OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower cites Trump tweets as impetus for California emissions probe | Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay | Trump vows crackdown on monument vandalism

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower cites Trump tweets as impetus for California emissions probe | Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay | Trump vows crackdown on monument vandalism
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INSERT LONG WHISTLE SOUND HERE: A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into California’s efforts to reduce vehicle emissions appeared to be politically motivated, a DOJ whistleblower wrote in testimony to lawmakers that was released Tuesday.

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John W. Elias, a DOJ career employee slated to appear before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, wrote that an investigation into California’s emissions agreements with four automakers was spurred shortly after tweets from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE complaining about the deal.

“The day after the tweets, Antitrust Division political leadership instructed staff to initiate an investigation that day,” Elias said, noting that it was “generated by the division’s policy staff, which does not conduct enforcement investigations of this type.”

The July deal came as the Trump administration was in the midst of developing now-finalized tailpipe emission and mileage standards for vehicles that significantly roll back those developed under the Obama administration. California’s agreements with BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen commit automakers to producing vehicles that could average 50 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2026, while the Trump plan asks automakers to reach 40 mpg in the same timeframe.

“Car companies should know that when this administration’s alternative is no longer available, California will squeeze them to a point of business ruin,” Trump tweeted in August.

The DOJ Antitrust Division immediately began investigating whether the agreement violated the nation’s competition laws against collusion — prompting an outcry from Democratic lawmakers in D.C. and California. 

Elias, the acting chief of staff for DOJ’s Antitrust Division for the first half of the Trump administration, said the investigation was unusual in that well-established antitrust precedent gives states wide latitude to regulate while “companies are free to collectively lobby the government for regulation.” 

“Enforcement staff expressed concerns about the legal and factual basis for the investigation,” Elias wrote. 

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But Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim repeatedly pushed forward the investigation over staff requests for a delay in order to do a more thorough legal analysis. Delrahim later personally wrote automakers to inform them that the division had decided to examine the arrangement with California. 

The investigation began to unravel in October when automakers informed DOJ they had individually signed deals with California — a move Elias said “undercut” the department’s concerns the companies may have been colluding.

Read more about the testimony here.

TEED UP & TICKED OFF: House Democratic leadership have announced they will take up a landmark Senate-passed conservation bill by the end of July.

The legislation would dedicate $900 million a year in revenue garnered from oil and gas activity on federal lands to conservation efforts like preserving land for trails and parks. It also sets aside $6.5 billion to address a maintenance backlog at national parks.

The Great American Outdoors Act passed the Senate in a 73-25 vote, but it’s facing a more complicated track in the House due to opposition from some Republicans.

A late Monday note from House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Md.) said they were unable to expedite the bill, blaming Republican resistance.

"While I am disappointed that Republicans have indicated they would oppose this bill under suspension, which is why I will bring it to the floor under a rule later in July, I look forward to seeing it pass the House with strong bipartisan support and being sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law," Hoyer said in an email.

So what’s the problem?

The House version of the bill is backed by an equal slate of Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, but opposition from some Western GOP lawmakers is holding it up. 

Those Republicans have expressed concern over the $900 million price tag for permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and pushed for an amendments process.

“This bill sets that authorization funding on autopilot for generations to come. Such a decision to make permanent this massive federal land buying program should be considered under an open process,” GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter last week spearheaded by Reps. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarPelosi must go — the House is in dire need of new leadership LWCF modernization: Restoring the promise Trump tweets his people have all left Drudge MORE (Ariz.) and House Natural Resources ranking member Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopLWCF modernization: Restoring the promise Trump signs major conservation bill into law Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits MORE (Utah).

Bishop previously urged senators to vote against the bill.

“At a time when America is putting a record amount of debt on the backs of future generations to cope with COVID-19, now is not the time for reckless spending or new mandatory programs that have nothing to do with the pandemic or stimulating growth,” he wrote. 

Read more on the bill here

MONUMENTAL THREAT: President Trump on Tuesday morning threatened to assert a section of the U.S. code imposing penalties of up to 10 years in prison in response to defacement of statues on public property.

In the tweets, the president said he had “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S.” under the existing statute, which states anyone who “willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States [on federal property] shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!” the president added.

The tweets came the morning after Washington, D.C., police used tear gas to clear Lafayette Square of protesters who attempted to topple the park’s statue of former President Andrew Jackson.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also weighed in…

"I just left Lafayette Square where another so called 'peaceful protest' led to destruction tonight," Bernhardt tweeted just before 11 p.m. Monday. "Let me be clear: we will not bow to anarchists. Law and order will prevail, and justice will be served."

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Read more about Trump’s tweets here and Bernhardt’s tweets here

ON TAP TOMORROW:

- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee will discuss the coronavirus impact on mineral supply chains 

-The Senate Ag Committee will hold a hearing on the The Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020

-The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on political interference at DOJ 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

How CO2 boosters' op-ed slipped by Facebook fact-checkers, E&E News reports

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Climate change: Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good,' the BBC reports

Revealed: Millions of Americans can’t afford water as bills rise 80% in a decade, The Guardian reports 

Court rules against challenge to Connecticut’s use of energy funds, The Associated Press reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…

Black households pay more for energy than white households: analysis

Amazon creating $2B internal venture capital fund focused on green tech

Nevada adopting California's tough car pollution rules, pushing back against Trump 

Secretary of the Interior weighs in on 'peaceful protest' in Lafayette Square: 'We will not bow to anarchists'