Jacob Holzman

Conservationists: Interior ignores court order on sage grouse protection
Judge had ordered agency to use Obama-era rules that Trump tried to weaken to allow oil and gas drilling on sage grouse habitat

The Interior Department is offering leases to drill for oil and gas in greater sage grouse habitat using a species conservation plan nullified by a federal court last month for being too weak, according to conservation advocates.

The agency is supposed to be adhering to an Oct. 16 order by a federal judge in Idaho who temporarily suspended the Bureau of Land Management’s latest sage grouse conservation plan, which removed protections for the species on millions of acres across the West. The ruling effectively put back into effect plans written under the Obama administration for protecting the bird from increased habitat destruction by wildfires and energy development. 

Interior nears a contract with a company its secretary used to lobby for
Conservation groups fear water deal will be a hazard for protected salmon and other aquatic life

The Interior Department is close to completing a permanent water supply contract for a water district once represented by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as a lobbyist, despite concerns that doing so would imperil aquatic species including endangered salmon. 

Conservation groups say the deal between the Interior Department and the Westlands Water District, which serves and is run by farmers in California’s Central Valley, promises to permanently divert more federally managed water to the district just as climate change threatens to make the state hotter and more prone to extreme drought.

Manchin backs FERC nominee despite Schumer’s opposition
W.Va. Democrat’s support should all but clear the way for a precedent-breaking confirmation

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking Democrat Joe Manchin III said he will support President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a vacant Republican seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission even though the White House has yet to nominate a member for a vacant Democratic seat.

The West Virginia senator’s support should all but clear the way for a precedent-breaking confirmation, despite opposition from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Democrats’ Bernhardt probe has California’s Cox in a tough spot
His committee thinks Interior secretary may have improperly intervened in decision to send water to Democrat’s farming constituents

A draft report by the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded in July that giving farmers in California’s Central Valley more water would harm salmon, steelhead trout and killer whales.

But after the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, the final report, released on Oct. 22, reached a new conclusion: The government could maximize water deliveries and protect the fish at the same time.

As states legalize marijuana, pesticides may be a blind spot
Without EPA guidance for states to follow, pot users may be exposed to unknown harms

People who consume marijuana medically or recreationally may be exposing themselves to unknown health risks from toxic pesticides.

The EPA would ordinarily evaluate pesticide safety but has never done so for marijuana because the plant is illegal under federal law. So, states with legalized marijuana industries have been tasking newly created cannabis regulators, health officials and others with setting testing standards for pesticide residues present on the plant.

Trump administration to allow energy development in Utah former national monument
House Natural Resources chairman calls the move ‘a shameless giveaway campaign’

The Bureau of Land Management acknowledged Friday it plans to open a large portion of land in Utah — which the federal government until recently considered a national monument — to future oil, gas and mining projects.

At the urging of local and state officials as well as industry groups, President Donald Trump in 2017 shrank the size of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to 1 million acres from the 1.9 million acres it was when President Bill Clinton established it.

GOP members confirm Bernhardt met with group tied to ex-client
Democrats might be focusing on meetings and calls kept off Interior secretary’s official calendar

Republicans on two House committees probing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt acknowledged in a report Thursday that the attorney and former energy lobbyist appeared to have met with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group affiliated with a former Bernhardt client.

The joint report from Republican staff on the House Oversight and Reform, and Natural Resources committees also said ethics officials at the Interior Department approved the meeting with the trade group. The report, by acknowledging the meeting, may also indicate where the majority Democrats are focusing their examination into whether Bernhardt kept phone calls and meetings with industry representatives and groups off his public calendar.

Wyden aims to stunt lead Interior attorney confirmation, cites records policy
Wyden cites newly-released documents the senator said show Jorjani deceived the committee during his confirmation

Sen. Ron Wyden said he will block any unanimous consent motion to confirm President Donald Trump’s choice for lead attorney at the Interior Department, asserting the nominee lied about his role implementing a policy that has allowed political appointees to screen public records requests.

The hold announced Wednesday by Wyden, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would force the Senate to take a roll call vote on the nomination of Daniel Jorjani to be the department’s solicitor, a vote that could be passed by the nominee’s Republican supporters with a simple majority.

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.

A Trump administration review of mining bans has green groups worried
Environmental groups say they worry the report could give the White House a rationale for opening federal lands to new mineral extraction

A Commerce Department report about U.S. reliance on foreign sources of minerals deemed essential for national security has stirred fears among environmental groups that the Trump administration may lift existing bans on new mining claims on public lands, including sites near the Grand Canyon.

Commerce recommended in the report released Tuesday that the Interior and Agriculture Departments complete a “thorough review” of all such bans — also called withdrawals — and develop “appropriate measures to reduce unnecessary impacts that they may have on mineral exploration, development and other activities.”

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.

Interior head: ‘I Haven't Lost Any Sleep’ over record carbon levels
David Bernhardt’s comment came during what was supposed to be a hearing about the department’s fiscal 2020 budget request

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told a House committee Wednesday that he hasn’t “lost any sleep” over record levels of global emissions of climate-changing carbon emissions.

His comment came during what was supposed to be a hearing about the department’s fiscal 2020 budget request. But some of the questions from Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee focused on his handling of climate issues. Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, was pressed to explain how climate could factor into future land management decisions.

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.

Road ahead: More on the Mueller report; floor action on Paris bill, nominations
Oversight matters will get most attention post-Mueller but House and Senate proceeding with normal business too

Two days of testimony from Attorney General William Barr on the 448-page report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will largely define Congress’ return from its two-week recess, with the House and Senate heading in different directions. 

Senate Republicans, who will hear from Barr first on Wednesday, feel Mueller’s report is the appropriate conclusion to years of investigations into allegations that President Donald Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election and that the president himself attempted to obstruct those investigations.

EPA draft groundwater rules disappoint clean water advocates
The proposed draft cleanup standards released Thursday were criticized as too weak by advocates

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed draft cleanup standards Thursday for groundwater contaminated by so-called forever chemicals, but advocates who urged the adoption of such standards said they were too weak.

The proposal addresses PFAS compounds, which are so slow to degrade they’ve been nicknamed forever chemicals.

Offshore drilling ban proposed by bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers
The ban would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and request the Coast Guard to identify areas that risk oil spills

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers introduced a measure to permanently ban drilling off their coast, the latest sign resistance may be swift among coastal Republicans if the administration tries to open their states’ waters to oil and gas exploration.

The legislation introduced Monday by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and call on the Coast Guard to determine what areas face heightened risk from oil spills. It was introduced with support from Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan and Matt Gaetz, a close ally of President Donald Trump.

Bernhardt’s office acknowledges meetings left off schedule
Interior also confirms secretary’s staff regularly overwrites his personal itinerary

The Interior Department has acknowledged that Secretary David Bernhardt’s staff intentionally left controversial meetings with representatives of fossil fuel, timber and water interests off his public calendar, citing “internal protocol” governing his schedules.

The department also confirmed that Bernhardt used a personal itinerary kept on a single Google document that was regularly overwritten by his scheduling staff and said he is still doing so as House Democrats probe whether the practice adheres to federal records laws.

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.

Bernhardt nears confirmation, but Capitol Hill isn’t finished with him
Grijalva wants acting Interior chief to testify on at least two different oversight probes

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will likely be confirmed in the Senate by a comfortable margin this week — but that could be his easiest day on Capitol Hill for a while.

The Senate voted 56-41 Wednesday evening to end debate on the nomination after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier in the day that he expected the chamber to be “voting to confirm” Bernhardt “later this week.” And while some coastal Republicans have raised concerns about the Interior Department’s plans for opening all U.S. coasts to oil and gas drilling, there doesn’t appear to be enough GOP opposition to derail confirmation.