Overnight Energy: EPA says Pruitt's security detail flies first class | Lackluster offshore drilling sales | Oil companies snag leases near Bears Ears monument

Overnight Energy: EPA says Pruitt's security detail flies first class | Lackluster offshore drilling sales | Oil companies snag leases near Bears Ears monument
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EPA CONFIRMS PRUITT'S SECURITY DETAIL FLIES FIRST CLASS: The 24-hour security detail tasked with protecting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer Watchdog: EPA hasn't provided 'sufficient justification' for decision not to recover Pruitt travel spending OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change MORE also flies with him in first class, the EPA confirmed Wednesday.

"On past trips, his protective service detail accompanied him in first class," the agency said in a letter sent to Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday.

The EPA cites security threats as the reason for Pruitt's upgraded travel and says the same government waiver the administrator uses to fly non-coach travel applies to his security team.


"These circumstances include, but are not limited to, situations when the "'[use] of coach-class accommodations would endanger [one's] life or Government property' or an agent on protective detail is "accompanying an individual authorized to use other than coach-class accommodations," EPA's Associate Administrator Troy Lyons wrote.

Read more here.


OFFSHORE DRILLING SALE DISAPPOINTS: The Trump administration held its third offshore drilling rights lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, and the high bids totaled $124.8 million, a slight uptick from the August 2017.

But by many other measures, the sale was a disappointment. All but 10 of the 148 tracts that got bids only had one bid.

In total, 14,474 tracts were available for bidding, representing all areas available for drilling in the Gulf. The 148 tracts that got bids represent just 1 percent.

And the average bid was $153 per acre, down about a third from last year. And the total of the high bids was less than half of the March 2017 sale's total.


Critics of the administration's energy policies pounced on the numbers.

"If you compare today's lease sale with the results of Gulf of Mexico lease sales since 2012, it was -- by all measures -- a complete flop. Taxpayers received a below-average return per acre, fewer-than-average total acres sold, and more than 90 percent of parcels received only a single bid," said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress.

"The Trump administration's bargain basement fire sales of America's oceans and public lands to the oil and gas industry are an embarrassing and fiscally irresponsible failure."

The administration and its industry allies though said they were pleased with the results.

"I think we're seeing continued consistent investment in the Gulf of Mexico," Mike Celata, Gulf regional director for the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Read more here.


DOCS REVEAL MORE PRUITT TRAVEL EXPENSES: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt spent more than $105,000 on first-class airline travel in his first year on the job, Politico reported.

The total came from documents the EPA sent to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyMore than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-S.C.) as part of an investigation into Pruitt's high-profile premium travel.

Pruitt has flown mostly first class since shortly after taking office in February 2017. The agency has said that Pruitt's security detail made the decision to put him in first class to better protect him after confrontations in airports and on airplanes.

Among the expenses revealed in the documents were a $16,217 short trip in December to Morocco, where Pruitt was promoting American liquefied natural gas exports to the nation's leaders, Politico said.

Pruitt missed a connecting flight and stayed a night in Paris, the records show.

Read more here.


DRILLERS BUY ALL LEASES NEAR BEARS EARS MONUMENT: The Trump administration successfully sold off all available drilling plots in Utah, including areas near the original Bears Ears National Monument.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold all 43 plots it made available during its online auction Tuesday, bringing in more than $1.5 million in projected revenues. The more than 51,000 acres of land in Utah were snapped up by a handful of oil companies.

The revenue is a boost to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans MORE's push to raise more money off public land lease sales.

Plots sold during the auction include areas where conservation groups have protested potential drilling.

None of the lands that recently lost their monument status at Bears Ears were on the auction block, but the environmental groups fear drilling is moving too close to the now smaller park. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE in December announced plans to shrink the size of Bears Ears and another national monument in Utah.

Land conservation group Center for Western Priorities (CWP) criticized the sales of land adjacent to the monument.

"The Trump administration's all-out assault on America's public lands was on full display this morning in southern Utah. In its rush to drill everywhere, the Interior Department handed out leases on the doorstep of three national monuments that protect our nation's natural and cultural heritage," CWP Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman said Tuesday in a statement.


Read more here.


ON TAP THURSDAY I: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the water supply outlook this year for the West and drought-related policies.


ON TAP THURSDAY II: The House Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Energy Department's proposed fiscal 2019 budget for applied energy programs.


Rest of Thursday's agenda ...


Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Research finds Uighurs targeted by Chinese spyware as part of surveillance campaign MORE will head to the House Ways and Means Committee for a hearing to discuss Trump's newly imposed tariffs.

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Trump's trade policies, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House MORE.



Solar and wind power filled in many gaps in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit, but the island needs more effort to make them a key part of the electric grid, PBS Newshour reports.

Palm trees are moving farther and farther north, with cities like Washington, D.C., only slightly out of reach, Science Daily reports.

It snowed, The Washington Post reports.



Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-EPA: Pruitt's security detail flies first class

-Zinke and his wife took security detail on vacation to Turkey, Greece: report

-Drillers snag leases near Bears Ears monument

-Bids for offshore drilling rise slightly

-House members urge Senate to confirm Trump's NASA nominee

-Pruitt spent $105,000 on first-class flights in first year: report