As Interior head, Bernhardt won’t be handcuffed: David Bernhardt, acting secretary of the Interior Department, seems headed for confirmation by the Senate. He told the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that, if confirmed, he will stop recusing himself from issues that involve his former clients as soon as this summer, Allison Winter of Westword reports. Bernhardt is a former lobbyist whose clients–27 of which are listed as potential conflicts on his ethics disclosure–have included Halliburton Co., the oilfield services giant, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “I am basically handcuffed and not in the game for the American people if I am recusing myself, and I don’t think that is really the best strategy,” he said. Meanwhile, House Democrats are investigating whether Bernhardt’s office has been deleting or withholding public records, including his calendar, citing concern that he has failed to document meetings with industry officials.

  • Also: Several senators press Bernhardt on the administration’s sweeping proposal to open up much of the U.S. coastline to offshore drilling. Some, like Maine Senator Angus King, an independent, sought assurances that state interests would be considered as the plan was developed. Fifteen senators of coastal states (King not included–all Democrats) put out a statement opposing Bernhardt’s confirmation, saying, “A vote for Bernhardt is a vote for offshore drilling.”

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Pressure builds over Hyundai, Kia fires: Federal regulators are investigating whether certain models of Hyundai and Kia vehicles have defects that pose a fire risk, after reviewing reports of more than 3,000 spontaneous fires that have injured dozens of people. The two automakers already have recalled millions of vehicles in recent years for engine fire risks, and federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into whether that recall process was handled properly, Reuters reports. The latest probe, prompted by a petition from the Center for Auto Safety, could result in new recalls. “The reality is that extended investigations do not protect Kia and Hyundai owners – that requires recalls which result in effective repairs,” the center’s executive director, Jason Levine, said in a press release.

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The air in here: If you have ever thought about the quality of the air inside your home, chances are you’ve wondered about radon gas seeping through the floor, or cleaning products or your heating system. But what about your toaster or the very food you cook, or the gases emitted by guests at your table? For The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley writes about 60 scientists who gathered at a ranch home at the University of Texas at Austin to meticulously track what happens to the indoor air quality on a typical Thanksgiving Day, when breakfast with family may be followed by a long day of cooking for a crowd. The toaster was trouble, it turns out, prompting a spike in volatile organic compounds. When cooking was in full swing, the pollution in the kitchen reached levels above the federal Air Quality Index threshold for “very unhealthy” outdoor air, which is bad enough to trigger a public alert.

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Another blow for Trump rollbacks: A federal judge has ruled that President Trump does not have the authority to overturn an Obama decision that banned drilling beneath about 128 million acres of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, saying that undoing the ban requires action by Congress. The decision was the latest in about two dozen delays the Trump administration has suffered in the courts as it tries to rollback conservation polices, Juliet Eilpern of The Washington Post reports.

  • Also: More states are considering bills that would increase penalties for pipeline protesters, including people or organizations who oppose pipelines but don’t attend on-site protests, considered “riot boosters,” Nicholas Kusnetz of InsideClimate News reports. –– John Schwartz of The New York Times writes about how, in some families whose legacy is in coal mines and other fossil fuels, the youngest workers are turning to careers in renewable energy, motivated by climate change concerns, tradition, or “just math.” –– John Fialka of E&E News writes about how co-ops are overcoming obstacles to make solar power more affordable for rural America. 

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Response by Boeing, FAA at issue: For days after a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Indonesia in October, aviation officials there tried to gain clarity from the airplane maker and from the Federal Aviation Administration about the safety of the other Max 8 planes. But the company and regulators were first slow to respond to requests for help, then gave answers that seemed designed to deflect blame, Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono report in The New York Times. It took a second crash, in Ethiopia last month, for the parties to become more responsive, they write. The Wall Street Journal reports that a reconstruction of the Ethiopian flight’s final minutes provides the clearest evidence to date that Boeing’s misfiring stall-prevention system caused the crash. Boeing said Monday that the software fix the company has been developing, which was expected to be deployed this month, needs more work. Meanwhile, the planes will remain grounded and the FAA continues to face scrutiny for its close relationship with the industry it’s supposed to regulate. In a USA Today op-ed, acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell wrote that the agency “does not allow companies to police themselves.” That came one day after ProPublica reported on the close ties Elwell, a former airline lobbyist, has with current industry lobbyists. Government ethics expert Kathleen Clark told ProPublica, “The issue is that the inside group appears to be not the flying public. The inside group appears to be the airlines.”

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Big damages for Roundup: A California jury has awarded $80 million to a man who says that years of exposure to the chemical glyphosate in Roundup weed killer caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bayer, which owns Roundup-maker Monsanto, issued a press release saying it would appeal and that this verdict “has no impact on future cases and trials,” but the case is considered one of three bellwether cases that could determine terms of settlements in some of the 760 cases being overseen by the same federal judge. Last August, jurors in a state court in California found Bayer liable for another man’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bayer stock has seen a steep decline since then.

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Lots of water, little protection: Mitch Smith and John Schwartz of The New York Times take a deep and devastating look at flooding in the Midwest, the vast network of levees that have been breached, many of them long in need of improvement, and an uncertain future with higher water. Tom Waters, a farmer and chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, which advocates for landowners, put it this way: “Basically, when it comes to levees and flood control protection, we’re still driving on gravel roads and we’re trying to handle interstate traffic.”

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Valley Fever on the job: The state of California has issued two serious citations to Underground Construction Co. after two of its workers were hospitalized by Valley Fever while digging trenches in counties where the soil is known to contain the spores that can trigger the fungal disease, which can cause lung damage. The workers were not using  required respiratory protections. Since 2017, the state regulators have cited 12 businesses for violating rules aimed at reducing the risk of Valley Fever, according to a press release. Underground Construction faces proposed penalties of $27,000.

  • Also: Avid Pallet Services of Wisconsin faces proposed penalties of $188,302 after, for the second time since 2016, OSHA inspectors found workers were exposed to potentially harmful wood dust. –– Corley Contractors of Georgia faces proposed penalties of $106,078 after inspectors observed workers in an excavation area without cave-in protection or a safe means of exit.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.