Overnight Energy: DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon | Dems call for ethics investigation into Interior officials | Inslee doubles down on climate in 2020 bid

Overnight Energy: DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon | Dems call for ethics investigation into Interior officials | Inslee doubles down on climate in 2020 bid
© Greg Nash

DC MOVES CLOSER TO CLIMATE LAWSUIT AGAINST EXXON: The D.C. government is beefing up its legal team ahead of an anticipated legal challenge against Exxon.

Attorney General Karl Racine (D) on Friday tweeted a link to a webpage seeking an outside counsel "passionate about protecting our environment" to join the city government's legal team.

The tweet linked to a contract that explained the position would be involved in providing legal services in support of the attorney general's "investigation and potential litigation against ExxonMobil Corporation (Exxon)."

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According to the contract, the legal challenge would question if Exxon is responsible for potential violations of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act by failing to alert consumers of the known environmental effects -- including climate change -- that stem from burning fossil fuels.

"Since at least the 1970s, Exxon has been aware that its fossil fuel products were significantly contributing to climate change, and that climate change would accelerate and lead to significant harms to the environment in the twenty-first century," the contract says. "However, despite this knowledge, in connection with selling gasoline to D.C. consumers and others, Exxon has failed to inform consumers about the effects of its fossil fuel products on climate change."

The fill job posting is for several positions: a senior climate lawyer, a junior lawyer and paralegal.

The big picture: Racine was one of more than a dozen state attorneys general who in 2016 joined a coalition to aggressively push the climate agenda established under the Obama administration. That included holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our office has a mandate to protect the public interest, and this includes ensuring that our community is not negatively affected by preventable climate change. We welcome this crucial state-to-state cooperation to ensure that we do everything we can to fight the causes of climate change regardless of whether the federal government continues to partner with us in these efforts or not," Racine said at the time.

If D.C. moves forward with a lawsuit against Exxon, it will be joining a handful of other states and municipalities looking into how the oil and gas giant may have failed to publicize science it had linking emissions to global warming.

The attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands first launched investigations into Exxon in 2015 and 2016.

Read more on DC's moves here.


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Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow me on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @thehill.

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DEMS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION INTO INTERIOR OFFICIALS: A pair of Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Interior Department watchdog to look into ethical concerns involving a number of key agency officials.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallNew Mexico senators request probe into militia group detaining migrants Latino group urges state lawmaker to make primary challenge to Democrat for Georgia House seat Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (D-N.M.) and Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumOvernight Energy: Interior watchdog opens investigation into new secretary | Warren unveils 2020 plan to stop drilling on public lands | Justices reject case challenging state nuclear subsidies | Court orders EPA to re-evaluate Obama pollution rule Interior watchdog launches ethics probe into new secretary EPA chief doubles down on Trump's commitment to fully fund Great Lakes program MORE (D-Minn.) wrote a letter to Interior's acting Inspector General Mary Kendall on Friday, asking her office to investigate reports of "ethics irregularities" for senior Interior officials, specifically Acting Secretary David Bernhardt.

The letter cited a February New York Times article that found that as deputy secretary, Bernhardt helped push a specific Endangered Species Act policy related to the delta smelt, a finger-sized fish, that will directly benefit a former client of his.

Bernhardt, a former lobbyist, previously worked for a group of California farmers who opposed protections on the fish in order to gain access to more irrigation water in the state's central valley. Since working at Interior, Bernhardt has been hard at work to strip those protections, according to the Times.

Interior officials said Bernhardt was granted verbal authorization by ethics officials to participate in policy meetings on the matters related to his former client, but lawmakers said a lack of formal authorization is troubling.

"Reliance on verbal authorization, with no supporting documentation, is not likely to ensure that adequate steps have been taken to eliminate any conflicts of interest with work done for former clients or employers, particularly when it involves a controversial issue that was the subject of prior litigation and lobbying by the Acting Secretary," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

Under scrutiny: Bernhardt has routinely received criticism for apparent conflicts of interest. Prior to joining the Interior Department in 2017, Bernhardt was an oil and gas lobbyist. Interior oversees oil and gas leasing on public land and in offshore waters. The newly nominated Interior secretary has so many conflicts of interest from his past positions that he permanently carries a card listing them all.

The letter calls for Interior's inspector general to audit the policy changes Bernhardt has participated in since joining Interior "to determine whether his actions comply with Federal ethics requirements."

Other ethics allegations: The lawmakers in their letter additionally note a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center that claims to document ethics violations by six senior Interior officials who interacted with former clients or employers. They call for the IG office to also investigate the senior officials and their meetings.

Read more on the controversy here.

 

INSLEE DOUBLES DOWN ON CLIMATE: Flanked by a sea of college students and colorful signs, 68-year-old Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) stood out from the crowd Friday at the National Youth Climate Strike in New York.

"This is a moment of great peril, but it is also a moment of great promise," Inslee, a 2020 presidential candidate, said while speaking to students at Columbia University.

"We have a generation right here today that owns the future, is the future and, starting right here from New York and across the world, is going to save the future for this planet," he added.

Inslee's strategy: Inslee's stop at Columbia was part of his "Climate Mission Tour" intended to draw attention to his nascent presidential campaign, which he launched at the beginning of March.

The 2020 Democrat aims to make climate change a defining policy issue, centering his long-shot campaign around the dangers of global warming as he looks to set himself apart in a crowded Democratic primary field.

Why Inslee is hopeful: It's an issue he believes will resonate with younger generations. Polls show that climate change resonates strongly with that demographic, which is becoming an increasingly important voting bloc to win over.

More on the 2020 dynamics here.

 

WHALE THAT WASHED ASHORE HAD EATEN 88 POUNDS OF PLASTIC: A dead whale that washed up in the Philippines last week had nearly 90 pounds of plastic in its stomach, according to researchers.

Marine biologist Darrell Blatchley, the founder of natural history institution the D' Bone Collector Museum, told CNN that the amount of plastic in the beaked whale's stomach was the most that he had ever seen and called it "disgusting."

"I was not prepared for the amount of plastic. 40 kilos [88 pounds] roughly of rice sacks, grocery bags, banana plantation bags, and general plastic bags," he said. "Sixteen rice sacks total. It was so big, the plastic was beginning calcification."

Blatchley and other workers at the museum performed a necropsy on the whale over the weekend and shared photos of the results on Facebook.

"This whale had the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale," Blatchley wrote. "It's disgusting."

The death comes as scientists and activist groups try to bring an increased global awareness of plastic pollution and its effect on ocean life.

More here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Oil prices rise as OPEC looks to stick to output cuts through June, MarketWatch reports.

Blaze at Texas chemical storage facility may keep burning until Wednesday, CNN reports.

Major flooding In the midwest leaves 2 dead, 2 missing, NPR reports

 

lN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Monday and over the weekend...

-Dem lawmakers call for investigation into Interior officials over alleged ethics violations

-DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon

-Animal welfare advocates call on Putin to release orcas, belugas from 'whale jail'

-Dead whale washed ashore with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach

-Inslee doubles down on climate in bid to stand out among 2020 Dems