with Paulina Firozi and Dino Grandoni

THE LIGHTBULB

Nearly two months ago, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order declaring that electronic bicycles “shall be allowed” in any area on federal land where regular bikes can ride. But even as top officials are pressing ahead to institute the policy, no one knows yet exactly what that means.

In an interview last week, Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley said his agency was still determining where people could ride e-bikes, which are an increasingly popular form of motorized bike. Historically, they have been barred from nonmotorized trails.

Pendley, who sat for an interview with The Post on Friday in Fort Collins, Colo. before participating in a panel on the future of public lands at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference at Colorado State University, noted that e-bikes have gained favor among Americans like his neighbors in Evergreen, Colo. who ride them in the morning when they get doughnuts from a nearby store.

“We have an aging population,” Pendley explained, adding that “lifting that restriction, which maybe made sense before e-bikes but doesn’t make sense now, will increase recreational activities.”

Pendley, the former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, once pressed to radically reduce the size of federal lands to make way for development. But he compares his new role in the land-management agency to a lawyer switching clients. "I am a zealous advocate. You can tell, I'm a zealous advocate for my clients. I have a new client now, and my client's the American people and I'll be a zealous advocate for that client."

The Aug. 29 order, which enjoys the support of the bike industry and some mountain bike organizations, says that the change “is intended to increase recreational opportunities for all Americans, especially those with physical limitations, and to encourage the enjoyment of lands and waters managed by the Department of the Interior.”

While the order took effect “immediately,” officials on the federal, state and local level are still trying to determine how it plays out. “As BLM develops its policy guidance to the field, managers familiar with specific conditions on the ground will consider whether e-bike use is consistent with relevant laws, regulations, and policies,” Interior senior adviser Carol Danko said by email.

And several conservation groups have raised concerns about the effect on visitors' experience to backcountry sites, given that e-bikes have motors and can go as fast as 20 to 30 miles per hour.

“This is the beginning of full motorization of the back country,” said Michael Carroll, senior director for the People Outdoors Program at The Wilderness Society. “The Secretarial Order has just caused massive confusion for everyone.”

In Durango, Colo., for example, the town’s Parks and Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board plans to meet to sort out what the policy means for areas where municipal areas banning e-bikes intersect with federal trails. The BLM’s Tres Rios field office has announced that its paths are now open to e- ikes, but many riders access these trailheads by riding on Durango’s trails.

And Great Outdoors Colorado, the program that provides millions to state and local governments to preserve and protect open space, has stipulated in some grants that the money is spent on “the construction of nonmotorized trails of local, regional and statewide significance.”

The National Park Service issued its electronic bikes policy a day after Bernhardt signed his directive. Pendley said his agency, which manages more than 10 percent of the nation’s land mass, is still consulting with field managers and determining whether some legal obstacles remain.

“We’re looking at whether or not there’s a statutory prohibition against having these quasi-motorized vehicles on the trails,” he said, “that perhaps may have been funded with the help of … Congress with funds that were restricted.”

POWER PLAYS

— Another debate with minimal talk on climate change: During the fourth Democratic debate last night, the CNN and New York Times moderators did not ask a single question about climate change.

  • It was the first debate following the opening of an impeachment inquiry against President Trump: The issue consuming Washington today also consumed the debate stage in Ohio. While the first three debates began with policy-oriented questions, this one started with impeachment.
  • But that didn't stop Tom Steyer: After about an hour-and-a-half, the billionaire, environmental activist and now presidential candidate pivoted from a foreign-policy question about Russia to climate change, which he called the “most important international problem that we're facing.” He also brought up environmental issues in the final question the moderators asked about unlikely friendships, mentioning a South Carolina women who is “fighting for clean water and environmental justice in her community.”
  • Bernie Sanders also shoe-horned it into an answer to an impeachment question: "It is absolutely imperative we go forward with impeachment," the Vermont senator said. "I hope that [Trump] is impeached. But I think what would be a disaster, if the American people believe that all we were doing is taking on Trump... We're forgetting about the existential threat of climate change."
  • The absence didn't go unnoticed: At least not by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who built his aborted presidential campaign around the issue:

— Trump administration wants to expand logging in Alaska: The president instructed federal officials to lift longstanding limits in a proposal to allow logging on more than half of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America.

  • What happened: “The U.S. Forest Service had initially planned to make more modest changes to nearly 9.5 million acres there where roads are prohibited: Under the administration’s ‘preferred alternative,’ that entire area would be open for development,” writes Juliet Eilperin. “Congress has designated another 5.7 million acres of the forest as wilderness, which must remain off limits to such activities under any circumstances.”
  • The reason: Top elected officials in the state have called for years for reversing limits on tree cutting there, hoping that such a change will boost the local economy.
  • What’s next: The plan will be subject to public comment for 60 days. And the Forest Service will publish a draft environmental impact statement this week. The public comments will “inform the department” as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “moves toward a final decision,” an agency official said.

— Trump vs. California: The Environmental Protection Agency circumvented its own team on the West Coast when it accused the state of "significant" water and air problems.

  • What happened: After those accusations were delivered via a letter from EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, “leaders of the agency’s West Coast region hastily convened an all-hands meeting of the San Francisco staff,” the New York Times reports. “At that meeting, E.P.A. officials informed shocked staff members that Mr. Wheeler’s torrent of allegations about the state’s water pollution were exaggerated, according to five current and former E.P.A. officials briefed on internal discussions.” The letter had “been developed without the knowledge of the California-based staff, which would normally issue such notices.”
  • Why this matters: Senior EPA leaders defended the process, but the Times reports “the unusual manner in which Mr. Wheeler’s accusations were compiled and delivered bolsters suspicions voiced by Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and others that the Trump administration is retaliating against California, a liberal state that has consistently defied the president’s deregulation agenda.”

— Supreme Court declines to hear two cases from states challenging federal energy actions: “In both cases, the state of South Carolina and the North Carolina Utilities Commission argued they had standing to sue the federal government based on the landmark 2007 climate case Massachusetts v. EPA,” E&E News reports. The South Carolina case sought to revive construction on a facility meant to convert plutonium for use in commercial power plants. In a separate case, the North Carolina Utilities Commission sought a review of a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline project.

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on cleaner, stronger buildings on Thursday.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on federal recovery efforts after recent disasters on Oct. 22. 
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on the Pebble Mine Project on Oct. 23.

EXTRA MILEAGE

Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach has a unique way of counting how long it's been since the Nationals were last in the World Series: