Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Watchdog to issue report on special EPA hiring powers | Exxon loses climate case in Massachusetts court | Park service backlog under scrutiny

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IG TO ISSUE REPORT ON SPECIAL HIRING BY EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog intends to release a report soon on the use of a special hiring authority that plays a central role in a controversy involving Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it will release a interim “management alert” Monday on its ongoing audit of the EPA’s hiring of “administratively designated” positions.

Agency officials used that authority in March to give big raises to two close aides to Pruitt, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, after the White House refused to allow the raises.


Pruitt denied knowing about the raises and ordered them undone, he told Fox News. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, later took responsibility for the increases.

The Atlantic later reported that Pruitt ordered the raises, and Kevin Chmielewski, a former top staffer for Pruitt, told congressional Democrats this week that Pruitt knew about them.

Congress gave the EPA the special authority to hire up to 30 employees in “administratively determined” jobs in the 1970s. Employees under the provision are not restrained by civil service or political appointee rules, so they don’t have to sign an ethics pledge and the White House doesn’t have to approve their raises, unlike normal political appointees.

The inspector general began examining the EPA’s use of the hiring authority in January.


The controversial raises: Greenwalt and Hupp got their raises in March, only a few weeks ago and long after the OIG started its investigation.

While it’s possible that the OIG will get into what happened in that case, Monday’s report could also be more generally about how the Trump administration is using the SDWA provision.

The EPA last year used it to hire Nancy Beck to a leading role in the chemical safety office. She previously worked at the American Chemistry Council, but did not have to sign Trump’s ethics pledge that would have put stronger restrictions on her ability to work on certain chemical industry matters.


EXXON LOSES LATEST CLIMATE CASE: The highest court in Massachusetts ruled against Exxon Mobil in a court case on Friday. The court rejected the company’s bid to block the state’s attorney general from obtaining records to investigate whether the oil and gas giant knew about the role fossil fuels played in climate change.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday morning that the state attorney general had jurisdiction to investigate the climate-related offenses by Exxon, which included probing whether the company violated the state’s consumer protection law when it marketed or sold its products.

Previously Exxon had sued to stop the probe and lost, leading to an appeal. The court ruled Friday the original decision had been accurate.

“We conclude that there is personal jurisdiction over Exxon with respect to the Attorney General’s investigation, and that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying Exxon’s requests to set aside the C.I.D., disqualify the Attorney General, and issue a stay. We affirm the judge’s order in its entirety,” the court wrote in its ruling.

Read more here.


What’s next: The Massachusetts AG said she was hopeful that Exxon would now comply with requests for records searches in order to continue the investigation. Exxon still has the option to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if it so chooses.



Park fee increases are less than anticipated: The National Park Service said Thursday it will increase most entrance fees at parks that currently charge them by $5, much less than the increase of as much as $45 that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed in October.


Internal EPA email shows that Pruitt knew about raises given to staffers following White House disapproval: The Atlantic reported on Monday that Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to Pruitt, “definitively stated” to human resources that “Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise.”


Democrats are launching a concerted push to oust Pruitt: The senators plan to introduce in the coming days a “sense of the Senate” resolution calling for Pruitt to be removed.


GOP head of the House Oversight committee said EPA didn’t provide enough records on Pruitt’s first class travel: Trey Gowdy wrote to Pruitt asking for the remaining documents about whether Pruitt received waivers to fly first class on the taxpayers’ dime.


Pruitt wanted to change EPA memorabilia to include his name and preferred symbols: Administrator Scott Pruitt reportedly pushed last year for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redesign its official memorabilia in ways emphasizing his name, and in some cases removing the agency’s logo.



Park backlog: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the maintenance backlog and operational needs of the National Park Service (NPS).

NPS has a backlog of about $11.5 billion, and lawmakers and administration officials have been looking at fixes for it. The Trump administration wants to use excess money from expanded production of oil, natural gas and other energy on federal land and offshore, but many Democrats said the numbers don’t add up.

Senators will hear from Lena McDowall, the NPS’s deputy director for management and administration. Other witnesses will be representing stakeholders like the National Park Foundation, the Property Environmental Research Council and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.


Natural Resources markup: The House Natural Resources Committee will meet Wednesday to mark up seven bills in its jurisdiction, regarding outdoor recreation, heritage areas, migratory birds and more.


FERC budget: The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subpanel will bring in all five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Tuesday for a hearing on its budget request for fiscal year 2019.



New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill to restart a wind energy project off the coast of Atlantic City, the Press of Atlantic City reports.

The wolf population in Oregon has grown 11 percent over the last year, the Statesman Journal reports.

Opponents of an Alaska ballot initiative to boost salmon protections has raised $2 million, Alaska’s Energy Desk reports.



Check out Friday’s stories …

-Watchdog to issue report on hiring method EPA used to give raises

-Perry heads to India to promote natural gas exports

-New Zealand bans offshore drilling to combat climate change

-Top Massachusetts court rules against Exxon in climate case

-Employees say Pruitt’s head of security encouraged his spending: report


Tags delay Energy EPA Investigation lobby Ryan Zinke Scott Pruitt Trey Gowdy

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