The key to Trump’s climate reversal? New math

The Trump administration’s attempt to reverse Barack Obama’s most sweeping climate regulation rests on a legally risky strategy — redoing the calculations of how much the rule would cost and who would benefit.

The EPA’s proposed replacement is expected to downplay the money that people and businesses would save from using less electricity, a key feature of the Obama-era greenhouse rule for power plants. People tracking the issue also expect that the agency will count only a fraction of the improvements in public health from reduced smog and soot pollution, and won’t consider any benefits from slowing climate change outside the U.S.

The upshot: President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency will argue that the Obama administration’s rule had more costs and fewer benefits than previously stated, a change to help improve the comparison when it unveils its own, much less ambitious power plant proposal as soon as next week.

Continue reading “The key to Trump’s climate reversal? New math”

Exclusive: Draft details Trump’s plan for reversing Obama climate rule

The Trump administration is preparing to unveil its plan for undoing Barack Obama’s most ambitious climate regulation — offering a replacement that would do far less to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, according to POLITICO’s review of a portion of the unpublished draft.

The new climate proposal for coal-burning power plants, expected to be released in the coming days, would give states wide latitude to write their own modest regulations for coal plants or even seek permission to opt out, according to the document and a source who has read other sections of the draft.

That’s a sharp contrast from the aims of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a 2015 regulation that would have sped a shift away from coal use and toward less-polluting sources such as natural gas, wind and solar. That plan was the centerpiece of Obama’s pledge for the U.S. to cut Continue reading “Exclusive: Draft details Trump’s plan for reversing Obama climate rule”

Pruitt faces another probe for employee retaliation allegations

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is reviewing claims that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt retaliated against a handful of employees who pushed back against his spending and management, according to three people familiar with the process.

At least six current and former agency officials were reportedly fired or reassigned to new jobs, allegedly for questioning Pruitt’s need for a 24-hour security protection — which has now cost at least $4.6 million — as well as his other spending and practices. OSC is in the process of interviewing some of those employees, according to the sources, although an OSC spokesman said the agency cannot comment on or confirm any open investigations.

The previously unreported review by OSC adds to the roughly dozen other inquiries into Pruitt for seeking job opportunities for his wife, using aides to do personal tasks for him, and receiving sweetheart deals on a Continue reading “Pruitt faces another probe for employee retaliation allegations”

New Pruitt question: Where are his emails?

An examination of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s government email accounts has uncovered only one message he wrote to anyone outside EPA during his first 10 months in office — a number that has watchdogs questioning whether he is communicating in private.

EPA says Pruitt mainly holds discussions in person or over the phone, which would explain the meager electronic trail for his external communications. But Pruitt’s critics remain suspicious — especially in light of all the steps the agency has taken to conceal his activities, from refusing to release his meeting calendars to installing a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office.

Oversight groups said it seems implausible that someone as active as Pruitt, who meets frequently with political and industry allies, would have sent only a single email to someone outside EPA. Agency records also include evidence that Pruitt has used text messages at least once to Continue reading “New Pruitt question: Where are his emails?”

Republicans losing patience with scandal-scarred Pruitt

Republicans on Capitol Hill are growing frustrated with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — and many are now publicly questioning whether he can hang on to his job amid the unending stream of scandals.

Several GOP lawmakers said their patience was running thin after this week’s news that Pruitt sought to buy to buy a used mattress from the Trump Hotel and inquired about securing a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife. And Pruitt’s circle of confidantes inside the agency appeared to be shrinking as well, with two of his closest aides set to depart in the coming days.

“The constant drip needs to stop so the agency can get its footing and focus back,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told reporters. “They’re doing some really good work in the environmental front, but this needs to stop.”

“Sometimes people get tripped up on other things besides the Continue reading “Republicans losing patience with scandal-scarred Pruitt”

EPA bars reporters from toxic chemicals summit again

EPA staff Wednesday morning barred POLITICO and reporters from at least two other publications from entering a national summit on toxic chemicals.

The agency at the first day of the event on Tuesday allowed a select group of reporters to cover the first hour of introductory remarks, including by Administrator Scott Pruitt, but then escorted press out. EPA reversed its decision to ban media after news coverage of the policy and reports from the Associated Press that one of its journalists was forcibly ejected from the building by a security guard. Reporters were invited back for the afternoon.

The event, where attendees are discussing whether and how to regulate a class of chemicals linked to immune disorders and certain cancers, included federal and state officials, health groups and industry interests on Tuesday. Wednesday, it is limited to the agencies that handle chemical oversight and state regulators, according to an EPA Continue reading “EPA bars reporters from toxic chemicals summit again”

EPA boots reporters from summit on toxic chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency barred journalists and the public from Tuesday’s national summit on its plans to address toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water — despite Administrator Scott Pruitt’s statements that the issue is one of his top priorities.

A small group of journalists including a POLITICO reporter were permitted to attend Pruitt’s opening remarks at the event at EPA’s headquarters where federal and state regulators gathered with business organizations and environmental groups. But those journalists were escorted out shortly after — and other news organizations, including The Associated Press and CNN, were barred from attending.

The closed door meeting comes after POLITICO reported that agency leadership had worked to delay a controversial study on the chemicals that would have showed the substances posed health risks to humans at far lower concentrations that EPA has said.

Millions of people across the U.S. are believed to be exposed to the chemicals, Continue reading “EPA boots reporters from summit on toxic chemicals”

Pruitt taps outside attorney for help amid investigations

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has tapped a white-collar defense lawyer to advise him as he grapples with a dozen federal investigations into his activity, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Paul Rauser, the co-founder of the firm Aegis Law Group, has been assisting Pruitt for several weeks as the EPA chief faces fierce scrutiny on everything from his international travel and his lavish spending to his $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, these people said. Rauser has recently been spotted at EPA headquarters, according to the people.

Rauser “focuses on domestic and international white-collar criminal defense, corporate internal investigations, and high-stakes commercial litigation and arbitration,” according to Aegis’ website. He has advised clients on lobbying and campaign finance issues, in addition to representing companies and individuals facing investigations by Congress and the executive branch, the firm’s website says.

Neither Continue reading “Pruitt taps outside attorney for help amid investigations”

EPA’s top spokesperson to depart

EPA’s top spokeswoman is leaving the agency, the latest in a string of departures by key staffers amid the swarm of investigations into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s potential ethical lapses.

The exit of Liz Bowman comes after Pruitt’s lead security agent Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta and EPA’s Superfund task force head and adviser Albert “Kell” Kelly both quit earlier this week. Perrotta has cited negative media attention as contributing to his decision. His role in Pruitt’s security spending was under review by the agency’s inspector general, and he was interviewed by House Oversight Committee staffers on Wednesday.

EPA also confirmed Kelly was leaving after attracting controversy over his ban from the banking industry.

Bowman, who will join Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst’s staff, has been associate administrator for public affairs since shortly after Pruitt was confirmed in early 2017. She was previously director of issue and advocacy communications for the American Chemistry Continue reading “EPA’s top spokesperson to depart”

EPA staff in ‘despair’ after Pruitt blame game

Scott Pruitt may have survived his testimony on Capitol Hill, but he’s coming back to a further enraged and demoralized Environmental Protection Agency staff.

Several current and former EPA officials and other people close to the agency said Pruitt did himself no favors with his congressional testimony Thursday, in which he blamed his aides for installing a $43,000 privacy booth in his office and approving more than $100,000 in first-class flights that he took last year. Pruitt also denied knowing key details about raises that his top staff received last year. And he declined to defend his former policy chief against Democrats’ accusations that she had failed to show up for work for three months, even though she and Pruitt had been photographed attending the same meeting during the period in question.

In conversations with 11 people who know the atmosphere inside EPA, including Republican political appointees, a handful said Continue reading “EPA staff in ‘despair’ after Pruitt blame game”

Documents contradict EPA claims on threats to Pruitt, Democrats say

Records from the EPA, Secret Service and a terrorism task force fail to back up EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that he faces the kinds of threats that would justify his multimillion-dollar, round-the-clock security detail, two Democratic senators wrote Tuesday when asking for a congressional review of his spending.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote to Chairman John Barrasso (D-Wyo.) on Tuesday demanding oversight hearings and citing the non-public documents: an internal EPA review, Secret Service threat assessments and a Joint Terrorism Task Force report.

The Secret Service identified no “reports of behaviors of interest” against Pruitt, and internal reviews dispute “the administrator’s claims that the nature of the threats against him justify his expenditures,” Carper and Whitehouse wrote.

The EPA Office of Homeland Security‘s intelligence team concluded that an earlier threat assessment Continue reading “Documents contradict EPA claims on threats to Pruitt, Democrats say”

EPA chief of staff takes responsibility for raises given to Pruitt aides

EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson is taking responsibility for controversial raises given to two of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s top aides.

Pruitt has been under fire over a report in the Atlantic last week that he used special hiring authority to give hefty pay increases to two political appointees who joined EPA after working for him in Oklahoma. Today, the Atlantic cited two administration officials who said one of the employees had sent an email indicating that Pruitt had signed off on her new salary level.

In a response to the latest report, Jackson distanced Pruitt from the salary decision.

“Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA’s HR officials, [Presidential Personnel Office] and me. Any communications claiming otherwise are simple inaccurate,” Jackson said in a prepared statement today.

Neither Jackson Continue reading “EPA chief of staff takes responsibility for raises given to Pruitt aides”

House Republican calls for Pruitt’s resignation

Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida today became perhaps the first Republican in Congress to call for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation, tweeting that his “corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the Administration.”

“Major policy differences aside, @EPAScottPruitt‘s corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the Administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers. It’s time for him to resign or for @POTUS to dismiss him,” wrote Curbelo, the Republican co-chair of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

Curbelo is up for reelection in a district that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Curbelo’s comment follows three Democrats requesting an internal EPA watchdog to investigate whether Pruitt’s arrangement to rent a condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist constituted a gift. The Atlantic also reported this morning that Pruitt went around the White House to give raises to two key aides — one of whom also helped Continue reading “House Republican calls for Pruitt’s resignation”

Pruitt huddled with coal exec who raised over $1M for Trump

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with an Indiana coal executive last year who was seeking to soften a pollution rule — and who once boasted about raising more than a million dollars for President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to documents provided to POLITICO.

The records, obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against EPA, show that Steven Chancellor, CEO of White Stallion Energy, met with Pruitt on May 22, 2017 for a “courtesy call and introductory meeting."

Pruitt has met regularly with GOP heavyweights ahead of what many expect to be a 2020 Senate run. He has also met with investors connected to Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson as well as key conservative groups like the Family Research Council and Federalist Society.

Chancellor is also the head of the American Patriot Group, whose corporate headquarters in Evansville were designed to mimic the White House Continue reading “Pruitt huddled with coal exec who raised over $1M for Trump”

Pruitt huddled with coal exec who raised over $1M for Trump

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with an Indiana coal executive last year who was seeking to soften a pollution rule — and who once boasted about raising more than a million dollars for President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to documents provided to POLITICO.

The records, obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against EPA, show that Steven Chancellor, CEO of White Stallion Energy, met with Pruitt on May 22, 2017 for a “courtesy call and introductory meeting."

Pruitt has met regularly with GOP heavyweights ahead of what many expect to be a 2020 Senate run. He has also met with investors connected to Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson as well as key conservative groups like the Family Research Council and Federalist Society.

Chancellor is also the head of the American Patriot Group, whose corporate headquarters in Evansville were designed to mimic the White House Continue reading “Pruitt huddled with coal exec who raised over $1M for Trump”

How Trump’s climate skeptics are changing the country

President Donald Trump is filling the upper ranks of his administration with appointees who share his disbelief in the scientific evidence for climate change — giving them an opportunity to impose their views on policies ranging from disaster planning to national security to housing standards.

