Overnight Energy: Dems raise new questions about Pruitt's security | EPA rules burning wood is carbon neutral | Fourth GOP lawmaker calls for Pruitt's ouster | Court blocks delay to car efficiency fines

Overnight Energy: Dems raise new questions about Pruitt's security | EPA rules burning wood is carbon neutral | Fourth GOP lawmaker calls for Pruitt's ouster | Court blocks delay to car efficiency fines
© Greg Nash

DEMS RAISE MORE QUESTIONS ON PRUITT'S SECURITY: A group of congressional Democrats is raising more questions about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE's security practices.

In a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) on Monday, the lawmakers say the $3,000 surveillance sweep of Pruitt's office last year wasn't up to snuff and didn't meet government standards.

The Democrats, led by Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperMelania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet EPA to abandon restrictions against chemical linked to climate change Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (Del.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Senate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents MORE (R.I.), say the EPA's Homeland Security office had an outside expert in surveillance countermeasures review documents from the sweep.

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"Based in part on information received from that expert, EPA's Office of Homeland Security concluded in late April 2017 that the sweep was 'very basic and cursory' and 'did not employ the equipment, proper certification, or necessary processes to be approved by the [government] for certifying a [government] facility or space for classified information systems or classified discussion,' " the lawmakers said.

The Monday letter raises numerous red flags about the April 2017 security sweep -- first report by The Hill last year -- and other security measures taken by Pruitt.

The sweep was completed by Edwin Steinmetz, a business partner to Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, the head of Pruitt's security detail.

The Democrats said that when an EPA employee emailed colleagues in February 2017 about doing a sweep of Pruitt's office, Perrotta interjected to ask them to wait on the process.

The sweep itself was allegedly paid for with an EPA credit card, skipping what the lawmakers say was a required pre-approval process.

The EPA's Homeland Security office sent the report to seven EPA employees, four of who have been reassigned "or otherwise retaliated against for questioning Administrator Pruitt's spending or security measures," wrote Carper and Whitehouse, joined by Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsRep. Cummings: Will Kavanaugh take lie detector test and ask for FBI investigation? Graham to renew call for second special counsel Hillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests MORE (D-Md.), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem on Puerto Rico and Trump: ‘God only knows’ what he'd consider a failure Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence MORE (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.). 

Why it matters: The Monday letter is the latest in numerous problems that Democrats have raised recently regarding Pruitt's security spending. He has a 24-7 security detail that has reportedly cost $3 million and the EPA has paid for a new SUV and bulletproof vests, among other costs.

Pruitt's opponents -- and even some Republicans -- have repeatedly cited his spending on matters like security and his $43,000 privacy booth, saying he's being wasteful and a bad steward of taxpayer money.

Monday's letter also squarely targets Perrotta, who is shaping up to be a key figure behind the expansive security regime around Pruitt.

A whistleblower?: The Democrats' letter has a strong hint that a whistleblower is providing them some key information about Pruitt's security apparatus.

From the letter: "In our view, the documents provided to us may constitute evidence of a 'violation of law, rule, regulation, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.' As such, any adverse personnel action against a person providing this information to Congress is prohibited under the Whistleblower Protection Act, and it is in our shared interest that these rights be protected."

One potential source could be Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign official who was Pruitt's deputy chief of staff for operations before he was removed from the position earlier this year. The same group of Democrats interviewed him recently and laid out numerous allegations he made in a letter to Pruitt.

Read more.

 

EPA: BURNING WOOD IS CARBON NEUTRAL: EPA declared Monday that burning trees releases zero carbon emissions. 

The announcement, made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during a meeting with Georgia forestry leaders, signals an administrative policy shift that will treat all burning of biomass as carbon-neutral "when used for energy production at stationary sources," according to an EPA statement.

The administration likened the new policy decision to a clarification, saying it will help streamline regulations for forest and paper industries.

"Today's announcement grants America's foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass," Pruitt said in a statement. "Managed forests improve air and water quality, while creating valuable jobs and thousands of products that improve our daily lives. This is environmental stewardship in action."

But not everyone is happy, namely environmentalists and scientists.

Scientists have long thought that burning biomass, including wood, does emit carbon dioxide pollution and that labeling it carbon neutral is not only inaccurate but could have long-standing negative effects on regulations meant to thwart climate change.

"Scott Pruitt's scorched-earth approach at the EPA continues unabated ... Pruitt is once again rewarding his industry pals," said Sami Yassa, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This will lead to more destruction of our treasured forests and more dangerous carbon pollution."

Why it matters: Some foreign countries already have looked to wood-burning as an alternative energy source that could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But scientists argue that burning the organic matter still produces emissions, and the policy change could only make it harder to address global warming.

Read more here.

 

FOURTH GOP LAWMAKER CALLS FOR PRUITT TO RESIGN: Rep. Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoJordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker On The Money: Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs | Senate confirms new IRS chief | Median household income rose for third straight year in 2017 | Jamie Dimon's brief battle with Trump Blue-state Republicans say they will vote against 'tax cuts 2.0' if it extends SALT cap MORE (N.J.) is calling on Pruitt to step down, becoming the fourth House Republican to do so.

LoBiondo, who is retiring from Congress, tweeted on Sunday that Pruitt was the "wrong fit" for the agency.

"Yes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. Wrong fit from start for agency dedicated to protecting our environment. #EarthDay2018 reinforces our need to promote pristine planet via clean air & water, leaving it better for future generations. Requires leadership & balance," he tweeted.

Earlier this month GOP Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (Fla.), Ileana Ros-lehtinen (Fla.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Preventing violence isn’t partisan: Time to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (N.Y.) also called for Pruitt to step down or be fired. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Feinstein's office says it has received threats over Kavanaugh Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE (R-Maine) has also said that Pruitt was not the right person for the job, but has refrained from calling for his resignation.

The calls for Pruitt to leave his position as EPA head come amid a flurry of reports on Pruitt's use of taxpayer money at the agency, including his decision to spend thousands building a soundproof booth in his office, and his repeated use of first-class travel. Pruitt has maintained that both expenses are necessary for privacy and security.

Why it matters: Pruitt will be on Capitol Hill on Thursday testifying in front of two House committees on the EPA's budget. The appearance comes as Republican criticism of the administrator continues to increase. He is expected to get a number of questions related to his expenses and travel.

Read more here.

 

TRUMP LOSES IN COURT BATTLE OVER CAR EFFICIENCY FINES: A federal appeals court Monday handed a big win to Democratic states and environmentalists in a fight over vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

The New York City-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a July action by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that indefinitely delayed increased penalties for automakers that violate the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program.

"Today's court order is a big win for New Yorkers' and all Americans' health and environment. As we've proven again and again, when the Trump administration puts special interests before public health and our environment, we'll take them to court -- and we will win," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who participated in the lawsuit that led to the ruling, said in a statement.

Congress in 2015 instructed federal agencies to adjust fines and penalties to account for inflation.

That spurred the DOT's National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016, to increase automakers' fines under CAFE to $14 for each 0.1 mile per gallon that each car they sell exceeds the standards, up from $5.50.

Automaker groups asked the DOT to reconsider the increases, saying they would cost $1 billion and that falling fuel costs are making it harder for companies to sell enough efficient cars to meet the standards.

The DOT last year agreed to review the rule and decided to indefinitely postpone it in the meantime. The increased penalties were due to take effect for the 2019 model year, so the agency reasoned that automakers need a longer lead time to adjust to a new regulation.

Democratic state attorneys general and environmentalists sued, arguing that the DOT didn't have the legal authority for an indefinite postponement.

What's next: The appeals court's ruling was unanimous, but it did not issue a full explanation of its findings. The judges said that will come "in due course."

But it will likely be moot soon. The DOT in March proposed completely scrapping the Obama administration's increased fines, arguing that the CAFE penalties are not covered by the 2015 law at issue.

That rollback will like cause more litigation from the same parties who were victorious Monday.

Read more.

 

CUOMO FLOATS PLASTIC BAG BAN: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is asking state lawmakers to ban single-use plastic bags at stores and restaurants.

Cuomo introduced legislation to that effect Monday, saying it would cut down on plastic pollution in waterways, on streets and elsewhere.

"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment," Cuomo said in a statement.

"As the old proverb goes: 'We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,' and with this action, we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all."

The plastics industry criticized Cuomo's proposal, saying it would be counterintuitive and costly.

"Unfortunately, this misguided proposal would result in a massive, multi-million-dollar hidden tax on hardworking New York families," Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said in a statement. The alliance is a project of the Plastics Industry Association.

Read more.

 

BRIDENSTINE SWORN IN AT NASA: Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineNASA looking into selling naming rights for rockets to corporate brands: report NASA administrator says he always thought humans caused climate change We really are going back to the moon and then on to Mars MORE was sworn in Monday as the new administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Vice President Pence joined Bridenstine at NASA headquarters to deliver the oath, four days after Bridenstine barely passed Senate confirmation on a party-line vote.

"NASA represents what is best about the United States of America: We lead, we discover, we pioneer, and we inspire," Bridenstine told NASA employees at the event. "I look forward to our journey together."

Bridenstine, who represented Tulsa, Okla., in the House as Republican, faced strong opposition from Democrats, who said he didn't have the qualifications to lead NASA. They also objected to his doubts about mainstream climate change science, past opposition to LGBT rights and divisiveness as a politician.

He submitted his resignation from Congress shortly before being sworn in at NASA, effective Monday morning.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

-High oil prices may be good for the U.S. says Brenda Shaffer, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center.

-Nordic companies should united against a new Baltic Sea pipeline, argues Andras Simonyi, a former Hungarian Ambassador to NATO and the U.S.

 

ON TAP TUESDAY:

Forest Service budget: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Forest Service's budget request for fiscal 2019.

Infrastructure in disasters: The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold a forum examining how the United States could build infrastructure to better withstand natural disasters.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Revenue at Halliburton Co. jumped in the first quarter due to increasing North American demand, Reuters reports.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is defending the government's decision to let BP drill for oil off the coast of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Press reports.

A Minnesota court will allow climate change protesters who shut off two oil pipelines to argue that the urgency of climate change necessitated their actions, the Star Tribune reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Monday and the weekend ...

-Dems: Pruitt's office security sweep was subpar

-New York governor pushes to ban plastic bags

-Pruitt declares that burning wood is carbon neutral

-Activist who helped uncover Flint water crisis wins environmental prize

-New Jersey lawmaker is fourth House Republican to call for Pruitt to resign

-Court rules against Trump administration's delay on car efficiency fines