Overnight Energy: Lobbyist helped organize planned EPA trip to Australia | Volkswagen in $40M settlement with Arizona over emissions | Renewable energy groups putting money behind GOP

Overnight Energy: Lobbyist helped organize planned EPA trip to Australia | Volkswagen in $40M settlement with Arizona over emissions | Renewable energy groups putting money behind GOP

NEW CONTROVERSY OVER PLANNED PRUITT TRIP:  Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA halts surprise inspections of power, chemical plants | Regulators decline to ban pesticide linked to brain damage | NY awards country's largest offshore wind energy contracts EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade MORE's scheduled trip to Australia last summer was organized in part by a former lobbyist with business ties to the country.

Matthew Freedman, the chief executive of consulting firm Global Impact Inc., actively worked with EPA employees and another lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, to organize a trip Pruitt was planning to take last year to Australia, according to records reported on Wednesday.

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The internal EPA records show that Freedman communicated directly last June with one of Pruitt's top political aides, Millan Hupp. The back and forth showed that Freedman recommended a number of meetings Pruitt could take while in Australia and that he was in communication with top government officials there for Pruitt's trip.

The trip ultimately was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey, but the internal communications show that Administrator Scott Pruitt had no qualms working with lobbyists to organize his overseas expeditions.

 

Notice a theme?: Freedman is the third consultant or lobbyist to have worked directly with EPA to plan an international trip for Pruitt. In December, Smotkin helped organize and also attended a trip Pruitt took to Morocco. Four months after the trip, Smotkin signed a $40,000-a-month contract to represent an arm of the Moroccan government. Leonard Leo, a friend of Pruitt's and the executive vice president of the Federalist Society--conservative judicial group--attended and helped organize Pruitt's trip to Italy and the Vatican last summer.

Read more about the Italy and Australia trips.

 

Senators send warning letter to Pruitt and ethics office over special interests concerns: Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Watchdog probing more ethics investigations into EPA's former air chief: report Fighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them MORE (D-Del.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats look to capitalize on turmoil inside NRA Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Watchdog probing more ethics investigations into EPA's former air chief: report MORE (D-R.I.) sent a joint letter to both Pruitt and federal ethics officials Wednesday questioning whether potential conflicts of interest for the EPA Administrator broke the law. The senators highlighted 3,100 pages of unreleased communications between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies and other special interests from his time as Oklahoma Attorney General, that they now believe may have business before the EPA.

The two are referring to a list of documents Oklahoma state officials believe are privileged and immune from disclosure--about 1,122 pages of communication.

"If you, as Attorney General, reviewed industry-produced drafts of EPA rules or industry data to be used in litigation against the EPA, that would raise serious concerns," Carper and Whitehouse wrote. "In particular, your review of industry-produced drafts raises doubt about whether you are approaching your responsibilities in an open-minded way. Other interests should be assured that you are willing and able to consider evidence and viewpoints made available to you in your role as Administrator, and that you are not considering industry-produced data outside of the formal rulemaking process."

Read the letter here.

 

VOLKSWAGEN SETTLEMENTS CONTINUE TO ROLL IN: Car manufacturer Volkswagen will pay $40 million to the state of Arizona as part of a settlement over vehicle emissions violations.

The settlement announced Wednesday by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) includes a payback to Arizona consumers of up to $1,000 for every vehicle purchased from the company.

Arizona is the first state whose settlement with Volkswagen included restitution to purchasers.

"The Attorney General's Office isn't afraid to take on a fight when Arizona consumers are deceived, which is why we filed our own consumer fraud lawsuit against VW," said Brnovich in a statement. "We believed Arizona consumers deserved more and now they're getting more."

Read more here.

 

Why you may be seeing more settlements: The settlement addresses false claims made by Volkswagen about its products, including its Audi and Porsche lines. There were claims the cars had "clean diesel" technology when the cars were, in fact, equipped with a mechanism that falsified smog outputs.

Arizona decided to separately sue the car manufacturer outside of a multistate settlement that was finalized in June 2016.

Volkswagen settled a similar suit on Tuesday with the state of West Virginia for $2.6 million and reached a settlement with Maryland for $33.5 million last week.

 

RENEWABLE COMPANIES DONATING MORE TO GOP: In a notable shift, wind and solar energy companies are donating more to Republicans than Democrats in the most recent congressional races, a Reuters analysis shows. It's a marked shift from an industry typically aligned with the environmental left.

Political action committees (PACs) for solar and wind companies have donated almost $400,000 to candidates and PACs in the 2018 election cycle, according to campaign finance records reviewed by the news outlet. The donations include $247,000 to Republicans, $139,300 to Democrats and $7,500 to Independents.

In 2014, Democrats received 70 percent of contributions from the top seven major wind and solar PACs, Reuters reported. At the time, Democrats were seen as embracing policies that more greatly benefited the industry, including providing subsidies to prop up the emerging renewable resource sector.

Today, however, many renewable sectors are booming, outgrowing traditional energy industries like coal. That shift, paired with stunning job growth in those sectors -- nearly six times more than coal mining, according to Reuters -- has largely been seen in states that voted for President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE in 2016.

Read more here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Demand for renewable energy sector jobs is swaying universities to provide new degrees, The Wall Street Journal reports.

An Oregon court denied a farmer's plea to release water to flush away a fish-killing parasite, the Associated Press reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Wednesday...

-Former BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner won't say whether he'd back Biden over Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE chief named head of American Petroleum Institute

-Arizona settles suit with Volkswagen for $40 million

-Lobbyist played key role in setting up Pruitt's planned trip to Australia: report

-Zinke, Alexander pen op-ed: Our parks are being 'loved to death'

-Solar and wind energy companies boost Republicans' coffers: analysis

-Hawaii lawmakers approve ban on sunscreens with chemicals harmful to coral reefs

-New vulnerability found in systems used in electric, gas industries