PEERMail: The Demise of Advise and Consent

Capital building

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Last week’s bizarre disappearing act involving a new acting Interior Inspector General was no anomaly – it is part of an emerging pattern.

Earlier this month, HUD announced that Suzanne Tufts, Assistant Secretary for Administration, noted for her role in shutting down further inquiries into Secretary Ben Carson’s lavish office redecoration, would become acting Interior Inspector General.  In that position, she could block several pending probes into alleged misconduct by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

That caused a furor, but Interior spokesperson Heather Swift denounced media reports as based on “false information But what really happened remains unclear. Meanwhile, the White House, HUD, and Interior all walked away from the brouhaha and the now-orphaned Tufts ended her short rollercoaster ride in federal service.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt bemoaned the unfilled Inspector General post, saying “the job has been vacant…for almost a decade. That’s not good, because that’s not the way we run the country.”

That is not true.

Putting political operatives who could not be confirmed by the Senate to fill presidentially-appointed slots has become the norm at Interior.

Consider Karen Budd-Falen, the controversial attorney for the Bundy clan and other Sagebrush Rebels.  As the Tufts debacle played out, Budd-Falen was named deputy solicitor for Fish, Wildlife and Parks – a position that does not require Senate confirmation. She was long rumored to be a Trump nominee to lead BLM, but her prospects for confirmation were iffy, at best.

She will work for acting Solicitor Dan Jorjani, who is notable for issuing a legal opinion gutting enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, an opinion decried by former officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Solicitor is another presidentially-appointed post but as acting Solicitor, Jorjani does not have to undergo confirmation.

Meanwhile, Susan Combs is the acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks – overseeing both the Park Service and Fish & Wildlife Service. She originally was nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management & Budget, but her confirmation languished. So, she was named and acting Assistant Secretary which requires no Senate confirmation. In Texas, Combs routinely opposed endangered species protections, as the head of a pro-development clique known as the Texas Mafia.

After nearly two years in office, Trump’s Interior Department has nearly as many vacant presidentially-appointed and Senate confirmed positions as ones filled (eight versus nine). Of those eight vacant slots, there is no nominee for seven, as Trump finally nominated a Park Service Director.

Overall, these three are among more than 200 presidential appointments for which there is still no nominee or even notice of intent to nominate.  It is becoming clear that, except when unavoidable, such as Supreme Court vacancies, the Trump administration is bypassing the bother of Senate confirmation.

This tactic allows Trump to name whoever he wants, making executive actions less accountable to both the Congress and public.

In 1998, Congress enacted the Vacancies Reform Act to curb circumvention of the Senate’s advice and consent power.  Under that act, any action taken by a noncompliant official “shall have no force or effect” nor may such action be later “ratified.”  This means that the validity of an array of Interior actions affecting endangered species, mining, drilling, grazing, and everything else it administers will be litigated in what could be scores of federal court cases.

PEER is working to transform these acts of hubris into an Achilles heel.  Help us.


And the Cupboard Was Bare

Credit: Getty Images

EPA just finished a massive search of all of its scientific documentation for any evidence humans are not the main driver of climate change. Guess what? They could not find any.

EPA had to conduct this data hunt in response to a federal district court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by PEER.  We asked if then-Administrator Scott Pruitt had any substance behind his climate denier statements. In August, EPA questioned Pruitt before he vacated his office and Pruitt admitted that he had no data.


Clean Water Crucible

Lost in the wonky debate about Trump plans to roll back the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act is the adverse effect it will have on the drinking water sources for 117 Million Americans – one in three of us.  See the PEER display of impacts state-by-state  and county-by-county.


Manatees Going Down for the Count

Credit: ABC

Thanks to Florida’s unending red tides, this past September was one of the deadliest on record for manatees.  So far this year, more than 10% of Florida’s manatee population has perished. Join our fight to save the manatees.

 

 


Eco-Champion Ed Patrovsky

PEER’s 25th anniversary cyber-celebration of true eco-heroes rolls on. This week’s video profile is of Ed Patrovsky. Ed worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service as a law enforcement ranger, where he witnessed widespread agency indifference to the epidemic of violence perpetrated against land management agency employees.