THE LIGHTBULB

The debate among Democrats about holding a climate change debate is not going away. 

Environmental activists and 2020 candidates are still pressing the party to dedicate one of the dozen presidential debates it is staging to what they see as an urgent, generational crisis. Yet party leaders have not given in to the calls for a climate-specific event, saying they do not want to highlight one issue over others.

The back-and-forth between Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and advocates for a climate-themed debate has at times turned acrimonious. The uproar underscores the degree to which ensuring the United States is addressing the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere — and preparing to deal with their effects — has become a priority among Democratic voters.

The DNC came down with its decision last week, writing in a letter to Democratic candidates that “the DNC will not be holding entire debates on a single issue area,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said. Democratic candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has tried for years to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions in his own state, had formally asked the DNC for a climate debate in a letter.

Inslee, who has centered his campaign around climate change, fired back at the committee for “silencing the voices of Democratic activists.”

Perez followed up by penning a longer explanation on Medium explaining that the party has received more than 50 requests for issue-specific debates. “And we knew it would be unfair and unrealistic to ask the candidates to participate in so many,” he wrote. 

But activists are not taking no for an answer. In Washington on Wednesday, a coalition of groups delivered a petition with more than 200,000 signatures to DNC headquarters calling for a climate change debate. And that same day in Kansas City, activists with the Sunrise Movement, an environmental group, confronted Perez, accusing the chairman of using the party rules as “a very thin defense.”

Perez promised that portions of the scheduled debates will be on climate change. “You carve out a section of the debate, and it's on issue A or issue B,” Perez responded. “We will be doing that throughout the course of the debate season.”

Perez also said he did not want to craft a debate around a single candidate's signature issue. 

But more than a dozen presidential candidates — including former vice president Joe Biden, who is leading in polls — have joined Inslee's call for a climate debate.

“I think that’s what we should be doing,” Biden said this week when asked by a Greenpeace activist about a climate-focused forum. “Yeah, I’m all in.”

The DNC, though, is not the only organization that can hold events. Planned Parenthood's political arm, for example, is hosting a forum for 2020 candidates on women's health issues. Abortion, like climate change, is emerging as a key issue in the Democratic primaries.

Major environmental groups are holding back from staging their own forums for environmental issues.

“We are considering a number of options, but we are focused on making clear to the DNC that they still have the opportunity to make the right choice,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

POWER PLAYS

— Update on the oil tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed fingers at Iran for what he called a “blatant assault” on the petrochemical tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. He said the United States would “defend itself and its allies against Iranian aggression in the region,” The Post’s Erin Cunningham, Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report. “But he provided no evidence that the explosions had been the work of Iranian forces.” Late Thursday, the U.S. military released a video it says shows Iran retrieving an unexploded mine from a tanker after the explosion. Meanwhile, Iran dismissed claims that it was behind the attack, condemning the Trump administration for what it called “economic terrorism,” Cunningham reports.

But: The the head of the company that operates the ships attacked said the ship was hit by a flying object, “disputing at least part of the account of United States officials who had blamed Iran for the attack,” the New York Times reports. “Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object,” said Yutaka Katada, who is the president of the operator, Kokuka Sangyo. He added: “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.” 

— USDA announces relocation area for science offices: The Agriculture Department announced it will move its Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington to the Kansas City region, The Post’s Ben Guarino reports. The announcement was made amid strong opposition to the plan from employees at the research agencies — both offices recently unionized “in the face of the decision and union officials have promised to fight the move,” Guarino adds. The department has estimated it will save $300 million over 15 years with the move.

A reporter snapped a photo of employees at the two agencies turning their backs to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on the day of the announcement: 

— 2020 watch: Democratic candidate and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper announced a climate plan that includes remaining in the Paris climate accord, working with the private sector to create green jobs, investing in government-funded climate technology research and implementing a carbon tax. The plan also includes launching a program to encourage young people to pursue jobs to tackle climate change.

— Only dry eyes in the room: Speaking to a crowd in Iowa this week, Trump described the scene as he signed a February 2017 executive order to review the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule. He said as he did so, the farmers and ranchers surrounding him wept with joy. “And many of them never cried in their life, including when they born, and they were crying,” the president said. “A truly heartwarming moment — if it had actually happened that way. Oval Office video of Trump signing the executive order two years ago tells a slightly different story,” The Post’s Michael Brice-Saddler reports. “It’s clear those standing behind Trump were enthusiastic about the order…Many smiled. Some nodded along. Nearly everyone applauded. But not one person in the video is seen crying.”

— A pattern of fewer environmental case referrals: There has been a marked drop in the number of criminal environmental cases the Interior Department refers to the Justice Department. According to data reported by the Hill, there has been a nearly 40 percent decrease since 2016, bringing the rate of referrals to an almost 25-year-low. “The tanking case referrals to the Department of Justice (DOJ), prosecutions filed and convictions come as law enforcement officer employment numbers at Interior are also on a downward swing,” the Hill reports. “The number of cases referred by Interior to the DOJ to prosecute in fiscal 2018 stood at 132, down from 154 in 2017 and 216 cases in 2016, Obama’s last year in office. At the height of referrals in 2000, 835 cases were sought.”

— FEMA short-staffed ahead as hurricane season begins: The Federal Emergency Management Agency told lawmakers this week that only about a quarter of its workforce is ready to handle forthcoming disasters and the acting chief, Peter Gaynor, said the agency is “probably short a few thousand employees.” “The ongoing Midwest flooding has exacerbated FEMA's chronic staffing problems, forcing the agency to assign thousands of workers to disasters around the nation,” E&E News reports. “The agency is also still continuing recovery efforts from hurricanes in 2017.” A daily operations memo from the agency noted it had 6,300 employees who are working on 59 disasters and emergencies across 31 states.

— A bipartisan flood insurance plan: The House Financial Services Committee advanced a plan this week to make a change to the federal flood-insurance program by lowering costs for lower-income policyholders and encouraging private flood insurance by allowing homeowners to switch between public and private plans without losing subsidies, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bipartisan plan also extends the National Flood Insurance Program for another half-decade.

— Michigan AG drops Flint cases to start over: The state’s attorney general’s office has dropped all criminal charges against eight people in the Flint water crisis and said it would start again with an expanded investigation. Attorney General Dana Nessel said the move was made in part because of concerns with the original investigation, the Detroit Free Press reports, which notes it’s possible that a new investigation would include charges against the original defendants or against additional ones.

Flint resident Nayyirah Shariff, who is the director of the group Flint Rising, called it a “bungled” investigation and “a slap in the face to Flint residents.” In a statement, Nessel defended the decision and sought to reassure the city’s residents. “I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied,” she said.

— Trump official confers with climate change deniers: Emails show William Happer, a member of Trump’s National Security Council, consulted with advisers at the Heartland Institute, a think tank that has challenged mainstream consensus about climate change, on questions about widely accepted scientific findings, the Associated Press reports.

“In a March 3 email exchange Happer and Heartland adviser Hal Doiron discuss Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work ‘more useful to a wider readership,’” the AP reports.

Happer, who has previously claimed carbon dioxide is good for humans, also exchanged emails with Heartland advisers before he became a security adviser but while he was advising the Trump administration on climate issues, according to the AP. The emails were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the Freedom of Information Act.

THERMOMETER
Monkey Cage
Melting ice will expose toxic and nuclear waste that has been locked in for decades.
Jeff D. Colgan
OIL CHECK

— A flaring flurry: According to data from the World Bank, global oil producers are wasting natural gas, and the United States ranks fourth behind Russia, Iraq and Iran for the amount of natural gas it has wasted while producing oil, Axios reports. “Intentionally discarding natural gas by burning it off as carbon dioxide, a practice called 'flaring,' increased 3% to 145 billion cubic meters last year compared to 2017,” per the report. “In the U.S., flaring rose by nearly 50%, driven by booming oil production and a relative lack of infrastructure to contain associated natural gas.”

— Tesla’s tariff woes: The United States has denied a request from electric automaker Tesla for an exemption from a 25% tariff on its car computer and center screen that are made in China. “The California-based electric vehicle manufacturer had warned that increased tariffs on the car computer it dubbed the ‘brains’ of the Model 3 causes ‘economic harm to Tesla, through the increase of costs and impact to profitability,’ ” Reuters reports.

— But the solar industry gets a break: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has granted an exemption from the Trump administration’s solar tariffs to “bifacial” or two-sided solar panels that can absorb sunlight on both sides, E&E News reports. This type of panel will be “exempt from the 30% tariffs that were slapped on a bulk of solar cells and modules in early 2018. The tariffs have since been reduced to 25%.” “The exemption is significant, according to analysts, because segments of the utility sector are moving toward bifacial panels. In other cases, developers not using these types of panels could switch to them,” per the report.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is set to speak at an E2 event in California about climate change policy.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Lest you forget, entropy is coming for us all: “Eventually, the galaxy will empty itself of the material for making new stars,” The Post's Sarah Kaplan writes. “This is how all galaxies die — at least, according to the theories. But until now, no one has captured a galaxy in its transition phase, after the formation of a quasar but before it has lost all its stellar building blocks.”