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Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Scott Pruitt may be out at the EPA, but he left in the midst of more than a dozen federal investigations into his conduct. The bulk of these investigations are audits that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General agreed to take on. A week after Pruitt’s resignation, the OIG confirmed that these investigations won’t be ending just because Pruitt is no longer in office.

The independent EPA office will continue work on at least five audits, “all of which focus on programmatic, systemic, and/or operational agency issues,” Kentia Elbaum, a spokesperson for the OIG office, wrote in an email to reporters. Some of these audits were already examining issues that predated Pruitt’s arrival, but they have all expanded in scope to include revelations about how Pruitt deployed EPA resources. That includes whether the EPA adhered to its policies on Pruitt’s first-class flights and travel through December 2017; Pruitt’s approval of raises for two employees using the Safe Drinking Water Act; and reports of his staff deleting records that should be preserved under the Freedom of Information Act. And the two others pertain to his 24/7 protective security detail.

Three of these audits could be completed as soon as August, according to Elbaum.

Now, audits are not the same as criminal investigations. Once the office issues its findings, Pruitt would only face public embarrassment since he’s no longer employed by the agency and can’t be directly reprimanded. But a number of Pruitt’s critics have said that he is worthy of a criminal probe, given the reports that he used his public office to find a job for his wife. OIG would not comment on whether Pruitt faces a criminal investigation. “While the EPA OIG announces nearly all of our audit work, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of criminal investigations, which look for violations of law,” Elbaum said. “We can say that any criminal investigations that may have existed at the time of Mr. Pruitt’s resignation will continue.”

In May, Pruitt confirmed that he established a legal defense fund to help him through his investigations. As head of the EPA, he would have had to walk a fine line to not run afoul of ethics law in collecting his donations. Now, he’s free from those restraints.

Originally posted here – 

Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

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8 ways resigning EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suppressed science

This story was originally published by Reveal and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who announced on Thursday that he is resigning, leaves a legacy of suppressing the role of science at the agency.

Blocking science in the name of transparency

In March, Pruitt proposed a new “science transparency policy.” Under the proposed rule, when the EPA designs pollution standards and rules, it would use only studies in which the underlying data is public. Pruitt said his policy would prevent the EPA from using “secret science” that cannot be tested by other researchers. But scientists say important findings could be excluded.

One example is research by Harvard University that linked fine particle pollution in U.S. cities with an increase in deaths from lung and heart diseases. The data for the 1993 study was key to the EPA’s setting of health standards that regulate air pollution. But the study’s underlying data is not public because researchers promised confidentiality to their subjects, 8,000 adults and 14,000 children in six cities.

Firing academic science advisers

Pruitt fired Science Advisory Board members who receive EPA grants for their research, saying they cannot remain objective if they accept agency money. In replacing them, Pruitt transformed the board from a panel of the nation’s top environmental experts to one dominated by industry-funded scientists and state government officials who have fought federal regulations.

Pruitt removed 21 members of the advisory board, mostly academics, and replaced them with 16 experts with ties to industries regulated by the agency and two with no industry ties. Fourteen of the new members consulted or worked for the fossil fuel or chemical industries, which gave Pruitt nearly $320,000 for his campaigns in Oklahoma as a state senator and attorney general. Eleven new members of the EPA’s board have a history of downplaying the health risks of secondhand smoke, air pollution, and other hazards, including two who have spun science for tobacco companies, according to an investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Misrepresenting climate science

Pruitt repeatedly cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human activities are the primary cause of climate change. For instance, in a 2017 interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Pruitt said: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [carbon dioxide] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Along the same lines, the Huffington Post in March published leaked talking points from the EPA’s public affairs office. The memorandum seemed designed to downplay humans’ role in climate change.

This contradicts the overwhelming science that people are causing climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2013 summary for policymakers found that it is “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations,” or human activity. By “extremely likely,” the group of international scientists means a probability of 95 to 100 percent.

Ignoring science to reduce protections for waterways

Pruitt took steps toward repealing Obama-era protections for waterways and wetlands to fulfill a Trump executive order to roll back the reach of the Clean Water Act. That rollback would strip federal protection from seasonal streambeds, isolated pools, and other transitory wetlands, exposing them to damage, pollution, or destruction from housing developments, energy companies, and farms.

In June, Pruitt sent his proposal to redefine which waters are protected to the Office of Management and Budget, which is the final step before it is made public. Trump had ordered Pruitt to incorporate a definition put forth by late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which defines protected waters as relatively permanent and continuously connected by surface water to navigable bays, rivers or lakes. If that definition is incorporated, it could allow damage to waterways that provide drinking water for more than 117 million Americans.

