Overnight Energy: Zinke denies lying to investigators | Interior won't take FOIA requests during shutdown | Ocasio-Cortez makes pitch for 'ambitious' Green New Deal

ZINKE DENIES LYING TO INVESTIGATORS: Former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeNew 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 Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them MORE denied the allegation that he lied to federal investigators.

His denial came after a Washington Post story reporting that the Justice Department is looking into whether he was untruthful with officials from Interior's Office of the Inspector General who were working on an unspecified probe.

"It's an unauthorized leak from an anonymous source over false allegations," Zinke told the Associated Press in his first interview since he left Interior Wednesday.

He said the leaks are part of an effort by conservation groups to undermine his legacy and ruin his political future.

"They believe I'm going to run for governor, or they want to dismiss the Trump administration's accomplishments in conservation," he told AP. "The investigations started nearly on the first day in office. After 10 investigations, the conclusions are all the same: No wrongdoing, followed all procedures, policies and laws. Every investigation will follow the same conclusion."

Zinke said he spoke with investigators twice about his decision not to approve a proposed American Indian casino in Connecticut after lobbying by a competitor to the project. He answered their questions truthfully, he said.

Zinke also said that he never spoke with investigators about a land deal the OIG is probing between a nonprofit he used to lead and a development backed in part by David Lesar, the recently departed chairman of Halliburton Co.

Read more about Zinke's remarks here.

 

Zinke tells parkgoers to pick up trash: Zinke also weighed in on the ongoing partial government shutdown, and the buildup of trash in national parks, since most employees are furloughed.

"Pitch in, grab a trash bag and take some trash out," he said in the AP interview.

Read more.

 

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INTERIOR WON'T ACCEPT FOIA REQUESTS DURING SHUTDOWN: The Interior Department is not accepting public requests for information during the partial government shutdown, which is now in its 14th day with no end in sight.

The agency's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request website--an automated site that typically accepts requests through drop-down menus--is no longer receiving new submissions.

Members of the press, advocacy groups and individuals looking to request public information are now greeted with a message that reads: "No FOIA requests can be accepted or processed at this time."

Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said the lapse in funding is why the agency cannot accept new submissions.

"FOIA requests cannot be processed at this time due to the lapse in funding as is standard protocol," she said in a statement Friday. "FOIA requests are not directly related to protecting life and imminent threats to property."

Critics, however, say no manpower is needed for an automated site to receive requests.

"It does strike me as out of the ordinary," said Margaret Kwoka, a professor on civil procedure and administrative law at the University of Denver. "It is true that typically agencies may stop functions that require funding but they are not blocking things that are passive."

"The agency isn't doing anything on its end in terms of necessary expenditures," she added.

FOIA requests for other agencies affected by the partial shutdown remain functioning via Foiaonline.gov, which serves agencies like the Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

More on the FOIA controversy here.

 

OCASIO-CORTEZ ON GREEN NEW DEAL: IT'S AMBITIOUS: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezPoll: Voters split on whether it's acceptable for Israel to deny Omar, Tlaib visas NJ college censures trustee over posts targeting 'the squad' 'The Simpsons' pokes fun at Trump's feud with 'the squad' MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a new interview that she believes only radicals "have changed this country."

Ocasio-Cortez made the remark during an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" program with Anderson Cooper that is set to broadcast on Sunday.

The comment comes as the New York Democrat backs high tax rates on America's wealthiest citizens to help finance an aggressive plan to combat climate change. The plan, known as the "Green New Deal," aims to eliminate carbon emissions in the U.S. completely within 12 years.

"That is the goal. It's ambitious," Ocasio-Cortez said while discussing the deal. "It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?"

When pressed by Cooper during the interview about how the plan would ultimately require people to pay more in taxes, Ocasio-Cortez said there is an "element where people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes."

"You know, you look at our tax rates back in the sixties, and when you have an aggressive tax rate system, your tax rate from 0-$75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, et cetera," Ocasio-Cortez said.

More here.

 

TOP DEM SECURED POLICY PROMISES FROM TRUMP ENVIRONMENTAL NOMINEES BEFORE VOTE: The top Senate Democrat overseeing environmental policy secured a number of commitments from three Trump administration nominees before the Senate confirmed this week.

In recent letters, Alexandra Dunn, the incoming head of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) chemical safety office; William "Chad" McIntosh, the next head of the EPA's international affairs office; and Mary Neumayr, the soon-to-be leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), made assurances to Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAmerica is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction FARA should apply to Confucius Institutes The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal MORE (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The three nominees were confirmed this week by voice vote hours before the Senate ended its final session of the 115th Congress.

In the letters provided by Carper's staff, Dunn, currently the New England regional administrator at the EPA, made a number of commitments regarding the EPA's implementation of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act and other concerns Carper had.

Her commitments include: certain actions to boost public transparency of the thousands of notices EPA receives from companies before they start making new chemicals, a new report on how the agency handles claims from companies that certain business information is confidential, a promise to withdraw a December 2017 proposal to reduce protections for agricultural workers and a peer review process for how the agency will evaluate new chemicals for safety.

More on the promises here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

Mike Sommers, the new president of the American Petroleum Institute, will give a speech and presentation on the State of American Energy. The speech is an annual API event, and it will be Sommers's first time delivering it.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Major insurance companies are suing utility PG&E over its alleged role in last year's massive Camp Fire in California, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The Navajo Nation Council withdrew a bill that would have allowed an energy company owned by the tribe to become a for-profit corporation, the Associated Press reports.

Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzGun debate back in focus for states after mass shootings Minnesota program will pay homeowners to transform lawns into bee gardens as species inches closer to extinction Minnesota governor signs law making marital rape illegal MORE (D) has named two women to head the state's main environmental agencies, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check Friday's stories ...

- Dem secured policy commitments from environmental nominees

- O'Rourke signals support for 'concept' of Green New Deal
- Zinke: National park visitors should 'grab a trash bag'

- Ocasio-Cortez on push for changes: Only radicals 'have changed this country'

- Zinke denies he's under investigation for lying