Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog won’t drop Pruitt probes | Exxon leaves conservative advocacy group | Lawmakers offer changes to Endangered Species Act

Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog won’t drop Pruitt probes | Exxon leaves conservative advocacy group | Lawmakers offer changes to Endangered Species Act
© Greg Nash

EPA WATCHDOG TO CONTINUE PRUITT PROBES: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal watchdog said Thursday it will carry on with at least five of its ongoing probes involving former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies EPA rule proposes to expand limitations on scientific studies 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 MORE.

Kentia Elbaum, a spokeswoman for the EPA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), said Thursday that five closely watched probes that the office has publicly announced involving Pruitt and his close aides will carry on despite Pruitt's resignation last week. The list appears to include all of the known ongoing audits.

As for any ongoing criminal investigations involving Pruitt, the OIG doesn't disclose those, so it refused to say if any would continue. But Elbaum said any such probes involving Pruitt will continue as well.


"We can say that any criminal investigations that may have existed at the time of Mr. Pruitt's resignation will continue," Elbaum said in a statement.

Pruitt left amid more than a dozen investigations by various federal bodies, including the EPA inspector general.

The OIG probes are looking into Pruitt's lavish first-class travel, potentially inappropriate raises given to staff, more than $3.5 million in security costs, employees that may have been overpaid and whether Pruitt's office properly preserved email and text messages.

Investigators are also continuing to compile a "factual" account of a speech Pruitt gave last year at a National Mining Association event. Lawmakers sought the probe after Politico reported that Pruitt asked the group to push President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

The office told lawmakers that it is looking into whether Pruitt improperly used his aides for personal tasks like apartment hunting and finding a lotion he likes, although officials have not publicly confirmed the probe.

Why it matters: To Democrats, environmentalists and even some of Pruitt's allies, closing out the investigations is important to ensure trust in federal institutions and to confirm or refute the allegations.

But since Pruitt's no longer in government, he can't be subject to any administrative punishment, unless it's a criminal charge. Nonetheless, the facts of the cases could dog him in potential future endeavors.

Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyBrindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (D-Va.) introduced an appropriations amendment this week that would block the EPA from implementing any regulations Pruitt helped to write until the OIG probes are complete.

Read more.


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

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.


EXXON LEAVES ALEC: Exxon Mobil Corp. said it has left the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) following a clash over climate change policy.

The nation's largest oil and natural gas company did not say why it let its membership lapse.

"We review our memberships on an annual basis and this year have decided to discontinue our membership in ALEC, which expired at the end of June," Exxon Mobil spokesman Scott Silvestri said Thursday.

But Exxon Mobil was one of the leading voices against a proposal within ALEC to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind the policy that allowed it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal ended up getting scuttled.

ALEC has lost numerous major members over its advocacy against climate change policies, including Royal Dutch Shell, Google and Microsoft. Companies like Ford Motor Co., Expedia Group Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Yelp Inc. have recently left as well, without specifically mentioning climate change.

"The American Legislative Exchange Council values partnership with ExxonMobil and stakeholders across the business community. Organization government relations strategies change over time, and we have valued ExxonMobil's work and leadership with ALEC on STEM education, among other issues," ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling said.

Read more.


WESTERN LAWMAKERS INTRODUCE CHANGES TO ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT: A group of House lawmakers introduced a package of bills on Thursday to overhaul the federal government's process for protecting imperiled plant and animal species.

The ambitious legislative package would accomplish numerous longstanding Republican goals for amending the Endangered Species Act (ESA), like making it easier for the government to remove species from the endangered or threatened lists and preventing organizations from suing to try to get species protected.

The bills could also incentivize voluntary conservation efforts, let states enter "cooperative agreements" for recovery and prioritize data from local communities in making scientific decisions about conservation.

To the GOP, the package represents an opportunity to "modernize" the ESA without sacrificing species protections.

"We can all agree that we want to make sure that we have the best interests of the endangered species on all of our minds. But we want to make sure that the science is helping us out, that we're engaging all the assets, from private, public and government sectors," Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOmar comes under scrutiny for 'present' vote on Armenian genocide House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon Overnight Energy: Jerry Brown testifies on emissions fight | Brown presses climate action: 'Impeachment is important, but the climate is even more important' | Dems look to protect Grand Canyon from drilling MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said at a news conference, unveiling the new proposals.

While the vast majority of the package's co-sponsors are Republicans, Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderCaution for Democrats: Voters care more about drug pricing than impeaching Trump Here are the House Democrats who aren't backing Trump impeachment inquiry Centrist Democrats fret over impeachment gamble MORE (D-Ore.) said he supports two of the bills.

Other Democrats and conservationists slammed the proposal, saying it threatens the successes of the ESA.

"Republicans in Congress are scamming the public as a favor for their corporate supporters, not making serious policy, and there's no reason it should advance any further," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the Natural Resources Committee's top Democrat, said in a statement.

Read more.



Water use among customers of Arizona's Salt River Project is down, despite the persistent drought, AZCentral.com reports.

A man has been charged in federal court for allegedly growing marijuana on North Carolina's Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Associated Press reports.

The United Kingdom has agreed to keep the European Union's environmental standards after Brexit, Yahoo Finance reports.

Spain's government is pulling back on its deficit reduction targets and blaming oil prices, Bloomberg News reports.



Check out Thursday's stories ...

- Western lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act

- Elon Musk vows to help Flint homes with contaminated water

- EPA watchdog to continue Pruitt probes

- Ireland becomes first country to divest from fossil fuels

Exxon Mobil leaves conservative advocacy group ALEC

- California reaches greenhouse gas reduction goal ahead of schedule

- House Dem amendment seeks to ensure Pruitt probes are completed