At the beginning of the year, nearly all the members of a federally chartered board that advises the National Park Service quit in frustration after they felt the new administration was ignoring them.
Nearly a year later, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has resurrected the national parks board and filled its ranks with several business executives including a few major Republican donors, Juliet Eilperin and I reported on Thursday.
The appointments reflect the latest instance of Zinke reshaping the work — often in a more business-friendly direction — of the more than 200 advisory boards that help Interior manage the roughly 500 million acres of public land it oversees. The current committee poses a contrast to the 12-member panel picked under President Barack Obama.
- All of the 11 new members appear to be white, and nine of them are men. The new group includes three big-dollar donors who have each contributed more than $500,000 to GOP candidates and causes since the 2008 election cycle.
- Meanwhile, two-thirds of the old panel were women, and the group included African American members and members of Latino and Asian descent.
- The newly appointed board also did not include any working academics, as the previous version did. Among the old panelists were professors from Harvard and Yale universities, as well as the University of Maryland and the University of Kentucky.
The major GOP donors on the board are John C. Cushman III, a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate executive who gave $537,950, mostly to Republicans and GOP-affiliated political action committees; John L. Nau III, who runs the nation’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products and gave $847,022, largely to Republicans; and Boyd C. Smith, a Bay Area-based real estate developer who contributed $986,407, largely to GOP candidates.
The newly reconstituted National Park System Advisory Board was set to meet for the first time Wednesday in Washington. The Interior Department postponed the session, however, because the federal government observed a national day of mourning out of respect for former president George H.W. Bush.
In a statement Thursday, Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said the Park Service published a notice on Nov. 16, 2017, soliciting nominations “for interested members of the public who wished to serve on the Board. All applications received by the Department of the Interior were reviewed and compared to the membership criteria contained in the Board’s charter.”
Leaders of some national park advocacy groups voiced dismay about the panel’s lack of diversity, given the agency’s ongoing efforts to broaden its appeal to Americans of color. Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association, said her organization was “pleased to see these vacancies finally filled.” But she added that “we had hoped that the Department of the Interior would have recognized the importance of diversity when appointing new members.”
Many of the new members, though, come with experience relevant to park management. John C. Cushman III, for example, once served as national president of the Boy Scouts of America. Another new member, Philip G. Pearce, is a paraplegic wheelchair user with expertise in accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A third, Zelma Lansford, an organizational consultant, said in an interview Wednesday she brings to her new assignment two decades of experience working with roughly two dozen parks.
“What I bring to the table is knowledge of the agency and how it works,” Lansford said.
Both she and Joseph S. Emert, also a Tennessean named to the board, emphasized this week they viewed the job as nonpartisan.
“The national parks are too important to be a political football. I hope that people from any political spectrum can come together and support our parks,” Emert told the Blount County, Tenn.-based Daily Times in an interview this week.
Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which represents 1,200 current, former and retired Park Service employees, said in an interview that some of the new board members bring valuable skills such as a knowledge of the agency’s history and operations. But he emphasized they should view their job as more than just promoting outdoor recreation and managing park concessions.
“It’s also how to protect the parks and leave them unimpaired for future generations,” Francis said, noting that climate change is already affecting parks across the country. “I hope the agenda will be comprehensive, and not just items consistent with business interests.”
He added: “If anything, it will be interesting to see what they are going to be asked to do,” noting the board’s mission should be broader than just promoting outdoor recreation and managing park concessions. “It’s also how to protect the parks and leave them unimpaired for future generations. I hope the agenda will be comprehensive, and not just items consistent with business interests.”
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— Another day, another Obama-era climate rule in the crosshairs: The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will ease carbon emissions regulations on new coal plants, reversing a rule that would have required new plants to install carbon-capture equipment. Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a news conference Thursday the Obama administration’s rule "was ‘disingenuous’ because the costs of the technology made new coal plants infeasible,” The Post’s Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson report.
However: Because coal has become increasingly uneconomic due to competition with natural gas and renewable energy, the "latest Trump administration environmental rollback, if adopted, probably would have little real-world impact, both industry representatives and environmental activists said,” they add.
Still, David Doniger, a senior climate and energy policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council called the move a “’head-in-the-sand’ attempt to pander to the coal industry for which Wheeler used to lobby, and to ignore ever-growing evidence of the risks of climate change,” per Mufson and Dennis.
— Trump administration pitches scrapping Obama-era sage grouse protections, too: Interior announced a proposal to roll back measures to protect the greater sage grouse in order to open millions of acres of the American West to drilling, the New York Times reports. “In one stroke, the action would open more land to drilling than any other step the administration has taken, environmental policy experts said.” according to the Times. “It drew immediate criticism from environmentalists while energy-industry representatives praised the move, saying that the earlier policy represented an overreach of federal authority.”
By the numbers: A plan from the Obama administration restricted oil and gas drilling on 10.7 million acres of the bird's habitat. The new plan would shrink the protected area to 1.8 million acres. It would also scrap a requirement that oil and gas companies pay into a fund for the sage grouse's protection.
— Aaaand: The Trump administration will also soon formally seek to redefine which wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. In an announcement expected next week, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers "will erase federal protections from streams that flow only following rainfall, as well as wetlands not physically connected to larger waterways," E&E News reports.
Many farms and other businesses displeased with the way the Obama administration defined the so-called "waters of the United States" will likely welcome the change. But the League of Conservation Voters, among other environmental groups, is already characterizing the yet-to-be-announced move as a "massive assault."
— "Believed to be in cash": Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer amid a number of ethical inquiries, received a $50,000 contribution from a billionaire Republican donor in Wisconsin for his legal defense fund... The Post’s Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report. “The contribution came this year from Diane Hendricks, a businesswoman and major Republican donor, though it was not clear precisely when she donated to the ‘Scott Pruitt Legal Expenses Trust,’” they write. “It also did not specify whether he had spent the money, or how.” The contribution — which ethics officials said they "believed to be in cash" — was revealed in a financial disclosure Pruitt was required to file when he left his post. EPA ethics officials noted they were not aware of the contribution until they received the disclosure report.
— "No deal on infrastructure without addressing climate change": In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer tells fellow New Yorker Donald Trump that any infrastructure bill brokered between his administration and congressional Democrats must include "policies and funding that help transition our country to a clean-energy economy and mitigate the risks the United States already faces from climate change." The New York senator followed up that op-ed with a letter detailing his asks, which include permanent tax incentives for clean electricity and substantially increasing research into energy efficiency and storage technologies.
— Knives out for Manchin: Add billionaire environmental activist and potential 2020 hopeful Tom Steyer to the list of Democrats who do not want to elevate Sen. Joe Manchin III to be the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The West Virginia Democrat is next in line to serve atop the energy panel, but Steyer sees Manchin as too pro -coal for the position, The Post's Felicia Sonmez reports.
“Democrats must offer a bold, positive path forward — but Senator Manchin does not offer that vision," Steyer said. His statement follows one from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) saying Manchin “simply can’t be trusted to make the bold, progressive decisions we need.”
Manchin's fellow Senate Democrats, however, "are growing more comfortable" with giving him the job, Politico reports. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), for one, expressed "a lot of confidence I can work with him."
— Senate confirms McNamee: It's official. On Thursday, the Senate approved along a party-line vote the nomination of Bernard McNamee to a vacant seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The confirmation came despite opposition he has expressed in the past to renewable energy and climate science. The Energy Department lawyer also helped put together an unsuccessful Trump administration plan to subsidize uneconomic coal and nuclear power plants that was deeply unpopular with both the oil and gas industry and wind and solar energy businesses.
— Protests prompt Eiffel Tower closure: French officials will close the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks in Paris in anticipation of another wave of protests on Saturday after violent demonstrations over the proposed fuel tax hike have already led to four deaths. “With protesters from the ‘yellow vest’ movement calling on social media for ‘Act IV’ — a fourth weekend of protest — Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 89,000 police nationwide would be deployed to stop a repeat of last Saturday’s mayhem across France,” Reuters reports. Public anger has continued despite the decision to suspend the fuel tax plan for six months.
— “Even the dead and buried were scarred by Hurricane Maria”: The devastating storm from September 2017 dropped enough rain on the town of Lares, Puerto Rico that it caused a landslide that damaged nearly 1,800 tombs at the town’s only cemetery. Some caskets were ejected from their graves due to the force of the mud and water, NPR reports. “Now, the town's residents are furious that officials have yet to make any repairs. And the longer they've been kept out, the more desperate they've grown to get in."
— Most voters are concerned about climate change: A new poll from Politico/Morning Consult has found 67 percent of voters are concerned about the findings in the recent federal climate report. It found that 58 percent said they believe climate change is caused by human activity, siding with widespread scientific consensus. That’s a 13-point increase from the 45 percent who said they believe humans caused global warming in a 2015 Morning Consult poll. The survey also found 47 percent of Republicans said they were worried about the federal report, compared with 87 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents.
— OPEC meeting watch: The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries closed its first meeting day without a decision on whether to reduce global oil production. There was also no sign of when a deal would be reached, the New York Times reports. “Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, told reporters he was ‘not confident’ an agreement that would keep supply and demand in balance was within reach,” per the report. And on Friday, the kingdom “remained skeptical of an agreement to cut oil output as nonmember Russia emerged as the ultimate deal breaker,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “OPEC deliberated for a second day to end a deadlock that is threatening to crash oil prices. The Saudis—the de facto leaders of OPEC—are trying to convince the Russians to join a significant production cut that would mop up a burgeoning global oil supply glut.”
Meanwhile: Even as Trump continues to push OPEC to up output, the United States is becoming increasingly less dependent on foreign fuel to meet energy needs. The latest sign of that trend is that the nation briefly "turned into a net oil exporter last week," Bloomberg News reports. It adds: "Given the volatility in weekly data, the U.S. will likely remain a small net importer most of the time."
— Rust Belt lawmakers lobby GM on plant closures: A meeting between General Motors chief executive Mary Barra and Michigan lawmakers revealed the “complicated relationship” between the two parties, the Detroit Free Press reports. On one hand, Michigan’s members of Congress are “rooting… for a company integral to the state to succeed, while on the other hand deeply frustrated with moves that cut workers and plants in the state,” per the report. “While Michigan members of Congress said they understood that GM has to make changes and were thankful for moves like jobs being added in Flint, they were also left trying to voice their displeasure and push — in any way that they can — GM to change its mind."
That meeting follows another Wednesday between Barra and Ohio's two senators, Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D), who sought to convince Barra "to save a car plant in Ohio, but failed to secure any commitment from her on the heels of GM’s announcement it is slashing 14,000 jobs nationwide,” The Post’s Erica Werner reported. “Barra listened to [Brown and Portman’s] arguments, the senators said, and agreed to talk to the United Auto Workers union about speeding up upcoming contract negotiations to arrive at more certainty about the fate of the Lordstown plant and the workers employed there. She also said that she is working to place the Lordstown workers at other GM facilities where possible."
- The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment is scheduled to hold a hearing on a discussion draft of the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act on Dec. 11.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on Dec. 12.
— Meet 2019's color of the year: The Pantone Color Institute chose “Living Coral” as its next color of the year. "Since 2000, Pantone has been analyzing cultural trends in order to predict what color will be ubiquitous in the art, fashion and design worlds in the coming year," The Post's Antonia Noori Farzan writes. "But more recently, the company has hinted that it’s hoping to influence society, too." The choice comes as scientists increasingly recognize the disappearance of the world's coral reefs due to climate change.