THE LIGHTBULB

This lawyer spent a career fighting the federal government over how it manages publicly owned land. Now she is joining the Trump administration in a department that controls more than 500 million acres of it.

Karen Budd-Falen, a Cheyenne, Wyo.-based attorney, has been hired to be the deputy solicitor at the Interior Department. In that role, the outspoken critic of federal land policy will help craft legal opinions concerning the department's management of wildlife and national parks. 

“Karen Budd-Falen brings extensive industry experience to the Department, and we are excited to have her on our team,” Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in a statement. 

Budd-Falen served as a political appointee at the department during the Ronald Reagan administration and also worked on President Trump's transition team. But she made a name for herself outside government by challenging it in court over livestock grazing rules and endangered species protections on behalf of ranchers and local governments out west.

Though her position does not require Senate confirmation, public lands advocacy groups eye her as among the most concerning appointees to join the Interior Department since Trump took office.

“Her history is there. We see what she stands for,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We know we're going to go head to head with Budd-Falen.”

In her new role she will help interpret for other department employees environmental statutes that she in the past has denounced in harsh terms. In 2011, for example, she told Congress that the Endangered Species Act has been “used as a sword to tear down the American economy.” 

In perhaps her most high-profile case, Budd-Falen represented a Wyoming rancher who tried to sue individual employees working for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the Interior Department, under a 1970 federal anti-racketeering law originally passed to crack down on organized crime. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected that application of the law.

But her most prominent former client is Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared a tortoise in the Mojave Desert endangered in 1989, BLM restricted grazing on hundreds of thousands of acres to protect the reptile. Budd-Falen represented Bundy and other ranchers who called the federal government's actions a “land grab.”

For years afterward, Bundy stopped paying grazing fees and ultimately, in 2014, got into a standoff with federal law enforcement officers who had repossessed Bundy's cattle. Bundy and his sons were later indicted on federal conspiracy charges only to have a federal judge dismiss those charges.

By then, Budd-Falen was no longer representing Bundy. Last year, she told E&E News that she stopped speaking to Bundy shortly after the tortoise case.

In the press, though, she still seemed to sympathize for the Bundys. 

“The Cliven Bundy situation goes to show how American citizens react when a government has so expanded that it believes that the citizens are subservient to political power,” she told the Daily Caller, a conservative website, in 2014.

“As of late, she's trying to distance herself from the Bundy bunch,” said Land Tawney, head of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers who helped Ryan Zinke become interior secretary but who opposes Budd-Falen's appointment.

Budd-Falen, who did not respond to an interview request from The Washington Post, was originally considered to be Trump's BLM director. But last week she told The Fence Post, an agricultural news publication, that she did not want to sell her interest in her family's ranch as the department was asking her to do to take the job. 

But that top BLM job, unlike the deputy solicitor post she did take, would have also required her to endure a tough Senate confirmation hearing in which Democrats would have had the opportunity to scrutinize her record.

"Now they're choosing to put her in a position where she doesn't have to go through confirmation," Tawney said. "Again, they're letting the fox into the hen house. It may not be BLM director but it's a pretty important position."

POWER PLAYS

— "I have a natural instinct for science": Trump once again expressed doubts about climate science in a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press. He claimed that there are “scientists on both sides of the issue," even though the vast majority studying Earth's climate system holds that humans are causing global warming. He said “clean is very important — water, air” but added “what I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows.” Mentioning, as he has in the past, an uncle who worked as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Trump claimed he has his own “natural instinct for science."

— "Politically suspect": A political appointee from the Housing and Urban Development Department is moving to work as the acting watchdog for the Interior Department amid ongoing investigations into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s an unorthodox move for a role that is usually nonpartisan, The Post’s Lisa Rein, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Juliet Eilperin report. In the new role, Suzanne Israel Tufts will oversee four ongoing investigations into Zinke’s conduct. Elizabeth Hempowicz, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, called Tufts’s appointment “politically suspect, given the high-profile investigations involving Zinke.”

