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    WASHINGTON — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) has joined 14 state attorneys general in a methane emissions control lawsuit against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.

    The suit was filed on Thursday. It seeks to compel the EPA to “comply with the non-discretionary duty under the Clean Air Act (“Act”) to establish guidelines for limiting methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and natural gas sector, thereby remedying EPA’s unreasonable delay in establishing such emission guidelines.”

    On Monday, Pruitt announced that the agency had decided to begin rolling back Obama-era emissions standards. The rules require automakers to ensure that cars and trucks average about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. The revision eases restrictions for vehicles that are to be built between 2022-2025.

    Pruitt has long been considered a foe of environmental activists. As Oklahoma attorney general he eliminated a unit within the AG’s office charged with prosecuting polluters. Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration.

    Pruitt has expressed doubt as to whether human activity has exacerbated global warming and while attorney general he received substantial campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.

    The lawsuit comes amid reports that Pruitt rented a D.C. condo for $50 a night. The property reportedly is co-owned by the wife of the chairman of an energy lobbying firm.

    President Trump signs an executive order on American energy policy and climate regulations. March 28, 2017. Courtesy: White House

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he has confidence in embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, one day after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to say so on his behalf.

    “I do,” Trump replied when asked while walking to Air Force One.

    On Wednesday, Sanders pointedly declined to answer the same question.

    “The president thinks that he’s done a good job, particularly on the deregulation front,” Sanders said during a press briefing.

    Last week, ABC News reported that Pruitt lived in a condominium co-owned by the wife of energy lobbyist Steven Hart.

    The Associated Press followed with a report that Pruitt paid $50 a night, but only on evenings he stayed there, a sum that appears far below market value for the condo’s Capitol Hill location.

    In a hastily compiled ethics report, the EPA concluded that Pruitt’s transaction was an acceptable private transaction between friends.

    Nevertheless, Sanders said Thursday that the president is not “okay” with Pruitt’s arrangement and that the White House is conducting a review.

    “We’re reviewing the situation. When we have had a chance to have a deeper dive on it, we’ll let you know the outcomes of that,” Sanders said.

    Compounding Pruitt’s woes, the Atlantic reported Tuesday that Pruitt defied a White House denial of pay raises for two of his aides by reappointing them to their positions in a manner that let him raise their salary himself.

    In an interview with Fox News Wednesday evening, Pruitt denied knowing about the pay raises, suggesting that they were approved by others in the agency, and claiming that he has since corrected the actions.

    Shortly before Trump’s remark on Thursday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley appeared on Fox and was shown the clip of Pruitt’s interview.

    Afterwards, Gidley was asked about Pruitt’s future.

    “I can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt,” Gidley replied. “The White House is aware of these reports … we don’t have any announcements to make in regards to staffing right now.”

    President Trump signs an executive order on American energy policy and climate regulations. March 28, 2017. Courtesy: White House

    WASHINGTON — While Scott Pruitt appears to be badly bruised after it was revealed that he lived in a condo tied to an energy lobbyist, many environmentalist organizations hold little hope over who President Donald Trump may ultimately select to replace him as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    “The first step is getting rid of Pruitt for sure,” Maura Cowley, the director of Sierra Club’s Resist Program, told TMN. “At the Sierra Club, you know, we don’t actually have a lot of trust in the Trump administration, but we will fight tooth and nail for a nominee that embodies the values of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

    Naomi Ages, the Climate Liability project lead at Greenpeace USA, echoed that distrust, pointing to Trump’s decision to replace former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, whom she described as “just as bad or worse.”

    “I would not be optimistic,” Ages said. “Whoever we can expect to potentially replace Pruitt at the EPA we would expect to be connected to the oil and gas industry, probably in line with Pruitt’s thinking in terms of what’s the responsibility of the EPA.”

    Last Thursday, ABC News reported that Pruitt lived in a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, a health care lobbyist married to energy lobbyist Steven Hart.

    While the revelation was enough to raise eyebrows, the story quickly snowballed into a full-fledged scandal after the Associated Press reported that Pruitt paid $50 a night, but only for the evenings, he stayed there, a price and arrangement far outside of market expectations.

    Adding an additional layer of controversy, The New York Times reported Monday that the EPA approved a pipeline project for a Canadian energy company represented by Williams & Jensen, the firm headed by Steven Hart.

    The EPA denied that the approval was linked to Pruitt’s living arrangements and have also rejected the notion that there was any wrongdoing surrounding the administrator’s initial deal.

    After the initial reports that Pruitt used the condo, the agency quickly compiled an ethics report concluding that the use of the condo was a routine business transaction conducted with a friend.

    Despite the assurances from the EPA, Pruitt’s job could be in jeopardy.

    Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who served on Trump’s campaign, expressed skepticism that Pruitt will be able to weather the scandal.

    “I don’t know how you survive this one,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “If he has to go, it’s because he never should have been there in the first place.”

    While Pruitt has never found favor among environmentalists due to his aggressive efforts to roll back EPA regulations, calls for his ouster among them have grown.

    The day before reports on the condo emerged, a coalition of environmental groups started a nationwide campaign to “Boot Pruitt.”

    The condo issue has brought their demands to a fever pitch, according to Sally Hardin, a research analyst for the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress.

    “The Center and a number of other environmental organizations see this as a final straw in a number of wrongdoings and ethical violations,” Hardin explained. “It’s really unfortunate to see someone who has taken American public health and just attacked it time and time again over his year as the EPA administrator also have a number of stinky scandals add up and this is just the latest one.”

    Hardin noted that while environmentalists are eager to see Pruitt leave, there are no assurances he’ll be gone any time soon.

    “A tiny bit of credit where credit is due, and this is not the positive kind of credit, Scott Pruitt has been concerningly effective at rolling back bedrock environmental laws, at rolling back protections for human health and the environment,” Hardin said. “And so I think in that respect he has definitely gotten a lot of support within the Trump administration for kind of setting an agenda that is harmful to Americans and sticking to it.”

    “So in that sense, I think that perhaps there isn’t an immediate possibility that Pruitt will be asked to resign,” she added.

    According to various media reports, Trump called Pruitt Monday evening to express support for the administrator, claiming the president has the embattled secretary’s back.

    Nevertheless, the White House has previously offered assurances over a number of cabinet and administration officials who eventually were shown the door not long after.

    For example, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted earlier this month that she had spoken to both the president and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and was assured that there would be no changes on the National Security Council.

    Less than 10 days later, Trump announced that McMaster would be replaced by former UN Ambassador John Bolton.

    Ages, who emphasized that Greenpeace has been calling for Pruitt’s departure since the beginning of his tenure, said Pruitt’s future is a difficult prediction to make.

    “I think it’s very tough to say with anyone in this administration. I think we’ve seen that nobody is safe from one minute, one day to the next in terms of what’s a survivable scandal and what’s a resignable or fireable scandal,” Ages said. “And that’s because this whole administration is so far outside the bounds of what we consider appropriate behavior.”

    Jeremy Symons, the vice president of political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, cautioned against prematurely betting on Pruitt’s exit, but pointed out that if the administration opts for a new administrator, it will be taking place in a much different political atmosphere, an important fact considering that the position relies on Senate confirmation.

    “There’s growing distaste and growing concern in Congress on both sides of the aisle with what this administration has done on climate change, on clean air and clean water and at the EPA,” Symons said. “We have a political reality that’s much different from when the president was first elected and I think Congress is going to be much more skeptical if he continues to make picks along the lines of Scott Pruitt.”

    The White House has not yet publicly weighed in on Pruitt’s use of a condo or his future within the administration.

    When asked about the topics aboard Air Force One on Thursday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Lindsay Walters referred questions back to the EPA.

    WASHINGTON – The head of an environmentally conscious health advocacy organization slammed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for having expressed doubt over whether humans are the driving force behind climate change.

    “Scott Pruitt’s statement is at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is driven by burning fossil fuels that add CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere,” Jeff Carter, the executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said in a statement on Friday.

    Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility (Photo: PSR)

    “His statement is reckless and puts our communities in danger. What’s more, it raises questions about whether he was being truthful during the confirmation process, in which he stated several times that the EPA had an important role in regulating carbon dioxide,” he added.

    Pruitt on Thursday suggested that there might be other factors that have contributed toward climate change.

    “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 a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

    Pruitt, who previously served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, sued the EPA more than a dozen times while occupying that office and also eliminated a unit within the attorney general’s office that was charged with prosecuting polluters.

    In the debate leading up to Pruitt’s Senate confirmation last month, Democrats in the upper chamber had requested that the vote be delayed until the court-ordered release of more than 3,000 emails said to contain conversations between the attorney general’s office and representatives of oil, gas, and coal companies went into effect.

    The released emails suggested Pruitt had close ties to the fossil fuel industry but did not reveal any evidence of illegal or unethical activities.

    WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

    The upper chamber approved the nomination in a 52-46 vote following 30 hours of debate that began on Thursday when the Republican-led body voted to break a Democratic filibuster.

    Senators Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) were the only Democrats who voted in favor of Pruitt’s nomination while Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) was the only Republican who opposed the nomination.

    Pruitt has been criticized by environmental activists for actions that include eliminating a unit within the Oklahoma attorney general’s office that was charged with prosecuting polluters as well as having sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration.

    Pruitt has expressed doubt as to whether human activity has exacerbated global warming and has received substantial campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.

    On Thursday an Oklahoma judge ordered that Pruitt’s office provide a liberal watchdog group about 3,000 emails said to contain conversations between the attorney general’s office and representatives of oil, gas, and coal companies.

    The emails had been requested under the state’s Open Records Act but the petitioners were consistently denied access.

    Pruitt’s office must hand over the emails by Tuesday.

    Prior to the vote, Senate Democrats unsuccessfully tried to push through a measure that would extend debate over Pruitt’s nomination to Feb. 27  when Congress returns from Presidents’ Day recess  to give lawmakers sufficient time to review the emails.

    Reports emerged Thursday claiming EPA employees had lobbied against Pruitt’s confirmation by contacting their respective senators and urging them to vote nay.

    President Trump during the campaign promised to roll back environmental regulations that were believed to have caused chronic job loss in the energy sector.

    Trump signed legislation on Thursday nixing the Stream Protection Rule, which had been issued during the final days of the Obama administration. The Stream Protection Rule is designed to protect streams located near mines from coal contamination.

    Congressional Republicans used the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress in certain circumstances to overturn regulations issued by the executive branch, to gut the Stream Protection Rule.

    WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for refusing to delay Friday’s scheduled confirmation vote of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

    “To wait a few extra days to go over Pruitt’s emails is not the worst thing in the world; it’s the smart and responsible thing to do,” Schumer said at a news conference on Friday accompanied by fellow Senate Democrats.

    Schumer said McConnell and Senate Republicans are trying to rush the confirmation of Pruitt and other cabinet and cabinet-level nominees so as to wash their hands clean of them.

    “Senator McConnell is ashamed of these cabinet members, I believe,” Schumer said. “Many of my Republican colleagues, I know are. It is the worse cabinet, I think, in the history of America, certainly in my lifetime.”

    Senate Democrats had requested that the vote be delayed until March 3 so as to have sufficient time to review about 3,000 emails and other documentation said to contain exchanges between Pruitt’s office and representatives of the oil, gas and coal industries.

    McConnell denied that request.

    The Senate is expected to vote at 12:30 p.m. on a measure that would allow for debate over Pruitt’s nomination to continue when Congress returns after the President’s Day recess on Feb. 27.

    An Oklahoma judge on Thursday requested that Pruitt’s office provide a liberal watchdog group with the emails by Tuesday. The group had previously requested the emails under the state’s Open Records Act but those petitions were denied.

