Overnight Energy: Trump pick to lead mining regulator withdraws | Watchdog questions ethics of $43,000 in Zinke concert tickets | House votes to ease natural gas exports

Overnight Energy: Trump pick to lead mining regulator withdraws | Watchdog questions ethics of $43,000 in Zinke concert tickets | House votes to ease natural gas exports
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TRUMP'S MINE REGULATOR NOMINEE WITHDRAWS: President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE's nominee to lead a mining industry regulator withdrew his name from consideration Thursday, citing frustration over the ethics review process.

Steven Gardner, a coal industry consultant, said in a statement that he was "saddened by the necessity" of his withdrawal from consideration to lead the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).

"The decision was very difficult for me and comes after almost a year of back and forth with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) over the conditions for an Ethics Agreement," Gardner said.


"Now, I have reached the point that the uncertainty of when confirmation would actually take place, numerous reversals by OGE of conditions, unknown financial implications, and unknown final conditions have led me to make the decision to withdraw."

Trump nominated Gardner, who lives in Kentucky, in October 2017. He is an unabashed supporter of the coal industry and outspoken opponent of many Obama administration regulations, like OSMRE's notable Stream Protection Rule that sought to cut down on pollution from mountaintop removal mining.

Sierra Club cheers: "Steven Gardner had no reason being nominated to direct the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) in the first place," Bill Price, Appalachian organizing manager for the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

"He's a lifelong servant of the coal industry who consistently puts the profits of his bosses above the health and safety of coal workers, and the enforcement of our clean air and water laws."


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

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CONCERT VENUE GIVES ZINKE $43,000 IN TICKETS EACH YEAR: The non-profit that operates northern Virginia's Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts gives Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog MORE free tickets that amount to about $43,000 a year, a watchdog report found.

The decades-old arrangement was just one of a handful of concerns that the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General flagged regarding the organization's operation of the National Park Service-owned site, including potential ethics and financial issues.

The concert venue has been receiving millions in funding from the Interior Department despite being financially self-sufficient, the report found. The watchdog additionally flagged that the park fails to contribute to NPS's deferred maintenance -- which is currently facing a $12 million backlog.

Additionally, the report found that Wolf Trap has exclusive use of the national park land on which it operates and uses revenue generated from cellular towers on the Park to finance its operations.

The 50-year old foundation, which generated $40 million in revenue in 2016, continues to receive federal financial support, despite an agreement with Interior that support would be phased out once it was financially sufficient.

The IG's office also found that Wolf Trap's executive director is the highest paid of the 28 philanthropic partners visited by the IG office. The director makes $580,300 per year.

Read more.


In other Interior IG news…

Interior's Inspector General found that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official took retaliatory measures against an employee after he found out the that employee had filed an internal complaint.

The watchdog determined that the unnamed official took two personnel actions against the employee, which included a written counseling and a lowered performance evaluation two 2 months after the employee submitted the complaint to the IG office. Additionally the report found that the FWS official then directed his own internal investigation into the employee's conduct during the two-month time period.

The FWS employee initially alleged that the official was intimidating and verbally abusive and that he twice directed the employee to give false information pertaining to an FWS event and an FWS investigation. The Interior Office did not find information to substantiate those initial claims.

Read the findings here.


HOUSE VOTES TO EXPEDITE SMALL NATURAL GAS EXPORTS: The House easily voted Thursday to reduce barriers to small-scale exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Rep. Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonPG&E pleads guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2018 Camp Fire The Hill's Campaign Report: Republicans go on the hunt for new convention site Police unions coalition director: Biden 'off the deep end' in calls for reform MORE's (R-Ohio) Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act passed 260 to 146, with strong Republican support.

The bill would require the Energy Department to approve proposals to export 140 million cubic feet per day or less of LNG. It would codify a regulation the department finalized earlier this year to exempt small exports from the requirement that officials certify that the exports would be in the "national interest."

"This bill will strengthen our energy security, create jobs at home and open new markets for Americans. This bill is about creating a level playing field for the smallest projects," Rep. Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonTroy Nehls wins GOP primary in competitive Texas House district 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch China must be held accountable for its egregious actions against Hong Kong MORE (R-Texas) said on the House floor before the vote.

Democrats said the bill was unnecessary, given the Energy Department's regulation.


"This process is working just fine," said Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Rather than standing up for American consumers and manufacturers who benefit from low natural gas prices, the Trump administration is boosting the profits of oil and gas special interests, by allowing them to export LNG without any regard for domestic impacts."

Demand for small LNG exports is strongest in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America.



Saudi Arabia's national oil company is considering launching a $1 billion fund to invest in international technology companies, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Forest Service dropped its Obama administration action to block mining near Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota Public Radio reports.


California's state firefighting agency is requesting $234 million more from lawmakers after exhausting its budget on the recent spate of fires, CBS Sacramento reports.



Check out Thursday's stories ...

-Interior watchdog: Concert park gave Zinke $43,000 in annual tickets

-Trump nominee for mine regulator withdraws

-House Republicans continue push for questioning over environmentalist's foreign ties

-GOP rep: Parties 'have to come together' on climate change

-Photographer cropped inauguration photos to make crowd look larger after Trump intervention: report