THE LIGHTBULB

Last November, the “Green New Deal” was barely on the lips of any Democrat running for office.

Fast-forward two months, and the phrase is all over the campaign trail.

Potential presidential candidates who otherwise have starkly different political approaches — from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg — are talking in increasingly positive terms about forging a deal to curb climate-warming emissions.

But right now, “Green New Deal” is a just slogan. Presidential hopefuls want to appeal to the Democratic Party’s progressive base, but they appear hesitant to bind themselves yet to any specific policy proposals — or outline what might constitute this kind of landmark climate deal.

An aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, recently told the online news outlet Axios that the Massachusetts Democrat supports the “idea” of a Green New Deal.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who like Warren has already declared her candidacy for president, recently said on the left-leaning podcast “Pod Save America” that she supports the Green New Deal.

She added: "There’s not a lot of details yet behind the Green New Deal, but the platform of it is really exciting."

Bloomberg, who is mulling a White House bid, offered a caveat during a speech in New Hampshire on Tuesday: He told an audience that he wants an “achievable” Green New Deal.

“I’m a little bit tired of listening to things that are pie in the sky that we never are going to pass, are never going to afford,” he added.

Those less-than-full-throated endorsements hint at a coming tussle over the exact meaning of what has become a popular rallying cry among Democrats. The question now is: Will the eventual Democratic nominee end up on the same page as the Democratic base when it comes time to forge such a deal?

Many progressive activists are looking toward an ambitious proposal put forward by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who outlined a  vision for a Green New Deal. She wants Congress to pass legislation that would rapidly transform the U.S. economy — including getting 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from “clean” sources while guaranteeing a job for every American to facilitate that transition.

As the idea of a Green New Deal gains steam beyond the far left, progressive activists want to see Democrats stay true to these core ideas.

“These are still politicians, and they can spot a winning idea when they see one,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement. That youth-led activist organization thrust that catchphrase into the political conversation in Washington by twice storming the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the leading House Democrat, last year.

But if Ocasio-Cortez’s and Sunrise’s climate goals “aren’t part of their vision for a Green New Deal, then it’s not a Green New Deal," O’Hanlon added.

But those goals, historically, are much more than congressional Democrats have been willing to stomach. Only a handful of presidential candidates have taken any action in Congress toward such ambitious moves to reduce carbon emissions — usually falling short of Sunrise’s goal of moving the country off fossil fuels by 2030.

For instance, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a long-shot White House hopeful, introduced a bill in the last Congress requiring 100 percent of electricity to be generated from clean sources by 2035. And Gillibrand has urged the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to consider legislation to get the United States to net-zero carbon emissions “by as close to 2050 as possible.”

It is still very early in the 2020 campaign, when most candidates have not yet fleshed out detailed policy proposals on a host of issues. Some longtime Democratic aides like Paul Bledsoe, an adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute who worked on climate change under President Bill Clinton, cautioned White House hopefuls against making vows they cannot keep.

“The Democratic presidential candidates want to embrace the energy and enthusiasm of the activists without promising next-to-impossible goals,” Bledsoe said. “So they are naturally hedging.”

So far, Ocasio-Cortez and some other new House members who have pressed Democratic leaders to establish a select committee to create detailed Green New Deal legislation have faced some setbacks. While Pelosi has created the special climate panel, she has allowed lawmakers who have taken money from fossil fuel companies to join it — over the demands of activists.

Nonetheless, this new crop of progressive lawmakers has succeeded at popularizing the idea among voters. A poll in December from Yale and George Mason University found that 81 percent of them either strongly or somewhat supported a “Green New Deal” when it was described to them.

THERMOMETER

— The polar vortex is here: Across the United States, from the Midwest to New England, people began Tuesday seeing temperatures at or below zero degrees, including in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota where wind chill temperatures dropped to minus-50. “While actual temperatures drop to negative double digits this week, media have been clamoring to find exotic locations that will be warmer than the Midwest. Antarctica, for example, will be a balmy 10 degrees Thursday morning when Minneapolis drops to around minus-30,” The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. “But it is summertime in the Antarctic, so that shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising, at least meteorologically, is the Midwest will be colder than the North Slope of Alaska Thursday morning. Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, will drop to around minus-20 — 10 degrees warmer than parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois will be at the same time.”

— How the country is bracing for the cold: “All across the Midwest this week, preparations were underway in neighborhoods, on farms and in homeless shelters for a bone-deep, relentless chill expected through Thursday,” The Post's Katie Mettler, Christopher Ingraham, Samantha Schmidt and Angela Fritz write. “Nearly 90 million people are likely to experience temperatures at or below zero in the Midwest and New England, according to the National Weather Service; 25 million of them will face temperatures below minus-20 — dips that when combined with wind can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes.”

“The extreme cold already has been blamed for one death in Minnesota, and it has caused statewide declarations of emergency, school closures, Postal Service interruptions and 1,000 airline flight cancellations across the country... Some in the northern Midwest went about their days, shopping at local businesses, walking their dogs, biking through snow-covered streets and cross-country skiing. But even the hardiest of towns had to push people indoors: Fargo, N.D., canceled part of its annual Winter Frostival, as did organizers of a similar winter carnival in the Twin Cities. And classes at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin were suspended.”

 If you live in the DC region: “The worst of this cold blast arrives tonight into tomorrow with single-digit lows and sub-zero wind chills,” The Post’s Dan Stillman reports. “Friday trends slightly warmer but with another chance of light snow, before a more notable warming trend this weekend.”

— How’s this for a subtweet? Hours after President Trump dismissed climate change in yet another tweet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seemed to take a jab at the president’s implication, tweeting from its Twitter account on climate change that storms don’t disprove global warming.

The agency followed up its tweet with a link explaining the difference between climate change and weather. In a statement, a NOAA spokeswoman disputed that the tweets were a message to the president. “With the blast of severe winter weather affecting the U.S., we often get asked about the relationship between cold weather and climate change,” Monica Allen told ABC News. “We routinely put this story out at these times. Our scientists weren't responding to a tweet.”

POWER PLAYS

POST-SHUTDOWN WATCH

— Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo welcome visitors back: Workers greeted visitors at the gates, updating them on their favorite animals, who seemed as happy as the employees to have them back, The Post’s Marissa J. Lang and Peggy McGlone report. “But beneath the buoyant return to business as usual, Smithsonian administrators said there was still plenty to worry about: another looming deadline to fully fund the government by February and the impact of millions in lost revenue,” they write. Another point of stress: Smithsonian officials estimate the shutdown cost them $3.4 million in revenue from lost fees on food and beverages, theater and parking.

No shutdown for the animals: Life continued for animals at the National Zoo even while the gates were closed. “Several babies were born, including a kiwi chick, three otter pups and a kudu calf,” Lang and McGlone write. “A baby golden lion tamarin was named Carolina after veterinarians confirmed it was a girl. The newly crowned naked mole rat queen appears to be pregnant again, keepers said, as four pups born last month continue to grow. The naked mole rat babies, who were merely the size of jelly beans when the shutdown began, are now roughly as big as baby carrots.”

— Climate change letter went through "political censoring," senator says: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) suggested a letter from the Transportation Department responding to inquiries he made about climate change in his state was censored by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s office. During a hearing Tuesday, the senator explained that in 2017, he called on Chao to answer questions about how rising sea levels would affect infrastructure in Rhode Island. He alleged “Chao’s letter in response — which he said was originally drafted by staff at the Department of 'Transportation — had been the subject of ‘political censoring’ by Chao’s office,” The Post’s Michael Laris reports. “One reference to ‘sea level rise’ was changed to read ‘sea level variations,’ according to a comparison of the draft letter and the final letter released by Whitehouse. And the words “climate change” were also edited out.” A Transportation Department spokesman said “policy leaders, including the Senator himself, certainly have the right to make editorial changes to documents originally drafted by staffers.”

