Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Trump to consider elephant trophy imports ‘case-by-case’ | Zinke makes ‘acting’ directors official | Senator says Arctic refuge drilling auction could start next year

TRUMP LEAVES DOOR OPEN TO ELEPHANT TROPHY IMPORTS: The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week that it will now consider all permits for importing elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case basis,” breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama-era ban on the practice.

In a formal memorandum issued last Thursday, FWS said it will withdraw its 2017 Endangered Species Act (ESA) findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, “effective immediately.”

The memo said “the findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”


In its place, FWS will instead “grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis.”

FWS said it will still consider the information included in the ESA findings, as well as science-based risk assessments of the species’ vulnerability, when evaluating each permit request.

The service also announced it is withdrawing a number of previous ESA findings, which date back to 1995, related to trophies of African elephants, bontebok — a kind of antelope — and lions from multiple African countries.

The decision to withdraw the FSW findings followed a D.C. Circuit Court decision in December that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule, which banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.

“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”

Read more here.


EPA APPROVED EXTERNAL WORK FOR PRESS AIDE: An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer has a side job as a media consultant.

John Konkus, a political staffer in the EPA’s press office, was cleared by the agency’s ethics office in August to provide “consultative media advice” for at least two clients, as well as others he intended to sign with.

The arrangement was revealed in a letter the EPA sent in January to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But the agency redacted the names of the clients Konkus was approved to work for.

Konkus has attracted significant attention among environmentalists and Democrats because EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt empowered him to review all of the agency’s grants to determine whether they align with Trump administration priorities.

In one case, Konkus cut off grant funding to a newspaper that covers the Chesapeake Bay and its ecosystem, a decision that Pruitt reversed last week.

Pallone and his colleagues said Konkus’s outside employment, and the EPA’s secrecy about it, raise significant questions about conflicts of interest in his job.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” Pallone wrote along with Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette (Colo.), Paul Tonko (N.Y.) and Kathy Castor (Fla.).

Read more here.


ZINKE SIGNS ORDER TO MAKE ‘ACTING’ DIRECTORS OFFICIAL: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gave 10 of his acting directors more permanence in January, signing an order giving them most of the authority held by a Senate-confirmed director.

Signed under the radar, Zinke’s Jan. 12 order gave the acting directors for such bureaus as the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service “temporary re-delegation of authority,” according to the order obtained by watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Under their new roles, the 10 employees filling in as acting directors and assistant secretaries during President Trump’s transition period were elevated to official roles, so long as their jobs only entail “functions or duties that are not required by statute or regulation to be performed only by the Senate-confirmed official occupying the position.”

“The order is intended to ensure uninterrupted management and execution of the duties of these vacant non-career positions during the Presidential transition pending Senate-confirmation of new non-career officials,” read Zinke’s order.

A number of watchdog groups have questioned the legitimacy of acting directors to remain in roles meant to be temporary during the transition period.

Zinke celebrated his anniversary as Interior secretary last week and Trump has been in office for over a year, yet more than 200 presidential appointments still remain without a nominee.

Read more here.


GOP SENATOR SAYS ANWR LEASE AUCTIONS COULD START NEXT YEAR: Trump administration officials may be able to hold the first auction for oil and natural gas drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) next year, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said Monday.

Speaking at CERAWeek, a major oil industry conference in Houston, Sullivan said he thinks the Interior Department could beat the 2021 deadline for a lease sale that was set out in last year’s GOP tax bill, though the agency has not committed to a timeline.

“It’s my hope, and this is a very aggressive timeline, that we would have the first lease sale … to be sometime in 2019,” Sullivan told the audience.

Sullivan said Interior officials are currently in Alaska laying the groundwork for eventual drilling in the Coastal Plain area of ANWR.

He encouraged oil industry officials there to bid in the lease sales.

Read more here.


ON TAP TUESDAY I: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for James Reilly II, Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Geological Survey.

ON TAP TUESDAY II: The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on ways to reduce the Interior Department’s maintenance backlog.


Rest of Tuesday’s agenda …

The House Science Committee’s subcommittee on energy will hold a hearing on the future of the Energy Department’s fusion energy research programs.

The House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on Interior will hold a hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers.



Fred Hayes, state director of parks in Utah, died Friday at age 58, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Seagrass has started to return to areas of the Chesapeake Bay that haven’t seen them in decades, NPR reports.

Washington state lawmakers acted to phase out Atlantic salmon in the state’s waters, KING5 reports.



Charles McConnell, executive director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University, argues that investment in coal is integral to the country’s energy future.



Check out stories from Monday and the weekend …

-Trump to consider elephant trophy imports on ‘case-by-case’ basis

-EPA aide cleared to do outside media work

-Alaska senator: Arctic refuge drilling sale could start next year

-Zinke signed order in January making ‘acting’ directors official

-Week ahead: House takes up bills targeting EPA regs

-Trump drilling plan faces backlash

-Lawmakers fear Russian influence on energy markets


Tags Africa ANWR ban Conflict of interest Dan Sullivan Diana DeGette Donald Trump Elephant EPA Frank Pallone Jr. Kathy Castor nominations Paul Tonko Ryan Zinke Scott Pruitt Senate trophy
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