THE LIGHTBULB

An environmental adviser to the Trump administration projects that its attempt to reverse Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards could have a steep long-term toll on the U.S. economy and eventually cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The research by an outside adviser picked by former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt — and funded by grants from the auto industry — is sure to fuel critics of the Trump administration's attempts to stall rules meant to reduce the amount of climate-warming and illness-causing pollution produced by the nation’s automobiles. 

While cutting the car regulations would give the U.S. economy a short-term jolt, it would in the long run forestall job-creating automotive innovation while putting less money in the wallets of motorists who would have to spend more on gasoline, according to the adviser John D. Graham, who is dean of the Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and his four colleagues. 

The Trump administration's proposal to freeze standards on tailpipe emissions for new cars and light trucks at 2020 levels, or otherwise watering down their stringency, would create 236,000 fewer jobs by 2035 than if the Obama-era standards stayed intact, according to the paper published late last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

“The final result of our paper is that the possible Trump administration changes to the standard will reduce the short-term loss but it will also significantly reduce the long-term benefit,” said co-author Sanya Carley, associate professor at Indiana University. 

Still, Graham, a former head of regulatory affairs in President George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, stopped short of offering an overall opinion on the Trump administration’s proposal.

“We have not analyzed the full range of impacts that are relevant to offering an informed opinion,” he said.

The Obama-era rules, which compel automakers to build cars that get increasingly more miles per gallon of gasoline, constituted a cornerstone of that administration’s efforts to reduce the nation’s overall greenhouse-gas emissions.

But the Trump administration, in trying to roll back those rules, argues that forcing carmakers to manufacture more expensive fuel-efficient vehicles jeopardizes the safety of drivers.

They contend that some consumers will forgo buying the pricier vehicles and keep driving older cars that perform less well in accidents.

The result, according to a statement from President Trump's EPA, would be the prevention of “thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries as compared to the standards set forth in the 2012 final rule.”

But top Trump administration officials at the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and White House are still wrangling over how exactly to undo the Obama-era rules.

After initially suggesting freezing the standards at 2020 levels, administration officials are now exploring the idea of gradually ratcheting up fuel efficiency standards between 0.5 percent and 1 percent a year to address the automakers’ call for annual increases.

For months, the Trump administration has been at loggerheads with California and other blue states over their efforts to freeze standards on the tailpipe emissions. After months of negotiation, the administration broke off talks with California in February.

The end of those talks paves the way for California to set its own standards, which under a half-century-old law it has the authority to do.

But having two sets of tailpipe rules nationwide for new cars is a worst-case scenario for the automotive industry, which fears a higher cost of complying with that patchwork of regulations. Early in Trump's administration, automakers called for revisiting the rule, but have now expressed concern about how a rollback could fracture the U.S. auto market.

Starting in 2015, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group of leading automakers, paid the Indiana University researchers nearly $800,000 to prepare a study of fuel-economy standards put forward under Obama.

Graham’s team published a study in March 2017. That spring, they briefed government analysts in Washington and Ann Arbor, Mich., on its findings, Graham said.

But after the Trump administration came up with its own proposal to weaken fuel-efficiency standards, the team followed up with its most recent analysis of the potential economic effects of that proposal. The team's research does not quantify any health benefits stemming from reducing auto pollution.

Auto Alliance spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said “the release of the study last week was a surprise.”

The researchers also emphasized that the Auto Alliance did not have any influence on the outcome of the studies. “We were so careful to make sure that this funder didn't have any input on what our decisions were,” Carley said.

The involvement of Graham in the study is significant because the former Bush administration official was tapped in 2017 by Pruitt to join a key research advisory panel.

While in office, Pruitt named a cadre of industry-connected scientists to the Scientific Advisory Board and other panels, which help guide the EPA’s research objectives and make recommendations that form the basis for new regulations.

Critics of the Trump administration note that freezing the pollution standards would be a boon for oil and gas producers allied with the president.

Indeed, Graham's study found that while the U.S. economy as a whole stands to benefit from the fuel-efficiency standards, a handful of southern oil-producing states — including Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — would likely lose economically because of it.

"The effects are not even across regions," Carley said. "Some regions take a bigger hit."

POWER PLAYS

— Massive disaster relief bill stalls in Senate: The measured meant to provide funding for victims of hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and other major natural disasters was defeated in the Senate amid tensions between Democrats and Trump over aid to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Senate Democrats voted down the $13.45 billion legislation, even after Trump tweeted calling on them to support the aid bill earlier on Monday. The chamber’s Democrats said the $600 million allotted for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program was not enough, The Post’s Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report, and have embraced a House-passed relief bill which includes hundreds of millions of dollars more for the U.S. territory, although that version also failed on Monday. 

Trump’s Twitter outburst "suggests there won’t be an easy resolution to the political dispute holding up federal money for those deluged in Midwestern floods and hit by other recent natural calamities,” The Post’s Tim Elfrink writes. “While disaster relief is traditionally bipartisan, Trump’s reluctance to pay more toward Puerto Rico’s recovery has opened a gulf between the parties.”

