Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — House Dems call for probe of former Interior head 

The Hill, Greg Nash

House Democrats are asking the Justice Department to investigate former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, and a federal report found that hundreds of Native children died at government boarding schools.  

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here. 

Dems ask for investigation into ex-Interior secretary 

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Trump-era Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, alleging that he may have engaged in a “quid pro quo” relating to a clean water permit.  

The committee, for the first time in its history, made a criminal referral to the DOJ over the situation on Wednesday.  

What’s being alleged? Lawmakers raised concerns that the federal government changed its position on a permit around the same time that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee received donations from a beneficiary of the reversal. 

The donations from the beneficiary and others, which totaled nearly $250,000, were outside of the typical election cycle and “highly unusual,” according to the referral. 

“These facts raise serious concerns about a potentially criminal quid pro quo,” wrote committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.  

Bernhardt did not immediately respond to The Hill’s requests for comment. A representative for the beneficiary, Mike Ingram, owner of developer El Dorado Holdings, said there was no wrongdoing.  

“Everything that Mr. Ingram did and that El Dorado did was about asking the government to look at the facts and the law. Period. Nothing in return for campaign contributions. Nothing in return for political relationships,” Lanny Davis, attorney adviser to El Dorado, told The Hill. 

(Davis has contributed opinion articles to The Hill.) 

The details: The accusations stem from a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reversal of its position on a permit for a development project in Arizona known as the Villages at Vigneto. 

Now-retired FWS Field Supervisor Steve Spangle told the Arizona Daily Star in 2019 that he had been pressured by a “high-level politico” to reverse a decision that would have required a detailed analysis of how the development could impact endangered species. 

He said at the time that he had been “overruled” and in an October 2017 letter reversed course in a way that made it easier for the project to get a Clean Water Act permit.  

The Democrats’ report notes that in August 2017, Bernhardt and Ingram met over breakfast. 

They also note that on Oct. 6, 2017, when the permit’s revaluation was announced:

  • Ingram donated $10,000 to the Trump Victory Fund (TVF), a committee that gives funds to both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC)
  • Between Oct. 5, 2017, and Oct. 10, 2017, Ingram and 12 other donors from Arizona contributed a total of $147,000 to the same organization, the referral said
  • One donor gave an additional $94,600 to the RNC

Read more about the referral here. 

100s of Native kids died in federal schools: Interior

Hundreds of Native American children died after being forced into government boarding schools over a 50-year period, the Interior Department said Wednesday in its first investigative report on the program.  

  • The investigation found a total of 408 schools were operated by the federal government between 1819 and 1869, as well as another 89 that received no federal funding
  • The department thus far identified more than 500 deaths across 19 schools, according to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, but the department expects to identify more
  • The report identified marked and unmarked burial sites at 53 schools, which are also expected to increase as the analysis continues

A dark chapter: At the schools, children were forced to cut their hair and speak only English rather than their native languages, as well as were subjected to what Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland called “militarized and identity alteration methodology.” 

Haaland’s grandfather was a survivor of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, whose founder, Richard Henry Pratt, described the institution’s mission as “kill the Indian, save the man.”  

The investigation also found that the schools were frequently focused on vocational skills and manual labor rather than academic work, leaving graduates with limited skills and employment prospects. 

It further determined that about half of boarding schools may have enlisted the aid or support from religious institutions, with the federal government in some cases paying religious organizations per capita for Native American students.  

The investigation found schools existed in 37 states and 11 then-territories, with the greatest number, 37, in Oklahoma. The department recommended a number of further steps to take in the investigation, including producing a detailed list of burial sites at boarding schools as well as a rough estimate of how much federal financial support they received.  

Read more about the report here. 

Biden official acknowledges ‘urgency’ on solar probe

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo defended the Commerce Department’s investigation of solar panel component manufacturers Wednesday, telling the Senate Appropriations Committee that she hoped to conclude it as quickly as possible.  

In April, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) expressed concerns the case “could cost us 100,000 American solar jobs and jeopardize our common clean energy goals,” saying it has already delayed more than 300 projects. 

At the Wednesday hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) asked Raimondo about the probe, which was initiated in response to a petition by U.S.-based solar company Auxin Solar. 

“Why is there no industry-supported threshold to initiate this anti-circumvention inquiry?” Moran asked. “There is a process that’s being utilized to keep tariffs [on solar panels] in place to the detriment of the industry by one small company.”  

Moran noted that Auxin would not have been privy to any exclusive information about the conduct of the companies in question and asked if the Commerce Department had made a finding based on its own information that the investigation was appropriate.  

The investigation, initiated in March, involves allegations that solar panel component manufacturers in several southeast Asian countries were fronts for Chinese component firms seeking to avoid U.S. tariffs.  

“I’ve heard from many of you and many in the industry and I share the sense of urgency,” Raimondo responded. “I understand how fragile the solar supply chain is and how we need to move forward.” 

Read more about the probe here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Manchin huddles with fracking billionaire Harold Hamm (E&E News
  • Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers With Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds (The New York Times
  • Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown (The Guardian
  • Ukraine Reduced Russian Gas Flowing to Europe Through Key Pipeline (The Wall Street Journal
  • California’s increased water use paves way for more penalties (CalMatters

And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: What’s the buzz? 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

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Tags David Bernhardt Lanny Davis

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