with Paulina Firozi

THE LIGHTBULB

For Australia, it’s all “love” from President Trump. But for California, it’s mostly fire and fury.

Devastating wildfires raged through both places over the past year, but Trump has taken markedly different tacks when talking to their leaders. 

Wildfires are just the latest issue over which Trump appears to be friendlier with a foreign power than he is with Democrats in his own country. And it brings into stark relief Trump’s no-holds-barred style when grappling with politicians who disagree with him — even when their state is burning. 

This week, Trump shared words of encouragement both in a phone call and later on social media with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, as the continent finds itself in the middle of a devastating bush-fire season. 

“We love Australia!” Trump wrote on Twitter in response to a message from Morrison thanking the U.S. president for a recent phone call. The president’s deputies at the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department dispatched more than 150 firefighters across the Pacific to help battle the blazes as part of a long-standing practice of United States, Australia and New Zealand exchanging fire assistance.

Yet only two months earlier, Trump scolded California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) for supposedly not managing the state’s forests properly — even though most forested acres in California are actually managed by the federal government. 

The president, as he tells it, told Newsom the first time they met that he “has done a terrible job of forest management” for allowing too much water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to flow into the Pacific. The water policy, controversial among California farmers who want the water instead, has essentially no known effect on forest fires. 

Nevertheless, Trump went on to threaten to cut off firefighting funding until Newsom can “get [his] act together.” 

There have been other times when Trump and Newsom have seemed to get along when dealing with the fires. In October, before Trump's scolding tweets, Newsom praised Trump as “a partner’’ and said his administration's response to the disaster was “extraordinary." And Trump has praised the firefighters in California. 

Yet overall, Trump is taking different approaches with leaders who have different ideological bents. 

Morrison, the leader of Australia’s right-leaning Liberal Party, is like Trump a big proponent of coal, which is one of the continent’s leading exports.

“This is coal,” the future prime minister famously said in 2017 while holding up a grapefruit-size lump of the fuel in Parliament. “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be scared! Won’t hurt you.” 

Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), by contrast, have spent much of the past three years fighting the Trump administration in court to stop it from rolling back rules meant to slow down climate change. 

“You don’t believe in climate change,” Newsom shot back at Trump last November in response to his threat to cut funding. “You are excused from this conversation.” 

Whether on this side of the world or the other, wildfires are growing in more frequent and more intense as higher temperatures driven by the burning of fossil fuels are creating drier conditions. 

THERMOMETER

Scorched koalas, kangaroos and plants show just one side of the Australian bush fire's damage. Euan G. Ritchie told The Post there's devastation we can't see. (The Washington Post)

— The animals that could go extinct because of the Australian fires: Some of the planet’s rarest species have been caught in the blazes ravaging habitats across Australia, The Post’s Karin Brulliard and Darryl Fears report.

  • The big picture: “More than 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles nationwide — some of them found nowhere else on Earth — may have been affected or killed by the fires sweeping across Australia, according to a University of Sydney estimate. The potential toll is far greater when other types of animals are included.”
  • Key quotes: “Extinction of endemic species means, of course, irrevocable loss,” Christopher Dickman, a University of Sydney ecology professor, told The Post. “While 1 billion is clearly a large number, the expectation is that the number contains examples of many species that are ecologically important.” Manu Saunders, a research fellow and insect ecologist at the University of New England in Armidale, said even if individual animals survive, if their habitats don't, “They'll die anyway.”


 

President Trump proposed on Jan. 9 changing regulations that would speed the development of new mines, pipelines and hundreds of other projects. (The Washington Post)

— Trump says “nothing is a hoax” about climate change: While announcing an overhaul of landmark environmental rules, the president was asked about whether he believes global warming is a “hoax.” “No, no. Not at all. Nothing's a hoax. Nothing's a hoax about that. It's a very serious subject,” Trump said. “I want clean air, I want clean water. I want the cleanest air with the cleanest water. The environment's very important to me …. I'm a big believer in that word, the environment.” 

  • We’ve heard this before: “Trump often talks about “the environment” in terms of clean air and water, as though he’s a 1974 public-service announcement airing on your local CBS affiliate,” The Post’s Philip Bump writes. “ … He used to understand that there was a distinction between climate change and clean air. That the line has now been erased.”
  • Trump also repeated a claim that he’s an environmentalist: “Now the kicker,” Bump writes. “The White House event on Thursday where Trump was renewing his claim to being an environmentalist? It was focused on scaling back the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, which, among other things, mandates environmental reviews for federal projects.”

— Puerto Rico still waiting on post-hurricane federal aid: As the U.S. territory grapples with its latest natural disaster, it still awaits more than $18 billion in federal funding that was allotted after the disastrous 2017 hurricanes, The Post’s Eric Werner reports. Democratic lawmakers have drawn attention to the delayed aid following the powerful earthquake that struck the island this week. 

  • What Democrats are saying: “I think it puts a considerable burden on the administration to show good faith,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) “And in this case, good faith involves not just responding to this latest disaster, but cleaning up from the previous one as well.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also accused the administration of unlawfully withholding the funds. 

— “George Luber is no whistleblower. He is a perpetrator”: George Luber said he was kicked out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s climate program in December 2018 for fighting censorship. But before the top climate expert's departure, “five women on staff accused him of absenteeism, misuse of agency resources, and sexist behavior,” BuzzFeed News reports in a report based on numerous interviews, 1,000 pages of emails, calendars, texts, internal agency documents and recordings. 

  • The details: “His story, first reported by the New York Times and then covered by many others in the press, sparked widespread outrage from former government officials to climate activists to Sen. Bernie Sanders, echoing many other cases of the Trump administration censoring, ignoring, and undermining climate scientists,” BuzzFeed reports. “But Luber’s powerful narrative, according to about a dozen current and former staffers and people involved in the investigation, was false. His ouster from the agency’s climate program, they say, was for a less heroic reason: He was behaving badly in the workplace, particularly toward women.”

— This golf club wants to take over a migratory bird habitat: Officials from the Liberty National golf course in Jersey City, N.J. want to expand into nearly 22 acres of public parkland, pushing into the adjacent Liberty State Park. They want three new holes in a part of land that’s a migratory bird habitat, the New York Times reports, “where spotted sandpipers and American oystercatchers nest near elevated walkways that allow visitors to wander, from March to October, through tall reeds and onto the sandy beach. The other half of the year the wildlife is considered too fragile to permit access.” They argue the land is needed to compete for golf tournaments. 

  • What’s next: “A key vote in the State Senate related to that effort could come as early as Thursday, marking the latest battle in a long-running history of park advocates fending off private developers hoping to build in the state park.” 

— More coal plant closures: Power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced it will close two of its coal-fired power plants and a coal mine in Colorado and New Mexico ahead of schedule amid pressure from renewable energy advocates. The accelerated closures are “part of the utility’s larger Responsible Energy Plan, Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said in a call with reporters,” the Denver Post reports. “He said Tri-State will release details Jan. 15 about adding more renewable energy to its system and meeting state goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” 

  • Beyond cutting coal: “While phasing out its coal operations will help Tri-State cut greenhouse gas emissions and address members’ calls for more renewable energy, Highley said the utility’s board has made clear that it must also deliver affordable, reliable power. He said Tri-State believes it will be able to do that.” 

— Money manager joins investors calling for climate action: BlackRock Inc. has joined Climate Action 100+, a group of more than 370 investors that are pushing companies to act on climate change, the Wall Street Journal reports. The group “now represents around $41 trillion in assets thanks to BlackRock’s membership, up from $35 trillion. The group has successfully pressured oil giants Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC to set targets to reduce emissions and disclose more data.” 

DAYBOOK

Coming up:

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a legislative hearing on Jan.14.
  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation holds a hearing on the path to a carbon-free maritime industry on Jan. 14.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s Office of Science on Jan. 15.