Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund

Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund
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TRUMP CUTS WILDLIFE REFUGE LAW ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM: The Trump administration is abruptly ending a decades-long program that trained national wildlife refuge managers with law enforcement capabilities to police often remote spots of public land.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced to employees on Sept. 21 that refuge managers who were also trained to police the area would no longer be able to act in any enforcement capacity and would be stripped of their firearm, according to an internal FWS email shared with The Hill.

Sources said the decision came as a shock to many of the people who have worked in the position, known as dual-function officers, including retirees who had spent decades in the role at their respective refuges.

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Critics argued it would lead to new violations in the refuges.

“It means there will be lots of violations, wildlife violations as in over-bagged hunting areas, damaged fences, signs, roads and all kinds of damage to the environment. If there is no one there to enforce the law, that would spread like wildfire,” said Kim Hanson, who retired from FWS in 2008 after more than 30 years at the agency. “It’s an extreme disservice to the American people because they expect us to take care.”

The nation has 562 national wildlife refuges spread across 20.6 million acres of public land. Unlike national parks, mining, drilling, hunting and farming are all regulated activities on certain refuges.

"Our dual-function officers were an integral aspect of refuge management during a time that allowed for multiple functions within a single position," stated the memo outlining the change, first obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

"In the 21st Century the threats facing visitors and wildlife are more complex than ever. Protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System now requires a full-time officer corps that combines a concentrated effort on conservation protection, traditional policing and emergency first response to protect, serve and educate the public and Service staff.”

FWS responds: In a statement to The Hill, the FWS framed the move as a way to enable refuge employees to focus full-time on their non-law-enforcement duties.

“Dual-function officers carried out their full-time non-law enforcement duties as well as conducted law enforcement on a part-time basis,” a spokesperson said. “They will now be enabled to focus fully on their full-time duties within the Refuge System.”

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PRUITT CANCELED APRIL TRIPS EPA HAD ALREADY PAID FOR: Facing bipartisan criticism over his travel expenses, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses MORE in April canceled a pair of official trips for which he had already bought tickets, new records show.

Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that Pruitt had spent $909.97 for flights for an April 9 to 11 trip to Mexico City and San Diego, which was later canceled.

He also spent $1,314.44 for flights to and from northwestern Arkansas on April 16 and 18, the records show, although the agency was able to get $450.60 of that refunded.

Pruitt resigned in July under pressure after months of ethics and spending scandals. A main source of his problems was his use of taxpayer money, including frequent first-class travel and a trip to Italy last year that cost more than $100,000, when the costs of aides’ travel and hotels are included.

The months before the planned trips saw numerous reports about Pruitt’s travel expenses, but it’s unclear if that controversy spurred the cancelation.

The Washington Post reported on the scheduled trip to Mexico in February.

Pruitt also canceled planned trips to Israel and Australia, and the Post said Japan and Canada were also in the mix for potential visits. Aides made an advance trip to Australia before Pruitt was due to go, at a cost of about $45,000.

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The former Oklahoma attorney general also went to Morocco last year, partially to promote exports of liquefied natural gas from the United States.

The EPA didn’t respond to The Hill’s requests for comment.

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SENATE PANEL PASSES CONSERVATION FUND, PARKS BILLS: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted in a bipartisan fashion Tuesday to indefinitely extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expired Sunday.

Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellFive tech stories to watch in 2020 Hillicon Valley: House panel unveils draft of privacy bill | Senate committee approves bill to sanction Russia | Dems ask HUD to review use of facial recognition | Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4M Key House committee offers online privacy bill draft MORE (Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, 1.5 percent of the fund's payouts must help improve access to lands for recreation.

Before the 16 to 7 vote, Cantwell said the LWCF “has pumped billions of dollars into the outdoor economy and has provided for millions of good jobs."

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“Protecting our public lands is good for the environment, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for the health and welfare of our people,” she said.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the most important programs we have. I believe it is the crown jewel of our conservation programs,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE (R-Colo.).

The panel rejected a series of amendments from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (R-Utah) to put restrictions on the program, like renewing it for only 10 years and requiring that it spend more money on public lands maintenance than on the government buying new land.

Don’t forget the maintenance backlog: The Senate committee also passed Tuesday, by a vote of 19 to 4, a bill to create a new fund that could pump billions of dollars into the National Park Service.

The Restore Our Parks Act would take half of the money the federal government gets from energy production offshore and on federal land and that hasn’t been dedicated to another purposes and put it toward the Park Service’s nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog.

The idea has the backing of Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEurope deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks MORE.

“To me, it’s about good stewardship,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Bipartisan group of senators introduces legislation to boost state cybersecurity leadership Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico MORE (R-Ohio), who introduced the bill with Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Sen. Warner calls on State Department to take measures to protect against cyberattacks MORE (D-Va.).

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“And it’s about saving federal tax dollars over the long term, with predictable funding for capital expenditures.”

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ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

A subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the EPA’s regulatory proposal to increase science “transparency” in rulemaking, which opponents say would make the best scientific data out-of-reach for the agency. Lawmakers will hear from three academics, two in support and one in opposition.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Exxon Mobil Corp. is considering selling many of its Gulf of Mexico assets, Reuters reports.

Beaches on Florida’s Atlantic coast are being tested for red tide after officials found toxic algae off the coast, a rare occurrence, the Miami Herald reports.

Volkswagen fired former CEO Rupert Stadler, who is in jail on charges related to the car company’s diesel emissions cheating, CNN Money reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday’s stories ...

- Ex-Koch engineer to lead EPA office on scientific research

- Amid travel criticism, Pruitt canceled trips for which he already had tickets

- Trump administration abruptly ends key law enforcement program at wildlife refuges

- Senate panel moves to renew expired park conservation fund

- Tesla warns of problems selling cars in China due to tariffs