Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs
Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade
ALL ABOARD TO GRAND JUNCTION: The Trump administration has proposed dramatically scaling down the number of staff from a Department of Labor public lands agency who work in Washington, D.C., leaving less than 1 percent working in the nation's capital.
An agency-wide reorganization will leave just 61 employees from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the nation's capital after the proposed transfer of 323 D.C.-based employees, which administration officials say would be completed in the next 15 months.
The move, officials argue, will save taxpayers between $50 and $100 million over the next 20 years by relocating employees closer to the issues they work on and in areas far more affordable than D.C. But former employees and environmentalists warn that the move will remove key voices from the Washington, effectively silencing them.
Why opponents are worried: "I think it's hard to suss out motivation but I do think the impacts will be to undermine the authority of these employees. They will be further from the center of power and there's a big potential that the BLM will lose those employees and others, expert people, in the reshuffle," said Kate Kelly, a former senior adviser at Interior during the Obama administration who now works at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
"It's hard to believe that having the director and deputy director thousands of miles away from where secretary sits and makes decisions is a good move for the agency," Kelly added.
BLM is responsible for overseeing 10 percent of U.S. public lands, including all oil and gas leases for onshore and offshore drilling.
Who is staying: Employees allowed to remain in D.C. will include BLM budget staff, legislative affairs and regulatory affairs aides and public affairs and public records requests divisions. Their offices will move to the Interior Department's headquarters. The other D.C. staff will join the nearly 10,000 BLM employees who already work from states like Colorado, Idaho and California.
The reorganization, first considered under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is aimed at putting more agency officials closer to the lands they manage out West. At the heart of the change is the relocation of BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo. Just 27 employees will be moved there.
"As [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt has observed, a meaningful reorganization is not simply about where functions are performed; rather, it is rooted in how changes will better satisfy the needs of the American people," Joe Balash, BLM's assistant secretary to Land and Minerals Management, wrote in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, explaining the plan.
"Under our proposal, every Western State will gain additional staff resources. This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently and advancing the BLM's multiple-use, sustained yield mission."
Included in the transition will be many of BLMs most senior policy officials. The Washington headquarters is home to 46 percent of top-level policy staffers, according to BLM officials.
"I kind of laugh at their suggestion that they will save in travel costs," Kelly told The Hill. "I think that, for example, a ticket in and out of Grand Junction is not an easy flight, and they are likely going to expend a comparable amount of money flying leadership and other senior employees to participate in meetings they should be a part of."
Read more about opposition to the move here.
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WE'RE NOT BORED OF BOARDS: Scientists and Democratic lawmakers during a hearing Tuesday raised concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over actions by the Trump administration they say are having a negative impact on science boards.
The hearing came a day after a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the agency skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to the boards.
Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee rattled off a list of issues with the EPA, from barring scientists with agency grants to serve on its Science Advisory Board, to a Trump administration executive order to kill one-third of advisory committees, to the Tuesday GAO report that showed how those boards with industry representatives and consultants have earned a more prominent role under the Trump presidency.
"Unfortunately, over the course of the last two and a half years, we have seen a multi-pronged attack on these committees," Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said.
The GAO report found the Science Advisory Board was particularly impacted by the agency. Designed to be a collection of the nation's top scientists, GAO found the EPA did not follow the process for selecting the "best qualified and most appropriate candidates" for two important committees that advise on environmental regulations and also "did not ensure that all appointees met ethics requirements."
Thomas Burke, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who previously served as the deputy administrator for the Office of Research and Development, said the Science Advisory Board is there to "make sure the agency does the right science and gets the science right."
A decision under former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt barred those who receive EPA research grants from serving on the committee. There was no similar ban for scientists who receive industry funding.
"When you omit those folks from the talent pool of our national, most prestigious advisory board it's a skewing that eliminates the best minds," Burke said. "What other areas of science would you omit the best minds at the start and not consider the potential conflict of interest of people who have direct financial interest or have received compensation from companies that have a very big vested interest in the subject at hand?"
Republicans defend EPA: Some Republicans on the committee pushed back both at the accusations against the EPA and its boards as well as the hearing itself.
"I would almost take exception that the people on the committee are the best and the highest qualified," said Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), saying in his experience in medicine, preeminent experts are already stretched too thin with other demands. He said the committee was a chance for former EPA employees to gripe about Trump's executive order to eliminate many committees.
Read more about the pushback here.
DEEP POCKETS FOR DEEPWATER HORIZON: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill proved to be one of the most litigious environmental events in the past decade, according to an analysis of cases released by Lex Machina on Tuesday.
The 2010 spill, which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, spurred nearly 7,000 lawsuits, more than half of the 13,000 total environmental cases filed between 2009 and 2018, according to Lex Machina, a division of LexisNexis. Many of those cases continue to be litigated.
The report found that more than $13.6 billion in damages tied to the Deepwater Horizon spill have been awarded by the courts to date.
The report also offers other details into the world of environmental litigation.
While the federal government was the most common plaintiff, green groups have a heavy hand in litigation as well. Groups like the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council were top filers. New York was the only state listed among the top 20 plaintiffs by litigation filed between 2016 and 2018, but the analysis did not include multidistrict litigation.
Former Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke was the most-sued person over that three years period, followed by the department itself, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency. However, excluding suits against Zinke, a similar amount of litigation was filed in the final years of the Obama administration.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
In the House, Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources will both mark up a bunch of bills. The Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on scientific integrity and another on modernizing the electric grid.
In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on battery storage.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
-West Virginia governor donates 4,500 acres for conservation easement, the Associated Press reports.
-Living in California is living on the edge, The Atlantic reports.