Overnight Energy: Pruitt proposes rule targeting 'secret science' | Dems probe Pruitt's security chief | FAA bill provisions could strip endangered species protections

Overnight Energy: Pruitt proposes rule targeting 'secret science' | Dems probe Pruitt's security chief | FAA bill provisions could strip endangered species protections
© Greg Nash

NEW EPA RULE ON 'SECRET SCIENCE': Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump admin appeals ruling ordering EPA to ban pesticide Government watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels MORE signed a proposal for a new rule Tuesday aimed at increasing "transparency" in science.

The proposal, signed at EPA headquarters, aims to expose the methodology behind scientific findings and cut back on what Pruitt has deemed "secret science."

Speaking in front of a number of well-known climate change skeptics including the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell, Pruitt announced that the new rule would require science to "be transparent, reproducible and able to be analyzed by those in the marketplace."

Reporters were not invited to attend the event, and details surrounding the announcement and rule proposal were kept secret until 30 minutes before the EPA's Twitter account announced it would be live-streamed.

Pruitt said the new ruling shows "an agency taking responsibility for how we do our work, in respecting process ... so that we can enhance confidence in our decision making." He also dubbed the current process which had, until now, allowed science to be peer reviewed rather than open to public scrutiny, "simply wrong headed."

The rule will replicate, through agency action, two bills previously introduced in the House and Senate meant to restrict the kind of science the EPA can use when writing regulations.

A possible roadblock: Seven Democratic Lawmakers sent a letter to Pruitt on Tuesday and warning him the proposal could be illegal because it's "likely" in violation of laws that mandate EPA to consider best available science when putting together a rulemaking.

"Your proposed new policy likely violates several laws with which EPA must comply as the agency writes rules to protect our air, water and land from harmful pollution," the letter read.

"Courts have explained that 'best available science' means that agencies 'should seek out and consider all existing scientific evidence relevant to the decision' and 'cannot ignore existing data,'" the letter read.

What the rule means: It's unclear exactly how the proposed policy change will affect EPA's regulatory process, especially since the agency under Trump has not been rushing to pass any new regulations regardless of the science. However, scientists and environmentalists worry that the rule will provide the administration with more leeway to pass less stringent regulations to the benefit of fossil fuel companies.

Read more here.

 

DEMS PROBE PRUITT'S SECURITY CHIEF: Two Democratic senators say Pruitt's top security guard has an invalid authorization for outside work.

In a letter Tuesday to top EPA ethics official Kevin Minoli, Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump Jr. to Dem Senator: 'You admitted to hitting your wife so hard it gave her a black eye!' Melania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet EPA to abandon restrictions against chemical linked to climate change MORE (D-Del.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Dem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-R.I.) question multiple facts about a 2013 document that gave Pasquale Perrotta permission to run an outside security firm.

"If this document is EPA's basis for claiming that Mr. Perrotta has been cleared, under EPA regulations, to run a private security consulting firm while running the Administrator's personal security detail, it is insufficient on its face," the senators wrote.

Carper is the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA, and Whitehouse is a senior member of the panel.

The pair's letter comes as Perrotta, the head of Pruitt's security detail, has attracted significant media attention in recent weeks.

Perrotta also is an executive at Sequoia Security Group and allegedly helped direct the EPA to pay his partner, Edwin Steinmetz, to conduct the bug sweep.

The senators asked the EPA for numerous documents and other information about Perrotta's outside work.

Read more.

 

Another Pruitt aide in Dems' sights: Two House Democrats are asking the EPA's Office of Inspector General's internal watchdog to investigate an adviser to Administrator Scott Pruitt who was banned nationally last year from the banking sector.

Albert "Kell" Kelly used to lead SpiritBank, based in Pruitt's hometown of Tulsa, Okla. The two have known each other for years and Kelly got Pruitt financing for a mortgage and to help buy a minor-league baseball team.

Pruitt hired Kelly last year as an adviser for the Superfund program, shortly before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. settled unknown allegations against Kelly by banning him from banking for a year.

"Mr. Kelly came to this position without the necessary qualifications, and with serious and still-unexplained red flags, and his conduct has raised ethical, regulatory and potential legal issues that we believe your office should examine," Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and 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.) wrote to the EPA's Office of Inspector General, seeking an investigation into Kelly's hiring and management of Superfund.

Read more.

 

Dems also probing Pruitt's water memo: Carper and Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioCongress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill Progressives poised to shape agenda if Dems take back House MORE (D-Ore.) are also looking into Pruitt's March memo that gave him new authority to make certain determinations over water pollution standards.

The policy took away the authority of regional EPA officials to make some calls as to whether a particular body of water can be federally controlled under the Clean Water Act, and gave that authority to Pruitt.

They wrote in a letter Tuesday that the memo calls into question Pruitt's "commitment, as EPA Administrator, to follow the law ... as well as to ensure that Clean Water Act decisions are based on established science and precedent, and conducted in a transparent manner."

They accused him of "sidelining" local expertise and said that Pruitt actions "appear nothing more than a power grab to consolidate absolute authority in your personal offices, with no assurance that you will follow the rule of law, science, or the precedents of the agency in exercising your statutory responsibility under the Clean Water Act to 'restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters.'"

Read more here.

 

Another Dem letter... this time on Arctic Ocean drilling: A group of House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeUS to approve import of black rhino killed in hunt Zinke must change direction and support conservation Energy development will likely land one bird on the Endangered Species list MORE Tuesday asking him to stop the planning for a drilling rights lease sale in the Arctic Ocean's Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska.

Read the letter.

 

FAA BILL INCLUDES TWO POLICIES THAT COULD STRIP ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTIONS: Two provisions lodged inside an annual House bill on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could strip away endangered species protections.

The House is expected to vote on the FAA Reauthorization Act this week, and if taken up as is, the bill would include two policies that would limit how Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections extend to airports and a national Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program.

One provision is being steered by Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.). It stipulates that private parties rebuilding property with the help of FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) would no longer have to adhere to species and habitat protections as determined under the ESA.

Specifically, the proposal declares that actions taken under the National Flood Insurance Act and others do not "create a federal nexus," which mandates ESA protections on properties.

The provision, which has nothing to do with the FAA, is personal to DeFazio. It is the third time the Democrat has introduced the provision into House legislation. He first introduced it in the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2017 and then in the Department of Homeland Security reauthorization bill that passed the House last summer. The provision has since stalled in the Senate.

The addition is a response to an Oregon legal settlement resulting from a 2009 case where FEMA was sued for failing to ensure that the flood insurance program compiled with the ESA. The settlement mandated the agency comply with what the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) to better avoid jeopardizing species and habitat. FEMA came to a similar settlement in Florida in 2011.

However, DeFazio and other Oregon lawmakers argue that the regulations are too stringent and impact economic growth. Since much of Oregon is built on floodplains where a number of communities rely on FEMA's insurance program to exist, they say the ESA protections, meant to protect salmon, steelhead and orca whale habitat, are a burden on Oregonians.

Read more here.

 

Noticing a trend: The Trump administration has also been targeting ESA protections. In April, the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed weakening a rule in place for decades that gives threatened species on private land the same protections as endangered species. That same week, Trump picked a new political appointee to oversee wildlife and parks at the Interior who has a history of opposing endangered species protections.

 

MURKOWSKI PLANS HEARING WITH PRUITT NEXT MONTH: Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPolice arrest 128 protesting Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill GOP launches counteroffensive on Kavanaugh Kavanaugh protesters descend on Collins, Flake offices on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Alaska) is planning a hearing in May with Pruitt.

The chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the EPA's budget said that the hearing would be primarily about the EPA's 2019 budget request, a standard practice in the months after the president releases his budget proposal.

As for when the hearing will be, Murkowski said, "it's a surprise!"

It would be the first Senate hearing since numerous scandals involving Pruitt became public in recent weeks. Senators are likely to take full advantage of the opportunity to question him about them.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

--Ambassador Richard Morningstar, the founding chairman of the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center, says that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel must insist on a meaningful binding guarantee over the building of the Baltic Sea pipeline.

--Thomas Pugh, a commodities analyst for Capital Economics, argues that Trump will have little impact on oil prices

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

NEPA 'weaponization': The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the "weaponization" of the National Environmental Policy Act.

NRC budget: The Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on energy and water will hold a hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's budget request for fiscal 2019.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Drought conditions are expected to return to much of the Southwest United States, the Associated Press reports.

A Minnesota judge said the proposed replacement for Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline should be built, but not along the company's intended route, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

Eugene Leff, the lead attorney in the Love Canal litigation who helped reach a landmark settlement, died at age 73, The New York Times reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

-Dems seek probe into Pruitt aide banned from banking

-Pruitt turned down White House help on congressional testimony: reports

-Pruitt signs proposed rule to erase 'secret science' from EPA

-Provisions in FAA bill could strip endangered species protections

-Zinke added birther conspiracy theorist to his super PAC's board: report

-Dems say Pruitt security chief's authorization for side job is invalid

-Dems question Pruitt over centralizing water pollution authority

-More than 100 groups call on Congress to oppose weakening national park protections

-Winning victories for coal under Trump