Overnight Energy: Trump elephant trophy tweets blindsided staff | Execs of chemical plant that exploded during hurricane indicted | Interior to reverse pesticide ban at wildlife refuges

Overnight Energy: Trump elephant trophy tweets blindsided staff | Execs of chemical plant that exploded during hurricane indicted | Interior to reverse pesticide ban at wildlife refuges
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TRUMP ELEPHANT TROPHY TWEETS BLINDSIDED STAFF: A series of tweets President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE sent in November promising to halt imports of elephant trophies blindsided staffers in his own administration and cut off months of planning to ease the import process, newly released emails show.

Trump's tweet to put "on hold" the highly controversial imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia, a day after it was announced that African elephant trophies would be allowed into the U.S for the first time since 2014, led to widespread public backlash from lawmakers in both parties, animal rights groups and conservative figures such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

But it also caused a frantic panic among key staff members closely involved in drafting the rule changes.


Emails from officials in the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its parent agency, the Interior Department, show that they had been planning to lift the ban on bringing tusks and other parts of elephants killed in hunts into the country for months, and did not expect the backlash from the public, let alone the president.

The turmoil among public affairs staffers in FWS and Interior started a half hour after Trump's initial tweet the evening of Nov. 17, emails obtained by The Hill under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Paul Ross, a public affairs specialist at Interior, notified his colleagues of the tweet, saying, "Just making sure you saw this."

Within minutes, Gavin Shire, the head spokesman at FWS, asked the group if he should take down a website posting from earlier that evening saying that the ban was lifted.

By the next morning, a Saturday, the situation wasn't any clearer for Interior staff. Heather Swift, press secretary at Interior, warned employees not to "engage" with the issue on social media, while an exasperated Shire declared, "I can't keep up with these people!"

Why it matters: This isn't the first time Trump's habit of governing by tweet has confused federal officials and staff. We've seen similar results from Trump's tweet teasing a jobs report in June, and former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Tillerson: 'We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea' State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies MORE reportedly learned he was fired by tweet.

Journalists had suspected, and sources had said, that Trump's declaration was a complete blindside. These emails show that's true.

Where things stand: FWS declared in March that all trophy import decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, and the agency dispensed with the previous findings of conservation "enhancement" from international hunting. That decision is now under litigation.


TGIF! 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.


ARKEMA OWNER, EXECS, INDICTED OVER HARVEY EXPLOSIONS: A French-owned chemical company and two executives were indicted Friday over allegations surrounding explosions at a plant near Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

A grand jury handed down the indictments for Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe and Crosby, Texas, plant manager Leslie Comardelle, according to a statement from Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey shut off the power that helped keep chemicals cool at the Crosby plant. That caused them to overheat and explode, sending a chemical cloud into the air. No one was killed in the explosion, but some first responders sued over their injuries.

The indictment charges that the company and executives "recklessly" had a role in the explosion, placing first responders and nearby residents in danger. Each executive faces up to five years in prison, and the company faces up to a $1 million fine.

"Companies don't make decisions, people do," Ogg said, noting that indictments against corporations are "rare."

"Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema," she said.

Arkema responded by calling the charges "astonishing," and arguing that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board exonerated the company in its investigation into the incident.

Read more.


INTERIOR REVERSES RULE THAT BANNED PESTICIDES FROM WILDLIFE REFUGES: The Interior Department announced plans Friday to reverse a rule that banned the use of pesticides in national wildlife refuges.

The decision, announced in an internal memo posted online, reverses an Obama-era ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides as well as genetically engineered crops within refuges where there is farming.

The Obama administration argued that the pesticides threatened bees and butterflies as well as other pollinators and wildlife, such as birds.

The announcement from Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) deputy director Greg Sheehan said the rollback is to benefit land specifically purchased to become refuges to help waterfowl and migratory bird species. Some of the land has historically been used to maintain crops to support the birds.

Sheehan said the regulation made it hard for refuges to meet their targets.

"Some National Wildlife Refuge Lands are no longer able to provide the amount or quality of food that they once did due to changes in cooperative food practices within the Refuge system," Sheehan wrote. "Realizing that farming practices will continue into the foreseeable future within the NWRS... we must ensure that we are appropriately making use of farm practice innovations as we actively manage farm areas.

Those innovations, Sheehan writes, include incorporating genetically modified seeds into the farming practices.

"A blanket denial of Genetically Modified Organisms does not provide on-the-ground latitude for refuge managers to work adaptively and make field level decisions about the best manner to fulfill the purposes of the refuge," Sheehan wrote.

Read more here.


WHAT YOU MISSED THIS WEEK: This week's news was dominated by the Trump administration's proposal to roll back Obama's landmark fuel efficiency and emissions rules for cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) declared Thursday that the standards planned to take effect between 2021 and 2026 are unwise, for economic and safety reasons.

"Already in the U.S. we have the oldest fleet in the nation's history, an average of 12 years old," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King told reporters. "We want to get the newest technologies in the fleet in order to keep automobiles affordable for everyone. Most importantly, this rule promises to save lives."

The proposal would also revoke California's authority to set its own greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars.

California and 18 other states promised to sue if Trump finalizes the proposal, and Senate Democrats said they'd fight it too.

The day before, EPA acting chief Andrew Wheeler made his Capitol Hill debut as the agency's head.

It was a decidedly warmer welcome by both parties for Wheeler, compared with former EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research | Trump administration finalizes rollback of migratory bird protections | Kerry raises hopes for focus on climate security at NSC EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research White House appears to conclude review of EPA 'secret science' rule MORE.

"I'm encouraged that there will be a number of differences between Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Pruitt and the way they approach this important leadership role," Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks | Democrats eye action on range of climate bills | Biden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports MORE (Del.), the panel's top Democrat, said in his opening remarks.



California Carr Fire unleashes intense fire tornado, The Washington Post reports.

The New York Times reports on scars that oil exploration cut across Alaska.

Chinese oil trader Unipec suspended oil imports from the United States, Reuters reports.



Check out Friday's stories ...

-Trump administration reverses rule that banned pesticide use in wildlife refuges

-Chemical company indicted over Hurricane Harvey explosions

-Trump blindsided staff with promise to halt elephant trophy imports

-Financial watchdog ends Exxon accounting probe without taking action

-China threatens to impose retaliatory tariffs on US natural gas

-Youth climate activist fires back at GOP candidate: 'You're the naive one'

-California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress