Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments

Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments
© Greg Nash

NEW INVESTIGATION INTO INTERIOR CHIEF: The Interior Department's Inspector General (IG) is investigating a real estate deal involving Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith Zinke5 major ways that Interior slashed protections for wildlife  Trump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE and the chairman of a leading oil services company, the IG office confirmed to the Hill Wednesday.

The investigation will focus on a Montana-based commercial development that Zinke is poised to benefit from financially, Politico first reported Wednesday.

The investigation will center on a real estate deal involving Zinke, his wife and his daughter and Haliburton Chairman David Lesar in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Mont.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, initially proposed the development in 2012 Politico first reported. 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 is playing a key role in the plans. Interior IG's office originally confirmed late last month that it was assessing the allegations, but did not confirm a formal investigation.


Three Democratic House lawmakers called for the investigation, and cited emails that showed Zinke met with Lesar and his son, as well as Montana developer Casey Malmquist, at his Interior offices on August 3, 2017.

The news comes the same day that the House voted down an amendment in the 'minibus' appropriations bill that would have increased funding for the Interior Department's IG office by $2.5 million.

Read more here.


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

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HOUSE MAKES PROGRESS ON 'MINIBUS' SPENDING BILL: The build up to the House Appropriations bill to fund the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency and is fully underway today, with a handful of key amendments already being shot down in votes, and at least one making it through. Another vote series is expected later tonight.


Here are the amendment winners and losers so far...

Lawmakers voted Wednesday to reject Rep. Raul Grijalva's (D-Ariz.) proposal that would have boosted funding for Interior's Office of Inspector General (OIG) by $2.5 million, taking the money way from Zinke's office.

Grijalva argued that the OIG is stretched too thin with all of the high-profile probes into Zinke and others.

"Funding and staffing shortfalls resulting from flat funding or small cuts have caused the Office of Inspector General in recent months to forgo investigations altogether. Investigation requests from Congress and from tips originating within the Department of the Interior have either been rejected or are awaiting resources to be freed up in order to address them," he said on the House floor Tuesday.

Republicans said the funding boost is unnecessary, noting that the OIG didn't request it. The office got $49.95 million in the current year's budget.

"Although I am a big fan of the Inspector General's office, the current budget is funded at the budget request, and therefore I do not see us raising $2.5 million by raiding the secretary of the Interior's operating account. I think it goes way too far," said Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it Pelosi must go — the House is in dire need of new leadership MORE (R-Ariz.).

The vote failed 223 to 190, with all but five Republicans voting no and all but one Democrat voting yes.

The House voted on four other amendments to the spending bill Wednesday afternoon.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to move $1.4 million into the National Park Service's maintenance account from the Bureau of Land Management's land acquisition account and one from Rep. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsDemocrats demand answers from Labor Department on CDC recommendations for meatpacking plant Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Lauren Underwood Congresswoman accidentally tweets of death of Rep. John Lewis, who's still alive MORE (D-N.C.) to push for higher funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) environmental justice program.

The House passed an amendment by Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.) to shift $3 million to Interior's Office of Navajo-Hopi Relocation from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and one from Rep. Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanHopes and fears for religious freedom in Vietnam GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (R-Wis.) to cut by 15 percent the budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.

Read more.


The White House says it's 'concerned' over spending boosts: The White House said Wednesday it is "concerned" over a number of provisions in the bill, such as those that boost funding relative to Trump's budget request. But Trump didn't threaten to veto it.

Officials said they are concerned at the $8.3 billion EPA funding level, just a $100 million cut from the current year and $2.2 billion higher than what Trump wanted.

The administration is also disappointed that the House didn't eliminate funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, saying the White House "does not consider their activities to be core Federal responsibilities."

Read more.


What's coming next: The House is planning another series of votes on amendments late Wednesday.

Lawmakers are then on pace to vote on the full bill Thursday morning.


JUDGES HALT PRUITT'S TRUCK POLLUTION POLICY: A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of trucks that environmental groups called "super-polluting."

The policy memo at issue said EPA wouldn't enforce a 2016 regulation from the Obama administration that sought to put a cap on sales of "glider trucks," new heavy trucks with older chassis and engines that do not meet current air pollution rules.

Former EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCrystal clean water? Not if Trump can help it OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate' | Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries | Conservation groups to sue Trump administration, seeking giraffe protections Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries MORE issued the memo on July 6, the day he resigned from the agency.

In granting a Tuesday motion from green groups to stop the policy, a three-judge panel said the stay is intended "to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."

Environmental groups had argued that the July 6 "no action assurance" memo is illegal because it essentially overturns a regulation without going through the usual process to do so, including giving public notice and taking comments.

The green groups argued further that allowing unlimited sales of glider trucks is a major threat to air quality, citing EPA's own research findings that found that gliders emit as much as 43 times the nitrogen oxides as new trucks and 55 times the particulate matter.

"The D.C. Circuit's swift action highlights the extreme nature of this lawless attempt to put more ultra-dirty trucks on our roads," Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the court's decision. The group is one of the organizations that sued over the policy.

"[Acting EPA Administrator] Andrew Wheeler didn't block Pruitt's putrid final shot at harming the American public, but the court did," Pardee said.

An EPA spokesman said only that the agency is reviewing the decision.

Read more.



The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on two nominees: Mary Neumayr to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality and John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingTrump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Iran strikes US bases in Iraq; Trump to speak today MORE to be assistant secretary of Commerce for economic development.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Trump administration proposals to reorganize the Energy and Interior departments.



A California state lawmaker whose son works for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is proposing a bill that would allow the utility to pass along costs to customers from last year's wildfires, some of which the state has blamed on the company, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
New Chevron Corp. CEO Michael Wirth wants to focus on keeping a tight grip on capital spending, he tells the Financial Times.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello tapped Jose Ortiz to be CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority after the last CEO quit just after being named, Bloomberg News reports.



Check out stories from Wednesday...

-Interior watchdog launches investigation into Zinke over real estate deal

-White House 'concerned' that House bill doesn't cut EPA funding enough

-House rejects proposal to boost Interior watchdog's funding

-Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule

-Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing

-Texas set to pass Iraq, Iran as world's third-largest oil producer

-Republican bill aims to deter NATO members from using Russian pipeline

-Green groups sue over expanded Gulf drilling

-Commerce Dept. reviewing impact of uranium imports on US national security

-Trump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal

-Lawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups