THE LIGHTBULB

On the heels of the Green New Deal's defeat in the Senate, Democrats tried to prove they would not give up on tackling climate change — an issue that has energized their base and that they think is a political winner for them. 

Even though the nonbinding resolution to drastically curb climate-warming emissions over the next 10 years will not move forward, Democrats sought to put the onus back on Republicans. They renewed calls for the White House and Republican lawmakers to start taking seriously what they, and much of the scientific community, see as a crisis that could imperil future generations. 

Senate Democrats, most of whom voted “present” on the vote they decried as a “sham” forced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), came back Wednesday to announce they would form a "Special Committee on the Climate Crisis"  -- made up only of Democrats.

The panel will be composed of 10 Democrats, with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) leading it. While the group will be not a formal committee in the GOP-led chamber, it will still meet, call in experts to testify and even issue a report in July 2020 on the costs of inaction.

Schatz acknowledged the move was unusual for a party in the minority, but insisted these are “unusual times” given “the total unwillingness of Senate Republicans to take this issue seriously.”

“We just made the judgment that the planet can't wait,” he added. “Waiting around for Mitch McConnell to change his mind on climate seems reckless.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), took things a step further by introducing a bill aimed at stopping the United States from withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement that President Barack Obama's administration brokered in 2015. 

But the GOP did not show any signs of relinquishing its campaign against the Green New Deal spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that would that would dramatically reshape the economy, and continued using it as a cudgel against Democrats in an effort to label them as socialists. 

And Senate Republicans had earlier this week blocked a resolution from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday to formally create a bipartisan climate panel, arguing that there are committees in Congress to address environmental issues such as climate change.

“Democrats seem to think that adding a layer of bureaucracy is an answer to every problem,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “That's the same instinct that gave us the Green New Deal.” 

Even so, Schumer threatened to use whatever “leverage” his party had in the minority, such as filibusters, to address the causes and effects of climate change given that “this is such a crisis,” he said. “We're looking for any way we can move it forward.”

Schumer hoped to include climate-related measures within other bills, including for infrastructure, taxes and the federal budget.

Like Schumer, Pelosi called the introduction of her bill on the Paris accord “only step one” for House Democrats on climate change. Using her new power in the majority, she has impaneled her own select climate committee after Republicans disbanded a similar one when they were in control of the chamber. 

Under the Paris agreement, nations voluntarily set targets for reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement is still popular with Democrats, with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), head of the select climate committee, calling it a “breakthrough” when introducing the bill with Pelosi. 

The bill, which stands a good chance of passing the House but not the Senate, would prevent the federal government from spending any money toward the withdrawal, which President Trump promised to do only a few months into his term. It would also compel Trump come up with a plan for meeting the United States' Paris targets.

The earliest opportunity Trump has to make the withdrawal official is November 2020, when he is up for reelection. 

Yet House Republicans are still looking to find ways to divide Democrats on the Green New Deal.

GOP representatives, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), said Wednesday they plan to use a parliamentary maneuver to bring the Green New Deal to the floor of the House, too. Like in the Senate, the move is designed force House Democrats to take a stance for or against the bill. 

POWER PLAYS

— Bernhardt keeps a calendar "card" that’s overwritten each day: Ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday to permanently lead the Interior Department, acting secretary David Bernhardt has attracted scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers who want more information about how he documents his meetings, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report. They write that his “unusual” method involves preparing a “daily card” on a Google document with the acting secretary’s schedule. The document is later overwritten to include meetings for the next day.

Why does this matter?: None of the information is shared with the public. It’s also a shift from his predecessors, who had publicly available calendars that detailed who they were meeting with and when. This is likely to be a central part of the questioning during Thursday’s confirmation hearing, along with issues of climate change, public lands management and endangered species protections.

Bernhardt’s response: When House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called on Bernhardt for his personal calendar, he responded in a letter saying he has “not personally maintained a calendar for years, and I have no intention of suddenly doing so now.” On Monday, the Interior Department sent hundreds of versions of Bernhardt’s calendar card in more than 7,000 documents to Grijalva’s committee. Cole Rojewski, the director of the Interior Department’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, also defended the acting interior secretary, saying his office was in compliance with the Federal Records Act.

— Clip of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez goes viral (again): The New York Democrat defended her Green New Deal proposal during a House committee hearing after Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) suggested support for the plan focused “on the rich, wealthy elites.” The freshman Democrat responded that concerns about the environment were hardly “elitist.” “You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country,” she said. “Tell that to the families in Flint whose kids have — their blood is ascending in lead levels. Their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives. Call them elitist. You’re telling them that those kids are trying to get on a plane to Davos? People are dying. They are dying.”

And her points are accurate, The Post’s Philip Bump writes: "Both globally and in the United States, poorer people are more likely to be exposed to air pollution." And he added that, according to the U.S. government's National Climate Assessment released in November, climate change "is more problematic for poorer Americans, not less."

— Air Force needs billions to rebuild bases: Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said nearly $5 billion in disaster relief would be needed over the next two years to reconstruct Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael last year, as well as in Nebraska that was damaged by flooding this month. “The Air Force said that without that money, it will make other cuts that risk undercutting Air Force readiness for combat operations,” the Associated Press reports.

— 2020 watch: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the latest 2020 contender to add his name to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, a promise to reject contributions from fossil fuel companies.

THERMOMETER

— “This will test our Nebraska grit”: Some communities in the Midwest are still underwater after severe storms and flooding hit the region, leaving evacuated residents to question whether they should return. It could take a while for utilities to bring power back and water-treatment services to be restored. “This will test our Nebraska grit,” Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We will be working on this for a while.” Both Nebraska and Iowa have received federal disaster declarations. “Initial estimates from Iowa predict the state will need nearly $1.6 billion in federal assistance, while Nebraska has tallied about $1.4 billion in flood-related damages so far,” per the report. “Between Omaha and Kansas City, floodwaters breached or flowed over the top of 68 levees, as the Missouri River and tributaries reached record heights, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.”

— Post-hurricane recovery efforts continue in the U.S. Virgin Islands: Frustration has mounted in the Virgin Islands as contractors deal with unpaid bills and residents deal with shoddy work in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Many residents acknowledge the pace of recovery has been quicker than with previous storms, but The Post’s Tim Craig writes the territory is “a long way from its pre-storm footing after 18,500 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the hurricanes, resulting in an estimated $11 billion in damage.” “The discord has cast light on how the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Virgin Islands government and two private multibillion-dollar engineering companies are managing the recovery, and the extent to which the financial windfall is filtering down to the sweaty workers doing much of the manual labor,” Craig reports.  

“Where are they going to go?”: The island is also marred by a housing dearth that has made hurricane recovery that much more difficult. Limited affordable housing on the island territory means hundreds of families are living in hurricane-ravaged homes. “The widespread destruction of hotels and public housing, combined with the flood of workers who have rushed to the islands to aid in rebuilding, have pushed rents higher, beyond the means of many disaster victims,” Craig writes. “FEMA’s first traditional weapon is to give you money for rental assistance,” Brad Gair, who consults for Witt O’Brien’s, a recovery firm working with the Virgin Islands government, told The Post. “But if there is nowhere to rent, and there is no affordable rental units here, where are they going to go?”

— Here’s why Trump says Puerto Rico is getting $91 billion in disaster aid: In a private meeting with Senate Republicans this week, the president complained about the cost of hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, questioning why the U.S. territory was getting $91 billion, but it was unclear where Trump got that figure. The Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler writes it is “significantly higher than what is known about appropriated funds for Puerto Rico. But administration officials say he has a basis for using it.” While Kessler didn’t give the president a Pinocchio rating, because his remarks were not reported as a direct quote, he explained administration officials say Trump was talking about future liabilities.

— Water bottles found in abandoned Flint school: Hundreds of donated water bottles were discovered in an abandoned school building in Flint, Mich. The school was once part of Agnes Catholic Church, which had held fundraisers following the water crisis in Flint, M Live reports. “We were pretty dumbfounded that anyone could leave that much water behind that this city truly relied on,” said a Flint resident who came across the abandoned cases, according to the report. “If anyone wants to know where Flint donations went, it’s just sitting in abandoned buildings in stockpiles . . . This is probably a 30-by-50 room full of water.”

OIL CHECK

— Corporate giants form climate energy alliance: Google, General Motors, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson, and other top corporations announced the launch of a new trade organization, the Renewable Energy Buyer’s Alliance, that’s meant to help make it easier for companies to purchase renewable energy, CNBC reports. The organization is launching with 200 member companies. “Through last year, companies signed enough corporate renewable deals to support nearly 16 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity in the U.S,” CNBC reports. “REBA aims to accelerate that activity and grow the market to 60 gigawatts by 2025.” 

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Bernhardt to be Interior Secretary.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the federal response to the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on abandoned mine land reclamation.
  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) speak at an event hosted by Resources for the Future on "Putting a Price on Carbon."
EXTRA MILEAGE

From The Post's Tom Toles: "Mitch McConnell held a straw vote on the planet":