Overnight Energy: EPA kicking scientists who get grants off advisory boards

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EPA: GRANTS ARE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott Pruitt19 sens question EPA methodology behind Clean Power Plan repeal Overnight Energy: House panels open probes into Whitefish power deal with Puerto Rico Trump’s Senate oversight holiday must end MORE rolled out his long-awaited policy Tuesday that he says would reduce conflicts of interest on the EPA’s advisory boards by barring people who receive grants from serving on them.

The policy, rolled out at an EPA event, bars hundreds of expert scientists working in environmental and health fields at universities from serving on the boards. Conversely, it would almost certainly increase the representation from companies and industry groups on the panels.

The policy change was quickly denounced by Democrats and environmental groups, who called it a poorly disguised attempt to push out experts at odds with industry.

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But Republicans, who have long been seeking the same goals through other means, applauded the policy.

EPA grantees, Pruitt said, inevitably are conflicted because of the money they receive from the agency.

“Those advisory committees have given us the bedrock of science to ensure that we’re making informed decisions,” Pruitt said at the event.

“And when we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rulemaking, that is not good and that’s not right,” he said.

EPA advisory committee members have gotten $77 million in EPA grants over the last three years, Pruitt said.

“We want to ensure that there’s integrity in the process, and that the scientists who are advising us are doing so with not any type of appearance of conflict,” he said. “And when you receive that much money … there’s a question that arises about independence.”

Pruitt cited a Bible verse from the Book of Joshua, in which Joshua led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, but asked them to choose between worshipping God or their “false gods.”

“Choose this day whom you will serve,” Pruitt said, quoting Joshua.

“This is sort of like the Joshua principle,” he said. “Either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or choose the grant. But you can’t do both.”

Read more here.

 

EPA SETTLES WITH EXXON: The Trump administration has reached a deal worth more than $300 million with Exxon Mobil Corp. to settle claims that eight of its plants released unacceptable amounts of air pollutants.

The bulk of the settlement value — $300 million — is the estimated cost of upgrades to the chemical and plastics plants in Texas and Louisiana.

Exxon is also paying $2.5 million in civil penalties to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies, and spending $1 million to plant trees in a city near one plant.

The EPA and the Justice Department announced the settlement Tuesday, along with a settlement with Colorado-based PDC Energy Inc. to resolve claims that its natural gas condensate facilities in the Denver area exceeded legal emissions limits. That agreement is worth more than $22 million.

“Enforcement actions such as the two we’re announcing today are important steps to bring companies into compliance, introducing better technology and providing deterrence to other companies through the imposition of civil penalties,” Jeff Wood, the acting head of the environment division at the Justice Department, told reporters.

“These actions help to ensure a level playing field where all industry members are held to the same legal standard and no company can gain an economic advantage over its competitors by short-changing environmental compliance.”

Read more here.

WHITE HOUSE STANDS BY CLOVIS AMID RUSSIA PROBE: The Trump administration is standing by its nomination of Sam Clovis to be the top scientist at the Agriculture Department despite his new ties to the Russia investigation.

Special counsel Robert Muller interviewed Clovis as part of his investigation last week, NBC News reported Tuesday.

Questions have been swirling around Clovis since the Justice Department revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos, a low-level foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russians during the campaign.

The complaint against Papadopoulos says that he had been encouraged by his campaign supervisor to pursue meetings with Russian officials promising damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBlumenthal: Trump-tied data firm reaching out to WikiLeaks ‘significant’ Tillerson eliminates key State Department sanctions office: report Intel Dem: What’s in dossier more important than who paid for it MORE.

Several media outlets have reported that Papadopoulos reported directly to Clovis, who faces a Senate confirmation hearing for the Agriculture position next month.

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing that he would remain the Agriculture nominee for now.

“I’m not aware that any change would be necessary at this point,” she said.

Clovis is already facing a difficult confirmation hearing because of his lack of scientific background, history of controversial statements and disbelief in climate change.

Read more here.

 

DISASTER RECOVERY COSTING FEDS $200 MILLION PER DAY:  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is spending an estimated $200 million per day on recovery efforts following a trio of hurricanes and a severe wildfire season, a top official said Tuesday.

Administrator Brock Long told senators that the agency still has “numbers coming in” about the costs associated with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the wildfires in western states.

Asked whether the Trump administration would request more emergency funding for the disasters, Long implied that was likely.

“I don’t think we have a good handle on the total cost of this, but you can rest assured my guys will be in touch with your staff members to make sure we don’t fumble the ball when it comes to disaster recovery, and we’ll do our best to take care of taxpayer dollars,” Long said at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday.

Lawmakers have already appropriated about $56.6 billion for disaster relief this year.

Read more here.

 

Senators, Brock seek distance from Whitefish deal: Brock and members of the Homeland Security Committee — including Montana’s two senators — sought to distance themselves from the since-canceled construction deal between Whitefish Energy and Puerto Rico.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Overnight Energy: EPA to repeal emissions rule for trucks | Disaster relief bill clears Senate hurdle Overnight Regulation: Treasury slams consumer bureau’s arbitration rule | EPA considers repealing truck emissions rule | GOP senators offer wildfire management bill MORE (R-Mont.) said that he “was a bit surprised when I heard the story of a small contractor of two people, most people had never heard of, including myself, getting the contract” to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid after Hurricane Maria. Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Montana.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBig names face off over Montana GOP primary Five takeaways from new Senate fundraising reports GOP senator offering single-payer proposal to get Dems on record MORE (D-Mont.) said that while he “should be tickled pink they gave a contract to a company from Montana,” he questioned the decision-making behind the contract, which was issued by Puerto Rico’s state-run electric utility late last month.

FEMA was due to help Puerto Rico pay for the $300 million repair contract. But Brock said the agency didn’t look over the contract before it was announced, and that “there is no lawyer inside FEMA who would have agreed to the language inside that contract.”

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a confirmation hearing for NASA Administrator nominee Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineDem senator calls on Congress to oppose Trump’s pick for NASA chief Jim Bridenstine is the leader NASA needs The United States and Canada can make space great again together MORE.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: A House Space, Science and Technology subcommittee will hold a hearing on low dose radiation research.

 

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGE:

Consumer Action for a Strong Economy President Matthew Kandrach argues the American electric grid is too vulnerable.   

Two scholars warn that the U.S.’s nuclear plants are susceptible to cyberattacks.

A pair of forestry and ecology professors write against two congressional wildfire bills.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

The CEO of Scana Corp., the energy company behind South Carolina’s abandoned Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station, resigned Tuesday, the Post and Courier reports.

New Zealand could release more visas for climate change refugees, The Guardian reports 

A company looking to design cleaner-burning coal plants will soon begin work on a test facility in Wyoming, the Associated Press reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday’s stories…

-Alaska governor signs order on climate change strategy

-Top GOP senator won’t rule out gas tax hike for infrastructure upgrades

-White House: No change in plans for Sam Clovis nomination

-West Coast Dems lead call to fund early warning system for earthquakes

-GOP chairman presses social media companies over Russian energy ads

-EPA blocks scientists who get grants from its advisory boards

-Trump admin inks $300M air pollution settlement with Exxon

-Trade panel recommends Trump impose tariffs on solar power technology

-FEMA chief: Feds spending $200 million a day on hurricane, wildfire recovery

-UN environment chief: US could meet Paris goals despite Trump

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill

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