Overnight Energy: Trump appoints Social Security watchdog to also oversee Interior | Critics question EPA guidance on pipelines | Battle over science roils EPA

Overnight Energy: Trump appoints Social Security watchdog to also oversee Interior | Critics question EPA guidance on pipelines | Battle over science roils EPA
© Getty

WHO WATCHES THE WATCHERS: President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE has quietly appointed his Social Security Administration (SSA) inspector general to also oversee a much different agency: the Interior Department.

On May 28, Gail Ennis began her second job overseeing the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a role she will keep for the foreseeable future, the OIG confirmed to The Hill.

The Trump administration is still awaiting the confirmation of Mark Greenblatt, the former assistant inspector general for investigations at the Commerce Department, to formally head the Interior's OIG office.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ennis was sworn into the SSA role just five months ago, her first time serving as an inspector general. Her professional background is in securities litigation, working previously as a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale, where she reportedly earned $2 million a year.

At the SSA, Ennis has most recently led efforts to thwart scam Social Security phone calls. At the Interior department, she will oversee investigations into newly appointed Secretary David Bernhardt's lobbying ties and two ongoing Justice Department investigations into former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Conserving wildlife migrations starts with listening to landowners MORE. One of those investigations has reportedly made it to the grand jury.

The appointment of Ennis to Interior was not formally announced by the White House, however, the Interior Department's website was updated last week to reflect her new position.

Ennis replaces former acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, who retired from the office at the end of May. Kendall oversaw multiple ethics investigations into Zinke, including recommending a number of them to the Justice Department for further investigation. Those investigations reportedly played a heavy factor in Zinke's decision to leave the administration early this year.

In addition to the ongoing investigations into Interior's current and former secretaries, the OIG is also investigating six high-ranking interior officials for ethics concerns.

Read more about the appointment here.

 

Happy Monday. And 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.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

STATES VS FEDS VS PIPELINES: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a guidance Friday that critics say seeks to limit states' influence over controversial pipeline projects.

Federal law through the Clean Water Act essentially gives states veto power over large projects that cut through their rivers and streams if they believe those projects would negatively impact their water quality.

Spurred by an April executive order from President Trump, the EPA's guidance encourages states to more quickly process project applications, even if they don't have all the information yet.

"This seems to be another attempt by the Trump Administration to limit states, and by extension local communities, ability to protect their own waterways and to give pipeline developers or other project proponents an ability to skip over one of the steps in the process that had been there to protect local waterways," said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, one of the environmental groups weighing action against the EPA.

The Clean Water Act gives states a year to weigh permits and determine how projects would impact their water, but some feel states have used the process to block major projects.

"I welcome this announcement and hope EPA's new guidance will reduce abuse of the Clean Water Act to block infrastructure needed to provide reliable and affordable energy," Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (R-Alaska) said of the guidance in a press release.

"EPA's updated guidance will maintain vital protections for our water resources while promoting responsible development of our energy resources."

The EPA said states should not take more time than is reasonable to review permits, encouraging them to "promptly begin evaluating the request to ensure timely action."

The guidance says the timeline for reviewing the permits begins as soon as they are filed, and states should not wait for an environmental assessment to be completed as that may take longer than the year states are granted. The guidance also notes that the clock doesn't stop because states have requested more information.  

States have recently sidelined two large projects using the certification process through the Clean Water Act, actions that contradict the energy dominance strategy promoted by the Trump administration.

New York denied a certification for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that would have run from Pennsylvania to New York, crossing rivers more than 200 times. Washington state denied certification for the Millennium Coal Terminal, a shipping port for large stocks of coal.

"The Trump Administration's attempt to attack our state's right to protect the health and well-being of our residents, without any consultation with states or tribal governments, is wrong," Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement to The Hill. "It will undermine four decades of state and federal cooperation in environmental stewardship."

But even states with more conservative leadership have spoken out for maintaining states' rights under the law.

Read more about the pipeline guidance here.

 

BATTLE OVER SCIENCE: Environmental Protection Agency is battling its own board of science advisers over its controversial plan to dismiss certain types of scientific research from consideration when issuing rules.

A meeting this week between the agency and some of the nation's top scientists highlighted the growing rift between the EPA and the scientific community, with members of the Science Advisory Board (SAB) pushing back on the administration's efforts to bar consideration of studies that don't make their underlying data public.

Critics say the move would omit important research from EPA consideration and lead to a dramatic rollback of existing regulations.

The SAB, a team of more than 40 of the nation's top scientists, have been asking to weigh in on the controversial proposal since it was unveiled more than a year ago.

On Wednesday, it said it would do so -- despite a request from the agency to review only a narrow portion of the rule.

There's mistrust between the scientific community and EPA's leaders in the Trump administration.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Trump directs agencies to cut advisory boards by 'at least' one-third Overnight Energy: Former EPA chiefs say Trump has abandoned agency's mission | Trump in Iowa touts ethanol and knocks Biden | Greens sue Trump over drilling safety rollbacks | FDA downplays worries over 'forever chemicals' MORE said the proposal, called Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would battle "secret science" when it was first introduced. That spurred scientists to call the proposal "censored science."

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Trump officials propose overhaul of environmental rule for federal forests | GOP pollster warns party over climate stance | Roundup ingredient found in cereals Overnight Energy: Trump officials propose overhaul of environmental rule for federal forests | GOP pollster warns party over climate stance | Roundup ingredient found in cereals Roundup ingredient found in cereals marketed toward kids: study MORE on Wednesday appeared before the board, vowing to improve the relationship between it and the agency.

"I'll be the first to admit that we have not utilized you in ways that we should. We can and we will do better," Wheeler said.

But many in the science and environmental community walked away from the meeting disheartened at what they see is the agency's plan to amplify pet policies and the voices of industry over those of scientists.

Read more about the tensions here.

 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee kicks off the week by hosting four former EPA administrators who will weigh in on the direction of the agency.

The House Budget Committee will weigh the economic and budgetary effects of climate change.

Also on Tuesday are hearings on space exploration, resiliency in federal building construction and a markup of the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

New Mexico governor says no to high-level nuclear waste, the Associated Press reports.

After pause, Maine may have missed the boat on offshore wind, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Washington state AG sues Trump administration over water quality standards, the Associated Press reports.

Trudeau announces Canadian ban of single-use plastics as early as 2021, we report.

 

ICYMI:

Stories from Monday and over the weekend...

Battle over science roils EPA

Trump appoints Social Security Administration watchdog to also oversee Interior

Trudeau announces Canadian ban of single-use plastics as early as 2021

Conservative groups tell Congress: 'We oppose any carbon tax'

EPA issues guidance critics say would limit state's authorities over pipeline projects