Overnight Energy: EPA nominees begin work before they are confirmed | Wheeler promises ‘change in tone’ at EPA | GOP group pushes vote on anti-carbon tax bill

Overnight Energy: EPA nominees begin work before they are confirmed | Wheeler promises ‘change in tone’ at EPA | GOP group pushes vote on anti-carbon tax bill
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EPA NOMINEES START WORKING BEFORE CONFIRMATION: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hired two officials nominated for senior positions to work at the agency before the Senate has had a chance to vote on them.

Peter Wright and Chad McIntosh both started work Monday as "special counsels" to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, according to an EPA staff-wide email that Wheeler's chief of staff Ryan Jackson sent Friday. The email was obtained by The Hill.

The hirings come as both Wright and McIntosh have nominations pending before the Senate to lead the Office of Land and Emergency Management and the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, respectively. The top Senate Democrat overseeing the EPA says the hirings are concerning and an attempt to avoid the confirmation process.

Jackson said in his email that both men will advise Wheeler on matters related to the offices for which they have been nominated. Those offices are currently being led by career employees.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for vetting Wright and McIntosh for their positions, held a confirmation hearing for them less than three weeks ago and has not voted on whether to advance the nominations to the full Senate.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the news of their hiring is "troubling," and a bad start for Wheeler's tenure at the EPA's helm.

"I just wrote to Mr. Wheeler today urging him to restore the public's trust in the EPA," Carper said in a statement.

"To announce that EPA will bring on Mr. Wright and Mr. McIntosh on the day that Administrator Pruitt departs -- before they have even responded to Senators' post-hearing questions and without notifying the Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over the agency -- not only breaks with past norm and precedents, but shows incredibly poor judgment, especially when we should be turning over a new leaf."

The EPA said Wright's and McIntosh's positions are in line with the law and legal decisions regarding what candidates can do while their nominations are pending.

"Neither will be performing any duties that are reserved for the position for which they have been nominated," an agency spokesman said.

Kevin Minoli, the EPA's top ethics official, said in his own statement that the agency "will ensure we are in compliance with the law at all times" regarding Wright and McIntosh's work.

Why it matters: At least twice before under the Trump administration, EPA has hired people as advisers while their nominations are pending: Susan Bodine, the current head of the enforcement office; and Michael Dourson, who withdrew his nomination to lead the chemical office amid mounting Senate opposition.

In both of those cases, the nominees had been voted favorably out of committee. But in this case, the committee hasn't voted. The hearing was less than three weeks ago, and the nominees' answers to written questions aren't even due until the end of the day Monday.

Read more.

 

Happy Monday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

A hearty welcome to Twitter is in order for new acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler who officially started today. On Friday former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas EPA inspector general to resign Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog says agency failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools| Watchdog won’t investigate former Superfund head’s qualifications| Florence causes toxic coal ash spill in North Carolina MORE's account was deactivated to make way for Wheeler's. The new account--@EPAAWheeler--so far only has one tweet. Check it out here.

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.

 

NEW EPA CHIEF PROMISES 'CHANGE IN TONE': The acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promising to improve how the agency communicates with the public and the media, with a new focus on agency transparency.

John Konkus, the top spokesman for acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, said in a statement that Wheeler is bringing a "change of tone" regarding communications.

Wheeler, the deputy administrator, had his first day as acting head Monday.

But Pruitt was often criticized for his fraught relationship with the press and for measures like not disclosing his travel beforehand and only releasing his calendars after being sued to force his hand.

"Acting Administrator Wheeler has already stated that he puts a premium on transparency and that transparency helps the Agency so people know and understand what we are doing," Konkus said. "I think you can take that mindset and apply it across the board when it comes to how EPA will be communicating with the media and the public going forward."

What's notable here: The statement did not mention former EPA head Scott Pruitt, who resigned last week amid numerous scandals.

Read the story here.

 

REPUBLICANS PUSH FOR HOUSE VOTE ON ANTI-CARBON TAX MEASURE: Conservative groups are pushing GOP House leaders to allow a vote on a non-binding resolution to condemn carbon taxes.

Eighteen organizations, including Americans for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks, say it is important for House Republicans to vocally denounce potential taxes on carbon dioxide emissions, even as some push for conservatives to endorse the idea.

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseOn The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' Scalise tells Canada: Make a deal on trade or be left behind GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave MORE (R) introduced the resolution in April. It states that it is Congress's opinion that "a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States."

A similar measure passed the House in 2016, with all Republicans and some Democrats supporting it. Scalise hails from Louisiana, whose economy is dependent on offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The use of fossil fuels like oil and gas contributes to the carbon dioxide emissions that warm the Earth.

The conservative groups cheered Scalise's resolution and pushed for quick consideration of it.

"A carbon tax is a policy with one definable goal: to raise the cost of traditional, reliable, affordable sources of energy. This includes the domestically produced gasoline, diesel, coal, and natural gas that fuel our cars and trucks, power our homes and keep our economy going strong every day," they wrote.

Read more here.

 

OTHER NEWS:

Washington, D.C. announced it will use its VW settlement in part to buy electric buses, WAMU reports.

Appalachia's 'Alcohol Alley,' says a pipeline is threatening their industry, Belt Magazine reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Monday and the weekend ...

-Acting EPA chief promises 'change in tone,' new emphasis on transparency

-Conservative groups push for House vote on anti-carbon-tax measure

-2 EPA nominees start working at agency before Senate confirmation votes

-Starbucks to eliminate plastic straws in all stores by 2020