— EPA reportedly introducing new audit policy: A new policy from the Environmental Protection Agency will reportedly reduce penalties for oil and gas companies by offering new owners of such companies nine months following the acquisition to report emissions issues, the Hill reports, citing internal memos. “That’s an increase from the six months the agency first proposed in its original draft template of the rule,” per the report. “Companies would also be given 180 days from the date of discovery to correct the emissions issue. The previous draft gave companies 60 days.” The agency wanted to launch the policy in December but was delayed as a result of the shutdown, per the report.

— “Congress did not authorize or fund this project”: Senate Republicans sent a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry last week questioning a move to grant a nine-figure no-bid contract for a nuclear enrichment facility to a former government-owned contractor that filed for bankruptcy in 2014. In the letter, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) “said the company had a mixed history in fulfilling federal contracts for nuclear fuel and questioned whether the money it received would end up supporting the Russian state-owned firm TENEX, from which Centrus buys enriched uranium,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “This contract appears to use American taxpayer funding to bailout Centrus, an unsuccessful business that relies on commercial relationships with Russian state-owned corporations to stay in business,” Barrasso wrote. “Congress did not authorize or fund this project.”

— State AGs call on Trump energy official to recuse himself from resilience debates: Several Democratic state attorneys general signed a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Bernard McNamee, calling on him to recuse himself from panel proceedings related to grid resilience. The AGs from Massachusetts, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia sent the memo after McNamee told the Senate he would not recuse himself unless proceedings “closely resemble” a controversial Energy Department proposal to bolster coal and nuclear plants, which he helped draft. The letter follows a similar request from Senate Democrats.

— Trump administration has "taken a wrecking ball to science," report says: A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says administration officials have made 80 attacks on science with actions that have “ignored scientific findings on climate change, LGBTQ rights, taxes and other issues,” The Post’s Valerie Strauss reports. The advocacy group criticizes actions including the editing of scientific language, leaving critical science positions vacant and excluding science from regulatory roll backs or proposals and from other decision-making processes, among other actions, Strauss writes. 

OIL CHECK

— How Citgo became a lifeline for Venezuela: The U.S.-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, owns three refineries in the United States and oversees a network of pipeline and oil and gas stations. The company is also a source of salvation for the Venezuelan government, importing crude oil to the United States and bringing in revenue for Venezuela’s political elite, The Post’s Adam Taylor reports. It’s a long-standing economic relationship — about half of the company was bought by PDVSA in 1986, and another half in 1990 — that has withstood the political dispute between the nations. “Amid political chaos in Venezuela, however, that has changed,” Taylor writes. “The Trump administration announced Monday that it would block all U.S. revenue to PDVSA in a bid to force Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from office.” He adds: “The hope for many is that by preserving Citgo as a Venezuelan asset, the company could eventually play a key role in a post-Maduro ‘petroeconomic recovery’ for the country, said Scott Modell, managing director of Rapidan Energy.”

Saudi Arabia not rushing to help: The world’s largest oil exporter is making no quick moves to boost exports after the Trump administration announced sanctions over Venezuelan oil, the Wall Street Journal reports, a departure from previous actions. The kingdom “believes the U.S. could solve the problem of responding to any shortage of Venezuelan oil itself by selling oil from its emergency stockpile,” per the report. “Riyadh is also reluctant to help because its export surge last summer to fill an expected supply gap ahead of the U.S.’s ban on Iran oil sales led to a global glut after the Trump administration surprised the Saudis and exempted eight countries from the sanctions.” The Journal also notes there is no evidence to suggest the Trump administration has as of yet called on Saudi Arabia to boost exports.

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • FERC chairman Neil Chaterjee is scheduled to speak at the Energy Storage Association’s 2019 Energy Storage Policy Forum next month.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— A tragic end for the “world’s loneliest duck”: On the coral atoll Niue, residents are mourning the death of Trevor, who as of January 2018 was the only duck on the remote island. “We’ve had confirmed reports that Trevor the Duck — Niue has died,” read a post on the duck’s official Facebook page, as The Post’s Allyson Chiu reports. “He was seen dead in the bush after being attacked by dogs.”

What a sad way for the journey of Trevor the Duck - Niue to end. He flew/blew to Niue in a storm about a year ago,...

Posted by Trevor the Duck - Niue on  Friday, January 25, 2019