Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to probe Superfund panel | Zinke opens more wildlife refuges to hunting | House to vote on energy spending bill next week

EPA WATCHDOG TO AUDIT SUPERFUND TASK FORCE: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal watchdog is probing a task force former Administrator Scott Pruitt launched to help with contaminated Superfund site cleanups.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the audit Friday in a public letter, saying its goal is "to determine whether the EPA followed applicable criteria, such as laws and rules" in creating and operating the task force.

"The anticipated benefit of this project is enhanced use of appropriate public participation and transparent science in EPA's decision-making," the OIG said. The office initiated the audit project itself.

Pruitt launched the task force in May 2017 as part of his effort to prioritize Superfund cleanups. He often used Superfund sites to criticize the Obama administration, blaming his predecessor for not giving sufficient attention to cleanups.

The task force is staffed with EPA officials and was formerly led by Albert "Kell" Kelly, a banker and friend of Pruitt's from Oklahoma who helped him finance numerous expenses before federal officials banned him from banking for life.

The group released a 34-page list of recommendations for Pruitt in July 2017, including creating a special list of Superfund sites to get the highest attention from EPA leadership.

Read more.

 

What could it turn up?: The OIG has been probing many of the major scandals that got Pruitt in trouble, and came out earlier this week with a report questioning his 24-hour security detail. So it may be tempting to expect that the probe of the Superfund Task Force will expose similar misdeeds.

Pruitt's opponents have cited numerous objections to the task force. Notably, it was quite secretive. It didn't have open meetings, and other than the recommendations, didn't keep records, according to a records request by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

But it's also worth noting that the OIG initiated the audit itself, not as a result of a congressional request, an internal complaint or other similar prompting.

So the audit may be more of a good-government exercise than a major expose. But we will have to wait and see.

 

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ZINKE PERMITS HUNTING, FISHING IN MORE REFUGES: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday allowed for new or expanded hunting or fishing at 30 wildlife refuges.

The move opens 251,000 new acres to hunting or fishing across the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) refuge system, FWS said. By the 2018-2019 hunting season, 377 refuges will allow hunting and 312 will allow fishing.

"American sportsmen and women contribute over a billion dollars a year to fund conservation," Zinke, a hunter himself, said in a Friday statement. "Without hunters and anglers, we wouldn't be able to conserve wildlife and habitat; and, without access to our public lands like national wildlife refuges, many hunters would have nowhere to go."

"The last thing I want to see is hunting to become an elite sport, rather than a tradition passed on from generation to generation," he added. "Today's announcement protects critical conservation funding, and ensures sportsmen have access to public lands for generations to come."

Read more.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK: The House is planning next week to vote on an appropriations package that includes the funding legislation for the Energy Department and water infrastructure.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced Friday that that bill is on deck. It is the result of ongoing House-Senate negotiations, which Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said are nearing the finish line as of Friday, with only small items remaining to be hashed out.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment subcommittee will dive into this year's aggressive wildfires with a hearing Thursday on the impact to air quality from the fires and what could be done to mitigate those effects.

The House Science Committee will convene its own Thursday hearing on the EPA's regulation of glider trucks, which are trucks with new bodies and old engines.

The trucks aren't subject to current pollution rules, and the Obama administration limited the number of glider trucks that manufacturers could sell. But the Trump administration tried last year to repeal that regulation.

The Science Committee has been investigating research that EPA staff conducted last year showing much higher pollution levels from glider trucks than from completely new ones. The EPA's OIG agreed this week to examine the research as well.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will discuss liquefied natural gas exports and European gas demand.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Straw bans have sparked a cottage industry for reusable straws, including a $375 gold-plated option from Tiffany Co., Bloomberg Environment reports.

Electric utility PacifiCorp is seeking to permanently block the release of records regarding the economics of its coal-burning power plants, the Associated Press reports.

West Texas Intermediate crude recorded its first weekly downturn in three weeks, MarketWatch reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Friday's stories ...

- Zinke opens more wildlife refuges to hunting

- EPA watchdog to probe Superfund Task Force

Inslee makes name as Trump critic ahead of 2020

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