THE LIGHTBULB

By Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis, Darryl Fears and Sarah Kaplan

The 2020 Trump administration budget overview document, released on Monday, doesn’t even bring up the subject of climate change in laying out the president’s major priorities.

Yet as in prior years, it telegraphs what the U.S. government thinks of climate change -- mostly by proposing, in the fine print released individually by separate agencies, numerous cuts to climate research, adaptation, and renewable energy programs.

Congress in past years has largely said no thank you to the administration's proposed cuts. Still, at a time when climate scientists globally say there’s barely a decade to slash emissions, and when the administration’s own scientists say effects within the United States are getting worse, the Trump administration is barely even shrugging at mounting concern over climate change.

The proposed plans for the Environmental Protection Agency are instructive about the administration's approach. 

The 31 percent, $2.8 billion proposed cut, which would leave the agency a budget of $6.1 billion, is in line with the previous deep reductions that the administration has sought each year under President Trump. So far, Congress has been unwilling to go along, keeping the EPA’s budget largely stable.

The administration, for instance, would cut the EPA’s Global Change Research office, which exists to provide scientific information to policymakers about the threats posed by climate change. Employees of the office worked on the National Climate Assessment released last fall, which warned of growing impacts of climate change, and which Trump dismissed.

The office, which has a current budget of more than $19 million and nearly 50 employees, would be eliminated in order to prioritize “activities that support decision-making related to core environmental statutory requirements,” the administration wrote.

The agency said it would still be involved in the National Climate Assessment process, as one of 13 agencies that participates. “Under the proposed budget, EPA would continue to have input into the NCA scope, review the document, and provide agency concurrence per EPA’s role as a member of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research,” the agency said in a statement.

Then there are proposed numerous eliminations of entire environmental programs, such as funding for state radon-detection initiatives; to work on improving water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Puget Sound and other water bodies around the country; and a program that offers communities grants for lead-reduction projects.

The White House has proposed similar cuts at the EPA the past two years, but even the Republican-led Congress refused to embrace the sweeping reductions Trump requested. Now, the Democratic-led House is almost certain to reject the administration’s efforts to continue scaling back the agency’s reach and ambition.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called Tuesday’s document “a common-sense proposal” that would “support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes and local governments to protect human health and the environment.”

Environmental advocates quickly called it a disaster.

“In the face of a nationwide drinking water contamination crisis, a broken chemical safety net, and devastating hurricanes and wildfires, a rational and concerned president would seek more funding to protect Americans’ health, keep our environment clean, and combat the threat of catastrophic climate change,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “President Trump did just the opposite.”

There were similar cuts to climate programs at other agencies. 

Under the proposed budget, funding for the Interior Department’s Climate Adaptation Science Center would be cut nearly in half, to $23,900. Climate research and development and science that helps tribes adapt to climate change would also be slashed. Funding for Tribal Climate Resilience would be eliminated.

The Interior Department's priority in the budget proposal is to continue “the administration’s strong commitment to promoting economic security and energy dominance by developing domestic energy resources.” In other words, it will expand its robust effort to mine and drill for fossil fuels on land and at sea despite calls to lower their use.

The administration plans to sell federal oil and gas leases in an area that was untouched, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the Interior Department is considering a plan to offer leases off the Atlantic coast for the first time in half a century. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is considering whether to issue permits that would allow five companies to map the Atlantic floor for oil and gas using seismic air guns, instruments that could harm megafauna such as whales and smaller marine animals.

According to the budget, the agency will set aside areas to develop renewable energy on and off the shore, saying it would prioritize “permitting consistent with industry demand.”

At NASA, the budget eliminates two planned Earth science missions aimed at understanding climate systems: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem mission, a satellite that would seek to understand ocean health and its influence on air quality and climate; and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO), which would have studied energy from the sun reflected back by Earth.

The latter was one of the highest-priority projects in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s 10-year survey of the nation’s science goals. Its measurements of reflected sunlight are important for testing climate models and predicting future warming

At NOAA, meanwhile, the budget proposes to eliminate three environmental programs. That includes Sea Grant, which supports environmental research on the coasts and in the Great Lakes, including considerable climate change research. (That’s not something you can really ignore if you focus on the coasts.)

Still, it’s not like these proposed cuts are something people should bank on happening.

The likelihood of them becoming reality was perhaps well captured in a news release by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, regarding proposed cuts to the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative:

“For the past few years, no matter whether it was a Republican or Democratic-led administration, there have been attempts to cut or eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Portman’s statement said. “And every year, we have successfully defeated those efforts and ensured that this critical program receives full funding.”

POWER PLAYS

— More on Trump’s budget: Elsewhere in Trump’s budget are more cuts to science funding, including a 13 percent cut to the National Science Foundation, which funds about a fourth of all federally supported basic science and engineering research in the country. There’s also a small 2.3 percent cut proposed for NASA’s budget compared with the agency's 2019 funding, The Post’s Kaplan, Dennis, Joel Achenbach and Ben Guarino report. “The $21 billion for NASA is more than the Trump administration asked for last year, as administrator Jim Bridenstine pointed out Monday in a statement describing the FY2020 budget as ‘one of the strongest on record for our storied agency,’ ” they write. “Bridenstine said the budget keeps NASA on track for putting humans on the moon again by 2028.”

— Maybe this will be the end of all the clock changes: Trump tweeted his endorsement of a push to adopt daylight saving time permanently. “His tweet followed the introduction of a bill last week by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would make daylight saving time a year-round reality,” The Post’s John Wagner and Achenbach report. “Rep. Vern Buchanan, another Florida Republican, introduced matching legislation of the Sunshine Protection Act in the House.” Currently, states are allowed to opt out of daylight saving time and remain on standard time year round. Rubio weighed in, saying he hopes the measure gets to Trump's desk soon: 

— California considering utility overhaul: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is weighing whether to restructure the state's regulator for utility companies ahead of the next wildfire season. State lawmakers are considering establishing a wildfire fund and allowing utilities to issue more debt to cover costs from fires, the Wall Street Journal reports. At a meeting with legislative leaders and S&P Global Ratings analysts last week, Newsom “told S&P’s analysts that he is considering a new president of the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates state utilities, and that a plan for an overhaul of the agency could come in a matter of weeks.” 

— No more fuel efficiency talks with California: Wheeler said the Trump administration is not planning to negotiate further with California officials before it rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. “At this point, we have to move to finalize,” the acting EPA chief told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We don't have time to move to reopen [negotiations]. We tried to work with California, but we were just not able to. In California, politics was playing the bigger hand than the policy." The Post’s Steven Mufson and Dennis reported last month that the administration had broken off talks with the California Air Resources Board over the standards.

— The number that’s a GOP talking point on the Green New Deal: The $93 trillion price tag linked to the climate resolution has been brought up “on the Senate floor, the Conservative Political Action Conference and even ‘Saturday Night Live,’” but it’s a “bogus” figure that originated from a conservative think tank study, according to Politico. “[T]he $93 trillion figure does not appear anywhere in the think tank’s report — and [American Action Forum] President Douglas Holtz-Eakin confessed he has no idea how much exactly the Green New Deal would cost.” In order to come up with the number, “Republicans added together the cost estimates that the AAF report's authors had placed on various aspects of a Green New Deal platform. Most of those were based on assumptions about universal healthcare and jobs programs rather than the costs of transitioning to carbon-free electricity and transportation.”

THERMOMETER

— A pollution advantage and burden: A new study says in the United States, while air pollution is disproportionately caused by the white majority, blacks and Hispanics are mainly suffering the consequences, The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. The new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America confirms “racial and ethnic minorities are acutely vulnerable to air pollution because of the neighborhoods in which they live,” Stanley-Becker writes. “But it also introduces a largely unstudied element into the analysis, examining who is responsible for the pollutants inhaled disproportionately by blacks and Hispanics.” The study found whites face 17 percent less exposure to air pollution than what is caused by their own consumption, while blacks and Hispanics face 56 percent and 63 percent more exposure than what is caused by their consumption habits.

OIL CHECK

— The road ahead for Tesla: Scratch that previous plan. The electric automaker said it would keep “significantly more stores” open than it previously announced. The update comes days after Tesla said it would close most of its stores as part of an effort to maintain the $35,000 price tag of its Model 3 sedan. The company said it would instead raise vehicle prices an average of about 3 percent worldwide. Tesla also said it had recently closed 10 percent of stores that “didn’t invite the natural foot traffic” and “would have closed anyway.”

More on Musk: Chief executive Elon Musk told a federal judge he shouldn't be held in contempt of court for tweets the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says violated a settlement deal. "The Securities and Exchange Commission is attempting an 'unconstitutional power grab' to unfairly muzzle Musk, his attorney argued in a 33-page court filing," The Post's Renae Merle reports. "The SEC’s effort 'smacks of retaliation and censorship' after Musk said during a '60 Minutes' interview last year that he did not 'respect' the SEC, the motion says." The SEC had accused Musk of violating a deal that required him to get preapproval for any potentially market-moving statements.

— Venezuela watch: Citgo Petroleum Corp, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-run energy firm PDVSA, and Valero Energy, two top U.S.-based buyers of oil from Venezuela, are trying to return millions of barrels of oil they can’t accept because of U.S. sanctions on the country. And another company, Chevron Corp., has been attempting to legally pay for 4.3 million barrels, Reuters reports. As a result, more than 6 million barrels of crude are in limbo. “To comply with U.S. sanctions, Valero, Citgo and others are not allowed to pay PDVSA,” Reuters reports, adding the administration of opposition leader Juan Guaidó “has yet to establish its own bank accounts to receive proceeds from oil sales to U.S. customers, leaving those shipments stranded.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on energy and mineral resources holds a hearing on “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and the Power Marketing Administrations."
  • The House Natural Resources subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife holds a hearing on the state of wildlife.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security holds a hearing on recovery efforts for 2017 and 2018 disasters.

Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the review of national monuments on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2019 on Wednesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on the EPA’s management of chemical risks on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on opportunities to improve access, infrastructure and permitting for outdoor recreation on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— A word of warning about selfies with big cats: A woman was trying to get a photo with a jaguar at the Wildlife World Zoo in Arizona by climbing a barrier to get closer to the enclosure, The Post’s Lindsey Bever writes. The jaguar reached out and grabbed the woman’s arm, leaving lacerations.