Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — Report: Trump EPA chief ordered dangerous driving

The Hill, Greg Nash

A report outlines more Scott Pruitt allegations, G-7 nations say they will eventually phase out coal and what to know about gas prices ahead of Memorial Day. 

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. 

Programming note: Energy & Environment will not publish Monday, May 30, in observance of Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Report says ex-EPA chief ordered drivers to speed 

Then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt instructed his security detail to drive above the speed limit to make appointments, sometimes to the point of “endanger[ing] public safety,” according to a federal report.  

In the report, federal agents wrote that Pruitt, who often ran late, frequently told his drivers to “speed it up” and prompted them to use sirens and lights, asking, “Can you guys use that magic button to get us through traffic?” 

In 2017, Pruitt directed an agent to turn on the lights and sirens while driving into oncoming traffic to pick up the then-administrator’s dry cleaning while he was 35 minutes late to a meeting, according to the report.  

Agents said Pruitt both specifically directed drivers to use lights and sirens and directed them “implicitly through his body language and cues.”  

In at least one case, the report states, an agent told Pruitt that the lights and sirens were only to be used in emergency situations rather than to make up for simple lateness, which noticeably upset Pruitt and caused him to fall silent for “an uncomfortable time.” 

The agent was removed from their position within days, according to the report.  

The witness “described that this action sent a clear message to the [protective security detail] that if you didn’t perform the bidding of the Administrator, you would lose your job,” the report states. “This idea made for many uncomfortable times where PSD agents were directed to use lights and sirens in violation of … policy and public safety.”  

The report was released Thursday by the Office of Special Counsel even though it was completed in 2018 by the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training. 

So what does he have to say? In a statement to The Hill, Pruitt dismissed the report as “The New York Times coming after me again.” 

The Times first reported on the federal report.  

“The left doesn’t want me back in Washington because they know I will reverse their terrible policies. I will fight the radical environmental groups in order to restore energy independence,” he said. 

Pruitt, President Trump’s first EPA chief, left the position in 2018 following a series of controversies around expenditures and ethics rules. He’s now running to represent Oklahoma in the Senate.   

Read more about the allegations here.

G-7 agrees to ‘eventual’ coal power phaseout

A group of major economic powers including the U.S. on Friday said they would agree to eventually phase out coal-fired power, a major contributor to climate change.  

The environment ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) said in a joint statement on Friday that they would agree to an “eventual” phaseout of “unabated” coal power. 

“Unabated” refers to methods of electricity generation that don’t use technology to capture their climate-warming emissions. 

Who’s on board, and who’s affected? The G-7 is made up of the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. 

Japan is expected to be particularly impacted by the commitment, as the country got 32 percent of its electricity from coal in 2019. Coal makes up nearly 22 percent of the U.S. electricity generation.  

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the countries had been considering an even more stringent action on coal — a phaseout by 2030. The wire service reported that the 2030 date faced objections from both the U.S. and Japan. 

But the call for a phaseout is a step further from what countries agreed to during last year’s COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, when countries only agreed to “phase down” coal. 

Read more about the agreement here. 

Holiday weekend kicks off summer of high gas prices

Soaring gas prices have Americans bracing for an expensive Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer when vacation-related travel typically spikes.    

Despite the increases — last week, every state had gas prices over $4 for the first time ever — AAA is predicting travel for the three-day weekend will return to near pre-pandemic levels.    

In its forecast, AAA projected an 8.3 percent increase in travel compared to Memorial Day weekend in 2021, or 92 percent of 2019 levels. Car travel in particular will reach 93 percent of pre-pandemic volume, the group predicted.    

Policymakers are eyeing holiday travel for insights into how to approach pain at the pump.    

“Everybody’s feeling the pain now, or they’re going to as we’re coming out of the big travel weekend, when everyone pays attention,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told The Hill. At the end of the long weekend, Cramer said, “I think we’ll have some data that will be helpful, will be instructive as we consider what to do next.”    

Devin Gladden, AAA National’s manager for federal affairs, said travelers are hitting the roads to make up for lost travel time during the pandemic.    

“However, with gas prices being at highs that they have not seen before, they certainly are going to be looking for ways to save money during their trips,” he said.    

Gladden added that demand has cooled somewhat in the past week but said it is likely to spike again with the weekend.    

“We could see demand settle back lower, which could again take some gas out of price increases as crude prices remain volatile,” he said.    

Read more about the outlook here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • We never got good at recycling plastic. Some states are trying a new approach (NPR
  • Manchin serious about Schumer talks (Axios
  • How FEMA helps white and rich Americans escape floods (E&E News
  • Individual investors are sitting on a $763 million carbon bubble (Quartz
  • How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action (The New York Times

And finally, something offbeat and off-beatA fixer-upper. 

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 next week.

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