Overnight Energy: Watchdog probes Pruitt speech to mining group | EPA chief promises to let climate scientists present their work | Volkswagen manager gets 7 years for emissions cheating

Overnight Energy: Watchdog probes Pruitt speech to mining group | EPA chief promises to let climate scientists present their work | Volkswagen manager gets 7 years for emissions cheating
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WATCHDOG TO PROBE PRUITT, MINING EVENT: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) inspector general said this week it will look into Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWith offshore drilling scheme, Trump's America looks like a banana republic Overnight Energy: California regulators vote to close nuclear plant | Watchdog expands Pruitt travel probe | Washington state seeks exemption from offshore drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Fight erupts over gun export rules | WH meets advocates on prison reform | Officials move to allow Medicaid work requirements | New IRS guidance on taxes MORE's April meeting with a coal mining industry group.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a letter Wednesday from Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. that confirmed the office "will review the single meeting between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the National Mining Association in April 10."

Pruitt met with the mining group in April and reportedly urged association members to tell President Trump to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal.

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Critics of the meeting, including Democrats and liberal groups, say a request like that from a Cabinet member violates anti-lobbying laws for government officials. They want the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to provide a legal opinion on that question, and they asked the inspector general to first "develop a comprehensive factual record" for use in such an analysis.

"The GAO stated to us that it could and would use the factual record regarding that meeting to conduct its analysis," Elkins wrote in his letter to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers say they're close to deal on CHIP funding Five key decisions for the GOP on health care 8.8 million sign up for ObamaCare, nearly matching last year MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Read more here.

 

Pruitt: Climate scientists are free to present their work: Pruitt is trying to assure Democratic lawmakers that the Trump administration is not trying to stop climate change scientists.

In a letter lawmakers published Wednesday, the EPA head said climate scientists and other researchers in the agency are free to present their findings at conferences, following reports that three EPA climate scientists were prevented from doing so in October in Rhode Island.

"Procedures have been put in place to prevent such an occurrence in the future," Pruitt wrote in a letter to Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform Democrats search for Russians — any Russians — for collusion story MORE (D-R.I.) that was published Wednesday.

"I have assured Office of Research and Development political and career senior leadership that they have the authority to make decisions about event participation going forward," he wrote. "Additionally, I am committed to upholding EPA's Scientific Integrity Policy, which ensures that the agency's scientific work is of the highest quality, is presented openly and with integrity, and is free from political interference."

Read more here.

 

VOLKSWAGEN MANAGER SENTENCED TO 84 MONTHS: A former Volkswagen manager was sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday for his role in the company's emissions cheating scandal.

Oliver Schmidt, a German resident, pleaded guilty in August to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud and violate the Clean Air Act.

A federal judge ordered him to serve seven years in prison and pay a $400,000 fine for his role in connection with the emissions scandal.

In his plea agreement, Schmidt said he learned of the software in Volkswagen vehicles allowing them to cheat emissions tests in the summer of 2015. But he admitted to working with other executives to prevent disclosing the information.

Read more here.

 

PATAGONIA SAYS IT WILL SUE OVER MONUMENTS ORDER: Outdoors retailer Patagonia announced Wednesday it will sue the Trump administration over the president's Monday decision to shrink two national monuments in Utah.

CEO Rose Marcario defended Patagonia's "longstanding environmental and social values" in a Time op-ed Wednesday and said that the unpopular decision would open up the lands to heavy industrialization and commercial use, positioning the decision as a threat to the company's outdoor interests.

Marcario also defended the company's claim that Trump's move was illegal, citing the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allows presidents to designate national monuments but noted it does "not give the President the power to undo a prior president's monument designations."

"This is not about politics; it's about protecting the places we love and keeping the great promise of this country for our children and grandchildren," Marcario wrote. "We won't let President Trump tear down our heritage and sell it to the highest bidder."

Patagonia has been one of the loudest critics of Trump's decision, arguing on its website that "The President Stole Your Land" following his order.

Read more here.

 

TOMORROW IN THE HILL: Patagonia's aggressive response to the monuments order comes as the outdoors industry increasingly criticizes the Trump administration's approach to public lands.

Tomorrow in The Hill, how retailers and outdoors groups are fighting against Trump, and why the administration is pushing back.

 

3 MORE CLEAN POWER PLAN REPEAL HEARINGS: The EPA is heeding calls to hold more public hearings on its plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

The agency announced Wednesday that it would hold three more hearings, in San Francisco, Kansas City and Gillette, Wyo.

That is in addition to the packed hearing it hosted last week in Charleston, W.Va.

Pruitt said in a statement that he scheduled the new hearings "due to the overwhelming response to our West Virginia hearing."

The EPA plans to announce specific locations and dates soon.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY I: Pruitt will testify at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment subpanel on the EPA's mission. It will be the first non-appropriations hearing on Capitol Hill for Pruitt since he was confirmed to his post in February.

Lawmakers are likely to extensively press Pruitt on his deregulatory actions thus far and his plans for the future.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY II: The House Natural Resources Committee's oversight panel will hold a hearing on transforming and reorganizing the Interior Department.

 

Rest of Thursday's agenda ...

Another Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on four other bills.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGE:

Matthew Anderson, the policy director at the Sutherland Institute's Coalition for Self-Government in the West, writes in support of reforming the Antiquities Act.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

Wildfires in California swept through the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

China's attempt to move away from coal is causing a winter natural gas shortage, CNBC reports.

Activist Erin Brockovich is helping with a class action lawsuit against alleged toxic dumping in Michigan, MLive reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

-Former Volkswagen manager sentenced to 7 years for emissions cheating scandal

-Patagonia CEO on Trump shrinking monuments: 'This is not about politics'

-EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt meeting with industry group

-EPA head pledges to protect climate scientists

-California AG on Trump EPA: 'It's almost as if they believe they're above the law'

-Colbert on Trump slashing monuments: He doesn't care because 'they're not Confederate monuments'

-CEO says late changes to Senate tax-cut bill 'wipes out' what Trump has done for coal

 

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