WASHINGTON (AP) — Top-ranking Congressional Democrats are calling on a federal watchdog to review whether Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt broke the law by making a video for a private group opposing an Obama-era clean-water rule.
Pruitt flew to Colorado for an August event organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, an industry trade association representing cattle producers. While at the ranch, Pruitt recorded a video urging the group’s members to file comments supporting the repeal of EPA’s Waters of the United States rule. The 2015 rule seeks to expand the agency’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to include smaller streams and wetlands.
In a letter sent last week, the top Democrats on four committees with oversight of EPA asked the head of the Government Accountability Office to issue a formal legal ruling on whether Pruitt’s participation in the video violated federal rules. They cited longstanding prohibitions against federal officials using taxpayer funds “for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress.”
EPA did not respond to messages seeking comment about the letter or provide the total cost to taxpayers for his trip.
The Associated Press and other media outlets have previously reported about Pruitt’s frequent westward travel, which often occurs on Thursdays and Fridays to allow the EPA chief to spend weekends at his home in Oklahoma. Records show Pruitt typically travels with at least two aides and members of his full-time security detail.
EPA’s inspector general is currently reviewing the “frequency, cost, and extent” of Pruitt’s trips to determine whether they adhere to federal travel polices.
The trip to Colorado was billed by EPA as part of Pruitt’s “State Action Tour” to rally opposition to Obama-era environmental regulations. In the video, Pruitt criticizes the WOTUS rule as an example of federal overreach, redefining the Clean Water Act to cover “a puddle, a dry creek bed and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country.”
The video was posted on YouTube and on the Beef Association’s website, along with language urging the ranchers to “Urge Congress to Stop EPA’s Unlawful Expansion” and “Let your Congressional representatives know that they should not allow EPA … to trample on your Constitutional rights.”
“EPA effectively constructed a message, delivered by the Administrator, and intended for the NCBA to distribute that message through an online video,” the Democrats said. “Additionally, the viewing audience may be unable to discern the source of that message, because in the video, the EPA Administrator’s image, name, and title appear alongside the name and logo of the NCBA.”
The letter was signed by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment; Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
GAO spokesman Chuck Young confirmed the letter had been received, but said it would likely be weeks before any decision is made about whether to issue the legal ruling sought by the Democrats.
Colin Woodall, the senior vice president for government affairs at the Beef Association, said EPA had asked to group to organize an event where Pruitt could appear with stakeholders in the ranching community.”
“In advance of the visit, NCBA requested an interview with Administrator Pruitt and worked with the EPA Office of Public Affairs to arrange the interview at the event,” Woodall said. “In the unscripted interview, Administrator Pruitt explains his State Action Tour and encourages stakeholders to submit comments on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. NCBA filmed, edited, and published the video without any direction from EPA.”
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean and U.S. troops began five days of naval drills on Monday after North Korea renewed its threat to fire missiles near the American territory of Guam.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries regularly conduct joint exercises, often enraging North Korea, which views such training as an invasion rehearsal. The latest drills in the waters off the Korean Peninsula come amid fears of a possible military clash following the exchanges of insults and fierce rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The drills involve fighter jets, helicopters and 40 naval ships and submarines from the allies, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, according to South Korea’s navy. Spokesman Jang Wook told reporters the drills are aimed at practicing how to respond to a potential naval provocation by North Korea and improving the allies’ combined operational capability.
The drills were to include live-fire exercises by naval ships and aircraft and anti-submarine training, but South Korea’s military didn’t release any photos or video.
In a possible show of force against North Korea, the United States also sent four advanced fighter jets — two F-22s and two F-35s — for an air show and exhibition in Seoul that are to begin Tuesday. Last week, the United States flew two B-1B supersonic bombers from its air base in Guam to South Korea to try to demonstrate its power against any North Korean aggression.
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the start of the drills. On Friday, the North’s foreign ministry accused the United States of provoking the country by mobilizing the aircraft carrier and other war assets near the peninsula.
“Such military acts compel (North Korea) to take military counteraction,” said Kim Kwang Hak, a researcher at the Institute for American Studies at the ministry. “We have already warned several times that we will take counteractions for self-defense, including a salvo of missiles into waters near the U.S. territory of Guam.”
In August, North Korea issued a similar threat, saying its military had presented Kim Jong Un with plans to launch intermediate-range missiles to create “enveloping fire” near Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the Pacific. The North has yet to carry out its threat.
Lobbing missiles close to Guam would be deeply provocative for the United States, and a miscalculation on either side could lead to a military conflict.
Under Kim’s leadership, North Korea has been accelerating its efforts to bolster its weapons arsenals and acquire the capability to fire nuclear missiles at any target in the U.S. mainland. The North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July.
