with Paulina Firozi

President Trump said his administration was preparing to reopen national parks that were closed to help stop the spread of the raging coronavirus pandemic. “We're starting to open our country again,” Trump said.

Yet Trump was not clear about which parks would reopen, or when, sparking fears that a rushed return to normal operations could lead to more infections among park workers, visitors and residents in neighboring communities.

“I don't think we're ready” to reopen, said Phil Francis, the chair of Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, a group of current and former park employees and volunteers. “I don't think we have the adequate staff, adequate training," said Francis, the former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Theresa Pierno, head of the National Parks Conservation Association, said her organization heard from park staff who feel they do not have the proper personal protective equipment to work while there's still a threat from the coronavirus pandemic — and do not know when they will get it. 

"At many of our national parks, social distancing has already proven to be nearly impossible," she said. “It's critical that until it's safe, parks already closed should remain so. And those that have not yet closed should be allowed to do so immediately.”

Trump's team emphasized that any reopening would happen “gradually.”

Trump said now is the time to consider unlocking the gates on some of the country's iconic parks, even with the full closures of Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and many other prominent sites less than a month old. 

During a tree-planting event scheduled at the White House for Earth Day, Trump sought to reassure potential parkgoers that the virus had been tamped down enough to justify the decision. 

“Thanks to our significant progress against the invisible enemy,” the president said as the U.S. death toll soared past 46,000, “I'm pleased to announce that in line with my administration's guidelines for opening up America again, we will begin to reopen our national parks and public lands for the American people to enjoy.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose department oversees the National Park Service, added on Twitter that the agency would “gradually reopen” sites “in a safe manner.” 

The plan is to let the states take the lead.

Bernhardt, who joined Trump at the an Earth Day commemoration, said the administration would be working closely with state governments in making decisions. “We'll run right along side of the governors,” he told Trump.

Already at least one says they are ready. Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R), who announced last week he was reopening state parks, called for “a safe and structured reopening of Utah’s five national parks in a statement Wednesday.

Emily Niehaus, mayor of Moab, Utah, said before Herbert's announcement that she was apprehensive about the idea of visitors coming back too early to her city, at the doorstep of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

“I am of course excited for Arches and Canyonlands to reopen,” the mayor said. “My concern is that if we are inviting people here, we're inviting the virus here.”

Ultimately, she said she would defer to the judgment of the state government and local health officials.

Disease experts warn that lifting broader state lockdowns soon — as governors in South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida are preparing to do — will led to more deaths from covid-19.

The lack of a public, overarching plan from Park Service leaders before the announcement was worrisome, Francis said. “If there is a plan," he said, “they ought to display it.”

Interior spokesman Conner Swanson pointed to Bernhardt's tweet when asked to elaborate on the department's plans.

The Trump administration was criticized for not closing parks quickly enough in the first place.

While the Park Service was quick to shut down the Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument and the Gold State Recreation Area by mid-March, it actually encouraged park visitation elsewhere by waiving entrance fees at many other sites. 

The move led to crowds at the entrances, narrow trails and popular overlooks of Zion, Joshua Tree and other parks during some weekends in March as the virus took grip in the United States. 

By the beginning of April, at least seven Park Service employees tested positive for the virus. As the disease spread through parks staffs, the decision to keep sites opened led to complaints from employees still compelled to go to work, with at least one NPS worker in Alaska quitting his job.

The Interior Department said 155 of the 419 Park Service units are completely closed as of Friday.

But the closures have not been all-encompassing. Some of the others — including Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio, Badlands in South Dakota and Glen Canyon along the Utah-Arizona border — remain only partially open, but are getting “substantial visitation,” said Kristen Brengel, the group's senior vice president of government affairs.  

This story has been updated with data from the Interior Department about the number of national park sites closed.

Power plays

Prominent environmentalists in the Democratic Party lined up on Earth Day to back Joe Biden.
  • Jay Inslee is in: The Washington state governor, who focused on climate change during his own presidential bid, announced his endorsement after private discussions with Biden. During those discussions, the former vice president “signaled he would make fighting climate change a central cause of his administration,” the New York Times reports.
  • Al Gore is too: Former vice president said supporting the presumptive Democratic nominee over Trump is “not rocket science” and “not a close call,” according to the Associated Press

In his own Earth Day message on Twitter alongside his wife Jill, Biden pledged to take “drastic action” on climate in the White House. 

That kind of talk is what the party’s left flank has been pushing Biden to do.

But it remains to be seen if Biden will amend his actual plans for addressing climate change. Biden’s recent endorsement from left-wing standard-bearer Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was connected to a pledge for a working group on climate. 

“Folks think that Biden sees an opportunity on climate to bring the Democratic Party together,” Jamal Raad, a former Inslee staffer, told E&E News. ““His best opportunity to do it is to go big and bold on climate action.” 

Oil check

Harold Hamm has questions about Monday's unprecedented oil price crash.

The oil billionaire and Trump donor, who founded Continental Resources, sent a letter this week to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission calling on the regulator to look into this week’s unprecedented oil price crash.

He called for a probe of whether there was “possible market manipulation, failed systems or computer programming failures."

“The sanctity and trust in the oil and all commodity futures markets are at issue as the system failed miserably and an immediate investigation is requested and, we submit, is required,” Hamm said in the letter.

There’s too much oil and nowhere to put it. 

Conventional oil storage facilities are filling up, and now oil traders are seeking out ships, rail cars, caverns and pipelines to fill with the excess of oil. 

"Dozens of oil tanker vessels have been booked in recent days to store at least 30 million barrels of jet fuel, gasoline and diesel at sea, acting as floating storage, as on-land tanks are full or already booked, according to traders and shipping data,” Reuters reports. “That adds to about 130 million barrels of crude already in floating storage, traders and shipping sources said.”  

The glut and storage issues mean deeper oil output cuts may be inevitable. 

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as well as Russia and other oil producers may be forced to further curb oil production, even if they don’t formally agree to do so, Reuters reports.

“We are in uncharted territory. Everything is possible, including the unbelievable,” an OPEC source told Reuters about whether the oil producers could be forced into additional reductions. 

More coronavirus fallout

Air quality in the District has improved markedly. 

Residents in Washington are breathing the cleanest spring air in at least a quarter-century. 

The pollution decline probably is a side effect of stay-at-home orders but was “set into motion by decades of national, state, and local reduction measures,” Jason Samenow reports. “Data shows local pollution amounts now at their lowest levels in at least 25 years.” 

It is “the first time since records began in 1999 that the DC area ... has had all ‘Good’ PM2.5 air quality days over the past month,” Ryan Stauffer, an air pollution specialist at NASA, told The Post in an email.

Pet owners, take note.  

Two pet cats in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus, the first confirmed companion animal case in the nation. 

Federal health officials said the pets are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the Associated Press reports. “Still, the CDC is recommending that people prevent their pets from interacting with people or animals outside their homes — by keeping cats indoors and dogs out of dog parks, for instance,” the AP adds. 

“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to be afraid of pets” or to rush to test them en masse,” said CDC official Casey Barton Behravesh. “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.” It appears, however, that some animals can contract the virus from people. 

Animals in zoos seem worried about the absence of crowds.  

While wildlife may be thriving in deserted parks and streets, the Los Angeles Times reports the Oakland Zoo is home to a number of animals that appear bored with all that solitude. 

Another problem with the lack of visitors: There’s a dearth of funds needed to feed the animals, a task that takes $800,000 a year. 

Global warming watch

Much of the Gulf Coast is experiencing summerlike heat.

These searing temperatures have been seen from South Texas to South Florida, but its in the latter region that long-standing records have been shattered, Matthew Cappucci and Samenow report.

“Meteorologists say the steamy weather is linked to abnormally warm temperatures in the adjacent waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and a persistent high pressure zone heating the air,” they wrote. "… Miami’s scorching 97 degrees Monday was not only a record for the day and the month, but also was the earliest in the year Miami has been that hot — by over five weeks. The day’s average temperature tied as the fourth-warmest day recorded in the city’s history — coming some three months before the typical onset of such summer-like warmth.” 

In other news

PG&E’s CEO is stepping down from the beleaguered utility.

Bill Johnson, who was appointed to lead San Francisco-based gas and electricity provider last year to help the company through bankruptcy, will step down at the end of June, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The move follows a troubled year for the utility. It filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2019 after its power lines sparked deadly wildfires in California. “Whoever succeeds Mr. Johnson will immediately face a tough task trying to shore up the company’s aging power lines, right as California enters its annual wildfire season, which peaks in the fall,” the Journal adds. “It has been abnormally dry throughout much of PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service territory, adding to the risk that the company’s equipment could spark another destructive fire.”