Overnight Energy: Interior pick heads toward Senate confirmation | Dems want probe into nominee's role on pesticide report | House climate panel holds first hearing

INTERIOR NOMINEE HEADS TO SENATE FLOOR: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE's nominee to take over as head of the Interior Department cleared his first hurdle Thursday, winning approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 14-6 vote.

Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda 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 (W.Va.) and Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOvernight 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 Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing MORE (I-Maine) joined the panel's Republicans in backing David Bernhardt's nomination. 

"He's clearly qualified and has the experience to serve as secretary," Manchin said at the vote. "He knows the Interior inside and out, that may be a blessing to some and may be a concern to others. Based on the assurances he has given, I'm prepared to vote on him this morning."

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Bernhardt needs support from only a majority of senators in a floor vote to be confirmed as Interior's next secretary.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban MORE (R-Alaska) called Bernhardt "well qualified" for the position.

Dem criticisms: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant MORE (D-Ore.), however, argued Bernhardt's ties to energy interests would make him no better than his predecessor, 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, who left the department amid a series of controversies.

"Every single senator should be interested in restoring honor and integrity to the office of the Interior secretary. Unfortunately, the Bernhardt nomination ... doesn't even come close," Wyden said.

During last week's confirmation hearing for Bernhardt, Wyden criticized what he called the former energy lobbyist's long list of conflicts of interest. Bernhardt carries with him a card listing the names of all companies that would pose a conflict to his government work.

"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," Wyden said last week.

As Interior chief, Bernhardt would have to recuse himself from meetings with those companies if they have business before the agency.

More on Bernhardt's nomination here.

 

And in other Bernhardt drama…

 

DEMS WANT PROBE ON BERNHARDT'S INVOLVEMENT IN A DELAYED REPORT: Senate Democrats are requesting the Interior Department's watchdog investigate what role President Trump's pick to lead the agency played in preventing the release of a government report on toxic pesticides and endangered species.

Eight senators signed a letter to the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General asking Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall to investigate the suppression of a Fish and Wildlife Service report that was initially scheduled for release in December 2017.

"Under the current administration [the Interior Department] has repeatedly shown a willingness to completely disregard the work of career scientists and allow political appointees who are not subject matter experts to influence the decision-making process," the senators wrote in their letter Wednesday.

They added that "this report reinforces that conclusion."

Interior's inspector general on Thursday confirmed receipt of the letter and said the request is being reviewed.

Why this matters: This is not the first time Democrats have made such a request. The letter is the second sent by Senate Democrats asking the Interior inspector general to investigate nominee David Bernhardt over his role in the report.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a similar request last week to the inspector general. The office confirmed to The Hill that the letter was received and Wyden's request is under consideration.

"Mr. Bernhardt, in his role as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, directly intervened with Fish and Wildlife Services officials to block the release of a report on toxic pesticides," Wyden wrote in his letter.

Read more about the letter here.

 

And the report is not the only issue involving Bernhardt...

 

FILES SHOW TRUMP INTERIOR PICK LOBBIED AFTER SAYING HE STOPPED: Bernhardt continued to lobby for some of his former clients even after saying he had stopped, according to a report in The New York Times.

A 2017 invoice showed Bernhardt lobbied for a major client for several months after filing paperwork saying he had ended his lobbying activities, the Times reported Thursday.

Bernhardt continued work for Westlands Water District, a major agribusiness group in California, as late as April 2017, the month he was nominated to his current role as deputy secretary of the department. He filed paperwork to end his status as a federal lobbyist in November 2016.

Bernhardt spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said the invoice resulted from inappropriate billing and that the deputy secretary "engaged in various legal services" to support Westlands -- but not lobbying.

"These efforts do not constitute regulated lobbying activity," she said in an email. "These allegations are nearly two years old and there is nothing to them."

In a Thursday morning hearing to review Bernhardt's nomination, Senate Energy and Natural Resources  Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) largely agreed.

"These articles contain no new information," she said, adding that government ethics officials have found Bernhardt to be in good standing.

Westlands had been one of the deputy secretary's main lobbying clients and paid Bernhardt $1.3 million between 2011 and 2016, according to The New York Times.

Good governance groups have repeatedly raised questions about Bernhardt's longtime lobbying career and how it may impact his work.

Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said Bernhardt shouldn't even consider working on matters he was so close to while a lobbyist.

"That's bad judgment, and it betrays the public's trust," she said on Twitter. "Political appointees are public servants. They aren't lobbyists, and they aren't paid by special interest groups like Westlands. They work for us, and they are paid by us. They should act like it."

Read the full story here.

 

Happy Thursday! 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 and Rebecca Beitsch, rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @rebeccabeitsch and @thehill.

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Now for some other E&E news...

 

DEM CLIMATE COMMITTEE HAS ITS FIRST HEARING: A new committee formed by House Democrats to address climate change held its first hearing on Thursday, welcoming young leaders in the green movement.

The first hearing of the long-awaited committee championed by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer calls on Trump to testify as part of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony Perception won't be reality, once AI can manipulate what we see MORE (D-Calif.), called the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, was intended to provide a platform for those most affected by climate change to make the case for action. To mark its first hearing, the panel welcomed a group of young climate activists who testified about their experiences with climate change.

"What is necessary to address the climate crisis is to stop carbon pollution from accumulating in the atmosphere. That requires action. Urgent action. Ambitious action," said Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Trump: 'I'm very much into climate' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (D-Fla.), who chairs the panel.

Yet the meeting largely highlighted the division between the parties.

As Democrats pressed for the need for a swift response, some Republican lawmakers instead stressed the need for effective solutions that balance the economic activity driven by polluting industries.

Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesBipartisan leadership will reduce emissions more quickly than Paris accord Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Video of young boy shielding Greta Thunberg from photographers goes viral MORE (R-La.), the ranking member on the panel, pushed the largely college-aged witnesses for solutions on how they would craft policy that would balance concern for the environment with existing local economies that rely in some way on fossil fuels.

Other Republican members from states with large coal and oil and gas industries spoke up for those sectors.

"I have seen the devastation that a top-down, one-size-fits all government approach can cause. We saw this with the war on coal from the Obama administration. The decimation of the coal industry in our state ravished our economy," said Rep. Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerGOP women's super PAC blasts 'out of touch' candidate in NC runoff GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE (R-W.Va.). "It created great hopelessness and ultimately lead to the rise in our opioid crisis."

Read more here.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

Saudi Arabia's Aramco is screwing up the climate, and that's bad for business, argues Jim Krane, fellow for energy and geopolitics at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The EPA should allow municipalities to regulate the oil and gas industry in their region, argues Bruce Baizel, Earthworks' energy program director.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

The UN just unveiled a design for a new floating city that can withstand Category 5 hurricanes, Business Insider reports.

Sunny days, fertilizer runoff and sewage can create toxic bacteria at Salton Sea, according to the Palm Spring Desert Sun.

Officials propose plan for Washington tribe to resume hunting whales, The Hill reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Stories from Thursday...

Dems want probe of Interior nominee's role in suppressed endangered species report

Officials propose plan for Washington tribe to resume hunting whales

Files show Trump Interior nominee lobbied after saying he had stopped: report

Newly-formed House climate panel holds first hearing

Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM

Trump pick for Interior heads toward Senate confirmation