Overnight Energy: Pruitt goes on offense against ‘toxic’ Washington | New Pruitt controversy over staffers’ pay raises | Sanders won’t say if Trump has confidence in Pruitt
PRUITT’S (CONSERVATIVE) MEDIA BLITZ: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt has gone on a conservative media tour over the last two days to respond to the recent scandals plaguing him and to take swipes at what he sees as liberal forces working against him.
Pruitt did hits with the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, the Daily Signal, the Washington Times and Fox News. (That last one stood out, so stay tuned.)
In his interview with Bedard, Pruitt said he was “dumbfounded” by the controversy over his $50 per night apartment rental, and attributed the scandal to “toxic” Washington, D.C.
“There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” he said.
In the Daily Signal, Pruitt argued that the media reporting about the situations is untrue and incomplete.
“I think the information has been, as things go, I think very intermittent and very sporadic and not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is,” he said.
“We had a memo and a statement from career ethics officials here that have actually reviewed the lease, that actually reviewed comps–comparables of similar units,” Pruitt continued, accusing journalists of ignoring that.
Pruitt used much of a live podcast taping with the Washington Times’ Matt Mackowiak and Charlie Hurt to reiterate his usual talking points in interviews, related to the Clean Water Rule, the Paris agreement, deregulation and the like.
But when the conversation turned to his recent scandals, he aimed straight at liberalism.
“I think it’s noise. It’s been noisy and competitive since day one. Because this agency has been a bastion of liberalism since day one,” he said.
“As we are making progress there and also reducing the regulatory burden, it is infuriating to those that have dominated and controlled the agency for years.”
But Fox News: The tone of his interview with Fox News was different, at least in the clip that the cable channel released Wednesday.
Pruitt told Fox News’s Ed Henry that he didn’t know about the raises given to two aides until Tuesday and still doesn’t know who is responsible for making them.
Fox’s Ed Henry repeatedly pushed Pruitt on the report that the White House rejected his request to give the staffers raises, so the EPA found a way to do it anyway.
“You don’t know? You run the agency. You don’t know who did this,” Henry asked.
“I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action. And we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting that going forward,” Pruitt said.
Henry said the staffers were friends of Pruitt from Oklahoma.
“Well, they serve a very important person here,” he said.
Why it matters: Trump loves watching Fox News, so there’s a good chance he might see parts of Henry’s interview with Pruitt.
But Trump also loves forcefully taking on Democrats and environmentalists, and that seems to be Pruitt’s strategy here.
Sanders won’t say Trump has confidence in Pruitt: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday declined to answer directly if Trump has confidence in Pruitt.
She confirmed that the White House is investigating whether the lease arrangement was proper.
“The president thinks that he’s done a good job, particularly on the deregulation front,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.
Asked if Trump is OK with the arrangement, Sanders said he is not.
“We’re reviewing the situation. When we have had the chance to have a deeper dive on it and we’ll let you know the outcomes of that, but we’re currently reviewing that here at the White House,” she said.
DNC CALLS OUT PRUITT: The Democratic Party is using EPA chief Scott Pruitt as a new call to arms for the party. In an email blast sent to supporters Wednesday afternoon, the Democratic National Committee asked followers to sign a pledge to “tell Scott Pruitt to resign.”
“It’s long past time for Scott Pruitt to step down as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” the email read.
The plea mentions Pruitt’s recent condo scandal, saying he entered into “backdoor deals with energy lobbyists while literally living under their roof.”
“It’s clear that Pruitt would rather cut deals with his friends in the fossil fuel industry and use taxpayer dollars for his personal benefit rather than protect our environment. It’s time for him to resign,” the email adds.
DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said that the email campaign highlights Pruitt’s history of working with special interests while at the EPA.
“EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has repeatedly showed us that he’s working to help himself and special interests instead protecting the environment and helping the American people,” she told The Hill. “We must hold our leaders accountable because they should be beholden to the taxpayers. That is what this petition is intended to do.”
See the pledge here.
Why it matters: Democrats speaking out against members of the Trump administration is nothing new, but the fact that the party is now using Pruitt specifically as a way to drum up support–and potentially donations–is striking. The email blast comes a day after the first two Republican members of the House called for Pruitt to resign or be fired.
PRUITT GIVES PRUITT AUTHORITY TO DETERMINE WATER PROTECTIONS: It’s clearly a Scott Pruitt-filled newsweek. Keeping with that cycle, the EPA administrator signed a directive on March 30 giving himself more authority to determine environmental regulations for projects near regional waterways, according to a memo obtained Wednesday.
The internal document obtained by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) gives the EPA chief final decisionmaking authority over the protections of streams, ponds and wetlands.
The one-page memo vests Pruitt with the authority to make “final determinations of geographic jurisdiction,” under the Clean Water Act, also known as the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
The new order heavily downplays the role of local EPA experts in the field who in the past have made the final recommendations — and often decisions — regarding necessary environmental protections in their region.
Environmentalists are fearful of the policy order, arguing that it could give Pruitt more power to roll back regulations on projects like coal plants located near waterways. However EPA says Pruitt will only step in on rare occasions and that the policy is meant to unify EPA decision making across regions.
A knock on cooperative federalism?: Some critics have pushed back on EPA’s explanation of the new rule, pointing out that the idea that federal policy should be used to unify regional policies is counter to the conservative view that states, or regions, should govern themselves. Pruitt has witnessed similar criticism over his EPA decision released Monday to lower federal standards for car emissions, favoring a unified standard instead of the current one which allows states like California to determine their own needs.
Read more here.
DEM SCRUTINIZES PRUITT’S MOROCCO TRIP: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is scrutinizing Pruitt’s trip to Morocco last December, saying that “disclosures raise new questions about this trip, and potential future international trips, given your close ties to the oil and gas industry.”
Citing calendars he obtained from the EPA, Whitehouse said in the letter he sent to Pruitt late Tuesday that he only had one briefing before the trip and it was conducted by political staff, not career staff in the agency’s international affairs office, which generally coordinates foreign trips.
On the five-day trip that the EPA has said cost taxpayers around $40,000, Pruitt only worked one full day and had one-hour meetings the days before and after.
The main purpose of Pruitt’s trip was to tout American liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, a purpose that Democrats say is not within the EPA’s mission.
And in the time leading up to the Morocco trip, Pruitt met with numerous representatives of associations and companies with interests in LNG exports, including a Kinder Morgan meeting two days before the trip. That company is developing two LNG export terminals.
“If these were the individuals who advised you about your trip before you departed, it would suggest the purpose had little to do with EPA’s mission and more to do with interests from your time in Oklahoma,” wrote Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Oil prices fell Wednesday on fears of an ongoing trade war with China, CNBC reports.
India’s commerce minister doesn’t think the World Trade Organization should take up environmental issues, the Times of India reports.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to explore congestion pricing in the city as an effort to fight climate change, the Seattle Times reports.
FROM THE HILL’S OPINION SECTION:
– Katie Sweeney of the National Mining Association, says that a court decision should not change the federal government’s coal leasing policy.
– Adrienne Hollis of WE ACT for Environmental Justice says the Trump administration’s decision to change car emissions rules is an attack on minority communities.
– Jeremy Symons, vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, calls EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt a “weak link” in Trump’s administration.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Check out Wednesday’s stories …
Sanders won’t say if Trump has confidence in Pruitt
-Pruitt says he didn’t know about staffers’ controversial pay raises
-Trump’s pick to oversee wildlife policy has history of opposing Endangered Species Act
-Pruitt takes over authority for water protections policy
-Dem scrutinizes Pruitt’s Morocco trip, gas industry ties
-Pruitt ‘dumbfounded’ that renting condo linked to top lobbyist is controversial
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