THE LIGHTBULB

When Michael Bloomberg announced he was not running for president, the 77-year-old former New York mayor said would rather spend his remaining days (and considerable wealth) addressing issues dear to him — including climate change.

On Earth Day, Bloomberg put his money where his mouth is. 

The businessman-turned-politician-turned-philanthropist announced Monday that he will donate $5.5. million to the climate agency of the United Nations, filling in a funding gap left by the Trump administration after it said it would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.

For a billionaire such as Bloomberg, that amount of money put toward the U.N.'s Climate Change Secretariat may amount to a drop in the bucket. But the donation is the latest in a series of donations to help global climate efforts from the former mayor, who has emerged as a major political and environmental donor after leaving office in 2013.

This is the second year in a row that Bloomberg has helped fund the operating costs of the U.N. climate office.

The administration of President Barack Obama, who helped broker the landmark international climate agreement a year before Trump’s election, initially promised to put up $15 million through 2019 toward those U.N. efforts.

“We are really making good on our promise — really on the U.S. commitment previously from the Obama administration,” said Shara Mohtadi, Bloomberg Philanthropies' environment program liaison to the United Nations.

Still, under Obama, the United States had pledged a total of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, the main U.N. vehicle for aiding poor countries' efforts to combat climate change. Trump's commitment to withdraw from the Paris agreement means the United States will not pay the $2 billion it still owes. 

Under Trump, that funding from the federal government had been scaled back to just $2.5 million last year, with another $2.5 million expected this year, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. Bloomberg’s donations over the past two years will fill in that $10 million shortfall.

The donations to the United Nations constitute a remarkable instance of a private individual replacing funding once promised by the federal government — one that highlights the urgency some technocrats such as Bloomberg feel about the climate issue.

“The idea of a Green New Deal — first suggested by the columnist Tom Friedman more than a decade ago — stands no chance of passage in the Senate over the next two years,” Bloomberg wrote in a March op-ed explaining his decision not to run for president. “But Mother Nature does not wait on our political calendar, and neither can we.”

Bloomberg's spending seems to have only accelerated since Trump’s election. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the former mayor’s charitable arm, has plowed tens of millions of dollars into various activities meant to reduce climate-warming emissions since 2016.

The spending includes $70 million for efforts by 20 U.S. city mayors to reduce their carbon emissions, $64 million to the Sierra Club and other groups to try to shut down domestic coal-fired power plants and another $50 million to help other nations move away from coal.

And those totals do not include the tens of millions Bloomberg personally gave last year to help Democrats flip the House.

POWER PLAYS

— "If you don’t abide by this, there will be sanctions": Secretary of State Mike Pompeo moved to further crack down on Iranian oil exports, announcing it would start imposing sanctions on several countries, including key U.S. allies, if they don’t stop buying petroleum from Iran. Trump previously granted waivers to eight countries, and three of those countries have already stopped buying Iranian oil. When those waivers expire on May 2, waivers will no longer be granted for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, The Post’s Carol Morello and Karen DeYoung report.

Trump wants to tighten the screws on Iran... Morello and DeYoung report that the State Department's decision represents what a senior administration official called the "logical playing out of the president’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal." The president also took to Twitter to criticize John Kerry, suggesting the former secretary of state was giving “very bad” advice to Iran, and claiming he had violated a law that prevents private citizens from unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments.

...but drivers may be feeling the pain: The new possible sanctions also raise "the potential for pain at the pump at the start of the summer driving season," they write. "The price for a barrel of crude oil, already up 50 percent in the past four months, surged another 2.4 percent Monday."

— The Trump administration is getting hammered in court on environmental issues: The past several days have brought two decisions regulators at the Interior Department and Environment Protection Administration won't like.

  • A setback in mining efforts... In a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to save the nation's coal business, a federal judge ruled Interior failed to include proper studies of environmental impacts on coal mining when it moved to reverse an Obama-era ban on such mining on public land. The Friday ruling by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court of the District of Montana does not reinstate the ban, but it means the “Interior Department has to go back to the drawing board if they want to continue to sell coal mining leases on public lands,” Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine told the New York Times. The environmental group participated in oral arguments against the administration in the case.
  • ...and on a controversial chemical: Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (perhaps Trump's least favorite court) last week gave the EPA 90 days to make a final decision on whether to ban the use of a pesticide called chlorpyrifos. Scientists at the agency have already found that chlorpyrifos likely adversely affects on the mental and physical development of infants and children.

— More questions about Bernhardt’s work for ex-clients: Even as he vowed to steer clear of issues related to former lobbying clients, a Politico analysis of documents from the Interior Department found recently confirmed secretary David Bernhard started working closely on issues that would help one of his ex-lobbying clients soon after he joined the administration. According to calendar details the agency recently released, Bernhardt’s efforts started as early as October 2017 and they included helping develop the agency’s response to a “key portion of a water infrastructure law he had helped pass as a lobbyist for California farmers,” per the report. An Interior spokeswoman told Politico "Bernhardt is in complete compliance with his ethics agreement and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations."

— “Projecting sovereignty”: The Coast Guard is releasing a new 48-page strategic outlook for the Arctic, which calls for “projecting sovereignty” in the area as the United States bolsters efforts to compete with Russia and China in the region. The strategy includes upgrading ships, aircraft and unmanned systems in the region, the Post’s Dan Lamothe reports. “The Coast Guard, as part of the Department of Homeland Security, is unlikely to have the primary role if open conflict ever broke out in the Arctic,” he adds. “But the service highlights in its new strategy a perceived need to ‘’retool existing concepts of operation to maximize the impact of more capable assets,’ presumably from the Defense Department.” 

...and addressing climate change? The report does not specifically cite “climate change,” Lamothe points out, even as it highlights how “reductions in permanent sea ice have exposed coastal borders and facilitated increased human and economic activity” in the Arctic region.

— Virginia could join regional cap-and-trade program: Virginia regulators voted to become the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon cap-and-trade program. But language in the state budget could prove be a roadblock. Republican lawmakers placed language in the state budget that blocks the state from participating in the program, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has until May 3 to veto the language, The Post’s Gregory Schneider reports.

THERMOMETER

— As climate warms, taxpayer spending on disaster funds has spiked: A Post analysis of federal data has found taxpayer spending that goes to federal disaster relief funding is nearly 10 times higher than what it was three decades ago, The Post’s Jeff Stein and Andrew Van Dam report. And the exploding spending is in part a result of climate change, they write. “As global temperatures rise, the federal government has faced far more billion-dollar disasters — those causing at least $1 billion in damages,” they write. “From 1980 through 2018, the U.S. government faced, on average, only six such in a given year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But of the most recent five years on record — from 2014 to 2018 — the United States has seen an average of 13 billion-dollar disasters every year.”

— Greenland's great ice loss: The rate of ice loss from Greenland's ice sheet has increased sharply in the past several decades with an almost sixfold growth, a new study published in the Proceeds of the National Academy of Sciences has found. Loss from the planet's second-largest ice sheet was contributing 51 billion tons of ice to the ocean from 1980 to 1990, and between 2010 to 2018, that spiked to 286 billion tons, The Post's Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. “Researchers have known for some time that the ice losses are getting worse,” they add. “Greenland lies in a zone of the Arctic that has warmed by more than 2 or, in some regions, even 4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.”

— Most parents are in favor of climate education: According to a new poll from NPR and Ipsos, more than 80 percent of parents in the United States say they support climate change teaching in schools. That includes 90 percent of Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans. More specifically, the NPR/Ipsos poll found that among surveyed parents, 68 percent said schools should teach climate change and the impacts on the environment, economy and society, while 16 percent said schools should teach about climate change, but not about the potential impacts. Another 6 percent said schools shouldn’t teach anything about climate change.

— Hurricane Michael was actually a Category 5 storm: The National Hurricane Center has reclassified Michael, which blew through the Florida Panhandle last October, as a Category 5 at landfall, up from a Category 4 hurricane, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. That makes the system the first to make landfall as a Category 5 hurricane in the United States since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. Andrew was also upgraded from a Category 4 to a 5 in a post-storm analysis.

OIL CHECK

— A climate change solution gains traction: Technological advances have made carbon capture a real possibility for companies looking for ways to combat climate change. Three companies, Carbon Engineering, Climeworks and Global Thermostat, have been leading the pack for a decade in the race to figure out how to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, The Post's Steven Mufson reports, adding "their work is poised to move beyond the lab tables and prototypes." Some major companies, including oil firms, are interested in the idea too, "lured not so much by the virtues of fighting climate change but by the prospects of making money."

— Sierra Club’s new guide to plug-in electric vehicles is out just in time for Earth Day: The environmental group released a new consumer's guide to electric vehicles that aims to match people's driving habits and budget to an electric car suited for their needs. The Post's Fredrick Kunkle writes he “filled out the form saying that I generally take daily trips of fewer than 50 miles but wanted a vehicle that would be suitable for five people on a road trip. When I said that I also wanted better fuel efficiency than 40 miles per gallon and a price tag of $30,000 or less, the guide shot back 15 vehicles.”

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • Politico hosts an event on disaster relief in an era of extreme weather on Wednesday.
  • The U.S. Energy Association and Society of Petroleum Engineer’s National Capital Section holds a joint briefing on energy sustainability on Wednesday.
  • The Wilson Center holds an event on sustainable development goals in Asia and the U.N. on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— “I was pretty outraged”: A photo of a coal miner that appears on the front of a pro-Trump leaflet was used without permission by an organization, Internet Research Agency, that led Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team revealed that the photo, which depicts a soot-covered miner emerging from an Appalachian mine, had been used by the Russians as part of their efforts to try to swing the election to Trump, The Post’s Deanna Paul reports.

“I was pretty outraged,” the photographer, Earl Dotter, told The Post about learning from his daughter that his photograph was in the report. "It was not my support of Trump or Pence that led to its use," he added.