And again with that $91 billion figure: His tweets also referred again to a figure of $91 billion for disaster relief, which “actually reflects a high-end, long-term estimate for recovery costs; a fraction of that has so far been budgeted, and even less has been spent.” It is not the amount of money Puerto Rico has been given.

Per The Post's Fact Checker columnist, Glenn Kessler:

— “Go look at the countries that are still in”: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters after speaking at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania that the Paris climate accord didn’t make a difference for the countries that were involved. “Go look at the countries that are still in the Paris agreement and see what their CO2 emissions were. It’s one thing to sign a document. It’s another thing to actually change your behavior,” he said, according to Penn Live.

Though nearly every single other nation is still a part of the Paris accord, he called out China specifically for its still increasing carbon emissions. “Go look at Chinese carbon emissions since they entered the Paris agreement... If you’re looking for a change, it didn’t change a thing.”

— Texas billionaire clashes with California's clean energy goals: A Texas billionaire and major Trump supporter is aiming to overturn California’s clean-energy goals with a case before federal regulators. He’s arguing that the state’s policies “discriminate against generators powered by fossil fuels like natural gas and coal as the state promotes sources like solar and wind power,” the New York Times reports. And a decision in Andrew Beal’s favor “could further the administration’s energy agenda, giving new life to coal, natural gas and nuclear power throughout the United States. It could also upend California’s recently enacted mandate for 100 percent carbon-free electricity as well as efforts nationwide to curb carbon emissions.”

— National Park Service's San Francisco office stays put: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blocked a plan for the National Park Service to relocate its Pacific West regional headquarters to Vancouver, Wash., saving about 150 federal jobs in her hometown of San Francisco, E&E News reports. A spokesman for the Park Service said the agency renewed its lease, a move Pelosi praised as a victory for San Francisco. The initial idea for moving was an attempt to save $2 million in rent a year and help with recruiting new staff to a city with a lower cost of living.

THERMOMETER

— A new climate generation: In Atlanta last month, Al Gore roared about climate action during his climate leadership training, “a three-day barrage of hope and fright and boredom and motivation,” The Post’s Dan Zak writes. And at one table sat 24-year-old Nina Simone Barrett from Raleigh, N.C., one of 600 students at the training. While working for her master’s degree in public administration at North Carolina Central University, a historically black institution, she did research on food deserts and saw a link between environment, health and poverty. A professor encouraged her to apply for Gore’s climate training, so she did and took her first solo trip to attend the program last month. Zak weaves together the stories of Gore and Barrett, individuals from different generations looking to tackle climate change. At her table during one event, Barrett took notes and whispered to herself as Gore explained that “half the black population of the United States lives within 30 miles of a coal plant, that the death rate of black children from asthma was 10 times higher than that of white children.” “Nina, this is exactly why you are here, she thought. Your story is part of this statistic. This is why you need to be involved,” Zak writes.

— Another whale washes up with plastic in its stomach: A pregnant sperm whale washed ashore in Sardinia, Italy, last week — and it had ingested 49 pounds of plastic, CNN reports. The country’s environment minister and a marine life nonprofit organization also said the whale was carrying a dead fetus. "She was pregnant and had almost certainly aborted before (she) beached," said Luca Bittau, president of the SeaMe group. “The fetus was in an advanced state of composition.” Sergio Costa, Italy's environment minister, vowed the nation would be one of the first countries to implement a law prohibiting a range of single-use plastic products that was approved by the European Parliament.

OIL CHECK

— Shell quits trade group over climate-change positions: "Citing differences over climate change, Royal Dutch Shell has pulled out of an industry trade group called the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers," The Post's Steven Mufson reports. "Shell said that it was at odds with the refining and petrochemical group on the Paris climate agreement, carbon pricing, fuel mandates and the reduction of methane emissions."

But: After reviewing its trade organization memberships, the oil giant decided to stay in the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and seven other trade associations despite “some misalignment” between its views on climate policy and theirs.

— Duke Energy ordered to excavate coal ash: North Carolina’s environmental agency has ordered Duke Energy Corp., the largest electric company in the nation, to remove all the coal ash from its power plant sites to reduce the risk of having toxic chemicals leak into water supplies. The decision will affect six coal-fired plants operating in the state, while eight others had been ordered to excavate remaining coal residue, the Associated Press reports. “The science points us clearly to excavation as the only way to protect public health and the environment,” state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said in a statement. Following the decision, North Carolina joins Virginia and South Carolina in ordering electric utilities to remove coal ash from unlined storage.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the 2020 budget request for the Energy Department.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife holds a hearing on the state of Western water infrastructure and innovation.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on state and local action to combat climate change.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the EPA budget.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds an executive session on various legislative measures on Wednesday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the budget for the National Parks Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey on Wednesday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on science, energy and environmental management programs on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing on the 2020 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the 2020 EPA budget request on Wednesday.
  • The House  Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on "Generation Climate: Young Leaders Urge Climate Action Now" on Thursday. 
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement budgets on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— How does climate change affect the cherry blossoms bloom? The Post's Capital Weather Gang breaks it down: