with Paulina Firozi

THE LIGHTBULB

Mike Bloomberg’s most crowd-pleasing moment during last night's Nevada debate came when he talked about one of his biggest philanthropic causes — climate change. 

It’s too bad for him that may have been his only decent moment during an otherwise brutal night.

The former New York mayor got a sour welcome on the debate stage despite efforts to cast himself as a champion on climate change — one of the most important issues in the Democratic primary.

The billionaire highlighted the $64 million he gave shortly after President Trump's election to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which has pressed for the closure of more than 300 coal-fired power plants. 

And one of the few rounds of applause Bloomberg was able to elicit from the Las Vegas crowd was when he promised to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate agreement on his “first day” as president. 

“This is just ridiculous for us to drop out,” he said. “America's responsibility is to be the leader in the world. And if we don't, we're the ones that are going to get hurt just as much as anybody else.”

But none of that was enough to save Bloomberg from the fiery criticism his rivals showered on him over his stop-and-frisk policy as mayor, his alleged history of sexist comments as a businessman, his 2004 endorsement of George W. Bush, his company's nondisclosure agreements with former employees … and, well, the list goes on.

Wednesday's debate was Bloomberg's first appearance on the debate stage after spending hundreds of millions of dollars of his own fortune to promote his candidacy with television and digital ads in states voting on Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg seemed content only a few months ago with writing checks rather than hitting the presidential campaign trail. But he saw his chance to enter the race in November after voters did not coalesce around a single moderate contender.

Green groups have generally praised the former mayor's charitable giving as a generous countermeasure to government inaction on climate change. 

But some of those environmentalists have been more skeptical of Bloomberg the candidate, who has staked out moderate positions on many issues. The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, for example, ranked Bloomberg's proposed climate plan last among Democratic candidates, with a score of one out of 10. That was tied with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Take natural gas. During the debate, Bloomberg called it a “transition fuel” between producing power from coal and getting it from renewable sources. Bloomberg called for better regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract the gas, over concerns about the water and air pollution it causes. But he said the United States shouldn't give it up entirely.

“If we could enforce some of the rules on fracking so that they don't release methane into the air and into the water, you'll make a big difference,” Bloomberg said. “But we're not going to get rid of fracking for a while.”

That position appears to stand in contrast to one Bloomberg took only a year ago, during a February 2019 appearance in Los Angeles, when he backed away from talking about gas as a “bridge” to a cleaner energy system.

“Science increasingly shows that the days of seeing gas as a bridge fuel are coming to an end,” Bloomberg said back then.

And it is somewhat at odds with his commitment last June to spend $500 million to halt construction on new gas-fired power plants.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the two most left-leaning candidates still in the race, want to ban fracking altogether as part of a rapid transition completely away from all fossil fuels. 

Some unions have criticized the pair for their die-hard stance, but climate scientists say the world has only a decade to drastically cut emissions and forestall the worst of global warming.

“If we don't act incredibly boldly within the next six, seven years,” Sanders said during the debate, “there will be irreparable damage done not just in Nevada, not just to Vermont or Massachusetts, but to the entire world. ”

POWER PLAYS

— Worse than we thought: Scientists and governments have been undercounting the amount of methane spewing from oil and gas operations, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports.

  • What it found: The study, based on ancient air samples from Greenland’s ice sheet, found emissions from methane leaks could be 25 to 40 percent higher than previously thought. “University of Rochester professor and study co-author Vasilii Petrenko noted that the difference is ‘a factor of ten,’ at least, between prior estimates of geological, fossil methane sources, such as underwater seeps, and the very low volume of these emissions that their study suggests,” Mooney adds.
  • Why it matters: “Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide, and while in the atmosphere causes far more intense warming — but over a much shorter period of time. Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Yet within about a decade, most methane in the atmosphere breaks down (into carbon dioxide and water). This means that capping methane can provide a quick curb to the planet’s warming. But that isn’t happening — instead, concentrations have been rising. Fast.”

— A new enemy is washing ashore at Boston harbor: The city of Boston is “raising streets, building berms and even requiring that new high-rise condominium developments on its harbor acquire 'aqua fences'” all in an effort to combat rising seas, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. Boston exemplifies how the impact of climate change is local. 

  • By the numbers: The city is ranked the eighth most vulnerable coastal city to floods, per a 2013 study of 136 coastal cities by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. 
  • What’s still to come: As climate change hastens, the rate of sea-level rise in Boston is expected to triple. That means eight inches compared to 2000 levels by 2030, according to a city-commissioned report.
  • What Boston is doing: “As much as or more than any other coastal city in the country, Boston is confronting this existential threat and is taking steps now to contain the problem — at a relatively affordable price and within a short timeline,” Mufson writes. Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) has pledged to spend more than $30 million a year to guard against climate impacts. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is also spending $22 million to build “watertight steel doors that can be closed at the entrance of a rail tunnel near Fenway Park." 

— A new campaign to boost green lawmakers: The League of Conservation Voters and House Majority Forward, a group with close ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), launched a $1 million television ad buy to commend the environmental work of eight Democratic lawmakers. The initial campaign, with its 30-second television ads, will run for two weeks. 

  • Who will be featured: The ads will praise Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor (Fla.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Antonio Delgado (N.Y.), Andy Kim (N.J.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.)

— Consider the penguin: The federal government says it will determine whether to propose protections under the Endangered Species Act for the the emperor penguin, per an agreement filed in federal court. The agreement was a result of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Trump administration last year, the group said in a news release

  • To quote: “We won’t let emperor penguins be another casualty of the extinction crisis,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center, said in a statement. “The Trump administration wants to pretend the climate crisis doesn’t exist, but here in the real world, emperor penguins need and deserve the fullest protection. We can’t let these iconic, incredible animals disappear.”

— Students increase pressure on schools to divest from fossil fuels: Last week, there were dozens of sit-ins and demonstrations at universities including Gonzaga University, the University of Wisconsin, University of Pittsburgh and Cornell University. This month, Georgetown University’s board of directors said it would stop investing in coal, gas and oil companies within the next decade. It’s part of a growing pattern of student activists ramping up pressure, the Associated Press reports

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing on Feb. 26. 
  • The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry holds a hearing on promoting rural economies and healthy forests on Feb. 26. 
  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020 on Feb. 27. 

EXTRA MILEAGE

— Someone glued tiny MAGA hats onto pigeons in Las Vegas: “On the eve of the democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, an underground group calling itself P.U.T.I.N. filled the skies with a flock of protest pigeons, each dressed as a small surrogate for President Trump,” The Post’s Katie Mettler reports.

Video released by “Pigeons United to Interfere Now” on Feb. 19 showed birds wearing Trump-like wigs and MAGA hats. (P.U.T.I.N.)