POLITICO’s Morning Energy, presented by the National Wildlife Federation: Seismic shift to hit EPA with Pruitt confirmation — Smith serves new subpoenas over Exxon probes — Shimkus says major Clean Air Act rewrite not coming
By Anthony Adragna | 02/17/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Alex Guillén, Nick Juliano, Darius Dixon, Ben Lefebvre and Esther Whieldon
MR. PRUITT GOES TO EPA: Scott Pruitt is set to be confirmed today as the 14th EPA administrator, marking a massive change in the agency’s direction and ushering in a new era of regulatory rollbacks. A confirmation vote is expected around 1:00 p.m. – over howls of protest from Democrats clamoring to see copies of emails Pruitt and his staff exchanged with fossil fuel lobbyists, Republican donors and others while he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. A state judge Thursday afternoon ordered Pruitt to cough up as many as 3,000 emails by Tuesday in response to a liberal watchdog’s longstanding public records request. As Democrats planned to hold the Senate floor all night speaking against the nomination, top Environment and Public Works Committee Democrat Tom Carper said the court’s ruling “should finally give my Republican colleagues pause” and that it would “wholly irresponsible to vote on this nominee this week knowing that we don’t have the full picture” of potential conflicts of interest Pruitt would bring to the job.
Anyone who has been paying attention to President Donald Trump’s campaign or transition knows what to expect from Pruitt: A major reduction in EPA’s emphasis on federal oversight in favor of giving more control to the states; a severely reduced, if not reversed, focus on climate change and other clean air and water initiatives; and long-term moves to decrease funding and staff.
Welcome, boss: Meanwhile, EPA employees are already responding with unhappiness about the new jefe. A few dozen current employees publicly protested his nomination, and 773 former EPA employees have signed onto a letter opposing him. Unions organized drives for workers to call and urge their senators to vote against him, a first, according to the New York Times. And at least a few EPA employees have started using an encrypted app in case they need a private way to communicate, drawing ire from House Republicans who say they are skirting recordkeeping laws.
What’s next: It has long been expected that once Pruitt is installed, Trump will sign one or more executive orders directing the agency to roll back climate change work, limit its enforcement powers or otherwise apply a lighter touch to regulation. Pruitt has a major to-do list, including shifting gear in the dozens of ongoing lawsuits challenging EPA rules and actions, starting the years-long process to repeal regulations like the Clean Power Plan and searching for the dozens of political staff required to operate EPA. Trump leaves for South Carolina this morning and Vice President Mike Pence heads to Europe in the morning as well. ME hears EPA is preparing for a Tuesday swearing in for Pruitt, but plans remain up in the air.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a close Pruitt ally, said he and Pruitt have had many discussions in the past about the challenges EPA presents to the agriculture and energy industries. “But not since he’s gotten this close, I don’t think he’s thinking about it now,” Inhofe told ME Thursdayevening, explaining that he had not been given a heads up on what Pruitt’s first order of business would be. “He wants to get properly staffed, and then watch him roll.”
WE MADE IT TO FRIDAY, EVERYONE! I’m your host Anthony Adragna, and congratulations to the Nature Conservancy’s Tiffany Hartung for identifying North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier as the first in history to be recalled. Your end-of-the-week puzzler: Who was the first president with a doctorate? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @AnthonyAdragna, @Morning_Energy, and @POLITICOPro.
PROGRAMMING NOTE – Due to the President’s Day recess, Morning Energy will not publish on Monday, Feb. 20. Our next ME will publish on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: An Interior rule meant to protect streams from mountaintop removal coal mining is no more after Trump signed a Congressional Review Act resolution nullifying it Thursday afternoon, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports. “The mines are a big deal. I’ve had support from some of you folks right from the very beginning and I won’t forget it,” the president said at the White House. With the Stream Buffer Rule axed, Interior reverts back to the original 1983 regulation the Obama administration previously said was out of date and inadequate to protecting waterways and aquatic life.
Spotted at the signing: Sens. Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Reps. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), David McKinley (R-W.Va.), Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). And Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray and the National Mining Association’s Hal Quinn.
Funny moment: As has become his custom, Trump invited members to gather around for a picture as he displayed the signed resolution. He motioned for Heitkamp to come closer “even though she’s sort of a Democrat.”
House lawmakers, meanwhile, cleared another CRA (H.J. Res. 69) Thursday afternoon on a 225-193 vote that would overturn an Interior regulation limiting hunting practices in Alaskan national wildlife refuges. Five Democrats backed it, while ten Republicans voted no.
NUCLEAR THROWDOWN COMING: Efforts by New York and Illinois to provide economic support to nuclear plants are leaving FERC with a menu of bitter options. The state programs are running headlong into FERC’s regulation of power markets, forcing the agency to either intervene and start a jurisdictional fight with state regulators, or to accept the subsidies that could put fossil-fuel power plants at risk if power prices keep falling, Pro’s Esther Whieldon and Darius Dixon report.
** A message from the National Wildlife Federation: America’s 40 million hunters and anglers depend upon our nation’s public lands. Some in Congress want to overturn National Monument protections or even sell-off the places Americans hunt, fish, hike, and camp. Join us as we urge President Trump and Congress to defend America’s public lands for future generations: http://bit.ly/2lhONxJ **
PROBING THE EXXON PROBES: Rep. Lamar Smith is trying again to get the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general to hand over documents relating to their investigations into Exxon Mobil’s history of climate change research and advocacy. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman late Thursday subpoenaed the AGs for the second time in as many congresses, seeking emails and other communications between named individuals in the AG offices and environmental groups. “They’re more narrowly tailored this time around,” a committee aide said of the new subpoenas. “In our prior subpoenas we just named groups – the New York AG office, Greenpeace, etc. This time we’ve named particular individuals.” The aide declined to say from which particular people it was seeking information.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was not amused by the latest round of incoming. “Our office does not intend to comply or yield to further harassment, and we join Ranking Member [Eddie Bernice] Johnson in urging the Chairman to find something more productive to do,” Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey’s office said in a prepared statement. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said his investigation would continue. “With Exxon’s former CEO – a key figure in Attorney General Schneiderman’s fraud investigation – now serving as President Trump’s Secretary of State, we’re not surprised that Exxon’s lobbyists were able to buy another flimsy House subpoena,” NYAG press secretary Amy Spitalnick said in a statement.
TALKING ‘BOUT MY REGULATION: Trump touted his regulatory executive order requiring the elimination of two old rules for every new one issued (that some have called more flash than substance) during his sprawling press conference Thursday. “Nobody’s ever seen regulations like we have,” the president said. “And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental – all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It’s very important to me. But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.”
SHIMKUS: MAJOR CLEAN AIR ACT REWRITE NOT COMING: Expect the Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee to take “rifle shots” at the Clean Air Act rather than pursuing a massive rewrite, Chairman John Shimkus told reporters. “I would not expect to see me drop a Clean Air Act reauthorization,” he said. Some of those immediate steps will include bills altering the agency’s ozone program and possible tweaks to the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to the Illinois Republican. E&C Vice Chairman Joe Barton said at a hearing earlier Thursday said he’d like to “take a look at” EPA’s endangerment finding, which Shimkus said he also “questions.”
Flying blind: Shimkus said he’s had no contact with the Trump administration to date and has never met Pruitt, but believes the incoming EPA chief “will try to balance regulations and development.”
Won’t ax EPA: There’s been a lot of chatter about a ten-word bill (H.R. 861) from freshman Rep. Matt Gaetz to completely eliminate EPA by 2019, but Shimkus won’t support that idea. “EPA has a role,” he told ME. “We have to have an agency that remediates and helps resolve [Superfund sites], and that’s EPA.”
OPEN TO ADJUSTMENT: Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) says he is open to a border adjustment in tax reform, although he acknowledged the proposal could harm oil refiners if it was not designed properly. Cramer represents the nation’s No. 2 oil producing state that is home to two oil refineries. He joined other early Trump supporters for a meeting at the White House Thursday, although he said the issue was not raised by the president or any participants. “I’m very open to it, actually – anything that broadens the base and lowers the rates, realizing there will be some winners and some losers,” he told reporters later in the day. “It’s not so bad for oil. It’s not so good for refiners,” Cramer acknowledged, but he suggested negative effects could be offset with “expensing” provisions for refiners. “All of this has to be viewed holistically,” he said. “If anything … I think it’s a good way to go.”
CR-EEPING WORRIES ABOUT SPENDING FIGHT: Congress has until April 28 to figure out how to fund the government for the rest of the year, but appropriators are already trying to tamp down desires for another stopgap continuing resolution. “There is talk about doing just a defense appropriation and doing a CR on the rest of it, which would really bother all of us,” Rep. Mike Simpson , the energy and water spending cardinal, said Thursday. But appropriators want to hammer out an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the whole government through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, a message House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen took to Republican leadership on Wednesday, Simpson said. The Idaho Republican argued that breaking out the defense spending takes “the engine away from the train.”
What about new Yucca Mountain money? Simpson said he had not considered whether Trump’s “unexpected election” provides an opportunity to fund the nuclear waste project in an omnibus bill this year. “I don’t know whether we want to reopen that [appropriations bill] or not,” he said. “If the Senate wants to, I’m more than willing to.”
The Trump challenges: It’s unclear how involved the new administration wants to be in rounding out the rest of 2017 spending, but Simpson said Trump’s been “disadvantaged” without his full team in place, most notably OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who was just confirmed Thursday. “Who do I call up to do a hearing on energy and water? All of that is a challenge,” Simpson said. And, he added, “frankly, we didn’t do him any favors when we pushed off the appropriations until this year.”
Simpson also chastised Trump for his inability to let go of the campaign. “So far, we haven’t gotten to the governing mode,” he said. “You often say to those that lose an election and can’t get over it – and you’ve heard him say to Clinton supporters – ‘You lost, get over it!’ This is the first I’ve ever had to say to somebody, ‘You won, get over it!'” he said. The seasoned Republican didn’t sound too worried about his unflattering view of the president getting back to the White House. “Well, I know they’re gonna start tweeting about me,” he said with a laugh, while calling Trump’s social media habit “somewhat disturbing.”
UTAH SLATED TO LOSE OUTDOOR CONFERENCE OVER PUBLIC LANDS STANCE: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in a call Thursday rejected a request by organizers and sponsors of the Outdoor Retailer trade show to either stop pushing for Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument and drop the state’s lawsuit to takeover public lands or see the $45 million event moved to an friendlier state. The groups have until late spring to decide whether to relocate and have already begun the search. Herbert “has the influence and the ability to bring the delegation together around these issues and change the tone,” Outdoor Industry Association Executive Director Amy Roberts told ME. But on the hour-long call with him, “it was pretty clear that we need to continue our search for a new home … in a state that supports our industry,” she said.
NO CLIMATE MUZZLE AT NOAA: Concerns the Trump administration would crack down on NOAA climate change work appear unfounded – for now. The agency released a report Thursday finding the average land surface temperature for January was 2.77 degrees Fahrenheit about the 20th century average. That marked the third-warmest monthly land average on record.
HOW TO SPEAK OUT: Reps. Ted Lieu and Don Beyer released a one-page guide to help federal employees who wish to speak out against White House actions within their agencies. “In this age of gag orders and alternative facts, it’s important that we provide federal employees tools to ensure transparency,” Beyer said in a statement.
TAKE A GLANCE! CYBERSECURITY ISSUES FOR OIL AND GAS SECTOR: A study released Thursday by the Ponemon Institute found 68 percent of respondents in the oil and gas sector reported at least one security compromise within the last year and just one-third of the industry said their cybersecurity readiness was high.
PEABODY SIGNS TRUMP AIDE: Coal giant Peabody Energy has picked up a former Trump campaign and transition aide to lobby on unspecified legislation and regulations. Peabody is the first lobbying client for Scott Mason, who last month joined Holland & Knight.
MOVER, SHAKER: Louis Renjel has been named vice president of federal government affairs and strategic policy for Duke Energy; he joins from transportation company CSX Corp.
– Renewable energy draws increasing Republican support. That could shift climate politics. Vox.
– At least one injured in oil field explosion in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma Thursday. KJRH.
– Scientists highlight deadly health risks of climate change. CNN.
– Oil rises modestly in tight trade, boosted by OPEC hopes. Reuters.
– How Mexican Wind Lights San Diego Homes. POLITICO Magazine.
– NASA is defiantly communicating climate change science despite Trump’s doubts. The Washington Post.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!
** A message from the National Wildlife Federation: America’s 40 million hunters and anglers depend upon our nation’s public lands. Many of these lands have been protected over the past century by both Republican and Democratic Presidents through the Antiquities Act – a bedrock conservation law enacted by President Theodore Roosevelt – so that every American can enjoy our nation’s outdoor treasures. These majestic places help define us as Americans. They are indispensable to America’s hunting and fishing heritage – and serve as powerful economic engines for local communities. Yet right now, some in Congress want to overturn National Monument protections for iconic places, like Bears Ears in Utah. Others want to allow more pollution or even sell-off special places where Americans hunt, fish, hike, and camp. President Trump has strongly supported keeping America’s public lands public and we need Congress to do the same for America’s hunters and anglers. Help us defend America’s public lands: http://bit.ly/2lhONxJ **
To change your alert settings, please go to https://secure.politico.com/settings