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on Venezuela’s gubernatorial elections (all times local):
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council says candidates for the ruling socialist party have won a majority of the 23 governors’ offices up for grabs in Sunday’s regional elections. Opposition leaders are disputing the vote count.
Pro-government electoral council president Tibisay Lucena says opposition candidates won just five of 22 races where the results are considered irreversible.
Projections by independent pollsters had predicted the opposition would win a majority of the governorships for the first time in nearly 20 years of socialist rule.
Some polling sites in Venezuela where voters are still waiting to cast a ballot are staying open past the official closing time.
Voting centers were scheduled to shut down at 6 p.m. EDT but Venezuelan law requires them to stay open until all those in line at the closing have voted.
Both President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters and the opposition urged Venezuelans to vote in the final hours of the election.
Results will be closely watched to see whether the opposition gains a majority of the state’s 23 governor’s offices up for grabs — and just how much support President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist party maintains.
Observers will also be watching how many Venezuelans turn up to vote. Regional elections typically attract fewer voters, and some speculated that skeptical, disenchanted voters might stay home.
The head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council says there have been few reports of irregularities in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections, despite several complaints by opposition leaders.
Pro-government council president Tibisay Lucena tells reporters that voting centers opened in record time and that problems with electricity and voting machines have been few and far between.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has presented a different picture.
He says 11,000 Venezuelans slated to cast ballots at one voting center in Miranda have been sent to a different site that does not have the capacity to handle such a large number.
Others are being relocated to sites that require voters to walk considerable distances, sometimes in unsafe areas.
The CNE relocated more than 200 voting centers, citing security concerns.
President Nicolas Maduro says in a newly released video that Venezuelans should vote in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections to show the nation has a “vigorous democracy.”
Hundreds have been lined up at some voting centers in Miranda, a state surrounding the nation’s capital. But other polling sites had very few people arriving to vote.
Polls indicate the opposition has a chance to gain the majority of governorships for the first time in nearly two decades of socialist government. But Maduro says they’ll still be subordinate to a pro-government assembly that is re-writing the constitution.
Opposition leaders complain the government-friendly National Electoral Council moved more than 200 voting centers at the last minute, and say several polling sites in opposition-dominant areas opened late.
ATLANTA (AP) — Jay Cutler and the Miami Dolphins finally generated some offense.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons totally fell apart.
The result: a stunning 20-17 victory for the Dolphins.
Cutler threw a pair of touchdown passes, Cody Parkey kicked a pair of field goals and Miami rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit, rekindling memories of Atlanta’s epic collapse against New England in the Super Bowl.
And next up for the Falcons — a rematch against the Patriots.
“It’s tough,” Atlanta linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. said. “We experienced that feeling before in the Super Bowl.”
Ryan, who had five interceptions in the two previous games, threw another crucial pick with the Falcons in position to at least attempt a tying field goal.
Cordrea Tankersley got a hand on a pass intended for Austin Hooper and Reshad Jones swooped in to make the game-clinching interception inside the 10 with 39 seconds remaining.
“I kept my eyes on the ball and made a great play,” Jones said. “This was a huge win for us against a great offense.”
The Falcons don’t look so great at the moment.
Ryan is just one interception away from his total for all of last season, when he was the league’s MVP.
“I understood we were in field goal range to tie the game. I also understood that we had plenty of time on the clock,” Ryan said of the final possession.
“It was a throw I felt good about, so I let it rip. Just a good play by them. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.”
Parkey put the Dolphins (3-2) ahead for the first time with 2:30 remaining, booting a 38-yard field goal after a gutsy play by receiver Jarvis Landry, who was hit by six players but still managed to power ahead for a crucial first down.
Cutler, who struggled in his first four games as the Dolphins’ fill-in starter after putting off retirement, completed 19 of 33 for 151 yards, including scoring passes to Landry and Kenny Stills. Jay Ajayi had a big game on the ground, rushing for 130 yards.
“We can’t be satisfied with this game,” Cutler said. “This is a one-week business.”
The Falcons (3-2) appeared headed for an easy victory, especially against a team that had scored only three offensive touchdowns all season.
Marvin Hall, promoted a day earlier from the practice squad because of an injury to starting receiver Mohamed Sanu, hauled in a 40-yard touchdown with his first career reception . Tevin Coleman scored on a 6-yard run, and Matt Bryant had a 50-yard field goal.
Cutler failed to complete a pass longer than 12 yards over the first two quarters and was picked off by Deion Jones late in the half.
But the Dolphins totally turned things around in the second half, taking advantage of two huge mistakes by the Falcons.
“Today was the first time the offense kind of gave the defense a little hope,” said Miami coach Adam Gase, whose team endured a tumultuous week after offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned Monday when a video surfaced that appeared to show him snorting a white powder while sweet-talking a Las Vegas model.
A silly roughing-the-quarterback penalty on Grady Jarrett negated another interception by Jones deep in Atlanta territory, and Miami scored two plays later when Cutler flipped a 7-yard touchdown pass to Landry.
The Falcons also botched a punt with a snap that may have struck the up-back. Matt Bosher picked it up and was dumped far short of the first down, setting up the Dolphins to drive for Parkey’s 49-yard field goal, which tied the game at 17 with 8½ minutes remaining.
Miami opened the second half with its most impressive drive, a 15-play, 75-yard effort that ended with Cutler’s 11-yard scoring pass to Stills .
“This one hurts,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “For us to be the team we can be, we’ve got to be more consistent.”
The Falcons have been outscored 72-40 after halftime this season.
That lack of a finishing touch has led to two straight home losses.
In their previous game, the Falcons squandered a 10-7 halftime edge against the Buffalo Bills and lost 23-17.
This was much worse.
Atlanta managed only 106 yards and five first downs in the second half. Ryan finished 24 of 35 for 248 yards, but just 97 yards came after halftime.
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey went out in the second quarter with a possible concussion and didn’t return.
Dolphins: Return home to face the New York Jets for the second time this season. The AFC East rivals met in Week 2, with the Jets prevailing 20-6.
Falcons: Travel to New England for a primetime rematch against the Patriots, who rallied from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl to win in overtime.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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NEW YORK (AP) — Trailing again 2-0 in the postseason, these young New York Yankees remain even keeled going into Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros.
“I don’t know if it’s maturity or just being dumb,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said Sunday.
At 36 the old man of the pitching staff, Sabathia will pitch Monday surrounded by a starting lineup that includes Baby Bombers Aaron Judge (25), Gary Sanchez (24) and Greg Bird (24).
Houston, two wins from its first World Series appearance since 2005, starts 33-year-old right-hander Charlie Morton, who grew up in Connecticut rooting for the Yankees. He remembered getting Joe Girardi’s autograph at spring training and his family spotting Derek Jeter at a Bahama Breeze restaurant, an especially exhilarating experience for his sister, Jennie.
“She walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, can I have a picture with you?’ And he said, ‘Only if you smile,'” Morton recalled.
After a pair of 2-1 games in Houston, the series shifted to the Bronx and the Astros worked out at Yankee Stadium, where New York went 51-30 during the regular season. Houston won the 2015 AL wild-card game in the Bronx by a 3-0 score.
“It will be the biggest game of my career,” said Morton, who didn’t get a decision against Boston in Game 4 of the Division Series.
While Judge, Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combined to go 2 for 22 in the first two games of the series, Astros stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa went 8 for 15. Reaching the best-of-seven LCS is new for most players on both teams, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch thinks his players are motivated by doing well for each other.
“Maybe we don’t sense sort of the magnitude of these moments because this is us, who we are, how we are,” he said.
New York seeks inspiration from its comeback last week from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five Division Series against Cleveland, which led the AL with 102 wins — one more than Houston. Girardi said New York’s streaky nature during the season also bred confidence. The Yankees started 38-23, opening a four-game AL East lead, lost 19 of their next 26, then rebounded to finish 91-71 and earn the top wild card.
“Guys started to understand that you have to be resilient in this game,” the manager said. “You’re going to have really tough losses and you have to learn to bounce back.”
He also thought back to his playing days on the 1996 Yankees, outscored 16-1 by Atlanta in the opening two games of the World Series. New York swept the next four to win the first of its five titles with Jeter and reliever Marino Rivera.
“There were a lot of young players that played important roles, mostly Mariano and Derek,” Girardi said. “The message then was go win one, one game, and see where we’re at. And that’s the same message.”
Sabathia was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts following Yankees’ losses during the regular season and didn’t get decisions against the Indians in New York’s Game 2 loss or Game 5 win. Given a relief corps that includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle, Sabathia doesn’t worry about pitching deep.
“I’ll go out and do my thing and let the bullpen clean up my mess,” Sabathia said.
Morton follows Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, whose stellar starts were the primary factor in the Yankees’ 27 strikeouts over the two games. Morton recalled going to the old Stadium across 161st Street and also looking on at a Roger Clemens bullpen session during spring training.
“When I was little, I remember really wanting a Don Mattingly rookie card, and I never got it,” he said.
Morton missed most of 2016 with a hamstring injury, left Philadelphia last offseason to sign with Houston as a free agent and went 14-7. He limited left-handed batters to a .172 average, down from .258 in 2016, and attributed his improvement to a talk in a Citi Field video room last year with Phillies pitching coaches Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, who advised he throw more curveballs to lefties and fewer sinkers.
Morton’s percentage of flyballs among balls in play rose from 21.5 percent two years ago to 29 percent this year. And just like the old ballpark, new Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right, transforming flyouts elsewhere into home runs.
“It might be present in the back of my mind, but I don’t think it would overly dictate the way that I throw,” Morton said.
NOTES: Yankees DHs are 0 for 27 in the postseason, but Girardi isn’t thinking about starting Ronald Torreyes there instead of Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury or Matt Holliday. “It’s not something he’s accustomed to doing,” Girardi said. … Brad Peacock or Lance McCullers will start Game 4 for Houston, and Sonny Gray for the Yankees.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Tom Brady’s record-setting victory was hardly smooth and easy. It also wasn’t the prettiest of his 187 regular-season wins.
Brady, who broke a tie with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, had to rally the New England Patriots from a two-touchdown deficit in the first half before holding on for a 24-17 win over the New York Jets on Sunday to claim first place in the AFC East.
“I wish we had done better, but we won,” said Brady, who was limited early in the week with a sore left shoulder. “Probably a lot to learn from it. I wish we could have played better offensively. We got down early and came back. A good series before the half. We hung in there at the end.”
The Patriots (4-2) were playing their first game in 10 days after beating Tampa Bay 19-14 on Oct. 5, and appeared a bit rusty early as they fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter against the surprising Jets (3-3).
“This was something we needed,” said safety Devin McCourty, who had an interception. “We haven’t played particularly well in the fourth quarter. I thought this was big for us as a team to win when we had to play well in the fourth quarter.”
New York had a chance to tie the game after getting the ball back with 1:53 remaining, but the Patriots’ 32nd-ranked overall defense held on — forcing Josh McCown to throw incomplete on a desperation heave on fourth-and-16 from the Patriots 49, and ending the Jets’ three-game winning streak.
“The mood in this locker room,” running back Matt Forte said, “is we gave the game away.”
Brady, who already had the NFL mark for total victories, was visibly frustrated early, but got going in this one just before halftime as the Patriots tied it at 14 with 9 seconds left in the second quarter on a 2-yard TD catch by Rob Gronkowski .
Brady then marched the Patriots down the field on their opening drive of the second half, going eight plays and 75 yards to give New England its first lead at 21-14 with a 33-yard pass to Gronkowski .
Brady finished 20 of 38 for 257 yards with two touchdowns to Gronkowski and an interception. Dion Lewis also had a 1-yard TD run.
“Every time he gets mad, you know he’s in the game,” said Gronkowski, who missed the last game with a thigh injury. “It gets you fired up. Sometimes you get scared you got him fired up.”
After Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal made it 24-14 50 seconds into the fourth quarter, New York appeared to make it a one-score game again on its next possession as Austin Seferian-Jenkins took a short pass from McCown and reached over the goal line for a 4-yard touchdown .
But officials reviewed the score and said the video replay showed that Seferian-Jenkins slightly lost control of the ball when Malcolm Butler nudged it loose as the tight end was crossing the plane of the goal line. Seferian-Jenkins didn’t regain control until after he had stepped out of bounds, resulting in a touchback — despite the ball never hitting the ground. That gave the Patriots back the ball, with the Jets’ sideline irate.
“I feel like I scored,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “But at the end of the day, that’s what the refs called. I’m going to go with what the refs said. But I’ve got to have better ball security.”
Jets wide receiver Jermaine Kearse was less diplomatic: “I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to look back and say that was a B.S. call.”
Added McCourty: “We felt the ball was juggled a little bit, but I didn’t know which way it was going to go. As a defense, we’ll take it any day.”
But after the Patriots went three-and-out, the Jets were able to cut it to a one-score game on Chandler Catanzaro’s 28-yard field goal with 3:40 left. But their last-minute comeback attempt fell short.
The Jets talked all week about starting faster and McCown got things going right away in this one, capping a 13-play, 88-yard opening drive with a 1-yard TD pass to Seferian-Jenkins. They converted three third-down situations on the drive.
The Patriots’ second possession ended on a fumble by Mike Gillislee, and New York turned that into another score. McCown floated a pass over the outstretched arms of Butler and right to Jeremy Kerley, who leaped over the cornerback to snatch the ball and then skipped into the end zone untouched to make it 14-0.
It marked the first time New England trailed by 14 or more in the first half since Week 4 of the 2014 season at Kansas City.
Gostkowski was wide right on a 47-yard attempt in the second quarter — his first miss after making 12 straight. … McCown finished 31 of 47 for 354 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. … Seferian-Jenkins had a career-high eight catches for 46 yards.
The Patriots have won six of the last seven meetings with the Jets and 11 of the last 13. They have also won 11 straight road games, the second-best streak in team history since they won 12 in a row from 2006-08.
Patriots: home vs. Atlanta in a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl.
Jets: at Miami next Sunday.
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