with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he is irritated with how President-elect Joe Biden's transition team is going about picking the next head of the Department of the Interior. 

He worries whoever takes the challenging post will be undercut after the news, as reported by our colleagues Amy Goldstein and Toluse Olorunnipa, that a prominent Latina governor, New Mexico's Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), was offered the job of running the department but turned it down. 

The revelation struck some observers as odd after Hispanic leaders banded together in support of Lujan Grisham taking a different Cabinet position: health and human services secretary. Another prominent Latino politician, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, was announced as Biden's pick for that post yesterday. 

Grijalva is concerned the next interior secretary will be seen as a second choice.

Whoever becomes Biden's interior chief, Grijalva said in an interview Monday with The Energy 202, may “inadvertently be seen is not qualified for the position" after news leaked of the offer to Lujan Grisham. 

At least two other New Mexico Democrats — retiring Sen. Tom Udall and first-term Rep. Deb Haaland — are in the running for the interior secretary position. 

“In a way, it makes it seem like the transition team went elsewhere to look for someone other than those two, and I don't think that's fair to either of them,” he said, referring to Haaland and Udall. “I wish this whole psychodrama hadn't had to happen.”

The Biden transition team declined to comment.

Grijalva's comments carry weight given his position as chair of the committee that oversees the Interior Department. 

Over the past four years, the Arizona congressman has built a reputation by going toe-to-toe with the Trump administration's officials at the agency.

Frustrations bubbled over Thursday during a virtual meeting between the Biden team and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Members of the caucus were concerned with how Lujan Grisham was treated when her name leaked from the otherwise tight Biden transition process, Grijalva said — and with the overall diversity of Biden's incoming Cabinet. 

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), the caucus leader, said in a statement that members “reiterated the importance of Latino and Latina representation in the incoming Biden-Harris administration, particularly in the Cabinet.” 

Lujan Grisham chaired the caucus as a member of the House before being elected governor in 2018. Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswomen for Lujan Grisham, said she "looks forward to working with the Biden administration in her role as governor of New Mexico.” 

Some of those worries were abated when Biden announced Monday that Becerra, a Mexican American, will run HHS. Last month, Biden also selected Alejandro Mayorkas, a son of Jewish Cuban refugees, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

The incoming interior leader  — whoever that is — has a tall task ahead. 

Biden has promised the department, which oversees a fifth of the nation's landmass, will end permitting of oil, gas and coal extraction on federal holdings and help set aside 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by the end of the decade as part of a broader effort to confront climate change and the accelerating rate of extinction.

Top contenders for the job include Michael L. Connor, a former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama, and Udall, a two-term senator who has been a vocal advocate of the “30 by 30” goal. The latter's father, Stewart Udall, ran the department in the 1960s.

But Haaland is the favorite of Grijalva and many other progressives in Washington. An enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, she would be the first Native American to run the department with a fraught history of dispossessing tribes of their lands. (Connor is also Native American.)

“Deb has had to deal with confronting the Trump administration,” Grijalva said, citing her legislative work as vice chair of his committee. "What you're getting with Deb is not window dressing. What you're getting with Deb is an authentic, real person.” 

Power plays

The EPA rejected setting tougher standards on soot. 

The move comes despite calls from some public health experts and environmental justice advocates for stricter limits on the nation’s most widespread deadly air pollutant, our colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report

“The agency retained the current thresholds for fine particle pollution for another five years, despite mounting evidence linking air pollution to lethal outcomes from respiratory diseases, including covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus,” Eilperin and Dennis write. 

An EPA advisory committee of outside experts was split on whether to maintain the limit of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air or adopt tighter standards, which comes from everything from industrial operations to household fireplaces. Agency scientists recommended lowering the standard to between 8 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter in a draft report last year.

The nation’s air monitoring system is failing into disrepair, according to a GAO report.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office audit found broad failures in the system used to detect air pollution, Reuters reports. “The GAO report said some agencies have reported termite damage and leaky roofs at shelters housing sensitive but aging pollution monitoring equipment, and one state agency resorted to shopping on eBay to find used monitor parts because the manufacturer had stopped making them,” Reuters writes.

The report claimed that the EPA had no comprehensive plan for managing equipment, even as about two-thirds of counties have no monitoring devices at all.

The House is set to vote on bills related to defense and water infrastructure.
  • The House will vote today on a compromise defense spending bill, which includes several provisions related to energy and the environment. The National Defense Authorization Act would boost mining of rare and critical minerals, directing the Defense Department to study the viability of mining for minerals at sea. It also includes sanctions targeting Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will carry gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe. The sprawling bill contains reporting requirements from the Defense Department and Pentagon on greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts on security, as well as money for remediation at military sites where PFAS chemicals have been used in firefighting. Left on the cutting-room floor were provisions supporting the development of advanced nuclear reactors and carbon capture technologies.
  • The House is also set to vote today on a pared-down water infrastructure bill. The Water Resources Development Act authorizes money for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flood damage reduction, river basin studies, ecosystem restoration and other infrastructure projects. Left out of the final bill, however, are provisions related to drinking water infrastructure projects, relief for utilities impacted by the coronavirus and pilot programs to support clean water, E&E News reports.
The Trump administration is planning to allow disturbance of polar bears in search of oil in Arctic refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service released a report estimating that seismic testing in the Arctic by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corp. would result in the nonlethal harassment of around three polar bears, potentially leading to hearing damage and behavioral disturbances. But the agency proposed allowing the company’s oil exploration to proceed, based on a finding that the disturbances would be unlikely to kill any of the approximately 900 southern Beaufort Sea polar bears left in the Arctic. If the project is approved, seismic surveys could begin as soon as Jan. 21.

Thermometer

2020 is closing in on the record for the planet’s hottest year.

The Earth just had its hottest November on record with global average temperatures 1.4 degrees (0.77 Celsius) above 1981-2010 levels, according to numbers from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a program of the European Commission. 

“Globally, the year to beat to set an annual record is 2016, which got a boost from an unusually strong El Niño, which feature above-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean,” our colleague Andrew Freedman reports. 

This year, in contrast, saw a La Niña event, which typically puts a damper on global average temperatures, so the fact that 2020 could end up being similar to or even slightly warmer than 2016 is all the more remarkable. In the coming weeks, other temperature-tracking agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, will report their temperature rankings, which could diverge slightly.

“However, there is near unanimity among climate scientists about the specifics of the long-term warming trend, as well as its causes and increasingly devastating consequences,” Freedman writes.

California’s wildfire season is extending into December.

A lack of rainfall is contributing to a period of high fire risk in Northern and Southern California. 

“California’s worst wildfire season on record, which has torched 4.2 million acres and killed 31 people, just won’t quit,” Andrew Freedman and Diana Leonard report for The Post

December red flag warnings for fire risk are rare in Northern California, although they are more common to the south. But even in Southern California the extremely dry conditions and parched vegetation are not typical. 

Oil check

Exxon put a hold on carbon storage plans.

ExxonMobil was set to embark on the construction of one of the world’s largest carbon-capture-storage facilities in the LaBarge field in Wyoming. The cost of construction for the project, which would capture and bury carbon produced at the site, was estimated at $260 million — money the oil giant hoped to recoup in part through tax credits for safe storage, Bloomberg News reports. In April, however, Exxon, reeling from cratering oil prices, put the project on hold indefinitely.

Even so, the company is continuing to invest in traditional oil and gas projects. "In September, for example, Exxon announced plans to expand crude operations off the coast of Guyana at a cost of $9 billion — 35 times the cost of implementing CCS at LaBarge,” Bloomberg writes. Meanwhile, documents obtained by Bloomberg show that if LaBarge had gone ahead, “it would have been one of the largest carbon-capture projects operated solely by Exxon, making up almost 20% of the company’s new emission-reduction efforts out to 2025.”

Extra mileage

The National Zoo will keep giant pandas until 2023.

The National Zoo in Washington will keep giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, as well as their 4-month-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, for another three years after signing an extension with Chinese officials. The pandas are set to return to China in 2023, our colleague Michael E. Ruane reports.

“It’s great to have them for a little longer but it also is a reminder that that’s ephemeral, and they will return to China,” Zoo Director Steve Monfort told The Post. “This gives us three years to celebrate that and to get ready for it.”