THIS WEEK IN CLIMATE (IN)ACTION – April 20, 2018

QUOTES OF THE WEEK:

“Scott Pruitt embodies corruption and cronyism, and we applaud every member of Congress who signed this historic resolution calling for him to resign. Everything about Scott Pruitt flies in the face of the EPA’s mission of protecting our health and environment, and it’s long past time for him to go.”

  • LCV SVP of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld delivering a powerful punch to Pruitt after 170 members of Congress call for his resignation

“It turns out Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 phone booth was not only a massive waste of taxpayer money, it was also illegal. This disregard for our oversight laws is completely unacceptable for anyone, much less a cabinet official. Pruitt needs to go.”

  • Senator Jeff Merkley turns up the heat on Pruitt via Twitter, blasting him for his wasteful spending and illegal behavior at the EPA

“By rejecting this attempt to give the shipping industry a free pass to further jeopardize our waterways with the spread of invasive species, the Senate has recognized that we must do more, not less, to protect clean water.”

  • LCV President Gene Karpinski on the defeat of the VIDA provision in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, which would have had a devastating impact on our water quality

 

LCV IN THE NEWS:

USA Today: President Trump directs EPA to ease air quality rules he says suffocates industry

Outside Magazine: Politicians, Listen Up: Outdoor Rec Brings Big Money

The Hill: Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill

E&E: 7 key governors’ races for greens

National Journal: Will Rolling Back Fuel-Economy Standards Backfire on Carmakers?

Pacific Standard: MEET THE BIGGEST CLIMATE SKEPTICS UP FOR RE-ELECTION IN 2018

The New Yorker: A Voyage Along Trump’s Wall

ThinkProgress: Scott Pruitt nowhere to be seen near Trump as president orders rollback of air quality rules

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

LCV’s state affiliates are hard at work protecting the environment and fighting climate change in the states. Here’s what people are reading across the country:

The Daily Sentinel (CO): Citizens group organizes multiple air quality detectors

Baltimore Sun (MD): 6 takeaways from Maryland governor’s race forum on the environment

Detroit Metro Times (MI): No quality in Michigan’s environment department

Metro US (NY): NYC has 25-year plan to protect its forests from climate change

Solar Industry Magazine (NJ): Solar Groups Applaud N.J. Legislature Passage Of Clean Energy Bills

 

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FIRST, SOME PERSONAL NEWS: We released our Communities First report this week, detailing the environmental leadership in Congress by caucuses of color. Our own Tiernan Sittenfeld chatted about the report and environmental leadership with Senator Cory Booker on the Hip Hop Caucus’ new podcast, Think 100%. Be sure to check out both the report and podcast!

SERIES-FINALE OF THE PRUITT SCANDAL??: As the world turns, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s never-ending saga of failed leadership continues.  Here’s a recap of what we learned this week — will this be his “Over a Cliff,” or are there more episodes to come?

#TRENDING ON WEDNESDAY — #PollutingPruitt AND #BootPruitt

Lawmakers took to Twitter in force on Wednesday calling on scandal-ridden Pruitt to resign. This followed the release of companion resolutions in both the House and Senate expressing no confidence in Pruitt and calling for his resignation — a measure supported by 39 senators and 131 representatives.

HEARING FOOTSTEPS: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are expanding their investigation into Pruitt’s potential ethical violations, now seeking interviews with five top aides at the EPA, documents on Pruitt’s personal security staffer Pasquale Perrotta, and more details about his unethical rental agreement. This decision came just days after revelatory testimony from former EPA staffer Kevin Chmielewski, who detailed accounts of wasteful spending and other ethical violations.

YOU CAN’T DO THAT: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA violated federal law by spending over $43,000 on Pruitt’s inexplicable private soundproof phone booth. The watchdog agency found that since the EPA did not notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on the project, they are in violation of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

IT’S THE LAW: “…no funds may be obligated or expended in excess of $5,000 to furnish or redecorate the office of such department head, agency head, officer, or employee, or to purchase furniture or make improvements for any such office, unless advance notice of such furnishing or redecoration is transmitted to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

WHITE HOUSE WANTS IN: Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget jumped in on the action with some investigations of their own. Mulvaney confirmed yesterday that he’s looking into the GAO report. This OMB investigation adds to the intense scrutiny Pruitt is facing over his wasteful, unethical, and unlawful spending.

HAPPY PAYDAY: The EPA inspector general found that a number of political appointees working under Pruitt — more than the two previously known about — got raises of 20 percent or more in the past year. Most of these raises went unreported, and it’s no wonder that Pruitt wants this hidden from the public eye — hasn’t he already wasted enough taxpayer money?

MORE WASTEFUL SPENDING: The EPA spent $45,000 to send five people to Australia, including three security agents, to prepare for a trip that was ultimately canceled. That’s an outrageous amount to spend for zero return on the investment – and what would Pruitt be doing in Australia anyway and why were so many security agents necessary to send on a planning trip? The EPA has been very quiet on this particular incident, signaling that some digging might uncover more evidence of wasteful spending on advance and security. Prepare yourselves for more episodes…

EVEN MORE WASTEFUL SPENDING: Pruitt wanted to ride in style — so he had his car needlessly upgraded from the standard Chevy Tahoe to a custom Chevy Suburban. Not only does the Suburban cost substantially more, but Pruitt had them install a leather interior and bullet-resistant seat covers for hundreds of additional federal dollars every single month.

THANK YOU OR KICKBACK?: After rolling back wetlands protections, Pruitt was treated to an all-expenses-paid stay at a luxury hotel, courtesy of a Colorado homebuilders group that greatly benefited from the change in policy. Coincidence? We think not.

ED BOARDS TAKE SHOTS: Both the New York Times and the Washington Post this week released fiery editorials aimed at Pruitt’s swampy and self-serving behavior while in office. SPOILER: both conclude that Pruitt has to go.

NYT: “Policies aside — and they’re terrible, from an environmental perspective — Mr. Pruitt’s self-aggrandizing and borderline thuggish behavior has disgraced his office and demoralized his employees. We opposed his nomination because he had spent his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the federal department he was being asked to lead on behalf of industries he was being asked to regulate. As it turns out, Mr. Pruitt is not just an industry lap dog but also an arrogant and vengeful bully and small-time grifter, bent on chiseling the taxpayer to suit his lifestyle and warm his ego.”

WAPO: “President Trump should have fired Mr. Pruitt a long time ago. The latest reports underscore the swampy behavior Mr. Trump appears willing to tolerate and excuse. […] As the picture of arrogance and mismanagement at the EPA gets more detailed, it becomes ever more astonishing that an administrator so clearly unfit for service continues to lead a crucial federal agency.”

HOW DID WE GET HERE? Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker reminds us of something we can’t forget in the wake of daily scandals: Scott Pruitt brought this mess entirely upon himself through a series of poorly thought through decisions and selfish moves. No one forced him enter a conflict of interest disguised as a lease or opt for fancy travel rather than standard fair. Instead of embracing career staff at the EPA, he’s pushed many out and kept them far away — choosing to make bad decisions all by himself.

LOOKING BACK: While it’s easy to get caught up in Pruitt’s scandal after scandal, it’s also important to remember that he’s decimated our environmental protections and failed to keep our communities safe. Here’s a quick look at the key safeguards Pruitt’s repealed and the significant policy shifts under his tenure — which, unless we fight to get them back, will have a devastating and long-lasting impact.

ZINKE’S NOT CLEAN EITHER: With all the Pruitt buzz, don’t lose sight of the other cabinet official who enjoys wasting taxpayer dollars on lavish travel and favors for industry friends – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

AGAIN WITH THE FLIGHTS??: The Interior’s inspector general found this week that Zinke wasted $12,000 on an unnecessary charter plane back in June — while en route to meet a hockey team owner who also happens to be a big campaign donor. Interesting priorities.

AGAIN WITH THE LOBBYISTS??: Zinke is also a bit too close to the industries he’s supposed to be regulating. The Department of the Interior has taken suggestions for regulatory rollbacks from energy lobbyists themselves, even allowing them to draft recommendations for the Onshore Working Group. That level of access and influence is concerning, especially as Interior reduces the impact that local environmental concerns will have on decisions regarding oil and gas development on federal land.

AGAIN WITH THE LIES??: Zinke has, on 40 separate occasions, referred to himself as a geologist — a credential that he does not actually have. While he studied geology in college over three decades ago, he has never held a job as a geologist and does not belong to any professional organization for geologists, according to an investigation by CNN. Why does he feel compelled to lie about this?

AGAIN WITH THE CLIMATE DENIAL??: As a radio personality known as “Commander Z,” Zinke hosted a show in which he and a guest disputed the accepted science behind climate change. This show was a mess of falsehoods — such as framing coal mining as ecologically beneficial — and raises a lot of red flags about Zinke’s concerning beliefs, especially from the Interior secretary.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: There’s a world beyond Pruitt’s and Zinke’s scandals — and we’ve got to keep an eye on that, too. Here’s more environmental news to know from this past week:

BYE, BYE VIDA: The Senate blocked the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, which included the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), on Wednesday. This is an important move that blocks the shipping industry from jeopardizing our waterways with invasive species. The Senate for now has rejected an attempt to make our water less clean – but we’ll be watching closely to see where this goes next.

JEERS — THE SENATE: After a dramatic, drawn out vote on Wednesday, the Senate narrowly confirmed the nomination of notable climate denier Representative Jim Bridenstine to be the new NASA administrator. Bridenstine has a 3 percent lifetime score on our National Environmental Scorecard, and we wrote to every senator urging them to oppose his nomination. His record and numerous inaccurate scientific statements make him unfit for this important position, so we’re disappointed that the Senate put him there. Don’t worry — we’ve taken note of who voted for this guy.

SAY NO TO POMPEO: Let’s not make another mistake. Mike Pompeo — who accepted almost $1.5M from fossil fuel companies while in Congress — is up for secretary of state confirmation, a critical position to the future of international climate change efforts. A climate denial extremist and a friend to Big Oil, Pompeo as secretary of state would be disastrous for our planet, and we urge all lawmakers to vote no on his confirmation.

BYSTANDER ALERT: Ash from burning coal presents a direct health risk — but the Trump administration’s response? Burn, baby, burn! Pruitt’s EPA has consistently chosen to favor industry cronies over actual people who are harmed by rolling back regulations on coal.

WE’RE NOT STANDING BY: Today, Representative Donald McEachin joined LCV, Virginia LCV, the James River Association, and community members for a boat tour of Dominion Energy’s Chesterfield Power Station. The largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia, the station has numerous coal ash ponds, which are currently covered by the EPA’s 2015 coal ash rule that Pruitt wants to roll back. Coal ash ponds, the majority of which are unlined, threaten communities across the country as they leak arsenic, cadmium, lead, and other pollutants into our waterways. Check out LCV’s Twitter feed for a recap and our livestream for why it’s so important to stop Pruitt’s dangerous proposal.

TWO SIRENS YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING TO: The EPA continues to act in the shadows and working against the health and safety of our communities. That’s bad news for us and our planet.

ONE: The EPA has removed a Harvey flood site from the special cleanup list — despite the fact that it’s a toxic site that has posed a health risk for years and residents continue to worry about the EPA’s ability to follow through.

TWO: Instead of properly creating policy in a transparent process, the EPA has secretly crafted memos directing a decrease in regulation of the pollution factories and facilities are emitting — which will certainly lead to increased levels of air pollutants like mercury, benzene and nitrogen oxides.

NOTICE OF SELLING OUT: Interior announced a Notice of Intent to sell off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska this week, beginning the destructive process of transforming a pristine wildlife refuge into an industrial oil field. This begins a 60-day public comment period. It comes just months after the oil industry and Republicans in Congress snuck a drilling provision into Trump’s disastrous tax bill.

200 DAYS: Midterm elections are right around the corner – let the countdown begin!

 

COMING UP:

APRIL 26 — Pruitt will testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce

APRIL 26 — Pruitt will testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

SEPTEMBER 30 – Expiration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, America’s best conservation program

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