PERRY STICKING AROUND?: Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Monday denied reports that he will leave the Trump administration in November.
“No. I’m here, I’m serving,” he said when asked about a recent Politico report at a news conference in Lithuania.
“They’ve been writing the story for at least nine months now. One of these days they will probably get it right, but it’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, it’s not next month,” he added.
The Department of Energy has also denied reports of Perry’s departure.
Ukraine controversy: Politico cited three sources close to Perry saying he would announce his departure next month.
The report came just days after the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent questions to Perry related to his travel to Ukraine amid scrutiny of the Trump administration’s dealings with that country.
Perry traveled to Ukraine in May for the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose contacts with President Trump are now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Perry said on Monday that he “absolutely” requested that Trump call Zelensky to discuss energy, but not former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter. That July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky has become the focal point of the impeachment inquiry.
“I asked the president multiple times, ‘Mr. president, we think it is in the United States’ and in Ukraine’s best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there,'” Perry said at the news conference.
Perry’s travels: Perry traveled to Lithuania on Sunday with Energy Department officials for meetings on “regional energy cooperation in nuclear, renewables and fossil fuels,” according to his Twitter account. He described the meeting as a way to work with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonian allies to “chart their energy future.”
The meeting for the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation included a meeting between Perry and Ukraine Energy Minister Oleksii Orzhel.
“The United States strongly supports Ukraine and Poland’s effort to enhance regional energy security,” Perry tweeted. “Opening greater access to Ukraine’s storage will allow increased commercial activity to leverage the increased supplies and seasonal spreads in European gas markets. Enhancing interconnectors could mean that one day Ukraine can supply its neighbors with new domestic production.”
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CACTI CASUALTIES: New video shows protected saguaro cacti at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona being destroyed by bulldozers preparing the site for construction of President Trump’s border wall.
Kevin Dahl, the senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in Arizona, shot footage of the iconic saguaro cacti — known for growing more than three arms — being moved by bulldozers.
Dahl told news site Earther that the construction crews were knocking down desert plants and collecting them into piles when he visited the park last week.
He described feeling “outrage” over witnessing the destruction.
“We love these saguaros,” Dahl told the site. “The Tohomo O’odham [tribe], in their taxonomy of life saguaros are very close to humans. And you know, they have a majestic presence, they are the iconic symbol of this part of the world. You know you’re someplace different when you’re in a saguaro forest.”
The species in the park are protected by federal law, so crews are moving saguaros technically within a 60-foot strip of land called the Roosevelt Reservation that the government has access to for border protection, according to Earther.
The Army Corps of Engineers released a video last month saying that the saguaros and other types of cacti were being relocated to another area considered part of their natural habitat.
SUIT OVER SOW: Workers are suing over a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that allows pork processing plants to speed up production lines, something their union says could endanger employees.
The USDA rule, announced in September, would remove a cap on the speed that inspection lines can run and also reduce the number of food inspectors who look over pork products.
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which filed the suit on behalf of 30,000 pork plant workers nationwide, noted that meatpacking workers are injured more than twice the average for all private industries.
“Thousands of our members work hard every day in America’s pork plants to help families across the country put food on the table. Increasing pork plant line speeds not only is a reckless giveaway to giant corporations, it will put thousands of workers in harm’s way,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW. “This new rule also would dramatically weaken critical protections that Americans depend on to be able to select safe, healthy food to feed their families every day.”
The USDA rule would give plants more power in overseeing the inspection of meat. The agency said reducing the number of USDA inspectors would save them $8.7 million.
“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a release when the rule was announced, calling it a modernization of a 50-year-old process.
USDA did not immediately respond to request for comment.
ELECTRICITY OR WILDFIRES: Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) warned Monday that it may shut off power across much of California later this week to prevent power lines and equipment from sparking wildfires.
The shutoff watch, which precedes a warning of a Public Safety Power Shutoff, covers 28 counties, including almost all of the Bay Area and northern parts of the Central Valley.
PG&E has cut power to thousands of customers multiple times this year amid dry and windy conditions that increase the risks of a wildfire.
Power was generally restored within 24 to 48 hours of those shutoffs.
The warning points toward PG&E taking more extreme caution following last year’s Camp Fire.
The company agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies for the devastation that resulted from the blaze in Paradise, Calif., and other Northern California cities and counties in 2017 and 2018 after Cal Fire found PG&E equipment at fault for the fire.
Under California law, a utility can be held liable for fires its equipment causes even if the equipment is properly maintained.
PG&E had already filed for bankruptcy in January in an attempt to protect itself from the liabilities related to the California wildfires.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
States issue new warnings of ‘zombie’ deer disease, we report.
Supreme Court justices reject pipeline, wildfire cases, E&E News reports.
Pope urges bold action to protect the Amazon amid fires, the Associated Press reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Monday and the weekend
Company behind Dove and Ben & Jerry’s plans to cut use of plastic in half by 2025
Video shows cacti being bulldozed at national monument during border wall construction
PG&E may shut off power in large portions of California to prevent wildfires
Workers sue over Trump administration rule that speeds inspection of pork products
Perry denies he is planning to resign
Trump associates pressured Ukraine over gas firm in order to benefit allies: report
Spokeswoman: Perry encouraged Trump to focus on energy, economy in Ukraine call
Klobuchar blasts Trump ethanol proposal as ‘too little too late‘