Category: Government (Page 1 of 3)

Musician playing in empty Beijing square, mouth and nose covered to protect against the pollution

The GOP’s disHONEST Act against the EPA

Yesterday, the House passed the Honest and Open New EPA Science, or HONEST, Act. Tortured use of acronym aside, this Act is anything but honest.

The GOP claims the act is to force the EPA to provide the raw data behind all of its decisions. However, the primary reason for the Act is to inhibit regulations based, in part, on confidential or proprietary raw data. The Act’s inspiration came from research published in 1993 and known as the Harvard Six Cities Study.

To summarize the Six Cities Study, the research found that people in cities with dirty air were dying sooner than people living in cities with clean air.

This research formed the basis for many of the EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations related to particulate matter. If you can clearly see the skyline of LA now, and breathe its air without a facial mask, thank the authors of the Six Cities Study.

Industries have sought to undermine the science of the Studies since the 1993 publication. To do so, they’ve demanded all the raw data behind the studies, including enough personal medical information to expose the identity of the study participants. As lead researcher, Douglas Dockery, noted in testimony in front of Congress in 1997:

… because it had promised study participants confidentiality, Harvard couldn’t share the raw data from its federally funded Six Cities study.

Is this type of raw data necessary? No.

If study conclusions and medical advancements can only be made from studies where subject identities are exposed, we’d all still be chewing tree bark in order to alleviate our pain.

Congress is still after this data at the behest of industry. In 2013, Representative Smith tried to subpoena the data from the EPA. When the request went unfulfilled, in large part because the EPA didn’t control the raw data, the House passed the first of the HONEST acts. It has attempted to pass the same or similar bill every year since.

Several medical associations, including the American Lung Association, National Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association wrote a letter to Representative Smith expressing their concern about the HONEST bill and its companion, the  EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017. In it, they wrote:

This legislation would limit the kinds of scientific data EPA can use as it develops policy to protect the American public from environmental exposures and permit violation of patient confidentiality. If enacted, the legislation would:

  • Allow the EPA administrator to release confidential patient information to third parties, including industry;
  • Bolster industry’s flawed arguments to discredit research that documents the adverse health effects of environmental pollution; and
  • Impose new standards for the publication and distribution of scientific research that go beyond the robust, existing requirements of many scientific journals.

They further state:

Science, developed by the respected men and women scientists at colleges and universities across the United States, has always been the foundation of the nation’s environmental policy. EPA’s science-based decision-making process has saved lives and led to dramatic improvements in the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth we share. All Americans have benefited from the research based scientific advice that scientists have provided to EPA.

The HONEST Act—not as honest as its sponsor claim—now goes to the Senate. The Senate has not moved on previous iterations of the bill because of a threatened Presidential veto. Unfortunately, we no longer have this protection, as Trump has signaled there is no polluting bill he won’t embrace.

Thankfully, the filibuster is still in place in the Senate, and I fully expect Democrats to exercise it on our behalf. All Democrats…this is one bill where no one gets a pass.

Photo courtesy of DaiLou CC BY 2.0 

 

 

Privacy

They… are watching you

Today, Trump is likely to sign the latest in Congressional Review Act bills, this one to overturn a new FCC rule that would force ISPs to get permission from users to collect and share personal information.

The Senate was the first to toss the privacy rule, followed by the House. The vote was along party lines. Kudos to the Democrats for looking out for us, but the party-line Republican vote was a little surprising considering the number of libertarians among the Republicans. Libertarians have a real thing for privacy. I expect Rand Paul will have some explaining to do the next time he runs for re-election.

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Donald Trump at rally

Groups Challenge Trump’s Terminator two-fer order

NRDC, The Communication Workers of America, and Public Citizen just filed a lawsuit against Trump’s infamous “two-fer” rule. This is the rule I’ve designated the Terminator Rule.

From the lawsuit:

To repeal two regulations for the purpose of adopting one new one, based solely on a directive to impose zero net costs and without any consideration of benefits, is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law, for at least three reasons.

First, no governing statute authorizes any agency to withhold a regulation intended to address identified harms to public safety, health, or other statutory objectives on the basis of an arbitrary upper limit on total costs (for fiscal year 2017, a limit of $0) that regulations may impose on regulated entities or the economy. Second, the Executive Order forces agencies to repeal regulations that they have already determined, through notice-and-comment rulemaking, advance the purposes of the underlying statutes, and forces the agencies to do so for the sole purpose of eliminating costs that the underlying statutes do not direct be eliminated. Third, no governing statute authorizes an agency to base its actions on a decisionmaking criterion of zero net cost across multiple regulations.

The Terminator rule is nonsensical in the extreme and violates all administrative procedure and law when it comes to forming regulations and rules. To instruct agencies to only include costs, not benefits, virtually cripples the federal government.

I have to wonder at this time if Trump even has access to lawyers. If so, where did they get their law degrees? Trump University?

I’ll be following this case on PACER.

Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Dakota pipeline protest

The Army Corps Decision on Dakota has serious ramifications

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday it would approve development of the last section of the Dakota pipeline. In a cryptic letter, the Corps announced it was terminating the Environmental Impact Statement process in the Federal Register. The reason? Trump told them to do so.

As former State Department lawyer Keith Benes said to the Washington Post, the Corps can’t just drop the EIS process for arbitrary reasons. And Trump demanding they do is an arbitrary reason.

Keith Benes, a former State Department lawyer who helped oversee pipeline permitting decisions under the Obama administration and now works as an environmental consultant, said in an interview that opponents could mount a strong legal challenge because the only justification the Army gave for terminating its environmental review was the president’s Jan. 24 directive. The agency had been seeking public input on whether to consider an alternate pipeline route, and the comment period was due to close Feb. 20.

“Supreme Court precedent is really clear that agencies can change their minds about policies, but they need to provide a reason,” Benes said, noting that the justices most recently upheld this position in the 2009 case FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. “The president telling you to change your mind is not enough of a justification for changing your factual finding.”

The Corps decision was sudden and unexpected. The Corps had already filed a notice to the Federal Register asking for comments about the EIS scope, the first step in the process. Until this week, there was absolutely no indication that the Corps was planning on terminating the EIS.

Trump’s administration has completely disregarded environmental law, not to mention tribal rights and treaty in this decision. Yes, the decision can and will be successfully challenged in court. But there’s more at risk than our water with this decision.

All Federal Agencies are bound to follow laws in their actions. One of the laws is the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. Though agencies can follow different routes within the NEPA framework, they can’t work outside of it. Not unless expressly given permission to with other laws. There is no other law at play with the Corps Dakota Pipeline decision.

The Army Corps not only dropkicked NEPA to the curb, they pissed on it in passing. And they did so specifically because of a demand from the Trump administration. The Trump administration action demonstrates either a profound ignorance of a law that has been in existence for decades, or that the administration considers itself not bound by the law. I suspect the latter.

The Executive Branch of the government’s primary duty is to uphold the laws of the United States. Trump cannot just ignore the laws because they don’t suit him. To do so is to introduce a level of chaos we have never seen before in our history.

Photo courtesy Fibonacci Blue CC BY 2.0

Top part of an inspection report

USDA APHIS Inspection Reports posted online

The Memory Hole just posted links to thousands of inspection reports. They’re research facility inspections for 2000 through 2007.

Trump and his minions just don’t understand the way the internet works. If they build a wall, we’ll put a hole into it.

Guaranteed.

When I get any new info from the FOIA request or HSUS’s action, I’ll post an update. If I find more documents, I’ll post a link to this post.

 

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