Overnight Energy: EPA chief commits to replacing Obama climate rule | New chairman takes over at energy regulator | Senate confirms two environment nominees

Overnight Energy: EPA chief commits to replacing Obama climate rule | New chairman takes over at energy regulator | Senate confirms two environment nominees
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PRUITT TESTIFIES BEFORE HOUSE ENERGY AND COMMERCE: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards MORE testified for the first time as chief before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.

Lawmakers peppered him with questions over the course of a three-and-a-half hour hearing, which was split into two parts so Pruitt could attend a White House meeting on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Topics included:

A Clean Power Plan replacement is coming: Pruitt committed to lawmakers that he would pursue a replacement climate change rule for power plants after repealing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

"We are going to be introducing a replacement rule too, in place of the Clean Power Plan," Pruitt told Rep. Raul RuizRaul RuizGrijalva calls for ‘unvarnished’ investigation into death of Guatemalan girl at border Over 30 cities oppose Trump proposal on immigration benefits Congress must act to ensure access to air medical services MORE (D-Calif.) in response to questioning about the EPA's plans to repeal the Obama rule.

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Pruitt has previously only committed to consider such a replacement rule. When the EPA proposed the repeal in October, it said it would soon seek formal comment on replacing the Clean Power Plan.

Ruiz's questioning was at the end of the first hour of the hearing, after which everyone took a break, so Pruitt didn't elaborate on the answer.

But the EPA argued in its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan that the Obama EPA exceeded its authority in a few areas in the rule, and any replacement would not use those authorities.

Read more here.

The "short-shrift" behind the Obama administration's endangerment finding: Pruitt criticized the 2009 endangerment finding for greenhouse gases, which provide the scientific justification for the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era regulations.

He said Obama's EPA engaged in a "breach of process" when it relied on United Nations science for part of its endangerment funding for climate change-causing greenhouse gases.

"There was breach of process that occurred in 2009 that many believe wasn't handled the proper way," Pruitt told a House Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel.

"But the Mass. v EPA decision, and the processes that followed involved both the Bush and Obama administration and that process, in 2009, I think, was short-shrifted."

Conservatives have urged Pruitt to reconsider the endangerment finding, something he has so far not committed to doing. Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonGOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority Privacy legislation could provide common ground for the newly divided Congress Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas) joined the calls on Thursday, telling Pruitt to "go back and revisit the finding document."

Read more here.

Spending issues at the agency: Pruitt on Thursday defended his travel habits and the installation of a secure phone booth at the agency.

Pressed by Democrats on the EPA's spending during his tenure, Pruitt said he had done nothing unusual since taking over at the agency in the spring.  

Pruitt said he personally paid for his trips back to his home state of Oklahoma, unless they were for official business. Taxpayer-funded travel on private or military aircraft has only happened four times during his tenure, he said, and "it's always been based on circumstances."

As for the secure booth, Pruitt said he needs it for communications with the White House, and to discuss potentially classified information.

"There are secured conversations that need to take place that I didn't have access to," he said. "Cabinet-level officials need to have access to secured communications."

Read more here.

 

ENERGY REGULATOR FINALLY GETS NEW CHAIRMAN: Kevin McIntyre was sworn in as Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chairman Thursday, more than a month after the Senate confirmed him.

FERC now has five commissioners, for the first time since 2015.

McIntyre was previously an attorney at Jones Day, heading its energy practice and often representing industry clients before FERC.

McIntyre, a Republican, replaces Neil Chatterjee, who had served as chairman on an interim basis since August while McIntyre went through the Senate confirmation process. Chatterjee, also a Republican, will stay on at FERC as a commissioner.

Read more here.

Senate confirms two more nominees: The Senate on Thursday confirmed two of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE's environmental nominees.

Joe Balash was confirmed as assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, and Susan Bodine was confirmed to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which oversees enforcement of pollution laws.

Senators voted 61-38 to confirm Balash, a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner in Alaska, and he will serve as one of five assistant secretaries at Interior, overseeing land management and resource development issues.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanAlaska in lockdown over leadership stalemate Bennet gives emotional speech ripping into Cruz over shutdown Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  MORE (R-Alaska), for whom Balash worked as chief of staff, called him "probably one of the most qualified people to hold this job in the entire country."

"It's important to help manage resources we have in abundance, but also protect the environment," Sullivan said.

Bodine was confirmed by a voice vote.

Democrats had long objected to bringing Bodine's nomination to the floor, arguing that the EPA was moving too slowly to respond to some of their oversight requests.

But Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House MORE (D-Del.) said the EPA has begun to reply to those inquiries, clearing the way for the Senate to take up Bodine's nomination.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FRIDAY I: The Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Department of Energy's work on cybersecurity.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

The Los Angeles Times provides updates on the severe wildfires surrounding the city.

Environmental groups have sued over coal ash disposal at the Belews Creek Steam Station in North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

Lawmakers in Ohio are looking to restart wind power production in the state, the Plain Dealer reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories...

-Pruitt defends EPA travel, installation of secure phone booth

-Trump meets with oil-state GOP senators on ethanol mandate

-Senate confirms two Interior, EPA nominees

-Pruitt: EPA to replace Obama climate rule

-EPA head: Anti-greenhouse gas declaration involved 'breach of process'

-New energy commission chairman takes reins

-'Largest ever' drilling lease sale in Alaska yields few bids

-GE plans to cut 12,000 jobs in power division

-Outdoors industry groups ratchet up Trump criticism

 

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @dhenry, @thehill