THE LIGHTBULB

When President Trump flew to Utah to announce his plans to shrink the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, his administration trumpeted a potential coal boom there.

That's because roughly 9 billion tons of high-quality coal is buried underneath its Kaiparowits Plateau. With a stroke of a pen, Trump lifted decades-old protections against mining and other activities on some 800,000 acres that many of the state's Republicans have long sought to see scrapped.

But Trump's proclamation is likely not enough to attract investors to extract coal there, The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports. Or as she puts it: "In this fight, ideology has triumphed over economics."

For one, the harsh economics of coal may make it hard to profitably mine in that corner of southern Utah. Domestic demand for coal has waned as coal-fired power plants have been replaced by cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources across the country. Any company that did decide to mine there would have to truck the coal out — rather than transport it by rail as it is elsewhere in the country — because there’s “zero infrastructure” for that in southern Utah, according to Michael Vanden Berg, the Utah Geological Survey’s energy and minerals program manager.

In addition, the one company that has expressed interest in mining there doesn't appear to be in a great financial position to do so. Even though Glacier Lake Resources acquired a roughly 200-acre parcel of land in June, the company disclosed to shareholders earlier that year that it "has not generated any revenue since inception, and expects to incur further losses in the development of its business" and that there is “the risk that the Company will not be able to meet its financial obligations as they fall due."

Finally, the real resource recently tapped in the area — tourism to see "unimpaired vistas and a snapshot of when dinosaurs roamed North America" as Eilperin put it — may be undermined by mining. Visits to the monument have risen nearly 63 percent over the past decade. As a result, huge chunks of the local economies in Garfield and Kane counties — 47 and 34 percent, respectively — come from the leisure and hospitality sector.

Trump's Grand Staircase announcement has brought the monument more attention recently as visitation jumped 18 percent in the last fiscal year. But some local business proprietors worry if that interest will last should mining actually start.

"They’ve decided to kill the golden goose," said Blake Spalding, co-owner of the restaurant Hell’s Backbone Grill, one of Garfield County’s largest employers. "I hate that wilderness and public lands have become part of the culture wars."

Read the full story here.

POWER PLAYS

SHUTDOWN WATCH: 

— Some employees coming back to work: The White House and Congress have made no progress toward resolving the underlying dispute that’s fueling the ongoing partial government shutdown, The Post’s Erica Werner reports. Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 furloughed federal employees have been called back to work without pay. The administration is also bringing back dozens of federal workers to move forward with the plan to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling. “The Interior Department’s Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) updated its plan for the ongoing partial federal government shutdown last week to state that 40 workers would be brought in for offshore drilling, in addition to the 84 others who have already been working during the shutdown,” The Hill reports. BOEM said the areas where employees are working are being financed through “carryover funds,” per the report. 

One way the shutdown is impacting climate data: As the shutdown drags on, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can’t issue their annual temperature analysis, which has a ripple effect on other governments, such as Britain’s national weather and climate monitoring service, that use that data, the New York Times reports. NOAA’s disaster-cost estimate, which they have issued since 1980, also hasn’t yet been made available for 2018. “Researchers say those data delays are mostly just a nuisance,” per the Times. “They call the interruption of key scientific research, though, a much bigger problem that will have longer lasting repercussions.”’

A warning regarding national parks: Testifying before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Tuesday, former Interior officials warned of property destruction ongoing at National Parks during the shutdown as well as reports of poaching of wild animals. “Richard Ring, an executive council member for the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said at least three deer were taken illegally at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee,” The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. Ring, a former superintendent at Everglades National Park, also said there were unconfirmed reports of deer poaching at Big Cypress National Preserve near Fort Lauderdale and the Everglades. Fears reports a National Parks spokesman confirmed a case is under investigation after three deer carcasses were found at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but said the agency received no reports from Big Cypress.

— WHEELER'S CONFIRMATION: Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler is scheduled to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a confirmation hearing today. Watch for Democrats to grill Wheeler on his decision to carry through some of Scott Pruitt's deregulatory effort.

Also expect Wheeler's former job as an energy lobbyist to come up. A day before his scheduled hearing, a government watchdog group also sent a letter to the agency’s acting inspector general, calling for an investigation into whether Wheeler violated his ethics agreement. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked about meetings with former clients that occurred in the two-year period when the ethics pledge would have prevented him from participating in areas relevant to his previous lobbying work. “Unfortunately, it seems that Acting Administrator Wheeler is continuing in the steps of his predecessor to further erode the commitment to ethical government within the EPA,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.

Senate Democrats have also continued to question the timing of Wheeler’s hearing, calling for a delay of the confirmation process until the government reopens and regular EPA employees are back to work.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.): 

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.):

— EPA referrals for criminal prosecution hits 30-year low: The Environmental Protection Agency hit a three-decade low last year in criminal action it took against polluters, according to data from the Justice Department.

The numbers: There were 166 cases the agency referred for prosecution in the last fiscal year, the Associated Press reports based on administration data obtained and released by the nonprofit advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. That’s the lowest amount of cases since 151 cases were referred in 1988 in the Reagan administration, per the AP, which adds the number of cases has been falling since Bill Clinton's presidency.

"We’re reaching levels where the enforcement program is lacking a pulse," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told the AP.

The consequence: The Government Accountability Office said Tuesday it launched an investigation in October into the decrease in enforcement actions the EPA has taken against companies that may be violating pollution standards. A GAO spokesman told The Hill a final report is not expected “until later in the year, likely fall.”

— About that Trump threat against California: The Los Angeles Times writes neither the White House nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency have responded to daily inquiries about what the president meant when he tweeted last week that he would cut of federal disaster funding in California. “His missive sent shock waves through the communities still recovering from two major fires that killed 89 people and burned more than 15,000 structures, with state and local lawmakers of both parties expressing outrage and concern,” per the LA Times. Last Thursday, more than a dozen members of California’s congressional delegation met to discuss a response, including a potential lawsuit if fire recovery funds are indeed cut off.

— The deal with the Green New Deal: “It’s hard to recall a Washington idea that has rocketed to prominence as quickly as the “Green New Deal,’” Politico Magazine writes in a piece looking back at the prototype version of the deal that was signed into law in 2009. That deal brought $90 billion into clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency and other green efforts. Now, Democrats have been studying the deal, which was wrapped into the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, for motivation for a new Green New Deal.

But part of the trouble, per the report, is that there are similar questions to answer this time around. “[T]he Green New Deal, like the green stimulus, is ultimately supposed to produce economic as well as environmental transformation, and it’s raising some of the same questions Democrats grappled with a decade ago. What should be the top priority, and how far should it go to wrap in other priorities? Should the green stuff focus on safe and proven strategies for cutting emissions, or riskier and more aspirational ideas as well? What’s the plan to deal with the inevitable attacks from fossil-fuel interests and the Republican Party? What kind of compromises would be acceptable to broaden support and perhaps even win over some moderate Republicans? And should there be tax hikes or spending cuts to pay for it?”

THERMOMETER

— California facing back-to-back storms: Two storms that will bring flooding rain, blustery winds and multiple feet of snow were on track to hit the West Coast starting Tuesday, The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. The first storm, which is expected to bring five to 10 inches of snow in the Central Sierra Nevada and up to 18 inches in higher elevations, is only the appetizer to a “major trough of low pressure over the Pacific Ocean, scheduled to reach California on Wednesday.”

Fritz also notes the National Weather Service forecasters will likely continue working through these California storms without pay amid the partial government shutdown, just as they did through the Mid-Atlantic storm over the weekend.

OIL CHECK

— PG&E’s wildfire woes: The company’s plan to file for bankruptcy protection would have an immediate impact on homeowners who have sued PG&E for wildfire damages. There are more than 750 civil suits, brought against PG&E over wildfire damages that would have to be immediately paused and resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Meanwhile some of the long-term contracts PG&E struck to buy electricity from wholesale power providers could be dissolved in a bankruptcy,” per the report. “Many of the contracts to buy power from wind and solar farms are well above current market rates because PG&E was among the first utilities to buy large quantities of green power, when it was far more costly than it is today.”

— Auto alliance: At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen announced on Tuesday a global partnership to design and produce pickup trucks, vans and transit vehicles for each other. “Over the longer term, both companies acknowledged the potential benefits of working together on new automotive technologies,” The Post’s Brian Fung reports. “But despite some analysts' expectations, the companies said Tuesday they had not yet reached a formal agreement on electric or self-driving cars.” Ford chief executive Jim Hackett called those areas “attractive” and acknowledged the companies are thinking about such projects for the future. “Both the AV and EV are big bills, or costs, for investment, for innovation. And both are really important to both companies' future, so that is part of the incentive to find ways to cooperate,” Hackett told reporters.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be EPA administrator.
  • The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development holds a hearing.
  • Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is scheduled to be a special guest at the Crypto Finance Conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland that's beginning today.

Coming Up

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting on Thursday
  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry is set to deliver opening remarks at a Bipartisan Policy Center and American Energy Innovation Center event on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

 — The polar vortex has fractured: The polar vortex broke into three parts at the beginning of the 2019, and The Post’s Jason Samenow writes the eastern half of the country is about to get hit with the consequences: severe and punishing winter weather. A pattern of severe weather is expected in just over 10 days.