Overnight Energy: Aide reportedly helped Pruitt's wife vie for Chick-fil-A franchise | Zinke cleared over Vegas Golden Knights speech | Watchdog probes legality of EPA tweet

Overnight Energy: Aide reportedly helped Pruitt's wife vie for Chick-fil-A franchise | Zinke cleared over Vegas Golden Knights speech | Watchdog probes legality of EPA tweet
© Greg Nash

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Who would have thought the EPA beat would get us hankering for some Chick-fil-A and old "Fixer Upper" reruns?


PRUITT USED EPA CONNECTIONS TO TRY TO GET WIFE A CHICK-FIL-A: An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aide was enlisted by Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups MORE to set up a call with the president of the fast-food company Chick-fil-A to inquire about a business opportunity for Pruitt's wife, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The call was first set up by Sydney Hupp, Pruitt's executive scheduler, in an email to Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A chairman and president, asking if he would meet with Pruitt to discuss "a potential business opportunity," according to an internal agency email released by the Sierra Club in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Post first reported on the email.

According to the Post, Pruitt himself later spoke on the phone with someone from the company's legal department -- just months after he took the helm of the EPA -- to ask about the possibility of his wife, Marlyn Pruitt, becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee.


"The subject of that phone call was an expression of interest in his wife becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee," Carrie Kurlander, a company representative, told the Post.

She added that Pruitt's wife never completed the franchise application.

Pruitt was reportedly eager to find a job for his wife due to his frustrations with D.C.'s high cost of living, two sources told the Post.

Internal emails show Pruitt's search to get Marlyn Pruitt a job opportunity didn't stop at the fast-food provider. He also reached out to the chief executive of Concordia, a New York-based nonprofit.

Food for thought: Chick-fil-A's owner is a prominent Southern Baptist, and the franchise does not open on Sundays in honor of the Christian sabbath. Pruitt is also a Southern Baptist.

Read more here.


Sen. Ernst calls Pruitt as swampy as you get: Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWill Congress provide relief to the ailing childcare sector? Dancing with no rhythm: Republican candidates resemble Elaine on Seinfeld How to save child care? The rural electrification of America provides an answer MORE (R-Iowa) Tuesday joined the mostly Democratic group of lawmakers criticizing Pruitt over his ethics and spending scandals.

"He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet," Ernst said at an event organized by Platts, according to Bloomberg News.

The sharp rebuke from a member of Trump's own party was in response to Pruitt's ethical and spending scandals, such as renting a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist for $50 for each night he spent there, and lavish taxpayer spending on security and other costs.

Ernst's criticism is fueled, at least in part, by her frustrations over Pruitt's handling of the federal ethanol mandate under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The Trump administration is soon due to release details of a slate of policies meant to ease the burden of compliance on fuel refiners, while also trying to give some help to the ethanol industry.

The plan is expected to include allowing exported ethanol to count toward the mandate -- effectively reducing the mandated volume -- while allowing higher ethanol blends to be sold in the summer than are currently allowed.

Read more.


Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill.


ZINKE CLEARED ON GOLDEN KNIGHTS SPEECH: An independent watchdog on Tuesday cleared Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog MORE of wrongdoing after he stirred controversy with a speech he gave to the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team last year.

The Office of Special Counsel gave Zinke the all clear following an investigation into the speech he gave to players in Las Vegas last June, according to a May 31 OSC letter first reported on by the Associated Press. The office found that Zinke did not violate the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits government employees from making endorsements in an official capacity.

The Campaign for Accountability was the first to request an investigation into a Hatch Act violation by OSC.

Zinke first came under fire for the trip because he had to use taxpayer money to charter a private plane from Las Vegas to make it to another scheduled event in Montana.

The team is owned by Bill Foley, a billionaire businessman and board chairman of Fidelity National Financial Inc., who heavily donated to Zinke's first congressional campaign in Montana, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Foley donated the maximum contribution amount of $2,600 in 2013 and 2018. Chicago Title Services, which is owned by Fidelity, donated $23,900 to Zinke's campaign.

We've got more here.


WATCHDOG INVESTIGATING LEGALITY OF EPA TWEET CRITICIZING DEMS: An independent government watchdog has agreed to a Democratic senator's request to look into claims that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the law through a politically charged tweet in April, a spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is reviewing an April 13 tweet from the official EPA account that praised the Senate's confirmation of Andrew Wheeler as the agency's deputy administrator while adding, in part, "The Democrats couldn't block the confirmation."

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHispanic Democrats build capital with big primary wins Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer MORE (D-N.M.) had sent a letter to the GAO in May asking for the review. Udall maintains that the tweet violates the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which prohibits agencies from using funds for "publicity or propaganda purposes."

"In my view, this tweet does not advance an information function of the EPA and is purely partisan in nature," Udall said in a statement Tuesday. "The appropriations law prohibiting federal agencies from spending on publicity and propaganda was enacted for a reason -- to ensure that taxpayer dollars only support official activities, not political speech."

Read more here.


'FIXER UPPER' ACCUSED OF VIOLATING LEAD RULES: The stars of the hit HGTV renovation show "Fixer Upper" violated federal regulations for mishandling lead-based paint, the EPA said.

Magnolia Homes, owned by "Fixer Upper" stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, agreed Tuesday to pay a $40,000 fine to the EPA and complete $160,000 of lead abatement work around their hometown of Waco, Texas, among other measures, as part of the settlement with the federal government.

"Fixer Upper" follows the Gaines family as they work to renovate and style the homes of local families in the small Texas town. The show has hosted former first lady Laura Bush as a guest. The series is currently airing its final season.

The EPA says the program didn't show the Gaineses and others taking proper precautions to avoid lead exposure to workers and residents when working on buildings built before 1978 that could have lead-based paint.

Officials accused the Gaineses of mishandling paint that could have contained lead in 33 of the properties they renovated -- a violation of the Residential Property Renovation Rule, implemented under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA says.

Read more.



The full House Appropriations Committee will meet to vote on the fiscal 2019 funding bill for the EPA and Interior.

The House Natural Resources Committee's subpanel on energy and mineral resources will hold a hearing on four draft bills regarding oil and natural gas drilling on federal land. Witnesses will include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) and Kate MacGregor, the Interior Department's deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management.



Carnegie Mellon University has activated cameras to constantly monitor emissions from the Pittsburgh area's steel mills, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

State and local officials in northern Minnesota are working to clean up damages from an abandoned mine's spill in April, MPR News reports.

Pennsylvania's state House passed a controversial bill to remove key environmental standards for conventional oil and natural gas drillers, StateImpact Pennsylvania reports.



Check out stories from Tuesday...

-Watchdog clears Zinke on Golden Knights speech

-EPA accuses 'Fixer Upper' stars of violating lead paint rules

-Pruitt had aide look into Chick-fil-A franchise opportunity for his wife: report

-Watchdog looking into legality of EPA tweet poking Dems

-GOP senator says Pruitt is 'as swampy as you get'

-Watchdog: Government isn't sufficiently tracking costs from 'orphaned' oil, gas wells