THE LIGHTBULB

Environmental activists have repeatedly asked Democrats running for president to reject donations from fossil-fuel executives. So how will they — and the rest of the Democratic base — react to a former oil executive jumping into the race?

That’s the question raised by Deval Patrick’s sudden 2020 candidacy. The former Massachusetts governor made it official this morning by releasing a YouTube video (see below), saying his nascent presidential bid is about “the character of the country.”

But Patrick may soon be faced with questions about his time in the oil business as Democratic voters, especially young ones, express heightened concern about climate change. His long career in the private sector before becoming the state’s first black governor includes a stint at a top executive at Texaco, once one of the nation’s biggest oil companies.

That and other résumé lines could come back to haunt Patrick as he enters a Democratic race increasingly defined by what ranges from deep skepticism to outright hostility of big corporations and the oil and natural gas sector in particular for its contributions to climate change. Patrick is currently managing director at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm co-founded by 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. 

“We don’t think he has any chance,” said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S., one of several green groups pressing 2020 candidates to forgo donations from fossil-fuel executives. “It’s pretty laughable.”

Weighing against that private-sector job is Patrick’s long record as governor in which the state accelerated its adoption of renewable energy and joined the nation’s first cap-and-trade program for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

The two-term governor, who has close ties to former president Barack Obama and his network of advisers, emphasized in his announcement his days growing up poor on South Side of Chicago rather than his time in the corporate boardroom.

But Patrick’s decision to abruptly join the crowded Democratic field, along with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to likely do the same, is yet another sign of anxiety among business-minded Democrats as Massachusetts’s own Elizabeth Warren, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), call for taxing the ultrarich. 

Patrick began working with Texaco in 1997 to lead a task force meant to address its racially biased employment practices. The task force was formed as part of a $176.1 million settlement with the Harrison, N.Y.-based firm’s black employees, in what was at the time the largest racial discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.

By the next year, Patrick was named the general counsel and vice president of the oil giant. As the company’s top lawyer, he helped shepherd a deal valued at $45 billion in 2001 merging Texaco with Chevron to form the world’s fourth-largest publicly traded oil company. 

Unwilling to move to the San Francisco headquarters of the new company (called ChevronTexaco until 2005 when the name became Chevron), Patrick left for a job at Coca-Cola in 2001.

By the time he became governor six years later, Patrick was pursuing energy and environmental policies sometimes at odds with the interests of the oil and gas industry of which he was once part.

Patrick spearheaded the passage of laws and regulations encouraging homeowners and businesses to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and dramatically expanding solar energy, at times weathering criticism such policies were driving up energy costs. And under the Patrick administration, Massachusetts became one of nine states to join a market-capping carbon emissions from power plants, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The result: Massachusetts is consistently ranked as the nation's most energy-efficient state in an analysis done by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. And despite its tiny landmass and long winters, Massachusetts has the eighth-highest total solar capacity in the country.

“It went from being a state that wasn't even on the map in terms of solar to being No. 8,” said Ian Bowles, who served as Patrick's secretary of energy and environmental affairs from 2007 to 2011. He added that the Patrick administration's policies “really positioned Massachusetts as a leaders on greenhouse gas reductions and on creation of clean energy jobs.”

Patrick tried squaring those two parts of his past in his 2011 book “A Reason to Believe,” writing he “worked to make Texaco the first major oil company to stop arguing about the science of climate change and to join those in search of solutions.”

But should Patrick's campaign gain traction, it is easy to see his competitors treating his time at Texaco as a flaw rather than feature.

The 2020 Democratic race has been defined by ambitious plans like the Green New Deal, which calls for an eventual end to the oil and gas business altogether, as well as by calls from Warren, Sanders and others to prosecute fossil fuel executives for damaging the planet.

“Fossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused,” Sanders said in August. And just this week, Warren put forward a plan proposing to punish companies that knowingly mislead federal agencies, citing ExxonMobil as an example for privately researching climate change while publicly dismissing the science.

Rees, the campaigner with Oil Change U.S., expects activists to still ask Patrick to sign a “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge committing candidates to turn down donations over $200 from oil, gas and coal executives, lobbyists, and associated political action committees. Most of the top Democratic contenders, including moderates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have signed by the pledge.

“We are going to press him just as hard, if not harder,” Rees said of Patrick.

POWER PLAYS

— A Green New Deal pitch on public housing: Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have introduced a bill to update the nation’s public housing units to be energy efficient. It’s the first specific legislation out of the Green New Deal framework Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) outlined months ago, The Post’s Renae Merle and David Weigel report. The so-called “Green New Deal for Public Housing Act” would “use seven grant programs to upgrade housing units into carbon-neutral communities with organic grocery stores, on-site child care and community gardens. Residents of public housing would be given preference in hiring to renovate those units.”

  • The details: “The bill would cost between $119 billion and $172 billion over the next decade and create up to 240,723 jobs a year, according to estimates developed by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank,” they write. They noted experts say there are about 1 million public housing units in the United States, many of which need billions of repairs.
  • To quote: “I think it’s very exemplary of what we try to do with the Green New Deal, where we have a front-line community that has historically gotten the short end of the stick with environmental justice,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview.
  • Possible roadblocks: "Ocasio-Cortez’s new legislation is far less expensive than an upgrade of all housing, or the other aspects of the Green New Deal that spooked Democrats. But it could meet resistance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has signaled she will adopt 'pay-as-you-go' rules requiring that any new spending be paid for or offset."

— Here we go again: President Trump said during a joint news conference in the Oval Office with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the purpose of keeping U.S. troops in Syria was to protect oil fields.

  • To quote: “We are keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” Trump said.
  • The remarks appear to contradict what administration officials have said about the purpose of the U.S. military mission: “I would be cautious with saying that ‘the mission to secure the oil fields.’ The mission is the defeat of ISIS,” Navy Rear Admiral William D. Byrne Jr. said during a Defense Department media briefing last week. As the Energy 202 as noted before, there are likely too many legal, economic and strategic hurdles for it to make sense for any U.S. firm to extract the Syrian oil.

— Manchin expresses support for Trump’s pick to replace Perry: Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he plans to support the nomination of Dan Brouillette, who Trump formally named last week to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

  • To quote: “I like Dan, I'm going to support Dan and vote for Dan,” the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said during an event hosted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, according to E&E News. Manchin added that he found “Dan to be extremely bright and knowledgeable” and that he “had the knowledge, even though he might have come from the political arena.”
  • This bodes well for Brouillette’s confirmation: “Manchin's comments would appear to take away any drama over Brouillette's impending confirmation hearing set for [Thursday] morning. The current deputy secretary already moved through the Senate in 2017 with bipartisan support,” E&E News reports. “And with Manchin saying his vote remains unchanged from that time, Brouillette could be in line for a quick confirmation process.”

— Rubio joins Senate’s bipartisan climate caucus: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the latest Republican to join a now nine-member bipartisan Senate caucus focused on climate solutions. The Washington Examiner reported that Rubio’s office confirmed the move. Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) announced the formation of the chamber's first bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus last month. 

— Greta Thunberg sets sail back to Europe: The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist is on her way back across the Atlantic. After the COP25 climate conference had to relocate to Madrid because of protests in Santiago, Chile, Thunberg — who says she won't fly because of the high carbon emissions from air travel — put out a request on Twitter for help finding an alternate mode of transport, and found help from an Australian couple with a catamaran. “La Vagabonde is outfitted with solar panels and hydro-generators, so it has a minimal carbon footprint,” NPR reports. “The voyage is expected to take two to four weeks, and Thunberg hopes to reach Spain in time for the climate conference taking place Dec. 2 to 13. The boat's location can be tracked online.”

— Children could be particularly harmed by climate change impacts: A study published in the medical journal the Lancet found that if the world fails to curb emissions and limit temperatures to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” by the end of the century, there would be “health problems caused by infectious diseases, worsening air pollution, rising temperatures and malnutrition,” the New York Times reports. And children would be especially susceptible to the consequences. “Part of the exposure risk that children face is simply that they spend more time outside than adults. Coupled with their differing physiology, it makes them more susceptible to fine particulate pollution,” per the report. “These same factors also mean they are more likely to suffer from the effects of extreme heat associated with climate change; eight of the 10 hottest years on record have happened this decade.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to consider the nomination of Dan Brouillette to be energy secretary. 
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a hearing on oversight of NOAA’s report on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— Therapy dogs were camped out on Capitol Hill: They were there to help out stressed-out staffers, The Post's Karin Bruilliard reports. Here's one of the good dogs, via BuzzFeed News's Addy Baird: