Overnight Energy: Joshua Tree National Park lost $1M in fees due to shutdown | Dem senator, AGs back case against oil giants | Trump officials secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada

Overnight Energy: Joshua Tree National Park lost $1M in fees due to shutdown | Dem senator, AGs back case against oil giants | Trump officials secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada
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JOSHUA TREE MISSED OUT ON $1 MILLION: Joshua Tree National Park missed out on collecting more than $1 million in entrance fees during the partial federal government shutdown, the park's leader said Wednesday.

In an interview on WBUR's On Point, Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith said the holiday season, which coincided with the shutdown, is a busy time for the park due to its warm Southern California climate, meaning it would have been a key time to bring in revenue from park fees.

"We had expected to bring in a little bit over $1 million during that time period," Smith said.


"So that's $1 million that we didn't collect, that we're going to have to really look at our fund for the next eight months and decide, what projects are we going to eliminate this year, and which ones can we go forward with," he continued, referring to the time remaining in the 2018 fiscal year.

Joshua Tree and other parks were left open during the shutdown, but with minimal or no staffing.

But the park and others got authority a few weeks into the shutdown to bring in more staff and pay them with the fee revenue they had previously collected, a move that congressional Democrats and conservationists criticized as short-sighted.

Smith said his staff haven't finished their accounting but estimate that the park used between $200,000 and $300,000 of such funds to pay maintenance staff, rangers and other employees during the shutdown.

Joshua Tree became a national symbol of the shutdown earlier in January when a photo went viral of a Joshua tree that someone had cut down. The trees take hundreds of years to mature.

Read more on the shutdown fallout here.


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DEMS BACK CLIMATE CASE AGAINST OIL COMPANIES: Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrat asks Barr to preserve any records tied to environmental hacking probe Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list Key Democrat accuses Labor head of 'misleading' testimony on jobless benefits MORE (D-R.I.) and eight Democratic state attorneys general are throwing their support behind a California lawsuit that challenges major oil and natural gas companies for their contributions to climate change.

The amicus briefs filed Tuesday with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit support the state's regional plaintiffs, who want to keep the suit against Chevron in California.

"In light of the costly impacts that climate change is already having within our borders, and because the harmful effects of climate change are unlikely to stop in the near future, Amici States have a concrete interest in the ability of state courts to adjudicate climate change-related claims brought by our political subdivisions who are impacted by the conduct of fossil fuel producers and sellers," the attorneys general wrote in their brief.

The lawsuit: The companies were hit with lawsuits in 2017 from the California counties of Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz, as well as the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach. They all argued the companies are responsible for paying damages stemming from climate change due to their production and "simultaneous concealment " of the known hazards of their products.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in November filed a brief in defense of the oil companies' position, arguing that climate change was "a national and international problem requiring a uniform, coordinated federal response."

Whitehouse in his briefing argued that the Chamber's actions are "not those of an organization in search of 'thoughtful governmental policies that will have a meaningful impact on global climate change.'"

"They reflect a decades-long campaign of disinformation, obstruction, and political intimidation designed to prevent democratically accountable branches of government from adopting any policies that would reduce carbon pollution," he wrote.

Read more on the court case here.


ENERGY DEPARTMENT SECRETLY SHIPPED PLUTONIUM TO NEVADA: The Department of Energy (DOE) secretly shipped about a half-ton of weapons-grade radioactive plutonium to Nevada despite the state's opposition.

The Trump administration made the disclosure Wednesday as part of a federal court case in Nevada in which the state is trying to block the DOE from its publicly stated plans to ship radioactive materials from South Carolina.

"Because sufficient time has now elapsed after conclusion of this campaign, DOE may now publicly state that it has completed all shipment of plutonium (approximately 1/2 metric ton) to Nevada," Bruce Diamond, general counsel for the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, wrote in a court declaration, noting that the action was previously classified.

"Although the precise date that this occurred cannot be revealed for reasons of operational security, it can be stated that this was done before November 2018, prior to the initiation of the litigation."

Diamond did not disclose the route the material took, although the DOE previously said it would be moved in special containers with lead radiation shields, among other precautions, carried on trucks.

Read more here.


ACTING INTERIOR CHIEF LET'S OFFICIALS STAY WITHOUT CONFIRMATION: The Interior Department is extending the time that eight officials can serve in their jobs without needing Senate confirmation.

In an order signed Tuesday and released Wednesday, acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt let the eight officials keep serving through May 30, or until the Senate confirms people for the posts.

Each of the positions usually must be filled by someone nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

But the Senate hasn't confirmed anyone for the jobs, and Trump hasn't even nominated anyone for some of them.

The names: The assignments in Tuesday's memo are Daniel Jorjani as solicitor; Susan Combs as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget; Andrea Travnicek as principal deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks; Brian Steed as Bureau of Land Management; Jerold Gidner as special trustee for American Indians; P. Daniel Smith as director of the National Park Service; Glenda Owens as director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement; and Margaret Everson to be director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read the memo here.



The population of monarch butterflies spending this winter in Mexico is 144 percent higher than last year, The Guardian reports.

A federal judge asked PG&E Corp. if he should "let you keep killing people" before ruling that the company violated its probation, the Mercury News reports.

The United Steelworkers union rejected a national contract offer from Shell Oil Company for its 30,000 workers, Reuters reports.



Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyEPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects IRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit MORE and the president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, Rev. Mitch Hescox, argue that the Trump administration's proposal to change its Mercury and Air Toxics regulation is a key piece of its agenda to embrace coal.



Check out stories from Wednesday ...

- Trump administration secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada

- House Armed Services Dems demand Pentagon offer more complete climate change report

- Scientists say warming oceans leading to widespread deaths of some starfish

- Joshua Tree lost $1 million in fees during shutdown, park chief says

- Dem senator and 8 AGs file brief in support of Chevron climate challenge

- Chicago using fire to keep rail tracks from freezing in polar vortex