By Anthony Adragna | 05/19/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Darius Dixon, Ben Lefebvre and Alex Guillén
TRUMP KICKS OFF INTERNATIONAL TRIP: Amid ongoing White House crises, President Donald Trump departs today on his first international trip, a nine-day, five-country trek. Expect the U.S. to tout its energy ties with Saudi Arabia during the first stop on his trip. Trump departs this afternoon for the overnight flight to Riyadh, where on Saturday he will sign agreements to enhance economic and security relationships between the two countries and hold a series of meetings with Saudi officials. On Sunday, Trump will meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of oil-rich nations in the region. Trump has previously threatened to cut off oil purchases from Saudi Arabia if the country does not step up its assistance in the fight against ISIS. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley last Sunday did not rule out the possibility that threat reemerges during the trip, although she stressed that was not the point.
The president is scheduled to travel to Israel next, followed by a stop at the Vatican. Trump is scheduled to meet next week with Pope Francis, who has called on world leaders to do more about climate change. But the pope has said he will not try to sway Trump to his views.
Trump will end his tour with the G-7 summit in Sicily next week, following a stop in Belgium. Expect other G-7 leaders at the summit to press him on climate change and urge him not to abandon the 2015 Paris accord. Some members, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, have already briefly broached the topic of the Paris climate deal with Trump.
WE NEED MORE DEMOCRATS! Proponents of overhauling the regulatory system will need to make additional concessions to secure the required Democratic support to get anything through the Senate, based on committee votes earlier this week, but Sen. Claire McCaskill may be up for the challenge, Pro's Eric Wolff reports. "We're hoping to get something out before the [Memorial Day] break," McCaskill said Thursday, while declining to provide additional details of the compromise regulatory reform bill she plans to introduce.
McCaskill voted against legislation in committee from Rob Portman and Heidi Heitkamp that is seen as the most ambitious proposal likely to gain traction this year. That bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act (S. 951), would require a cost-benefit analysis for most major rules and direct agencies to review significant regulations at least every 10 years, among other provisions. Portman vowed to keep working with McCaskill on crafting a compromise bill that can pass. "We addressed most of her concerns - I know that - but apparently not all of them," he said. In the meantime, activists worried that regulatory reform would weaken their ability to demand tough rules are staunchly fighting the legislation. "We're cautiously optimistic we have 41 votes, but we're taking nothing for granted," Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, said. Meanwhile, reg reform supporter Tim Doyle, vice president for policy and general counsel for the Americans Council for Capital Formation, says a piecemeal approach may work better than one large package. "There's support for some of the pieces, so smaller bills have a better chance," he said.
PRESSING MATTERS: Get ready for Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee to press David Bernhardt, the nominee for the number two slot at Interior, on the administration's approach to science and climate change in follow up questions to his nomination hearing, Pro's Esther Whieldon and Ben Lefebvre report. Bernhardt faced intense questioning on whether he would respect the findings of the agency's scientists from Sen. Debbie Stabenow. ranking member Maria Cantwell told ME after the hearing she remained "very" concerned about Bernhardt's answers on scientific integrity. "We clearly have an administration who thinks that they can just decide everything in the executive branch, and obviously that's not true," Cantwell said, promising to follow up in questions for the record.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a May 25 hearing to consider the nomination of Dan Brouillette for deputy energy secretary and FERC picks Neil Chatterjee and Rob Powelson, Pro's Darius Dixon reports.
ANOTHER WEEK BITES THE DUST! I'm your host Anthony Adragna, and Hunton & Williams' Joe Stanko was first to identify Sedona, Ariz. as the only city with turquoise McDonald's arches. For today: Who is the current governor with nine children? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @AnthonyAdragna, @Morning_Energy, and @POLITICOPro.
SHOW ME SOME NRC NOMS: Three well-connected sources tell ME that President Trump is just about ready to make his picks for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission official. The White House announcement could come as soon as today or over the weekend, ME hears. Earlier this month, Darius Dixon told you who the picks are , but there's starting to be a real time crunch for NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki. The agency veteran's term expires June 30 - six weeks from today! And, as our regular readers know, the NRC doesn't mess around: If she's not reconfirmed by July 1, she's out, at least temporarily. Her ouster can be reversed pretty quickly, and she has some well-placed friends in the Senate, but the White House needs to release the goods.
ARPA-E FROZEN NO MORE: The Energy Department has unfrozen ARPA-E funding, announcing Thursday afternoon it's "honoring commitments to several previously selected" grants and three grants secured up to $11.1 million in funding, Pro's Darius Dixon reports. All three awards - one under the program's so-called NEXTCAR initiative and two under " REFUEL " - were initially announced last fall but needed to finalize their contracts with DOE after the Trump administration took power.
EPA FUNDING DISSECTED: A memo covering the remainder of the fiscal year shows EPA received an extra $12 million in the appropriations omnibus to begin funding early staff retirements and buyouts, Pro's Alex Guillén reports. The memo also says an extra $800,000 has been allotted to pay for the travel costs of Administrator Scott Pruitt's security detail.
HITTING PAUSE: Provisions of a Federal Highway Administration rulemaking on national performance management measures related to measuring carbon dioxide emissions from on-road mobile sources "would benefit from further notice and comment procedures," according to a Federal Register notice scheduled to be published today. As Pro's Darius Dixon reports, the broader rule will move forward but new performance metrics related to greenhouse gas emissions will be "indefinitely" delayed.
ANOTHER CBD LAWSUIT FILED: The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking information on the Keystone XL pipeline's route after the State Department didn't respond to its FOIA request in time. "With the State Department illegally refusing to provide information about a leak-prone pipeline that could pollute hundreds of waterways, we're left with no option but to sue," Amy Atwood, the group's endangered species legal director, said in a statement. The lawsuit also sought contracts and correspondence with private contractors.
CLIMATE RULE LIKE A DINOSAUR: Vice President Mike Pence touted congressional and executive actions to rescind Obama-era regulations during a Thursday speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Invest in America summit. Praising Trump, Pence said: "He's been rolling back the ban on offshore drilling. He's put the Clean Power Plan on a path to extinction."
NOT THROWING IN THE TOWEL YET: Rep. Ken Calvert, who leads the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Environment, isn't ready to join Mike Simpson in calling a yearlong stopgap spending bill the most likely outcome for fiscal 2018. But Calvert warns it will be "very difficult" for Congress to swallow funding levels anywhere near those in Trump's "skinny" budget. "We'll see if there's any significant changes from the skinny budget to this budget," he told ME.
TALKING RFS REVAMP: Rep. John Shimkus, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment, said he expected to begin a series of meetings on how to potentially revamp the Renewable Fuel Standard in the coming weeks. "We'll probably start meeting with a small group of members on the RFS and start kind of figuring out if there's a pathway," he said. "We're asking the members to come with no agenda, a clean slate."
UTAH GOVERNOR PRAISES ZINKE: It's not yet clear what his final decision will be, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been a "voice of moderation" in the Bears Ears National Monument debate, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters Thursday. "We all agreed that there should be protection. What we disagree on and what we need to decide is what is the method of protection: monument, legislation, enhanced protections from the BLM ... and the scope," Herbert said. "I think he's being very deliberate about this thing and I think at the end of the day we're going to have protections for that area." Herbert added that he didn't think the ongoing White House turmoil would affect the monument designation review.
NEW AD TARGETS TRUMP ON PARIS: 314 Action, which seeks to get scientists elected to public office, announced a three-week ad buy Thursday urging the Trump administration to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement on climate change. The ad will run in Washington, as well as in the districts of Reps. Lamar Smith and Dana Rohrabacher . The ad will air on MSNBC and during Fox & Friends, which Trump is known to watch, but it does not seem likely to appeal to him. Over clips archival clips of Trump a narrator says "our president denies facts and reality," and the ad closes by urging viewers, "Don't just stop Donald Trump, save our planet."
THIS ONE TAKES THE CAKE: EPA investigators recently found themselves called to the scene of an unusual environmental crime: Weird-tasting baked goods. A new report from inspector general to Congress included a summary of what might be the agency's most delicious whodunit. At a bake sale at the agency earlier this year, an employee became ill after eating a treat that "smelled odd." Investigators eventually sniffed out the culprit: The employee who made the goodies "had inadvertently melted the bags containing the baked goods while affixing decorations with a hot glue gun." Maybe this is why Gina McCarthy always stuck to Dunkin's.
CASE DROPPED: Two tribes dropped their court case against the Dakota Access Pipeline, court records show. A U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the D.C. Circuit granted a dismissal of the appeal the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed in April, according to a May 15 filing. The dismissal came two months after the tribes lost their case in a lower court seeking to halt construction of DAPL, which connects North Dakota oil fields to refineries along the Gulf Coast. Oil is already in the pipeline, and operator Energy Transfer Partners said the DAPL would reach commercial operations this month.
OIRA PICK FORMALLY SENT TO SENATE: After more than a month, Trump formally sent the nomination of law professor Neomi Rao to run the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs onward to the Senate Thursday. She's currently a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School.
MOVER, SHAKER: Geoff Morrell, senior vice president of U.S. communications and external affairs at BP, has been promoted to group head of communications and external affairs. Morrell will be based in London and will report to BP Group chief executive Bob Dudley. Read a Playbook Interview with Morrell.
MAIL CALL! COME TO THE EVERGLADES! Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, along with 23 members of the state's congressional delegation, sent Zinke a letter Thursday inviting him to visit the Everglades and check out restoration efforts first-hand. "The Everglades faces numerous challenges, but with a successful state and federal partnership, we are committed to ensuring future generations are able to enjoy this treasured ecosystem," they wrote.
NOT AN EFFICIENCY ARGUMENT: EU member state representatives remain deeply divided on how ambitious the bloc should be on energy efficiency over the next decade, POLITICO Europe's Anca Gurzu reports from Malta.
ICYMI: Be sure to check out the stunning series from The New York Times on Antarctic ice and the effects of climate change. It includes four videos examining what's above, below and on the ever-declining ice.
- U.S. Examines Russia's Grip on Citgo Assets. Wall Street Journal.
- TCEQ Chairman Questions Science Behind Climate Issues. KBTX.
- 2nd Lake Erie impairment suit in district court. Toledo Blade.
- Fiji says U.S. faces climate risks, urges Trump to 'stay in canoe'. Reuters.
- Wyoming coal miners have high hopes for Trump amid national turbulence. ABC News.
- Gillibrand, Higgins petition Energy Department to rethink N-waste transport. Buffalo News.
THAT'S ALL FOR ME!
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