Overnight Energy: Dem House means new headache for Zinke | Spokesperson denies Zinke sought Fox News job | Dems to bring back key climate panel | Officials drop plan to sterilize Oregon wild horses

Overnight Energy: Dem House means new headache for Zinke | Spokesperson denies Zinke sought Fox News job | Dems to bring back key climate panel | Officials drop plan to sterilize Oregon wild horses
© Greg Nash

HOUSE FLIP CREATES BIG HEADACHE FOR ZINKE: Less than 24 hours after Republicans lost their House majority, Democrats vowed to take Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Dems at odds over how to handle climate change | Trump shows support to California over wildfires | Zinke calls fires worse than Iraq war zones Zinke: California wildfire destruction 'worse than any war zone I saw in Iraq' Trump offers support to California governor amid feud over wildfires MORE to task for a number of questionable actions and business deals, including one that's under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

When the new Congress starts Jan. 3, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee will, for the first time since Zinke took office in March 2017, have the authority to compel him and others at the Interior Department to testify and provide records.

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Their newfound power -- and zeal to sniff out potential corruption after what they characterize as a dereliction of oversight duties by the GOP -- is likely to make life even more difficult for the embattled Interior secretary as Democrats look for potentially embarrassing or incriminating records that could help thwart President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE's agenda.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee who's likely to wield the chairman's gavel next year, is already promising to probe a controversial business deal that a foundation Zinke established struck with the chairman of oil services company Halliburton, as well as a failed administration attempt to replace the top official in Interior's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with a political appointee.

The announcement to replace the top agency watchdog came after the watchdog referred an investigation into Zinke to the DOJ.

The timing "can't be dismissed as merely a coincidence," Grijalva told Bloomberg on Wednesday. "That's why the oversight is so necessary."

 

Environmental groups are also pushing Democrats to be aggressive in overseeing the former Montana congressman. They're seeking answers on policy decisions at the department, such as weakening Endangered Species Act protections, shrinking national monument boundaries and sending U.S. Park Police officers to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Our overall impression is that there is an opportunity here for Congress to hold him accountable in a way that he hasn't before," Chris Saeger, executive director at the Western Values Project, told The Hill. "I think he has done enough to have a legitimate conversation about whether or not he should be fired, but until that happens, I think Congress should have the power it had all along to bring to light the motive behind his decisions."

Kevin Curtis, executive director of the NRDC Action Fund, the campaign arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he thinks Zinke is in trouble.

"There's 17, 18 investigations. Let's have House chairmen step up and committees step up and really dig deep there," Curtis told reporters.

 

Zinke is facing a handful of investigations from Interior's OIG and elsewhere into his compliance with ethics rules.

The OIG recently referred its probe into the deal with Halliburton Chairman David Lesar to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.

Zinke is also under investigation for an American Indian casino in Connecticut he declined to approve after lobbying by a competitor, and for his role in redrawing a national monument's boundaries in Utah in a manner that benefited a state lawmaker.

Read more here.

 

Zinke spokesperson denies report that he sought Fox News job. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday denied a report that the Cabinet official had contacted Fox News about getting work at the right-leaning network after he leaves the Trump administration.

The Interior Department spokeswoman pushed back after Politico reported Thursday, citing sources familiar with Zinke's actions, that he had reached out to become a contributor at the cable channel, where he has appeared often as a guest.

Zinke's spokeswoman Heather Swift called the report "dumb" and denied that he reached out to Fox for a job.

"Is this The Onion," Swift asked. "This is laughably false."

More on the report here.

 

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

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DEMS PLAN TO BRING BACK KEY CLIMATE COMMITTEE: Democrats are reportedly planning to revive a House committee on climate change after winning back control of the House.

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was dissolved by Republicans in 2011 after the GOP took control, but House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle House Dems split on how to tackle climate change Overnight Energy: House Dems at odds over how to handle climate change | Trump shows support to California over wildfires | Zinke calls fires worse than Iraq war zones MORE (D-Calif.) will ask Democrats to reconstitute it, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The special committee, which was started by Pelosi, was not authorized to advance legislation, but the panel held hearings to address concerns about climate change, extreme weather events and global warming.

The report comes weeks after the release of a United Nations climate change report predicting catastrophic consequences if the world doesn't cut emissions in an unprecedented way by 2030. President Trump originally said he would review the report, but appeared skeptical of its authors.

Earlier this week, Trump said that he has not seen the report, but disputed its findings anyway, repeating a past prediction that global warming will "change back."

Read more here.

TRUMP OFFICIALS WALK BACK PLANS TO STERILIZE WILD HORSES: The Trump administration is walking back its plans to sterilize wild horse populations in Oregon after receiving pushback from animal rights groups.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) late Wednesday night announced it would no longer be pursuing sterilization tests on a population of 200 horses in Oregon. Under the study, about 100 wild horses would be sterilized and studied as part of a test to explore population control options of the species.

The remaining 100 horses would be used as a control group.

"Defendants intend to rescind the portion of the United States Bureau of Land Management Decision Record pertaining to the spay feasibility and on-range behavioral outcomes assessment study," BLM lawyers wrote the judge Wednesday.

The decision to end the study follows an Oregon district court judge's order last Friday to preliminarily block the testing that was slated to start this week.

Various animal rights groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and The Cloud Foundation, sued the Trump administration over its plans to test ovary removal procedures on wild mares, actions they urged were controversial and dangerous. The horses tested reside inside BLM's Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Ore.

In 2016 BLM backed down after the same groups sued the Obama administration over their plans to conduct the testing on horses in the Hines facility.

Read more here.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

Adrian Duhalt, a postdoctoral fellow in Mexico energy studies for the Mexico Center, argues that discussion about the development of unconventional resources in Mexico should not be abandoned yet.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:  

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka defends actions in city water crisis

African islands send SOS as climate change worsens health

VW plans to sell electric Tesla rival for less than $23,000

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories...

-Trump administration walks back plans to sterilize Oregon wild horses

-Poland inks deal to buy US natural gas

-House Dems plan to bring back committee on climate change

-Green group backs keeping nuclear plants open

-House flip creates big headache for Zinke

-Zinke spokesperson denies report that he sought Fox News job