Benjamin Hulac

Interior held back FOIA’d documents after political screenings
Watchdog: ‘Are there bad actors at these agencies that are willfully ignoring the law?’

Documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act were withheld by the Interior Department under a practice that allowed political appointees to review the requests, internal emails and memos show.

The policy allowed high-ranking officials to screen documents sought by news organizations, advocacy groups and whistleblowers, including files set to be released under court deadlines. In some cases, the documents’ release was merely delayed. In other cases, documents were withheld after the reviews.

Military bases unprepared for gathering climate change storm 
Responses to hurricanes, flooding already raising alarm bells in Congress and beyond

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — A mangled red, white and blue patrol plane still lies across what was once a park here where families played and picnicked, nine months after Hurricane Michael stormed out of the Gulf of Mexico with its 155-mile-per-hour winds.

And beyond that wreckage and other detritus, about 300 of this Air Force base’s nearly 500 damaged buildings are slated to be razed. The Air Force wants at least $4.25 billion to rebuild Tyndall at its current location on the Florida panhandle, a process the 325th Fighter Wing commander, Col. Brian Laidlaw, said could take several years.

Trump denies climate change as his Pentagon prepares for it
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 156

In this episode of CQ on Congress, former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says President Trump's climate change denial risks an apocalyptic future that will stress the U.S. military. Ben Hulac, author of a forthcoming CQ magazine cover story on how climate change is affecting the Arctic, explains why that could create conflict between world powers.

Democrats want to require Pentagon to study climate change risks on military bases
It’s the latest effort by House Democrats to scrutinize and quantify the challenges a warming planet poses to the military

House Democrats will seek to include in the proposed National Defense Authorization Act language that would require the Pentagon to more aggressively study the risks posed to its bases by climate change, their latest effort to scrutinize and quantify the challenges a warming planet poses to the military.

Colorado Rep. Jason Crow unveiled a summary of the measure Thursday, saying it will be included in the chairman’s mark to be offered by Washington Rep. Adam Smith, who leads the House Armed Services Committee that takes up the bill June 12.

Safe climate a constitutional right, young plaintiffs tell court
But government argues case violates Constitution’s separation of powers

PORTLAND, Ore. — A court case brought by 21 children and young adults asserting a constitutional right to safe climate may turn on the judiciary’s view of its own power to create climate policy.

Much of a hearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here Tuesday afternoon centered on the judicial role in establishing a response to climate change and what rights a group of young activists have to challenge the government’s role in creating a climate crisis. If successful, the suit could require federal agencies to create a comprehensive climate action plan. The shape of such a plan is still unclear. 

Trump admin. pans Democrats’ plan to protect areas in Alaska and offshore
An Office of Management and Budget letter, dated last week, called it an attempt to ‘block’ activities promoting ‘America’s energy security’

The White House budget office criticized House Democrats over provisions in their spending bills that would block the Interior Department from pursuing lease sales in offshore waters and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an ecologically sensitive region in Alaska.

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved the $46.4 billion Energy-Water and $39.5 billion Interior-Environment fiscal 2020 spending bills.

Bernhardt defends Interior public records review policy
Bernhardt said the so-called ‘awareness review’ policy was legal and ‘very long-standing in the department’

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended on Wednesday the agency’s policy allowing politically appointed officials to review and comment on public records requests that relate to them.

Appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to testify about his department’s budget, Bernhardt said the so-called “awareness review” policy was legal.

Interior Department policy let political appointees review FOIA requests
So-called awareness review process could expose department to legal action

The Interior Department has for about a year allowed political appointees to weigh in on which federal records are released to the public, creating delays that could violate open records law and expose the department to legal action.

“If political officials are becoming involved in the process and as a result of that causes the agency to not comply with its obligations” under the Freedom of Information Act, “that is a serious problem,” said Adam Marshall, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.

Eyeing hotter future, industry lays carbon tax groundwork
Business bigwigs head to the Hill this week to push climate legislation

Representatives from credit card firm Capital One, tech giant Microsoft, home-goods maker Johnson & Johnson and dozens of other companies are coming to Capitol Hill this week to do something unusual: Call for a new tax.

Officials from more than 75 companies will press Congress on Wednesday to pass climate legislation, including a “meaningful” national price on carbon emissions, according to Ceres, a sustainable investment group behind the effort.

Trump drags feet on climate treaty, and Republicans aren’t happy
As Kigali Amendment languishes, Sens. Kennedy, Carper point fingers at the administration

It has the support of industry heavy-hitters, environmental advocates and a bipartisan cushion of votes in the Senate.

But the Kigali Amendment, a global treaty to limit hydrofluorocarbons — highly potent greenhouse gases found in air conditioners, refrigerators, insulation and foam — is stuck.

Trump seeks weaker protections, as 1 million species face extinction
A new UN report says the 1 million plants and animals identified, could be extinct within decades, amid a ‘mass extinction event’

Humans have pushed about 1 million varieties of plants and animals to the brink of extinction, according to a new United Nations report that arrives as congressional Republicans and the Trump administration try to diminish endangered species protections in the United States.

Many of the species identified in the report could be extinct within decades, the report says, amid a “mass extinction event” caused by humans putting more flora and fauna on the edge of eradication than ever before in their history. By transforming land and waterways, exploiting organisms, polluting, shifting species’ habitats and fueling climate change, humanity has eroded nature dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, according to the authors.

House passes climate bill, with few Republican backers
The bill blocks funding for the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement

The House passed a bill Thursday to block funding for the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and force the White House to share yearly plans of how it will meet its obligations under that deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the legislation a priority, and three Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.

Paris climate bill will send a message and test Republicans
The vote fulfills a Democratic priority, and may reveal if GOP members will vote for a measure contradicting administration policy

As the House votes Thursday on legislation to stop President Donald Trump from pulling the nation out of the Paris climate agreement, debate in the chamber Wednesday centered on whether the deal would hurt or help the economy.

While the bill has nearly zero chance of passing in the Republican-held Senate and Trump has threatened to veto it if it reaches his desk, it’s a legislative priority for House Democrats who say the administration does not take climate change seriously and has missed opportunities to boost energy industries that produce fewer carbon emissions like wind and solar power.

Interior Secretary Bernhardt under investigation by inspector general
Democrats and watchdog groups have alleged ‘potential conflicts of interest and other violations’

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, is under investigation by his agency’s inspector general over “potential conflicts of interest and other violations,” an agency official said Monday.

In an April 15 letter to Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, Interior Department deputy inspector general Mary Kendall said her office opened an investigation into Bernhardt following at least seven complaints from Democratic lawmakers and independent watchdogs alleging the conflicts and other violations.

Newly disclosed meetings with industry create ethics questions for Interior secretary
Lawmakers interested interior secretary’s calendars because of former career as energy lobbyist

Recently posted versions of acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s daily schedules contain at least 260 differences from his original schedules, with the newest records showing meetings previously described as “external” or “internal” were actually with representatives of fossil fuel, timber, mining and other industries, according to a review by CQ Roll Call.

Events left out of the original calendars but now disclosed or detailed further include a keynote address at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for the industry group Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, encounters with executives at Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell, and a meeting with the chairman of a conservative group Bernhardt previously represented in litigation that environmentalists believe was geared toward weakening the Endangered Species Act.

An overeager legal strategy may endanger Trump’s energy goals
In haste to pass its “energy dominance” agenda, the administration has suffered dozens of losses in court

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was unhappy with an April 5 ruling by Sharon Gleason, a federal judge in Anchorage, Alaska, who found that President Donald Trump had unlawfully lifted a ban prohibiting drilling in the Arctic Ocean, dealing the president’s fossil-fuel energy agenda a major blow.

“I strongly disagree with this ruling,” said Murkowski, who wants to open her state’s land and water to increased oil and gas leasing. “I expect this decision to be appealed and ultimately overturned.”

Offshore drilling may be oily albatross for Trump’s pick to head Interior
Bernhardt’s nomination may face opposition in the Senate from coastal Republicans wary of oil spills

President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Interior Department, former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt, will almost certainly be advanced by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which holds his confirmation hearing Thursday morning.

However, just days after the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Bernhardt’s nomination may face opposition in the Senate from coastal Republicans wary of similar disasters playing out in their states.

Udall is retiring, but he will leave behind a weighty environmental legacy
Udall described environmental destruction to Earth as a crisis that demands pressing urgency in a retirement statement

When Sen. Tom Udall departs the Senate in 2021, he will leave behind a weighty environmental legacy built with bipartisan help, progressive principles, and a clarion call to tackle climate change.

In a statement on Monday announcing he would not seek re-election in 2020, the New Mexico Democrat described environmental destruction to Earth as a crisis that demands pressing urgency.

The ABCs of the Green New Deal
If climate change is the fulcrum propping up the plan, economic inequality is the foot stomping down on the raised end of the seesaw

Since the dangers of greenhouse gases became clear, American politicians have whittled away at climate change in incremental steps: energy-efficiency policies, U.N. climate treaties, basic research, fuel-consumption standards.

But they have not enacted a comprehensive plan to address climate change at the scale and with the speed climate scientists say is required to insulate humanity from what is to come.