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The Energy 202: DNC will consider holding a climate debate amid protests

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with Paulina Firozi


The prospect of a Democratic presidential debate focused on climate change just took a step closer to becoming reality. But such a single-issue face-off is still far from being a done deal. 

Leaders of the Democratic National Committee want the organization to consider a proposal to host a climate-specific debate after weeks of protests from environmental activists and even some White House hopefuls. The DNC will decide on whether to allow such a debate at its next meeting in August.

The decision amounts to a slight concession from party leaders, who have argued the dozen presidential debates already scheduled provide ample opportunity for candidates to discuss climate change. It also reinforces how the issue of rising temperatures and their adverse effects have become a top issue for Democrats seeking to unseat President Trump.

“It shows the pressure is working,” said Stephen O'Hanlon, spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate group that staged a multiday sit-in outside the DNC's headquarters in Washington over its demands for a climate debate.

But the move by no means guarantees a climate-themed debate, since the proposal has other hurdles to clear. In fact, the only thing the procedural maneuver assures is that the idea of a climate debate will still be a topic of hot debate among Democrats for weeks to come. 

During a meeting on Saturday in Pittsburgh, the DNC's 60-member executive committee referred a resolution to hold a climate debate to the organization's resolutions committee for consideration, according to DNC spokesman David Bergstein.

If approved by that panel, the full 447-member committee will vote to decide on whether to stage a climate debate. The full committee meets next in late August in San Francisco. 

At the same time, the executive committee also wants the resolutions panel to consider another proposal, from South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, to hold what it calls a “climate forum” instead. Such an event would be akin to an abortion rights forum held last month by the political arm of Planned Parenthood, at which 2020 contenders gave speeches but did not directly debate each other.

The discussion on Saturday was civil, with every member who spoke emphatic that climate change needs to be a top Democratic concern, according to attendees on both sides of the climate-debate issue.

Proponents of a televised climate debate say holding it will not only give Democrats a chance to draw contrasts with Trump in front of a national audience, but also will play an important role in forming a consensus on the contours of the party's official platform ahead of the nominating convention next summer in Milwaukee.

“This isn't just, 'Let's have a debate to have some entertainment,' " said Christine Pelosi, an executive committee member who co-sponsored the climate-debate resolution and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “It's not just for show.” 

Perhaps the loudest voice calling for a climate-specific debate is 2020 candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made climate change the central focus of his campaign. Tina Podlodowski, the chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, led the introduction of the climate-debate resolution.

But DNC Chairman Tom Perez said he did not want to craft a debate around a single candidate's signature issue. “We don't have enough debates to do that,” Perez said during a confrontation with environmental activists last month.

During the first Democratic debate last week, NBC hosts asked candidates only 15 minute's worth of questions about an issue many of the White House hopefuls said was the nation's top geopolitical threat. The four-hour debate was held over two nights with 10 candidates appearing each night.

To proponents, the dearth of climate questions only underlines the need for a focused debate.

"We are optimistic our fellow DNC leaders from across the country know this issue motivates voters and will come to table for us," said Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party who is pushing for a presidential climate debate.


— The grim choice facing USDA employees at two agencies: The Agriculture Department last month finalized its plan to relocate about 550 jobs at two scientific agencies from Washington, D.C. to the Kansas City area. Now, the department is giving employees the choice of relocating or being fired. The administration’s plan “includes a document with two blank boxes on it, sent to employees on June 13. Check one, it instructs: Accept the transfer by July 15 or “be separated by adverse action procedures,” The Post’s Joe Davidson writes. “That means getting fired, with an opportunity to appeal the dismissal through what could be an expensive process. Getting fired could also make it more difficult to find another federal job in an area where the government dominates.”

What members of Congress have been doing: Democratic lawmakers representing D.C.-based federal workers are running out of options to stop the planned move. They’ve “written a flurry of letters, bills and amendments in a race to block the measures before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, with little success,” The Post’s Jenna Portnoy reports. Some lawmakers and unions worry "the agencies will hemorrhage talent because many scientists and researchers would rather quit than move their families 1,000 miles from the District.”

Amidst high tensions with the U.S., Iran said July 8 it had surpassed the limits on its enriched uranium stockpile. What does that mean for the nuclear deal? (Video: The Washington Post)

— Iran exceeds uranium limits: The International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirmed Iran has surpassed the stockpile limit for uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal. “Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the move was ‘reversible’ but warned that Iran can continue to reduce its commitment to the agreement if Europe does not take necessary action to uphold the other side of the deal,” The Post’s Loveday Morris and Michael Birnbaum report, citing Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. “ … A more serious departure from the deal could come on July 7, when Iranian officials have warned they would increase work to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade and take other measures to reduce their commitments under agreement if they cannot secure the sanctions relief it promises.”

— Another day, another lawsuit challenging Trump policies: Ten states and the District of Columbia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to push the agency to strengthen asbestos regulation. The known carcinogen is linked to mesothelioma and other cancers, but federal law still allows for limited use of the substance. “The attorneys general from California and Massachusetts, Xavier Becerra and Maura Healey, said on Monday they are leading the case, after the EPA denied the states’ petition that it collect more data on asbestos,” Reuters reports.


Oil bubbles are seen in April spewing out of a leak that was created when a Taylor Energy Co. production platform was destroyed in 2004 in the Gulf of Mexico. (Video: Couvillion Group)

— A “volcano” at the bottom of the gulf: A massive volume of oil has been pouring out of the site where Hurricane Ivan knocked down a Taylor Energy platform nearly 15 years ago, an erosion pit that has fueled the longest oil spill in the nation’s history, as The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. Timmy Couvillion is now attempting to contain the spill. The former fishing boat captain turned engineer has been criticized as inexperienced and doomed to fail, but Fears reports that even “Taylor Energy has acknowledged the Couvillion Group’s success.”

How he’s doing it: “His business, the Couvillion Group, conceived and designed a containment system weighing more than 200 tons, built it in shops all over southern Louisiana and pieced it together deep underwater. The system has recovered about 63,000 gallons since March, according to Couvillion — virtually eliminating a rainbow-colored slick that has stretched as far as 21 miles,” Fears reports. Coast Guard Capt. Kristi Luttrell, who chose the Couvillion Group to take on the task, said she is in “awe of what they did … We gave them a task and they did it, and they should be very proud of what they’ve done.”


 — It’s not enough to worry about future fossil fuel plants: New research suggests enough fossil fuel infrastructure has been installed worldwide to commit the Earth to more than what The Post’s Chris Mooney writes is a “level of warming that has become increasingly accepted as a scientific line-in-the-sand.” “This fossil fuel infrastructure merely needs to continue operating over the course of its expected lifetime, and the world will emit over 650 billion tons of carbon dioxide, more than enough to dash chances of limiting the Earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius,” he writes. “And it gets worse: Proposals and plans are currently afoot for additional coal plants and other infrastructure that would add another nearly 200 billion tons of emissions to that total.” That means that to reduce the emissions level, the world would need to suspend pending fossil fuel plant projects and speed up phasing out existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

Japan has resumed its commercial whale hunting practice after more than three decades since withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission. (Video: Reuters)

— Japan officially resumed commercial whaling after more than three decades: The revival of the practice also spurs “new controversy about the country’s insistence on whaling, despite concerns about cruelty and conservation, and amid dwindling consumer demand for whale meat,” The Post’s Adam Taylor reports. The International Whaling Commission, which Japan formally left on Sunday, had placed a moratorium on whaling in 1982. “After years of disputes, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in December that it intended to leave the organization, claiming that it was not fulfilling its mandate to find a balance between preserving the whale population and allowing a sustainable whaling industry,” Taylor writes.

— An abundance of sand in the melting ice: As ice sheets in Greenland are melting, sand and sediment are emerging in the water, prompting a team led by a University of Colorado scientist to research whether that material can used by people across the world. The sediment could be used for “eroded beaches, potentially from the Rockaways to the Riviera. Sand to be used as bedding for pipes, cables and other underground infrastructure. Mostly, though, sand for concrete, to build the houses, highways and harbors of a growing world,” a New York Times team reports in this dispatch from Greenland. Sand is one of the most-used commodities in the world, but it has become harder to find in some regions. But as the warming globe accelerates melting ice in Greenland, that could mean potentially a lot more sand that could be used elsewhere.

— Wimbledon takes a whack at reducing plastic consumption: In a change this year for visitors at the grass-court tennis tournament in England, spectators will be able to buy water bottles made with 100 percent recycled and recyclable plastic, CNN reports. It’s part of an effort to reduce plastic waste for the two-week tournament that’s expected to sell about 420,000 bottles. The utensils and most of the drink cups used at the tournament are also made from 100 percent recycled materials. In a change for the players, the tournament will no longer put restrung rackets in plastic bags, which will reduce the tournament’s impact by 4,500 bags.


Coming Up

  • The Atlantic Council hosts the 13th Meeting of the IEA's Gas and Oil Technology Collaboration Program on July 8.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “Glacial and Ice Sheet Melt in a Changing Climate” on July 11.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment hold a hearing on hurricane resiliency on July 22


— “They could literally take over”: The number of green iguanas spotted in Florida has spiked in recent years, as the warming climate allows them to spread in the area, Lori Rozsa writes for The Post. The reptiles are native to Central America, parts of South America and some islands in the eastern Caribbean, but Joseph Wasilewski who has studied the iguanas for 40 years said climate change “certainly has something to do with it…It’s warming things up and allowing them to go further north.”