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The Technology 202: Revelations from Congress’s antitrust investigation could have an enduring impact


Lawmakers unveiled executives’ own words, recordings of conversations with small businesses and a trove of other evidence at the hearing to bolster accusations that tech companies squash their competitors. 

The investigation could have an enduring impact on how the world regulates the tech industry. The revelations come at a critical moment, as tech companies face antitrust probes both in the United States and Europe – and U.S. lawmakers seek to overhaul existing antitrust laws they say are outdated and ill-equipped to rein in tech companies today. 

Here were some critical findings you probably will hear about again:

Lawmakers used Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s own words against him. 

Emails, chat records and video recordings – including some remarks and messages directly from Zuckerberg himself – were key to the committee’s accusations that Facebook engaged in anti-competitive behavior. They accused the company of harvesting data about how its users behaved on other consumer apps, and then used that data to “copy, acquire, and kill” any rivals they notice have traction. 

Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, brought up a 2012 statements in which Zuckerberg apparently said he sought to acquire Instagram, which at the time was a rival photo-sharing app, out of fear that it could hurt Facebook.  

Zuckerberg, in response, said: “By having them join us, they certainly went from being a competitor in the space of mobile cameras, to an app that we could continue to help grow and help get more people to be able to use and be on our team.” Zuckerberg argued it was far from obvious at the time of the acquisition that Instagram would reach the scale it had today. 

But Nadler argued that if Facebook did snap up the company to neutralize a competitive threat, it would be against antitrust law. He pressed Zuckerberg on whether the company should be broken up. 

The panel published text records revealing Instagram’s co-founder worried Zuckerberg would go into “destroy mode” if he didn’t sell. 

Kevin Systrom’s chat logs show he worried about how Facebook might retaliate if he decided not to sell after Zuckerberg expressed interest in buying the photo-sharing app in 2012. 

“Will [Zuckerberg] go into destroy mode if I say no [to an acquisition deal]?” Systrom asked in a message to tech investor Matt Cohler, according to documents published by the committee. 

“Probably,” replied Cohler, who had been an early Facebook employee. He warned that Facebook might target the app more aggressively if its leaders knew Instagram was raising more funding from venture capitalists. 

These chat records were key to the interrogation by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) of Zuckerberg, in which she pressed him on whether he copied competitors. Watch here: 

Recordings of a merchant’s struggles with Amazon highlighted the personal costs of tech’s power.

Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) sought to highlight the personal toll of the companies’ policies when she confronted Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos with a recording of a third-party seller who said she was restricted because she competed with the e-commerce giant in selling textbooks. The small business owner, in the recording played during the hearing, accused Amazon of systematically blocking her company from selling textbooks for months, after her business began to cut into Amazon’s market share. She insisted the restrictions put her business and ability to feed her family in jeopardy, and that she heard no response when attempting to contact the company to get them lifted. (Bezos also owns the Washington Post). 

Here’s the exchange, captured by The Guardian:

Bezos said it was not an acceptable way to treat a partner, but he wasn’t aware of a specific case. “I appreciate that you showed me that anecdote, and I would like to talk to her,” Bezos said. “It does not at all, to me, seem like the right way to treat her.”

Lawmakers sought to make the case that this was not a unique experience. “We have heard so many heartbreaking stories of small businesses who sunk significant time and resources into building a business and selling on Amazon, only to have Amazon poach their best-selling items and drive them out of business,” said David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the subcommittee that hosted the hearing. 

Bezos also was also pressed by the committee on reports and supporting interviews by congressional investigators that found Amazon employees used data collected from third-party merchants to develop its own competing products. The e-commerce titan testified that he couldn’t guarantee that the company didn’t use proprietary data for this purpose, my colleague Jay Greene wrote. Bezos said the company had a policy against that practice, but it is currently investigating whether those rules had ever been violated. 

Internal emails revealed an Apple executive considered hiking developer fees.

Apple executive Eddy Cue once suggested raising the cut Apple would take from subscriptions to apps on its App Store to 40 percent, up from the 30 percent the company initially charged. The committee shared the finding on Twitter: 

Cook insisted the company has never increased its commission fees, as lawmakers pressed him on whether the Apple App Store was too powerful and took too much of a tax from developers. But lawmakers questioned whether the company could do so in the future. Cook said that there was strong competition for app developers that would influence Apple’s pricing. 

Yet the document was key reveal because it highlighted that there has not always been a consensus about this issue among Apple’s top leaders. 

Google faced pressure for reversing previous assurances to Congress about a controversial merger.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) grilled Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google and its parent company Alphabet, about the company’s practice of combining user data from its services with that from DoubleClick, an advertising company that the search giant acquired in 2007. 

Google had previously told Congress it wouldn’t combine data, Demings said. But then the company did so in 2016. Pichai confirmed that he signed off on the decision. 

“Practically, this decision meant that your company would now combine all of my data on Google, my search history, my information from Google maps, information from my email, my Gmail, as well as my personal identity with the record of almost all of the websites I visited,” Demings said. “That is absolutely staggering.”

Democrats hope the hearing is just the beginning of a bigger antitrust crackdown.

Cicilline accused all four companies of wielding monopoly power at the conclusion of his remarks, and he suggested some need to be broken up. He made clear a broader regulatory crackdown is coming for all of them. 

That could start in about a month, when the committee is expected to issue a wide-ranging report on the findings of its investigation. 

Cicilline told me after the hearing he thought the tech executives’ testimony supported many of the findings of the lengthy investigation. “They’re engaged in behavior that’s anticompetitive, which favors their own products and services, which monetizes and weaponizes data, which compromises the privacy of their users and which creates a competitive disadvantage for companies attempting to enter the marketplace,” he said as reporters gathered around him on the Hill.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans get on board with the Democrats’ plans. Though the investigation began as a bipartisan endeavor, significant partisan divisions have broken out. The panel’s top Republican, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), said he didn’t think it was time to overhaul antitrust laws, but rather to examine how the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department are enforcing the rules already on the books. 

Programming note: The Technology 202 will not publish on Friday, July 31. I’ll be on vacation next week, but the newsletter will be back in your inbox with a great lineup of guest hosts.

Our top tabs

Republicans accused Facebook and Google of bias against conservatives.

“I’ll just cut to the chase. Big Tech is out to get conservatives,” Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked Zuckerberg about specific incidents in which Facebook executives allegedly may have played down conservative viewpoints, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.

Gaetz asked whether content moderators and other employees were ever fired because of their policies. Gaetz cited documents from former right-leaning Facebook executive and Oculus creator Palmer Luckey that suggested the company asked him to suppress his political beliefs.

Zuckerberg wouldn’t comment on Luckey but said firing someone for political beliefs would be inappropriate. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended his company’s search tool against claims of bias against conservatives, Rachel Lerman reports.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) alleged that Google had removed a conservative site from the search results and only stored it before the hearing. Pichai said he would look into the specific issue but said, “We approach our work with a deep sense of responsibility in a nonpartisan way.”

Steube also suggested that Google might intentionally mark conservative emails as spam. “There’s nothing in the algorithm which has anything to do with political ideology,” Pichai said.

Democrats derided Republicans’ allegations. Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) accused his conservative colleagues of having a “persecution complex.”

Pichai and Cook brought a strong “Rate My Room” game to the hearings.  

Both had plants that elevated their otherwise modest Web camera backgrounds, style columnist Robin Givhan writes. Zuckerberg on the other hand “looked as though he were delivering his testimony from the interior of a nuclear reactor.”

But it was Pichai who won the best-dressed. Robin writes: 

“Google’s Sundar Pichai was the sleekest of the lot in both appearance and setting. He wore an elegant charcoal suit and matching tie and was well-framed behind a desk that sat in an office that looked like it had been inspired by the West Elm catalogue. He sat with perfect posture, and when he spoke, his gestures were emotive but not frantic. He tended to steeple his fingers as he attempted to answer the House Judiciary subcommittee members’ meandering questions that teetered between privacy issues and conspiracy theories.”

Givhan also captured some of the fireworks of the hearing that resulted from Jordan’s outburst over alleged conservative bias: “So he started yelling again. And he was told to put on his mask. And, well, oh, boy, it was as childish as it all sounds, and one couldn’t help but wonder whether some of our representatives are drinking the hand sanitizer instead of using it for good hygiene.” 

Tech companies skirted the truth about your data, The Post’s tech columnist says.

For instance, both Pichai and Zuckerberg claimed that users were in control of their data. When Demings questioned Pichai over the company’s decision to combine its existing trove of data with the data of another ad network it acquired, Pichai said consumers benefited from simpler control settings. But Geoffrey points out that more control settings don’t always mean ones that are easy for consumers to use. And Pichai evaded the question of whether more data helped Google profit.  

Cook also made the argument that Apple’s iPhone gives users and developers more choice. But the company has also made it difficult for users to switch over to Android, Geoffrey notes.  

Tech companies also argued that they aren’t too big. Bezos rebutted monopoly allegations by pointing out Amazon makes up less than 4 percent of U.S. retail. But Amazon accounts for nearly 40 percent of online shopping, which has become ever more profitable during the pandemic, as Geoffrey notes.

The bottom line: “It is effectively impossible to use the Internet without using in one way or another the services of these four companies,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. 

Rant and rave

It may have been Bezos’s first hearing, but he came prepared. His snacking gave us this memeable moment:

Then there was this parody that shows what it would have looked like if Zuckerberg had prepared some of his infamous barbecue for the hearing:

Trump tracker

A national security review of TikTok will land on Trump’s desk this week. 

The inquiry focuses on whether the Chinese company China’s Byte Dance’s acquisition of the U.S.-based Musical.ly, which was folded into TikTok, creates too much danger of the Chinese government spying on U.S. citizens’ data, Katy Stech Ferek at the Wall Street Journal reports. The president recently threatened to ban the app over similar concerns.

TikTok is trying to allay concerns by opening up its computer code for U.S. regulators and privacy experts to probe for anything improper, Tony Romm reports.

Trending

Daybook

  • Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook will all release their quarterly earnings today.
  • RightsCon will take place online on July 27-31.

Before you log off

No good pandemic-era hearing is complete without a blooper reel of tech glitches. Turns out members of Congress aren’t the only ones who have difficulties with the mute button:



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The Finance 202: Federal Reserve chairman tells Congress to keep spending to rescue the economy


“Fiscal policy can address things that we can’t address,” Powell said at a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon after Fed officials concluded a two-day meeting by keeping interest rates close to zero.

Responding to a question about whether it is now “up to the fiscal authorities at this point to rescue the economy,” Powell said he “would not disagree with the importance of fiscal policy.”

And in what could have been an attempt to give cover to Republicans raising hackles about the growing debt pile, he credited earlier congressional relief with averting an even more severe economic shock. “It’s really helping. It’s going to stand up very well to scrutiny down the years,” Powell said. “Congress’s very fast and very openhanded response I think has really helped… As I’ve said, very likely, more will be needed from all of us. I see Congress negotiating now over a new package, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Powell emphasized the pandemic will dictate the trajectory of economic recovery.

Since the Fed chair’s last news conference on June 10, coronavirus cases have spiked across the South and West, forcing states to reverse reopening plans. The renewed restrictions, and freshly stoked popular fear of the pandemic, sent the nascent economic rebound into a sputter.

Powell said the Fed is monitoring the slowdown closely through real-time measures of activity, including credit card data, restaurant reservations, hotel occupancy rates and consumer surveys. He called the pandemic and its fallout “the biggest shock to the U.S. economy in living memory.” 

The second-quarter GDP report coming out this morning is expected to add grist to the claim, with economists projecting it to show activity dropped at a 35 percent annual rate from April to June.Moreover, experts warn that Thursday’s GDP release shouldn’t just be seen in the rear view mirror, but should stand as a cautionary tale of what’s at stake if the recovery slips away,” Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam write

Powell said the path forward remains “extraordinarily uncertain” and relies on the course of the virus. While that amounted to “a ‘duh’ comment,” Capital Alpha’s Ian Katz writes in a note, “it’s also a signal to the public and public officials that all the highfalutin Fed lending and liquidity programs in the world won’t matter if people are too sick or too afraid to buy and do stuff.” 

Indeed, Powell also noted the monetary policymakers at the Fed are doing everything they can to backstop the recovery, including by keeping short-term interest rates near zero. At his last press conference, Powell said the Fed isn’t even “thinking about thinking about” raising them. On Wednesday, for what it’s worth, he went a rhetorical beat further: “We’re not even thinking about thinking about thinking about raising rates,” he said.

And Powell said the Fed remains “committed to using our tools to do what we can and for as long as it takes” to limit the pandemic’s economic fallout. Those include boosting the Fed’s purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities “at least at the current pace over the coming months,” per Rachel Siegel. “The Fed has said its support of the markets should remain in place to help safeguard the broader financial system during the pandemic.”

But the central bank chief also acknowledged the Fed can’t battle the economic crisis alone. David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, described Powell on a conference call as “a card player playing poker, and he’s been all in for a while here.” But he said Powell made clear “the truth is the economy is being determined, a., by the course of the pandemic, and b., fiscal policy.”

Powell’s comments come at a critical moment in the debate on Capitol Hill.

Senate Republican leaders continue struggling to forge consensus within the GOP conference on their version of an emergency relief package. The most divisive issue they face: The trillion-dollar price tag.

