Congressional Democrats want to know more about Rick Perry's travels to Ukraine and conversations with officials there, signaling that the mild-mannered energy secretary won't escape the intense of heat of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
In a memo released Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said he plans to issue a subpoena for White House documents by the end of the week centered on Trump's requests to the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into one of his chief political rivals, former vice president Joe Biden.
Among the records his committee is seeking are any related to Perry's attendance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration on May 20 as well as a White House meeting Perry attended three days later.
Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, similarly sent a letter to Perry on Tuesday asking him what instructions Trump gave him when the Cabinet official flew to Ukraine in May, as well as who asked Perry to go there in the first place. And three House committees on Monday issued a sweeping subpoena to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in part seeking documents related to Perry.
The multiple congressional inquiries have put a spotlight on Perry, who has distinguished himself during his time in the job for avoiding controversy. Though the energy secretary is not accused of wrongdoing and has not been directly subpoenaed, Perry and his Energy Department spent Wednesday reassuring congressional Democrats they will cooperate with the impeachment probe.
“We're going to work with Congress and answer all their questions,” Perry told reporters Wednesday at a departmental event in Chicago on artificial intelligence.
Leading a department he once called to eliminate when running for president in 2012, Perry has kept his head down and avoided the scandals that embroiled some of Trump's original energy and environmental policy team members, including former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and ex-Interior Department secretary Ryan Zinke, who were both ousted amid ethics investigations. Perry's easygoing demeanor has let him develop productive relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
“Regardless of subject, the Department is always willing to work with Congress in response to requests that follow proper procedures,” Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes wrote by email.
An explosive whistleblower complaint from an anonymous U.S. intelligence official alleged Trump did not want to meet with Zelensky until he saw how the new Ukrainian leader “chose to act” in office. In May, Perry led the American delegation to Zelensky's inauguration in lieu of Vice President Pence after Pence canceled his planned trip, according to the complaint.
Two months later, on July 25, Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky in a phone call to investigate Biden, offering to enlist Attorney General William P. Barr in that effort while dangling the possibility of a White House meeting, according to a rough transcript of the call the White House released.
On Wednesday, Perry declined to say to reporters whether he was on the July phone call. He joked that he was asked to fill in for Pence in Ukraine in May because he is “just such a darn good Cabinet member.”
As energy secretary, Perry has regularly traveled to Eastern Europe to promote the sale of U.S.-produced natural gas and coal. “I've had the opportunity to go into so many different countries to represent the United States, our energy opportunities,” Perry said Wednesday. “Ukraine is one of those.”
It is not unusual for energy secretaries to have a hand in foreign policy. Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who served as President Barack Obama's energy secretary, played a central role in brokering the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
Energy secretaries “do get involved from time to time on diplomatic issues,” said Susan Tierney, a former assistant secretary for policy at the Energy Department under Obama.
Curbing Eastern and Central European countries' dependence on Russia for electricity and heating fuel was “very early on a priority” for the Trump administration, according to George David Banks, a former Trump White House energy policy adviser. Given Perry's happy-go-lucky charm — and the fact that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was recused from dealing with several energy issues because of his previous job as ExxonMobil's chief executive — it made sense for Perry to work on Ukraine, Banks said.
“He’s a natural-born diplomat,” Banks said.
Ukraine, rich with its own natural gas reserves, does not import gas from the United States, unlike some Eastern European nations such as Poland and Lithuania. But it does take in and burn American coal — about 4.8 million tons of it in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Most of that U.S.-to-Ukraine-bound coal is of a special grade often used in manufacturing steel, a major industry in Ukraine. The United States is only one of a few coal-exporting countries that has that type of coal.
The country has its own coal reserves, but much of them are located in contested territory in eastern Ukraine. Facing costly imports from Russia, Ukraine has begun getting coal supplies from the United States, Australia, Kazakhstan, and others places in recent years, according to EIA.
In November, Perry touted a shipment of Pennsylvania coal to Ukraine as “just one example of America’s readiness and commitment to help diversify Europe’s energy markets.”
Another major priority for Perry is opposing the construction of Nord Stream 2, a proposed gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany that many nations, including the United States, fear will increase the European Union's reliance on Russia for its energy needs. While in Ukraine in May, Perry promised that Trump would back a bill sanctioning companies involved in the project.
“The United States Senate is going to pass a bill, the House is going to approve it, and it’s going to go to the president and he’s going to sign it,” Perry said.
The Energy 202 is be published on a limited schedule while Congress is on recess this week and next week. The next edition of the newsletter will come out on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
— Trump vs. California: The Environmental Protection Agency escalated its feud with the most populous state Wednesday by issuing a notice accusing San Francisco of violating the Clean Water Act.
- The accusation: The agency said the city failed to properly operate and maintain its sewage collection and treatment facilities, allowing "substantial volumes of raw and partially-treated sewage to flow across beaches and into the San Francisco Bay," according to EPA spokeswoman Molly Block.
- SF strikes back: The notice came a day after the head of the city's public utilities commission fired back at the Trump administration. In a seven-page letter, Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., the commission's general manager, said that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler's description of the city's waste problems last week — part of a letter that chided California officials for failing to enforce federal clean water laws — contains numerous "inaccuracies and mischaracterizations." Kelly added: "I am concerned that you may not have been fully briefed on the history and technical aspects of our City's combined sewer system in advance of sending your letter."
