Overnight Energy — Presented by Chevron — Watchdog to look into Zinke deal with oil exec | Perry concedes Iran sanctions could raise oil prices | GOP chair pushing ahead with probe into green groups

Overnight Energy — Presented by Chevron — Watchdog to look into Zinke deal with oil exec | Perry concedes Iran sanctions could raise oil prices | GOP chair pushing ahead with probe into green groups
© Greg Nash

WATCHDOG PROBES ZINKE OVER LAND DEAL WITH OIL EXEC: The Interior Department's inspector general (IG) is investigating reports of a financial partnership between Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE and the head of a prominent oil services giant, it confirmed Wednesday.

The watchdog will look into reports, first broken by Politico in mid-June, that Zinke and Halliburton Chairman David Lesar are tied to a commercial real estate development deal in Whitefish, Mont., Zinke's hometown.

The investigation comes at the behest of Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinDemocrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference MORE (Va.) and Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanHarris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires Overnight Energy: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact Interior suggests ex-client of department head for major contract MORE (Calif.), who jointly urged the IG to look into the matter following reports that Zinke and his family could financially benefit from the deal with the oil executive.


In their joint letter sent to the IG's office last Thursday, the members unearthed emails showing that Zinke met with Lesar and his son as well as Montana developer Casey Malmquist at his Interior offices on August 3, 2017.

The deal was approved by the Whitefish City Council in January 2018.

The letter asked the watchdog to investigate whether Zinke had illegally used his official resources at secretary for personal gain.

"Though he has claimed that he is no longer involved with the foundation, he continues to be involved with the fate of the foundation's land, which was originally donated more than a decade ago to be a veteran's peace park," the letter read.

The project, a large commercial development on a former industrial site, is largely backed by a group funded by Lesar, and a foundation established by Zinke called the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation donated a significant portion of land for the project.

While Zinke has stepped down as president and cut ties from the group since becoming Interior secretary, his wife now leads the organization and his daughter is on the board.

A letter provided to the Hill from a representative of the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation confirmed that Zinke resigned last year and says that the group's annual report "inadvertently" failed to remove him as director.


Read more here.


Happy Thursday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. A big Happy Birthday to Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, who turns 47 today.

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.



PERRY: IRAN SANCTIONS COULD CAUSE OIL PRICE SPIKES: Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryFox's Napolitano says after Sondland testimony that Democrats have a case for impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sondland stuns; Dems pull punches in fifth debate Sondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep MORE predicted Thursday that the restoration of sanctions on Iran will stress worldwide oil markets, but called on other oil-producing nations to increase their output.
"The market is going to be stressed," Perry said at a news conference at the World Gas Conference. "We look at this as an opportunity for the [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] members to fill this gap."
He predicted some short-term spikes in oil prices, due both to Iran sanctions and other factors.
"I think there will be some spikes in prices from time to time. But ... I think that the markets are going to become calmer and calmer as we go forward, realizing that the supply is going to be there to meet the demand."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE last month withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to restrict its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a loosening of economic sanctions by the United States and other countries.

The State Department said this week that it is asking Western countries to completely stop importing Iranian oil by Nov. 4.

Analysts have predicted that oil prices will spike when that deadline hits, since Iran is a significant exporter worldwide.

Read more.


BISHOP STILL SUSPICIOUS OF GREEN GROUPS: A top House Republican says he isn't convinced that two leading green groups aren't in cahoots with China and Japan to influence United States environmental policy, despite their ardent denial.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWalden retirement adds to GOP election woes Overnight Energy: Automakers group sides with Trump in emissions lawsuit | Latest on California wildfires | Walden won't seek reelection | Park Service scraps plan to charge protesters for security Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden won't seek reelection MORE (R-Utah) said Thursday he still suspects that two groups -- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) -- could be acting as foreign agents, based on lawsuits they've filed against U.S. military actions in Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

"Based on the committee's investigation to date, we are concerned that environmental groups that bring such lawsuits may be knowingly or vulnerable to unwittingly serving as proxies for our foreign adversaries," Bishop said in a statement Thursday, referring to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which he chairs.

"The Foreign Agents Registration Act is an important mechanism for ensuring that the American people and U.S. government know the source of information and the identity of foreign entities attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws."

Both the NRDC and CBD sent initial responses to the panel this month, following letters from Bishop and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) asking for documents related to potential foreign influence or control of the groups.

In their responses, both groups denied that they are acting as foreign agents or that they must register with the federal government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Read more.



PRUITT'S LAWYER PENS OP-ED DEFENDING EPA HEAD: Pruitt's lawyer tasked with handling his Legal Defense Fund among other duties defended the highly-criticized EPA chief Thursday in an National Review op-ed, arguing that a slew of controversies surrounding him are "left wing assaults."

"The past few weeks' media frenzy about EPA administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittIs Big Oil feeling the heat? Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules MORE is a manufactured crisis, punctuated by false or exaggerated accusations, then followed by necessary corrections from ostensibly responsible media outlets, who let their determination to 'get' Pruitt override their journalistic ethics," Cleta Mitchell wrote.

Mitchell, a political law attorney, denied reports that Pruitt tried to help get his wife Marlyn a job at Chick-fil-A and other places, saying they were "juicy if true." Instead she said that she herself was largely involved in the job search, and that EPA staffers helped out of their own personal interest.

"While some EPA staff members may have taken it upon themselves to get involved in her job search, I was the person who was working with Marlyn Pruitt on a regular basis to help her find work that would suit her skills and would not violate government ethics rules," Mitchell wrote.

The reports were based off internal EPA emails released by the agency through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Mitchell went on to take jabs at various media publications including the National Review, where the op-ed is published. The magazine called for Pruitt to be replaced in early June.

Read the op-ed here.


FERC COMMISH RESIGNS: Rob Powelson, a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, announced Thursday that he is resigning.

In a statement on Twitter, the Republican said he's leaving to become president of the National Association of Water Companies.

"I thank my colleagues for their steadfast commitment to FERC's mission, members of the public who help inform our decisions, and the staff at FERC for their dedication and support throughout my time at the commission, especially the members of my office," he wrote.

Powelson served for less than a year at FERC, having taken office in August 2017. He was previously chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Once he leaves, Trump will be able to nominate a new commissioner for the term that ends in 2020, pending Senate confirmation.


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Nestle got a new three-permit permit to pump water from a national forest in California, the Desert Sun reports.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster may have altered even the smallest of life forms in the Gulf of Mexico in the long term, the Guardian reports.

Oil prices hit their highest level since 2014 Thursday, for the second day in a row, MarketWatch reports.



Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-Top GOP lawmaker not persuaded by green groups' promises that they aren't foreign agents

-Schwarzenegger to Trump: Coal is the 'Blockbuster Video of fuel sources'

-Environmental groups sue Interior to reinstate black bear protections

-Watchdog: Park Service chief made gesture 'not appropriate for work'

-Perry: Iran sanctions will stress oil markets

-Watchdog to probe Zinke over land deal in his hometown with oil exec