Live Briefing: Scott Pruitt on Capitol Hill: Round 3 in Progress


“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on housing and security and travel,” she said. “Instead of seeing articles about efforts to return your agency to its core mission, I’m reading articles about your interactions with the industries that you regulate. Some of this undoubtedly is a result of the ‘gotcha’ age, but I do think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered.’

Here’s what to watch for as Mr. Pruitt testifies.

What the Democrats are likely to ask

Democrats intend, as they did last month, to throw the kitchen sink at Mr. Pruitt. And they have plenty to ask about.

In the three weeks since Mr. Pruitt testified before the two House committees, the public has learned that the administrator has allowed lobbyists and Washington power brokers to arrange his foreign travel, that Mr. Pruitt’s aggressive effort to shroud his meetings and speaking engagements in secrecy was done primarily to avoid uncomfortable and unexpected questions and not out of a concern for security as his staff had claimed, and that E.P.A. aides took steps to conceal a dinner Mr. Pruitt held in Rome with Cardinal George Pell last year after they learned that the cardinal had been charged with sexual abuse.

That’s in addition to a raft of other longstanding questions about Mr. Pruitt’s first-class travel and the need for a 24-hour security detail of at least 20 people that has cost taxpayers more than $3 million so far.

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the panel, said Wednesday that he had asked the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to investigate whether the E.P.A. acted improperly when it appeared to mock Democrats on Twitter after the Senate voted to confirm the agency’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler.

The tweet, sent from the agency’s official account on April 13, said, “The Senate does its duty: Andrew Wheeler confirmed by Senate as deputy administrator of @EPA. The Democrats couldn’t block the confirmation of environmental policy expert and former EPA staffer under both a Republican and a Democrat president.” Mr. Udall asked the accountability office to issue a legal opinion on whether the tweet violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda.

“This communication did nothing to further the public’s understanding of the environment or public health — and as an act of pure partisan taunting, the case is clear for why it represents a violation of federal law,” Mr. Udall said in a statement, adding, “We can add this investigation to the ever-expanding list of Scott Pruitt’s ethical transgressions.”

What Republicans are expected to talk about

This one is tougher. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chairwoman of the appropriations committee’s environment panel, called for Mr. Pruitt to testify at a time when Republican support for Mr. Pruitt appeared to be on a downswing. Since then, however, Republicans have tamped down criticism of the E.P.A. chief.

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The Behavior That Put Scott Pruitt at the Center of Federal Inquiries

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.



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One notable exception is Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Mr. Grassley on Tuesday threatened to be the first Republican to call on Mr. Pruitt to resign, citing his frustration with the administrator over waivers the E.P.A. has given to small fuel refineries exempting them from a federal ethanol mandate on the nation’s gasoline. While Mr. Grassley is not a member of the committee that Mr. Pruitt will face, his concerns are shared by other corn-state Republicans and could become an issue at the hearing.

If past is prologue, though, Mr. Pruitt is likely to hear Republicans express concerns about his stewardship of E.P.A. in their opening statements but mostly draw attention to the regulatory rollbacks that they, and many of their constituents, support.

What Pruitt is expected to say

Last time around, Mr. Pruitt repeatedly shifted blame to members of his staff for the spending and ethical issues dogging him.

He said his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, had been solely responsible for giving $72,000 in raises to two aides who previously worked with Mr. Pruitt in Oklahoma. He said career staff members had signed off on spending $43,000 to install a secure phone booth, an expense that was ultimately found to violate federal law. And he said his security detail had insisted he fly first class for his own protection.

In one exchange with Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Mr. Pruitt had to be asked three times if he was the E.P.A. administrator before answering in the affirmative, but avoided answering whether the buck stopped with him.

“That’s not a yes or no answer,” Mr. Pruitt replied then. It’s a safe bet Mr. Pruitt will continue to tread as carefully Wednesday, and the E.P.A. spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt remained focused on policy.

“From advocating to leave the Paris Accord, working to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, declaring a war on lead and cleaning up toxic Superfund sites, Administrator Pruitt is focused on advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Where the president stands

President Trump has remained steadfast in his support for Mr. Pruitt, despite the arguments of several White House aides — including John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff — that the administrator should be fired. Asked last week if he still had confidence in Mr. Pruitt, the president replied, “I do.”

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Overseer Faults Volkswagen’s Reform Efforts Since Emissions Scandal


Herbert Diess, who was named chief executive of Volkswagen earlier this month, delivered a stern lecture to top managers last week, complaining that the company generates too many scandals and must become more ethical.

“Ethics, integrity and compliance are core for him as a necessary foundation for our future business,” Peik von Bestenbostel, Volkswagen’s vice president for global group communications, said in an email on Sunday in which he confirmed Mr. Diess’s remarks.

Mr. von Bestenbostel said that the objectives outlined in the report by Mr. Thompson are valid and “will help to change Volkswagen in the right direction.”

Mr. Diess replaced Matthias Müller, who had prevented a collapse in Volkswagen sales in the wake of the scandal but struggled to remove the cloud it cast over the company’s reputation. A former BMW executive, Mr. Diess began working at Volkswagen only a few months before the emissions cheating became public and is less tainted by it.

Mr. Diess is likely to be less restrained by personal connections to Volkswagen managers or other employees linked to the emissions wrongdoing. Mr. Müller spent his entire career at Volkswagen or its divisions and had worked closely with some of the people suspected of playing a leading role.

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Herbert Diess, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. Mr. Diess, who was just named chief executive of Volkswagen, delivered a stern lecture on ethics last week to top managers.

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Tony Ding/Associated Press

Despite promises to reform, Volkswagen remains dominated by longtime insiders, and there have been few visible legal or disciplinary consequences for people involved in the emissions cheating. Volkswagen did not keep a promise to publish an internal report on the causes of the scandal prepared by the Jones Day law firm.

As he tries to take a tougher approach, Mr. Diess is also likely to face resistance to change within the sprawling Volkswagen empire, which is famous for its insular, hierarchical corporate culture.

Mr. Thompson is one year into a three-year assignment that was part of Volkswagen’s guilty plea last year to United States Justice Department charges that included obstruction of justice and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Volkswagen promised to take steps to prevent the same kind of thing from happening again.

Mr. Thompson’s job is to make sure that Volkswagen complies, and the report he submitted this month to the Justice Department is the first of three annual assessments.

Since being appointed the Volkswagen monitor in April 2017, Mr. Thompson has avoided the limelight but, as the report indicates, he has made his presence known at the company’s Wolfsburg headquarters. Though based in Atlanta, Mr. Thompson has an office in the same building as members of the management board and has made an effort to learn German.

Mr. Thompson has substantial leverage over the company. If he concluded that Volkswagen was violating the terms of the plea agreement, it could be voided and the company would land back in court.

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Matthias Müller was replaced as chief executive of Volkswagen earlier this month. He prevented a collapse in Volkswagen sales in the wake of the scandal but struggled to remove the cloud it cast over the company’s reputation.

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John Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Among other things, Mr. Thompson has been urging Volkswagen to create a more effective whistleblower system to allow employees to report suspected wrongdoing without endangering their careers. He has also been pressing the company to improve its systems for vetting vehicle software.

The emissions scandal occurred after a group of employees, including some who reported to top management, devised software that caused diesel engines to emit less nitrogen oxide pollution when the engine computer detected that the car was being tested.

The software was installed in 11 million cars over almost a decade, but as far as is known no employees reported its existence to the authorities until shortly before the company confessed in September 2015.

During a long career, Mr. Thompson has worked in both government and private industry, including stints as a federal prosecutor in Georgia and general counsel of PepsiCo. In 1991, Mr. Thompson advised Clarence Thomas in his battle to win nomination to the Supreme Court in the face of sexual harassment accusations.

Though Mr. Thompson is a Republican, he has been sharply critical of Donald Trump. He was among former high-ranking government officials who published a letter during the presidential campaign in 2016 that said that Mr. Trump “would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

The letter also said that “Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be president.”

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Top Porsche Official Targeted in German Police Raid Tied to Diesel Scheme


Spokesmen for Porsche and Volkswagen also declined to identify the suspects, and did not announce any changes to the Porsche board. A Volkswagen spokesman said that no one on the company’s management board was among the suspects. That would appear to rule out Oliver Blume, Porsche’s chief executive and a member of both companies’ boards.

But the presence of criminal suspects in high-level positions suggests that Volkswagen has not entirely rid itself of those who may have played roles in the scandal.

Engineering a Deception: What Led to Volkswagen’s Diesel Scandal

In September 2015, Volkswagen was accused of evading emissions standards in the U.S. The scandal has hit the company hard.


The scope of the raid on Wednesday, which involved 33 prosecutors and 160 police officers, indicated that the German authorities were still devoting substantial resources to the inquiry despite not yet filing criminal charges in the matter.

Volkswagen is likely to face additional unfavorable revelations as prosecutors complete their inquiry, probably toward the end of the year, and begin to make arrests. The negative publicity will complicate Mr. Diess’s efforts to lead Europe’s biggest carmaker as it tries to move past the scandal and to navigate a shift in the industry toward electric-powered and autonomous vehicles.

Mr. Diess, a former BMW executive, was named chief executive of Volkswagen last week after spending almost three years as head of the division that manufactures Volkswagen-brand cars. He is regarded as less burdened by the scandal because he joined Volkswagen only two months before the cheating was revealed.

The raids on Wednesday, which were prompted by suspicions of illegal manipulation of vehicle emissions and false advertising, were a reminder that the cheating scandal could continue to damage Volkswagen’s reputation.

The Stuttgart prosecutors said in a statement that they had searched 10 buildings in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which includes Stuttgart, and the state of Bavaria. Several Munich prosecutors also took part in the raids. A spokesman for the Stuttgart prosecutors declined to say whether any of the buildings were private homes.

Raids on the offices of German carmakers over suspected emissions cheating have become almost commonplace, casting a cloud over the country’s most important industry.

Last month, officials searched BMW offices in Munich as part of an inquiry related to diesel emissions. The Munich prosecutors said they were investigating whether software in some diesel BMWs functioned like a so-called defeat device, the illegal technology at the heart of the Volkswagen scandal.

The term refers to software that detects when a car is undergoing an emissions test. Under such circumstances, the software increases pollution controls to make the car compliant. Under normal use, the car pollutes much more than allowed.

BMW said that the software had been installed by mistake.

Prosecutors also searched Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg last month. The company previously admitted that about 14,000 diesel Porsche Cayenne S.U.V.s sold in the United States had defeat devices. Porsche has sought to distance itself from the scandal, denying that its managers were aware of illegal software in the engines, which were supplied by Audi.

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Feature: Can Dirt Save the Earth?


For nearly 20 years, Williams worked as a contractor, building houses in Kansas City. But work dried up after the financial crisis hit in 2007. Williams decided to return to the family farm near Waverly, an area of gently rolling plains, and give farming a try. His family had farmed some when he was a teenager before leasing the land to tenants for years, and he knew it was difficult to make ends meet. But he was inspired by an article about a North Dakota rancher and farmer named Gabe Brown, who claimed to have developed, through trial and error, a more efficient and cost-effective way to farm.

The gist of Brown’s argument was that if you focus on the health of the soil and not on yield, eventually you come out ahead, not necessarily because you grow more corn or wheat per acre but because the reduction in spending on fertilizer and other inputs lets you produce each bushel of grain more cheaply. Williams decided to follow Brown’s prescription. “If after three years, I’m bankrupt, I’ll admit it was a bad joke,” Williams remembers thinking.

Seven years later, his gamble seems to have paid off. He started with 60 acres, now farms about 2,000 and, when I visited last fall, had just purchased an additional 200. In one of his fields, we walked down a lane he had mowed through his warm-weather cover crops — plants grown not to be harvested, but to enrich the soil — which towered over us, reaching perhaps eight feet. They included sorghum, a canelike grass with red-tinted tassels spilling from the tops, mung beans and green-topped daikon radishes low to the ground. Each plant was meant to benefit the earth in a different way. The long radishes broke it up and drew nutrients toward the surface; tall grasses like sorghum produced numerous fine rootlets, adding organic material to the land; legumes harbored bacteria that put nitrogen into the soil. His 120-strong herd of British white cattle — he introduced livestock in 2013 — would eventually eat through the field, turning the plants into cow patties and enriching the soil further. Then he would plant his cash crops. “Had I not found this way to farm,” he told me, “we would not be farming.”

A mat of dead vegetation — from cover crops, cash-crop residue and dung — covered Williams’s fields. The mulch, along with his cover crops, inhibited weeds from becoming established, a major concern for conventional farmers, because so many weeds have evolved resistance to herbicides. “I don’t lie awake at night wondering how I’m going to kill weeds,” Williams said.

Williams doesn’t till his fields. By minimizing soil disturbance, no-till farming prevents erosion, helps retain moisture and leaves the soil ecosystem — worms, fungi, roots and more — mostly intact. At one of his soybean fields, Williams showed me how this translated to soil with “structure.” “See how that crumbles into a cottage-cheese look?” he said, massaging a fistful of earth. Small clods fell through his fingers. “That’s what you want.” Worm holes riddled the dirt, giving it a spongelike quality that was critical, he said, for absorbing rain and preventing runoff. Weather patterns seemed to be changing, he noted. Rain used to arrive in numerous light storms. Now fewer storms came, but they were more intense. “We have to be able to capture rain and store it,” he said.

By focusing on soil health, Williams says he has reduced his use of herbicides by 75 percent and fertilizers by 45 percent. He doesn’t use pesticides — he relies instead on beneficial insects for pest control — and he saves money by not buying expensive genetically modified, herbicide-resistant seed. He estimates that he produces a bushel of soybeans for about 20 percent less than his conventionally farming neighbors. Last fall, he claims, his yields ranked among the highest in the county. While doing all this, he has so far raised the amount of soil organic matter, a rough predictor of soil carbon concentrations, from around 2 percent to 3.5 percent in some fields. Gabe Brown, for his part, says he has more than tripled his soil carbon since the 1990s. And an official with the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service confirmed to me that the amount of carbon in Brown’s soil — what his farming has pulled from the atmosphere — was between two and three times as high as it was in his neighbors’ land.

The successes of Brown and Williams suggest that farmers can increase carbon in the soil while actually reducing their overall expenses. This could be vital, because in order for carbon farming to have an impact on the climate, as much land as possible, including both crop- and rangeland, will have to be included in the effort.

Critics of regenerative agriculture say that it can’t be adopted broadly and intensively enough to matter — or that if it can, the prices of commodities might be affected unfavorably. Mark Bradford, a professor of soils and ecosystem ecology at Yale, questions what he sees as a quasi-religious belief in the benefits of soil carbon. The recommendation makes sense intuitively, he told me. But the extent to which carbon increases crop yield hasn’t been quantified, making it somewhat “faith-based.”

William Schlesinger, an emeritus soil scientist at Duke, points out that “regenerative” practices might inadvertently cause emissions to rise elsewhere. If you stop tilling to increase soil carbon, for example, but use more herbicides because you have more weeds, then you probably haven’t changed your overall emissions profile, he says. He thinks the climate-mitigation potential of carbon farming has been greatly oversold.

Williams has reduced his herbicide use, not increased it, but Schlesinger’s broader point — about the need for a careful overall accounting of greenhouse gases — is important. Williams, Brown and others like them aren’t focused on climate change; no one really knows if the carbon they put in the ground more than offsets the methane produced by their cows, for example. What they do demonstrate is that augmenting soil carbon while farming is not only possible, but also beneficial, even in a business sense. And that makes the prospect of rolling out these practices on a larger scale much easier to imagine.

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Measuring equipment used on a test plot on the Wick-Rathmann ranch, including time-lapse cameras that watch the grass grow.

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Jonno Rattman for The New York Times

The carbon-farming idea is gathering momentum at a time when national climate policy is backsliding. The Trump administration has reversed various Obama-era regulations meant to combat or adapt to climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which required power plants to reduce their carbon emissions, and a rule instructing the federal government to consider sea-level rise and other effects of a changing climate when building new roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

In the absence of federal leadership on climate — and as emissions continue to rise globally, shrinking the time available to forestall worst-case outcomes — state and local governments (as well as nonprofits) have begun to look into carbon farming. Last year, Hawaii passed legislation meant to keep it aligned with the Paris agreement, which President Trump has said he will abandon; the state has also created a task force to research carbon farming. The New York state assemblywoman Didi Barrett introduced legislation that would make tax credits available to farmers who increase soil carbon, presumably through methods like those employed by Darin Williams and Gabe Brown. A bill to educate farmers about soil has been proposed in Massachusetts. And in Maryland, legislation focused on soil health passed in 2017. Other carbon-farming projects are in the works in Colorado, Arizona and Montana.

But it is California, already in the vanguard on climate-mitigation efforts, that has led the way on carbon farming. By 2050, the state aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 20 percent of what they were in 1990. Nearly half its 58 counties have farmers and ranchers at various stages of developing and implementing carbon-farming plans. San Francisco, which already has the largest urban composting program in the country, hopes to become a model carbon-farming metropolis. Cities don’t have much room to plant trees or undertake other practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere, says Deborah Raphael, the director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. But they can certainly produce plenty of compost. “If we can show other cities how doable it is to get green waste out of landfills, we can prove the concept,” Raphael told me. “We like to say that San Francisco rehearses the future.”

Many of California’s carbon-farming efforts owe a debt to Wick, Creque and Silver. In 2008, they founded the Marin Carbon Project, a consortium of ranchers, scientists and land managers. The goal is to develop science-based carbon-farming practices and to help establish the incentives needed to encourage California farmers to adopt them. Silver continues to publish her findings in respected journals. Creque also started a nonprofit, the Carbon Cycle Institute, that assists farmers and ranchers in making carbon-farming plans.

Wick has thrown himself into the policy realm, hiring a lobbyist in Sacramento to push a carbon-farming agenda. (In 2014, he even testified before Congress, outlining the project’s discoveries and explaining how compost could increase soil carbon on public lands. He deliberately mentioned “climate” only once.) Educating policymakers matters because, as Torri Estrada, executive director of the Carbon Cycle Institute, points out, carbon-mitigation efforts that focus on agriculture can be much cheaper per ton of carbon avoided than the flashier energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects that usually get most of the attention. The major obstacle to their implementation, he says, is that government officials don’t understand or know about them.

California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, which Wick helped shape, explicitly enlists agriculture in the fight against climate change. In principle, that means this carbon farmers can receive money from the state’s climate-mitigation funds not just for compost but also for 34 other soil-improving practices already approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That’s important because the compost needed to cover just a few acres can cost thousands of dollars. Wick has also tried to tap federal funding. Once N.R.C.S. scientists vet Silver’s work, a compost amendment could become the service’s 35th recommendation. As a result, farm bill money, which farmers receive to subsidize food production, could help finance carbon farming done according to Wick’s protocol — not to fight climate change explicitly (which is now seen as politicized), but to bolster the health of soil (which isn’t).

As a carbon-farming tool, compost bears some notable advantages — namely, it works both preventively and correctively. Composting prevents emissions from the starter material — manure, food scraps — that, if allowed to decompose, might emit potent greenhouse gases. (About one-fifth of United States methane emissions comes from food and other organic material decomposing in dumps.) By enhancing plant growth, it also aids in removing carbon from the atmosphere, a corrective process. And because the carbon in nearly all organic material was originally pulled from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, compost that enters the soil represents the storage of carbon removed from the air earlier — the grass eaten by cows that became manure, or the trees that became wood chips — and at a different location. That, too, is corrective.

Calla Rose Ostrander, Wick’s right-hand person at the Marin Carbon Project, told me that the project’s greater goal is to completely reframe how we think about waste, to see it as more than a nuisance — to recognize it as a resource, a tool that can help us garden our way out of the climate problem. Before the modern era, farmers had no choice but to return human and animal waste to the fields. (Wick is looking into the possibility of composting human waste as well; the end product is called humanure.) In a sense, Wick and Ostrander seek to resurrect these ancient practices and, with the aid of modern science, to close the loop among livestock, plants, air and soil — and between cities and the agricultural land that feeds them.

What seems to most impress experts about the Marin Carbon Project is the quality of Silver’s research. Eric Toensmeier, the author of “The Carbon Farming Solution” and a lecturer at Yale, says that the project figured out a new way to increase carbon storage on the semiarid grasslands that cover so much of the world. Jason Weller, the former head of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told me that “the level of science investment is out of the ordinary, or extraordinary, for a group that is really self-started.” Weller added that the agency’s scientists still needed to vet the research, which they are in the midst of doing. In late 2016 the agency oversaw the application of compost to different California regions — inland, Southern, Northern — to see if land in various conditions would, like Wick’s ranch, suck up atmospheric carbon.

But the group also has critics. “I’m very skeptical of their results and their claims,” William Horwath, a soil scientist at the University of California, Davis, told me. He wants to see Silver’s experiments replicated. This is the project’s major weakness: Its big idea is based almost entirely on extrapolation from a few acres in California. At this point, it’s impossible to say whether compost can cause land to become a carbon sponge in all climates and conditions, and for how long treated grassland will continue to take in and retain its carbon.

Cows, a flash point in any discussion about climate change, may also present problems. Ruminants burp methane, and while carbon farming does not require their presence, some argue that merely accepting them on the land undermines the goal of reaching a carbon-neutral or -negative future. Livestock emissions account for almost half the heat-trapping gases associated with agriculture, so an obvious way to reduce emissions is to decrease the number of cows on the planet. Instead of dumping compost on rangeland, says Ian Monroe, a lecturer on energy and climate at Stanford University, why not allow forests cleared for pasture to regrow, and change people’s eating habits so they include less meat?

Criticism is directed at compost too. The stuff requires energy to produce; huge machines are required to shred the material and keep it aerated. And it’s unclear if compost, like synthetic fertilizer, can cause nitrogen pollution when put on the land, or how much greenhouse gas composting itself generates. (As long as compost mounds are regularly aerated to prevent low-oxygen conditions, composting is thought to produce few emissions.)

Organic material from municipal sources can contain bits of plastic and glass, which no one wants on their fields. Manure might carry seeds of invasive plants. (Silver has seen no evidence of this.) Spreading compost on public rangeland could disrupt plant communities, squeezing out species adapted to conditions of scarcity. And in any carbon-farming scheme, who will monitor and verify that far-flung stretches of land are really absorbing and storing the carbon as they’re supposed to?

Horwath considers the amount of compost used in Silver’s research — about 10 times the usual application, he estimates — to be unrealistically high for practical use. “It seems an inordinately large amount to apply to any system,” he told me. And given what he sees as the many unknowns in Silver’s research, that compost would be put to better use on cropland where, he says, scientists know with greater certainty that it could improve water retention and the efficiency of fertilizer.

Then there’s the problem of supply. Demand for San Francisco’s compost, which mostly goes to vineyards in California’s wine country, already outstrips what’s available. But Wick thinks more starter material shouldn’t be hard to find: Americans throw out between 30 and 40 percent of all the food they buy, sending it to landfills where it rots and generates greenhouse gases. Silver has calculated that there’s enough organic waste material in California to treat one-quarter of its rangeland every few decades.

Still, given the energy requirements, the logistical headaches and the cost, skeptics question whether spreading compost across extensive portions of the world’s surface — including conflict zones in the Sahel or Central Asia — is really feasible. Even if it is, soils probably can’t soak up carbon indefinitely. If they have a saturation point, increases in carbon will eventually stop when that moment is reached. And because soil degradation can cause the release of whatever carbon it holds, treated lands would have to be well cared for in perpetuity.

On a cool autumn day at Wick and Rathmann’s ranch house, Wick fielded phone calls while I wandered around the cluttered, semicircular room that served as his office and meeting space. A whiteboard displayed scribbles from a presentation on the carbon cycle. Coils of warmly hued yarn hung from the doorways. They came via a local nonprofit dedicated to climate-friendly ranching practices called Fibershed. And draped over a chair was a T-shirt bearing what might as well have been Wick’s battle cry: “seq-C,” it read, punny shorthand for “sequester carbon.” Under that it read, “Doing it in the dirt.”

Down the road, he showed me a composting facility that Creque dreamed up initially. He and Wick hoped it would serve as a self-sustaining prototype. “Anything that has ever been alive can be composted,” he told me, surveying the 10-foot-tall piles of chicken droppings and feathers, horse bedding (manure and straw) and shredded trees. A tractor mixed woody refuse with animal waste — to get the composting process started requires the right mix of carbon- and nitrogen-rich materials. (That’s why some backyard composters recommend urinating on the pile to kick things off: Urine is rich in nitrogen.)

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In Canada, 2 Provinces Feud Over Pipeline: Will It Bring Jobs or Spills?


The dispute has been festering for months. But the tension peaked when the pipeline’s owner, Kinder Morgan of Houston, said last weekend that it is suspending all nonessential spending on the program.

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Tankers filled by the current Kinder Morgan pipeline now sail to refineries on the West Coast of the United States.

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Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

The company gave British Columbia until the end of May to end its attempts to delay or block the project. If not, the company said it would cancel its plan to add a second pipeline along aroute that opened in 1953.

To try to resolve the standoff, Mr. Trudeau has summoned Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta, and John Horgan, her counterpart in British Columbia, to Ottawa for talks on Sunday.

Given the intransigence of both sides, even Mr. Trudeau’s top officials are downplaying the idea that the conversation will end the battle. But it may provide a glimpse of how Mr. Trudeau intends to grapple with an issue in which any resolution will inevitably alienate some voters, and on which there isn’t a clear national consensus.

“Canadians are quite divided,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a nonprofit polling firm based in Vancouver. “So much of this debate is rural versus urban Canada.”

Like the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast of the United States, which was quashed by President Barack Obama and revived by Mr. Trump, the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline is the latest attempt by the oil sands industry to push more of its product out to market. The pipelines have not expanded at the same rate as output from the oil sands, leaving many producers relying on expensive rail shipments to get their product to the United States, which currently buys almost all of Canada’s oil and gas exports.

Tankers filled by the current Kinder Morgan pipeline now sail to refineries on the West Coast of the United States. The extra capacity from an expansion could, in theory, allow oil sands companies to also begin shipping to Asian markets where demand for oil is growing, said Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta.

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Protest signs are displayed outside of the Kinder Morgan Inc. facility in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, on Wednesday.

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Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Ms. Notley, and her left-of-center New Democratic Party, surprised the Canadian political world in 2015 by bringing four and a half decades of Progressive Conservative rule to an end in Alberta. While she vowed in her campaign to take on the big oil interests in the province, politically she has no choice but to be a booster of the pipeline. Polls show that Albertans overwhelmingly want the expansion to go ahead.

To defend the expansion, the premier has shown a willingness to get tough with her provincial neighbor to the west. Earlier this year, Ms. Notley briefly banned imports of wine from British Columbia.

And unless the meeting Sunday changes her mind, Ms. Notley’s government is expected to introduce legislation next week that will give it the ability to restrict oil and gas shipments to British Columbia, and so driving up prices in the province.

“If the national interest is given over to the extremes on the left or the right, if the voices of the moderate majority of Canadians are forgotten, the reverberations of that will tear at the fabric of Confederation for many, many years to come,” Ms. Notley said on Monday, referring to the power-sharing system that Canada adopted in 1867.

This past week, Ms. Notley suggested that if Kinder Morgan decides not to go ahead with the expansion, the provincial government may buy and build the pipeline. Officials in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet have suggested that the federal government might support such a plan.

For Mr. Horgan in British Columbia, the political calculus surrounding the pipeline expansion was more complex. The project is widely opposed in the areas around Vancouver and Victoria, the provincial capital, according to Ms. Kurl, the pollster. But support is strong for it elsewhere in the province, where resource industries are big employers.

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Supporters of the pipeline demonstrated in Vancouver last month. “So much of this debate is rural versus urban Canada,” a pollster said.

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Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Perhaps tipping the scale in his decision to try to block the project is that Mr. Horgan, also a member of the New Democratic Party, relies on the support of three Green Party members to pass legislation. That party, like many environmental groups, argues that Canada should not be building oil pipelines while it is attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So Mr. Horgan plans to ask a court to determine if British Columbia can use local permits and provincial environmental laws to block the pipeline.

Mr. Trudeau’s government has cited several decisions, including some from the Supreme Court, that it contends give Ottawa complete authority over interprovincial pipelines. But it appears that the federal government can do nothing to stop Mr. Horgan from going to court. Any judicial review could at least delay the project.

The sparring between the two premiers may prove to be the least of Mr. Trudeau’s worries in the pipeline fight, as he tries to balance Canada’s economic dependence on the energy industry with his climate change commitments.

Environmental groups and some indigenous groups have vowed to stop the pipeline expansion through widespread civil disobedience. Those arrested already for breaking court orders to keep back from Kinder Morgan property include Elizabeth May, the leader of the federal Green Party.

Many environmental groups are using the pipeline expansion as a proxy in the fight against the oil sands, a source of fossil fuels that they condemn as excessively polluting.

“In an ideal world, we would like to see the federal government recognizing that it made an egregious mistake in approving this pipeline,” said Cam Fenton, a Canada strategy manager for 350.org, a nonprofit that opposes new fossil fuel projects. “At the end of the day polls change, science doesn’t. And it says we cannot deal with climate change and build pipelines.”

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Senators: E.P.A. Files Undercut Pruitt’s Need for First-Class Travel


Photo

Scott Pruitt in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Monday.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — An assessment of threats aimed at Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, conducted by the agency’s Homeland Security office in February, undercuts claims made by Mr. Pruitt’s security team to justify millions of dollars in security expenditures, according to an internal document obtained by a Senate Democrat.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island wrote in a letter on Tuesday to John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, that the E.P.A.’s Homeland Security Intelligence Team reviewed an October memo and found no specific credible threats to the administrator. The October memo was created by Mr. Pruitt’s protective security detail, led by Pasquale Perrotta, who is known as Nino, and was used to justify much of Mr. Pruitt’s large security detail and first-class travel.

The same February assessment described repeated efforts by E.P.A. intelligence officials to tell the agency’s inspector general and senior leadership “that ‘the threat’ to the Administrator was being inappropriately mischaracterized” by Mr. Pruitt’s security detail, Mr. Whitehouse wrote in the letter, sent jointly with Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat of Delaware.

“It is hard to reconcile the public statements of E.P.A., and the President, with these internal and external assessments,” Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Carper wrote. They also acknowledged, though, that the materials may be incomplete.

The documents weren’t publicly released with the letter, they said, in order to protect any current security efforts that may be in effect.

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In His Haste to Roll Back Rules, Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Chief, Risks His Agenda


The courts, for instance, found that the E.P.A. had ignored clear legal statutes when they ruled that Mr. Pruitt had illegally delayed a regulation curbing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells and that the agency had broken the law by missing a deadline last year to enact ozone restrictions.

In other cases — including one in which a federal court ordered the E.P.A. to act on a Connecticut request to reduce pollution from a Pennsylvania power plant, and one where judges demanded quick action from the agency on new lead paint standards — the courts warned Mr. Pruitt that avoiding enacting regulations already on the books was an inappropriate effort to repeal a rule without justifying the action.

“The E.P.A. has a clear duty to act,” a panel of judges of the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote in a 2-1 decision finding that the agency must revise its lead paint standards in 90 days, as regulations required. The agency had tried to delay the revisions for six years.

In an interview on Friday, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Mr. Trump felt that Mr. Pruitt had done a satisfactory job at the EPA. Her comments suggested that Mr. Pruitt’s work checking off items on the president’s agenda — including rolling back a large number of environmental protections — may weigh heavily as a counterbalance to the ethics questions related to his travel expenses, management practices and his rental of a living space from the wife of a prominent lobbyist.

Describing Mr. Trump’s view of Mr. Pruitt, she said: “He likes the work product.”

Liz Bowman, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, disputed the criticisms of the agency’s work. “E.P.A. does its due diligence, consults with O.M.B. and other federal agencies to ensure that its work is legally defensible,” she said in an email, referring to the Office of Management and Budget, the office that coordinates and evaluates policy across the executive branch.

One of the chief examples cited by Mr. Pruitt’s critics came this week when the E.P.A. filed its legal justification for what is arguably the largest rollback of an environmental rule in the Trump administration: the proposed undoing of an Obama-era regulation aimed at cutting pollution of planet-warming greenhouse gases from vehicle tailpipes.

Mr. Pruitt made his case for the rollback in a 38-page document filed on Tuesday that, experts say, was devoid of the kind of supporting legal, scientific and technical data that courts have shown they expect to see when considering challenges to regulatory changes.

“There’s an incredible lack of numbers,” said James McCargar, a former senior policy analyst at the E.P.A. who worked on vehicle emissions programs and remains in close touch with career staffers who work on those programs. “If this gets challenged in court, I just don’t see how they provide anything that gives a technical justification to undo the rule.”

Photo

Protesters the E.P.A. this month. Environmental groups have cheered the agency’s losses in the courts on regulation rollbacks concerning issues like pesticides and lead paint.

Credit
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The rules Mr. Pruitt is targeting would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of passenger vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automakers have argued the rule is onerous, forcing them to invest heavily in building hybrid and electric vehicles.

As part of the process, Mr. Pruitt filed the 38-page document, which is meant to supply the government’s legal justification for rolling back the rule. About half the document consists of quotations from automakers laying out their objections to the rule. By comparison, the Obama administration’s 1,217-page document justifying its implementation of the regulation included technical, scientific and economic analyses justifying the rule.

Experts in environmental policy said the lack of analytical arguments in this week’s E.P.A. filing surprised them. “This document is unprecedented,” said Mr. McCargar, the former E.P.A. senior policy analyst. “The E.P.A. has just never done anything like this.”

John M. DeCicco, a professor of engineering and public policy at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, said the filing was a departure from the practices of previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

“A president or an administrator or somebody can’t just say, ‘I’m going to change the rule,’ without justifying it very, very carefully,” Mr. DeCicco said. “As a scientist who’s worked on these issues, I’m saying, where are the numbers? Where’s the data?”

Most of the document consists of arguments quoting directly from public comments made by automaker lobbyists, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Global Automakers, that the pollution rules will be unduly burdensome on the auto industry, as well as public comments from Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi.

While it does include arguments opposing the regulatory rollback from groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the state of California, it does not contain what environmental experts say is the critical element of a legally strong justification for changing an E.P.A. regulation: Technical analysis of both sides of the argument leading to a conclusion aimed at persuading a judge that the change is defensible.

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Seth Michaels, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, suggested that, in its reuse of arguments by the automakers’ lobby, the emissions-rollback document echoed Mr. Pruitt’s modus operandi when he was the Oklahoma Attorney General.

“It’s reminiscent of the 2011 letter Scott Pruitt sent as Oklahoma AG to the E.P.A., in which he took a letter drafted by layers for Devon Energy and stuck his name on it with minimal edits,” Mr. Michaels said.

A 2014 investigation by The Times found that lobbyists for Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and President Obama, outlining the economic hardship of various environmental rules.

Between 2011 and 2017, Mr. Pruitt filed suit against the E.P.A. 14 times, and lost almost all of the cases.

Most were filed in conjunction with the Republican attorneys general of a dozen or more other states, making it difficult to know precisely which legal arguments his office contributed, legal experts said. Mr. Pruitt frequently took a lead role in the cases.

In the end, “a lot of those arguments were losers,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University.

In particular, Mr. Revesz noted a case brought by the group against President Obama’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan, which Mr. Pruitt is now working to overturn from within the E.P.A. The lawsuit challenged a draft proposal of the regulation, which was an unprecedented move that a federal court quickly struck down, saying that they could not legally challenge a draft.

Photo

A site operated by Devon Energy near Stillwater, Okla. A 2014 investigation by The Times found that lobbyists for Devon had drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send to President Barack Obama.

Credit
Nick Oxford for The New York Times

While the attorneys general, including Mr. Pruitt, garnered media attention for the case, “The argument they had was ludicrous,” Mr. Revesz said.

The group did, however, score one major victory: After the Obama administration issued its final version of the Clean Power Plan, it successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to temporarily halt implementation of the rule.

Since taking the helm of E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has barnstormed the country, meeting with farmers, coal miners and local leaders and promising an end to his predecessor’s regulatory approach. He also has favored closed-door policy speeches to conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation, to roll out policy initiatives.

The Heritage Foundation was the venue Mr. Pruitt chose this year to say that he would make changes to how scientific studies are considered at the agency. Both critics and supporters of Mr. Pruitt said that, by making the proposal in a political fashion rather than changing the rules in a quieter but potentially more lasting way means that changes like these are more vulnerable to being undone by a future administration.

Environmental groups have welcomed Mr. Pruitt’s court losses. Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, said she was pleased by what she called “sloppy” and “careless” E.P.A. legal work. “It’s fine with us,” she said. “Do a bad job repealing these things, because then we get to go to court and win.”

Thomas J. Pyle, a supporter of Mr. Pruitt’s and the president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank that promotes fossil fuels, described that as spin. “The environmental left portrays Scott Pruitt as a devil incarnate in their fund-raising solicitations, yet brag about how ineffective he is in dismantling Obama’s climate rules,” he said. “Which is it?”

Still, some conservatives said they were worried that Mr. Pruitt was more interested in media attention than policy and feared more legal losses. “If the goal is to generate temporary relief and to make a splash, then what they’re doing is terrifically fine,” said Jonathan H. Adler, director of the Center for Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

But if the Trump administration wants to permanently change the regulatory environment for business, he said, the E.P.A. cannot take such a “quick and dirty approach” to unraveling regulations. “I’m suspicious that two, three years down the road there’s going to be much to show for all the fireworks we’re getting now,” Mr. Adler said.

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Volokolamsk journal: ‘When a City of 40,000 People Gets Poisoned, They Don’t Care’


On Sunday, Mr. Zhdanov was detained by the police and sentenced to 14 days of administrative arrest for hindering access to transport infrastructure by organizing an illegal rally.

The landfill crisis started in June, when residents of Balashikha, a large satellite town just outside Moscow, complained to President Vladimir V. Putin during his annual call-in show about the “unbearable” situation in their neighborhood, which stands 650 feet away from Kuchino, one of the largest landfill dumps in the region.

Mr. Putin, showing off his trademark Mr. Fix-It role, ordered the landfill closed. The government wanted to do so in 2021, allowing time to find and develop new locations to distribute Moscow’s waste, but Mr. Putin was relentless.

“Now listen to me,” Mr. Putin told Environment Minister Sergei Donskoy during a televised government meeting. “Close this landfill within a month.”

Photo

Residents of Volokolamsk protesting outside the town hall on Sunday to demand the closing of the Yadrovo landfill.

Credit
Artyom Geodakyan/TASS, via Getty Images

The landfill was closed, but the 1,000 or so truckloads of waste produced daily in Moscow had to go somewhere. The regional government distributed the extra waste among the few remaining landfills around Moscow, in some cases overwhelming their capacity. The one near Volokolamsk, in Yadrovo, has seen the lines of trucks in front of its gates increase by at least a quarter.

“In the first half of 2017, I received 80,000 tons of waste; in the second half I had twice as much,” said Maksim O. Konopko, one of the Yadrovo landfill’s owners. “If it weren’t for Kuchino, we would stay within our normal limits.”

In a landfill dump, the incoming waste — most of it consisting of rotting food — is buried with soil. The waste then brews inside, producing biogas, a combination of methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other components. In the absence of a collection system, the accumulated gas eventually bursts through the soil and vents in large quantities into the surrounding area. The Yadrovo landfill does not have such a system, though the owner plans to install one with the help of a Dutch company.

Mr. Konopko said that he wanted to restrict the volume of waste he was receiving, but that he was getting angry phone calls, pressuring him to take more.

“Do you know what country we live in?” Mr. Konopko said, implying that these were orders he could not refuse.

Mr. Konopko denied accusations that he had a financial interest in handling as much garbage as he could, since he is paid about $2 per cubic meter, saying that the added revenues would be more than offset by the cost of the new gas reclamation system. Over all, the landfill representatives said they were just as much victims of this situation as anybody else.

That is debatable, given the apparent health effects, particularly for small children. Galina N. Dubrovskaya, a former accountant, said that her granddaughter, Uliana, had been a perfectly healthy child, but that this March the girl began to wake up at night suffering nausea, dizziness and headaches. These episodes seemed to coincide, she said, with the times when the landfill spewed stinking fumes.

At least 77 children were treated at the Volokolamsk hospital after one recent blast of fumes. The regional government denied that their symptoms had anything to do with the gas, and said no traces of it had been found in the children’s blood.

Local residents have disagreed vehemently. Shura Y. Antipov, whose daughter Vika was covered with large red spots, was told by doctors that the girl was suffering from some allergy and hinted at “external causes.” But they refused to link the spots to the landfill gases.

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Local residents waiting for test results at a hospital in Volokolamsk. Releases of toxic gases from a nearby landfill have made dozens of people, most of them children, turn to hospitals.

Credit
Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

“At the beginning, doctors were pointing at the dump, but did not write anything down,” said Mr. Antipov, 25, who works in the construction industry. “Now they say, ‘Anything else but the landfill.’”

Experts say Russia’s waste problem is systemic and warrants complicated long-term solutions.

“If you want to fix a leaking faucet, perhaps you shouldn’t break the whole pipe with a sledgehammer,” Aleksei Kiselyov, the head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxics campaign, said of Mr. Putin’s decision to close the big landfill. “The whole waste landfill problem has become subject to populism.”

To solve the problem, Mr. Kiselyov said, the Russian government would need to do what it never likes doing: encourage grass-roots movements to propagate recycling among the population.

“We have all these grand ideas about making Russia great, but we cannot do some fundamental things,” he said.

So far, the Kremlin has been characteristically reluctant to cover the problem on state-run television channels, enraging people in Volokolamsk.

“The only things you hear are Ukraine and Syria, Ukraine and Syria,” said Lidiya L. Ivanova, whose teenage grandson had his hands covered in eczema “as though he were wearing gloves.”

“Why they never cover our own, Russian problems?” said Ms. Ivanova, 59.

The regional government has announced that it will close the Yadrovo landfill by the middle of this month and start its reclamation. The problem is that the Moscow waste will then be transferred to other landfills, and people are already protesting against the smell in other cities around the capital.

“You can move the waste from one pocket to another, but this doesn’t solve the problem,” said Aleskandr Zakondyrin, a member of the political party Green Alliance.

Deni Tsugayev, 10, said he felt nauseated every time his mother opened up the balcony door at night. When they went to the hospital, an official told them he was faking the sickness.

Last week, he went to the main square with his mother to protest. He carried a poster saying: “There are children in Syria, there are children in Ukraine! Who am I? I am only 10 and I want to live.”

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Pruitt Had a $50-a-Day Condo Linked to Lobbyists. Their Client’s Project Got Approved.


The March 2017 action by the E.P.A. on the pipeline project — in the form of a letter telling the State Department that the E.P.A. had no serious environmental objections — meant that the project, an expansion of the Alberta Clipper line, had cleared a significant hurdle. The expansion, a project of Enbridge Inc., a Calgary-based energy company, would allow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil a day to flow through this pipeline to the United States from Canadian tar sands.

The sign-off by the E.P.A. came even though the agency, at the end of the Obama administration, had moved to fine Enbridge $61 million in connection with a 2010 pipeline episode that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and other waterways. The fine was the second-largest in the history of the Clean Water Act, behind the penalty imposed after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Williams & Jennings said that the lobbying firm did not intervene with the E.P.A. or Mr. Pruitt on the Enbridge pipeline expansion either before or after Mr. Pruitt was living in the condo owned in part by Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman of the firm.

The lobbying firm also said it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,” its disclosure report from early 2017 says.

Cynthia Giles, who served at the E.P.A. as an enforcement official in the agency’s mid-Atlantic region in the 1990s before becoming an assistant administrator at the agency in the Obama administration, said Mr. Pruitt’s housing arrangements raised questions about the fairness of the E.P.A.’s decision-making process.

“The people at the E.P.A. are charged with following the science and facts as it applies to individual decisions,” she said. Appearing to accept favors from influential figures “is just not good judgment.”

Ms. Bowman said the criticism was unjustified, saying that Mr. Pruitt paid what one E.P.A. official called a “market value” rent. However, an examination of Capitol Hill rentals suggests that rates typically are considerably higher and generally do not come with a provision, as Mr. Pruitt’s did, that the renter can pay for only the nights stayed at the condo.

The E.P.A.’s review of the Alberta Clipper project was one of at least a half dozen regulatory matters before the E.P.A. related to clients who were represented by Williams & Jensen at the time that Mr. Pruitt was living part-time in the Capitol Hill condo.

Williams & Jensen, for example, was lobbying the E.P.A. early last year, according to its disclosure reports, on behalf of both Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a major coal-burning utility, and Concho Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas drilling company.

Photo

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. head, was renting a condominium linked to Enbridge’s lobbying firm.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

The work for Oklahoma Gas involved the effort to repeal or revise the landmark Obama-era rule that pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. An E.P.A. calendar in March 2017 shows that Mr. Pruitt and his chief of staff were scheduled to meet with company executives at the request of a Williams & Jensen lobbyist.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas, said the company had received no favors from Mr. Pruitt. “By no means has O.G.E. benefited from any living arrangements for Administrator Pruitt,” he said in a statement. “In fact, Administrator Pruitt did not attend the mentioned meeting.”

Concho, a 2017 lobbying disclosure report shows, hired Williams & Jensen to help it handle matters including “EPA regulatory proposals re: oil and gas operations.” The company’s regulatory filings indicate its concerns included the regulation of methane emissions (a major factor in climate change) from drilling and production operations, as well as rules intended to protect drinking water supplies. Mr. Pruitt has considered revisions in both regulatory areas.

In the Enbridge case, the E.P.A. was asked to evaluate the potential environmental effect of the pipeline expansion application, as well as the quality of a preliminary review of the project that the State Department had already conducted. When the pipeline opened in 2010, it was permitted to carry only as much as 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The expansion would allow it to move an additional 390,000 barrels through a key three-mile section near the Canadian border.

Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the project deserved to be approved, noting the “vital service that this existing pipeline provides in delivering secure and reliable supplies of North American crude oil to the United States.”

The oil it carries comes from the so-called Canadian tar sands, like the oil for the proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. Extraction from tar sands has drawn opposition from environmentalists, given that the process requires more energy than traditional drilling.

Pipelines, like this one, that cross an international border into the United States require a presidential permit, which is issued only after the State Department has conducted a detailed environmental review and has taken input from other federal agencies, including the E.P.A.

In this case, the pipeline expansion was further complicated by the fact that a related Enbridge pipeline involved in oil imports from Canada spilled nearly 1 million gallons of oil in Marshall, Mich., in July 2010 after tape intended to prevent corrosion on the pipeline failed. Investigators later found that employees allowed the oil to continue to flow after wrongly assuming that the alarms sounding were caused by a harmless vapor bubble.

Enbridge has argued it has learned from that accident and taken corrective measures to prevent it from happening again. The settlement with the E.P.A. also requires the company to spend at least $110 million to install advanced leak detection and monitoring measures to prevent spills.

In March 2017, while Mr. Pruitt’s lease at the Washington condo was in effect, the E.P.A. issued a letter giving the pipeline project the second-best rating it offers out of 10 possible scores. The agency concluded that while the project raised “environmental concerns,” the review had adequately examined the alternatives and determined that “no further analysis or data collection is necessary.”

If the E.P.A. had wanted to more aggressively challenge the project, the agency could have rated it as “environmental objections” or “environmentally unsatisfactory.”

The conclusion stands in contrast to a similar evaluation by the agency in 2013 of the Keystone XL pipeline project. That evaluation focused more on the effect that the flow of tar-sands oil could have on the goal of limiting global climate change and gave the project an “environmental objections” rating.

With the sign-off by the E.P.A. and the State Department, Enbridge received the expansion permit it needed in October, five years after it first applied for permission. Additional pumping stations have already been built, meaning the pipeline expansion project is already completed, the company said.

Mr. Pruitt is separately the focus of an investigation by the E.P.A. inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., based on Mr. Pruitt’s travel in early 2017 back to his home state of Oklahoma on government-funded flights, as well as his use of first-class tickets for flights and, at times, costly chartered planes.

Discussions have already started on Capitol Hill about asking the E.P.A. inspector general to expand his inquiry to include the condo deal. Late Monday, three House Democrats who serve on the committee with oversight of the E.P.A. sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt asking a series of questions about the condo lease, which was first reported by ABC News.

“As administrator you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by E.P.A.,” the letter said. “And this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefited from your relationship with industry.”

Continue reading the main story

Pruitt Had a $50-a-Day Condo Linked to Lobbyists. Their Client’s Project Got Approved.


The March 2017 action by the E.P.A. on the pipeline project — in the form of a letter telling the State Department that the E.P.A. had no serious environmental objections — meant that the project, an expansion of the Alberta Clipper line, had cleared a significant hurdle. The expansion, a project of Enbridge Inc., a Calgary-based energy company, would allow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil a day to flow through this pipeline to the United States from Canadian tar sands.

The sign-off by the E.P.A. came even though the agency, at the end of the Obama administration, had moved to fine Enbridge $61 million in connection with a 2010 pipeline episode that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and other waterways. The fine was the second-largest in the history of the Clean Water Act, behind the penalty imposed after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Williams & Jennings said that the lobbying firm did not intervene with the E.P.A. or Mr. Pruitt on the Enbridge pipeline expansion either before or after Mr. Pruitt was living in the condo owned in part by Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman of the firm.

The lobbying firm also said it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,” its disclosure report from early 2017 says.

Cynthia Giles, who served at the E.P.A. as an enforcement official in the agency’s mid-Atlantic region in the 1990s before becoming an assistant administrator at the agency in the Obama administration, said Mr. Pruitt’s housing arrangements raised questions about the fairness of the E.P.A.’s decision-making process.

“The people at the E.P.A. are charged with following the science and facts as it applies to individual decisions,” she said. Appearing to accept favors from influential figures “is just not good judgment.”

Ms. Bowman said the criticism was unjustified, saying that Mr. Pruitt paid what one E.P.A. official called a “market value” rent. However, an examination of Capitol Hill rentals suggests that rates typically are considerably higher and generally do not come with a provision, as Mr. Pruitt’s did, that the renter can pay for only the nights stayed at the condo.

The E.P.A.’s review of the Alberta Clipper project was one of at least a half dozen regulatory matters before the E.P.A. related to clients who were represented by Williams & Jensen at the time that Mr. Pruitt was living part-time in the Capitol Hill condo.

Williams & Jensen, for example, was lobbying the E.P.A. early last year, according to its disclosure reports, on behalf of both Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a major coal-burning utility, and Concho Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas drilling company.

Photo

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. head, was renting a condominium linked to Enbridge’s lobbying firm.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

The work for Oklahoma Gas involved the effort to repeal or revise the landmark Obama-era rule that pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. An E.P.A. calendar in March 2017 shows that Mr. Pruitt and his chief of staff were scheduled to meet with company executives at the request of a Williams & Jensen lobbyist.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas, said the company had received no favors from Mr. Pruitt. “By no means has O.G.E. benefited from any living arrangements for Administrator Pruitt,” he said in a statement. “In fact, Administrator Pruitt did not attend the mentioned meeting.”

Concho, a 2017 lobbying disclosure report shows, hired Williams & Jensen to help it handle matters including “EPA regulatory proposals re: oil and gas operations.” The company’s regulatory filings indicate its concerns included the regulation of methane emissions (a major factor in climate change) from drilling and production operations, as well as rules intended to protect drinking water supplies. Mr. Pruitt has considered revisions in both regulatory areas.

In the Enbridge case, the E.P.A. was asked to evaluate the potential environmental effect of the pipeline expansion application, as well as the quality of a preliminary review of the project that the State Department had already conducted. When the pipeline opened in 2010, it was permitted to carry only as much as 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The expansion would allow it to move an additional 390,000 barrels through a key three-mile section near the Canadian border.

Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the project deserved to be approved, noting the “vital service that this existing pipeline provides in delivering secure and reliable supplies of North American crude oil to the United States.”

The oil it carries comes from the so-called Canadian tar sands, like the oil for the proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. Extraction from tar sands has drawn opposition from environmentalists, given that the process requires more energy than traditional drilling.

Pipelines, like this one, that cross an international border into the United States require a presidential permit, which is issued only after the State Department has conducted a detailed environmental review and has taken input from other federal agencies, including the E.P.A.

In this case, the pipeline expansion was further complicated by the fact that a related Enbridge pipeline involved in oil imports from Canada spilled nearly 1 million gallons of oil in Marshall, Mich., in July 2010 after tape intended to prevent corrosion on the pipeline failed. Investigators later found that employees allowed the oil to continue to flow after wrongly assuming that the alarms sounding were caused by a harmless vapor bubble.

Enbridge has argued it has learned from that accident and taken corrective measures to prevent it from happening again. The settlement with the E.P.A. also requires the company to spend at least $110 million to install advanced leak detection and monitoring measures to prevent spills.

In March 2017, while Mr. Pruitt’s lease at the Washington condo was in effect, the E.P.A. issued a letter giving the pipeline project the second-best rating it offers out of 10 possible scores. The agency concluded that while the project raised “environmental concerns,” the review had adequately examined the alternatives and determined that “no further analysis or data collection is necessary.”

If the E.P.A. had wanted to more aggressively challenge the project, the agency could have rated it as “environmental objections” or “environmentally unsatisfactory.”

The conclusion stands in contrast to a similar evaluation by the agency in 2013 of the Keystone XL pipeline project. That evaluation focused more on the effect that the flow of tar-sands oil could have on the goal of limiting global climate change and gave the project an “environmental objections” rating.

With the sign-off by the E.P.A. and the State Department, Enbridge received the expansion permit it needed in October, five years after it first applied for permission. Additional pumping stations have already been built, meaning the pipeline expansion project is already completed, the company said.

Mr. Pruitt is separately the focus of an investigation by the E.P.A. inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., based on Mr. Pruitt’s travel in early 2017 back to his home state of Oklahoma on government-funded flights, as well as his use of first-class tickets for flights and, at times, costly chartered planes.

Discussions have already started on Capitol Hill about asking the E.P.A. inspector general to expand his inquiry to include the condo deal. Late Monday, three House Democrats who serve on the committee with oversight of the E.P.A. sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt asking a series of questions about the condo lease, which was first reported by ABC News.

“As administrator you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by E.P.A.,” the letter said. “And this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefited from your relationship with industry.”

Continue reading the main story