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Trump’s Latest Plan to Undo Obama’s Legacy May Be Illegal

Mother Jones

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Sixteen presidents have cemented their legacies by designating new public lands and national monuments, a power granted to them under the 1906 Antiquities Act. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, wants to go in the opposite direction: If he actually follows through on his threat to reverse any monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, he’d be the first commander-in-chief to revoke a monument designated by a predecessor. He’d also be stretching the legal authority of his office beyond what Congress ever granted.

Trump’s latest executive order, which he’ll sign at the Interior on Wednesday, directs the department to review 24 monument designations dating back to January 1996. The oldest monument under review is the 1996 Grand Staircase-Escalante monument; the most recent is Bears Ears, a twin rock formation that was President Obama’s last designation. (Both are southern Utah monuments criticized by local and state officials who oppose federal land control and want to keep the areas open for mining, logging, and grazing.) Everything in between, including Obama’s record 554 million acres of land and ocean set aside, will be up for review until August 24, 120 days from when Trump signs the executive order. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will then recommend legislative or executive changes to monument designations. Trump’s next actions could include shrinking them or revoking their designation entirely.

While Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are expected to top Trump’s list, environmentalists don’t think the review will stop there. “An attack on one monument is an attack on all of them,” says Dan Hartinger, the Wilderness Society’s deputy director for Parks and Public Lands Defense.

But as Zinke, a self-described Teddy Roosevelt conservationist, admitted on a White House press call on Tuesday night, it’s “untested whether the president can do that.”

That’s because no president has even tried to revoke a national monument since 1938, when President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to reverse Calvin Coolidge’s designation of the Castle Pinckney National Monument in South Carolina. The attorney general at the time, however, decided that the Act “does not authorize the President to abolish national monuments after they have been established.” In the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Congress again affirmed that only it had the power to revoke or modify national monuments, says Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado Law professor and expert on the Antiquities Act.

Some presidents have managed to shrink monuments. Woodrow Wilson, for example, shrunk Washington State’s Mt. Olympus National Monument to open up more than 300,000 acres to logging, but he didn’t face lawsuits over the decision as Trump almost certainly will.

Congress has the power to reverse these monuments and has done so in the past, but Republicans in favor of the idea may be wary of the political backlash they would face with such a move. When Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) attempted to introduce legislation transferring 3 million acres of federal lands to states, he drew so much criticism from constituents he back-tracked.

For months, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has lobbied the White House to use executive action to reverse Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears monument. The Trump administration and Bishop claim that monuments cost local communities jobs by limiting grazing acreage and logging—though proponents argue that tourism and recreation resulting from the monument declaration have also boosted jobs.

Trump’s executive order isn’t breaking any laws yet—but as he continues down the path to reverse public lands decisions from the Obama and Clinton administrations, environmentalists are already counting on challenging him in court, says the Wilderness Society’s Hartinger. “By reversing protections on a single monument you leave open the question if any of them are permanent.”

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Trump’s Latest Plan to Undo Obama’s Legacy May Be Illegal

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

Mother Jones

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Modern hog farms make pungent neighbors. In North Carolina’s hog-wild Duplin county, an average-sized operation holds more than 7,000 pigs, each generating about 10 times the fecal waste of a person. This massive manure gusher falls through slats and is shunted into open cesspools, known, rather delicately, as “lagoons.” When the pits reach capacity, the untreated fecal slurry is sprayed onto nearby farmland as fertilizer.

A recent analysis of satellite data by Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half mile of a CAFO or a manure pit. In Duplin County alone, more than 12,000 people—about a fifth of the county’s population—live within sniffing distance of one of these fragrant facilities, EWG found. A growing body of research, summarized here, shows that these operations “pollute local ground and surface water,” and “routinely emit air pollutants that negatively impact the quality of life and health of nearby residents.” High levels of the air-borne toxins hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety, research shows.

The NC legislature is working to stick it to the very people who live under these conditions. Bills are pending in the state House and Senate that would severely limit the amount money that can be awarded in lawsuits by property owners who live near “agricultural or forestry operations.” If the bills pass, people who live near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) will be barred from suing hog growers for making it deeply unpleasant and even dangerous to hang out outside, open their windows, hand their clothes out to dry, etc.

The legislation amounts to a move to protect the state’s powerful hog interests and maintain a classic example of environmental injustice, says Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She calls the push to limit these nuisance lawsuits a “direct attack on people’s Constitutional rights.” She points to a 2014 paper by University of North Carolina researchers finding that North Carolina’s hog CAFOs “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents.”

