THE LIGHTBULB

Blink and you might have missed it: President Trump last month quietly issued an executive order that would dramatically increase logging on public land.

The order, designed to prevent deadly wildfires and issued without much fanfare the Friday before Christmas, has tremendous implications, as my colleagues Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report: "The executive order instructs the secretaries of agriculture and interior to consider harvesting a total of 4.4 billion board feet of timber from forest land managed by their agencies on millions of acres, and put it up for sale. The order would translate into a 31percent increase in forest service logging since 2017." 

“In addition to removing trees, Trump asked his secretaries to remove forest brush and debris that help fuel fires from more than 4 million acres and treat another 1.5 million acres to control tree-destroying pests. The order, published last week in the Federal Register, does not specify a deadline to accomplish the president’s goal,” they write in a story published this morning.

Trump frequently comments on forest management, and has criticized California’s management of the wildfires last year. Yet as my colleagues note: “While many scientists and Western governors have urged federal officials to adopt a suite of policies to tackle the problem, including cuts in greenhouse gases linked to climate change, the president has emphasized expanding timber sales.”

This approach doesn’t make sense to some experts: “University of Colorado Boulder Professor Jennifer Balch said in an email that while treating federal forests makes sense near homes, that policy prescription won’t make a serious dent in the size and intensity of wildfires out West. The number of these fires have increased five-fold since the 1970s as temperatures have risen and snowpack has shrunk. Just 2 percent of lands treated by the Forest Service between 2004 and 2013 experienced a wildfire.”

“We can’t log our way out of the fire problem — thinning all the forests is not possible,” the fire ecologist told Darryl and Juliet. “And even if it were, it won’t stop fires in the extreme weather that is happening more frequently, and will in the future.”

Another notable nugget: The Trump administration is pushing for the logging to continue even though the partial government shutdown has closed the Forest Service. “[O]fficials there have given harvesters permission to keep operating on existing sales — which was prohibited during both the 1995 and 2013 shutdowns — and are now exploring holding new auctions even if the government remains closed,” my colleagues write.

“Agency officials informed staffers Thursday to figure out what it would take to bring back some furloughed employees for new timber sales, according to a federal official who was not authorized to speak on the record. Meanwhile, the important work of removing small vegetation and dry brush that serves as kindling for fires is not being done because of the shutdown, the longest in history as it enters its fourth week. Employees working without pay and those funded by unspent appropriations from last fiscal year are managing the current harvests, the official said. Timber technicians who go through the forests to mark which trees should be cut are receiving their regular salary. But holding new sales would involve substantially more staff, the official noted.”

Read the full story here.

POWER PLAYS

SHUTDOWN WATCH

— Damaged Joshua trees spark outrage amid shutdown: The infamous trees in Joshua Tree National Park have become a symbol of outrage amid the ongoing partial government shutdown, as images of downed trees at the national park have gone viral. Joshua Tree resident and paraplegic veteran Rand Abbott has been visiting the national park nearly every day to clean bathrooms and clean up trash. He told The Post’s Allyson Chiu that vandalism was an issue even before the shutdown, but he has “never seen it this bad.” But Abbott said there could be a “silver lining” to the shutdown: “It has drawn people’s attention to the abuse that has been going on at national parks nationwide for years,” Chiu wrote.

— Foundation raises money to repair parks: The National Park Foundation, a charity supporting the parks system, has started collecting donations to fund repairs needed at the parks once the shutdown is over. "Part of the challenge we have right now is we really don’t know the whole extent of it," the group's president Will Shafroth told NBC News.  "The fundraising effort by the National Park Foundation, which is a Congressionally-chartered charity and the main charity for the federal park service, does not have a set goal and it just started, Shafroth said," NBC News reports. "The foundation will work with park rangers to determine where the damage is and where the money raised to repair them should be spent, the foundation said."

— Trump may be considering using Puerto Rico’s disaster funds to build the wall: The president has ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to determine how much of the nearly $14 billion in emergency disaster relief set aside for Puerto Rico and other storm-damaged regions could be used to build the wall, the Associated Press reports. Such a move has already been criticized, and The Post’s Eugene Scott writes the president stands to lose support in 2020 unless he “makes changes in how he responds to issues of important to Hispanic voters.” “While progress has been made in helping Puerto Rico recover, experts and residents say that projects are nowhere near completion,” Scott writes. “Diverting funds, they argue, suggests a lack of commitment from the administration to follow through on the already limited efforts to redevelop the island.”

