THE LIGHTBULB

Seven minutes. 

That's how much time the moderators dedicated to questions about climate change during the Democratic presidential debate last night.

NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo hosts reserved only a short portion of the two-hour debate to questions on an issue many of the 2020 candidates themselves said was the nation's No. 1 geopolitical threat.

That brief interrogation came after days of protest in front of the Democratic National Committee in Washington by activists demanding a debate specifically focused on climate change. For them and other environmentalists, Wednesday night only confirmed the need for a forum dedicated entirely to what they see as a crisis.

"Tonight’s debate made it crystal clear that the media and the political establishment are out of touch with our generation," said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement. "Our survival is worth more time than vague, irrelevant, and trivial questions posed 80 minutes into the debate to a few minor candidates."

Adding to the irony is the fact that the venue for the debate — Miami — is one of the U.S. cities most vulnerable to sea-level rises. And this week the city experienced heat extreme even by its own standards while widlfires rages in the nearby Everglades.

"It’s disheartening how little NBC news decided to allocate to the climate crisis that affects not only Miami but the country," said Drew McConville of The Wilderness Society Action Fund after the debate.

About halfway through the debate, Chuck Todd teased that questions on guns and climate change would be coming up. But just as he started to question Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), there was a microphone malfunction. The candidates couldn't hear the questions. The network threw the program to a long commercial break, which included one from oil major ExxonMobil.

Once back, the climate question began around the 80-minute mark. Todd teed one up —"you're going to be happy with where we go" — to Jay Inslee. The Democratic governor of Washington has centered his entire campaign around the "climate crisis."

Inslee took his swing. "We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last that can do something it," he said. "Our towns are burning. Our fields are flooding. Miami is inundated."

Similarly, Julián Castro, President Obama's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, talked about his trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke highlighted his visit to flood-soaked farmland in Iowa while descirbing parts of his $5 trillion plan to address climate change.

And two other candidates who so far have barely registered in the polls, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and former congressman John Delaney of Maryland,  talked about how putting a price on carbon emissions would be paid for.

That was it. Five candidates. Then the moderators moved on to civil rights.

At other points in the debate, candidates weaved rhetoric about energy and environmental policy into their answers on a myriad of other issues. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) often referred to building a "green economy." Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) dinged the giant oil services firm Halliburton for its low tax burden under current law. And Inslee went after President Trump's inaccurate claim that wind turbines cause cancer.

"We know they cause jobs," he retorted.

Warren was able to go into the most depth without directly being asked a climate-related question by describing her industrial proposal to invest $2 trillion in federal funding in clean energy programs when asked about creating new jobs. 

"There's a $23 trillion market coming for green products," she said. "We should be the leaders and the owners, and we should have that 1.2 million manufacturing jobs here in America."

The frustration among some Democrats was on display afterward. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is not running for president, called the questioning "shockingly brief." And Booker, who is a candidate, told CBS afterward he is "very frustrated I did not get to talk more about my vision for dealing with the crisis of climate change."

For the past month, the Democratic National Committee has faced intense pressure from climate activists — and even candidates themselves — to host a climate-focused debate, They reasoned that a planetary problem deserves a nationally televised platform where it can get undivided attention.

But the DNC has balked at the idea of any issue-specific debate, arguing if it concedes on this than many other single-issue debates will be demanded by the Democratic base.

Of course, the committee cannot control what — or how many — questions NBC hosts ask. The network returns with the second installment of the debate Thursday evening, with a fresh slate of 10 contenders. 

POWER PLAYS

— Another Trump official leaves amid ethics scrutiny: The Environmental Protection Agency’s top air official Bill Wehrum has resigned from his post amid questions over whether he violated federal ethics rules, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. House lawmakers launched a probe into whether Wehrum, who previously represented power companies as an attorney, may have improperly helped former industry clients after joining the Trump administration. Without consulting with ethics officials, Wehrum met with two former clients from his old firm less than a month after joining the agency. He also in the same month participated in a decision that seemed to benefit a former client.

Why is he leaving? Though no reason was explicitly cited, Eilperin and Dennis report Wehrum had privately expressed concern about how the ongoing investigation was impacting his former law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth. And Politico reports his ties to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, the influential utility group he represented via the firm, is at the center of his departure. 

The woman replacing Wehrum: Anne Idsal, currently the principal deputy assistant administrator at the air office, is slated to temporarily take over as the head of the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation. Like others in the administration, Idsal – who has been in her current role since April and previously served as a regional administrator of EPA’s Region 6 – has previously “downplayed the role of human activity in climate change,” E&E News reports. "I think it's possible that humans have some type of impact on climate change," Idsal told the Texas Observer in a December 2017 interview. "I just don't know the extent of that."

— EPA to reconsider decision on controversial Alaska mining project: The agency announced it would reconsider a decision made by the previous administration to halt development of the Pebble Mine project near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. “Today’s step is a move toward good government decision making, which we owe under the law to both the public and project proponents,” EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold said in a statement. The new memo follows a surprising move by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in January 2018 to announce that the agency would leave the Obama administration’s determination in place that the project would cause harm to Alaska's Bristol Bay water­shed. The EPA’s latest move “restarts a review that had been put on hold since early 2018, and comes as the Trump administration works to reduce regulation over extractive industries and boost domestic development of minerals, especially those used in electric vehicles,” Reuters reports.

— Refinery to close after major fire: Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the company that owns the Philadelphia refinery that was damaged after an explosion and fire erupted there last week, announced it would permanently close the site. “The announcement is expected to set off a scramble among various interest groups -- industry, labor and climate activists -- over the possible reuse of the 1,400-acre site,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “…Closing the refinery would have a huge impact on the Philadelphia economy and on regional fuel markets. The 335,000-barrel-day refinery, the largest on the East Coast, employs more than a thousand people directly, including nearly 700 hourly union workers, and thousands of contractors. The plant has long been a thorn in the side of environmentalists and neighbors who say it is a health risk.”

— These companies are the worst polluters: According to a new report by consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates, 85 percent of the power sector’s carbon emissions come from 100 companies and public agencies, the Los Angeles Times reports. The report, conducted on behalf of business and environmental nonprofits, highlights a list that’s “dominated by some of the nation’s biggest companies, including North Carolina-based Duke Energy, Atlanta’s Southern Co. and American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio. This project also includes a function to search for a power company to see how it measures up.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hold a hearing on nuclear waste.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— The moment Inslee got the first climate change question: From The Hill’s Scott Wong: