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Overnight Energy: Senate begins moving energy nominations | Interior watchdog probing Zinke calls

ENERGY DEPUTY CONFIRMED: The Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette, a former Department of Energy (DOE) official in the George W. Bush administration, to return to the agency as deputy secretary on Thursday.

Brouillette was confirmed on a 79-17 vote, becoming only the second Energy Department nominee to take office at the agency under President Trump. He will serve under Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

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Brouillette worked as the Energy Department's assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs from 2001 to 2003. He also served as a member of the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board from 2013 to 2016, and is a onetime chief of staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

His private sector career includes stints at Ford Motor Co. and USAA.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers scold Trump official over Pacific island trust fund Republican agenda clouded by division Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge MORE (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Brouillette has a "long history of distinguished service to our nation."

She added that "he has strong experience and thorough knowledge of the department he has chosen to return to."

Read more here.

 

Murkowski begins moving Interior, Energy nominations: Murkowski's committee met quickly Thursday just off the Senate floor to approve five nominees for senior Interior and Energy posts.

The committee had planned to vote on the nominees last week. But Murkowski postponed the vote, the same day that Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWashington state threatens to sue over Zinke offshore drilling plan Alaska to pilot first Interior Department restructuring: report Week ahead: Feds to unveil annual energy outlook MORE reportedly called her and threatened not to make numerous pro-Alaska decisions she wants because of her votes against repealing ObamaCare.

Despite the quick votes, the nominees were not included in a group of dozens of confirmations that the Senate made later Thursday by unanimous consent, nor were two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominees previously cleared by the committee. 

The panel Thursday approved Doug Domenech, who led Interior's transition effort for Trump, to be assistant secretary of insular affairs at the department by a 13-8 vote.

The remaining four nominees were approved by voice vote: Mark Wesley Menezes to be undersecretary at Energy, Paul Dabbar to be undersecretary for science at Energy; Brenda Burman to the Bureau of Reclamation at Interior; and Susan Combs to be assistant secretary of policy management and budget at Interior.

Read more here.

 

September FERC hearing set: Murkowski also scheduled a hearing for the first week the Senate's back in town in September to consider two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominees and one Interior nominee.

Democrat Robert Glick and Republican Kevin McIntyre were nominated to FERC weeks ago, but Trump only submitted their nomination paperwork to the Senate Wednesday.

Senate Democrats have been resisting confirming any FERC nominees until they can be assured that Glick would be confirmed.

Read more here.

 

INTERIOR WATCHDOG PROBING ZINKE CALL: The Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) says it has begun a "preliminary investigation" into reports that Zinke made phone calls pushing Alaska's senators to support a GOP healthcare bill or risk losing federal support for economic development efforts in their state.

"The OIG is undertaking a preliminary investigation into this matter," Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said in a letter to two House Democrats on Thursday.

"We will advise you about what further action the results of this inquiry lead the OIG to take."

The letter was addressed to Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who had requested government watchdogs investigate Zinke's calls.

Zinke reportedly threatened holding up federal economic development work in Alaska if Murkowski didn't drop her opposition to the Senate's ObamaCare repeal efforts last week.

Zinke has shrugged off reports of the call, saying it's "laughable" that he would threaten Alaska over healthcare.

Read more here.

 

An Alaskan beer summit: Zinke and Murkowski, meanwhile, apparently worked to bury the hatchet over a round of Alaskan beers.

Zinke on Thursday tweeted a picture of the pair drinking beer sometime this week.

"I say dinner, she says brews," Zinke tweeted. "My friends know me well."

Read more here.   

 

WEST VIRGINIA GOV SWITCHES PARTIES: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Democrat, will announce he is flipping to the GOP at a rally with President Trump on Thursday.

Justice, a coal executive and the owner of the Greenbrier resort, was elected governor in November after both parties urged him to run on their ticket.

He ran as a Democrat, but his new party affiliation will gel with the state's increasingly Republican make-up. Trump took 68 percent of the vote in West Virginia in 2016, beating Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump touts report Warner attempted to talk to dossier author Poll: Nearly half of Iowans wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2020 Rubio on Warner contact with Russian lobbyist: It’s ‘had zero impact on our work’ MORE by 41 points.

Justice, who faced the Republican state Senate president in November, won office with 49 percent of the vote.

Trump will fly to Huntington, W.Va., late Thursday for a rally at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. It is his second visit to West Virginia in a little more than a week.

Read more here.

 

GREENS URGE CLEAN POWER PLAN RULING: Thursday marked the second anniversary of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Forget the Nunes memo — where's the transparency with Trump’s personal finances? Mark Levin: Clinton colluded with Russia, 'paid for a warrant' to surveil Carter Page MORE's release of the Clean Power Plan, and environmentalists celebrated by pushing for a federal court decision on its legality.

A coalition of green groups filed a motion in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking too long to complete the regulatory process to repeal the rule, so the court should issue its ruling.

They pointed to the White House's regulatory agenda released last month showing that the EPA doesn't think it will have a new proposal regarding the Clean Power Plan within a year.

"The court should decide the case on the merits, or terminate it by remanding the case to EPA," the greens wrote.

 

ON TAP FRIDAY: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is reportedly due to tour the Gold King Mine site in Colorado to mark the two-year anniversary of the spill there. Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans interested in Romney leading NRSC: report Overnight Finance: Mnuchin promises new Russia sanctions after uproar | Dow drops ahead of Trump State of the Union | GOP senators call on Trump to protect NAFTA | Regulators subpoena major bitcoin exchange Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Dem shutdown strategy: Force McConnell to deal DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest MORE (D) and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) are slated to join him, the Denver Post reports.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

Elon Musk is, naturally, one of the first owners of Tesla's new Solar Roof product, The Verge reports.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. will pay $86 million to settle lawsuits stemming from a 2016 refinery fire, Reuters reports.

Amid diesel engine problems for European carmakers, BMW is pushing farther toward electric cars, Bloomberg News reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-Interior watchdog launches 'preliminary investigation' into Zinke calls

-West Virginia's Democratic governor will flip to Republican Party

-Green group launches 'Trump Forest' to counter Trump environment

-Senate panel approves five Interior, Energy nominees after delayed vote

-Senate confirms Bush 43 veteran to be deputy Energy secretary

-Zinke shares beers with Murkowski after alleged threats following healthcare vote

-Senate panel to consider 3 Trump energy nominees

-West Virginia Senate primary off to raucous start

 

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill