Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report

Greg Nash/Bonnie Cash

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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EXTREMELY FIDDLER VOICE: TRANSITIOOOON! The shortlist of potential nominees to lead the Interior Department is heavily focused on the New Mexico congressional delegation, setting up a potential battle between a senator whose father once led the agency and a House lawmaker who would be the first ever Native American in the Cabinet post.

Rep. Deb Haaland, Sen. Martin Heinrich and outgoing Sen. Tom Udall — all New Mexico Democrats — have been floated as potential nominees, along with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Haaland was one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress when she won her seat in 2018, and Udall’s father was Interior secretary during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Any of those picks would likely lead to a sharp turnaround at an agency with 70,000 employees that critics say has been more focused on oil and gas leases than conservation during the Trump presidency.

Sources say the early focus has centered on Udall and Haaland — and each has made an effort to show how they would use the role to fight climate change and improve relations with the tribes.

Haaland is considered more of a newcomer to national politics compared to others on the list. But she would be a historic pick for an agency long criticized for struggling to fulfill its responsibilities to tribes — a reputation that has worsened after the Trump administration was slow in getting stimulus money to tribal governments.

“It is notable that our country has finally reached the point where having the first Native American Cabinet Secretary is a serious consideration and there are people putting it down on paper. New Mexico is my top priority, and I am open to opportunities where I can best serve our state, Indian Country, and our country at large and pushing the Biden climate plan,” Haaland said in a statement to The Hill.

She called Biden’s victory critical for climate change and noted Interior would play a key role in transitioning to cleaner sources of energy and “repairing the damage the Trump administration did to our environment and to relationships with Tribal Nations.”

Native American issues would also be familiar ground for Udall, whose office compiled a long list of his work as vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and efforts directing money to Native American priorities through his vice chair role on the Interior subcommittee of Appropriations.

Udall’s signature “30 by 30” legislation, which would require the government to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters, has also been incorporated into Biden’s climate plan.

Though Udall did not seek reelection this year, he has said he is “most certainly not retiring” from public life.

“Senator Udall was proud to work with the Biden-Harris ticket to help win this critical election, and he is thrilled that their message of stewardship of our natural resources and action on climate change resonated across the West,” Udall spokesman Ned Adriance said in a statement to The Hill.

Adriance added that Udall is “energized about the Biden-Harris administration’s vision for conservation” and “looking forward to helping a Biden-Harris administration support Indigenous people and Tribal governments and advance the bold conservation vision that is needed to create jobs, save nature and fight climate change.”

Read more on the contenders here

EXX-ON, TICKED OFF: The Sunrise Movement is criticizing the Biden transition team for its inclusion of a lawyer who has represented ExxonMobil. 

Neil MacBride, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will help review the Justice Department as part of the transition team. 

MacBride represented ExxonMobil in a lawsuit against the Treasury Department that overturned a penalty levied against the company after it allegedly violated foreign sanctions. 

He now represents an engineer at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, who has been indicted in a case involving an alleged plan to manipulate vehicle emissions tests. 

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led progressive environmental group, said the Biden team should change its mind about his inclusion on the agency review teams. 

“We hope the Biden-Harris team reconsiders Mr. McBride’s appointment and works to ensure going forward that their government is free of influence from the fossil fuel industry, and is instead led by visionaries who understand the urgency of the crisis,” spokesperson Garrett Blad said in an email. 

“We believe no fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, consultants to and lawyers for fossil fuel companies have any place on the transition team, or in the Biden-Harris administration. People who have profited off of climate chaos shouldn’t be anywhere near the federal government’s response to it,” Blad added. 

Read more on the opposition here

CAN’T SINKE THE ZINKE: Department of Justice officials pointed to Trump political appointees for stalling a case into former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, according to a Tuesday report from The New York Times.

Lawyers in the Public Integrity Section were told by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen that they would need a stronger case before they could proceed with charging Zinke for lying to federal investigators. 

Zinke, who resigned at the end of 2018, was the subject of more than a dozen investigations for his conduct in office, including scrutiny over a land deal involving a foundation he led and a company backed by David Lesar, chairman of oilfield services company Halliburton. Zinke denied wrongdoing in the matter.

Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) referred its probe into the deal to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution of conflict of interest laws.

Sources that spoke with The Times listed the incident as an example of top department officials hindering investigations into President Trump and his highest ranking officials.

According to the report, Rosen expressed doubts about the case, and prosecutors agreed to continue their work, leaving the investigation open.

The story is here

YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK: The Federal Reserve has applied to be part of a group of government banks that collaborate on managing the financial risks from climate change, a top official said Tuesday.  

Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles told the Senate Banking Committee that the central bank has sought membership on the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). 

“We have requested membership. I expect that it will be granted,” Quarles said. “I suspect we could probably join before the spring.”

According to its website, the NGFS seeks to help the world meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement and “enhance the role of the financial system to manage risks and to mobilize capital for green and low-carbon investments in the broader context of environmentally sustainable development.”

Read more on the move here

TALK OF THE TOWN: Climate change came up during President-elect Joe Biden’s separate calls with four European leaders this week. According to readouts from the Biden transition team, Biden discussed climate change as a common interest, challenge or priority with France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson. 

 A Downing Street spokesperson also said that Johnson invited Biden to attend the COP26 climate change summit set to take place in Glasgow in November 2021. 

The conversations come days after the U.S. formally withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which President Trump has repeatedly railed against, become the only country that is not part of it. Biden, however, has pledged to rejoin the agreement on his firth day in office. 

Read more about their conversations here


No more natural gas in new San Francisco buildings starting next year, The San Francisco Chronicle reports

Climate change blamed for fall’s super floods in South Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports

Why Republican control of US Senate would kneecap climate action, The Guardian reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers, tribal issues

Federal Reserve applies to join group of banks managing climate risks

Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report

Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon

Tags Deb Haaland Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron Joe Biden Martin Heinrich Ryan Zinke Tom Udall

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