THE LIGHTBULB

Mike Bloomberg casts himself to voters as a champion on climate change. 

But the former New York mayor is also betting big on Texas on Super Tuesday — and staking out positions in line with voters in the Lone Star state who are reaping the rewards of the U.S. oil and gas boom.

He's trying to thread the needle on energy and environmental policy: Bloomberg says he's done more to combat change through his philanthropy than any other Democrat in the 2020 race, but his plan to stop global warming seems designed to avoid alienating those who live in oil and gas country. 

Bloomberg has set himself apart from other Democrats in two key ways: 

1. He wants to better regulate fracking, but doesn't want a nationwide ban. 

  • The Texas angle: Bloomberg's position on hydraulic fracturing seems notable given the method of extracting natural gas has expanded production in the Permian Basin in West Texas.
  • As Bloomberg said during the Democratic debate in Las Vegas: “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. But we're not going to get rid of fracking for a while.
  • By contrast: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) want to end the drilling technique over concerns about not only its contributions to climate change, but also how it can taint groundwater and cause earthquakes. Former vice president Joe Biden also takes the regulate-it-but-don't-end-it stance on fracking.

2. Bloomberg is the only 2020 candidate (aside from President Trump) who does not want to end U.S. oil and gas exports. 

  • The Texas angle: The state's Gulf Coast is a major exit point for natural gas and refined petroleum products. 
  • By contrast: Both Sanders and Warren want to reinstitute a ban on oil exports, which was lifted by Congress in 2015. Even Biden has said, “I think we should" ban fossil fuel exports, though his campaign has not directly answered the question.

Daphne Wang, a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman, noted that bans on either oil exports or fracking would require an act of Congress — a difficult feat even if Democrats take back the Senate. “His climate plans don’t rely on whether Congress will spend $16 trillion or shut down entire industries overnight, but instead are based on detailed modeling of what is doable … and what the President can actually accomplish through executive authority," she said.

Bloomberg's plan for getting all of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by the middle of the century will ultimately be good for Texas, she argued. “Putting the U.S. on the path to a 100 percent clean energy economy is one of Mike's top priorities, and getting there will require different approaches for different parts of our economy,” she said. “Producing nearly a quarter of America’s wind power, Texas has proven that more wind and solar is good for Texas.”

But the oil and gas industry still dominates the state's economy and culture. Texas is both the nation's leading producer of crude oil and leading refiner. 

And despite his stances, Bloomberg still got the brunt of President Trump's wrath on Twitter when it comes to oil and gas issues — sparing Sanders, who has a far more sweeping and expensive plan trying to curtail fossil fuels. 

Bloomberg launched his last-minute White House bid in November, but his multibillion-dollar fortune allowed him to gain traction in the polls by bankrolling more than $200 million in television and digital ads throughout the country. His campaign eschewed the early-voting states to focus on big Super Tuesday prizes, including Texas.

Part of Bloomberg's pitch involved reminding voters of how much he has already spent to close down coal-fired power plants. Before announcing his bid for the White House, Bloomberg vowed last year to donate $500 million to close every U.S. coal plant and halt the growth of gas-fired generators.

But Jack Shapiro, a campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said Bloomberg's stances on oil exports and fracking are “undercutting his own seriousness” on climate change.

“While he's obviously done a lot of advocacy work,” he said, “they're a lot more that he could do.”

Paul Bledsoe, who worked in Clinton White House on climate change, said banning U.S. oil and gas exports would do little to reduce global emissions since foreign sources will fill the market. 

“Any banned U.S. oil exports would rapidly be replaced by the Saudis, Russians or Iranians, so from a climate perspective such a ban is merely symbolic, and from a geopolitical it is far less defensible,” Bledsoe said. “Bloomberg is calling the Sanders left on their mere climate symbolism, when serious policies like boosting electric vehicles are what's needed to reduce global emissions from oil.”

Bloomberg is doubling down on Texas even as fellow moderates Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) rally around Biden. Bloomberg held two rallies in the Lone Star State in the five days leading up to Super Tuesday. With 228 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday, Texas is second only to California in its delegate haul.

Despite that investment, Bloomberg faces an uphill slog to win there, or even to notch delegates. In a recent CNN poll, he placed third behind Sanders and Biden, with 18 percent of the vote. Another poll from NBC News and Marist College has him at 15 percent. No delegates are awarded to candidates who get less than 15 percent of the vote.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

POWER PLAYS

— How the coronavirus spread has affected natural gas prices: Concerns about the virus's spread and its economic impact has delivered the latest blow to natural gas prices, The Wall Street Journal reports, sending prices to their lowest level in years. 

  • The details: Domestic producers were “already contending with abnormally mild winter weather across the Northern Hemisphere. And it shows how tightly tied to overseas economic activity the U.S. gas market has become after functioning in isolation for decades.”

— It has fueled Saudi Arabia’s call for output cuts: Amid the coronavirus-driven slowdown, Saudi Arabia is calling on Russia to join other producers to reduce crude production, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • More to know: “Officials from Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, said they would attend a technical meeting with Russia and others Tuesday, at which they hope to get Moscow to agree on deeper output curbs,” per the report. “The OPEC group had considered a teleconference amid fears coronavirus could spread among its delegates, said cartel officials, but as of Monday afternoon was proceeding with plans to travel.”

— Meanwhile, the outbreak has put a dent in China’s carbon emissions: The climate nonprofit group Carbon Brief found the decline in economic activity and the growing restrictions on travel have in part led to a drop in carbon dioxide emissions, Bloomberg News reports. The group's analysis looked at the two weeks starting 10 days after the start of the Lunar New Year and “compared that to the same period for each of the previous five years. Over that period in 2019, China emitted 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide; this year’s figure is likely closer to 300 million metric tons.” 

— And in the United States: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for the possibility that Trump could make an “infectious disease emergency declaration,” which would enable the agency to provide additional funding and personnel to state and local governments, NBC News reports.

  • The details: “The Trump administration would have to use the 1988 Stafford Act to enable FEMA to provide such disaster assistance. Emergency declarations are most often used in the event of natural disasters but can be used to help manage disease outbreaks,” per the report. President Bill Clinton used the Stafford Act to make an emergency declaration for the West Nile virus outbreaks in New York and New Jersey in 2000.

— Wells Fargo latest to reject funding Arctic drilling: The bank released an update to its environmental policy, noting it would not fund oil and gas projects in the Arctic region, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The policy notes it’s “part of a larger 2018 risk-based decision to forego participation in any project-specific transaction in the region.” 

  • The change follows similar moves by other banks: Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase recently announced similar bans to financing of new oil and gas developments in the Arctic.
  • The reaction: “Wells Fargo’s decision to rule out funding for Arctic drilling is clear evidence that investing in the destruction of the Arctic Refuge would be toxic to any company involved,” said Ben Cushing, a climate campaigner at the Sierra Club. “The Trump administration still hasn’t given up on trying to sell off the Arctic Refuge for drilling, but oil companies should pay close attention to the events of the past few months and think twice before bidding.” 

— A Trump official pushes “uncertainty language” about climate: Indur Goklany, a longtime Interior Department official, has led an effort within the agency to include “misleading language about climate change” in Interior’s scientific reports, The New York Times reports. Internally, it's being referred to as “Goks uncertainty language.” 

  • Documents reveal where this wording is found: The misleading wording, which claims a lack of consensus from scientists on global warming, “appears in at least nine reports, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries,” per the Times. The Times refers to emails from 2017 through last year, which were obtained under public-records laws by the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute.
  • Who is Golkany? The longtime Interior official and climate skeptic rose to prominence during the Trump administration, Juliet Eilperin and I reported in 2018.

— On the docket: The Supreme Court agreed to review a petition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to reverse a court order to release records related to a consultation process between the agencies and the EPA, Bloomberg News reports.

  • The case: The pair of agencies advised the EPA on how a proposal to change how it regulates power plants’ cooling water intake structures would affect imperiled species. “The services crafted draft opinions that said the EPA’s proposal was likely to harm protected species, but they later changed their conclusion and issued a ‘no jeopardy’ finding,” per the report. But the agencies withheld the related records when the Sierra Club requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Why it matters: “The Freedom of Information Act case could have broad ramifications for agency disclosure in other contexts,” per Bloomberg. Sierra Club attorney Sanjay Narayan told Bloomberg: “If an agency makes a decision that alters the course of either another agency’s decision-making or affects the public, it doesn’t get to just stamp that document ‘draft’ or ‘secret’ or ‘for our eyes only’ or anything else.” 

— How climate change could affect the world's beaches: A new study found half the sandy beaches around the globe could vanish if climate change continues unimpeded, the Associated Press reports. 

  • To quote: “What we find is that by the end of the century around half of the beaches in the world will experience erosion that is more than 100 meters,” said researcher Michalis Vousdoukas, from European Union’s Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy. “It’s likely that they will be lost.”
  • The extent of the loss depends on the extent of the warming: The amount of average global temperature rise by 2100 will determine how at risk sandy beaches are, the study found. “Greater temperature increases mean more sea level rise and more violent storms in some regions, causing more beaches to vanish beneath the waves,” the AP reports.

— Man, it’s a hot one: February in Washington ended 4.8 degrees warmer than usual, the third straight unusually mild month, Jason Samenow and Matt Rogers report. That means December through February — which meteorologists define as winter — was the seventh-warmest winter on record.

— Chevron trimming its workforce: The nation’s No. 2 oil producer is offering buyouts to employees working in its U.S. oil exploration and production workforce, Reuters reports. It’s part of a decision the company made to “reduce staff after reviewing operations late last year as energy prices fell…Chevron confirmed that it was offering buyouts to workers in its shale gas business in the eastern United States but did not comment on any other U.S. job cuts.” 

Obituaries
The former head of General Electric had a record of pleasing Wall Street and distressing employees.
Jia Lynn Yang
Capital Weather Gang
San Francisco saw no rain during February, which is typically its wettest month.
Diana Leonard

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s Applied Energy Programs’ budget requests for Fiscal Year 2021.
  • The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces holds a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for Nuclear Forces and Atomic Energy Defense Activities.

Coming Up

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the EPA’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2021 on Wednesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the Interior Department’s spending priorities and the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal on Wednesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on addressing America’s plastic waste crisis on Wednesday.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Indian Affairs Committee holds a hearing on Wednesday.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— From The Post's Tom Toles: “And what could be even worse than coronavirus?”