Overnight Energy: Interior authorized $250M to open parks during shutdown | Inslee launching 2020 bid with 'Climate Mission Tour' | Dems raise red flags over planned White House climate council

Overnight Energy: Interior authorized $250M to open parks during shutdown | Inslee launching 2020 bid with 'Climate Mission Tour' | Dems raise red flags over planned White House climate council
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INTERIOR AUTHORIZED USE OF $250M TO KEEP PARKS OPEN IN SHUTDOWN: Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt gave over 100 national parks the green light to use more than $250 million in reserved government funds to stay open during the last government shutdown, according to an internal letter obtained by The Hill Friday.

Bernhardt told the National Park Service director in January he was authorized to use $252.9 million in unobligated funds to bring back employees to maintain overrun and inundated national parks during the 35-day long shutdown, according to the letter.

Interior's defense: In the March 1 letter sent to Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters Bureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows MORE (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Bernhardt explained the reasoning the decision to allow certain parks to pull funds from the revenue generated through visitor entrance fees known as Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) funds.

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"My direction on January 5 outlined a plan to use the available fees at specific parks in a manner that was squarely within the specified purposes within FLREA, including maintaining restrooms and sanitation, providing trash collection, maintaining roads, operating campgrounds, conducting law enforcement and emergency operations, and staffing entrance gates as necessary to provide critical safety information," Bernhardt wrote Udall.

His letter was a response to lawmakers' earlier request for information regarding the recreation fee usage.

The details: According to the letter, Interior initially authorized 83 parks to pull from the FLREA funds but later expanded that number to "more than 100 units."

An internal breakdown attached to Bernhardt's letter noted the parks that pulled from the recreation funds during the shutdown included Grand Canyon National Park, Glacier National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

The document also estimated that the 83 parks could last an average of 37 weeks before they ran out of funding through the use of recreational fees. Bernhardt in a previous memorandum dated January 7 obtained by The Hill had directed NPS staff to drain funds until they reached a "zero balance."

The move faces scrutiny: Interior's decision to allow parks to pull from the recreation fees has been highly criticized by lawmakers.

The funds are typically used for park maintenance, seasonal worker hires and payments for employees to continue to collect future park fees. NPS workers during the shutdown feared that a zeroing out of the funds would create more future strain on already slim park budgets. Currently, Interior is facing a $12 billion maintenance backlog.

Critics also suggested that the move to use the funds was unlawful under FLREA, The National Park Service Organic Act, and the Antideficiency Act.

Following the end of the shutdown, the top House Democrat overseeing the National Park Service's (NPS) funding formally asked in early February for an official probe of the Trump administration's decision to use agency entrance fees to operate parks during the shutdown.

That same day though, Interior backtracked on the decision to pay un-furloughed employees through FLREA. Dan Smith, NPS's deputy director and its top official, told staff in an emailed memo obtained by The Hill that the agency would reverse the earlier, controversial decision.  

Read more here.

 

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INSLEE TO LAUNCH 'CLIMATE MISSION TOUR' AS OFFICIAL CAMPAIGN TRIP: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) will spend the first week of his just-announced presidential bid campaigning about climate issues.

Inslee, who formally announced his run for the White House on Friday, will spend the first days campaigning throughout Iowa and Nevada on his "Climate Mission Tour."

The tour will start Tuesday and take him to various sites in Iowa to discuss energy and environment issues, a key tenant of his presidential platform. In the Hawkeye State, he will visit a solar power installation at Paulson Electric, meet with students to discuss climate change and attend a gathering with local climate activists.

He will fly to Nevada the following Saturday to visit similar sites as part of his first two trips as a presidential candidate. Inslee has yet to announce the details.

"The 'Climate Mission Tour' will focus on the opportunity to create millions of jobs throughout the country while defeating the greatest challenge of our time -- climate change," according to a press release about Inslee's tour.

"Defeating climate change has been the driving force of the Governor's public life and will be the focus of his bid for president."

Inslee has made fighting climate change the leading issue of his campaign. For months he's set the groundwork for the push, frequently criticizing President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE over his climate skepticism and speaking out about former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE's views on forest management.

In his campaign announcement made in a video released Friday morning, Inslee made no secret that he intends to be the people's climate candidate.

Read more here.

 

DEMS RAISE ALARM OVER PROPOSED WH CLIMATE COMMITTEE: A group of liberal lawmakers in both the House and Senate are raising concerns over a new climate council being organized at the White House that includes members who question the science behind global warming.

In two letters sent to the president this week, the incredulous lawmakers urged Trump to reconsider the council -- which is being likened to a similar attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to craft a "red team, blue team" approach to delegitimize climate science -- saying it would fly in the face of scientific evidence.

What Dems want: The letter from four House lawmakers Thursday asked Trump to provide more information about the Presidential Climate Security Committee, which is reportedly being organized through the White House's National Security Council (NSC) and headed by a well-known climate skeptic, former Princeton professor William Happer. The panel will look into climate change's potential effects on national security, according to reports.

"Given the previous statements you've made that fly in the face of explicit scientific evidence and the findings of your own [Department of Defense] and Director of National Intelligence, we have serious concerns about any effort to construct a secret committee to question the basic scientific fact of climate change," the lawmakers wrote.

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Details they desired as listed in the letter included the names and backgrounds of all staffers and members who will be involved with the committee and a commitment to maintain notes from committee meetings and provide regular updates to the House committees on the status of the working group.

The lawmakers also asked for the council to commit to the guidelines of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which emphasizes open transparency, public comment and detailed reporting.

Who is on the letter: The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Defense: Suspect in Pensacola shooting identified as Saudi aviation student | Trump speaks with Saudi king after shooting | Esper denies considering 14K deployment to Mideast MORE (Wash.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation House Democrat presses Google executives for answers on handling of health data MORE (N.J.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) chair of the Natural Resources Committee and Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention What has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks MORE (D-Texas) chair of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

White House mum: The White House has remained tight-lipped on the status of the panel, which must ultimately be created through a presidential executive order.

More on the panel here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee will hold a hearing to examine the electricity sector in a changing climate.

Also Tuesday, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will look into states' roles in regulating air pollution.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee's subcommittee on environment will hold a hearing examining the health risks of the chemical PFAS in drinking water. The chemical has been in the news as the EPA faces pressure to determine a national health standard for the chemical. The agency announced in February it plans to announce a national standard for the chemical by the end of the year.

That same day, the House Science committee will a hearing on maintaining U.S. leadership in technology and science.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Wisconsin governor seeks to raise gas tax by 8 cents, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports

Petition seeks relief from roadless protections on Utah's forests, the Salt Lake Tribune reports

 

lN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Friday...

-Interior gave green light to use $250M in park admission fees during shutdown

-Inslee to launch 'Climate Mission Tour' as first official campaign trip

-Dems raise alarm over proposed White House climate council

-Inslee announces White House bid