With help from Anthony Adragna and Darius Dixon
MAKING PROGRESS: With just weeks to go before government funding runs dry, the House agreed Thursday to conference negotiations on a spate of three separate spending packages, including H.R. 6147 (115), the package that includes funding for Interior-EPA, Pro’s Jennifer Schultes and Sarah Ferris report, setting up a healthy timeline for what’s to come.
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The minibus that includes the Energy-Water bills, H.R. 5895 (115), will most likely be the first to reach a resolution, with multiple lawmakers and aides suggesting a final product could come by this weekend. That would mean the House would then vote when lawmakers return on Wednesday, while the Senate could also vote “as soon as next week,” according to Sen. Lamar Alexander, who called a deal “very close.”
A surprise finish: Count Rep. Marcy Kaptur among the lawmakers caught off guard by the apparent success of Congress’ first minibus spending bill of the season. “Some of the issues I thought would be big speed bumps have been resolved,” the Ohio congresswoman, the top Democrat on energy and water appropriations, said. “I guess I’m more hopeful. I wasn’t expecting that this would get to first base but I think maybe it’s on third base right now.” There only seem to be one or two issues holding things up and expected everything to line up this week, she said. A dispute over a provision that impacts salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake River in Washington State seems to have been addressed, but Kaptur wouldn’t say how.
Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the energy and water spending panel, said there was “pretty much” a deal on the bill. “It’s down to a couple little things. They’ll be solved,” the Idaho Republican told reporters Thursday. “It’s not everything I want. It’s a good bill.” Simpson said that leadership had hoped to have the bill done Thursday night but he said it’s more far more likely today, which lines up with other accounts of the measure’s progress.
FINALLY FRIDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Andeavor’s Stephen Brown was first to correctly name House Science ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson as the first registered nurse elected to Congress. For today: How many former House members have received at least one Electoral College vote for both president and vice president in separate elections? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @kelseytam, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.
HE MADE IT: Sen. Tom Carper fended off a fierce primary challenge Thursday evening to secure renomination for what would be his fourth Senate term over political newcomer Kerri Evelyn Harris. Carper, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee was comfortably ahead by a nearly two to one margin when the AP called the race around 9 p.m. Carper racked up endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden and environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and NRDC Action Fund, while Harris got a boost from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several Bernie Sanders-aligned groups.
Hustling until the end: Carper was spotted in Washington as late as 3 p.m. on primary day where he held a press conference opposing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s environmental record. “I voted and then headed to work in DC where I joined my Democratic colleagues and advocates to highlight #WhatsatStake & speak out on #Kavanaugh’s disastrous environmental record,” he tweeted along with a picture of him boarding Amtrak home.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced plans Thursday to keep all 10 of EPA’s regional offices open — allaying concern among employees that the Trump administration was aiming to close several offices. Wheeler aims to reorganize the offices to more closely mimic the operational structure at the agency’s headquarters, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports.
Wheeler wrote in a memo: “The contributions of EPA’s regional office employees, who constitute nearly half of the agency’s workforce, are vital to the protection of human health and the environment.” The plan, which Wheeler said will be submitted to Congress for review, would make it so each region houses eight main program offices covering air, water, land, Superfund and emergency response, enforcement, labs, regional counsel and administration.
WHERE’S WHEELER? Wheeler heads to Montana today to visit the Butte-Anaconda Superfund complex, the first EPA head to do so since former Administrator William Reilly. Wheeler will be joined by GOP Sen. Steve Daines, as well as Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento and local and state officials, according to Katie Schoettler, Daines’ press secretary. Wheeler will also hold meetings with stakeholders in both cities.
NEW MEXICO LEASE SALE RAKES IT IN: A third-quarter oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico broke previous records by bringing in nearly $1 billion in bonus bids for 142 parcels, the Bureau of Land Management announced. The two-day sale grossed more revenue than all of BLM’s oil and gas sales in 2017 combined. It also beat out BLM’s previous best sales year, with a revenue total of $972,483,619.50. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared the sale an example of the Trump administration’s commitment to "energy dominance."
IN THE CLEAR: The House passed legislation Thursday that would speed up export approval for small quantities of liquefied natural gas that qualify for categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act. The bill, H.R. 4606 (115), from Rep. Bill Johnson cleared the chamber 260-146, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. The legislation codifies an existing DOE rule that went into effect in August that allows the agency to expedite applications to export LNG in quantities up to 140 million cubic feet per day.
ATTRACTIONS YET TO COME: The House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee will hold a hearing Sept. 13 to examine the air quality impacts from wildfires. “This hearing will call attention to the impact of wildfire smoke on our health, and examine improvements that can be made to the way we manage our forests to help prevent the unnaturally catastrophic wildfires season that we are battling once again,” Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement. Witnesses have yet to be announced. Wildfires once again ravaged the western U.S. this summer, prompting widespread air quality alerts and warnings for residents to stay indoors when possible.
TO THE SENATE: The White House formally sent a slate of nominations to the Senate, including Alexandra Dunn, who is tapped to lead EPA’s chemicals office. Dunn, who currently leads EPA’s Region 1 in New England, previously served as executive director of the Environmental Council of the States. President Donald Trump also sent David Vela’s nomination to lead the National Park Service.
IT WASN’T ME: While speculation ran rampant over which “senior official in the Trump administration” penned an op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the president, some key energy chiefs went on record Thursday to clear their names. Energy Secretary Rick Perry tweeted, “I am not the author of the New York Times OpEd, nor do I agree with its characterizations.” An Interior spokeswoman said that neither Zinke nor Deputy Secretary Dave Bernhardt wrote the letter. (Zinke also took to Twitter to scold the author: “Whoever this author is should be embarrassed at both their dishonesty and their cowardice.”) And Wheeler supports Trump 100 percent “and is honored to serve in his Cabinet,” EPA spokesman John Konkus said. The EPA chief “also believes whoever wrote the op-ed should resign,” Konkus added.
SAGE ADVICE: The Senate consented to a measure S. 1417 (115) Thursday to require the Interior secretary to develop a categorical exclusion for covered vegetative management activities carried out to establish or improve habitat for greater sage-grouse and mule deer. The bill was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch in June of last year.
GET IN FOR FREE: Interior’s Office of Inspector General flagged "ethical concerns" over free tickets given to the secretary, according to a new report from the agency’s watchdog arm released Thursday. The report investigated the National Park Service’s spending of philanthropic partner funds and identified six concerns within an existing agreement with the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts — a nonprofit organization and national park in Vienna, Va. While two of the six recommendations went unresolved and related to separate issues, one of the more eyebrow-raising findings revolved around a package of eight free tickets given to the secretary for every performance at Wolf Trap.
Those free tickets rack up an estimated value of about $543 per performance and an overall annual value of about $43,000. The giving away of tickets, however, isn’t exclusive to Zinke, the OIG said, but dates back to at least the late 1970s. The OIG concluded in 1979 that NPS "would be better served by strictly prohibiting free tickets for employees," and recommending nixing the policy — which Interior didn’t do. The OIG this time around recommended NPS obtain an ethics review and legal opinion on the tickets. NPS said it is consulting with an Interior ethics officer to review the "long-standing practice," according to spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles. In the meantime, Jethro Tull is playing at the venue tonight.
DEMS RESPOND TO ZINKE LETTER: Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are honing in on a letter sent this week to Zinke from Chairman Rob Bishop that praises the department’s handling of workplace misconduct policies under Zinke. The letter highlights issues of misconduct at Interior under previous administrations and applauds Zinke for his efforts to resolve some of the outstanding ones. Still, Bishop writes that the committee is "conducting ongoing oversight of employee misconduct issues" and requests additional documents related to the status of the department’s anti-harassment policy, enforcement of ethical standards and the number of terminated or disciplined employees dating back to 2015. Ranking member Raúl Grijalva compared the letter to “Inspector Clouseau” in a statement. “It takes courage to ask the target of more than a dozen federal investigations how he keeps his nose so clean,” he said.
NEW ANALYSIS SHOWS RFS WAIVER PRICE: EPA’s small refinery waivers under the Renewable Fuel Standard could cost the ethanol industry 4.6 billion gallons of domestic demand and close to $20 billion in sales revenue over the next six years, according to a recently updated analysis by the University of Missouri’s Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute. The Renewable Fuels Association will tout the analysis today arguing for the need to reallocate those exemptions to larger refiners. The oil industry, meanwhile, argues the data show there’s in fact been increased U.S. ethanol production.
MAIL CALL! DON’T FORGET eRINS: More than 100 organizations signed onto a letter to Wheeler calling for renewable electricity to be included in the RFS. EPA doesn’t currently recognize RINs for electricity producers, also known as “eRINs,” under the standard. “By whatever mechanism biomass and biogas electricity is produced, when our energy is used as transportation fuel, it qualifies as an RFS fuel, and we are entitled, by law, to participate in the RFS program,” the letter states.
ME FIRST — IN SUPPORT OF THE LWCF: The National Wildlife Federation is launching a $300,000 ad campaign today focusing on reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The ads will urge lawmakers to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the conservation program, and will run in a dozen states through the end of this month. “This ad campaign will remind our elected officials and the public of how this remarkable program has connected Americans with wildlife, neighborhood parks and public lands,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the NWF. See sample ads here.
MARCH ON: This Saturday marks the nationwide “Rise for Climate” day of action, when marches will be held across the country in support of a “fossil free world.” Organizers expect tens of thousands to mobilize across cities like San Francisco, New York City, Boston and Albuquerque. The AFGE Local 1003 union, which represents more than 500 EPA workers in Region 6 and Dallas headquarters, and the AFGE Council 238, representing more than 8,000 EPA workers, will both join their cities’ marches.
UTILITY SUED OVER FIXED FEE: The Center for Biological Diversity and four other environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority for what they argue are discriminatory electricity rates that discourage investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Alabama, particularly hits the TVA’s “grid-access charge,” which mandates a fixed electricity fee regardless of energy usage.
MOVER, SHAKER: The American Petroleum Institute will announce this morning that Debra Phillips will join the trade association as vice president of global industry services on Oct. 1. Phillips comes from the American Chemistry Council, where she serves as vice president of sustainability and market outreach.
— “U.S. expects India to buy energy products, aircraft to fix trade gap: Pompeo,” Reuters.
— "California fire agency requests more money," Associated Press.
— “Latest Zinke calendars stripped of most details about his meetings,” CNN.
— “U.S. shale boom begins to cool,” Financial Times.
— “California passes 100 percent clean energy bill, but punts on several plans for getting there,” Desert Sun.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!