Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes

Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes

BRIDENSTINE EKES OUT SENATE VOTE: Republican Rep. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineTrump pick for top NASA role has no past experience in space operations Appeals court nominees languish in Senate as Flake demands tariff vote NASA needs Janet Kavandi if we’re going to make it back to the moon — then Mars MORE (Okla.) just barely made it through his Senate confirmation vote to be the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) administrator, passing 50 to 49, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

The vote came after a dramatic nearly hourlong vote period on the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Ariz.) cast the final "yes" vote after holding out for about 15 minutes longer than his fellow Senators.

Flake was seen speaking to Senate leaders and their staff, including Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas). Flake declined to say after the vote why he held out so long.

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"When you have some leverage, when it's a close vote, every senator does that from time to time," he told reporters. "And I have a couple of issues I've been raising with the administration and it's a good time to do it."

Senate leaders also held the vote open to let Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers press Trump admin for list of migrant kids separated from families The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near Ocasio-Cortez responds to Dem senator who said policies 'too far to the left' don't win in Midwest MORE (D-Ill.), who delivered a baby days ago, come to the floor with her daughter and cast her vote against Bridenstine. More on that below.

Bridenstine, who has represented Tulsa, Okla., since 2013, is a former Navy pilot, and previously led the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

He'll be responsible for a 17,000-person agency whose far-reaching duties include space exploration, overseeing commercial space activities, studying aeronautics and researching the Earth's atmosphere, among other tasks.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal Overnight Defense: White House 'not considering' Ukraine referendum | Pompeo hopeful on plans for Putin visit | Measure to block ZTE deal dropped from defense bill MORE (R-Fla.) voted to confirm Bridenstine despite previous objections to having a "politician" run NASA, which operates its main flight facility in Florida.

Rubio said earlier Thursday that the impending retirement of acting NASA Director Robert Lightfoot meant the organization needs a leader.

"I was not enthused about the nomination," he said on the Senate floor. "Nothing personal about Mr. Bridenstine. NASA is an organization that needs to be led by a space professional."

Lightfoot's departure, Rubio said, "leaves us with the prospect of this incredible agency with a vacancy in its top job."

While Republicans hailed Bridenstine as a top-notch candidate to lead NASA, Democrats argued that he was unqualified for the high-profile scientific spot and too divisive of a politician. They also argued that his views, such as doubting climate change science and opposition to LGBT rights, ought to disqualify him.

 

What it means: Democrats had been trying for months to enlist Republicans to vote against Bridenstine.

Their arguments, led by Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonPolling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Election security bill picks up new support in Senate Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing MORE (D-Fla.), fell mainly into two camps: That a divisive politician shouldn't run the agency and that Bridenstine lacked the scientific credentials necessary.

The Democrats succeeded in keeping their caucus together, with no one -- not even those running for reelection in red states -- crossing the aisle. But the GOP was also united, in support of the nominee.

 

What's next: Bridenstine still needs to be sworn in at NASA, and to resign his House seat.

He said in a statement via NASA Thursday, "I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the president's vision for American leadership in space."

Read more.

 

Duckworth shows up to vote, with baby in hand: Duckworth cast the 49th vote against Bridenstine, taking advantage of a new Senate rule to bring her infant daughter into the chamber.

Up until Wednesday, the Senate didn't allow any children onto the floor. Congress's upper chamber is notorious for strict rules from decorum to attire.

Senators voted unanimously on Wednesday to allow children under one year of age onto the floor. Duckworth pushed the resolution along with other Senate women, due to Duckworth's concerns about being away from her daughter and not nursing her.

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both of her legs when her helicopter was hit by a grenade, was in her wheelchair for the vote, carrying her daughter, Maile, in a sling.

Duckworth and her daughter came into the Senate chamber greeted by applause from senators. They quickly attracted a bipartisan throng of senators to admire Maile, including Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillPolling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices MORE (D-Mo.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGOP seeks separation from Trump on Russia Hillicon Valley: EU hits Google with record B fine | Trump tries to clarify Russia remarks | Sinclair changing deal to win over FCC | Election security bill gets traction | Robocall firm exposed voter data Election security bill picks up new support in Senate MORE (D-Minn.), Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerData confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Democrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans MORE (D-N.Y.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (R-Ky.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families MORE (D-Wash.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Anti-Trump protesters hold candlelight vigil by White House MORE (D-Ore.).

McCaskill joked that Maile is "wearing a blazer," abiding by the Senate's strict dress rules. Duckworth joked on Twitter earlier Thursday that she had prepared an outfit for Maile, complete with a blazer.  

Read more.

 

ANOTHER PRUITT PROBE: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced Thursday that it had opened another investigation into Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Court rejects new effort to stop kids' climate lawsuit | Baltimore is latest city to sue over climate change | EPA staffers worried about toxic chemical in Pruitt's desk Pruitt staffers worried about toxic chemical in his desk Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE.

Inspector General Arthur Elkins accepted Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate panel advances Trump IRS nominee Senate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? MORE's (D-R.I.) request to investigate Pruitt's use of a taxpayer-funded security detail during travel to Disneyland, the Rose Bowl and other personal trips.

"While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious, personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment," Whitehouse wrote in a letter to Elkins last month.

In Whitehouse's original letter, he alleged that Pruitt took a security detail on family vacations to Disneyland and on trips to the Rose Bowl and to his home in Tulsa, Okla., for college basketball games. The allegations were based on schedules and documents the senator said he received from an unnamed source.

The EPA inspector general is already investigating Pruitt's travel habits, and the White House budget office is looking into the agency's decision to spend $43,000 to install a soundproof phone booth for Pruitt.

Read more.

 

EPA spent $45k for advance trip before canceled Australia journey: Two aides and three security agents working for Pruitt took a $45,000 trip to Australia for the purpose of setting up meetings for Pruitt that never actually occurred, Reuters reports.

The five-person "advance" team was in Australia and New Zealand in order to set up a meeting with Australia's Parliament, where Pruitt was expected to meet with Australian officials to discuss environmental policy.

Pruitt's trip was canceled, however, due to the landfall of Hurricane Harvey last year, and a new meeting has not been scheduled. An EPA spokesman told Reuters that rescheduling the trip had been stymied by Australia's parliamentary schedule.

"This is not news," Jahan Wilcox said, adding that the advance team was "adhering to the federal government's travel policy."

"We have been unable to find a time to reschedule this meeting as it must be done when they are in session," he added, referring to Australia's government.

The officials were away for just a few days and traveling business class in this case was not a violation of federal rules, as government policy allows officials to fly business class for trips 14 hours or longer.

Read more.

 

EMAILS SHOW EPA'S EFFORTS TOWARD 'SECRET SCIENCE' POLICY: EPA political staffers have been working to internally replicate through agency action a bill that would restrict the kind of science that the EPA can use when writing regulations, internal emails show.

Pruitt met with Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Greens sue EPA over ‘super-polluting’ truck rule Lawmakers scold NASA for cost overruns MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, on Jan. 9, according to a copy of Pruitt's public schedule.

Smith for years has been pushing to restrict the type of scientific findings accepted by the EPA. His repeatedly sponsored bill, now called the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment -- or HONEST -- Act, would mandate all scientific data and findings be made publicly available before they are used to justify agency regulations.

Newly released emails show that Pruitt and his staff are working to essentially replicate Smith's proposal, and spent a majority of February working to finalize the policy.

The week after Smith's meeting with Pruitt, a high-level Smith staffer reached out to one of Pruitt's aides to set up a meeting to "discuss further transparent science-based regulations at EPA."

The EPA staffer forwarded that to his colleagues, telling them it was part of a "pitch that EPA internally implement the HONEST Act."

Pruitt told the Daily Caller News Foundation last month that he would implement a new policy to ensure that the data the EPA uses is "transparent." But the agency has refused to provide more details.

Read more.

 

TRUMP OFFICIALS MOVE TOWARD ANWR DRILLING: The Trump administration is taking a big step toward allowing oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a notice Thursday that it is starting the "scoping" process for an environmental review. The review will examine the impact of leasing drilling rights to companies in ANWR's 1.6 million-acre coastal plain.

The BLM will take public comments for 60 days and hold four meetings in Alaska to inform the public on how it will conduct the environmental review, it said in the notice, which is set to be published Friday in the Federal Register.

The notice comes just four months after Congress voted to allow drilling in the federally owned ANWR for the first time.

 

Greens ask 'why the rush?': Environmentalists see the scoping notice as evidence that the administration is rushing through the review process to get drills in the ground.

"The Trump administration's reckless dash to expedite drilling and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will only hasten a trip to the courthouse. We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this fragile landscape," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Read more.

 

EPA TO OPEN REVIEW INTO PRUITT'S EMAILS: EPA's deputy Chief Information Officer Steven Fine confirmed that Pruitt has been utilizing three separate EPA emails, and that the agency will conduct a "full review" of the searches conducted under FOIA.

"In response to your concern, my office is conducting a full review of the searches conducted regarding FOIA requests seeking Administrator Pruitt's records," Fine wrote.

In a letter sent Wednesday in response to a prior request from Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoThe law to protect endangered species in America is working Republican bill aims to deter NATO members from using Russian pipeline Overnight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms MORE (R-Wyo.), the EPA official said that Pruitt had a traditional email with his first and last name and additionally used a "day to day" email with the address sooners7@epa.gov. One other email, esp7@epa.gov, was set up for Pruitt but never used. Without offering a reason, Fine told Barrasso that Pruitt's day to day address "must now be changed."

Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote Pruitt last Friday following reports that Pruitt used multiple email addresses to conduct EPA business. Barrasso's letter expressed concerns that all emails were not searchable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and asked for confirmation that they were.

"During your confirmation hearing I specifically asked you to 'refrain from taking any ... action that makes it difficult or impossible for the public to access your written communications under the Freedom of Information Act,'" Barrasso wrote the administrator.

He added: "You agreed to my request. Can you affirm that EPA does in fact search all your email accounts when responding to FOIA requests?"

In his response to Barrasso, Fine noted that previous EPA administrators have also used multiple email addresses to conduct business, saying the practice stems back to Carol Browner's tenure from 1993 to 2001.

In a statement Friday, Barrasso said that he looked forward to EPA's full review of his questions.

"EPA has reiterated Administrator Pruitt's commitment to me that all of his email accounts are searched for Freedom of Information Act requests," Barrasso said. "I look forward to receiving the findings of the agency's full review that's being conducted in response to my letter."

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

China's environment ministry says the country is reaching a "stalemate" in its efforts to cut smog pollution, Reuters reports.

One of the Canadian First Nations that Trans Mountain pipeline developer Kinder Morgan said has approved the project through its land says it hasn't decided on the matter, CBC News reports.

Puerto Rico's islandwide blackout, which is now over, was caused by a contractor's bulldozer accidentally hitting a power line, NBC News reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-Pruitt spent $45K flying aides to Australia to prep for later-canceled visit: report

-Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd

-Senate confirms Trump's pick to lead NASA

-EPA inspector general to probe Pruitt's use of taxpayer-funded security detail on trips to Disneyland, Rose Bowl game

-Dems urge Interior to reverse new policy that could threaten birds

-Trump eyes Cold War statute to keep coal burning: report

-UK goes 55 hours without using coal

-Trump administration takes major step toward Alaska refuge drilling

-UK to become first country to ban plastic straws