Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill

BERNHARDT IS IN: Congress confirmed David Bernhardt as Interior secretary on Thursday, adding his name to a list of Trump cabinet officials with lobbying ties.

Bernhardt was confirmed Thursday afternoon in a 56-41 vote with three Democrats and one independent breaking ranks to vote for him. Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats Manchin, Jones signal they're undecided on Trump removal vote Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Dems' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump MORE (D-W.Va.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality MORE (D-N.M.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Angus KingAngus KingSenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Collins walks impeachment tightrope The Hill's 12:30 Report: House managers to begin opening arguments on day two MORE (I-Maine) voted in favor of his confirmation.

Manchin, the top Democratic of the Senate committee that oversees Interior, welcomed Bernhardt's confirmation Thursday, saying he was more than qualified for the job

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"I believe Mr. Bernhardt is clearly qualified to serve as secretary," Manchin said during a floor speech. "He knows the Interior Department inside and out and he is well versed on all the issues that come before it. He clearly has the knowledge and experiences to serve as secretary."

Republicans also cheered the confirmation, adding that Bernhardt's policy chops would be very useful at the Interior Department.

"I think he's got more experience than just about anybody who has been named to this position and he's ready to go," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Romney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff MORE (R-Alaska) told reporters, brushing off concerns that Bernhardt's past lobbying would influence his future work. "There's nothing new that is out there, there are new stories on old facts. We've heard the same comments from the same critics."

Bernhardt's background: Bernhardt has worked at Interior in many capacities, including solicitor during the George W. Bush administration. He has also had multiple stints at the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, representing various energy clients including Eni Petroleum, Sempra Energy, Halliburton Energy Services, Targa Energy, Noble Energy and the Westlands Water District.

Under ethics rules, Bernhardt has had to recuse himself from meeting with a number of former clients.

His conflicts of interest are so vast he carries with him a card listing the names of all companies that would collide with his government work. Democrats have repeatedly raised questions about decisions Bernhardt has made as deputy and acting director that benefit former clients.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' Collins walks impeachment tightrope Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE (R-N.D.) downplayed Bernhardt's previous lobbyist career, saying that in itself wasn't a conflict of interest.

"I'm tired of Democrats considering people having opinions or previous lives as a conflict of interest. They want everyone to have been robots or something. I think that his background is actually what equips him for it," Cramer said.

"If they've been involved in an issue like he has from all sides, I find that as an asset. But I don't think it's a conflict because you used to do something."

Bernhardt's confirmation Thursday means he will now oversee about 500 million acres of publicly owned land as well as the energy production on that land and offshore.

Democrats and environmentalists have taken issue with Bernhardt's lobbying ties as well as policies he's helped draft as Interior deputy secretary that appear to benefit some former clients.

"His predecessor Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEurope 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 Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks MORE left in an ethical hurricane and if you add up all the members of Congress who have made all of these inquiries to the Inspector General, I think it's pretty clear there are a lot of members who think another ethical storm is headed this way," Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment Wyden calls on NSA to examine White House cybersecurity following Bezos hack MORE (D-Ore.) told reporters Wednesday.

Read more on the confirmation here.

 

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Meanwhile, at EPA...

 

DEMS PROBE POTENTIAL LOBBYING VIOLATIONS: Congressional Democrats are launching a probe into whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials scaled back regulations for air pollution to benefit former lobbying clients.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to a number of electric utilities and the lobbying firm Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP asking for documents tied to their work on rolling back the Clean Air Act (CAA), in an effort to determine whether the EPA officials violated ethics rules.

William Wehrum and David Harlow previously worked as lobbyists for a group of utilities while at Hunton. Wehrum is now assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, and Harlow serves as senior counsel in that division. Both joined the agency during the Trump administration.

"We are concerned that two former employees of your firm -- William Wehrum and David Harlow -- may have violated federal ethics rules by helping reverse EPA's position in ongoing litigation," Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to Hunton that was also signed by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years Overnight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans MORE (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteOvernight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years Overnight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides MORE (D-Colo.).

The agency under President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE has rolled back a number of regulations that had long been targets of the coal industry and coal-reliant utilities.

"The Office of Air and Radiation's agenda appears remarkably similar to the substantive agenda," of the utilities, the Democrats wrote. "These allegations have raised substantial questions regarding whether Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow are properly carrying out the CAA as directed by Congress or instead changing agency policies to benefit former clients."

Response: When asked for comment, an EPA spokesman said Wehrum and Harlow "have both been recused from all particular matters where DTE is a party," referring to DTE Energy, one of the several utilities contacted by House Democrats. The spokesman made no reference to the other companies that received letters.

Wehrum was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 in a 49-47 vote after questions were raised both about his lobbying career and his work at the EPA during the George W. Bush administration, when he held the same position that he does now.

Democrats said federal courts 27 times had overturned regulations Wehrum worked on during his prior EPA stint.

More on the controversy here.

 

SENATORS INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN CARBON CAPTURE BILL: A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday to increase federal funding toward developing carbon capture technology while also committing to fossil fuel use.

Introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the bill is being hailed as an important step to addressing climate change while not necessarily phasing out fossil fuel use.

"The energy experts who have come before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources have been clear – fossil fuels are projected to be part of the generation mix through 2040, and likely beyond, and the United States needs to lead in technological innovations designed to reduce carbon emissions," said Manchin in a statement.

"This is a critical piece of the solution addressing the climate crisis."

In addition to Manchin, the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology (EFFECT) Act is backed by Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Lawmakers introduce bill to reform controversial surveillance authorities Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says MORE (Mont.)

The big picture: Carbon capture has long been an area where Republicans and Democrats have hinted there might be a potential for consensus on climate change.

While GOP senators have long resisted progressive efforts to transition the country away from fossil fuels, some have embraced the idea of carbon capture as an alternative.

Congress last year passed legislation to expand carbon sequestration tax credits to companies.

Environmentalists alternatively have criticized the plan, arguing it is a band aid for fixing the climate crisis and doesn't address the heart of the issue--carbon emissions.

The technology also remains in its early stages and hasn't been widely adopted, due in large part to its implementation cost.

What the bill does: Manchin's bill would direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish four new research programs within its Office of Fossil Energy. Those programs would each be focused on carbon storage, carbon utilization, carbon removal and also coal and natural gas technology.

The carbon removal program under the bill would specifically provide research and development for new technologies and strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a large scale.

Alternatively, the program focusing on coal and natural gas would work towards developing "transformational technologies" to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of fossil fuel use.

"Carbon capture offers great potential to reduce emissions and will complement other clean technologies like advanced nuclear and renewable energy," Sen. Murkowski said in a statement.

More on the bill here.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

-Natural gas is our best option, argues Ellen R. Wald, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center.

-If people are serious about reducing CO2, they should invest in energy companies that use state-of-the-art technology to reduce carbon emissions, says Eric Bolling, host of

Sinclair's "America This Week with Eric Bolling."

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-Alaska relies on ice. What happens when it can't be trusted? The New York Times asks.

-EPA won't make GE restart Hudson dredging for now, the Associated Press reports.

-Transmission line for Canadian hydropower to Northeast OK'd, the Associated Press reports.

-New York City charges ahead with its own Green New Deal, HuffPost reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Stories from Thursday...

-David Bernhardt confirmed as new Interior chief

-Dems probing whether EPA officials violated ethics rules

-Inslee knocks Trump for wind turbine remarks

-Federal judge threatens to block Carnival cruise ships from docking in US: report

-O'Rourke defends 2015 vote to lift oil export ban