Overnight Energy: Political appointee taking over as Interior IG | Change comes amid Zinke probe | White Houses shelves coal, nuke bailout plan | Top Dem warns coal export proposal hurts military

Overnight Energy: Political appointee taking over as Interior IG | Change comes amid Zinke probe | White Houses shelves coal, nuke bailout plan | Top Dem warns coal export proposal hurts military
© Greg Nash

TRUMP POLITICAL APPOINTEE TO REPLACE INTERIOR INSPECTOR GENERAL: A Trump political appointee previously working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will soon take over as the head inspector general (IG) overseeing investigations at the Interior Department, according to an internal email obtained by The Hill.

Suzanne Israel Tufts will take over as acting inspector general for the Interior Department, according to an email sent from HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTop Trump official resigned over White House plan to withhold disaster-relief funds from Puerto Rico: report Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general DOJ probing whether Zinke lied to Interior investigators: report MORE to staff last Friday.

Tufts was confirmed by the Senate last December to serve as an assistant HUD secretary. In the role, she reportedly also took over the job of chief administrative officer -- a role previously held by career HUD employee Helen Foster. Foster told outlets in February that she was demoted from the role when she refused to sign off on Carson's extravagant office redecorations after noting the congressional limit was $5,000. Carson in March faced criticism over reports that he ordered a $31,000 dining set, which he later canceled.

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"It is with mixed emotions that I announce that Suzanne Israel Tufts, our Assistant Secretary for Administration, has decided to leave HUD to become the Acting Inspector General at the Department of Interior," Carson wrote in his email with the subject line "Fond Farewell."

"Suzanne is an extremely enthusiastic and energetic leader who re-established HUD's Office of Administration, implementing improvements to the agency's governance and internal controls. During her time with us, Suzanne also commenced the most focused and strategic collective bargaining process in the Agency's history."

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown confirmed the move to The Hill Tuesday. He said Tufts is being detailed to the IG's office, which he said is a temporary move and that Tufts will remain a HUD employee. Brown said the move "happens" all the time.

Read more here.

 

Why the move is alarming: The move is notable as Interior Department Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Major California utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy after wildfires | Zinke hired at investment firm | Barclays to avoid most Arctic drilling financing Zinke takes job at investment firm Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general MORE faces a number of inspector general investigations, including over a contentious business deal he made with a Halliburton chairman. Past probes included a speech he gave to the Las Vegas Golden Knights professional hockey team and the questionable use of charter planes.

The inspector general makes the final determination whether to open up an IG investigation and has the power to end ongoing investigations.

 

How people are responding:

Former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich: "This is a very big deal. Politicizing the oversight function is dangerous, especially in the absence of any Congressional oversight. Changing IGs in the midst of multiple serious investigations of the agency's head should raise alarm bells everywhere," he tweeted Tuesday.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the House committee that oversees the Interior Department: "Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG. After looking around, the best person they could find is a Trump political operative at HUD who turned a blind eye to Secretary Carson's $31,000 dining set."

 

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

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TOP DEM SAYS TRUMP COAL PLAN COULD HURT MILITARY: House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Dems express alarm at Trump missile defense plans Dems seek House panel's support to block military funds for Trump border wall MORE (D-Wash), on Tuesday, blasted President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE's proposal to use military bases to export coal from the West Coast to Asia, saying it could hurt military readiness.

"This is a clear attempt to circumvent environmental oversight and protection,' Smith said in a statement. "The Trump Administration is once again using national security as an excuse to drive their short-sighted agenda."

Turning U.S. military bases into export terminals "could be an encroachment risk and potentially harm military training, operations, and readiness," while doing "nothing to help address the impacts of climate change or benefit the energy resiliency of Department of Defense installations," Smith added.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday told the Associated Press that the Trump administration is considering using military bases in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska to ship coal and natural gas to Asia.

Zinke said that may involve using "some of our naval facilities, some of our federal facilities on the West Coast."

Read more here.

 

And more pushback to Trump coal plans…

 

WHITE HOUSE SHELVES RESCUE PLAN FOR COAL AND NUCLEAR: The White House has shelved a proposed effort to prop up coal and nuclear power plants at risk of closure, Politico reported.

Some of President Trump's advisers in the White House National Security Council and National Economic Council oppose Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Pompeo in Iraq for unannounced visit GOP commissioner on federal energy panel dies MORE's plan, due largely to the likelihood that it would raise energy prices, Politico said, citing four people familiar with the matter.

The rescue plan was a key piece of the Trump administration's energy agenda, and Trump's promise to save the coal industry.

Perry first pursued the policy last year, asking that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) write a rule to require higher electricity payments to coal and nuclear plants, in a bid to preserve the "resiliency" of the electric grid.

But FERC, an independent agency, rejected the proposal unanimously.

Earlier this year, Trump formally asked his administration to find a way to save uneconomic coal and nuclear plants from closing.

Read more here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Former UN chief raps Trump for idling on global warming prep

Bill Gates launches effort to help the world adapt to climate change

NASA photo shows where Hurricane Michael turned out the lights

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Tuesday...

-Top House Armed Services Dem says Trump coal export plan could hurt military

-HUD political appointee to replace Interior Department inspector general

-White House shelves rescue plan for coal, nuclear: report

-Washington governor blasts plan to export coal, gas from military bases