THE LIGHTBULB

Pete Buttigieg is polling incredibly well in Iowa. And the mayor of South Bend, Ind., did nearly everything possible during the fifth Democratic debate to try to boost his support even more in the big corn-growing state -- by repeatedly hammering how farmers can be part of the solution to climate change. 

Buttigieg spent much of Wednesday evening honing an environmental message designed to cast farmers as a key group in battling climate change, more than perhaps any other candidate on stage during the debate hosted by The Washington Post and MSNBC in Atlanta. 

"American farming should be one of the key pillars of how we combat climate change," Buttigieg said. That message, he added, is a good way of recruiting "everybody to be part of the solution, including conservative communities where a lot of people have been made to feel that admitting climate science would mean acknowledging they're part of the problem." 

This message may resonate in nation's first state to vote in the Democratic primary: A recent Des Moines Register-CNN poll showed Buttigieg surging with support from 25 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former vice president Joe Biden all behind the small city mayor in essentially a three-way tie at about 15 percent support.

When asked about President Trump's subsidies to farmers amid a trade war with China, Buttigieg pivoted to a part of his $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion climate plan to support farmers and ranchers in adopting management techniques that capture carbon dioxide from the air. 

"I believe that the quest for the carbon-negative farm could be as big a symbol of dealing with climate change as the electric car in this country," Buttigieg said during the debate.

Buttigieg also called out Trump for exempting dozens of oil refineries from having to blend biofuels — notably, corn-based ethanol — into their gasoline. Renewable fuel policy means little outside the nation's Corn Belt, but it is perennially a high-priority issue in Iowa, which grows more corn than any other state.

"Look, I don't think this president cares one bit about farmers," Buttigieg said.

Like many other Midwestern states earlier this year, Iowa was hit with catastrophic floods of the sort which will become more frequent and severe as the world continues to warm.

In the past, Buttigieg has made that connection when campaigning in Iowa. "Rural communities — from river towns to tribal lands to farms — are on the front lines of climate change," the candidate wrote in an op-ed in August in the Des Moines Register, the state's largest newspaper. "Yet too often, rural Americans are told they’re part of the problem."

Buttigieg's momentum in Iowa, as well as in New Hampshire where polling also shows him up, put a target on his back during the debate. But Buttigieg escaped unscathed. His biggest tussle of the night was with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). "That’s about the best he could have hoped for, given her limited constituency in the Democratic Party," writes The Post's Aaron Blake.

Here are some of the other climate-related moments from the debate:

  • Tom Steyer: The billionaire financier tried to cast himself as the "climate candidate" on stage (a la former presidential contender and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee), and claimed he was the only candidate to support declaring a state of emergency to address climate change. "I'm the only person on this stage who will say that climate is the No. 1 priority for me," he said. "Vice President Biden won't say it." But Sanders shot back that he too has put forward legislation calling for the use of emergency powers.
  • Joe Biden: Also in response to Steyer, the former vice president pushed back by noting that the billionaire used to invest in coal mines. "I don't really need a kind of a lecture from — from my friend," Biden said, adding that by contrast he was among the first to introduce climate-related legislation in the Senate.
  • Bernie Sanders: At least three times during the debate, the Vermont independent peppered his answers to non-climate questions with admonishments of fossil fuel interests. That included a call to prosecute oil, gas and coal executives who knew about the risks climate change posed. "By the way, the fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable, because they have lied and lied and lied when they had the evidence that their carbon products were destroying the planet," he said. 

POWER PLAYS

— Energy Department disputes Sondland testimony: The Energy Department put out a statement pushing back on remarks U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland ​made before the House Intelligence Committee. During that blockbuster testimony, Sondland suggested Energy Secretary Rick Perry was familiar with efforts to put pressure on Ukraine for investigations into Trump's political opponents. 

