West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton, who was appointed by newly-elected Democratic Gov. Jim Justice earlier this month, has fired the agency's environmental advocate, Wendy Radcliff, and its communications director, Kelley Gillenwater. The Charleston Gazette-Mailreported the firings and said the plan to fill both positions is unclear. The move to fire Radcliff was reportedly met with criticism by the state's environmental organizations. The Office of Environmental Advocate works as a liaison between the agency and the public to hold it accountable. Gillenwater had served as communications director for about three years and had earned a reputation for responsiveness among the news media. Prior to his appointment, Caperton worked as a consultant for the coal industry. He has asked agency personnel to submit cost-cutting ideas. The state faces a 2017-2018 budget deficit of about $400 million.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has been named chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy. Gardner served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during the 114th Congress, and on the House Energy and Commerce Committee during his previous tenure in the House of Representatives. The subcommittee's jurisdiction includes oversight, legislative and regulatory responsibilities for energy production and distribution and research and development for new technologies.