As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, the operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents—and starting in the early 1980s, experienced a massive CAFO boom. In Duplin County alone, hog CAFOs now churn out 2.3 million million hogs annually—more than 30 for every one of the county’s 60,000 residents, and more than were raised in the entire state as recently as 1982.

The bills’ sponsors openly seek to protect a company called Murphy-Brown from about two dozen pending lawsuits by filed by people who live near hig facilities. Murphy-Brown is the hog-raising subsidiary of pork-processing giant Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese state-owned firm WH Holdings, which calls Smithfield the “largest port company in the world.” As originally written, House Bill 467 would have applied even to those pending suits. Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the retired hog farmer who sponsored the House bill, called complaints about the operations “at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies,” and accused plaintiffs of “being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers, The Raleigh News and Observer reports.

According to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Durham-based weekly IndyWeek, “over the course of his career Dixon has received more than $115,000 from Big Pork,” including $36,250 from “donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that this legislation would effectively negate.”

In a 2014 Mother Jones piece on the origin of those suits, Bridget Huber reported from the ground:

“It’s like being held prisoner,” says Elsie Herring, a Middleton and Speer client from Wallace, North Carolina in Duplin County, who has been dealing with hog stench for years. The odor means her family can no longer enjoy sitting on the porch, having cookouts, or even hanging laundry on the line. “We were here before the pork industry even came in here, so what about our rights?” she asks. “It’s as if we have none.”

Earlier this month, Dixon’s bill passed the NC House—but with an amendment exempting pending lawsuits from the restrictions on damages. Its companion bill, SB 460, remains under consideration by the NC Senate, and it still contains the provision that would essentially nullify existing lawsuits. North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s Muhammad says it’s anyone’s guess whether the legislation will make into law. After all, this is a state that recently repealed one odious “bathroom bill” under pressure, only to replace it with “new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad,” as Mother Jones’ Ashley Dejean recently reported. “We’re in a fix here in North Carolina,” Muhammad told me. “It’s just one bad thing coming from the legislature after another.”

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

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Jason Chaffetz Is Fleeing Scandal—But Maybe Not His Own

Mother Jones

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Jason Chaffetz is so ambitious that his last name is a verb.

In the political world, to Chaffetz means to throw a former mentor under the bus in order to get ahead, and various prominent Republicans, from former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have experienced what it’s like to get Chaffetzed. But the five-term Utah Republican and powerful chairman of the House oversight committee shocked Washington on Wednesday when he announced he would not seek reelection in 2018 or run for any other political office that year in order to spend more time with his family.

“I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins,” he said in a statement. “I have the full support of Speaker Paul Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”

His surprise announcement has fueled speculation of a possible scandal, though Chaffetz told Politico there’s nothing to the rumors about a skeleton in his closet: “I’ve been given more enemas by more people over the last eight years than you can possibly imagine… If they had something really scandalous, it would’ve come out a long, long time ago.”

Top House Republican Won’t Respond to Call to Probe Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Chaffetz, who on Thursday said he might not finish out his term, has been considered a contender for Utah governor in 2020 and perhaps one day for the presidency. But the early days of the Trump administration haven’t been easy for him. The once-brash congressional inquisitor has twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he hasn’t been investigating President Trump, the most conflict-ridden commander-in-chief in modern US history. And the 50-year-old congressman has experienced an unexpected level of outrage in his own deep red district.

By heading back to the private sector Chaffetz risks lowering his public profile, which could impede any gubernatorial effort. No one knows this better than Chaffetz, who sought the spotlight in DC and who built a career in public relations before running for Congress in 2008.

But Chaffetz’s rise in politics was hardly conventional, and it was aided by a publicist’s eye for reputational pitfalls and opportunities. His curious retreat should not lead any political observers to count him out of future contests. In fact, it’s probably best interpreted as a sign that he’s very carefully planning his political future—not abandoning it.

From the beginning, Chaffetz didn’t chart an obvious path to political power. The great-grandson of Russian immigrants, he was born in California and raised Jewish. He converted to Mormonism during his college years at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church-owned school where he played on the football team as a place kicker.

Chaffetz majored in business and minored in communications, and after graduating he went to work for a local multilevel marketing company—think Amway—called Nu Skin, where he worked in PR. At the time that he joined, the company had some pretty significant public-relations needs. It was facing class-action lawsuits and investigations by state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission, all related to allegations that the company was operating as a pyramid scheme. (The company has been Chaffetz’s biggest campaign donor.)

Chaffetz spent more than a decade at Nu Skin before leaving the company abruptly in 2000 without any obvious next stop. He worked briefly in the coal industry, unsuccessfully applied to join the Secret Service, and eventually started a marketing firm with his brother called Maxtera.

In 2004, when Jon Huntsman Jr. ran for Utah governor, Chaffetz volunteered for his campaign; Chaffetz, whose mother died of breast cancer in 1995, says he was impressed with the work Huntsman had done to advance cancer treatment. Huntsman eventually asked Chaffetz to become his campaign’s communications director, and then his campaign manager. When Huntsman won the election, he appointed Chaffetz as his chief of staff. But Chaffetz only lasted a year in the job.

For the next two years, Chaffetz doggedly laid the groundwork to challenge Chris Cannon, a six-term incumbent Republican congressman—a politician whose campaigns Chaffetz had previously volunteered for. Cannon, who hailed from a well-connected political family, was conservative, but he was firmly in the Republican camp that supported immigration reform. This stance put him in the crosshairs of anti-immigration activists, as well as the grassroots agitators who would become members of the tea party. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin dubbed Cannon a “shamnesty Republican.”

Chaffetz saw an opening, and he was aided by the somewhat arcane system through which Utah Republicans, until recently, selected their congressional candidates. Districts elected about 4,000 delegates, who in turn voted for their desired candidates at the state party’s convention. The top two winners moved on to the primary, unless one marshaled 60 percent of the vote, in which case that person became the GOP nominee. The system, it turned out, was well suited to a poorly funded upstart like Chaffetz, who could initially concentrate on winning a small group of delegates rather than tens of thousands of voters.

When Chaffetz decided to run, he invited Kirk Jowers, then the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, to breakfast. Jowers was a veteran of dozens of GOP campaigns and Chaffetz asked him if he’d help with his long-shot race against Cannon. “I said no,” Jowers recalls. “He then asked, ‘Would you be willing to be part of the campaign in any capacity?’ I said no. He said, ‘Do you think I have any chance to win?’ and I said no. He said, ‘Do you mind if I just give you a call to talk about politics and policy?’ and I said no. I couldn’t have been worse to him,” Jowers says with a laugh.

But Chaffetz persisted, calling Jowers every two weeks for the next year and a half to update him on his progress. The former place-kicker campaigned largely on a harsh, anti-immigration platform. With an army of volunteer staffers, he worked each delegate heading to the convention—twisting arms and otherwise persuading them to vote for him, though he refused to succumb to the long-standing tradition of plying them with free food. Jowers slowly realized that the determined upstart actually had a shot.

Chaffetz’s lobbying blitz was overlooked by most polls, which until the GOP convention put him at a mere 3 percent in the race, a number so small he didn’t qualify to participate in the GOP’s televised debate. When the moderator asked Jowers afterward how he thought the debate went, Jowers responded, “It was great, except you didn’t have the one who was going to win.”

Jowers was right: Chaffetz won the convention, gaining nearly 60 percent of the delegate vote and very nearly knocking out Cannon in the first round. He went on to handily beat Cannon in the primary, even though the incumbent had a more than 4-to-1 spending advantage and had been endorsed by virtually the entire Republican establishment, including then-President George W. Bush. The loss so angered Cannon that he reportedly refused to talk to Chaffetz during the transition.

Barely had Chaffetz been elected to his first term in the House when he registered a new domain name: ChaffetzforSenate.com.

Even before he was sworn in, Chaffetz managed to vault himself from the House’s backbench into the national spotlight, albeit through an unusual route: leg wrestling Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report. The goofy segment—the type of unscripted moment that politicians typically avoid—was the beginning of a media charm offensive that would make Chaffetz popular among journalists, whom he cultivated assiduously by passing out his personal cellphone number to reporters and accepting almost any interview request. It’s all about “old-fashioned human relationships,” he told National Journal in 2015. “You’ve got to get out there and invest the time. Work with the media!” (Apparently that rule doesn’t apply to Mother Jones. Chaffetz told me twice that he’d be happy to sit for an interview for this story but then never made himself available.)

The freshman congressman also scored an early PR coup by starring in a short-lived show, Freshman Year, produced by CNN on incoming members of Congress. He was shown unfolding a cot in his office, a sign of his commitment to living in Utah rather than Washington, DC, where he refused to rent an apartment.

Even as he courted reporters and TV bookers, Chaffetz warned the GOP establishment that his election was a warning sign. In the online diary that accompanied the CNN show, Chaffetz recounted how, during his first weeks in office in January 2009, he had gotten up before a House Republican strategy session and told the assembled members, “I am your worst nightmare.” He explained how the advent of social media had allowed him to bypass the mainstream media and, with very little funding, knock off an establishment candidate.

Chaffetz’s reading of the political winds proved prescient. His election foreshadowed the rise of the tea party movement that took over the GOP in 2010, prompting the ouster of many more incumbent Republicans, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.

Watch Jason Chaffetz Tell Poor Americans to Choose Between iPhones and Health Care

By 2011, it looked like Chaffetz was going to need that ChaffetzforSenate.com web address. He was talking openly of challenging his state’s most venerable senior statesman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, currently the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. Despite his powerful position in Washington, Hatch was vulnerable at home. Polls showed Chaffetz had a decent chance. And another upstart tea party conservative, Mike Lee, had just knocked off the state’s other elder Republican senator, Bob Bennett, by challenging him from the right.

For months, Chaffetz held meetings and events that gave every impression he planned to challenge Hatch. The Salt Lake Tribune declared that Chaffetz had even picked a date to unveil his candidacy, September 27. But shortly before Labor Day, Chaffetz hastily organized a press conference and announced that he would not run for Senate. He said the race would be a “multimillion-dollar bloodbath” and that he’d rather spend the next 18 months doing the job he was elected to do. Still, even as he put himself out of contention, he jabbed Hatch, declaring the Utah congressional delegation “dysfunctional” and lacking leadership from the senior senator.

Tim Chambless, a University of Utah political-science professor, says the announcement caught many in Utah off guard. “That has been mystifying to us.” It suggested that something in Chaffetz’s well-laid plans had gone seriously awry.

Ultimately, Chaffetz may have underestimated Hatch, whose mild-mannered exterior belies a ruthless political operator. There’s a reason he’s served longer than any Republican senator since Strom Thurmond. Cherilyn Eagar a conservative Republican activist and local talk radio host who lives in Chaffetz’s district, echoes what various sources told me. She says Utah political insiders suspect “the Hatch campaign had gotten heavy-handed. There was a bit of information they were going to disclose if he ran. Things were going to get ugly.” (Hatch’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

Instead of running against Hatch, Chaffetz stapled himself to Mitt Romney, serving as a regular campaign surrogate for the failed GOP presidential nominee, whom he endorsed over his former mentor, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Chaffetz, now running for reelection in 2012, quickly found other ways to nab the spotlight. Before the FBI had secured the Benghazi compound following the September 11 attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Chaffetz demanded to visit the scene in his capacity as the chairman of the House oversight subcommittee on national security and foreign operations. He dashed off to Libya less than a month later—without any Democrats, as the oversight committee’s policy dictates—to supposedly conduct an independent investigation.

The closest he got to the crime scene was Tripoli, 400 miles away. Chaffetz, who had previously voted to cut $300 million from the State Department’s budget for embassy security, claimed the purpose of his trip was to discern whether the Obama administration had denied requests for more security for the Benghazi compound. He uncovered little of substance, other than discovering that the State Department was a bit lax in allowing neighbors to throw trash over the embassy wall in Tripoli. The overeager gumshoe also managed to disclose the existence of a secret CIA base on the Benghazi compound during a subsequent hearing on the attacks.

Chaffetz’s Benghazi grandstanding helped to make him a right-wing hero, but it didn’t earn him the spot he desired on the select committee created by the Republican-led Congress in 2014 to investigate the Benghazi attacks.

By then, Chaffetz had already set his sights higher. He launched a campaign to win the chairmanship of the House oversight committee, then run by the bellicose Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose term on the panel was expiring in 2015. Issa had seen potential in Chaffetz and had helped him early in his congressional career by making him the chairman of the national security subcommittee. Chaffetz wasn’t in line for the oversight job by seniority, so launching a bid for this plumb post—a platform for politicians seeking to grab headlines—took some chutzpah.

Within the Republican caucus, Chaffetz campaigned for the chairmanship as the anti-Issa, implicitly critiquing the oversight chairman’s combative style and suggesting that he could bring to the committee an element of media savvy that Issa lacked. Once again, Chaffetz stabbed a mentor in the back and won. In 2015, he became one of the most junior members of the House ever to chair the high-profile committee.

“Do Your Job!” Hundreds of People Shout Down Jason Chaffetz Over Lack of Trump Probe

After assuming the chairmanship, one of his first moves was taking down the portraits of past chairmen, including Issa, that hung in the hearing room. Issa was not pleased. “It’s not a big deal, but it’s just indicative of what his mindset was and how self-centered he is,” says Kurt Bardella, who worked for Issa as the committee’s spokesman. Fellow lawmakers, Bardella notes, were repelled that “Jason would be so willing to throw under the bus someone who really tried to help mentor him, for his own gain.”

Running over people who helped him on the way up was becoming something of a pattern for Chaffetz. He’d chaired the oversight committee for less than year before launching an audacious bid for speaker of the House when John Boehner retired. Aside from being a very junior member of Congress, Chaffetz’s bid for the speakership also meant he would be running against his friend and former champion, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. As House Majority Leader, McCarthy had helped to launch Chaffetz’s rise in the House, dispensing with old seniority rules and working to promote telegenic young legislators, including Chaffetz. Hearing the news about the Chaffetz challenge, Jon Huntsman tweeted: “.@GOPLeader McCarthy just got “Chaffetzed.” Something I know a little something about. #selfpromoter #powerhungry

Chaffetz dropped his bid for speaker after Rep. Paul Ryan was cajoled into entering the race. He returned to his oversight committee work with a renewed zeal, threatening to impeach the head of the IRS over his handling of the nonprofit status of tea party groups and suggesting there might be grounds to remove President Barack Obama from office over Benghazi. He devoted a portion of the oversight committee’s website to enumerating the bureaucrats he claimed to have gotten fired—Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly described this list as a “trophy case.”

Not all his targets have gone quietly into the night. In 2015, Chaffetz launched an investigation into problems with the Secret Service after a pair of drunk senior agents crashed a car into a White House barricade. Not long afterward, the Daily Beast reported that Chaffetz had been a wannabe agent himself prior to his career in politics but his application had been rejected in favor of a “BQA,” or “better qualified applicant”—a revelation leaked from inside the agency. Chaffetz told the Daily Beast that he believed he was rejected because he was too old. (He was in his mid-30s at the time, and the agency cutoff for agents was 37.)

A later investigation found that more than 45 people within the Secret Service had taken a look at his protected personnel file. Referring to the file, then-Assistant Director Edward Lowery emailed another director that March, saying, “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.”

The election of Donald Trump seriously interfered with Chaffetz’s plans.

During the campaign, Chaffetz couldn’t make up his mind about the GOP nominee. After audio of Trump bragging about sexual assault during an Access Hollywood taping was published, Chaffetz disavowed the real estate mogul. “I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine,” Chaffetz said. “My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person.” But Chaffetz soon reversed his stance, writing on Twitter that he’d still be voting for Trump. “HRC is that bad,” he wrote. “HRC is bad for the USA.”

HRC, a.k.a. Hillary Rodham Clinton, would have been good for Chaffetz’s political fortunes, however. He had been expecting to use his remaining tenure on the oversight committee, which expired in 2019, tormenting President Clinton. The month before the 2016 election, Chaffetz told the Washington Post that Clinton had provided him with “a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up.”

But after Trump won, Chaffetz seemed slow to acclimate to the new political environment. The day of Trump’s inauguration, Chaffetz Instagrammed a screen grab from Fox News, showing him shaking hands with Clinton at the ceremony. Under the photo he wrote, “So pleased she is not the President. I thanked her for her service and wished her luck. The investigation continues.”

The post—which earned him widespread scorn—may have been the first sign that Chaffetz was misreading the national mood and especially the attitudes of his largely Mormon constituents. While they largely disliked Clinton—she won a mere 23 percent of the vote in his district—they also harbored concerns about Trump, whose ethical conflicts and curious associations with Russia were rapidly piling up.

On February 9, Chaffetz got a wake-up call when he returned to Utah for a town hall, where he was besieged by a hostile, heckling crowd, shouting “Do your job,” and “We want to get rid you.” These listening sessions are typically subdued affairs, but this one drew hundreds of angry constituents, who demanded to know why the chairman of the House oversight committee was not doing more to investigate President Trump. (A pair of Utah Republicans recently bought a billboard on the highway to Chaffetz’s Utah office that asks, “Why won’t Chaffetz investigate the Trump-Russia connection?”)

So pleased she is not the President. I thanked her for her service and wished her luck. The investigation continues.

A post shared by Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:31pm PST

Chaffetz, who during the Obama administration reveled in launching headline-grabbing investigations, suddenly seemed reluctant to unleash his committee’s typically aggressive investigative powers. Trump’s conflicts of interest, he claimed, fell largely outside his jurisdiction. “I know it’s surprising and frustrating to Democrats, but the president is exempt from these conflicts of interest,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. As for the Russia connections, particularly those related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Chaffetz said there was no need to further probe Flynn because he’d been fired. “It’s taking care of itself.”

“He is in an unenviable position,” Chris Karpowitz, a political-science professor at Brigham Young University, told me weeks before Chaffetz’s surprise announcement that he was giving up his seat. “He’s still trying to figure out what his role is in a government in which Republicans control everything. I think he used the fact that he could investigate an administration of an opposing party to his advantage during the Obama years that allowed him to be in front of the cameras repeatedly, and to be seen as pursuing the interests of the Republican Party. But I think what has people, or at least some people, in his district concerned is the appearance of a double standard, that he was very eager to investigate Hillary Clinton and has been extremely hesitant to pursue serious questions about the Trump administration.”

Chaffetz’s district is one of the reddest in the nation, and he’s used to being popular at home. He was reelected last November with nearly 75 percent of the vote. But after four easy reelection campaigns, his poll numbers have plunged to their lowest levels ever. Before he announced that he would not seek reelection, opponents on his left and the right were lining up to take him on. Trump nemesis Rosie O’Donnell recently donated $2,700—the maximum allowed by law—to Chaffetz’s Democratic opponent, Kathryn Allen, giving her fledgling campaign a Twitter boost that has helped Allen rake in more than $500,000 in contributions. The former independent presidential candidate, Evan McMullin, who launched his anti-Trump effort in Utah, had suggested he might consider challenging Chaffetz or Hatch.

Even so, Chaffetz would likely prevail in a reelection bid. But that doesn’t mean the next two years would be a breeze for the ambitious congressman.

“I told him on election night that he just miraculously had gone to having the best job in America to the worst job in America, and that has been prophetic,” says Utah political expert Kirk Jowers, who now serves as a corporate vice president for doTERRA, a Provo-based multilevel marketing company. “He has almost the perfect rainbow of hate. Liberals will never think he’s doing enough in that position. And of course the alt-right may think anything he does against President Trump is feeding into this frenzy against their president. It has put him in a place where it’s very tough to do right by anyone.”

The current political atmosphere, in which Republicans control Congress and the White House, mainly holds downsides for Chaffetz, who has flourished as an opposition figure. Historically, the president’s party often suffers big losses in midterm elections, and early signs show that Democrats are gaining momentum in unexpected places, including deep-red Kansas.

Chaffetz, a canny political operator, has surely read the tea leaves, wagering that it is in his best interests to sit out the bruising political fights of the Trump administration’s first term lest Trump bring Chaffetz down with him. Given Chaffetz’s talent for self-promotion, it’s likely that he won’t veer too far from the public eye. Talk on Capitol Hill is that he may take the path of other high-profile members of Congress and nab a lucrative contract with one of the networks, where he can maintain his visibility, build up his bank account, and bide his time for the right moment to get back in the political game. Chaffetz has been less than subtle in hinting he’s interested. “I’d be thrilled to have a television relationship,” Chaffetz told Politico on Thursday.

But even as he announced that he was stepping away from politics, Chaffetz and his supporters seemed to be quietly planning his political future. In early April, his campaign committee registered the domains Jason2028.com and JasonChaffetz2028.com.

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Jason Chaffetz Is Fleeing Scandal—But Maybe Not His Own

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Getting Scientists out of the Lab and Into the Street Is Harder Than It Sounds

Mother Jones

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Caroline Weinberg, Valorie Aquino, and Jonathan Berman met online after Berman, a post-doc in physiology, created a Facebook group and web page to galvanize some of the protest energy among scientists after Trump’s inauguration. The three, who were in New York, New Mexico, and Texas, thought that scientists should organize a march to “call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.” Weinberg, a public health writer and researcher, and Aquino, who was finishing her Ph.D. in anthropology, volunteered to coordinate the planning. Almost overnight, the march became a viral social-media campaign.

The culmination of all their work will occur on Saturday, April 22, when the three volunteer co-chairs of the March for Science will witness the results of their first experiment in grassroots organizing—with anticipated crowds of hundreds of thousands of people in Washington, DC, and satellite marches in some 500 cities around the world, including in the Republican strongholds of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

The experience of pulling together this march, Aquino said, was tantamount to starting an NGO from scratch and immediately having “1 million members and running it with total strangers.” Weinberg told me over the phone in late February that the only reason she was able to get involved was because she “wasn’t working that day” and saw online chatter about the march. “We happened to be at the right place at the right time,” she said.

When they began to organize in January, they envisioned their march to be comparable to the Women’s March: a grassroots campaign that channeled the public’s anger into a productive movement for social change. President Donald Trump’s antipathy to science was clear before he took office, when he declared climate change was a hoax and appointed climate change deniers as his advisers. In just under 100 days as president, Trump has also alienated a much broader swath of the science and academic communities: He’s threatened to pull funding from the University of California-Berkley over anti-Trump protests; he aligned himself with anti-vaccine critics, proposed steep budget cuts to science agencies, wanted to eliminate or downsize science advisers’ role in the government, appointed Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and has sought to roll back agency work based on public health research.

Climate activists, who have organized similar marches since at least 2014, have planned their people’s climate march in DC and in 200 cities around the country one week later. Although the two marches have overlapping constituencies and purpose, those involved in the climate march focus on specific policy demands—fighting climate change—while the science march is vague, championing more public engagement, evidence-based policies, and science research. But during the evolution of the science march, the organizers have been forced to face some unexpected realities about the community it’s engaging. Weinberg noted the “origin story” of the march is the narrative of “unbelievable sprawling grassroots nature.”

Aquino and Weinberg had more flexible schedules (Berman worked nine-hour shifts in his post-doc) to fit into their suddenly packed days and were able to put their other priorities on hold. Aquino postponed finishing her Ph.D. a few months ahead of schedule, and Weinberg stopped her freelance income in order to dive into planning the big picture and wrestling with the many logistics of permits, volunteer coordination, and march routes. Less than a month after Berman started the March for Science Facebook group, the three organizers, with the help of about 40 volunteers, had cobbled together a hasty, decentralized infrastructure for the online platforms and hundreds of satellite marches that popped up. They added more experienced organizers who created a database—what Weinberg calls “some kind of magic program”—to locate volunteers with the skills to address inevitable fires and the daily tasks, such as doing outreach to high schools and colleges.

The organizers were not just planning a single march. Their goal was to build a movement of scientists and science-enthusiasts who take a stand when objectivity is under attack. In the process, they have struggled with growing pains, some predating the Trump administration. One is philosophical: What duty do scientists have to participate in a debate that politicizes and misrepresents scientific study? What responsibilities do scientists have as citizens?

For years, Republicans (and occasionally Democrats) have threatened to defund federal research and have resorted to cherry-picking scientific studies that support their conclusions. House Science Chair Lamar Smith has perfected this rejection of inconvenient scientific findings by popularizing the myth of a so-called pause in global warming. But organizers say the debate feels more urgent given this uniquely anti-fact White House and appointed climate change deniers.

“We’re all very nervous about entering into a territory where science is seen as being explicitly political,” Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor, tells Mother Jones, explaining an essay he wrote about the march that was published on NPR. Frank thinks scientists do need to protest but worries that overt politicization is “the worst thing that could happen to science. Last thing we want is science being aligned with one or another political perspective.” He sees that we’ve passed a tipping point of attacks “where scientists don’t know what else to do.”

In January after the inauguration, Robert Young, a coastal geologist, wrote in the New York Times that “trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.”

The organizers of the science march believe it’s their responsibility to wade into politics, but they have tried to balance on the nonpartisan tightrope. “I would actually argue that science is political,” Aquino said. “Scientific integrity goes beyond one person eroding it. It hits across both sides of the aisle and people who aren’t necessarily affiliated with a political party at all.”

Weinberg noted, “If you believe in scientific research and evidence-based policy. You take a stand for that and take a stand for what you believe in.”

Then there is the problem of diversity within the scientific profession. Many of the public figures discussing the march are white men. In some respects, the science march has become a microcosm of the criticism STEM initiatives and academia have received for being far too white and male.

BuzzFeed reported on the time the organizers’ attempted to address concerns about diversity by forming a committee and issuing a diversity mission statement. Conservative outlets, such as the National Review, have seized on these statements to claim the march is much more about the left co-opting science for political gain. Steven Pinker, a best-selling author and Harvard University professor of psychology, gave this faction a boost, tweeting in January that the march “compromises its goals with anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric.”

But the criticism comes from both sides. At least one early collaborator has distanced herself from the march, claiming that disorganization, clashes of vision, and micromanagement left the march doing too little to include diverse voices:

Gill did not return a request to explain further. Aquino had alluded to some infighting in an earlier interview back in February, noting that some of her 18-hour days were as much about handling “some kind of meltdown and crisis” as they were about organizing the big picture. Since then, organizers have brought on more than 200 partners. They range from science celebrities—Bill Nye the Science Guy, for instance—to nonpartisan academic institutions, like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as more overtly political groups, like Tom Steyer’s climate advocacy arm, NextGen Climate. Beyond the dozens of partner organizations, they have put forward a set of basic principles supporting science. They have also managed to raise $1 million for the day’s costs and beyond, by selling merchandise and through sponsorships.

They have all tried to plan the next steps for their newly recruited activists after the march is done. “I’ve never really gotten to step back and really consider all this from a 30,000-foot view,” Aquino said. She hardly expects any overnight change in politics or among scientists, but added, “I’ve never seen such a united front in the science community and science supporters.”

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Getting Scientists out of the Lab and Into the Street Is Harder Than It Sounds

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Scott Pruitt’s New Plan for the EPA Will Destroy Towns Like This One

Mother Jones

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator has found a slogan for his embattled agency’s new direction. Last week, Scott Pruitt announced a #Back2Basics campaign that proposes returning the EPA to its supposed roots: protecting the environment, spurring job growth, and not burdening industry with rules and regulations. Pruitt might see firsthand the problems with this vision on Wednesday when he visits East Chicago, Indiana, a mostly black and Latino city of 29,000 that is home to a Superfund site and a host of other environmental problems.

Local officials, including Indiana’s Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, urged Pruitt to visit the site and address the issues surrounding the cleanup process, which has been lagging for several years. The site is known as USS Lead, referring to the smelting facility that operated there between 1906 and 1985, turning refined copper and lead into batteries and other products and, in the process, contaminating the soil in the area with lead and arsenic. The site was added to the National Priorities list in 2009, which means it’s one of the most polluted sites in the country.

The EPA began conducting soil tests at the site in late 2009 and finally reached a consent decree with the liable companies in 2014. The White House has proposed a cut to funding for the Superfund program, but Pruitt told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in March that he believes it’s vital. But his #Back2Basics plans for the EPA, which includes rolling back regulations for companies, would lead to additional problems in East Chicago. Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice.org said the plan is simply getting rid of “the health and environmental protections we all rely on—protections only the government can provide.”

The pollution from the Superfund site is not the only issue facing the city. In March, the residents of East Chicago signed a petition, urging the agency to address an urgent crisis of lead in the water supply. The EPA sent officials to the city to test the water of the homes near the Superfund site and found that not only were there high levels of lead in the tested homes, but that the contamination was likely city-wide problem; lead pipes and water that had been improperly treated for decades were the culprits. The EPA expressed concern about corrosion control chemicals in the city’s drinking water. During the water tests, the agency asked city officials which chemicals they were using for water treatment and sent emails to city officials with links to a report about why the chemical the city was using was insufficient to protect the water.

“There are a lot of issues,” says Anjali Waikar, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “but we’re also hoping for clear affirmative action from the EPA with respect to the drinking water.”

Marc Edwards, one of the Virginia Tech scientists who researched the water system in Flint, Michigan, said the corrosion control chemical the city began using in 1992 was not effective for preventing lead leaching. He also said the chemical the city began using in 2015 could be worse than having no corrosion control at all. East Chicago Utilities Director Greg Crowley told the Times of Northwest Indiana that it would have been “helpful if the EPA had been more hands-on” in helping the city make the switch to different chemicals.

But federal oversight is not on the EPA’s new agenda. Pruitt criticized the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan as “federal overreach” during his Senate confirmation hearing. In his many lawsuits filed against the EPA when he served as attorney general of Oklahoma, he alleged that the EPA “had acted in excess of the authority granted to it by Congress.”

One of the specific priorities in #Back2Basics is “clearing the backlog of new chemicals” waiting approval from the agency so companies can “innovate and create jobs.” After the White House solicited policy advice from industry leaders on which regulations were impeding their businesses and which should get the ax, nearly half of the 168 submitted comments targeted the EPA. A typical example is from a chemical manufacturing company in Newark, New Jersey, which claims it is being hamstrung by the EPA’s Superfund program. Forty-eight of those comments related to the Clean Air Act and 29 to the Clean Water Act. Before environmental laws, no legal avenue existed to stop companies from polluting the land and water.

Then there are concerns about administration plans to shrink the agency. According to Politico, budget director Mick Mulvaney wanted the EPA to identify two regional offices for closure on June 15. This week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that one of those could be EPA Region 5, which has been plagued with problems, but is the office responsible for flagging improper water treatment in East Chicago.

“Pruitt wants to take the EPA out of the mix and put power back into state and city regulators’ hands,” says Waikar. “But East Chicago is a clear example of how that’s not working.”

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Scott Pruitt’s New Plan for the EPA Will Destroy Towns Like This One

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