Overnight Energy: Pruitt gets Senate grilling | Dems want investigation into Pruitt's security chief | Interior officers arrested 13 in border surge | Advisers pan science 'transparency' plan

Overnight Energy: Pruitt gets Senate grilling | Dems want investigation into Pruitt's security chief | Interior officers arrested 13 in border surge | Advisers pan science 'transparency' plan
© Greg Nash

PRUITT'S DAY ON THE HILL: 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 sat before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, where senators peppered him with questions about his spending and ethics controversies, as well as his policy choices at the EPA.

The hearing wasn't the blockbuster that Pruitt experienced in a House double-header last month, and he got few tough questions from Republicans.

But Democrats fully took on the opportunity to grill him and push for answers on his security spending, his relationships with lobbyists and other big issues.

"Your tenure at the EPA is a betrayal of the American people. You have used your office to enrich yourself at the expense of the American taxpayer and public health, and such abuses have led to several investigations," said Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities MORE (N.M.), the subpanel's top Democrat.

"I'm worried you are spending all your time enriching yourself and your friends while betraying your mission to protect human health and the environment."

Sen. Pat Leahy (Vt.), the full committee's top Democrat, called Pruitt "an embarrassment to the agency and an embarrassment to Republicans and Democrats alike."

 

A burn: Leahy took the chance to jab at the EPA's justification for Pruitt's first-class flights, largely based on incidents where Pruitt faced critics at airports.

"What a silly reason you had to fly first class, because of a danger to you, unless you flew first class," Leahy remarked. "Nobody even knows who you are."

 

Pruitt says he gets it, a bit: Pruitt took a conciliatory tone in response to questions about his ethical and spending controversies.

"Some of the areas of criticism are frankly areas where processes at the agency were not properly instituted to prevent certain abuses from happening," Pruitt said.

"There have been decisions over the last 16 months or so that, as I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again," he continued.

He referred specifically to criticisms about a $43,000 soundproof phone booth EPA built in his office, saying, "that was a process where there were not proper controls early to ensure a legal review of the obligation of the agency to inform Congress" and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

But he also said some of the controversies are blown out.

"Some of the criticism is unfounded and exaggerated," he said, attributing them to competition within the agency or within Washington, D.C.

Click here from more from the hearing.

 

On security sirens: Pruitt told senators he doesn't "recall" asking his security detail to use lights and sirens to get him through Washington, D.C., faster, as The New York Times had reported.

"I don't recall that happening," Pruitt said. "There are policies that the agency follows, the agents follow. And to my knowledge, they followed it in all instances."

Asked again, specifically, if he had requested the use of lights and sirens, Pruitt again denied knowledge.

"No, I don't recall that," he said.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) cited an email -- more on that below -- in which Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, former head of Pruitt's security detail, said Pruitt "encourages the use" of lights and sirens when they're available.

We recap the questions about Pruitt's security here.

 

More highlights from the Senate hearing: 

Protesters held up "fire him" signs behind Pruitt at the hearing.

Pruitt also confirmed that he had a legal defense fund.

Pruitt said that a controversial meeting organized by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt led to some "good things."

And finally, Pruitt said he did not pay a close aide to search for apartments for him.

 

DEM SENATORS REQUEST INVESTIGATION INTO FORMER PRUITT SECURITY CHIEF: Two Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspector general (IG) look into the business dealings of Administrator Scott Pruitt's former head of security.

Ranking member Sen. 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 Sen. 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 (D-R.I.) asked the IG office Tuesday to look into a number of issues related to Pasquale Perrotta's employment and role at the EPA, including his work at an outside security firm he partly owned, his involvement in choosing Edwin Steinmetz -- his outside business associate -- to conduct security sweeps at the agency, and how he worked with Pruitt to advance his security needs.

The two senators have been active in investigating allegations surrounding Pruitt and have interviewed a number of former and current EPA employees about Pruitt's security requests and other ethics concerns.

Perrotta retired early from the EPA in early May, citing media pressure on his family.

In their letter to the IG office, the senators claim Perrotta had been authorized to operate his security company, Sequoia Security Group, while working at the EPA, but failed to reauthorize his request after five years. Citing emails they obtained between Perrotta and EPA security and facilities management, the Democrats said Perrotta additionally sought to hire Steinmetz to help do a security sweep of Pruitt's office without alerting staff of potential conflicts of interest.

 

Key quote: "Contrary to Mr. Perrotta's claims, it is far from clear that it was all 'out in the open.' We believe these communications show Mr. Perrotta was far more involved in the events surrounding the Steinmetz sweep than he claims, that the 'issues' related to selecting a vendor were career officials trying to follow proper EPA procedures, and that EPA funds may have been spent in violation of EPA contracting policy," the senators wrote.

For more on the letter, click here.

 

EPA ADVISERS PAN SCIENCE 'TRANSPARENCY' PLAN: A team of external EPA advisers is criticizing Pruitt's proposal to restrict the scientific findings that the agency can use in writing and enforcing regulations.

The critique, posted Tuesday to the EPA's website, comes from a working group of the Science Advisory Board, a panel of experts -- some of whom Pruitt hand-picked -- charged with evaluating the EPA's science and regulatory actions.

 

How we got here: Pruitt rolled out the controversial proposal last month in what he said was an effort to improve transparency at the agency and increase scrutiny. In general, studies used by the EPA would have to fully disclose their data and methodology.

Critics say the proposal is merely an attempt to make it harder for the EPA to be aggressive in its regulatory, enforcement and other actions.

In their memo dated last week, the 10 advisers to Pruitt said the proposal doesn't adequately explain why it's necessary. They also warned that it would remove valuable scientific studies from the EPA's consideration, among other issues.

"Although the proposed rule cites several valuable publications that support enhanced transparency, the precise design of the rule appears to have been developed without a public process for soliciting input from the scientific community," the advisers wrote.

"Nor does the preamble to the rule describe precisely how the proposal builds on previous efforts to promote transparency such as the Information Quality Act and EPA's Information Quality Guidelines."

We break down the controversy here.

 

INTERIOR OFFICERS ARREST 13 IN BORDER SURGE: Law enforcement officers apprehended 13 people at the U.S.–Mexico border this week during the first two days of the Trump administration's border surge.

Twenty-two officers were sent to the border by the Interior Department where they made arrests on federal land in Texas and Arizona that is managed by the agency, according to a statement on Wednesday from the department.

In the statement, Interior ​Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeMontana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Overnight Energy: Navajo coal plant to close | NC dam breach raises pollution fears | House panel to examine endangered species bills Navajo-owned coal plant to be shut down despite Interior push to keep open MORE said officers also confiscated one illegal handgun and saw "evidence of recent activity along smuggling routes."

"Today's report that more than a dozen individuals were arrested while illegally crossing the border on to Interior-managed lands and bringing illegal firearms into our communities is proof that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE's push to have a greater law enforcement presence to secure the southern border is needed," Zinke said in the statement.

According to internal guidance first obtained and reported by the Hill last week, law enforcement officers within the Interior Department were notified last week that they would be sent in rotating groups and spend "approximately 21 days" patrolling two national park and monument sites located on the U.S.–Mexico border: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.

U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers are traditionally tasked with policing National Park Service (NPS) property around Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco while NPS officers traditionally work within park land.

Read more here.

 

HOUSE PANEL PASSES $44.7B ENERGY, WATER SPENDING BILL: The House's appropriations bill for the Energy Department and water development advanced Wednesday when the House Appropriations Committee passed it 29 to 20.

The bill for fiscal 2019 would give a $1.5 billion boost over the previous year, focused in areas like nuclear weapons, fossil fuels, nuclear energy and the Army Corps of Engineers' infrastructure projects. The total cost of the bill is $8.2 billion above Trump's request.

The panel defeated proposed amendments from Democrats that would have restored funding levels for the Energy Department's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E).

Lawmakers also voted down, mainly along party lines, an amendment that would have removed all of the bill's policy riders, including one to repeal the Clean Water Rule instituted jointly by the Army Corps and the EPA.

The legislation is now ready for a vote in the full House, which hasn't been scheduled.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY:

The House Natural Resources Committee's water, power and oceans subcommittee will hold a hearing on "unintended consequences" of the law that prohibits trade in illegal wildlife and fish.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on its water infrastructure bill.

The House Natural Resources Committee's federal land subcommittee will hold a hearing on four bills in its jurisdiction.

Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of French oil giant Total, will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Scientists have found an unexplained rise in global emissions of an ozone-depleting substance, suggesting there might be unknown, illegal production of it, BBC News reports.

The United Kingdom's House of Lords voted Wednesday to require the government to add new environmental safeguards to its Brexit bill, Reuters reports.

Natural gas-rich Qatar tried to pay to keep D.C.'s Metro open late during two NHL playoff games this week, but the deal isn't final, CBS Sports reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

-Interior: Officers arrested 13 people in new border surge

-Schwarzenegger to Pruitt: Drink contaminated water 'until you tap out or resign'

-Oil magnate gave Pence tickets to NFL game he walked out of

-Pruitt granted extension to file financial disclosure form

-Pruitt advisers pan science 'transparency' proposal

-Pruitt didn't pay aide for apartment hunt

-Pruitt: Meeting organized by Hugh Hewitt before EPA decision led to 'good things'

-Pruitt confirms he has a legal defense fund

-Dems claim Pruitt's former security chief intervened to hire business associate

-Dem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are'

-Pruitt: 'I don't recall' asking security agents to use sirens

-Pruitt tells senators: 'I share your concerns about some of these decisions'

-Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing