The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In A Nod To The Energy Industry, Pruitt Says EPA Can Also Be Pro-Jobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that America need not choose between jobs and the environment, in a nod to the energy industry, as the White House prepares executive orders that could come as soon as this week to roll back Obama-era regulation.

“I believe that we as an agency, and we as a nation, can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment,” Scott Pruitt said in his first address to staff. “We don’t have to choose between the two.”

Critics of the agency have complained that regulations ushered in by former Democratic President Barack Obama have killed thousands of energy jobs by restricting carbon emissions and limiting areas open to coal mining and oil drilling.

Democrats, environmental advocates, and many of the EPA’s current and former staff worry President Donald Trump’s appointment of Pruitt signals a reversal in America’s progress toward cleaner air and water and fighting global climate change.

Both Trump and Pruitt have expressed doubts about climate change, and Trump vowed during his 2016 presidential campaign to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight it. The Republican president has promised to slash environmental rules to help the drilling and mining industries, but without hurting air and water quality.

Pruitt sued the agency he now leads more than a dozen times while attorney general of Oklahoma to stop federal rules. He did not mention climate change in his 12-minute speech at the EPA’s headquarters in Washington.

He struck a conciliatory tone in the address, saying he would “listen, learn, and lead” and that he valued the contributions of career staff.

Trump is expected to sign executive orders aimed at reshaping environmental policy as early as this week. Those orders would lift a ban on coal mining leases on federal lands and ease greenhouse gas emissions curbs on electric utilities, according to a report by the Washington Post.

They would also require changes to Obama’s Waters of the United States rule that details which waterways fall under federal protection, the report said.

The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Washington Post story.

Pruitt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week after contentious hearings that focused on his record as the top prosecutor of the oil- and gas-producing state of Oklahoma.

Democrats had sought to delay Pruitt’s confirmation over questions about his ties to the oil industry. Some 800 former EPA staff also signed a letter urging senators to reject him, and about 30 current EPA staff joined a protest set up in Chicago by the Sierra Club environmental group.

In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Pruitt would have to turn over emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.

The judge will review and perhaps hold back some of the emails before releasing them, a court clerk said.

Nicole Cantello, a representative of the union that represents EPA workers, said that despite Pruitt’s record, she was hoping for the best.

“One would hope that the administrator would learn about what we do and would then not treat as lightly the EPA’s mission and accomplishments, and what it is required to do under the statutes,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said it looked forward to working with Pruitt, the administration and Congress “on policies that will keep energy affordable, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Senate Confirms Trump’s EPA Pick As White House Targets Regulation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday over the objections of Democrats and environmentalists worried he will gut the agency, as the administration readies executive orders to ease regulation on drillers and miners.

Senators voted 52-46 to approve Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Senator John Barrasso, a Republican and the head of the chamber’s environment committee, said Pruitt would improve the EPA by reforming and modernizing it.

Only one Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Pruitt. Two Democrats from energy-producing states, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voted for his confirmation.

Pruitt was to be sworn in later on Friday afternoon.

The nomination of Pruitt, who sued the EPA more than a dozen times on behalf of his oil-producing state and has doubted the science of climate change, sparked widespread concern in progressive circles, and has upset many former and current agency employees.

Nearly 800 former EPA staff urged the Senate to reject him in a letter this week, saying Pruitt had “shown no interest in enforcing environmental laws.” Earlier this month, about 30 current employees at an EPA regional office in Chicago joined a protest against Pruitt held by green groups.

Trump is likely to issue executive orders as soon as next week to reshape the EPA, sources said.

The Republican president has promised to kill former Democratic President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, currently held up in the courts, that aims to slash carbon emissions from coal and natural gas fired power plants.

Trump also wants to give states more authority over environmental issues by striking down federal regulations on drilling technologies and getting rid of an Obama rule that sought to clarify the EPA’s jurisdiction over streams and rivers.

‘OVERZEALOUS’ AGENCY

Conservatives warmly welcomed Pruitt’s confirmation.

“For far too long the EPA has acted in an overzealous manner, ignoring the separation of powers, the role of states, and the rights property owners,” said Nick Loris, an economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, however, said he was concerned that if the administration does not enforce emissions cuts such as outlined in the Clean Power Plan, it would increase U.S. pollution and harm the country’s leadership in international efforts to curb climate change.

Opponents of Pruitt also protested his ties to the energy industry. Republicans have the majority in the Senate, but Democrats spoke through Thursday night and Friday morning on the Senate floor, trying to extend debate on Pruitt until later in February when 3,000 emails between him and energy companies will likely be revealed by a judge.

An Oklahoma judge ruled this week that Pruitt will have to turn over the emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release. The judge will review the emails before releasing them.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell had moved to “strap blinders” on his fellow Republicans by not waiting for the release of Pruitt’s emails.

Environmentalists decried the approval. “If you don’t believe in climate science, you don’t belong at the EPA,” said May Boeve, the head of environmentalist group 350.org.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Judge Denies Tribes’ Request To Block Final Link In Dakota Pipeline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Monday denied a request by Native American tribes seeking to halt construction of the final link in the Dakota Access Pipeline, the controversial project that has sparked months of protests by activists aimed at stopping the 1,170-mile line.

At a hearing, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., rejected the request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who argued that the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they contend is surrounded by sacred ground.

With this decision, legal options for the tribes continue to narrow, as construction on the final uncompleted stretch is currently proceeding.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a final easement to Energy Transfer Partners LP, which is building the $3.8 billion pipeline (DAPL), after President Donald Trump issued an order to advance the project days after he took office in January.

Another hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27, as the tribes seek an injunction ordering the Army Corps to withdraw the easement.

Lawyers for the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Standing Rock Sioux wanted Judge Boasberg to block construction with a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the pipeline would obstruct the free exercise of their religious practices.

“We’re disappointed with today’s ruling denying a temporary restraining order against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but we are not surprised,” Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement.

The company needs to build a 1,100-foot (335 meter) connection in North Dakota under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to complete the pipeline.

The line would run from oilfields in the Northern Plains of North Dakota to the Midwest, and then to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, and could be operating by early May.

Judge Boasberg ordered Energy Transfer Partners to update the court on Monday and every week thereafter on when oil is expected to flow beneath Lake Oahe.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Iron Eyes said during an earlier conference call that the pipeline would also cause economic harm to Native Americans.

In his statement, he said the tribe was still seeking an injunction against the pipeline, which would also be heard in Boasberg’s court. They also are continuing to push for a full environmental impact statement that was ordered in the last days of the Obama Administration.

“We continue to believe that both the tribes and the public should have meaningful input and participation in that process,” he said.

Thousands of tribe members, environmentalists, and others set up camps last year on Army Corps land in the North Dakota plains as protests intensified. In December, the Obama Administration denied the last permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners, but with Trump’s stated support of the pipeline that victory was short-lived for the tribes.

The Army Corps has said it would close remaining camps on federal lands along the Cannonball River in North Dakota after Feb. 22.

Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the primary groups protesting the pipeline, said people would continue to leave the main camp. He said he expected more demonstrations around the country.

Only a few hundred protesters remained, and crews have been removing tipis and yurts. The Standing Rock tribe has asked protesters to leave.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester in Cannon Ball, North Dakota; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Toni Reinhold)

IMAGE: Crews remove waste from the opposition camp. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Senate Delays Committee Vote On Trump EPA Pick After Democrats Boycott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. senators on Wednesday delayed a committee vote on President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, after the panel’s Democrats boycotted the meeting, saying that nominee Scott Pruitt doubts the science of climate change.

The boycott in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee delayed the transition to a new administrator for the agency. Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said he could not support Pruitt, a Republican and the attorney general of Oklahoma, because he “denies the sum of empirical science and the urgency to act on climate change.”

At a confirmation hearing held by the panel earlier this month Pruitt, who has sued the agency he intends to run more than a dozen times on behalf of the oil-drilling state Oklahoma, expressed doubt about climate change science. But he said he would be would be obliged for now to uphold the agency’s 2009 “endangerment finding” that carbon dioxide emissions harm public health.

Republicans decried the move by the Democrats. “This is simply a senatorial temper tantrum,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican.

In 2013, Republican senators boycotted then-President Barack Obama’s pick for the agency, Gina McCarthy, saying they were unsatisfied by her answers to more than 1,000 written questions they had asked her. She was eventually confirmed.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Oops! Rick Perry Regrets Calling For Energy Department’s Elimination

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to run the Energy Department, said during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday that he regrets having called for the department’s elimination during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

“After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination,” the former Texas governor said in his opening remarks to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Perry, 66, was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, making him the longest-serving governor of the oil-producing state in its history. He is seen by Trump as a person who can usher in energy jobs.

As energy secretary, he would also lead a vast scientific research operation credited with helping trigger a U.S. drilling boom and advancements in energy efficiency, and would oversee America’s nuclear arsenal.

Perry’s proposal to get rid of the Energy Department caused what has become known as his “oops” moment during a November, 2011 Republican presidential candidate debate when he could not remember all of the three Cabinet-level departments he wanted to eliminate.

After mentioning the departments of Commerce and Education, he said, “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” A few minutes later in the debate Perry said with a laugh, “By the way that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Perry is expected to face questioning by senators on how he would create jobs in the industry and bolster U.S. energy security. Trump, who takes office at noon on Friday, has championed increased production of oil, gas and coal.

Perry is also likely to face questions about his stance on climate change. Like several other Trump Cabinet appointees, Perry is a self-professed climate skeptic. Democrats are concerned about the future of climate science research at the department’s lab network that sprawls across the country.

A questionnaire the Trump transition team sent to the department in December demanded names and publications of employees who had worked on climate issues. After an uproar by critics who said it amounted to a witch hunt, the team disavowed the survey.

Department leadership under Perry would represent a pivot from being run by learned scientists to a person who is known for close ties to energy interests.

Current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist who led technical negotiations in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the previous head, Steven Chu, is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a background in lab work and management. Perry resigned from the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline opposed by Native Americans and environmentalists. He has said that, if confirmed, he will divest his interests in two pipeline companies.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump Slammed For Attacks On Civil Rights Leader John Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump began a long holiday weekend that honors slain black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by attacking another rights activist and politician who had said he doesn’t see Trump as a “legitimate president”.

Democratic Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, said on a segment of “Meet the Press” released by NBC on Friday he thought hacking by Russians had helped Trump, a Republican, get elected in November. Lewis said he does not plan to attend Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the first time he would miss such an event since being elected to the House in 1986.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted that Lewis had falsely complained about the election results and instead “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).”

“All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” Trump tweeted.

During the campaign, Trump said Democrats had failed African-Americans and Hispanics. “What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance,” he said at a rally last year in Ohio.

Trump won the presidency with less support from black and Hispanic voters than any president in the last 40 years, only 8 percent and 28 percent respectively, polling data showed.

Lewis, who has been a civil rights leader for more than half a century, was beaten by police during a march he helped lead in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, drawing attention to hurdles for blacks to vote. He protested alongside King that day and on other occasions.

“I believe in forgiveness,” Lewis said in the NBC segment about Trump. “I believe in trying to work with people,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.”

At least 10 other Democratic U.S. politicians have also said they plan to skip the inauguration including Representatives Raul Grijalva, Lacy Clay and Mark Takano.

Supporters of Trump see him as a brash person who tells things as they are. His comments about Lewis came ahead of an anti-Trump march in Washington headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The protest by about 2,000 marchers kicked off a week of rallies planned by dozens of groups against Trump before, during and after the inauguration.

DisruptJ20, which is working with Black Lives Matter and other protest groups, said they are planning to disrupt balls celebrating the inauguration in Washington.

FIX A BRIDGE

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans also criticized the president-elect’s tweets.

Michael Steele, who served as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee until 2011, said Trump’s tweets were unfortunate.

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country, least of all Donald Trump, have ever walked, so you have to respect that,” Steele said on MSNBC.

If Trump is looking to fix a bridge to black voters, their expectation is he “will do so in a way that shows respect for our leadership,” Steele said.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska tweeted that “John Lewis and his ‘talk’ have changed the world.”

Conservative critic Bill Kristol tweeted “It’s telling, I’m afraid, that Donald Trump treats (Russian President) Vladimir Putin with more respect than he does John Lewis.”

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) nomination to be U.S. attorney general in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Obama Administration Bars New Oil Exploration In Arctic Waters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration on Friday blocked new exploration for oil and gas in Arctic waters, in a win for environmental groups that had fought development of the ecologically fragile region.

The Department of the Interior released a 2017 to 2022 leasing plan that blocked drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off northern Alaska. It also limited petroleum development in the Cook Inlet off south-central Alaska.

Environmental activists have battled drilling in Alaska to protect whales, walruses and seals, and as part of a broader movement to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The Interior Department said the plan was “balanced,” and left 70 percent of economically recoverable oil and gas resources open to drilling, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan focuses on the best areas “with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure – and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

President Barack Obama, who last year became the first sitting president to cross the Arctic Circle, has made fighting climate change and protecting the Arctic priorities in his administration.

But President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican who takes office on Jan. 20, 2017, has vowed to open resources to petroleum development and could take steps to reverse the decision.

Oil interests have pressured the administration to explore for energy in the Arctic. Jack Girard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute industry group, said the decision “puts the U.S. at a serious competitive disadvantage.”

Russia and Norway have also explored the Arctic, though Exxon Mobil wound down drilling in the Russian north in 2014 due to U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s aggression in eastern Ukraine.

Fierce winds and frigid waters make the Arctic treacherous for drilling equipment. After spending billions of dollars to explore the Alaskan Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell retreated in 2015 after suffering a gash in one of its ships and environmentalists had uncovered details of an old law that forced the company to cut exploration there by half.

The U.S. Coast Guard complained when Shell was drilling off Alaska that it had been forced to divert resources, including a vessel that fought cocaine trafficking, to keep operations in the region safe.

Environmentalists applauded the new lease plan, which built on a similar decision in March when the government removed much of the Atlantic ocean from oil and gas leasing for five years.

“This is excellent news for our oceans, from the Arctic to the Atlantic,” said Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns of Oceana, an international advocacy group.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Cynthia Osterman, G Crosse)

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. August 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst