Overnight Energy: Interior pick grilled with ethics questions at confirmation hearing | Dems want staff to testify on nominee's schedule | Dems unveil climate bill after Green New Deal voted down

DEMS WANT INTERIOR EMPLOYEES TO TESTIFY ON NOMINEE'S SCHEDULE: A pair of high-ranking House lawmakers are asking President TrumpDonald John TrumpChasten Buttigieg: 'I've been dealing with the likes of Rush Limbaugh my entire life' Lawmakers paint different pictures of Trump's 'opportunity zone' program We must not turn our heads from the effects of traumatic brain injuries MORE's nominee to lead the Interior Department to make his personal staff available to answer questions about his daily schedule, questioning whether he and other agency officials are "adequately preserving records."

In a letter to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Thursday, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTop Democrats demand answers on DHS plans to deploy elite agents to sanctuary cities House to vote next week on bill to create women's history museum The Hill's Morning Report - Icy moments between Trump, Pelosi mark national address MORE (D-Md.) and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) pressed for more details about the secretary's daily schedule.

The two wrote that recent testimony and press reports "raise questions about whether you and other officials are adequate preserving records of your schedule and daily appointments."

 

What's the controversy: The letter comes as advocacy groups and Democrats raise concerns over several meetings Bernhardt has held with industry representatives.

Cummings and Grijalva previously asked Bernhardt to provide them with detailed copies of his daily schedule, which they believed were not being fully released to the public, or under several Freedom of Information Act requests.

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In February, Bernhardt sent a letter back, saying he did not maintain his own schedule, and was not legally obligated to do so.

"I have no legal obligation to personally maintain a calendar," he wrote. "I have not personally maintained a calendar for years, and I have no intention of suddenly doing so now."

Instead, Bernhardt keeps a detailed schedule on a Google document that is overwritten daily. All of that information, including the topics of meetings he holds with his staff, are not released to the public.

Bernhardt said he does not personally maintain that calendar and the details he receives about his daily activities are made public.

 

What lawmakers want: The Interior Department reportedly released hundreds of versions of Bernhardt's daily Google document as part of more than 7,000 pages in documents in sent to Grijalva's office on Monday

Now the lawmakers are asking Bernhardt to make his staffers available for questioning about the details of his schedule.

"Due to the questions regarding the preservation and maintenance of your schedule, we ask that DOI contact the Committee on Oversight and Reform by April 8, 2019 to schedule transcribed interviews with the following individuals."

The lawmakers listed the names of four Interior officials working in Bernhardt's office.

Read more on the controversy here.

 

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It was a long day for Bernhardt...

 

INTERIOR PICK PRESSED ON ETHICS AT CONFIRMATION HEARING: David Bernhardt, President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Interior, escaped questioning during his confirmation hearing Thursday relatively unscathed after Democrats pressed him about his former lobbyist ties and actions at the agency.

Bernhardt, who has served as acting Interior secretary since January, defended controversial policies he's played a hand in developing at the agency while testifying before lawmakers on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"No one dedicates nearly a decade of their life to any organization unless they fundamentally believe in it," he told the Senate panel.

In their opening statements, both committee chairwoman Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (W.Va.), the panel's top Democrat, lauded Bernhardt for his years of experience at the department and his work on public land issues. Murkowski said there was "no question" that Bernhardt could handle the job.

"I believe you are qualified and have a great wealth of experience," Manchin added. "It is clear that you have the knowledge and experience to serve as secretary."

GOP senators highlighted Bernhardt's resume, including his role as Interior solicitor under former President George W. Bush, to explain why they planned to vote to confirm him.

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (R-La.) called Bernhardt "the most experienced candidate since the 40s."

Democrats, meanwhile, raised concerns about potential conflicts of interests for Bernhardt, who has also served as a former oil lobbyist.

Bernhardt has had multiple stints at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, representing clients including Eni Petroleum, Sempra Energy, Halliburton Energy Services, Targa Energy, Noble Energy and the Westlands Water District.

Under ethics standards, he has recused himself from matters involving a number of former clients, and carries a card with him listing all the recusals.

"I think you are so conflicted. I think that even if you are confirmed you will have to disqualify yourself from so many matters I don't know how you will spend your day," said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGraham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash Democrats demand Trump administration withdraw religious provider rule MORE (D-Ore.).

Wyden mentioned the policies of former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInternational hunting council disbands amid litigation Europe deepens energy dependence on Russia 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, who resigned from Interior in January amid ethics concerns, as to why he was skeptical of Bernhardt.

Bernhardt was confirmed as Zinke's deputy in July 2017.

Read more on the hearing here.

 

And there was a swamp creature...

A protester dressed as a "swamp creature" was escorted out of the confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt Thursday morning. Video here.

 

DEMS INTRODUCE CAP AND TRADE BILL: Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Warren asks for probe of whether Trump violated law by delaying Puerto Rico funds MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced legislation Thursday to tackle climate change and boost the economy two days after the Senate blocked the hotly contested Green New Deal.

The Democrats proposed the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act, which would cap carbon pollution and curtail carbon dioxide emissions gradually in the next 20 years, impose penalties on companies that violate the pollution regulations and donate all the proceeds to American families in the form of dividends.

"The dangers of climate change are front and center in our everyday lives and only getting worse -- we must take real steps to fight back," Van Hollen said in a statement. This bill will spur economic growth and encourage the development of clean technologies. I urge Congress to take up this measure immediately – it's clear this issue can't wait."

"The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act is the kind of bold action we need to help save the planet. Our market-based approach to putting a price on carbon would help the US economy adapt quickly by reducing carbon and embracing clean energy," Beyer added. "We also see a sharp rise in engagement on this issue and growing support for ambitious solutions, and I believe our bill deserves a prominent place in that discussion."

Specifically, the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act would cap carbon emissions at 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and then 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2040.

Carbon pollution permits would also be auctioned off to the first sellers of oil, coal, and natural gas into the U.S. market and would in turn give 100 percent of the profits garnered each quarter to every American in the form of a Healthy Climate Dividend.

Van Hollen and Beyer touted the plan as a way to supplement families' income before accounting for the cost saved by preventing further impacts from climate change. They also pointed to an op-ed written in January by a group of bipartisan economists who the endorsed the cap and dividend approach.

More on the bill here.

 

The bill highlights how Democrats are looking to move on from the Green New Deal...

Democrats are putting the Green New Deal in the rearview mirror, but they’re not abandoning climate change legislation.

Supporters of the progressive measure are shifting their sights away from passing a comprehensive plan to create green jobs and pursue 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. They are instead looking at multiple bills in hopes of advancing elements of the broader initiative.

The change comes after a heated few months where Republicans battered the idea of the Green New Deal, damaging a brand initially promoted by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ocasio-Cortez defends Warren against 'misogynist trope' Sanders nabs endorsement from Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Ocasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' MORE (D-N.Y.).

Now, various supporters of the climate change measure, including Ocasio-Cortez, are focusing on new, smaller bills in an effort to get back on the offensive on climate change heading into 2020.

More on what to expect from Dems here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Indian Point nuclear power plant could close by 2021, The New York Times reports.

Deadly fungus threatening hundreds of amphibian species

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Thursday...

-Dems want Interior employees to testify on nominee's schedule

-Video of Alaska poachers illegally killing mother bear and cubs made public

-Dems introduce climate change legislation after Senate votes down Green New Deal

-Trump Interior pick weathers deluge of ethics questions at hearing

-Ocasio-Cortez accepts GOP lawmaker's invitation to tour Kentucky coal mine

-Swamp creature crashes Interior pick's hearing

-Judge rules US not in compliance with federal law on drilling plan

-Trump says wind power doesn't work because 'it only blows sometimes'

-Democrats to move on from Green New Deal

-Google, GM launch group focused on expanding renewable energy purchasing

-Trump says he wants to campaign against the Green New Deal

-Man awarded $80 million after jury finds Monsanto's weed killer caused his cancer