Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program

Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program
© Greg Nash

PRUITT TO TESTIFY BEFORE SENATE IN AUGUST: Senators itching to put Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittDon’t be silenced in the name of ‘transparency’ Pelosi seizes on anti-corruption message against GOP Al Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' MORE in the hot seat over his scandals will have to wait a bit to get their opportunity.

The Environment and Public Works Committee announced Tuesday that Pruitt will appear for a hearing at a yet to be determined date in August.

"The hearing will give senators the opportunity to ask important questions and hear about the work being done at the agency," Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump EPA to defend Obama smog rule | Wheeler gets warmer welcome before Senate | Animal rights groups sue Interior over pro-hunting council EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing Trump has no plans to endorse in Tennessee GOP governor's race: report MORE (R-Wyo.), the committee's chairman, said in a statement.

The announcement follows months of spending and ethics controversies involving Pruitt. Senate Democrats have long sought to grill Pruitt over the scandals, and Republicans are expressing increasing concern as well.

A handful of GOP senators on the panel – including Sens. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofePence announces first steps in establishing 'Space Force' EPA chief: Obama car rule rollback would save consumers 0B EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing MORE (Okla.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenators introduce bill to change process to levy national security tariffs Overnight Defense: Pompeo spars with senators at hearing | Trump, Putin meeting won't happen until next year | Pentagon was caught off guard by White House on Syria Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland MORE (Iowa) and Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanLawmakers say North Korea shows Trump shouldn’t trust it Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act GOP senator: NATO summit 'turned out well' MORE (Alaska) – have pushed in recent days for Pruitt to appear before the committee.

It will be Pruitt's first time at the environment committee since January and his first congressional hearing since May, which preceded a fresh wave of reports raising ethical questions surrounding the EPA chief's actions.

Barrasso and other GOP senators have generally stood by Pruitt and have not called for him to resign, arguing that his policy efforts at the EPA are valuable and it would be difficult to confirm a replacement. But their concerns about the allegations against him have grown louder recently.

"I think something needs to happen to change that," Inhofe said last week on a radio show, referring to the controversies. "One of those alternatives would be for him to leave that job."

Democrats, meanwhile, have repeatedly called on Pruitt to be fired or resign due to the scandals.

"Mr. Pruitt is an embarrassment. It is a stain on our democracy that he still holds this once esteemed position," Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate study: Trump hasn’t provided adequate support to detained migrant children Overnight Energy: Trump elephant trophy tweets blindsided staff | Execs of chemical plant that exploded during hurricane indicted | Interior to reverse pesticide ban at wildlife refuges Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans MORE (Del.), the committee's top Democrat, said earlier this month.

"And it is an abject failure that so many Republicans in Congress have chosen to turn a blind eye to the seemingly endless ethical shortcomings that should have led to Mr. Pruitt's removal a long time ago."

Why it matters: The August hearing won't be Pruitt's first time before Congress since the scandals blew up. But it will be the first such hearing that isn't ostensibly meant to review the EPA's budget.

It shows that the worries of GOP senators like Inhofe and Ernst -- and potentially even Barrasso himself -- have gotten loud enough that Barrasso decided to take some action on the scandals.

Pruitt is likely to face a barrage of questioning by Democrats both on the scandals and on his controversial policy decisions. The GOP will probably bring a fair amount of questions on the scandals, but Republican senators are also likely to defend Pruitt to some degree.

Read more on Pruitt here.

 

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill.

 

COLORADO JOINS CALIFORNIA IN ADOPTING STRICTER CAR EMISSION STANDARD: Colorado announced Tuesday it will join a number of states that have moved to implement heightened vehicle emissions standards.

The move comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mulls changing laws to weaken federal regulations.

The decision by the state's Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will add Colorado to a list of 12 states, including California, that have adopted stronger tailpipe emission regulations in an effort to combat climate change.

"Colorado has a choice. This executive order calls for the state to adopt air quality standards that will protect our quality of life in Colorado," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "Low emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air. Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction."

