Overnight Energy: Ethics panel clears Grijalva over settlement with staffer | DC aims to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2032 | Judges skeptical of challenge to Obama smog rule

ETHICS PANEL CLEARS DEM: The House Committee on Ethics has cleared Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of any wrongdoing for a settlement he made with a former female staffer who accused him of being drunk on the job, according to a document obtained by The Hill.

The panel unanimously voted to dismiss the allegations that Grijalva had misused funds in paying a former employee in 2015, according to a letter from the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee dated Dec. 14.

It was first reported last fall that Grijalva arranged for a top staffer to be given a "severance package" worth $48,395 after she threatened a lawsuit alleging Grijalva was often drunk at work and created a hostile work environment.

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The committee made its determination after the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) made its own recommendations to dismiss the claims against Grijalva.

"The committee reviewed the OCE referral. As a result of its review, the Committee unanimously voted to dismiss the allegation referred by OCE, consistent with OCE's recommendation," the letter read.

The investigation was first opened in February this year.

Grijalva, who will soon chair the House Natural Resources Committee, told reporters last year that he had conducted the settlement on the advice of the House Employment Counsel and that the claims did not refer to sexual harassment. He could not share more details about the settlement or the identity of the staffer due to a clause in their agreement.

"It's been a bane on my family; politically, it's used against me whether it's the midterms or anything else. I don't know if this necessarily makes it go away, but it does minimize the lies and for that I'm happy," Grijalva told The Hill of the investigation's findings.

Grijalva's settlement was thrust back into the limelight earlier this month when Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeBLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument New policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine MORE blasted the lawmaker on Twitter after Grijalva had called for him to resign.

Read more here.

 

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DC AIMS TO RUN ON 100 PERCENT GREEN ENERGY BY 2032: Washington, D.C., will soon be running on 100-percent electric energy.

The D.C. City Council on Tuesday passed a landmark bill to transition the city's electric grid to run on 100-percent electric energy by 2032.

In November, local lawmakers unanimously voted "yes" in a preliminary vote for the "Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018."

The policy will also include electric car incentives, create new efficiency standards and expand carbon fees on natural gas and certain oils. That carbon revenue would then be used to fund a "Green Bank" for developing clean energy for those who would otherwise struggle to afford it.

The bill also authorizes the D.C. mayor to enter regional emissions reduction agreements with Maryland and Virginia.

The capital is following dozens of other U.S. cities that have made similar commitments to transition to renewable energy use in the near future. But D.C.'s timeline is by far the shortest. Burlington, Vt., and Aspen, Colo., already run on clean energy.

More on the city's plans here.

 

JUDGES SKEPTICAL OF CASE AGAINST OBAMA SMOG RULE: Federal judges on Tuesday expressed skepticism at a challenge by industry groups and Republican states against the Obama administration's major 2015 regulation on smog-forming ozone pollution.

Central to the challengers' arguments, presented Tuesday to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have been more lenient in its 2015 rule because some states and areas have high ozone levels either naturally or because of pollution blows in from elsewhere -- factors that they cannot control.

"Our case is about the requirement of a reasoned rulemaking process. And here, that process was deficient," Dominic Draye, solicitor general for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R), told the judges. Draye spoke for the states and industry groups suing the EPA.

He pointed to various places in the Clean Air Act that provide for differences in considering areas that have high levels of "background" pollution.

"I think they're evidence that states are not supposed to be on the hook for ozone that they can't control. That's why it's carved out."

The breakdown: At least two of the judges were doubtful of that argument.

"What in the statute requires EPA to take into account background ozone when establishing the NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards]? Is there anything in the statute that requires that," asked Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee.

He later suggested that the argument to take into account background ozone had "already been rejected" by the D.C. Circuit Court.

Judge Nina Pillard, an Obama appointee, was more direct in her skepticism.

"The idea is that the dominant requirement of the statute is to set levels that protect the public health. And if it's really impractical, the agency's not allowed to say 'ok, let's harm a bunch of people because it would be really hard to move forward without allowing a lot more ozone'" Pillard said during Draye's presentation.

"The idea is that, whether it's caused by background ozone in part is not going to be the basis for a discount," she continued.

The three-judge panel was rounded out by Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama nominee, who gave few hints about his opinion on the matter.

The government's side: Simi Bhat, a Justice Department attorney representing the EPA, told the judges that the 2015 rule followed the law.

"The Clean Air Act does not require EPA to raise the NAAQS because of background pollution. What the Clean Air Act requires is that EPA set a NAAQS that is requisite to protect public health and welfare," she said.

"State and industry petitioners' argument would deny necessary protection to millions of Americans across the country, when the record shows that only a few areas may experience high-background-ozone events."

The stakes: The regulation at issue is one of the most expensive of the Obama administration. Industry groups opposed to it say it would cost well over $1 trillion to implement.

Ozone is created from various fossil fuel pollutants. It is linked to respiratory ailments like asthma attacks and is one of the components of smog.

The 2015 rule, written under then-Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees MORE, lowered the allowable ground-level ozone concentration to 70 parts per billion, from the previous 75 parts per billion.

When Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEnvironmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules MORE took over as EPA chief under President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE, the agency had the court pause the case for a year while it considered whether to try to change the ozone rule or defend it in court. Officials ended up concluding that they would defend it.

Read more here.

 

FROM THE HILL's OPINION SECTION:

Nicole Ghio, a program manager for Friends of the Earth, says it's time to undo damage do by Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-German auto supplier to plead guilty, pay $35 mln fine in Volkswagen emissions case (CNBC)

-Florida sandhill crane among 13 species denied protections by Interior (WMFE)

-Vietnam natural gas plans clash with climate fears (VOA)

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Tuesday ...

-Northeast states pledge to cut transportation emissions

-Grijalva cleared of wrongdoing in $48K settlement with female staffer

-DC passes bill to make city run on 100-percent clean energy by 2032

-Veteran industry lobbyist to leave American Petroleum Institute

-Judges skeptical of case against Obama smog rule

-Investigation blames regulatory failure for black lung 'epidemic'

-Democratic Party tweets 'same' to Bill Nye blasting climate change deniers

-Black bear that recovered from wildfire burns has been killed by hunter

-Leading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary