Publicly, most congressional Republicans have nothing but praise for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — at least when it comes to unraveling President Barack Obama's environmental policies.
But privately, more than a dozen GOP members of Congress have urged Pruitt not to undo at least one Obama administration regulation.
In separate letters sent in March, four senators and 10 representatives quietly called on Pruitt to reconsider repealing tighter restrictions on emissions from a certain type of freight truck.
Republicans believe most of Obama's environmental policies choke business and stifle job growth. But doing away with this one, they believe, will undermine home-state manufacturing.
“We stand with you and welcome your continued efforts to streamline environmental regulations and repeal onerous and overreaching rules that the previous administration pushed through which hurt American industry,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and nine other Republican House members wrote to Pruitt.
However, when it comes to the Obama-era rules around the trucks, “repealing those requirements will undermine the significant investments made by United States job creators and manufacturers,” the representatives wrote.
Similarly, four GOP senators — Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina — joined Democrats and environmental groups opposed to the rule change to say they too “maintain concerns” with the proposed repeal.
Both letters were sent to Pruitt as part of the EPA's rulemaking process, but with none of the publicity that often accompanies Democrats' letters to the EPA chief denouncing policy shifts or demanding documents related to his ongoing ethical problems. Four congressional sources confirmed the two letters, which have not been made public. The news site Inside EPA first reported the letters.
At issue is Pruitt's plan to repeal tighter emissions standards for trucks with bodies, called gliders, that house rebuilt diesel engines.
In November, the agency proposed peeling off the patch that the EPA under Obama had put on a loophole that once allowed automakers to sell trucks with refurbished engines without needing to comply with the usual emissions standards for new vehicles.
Only a few auto firms took advantage of the technicality. One of them was Fitzgerald Glider Kits, which underwrote research at Tennessee Tech University that challenged the data the EPA relied upon to write the new rules. The new administration cited the Tennessee Tech research when justifying the repeal, though the president of the school eventually disavowed the industry-backed study.
Other automakers building cars that comply with modern emissions standards — many of them operating in states represented by the letter signers — resented the loophole that they say disadvantages car companies that have invested in developing emissions reduction technology.
The opposition highlights how the Trump administration's rule rollbacks occasionally go further than what industry really wants.
For example, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the auto industry's main lobbying arm, opposes the proposed rule rollback. In a filing with the EPA, the group described the potential regulatory chaos of allowing engines with used parts to circumvent emissions standards.
“One glaring (and perhaps unintended) result of the Proposed Repeal," the Auto Alliance noted, is that manufacturers or even customers could get around greenhouse gas emissions rules for new vehicles "merely by incorporating a few used components into their finished products."
Among the individual companies opposed are Cummins, headquartered in Indiana, and Volvo, which has a production plant in South Carolina. Young of Indiana and Sanford of South Carolina led the letter-writing effort. “Our states are home to a strong industrial base that rely upon this regulatory certainty to successfully operate and invest billions each year in research and development,” Young and the other senators wrote in their letter.
“It's certainly a very conservative group of senators and members,” said Paul Billings, national senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, which also opposes the rule change. “I cannot recall an issue with such a breadth of opposition.”
However, opposition among Republicans to rewriting the glider rules is far from universal, which provides Pruitt some political cover. Pruitt's efforts to repeal the glider rule “make clear that he is working to unburden American families and to ensure this administration's policies are based on sound, transparent science,” House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a statement last year.
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— A “bold-faced” lie: One of Pruitt's former aides, Kevin Chmielewski, told ABC News the agency chief was “bold-faced” lying during a congressional hearing last week when he said no agency employees faced retaliation for raising concerns about the boss's spending habits. Chmielewski said he was “100 percent” forced out for raising concerns, saying he believes it happened after he refused to sign off on first-class fights.
“I refused to do it. And, once again, I think that was some of the beginning of the retaliation, and why you know, cause I said absolutely not. And I kinda got in trouble behind closed doors for not signing that,” he said. Chmielewski described chief of staff Ryan Jackson calling him into his office. “Hey — Administrator Pruitt either wants me to fire you or put you in an office so that he doesn't have to see you again,” Chmielewski told ABC News that Jackson told him.
...and Democrats say Pruitt misled them on fuel-efficiency policy: Last week, the EPA chief told Congress the agency was “not at present" planning to revoke a waiver the Obama administration granted to California to set its own auto emissions limits. A day later, The Washington Post and others reported on a not-yet-final document largely drafted by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration suggesting the Trump administration is thinking of doing just that.
"If these reports are correct, your response to direct questioning on this issue during your appearance last week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was potentially false and misleading,” Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) told Pruitt in a letter Monday.
— Forget AAA, call Zinke: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke helped a Kodak, Tenn. woman jump-start her car Sunday, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel. The woman, Belinda Drew, was pulling into a gas station when her car ran out of fuel and wouldn’t start. She asked two men in a nearby car if they had jumper cables. “What she didn’t know but would soon find out was the car belonged to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke who had joined U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Saturday to promote The National Park Restoration Act,” per the report. “Drew and the man exchanged pleasantries, the two shook hands and the man handed her what Drew said felt like a silver dollar…Zinke’s name is on one side of the coin, the department’s logo on the other.”
Alexander said Drew met "the right person":
Fortunately, Belinda Drew from Kodak met the right person when she was in trouble. @SecretaryZinke is a first class person as well as Secretary of the Interior and a former Navy SEAL, who knows what to do in emergencies. We enjoyed having him in our home this weekend. https://t.co/dn1iLUugxC— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) April 30, 2018
— Koch campus ties: Newly released documents reveal George Mason University in Virginia granted a charity run by billionaire oilmen Charles and David Koch input in the hiring and firing of professors at the school in exchange for millions in donations, the Associated Press reports. “The newly released agreements spell out million-dollar deals in which the Koch Foundation endows a fund to pay the salary of one or more professors at the university’s Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The agreements require creation of five-member selection committees to choose the professors, and grant the donors the right to name two of the committee members,” per the report.
— Strictly for the birds: The Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the sale of vast areas of public lands in the West, which they say ignore policies meant to protect the greater sage grouse. Attorneys for the environmental groups are calling on a federal judge in Idaho to reverse the lease sales in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, according to the Associated Press.
— New York pipeline case reaches the end of the line: The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not hear Constitution Pipeline’s appeal of New York state’s refusal to issue a water permit needed to build a proposed 125-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York, Reuters reports. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the project both in 2014 and then again in 2016, but the company's water application was denied by the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York, whose Democratic leaders have come out against building more fossil-fuel infrastructure in the state.
— Corn wars: The EPA has granted a hardship waiver to an oil refinery owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, which will exempt the Oklahoma-based CVR Energy from tens of millions in costs related to the Renewable Fuel Standard, Reuters reports. The move has already prompted criticism: “Hundreds of millions - and in some cases billions - of dollars in profits isn’t my definition of ‘hardship’… President Trump promised to support home-grown biofuels, and Administrator Pruitt is breaking that promise,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in statement.
On Twitter, the senior Iowa senator turned on the caps lock:
EPA handing out ‘hardship’ waivers to billionaires like Carl Icahn is undermining integrity of the RenewableFuelStandard. Pruitt shld live up 2his commitment to midwest senators &support the law/not mess w congressional intent BAILING OUT BILLIONAIRES ISNT HELPING ETHANOL/FARMERS— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) April 30, 2018
— And now a message for West Virginia senatorial candidate Don Blankenship: The former coal executive, convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and health rules, is campaigning on removing fellow coal-state Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as majority leader in the chamber.
Or as Blankenship put it in his latest ad, "one of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch."
— Paris planning in Bonn: Climate experts began meeting in Bonn, Germany on Monday in preparation for a global climate summit in December when the Paris climate accord will have to be formally approved. Unresolved issues being discussed in Bonn include “how to ensure transparent monitoring of what countries do to cut global emissions and the methods used take stock of what countries have achieved,” per the Associated Press.
— “This glacier is almost the entire story": The largest U.S.-British Antarctic mission in seven decades launched on Monday on a joint mission to study the West Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier, an ice body the size of Florida that scientists fear could flood the world’s coastlines in our lifetimes, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. The glacier is losing ice rapidly, and “flows out of the heart of West Antarctica, a marine ice sheet that could contribute about 10 feet of global sea-level rise,” Mooney writes. David Holland, a geoscientist at New York University who will work with British Antarctic Survey researcher Keith Nicholls on one of six missions said: “For global sea-level change in the next century, this Thwaites glacier is almost the entire story.”
— Merger watch: Marathon Petroleum has agreed to purchase rival Andeavor in a $23 billion deal, the Wall Street Journal reports. The merger would create the largest oil refiner in the country, surpassing Valero Energy in size by controlling about 16 percent of U.S. refining capacity, per the Journal, and comes during an oil-price surge and spike in global fuel demand.
And in the coal industry, Contura Energy and Alpha Natural Resources Holdings announced Monday they’ve agreed to merge to create the largest U.S. producer of metallurgical coal, a type of coal used in forging steel. The merger would reunite the two companies that split in 2015 over bankruptcy, Reuters reports.
— Retirement watch: A former top Capitol Hill aide will be the American Petroleum Institute’s next president and chief executive, Axios reports. The pick, Mike Sommers, is a former aide to House Speaker John Boehner and has led the American Investment Council since February 2016. Sommers will succeed Jack Gerard, the longtime head of the oil and natural gas lobbying group who announced in January he will step down this summer after 10 years on the job.
And at the National Mining Association, longtime spokesman Luke Popovich retired on Monday after 15 years at the association and three decades in Washington, E&E News reports. "For 15 years, Luke has been the voice of our association and our industry, skillfully mixing in-depth policy insights with his unrivaled and unique quick wit," NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn said in a statement. Popovich has previously worked for the paper and timber companies.
— PJM Interconnection, the largest electric grid operator in the United States, announced Monday it would study the risks of relying too much on a single energy source, as natural gas becomes an increasingly important generator of electricity as coal and nuclear plants retire. PJM's analysis comes as the Energy Department searches for a way of bolstering the nation's fleet of coal and nuclear power plants, the former type of fuel being a frequent talking point for Trump on the campaign trail.
"PJM’s concerns are consistent with what DOE [has] been saying for years: premature retirements of fuel-secure resources are putting the future of our nation’s electric grid at risk, and that undermines our national security," Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement.
— Get ready for the "most expensive driving season since 2014": Crude oil prices are at the highest level in more than three years, causing gasoline prices to spike, the Associated Press reports. The daily national gas average is $2.81 per gallon, up from about $2.38 per gallon about year ago, according to the Oil Price Information Service.
- The Milken Institute’s 2018 Global Conference continues.
- Greentech Media’s Solar Summit begins.
- The Center or Strategic and International Studies holds an event on an update on carbon pricing.
- The Atlantic Council holds an event on Russia’s Energy Strategy on Wednesday.
- The Great Plains Institute & Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions holds a workshop on Wednesday.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on the Iran Nuclear Agreement on Thursday.
- The Wilderness Society holds an event on climate change and U.S. Public Lands on Thursday.
— Wanted: State wildlife officials and law enforcement are offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for striking deer roaming around southwestern Oregon with arrows stuck through them.