  • What Sondland said: He testified that he informed a number of top administration officials, including Perry, that the Ukrainian president would comply with Trump’s request for an investigation of the Ukrainian gas company where Joe Biden’s son was a member of the board. Sondland said he emailed officials, including Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the week before a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — an email Sondland says Perry replied to.
  • Giuliani's role: Sondland also said Perry and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker handled initial communications with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani — who has figured prominently in the Ukraine pressure campaign -- after a May meeting during which Trump directed them to "talk to Rudy," as The Post's Aaron Blake writes. “Secretary Perry volunteered to make the initial calls with Mr. Giuliani, given their prior relationship,” Sondland said. He added: "We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine." 
  • What the Energy Department says: “Ambassador Sondland's testimony today misrepresented both Secretary Perry's interaction with Rudy Giuliani and direction the Secretary received from President Trump,” a department spokesman said in a statement. “As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the President's request. No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words 'Biden' or 'Burisma' ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”

— Lawmakers scramble on advancing more bills before Thanksgiving break: The House Energy and Commerce Committee continued into a second day of markups and advanced a sweeping legislative package to address PFAS chemicals, a dangerous class of chemicals that has has long been used in products such as nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. 

  • Details: The bipartisan PFAS Action Act from Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell (D) and Fred Upton (R) combines 11 different bills and would in part require the Environmental Protection Agency to designate all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous and provides grants for treatment technologies for PFAS-impacted drinking water systems.

Meanwhile: The House Natural Resources Committee held a markup and advanced a series of bills, including measures that designates more than a million acres of wilderness for protection in California and Colorado.

Correction: The original version of this newsletter misstated the party of Michigan Rep. Fred Upton. He is a Republican.

— Trump’s controversial pick to lead NOAA is out: Barry Myers, Trump’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has withdrawn from consideration because of health concerns.

  • Why he no longer wants the nomination: Myers told the Washington Times that he had surgery and chemotherapy for cancer and wrote to the administration to pull his nomination.
  • Why he was controversial to begin with: “Myers’ nomination had languished in the Senate since it was first announced in November 2017, due in part to conflict of interest concerns regarding his family’s continued ownership stake in AccuWeather, the private weather forecasting company he led until stepping down on Jan. 1,” The Post’s Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow reports.

— The latest on the controversial BLM relocation: The agency’s acting director notified employees that those who choose severance rather than relocate from Washington to new offices in Western states will have to leave their jobs by Jan. 31. In the email to staff, “acting Director William Pendley said eligible employees may begin applying for early retirement or voluntary separation incentive payments as early as next week,” the Hill reports. “…The email is just the latest sign that BLM will be proceeding with its controversial relocation despite objections from lawmakers, including a group yesterday who asked appropriators to block funding for the move.”

— More blackouts in California as fire risk rises: Pacific Gas & Electric is once again proactively cutting power to tens and thousands of residents in Northern California amid escalated wildfire risk, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports.

  • Dire forecasts: The National Weather Service predicted that the critical fire conditions will continue into part of Thursday. “Stay tuned — fire season is definitely not over yet until the region receives widespread wetting rainfall,” it warned.
  • It's the fourth round of these blackouts in two months: "PG&E Co. began shutting off power Wednesday morning in Napa and Sonoma counties, including parts of the city of Santa Rosa, where the Tubbs Fire in 2017 killed 22 people and destroyed over 5,000 structures,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The blackouts will eventually affect around 150,000 customers in 18 counties, extending as far north as Shasta County and as far south as Solano County, a distance of over 200 miles.”

— Newsom imposes a temporary fracking ban in California: In the state’s latest move away from fossil fuels, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has halted the approval of all pending fracking in the state until there can be an independent review of the projects, the Los Angeles Times reports. The governor also halted approvals of oil extraction wells that use high-pressure steam, a method that’s been opposed by environmentalists. “These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” Newsom said in a statement.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on environmental justice. 
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a meeting

EXTRA MILEAGE

— And the 2019 "Word of the Year" is.... Actually, it's a two-word phrase. Oxford Dictionaries picked "climate emergency" from a shortlist of entirely environmental-themed terms, the New York Times reports. The others on the list were “climate action,” “climate denial,” “eco-anxiety,” “extinction” and “flight shame.”