What to Watch as Pruitt Takes the Hot Seat on Capitol Hill
At 10 a.m. Eastern time, Pruitt will face the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the Environment ( live stream here). Then at 2 p.m., he will face the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior (live stream here). The hearings are supposed to be about the EPA budget but Pruitt is expected to hear tough questions on a growing list of ethical allegations.
Pruitt, who denies the science of climate change, has repeatedly rolled back environmental rules in favor of fossil fuels and other business interests. President Trump and other conservatives have praised the EPA chief's work.
However, their support appears to be flagging as Pruitt's controversies mount, including his request for a
$43,000 soundproof phone booth (which violated federal law); his $50-a-night stay at a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist; his questionable use of taxpayer money for first-class and charter flights, as well as a 'round-the-clock security detail; and reports that he gave large pay raises to his closest aides.
According to Reuters, there are nearly a dozen pending investigations into Pruitt with the EPA inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee and defends Pruitt for doing a "good job" with policy, told POLITICO ahead of the hearing: "It could be pretty painful, but when you accept the position of a senior administrator in a federal agency you've got to expect [that]."
Even Senator Jim Inhofe, a fellow Oklahoma Republican and former staunch ally, voiced support over the hearings.
On the other side of the political aisle, 131 representatives and 39 senators—all Democrats and one Independent— signed a resolution calling for him to resign. The document represents a record number of senators to formally demand a cabinet official to step down.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a member of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee, told The Hill to expect "fireworks" during the hearing.
Good to see these folks giving @EPAScottPruitt a warm welcome as he arrives at Capitol Hill. He's testifying before… https://t.co/lsV7oGMckN— Rep. Diana DeGette (@Rep. Diana DeGette)1524750691.0
Over on the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, ranking member Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) has publicly criticized Pruitt's spending of taxpayer funds.
On Thursday, 40 national civil rights, labor, conservation and environmental organizations took out a full-page ad on the back cover of POLITICO calling for Pruitt's resignation or firing.
"With each new investigation, Scott Pruitt's disregard for ethics and the rule of law is becoming increasingly egregious and unacceptable. And so is his blatant hostility to the central mission of the EPA, which is to protect public health and the environment," said Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh in a statement. "Enough is enough. It's time for him to go."
In his witness statement released ahead of the first hearing, the EPA boss avoided any mention of the controversies.
"I will focus on key objectives to improve air quality, provide for clean and safe water, revitalize land and prevent contamination, ensure the safety of chemicals in the marketplace, assure compliance with the law, and improve efficiency and effectiveness," Pruitt will say for his opening remarks.
As for how he will defend himself at Capitol Hill today, the New York Times obtained an internal EPA document indicating that Pruitt may continue to blame his staff for many of the ethical questions.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president's press secretary, said Wednesday that the White House's review on Pruitt was "ongoing."
"We're evaluating these concerns and we expect the EPA administrator to answer for them and we'll keep you posted," she said.
President Trump, ultimately, will decide Pruitt's fate. Two weeks ago, Trump tweeted: "While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!"
Record Number of Lawmakers Sign Resolution Calling for Pruitt's Resignation https://t.co/22RRgROPTr @GreenpeaceAustP @GreenpeaceUK— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1524222610.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.