Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels

Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels
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PUBLIC RECORDS REVEAL INTERIOR'S ISSUES WITH PUBLIC RECORDS: A green group is requesting an investigation of the Department of the Interior's top lawyer, arguing he downplayed his role in the department's controversial public records review process while testifying in May.

Daniel Jorjani, the principal deputy solicitor at Interior, told senators he did not regularly review documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) before their release.

But a batch of documents released through a public records request from EarthJustice shows the confusion that stemmed from the policy and how Jorjani was involved in processing the requests.

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"He misled Congress and stepped very close to perjury," said Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, arguing that Jorjani held back information from lawmakers who inquired about the public record process.  

Interior has long been criticized for its policy of allowing political appointees to review FOIA requests about them or their work before being released to reporters and other requesters, including environmental groups.

In addition to his role in the solicitor's office, Jorjani is also the department's chief FOIA officer and employees were directed to copy him in their discussions of public records requests.

 

Critics say Interior's defense--that Jorjani doesn't review individual requests--doesn't make sense.

"It doesn't pass the smell test to ask him to be sent all these things so he can not look at them," Weiss said. "There's clear documentation showing he has been looped in the entire time, so you can't deny that to the Senate in writing -- that's just lying."

Jorjani was recently nominated to be the solicitor for Interior, a post that has remained vacant under the Trump administration. Several Democrats have said they will not support his nomination in part because of his lack of response to questions on Interior's public records policy.

"The Interior Department under President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE has treated information as a political weapon, regardless of what our laws require or what democracy demands of its leaders," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) chair of the House Natural Resources, in a statement. "[Interior's] top lawyer shouldn't sign off on it."

Molly Block, a department spokeswoman, said "the process ensures that matters of concern to Department leadership are flagged for awareness. This also allows a FOIA officer to receive contextual information in order to help them better apply the relevant legal standards."

EarthJustice requested an investigation of Interior's public records review process from the department's Office of Inspector General (OIG), arguing it imposes barriers and delays in getting information.

Records requested by EarthJustice and included in their complaint to the OIG also answer other questions Jorjani didn't answer in his testimony to Congress.

Read more about the records here.

 

Happy Tuesday! And welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

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SHE'S BAAAAAAACK: Boaty McBoatface, the submarine named by an online poll, made a major climate discovery during its maiden voyage in Antarctica.

The data collection research, which took place in April 2017, found a significant link between Antarctic winds and rising sea temperatures.

The analysis of the data from the autonomous submarine was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a multidisciplinary journal.

Boaty McBoatface collected temperature, saltiness and water turbulence data at the bottom of the Southern Ocean over a three-day period.

"The data from Boaty McBoatface gave us a completely new way of looking at the deep ocean - the path taken by Boaty created a spatial view of the turbulence near the seafloor," said Dr. Eleanor Frajka-Williams of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England.

The data will help experts to better predict how climate change will impact sea level rise.

 

You may remember Boaty first made headlines three years ago...

The British public voted more than 124,000 times in 2016 to name a new nearly $300 million state-of-the-art research ship RRS Boaty McBoatface.

The UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rejected the result, choosing instead to name the vessel "RRS Sir David Attenborough," after the British naturalist and broadcaster.

The name Boaty McBoatface was given to the submarine instead.

Read more here.

 

ICYMI: TRUMP'S TRIM TO SCIENCE ADVISORY PANELS SPARKS OUTRAGE: Former agency heads and environmentalists are blasting a new executive order issued late Friday evening as a stealthy means to remove scientific oversight from agency rulemaking.

Previous heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department say President Trump's directive last week for all agencies to cut at least a third of their advisory committees by September would weaken the science-based regulations process that the administration has pushed back against since Trump took office.

"The decision is disappointing to anyone who cares about evidence-based policy making, scientific review or the truth," said Carol Browner, the sole EPA administrator under former President Clinton, in an email to The Hill on Monday.

"Engaging a range of outside advisors has served EPA well," she said. "While probably predictable, the decision is no less alarming. The American people expect more from agencies, especially those charged with protecting our health, like the EPA."

 

What the order does: Trump's executive order directs all federal agencies to cut by at least one-third the number of boards and advisory committees that weigh in on government regulations and other agency decisions. That means 462 committees are potentially on the chopping block when excluding agencies that are mandated by law.

At EPA and Interior, advisory committees provide scientific and technical expertise from people who are considered to be at the top of their field.

"The things you are worried about are that complex decisions deserve to have the best experts and scientists convening," said Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees MORE, EPA chief under former President Obama, in a phone interview Monday. "While the agencies have terrific people, they don't necessarily have the breadth of expertise they need."

She said Trump's move "is just another way of diminishing the need for the federal government to consider science and expert opinions on issues most critical to the American public."

 

The criticism is also coming from some Republicans: "This unprecedented attack on science-based regulations designed to protect the environment and public health represents the gravest threat to the effectiveness of the EPA -- and to the federal government's overall ability to do the same -- in the nation's history," said Christine Todd Whitman, who was EPA chief under President George W. Bush, at a congressional hearing last week shortly before Trump's executive order.

Read more about the order here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Oregon wildlife officials kill young bear after people feed him, take selfies, the Statesman Journal reports.

Maine, Vermont pass plastic bag bans on same day, we report.

Kentucky commission recommends online hunter training course, the Associated Press reports.

Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion approved; 'shovels in ground' soon, Canada's PM says, the Seattle Times reports.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

EPA is expected to roll out its Advanced Clean Energy rule Wednesday, finalizing its emissions rules for power plants.

In the House, the Natural Resources Committee will mark up a number of bills that would ban offshore drilling.

Other hearings will look into methods to make the country's natural gas pipelines safer and methods to jump start clean energy use through fossil energy research.

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee will consider Robert Wallace's nomination to an Interior post and mark up some PFAS chemical legislation.

 

ICYMI:

Stories from Tuesday...

Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage

Permafrost in Canadian Arctic thawing 70 years earlier than predicted: report

Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery in maiden mission

Julián Castro pledges $200B green infrastructure fund in housing proposal

Maine, Vermont pass plastic bag bans on same day

Viral photo shows extent of ice melt in Greenland

Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony