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Top Trump Official for Pipeline Safety Profits from Selling Oil Spill Equipment
By Itai Vardi
A newly appointed federal regulator charged with overseeing pipeline safety personally profits from oil spill responses, a DeSmog investigation has found.
Drue Pearce is the acting administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the Department of Transportation responsible for ensuring oil and gas pipeline integrity. However, she is also associated with a company specializing in the sale of oil spill equipment.
Pearce, a Republican from Alaska, was appointed on Aug. 7 by the Trump administration to serve as PHMSA's deputy administrator, a position that does not require U.S. Senate confirmation. However, since at the time the administration had yet to nominate an administrator for the agency, Pearce stepped into the role as acting administrator.
In early September, Trump finally nominated, and last Friday the Senate confirmed rail transport executive Howard Elliot as PHMSA administrator. Once Elliot formally takes the helm at PHMSA, Pearce will serve as his deputy.
Drue Pearce speaks on an April 2015 panel about Arctic economy and energy development.C-SPAN Screenshot
Pearce's Oil Spill Business
Business records filed in the state of Alaska and reviewed by DeSmog show that since 2009 Pearce and her husband, Michael F. Williams, have owned Spill Shield Inc., an Anchorage-based company selling equipment for oil spill responses. The company's website offers various products, including booms, baffles, skimmers, absorbents and oil spill response kits.
The company advertises itself as "the Arctic's preferred partner for environmental compliance products & Oil Spill Response," and says its products "are very popular in small northern communities, in mining industrial and construction industries, and fishing and hunting lodges."
From Spill Shield Inc.'s February 2017 business filings, showing Pearce's and her husband Michael Williams' involvement in the company.
Since the couple first became involved in the company in 2009, Pearce was listed as its president and majority owner. On Sept. 14 this year, over a month after she began serving as PHMSA's acting administrator, her name was removed from Spill Shield's filings. In her place, Pearce's husband has assumed the role of president and majority owner.
Both Pearce and Williams are also registered in Alaska as owning a company by the name of Cloverland LLC, which shares the same Anchorage address as Spill Shield. Company records for Cloverland indicate it is involved in the "sale of environmental response equipment." The relationship between Cloverland LLC and Spill Shield is unclear.
According to government spending records, since 2010 Spill Shield was awarded three different federal contracts. In 2010 and 2015, the company provided waste disposal equipment to the Department of Defense. In 2014 it supplied the Department of Commerce with similar equipment.
Adding another layer of complexity to this situation is the fact that Pearce also has a background as a Washington, DC and Anchorage lobbyist. Before her appointment to PHMSA, and in addition to owning Spill Shield, she headed public affairs at the law firm Hart & Holland LLP, where she focused on energy, natural resources and manufacturing industries. Prior to that, she worked as a lobbyist and senior policy advisor for the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP.
In addition, Pearce has a history of moving among politics, government and the private sector. A former state representative and president of the Alaska state Senate, she was appointed by the Bush-Cheney administration to serve as federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, an independent federal agency charged with expediting the delivery of natural gas from Alaska to North American markets.
Pearce's husband, Michael Williams, is a former oil executive, who worked at BP for many years.
Government ethics rules define a personal financial interest as instances in which a government employee's immediate family members—including spouses—receive financial gain that may compromise the employee's service of the public interest.
Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that Pearce's situation raises serious red flags.
"It's important and disturbing to learn that a senior Trump administration official has a significant financial interest in oil spills. The fact that it's an appointee's spouse who owns a company, rather than the appointee, does not shield them from conflicts of interest scrutiny in either common sense or the law," Hauser told DeSmog.
"But troublingly," Hauser added, "the law generally allows appointees with particular conflicts of interest to work on issues of broad impact on a given sector even when common sense says that they're hopelessly conflicted. That hole in the law was problematic under Barack Obama and previous presidents and has become catastrophic under Trump. Concern that the power of the federal government to do good is being subverted by people seeking to enrich themselves corrodes our democracy."
DeSmog has requested copies of Pearce's financial disclosure, which executive branch officials must submit to ethics officers upon appointment. On Sept. 26, a representative of the Department of Transportation's ethics office told DeSmog that Pearce needed to "clarify a couple of items on the report" and have the disclosure certified. The official said that the document will be provided to DeSmog "ASAP," but at the time of publication it has yet to be supplied.
DeSmog also inquired whether, as acting administrator, Pearce filed an ethics agreement, which would detail which steps she plans to take in order to mitigate any potential conflicts.
In response, a PHMSA spokesperson said that Pearce will recuse herself from involvement in instances that might affect her finances.
"In accordance with executive branch ethics laws, Ms. Pearce timely filed a Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e) that is under review by agency ethics officials," the spokesperson said. "Under the ethics laws, Ms. Pearce is recused from participating in any particular matter that would have a direct and predictable effect upon the financial interests of any entity in which she holds a financial interest. Only Presidential appointees who are confirmed by the Senate file Ethics Agreements; here, because Ms. Pearce is not a Senate-confirmed appointee, she does not have an Ethics Agreement."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.
Trump Makes Strange Claim About Water Efficient Toilets: 'People Are Flushing Toilets 10 Times, 15 Times'
President Donald Trump mocked water-efficiency standards in new constructions last week. Trump said, "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion." Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a federal review of those standards since, he claimed with no evidence, that they are making bathrooms unusable and wasting water, as NBC News reported.
By Carey Gillam
Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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