- The EPA's beef with California cities: In his letter, Wheeler wrote that homelessness in Los Angeles and San Francisco is contributing to water quality problems. He also cited a “years-long practice” in San Francisco of discharging more than a billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water annually into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean without treating it fully for all biological contaminants. The letter came days after President Trump complained about "tremendous pollution" pouring from sewer systems in the state's major cities.
- The city rejects those descriptions: Kelly said the city "is proud of its combined sewer system, which captures and treats all of the combined sanitary and storm water flow during the Bay Area's wet winters. The combined sewer system ensures the capture of motor oil, pesticides, metals, trash and other street litter that would otherwise flow directly into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean during storms." He noted that San Francisco is in compliance with the Clean Water Act, but that the city has spent billions of dollars to improve its system over the years, often working alongside the EPA.
The EPA routinely forges long-term agreements with state and local governments to address sewer and storm water issues. San Francisco is one of the few major American cities that combine storm water and sewage flows that is not operating under a federal consent decree.
- Brady Dennis and Dino Grandoni
— Court dings EPA for lax interstate air rules: A federal appeals court this week ruled the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to crack down on harmful ozone pollution that travels from some states and causes unhealthy air in downwind states.
- What the court said: The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found the agency has not done enough to require “upwind” states to act quickly enough to reduce their emissions of air pollution hampering air quality in neighboring states. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled the Obama administration could move forward with implementing a directive under the Clean Air Act to prevent downwind states from getting pollution generated in other states, much of it from coal-fired power plants.
- The issue might not yet be settled by the courts, however: Tuesday’s ruling gave the EPA until Oct. 28 to seek a rehearing of the case, saying the agency had informed the court it might do just that. Separately, an EPA spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing Tuesday’s decision. Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, said Tuesday that despite that ruling, “The Trump administration allowed significant contributions from upwind states to remain unabated. The D.C. Circuit properly recognized the illegality of this conduct.”
— More than a month without clean water: Newark and New Jersey officials said last week that residents could return to drinking tap water with the use of city-distributed filters. But after weeks of bottled-water distribution amid the city’s lead-contamination crisis, some residents and activists want to know why the bottles were necessary in the first place, The Post’s Marisa Iati reports in this deep-dive. “Even after six weeks of bottled-water distribution, residents and activists in September spoke of widespread confusion about which homes were affected by the lead and who was eligible to pick up water from the city. Many families were rationing water to get through the week, while activists tried to make people understand that boiling their tap water would not eradicate the problem,” she writes.
— Corn wars: The Trump administration is considering giving small oil refineries partial waivers from the nation’s biofuel mandate as part of the pending deal meant to boost the ethanol industry and farmers, Reuters reports. “The move would be aimed at reducing the impact of the waivers, which free refineries from their obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard — a law requiring ethanol and other biofuels be blended into the nation’s gasoline,” per the report. “ … The proposal to use partial waivers is part of a larger deal that Trump promised related to ethanol, hashed out after a series of meetings with biofuel officials, farm- and oil-state senators and refining executives in September, the sources said.”
— A test case for handling climate change: The Houston-area has become a test case for adapting to climate change. But even after the city poured money into strengthening building codes and more flood control after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, questions remain after last month’s Tropical Storm Imelda about whether such efforts were enough. The result of the test case “could be a model for other places threatened by climate change — or a lesson in the limits of cities’ ability to adapt, the New York Times reports. “ … Houston’s challenge reflects the dilemma facing cities everywhere: As the climate changes, disasters aren’t just becoming more severe, but also more frequent. So even as the amount of damage increases, governments and residents have less time to repair before the next storm hits. And structural changes that might reduce cities’ exposure require years or decades to complete.”
— Where are all the microplastics coming from?: A new study points to microplastics left behind by tires as a massive contributor to microplastics in California’s coastal waters. The research, the most comprehensive study on microplastics in the state, found that rainwater is washing “more than 7 trillion microplastics, much of it tire particles left behind on streets, into San Francisco Bay each year — an amount 300 times greater than what comes from microfibers washing off polyester clothes, microbeads from beauty products and the many other plastics washing down our sinks and sewers,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
“I’m so used to thinking of the toxics that come from urban runoff and not the actual physical particles from something like tire dust,” said Mark Gold, who leads the state’s Ocean Protection Council. “But the sheer number of particles … the scope and scale of this problem makes you realize that this is something that’s definitely worth looking at a great deal more seriously.”
— Man, it’s a hot one: If you live in the Washington area, you may have experienced the historically hot Wednesday that broke an all-time October heat mark. The 98-degree high was the “hottest weather ever recorded in Washington so late in the calendar year. The average high temperature on Oct. 2 is just 73 degrees,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “ … The abnormally hot weather follows what was the third hottest September on record, with 25 of 30 days in the 80s and 90s, and the seventh hottest summer on record (using the June through August definition).”
Beyond the Beltway: The “sprawling heat dome over the east third of the nation” that caused the record temperatures was also “responsible for 16 monthly high temperature records in the interior eastern U.S. on Tuesday before the blistering heat shifted toward the coast on Wednesday.”
98 not only shatters the Oct record high it's tied for the second hottest day of the year in DC. If it's our last 90 it's pretty incredible to end in such a fashion.— Ian Livingston (@islivingston) October 2, 2019
40% of years since 1872 never reached 98 all year. pic.twitter.com/K3LSfFtBeH
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on Venezuela’s water crisis.
— This is how the D.C. Council reacted to the city's record-breaking heat: