Trump’s new EPA chief caught liking racist and conspiratorial social media posts

The acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was caught liking racist and conspiratorial social media posts using his personal accounts — some as recently as in the past month.

The Huffington Post reported that Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler “liked” a Facebook post showing Barack and Michelle Obama looking at a banana — a racist archetype comparing the former president and first lady to monkeys.

Along with liking the image from an Italian meme page that translates to “My mom is a virgin,” the EPA chief also retweeted infamous Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec.

First uncovered by the liberal American Bridge 21st Century political action committee, most of the posts Wheeler engaged with were made before he came acting EPA administrator in July 2018 following Scott Pruitt’s resignation in the wake of his ethics scandal.

Wheeler retweeted Posobiec from his personal Twitter account in February of 2018 — months after the former Naval intelligence officer had been ousted from military service. The right-wing figure’s ouster followed his promotion of the conspiracy theory that the Democrats were involved in a child sex ring and used a DC pizza parlor as a front for their nefarious gains.

In late September, after taking over at the EPA, Wheeler liked a tweet made by Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson alleging that Twitter discriminates against conservatives.

In an email to HuffPost, the acting EPA chief defending his social media use.

“Over the years, I have been a prolific social media user and liked and inadvertently liked countless social media posts,” Wheeler said. “Specifically, I do not remember the post depicting President Obama and the First Lady. As for some of the other posts, I agreed with the content and was unaware of the sources.”

[Raw Story]

The EPA Will Dissolve Its Science Advisory Office

The Environmental Protection Agency will eliminate the Office of the Science Advisor, an entity within the agency that works to ensure its policies and decisions are based on quality science. The New York Times reports that the scientific advisory position, which currently reports directly to the head of the EPA, will be merged into another office — the Office of Research and Development. “It’s certainly a pretty big demotion, a pretty big burying of this office,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the publication. “Everything from research on chemicals and health, to peer-review testing to data analysis would inevitably suffer.”

This is just the latest in a series of moves that have weakened the EPA and shifted its focus from science-driven policy to a relaxing of environmental protection regulations. The agency pulled information on climate change from its website after the Trump administration took over. It also stopped sponsoring the Climate Leadership Awards program, prohibited its scientists from giving talks on climate change and has proposed severe restrictions on what research can be used to inform regulations. Further, under the leadership of a climate change denier, it has made moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan and roll back fuel efficiency standards.

These actions haven’t gone without push back, however. A number of states have sued the EPA over both its decision to lift a ban on ozone-damaging hydrofluorocarbons and its gutting of fuel efficiency standards. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board also voted earlier this year to review many of the agency’s proposals.

When asked about the decision to dissolve the Office of the Science Advisor, an EPA spokesperson sent the New York Times a statement that said the move would “eliminate redundancies.” Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, who currently serves as both the agency’s science advisor and the deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Research Development, has been with the agency since 1981.

In a prepared statement Orme-Zavaleta said the move would “combine offices with similar functions” and that “the assistant administrator for [the Office of Research and Development] has customarily served as the EPA science advisor which will continue to be the case.” The EPA currently does not have an assistant administrator for that office. Among the programs housed by the Office of the Science Advisor, whose fates now remain unclear, are the Science and Technology Policy Council and the Scientific Integrity Office.

In a separate move, the EPA also put the head of its Office of Children’s Health Protection on administrative leave, a decision it said was not disciplinary. In an email obtained by CNN, the office’s director, Ruth Etzel, said the action was intended to “cause chaos” and undermine the office’s work.

[Engadget]

Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air

The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.

The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirementthat companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the E.P.A. proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks.

“They’re taking them down, one by one,” said Janet McCabe, the E.P.A.’s top climate and clean-air regulator in the Obama administration.

Officials from the E.P.A., the Interior Department and the White House did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Industry groups praised the expected changes. “It’s a neat pair” of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era E.P.A. methane rule, she said, “was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field.”

Ms. Sgamma praised the Trump administration for turning the oil companies’ requests into policy, noting that the Obama administration frequently turned proposals from environmental groups into policy. “It all depends on who you trust,” she said. “That administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

The regulation of methane, while not as widely discussed as emissions from cars and coal plants, was nonetheless a major component of Mr. Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. Methane makes up only about nine percent of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. About one-third of methane pollution is estimated to come from oil and gas operations.

The forthcoming proposals from the E.P.A. and Interior Department would allow far more methane to leak from oil and gas drilling operations, environmentalists say. “These leaks can pop up any time, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain,” said Matt Watson, a specialist in methane pollution with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. “The longer you go in between inspections, the longer leaks will go undetected and unrepaired.”

The proposals exemplify President Trump’s policy quest to roll back regulations on businesses, particularly oil, gas and coal companies. While significant aspects of the president’s broader agenda — including immigration and trade policy, and the proposed border wall with Mexico — remain mired in confusion, and as the administration struggles under the investigation into the presidential campaign’s ties with Russia, the E.P.A. and Interior Department have steadily pressed forward with rollbacks of environmental regulations.

“In other areas of policymaking, like immigration and health care, they appear to have brought into the administration ideologues who don’t know a lot about policymaking,” said Cecilia Muñoz, who directed the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration. “But in climate change and energy, they appear to have brought in people who know exactly what they’re doing, and know exactly where the levers are.”

The pace of the proposals has not been slowed by the resignation in July of Scott Pruitt, who left the top job at the E.P.A. under a cloud of ethics scandals. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who worked in the E.P.A. under the first President George Bush, is now the agency’s acting chief.

The E.P.A.’s new methane proposal, according to the draft seen by The Times, would loosen a 2016 rule that required oil and gas drillers to perform leak inspections as frequently as every six months on their drilling equipment, and to repair leaks within 30 days. The proposed amendment would lengthen that to once a year in most cases, and to as infrequently as once every two years for low-producing wells. It would also double the amount of time a company could wait before repairing a methane leak from 30 to 60 days.

It would also double the amount of time required between inspections of the equipment that traps and compresses the natural gas, from once every three months to once every six months. On the Alaskan North Slope, where oil and gas companies contend that harsh weather makes it difficult to conduct inspections, such equipment would only have to be monitored annually.

In addition, the E.P.A. proposal would let energy companies operating in states that have their own state-level methane standards follow those standards instead of the federal ones. That would include states such as Texas, where the pollution standards have been more lax than federal standards.

If implemented, the proposal would recoup nearly all the costs to the oil and gas industry that would have been imposed by the Obama-era regulation. The E.P.A. estimated that rule would have cost companies about $530 million by 2025. The E.P.A. estimates that the proposed changes would save the oil and gas industry $484 million by the same year.

[The New York Times]

Trump to Seek Repeal of California’s Smog-Fighting Power

The Trump administration will seek to revoke California’s authority to regulate automobile greenhouse gas emissions — including its mandate for electric car sales — in a proposed revision of Obama-era standards, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The proposal, expected to be released this week, amounts to a frontal assault on one of former President Barack Obama’s signature regulatory programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.

The proposed revamp would also put the brakes on federal rules to boost fuel efficiency into the next decade, said the people, who asked to not be identified discussing the proposals before they are public. Instead it will cap federal fuel economy requirements at the 2020 level, which under federal law must be at least a 35-mile-per-gallon fleet average, rather than letting them rise to roughly 50 mpg by 2025 as envisioned in the plan left behind by Obama, according to the people.

As part of the effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose revoking the Clean Air Act waiver granted to California that has allowed the state to regulate carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and force carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state in higher numbers, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will likewise assert that California is barred from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from autos under the 1975 law that established the first federal fuel-efficiency requirements, the people said.

The proposal is still in the final stages of a broad interagency review led by President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, but these major elements of the plan were not expected to change, the people said.

Messages seeking comment from OMB, NHTSA and the EPA were not immediately returned. California Air Resources Board head Mary Nichols declined to comment. Once the agencies formally unveil the proposal, the public will have a chance to weigh in, with those comments used to develop a final rule that could be implemented as soon as the end of the year.

Although the proposal will outline other options, the administration will put its weight behind the dramatic overhaul, including the revocation of California’s cherished authority, the people said.

The state’s 2009 waiver under the Clean Air Act has allowed California to set emissions rules for cars and trucks that are more stringent than the federal government’s. But the state has aligned its rules with those set by the EPA and NHTSA in a so-called national program of clean-car rules. Negotiations toward another set of harmonized rules has not yet yielded agreement.

If Trump’s plan sticks, it could be his biggest regulatory rollback yet. Agencies are expected to claim it will reduce traffic fatalities by making it cheaper for drivers to replace older, less-safe cars, while paring sticker prices for new vehicles even if motorists have to spend more for gasoline.

California, for its part, rejects the idea that its 48-year ability to write its own tailpipe emission rules should end. “We have the law on our side, as well as the people of the country and the people of the world,” said Dan Sperling, a member of the state’s Air Resources Board.

The most-populous U.S. state and 16 others plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on May 2 seeking to block the Trump administration’s effort to unravel the Obama-era emissions targets. Sperling said that number will grow as more and more people come to realize how fundamentally Trump is attacking the idea of states’ rights.

Caught somewhere in the middle are automakers, which in recent months have stressed they would not support freezing the federal targets and want Washington and Sacramento to continue linking their vehicle efficiency goals. While they spent the first year of the Trump administration attacking Obama’s rules as too costly, they fear the regulatory uncertainty that a years-long court battle over a rollback would create. In addition, other major auto markets such as China and Europe are pressing forward with tougher mandates of their own for cleaner cars.

“This is nothing less than an outrageous attack on public health and states’ rights,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “It’s a dumb move for an administration that claims it wants peace, because this will lead to an emissions war: progressive states versus a reactionary federal government. The big question: who will the car companies back?”

Some conservatives have long chafed at the rare authority granted California and welcome the effort to revoke.

“Congress didn’t intend for California to set national fuel economy standards,” said Steve Milloy, a policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, a group critical of climate science. “It’s nutty it’s been allowed to develop. National fuel economy standards are set by the federal government so that’s what we are going to do.”

[Bloomberg]

Trump’s EPA rolls back Obama-era coal ash regulations

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it is relaxing rules for the disposal of spent coal used to fuel hundreds of power plants nationwide.

But environmental groups say the rollback of coal ash storage regulations established by the Obama administration in 2015 could affect drinking water near dozens of sites.

Dalal Aboulhosn, Sierra Club’s deputy legislative director for land and water, said legal action was being considered. “We are pouring through the rule change see what our next steps might be,” she said

The coal industry petitioned the Trump administration for the roll back, announced by Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler — a former lobbyist for the coal industry.

It’s not like EPA has granted us free pass here,” said James Roewer, executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Advisory Group, an industry organization that had pushed for the changes. “It just gives us additional time to operate those facilities and better synch them up” with the upcoming wastewater guidelines.

The EPA states that the relaxed rules will save affected utility companies $28 to $31 million a year in regulatory costs.

These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs.”

The EPA extended the time by 18 months that the industry can use unlined coal ash ponds and groundwater-adjacent sites for dumping. The Obama administration sought to phase out those sites by April 2019.

The unlined ponds are considered by environmentalists to be the worst offenders for polluting groundwater that sometimes is tapped for drinking.

“The Trump administration is turing a blind eye to damage done to our drinking water,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel for environmental group Earthjustice. “This is aimed at saving industry money instead of protecting the public.”

[NBC News]

EPA’s Pruitt Made Young Staffers Pay for His Hotel Stays, Then Refused to Reimburse Them

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, already famously scandal-ridden, made even more ridiculously ethically questionable decisions than were previously known, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Two top Pruitt aides spoke to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about even more of what the administrator asked staffers to do for his personal gain, including pressuring them to arrange first-class travel for him and to find a six-figure job for his wife – all this against the counsel of many of his allies.

The new information comes after EPA’s chief ethics officer, Kevin Minoli, told the Office of Government Ethics last week that he thought the investigation into Pruitt should be broadened, saying: “additional potential issues regarding Mr. Pruitt have come to my attention through sources within the EPA and media reports,” the Washington Post reports.

Amazingly, a current and former EPA official also revealed that Pruitt would ask his assistants to put hotel reservations on their own personal credit cards – not his – on a routine basis.

According to former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, during the presidential transition one staffer charged approximately $600 to her credit card for a hotel booking for Pruitt’s family. The staffer later approached Pruitt’s chief of staff to explain that the period for transition reimbursements had expired and that Pruitt had not covered the bill.

As the Hill first reported, Pruitt’s chief of staff ended up giving her $600 in cash – out of his own pocket.

“She literally went to Ryan and said, ‘Look, Pruitt needs to pay me back for this. It was $600 bucks.’ And Ryan took six $100 dollar bills out of his pocket,” Chmielewski told the Hill last month.

Scotty, for the love of God, man. There’s only so long the entirety of civilization can look down upon you. I hear in Oklahoma, the wind comes right behind the rain – neither of which may be around for too much longer if you stick around the Capitol.

[Mediaite]

Utah oil drillers won pollution break from Pruitt

Utah oil and gas producers tried for years to get the EPA to exempt them from smog rules meant to prevent ailments like asthma.

They finally got their relief after Scott Pruitt took charge of the agency, newly released emails show.

To groups opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, the records are yet another sign that Pruitt has transformed an agency created to protect the environment into a tool for granting favors to industry. They say that’s troubling even if it falls short of the overt collusion his critics have accused him of amid revelations about his ties to lobbyists who helped him arrange housing and travel.

“The public is being shut out of the decisions that affect the air we all breathe while polluters have Pruitt at their beck and call whenever they ask to throw out a life-saving protection,” said Matt Gravatt, the associate legislative director at the Sierra Club, which obtained the emails in a lawsuit over a public records request.

EPA’s aid for the oil and gas companies in Utah came after an industry lobbyist, Marc Himmelstein, a former American Petroleum Institute executive with longstandingconnectionsto top GOP fundraisers, enlisted help from another like-minded Republican, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who has pushed legislation to promote oil and gas development and ease permitting requirements.

Himmelstein coordinated a July 2017 phone call between the Utah lawmakers and Pruitt, offering specific talking points for Bishop to use, according to the records obtained in a lawsuit by the Sierra Club.

EPA was set to declare that the tribal land in the Uinta Basin in Utah was not meeting standards for smog, or ozone pollution. Once that happened, oil and gas producers wouldn’t be able to use a streamlined permitting process and would instead have to seek approval for each of the thousands of wells they aim to drill there.

“We ask the Agency to develop a streamlined permitting solution for future development of the Basin,” Himmelstein’s talking points for Bishop said.

In April, EPA proposed just that.

[Politico]

Whistleblower says Pruitt kept secret calendar to hide meetings with industry reps

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides maintained “secret” calendars in order to prevent controversial meetings or calls with industry representatives getting out publicly, according to a CNN report.

The news outlet reported on Monday that the findings were revealed by a former EPA official who is scheduled to testify before Congress soon.

The report says that EPA staffers consistently met in Pruitt’s office to go through a process in which they would either remove or alter records from the EPA chief’s calendar. Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, reportedly said the reasoning for this was because the meetings could “look bad.”

The scrubbing led to a noticeable difference between Pruitt’s public calendar and what internal EPA schedules and emails show. CNN notes that more than two dozen meetings, events or calls were removed from his public calendar.

Chmielewski, who said he was forced to leave the agency in February because he questioned its spending and management, said some meetings were purposefully omitted from Pruitt’s calendar after they happened. For example, Pruitt’s meeting with Cardinal George Pell, who faces multiple historical charges of sexual offenses, was removed from the calendar.

“We would have meetings what we were going to take off on the official schedule. We had at one point three different schedules. One of them was one that no one else saw except three or four of us,” Chmielewski told CNN. “It was a secret … and they would decide what to nix from the public calendar.”

CNN noted that if the allegations are true, the EPA’s practice of removing or altering public calendars could violate federal law.

[The Hill]

Scott Pruitt Sought ‘Business Opportunity’ With Chick-fil-A While Leading E.P.A.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave a political aide the task of helping him seek a “business opportunity” for his wife with the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Emails released to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act show that Sydney Hupp, a former scheduler for Mr. Pruitt, contacted Chick-fil-A’s chief executive, Dan T. Cathy, in May 2017 at Mr. Pruitt’s behest to set up a meeting.

After a back-and-forth in which Ms. Hupp initially said the administrator “didn’t mention a specific topic” of discussion, she told the company’s director of regulatory affairs that Mr. Pruitt’s request was of a personal nature. “The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy. Nothing very pressing, just hoping to connect sometime in the next month or so,” Ms. Hupp wrote.

Mr. Pruitt ultimately spoke by phone with Chick-fil-A representatives.

Mr. Cathy, reached by phone, referred questions to a company spokeswoman, Carrie Kurlander. Ms. Kurlander said she would not comment further. In an email to The Washington Post, which first reported Mr. Pruitt’s effort to seek a business deal with Chick-fil-A, Ms. Kurlander had said the call was about the possibility of Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, opening a franchise of the fast food chain. Ms. Kurlander told the Post that Mrs. Pruitt never completed the franchisee application.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt had been engaged in “unethically and illegally seeking personal benefits because of the job Donald Trump has entrusted him with.”

The revelation that Mr. Pruitt asked an E.P.A. employee to help coordinate efforts to seek a personal business opportunity comes amid a wave of investigations into the administrator’s spending and management decisions including his first-class travel and spending on security, as well as his decision last year to accept a $50-a-night lease on a condominium from the wife of a lobbyist with business before his agency. Currently Mr. Pruitt faces 12 federal investigations.

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/climate/pruitt-epa-chick-fil-a.html

EPA paid $1,560 for 12 fountain pens, emails show

A close aide to Scott Pruitt last year ordered a set of 12 fountain pens that cost the Environmental Protection Agency $1,560, according to agency documents.

Each $130 silver pen bore the agency’s seal and Administrator Pruitt’s signature, according to the documents, which were obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Yes, please order,” an aide wrote.

The order from the Washington shop Tiny Jewel Box also included a set of journals that cost $1,670.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the pens were similar to purchases made by Pruitt’s predecessors “for the purpose of serving as gifts to the Administrator’s foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them.”

Purchasing records show the EPA under the Obama administration made a $2,952 purchase from the same shop in 2009 for “non-monetary awards for Administrator.”

The purchase stands out not only for the cost but also because it was approved by a close aide who Pruitt described in congressional testimony last month as “longtime friend.”

Pruitt has sought to distance from the agency’s controversial spending, including a $43,000 phone booth in his office. He has recently blamed some purchases on “decisions made by career staff,” as he told the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, this week.

Pruitt’s actions are currently under scrutiny by investigators at the EPA inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and Congress. At least 12 investigations have been opened.

Other emails released by the agency and obtained by the Sierra Club show the same aide working on Pruitt’s apartment search during work hours. In her first year on the job at EPA, she received two raises that boosted her pay by 72%.

The pen purchase was first reported by The Washington Post.

[CNN]

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