    Pruitt has come under fire from environmental activists for actions that include dissolving a unit within the Oklahoma attorney general’s office that was tasked with prosecuting polluters as well as having sued the agency he could now lead 13 times during the Obama administration.

    Pruitt, who has expressed doubt as to whether human activity has facilitated climate change, has received considerable campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.

    McConnell said Democrats are stalling the nomination of Pruitt and other cabinet and cabinet-level nominees to undermine the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

    “I hope at some point here the other side will accept the results of last year’s election, allow the administration to get fully staffed and ready to go, but the desire I guess to play to the far-left has been a consuming passion for them so far,” McConnell said at a news conference held directly after the Democrats’ conference.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump applauded in a Wednesday morning tweet the defeat of Rep. Mark Sanford in South Carolina’s primary.

    Sanford was defeated by State Rep. Katie Arrington in the Republican contest for South Carolina’s First Congressional District. Arrington received 50.5 percent of the vote whereas Sanford received 46.6 percent, according to the Associated Press. Arrington will face Charleston construction attorney Joe Cunningham in the general election.

    Trump had tweeted disdain for Sanford on Tuesday afternoon as ballots were still being cast.

    Sanford, 58, has served in Congress since 2013. Sanford has been critical of Trump’s often combative political style and has made comments that suggest he believes the president is not fit to lead.

    Sanford opposes the administration’s travel ban and imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs. He voted against funding for Trump’s border wall and last year joined Democrats in signing a letter that called for the president to release his tax returns.

    Trump’s Argentina reference refers to an extramarital affair Sanford admitted he had had with an Argentinian businesswoman while governor of South Carolina.

    Three states held Senate primaries on Tuesday.

    Nevada: Republican Sen. Dean Heller easily fended off a long-shot challenge from Reno businessman and Air Force veteran Tom Heck. Heller will face Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen in the general election. Rosen easily defeated five challengers.

    Recent polls show Heller and Rosen neck-in-neck.

    Heller is considered a moderate Republican. He has supported most of the Trump administration’s key policies but has been careful not to alienate Democratic and independent voters.

    Nevada is a swing state that has leaned Democratic in the past decade. Hillary Clinton won the state by two points in 2016. Former President Barack Obama carried Nevada twice by comfortable margins. The state’s governor, Brian Sandoval, is a Republican.

    North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, did not face a primary challenge. Heitkamp will face Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican, in the general election. Cramer, who represents North Dakota’s at-large congressional district, easily fended of a long-shot challenge from Air Force veteran Thomas O’Neill.

    Recent polls show Heitkamp facing an uphill re-election battle.

    Heitkamp is a considered a moderate Democrat. She broke party ranks to support the nominations of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has come under fire for questionable ethics practices.

    North Dakota is reliably Republican. Trump carried the state by almost 36 points in 2016.

    Virginia: Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine did not face a primary challenge. The 2016 Democratic vice presidential candidate will face Prince Williams County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart in the general election. Stewart narrowly fended off a challenge from State Rep. Nick Frietas.

    Stewart is a staunch opponent of illegal immigration and has defended the maintenance of Confederate monuments.

    President Trump tweeted praise for Stewart early Wednesday morning.

    Recent polls show Kaine with a substantial lead over Stewart.

    WASHINGTON – Nevada and North Dakota voters today will cast primary ballots in Senate contests that set the stage for two of the year’s most competitive races.

    Nevada: Sen. Dean Heller (R) does not appear to have any serious challengers nor does his likely Democratic opponent Rep. Jacky Rosen.

    Recent polls show Heller and Rosen neck-in-neck.

    Heller is considered a moderate Republican. He has supported most of the Trump administration’s key policies but has been careful not to alienate Democratic and independent voters.

    Nevada is a swing-state that has leaned Democratic in the past decade.  Hillary Clinton won the state by two points in 2016. Barack Obama carried Nevada twice by comfortable margins. The state’s governor, Brian Sandoval, is a Republican.

    North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) does not appear to have any serious challengers nor does her likely Republican opponent Rep. Kevin Cramer.

    Recent polls show Heitkamp facing an uphill re-election battle.

    Heitkamp is a considered a moderate Democrat. She broke party ranks to support the nominations of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has come under fire for questionable ethics practices.

    North Dakota is reliably Republican. President Donald Trump carried the state by almost 36 points in 2016.

    Former North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan told TMN in March that despite the long odds he believes Heitkamp will be re-elected.

    “The Senate race will be competitive, but I think Heidi Heitkamp is going to win the race,” Dorgan said. “The people in North Dakota know, like and trust her.  That is very important in a state like North Dakota. It is retail politics.”

    The Senate is comprised of 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and two independent members who usually vote with the Democrats.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is battling brain cancer and has been absent since December.

    Twenty-six Democrats are up for re-election, compared with nine Republicans.

    WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that the White House will look into an incident in which some reporters were allegedly barred or forcibly ejected from a conference hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    “I don’t have a lot of visibility since certainly we weren’t there, but [It’s] something we’re certainly going to look into,” Sanders said during the daily press briefing.

    Reporters from the Associated Press, CNN and E&E News were reportedly prohibited from attending a summit on water contaminants Tuesday morning at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to the three outlets.

    The Associated Press reported that its reporter was grabbed by the shoulders and physically ejected from the building when she asked to speak with a public affairs official.

    The incident is the latest issue to draw scrutiny to the EPA, which has been in the spotlight over concerns surrounding administrator Scott Pruitt. They range from him spending exorbitantly on security and private flights to renting a room co-owned by a well-known energy lobbyist.

    When asked how the White House feels about any federal personnel manhandling reporters, Sanders declined to respond, claiming that it would be engaging in hypotheticals.

    The incident has drawn ire from free-speech advocates and environmental groups.

    “The treatment of reporters at today’s EPA summit on contaminants was a disgrace, but not a surprise,” Eric Pooley, the Senior Vice President for Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “The Trump administration — and Mr. Pruitt’s EPA in particular — have shown a repeated disregard for the role of a free press and the public’s right to information about their government.Beyond the Beltway, the real losers are the American people, whose health is threatened when the EPA shrouds itself in secrecy.”

    WASHINGTON – The former CEO of Volkswagen AG has been indicted on federal criminal charges in the German automaker’s diesel-cheating scandal.

    Prosecutors in Detroit unsealed the 43-page indictment Thursday charging Martin Winterkorn, 70, with three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiring with other VW employees to violate the Clean Air Act.

    Winterkorn, who resigned amid the scandal in September 2015 after eight years at the helm at the German automaker, is believed to be in Germany, federal authorities said. He faces up to 25 years in prison and a $275,000 fine.

    The indictment alleges that Winterkorn had been informed of VW’s diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and again in July 2015.  But, the indictment said, he continued to “perpetrate the  fraud and deceive U.S. regulators.”

    VW has admitted fitting up to 11 million diesel vehicles with software that could falsely show they complied with emissions tests.

    The company pleaded guilty in March 2017 to criminal charges of deceiving U.S. and California regulatory agencies by installing the software to cheat emissions tests. As part of a plea deal, VW paid a $2.8 billion penalty and agreed to allow an independent monitor to oversee compliance with emissions testing for at least three years.

    “Volkswagen deceived American regulators and defrauded American consumers for years,” Matthew J. Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement. “The fact that this criminal conduct was allegedly blessed at Volkswagen’s highest levels is appalling.”

    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said after Winterkorn’s indictment that “Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company.”

    And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Winterkorn’s indictment “should send a clear message that EPA and its law enforcement partners will seek to hold corporate officers accountable for alleged criminal activities at their company.”

    Winterkorn had served as VW’s CEO and management board chairman from January 2007 until September 2015. He becomes the ninth person worldwide charged by U.S. prosecutors in the emissions scandal.

    In a statement, Volkswagen said it continues to cooperate with the Justice Department in the investigation but added it would be “inappropriate to comment on individual cases.