Overnight Energy: New EPA chief faces test before Congress | Trump officials tout progress on air quality | Dem bill would force watchdog to keep investigating Pruitt

Overnight Energy: New EPA chief faces test before Congress | Trump officials tout progress on air quality | Dem bill would force watchdog to keep investigating Pruitt
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WHEELER HEADS TO THE HILL: Interim Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler is facing a major congressional test Wednesday, testifying at his first hearing since taking over for scandal-plagued Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittInterior chief Zinke to leave administration EPA to pursue final 'science transparency' rule in 2019 Trump administration to unveil strategy for fighting lead exposure MORE.

While Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plan to grill Wheeler -- a former energy lobbyist -- over his intended policies at the agency, most expect the appearance will greatly differ from the "gotcha" moments and dramatics that frequently accompanied Pruitt's time on Capitol Hill.

Without any scandals or controversies to mire Wheeler's testimony, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are hoping that they can focus on EPA's policy initiatives -- a big change from the past.

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"When we had Mr. Pruitt before us there were so many distractions to deal with. The substantive issues were critically important, but there were a lot of issues unrelated to the substance. Here I think we'll get right into the substance," Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Democratic senator: US must maintain strategic relationship with Saudis and hold them accountable MORE (D-Md.), a senior member of the panel, said of the hearing.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate Armed Services chair not convinced of need for Trump's Space Force Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts The Year Ahead: Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget MORE (R-Okla.), the panel's previous chairman, said he expects the tone of the hearing to be drastically different from Pruitt's previous appearance on Capitol Hill.

"Andy's a totally different type of person than his predecessor. He has the advantage of being able to say that he was confirmed already. He's a very conciliatory type of person, very calm, soft-spoken," said Inhofe. Wheeler previously was a senior aide to Inhofe for more than a dozen years before leaving to work at the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

"I think he'll take good care of himself. I make a pretty good witness, too, since he worked for me for 14 years. That's probably the reason they're opposing him," Inhofe said of Democrats.

What we're watching for: Wheeler has been on a bit of a campaign to distinguish himself from Pruitt in areas like management style, the rule of law and of course ethics. We'll be looking to see how that plays out before the committee.

We're also looking for how much leeway Democrats give him. Democratic senators have been outspoken about how much more they like Wheeler compared to Pruitt. But his policy plans are quite similar.

"There doesn't appear to be a big difference between the philosophy that he has and that Scott Pruitt had," Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Massachusetts is leading the way on gun safety, but we can’t do it alone Lobbying World MORE (D-Mass.) told The Hill.

Check back at The Hill tomorrow for more on the hearing.

 

Happy Tuesday! 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.

 

EPA TOUTS AIR QUALITY: The Trump administration celebrated newly released data Tuesday showing improvements in most air quality measurements, despite the administration's efforts to roll back emissions regulations.

The Tuesday release from the EPA includes 2017, so it is the first time that any effects of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE's policies could potentially be reflected in the data.

The report found decreases in levels of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen oxides.

And while Trump officials focused on decades-long air quality improvements compared with 1970, Tuesday's report found that levels of particulate matter -- also known as soot -- had ticked up slightly.

"These are remarkable achievements that should be recognized, celebrated and replicated around the world," EPA acting chief Andrew Wheeler told reporters.

"How is this accomplished? Largely through federal and state implementation of the Clean Air Act and technological advances in the private sector to improve emissions controls and minimize air pollution."

The 73 percent drop in key pollutants since 1970 came as the United States's economy tripled, which officials said shows that the economy can grow while air quality improves.

Bill Wehrum, head of the EPA's air office, said the Trump administration is helping keep up the trend by "aggressively" enforcing air rules, improving the process to carry out air programs and improving how it implements standards.

Wehrum attributed the particulate matter increases to last year's unusually strong wildfires in the West. Lead pollution levels also increased, but he said that is due to an increase in air quality monitors.

We've got more here.

 

NEW INTERIOR VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS PARK MAINTENANCE BACKLOG: The Department of the Interior launched a new digital campaign Tuesday highlighting the current $12 billion maintenance backlog plaguing the National Park Service. As part of the campaign, Interior rolled out a website and 3-minute film entitled, "National Parks: A Love Story."

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump visits Arlington National Cemetery for wreath-laying Zinke blames 'false' attacks in resignation GOP lawmaker jokes about Trump's next Interior chief: It's going to be Mulvaney MORE has frequently warned that the country's national parks are being "loved to death" and has encouraged a proposal that would earmark funds made from oil and gas leases on public lands to go towards the backlog.

Interior Spokesperson Heather Swift said the digital campaign will used on the Interior's social media pages, but not in paid for campaigns. She did not respond to requests on the price tag for the professionally produced video.

 

NEW BILL WOULD FORCE EPA IG OFFICE TO CONTINUE PRUITT INVESTIGATIONS: Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would make the EPA's Inspector General office continue its investigations into former agency administrator Scott Pruitt. The Ensuring Pruitt is Accountable Act (EPA Act) was introduced by Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyCongressional scorecard finds federal agencies improving on IT GOP, Dems locked in fight over North Carolina fraud probe NC voter: Someone collected my absentee ballot and never turned it in MORE (D-Va.) and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDem senator: Trump border policy 'designed to traumatize these kids' Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit MORE (D-Ore.).

"Scott Pruitt brought unprecedented corruption and industry influence to the EPA," said Merkley in a statement. "His actions cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, and at the very least, these destructive moves must be put on hold until the numerous investigations into Pruitt's activities have concluded. It's time to restore an EPA that actually acts to protect our clean air and clean water rather than protecting the profits of powerful polluters."

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

Wheeler will testify at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote on eight bills, including some on oceans and fishing policy.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Earnings rose at BP in the second quarter on higher oil prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The United Kingdom's government declared that the nation is hotter than it's been in 100 years, and blamed climate change, The Independent reports.

The spate of wildfires in California has killed eight people, CNN reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

-Trump EPA touts air quality improvements

-Senate extends flood insurance program hours before deadline

-EPA announces largest voluntary recall of trucks over faulty emissions controls

-Perry: US to become net energy exporter within 18 months