“From the presidentially ambitious Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), to onetime deficit hawks like Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), conservatives are abandoning the president as his top aides struggle with negotiations on a pandemic relief bill,” Paul Kane writes. “Ignoring their own record of support for adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, these conservatives have signaled that they think, in a post-Trump Republican Party, that deficits will return to the forefront just as they did in the first years of the Obama administration.”

It’s hardly clear Powell, a registered Republican himself, will prove more convincing to this bunch on the need for more spending than aides to the president who nominated him. At a minimum, Powell’s warning about a stalling recovery and the need for more support should brace business leaders and investors who still form the backbone of the GOP’s major donor class. Investors on Wednesday focused instead on his pledge to provide more monetary stimulus. The S&P 500 climbed 1.2 percent on the day.

Latest on the federal pandemic response

Relief plan talks are a mess.

The parties remain trillions of dollars apart: “A meeting between top White House officials and Democratic leaders ended with no agreement on extending emergency unemployment benefits that expire Friday or on reviving a moratorium on evictions that lapsed last week. That means some 20 million jobless Americans will lose $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits that Congress approved in March, which could send the economy reeling,” Erica Werner, Jeff Stein, Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade report.

A short-term patch is off the table, for now: Democrats shot down the idea of a short-term fix for unemployment insurance and the eviction moratorium, which [Trump] had announced earlier he would support.”

Talks break down: Senate Majority Leader Mitch “McConnell is leaving negotiations with Democrats to Trump administration officials. The whole process has been overtaken by increasingly bitter partisanship, which was on display on the Senate floor as McConnell and [Senate Minority Leader Charles E.] Schumer traded insults.”

  • The elephant may not be in the room, but something else is: “It’s like a giraffe and a flamingo,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Politico’s Jake Sherman reports. “They’re both at a zoo. A dumb person may think they could mate for offspring. A smart person knows that’s impossible. That’s our bills. They’re unable to mate.”
  • McConnell later torched Pelosi: “She’ll just refuse to legislate until the election and wish American families good luck dealing with the pandemic.”

Party on?: McConnell told PBS NewsHour last night he remains hopeful, “This is only Wednesday.” But he also said there are about 20 GOP senators who would prefer not to vote for any bill.

The administration’s odd couple: “[White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows and {Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin hail from different corners of the GOP. One was a hard-line House conservative who regularly tanked spending bills pushed by his own party leaders; the other previously had interests in Wall Street and Hollywood and has been deeply enmeshed in enacting legislation doling out trillions to respond to the coronavirus crisis,” Politico’s John Bresnahan and Marianne LeVine report of duo leading White House negotiations.

Coronavirus fallout

More from the U.S.:

  • Nearly 150,000 Americans have died: “It took two months for covid-19 to kill 50,000 Americans, and nearly half of those deaths took place in one state, New York. On Wednesday, the death toll approached 150,000, a milestone of trauma and tragedy that marks the coronavirus’s leap from big cities into suburbs and rural areas, especially in Texas, Florida, California and Arizona,” Marc Fisher and Chris Dixon report.

From the COVID Tracking Project:

  • 30 million go hungry. “Food insecurity for U.S. households last week reached its highest reported level since the Census Bureau started tracking the data in May, with almost 30 million Americans reporting that they’d not had enough to eat at some point in the seven days through July 21,” Bloomberg’s Maeve Sheehey reports. “In the bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, roughly 23.9 million of 249 million respondents indicated they had ‘sometimes not enough to eat’ for the week ended July 21, while about 5.42 million indicated they had ‘often not enough to eat.’”
  • Small businesses face mass closures without more aid: “Most firms have already run out of the money they secured from the $600 billion Paycheck Protection Program, according to a survey released this week from the National Federation of Independent Business, a leading trade group for small U.S. firms. The federation also found in early July that 23 percent of respondents expected to be out of business within six months unless economic conditions change,” Reuters’s Ann Saphir and Jonnelle Marte report.
  • Masks are now required on the House floor: “[Pelosi] announced that all lawmakers will now be required to wear a mask while appearing on the chamber floor, a decision spurred by the news that a Republican congressman who has spurned facial coverings had tested positive for the coronavirus.”
  • That congressman is now saying he’ll take hydroxychloroquine: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) “told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he and his doctor had already agreed on a treatment: Hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug pushed by [Trump] and his allies despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration and medical experts that it isn’t effective as a coronavirus treatment and could carry significant health risks,” Tim Elfrink reports.

From the corporate front:

  • Boeing revenue plunges 25 percent: “Boeing reported a $2.4 billion net loss for the second quarter of 2020 on Wednesday morning and sharply cut commercial aircraft production,” Aaron Gregg reports. “The company’s operating loss came in at $4.79 per share, worse than analysts’ already-low expectations. Boeing stock was down 2.8 percent by early afternoon even as major stock indexes traded higher.”
  • JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes warns of “day of reckoning” for airlines: “Shares of JetBlue were down more than 3 percent,” CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz reports. “The New York City-based airline reported …. that its second-quarter revenue fell 90 percent compared with the year-ago period as a result of the pandemic.” Hayes said the industry will recover but is uncertain about when that will happen.
  • Democrats probe aviation contractors. They are looking into whether the companies “violated provisions of the Cares Act by laying off thousands of workers, despite receiving millions of dollars from the government to keep workers on the job,” Lori Aratani and Ian Duncan report. “An analysis by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that more than $500 million in federal funds went to four companies that have laid off more than 7,500 workers.”
  • GM says it should be able to pay off $16 billion loan if recovery continues: If the recovery continues, GM expects adjusted operating earnings in the second half of the year in the range of $4 billion to $5 billion, with the third quarter slightly stronger than the fourth quarter, [Chief Financial Officer Dhivya Suryadevara] told analysts … She said in that scenario GM should generate cash flow of between $7 billion and $9 billion during the second half,” Reuters’s Nick Carey and Ben Klayman report.

Money on the Hill

Tech CEOs get grilled on the Hill.

Four of the industry’s most powerful executives were pressed on antitrust issues: “The leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google took a brutal political lashing Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans confronted the executives for wielding their market power to crush competitors and amass data, customers and sky-high profits,” Tony Romm reports.

“The rare interrogation played out over the course of a nearly six-hour hearing, with lawmakers on the House’s top antitrust subcommittee coming armed with millions of documents, hundreds of hours of interviews and in some cases the once-private messages of Silicon Valley’s elite chiefs. They said it showed some in the tech sector had become too big and powerful, threatening rivals, consumers and, in some cases, even democracy itself.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hammered over internal emails: “Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee, brought up a 2012 message in which Zuckerberg apparently said he sought to acquire Instagram, which at the time was a rival photo-sharing app, out of fear that it could ‘meaningfully hurt us.’ Later, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) pointed to other Facebook communications that described the company’s acquisition strategy generally as ‘a land grab.’”

And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made a stunning admission: “Amazon, meanwhile, faced withering scrutiny over allegations it may have misled the committee. The e-commerce giant previously told lawmakers it does not tap data from third-party sellers to boost sales of its own products. But Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) brought up public reports that indicated to the contrary, prompting Bezos — delivering his first-ever testimony to Congress — to offer a striking admission of potential fault.”

  • “What I can tell you is we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business,” said Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. “But I can’t guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”

Market movers

Kodak’s chairman addresses jump in trading before big government deal.

The photography giant’s foray in drugmaking was supposed to be under wraps: “Trading activity picked up in shares of Eastman Kodak before the company announced on Tuesday that it had been tapped by the Trump administration to manufacture drug ingredients, data from FactSet shows,” CNBC’s Pippa Stevens reports.

“On Monday, 1,645,719 shares traded hands, far surpassing Friday’s 74,893 trades, and Thursday’s 80,840 trades. Not including this week, over the last year the average daily trading volume has been 236,479, according to FactSet.”

  • “I mean obviously this has been a pretty tight kept secret even until the last day,” Executive Chairman James Continenza said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I couldn’t tell you what influenced that [the volume] or didn’t … we knew for over a week.”

Campaign 2020

Some Biden allies are behind a stop Kamala Harris campaign.

Some top donors are among those hoping to keep her off the ticket: “This disgruntled group of at least a dozen Biden backers, including a few of his top donors, initiated the move against Harris (D-Calif.) close to a month ago, just weeks before a decision is expected,” CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports.

“In some cases, her foes have taken their concerns directly to members of Biden’s VP search committee, led by former Sen. Chris Dodd, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Cynthia Hogan, who previously served as counsel to the presumptive Democratic nominee when he was vice president under President Barack Obama.”

  • What’s behind the axe grinding: “Some remain bitter about her attacks on Biden during primary debates last year, saying they bring into question her loyalty to the former vice president. Others argue that she’s too ambitious and that she will be solely focused on becoming president herself. Many of these Biden associates have been pushing alternatives to Harris, such as Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), former U.S. ambassador Susan Rice, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).”
  • Key quote: “She would be running for president the day of the inauguration,” Florida businessman and bundler John Morgan told CNBC. “For me loyalty and friendship should mean something. But as Bill Clinton once told me, the No. 1 cause of Alzheimer’s is ambition,” he added, while noting he’s in favor of Demings.

A number of prominent Democrats blasted the behind-the-scenes effort and came to Harris’s defense on Twitter. From Preet Bharara, former U. S. attorney for the Southern District of New York: 

Daybook

  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases an estimate for U.S. GDP in Q2
  • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims
  • Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Ford, United Parcel Services, Yum! Brands, United States Steel, Gilead Sciences, Kellogg, Anheuser-Busch InBev, ConocoPhillips, Comcast, Kraft Heinz, Eli Lilly, Grubhub, MGM Resorts International are among the notable companies reporting their earnings
  • U.S. consumer spending for June is released
  • Merck & Co., Caterpillar, Under Armour, AbbVie, Chevron, Fiat Chrysler, Exxon Mobil, Tiffany & Co. and Pintrest are among the notable companies reporting their earnings

The funnies

Bull session





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The Energy 202: Trump, in West Texas, warns Biden is threat to oil and gas industry


“It’s not just Texas oil that the radical Democrats want to destroy,” he told a crowd of oil executives and workers in Midland, Tex. “They want to destroy our country. These people are sick. They are sick.”

It was first time Trump gave a speech on energy policy since Biden released a new, more aggressive climate plan. 

The presumptive Democratic nominee proposed earlier this month to rapidly transform the energy industry by eliminating climate-warming pollution from power plants over the next 15 years and ensuring all new commercial buildings will be emissions-free by 2030.

Trump, a real estate developer, suggested Biden’s plan for cutting emissions from new buildings would be impossible. “This would cause the cost of construction to skyrocket and effectively end the use of natural gas in homes, because it would be an impossible situation.”

He also sought to link Biden to more progressive Democrats, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), by falsely claiming Biden is calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has helped expand extraction in the Permian Basin where Trump was speaking.

“We are telling the Washington politicians trying to abolish American energy, don’t mess with Texas,” Trump said.

Trump touted his rollbacks of the environmental agenda of Biden’s old boss, President Barack Obama, and warned that all that would be undone if he loses reelection.

And looking to boost energy exports, Trump signed four pipeline and rail permits after his speech that in part will help Texas sell oil to Mexico. 

The president also announced the Energy Department will allow shipments of liquefied natural gas to countries without free-trade agreements with the United States through 2050. The department had previously granted 20-year permits.

The oil industry cheered the president’s moves. 

Robin Rorick, vice president of midstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that Trump’s announcement “reflects the importance of ensuring the rest of the world has access to affordable, reliable and cleaner energy, all while continuing to modernize our energy infrastructure here at home.”

Trump’s energy message in Texas could not escape the pandemic. 

Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, was scheduled to travel to his home state with Trump on Air Force One. But he tested positive for the coronavirus and did not join the trip.

Earlier this year, the oil sector was rocked both by a downturn in demand because of less flying and driving during shutdowns and by a production war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Trump helped negotiate with the two countries to curb oil output and stabilize prices for suffering U.S. petroleum producers. “We’re okay now. We’re back. We’re back,” Trump said Wednesday. 

Yet the U.S. oil sector is hardly out of the woods yet as the world still reels from the virus. 

During the first half of July, commercial passenger flights, for example, used only a third of the jet fuel they averaged in January. 

Trump’s trip to Texas comes as the oil-rich state is in play in a presidential election for the first time in a generation. 

Recent polling shows a neck-and-neck race between Biden and Trump in a state with 38 votes in the electoral college

A Quinnipiac University poll between July 16-20 found that 45 percent of registered voters would support Biden, a one-point lead against Trump. Another poll earlier in the month by CBS and YouGov showed Trump up by one point among registered voters, 46 percent to 45 percent. 

Wednesday’s trip was the second time in as many months Trump visited Texas. In June, the president went to a Dallas church to discuss race relations in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis.

The last Democratic White House hopeful to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Power plays

Here’s how far we have to go to meet Biden’s goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. 

Biden’s new $2 trillion plan would eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035. But as John Muyskens and Juliet Eilperin report, last year only “38 percent of U.S. electricity generated came from clean sources.”

Right now 30 states, plus the District of Columbia and three territories, have taken their own steps by adopting a renewable portfolio standard, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the presumptive Democratic nominee’s new plan “shows how far the party has shifted on the issue since it controlled the White House,” Muyskens and Eilperin write.

The Democratic National Committee’s platform committee approved climate provisions to its party platform this week. 

The committee approved an amendment “to endorse the goal to keep global warming less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times, and for the United States to do its “fair share” to reach that goal,” E&E News reports

The amendment passed unanimously during a virtual meeting. 

The report adds: “Other changes approved commit the party to ending subsidies for fossil fuels, reversing the Trump administration’s rule changing National Environmental Policy Act requirements, and banning new permits for fossil fuel extraction on federal land and offshore.” 

Two environmental coalitions are suing the White House over its changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. 

The Southern Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice are leading lawsuits and representing more than 35 groups between the pair of challenges. “Environmentalists say the administration’s actions gut a law designed to weigh environmental and community effects before roads, pipelines, oil and gas drilling and other major construction projects are permitted,” the Hill reports.

“They want to make it easier to silence people’s voices and give polluters a free pass to bulldoze through our neighborhoods. That’s why we’re taking them to court,” Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney serving as co-counsel on the case, said in a statement. 

Dozens of facilities that are refraining from monitoring pollution during the pandemic have a history of enforcement actions for alleged Clean Water Act violations.

“The temporary EPA policy, announced in March, says industrial, municipal and other facilities do not have to report pollution discharges if they can demonstrate their ability to do so has been limited by the coronavirus,” the Hill reports. “The Hill first reported that 352 facilities have skipped water pollution monitoring requirements under the policy, which applies to air pollution as well. Of those facilities, 55 have faced formal enforcement actions in the past five years from either the EPA or state regulators.” 

The agency’s temporary policy on pollution monitoring followed requests from certain industries for relief from such obligations. 

The report adds: “The Hill’s review found that sewage and wastewater treatment plants appear most frequently on the list of 352 facilities, with more than 100 locations taking advantage of the policy that’s slated to expire at the end of August.”

Thermometer

A system was forecast to become the ninth named storm to form in the Atlantic on Wednesday, to be dubbed “Isaias.” 

“Tropical storm warnings are up for all of Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The Turks and Caicos, southeastern Bahamas, parts of the Dominican Republic and northern Haiti are also under a warning,” Matthew Cappucci reports.

The National Hurricane Center warned that the “system could bring some rainfall and wind impacts to portions of Cuba, the central and northwest Bahamas, and Florida later this week and this weekend.” 

Meanwhile, Florida said it would close all of its state-run coronavirus testing sites ahead of the potential storm. 

“The Florida Division of Emergency Management ordered all state-supported drive-through and walk-up coronavirus testing sites to close Thursday at 5 p.m., agency spokesman Jason Mahon told The Post on Wednesday,” Meryl Kornfield and Andrew Freedman write. “The more than 50 sites across the state will reopen on a rolling basis next week beginning Tuesday, and all should be operational again Wednesday, barring storm damage.” 

A new study warns hundreds of hazardous waste sites near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts could flood in the next two decades as sea levels rise. 

The analysis from the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists points to more than 800 hazardous Superfund sites that will be at risk in the next 20 years, and more than 1,000 sites will be at risk by 2100, if planet-warming emissions continue to lead to sea level rise, Inside Climate News reports.

“Superfund sites, the toxic legacy of industry’s environmental indifference, are the worst of the worst hazardous waste sites that expose millions of people—many in neighborhoods of color and of lower economic status—to hundreds of deadly chemicals,” per the report. “Flooding can increase the chances that these toxins will contaminate nearby land and water, putting communities at risk of adverse health effects.” 

The study adds: “As sea levels continue to rise, multiple types of industrial facilities, and the contaminants they store, could be in the paths of extreme coastal floods—but the flooding of Superfund sites is particularly worrisome.” 

Coronavirus latest

Energy consumption in the United States dropped to a 30-year low amid the pandemic-driven economic slowdowns. 

“The drop was driven by less demand for coal that is burned for electricity and oil that’s refined into gasoline and jet fuel, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said,” the Associated Press reports.

The U.S. energy consumption fell 14 percent during April compared with the same time last year, according to the EIA, the lowest level sine 1989. 

It’s the largest drop since data has been collected since 1973. “The declines were in line with lower energy usage around the globe as the pandemic seized up economies. Those trends are expected to turn around as commercial activity resumes, but an annual decline in U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions is expected and some energy companies already have fallen into bankruptcy.” 



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Pelosi endorses Rep. Tlaib in primary fight, moves to help members of the ‘Squad’


The campaign flier suggested, without explicitly saying it, that Pelosi supported Jones. Pelosi wanted to ensure the district knows she stands behind Tlaib — public support that Tlaib allies believe could help her maintain her seat.

“Representative Rashida Tlaib is a tireless advocate for the residents of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District,” Pelosi said in the statement. “Rep. Tlaib never stops fighting for her district, which she is proud to represent. And I am proud to endorse her for reelection.”

The statement comes two weeks after Pelosi did something similar for Rep. Ilhan Omar, who also finds herself in a suddenly competitive primary. The speaker is currently in the process of filming a video endorsing the Minnesota Democrat, whose challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, has been raising money from Omar critics around the nation, highlighting what he calls her history of divisive comments.

Omar faced a nationwide backlash from a series of remarks she made in early 2019 about American Jews that were widely considered anti-Semitic. She apologized for suggesting that Israel’s allies in American politics were motivated by money rather than principle.

Melton-Meaux has a fundraising account of $3.7 million to try to unseat her. Among his newest group of donors is Gov. Jared Polis (D) of Colorado, a former congressman and high-profile Democrat.

Tlaib and Omar were among the most prominent self-declared socialists to win House seats in 2018 along with their well-known colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Now the “Squad” — which also includes Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — is playing defense, seeking to protect two of their own whose fame has suddenly become a liability.

Pelosi’s move to assist both women is noteworthy given her runs-in with both in the past. On the first day of the new Congress in January 2019, Tlaib’s vow to impeach President Trump — using a profanity to describe him — complicated the party’s focus on the legislative agenda. Omar’s comments about American Jews also caused a major backlash in the House Democratic Caucus in early 2019, alienating Jewish lawmakers and creating divisions in the party.

Since then, those rifts have mended, people in both camps say, and Pelosi views both women as an asset to the caucus because of their ideals and the perspective they bring as women of color: The pair constitute the first female Muslims to serve in the U.S. House, and Pelosi has always prided herself on diversity, viewing it as a strength of the party.

People familiar with Pelosi and the lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

In Michigan, Tlaib is in the battle of her political life against Jones, the Detroit City Council president who trailed her by a mere 900 votes in the 2018 primary. Last time around, however, Tlaib had the benefit of running in a crowded primary, which splintered the district’s majority-black electorate among several candidates vying for the job. This time, she faces only Jones, who has sought to consolidate support for the other candidates.

In her endorsement of Tlaib, Pelosi listed her accomplishments, highlighting four neighborhood service centers she helped open, her bills banning facial recognition technology or boosting anti-poverty program and the $22.5 billion she secured to replace lead drinking water pipes in her district. In backing Omar, Pelosi praised her work on child nutrition, housing for low-income Americans and U.S.-Africa relations.

During normal times, Pelosi campaigns in person for incumbents and Democratic candidates. But with the coronavirus pandemic upending campaigning indefinitely, she has sought to help in other ways. She will be doing a video with Omar, which will be released before the Aug. 11 primary, according to people familiar with the plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.

While the speaker is considered an establishment Democrat, those close with both congresswomen believe Pelosi could help the two liberals across the finish-line.

In interviews last week, Omar and Tlaib both stressed their strong working relationships with the speaker and said that the party’s House leadership had been supportive of their reelection bids.

“Leader Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi can tell you, I have a really strong work ethic, and I care about my district,” Tlaib said. “Because this is a so-called ‘safe’ Democratic seat, I don’t think they get involved directly. I think resources are spent for us to stay in the majority, and rightfully so.”

Omar said she was satisfied with her support from Pelosi, whom she praises in her new memoir multiple times, and cited the speaker to defend herself against the attacks from Melton-Meaux in television ads.

“You’ve seen the video of the speech Speaker Pelosi gave, about the art of the smear?” Omar said, referring to remarks Pelosi made in 2017 about Republicans running hundreds of attack ads against her. “She was talking about this sort of thing.”

Omar has criticized Melton-Meaux for not disclosing all of the contractors he has tapped for his campaign. As of mid-July, the challenger had paid nearly $1.2 million to three Delaware-based LLCs, which have little to no record of work for other candidates.

“They’ve created these shell companies to route funds to consulting firms to the tune of $1.2 million, without there being a traceable way to find out who they are, or what they’re doing on his behalf,” Omar said.”

Asked if he would reveal the identities of the contractors, Melton-Meaux said that some “have to remain within an NDA” because of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “blacklist” of contractors who work to defeat incumbents, a policy Pelosi supports.

“You have organizations and consulting firms trying to preserve their professional careers and their livelihoods, because of the onerous decision by the DCCC, frankly, that I think is trying to chill the democratic process,” Melton-Meaux said.



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The Technology 202: Republicans poised to reignite claims of political bias at big tech hearing


The fact that Gaetz is putting a fresh spotlight on those more than two-year-old comments as the tech titan is about to testify suggests that the issue could resurface at the hearing before the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing, on which Gaetz sits. 

“As a member of this body, I question Mr. Zuckerberg’s veracity, and challenge his willingness to cooperate with our oversight authority, diverting congressional resources during time-sensitive investigations, and materially impeding our work,” Gaetz said in the letter. 

And Trump himself is adding to the drumbeat of anticonservative bias claims, suggesting in a tweet last night with no evidence that Twitter is seeking out bad reports about him to feature in its “Trending” section. The president went so far as to call the feature, which ranks frequently shared tweets on the service, “illegal.” 

The accusations highlight how hard it will be for House panel to keep the focus on antitrust at the blockbuster hearing.  

The hearing with the chiefs of Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google is the culmination of a more than year-long investigation into the power of tech titans. 

Yet Democrats and tech policy experts warned that anticonservative bias claims could distract from those issues in the rare hearing, in which lawmakers will have a limited window of time to press four of the wealthiest and most powerful industry leaders in the United States. (Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Post.) 

Many consumer advocates and Democrats hope tomorrow’s hearing can set the stage for an overhaul of outdated antitrust laws, which are difficult to apply to competition in issues in the tech industry. But if lawmakers remain focused on the divisive – and flashier – issue of content moderation, it could be challenging to reach that consensus. 

“The success of this hearing depends on having a laser-like focus on the power of these companies, how they act anticompetitively, what their impact is on democracy,” said Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. “If the hearing goes off in too many different directions … then it just becomes very confusing.” 

Gaetz’s claim, for instance, relies on limited evidence from a controversial source. Gaetz’s letter cites a video suggesting Facebook content moderators are more likely to filter content supporting Trump and other Republicans created by Project Veritas, a right-wing organization that targets reporters, tech workers and others it deems to be left-leaning. The organization is known for releasing highly edited videos of its subjects that are widely criticized as being inaccurate. The footage has not been substantiated by The Post or other major news outlets.  Project Veritas CEO James O’Keefe said, “Not a single one of our videos has been proven to be deceptively edited or taken out of context.”

Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Gaetz letter, but it has repeatedly denied that its moderation decisions are biased against political ideologies.

Some Republicans on the antitrust subcommittee suggest their accusations of bias are tied to antitrust issues. 

“If a platform is dominant in the marketplace and is discriminating against a particular political point of view, [then] anti-competitive behavior coupled with bias is concerning,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member of the antitrust panel, recently told our colleague Tony Romm

Twitter, whose chief will not be present tomorrow, may still be a topic of conversation. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, recently tried to draw these issues into tomorrow’s antitrust hearing by sending a letter calling Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey appear. The Democrats running the hearing however did not invite Dorsey, whose company is significantly smaller than the other tech giants facing antitrust scrutiny. Twitter is valued at less than $30 billion, while some of the companies appearing including Amazon, Apple and Google are worth over $1 trillion. 

Twitter declined to comment on Trump’s latest tweet. It’s also unclear what law Trump considers Twitter to be breaking. 

From Alex Howard, a director of the digital democracy project at Demand Progress, which has called to break up Facebook: 

Content moderation issues involving the president’s account are only intensifying in the pandemic. Twitter removed several tweets that Trump shared overnight that made false claims about the coronavirus pandemic, including a viral video showing a group of doctors making misleading and false claims about the pandemic, my colleague Katie Shepard reports. Facebook and YouTube also removed copies of the video. Twitter also added a note to its trending topics warning about the potential risks of hydroxychloroquine use, as Trump shared more than 14 tweets over a half-hour span that promoted the antimalarial treatment and attacked infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci. 

Anticonservative bias claims are fueling a broader push for regulatory crackdown. 

The tech industry’s prized legal shield, a more than two-decade-old provision known as Section 230, is in jeopardy on multiple fronts. 

The Trump administration yesterday formally asked the Federal Communications Commission to start a process to reinterpret essential aspects of the provision, which gives tech companies broad legal immunity for their decisions about content on their services. 

“Unfortunately, large online platforms appear to engage in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” the petition says. “The FCC should determine how Section 230 can best serve its goals of promoting internet diversity and a free flow of ideas, as well as holding dominant platforms accountable for their editorial decisions, in new market conditions and technologies that have emerged since the 1990s.”

Senate lawmakers will also hold a hearing today on the PACT Act, a bipartisan proposal that would ensure companies be more transparent about their content moderation decisions. Republicans working on the bill have suggested that it would address some of the concerns on the right because it would allow users to appeal companies’ takedown decisions. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) also is unveiling new legislation today that would bring changes to Section 230 by revoking the immunity for tech companies that display targeted ads based on information about consumers’ browsing behavior. He’s also introduced other proposals to upend the legal shield in response to his concerns of anti-conservative bias. 

Update: After publication, Project Veritas disputed the characterization of their videos in this article and provided an on-the-record comment, which has been added.

Our top tabs

Texas is investigating Facebook for possibly violating a biometric privacy law. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested information related to a lawsuit Facebook recently settled in Illinois over alleged biometric privacy law violations, Ashley Gold at Axios reports. The Illinois case argued that Facebook violated the law by using facial recognition to automatically suggest users to tag in photos. The company discontinued the tool last year.

But Facebook has been reluctant to turn information from the case over.

The attorney general pushed the company in June to explain why it wouldn’t turn over the requested material, according to public records obtained by the Tech Transparency Project,  a research initiative of nonprofit Campaign for Accountability that investigates Big Tech. Paxton’s office said at the time that only Texas was involved in the inquiry. Paxton’s office is also leading a multistate investigation into Google and is part of a multistate antitrust investigation into Facebook led by the New York Attorney General.

Texas and Illinois are two of the three U.S. states that have biometric privacy protection laws.

California is investigating Amazon’s safety practices in response to the pandemic.  

The investigations, by multiple state agencies and the California attorney general, follow a June lawsuit from a San Francisco warehouse worker alleging that the company has put its workers at “needless risk,” Diane Bartz and Paresh Dave at Reuters reports

California is the second state after New York to launch a probe into Amazon’s behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.  New York State Attorney General Letitia James also launched an investigation in the company, writing in an April letter that her office had concerns that the company’s response to the pandemic was inadequate and possibly in violation of labor laws. Amazon has refused to disclose the number of its workers nationally to test positive for covid-19. 

The June California lawsuit asked for an injunctive order to shut down a San Francisco Amazon warehouse, citing unsafe practices including failing to allow for proper social distancing. The judge did not grant the order.

Amazon argued to the court that it has taken extensive steps to protect workers in its San Francisco facility and that no cases had been linked to the facility. California Occupational Safety and Health Administration said its investigation was still pending.

Facebook is suing European antitrust regulators for seeking records that may include employees’ private information.

The social media company alleges that the probe is seeking more information than necessary for its investigation into the company’s data and marketplace practices, Foo Yun Chee at Reuters reports

“The exceptionally broad nature of the Commission’s requests means we would be required to turn over predominantly irrelevant documents that have nothing to do with the Commission’s investigations, including highly sensitive personal information such as employees’ medical information, personal financial documents, and private information about family members of employees,” Facebook associate general counsel Tim Lamb said in a statement. 

The company has already provided roughly 1.7 million pages of documents since the European Union launched the investigation in 2016. 

The social media giant is also asking for a temporary stay on data collection until the court rules.

Rant and rave

But the overwhelming reaction on Twitter was “good riddance.”

It’s possible that, actually, no one liked open offices.

I mean, where were you supposed to take calls??

The digital race to 2020

The Biden campaign is telling staff to not download TikTok on their work or personal phones.

The order reaffirms guidance from the Democratic National Committee that campaign staff should not use the Chinese app on their phones,  a campaign official confirmed. The Republican National Committee also advised campaign staff against using the app.

Both the House and Senate last week voted to ban the app from federal employee phones. Trump has also called to ban the app over concerns it could share U.S. user data with the Chinese government. TikTok has denied that the Chinese government has ever asked it for user data, and it says it would not comply with any such requests. 

Inside the industry

Twitter workers used their privileges to spy on Beyonce and other celebrities.

Dorsey and the Twitter board were warned “multiple times” since 2015 about the dangers that worker access posed, Jordan Robertson, Kartikay Mehrota and Kurt Wagner report. The company is now under a federal investigation for the hack earlier this month targeting 150 accounts, including Biden and Bezos. 

More than 1,500 workers, including independent contractors, had access to reset accounts and respond to potential content violations. In 2017 and 2018 some contractors used their privileges to spy on celebrities and accessed Beyonce’s private data, including her account’s approximate location.

Trending

Mentions

Match Group named Jim Lanzone as new chief executive of Tinder, The Wall Street Journal reports. Lanzone previously served as president and chief executive of CBS Interactive.

Daybook

  • The Senate Homeland Security regulatory affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine modernizing telework, focusing on a review of private sector telework policies during the COVID-19 pandemic today at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on The PACT Act and Section 230 on today at 10 a.m.
  • The House Judiciary will hold a hearing on online platforms and market power with testimony from the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google on Wednesday at noon.
  • RightsCon will take place online on July 27-31.

Before you log off

A new Internet subculture emerges:



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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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The Energy 202: Trump to waive environmental rules to construct border wall


DHS issued the environmental waiver for a 15-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, starting at the Pacific Ocean and extending eastward, that the department describes as one of the busiest for illicit border crossings.

“The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads,” DHS said in a statement.

The department’s decision is poised to further unite activists and lawyers opposed to Trump policies on environmental deregulation and immigration enforcement.

“If the Trump administration can’t reconcile their xenophobic border wall with dozens of environmental safeguards meant to protect our communities,” Sara Chieffo, vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement, “that’s yet another reason Congress should deny funding.”

Under normal circumstances, a federal agency must complete an environmental impact study before beginning a major infrastructure project on public land. But a 2005 law grants the federal government broad authority to waive such environmental examinations and other legal requirements in order to expeditiously build a border barrier. Michael Chertoff, homeland security secretary under Bush, used the waiver five times, the department said.

In this case, the waiver will be used to construct prototype walls, along with roads and other infrastructure, called for in a January executive order signed by President Trump. 

Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said his organization “will definitely pursue any judicial avenues we have available to us however limited they may be.”

The center — along with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee — sued the Trump administration last month for failing to analyze the environmental impact of erecting a wall that they say will slice ecosystems in half. Last week, House Republicans approved a $1.6 billion down payment on the border wall over the objections of Democrats.

Segee admits that Congress has granted DHS sweeping authority.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “It’s a broad waiver.” He added the center will review its options once DHS’s decision is officially published in the Federal Register.

The center has identified 93 at-risk species along the entire southern border that could be adversely affected by the construction of a border wall, including jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and, in the case of the San Diego section, Quino checkerspot butterflies.

Any legal or political challenge to the prototype project near San Diego is likely prelude to a bigger fight over building a barrier in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge situated along the Rio Grande in Texas, which is home to two endangered cats, the Texas ocelot and Gulf Coast jaguarundi. Trump’s budget proposal called for the border wall to extend in the refuge. 

By the numbers: Respondents to a new Pew survey of people around the world collectively finger the Islamic State and climate change as the top two global threats.