— House chairman says he would support Bishop to replace Zinke: House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he would support Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) to be the permanent head of the Interior Department. He told The Hill he believes Bishop is “ethical” even if they don’t’ always agree. “His philosophy and ours obviously don't match up,” Grijalva told the publication. “But, I have to put a but in there . . . he's ethical. And he doesn't carry the legal baggage or conflicts — the pretty obvious conflicts others have.” Bloomberg reported last week the White House is discussing Bishop, the retiring Utah Republican, to lead the Interior Department as well as acting chief David Bernhardt.

— Pentagon sought to recruit controversial scientist: The Defense Department looked to hire Michael Dourson, the controversial scientist who withdrew his name from consideration to be the EPA’s top chemical safety official, for a fight against state and federal chemical regulations, Politico reports. Almost a year after Dourson bowed out of consideration because of bipartisan concerns related to past research “that downplayed the risks of a chemical found in consumer products like Teflon and firefighting foam used by the military,” per the report, the Defense Department looked to hire him to lead new research on the health risks of that same class of chemicals. “While Dourson does not appear to have been hired, Democrats are furious that he was even a candidate for the government-funded work,” per the report. “The effort to hire the controversial scientist is the latest revelation about DoD's attempts to influence research on the chemical under the Trump administration.’

— U.S. to test the Arctic waters: The U.S. Navy is preparing for expanded operations in the Arctic as more ocean waterways become available as a result of climate change. The move is part of a U.S. effort to compete with “great-power rivals Russia and China for influence in the far north,” the Wall Street Journal reports. For the first time, a Navy warship will sail through Arctic waters on a so-called freedom of navigation operation, or FONOP. “The Navy also is planning to station resources in Adak, Alaska, which would mark a return to the onetime World War II and Cold War base that operated from 1942 to 1997, when U.S. troops were withdrawn,” per the report.  

2020 WATCH

— Warren signs "no fossil fuel money" pledge: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) added her name to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. She's the latest 2020 contender — including likely candidates and those who have announced their plans to run — to sign a pledge to reject contributions from the oil and gas industry. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) are among those who have signed the pledge as well.

THERMOMETER

— How oceans are warming faster than we thought: In an interview with The Post’s Angela Fritz, Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained the recent study he wrote found numbers are showing estimates for ocean temperature rise are 40 to 50 percent warmer than the most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In addition, Trenberth said that “2018 will be the warmest year on record in the oceans” as 2017 was and 2016 before that. “Trenberth and his colleagues say if society continues to emit greenhouse gas at its current rate, oceans will rise one foot by the end of the century on top of the rise expected from melting land ice on Greenland and Antarctica,” Fritz reports.

OIL CHECK

— PG&E's wildfire woes: PG&E Corp. announced the utility's chief executive Geisha Williams is stepping down from the company as it faces potentially billions of dollars in liability costs for its role in sparking deadly wildfires in California. The company's general counsel will become the interim CEO, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Investigators have already found PG&E’s equipment responsible in at least 17 major wildfires in 2017. State investigators haven’t determined whether the company played a role in November’s Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history, but the company disclosed that some of its equipment malfunctioned in the area shortly before the fire started," per the report. "The California Public Utilities Commission has stepped up a continuing probe into the company’s safety practices and is considering whether the company should be broken up, among other things."

More: The company said it will file for bankruptcy protection, the Journal reports."The company and its wholly owned subsidiary, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said they plan to file a petition on or around Jan. 29, though companies are required by law to give a 15-day advance notice to California state of its intention to file a Chapter 11 petition," per the report.

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be EPA administrator on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing on Wednesday.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting on Thursday
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center is scheduled to hold an event on energy innovation on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— A $28 bill: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) tweeted on Friday that her husband, Dan Little, cleaned up bathrooms at a Mount Hood National Forest Sno-Park and sent the bill to the president.