with Paulina Firozi

THE LIGHTBULB

In an unusual move causing some concern among current and former park employees, the Trump administration has named a longtime government lawyer to run the Grand Canyon, one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service.

Leaders at the Park Service on Friday picked Ed Keable, a longtime Interior Department lawyer, to be the next superintendent of the massive Arizona park. Now some observers are scratching their heads since it breaks with long tradition to put someone who has never worked directly in the park system in charge of one of the nation's most iconic and visited parks. 

“It was a very surprising appointment,” said Robert Arnberger, who served as the Grand Canyon superintendent from 1994 to 2000. “It's unorthodox in many ways.”

The decision comes as park leaders have been criticized for shutting down parks too slowly in the midst of the growing coronavirus pandemic. The popular Grand Canyon received top-level approval to close to the public only days after a resident of the housing complex at the South Rim tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — and only after asking officials in Washington twice for permission to shut the gates.

Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks and former superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said that, based on what he knows of his background, Keable doesn't have the experience to manage a park as complex as the Grand Canyon.

“It takes a lot of skill to lead a park like that,” Francis said, “and still takes experience.”

Or as one current park ranger, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, put it: “It does not make much sense to me to appoint someone who cannot hit the ground running."

Keable does come to the job after a long tenure at the Park Service's parent agency. A graduate of Vermont Law School, Keable has been a lawyer in the Interior's solicitor office for 23 years, recently working closely with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to oversee public-records request and employee ethics.

That experience, said Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in a statement, gives Keable “a breadth of experience and leadership know-how" to help address the park's ongoing workplace harassment issues.

In a statement, Keable said he was honored by the appointment. “I have long thought the Grand Canyon is the most beautiful place on earth,” he said.

The park service didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Along with Yellowstone and Yosemite, the sprawling 1.2 million-acre park, which receives nearly 6 million annual visitors, is among the most complicated Park Service site to manage. Most managers of the major parks such as the Grand Canyon work their way up the ranks by first running smaller Park Service sites. Arnberger, for example, ran four other parks before taking the reins of Grand Canyon.

“That developmental experience was essential for increasing my chances of success,” Arnberger said.

Besides its size, Grand Canyon has struggled with a revolving door of top leaders and a longstanding culture of workplace harassment. 

In 2016, the department's internal watchdog outlined how male employees preyed on female colleagues during long trips down the Colorado River amid a wider scandal of workplace harassment across the parks. 

The superintendent brought in to purge the park of its culture of sexual harassment, Christine Lehnertz, spent three months in bureaucratic limbo after facing accusations of mismanaging money and creating a hostile work environment. In the end, the Office of Inspector General completely cleared her of any wrongdoing.

Keable's appointment comes as the administration considers greenlighting development long opposed by conservationists — including opening areas near the canyon to new uranium mining and allowing the town of Tusayan to build homes and hotels near the park. 

Bernhardt's former lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, once worked on behalf of Tusayan to press the Interior Department and other agencies to allow the construction.

POWER PLAYS

Plans for the next coronavirus stimulus: Democrats are seeking further help for individuals and small businesses in the next phase of a stimulus package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told lawmakers that House Democrats want spending increases that could “easily” cost more than $1 trillion, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis report. “Democrats are looking to add two additional months of unemployment assistance and another two months of small-business assistance, among other things,” they add.

  • What’s missing: “Pelosi and House Democrats last week rolled out a host of more ambitious — and controversial — measures that ranged from mandating new federal workplace safety standards for health-care providers to a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. But Pelosi later told CNBC that these ideas might have to wait,” they add. And according to E&E News, in a “Dear Colleague” over the weekend, there was no “mention of infrastructure, which just four days earlier Pelosi had indicated would be a major focus of the fourth legislative response to COVID-19.”
  • Trump weighs in: Trump said Monday he would want to prioritize “a real infrastructure, not a Green New Deal,” adding he is not looking to cut the nation's “carbon footprint.”

— Senators knock EPA over ease of enforcement rules: Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both from Massachusetts, sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler to admonish the agency's move to halt enforcement of environmental compliance during the coronavirus pandemic, BuzzFeed News reports

  • To quote: “It’s disturbing that the administration would use this global public health crisis as cover to weaken regulations that protect our nation’s air, water, lands, climate, and public health, especially considering that ‘poor air can also cause lung inflammation that could worsen the symptoms of covid-19,’ ” the letter reads.

— EPA to donate protective equipment to first responders: The agency announced it will send 225,000 pieces of personal protective equipment -- including disposable gloves and coverall suits -- to state and local first responders. In a news release, the agency said it will soon develop a plan for distributing the products to FEMA or local and state governments in need. 

— Oil glut leads to storage shortage amid pandemic: Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members are looking to warn oil producers that there will be a scarcity of space left to store oil if they don’t start limiting production, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • What to know: “As oil demand collapses amid the viral pandemic, the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia-led allies are holding a virtual gathering Thursday to negotiate a truce in the Saudi-Russian price war and debate curbs of 10 million barrels a day,” per the report. “The group hopes North American producers will join, and it has invited Norway, the U.K. and Brazil to join the meeting, delegates said.”

— Tesla unveils ventilator prototype: In a YouTube video over the weekend, the company revealed a ventilator prototype of an untested design made of electric car parts. “Tesla engineers said that relying on components they already are familiar with and have in large supply will speed up the development and manufacturing process at a time when the novel coronavirus has created a massive shortage,” Jacob Bogage reports.

  • The timeline: The company “has not said when a ventilator might be ready for patients. Other large manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, are partnering with medical device companies and following existing ventilator blueprints, and even they may need months to produce the devices.”

— To avoid another pandemic, scientists call for changing how we interact with wildlife: Though many pandemics and outbreaks originate in animals, scientists insist the problem isn’t the animals, Karin Brulliard reports

  • The problem is humans: “Wild animals have always had viruses coursing through their bodies. But a global wildlife trade worth billions of dollars, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are bringing people closer to animals, giving their viruses more of what they need to infect us: opportunity,” Brulliard writes. “Most fail. Some succeed on small scales. Very few, like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, triumph, aided by a supremely interconnected human population that can transport a pathogen around the world on a jet in mere hours."
This 2016 video shows Nadia's debut at the Bronx Zoo along with her sister Azul. The zoo announced that Nadia tested positive for coronavirus on April 5. (Bronx Zoo via Storyful)

— A tiger tests positive: Nadia, a 4-year-old tiger from New York's Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus, the “first known case of a human infecting an animal and making it sick,” Reuters reports.

  • A potentially unique case: “The virus that causes covid-19 is believed to have spread from animals to humans, and a handful of animals have tested positive in Hong Kong,” per the report. “But officials believe this is a unique case because Nadia became sick after exposure to an asymptomatic zoo employee, Paul Calle, chief veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo, told Reuters.” Nadia was tested after developing a dry cough.

— What New York City’s power demand decline means for other cities: The average hourly electricity demand in the city’s five boroughs for the five-day workweek starting March 23 was 4,808 megawatts, “a 12% drop compared with the same period last year,” E&E News reports, citing an analysis of data from the New York Independent System Operator. 

  • Why it matters: “The data documents the worsening impact of the shutdown on the hardest-hit U.S. city — a trend that could hinder investment in the nation's power system, alter greenhouse gas emissions and affect utilities' bottom lines should it stretch into summer months or beyond. It could also provide a taste of what's to come for other U.S. urban areas,” per the report.

— In other news to know: 

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is proposing a rule that would enable oil and mining companies to hide their payments to governments, Will Englund reports. “Now, amid the economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus, and the clamor for help from Washington, the SEC is proposing rules under that law that would make such disclosures so general as to be of little value,” he writes. “The timing is a coincidence, but critics say the blow to transparency would be especially unfortunate right now.”
  • Researchers confirm that the Great Barrier Reef suffered its most widespread bleaching event ever recorded. “Researchers decided to conduct aerial and waterborne surveys to assess the extent of the damage. The surveys, which took place during the last two weeks of March, quickly confirmed the reef has undergone its third mass bleaching event in the past five years,” Maddie Stone reports.