THE LIGHTBULB

By Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin

Democrats and Republicans have found a rare patch of common ground on the environment: banning the sale of shark fins in the United States. But the Trump administration disagrees. 

Even as a bill has advanced on the Hill, President Trump’s top fisheries manager is causing a stir with a recent blog post arguing that a ban on fin sales is unnecessary since sharks are “sustainably” fished in U.S. waters. 

But Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), says that argument contradicts the Trump administration's own data. 

“If we were awarding a grade for sustainable shark fisheries, the United States might lead the global class with 32 percent, but that is still a failing grade,” said Booker, who has authored a bill with Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) banning the trade of shark fins commonly used in an Asian soup, to help build up the ocean's shark populations. 

Booker is citing a January report that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries gave Congress, which states the agency can only verify that 11 out of 34 U.S. shark fisheries are sustainably managed. Six of the others are overfished, and the status of most of the rest is unknown. A copy of the report was provided to The Washington Post. 

In arguments against a shark fin ban, assistant administrator of NOAA Fisheries Chris Oliver said in a Feb. 18 post that one would do little to help conserve sharks since the United States is such a small player in the global shark fin trade, exporting approximately 1 percent of all fins. 

The country, he said, already “has some of the best managed shark fisheries in the world.” He added that a ban would be bad for fishermen who revenue from the fins. 

NOAA Fisheries spokesman John Ewald insisted that most sharks caught commercially come from stocks that are not overfished. One species, spiny dogfish, accounted for 82 percent of all commercial shark landings in the United States in 2018. (However spiny dogfish are exempted from the Booker-Capito bill.) 

The agency, Ewald added, “has long supported policies and practices that allow commercial fishermen to sell the fins from sharks that are caught at levels that allow them to maintain their population,” noting that the blog post is consistent with testimony officials gave Congress in 2018.

Environmentalists were thrilled that Booker and Capito’s measure was approved by the Commerce Committee in the GOP-controlled Senate in April. The bill made it even further on the other side of the Capitol, passing the House in a 310-to-107 vote in November. Nearly half of all Republicans approved the measure.

“For us, this bill is a bright spot of bipartisanship,” said Ariana Spawn, who works at the marine advocacy group Oceana.

So far, though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t said whether he will bring the bill to a vote. And the White House has not signaled its thoughts, either. 

Shark fin soup had once been so popular in fast-growing China that it was driving several species towards extinction, and up to a third of shark species are threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. But demand for the delicacy has dropped in recent years because of a celebrity-fueled public awareness campaign, as well as government crackdowns. 

One of those celebrities leading the cause is the actress Diane Lane, who successfully lobbied House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to support the ban.

“I appreciate him helping get the shark fin bill passed,” Lane said at a Washington Post Live event in November. “Yes, it's a step. It's a step. It might have been the least controversial one. I appreciate it.”

As a result of that campaign, 13 U.S. states have banned fin sales locally. And at least 11 other countries, including Canada and India, have imposed nationwide bans.

Congress too has taken a step toward curbing the shark fin trade. In 2000, it banned cutting off fins at sea and throwing the rest of the carcass overboard. If American fishing operators want to harvest shark fins, they need to bring the rest of the shark ashore to sell the rest of the meat.

But according to one recent study from researchers at Virginia Tech, Stanford and the advocacy groups Oceana and Union of Concerned Scientists, the fins are 10 times more valuable per pound than the other shark meat — making it the main reason anyone would fish for sharks.

POWER PLAYS

— No climate questions at last night's debate: The dearth of discussion on climate change was criticized by youth climate group Sunrise Movement, who said the hosts “avoided” the topic. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-N.Y.) called the lack of climate questions “horrifying.” Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) said it was particularly notable not to have any environmental questions “when we are sitting at sea level.” 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of race in August, specifically called out the Democratic National Committee: 

— Trump administration freezes study that weighed a NYC sea wall Trump called ‘foolish’: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has halted a major study meant to prepare the waterfront in New York and New Jersey for storm surges and water-level rises. A month before the postponement, the president dismissed one of the proposals as “foolish,” The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report.

  • The details: The agency “has been overseeing a six-year, $19 million analysis of what steps New York and New Jersey residents living along the Atlantic Ocean’s coast can take to avert the kind of damage that Hurricane Sandy wreaked in 2012,” they write. On Friday, it announced the “indefinite postponement” of a planned public meeting because the study “did not receive federal appropriation funding” in the agency’s work plan for this year. No other details were provided about why the agency chose not to fund the effort.
  • What Trump said: After the New York Times reported about the possibility of a sea wall last month, Trump tweeted calling it was a “costly, foolish & environmentally unfriendly idea that, when needed, probably won’t work anyway.”

— 800 miles for three minutes: Environmental justice advocate Patricia Qasimah Boston flew 800 miles from Tallahassee to Washington to appear at a public hearing by the Council on Environmental Quality. The agency recently proposed weakening the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act, and Boston traveled to Washington to urge that the law be kept intact, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports.

  • What she said: Boston spoke for only three minutes. She called the law “a bible” that protects communities and said the rollback “will limit the ability of my community to know the health consequences of government actions.”
  • What others said: “Activists and politicians who attended the hearing in an Interior Department auditorium denounced the meager time allotted for public comment and the sharply curtailed opportunities for citizens to speak out about a significant public policy change, forcing some to pay to travel from as far as California,” Fears writes. “Corporate trade representatives who support the proposed changes to NEPA echoed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s opinion that the law causes unnecessary delays that hold up projects by an average of four years.”

— BP to withdraw from trade groups over climate policies: The oil giant is expected to pull out of at least two trade groups – the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Western States Petroleum Association – over climate policies, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. BP may also pull from a third association. 

  • But: “BP is expected to remain in the American Petroleum Institute despite the API’s tough positions on climate change over the years,” he adds.
  • This follows BP’s pledge to slash emissions: “On Feb. 12, BP chief executive Bernard Looney said the company would slash its own greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. He also said BP would seek to alter the positions of some trade associations to which it belongs. If that fails, he said, the company would withdraw from those groups.”

— Groups sue Trump administration over lightbulb rollback: A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Energy Department over its decision not to impose stricter energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs. The administration's move, which prolongs the life of energy-intensive incandescent lightbulbs, “will raise consumer utility bills and worsen the carbon pollution driving climate change,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement

  • More to know: The NRDC, which filed the suit alongside the Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, Environment America and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said it’s the second time it has sued the Energy Department in less than four months over lighting decisions.
  • To quote: “The Department of Energy seems dead-set on keeping energy-wasting incandescent and halogen bulbs on the market despite the fact that many countries around the world have already decided to phase them out,” Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a statement.

— Trump considering more sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector: The president warned during a news conference in Delhi that there could soon be “very serious sanctions,” according to Reuters. “You will be seeing something on that in the not too distant future,” Trump said. “…You are going to see in a little while. You are asking a question right in the middle of us doing something.”

  • The context: Trump was answering a question about whether the United States is planning to impose further sanctions on Venezuela or on Indian companies that purchase Venezuelan oil from third parties. “The United States imposed sanctions last week on Rosneft Trading SA as it emerged as a key intermediary for the sale of Venezuelan oil,” per the report.

— Senate confirms No. 2 at Interior Dept.: The Senate voted 58 to 38 to confirm Katharine MacGregor, Trump’s nominee to be the Interior Department’s deputy secretary. In a statement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said MacGregor, a former staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee, “will be a tremendous leader and serve the American people admirably.” 

  • Her tenure at Interior so far: MacGregor faced some criticism following a report in Reveal News that oil lobbyists contacted her when they faced roadblocks with the agency, as the Hill reports. Separately, the office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in December he removed a hold blocking MacGregor’s nomination after a discussion with Bernhardt about concerns over expanding offshore oil drilling.  

— What scientists say about Bezos’s $10 billion for climate: The newly launched Bezos Earth Fund is “in a class by itself,” one philanthropy expert told The Post's Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Freedman. The amount is consistent with what the nation spends in a year on climate-related research and development. “Yet even as scientists and activists have welcomed the influx of cash from the man who founded Amazon and owns The Washington Post, they caution against private individuals driving climate science and the search for solutions,” they write. 

  • One limitation: The foundation grant processes are less rigorous than what federal agencies mandate. “Federally funded researchers are also required to make their data publicly available, meaning that the research continues to pay dividends after the initial project is complete,” Kaplan and Freedman write.
  • Another rub: If there’s an absence of public dollars to tackle the environment, that could mean billionaires and private investors are the ones setting the agenda for what climate solutions are addressed.

— This California town is embracing managed retreat: The small town of Marina — 10 miles north of Monterey — is moving infrastructure away from the sea, relocating oceanfront property and mandating real estate disclosures for sea level rise, the Los Angeles Times reports. The town is implementing what's known as managed retreat when other coastal cities that have been tackling rising seas have seen it as a no-go. 

  • A test case: “With sea level rise, the mere suggestion of making room for the ocean and turning prime real estate into open space has upended other cities up and down the coast — at least one mayor has been ousted,” the Times reports. “But Marina is different, a city report declared, and instead will show the state and country how to adapt to a changing planet.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing.
  • The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry holds a hearing on “Promoting Rural Economies and Healthy Forests."

Coming Up

  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020” on Thursday.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— A pair of rare cloud formations spotted in New Hampshire: “The remarkable cloud spotted from the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire on Monday morning was a hybrid combination of two rare cloud species: the lenticular, and the Kelvin-Helmholtz wave cloud,” The Post's Matthew Cappucci reports. “Seeing either type of cloud is unusual. But for both features to be wrapped up in one cloud? An exotic sight and then some.”