Concern over the two issues are practically neck-and-neck: 62 percent of people around the world said the terrorist group is among the major threats to world stability while 61 percent said the same of climate change. 

There’s relatively less concern about climate change in the United States: Only 56 percent (still a majority) of U.S. residents consider climate change a top global threat. But the partisan divide on the issue is vast. The survey found that 86 percent of left-leaning respondents in the United States were concerned about climate change while only 31 percent of right-leaning respondents felt the same way.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “has been raising his own profile,” writes GQ in a recent profile. And with a raised profile comes more political scruntiny.

A new six-figure ad buy from the Center for Western Priorities this week attempts to make political hay out of the Trump administration review of national monuments approved by previous presidents that is now being overseen by Zinke. Watch the ad below: 

Loan forgiveness: The EPA has approved plans for the state of Michigan to forgive more than $20 million in loans owed by the City of Flint over water infrastructure, the Detroit News reported.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said on the decision: “Forgiving the city’s debt will ensure that Flint will not need to resume payments on the loan, allowing progress toward updating Flint’s water system to continue.”

For once, Democrats agree with a decision from Pruitt.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said in a statement: “The state of Michigan forgiving Flint’s outstanding loans will free up money to make much-needed investments as the city recovers from the ongoing water crisis.”

Elizabeth Southerland, a 30-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency, becomes the latest in a series of federal employees who have publicly resigned over Trump environmental policies. She left her post as the director of the science and technology in the EPA’s Office of Water.

Southerland told The Post’s Joe Davidson that while the EPA “has been the guiding light to make the ‘right thing’ happen for the greater good, including public health and safety.” Now “that will not be possible under the current administration.”

Her announcement follows Interior Department scientist Joel Clement, who wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post charging that the Trump administration reassigned him to another job for speaking out “about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities.”

In a letter, the outgoing EPA scientist warned of the administration’s proposed budget cuts and other changes to the EPA: “The best case for our children and grandchildren is that they will pay the polluters bills through increased state taxes, new user fees, and higher water and sewer bills. The worst case is that they will have to live with increased public health and safety risks and a degraded environment.”

— The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on Tuesday protections for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The federal appeals court upheld a 2014 decision by a U.S. District judge to overrule that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s call to remove the wolves from endangered status, the Associated Press reported. The wolf population is now back up to 3,800.

The federal appeals court ruled, the AP noted, that the service had not “adequately considered a number of factors in making its decision, including loss of the wolf’s historical range and how its removal from the endangered list would affect the predator’s recovery in other areas, such as New England, North Dakota and South Dakota.”

The ruling will mean wolf hunting and trapping will be prohibited in the three states.

— Oil leaders weigh in on transgender bathroom bill: Dozens of business leaders in Texas, including those at oil companies with a significant corporate presence in the state, sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) denouncing the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” that targets transgender people.

Leaders of more than 50 businesses, including executives from ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Halliburton, issued the letter urging the governor not to sign the bill, reports The Post’s Travis M. Andrews. The business leaders wrote they “believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs.” The bill would restrict access to bathrooms based on people’s birth-certificate listed sex.

Some context: ExxonMobil has not always had the best reputation on LGBT issues, though it improved under former chief executive (and current secretary of state) Rex Tillerson. When Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, the newly formed company eliminated domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees. Tillerson reversed that decision, made by his predecessor, in 2013. 

— Nukes for sales (not those kind): The South Carolina-based utility owner may be looking to sell its two unfinished nuclear reactors, Bloomberg reports, hoping to “keep the equipment in operating condition in case someone in China, India, or the U.K. wants to buy it.”

How likely is a sale? “The Chinese are developing a competitive product, the Brits are in trouble with their nuclear projects and the Indians want to develop their own supply chain,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, according to the report, which adds Gadomski said it’s more likely the project is “mothballed.” 

Art imitates life? Interest in this month’s solar eclipse has skyrocketed, county-level data from Google shows. And more specifically, as The Post’s Christopher Ingraham explains, the searches are concentrated in the very path the eclipse will follow, and decreases as you divert from the path. People in counties that will fall in the shadow of the eclipse are searching for information on the eclipse five to 10 more times than those that fall outside the path, according to the report, which you can see plainly in the below graphic:

Death and All His Friends Part I: So-called “ghost forests” are popping up on coastlines where sea levels are rising and salt water is creeping into areas with once thriving trees. It’s one global example of climate change that, the Associated Press reports, is evident along the U.S. East Coast from Canada, down to Florida and to Texas.

How bad is it for ecosystems? The answer isn’t cut and dried. The AP writes: “The intruding salt water changes coastal ecosystems, creating marshes where forests used to be. This has numerous effects on the environment, though many scientists caution against viewing them in terms of ‘good’or ‘bad.’ What benefits one species or ecosystem might harm another one, they say.”

There are winners and losers: Ghost forests diminish the land migratory birds need as habitat. And nitrogen from the dying trees contributes to algae growth, depleting oxygen that fish breathe. On the other hand, the wetlands produced from the forests-turned-marshlands feed and shelter some fish and shellfish.

Death and All His Friends Part II: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to announce the largest recorded “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, where low oxygen levels cause marine life to suffocate and die. The culprit is believed to be toxins from manure and fertilizer from the meat industry flowing into waterways, The Guardian reports, based on a new report by environmental group Mighty.

The pollutants from meat production flowing into the water causes algae overgrowth, which then decomposes and depletes the oxygen.

“This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn’t reducing the scope of this pollution,” Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty told The Guardian. “These companies’ practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden.” The report identifies Tyson Foods as a “’dominant’ influence in the pollution, due to its market strength in chicken, beef and pork.”

In a statement, a Tyson spokesman said: “It’s true the livestock and poultry industry is a major buyer of grain for feed, however, the report fails to note that a large percentage of corn raised in the US is used for biofuel and that a significant portion is used for human consumption.”

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a  hearing on water security and drought preparedness.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearingon the FBI Headquarters Consolidation Project.
  • The Interior Department holds a program on reviewing advances in oil spill responses since the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on.
  • The CRES Forum holds an event on the future of job growth in the solar industry and free trade.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to “examine federal and nonfederal collaboration, including through the use of technology, to reduce wildland fire risk to communities and enhance firefighting safety and effectiveness” on Thursday
  • The UPROSE holds its 6th Climate Justice Youth Summit is on Thursday.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on the border wall: “Let’s get it done.” 

Watch a great white shark try to bite a camera: 

Jimmy Fallon with an idea for a LinkedIn for people ousted from the Trump administration: 

From The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “The Purge: White House Edition”:



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The Finance 202: The Finance 202 launches on Tuesday



The Finance 202: The Finance 202 launches on Tuesday



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The Energy 202: The Energy 202 launches Tuesday



The Energy 202: The Energy 202 launches Tuesday



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