suggested he would use the report in his office's numerous lawsuits against the administration's rollback of environmental regulations.

"I think I’ve read more of it than they have and I haven't read very much," Becerra said in a separate interview at the Energy 202 event. "It’s kind of disturbing."

Wheeler and other Trump officials have critiqued the report for what they see as an undue emphasis on the worst-case scenarios for temperature increases, by both the scientists behind the report and the news organizations covering it. The report in fact looked at a wide range of warming scenarios.

The acting EPA chief suggested that focusing on extreme scenarios may have been called for by the previous administration.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama administration told the report’s authors: Take a look at the worst case scenario for this report,” he said, adding that "this report was drafted at the direction of the Obama administration," even though the assessments are mandated by a 1990 law that calls for a new report every four years.

Work began on the report at the beginning of 2016, though most of the drafting was done after Trump was in office. A former chief science adviser to President Obama, John Holdren, vigorously contested Wheeler's characterization about the Obama administration's influence on the report.

"Mr. Wheeler’s insinuation is absolutely false," he said in a statement. Holdren explained his "only instruction" to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which oversaw the report, was that it "should continue the distinguished tradition of the first three by drawing on the most current peer-reviewed science to illuminate what climate change is doing and is projected to do across the geographic regions and economic and ecological underpinnings of well-being in the United States."

When reached for comment, Michael Kuperberg, executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, pointed to a section of the report itself, which reads: "Where supported by the underlying literature, authors were encouraged to describe the full scope of potential climate change impacts, both negative and positive, including more extreme impacts that are less likely but would have severe consequences."

Political spats over the work of the U.S. Global Change Research Program predate Trump. For example, a White House aide during the George W. Bush presidency, Philip Cooney,  asked others to emphasize the uncertainties of climate science in another publication by the group.

James Connaughton, former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for Bush, said that Wheeler should stay within the process set up by the program for previous assessments, which were designed to "ensure it is reflecting the most up-to-date science."

"The key is working within the process. It is a good one. It is a deliberate one," Connaughton said.

He added that Wheeler, who began a career working in the federal government in the early 1990s, "has long Washington experience to work within that process."

Sign Up! Our newest 202 newsletter is launching Tuesday, Dec. 4: The Technology 202 by Cat Zakrzewski. Cat worked at The Wall Street Journal covering venture capital in Silicon Valley before joining The Washington Post to launch this new venture. She’ll be covering the dynamic and evolving relationship between Washington and technology companies, delving into everything from proposed privacy regulations to artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Get your copy here.

POWER PLAYS

— Lawmakers reach tentative deal on farm bill after months-long impasse: "A massive legislative package that oversees a range of farming, conservation and nutrition programs, the farm bill is reauthorized every five years — generally on a bipartisan basis," The Post's Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.

But this time around, House Republicans wanted to include new work requirements for food stamp recipients in the farm bill even as Senate Democrats balked at the move. But Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) indicated that the compromise language on food stamps was likely to be closer to the initial Senate version of the bill, which did not have the new work requirements.

— Former Pruitt aide picked for top environmental post in Oklahoma: The incoming governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, has tapped Ken Wagner, a senior EPA official, to be the state's next secretary of energy and the environment, The Oklahoman reports. Wagner is a close friend of Scott Pruitt, who hired him at the EPA before resigning as administrator amid a number of ethics investigations. Wagner co-owned a home with Pruitt in Oklahoma City and also served as treasurer of Pruitt's political action committee.

— Lawmakers take stab again at a carbon tax: A bevy of bipartisan lawmakers — including Florida Reps. Ted Deutch (D), Charlie Crist (D) and Francis Rooney (R) — formally unveiled Wednesday new carbon tax legislation that picks up where outgoing Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) left off.

The proposed $15-per-metric-ton price on carbon emissions, which would be returned to taxpayers as a dividend, has essentially no chance of passing the GOP-led House right now, but attempts to set the stage for what the new Congress can do when Democrats take control of the lower chamber.  "This aggressive carbon pricing scheme introduced by members from both parties marks an important opportunity to begin to seriously address the immediate threat of climate change," Deutch said.

