THE LIGHTBULB

Super Tuesday whittled down the Democratic race for the White House to two viable candidates — and two different visions for what to do about climate change. 

Both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders agree Earth's steadily rising temperatures are an “existential threat.” Both say President Trump made a grave mistake when he promised to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. And both offer more ambitious proposals for tackling climate change than any U.S. president ever has.

But beyond that, the former vice president and the independent senator from Vermont have diverging proposals about how exactly — and how quickly — to try to cut the country's contributions to global warming. Here are the biggest differences on the issues, as voters head to the polls in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington next Tuesday: 

1. Gas: The declining cost and growing availability of gas because of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has helped lead to the closure of hundreds of power plants that burn coal — the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. But gas makes its own contribution to climate change, and scientists are still trying to puzzle out just how big it is

  • Biden wants to end new drilling on public lands and impose “aggressive” limits on the release of methane, a potent heat-trapping pollutant, from existing wells. But he stops short of calling for an immediate end to gas production, and wants to spend money to research ways of capturing and using carbon dioxide from gas-fired power plants.
  • Sanders wants to undercut the entire gas industry with nationwide bans on both fracking and exporting gas to other countries. He also calls capturing carbon from the exhaust of fossil fuel plants a “false solution” to climate change.

2. Nukes: Nuclear energy is the nation's biggest source of power that emits no carbon dioxide. But it also has proved to be a costly form of generation that leaves behind tons of radioactive waste — and no one seems to know where to safely store it.

  • Biden is unclear about what he wants to do. He says he will support research into nuclear waste disposal systems, but doesn't say if he wants to build more nuclear plants.
  • Sanders is a longtime opponent of nuclear power. He pledged to enact a moratorium on all license renewals for existing nuclear power plants over concerns about nuclear waste and another Fukushima-like disaster.

3. Deadline to cut emissions: A United Nations panel of hundreds of climate scientists said in a 2018 report that the world will fail to keep global warming to moderate levels unless “unprecedented” action is taken worldwide over the next decade to drastically reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

  • Biden aims to get the U.S. economy to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by at least 2050 by asking Congress to pass sweeping legislation giving the president power to enforce emissions reductions and to invest in clean energy research.
  • Sanders wants to have the power and transportation sectors running completely on renewable energy by at least 2030, and to decarbonize the rest of the economy by the middle of this century. The senator also wants the federal government to have a more active role in generating that wind, solar and geothermal power.

4. Cost of their plans: None of the above would be cheap, and both candidates' plans reflect that. But the cost of letting the climate continue to warm the Earth can already be seen in the billions of dollars in damages from more intense hurricanes and fiercer wildfires.

  • Biden's price tag: $1.7 trillion over 10 years.
  • Sanders's price tag: $16.3 trillion over that same period, by far the biggest price tag of any of the Democratic climate plans.

POWER PLAYS

— Here's the latest on the impact of the coronavirus on the energy sector:

  • Oil watch: OPEC member nations say they will reduce oil production as the novel virus  spread continues to affect the global economy — but they will only do so if Russia does as well, The Post’s Will Englund reports. 
  • The tea leaves: “Moscow, though, has been cool to the idea, and, if it refuses, Russia’s three-year-old cooperative agreement with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, called OPEC , could become another casualty of the coronavirus,” Englund adds. “Saudi Arabia pushed hard for the cuts, and at its meeting in Vienna Thursday the cartel decided to reduce oil output by 1 million barrels a day, contingent on nonmembers similarly making a cut of 500,000 barrels a day. In practice, the burden for the latter would fall on Russia.”
  • And in China: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said it’s “hard to tell” but he doesn’t expect the ongoing spread of the virus will “affect China’s agreement in the recent trade deal to buy more than $50 billion in U.S. oil, gas and coal over two years,” Reuters reports. Brouilette told reporters: “I think the Chinese have every intention of honoring their agreements.”
  • Another conference canceled: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission called off its largest annual meeting because of the  outbreak. The conference was scheduled to take place from March 10-12 in North Bethesda, Md.

 

— Why has winter been so warm? The version of winter experienced across large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere this year has been peculiar, and climate change is partly to blame, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports

  • The numbers: “According to data released Wednesday by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, Europe’s average temperature for December through February was 6.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the 40-year average, shattering the previous record by more than two degrees. In the United States, temperatures were above average for every state but Alaska,” Kaplan writes. There are, of course, normal variations year to year in global weather patterns, but climate change has exacerbated those variations. That also means warm winters are more likely. 
  • The impact: “In New York’s Central Park, cherry trees put out their pale pink blooms in January — months ahead of schedule. Temperatures in Sweden were so high ski resorts couldn’t make artificial snow for their slopes. Snowplow operators in New Jersey had to go looking for landscaping work instead. And after one of the hottest, driest Februarys in state history, parched California is already ablaze.” 

— There are hundreds of deserted oil wells across Los Angeles: While oil development for profit has largely ceased in Los Angeles, hundreds of oil wells left behind by fossil fuel firms are exposing residents to toxic gases, the Los Angeles Times found in this deep dive that includes records from the Center for Public Integrity. And the companies behind the wells have left the state to deal with any cleanup. 

  • Who is affected: “Many neighbors of the old drilling sites are frustrated and angered by what they see as official indifference toward orphaned wells,” the L.A. Times reports. According to an analysis from the paper and from the Center for Public Integrity, “800 people live within 600 feet of AllenCo’s drill site, the distance identified by the petroleum administrator in a recent report as the minimum needed to limit significant exposure to air pollutants. About 80% of residents there are Latino. More than half the neighborhood earns an annual household income under $30,000.” 

— The threat to Australia’s koala population: The koala population is under a significant and immediate threat of extinction following the nation’s devastating bushfires, according to a new report from a global conservation group. 

  • The population at risk: The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimated at least 5,000 koalas died, which is almost 12 percent of the population in New South Wales, CNN reports. “More than 12 million acres of land burned across NSW during the bushfires, and nearly 45 million acres burned across Australia, leaving the koala habitat unsuitable for living,” per CNN, which adds the koalas are “eligible for a provisional listing as Endangered on an emergency basis under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act of 2016.” 

— Senators considering compromise to energy package amendment: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told The Hill he’s working with Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) to adjust their amendment to the Senate’s energy package that would seek to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons.

  • The amendment may stall votes on the sprawling package: Barrasso is “fighting for language that would block states from setting their own stricter standards on the substance,” The Hill reports, adding the White House also raised objections to the amendment and echoed Barrasso opposition.
Capital Weather Gang
Social media accounts which oversell the severity of weather events have become a big concern.
Matthew Cappucci

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee holds a hearing on FEMA's priorities for 2020 and beyond on March 11.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— A big, structural bite: Soon after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) dropped out of the presidential race, her dog Bailey got one more viral moment online after nabbing a burrito.