At the Interior Department, decisions about Pacific island territories threatened by rising seas are in the hands of an assistant secretary who has criticized “climate alarmists” for “once again predicting the end of the world as we know it.” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s top advisers include a former talk radio host who has dismissed much climate research as “junk science.” Trump’s nominee to head research and technology at the Department of Transportation claimed three years ago that global warming had “stopped” — a position at sharp odds with the findings of federal agencies like NASA.

Trump has chosen at least 20 like-minded people Continue reading “How Trump’s climate skeptics are changing the country”

EPA’s Pruitt in 2016: Trump would be ‘abusive to the Constitution’

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told an Oklahoma radio show in 2016 that Donald Trump in the White House would be "more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama," according to a recording released Tuesday by a watchdog group.

On the Tulsa-based "The Pat Campbell Show," on Feb. 4, 2016, Pruitt, who was then Oklahoma’s attorney general and an adviser to presidential candidate Jeb Bush, said he wouldn’t support Trump.

"I really believe he would use a blunt instrument," Pruitt said of Trump. "This president at least tries to nuance his unlawfulness."

If Trump became president, "he would take, I think, unapologetic steps to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional," Pruitt said.

Campbell said his father saw Trump as dangerous, and Pruitt agreed.

"You know, your dad is very astute because I’ll say to you — I think he has tendencies that we Continue reading “EPA’s Pruitt in 2016: Trump would be ‘abusive to the Constitution’”

Sources: EPA moving quickly to write new climate rule in 2018

EPA staffers are under orders from the Trump administration to complete a replacement for former President Barack Obama’s major climate change rule by the end of the year, far faster than the normal pace the agency uses to develop major regulations, according to three sources familiar with the process.

That short timeframe would enable EPA lawyers the chance to defend the regulation from the legal challenges it is certain to face during President Donald Trump’s current term. That would allow the proposal from Scott Pruitt’s EPA to avoid the fate of the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which was held up in court and is now being rescinded by a new administration that opposed the original carbon dioxide regulation.

EPA’s air chief, Bill Wehrum, has directed staffers to develop a schedule for conducting analysis, public hearings and revisions that would be completed in 2018. Staff would need to complete a Continue reading “Sources: EPA moving quickly to write new climate rule in 2018”

Where is Trump’s Cabinet? It’s anybody’s guess

The Cabinet members carrying out President Donald Trump’s orders to shake up the federal government are doing so under an unusual layer of secrecy — often shielding their schedules from public view, keeping their travels under wraps and refusing to identify the people and groups they’re meeting.

A POLITICO review of the practices of 17 Cabinet heads found that at least seven routinely decline to release information on their planned schedules or travels — information that was more widely available during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Three other departments — Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security and Education — provide the secretaries’ schedules only sporadically or with few details. The Treasury Department began releasing weekly schedules for Secretary Steven Mnuchin only in November.

In addition, at least seven Cabinet departments don’t release appointment calendars that would show, after the fact, who their leaders had met with, what they discussed and Continue reading “Where is Trump’s Cabinet? It’s anybody’s guess”

GOP firm ends controversial media monitoring contract with EPA

The Republican media monitoring firm Definers Public Affairs canceled its $120,000 contract with EPA following a media backlash because of the company’s links to GOP opposition research firm America Rising.

Earlier this year, America Rising filed several Freedom Of Information Act requests for communications from EPA career staffers who had been critical of Administrator Scott Pruitt or President Donald Trump. That included email sent by John O’Grady, a top union official at the EPA, that "mentions or refers to President Trump."

News reports about the two efforts to monitor news coverage about the agency and dig up information about dissenting staffers stirred new accusations that Pruitt is fostering an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust at EPA.

Definers described the decision to end the contract as mutual, although EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox would not say whether the agency or company initiated the cancellation.

Definers President Joe Pounder said in a Continue reading “GOP firm ends controversial media monitoring contract with EPA”