EPA brain drain

Pruitt’s hostility toward science fueled a brain drain at the EPA. The New York Times reported that out of 700 employees who left the agency in 2017, more than 200, or 27 percent, were scientists.

Among those leaving were 34 biologists and microbiologists, 19 chemists, 81 environmental engineers, and environmental scientists, and more than a dozen toxicologists, life scientists, and geologists. Few of these scientists have been replaced. According to the report, seven of the 129 people hired by the agency in 2017 were scientists.

Website goes light on science

After first removing the EPA’s Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments web page, the agency relaunched it with a new name: Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments. The new web page omits many links to EPA information that was designed to help local officials prepare for climate change and reduce climate change emissions, according to an October study by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.

Dirty power plants

Pruitt took steps to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era regulation intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030 compared with 2005.

Pruitt also was revamping an earlier Obama administration rule that required that all new power plants meet greenhouse gas standards that roughly equate to emissions from modern natural gas plants.

Budget cuts to tribes

Pruitt proposed deep cuts in the EPA’s budget that could slow the cleanup of the Navajo Nation’s uranium mines. So far, Congress has resisted much of the cuts. But Pruitt kept proposing them. For instance, the $2.9 billion he proposed in state and tribal assistance grants for fiscal 2019 would provide $574 million less than the current budget.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye worries that such cuts could derail the EPA’s efforts to identify the companies responsible for cleaning up old mines and supervise the projects.

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8 ways resigning EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suppressed science

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A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019

In case you couldn’t get enough extreme weather, the next 12 months or so could bring even more scorching temps, punishing droughts, and unstoppable wildfires.

It’s still early, but odds are quickly rising that another El Niño — the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean — could be forming. The latest official outlook from NOAA and Columbia University gives better-than-even odds of El Niño materializing by the end of this year, which could lead to a cascade of dangerous weather around the globe in 2019.

That’s a troubling development, especially when people worldwide are still suffering from the last El Niño, which ended two years ago.

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These early warnings come with a caveat: Predictions of El Niño at this time of year are notoriously fickle. If one comes, it’s impossible to know how strong it would be.

When it’s active, El Niño is often a catch-all that’s blamed for all sorts of wild weather, so it’s worth a quick science-based refresher of what we’re talking about here:

El Niño has amazingly far-reaching effects, spurring droughts in Africa and typhoons swirling toward China and Japan. It’s a normal, natural ocean phenomenon, but there’s emerging evidence that climate change is spurring more extreme El Niño-related events.

On average though, El Niño boosts global temperatures and redistributes weather patterns worldwide in a pretty predictable way. In fact, the Red Cross is starting to use its predictability to prevent humanitarian weather catastrophes before they happen.

All told, the the U.N. estimates the 2016 El Niño directly affected nearly 100 million people worldwide, not to mention causing permanent damage to the world’s coral reefs, a surge in carbon dioxide emissions from a global outbreak of forest fires, and the warmest year in recorded history.

In Ethiopia, it spawned one of the worst droughts in decades. More than 8.5 million Ethiopians continue to rely on emergency assistance, according to the UN. That includes some 1.3 million people — a majority of whom are children — who have been forced to migrate from their homes.

Initial estimates show that, if the building El Niño actually arrives, 2019 would stand a good chance at knocking off 2016 as the warmest year on record. With a strong El Niño, next year might even tiptoe across the 1.5 degree-Celsius mark — the first major milestone that locks in at least some of global warming’s worst impacts.

Recently, the United Kingdom’s Met Office — the U.K’s version of the National Weather Service — placed a 10-percent chance of the world passing the 1.5 degree Celsius target before 2022. That target was a key goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement because a sharp upward spike in temperature that severe, if sustained, would be potentially catastrophic — causing, among other impacts, “fundamental changes in ocean chemistry” that could linger for millennia, according to a draft UN report due out later this year.

Another El Niño is bad news, but it has been inevitable that another one will happen eventually. Knowing exactly when the next one is coming will give those in harm’s way more time to prepare.

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A building El Niño in 2018 signals more extreme weather for 2019

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Satirical ad reveals how to live luxuriously like Scott Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt got ridiculed in front of the nation at a hearing this week, when Senate Democrats took him to task over his excessive spending and alleged ethical missteps.

But that wasn’t enough for the Sierra Club. The environmental group launched a satirical video making fun of Pruitt’s lush life on Friday. The premise of the parody advertisement? That you, too, could live in such a luxurious fashion — as long as you’re cool with doing a little dirty business.

“Looking to plan a luxury vacation to far off places like Australia, Morocco, or Italy? Try Do-it-Pruitt, your one-stop shop for outrageous pay-to-play deals at the Environmental Protection Agency,” the narrator says. “We have a lobbyist ready to make your plane, dinner, and hotel reservations for you — all you have to do is meet with their corporate polluter clients.”

The ad is part of the growing #BootPruitt campaign, the first coordinated effort to kick Pruitt out of office.

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Satirical ad reveals how to live luxuriously like Scott Pruitt

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Utah sobers up from climate denial

The flamboyantly conservative state of Utah — home to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an all-Republican government, and the Utah Jazz — now officially recognizes climate change, thanks to a bunch of kids.

Seven high-school students stood behind the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert this week as he signed the climate change resolution they’d championed. The resolution acknowledges the existence of climate change, calls for cutting carbon emissions, and states that ratcheting down carbon need not “constrain the economy nor its global competitiveness.”

The students started their push for this legislation back in 2010, after Utah lawmakers passed a resolution calling on the federal government to stop efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions until there was more evidence that climate change was a thing.

The students then found an ally, Rebecca Edwards, a Republican representative in the state House, who introduced their resolution. After two years of lobbying, it passed by a wide margin.

Grist has been writing about Republicans who want to act on climate change for years now. The problem has been that members of the eco-right often get voted out of office if they take too strong a stand. Conservative media outlets have long argued that climate action is a liberal plot to expand big government, and now that idea is baked into the orthodoxy of the Republican base. But the Republican party is changing. It’s not enough for lawmakers to listen to aging Rush Limbaugh “dittoheads.” They also have to consider their younger constituents, who are twice as likely to accept that humans are causing climate change as Republican boomers.

Millennial Republicans aren’t exactly hardcore climate hawks, though: just 36 percent think that climate change is mostly our fault, while 59 percent say it’s having an effect on the United States, according to a Pew poll.

The Utah resolution matches that sentiment. It doesn’t single out humans as culprits and emphasizes the potential for competitive markets and innovation to curb emissions. That’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn (excuse me, Utah) pretty darn good for a start.

Originally posted here – 

Utah sobers up from climate denial

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Scott Pruitt’s vision of a ‘lean’ EPA includes spending a lot of money on himself

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the new “Office of Continuous Improvement” on Monday. The purpose of the office, he says, is “to make sure, as we do our work here, that we set real goals and we track those goals and show real improvement.”

The OCI isn’t about improving air quality, Americans’ health, or EPA transparency, though. Rather, it concerns — hold on to your seats! — improving productivity and cutting waste at the department.

The office expands the agency’s “lean management system” established under the Obama administration.

While “lean” is an apt description of the current state of the EPA, which has cut half a billion dollars from its budget over the past two years and brought staff numbers down to Reagan-era levels, it’s the opposite of Pruitt’s own spending habits. Since his very first day as administrator, bodyguards (who don’t come cheap) have been watching him 24/7. That’s not to mention Pruitt’s pricey private flight habit and $43,000 soundproof phone booth, all on the taxpayer dime.

Some EPA employees aren’t excited about the new office.

“The Office of Continuous Improvement sounds like it’s straight out of 1984,” one staffer told Buzzfeed Science reporter Zahra Hirji.

It’s unlikely that Pruitt’s message about boosting productivity will drown out the numerous scandals coming out about him. He’ll face a tough audience on Wednesday, when he’ll appear in front of the Senate appropriations subcommittee. If it goes anything like his recent hearings in front of the House, we’re in for a treat.

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Scott Pruitt’s vision of a ‘lean’ EPA includes spending a lot of money on himself

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Scott Pruitt can’t hold these cities back from a cleaner future.

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”

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Scott Pruitt can’t hold these cities back from a cleaner future.

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The fallout from Hurricane Maria is reigniting old conflicts in Puerto Rico.

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”

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The fallout from Hurricane Maria is reigniting old conflicts in Puerto Rico.

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An oil refinery exploded in Wisconsin, forcing thousands to evacuate.

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”

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An oil refinery exploded in Wisconsin, forcing thousands to evacuate.

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Activists head to court after shutting down pipelines. Their defense? Climate change.

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”

Link – 

Activists head to court after shutting down pipelines. Their defense? Climate change.

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