POLITICO's Morning Energy, presented by Business Roundtable: Showdown over fate of Paris comes today — Could outside lawyers craft WOTUS replacement? — Nevadans grill Heller over EPA, budget cuts at town hall

By Anthony Adragna | 04/18/2017 10:00 AM EDT

With help from Darius Dixon, Annie Snider and Alex Guillén

SHOWDOWN DAY ON PARIS: It's a crucial day for U.S. participation in the international Paris climate change agreement as President Donald Trump's senior staff are expected to gather together early this afternoon for the first time to formally discuss whether to stick with or abandon the deal. A key figure to watch is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has urged the administration to "exit" the landmark agreement struck by nearly 200 countries in December 2015. Pruitt sees leaving Paris as a key part of his strategy to ensure the administration has a clear path to killing the Clean Power Plan, but the idea the two are related appears to be novel even among some conservatives opposed to the pact, Pro's Eric Wolff and Alex Guillén report.

A final roster of meeting attendees remained unclear, but National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon and Pruitt are all expected to attend. Trump's team is expected to take a clear stance on the Paris deal before the G-7 meeting in late May.

More voices weigh in: Meanwhile, a chorus of other voices weighed in with their last-minute pitches on how the administration should approach the climate agreement. Cheniere Energy sent a letter Monday suggesting "domestic energy companies are better positioned to compete globally" if the U.S. sticks with the agreement, which the company described as a "useful instrument" for spurring additional interest in U.S. resources. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, whose "Morning Joe" Trump watched daily until recent weeks, said Monday withdrawing from the deal would be "stupid and counterintuitive" given the U.S. has "been doing a better job of cutting our carbon emissions" than other developing countries.

But not everyone wants the U.S. to stick it out: The Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose Myron Ebell worked for Trump's EPA transition team, is out with a digital ad and petition urging the president to not "listen to the swamp" and keep his promise of withdrawing from Paris.

WELCOME TO TUESDAY! I'm your host Anthony Adragna, and AGA's Dave McCurdy was first to identify Oklahoma's motto "Labor omnia vincit" is the one that means "Hard work conquers all things." For today: What presidential candidate ran with the slogan "Don't Swap Horses in the Middle of the Stream?" Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to aadragna@politico.com, or follow us on Twitter @AnthonyAdragna, @Morning_Energy, and @POLITICOPro.

PRIVATIZING THE WOTUS RULEMAKING? Industry groups with close ties to Pruitt are looking at whether the redo of the Waters of the U.S. regulation could be effectively privatized by hiring outside lawyers to craft it, Pro's Annie Snider reports. But legal experts are already suggesting that such an unusual move would raise a host of ethical questions and likely limit the public's view into how decisions are made about which streams, wetlands and lakes across the country receive federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

The idea is being mulled among members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which works to restrain the scope of federal water regulation on behalf of more than 60 industry groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Mining Association. Industry insiders have been reaching out to lawyers to see who may be interested in leading a WOTUS rewrite from outside the agency, according to one attorney who received an overture. Such an approach is seen as a way to help Pruitt quickly replace the most controversial Obama-era waters regulation even as he deals with a dearth of political appointees at EPA to help him, multiple industry sources told Annie. Hunton & Williams LLP, whose lawyers fought Obama-era environmental regulations alongside Pruitt when he was attorney general of Oklahoma, represents the Waters Advocacy Coalition.

Inside the agency, the WOTUS rewrite effort is being shepherded by Sarah Greenwalt, who went to work for Pruitt in Oklahoma just after finishing law school, but the bulk of the workload is currently being carried by career EPA water staffers - a fact that worries some Pruitt allies. Meanwhile, some of the legal experts favored by industry to lead the rewrite, such as Susan Bodine, the chief Republican counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, are hesitant to join the agency.

GETTING REAL ON 'BUY AMERICAN': Trump today will launch a Cabinet-wide investigation into government procurement practices as part of an ongoing effort to limit the purchase of goods manufactured abroad, Pro Trade's Megan Cassella reports. ME readers may remember the dust up after the administration ruled, despite the president's pledge, that the Keystone XL did not have to be built with American steel.

REGION 5 PUSHES BACK: EPA's Chicago-based regional office aggressively denied reports the Trump administration is considering consolidating it with another branch of the agency in an email to staff obtained by ME Monday. "At this time, our discussions have not veered into the subject of an office closure. Anyone stating anything to the contrary is spreading false information," Robert Kaplan, acting regional administrator, wrote. "This is about results, not rumors." He added Pruitt would travel to the area this week to discuss efforts to clean up the East Chicago Superfund site.

That comes as The Chicago Sun-Times reported Pruitt might watch the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday after visiting the East Chicago Superfund clean up, but didn't plan to visit the regional office of the agency.

SOLD OUT: If you want to attend any of EPA's public meetings on regulatory reform, you better sign up early. POLITICO asked last week to attend an April 25 meeting for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, but was told Monday the meeting was full up. There are a few other chances to make yourself heard - here's the list of EPA's upcoming meetings - but perhaps the most controversial, the Office of Air and Radiation, will be conducted April 24 via teleconference, a handy way to keep photo-op-py crowds of environmentalists from derailing things. You can also file written comments at any time.

STATES DEFEND TRUMP'S 2-FOR-1 REG ORDER: Fourteen states Monday night came to the defense of Trump's executive order directing agencies to identify two regulations for repeal or revision for every rule promulgated. In a "friend of the court" brief , the states - including West Virginia and Pruitt's old stomping grounds, Oklahoma - rely on some Steven Bannon-esque language to argue that "the administrative state has accelerated further the long-term growth of new regulatory burdens, while rarely eliminating unnecessary regulations issued in the past." The two-for-one setup is a "reasonable, easy-to-administer principle" that follows historical norms of centralized regulatory authorities, they argue. "This growth in unnecessary federal regulations has had a deleterious effect on the States and their citizens. The one-in two-out concept properly orients agencies to solving this long-term problem, which has only grown more dire in the past several years, and to lifting unnecessary regulatory burdens on the States."

** A message from Business Roundtable: Create, Grow, Sustain: Delivering Shared Success - Explore how companies are promoting sustainable practices in their U.S. and global operations in "Create, Grow, Sustain: Delivering Shared Success." Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the report highlights how America's largest companies make sustainable business investment a priority in supporting economic growth and job creation. https://goo.gl/nm4Dy9 **

HEATED CLIMATE QUESTIONS AT GOP TOWN HALLS: Republican lawmakers are increasingly fielding angry town hall questions on climate change and EPA budget cuts, with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei experiencing that emerging trend firsthand in Reno Monday. Multiple questioners repeatedly tried to pin down Heller, in particular, on whether he supported the Trump administration's proposed EPA budget cuts and Pruitt's actions. "When Scott Pruitt is right I'll support him, when he isn't right I'll change his mind," Heller said, adding he "probably wouldn't support most" of the proposed EPA cuts after being repeatedly booed for indirect answers.

Urge caution on budget: Both Heller and Amodei repeatedly sought to reassure angry constituents the final federal budget would look nothing like what Trump proposed, especially with regard to environmental programs. "The president does not make the budget. It's the Congress that makes the budget," Amodei said. Heller called that comment "absolutely right" and promised the final product would "look nothing like the president's budget."

WIND INCENTIVES AXED: Oklahoma will no longer provide state tax incentives for wind energy generation projects that begin operation later than July 1 after Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation ending them, Pro's Esther Whieldon reports. Those incentives were originally supposed to sunset in 2021. Projects that started service after 2007 will continue to receive a half-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for their first 10 years in operation.

THE NRC WAYBACK MACHINE: It was five years ago today that Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and railed against the Obama administration for dragging its feet on officially renominating Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now, Svinicki, a Republican who is now NRC chairwoman, is waiting for the Trump White House to send her latest nomination sent to Congress. Back in 2012, the nuclear world was all-consumed by the agency infighting under then-Chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid who would resign less than three months later. Not renominating Svinicki, McConnell said at the time, suggested that "she's being held up in retaliation for speaking up against a rogue chairman who bullies his subordinates."

It's a matter of timing. Unlike most other commissions, NRC leadership members roll off as soon as their term ends. So, come July 1, Svinicki's photo would be pulled from the agency website, her access to the building would be yanked and she couldn't vote on commission business. And, given the two current NRC leadership vacancies, that could temporarily give the gavel to one of the Democratic commissioners. Of course, this can all be quickly reversed if the issue is about "when" rather than "if" she's got a future at the agency. Svinicki was reconfirmed in 2012 with less than 48 hours left on her term. The calculus is different now too: Republicans now control the Senate and Svinicki's main antagonists in the chamber - Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer - have retired, but the Senate isn't moving any faster on nominations and Svinicki doesn't appear to have a Democrat to be paired with to reduce the partisan flack like she did in 2012.

BALANCE IT ON OUT NOW: After teetering on the brink of a water shortage declaration in recent years, the Southwest finally has some good news: Hefty snowfall in the West has led to strong flows in the upper Colorado River basin. Under a 2007 agreement among the states, the surplus is to be shared between the river's two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday it will send roughly 800,000 acre feet of "bonus" water over the next year from Lake Powell to dwindling Lake Mead - enough water to supply more than 3 million families in the region for a year - but less than some water experts predicted could be sent south.

The extra water is a boon for Arizona, California and Nevada, which have been preparing for water levels at the reservoir to dip to the point it triggers the first mandatory delivery cuts. But even this good news has water managers worried: They argue we're still looking at a future of scarcity, thanks to climate change and population growth, and fear that a plentiful year could derail major progress the lower basin states have been making toward a new Drought Contingency Plan.

GET A JOB: The Sierra Club unleashed a detailed tweet storm Monday examining the 351 positions EPA could not fill during Trump's federal hiring freeze. Some key takeaways: EPA's Office of Air & Radiation and Office of Water both had 22 jobs caught up in the freeze, and 140 people selected as final candidates were temporarily blocked.

TAKING STOCK: The Federalist Society hosts a noon event today at the National Press Club examining "legal and regulatory issues facing the states, the FERC, the courts and the entire electricity industry." Acting FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur gives keynote remarks, followed by an expert discussion. More details here.

TECH WORLD'S TO-DO LIST: The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released its to-do list Monday with a section devoted to clean energy. The group called for energy efficiency and carbon reduction efforts to be set in "a predictable, innovation-inducing manner" and "permanent and technology-neutral" low-carbon tax credits.

ARCHITECTS TOUT CLIMATE PRINCIPLES: The American Institute of Architects released eight principles governing how their profession can help address climate change. Among other suggestions, the group calls for the federal government to maintain "global leadership in the design and construction of carbon neutral buildings" and for policymakers to "protect financing and incentives" for energy retrofitting buildings in cities.

FOR YOUR READING COLLECTION: Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, are out today with a new book, Climate of Hope, with strategies for cities, businesses and citizens to take action on climate change regardless of the national political climate.

MOVING IN JAPAN? Four Senate Republicans - John Barrasso, Steve Daines, John Kennedy and Rob Portman - toured Isogo Power Station in Tokyo on Monday. "A clean coal-fired power plant," Daines tweeted.

ENDORSED: Count former Obama administration climate aide Brian Deese among the fans of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's ongoing cross-country trip to national parks. "Sally - keep the pictures coming. You are having one hell of a trip!" he tweeted Monday.

MOVERS, SHAKERS: Kevin Borgia started Monday as Midwest policy director for Cypress Creek Renewables. He previously was manager of public policy and membership at Wind on the Wires and executive director of the Illinois Wind Energy Association.

Amy Graham has joined EPA as a deputy associate administrator for public engagement; before making the jump she worked for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and also spent three years as a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

QUICK HITS

- Justin Trudeau A 'Stunning Hypocrite' On Climate Change, Says Top Environmentalist. Huffington Post.

- Climate change causes glacial river in Yukon to change direction. CBC.

- Big Business Pushes Coal-Friendly Kentucky To Embrace Renewables. WOSU.

- Kasich: I sent Ohio troopers to assist with security at Dakota Access Pipeline. Cincinatti.com.

- Saudis Target 30 Solar, Wind Projects in $50 Billion Pledge. Bloomberg.

THAT'S ALL FOR ME!

** A message from Business Roundtable: Create, Grow, Sustain: Delivering Shared Success - For the past ten years, business leaders have been coming together to speak on the importance of the environment and our responsibility to each other in Business Roundtable's sustainability reports. In that time, we've made great strides in our commitment the environment, the communities in which we do business and our people. Explore how companies are promoting sustainable practices in their U.S. and global operations in "Create, Grow, Sustain: Delivering Shared Success:" https://goo.gl/BjUBmh **

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