THERMOMETER

— The changing climate’s impact on health: A wide-ranging scientific study details the impact that climate change will continue to have on human health, predicting outcomes such as the decline of crop yields and the emergence of tropical disease in unlikely places, the New York Times reports. According to the study, one of the biggest threats to human health in a warmer world is “heat stress," and it notes high temperatures can “diminish people’s ability to work … leading to tens of billions of hours of lost labor capacity each year.”

— Should there be emergency warnings before fires? That’s one of the questions lingering after California experienced its most deadly wildfire on record, claiming at least 88 lives with more than 200 people still missing. “The scale of the Camp Fire catastrophe highlights a key problem when it comes to forecasting and handling wildfires: The information is available, but it stems from nearly a half-dozen sources,” The Post’s Matthew Cappucci reports. While there are “Tornado Warnings” or “Flash Flood” warnings that chime on mobile phones, forecasts of fire danger don’t exist in such forms. “The Weather Service can warn you when conditions are favorable for wildfires,” Cappucci writes. “But once a fire breaks out, it’s entirely up to emergency managers to sound the alarm.”

— The wettest year on record for some in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest: Even with more than a month left in the year, scores of cities and towns in these regions have already seen their wettest year on record, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. “Where has the most precipitation fallen? A co-op in Wilmington, N.C., has logged 105.56 inches this year, while another on Grandfather Mountain reported a record 100.82 inches. Other exceptionally wet locations include Tucker, W.Va., and Marion, N.C., both of which topped 90 inches. Dalecarlia Reservoir, a co-op in the District, has picked up 68.74 inches.”

OIL CHECK

— Patagonia donates Trump tax savings: Outdoor clothing giant Patagonia has donated $10 million that it saved from the Republican tax bill to environmental groups. “Based on last year’s irresponsible tax cut, Patagonia will owe less in taxes this year,” chief executive Rose Marcario wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet."

The move is the latest volley from the clothing company against Trump and other Republicans, which sued the administration over shrinking two national monuments in Utah and issued unprecedented endorsements of two Democratic Senate candidates, Jacky Rosen in Nevada and Jon Tester in Montana, in the 2018 midterm election. Both candidates won their races.

— Why lower oil prices might make trouble for Trump: Some parts of the country, including some Trump-supporting regions, have become major oil producers in the last 10 years. As a result, their economies can rise and fall with the price of oil, The Post’s Matt O’Brien reports. Back in 2014, O’Brien writes, "the combination of the Federal Reserve looking as if it would raise rates while the rest of the world didn’t, and OPEC deciding not to cut production while everyone else was pumping so much more oil had sent the dollar soaring and oil prices plunging,” he writes. “And while cheaper imports and cheaper oil might be unambiguously good for U.S. consumers, they weren’t for U.S. workers. At least not the ones in the manufacturing and energy sectors.”

— GM plant closure shocks Canada’s automotive capital: News of the closure of a General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario blindsided even the city’s mayor. Some workers said they learned of the news on social media. “The number of people employed by the Oshawa plant has fallen dramatically from 23,000 during its heyday in the 1980s to roughly 2,800 now, but the news that it would no longer be manufacturing products as of December 2019 rocked the city — once considered the automotive capital of Canada — and prompted rebukes by lawmakers from all levels of government,” Amanda Coletta reports for The Post. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated his “deep disappointment” and Ontario’s provincial government said it would extend unemployment insurance eligibility for five extra weeks for those impacted by the closure, Coletta adds.

DAYBOOK

​​​Today

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Alexandra Dunn to be assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Energy Subcommittee holds a legislative hearing.
  • Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of William Bookless to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

  • The Women's Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on incorporating intelligent water systems in U.S. water utilities.
  • Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks at an Atlantic Council event on "Investing in Natural Gas for Africans."

Coming Up

  • Former Vice President Al Gore hosts the eighth annual 24 Hours of Reality broadcast on the worldwide impact of climate change on Dec. 3-4. 
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Fake moos: That giant cow that went viral earlier this week is actually neither a cow, nor a giant, Jason Bittel writes for The Post. Knickers, who is male, is a steer. And Bittel provides some perspective on the circulating image of the 6-foot-4 bovine. “Knickers is a large specimen, but he looks larger because he’s standing among a herd of Danny DeVitos, not a herd of Arnold Schwarzeneggers,” he writes.