Overnight Energy: Pruitt defends first-class travel | Watchdog says contractor charged Energy Department for spas, lobbying | Experts see eased EPA enforcement under Trump

Overnight Energy: Pruitt defends first-class travel | Watchdog says contractor charged Energy Department for spas, lobbying | Experts see eased EPA enforcement under Trump
© Greg Nash

PRUITT SAYS SECURITY NEEDS DICTATE FIRST-CLASS TRAVEL: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA defends FOIA policy after criticism Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE said he sometimes flies first class on airplanes due to decisions by his security detail.

Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday that he's had some "incidents" while traveling previously, so his security team sometimes has him fly first class, including the day he spoke to the newspaper.

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"Unfortunately ... we've had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe," Pruitt said in an interview with the Union Leader.

"We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment. We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the [security] detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat," he said.

But Pruitt told the newspaper he is not part of the decisions on travel arrangements.

"I'm not involved in any of those decisions," he said. "Those are all made by the [security] detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff."

The newspaper did not report whether Pruitt specified what aspects of first-class seating on scheduled commercial airliners make it more secure than coach.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Pruitt has flown first class or on military jets on the taxpayers' dime on numerous occasions.

Read more here.

 

IG FINDS DOE CONTRACTOR MISUSED FUNDS FOR LOBBYING AND SPAS: A government watchdog has found that a Texas energy company likely charged the Department of Energy $2.5 million in extraneous expenditures ranging from spa services to lobbying costs.

The Energy Department's Office of Inspector General identified more than $2.5 million in expenses Summitt Texas Clean Energy charged to a project that they considered potentially unallowable, according to an inspector general report released Feb. 8.

Summit was awarded a contract with the Energy Department in 2010 for a $1.7 billion cooperative agreement to work on the department's Clean Coal Power Initiative, described by the report as "a partnership with industry to demonstrate advanced coal-based technologies."

Summit charged the federal government for more than $1.2 million in potential lobbying costs and $1.3 million in potentially prohibited travel expenses, the audit found.

According to the report, Summit charged the Energy Department to employ three lobbying consultants.

The inspector general found that one of the consultants in particular, who was paid the majority of the fee -- $1 million -- met with law firms working on behalf of the clean coal project. These firms' services had previously been deemed unallowable lobbying costs.

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It is illegal to use federal funds to lobby government officials.

Read more here.

 

EPA NUMBERS HINT AT EASED ENFORCEMENT UNDER TRUMP: The reported decline in enforcement actions at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely a harbinger of what's to come from the Trump administration, experts say.

The EPA on Thursday reported that it had recommended that 115 cases of illegal pollution be prosecuted in the last fiscal year, down from 152 the year before and a peak of nearly 400 cases in 2009.

The findings seemed to confirm speculation that the EPA under President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE has shifted its focus away from regulating pollution and prosecuting polluters, and experts and former EPA officials predict the enforcement numbers will continue to drop.

"The enforcement results today are heavily influenced by big cases brought by the Obama administration," said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and head of EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement from 1997 to 2002. "Since President Trump took office, the long arm of the law has gotten shorter, at least when it comes to cracking down on illegal pollution."

The tally of enforcement actions for fiscal 2017 included the final four months of the Obama administration. If the tally had only included actions taken under current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, many suspect that the total would have been significantly lower.

Back in August, an EIP report looked at the first six months of Trump's presidency and found that 26 civil lawsuits were filed against polluters. During the comparable time period under former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, 34 and 31 cases were filed, respectively. The EIP report also found a 60 percent drop in civil penalties under Trump.

Read more here.

 

MONIZ JOINS SOUTHERN CO. BOARD: Former Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview Pope to meet with oil execs to discuss climate change: report Rick Perry's travel cost Energy Department ,560 during first 7 months in office: report MORE has been tapped to serve on the board of electric utility giant Southern Co.

Moniz, who served under former President Obama from 2013 to 2017, will be an independent director on the board.

"I have long admired Southern Company for its innovative approach to research and development within the clean energy space, and look forward to joining the board," Moniz said in a late Monday statement.

"Tom is an industry leader and I'm eager to work with him and the entire board in helping Southern advance at a time of great change in the energy world," he added of Tom Fanning, Southern's CEO.

"Ernie Moniz enhances our board by bringing a strong energy science and technology background together with broad expertise in energy and environmental policy, which will be invaluable as we continue to develop innovative solutions to shape America's energy future," Fanning said in the statement.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: The House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment subcommittee will hold a hearing on the EPA's new source permit review program for air pollution, with a focus on the burdens on manufacturing and infrastructure.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: The House Natural Resources Committee will vote on three bills related to national monuments.

 

Rest of Wednesday's agenda ...

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's national parks subcommittee will hold a hearing on bills within its jurisdiction.

The House Natural Resources Committee's subcommittee on water, power and oceans will hold a hearing on the state of the nation's water and power infrastructure.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

Many oil and gas drilling companies prohibit workers at well sites from growing beards, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

A New Jersey state court upheld former Gov. Chris Christie's (R) controversial $225 million pollution settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp., NJ.com reports.

Utah lawmakers are moving forward with a potential lawsuit against California for its fees on electricity from coal plants, the Associated Press reports.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

-Grant Kidwell, director of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, makes the case for Congress and President Trump to make states equal partners for offshore energy production.

-Colin Hanna, President of Let Freedom Ring USA, Inc., argues that New York, West Virginia and Ohio should also take advantage of Marcellus Shale deposits and join the American energy revolution.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories...

-Pruitt defends first-class air travel

-Greens sue Trump over fracking waste in Gulf

-Watchdog: Texas company illegally charged Energy Dept. $2.5 million in expenses

-Obama energy secretary named to utility giant's board

-Trump budget targets hundreds of National Weather Service jobs: report

-Exxon targeting opponents in climate-change battle: report

-EPA numbers hint at eased enforcement under Trump