Another day, another Scott Pruitt aide gone.
The Environmental Protection Agency's top communications official, Liz Bowman, is resigning from the agency, The Post reported Thursday.
“I leave extremely thankful for the opportunity to serve the Trump Administration and Administrator Pruitt,” Bowman wrote in a statement.
Her departure, to become communications director for Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), follows the exit of two other top Pruitt aides this week as federal investigators continue to scrutinize the EPA chief's spending and management decisions.
Albert “Kell” Kelly, who was Pruitt’s banker in Oklahoma and was hired to revitalize the agency’s Superfund program cleaning up toxic sites nationwide, resigned Tuesday. So did Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, the head of Pruitt’s personal security team who has come under congressional scrutiny recently for unusual spending on Pruitt’s protective detail.
In her statement, Bowman also praised EPA career staff. “Being a member of the EPA team has allowed me to further my skills, learn from my mistakes, and make lifelong friendships. It has also provided me the opportunity to develop a new, and deep, respect for the public servants who serve the American people, day in and day out, to ensure that we all have access to clean air, land, and water.”
In her April 30 resignation letter obtained by The Washington Post, Bowman "first, and foremost," thanked EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson for his "commitment to furthering the Trump administrator's environmental agenda."
Under Bowman, the EPA’s media shop aggressively defended the EPA's work, at times in news releases calling out specific media outlets and reporters.
Yet Bowman sought to remove herself from the push to challenge coverage of allegations of ethical misconduct by Pruitt, said two EPA officials who requested anonymity to speak candidly. That task was left to spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who has vigorously defended Pruitt's actions.
The EPA’s media shop has seen a noted degree of turnover apart from Bowman, with Amy Graham and J.P. Freire leaving their roles as representatives for Pruitt’s EPA after less than a year on the job each.
“What Liz brought to the table at EPA was good judgment, good management, good organization,” Jackson said in a statement. “She has a great opportunity ahead of her at the Senate. She will work for a great member that has a great future in front of her.”
Before working at the EPA, Bowman directed communications at the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying arm of the chemicals industry. Her last day at the EPA will be May 11.
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— Another planned trip, another outsider who helped: Influential outsiders -- including lobbyists, Republican donors, and conservative activists -- have played key roles in coordinating Pruitt’s extensive foreign travel plans, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reported late Thursday. One such trip to Israel, which ultimately was canceled, was planned in part by casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson. “After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel, according to four people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations,” they write. “Pruitt then enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.”
— Drip, drip: As an Oklahoma state senator 15 years ago, Pruitt used a shell company to purchase a home from a lobbyist, and it turns out one of the other investors in the home was also... another lobbyist. That lobbyist, Justin Whitefield, was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules, the New York Times reports, changes which Pruitt fought for in the legislature. And Pruitt never disclosed his financial ties to the lobbyist.
The report follows up on another NYT story last month that broke the news of the 2003 home purchase and the details of the shell company used in the transaction. Pruitt, Whitefield and the other investors purchased the home in December 2003. A month later, Pruitt held a news conference to announce a bill to reduce workers’ compensation costs for businesses.
— Meanwhile, the probes continue: Staff of the House Oversight Committee met for hours with Perrotta, the former head of Pruitt’s security detail, Politico reports. And separately, staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee began to receive paperwork from the EPA.
— As do interagency feuds: In an alleged attempt to distract from the seemingly endless barrage of stories about the EPA administrator, a member of his media team has been looking to highlight stories that would instead reflect poorly on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Atlantic reports. EPA staffer Michael Abboud shopped negative stories about Zinke to multiple news organizations, including that an Interior Department staffer “conspired with former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski to leak damaging information about the EPA, as part of a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt.” The intension was to take “the heat off of Pruitt,” sources told the magazine, and the White House is not pleased. An EPA spokesman called the story "categorically false."
— Yes, Don Blankenship just said that: Convicted former coal executive Blankenship is ramping up his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship said in his latest ad.
That is not a typo.
“While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich… In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.” Blankenship’s comments are seemingly a reference to McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan and whose parents are Chinese.
Don Blankenship doubles down on phrases like "China people" and "Cocaine Mitch" in new ad that also features his undeniable charisma and charm pic.twitter.com/eiv9WUADjz— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) May 3, 2018
The Republican establishment is now pushing back against Blankenship out of fear he could win the GOP nomination in the West Virginia Senate race, giving the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin III, a relatively easy opponent in the general election in the ruby-red coal-mining state.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., made a pitch on Twitter against Blankenship, calling him “not worth the risk" after another controversial candidate, Roy Moore, lost a winnable Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones last year.
I hate to lose. So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and ask the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship!— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 3, 2018
No more fumbles like Alabama. We need to win in November. #wv #wvpol
Josh Holmes, a former aide to McConnell, labeled Blankenship a "clown" and "West Virginia Roy Moore:"
For those asking, this is my response to West Virginia Roy Moore: “This clown is a walking, talking case study for the limitation of a prison’s ability to rehabilitate.”— Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) May 3, 2018
— Mandatory GMO labels are coming to your food: "Foodmakers will soon be required to disclose when their products contain genetically modified ingredients," writes The Post's Caitlin Dewey. But those labels will not be as complete as some consumers may expected. "Food products may be exempted from labeling if they are made with some refined GM sugars and oils, or if a product contains GM ingredients in amounts that fall beneath a predetermined threshold, according to a proposed rule released by the Agriculture Department on Thursday," per Dewey.
— Earth just crossed another troubling threshold: Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have surpassed 410 parts per million over an entire month, the first time that has occurred since people have been monitoring the levels. The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. “It’s another milestone in the upward increase in CO2 over time,” said Ralph Keeling, who directs the CO2 program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It puts us closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory.”
— A toxic spread in Texas: Last month, Texas officials announced an agreement to clean up the San Jacinto Waste Pits, but an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and Associated Press found damage from carcinogenic dioxin has already spread. More than 30 hotspots where dioxin has settled have been discovered along the river, the Houston Ship Channel and into Galveston Bay, but details of the spots have not been released by environmental regulators in Texas. “Under the Clean Water Act and state law, Texas authorities were required to address dioxin and PCBs in the river and ship channel, waterways officially designated as ‘impaired,” the news organizations report. “Setting such standards could have forced the responsible companies to clean up and upgrade contaminated stormwater and wastewater treatment.”
— Nearly ice-free: February and March ice levels covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast were the lowest dating back more than 160 years, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. And the ice was at just 10 percent of normal levels at the end of April. Samenow notes the loss of ice has “real consequences for the people in the region.” Alaska-based climatologist Rick Thoman told him it’s “already impacting the lives and livelihoods of people in Western Alaska coastal communities by restricting hunting and fishing which are the mainstays of the economies of these communities.”
— Keystone update: U.S. pipeline safety regulators lifted pressure restrictions on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone oil pipeline, the agency told Reuters on Thursday. “Reduced flows on the pipeline had helped draw down inventories in the Cushing, Oklahoma, storage hub,” per Reuters. Meanwhile, the company plans to start preliminary work on its Keystone XL pipeline project in Montana in the fall and will begin full construction in 2019, according to the news wire.
— Tariff woes: Uncertainty in the solar industry is emerging over President Trump’s recently imposed tariffs on solar imports. SunPower, the No. 2 commercial solar-power company in the nation, is fighting for an exemption to the tariffs, the New York Times reports, and is merging with another company, SolarWorld Americas, which was behind the initial push for tariffs. “With its SolarWorld acquisition, SunPower moved to prevent further loss to its business by locating a bigger share of its production in the United States. Both companies are being hit with tariffs on high-efficiency panels they produce in Malaysia,” per the report.
— Former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has been charged in federal court related to the company’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. Winterkorn’s indictment, which was filed in March, was unsealed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, Reuters reports. In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the charges show "Volkswagens scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company."
And here are some good longreads for your weekend:
— A last-ditch climate effort: After two floods in Sidney, N.Y., local officials knew residents didn’t want to rebuild just to have homes and business flood again. So they tried something different. The town wanted to "use federal and state money to demolish" a neighborhood "while creating a new one away from the flood plain for displaced residents," Bloomberg News reported. “Sidney has yet to remove more than a few dozen homes from the flood plain or break ground on land away from the river. Its failure so far illustrates how unprepared the U.S. is politically, financially, and emotionally to re-create even a single community away from rising waters in an organized way, preserving some semblance of its character and history.”
— Déjà vu: “Today, West Virginia’s headlong race into the gas rush is taking the state down the same path that it’s been on for generations with coal,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Ken Ward Jr. reported in a partnership with ProPublica. “Elected officials have sided with natural gas companies on tax proposals and property rights legislation. Industry lobbyists have convinced regulators to soften new rules aimed at protecting residents and their communities from drilling damage … But critics fear that West Virginia won’t fully share in the riches the industry creates and will be forced to bear the long-term environmental, health and infrastructure costs, much as it has for the now-dwindling coal industry.”
- The House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee holds a hearing on “Sharing the Road: Policy Implications of Electric and Conventional Vehicles in the Years Ahead” on May 8.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Puerto Rico’s electric grid on May 8.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining holds an oversight hearing on May 9.
- The House Energy and Commerce Energy Subcommittee holds a hearing on “Examining the State of Electric Transmission Infrastructure” on May 10.
- The Women’s Council on the Energy and the Environment holds an event on congressional priorities in 2018 and beyond on May 10.
We’re launching @NASAInSight to Mars on Saturday morning! After its ~6 month journey to the Red Planet, it will descend to the Martian surface and study the planet’s deep interior. Get all the details on how to watch liftoff: https://t.co/qEiQo4c6Qq pic.twitter.com/M8co4qxtyJ— NASA (@NASA) May 3, 2018
— What do you call an earthquake when it happens on Mars? NASA is set to launch a new spacecraft, InSight, on Saturday morning to answer this very question, writes The Post's Sarah Kaplan.