THE LIGHTBULB

The Trump administration and California are continuing on their collision course over how fuel efficient the next generation of cars and light trucks needs to be.

President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a final rule freezing fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks through 2025 to the White House for review on Friday. The new regulation would also strip California of its long-standing ability to set its own gasoline mileage requirements. 

The administration made that move even as the attorneys general of California and New York that same day led a dozen states and Washington in suing NHTSA over reducing penalties automakers have to pay if they fail to meet the Obama administration's fuel efficiency standards.

The news is the latest sign that the bad blood between federal officials and blue-state regulators over what is poised to be one of the biggest regulatory rollbacks of the Obama administration's efforts to combat climate change is not going away.

The new lawsuit challenges the Trump administration over reducing the penalty for violating fuel economy standards from $14 to $5.50 per tenth of a mile per gallon. Xavier Becerra and Letitia James, the top prosecutors in California and New York, argue the backsliding violates a federal law that requires agencies to take inflation into account when setting civil penalties.

“Fuel efficient cars on our roads are good for the economy, the environment, and our health,” Becerra (D) said in a statement. “Now the Trump Administration seeks to make these penalties meaningless.”

NHTSA said it does not comment on pending litigation, but added by email that the agency has determined the inflation-adjustment law does not apply to the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards for new cars and trucks.

“Even if it did apply, the final rule concludes that almost tripling the CAFE civil penalty rate would have a negative economic impact,” the agency said in a statement. The administration has argued that more-lenient standards would save carmakers and consumers up to $1 billion per year while improving road safety.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are gearing up to sue over the new car rules once signed off by the White House.

After lobbying for looser gas mileage rules, some automakers have grown frustrated with the Trump administration for paving the way to a patchwork of regulations that vary state by state. Last month, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America struck a deal with California to produce fleets of automobiles more in line with the Obama-era standards. More carmakers are considering joining the deal.

A note to readers: With Congress in recess, the Energy 202 will only be published on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for most of the month of August.

POWER PLAYS

— “This is not your grandfather’s summer”: July 2019 was the hottest month recorded on Earth since record-keeping began a century ago. There were wildfires raging in the Arctic, rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, pouring hundreds of billions of tons of water into the Atlantic Ocean, and a heat wave across Europe. “The Copernicus Climate Change Service, a program of the European Union, calculated that last month narrowly edged out July 2016 for the dubious distinction of hottest month on record,” The Post’s Brady Dennis and Andrew Freedman report. “This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. “It is happening now, and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action.”

— “It feels like something out of a bad sci-fi movie”: A top climate scientist is leaving the Agriculture Department after he says the Trump administration tried to bury his study on the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere nutrient loss in rice, Politico reports. The departure of 62-year-old plant physiologist Lewis Ziska, who worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than 20 years, is the latest in a string of departures by government officials who say the administration is stifling climate science. “Ziska, in describing his decision to leave, painted a picture of a department in constant fear of the president and Secretary Sonny Perdue’s open skepticism about broadly accepted climate science, leading officials to go to extremes to obscure their work to avoid political blowback,” Politico reports. “The result, he said, is a vastly diminished ability for taxpayer-funded scientists to provide farmers and policymakers with important information about complex threats to the global food supply.”

— “Just part of the history of the world we live in”: The Environmental Protection Agency has tapped former oil executive Ken McQueen, who was also the former head of New Mexico’s energy agency, to be the EPA’s Region 6 administrator. He is set to lead the office that oversees environmental protection in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas and in 66 tribal nations. McQueen worked in the energy industry for decades and before working in New Mexico was the vice president at oil and gas giant WPX Energy. In his role as secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, he pushed to fast-track oil and gas drilling permits, E&E News reports. He also previously appeared to challenge scientific consensus around climate change, calling it “just part of the history of the world we live in,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

— Call to investigate oil spill response: Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are calling on the Government Accountability Office to look into the Trump administration’s moves to roll back offshore-drilling safety regulations put in place following the 2010 explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform. In a Monday letter, the committee’s chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), along with subcommittee chairs Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), requested that the GAO investigative the “federal government’s readiness to respond to oil spills.” “The Trump Administration’s misguided proposals to expand drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters and rollback of important offshore drilling safety regulations may increase the risk of another catastrophic spill,” they wrote. “It is imperative that the federal government is adequately prepared to respond to offshore oil spills.”

— Puerto Rico’s post-disaster crisis continues: The Trump administration will add new restrictions on the $8.3 billion in Housing and Urban Development disaster funding meant for the U.S. territory as well as on about $770 million of similar funding for the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Post’s Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey report. Officials say the money will still go to Puerto Rico, though it’s not clear when. Meanwhile, of the $42 billion for the island’s hurricane recovery approved by Congress, only about $14 billion has been doled out to be spent as of May. “The administration will also move forward with plans to allow states such as Florida, Texas and California to apply for the disaster mitigation funding approved by Congress, while adding new restrictions for Puerto Rico’s funding,” they report. The decision will likely renew concerns among congressional Democrats and island residents that Trump is withholding aid from Puerto Rico.

In other news: Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s newly sworn-in governor who took the helm of the territory's government after a weeks-long political crisis, previously lobbied for a coal utility, HuffPost reports. Between stints as a delegate for Puerto Rico in Congress and as justice secretary, “he worked as a corporate lawyer at O’Neill & Borges in San Juan, where he represented AES Corporation, the coal-fired utility giant that polluted groundwater with toxic ash and sent cancer rates soaring, and the unelected eight-person Financial Oversight and Management Board imposing painful austerity cuts on the island,” per the report. “Now, if he survives a Senate confirmation vote this week, Pierluisi will oversee the previous administration’s effort to sell off the island’s publicly-owned utility to private companies at the board’s behest.” 

— Secondary burns: The city of Chico in California was already near capacity before the Camp Fire devastated the neighboring town of Paradise. Now, as many of those displaced by the fire moved to Chico — the city of 93,000 is now 112,000 — it has amplified many of the issues the town had before the fire, and there’s a recall campaign to oust the mayor and a council member for alleged incompetence, The Post’s Scott Wilson reports. “Now it is watching a global threat play out in its local politics, where housing and homelessness, traffic and crime, spent compassion and civic obligation have become stand-in issues for the overall challenge the climate is raising here,” he writes.

More burns to come: The state faces the chance of another above-normal fire season, according to a report from the predictive services unit of the National Interagency Fire Center. Even though California had a wet winter, and has had a slow start to the season this summer, there could still be large wildfires heading into the late summer and fall, Diana Leonard writes for The Post. “Because of the wet winter and spring and late snow melt, higher elevations had remained moist, suppressing summer forest fires in the Sierra,” she writes. “The rain was ‘a little too good to us,’ [Bryan Henry, a meteorologist and acting manager of the National Fire Weather Program] said — it produced an especially tall and continuous grass crop that can carry fire easily.”

— A broader algae issue: Record volumes of blue-green algae have shrouded New Jersey’s largest lake, a persisting problem that comes as such algae blooms have intensified in numerous parts of the country. Scientists point to the warming globe contributing to the blooms, as frequent intense storms mean increased nutrients in the waterways, and warmer days enable conditions for the blooms. “The biggest challenge is in places with older sewer and stormwater systems that have been overwhelmed by fast-moving storms, as has happened repeatedly this summer in New Jersey and New York,” the New York Times reports. “The Environmental Protection Agency has put the cost of upgrading New Jersey’s stormwater system at $16 billion.”

— What’s inside the hate-filled manifesto linked to the alleged El Paso shooter: In a document posted online before a gunman opened fire outside a Walmart in El Paso, the anti-immigrant screed that rails against a “Hispanic invasion” includes a warning about the dangers of environmental ruin. Authorities believe the suspected gunman is the author but are still gathering evidence. “In a jumbled rant, the document rails against corporations for destroying the environment by over-harvesting resources,” The Post’s Yasmeen Abutaleb writes about the document titled “The Inconvenient Truth.” “The manifesto chastises the government for being unwilling to confront environmental issues and most Americans for being unwilling to change their lifestyles to be more environmentally friendly. It argues that the United States therefore needs fewer people consuming resources.”

By The Way
Passengers are encouraged to bring their own containers and refill them at stations around the airport.
Hannah Sampson
Capital Weather Gang
More than a month’s worth of rain has soaked parts of the state in just a few days, setting records.
Matthew Cappucci
Public Safety
The Maryland men used stolen identities to apply for disaster relief, prosecutors alleged.
Lynh Bui
DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The Atlantic Council holds a discussion with journalists covering the energy transition on Thursday.
  • The American Wind Energy Association holds its annual American Wind Energy Week starting on Sunday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Early-morning aurora: Northern lights appeared over a stretch of cities on Monday, from near Vancouver to Lake Superior, offering a shimmering view for those awake between midnight and 3 a.m. local time in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington, The Post's Matthew Cappucci reports