— Top Democrats criticize the proposal to use military bases to export coal: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) called Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to use West Coast military bases as transport points for coal and gas exports “reckless.” Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, warned such a plan would be a risk to national security. “This is a clear attempt to circumvent environmental oversight and protections,” Smith said

THERMOMETER

— The latest on Michael: About a week after Hurricane Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle, another dozen storm-related deaths were confirmed in the state on Tuesday, bringing the total deaths linked to Michael to at least 30 across four different states, The Post’s Mark Berman reports. “Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said the toll, while tragic, remains lower than what many had expected based on the sheer devastation the hurricane left behind,” Berman writes. “Some had anticipated a higher death toll in Mexico Beach, Fla., because nearly 300 people had told authorities they weren’t planning to evacuate the tiny seaside town, which was obliterated by Michael’s storm surge and 155 mph winds as it made landfall.”

More Michael-related headlines:

  • The Air Force is considering moving some airmen and families off of the Tyndall Air Force Base on the Florida Panhandle due to the damage following the storm. The base “suffered a direct hit from the Category 4 storm on Oct. 10, prompting fears that jets the service could not fly away in advance were destroyed,” The Post’s Dan Lamothe reports
  • The Federal Communications Commission called on the nation’s wireless companies to provide a free month of cellphone service to the victims of the hurricane in Florida. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the lack of progress to quickly restore service “completely unacceptable” and said he would launch an investigation, The Post’s Brian Fung reports.
  • The storm may wreak havoc on the state’s upcoming election, too. The impact to voters is not yet clear as it’s yet to be determined “which voter precincts were damaged, or what exactly the state should do to make voting easier for survivors and the displaced,” Politico reports. But beyond the logistics, there are political considerations. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, for example, could delay state-level races but not his own federal race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

 — “It’s alarming and depressing”: Dozens of historical sites along the Mediterranean Sea are at risk from rising seas. According to a study of UNESCO World Heritage sites, out of 49 of these sites that are along the coast of the Mediterranean, 37 are already vulnerable to a 100-year storm surge event, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report. “The central reason for so much vulnerability, the research notes, is simply that human civilizations, as they emerged in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere), have traditionally clustered near water."

— How India is trying to stop farmers from burning their fields: As farmers in Punjab, the powerhouse of agriculture in India, begin a seasonal routine of crop burning, authorities are attempting to stop them as part of a plan to combat air pollution. “The smog that blankets northern India each winter is a toxic mix of car exhaust, construction dust and industrial emissions that settles over the region as wind speeds and temperatures drop,” The Post’s Joanna Slater reports. “What makes it unusual is the addition of smoke from thousands of fires as farmers hurry to switch their fields from fully grown rice to newly planted wheat in the span of a month… The task of dissuading the farmers from burning is a microcosm of India’s broader pollution challenge."

OIL CHECK

— The road ahead for Tesla: A judge with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved the settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. The move signaled “an end to a tumultuous period for investors,” Reuters reports. Under the settlement, both Musk and Tesla will pay a $20 million fine each. Musk also has to step aside as the chairman of the electric automaker for three years, per the report.

— A $930 million penalty: Audi has agreed to pay a $930 million fine in Germany for its contribution to the emissions-cheating scandal that has embroiled its parent company Volkswagen. “The fine … will resolve civil claims against the company, but it does not affect a criminal investigation of Audi executives that resulted in the arrest of the former chief executive, prosecutors in Munich said,” according to the New York Times. “The penalty brings the scandal’s cost to Volkswagen, from fines and lawsuits, to more than $32 billion."

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a meeting on Thursday.
  • The Atlantic Council holds an event on “The Role of Advanced Energy in National Security and a Resilient Grid” on Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds a field hearing on Friday.
  • The U.S. Association for Energy Economics National Capital Area Chapter holds a presentation on “What the midterm elections may mean for energy policy” on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— A look at where Michael is now: From Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Stu Ostro: