with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Polls show many voters say they care about climate change. But they probably won't be hearing much about it during the first presidential debate, moderated by a Fox News host. 

Chris Wallace, who will be questioning President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, has declined to make the rise in global temperatures a topic of discussion Tuesday evening, despite surveys showing it is a growing concern for those going to the polls on Nov. 3 — at least among Democratic voters.

Instead the Fox News host has indicated he will ask the candidates about the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, election integrity, and “race and violence in our cities.” 

The decision has agitated left-leaning activists who worry about a repeat of the 2016 election, when no moderator asked either Trump or then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about climate change over three nights of debate.

“Young people across the board are resoundingly freaked out about the climate crisis,” said Evan Weber, a co-founder of the youth-led Sunrise Movement. “The only question that matters to young people for the president of the United States is: What is your plan to deal with this crisis?”

The first debate arrives as many Americans – especially Democrats – say they are worried about global warming.

Climate change is the No. 1 issue for Democratic voters polled between Sept. 11-16 by Marist University for NPR and “PBS NewsHour,” with a 22 percent plurality saying it is most important to them. In another September survey by Quinnipiac University, 11 percent of likely Democratic voters said climate change was their top concern — comparable to health care and the Supreme Court. The top issue was the coronavirus.  

During the 2018 midterm election, health care was the top issue for Democrats. Overall, about 1 in 9 Americans in the recent Marist poll identified it as their top issue — more than jobs, health care and crime but less than the economy or the coronavirus. 

And 48 percent of all voters say climate change is extremely or very important to them, according to a CNN survey of American adults conducted in mid-August.

But the partisan difference is stark. Wallace's choices seem to reflect the concerns of Fox News's older, conservative viewership.  

In both the Quinnipiac and Marist surveys, only 1 percent of GOP voters named climate as their top issue. Younger Americans in general are more concerned about climate change than older generations, the polls found.  

Republicans, who make up the base of Fox News's viewers, were much more likely to be concerned about crime and the economy. Both are topics frequently talked about on the conservative news network and were included on Wallace's debate list.

John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, suggested that Biden should point out the deficiency of Wallace's topic list.

“Chris Wallace likes to claim to be an independent, tough journalist,” Podesta said. “But somehow this kind of Foxification of the way we're seeing the world is come to bear in in his topic selection. And I think that it deserves to be called out.”

In the topic list released last week by the Commission on Presidential Debates, Wallace include one catchall category — “the Trump and Biden records” — that may end up touching on environmental issues.

There's been no shortage of recent news events Wallace can cite. 

California and other West Coast states are being scorched by their worst wildfire season on record. And there are so many hurricanes pounding the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states that forecasters have run out of traditional names for them and are dipping into the Greek alphabet. 

With the tumult along either coast, Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post's media columnist, called Wallace's decision “flat-out wrong.” “Our planet is in serious, irrevocable trouble,” she wrote. “There’s no bigger issue.”

The absence puts extra pressure on the next two presidential debate moderators — Steve Scully of C-SPAN and Kristen Welker of NBC News — to ask about climate change. 

During the 2016 election, the only person to ask anything about energy issues was Ken Bone, a power plant operator who asked a question during a town hall-style debate. He is much better remembered for becoming an Internet meme for his bright red sweater than for any answer he elicited from Trump or Clinton. 

Now, activists and their Democratic allies are demanding that the presidential debates cover climate change.

Nearly 40 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the debate commission demanding prominent questions about climate change and the disparate impact pollution has on poor neighborhoods and communities of color.

“Without these topics, any discussion on the economy, racial justice, public health, national security, democracy, or infrastructure would be incomplete,” said the letter, led by Green New Deal co-sponsor Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts.

Earlier this month, 70 members of the House sent a similar letter asking to “make climate change a centerpiece” for the three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate.

Climate activists, including those in the Sunrise Movement, tried to persuade the Democratic Party to hold a debate solely on climate change during the primary. Party leaders declined to do so.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Power plays

The EPA raised legal questions about California's plan to ban new gas-powered cars by 2035.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) claiming that the statewide shift to electric vehicles could strain the state’s electric grid.

“California’s record of rolling blackouts—unprecedented in size and scope—coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote in the letter.

The letter also argues that California will need approval from the EPA to go forward, given that the Trump administration took away the state’s authority to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions standards in 2019.

Newsom announced last week that California intended to stop selling gasoline-powered cars within 15 years, a move which, if implemented, could have ripple effects across the country and supercharge the production of electric vehicles. 

Trump, meanwhile, touted electric trucks manufactured in Ohio.

“Trump, who has been courting blue-collar workers in the battleground state of Ohio, staged an event Monday on the South Lawn of the White House at which he inspected an electric pickup truck manufactured in Lordstown, Ohio, a community that suffered job losses earlier in his term after General Motors shut down a plant there,” our colleague John Wagner reports.

Lordstown Motors advertises its new 2021 Endurance as the first all-electric pickup truck. “We’ve been working on this very long and very hard,” Trump told reporters at the event, where he was also joined by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

A recent Washington Post average of polls in Ohio shows Biden leading Trump by 1 percentage point.

A former U.S. energy secretary and a top labor leader are promoting an energy jobs plan.

Former energy secretary Ernest Moniz and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed a prominent role for natural gas and nuclear energy as part of a plan for building jobs in a low-carbon future. That stance may put them at odds with left-leaning environmental groups, E&E News reports.

The plan, which outlines 10 strategies for creating jobs during an energy transition, calls for a nationwide program to capture carbon released from natural gas combustion. 

“Other policies, if enacted, would expand offshore wind projects and the construction of electric transmission lines, preserve existing nuclear reactors and support next-generation reactor technologies, develop hydrogen as a major fuel source, and increase U.S. lithium and rare-earth mineral mining for use in batteries and other energy technology,” E&E News writes.

The American Petroleum Institute will run ads during the first presidential debate.

The ads, which paint the oil and gas industry as clean energy leaders, will run in key battleground states on cable providers such as Fox News and CNN as well as digital platforms, the oil lobbying group said.

“America is built on diverse views,” one ad says. “But we all agree we need climate solutions while meeting our country's essential energy needs.”

While natural gas was frequently portrayed as a lower-carbon transition fuel during the Obama administration, many environmental groups point out that its production leads to emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and argue that it does not have a place in a clean energy future.


California wildfires erupted from wine country to Los Angeles.

“Swiftly moving wildfires roared into parts of Santa Rosa, Calif., overnight and Monday morning, causing damage in the eastern parts of the community and sending tens of thousands fleeing during hasty nighttime evacuations,” our colleague Andrew Freedman reports.

Additional evacuations were ordered throughout the day on Monday. The fire comes as the state experiences yet another in a series of dangerous heat waves, even as strong offshore winds are spreading blazes.

Record setting heat waves spawned vast wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties in California on Sept. 27 that have consumed over 11,000 acres. (The Washington Post)

Farther north, the Zogg Fire in Shasta County expanded, killing three people, according to local law enforcement on Monday.

“Meanwhile, as strong, dry winds pick up in Southern California, fast-moving fires are threatening homes in parts of Los Angeles County. The Martindale Fire erupted Monday afternoon north of Santa Clarita, about 30 miles from downtown L.A.,” Freedman writes.

It's not all bad

David Attenborough gained 1 million followers on Instagram in record time.

The naturalist beat Jennifer Aniston’s record for the fastest accumulation of Instagram followers by 32 minutes. He said the achievement gave him hope for the future and that he was glad that the platform’s users were interested in his message on the environment, our colleague Jennifer Hassan reports.

“I’m making this move and exploring this new way of communication to me because, as we all know, the world is in trouble,” Attenborough said in his first Instagram video, which has been viewed 17 million times. “Continents are on fire. Glaciers are melting. Coral reefs are dying.” 

View this post on Instagram

David Attenborough has spent a lifetime travelling, exploring the wild places of our planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. He’s also witnessed the damaged caused. Saving our planet is now a communications challenge. We know what to do, we just need the will. That’s why we want to share this message on Instagram. Because there is hope and together, we can inspire change. Social media isn’t David’s usual habitat so while he’s recorded messages solely for Instagram, like the one in this post, we're helping to run this account. In case you’re wondering, ‘we’ are Jonnie and Colin and we worked with David on A Life On Our Planet. So, as well as sharing the messages he’s recorded especially for this account we’ll also post some exclusive clips and behind the scenes content. Stay tuned.

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