A group of Democratic senators is demanding that Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt recuse himself from repealing one of President Obama's signature environmental rules, which is intended to curb the release of greenhouse gases from the nation’s power plants.
Late Tuesday, the four senators — Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Brian Schatz of Hawaii — submitted a comment to the EPA on repealing the Clean Power Plan, arguing Pruitt “must recuse himself from overseeing any and all rulemaking with respect to the Clean Power Plan.”
Pruitt sued the EPA a total of 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma. Four of those suits concerned the CPP.
The senators argue Pruitt’s participation in the repeal process would violate federal regulations “governing impartiality in performing official duties” since Pruitt is “inalterably” narrow-minded with regard to the CPP in particular and climate change in general. The language echoes that of similar requests for recusal submitted by four environmental organizations as well as by a coalition of 19 left-leaning states and cities.
"A private citizen (or even a state attorney general) has the luxury of making up his mind and never changing course," the states and cities wrote in a docket submission last month. "The decision maker in an administrative proceeding, however, does not."
As recently as March, the senators note, Pruitt said carbon dioxide was not the “primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” in contradiction to EPA scientists.
Three of the four Democrats serve on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA. The submission is the latest salvo from Democrats on the panel following a contentious meeting last week at which Pruitt testified.
During the hearing, Whitehouse asked Pruitt if he remembered a 2016 radio interview in which he referred to then-candidate Trump as "dangerous" and "a bully."
“I don’t, senator,” Pruitt replied. “And I don’t echo that today at all.” (“I bet not,” Whitehouse said in response.)
When reached for comment on the Democrats' move, the EPA referred The Washington Post to a January 2017 letter Kevin Minoli, principal deputy general counsel at the agency, sent to Sen.Tom Carper of Delaware, the Environment Committee’s top Democrat, spelling out the agreement Pruitt negotiated with the Office of Government Ethics. That month, Democrats raised the issue of recusal at Pruitt's confirmation hearing.
Under that agreement, Pruitt recused himself from the CPP litigation in which he was involved. But the ethics agreement does not bar him from setting policy going forward.
The Democratic demands are an amplification of the hard-edged rhetoric Democrats have deployed against Pruitt. But Richard J. Pierce Jr., an administrative law professor at George Washington University, said the request “has no chance at all” of success legally.
“Policy-based differences can never be the basis for recusal,” Pierce said. “Otherwise one administration can’t replace another.”
Whitehouse's office pointed to entities beyond the OGE that could take up the question of Pruitt’s impartiality on CPP, including the EPA's inspector general's office and the courts.
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— The fate of the red wolf: As the red wolf passes the 30-year mark since its reintroduction to the wild, there’s doubt about whether the animal can survive outside of zoo environments, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. The red wolf, which went extinct in the wild before the government moved to revive it, is disappearing once again. And if the species is wiped out altogether, it “would mark one of the biggest and most dramatic failures for a federal endangered species recovery plans,” Fears writes.
But the reintroduction process has been marked by missteps. Wolves released into the wild from captivity have been shot by hunters, or accidentally run over as they looked for new territory (as wolves naturally do). There also has been miscommunication between officials overseeing the restoration program. “The project is mired in politics, distrust, open bickering, scientific disputes and a legal challenge,” Fears explains. “It reflects the discord on Capitol Hill as lawmakers debate Endangered Species Act revisions that could dramatically weaken one of the most powerful environmental laws in the world.”
— WOTUS woes: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Tuesday he will lead a multistate lawsuit over the Trump administration’s delay of the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule. “Make no mistake: abandoning the Clean Water Rule will mean pollution, flooding, and harm to fish and wildlife in New York and across the country — undermining decades of work to protect and enhance our water resources,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
New York is being joined by California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts and Washington D.C. in the suit.
— Zinke’s Sunshine State burn: Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent a letter to Zinke this week threatening to file a lawsuit if the state was not exempted from the Trump administration’s offshore oil and drilling plans like Florida. “Every reason identified by the Secretary in announcing his decision also applies to Washington,” Ferguson said in a letter to Zinke, per the Seattle Times.
— Meanwhile, 10 Democratic senators from coastal states plus Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) spoke out on the Senate floor Tuesday against the Trump's administration's offshore drilling proposal. "Our ocean-related economy is so important to our state,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) said.
— FEMA’s contract mishap: When the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed to send 30 million meals to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Harvey, it awarded a contract to an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in major disaster relief, the New York Times reported. And the company, Tribute Contracting LLC, had previously had at least five canceled government contracts. When more than 18 million meals were due to be sent, Tribute had only delivered 50,000. Now, entrepreneur Tiffany Brown wants a $70 million settlement from FEMA for terminating her contract.
Two Democrats have asked the House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to subpoena the agency for documents related to the failed contract, per Politico.
As the New Republic points out, celebrity chef José Andrés was right about FEMA:
— More on post-Maria Puerto Rico: Housing is the largest economic category destroyed by the storm, Reuters reports, with damage at an estimated $37 billion. The hurricane destroyed or damaged more than a third of the island’s 1.2 million homes. And the disaster aid under consideration in Congress won’t be nearly enough to solve the crisis.
— Pruitt’s quiet trip to Florida: Pruitt visited Florida last week, but avoided the major environmental issues being debated in the state, the Tampa Bay Times reports. “He had nothing to say about the hot topics of offshore drilling, or toxic algae blooms. Instead, Pruitt wanted to talk about his effort to get rid of regulations on pollution and how that helps the economy,” per the report.
"The Sunshine State is a vital provider of American agriculture, energy and manufacturing, and it’s essential we hear directly from rural Floridians," Pruitt said in a statement following the visit.
— A decrease in EPA grants: Carper is questioning the EPA’s decrease in grant funding in 2017. “A recent analysis of EPA’s publicly available grants data undertaken by my staff… demonstrates that at least 49 out of 50 states saw declines in reported EPA funding in 2017 as compared to a similar period in 2016,” Carper’s letter states. “This analysis makes your earlier determination to insert a political appointee into the process even more concerning, and additionally raises questions about agency reporting and adherence to the law.”
— Meanwhile, Andrew Wheeler, Trump's pick for EPA's No. 2, held fundraisers in 2017 for the current and former Republican chairmen for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Barrasso (Wyo.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.), The Intercept reports. A committee vote on his nomination as deputy administrator is expected Wednesday.
Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter stated Puerto Rico estimated the cost of damage to homes there from Hurricane Maria at $37 million. The actual figure is $37 billion.
— How well is the Earth’s ozone really recovering? The news isn't great. Nearly two dozen scientists are raising doubts about whether the Earth’s ozone layer is recovering as much as some believe. The Post’s Chris Mooney reports the scientists examined the lower latitudes of the planet and found a “relatively small but hard-to-explain decline of ozone in the lower part of the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that extends from about six miles to 31 miles above the planet’s surface, since the year 1998.” Meanwhile, Mooney adds, the upper stratosphere has been recovering.
— False alarm: AccuWeather sent a tsunami warning push alert to customer’s phones along the East Coast on Tuesday morning. The company blamed the National Weather Service for what it called a “miscoded” warning. "While the words [sic] ‘TEST’ were in the header, the actual codes read by computers used coding for real warning, indicating it was a real warning,” the company said in a statement, per Capital Weather Gang’s Angela Fritz.
***THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING***— NWS New York NY (@NWSNewYorkNY) February 6, 2018
A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have TEST in the message. We are currently trying to find out how a message went out as a warning. We will update you when we find out more.
— Mark your calendars: The United States is on track to become a net exporter of energy by 2022, according to the Energy Information Association’s 2018 Annual Energy Outlook report released Tuesday. “Almost all of new electricity generation capacity is fueled by natural gas and renewables after 2022," the EIA projects. The tipping point is getting closer; last year, EIA projected the United States could become a net energy exporter by 2026.
The Trump administration has touted becoming an energy exporter as a goal in its "energy dominance" agenda, but has focused on lifting regulations and boosting coal and offshore oil extraction as the means to doing so. Whatever the reasons, there's a downside environmentally: "The carbon footprint of the United States will barely go down at all for the foreseeable future and will be slightly higher in 2050 than it is now," InsideClimate News reports.
— Surprise move: ExxonMobil says it supports a “jurisdictionally appropriate” federal regulation on methane emissions, according to a blog post from the company. Last December, about two dozen oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, launched a voluntary program aimed at reducing emissions of methane from oil and natural gas production via the industry's main lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute.
Still, ExxonMobil's position pits the oil giant against some industry peers who want the Trump administration to completely repeal the Obama-era regulation, Axios notes. As the Clean Air Task Force notes, “jurisdictionally appropriate” regulation "is an accurate description of the actual regulations that Trump Administration is working to throw away right now."
— Miners march to save plant: Mine workers in Arizona marched by the state Capitol on Tuesday to keep the Navajo Generating Station open. The coal-fired power plant is currently set to shutter at the end of 2019, the Arizona Republic reported. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement the department is “committed to working with all parties, to include current or any future owners, to keep the power plant operational in support of good paying tribal jobs.”
— Porsche eyeing EVs: The German automaker said this week it would double investment in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles by 2022, The Verge reports. The company will boost investment to more than $7.4 billion.
— BP’s tax windfall: The British oil and gas company said Tuesday it would boost investment in the United States following the Republican tax overhaul. “It is important for us, there is no doubt we will increase investments,” chief executive Bob Dudley said, per Reuters. “The regulatory system in the United States is suddenly so much easier."
— Bitcoin’s environmental impact: Even with a price crash this week, Bitcoin energy use rose to a record high this week, reports Vox. The report notes as of Tuesday, electricity consumption from Bitcoin rose to a record high of 47.4 terawatt-hours, citing the Digiconomist bitcoin analysis blog.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining holds a legislative hearing.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on “The Impact of Federal Environmental Regulations and Policies on American Farming and Ranching Communities."
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing on energy infrastructure.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environmental holds a Lunch & Learn event on battery storage on Thursday.
— Liftoff: On Tuesday, SpaceX successfully launched the world's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy, into the sky from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Read more about the launch from The Post's Christian Davenport.