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The Energy 202: Why 2020 candidates will be talking a lot more about climate change

with Paulina Firozi


The next presidential election is nearly two years away. But it's already clear that climate change will be a higher-profile issue in the 2020 race than it was in the previous presidential contest.

That’s not exactly a high bar to hurdle. As climate activists like to point out, global warming was barely mentioned once in the three debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

But a confluence of factors, including new veins of science and activism over the past year, make it more likely Democratic candidates for president will pay heightened attention to the issue.

 Here are a few reasons why.

— U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord will loom over Election Day: President Trump promised last year to withdraw that United States from the landmark international accord for nations to voluntarily rein in greenhouse gas emissions. But that agreement is structured so that the earliest Trump could withdraw the nation from the accord is Nov. 4, 2020.

That happens to be one day after the 2020 election.

If Trump hews to his commitment to withdraw from the Paris accord, that deadline will hang over the presidential race and become fodder for the eventual Democratic nominee, who will likely counter Trump by promising to keep the United States inside the agreement.

Many potential presidential contenders are already doing just that. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord a “retreat.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called it “a vicious blow to American leadership.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said it was “catastrophic for our future.”

Susan Biniaz, a former State Department climate negotiator and currently a lecturer at Yale Law School, told The Post’s Chris Mooney that any one of those potential Democratic candidates could bring the United States back into the agreement after taking office.

...on this timeline, the United States would at least briefly leave the agreement even in the event of a Democratic victory. That’s because the new president is not inaugurated until January 2021.

But after that, reversal could be swift, at least under the Obama administration’s interpretation that the agreement is not one that needs to be submitted to the Senate for ratification.

It would then take 30 days after submission of notice for the United States to rejoin the agreement formally, Biniaz explained. This, again, is based on the text of the Paris climate agreement.

— The scientific consensus on climate change is getting more dire: The alarm being raised by climate researchers about the urgency of keeping temperatures under control reached ever higher levels in the past three months alone.

Last month, federal scientists in 13 agencies described “intensifying” conditions across the country due to a changing climate. The effects include the increased severity of wildfires in the western United States and of hurricanes in the Atlantic — disasters that last year took the lives or livelihoods of thousands of Americans and captured the attention of millions more.  

Scientists also agree that time is short for addressing the issue. In October, a U.N. panel of climate scientists said the world’s nations have just a dozen years to undergo a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

— And climate activists are getting more vocal: That narrow window for action has been turned into a slogan — "12 years" — emblazoned on the T-shirts of climate demonstrators who recently occupied the offices of Democratic lawmakers demanding more aggressive action on climate change. 

Potential 2020 candidates, in turn, are meeting with activists in an effort to tailor their platforms on the issue, The Post's Michael Scherer reports.

Democrats preparing to run for president have been rushing to shift their plans for combating climate change, highlighting an issue once considered a political liability, especially in Midwestern swing states won by President Trump.

Aides to a half-dozen senators considering a 2020 campaign met with supporters of the Green New Deal, an effort pushed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that could turn into a litmus test for Democratic candidates, organizers said. Other potential candidates are weighing activist demands to swear off donations from the political action committees or executives of companies involved in fossil fuel production.

At least three potential candidates, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have made clear that they intend to make climate change a central issue of their campaign if they do run.

The question remains: How will voters respond? In past elections, voters have prioritized pocketbook issues like economic growth and health-care costs over environmental ones. 

Which is why some candidates are beginning to argue that mounting a national response to climate change is a job-creating opportunity.

Inslee told The Post climate change "has to become a primary force of our economic growth policy." Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor and environmental activist who is also considering a presidential run, added: "You can’t talk about climate. You have got to talk about jobs and health. This has to be simply related to human beings.”



— U.N. chief said failure to agree on post-Paris rules would be “suicidal”: Conference participants expressed concern the talks could break up “with little to show for them,” Brady Dennis and Griff Witte write.

With two days of talks remaining, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres worried “key political issues remain unresolved” and warned “we are running out of time.” “I understand that none of this is easy. I understand some of you will need to make some tough political decisions,” Guterres told delegates. “To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”

— But Al Gore is optimistic since Trump is not paying attention: In an interview with The Post, the former vice president expressed optimism the “world will find a way to tackle climate change, and he said that it’s a good thing that Trump seems to have little interest in the talks unfolding in Katowice,” Dennis and Witte write.

Gore told them even the event promoting coal, sponsored by the United States on the conference sidelines, and the move to team with Russia and Saudi Arabia to weaken a reference to a key climate report was probably not “an indication of a large or malignant engagement by the White House."

 "I don’t think that this COP seems to be on the White House radar screen. I’m hoping it stays that way," Gore said, adding the “essential agenda assigned to this COP is probably going to get done. There are 22,000 people here from 190 countries, and they’re continuing to do highly detailed work regardless of what Donald Trump thinks.”

— Small countries make the loudest calls for action: Leaders of several small island nations urged action from the delegates, reminding them the islands are most at risk and “could be swallowed by rising seas if climate change is not checked,” The Post’s Max J. Rosenthal reports.

On Wednesday, "the Small Island Developing States group (SIDS) issued a list of demands that it says the international community must meet by the end of the summit ‘to strengthen our efforts to ensure an adequate response.'" 

— Climate change is causing droughts and deluges: The changing climate is bringing about more record wet and dry weather, according to new research, which explains that the extremes will have a serious impact on agricultural production and on economics.

“Heavy rainfall events, with severe flooding, are occurring more often in the central and Eastern United States, Northern Europe and northern Asia…In those regions, intense rainfall from hurricanes can be ruinously costly,” the New York Times reports. “Parts of Africa, on the other hand, are experiencing more months with a pronounced lack of rain. The number of record-setting dry months increased by nearly 50 percent in sub-Saharan Africa during the study period.”

— California’s costly blazes: Three of the wildfires that scorched the state last month — including the deadly Camp Fire that killed 89 people and destroyed 20,000 structures — will cost insurers about $9.05 billion, Bloomberg News reports. And that’s just the beginning.

Some insurers are also expecting to see net losses linked to the fires. “That figure is based on initial claims that insurers have received from the Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said on a conference call Wednesday,” per the report. “The number is likely to rise over time as more people get access to their neighborhoods and additional claims are processed, he said.”

— “They need to move to find food, to find mates”: The state of Washington is constructing its largest bridge for wildlife, a guide for animals over Interstate 90 equipped with walls to silence the sound of cars.

The wildlife bridge “aim to keep drivers and animals away from each other as increased human population, a boom in the number of deer and development encroaching on natural habitat have meant more cars on roads and more crashes with animals,” the Associated Press reports.

“Everything from an elk down to a small salamander, they need to move to find food, to find mates, to find new places to live as their populations expand or just when conditions change, like a fire breaks out,” Jen Watkins of Conservation Northwest told the AP.

— Someone is shooting sea lions in the Pacific Northwest: The bodies of 18 sea lions have washed up on the shores of the Puget Sound since September, and a dozen contained bullets or shotgun pellets in the head, Jason Bittel reports for The Post.

“Whoever is shooting the animals, which are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, faces a stiff penalty if caught,” Bittel writes. “Harming one can result in a fine of up to $28,520 and one year of imprisonment. The string of incidents is under investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement.”

He also writes these incidents are on the rise -- more than 600 sea lions shot on the West Coast between 1991 and 2016 -- nd the sea lion shooters are rarely apprehended.


— House climate committee likely won't be given power to pass bills: A growing number of members of the new Democratic House majority  reestablish a select committee on climate change. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who clinched the speakership yesterday, suggested the new panel may not be given the teeth some Democrats want.

In a meeting "meant to assuage concerns of incoming committee chairmen that the new climate panel might encroach on their authority, Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised that the select committee wouldn’t have the authority to pass its own bills, according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who attended the meeting," The Hill reports.

— Dems demand recusal from new FERC commissioner: Seventeen Senate Democrats called on Bernard McNamee, recently confirmed as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to recuse himself from future business involving potentially subsidizing struggling coal and nuclear power generators.

As a Trump political appointee at the Energy Department, McNamee worked on a proposal to do just that. The proposal was unanimously rejected by the energy panel earlier this year.

That past work suggests a "lack of independence and an inappropriate predisposition on a number of topics likely to be involved in proceedings that will come before you," the senators led by Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) wrote in a letter to McNamee.

— Congress approves a bill that will make it easier to kill sea lions in order to protect threatened salmon: The legislation, which is heading to the president’s desk, changes the Marine Mammal Protection Act to ease some of the restrictions on killing sea lions, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports. “In the past, Oregon and Washington have gone through a long regulatory process to get federal approval to kill sea lions,” per the report. If signed, the bill "would streamline the approval process for the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho as well as several Northwest Tribes."


— Oil industry conducted “stealth campaign” to push for rollback of car emissions rules: Marathon Petroleum worked with top oil industry groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council to roll bacl emissions rules by leveraging action “in Congress, on Facebook and in statehouses nationwide," the New York Times reports

“The campaign’s main argument for significantly easing fuel efficiency standards — that the United States is so awash in oil it no longer needs to worry about energy conservation — clashed with decades of federal energy and environmental policy,” the Times reports. “The industry had reason to urge the rollback of higher fuel efficiency standards proposed by former President Barack Obama. A quarter of the world’s oil is used to power cars, and less-thirsty vehicles mean lower gasoline sales.”



  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a holiday reception with the president of American Public Power Association.

Coming Up

  • The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event with the CEO of Occidental Petroleum on Friday.

— The Geminid meteor shower will peak on Thursday and Friday: Astronomers predict the number of shooting stars visible per hour -- so far reported at round 35 per hour -- will triple during the peak, Matthew Cappucci reports for The Post. He writes the weather conditions for viewing are looking good in the Rockies and Plains but questionable in the East.