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The Energy 202: Joe Biden nabs endorsement from National Wildlife Federation’s political arm in first for the group


The announcement represents a growing realization among green groups that Biden is likely to clinch the Democratic nomination — and that, should he win in November, they must work with his administration to craft environmental policy.

Collin O’Mara, the chief executive of the 84-year-old wildlife organization, said Biden is best positioned to bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass legislation and enact lasting policies addressing the loss of biodiversity around the globe. A landmark U.N. report last year said 1 million plants and animals are on the verge of extinction.

“We feel strongly that it’s going to take a leader that can bring everybody together to find durable solutions, and the vice president has the best track record of that,” O’Mara said in an interview, pointing to Biden’s work in shepherding through Congress a 2009 stimulus bill that included substantial investment in renewable energy.

The federation, which has 6 million members, advocates for the protection and restoration of plant and animal habitats against threats that include water pollution, land development and — increasingly — climate change. O’Mara said Biden has “the best skill set to bring different interests together,” including oil, gas and coal workers who often don’t align themselves with the wildlife conservation movement.

In a statement, Biden said he was “incredibly proud and honored” to get the group’s endorsement. Though the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund has backed several Democrats in House races, this is the first time it has endorsed a candidate for president.

But the endorsement stands apart from those given by nearly every other green group. Political arms of Friends of the Earth and 350.org, for example, backed both Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which popularized the Green New Deal Biden has embraced at times, endorsed Sanders and went so far as to give Biden an “F” for his plan to tackle climate change.

Yet O’Mara said Biden’s $1.7 trillion climate plan, which calls for the country to achieve net-zero emissions at 2050 at the latest, is “incredibly strong.” The federation worked with the Biden campaign to help craft his proposals for protecting wildlife and managing public lands. 

Biden’s climate plan, which includes a promise to stop issuing new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands, is more ambitious than anything pursued under President Obama — a sign the issue has taken on extra urgency since the U.N. warned in a 2018 report the world has a decade to mitigate climate change. Yet Sanders went further to win over environmentalists by calling for an end to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and setting a deadline of 2030 for getting all the country’s power from renewable sources. 

That enthusiasm from young, environmentally minded activists wasn’t enough to give Sanders the wins he needed on Super Tuesday. Biden’s surprising series of victories this month after racking up endorsements from former candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., have upended the race. Biden now appears to be running away with the nomination after gaining around 150 more delegates than Sanders. 

Sanders said Wednesday he is not dropping out of the race — and some of the environmental groups that support him do not seem ready to back down, either. Protesters from the Sunrise Movement interrupted a Biden rally in Detroit the day before Tuesday’s Michigan vote. 

Scheduling note: The Energy 202 will be going dark next week as I take a break (and try to avoid the coronavirus). Paulina Firozi will be filling in for Friday. The next edition will hit your inbox on Monday, March 23. See you then!

POWER PLAYS

— “This is not a bailout”: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended the Trump administration’s plan to provide assistance to industries affected by the coronavirus fallout. Part of what’s being considered is low- or no-interest loans to oil and gas producers affected by the collapse of oil prices, The Post’s Jeff Stein reports.

  • What Mnuchin said: “This is not a bailout. This is considering providing certain things for certain industries. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines,” he said, insisting at least four times that the plans were not a “bailout.”
  • The reaction: “Some conservatives and liberals slammed Mnuchin’s remarks, arguing that the White House’s plans do amount to a bailout,” Stein adds. Paul Winfree of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation said it “sounds like a bailout to me,” adding: “We are going to have to see specifics, but when you are dealing with special treatment given to one industry or sector of the economy, that is, almost by definition, a bailout.”

— Experts want to know, is the new coronavirus seasonal? “In other words, is this more like the flu, which has a distinct winter peak in the United States and Europe and then ebbs for the spring and summer? Or is this here to stay at a high level of spread throughout the warm season?,” Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow write

  • Some insight: According to a new study, which has not been peer-reviewed, the virus “has been spreading most readily along an east-west band of the globe where the average temperatures are between 41 and 52 degrees and average humidity levels are between about 50 and 80 percent.”

— The National Weather Service faces telework challenges amid the outbreak: In Seattle, part of hard-hit Washington state, staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices sought to work remotely. “In response, NOAA reduced the number of employees at its Western Regional Center and granted voluntary liberal leave and telework orders, per recommendations from the Federal Executive Board. However, forecasters at NOAA’s National Weather Service have continued to work at its offices,” Freedman reports

  • NOAA is working to move more people remotely: “NOAA will conduct a voluntary telework drill Thursday to test its capabilities of moving workers out of offices in large numbers, the email notes.”
  • But not all functions can be carried out remotely: “NWS forecasters work out of 122 offices nationwide, each responsible for watching the weather across a slice of the United States,” Freedman reports. “…Other national centers can operate on reduced staffing but still must function, such as the Storm Prediction Center, which issues tornado watches; the National Hurricane Center; and the NOAA satellites center, which ensures continued operation of the country’s fleet of weather satellites.”

— Climate protests in a time of coronavirus: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted calling on youth activists to move their protests online to avoid large crowds. 

  • What she said: “The climate and ecological crisis is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced but for now (of course depending on where you live) we’ll have to find new ways to create public awareness & advocate for change that don’t involve too big crowds,” she wrote, adding that people should heed warnings from local authorities. She called for a #DigitalStrike instead for the upcoming Fridays.

— Administration considering using oil reserves, GOP senator says: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he believes the administration is weighing the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to support oil producers dealing with the oil price collapse, Reuters reports. “There have been in the past measures that have been taken with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and other things, but I’m not suggesting that at this point,” he told reporters. “I think the administration is evaluating that.” 

— A dozen and a half states call on administration to pull NEPA rollback: State attorneys general in 18 states want the Trump administration to withdraw a rule that would weaken the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act. The president proposed in January changes to the regulations in an effort to speed up projects such as new mines and pipelines. 

  • What they said: “These changes grant extraordinary discretion to federal agencies and project proponents while limiting consideration of environmental and public health impacts from federal actions,” the attorneys general wrote in a comment on the rule. They added the changes “undermine NEPA’s plain language” and would “trade reasoned and informed decision making for unjustified expedience.” 

— Federal court rules against logging plan in Alaska: A federal judge ruled against a massive timber harvest plan on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, in a win for environmental groups that challenged the logging plan. The judge said the project approval in part violated NEPA.

  • What the ruling says: The Forest Service “limited its ability to make informed decisions regarding impacts to subsistence uses and presented local communities with vague, hypothetical, and over-inclusive representations of the Project’s effects over a 15-year period.”
  • The reaction: “What the court has cut short is flagrant attempts by the Forest Service to trample not only the remaining old-growth forest on Southeast Alaska’s most heavily-logged major island, but also NEPA, which is America’s bedrock law for protecting the environment from contrived decision-making,” said Larry Edwards of the Alaska Rainforest Defenders in a statement.

— The administration wants local officials to evict homeowners in flood-prone areas: The federal government wants cities in Florida, New Jersey, South Carolina and Alabama to use eminent domain to force homeowners out of vulnerable areas, or lose federal funding to combat climate change, the New York Times reports.

  • How it works: “Eminent domain — the government’s authority to take private property, with compensation, for public use — has long been viewed as too blunt a tool for getting people out of disaster-prone areas,” the Times reports. “It has a controversial history: Local governments have used it to tear down African-American neighborhoods, as well as to build freeways and other projects over residents’ objections. Even when the purpose of eminent domain is seen as legitimate, elected officials are generally loath to evict people.”
  • Why it matters: It’s a sign of the kind of aggressive tool governments can use to address the severity of climate change. And some local officials have told the Army Corps of Engineers they will do so if needed, while others haven’t decided, the NYT adds, citing interviews and documents obtained via public records requests.

DAYBOOK

  • The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing on climate change.
  • The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on the economic risks of climate change.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— You don’t need an ocean to get waves: A rare cloud formation was spotted in the Washington area Monday. “A procession of undulations formed overhead, toppling over like caricature ocean waves before curling back on themselves and dissipating,” Matthew Cappucci writes.





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