Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt's secure phone booth | Scientists say Arctic in a 'new normal' for warm weather | Former EPA chiefs blast Alaska mine plan

Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to investigate Pruitt's secure phone booth | Scientists say Arctic in a 'new normal' for warm weather | Former EPA chiefs blast Alaska mine plan
© Getty Images

WATCHDOG LOOKING INTO PRUITT'S SOUNDPROOF BOOTH: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Inspector General is reviewing Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA halts surprise inspections of power, chemical plants | Regulators decline to ban pesticide linked to brain damage | NY awards country's largest offshore wind energy contracts EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade MORE's purchase of a nearly $25,000 soundproof booth for his office.

Inspector General Arthur Elkins told Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter made public Tuesday that his office will look into whether the agency's purchase complies with congressional spending legislation, in response to a letter the committee sent.

"Your letter does raise issues about whether those agency decisions comply with appropriations law, that is, are appropriated funds available for the purchase of 'construct[ing] a secure, soundproof communications booth in the offices of Administrator Scott Pruitt' " Elkins wrote to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (N.J.), the panel's top Democrat, in the Dec. 8 letter.

"That is within the authority of the [inspector general] to review, and we will do so," Elkins wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT

Elkins added that the matter didn't warrant a criminal investigation, and said his office would not "second-guess decisions about matters within the discretion of the agency."

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to comment on the probe but defended the booth.

"The use of a secure phone line is strongly preferred for cabinet-level officials, especially when discussing sensitive matters," he said." We do not comment on OIG matters until they are resolved."

Pruitt defended the booth at a congressional hearing last week, saying, "cabinet-level officials need to have access to secured communications."

Read more here.

 

NOAA: ARCTIC IN A 'NEW NORMAL' FOR WARM WEATHER: The Arctic experienced its "second warmest air temperatures, above average ocean temperatures, loss of sea ice, and a range of human, ocean and ecosystem effects" in 2017 due to a persistent warming trend in the region, federal scientists said Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card painted a dire picture of conditions in the Arctic, which is experiencing the impacts of climate change much faster than the rest of the globe.

According to the report, the average annual temperature over land in the Arctic was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1981–2010 average, or the second highest on record, after 2016. Sea surface temperatures in August were 7.2 degrees above average in two Arctic seas.

The Arctic observed its lowest-ever maximum sea ice coverage in March, the month Arctic sea ice is traditionally at its largest.

NOAA found that the rate of sea ice decline and warm temperatures are higher than any time in the last 1,500 years. Scientists said "the Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region it was decades ago."

Read more here.

 

REPUBLICAN EPA CHIEFS TAKE ON PEBBLE MINE: Three former EPA administrators who served Republican presidents came out against a proposed gold and copper mine in Alaska on Tuesday.

In a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post, the former officials called the project "the wrong mine in absolutely the wrong place," and said that as the Trump administration's EPA considers the project, "the answer is no."

"The choice is simple," the administrators wrote in the advertisement.  "Protect the greatest salmon fishery on the planet. Protect Alaskans and the Bristol Bay watershed."

The EPA in May revived the controversial project, which envisions a precious metal mine near Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska.

Because federal agencies, including the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, have to approve the project, any potential mine in Pebble Bay is years away. But opponents of the project, including environmentalists and local fishermen who operate in Bristol Bay, have worked to aggressively oppose the project.

"We oppose the Trump Administration's efforts to sweep nearly a decade of science and Clean Water Act review under the rug," the officials wrote in their advertisement.

"The record is clear: The Pebble Mine is fundamentally flawed – it's the wrong mine in the wrong place."

Read more here.

 

APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS URANIUM MINING BAN: The federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that the Obama administration's ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon was legal.

The case resulted from a National Mining Association lawsuit that challenged the 20-year ban on mining in a large swath of the Grand Canyon watershed, instituted in 2012 to protect the area from potential uranium pollution.

"At its core, the merits question in this case is whether the [Interior] Secretary was allowed to adopt a cautious approach in the face of some risk, difficult to quantify based on current knowledge, to what he called 'America's greatest national wonder.' Appellants raise a myriad of challenges but in the end identify no legal principle invalidating the Secretary's risk-averse approach," the judges wrote.

"As Interior concluded, withdrawal of the area from new mining claims for a limited period will permit more careful, longer-term study of the uncertain effects of uranium mining in the area and better-informed decisionmaking in the future."

Environmental groups and American Indian tribes that support the mining ban cheered the decision.

"This is a great day for the Grand Canyon, for the Havasupai people who rely on its sacred waters, for the people who love this wonder of the natural world, and for the wildlife that call it home," Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement.

The same court on Tuesday ruled that an existing mining claim held by Energy Fuels in the moratorium area is valid, rejecting arguments from mining opponents.

 

PRUITT TO MOROCCO: Pruitt traveled to Morocco this week for a series of meetings with government officials on various environmental topics, the EPA said Tuesday.

His schedule included discussions on potential updates to the environmental work plan in the United States-Morocco Free Trade Agreement and promoting U.S. liquefied natural gas.

"These meetings allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders, as well as identify opportunities for continued cooperation, as our two countries further talks around the Environmental Work Plan," he said in a statement.

Pruitt met with Morocco's Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mounia Boucetta and Minister of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development Aziz Rabbah, EPA said. He also toured the IRESEN Green Energy Park.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Barry Myers's nomination to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Myers's confirmation hearing last month probed whether the AccuWeather executive would have conflicts of interest if he took the helm of NOAA, which has competed with private weather forecasting companies. But Myers said that, if he were confirmed, he and his wife plan to divest from the company and would not discuss federal issues with family members who still work there.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold an oversight hearing for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

 

Rest of Wednesday's agenda ...

A House Energy and Commerce panel will hear from industry experts on "The impacts and future of North American energy trade."

A House Science subcommittee will hold a hearing on advanced solar technology. Witnesses include Daniel Simmons, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Martin Keller, the director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

Johns Hopkins University will divest from coal, citing environmental and public health concerns, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The World Bank Group will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects by 2019, Agence France-Presse reports.

The upcoming Foxconn manufacturing plant in Wisconsin will require a huge amount of electricity: six times more than the next-largest factory in Wisconsin, and enough to serve 170,000 households, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.   

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

-Former Republican EPA chiefs blast controversial Alaska mining project

-EPA watchdog to probe Pruitt's $25,000 privacy booth

-Bloomberg thanks Trump: Pulling out of Paris deal a 'rallying cry' for environmentalists

-Robert Redford slams GOP tax bill over Arctic drilling

-Feds: Arctic saw record-low sea ice, second warmest year on record

-Butterfly group sues Trump administration over border wall

-Exxon Mobil to disclose climate change risks

-Schwarzenegger bikes through Paris, calling out Trump on climate

-Emails: Disney annoyed by Obama push to use 'Frozen' brand

 

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