Big picture: The EPA is working on a new rule to replace the Obama-era policy that allowed states to set stronger standards, arguing that the current regulations are too stringent and unattainable for car companies.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in April announced the agency's plans to change the policy.

"It is very right for us to be here to recognize that what was done in 2011 and 2012, as we evaluate now, is not appropriate going forward and we're going to get it right," he said at the time at the agency's headquarters.

The EPA has not yet announced its proposed rule, but many expect a draft to be released sometime this summer.

California has led the fight against the EPA's proposed changes to the Obama-era rule, arguing that lowering standards will adversely affect the state's air quality and harm its economy.

We have more here.

 

GREENS LOSE IN COAL MINING LAWSUIT: A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected environmentalists' arguments that the Trump administration has to evaluate the climate change impact of leasing federal land for coal mining.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously ruled that the Interior Department is not obligated to update its 1979 review of the environmental impact of the federal coal program, despite substantial new scientific findings about climate change and the significant role that coal plays in warming the atmosphere.

The judges said that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) doesn't compel a new environmental impact statement.

"The fact that actions continue to occur in compliance with the program does not render the original action incomplete. Accordingly, the department's NEPA obligation for the Federal Coal Management Program terminated with its adoption in 1979," Judge Harry Edwards, nominated to the court by former President Carter, wrote in the ruling.

The judges further argued that NEPA only requires a new analysis when a program is new or changes significantly, which isn't the case for the coal program.

"Appellants have failed to identify any specific pending action, apart from the program's continued existence, that qualifies as a 'major federal action' under NEPA," Edwards said.

The ruling is a major blow for greens, who argue that the federal government is significantly contributing to climate change by allowing so much coal mining on federal land.

Read more.

 

INTERIOR 'DISAPPOINTED' BY BILLBOARDS AGAINST URANIUM MINING: Officials from the Department of the Interior say they are "disappointed" by a recent billboard campaign by green groups decrying uranium drilling near the Grand Canyon, calling it a waste of money.

Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift on Tuesday tweeted that Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior drilling auction sees few bids | Big oil targets Florida in offshore drilling fight | Puerto Rico utility says all customers now have power Oil industry targets Florida in new offshore drilling advocacy push Fewer than 1 percent of offshore drilling tracts auctioned by Trump receive bids MORE was "disappointed" in the groups' actions.

"@SecretaryZinke is disappointed to see such a tremendous waste of precious conservation dollars," Swift tweeted.

Adding: "The Secretary has no intention to revisit uranium mining in and around the canyon and has made exactly zero moves to suggest otherwise."

Conservation groups the Arizona Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited paid for the billboard ads that went up Monday protesting recent reports that the Interior Department is exploring re-opening the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas to uranium mining.

The billboards read: "Secretary Zinke: Save the Grand Canyon from Uranium mining."

"We need better science about the complicated, fractured geology of the Grand Canyon before opening it again to uranium mining," said Nate Rees, Arizona coordinator for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project, in a statement.

"Hunters and anglers are asking the administration to keep current protections in place until we know with certainty that mining won't degrade the canyon's invaluable fish and wildlife resources, pollute our water supply and undercut our state's booming recreation economy."

More on the fight here.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on two Trump administration nominations for the EPA: Peter Wright to lead the office of land and emergency management and W. Charles McIntosh to lead the office of international and tribal affairs.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on the impact of tax reform on the energy sector and energy consumers.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says an employee sabotaged the company's Freemont, Calif., plant via computer code, CNNMoney reports.

A environmental group is asking the interstate Delaware River Basin Commission to stop the Mariner East pipeline's construction, StateImpact Pennsylvania reports.

Australia's Labour party is promising to crack down on fracking if it wins a majority in the upcoming election, the Guardian reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

- Pruitt to testify before Senate panel in August

- Colorado joins states adopting stricter vehicle emissions standard

- Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon

- Trump admin floats changes to environmental review standards

- Court rejects greens' climate case against federal coal mining

- Zinke linked to investment backed by Halliburton chairman: report

- Republican senator calls for face-to-face with EPA's Pruitt