Conservative activists are some of Scott Pruitt's staunchest defenders. Many of them are happy to see the Environmental Protection Agency chief rolling back the previous administration's regulations despite a series of contentious spending and managing decisions that have prompted at least a dozen federal probes.
But one conservative nonprofit group based in Iowa is rolling out an ad this week skewering Pruitt as a “swamp monster” who is “embarrassing President Trump.” The ad pleads for Trump to fire Pruitt.
“For the good of the country,” its narrator says, “Pruitt must go.”
The television spot highlights a number of decisions at the EPA that have come under the scrutiny of the media and federal investigators, including the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt's office and the granting of sizable raises to two aides over objections from the White House.
The 30-second ad, titled “You're Fired,” was released by the American Future Fund, a Des Moines-based ad-making shop that is part of a network of politically active nonprofit groups whose funders remain largely unknown.
“He’s the head of the EPA, not the Sultan of Brunei,” Nick Ryan, founder of the American Future Fund, said in a statement. “An EPA chief with no credibility can’t get the job done.”
The conservative group's salvo against Pruitt is unusual as it takes a page from the book of Democrats and environmentalists who have savaged Pruitt as corrupt and inept. But the most important right-wing voice on Pruitt -- Trump himself -- continues to outwardly express support for his embattled environmental enforcer.
The anti-Pruitt spot is set to air in South Dakota and Nebraska, two of the nation's top corn-growing states. Though the ad does not mention the issue, Pruitt has upset many within the corn-based ethanol business, along with their allies in Congress, for pushing changes sought by oil refiners to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a national mandate to mix ethanol into the nation's gasoline supply.
Indeed, last week Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has derided Pruitt as “about as swampy as you get here in Washington,” while her fellow Iowan in the Senate, Charles E. Grassley (R), recently said the EPA administrator “should step down” if he waters down the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The ad is timed to coincide Pruitt's trip this week to Kansas, South Dakota and Nebraska to meet with farmers. After weathering criticism from ethanol boosters last week, Pruitt made a point of visiting an ethanol plant in Garnett, Kan. on Tuesday where he held a discussion with Kansas agricultural interests that ran over the scheduled time.
But tensions are still high in the heartland: Corn growers in South Dakota plan to hold a tractor rally in Sioux Falls over concerns Pruitt is trying to undercut the ethanol business.
Doug Sombke, president of South Dakota Farmers Union, said in a statement that Pruitt is "hiding from unhappy farmers, hiding from the press, and hiding from accountability."
Traditionally, the American Future Fund, which espouses “a conservative and free-market viewpoint," has targeted Democrats, like it did during the 2012 election when it spent more than $25 million on ads against the reelection bids of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
Yet it has been known to ruffle feathers within the GOP. In February 2016, for example, the group garnered attention for releasing three ads in which former Trump University students attack Trump, then the GOP presidential nomination front-runner, for being among other things “a fraud, a misrepresentation [and] a B.S. artist.”
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— Pruitt tapped aide and donors to help wife land job at conservative group: The EPA chief's efforts to enlist a government aide to secure for his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise never came to fruition. But another headhunting effort by an EPA employee on behalf of Marlyn Pruitt did work. Pruitt last year had Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA’s Office of Policy, help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, The Post reports Wednesday morning. Eventually she secured her a position at a conservative political group, Judicial Crisis Network, that has since ended.
The issue: Pruitt appears to have used a public resource — i.e., an EPA employee — for private gain. “It’s above and beyond anything I’m aware of, with respect to any government employee,” Virginia Canter, executive branch ethics counsel for the public watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Post.
Another key detail from The Post's Juliet Eilperin:
At no time did @EPAScottPruitt consult @EPA ethics officials about the push to find his wife work. Instead, he enlisted the help of GOP political law attorney Cleta Mitchell, a longtime friend who's helped establish his legal defense fund.— Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) June 13, 2018
— Post-summit plans: North Korea’s state-run media says Trump agreed to a “step-by-step” denuclearization process in North Korea, which could mean concessions from the United States in exchange for gradual progress by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program, The Post’s Brian Murphy reports. The Korean Central News Agency said the two leaders “shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The reported pact has not yet been confirmed by the United States and “could signal the first rift with President Trump over the perceived way forward with the North’s leader,” Murphy writes.
Trump flew home Tuesday with what he described as a “very, very comprehensive” agreement, even as lawmakers and analysts questioned the substance of such a deal, according to The Post’s Karen DeYoung and David Nakamura. “To me, it was quite disappointing that we really did not put on paper any way that would test the seriousness of Kim Jong Un,” Joseph Yun, who until March served as the administration’s special representative for North Korea policy, told The Post. “We have to suspend our judgment” until something else happens, he said, but “there is nothing from the meeting to say we’ve achieved anything.”
How the Trump-Kim meeting is polling: A new poll from Politico/Morning Consult found nearly half of voters believe Trump can handle the threats from North Korea, but significantly fewer believe he will be able to convince the nation to denuclearize. Just 18 percent of voters said it was “very” or “somewhat” likely North Korea will dismantle its nuclear program as a result of the leaders’ historic summit.
Meanwhile: Lawmakers are urging any deal to be voted on by Congress. "If the president reaches a significant agreement with North Korea, I hope it takes the form of a treaty," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, Politico reports. House Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) added it was too soon to determine if Congress should consider any deal.
— Democratic senators criticize holdup of grants: A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke demanding information on why the department has delayed the disbursement of grants and other funding for conservation projects. The letter, led by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii.), also cited reports of the grant-screening process The Post’s Eilperin reported on in January.
“We recognize that a reasonable degree of oversight of grant activities and priorities is to be expected from the Secretary’s office," the letter from Duckworth, Hirono and 10 other colleagues reads. "However, we are disconcerted by both the intensity of this review and the consolidation of the process into, in many cases, review by a single political appointee."
— Environmental agency cuts, rejected: A Senate Appropriations subcommittee voted to advance on Tuesday a funding bill for the Interior Department and EPA that rejected many of the cuts proposed by the Trump administration. “The total proposed funding level for fiscal 2019 is 26.7 percent higher than what President Trump asked for in his budget proposal earlier this year, which was $28.3 billion,” the Hill reports. “It’s about $600 million higher than the funding Congress gave to the agencies for fiscal 2018.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the subcommittee, said the bill rejects “unwarranted decreases proposed in the budget and [makes] investments in our highest priorities, especially infrastructure investment for the land management agencies, Indian country and wastewater and drinking water improvements.”
The details: The spending bill also gets rid of controversial provisions that were opposed by Democrats. “Republicans dropped a policy provision from previous years, for instance, that would have weakened a new government rule limiting methane waste from gas and oil drilling on public lands,” the Associated Press reports. “It’s one of several ‘riders’ opposed by Democrats and environmental groups that have been included in the measure in past years, only to get stripped-out in end-stage negotiations.” The move “extends an olive branch to Democrats and could allow the first floor debate on a key spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency since former President Barack Obama’s first year in office,” per the report.
— A Cold War strategy to keep coal and nuclear plants hot: During a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) criticized Trump’s directive to Energy Secretary Rick Perry to halt the shuttering of struggling coal and nuclear power plants.
- Kevin McIntyre, the chairman of independent commission, dismissed the idea there was a national security risk associated with closing the plants. “There is no immediate calamity or threat to our ongoing ability of the bulk power system to operate and serve our energy needs,” McIntyre said.
- Richard Glick, a Democratic FERC commissioner, added: “We cannot try to stop the natural evolution of this industry by declaring a national security emergency unless there is evidence such an emergency exists.”
- To boot: Not one commissioner answered affirmatively when asked by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) whether there was a national security risk because of plant closures.
If enacted, Trump’s directive would wield Cold War-era emergency powers authorized under the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act to guarantee profits for coal and nuclear plants struggling to compete with cheaper natural gas, solar and wind generation.
— Science has a sexual harassment problem: A new study released Tuesday details the pervasive issue of harassment across scientific fields — lecture halls and laboratories, observatories and offices, teaching hospitals and Antarctic field sites — and the economic and emotional toll on the women in those areas, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino report. The 300-page report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found LGBTQ women and women of color are more likely to have been harassed than their straight, white counterparts. Based on 40 qualitative interviews with women from multiple fields, the study found half of women described physical abuse, inappropriate comments, sexist remarks and jokes, Kaplan and Guarino report. The study calls for “systemwide change to the culture and climate in higher education.”
“The findings help explain how harassment can push women out of science or create an environment so hostile that their work suffers,” Kaplan and Guarino add. “One of the women interviewed, a tenure-track assistant professor who was raped by a colleague, described being fearful of conferences and distrustful of potential collaborators.”
— Hurricane Maria's aftermath: Puerto Rico’s government released new data about the death toll following Hurricane Maria, a response to at least three lawsuits demanding the additional information. The data revealed there were 1,427 more deaths from September to December 2017 compared to the average for the same time period for the previous four years, according to the Associated Press. The data also found September and October had the highest number of deaths of any months since at least 2013.The data does not specify whether the hurricane or its aftermath contributed to the deaths. But the information “added detail to the growing consensus that hundreds or even thousands of people died as an indirect result of the storm,” per the AP.
— Meanwhile: The federal government, anticipating the increasing costs of frequent natural disasters, is looking to expand its program for purchasing reinsurance for the National Flood Insurance Program, Bloomberg News reports. Reinsurance is purchased as protection against unexpectedly high insurance claims. “As the federal government’s exposure to extreme weather and associated natural disasters has grown, so has the reinsurance industry’s role in helping cover that risk,” per the report. “FEMA worked through Guy Carpenter & Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos., to buy $1 billion worth of reinsurance in 2017 from 25 carriers for the flood insurance program. This year, the agency bought $1.46 billion of reinsurance for the program.”
— Wildfires out West: There are at least six wildfires raging across the state of Colorado, and the conditions have been so ripe for fires that officials have preemptively shut down parks and forests, The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. One fire, the 416 fire north of the city of Durango, has already forced the evacuation of 2,000 homes since it began on June 1. As of Monday night, it had burned more than 23,000 acres and was just 15 percent contained, according to the National Forest Service.
— Man, it’s a hot one: The United States has had its warmest 3-, 4- and 5-year periods through May 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Because weather patterns vary somewhat at random, not every month during this unrivaled warm era set a record for warmth. April even ranked as the 12th-coldest on record as the jet stream plunged south for much of the month. But that brief, cool excursion was more than offset by the record-warm May,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports.
— The road ahead for Tesla: The electric automaker's chief executive, Elon Musk, announced Tuesday the company would lay off up to 9 percent of its workforce, which could slash thousands of its approximately 40,000 employees. Musk described the move as “restructuring” in an email to the company, and noted it would only affect salaried employees, not factory workers building the Model 3 electric vehicles, The Post’s Danielle Paquette and Peter Holley report. Musk also tweeted his whole email “unfiltered:"
Difficult, but necessary Tesla reorg underway. My email to the company has already leaked to media. Here it is unfiltered: pic.twitter.com/4LToWoxScx— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 12, 2018
— Top companies concerned about the climate: The terms “climate” and “weather” were among the most-discussed topics among executives of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, according to a new analysis of 10 years of earnings-call transcripts. Those topics were more frequently discussed than “Trump,” “dollar,” “oil” and “recession,” Bloomberg News reports. “The analysis shows that 15 percent of S&P 500 companies publicly disclosed an effect on earnings from weather events, with only 4 percent quantifying the effect. The average impact on earnings was 6 percent in financial year 2017,” per the report. “More companies are expected to increase reporting on climate issues as management teams become more accountable for understanding the financial impact of weather events, S&P said.”
— Exxon's pipeline plans: ExxonMobil said Tuesday it will partner with a company in Houston to build a multibillion-dollar pipeline. The conduit will carry oil from west of Midland in Texas to the Houston and Beaumont region, the Houston Chronicle reports. The announcement follows ExxonMobil’s pledge this year to triple its oil and gas production in the Permian Basin by 2025.
Also: The oil major is looking to expand into hiring more analysts and traders, Bloomberg News reports, recently hiring senior oil trading executive Paul Butcher, who has previously worked for BP and Cargill. “Yet, the U.S.-based company is moving carefully, still far away from building an in-house trading unit similar" to those run by competitors Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total, per the report.
— OPEC uncertain about demand: Just a week before a key meeting to determine whether to raise production, OPEC highlighted uncertainty over the strength of demand for oil, Bloomberg News reports. “There’s a ‘wide forecast range’ for how much crude the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries needs to pump in the second half of the year, its research department said in a monthly report,” according to the report. “With a range of 1.7 million barrels a day between the upper and lower estimates, demand could either be significantly higher, or slightly below, than OPEC’s current output.”
CNBC reports OPEC member Saudi Arabia increased its oil output in May, boosting production by 161,000 barrels a day. The boost brought the monthly production for OPEC’s top producer to just over 10 million barrels a day. The supply hike follows reports the Trump administration called on Saudis to increase output to offset the impact of sanctions on Iran.
— However for Trump, that is still not enough from OPEC, according to a Wednesday morning tweet:
Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
— Meanwhile, the IEA sees strong demand for oil: The International Energy Agency said in a new report Wednesday the world’s demand for oil should remain strong throughout next year. “In its closely watched monthly oil market report, the IEA laid out for the first time its oil demand forecast for next year, saying it expects demand to grow by 1.4 million barrels a day in 2019, on par with this year,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a legislative hearing.
- The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee holds a business meeting on the 2018 Farm Bill.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight holds a hearing on “Oversight of the Army Corps’ Regulation of Surplus Water and the Role of States’ Rights."
- The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a markup on 2019 appropriations on Thursday.
- The Center for American Progress holds an event on “Risks Posed to Climate and Energy Data from Political Interference” on Thursday.
— Raccoon: 1. Skyscraper: 0. The nation was riveted Tuesday for once not by its president, but by a Minnesota raccoon that scaled a St. Paul, Minn. office building. Onlookers, both in person and online, followed the animal's ascent throughout the day, The Post's Karin Brulliard and Keith McMillan report.
Finally overnight came the news via Twitter the world was waiting for: The raccoon safely made it to the roof.