While President Trump criticized over the weekend the “phony” investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials while running for office, Congress struck a deal to finally punish Russia for the alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
But it was a bit of a rough road to reach that compromise. The main speed bump: U.S. oil and gas firms’ objections to the codification of sanctions issued by President Obama in 2014. By turning what were executive orders into law, Trump would not be able to undo sanctions against Russia without congressional approval.
The compromise between leaders in the Senate, where the bill passed with an overwhelming 98-2 majority, and the House, where the sanctions package stalled, was welded with a carve-out for U.S. oil and gas interests.
Here’s the deal: The bill, if passed and signed into law, would restrict U.S. firms from partnering with sanctioned Russian firms on projects in which those Russians owned at least a 33 percent stake.
What it means: On its face, the compromise bill would give certain joint ventures the greenlight, while stopping others.
For example, BP would be good to go ahead with a big offshore natural gas project in the South Caspian Sea of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state. Lukoil, BP’s Russian partner on the project, owns only a 10 percent stake in developing that gas field so the deal would not be covered under the new sanctions legislation.
The language of the bill also "ensures that it didn't affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine" in which Chevron is a co-investor, according to CNN.
But it seems that ExxonMobil’s stalled co-venture to drill in the Arctic Ocean and Black Sea may remain that way. The sanctioned state-owned firm involved in that deal, Rosneft, has a two-thirds stake in the project.
(Caveats to this rule of thumb abound: We haven’t seen the text of the bill yet. Plus, whether it’s sanctions issued by legislation or executive order, it’s the Treasury Department that determines which Russian firms fall on the sanctions list.)
What the White House says: The message from Trump’s recently shaken-up press shop is muddled, to say the least. Freshly minted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday morning on ABC that the president supports the compromise bill. But almost simultaneously, the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told CNN that the president “hasn't made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.” (“My bad,” Scaramucci later told the New York Times when asked about his comments. “Go with what Sarah is saying as I am new to the information.”)
Meanwhile: Members of the European Union, who have hounded Trump's seemingly cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, voiced reservations about potential “unintended consequences” of the unilateral effort to sanction Russia through legislation.
“This impact could be potentially wide and indiscriminate, including when it comes to energy sources diversification efforts,” the European Commission said in a statement over the weekend.
In particular, Germany appears worried its domestic firms partnering with Russia’s Gazprom on the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would deliver Russian gas to Eastern Europe, would be swept up in the sanctions.
So strangely enough, by signing a bill punishing Russia, Trump may be able to simultaneously needle another foil of his on the international stage, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the vote for the sanctions bill is set for Tuesday.
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-- An "excellent choice" or a "walking conflict of interest?" As the Senate prepares to vote on Trump’s pick to be the deputy Interior secretary today, The Post's Darryl Fears has a story on David Bernhardt, who he writes has been called both “an excellent choice” and a “walking conflict of interest” because of his previous lobbying work.
Bernhardt’s recent role as a lobbyist representing energy interests and a water district has led to questions.
“A nonprofit group, Campaign for Accountability, claims that Bernhardt continued to lobby for the Westlands Water District in California after withdrawing his registration as a lobbyist in November. In a letter to the Justice Department asking it to investigate the claim, the group claims Bernhardt edited a draft executive order for then-President-elect Donald Trump involving water issues that stood to benefit Westlands Water.
Campaign for Accountability said Bernhardt continued to work with Westlands Water into January. The allegation doesn’t claim that Bernhardt was paid for any work conducted after deactivating his registration, but Daniel Stevens, executive director of the group, said: “I don’t think that matters. He’s still advancing the agenda of the group.’ Stevens said the campaign hasn’t gotten a response from the Justice Department and doesn’t expect to. ‘We’d probably be the last people to know,” he said. “They would just conduct an investigation without telling us.’”
-- Meanwhile, Trump is set to tap longtime coal lobbyist for EPA’s No. 2 spot: "President Trump will nominate a prominent coal lobbyist and former Senate aide, Andrew Wheeler, to serve as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy administrator, according to two senior administration officials," The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. "Wheeler, a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, is a lobbyist for coal giant Murray Energy and served as a top aide for Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) when Inhofe chaired the Senate Environment Committee. He has represented Murray Energy — whose chief executive, Bob Murray, is a prominent supporter of the president — since 2009."
-- Bears beware: The Trump administration is considering loosening the rules that prohibit hunters from using extreme tactics to kill bears and wolves as part of rules that prevent predator control in parts of Alaska, The Post's Darryl Fears reports.
The Interior Department has sent a memo to the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as it eyes reconsidering rules on “various prohibitions that directly contradict State of Alaska authorizations and wildlife management decisions."
What parts of Alaska would be affected? Lands managed by the National Park Service in Alaska along with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Didn't this happen in March? This action is separate from a March vote along party lines in Congress to rescind an Obama administration’s order late last year, which outlawed the prioritizing of prey over predators at 16 federal wildlife refuges in Alaska.
-- New White House communications director Scaramucci once called climate-change denial ‘disheartening.’ Then he took a job with President Trump. Before he was an adviser to then-candidate Trump, Scaramucci lamented that some people did not accept the consensus among climate scientists that human activity was warming the Earth. In April 2016, for example, he wrote that the "fact many people still believe CC" — or climate change — "is a hoax is disheartening."
But by December, once working for the Trump presidential transition team, Scaramucci softened his stance. "There was an overwhelming science that the Earth was flat, and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world," he said on CNN. "We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community. You and I both know that. I’m not suggesting that we’re not affecting the change. I honestly don’t know. I’m not a scientist."
Now over the weekend, after taking a job in the Trump White House on Friday, Scaramucci began deleting that "disheartening" tweet as well as others about climate change.
Full transparency: I'm deleting old tweets. Past views evolved & shouldn't be a distraction. I serve @POTUS agenda & that's all that matters— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 22, 2017
-- Trump may seek to sidestep environmental study for his border wall: "The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol plans to use a 2005 anti-terror law to sidestep an environmental impact study for a section of President Donald Trump's border wall that will pass through a Texas national refuge for endangered ocelots," Reuters reports, based on "two government sources familiar with the matter."
Why it matters: Dating back to at least the George W. Bush administration, environmentalists have worried about the impact fences or walls along the U.S.-Mexico border would have on the populations of ocelots, an endangered wild cat, and other species.
-- It's more than just a $2 million. Alan Rappeport and Andrew E. Kramer of the New York Times have a worthwhile look at the stakes for ExxonMobil following the seven-figure penalty (a pittance compared to Exxon's profits) that the Treasury Department levied after finding that the firm violated U.S. sanctions against Russia. Exxon has decided to contest the fine in court. "The rationale for the lawsuit appears to go beyond the financial impact of the fine," The Times writes. "Exxon feels that its reputation is at stake and that the threat of more sanctions, potentially costlier, is looming."
-- Ice boats =... Henry Fountain in the New York Times has a look at Arctic shipping. As more cruise ships and gas tankers ply the warming but still icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, the more maritime observers worry about what happens when boats collide with icebergs. "Although nations with Arctic lands, including the United States, have agreed to assist each other in the event of disaster, there is very little emergency infrastructure in either American or Canadian Arctic waters, or in Russia along what is known as the Northern Sea Route," Fountain writes.
Right now, the U.S. Coast Guard has two working heavy icebreakers. Russia has 41.
-- Welcome to Kaboom Town: There is only one commercial facility in the United States permitted to burn explosives and munitions waste with no environmental emissions controls, and it is in the impoverished town of Colfax, La. Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica reports that it's not just noise pollution from the site meant to dispose of unused U.S. bombs and other weapons that concerns Colfax residents. They also worry about the cancer-causing pollutants, thought to be from the facility, that have seeped into the air and water of the mostly black town of 1,532. Clean Harbors, a Defense Department contractor that runs the facility, successfully lobbied against reform efforts in the state, arguing that the toxins comes from other sources.
- The Smart Electric Power Alliance hosts the Grid Evolution Summit with events starting on Tuesday and continuing through Friday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety holds a hearing on clean energy technologies on Tuesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs holds an oversight hearing on “Assessing Current Conditions and Challenges at the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center in American Samoa" on Tuesday.
- The House Natural Resources Committee meets to mark up legislation on Tuesday.
- The American Enterprise Institute hosts an event on carbon taxes with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on wholesale electricity markets on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining will hold a legislative hearing on various bills on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Committee meets to mark up legislation on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hosts a legislative hearing on three bills on Thursday.
- The United States Energy Association hosts the 10th Annual Energy Supply Forum on Thursday.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit a uranium plant cleanup site in Ohio on July 31.
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