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Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

Mother Jones

Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general’s nomination is expected to sail through Senate—possibly as soon as Friday—despite Democrats’ protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA’s social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin.

According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar the administration’s roll-out of its widely condemn travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don’t know what, exactly, next week’s orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency’s regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official’s bluster, the actions could “suck the air” out of the room.

Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. “Some very big things are going to be announced next week,” he said. (He didn’t make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)

Former President Barack Obama’s array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists’ hit list. So too is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA’s rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.

“What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty,” said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.

H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow the Heartland Institute, which rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, says Trump could start by revisiting the Obama administration’s efforts to calculate a “social cost of carbon“—and by forbidding its use to determine costs and benefits of government regulations. He also wants to see broader restrictions on how the EPA calculates costs and benefits. In particular, Burnett hopes Trump will prohibit the agency from the considering public health co-benefits of regulations—for example, attempts by the EPA to argue that limits on CO2 emissions from power plants also reduce emissions of other dangerous pollutants.

Or Trump could take a cue from Republican Attorneys General Patrick Morrisey (W.V.) and Ken Paxton (Texas), who recommended in December that Trump issue a memorandum directing the EPA to “take no further action to enforce or implement” the Clean Power Plan. (The Supreme Court halted implementation of the rule a year ago while both sides fight it out in federal court).

The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the agency’s so-called “endangerment finding,” which states that greenhouse gas emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for the bulk of Obama’s climate policies, including the restrictions on vehicle and power plant emissions. Undoing the finding wouldn’t be an easy feat and can’t be accomplished by executive order alone. The endangerment finding isn’t an Obama invention; in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses if it found they harmed public health. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing that the administration wouldn’t revisit the finding, but he also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against it in 2010. Neither Ebell nor Burnett expects to see Trump to tackle the endangerment finding just yet.

Environmentalists are already planning their response. Litigation is certainly an option, but it would of course depend on the details of Trump’s executive actions. Several groups, including EarthJustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, have already sued to block Trump’s earlier executive order requiring that every new regulation be offset by scrapping two existing regulations. Their case: The administration can’t arbitrarily ditch regulations just because the president wants fewer of them on the books.

They could be making a similar case soon enough. “A new president has to deal with the record and evidence and findings,” EarthJustice’s lead attorney, Patti Goldman, said. “If you take climate and the endangerment finding, that is a scientific finding that is upheld by the court. That finding has legal impacts. If there’s a directive along those lines, there will have to be a process.”

Of course, anti-EPA Republicans disagree about what is constitutional, which is one reason the agency is in for a tumultuous ride over the next four years. For many conservatives, no EPA at all—or at least one that has no regulatory powers—is the best option. “I read the constitution of the United States, and the word environmental protection does not appear there,” said Heartland’s Burnett. “I don’t see where it’s sanctioned. I think it should go away.” A freshman House Republican recently introduced a bill to do just that, but there’s no sign that it’s going to pass anytime soon.

And while Burnett acknowledges that the EPA probably won’t be vanishing in the near future, he’s been happy with the direction Trump has taken so far. He’s pleased with the president’s moves to restart the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and he’s hopeful that the administration will move toward an EPA with “smaller budgets and a smaller mission, justified by the fact that you’ll have fewer regulations.”

Depending on what Trump does next week, that could be just the beginning.

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Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

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This Superbug Is Resistant to All Antibiotics—and Has Killed Its First American Victim

Mother Jones

For a while now, the specter of “pan-resistant” pathogens—superbugs so super that they can withstand all available antibiotics—have haunted US and global public health authorities. This week, we got news of one showing up in the United States.

An elderly Nevada woman died in September after being infected by a strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae that was “resistant to all available antimicrobial drugs,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed in a Friday note.

For Americans, the good news is that she probably didn’t contract her fatal infection here. She had been on an “extended trip” to India, CDC reports, where she had been hospitalized several times for a broken femur (thigh bone). Since she had a history of foreign hospitalizations, the US hospital in Nevada where she died sent a sample of Enterobacteriaceae for extensive CDC testing, as the CDC recommends in such cases. The result: The bug showed resistance to no fewer than 26 antibiotics. The fact that other patients admitted to the Nevada hospital tested negative for the same strain suggests the patient picked it up in India.

But that should be cold comfort. Bacteria don’t respect borders—they travel rapidly, not just in people and products, but also in wild birds. As Sarah Zhang recently put it in The Atlantic:

Over and over, scientists have identified genes conferring resistance to a class of antibiotics, only to find the gene had circled the globe. Another recent example is ndm-1, a gene found in 2009 that confers resistance to class of antibiotics called carbapenems. “It’s very rare to catch something at the very beginning,” says Alexander Kallen, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Looking for resistance is a constant game of catch-up. You don’t notice anything until there is something to notice; by the time there is something to notice, something bad has already happened.

Too often, though, media reports about antibiotic resistance neglect to mention a key driver: modern meat production. The unraveling of antibiotics as a tool to fight infections is intimately related to the way we have raised animals for decades, dosing them with antibiotics to make animals gain weight faster and avoid infections despite in tight, unsanitary conditions. Overuse in human medicine also drives the problem, but nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States flow into livestock farms.

The CDC, the World Health Organization, the UK government, and other public health authorities warn that overuse of drugs in meat farming are a key generator of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which cause 90,000 US deaths annually, while also racking up $55 billion in costs and causing 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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This Superbug Is Resistant to All Antibiotics—and Has Killed Its First American Victim

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Trump Is Desperately Seeking A Latino For His Cabinet

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump triumphed in politics after a long stint as a reality TV star. And now, as he scrambles to fill his final cabinet slots, the pesident-elect is taking a close look at a Republican who tried his best to move in the opposite direction.

Meet Abel Maldonado, who runs a large farm and a small vineyard on California’s Central Coast and is suddenly in the running for agriculture secretary. Maldonado, the son of Mexican immigrants, has seen his star rise amid speculation that Trump (who constantly lashed out at Mexican and other immigrants during his campaign) “is scrambling to appoint a Hispanic official to serve in his Cabinet,” Politico reports. If Trump fails to include a Latino in his cabinet, he’ll be the first president since Jimmy Carter to do so. There are only four slots left, and Politico adds that “Trump has narrowed his focus to agriculture secretary as the best possibility” for choosing a Latino.

Maldonado is is the latest in a parade of names Team Trump has floated for USDA, a chaotic process that I last updated here. In California politics, Maldonado is seen as a fallen prodigy. His political career peaked in 2009, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed the then-state senator as lieutenant governor. Less then a year later, Maldonado’s campaign to retain that office failed miserably. Since then, he has made unsuccessful bids for a seat in the US House and governor.

In 2016, Maldonado reportedly pitched himself as a potential reality TV star. Here’s The Sacramento Bee:

A video compilation that has rocketed around the Internet recently opens with an apparent working title: Meet the Maldonados. In it, the former state legislator and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate can be seen drinking wine with his daughter, asking his son about having a condom and laughing after his wife informs their daughter that “we watched porn when you were conceived.

At one point, a horse starts relieving itself in Maldonado’s house. “Yeah, Sacramento’s better than this,” a flustered Maldonado mutters as he cleans up.

The Bee reports that the show wasn’t picked up, and I failed to find the video compilation that “rocketed around the Internet,” despite an exhaustive search.

Maldonado met with the president-elect on Wednesday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. On the surface, Abel would bring a compelling back story. The son of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, he built his family’s plot from “a half acre of strawberries into a farm that now works over 6,000 acres and employs over 250 people and ships produce all over the world,” according to one bio. With his daughter, he runs a winery called Runway Vineyards.

But his ag businesses have had their own troubles. Agro-Jal, Maldanado’s produce farm, “has accumulated dozens of violations from Cal/OSHA since 1990, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens, and multiple citations for exposing workers to toxic pesticides and skirting clean water regulations, government records show,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010. Maldonado he was a victim of overzealous regulators, the Times added.

In 2015, the operation was hit with a class-action suit from former workers alleging unpaid minimum and overtime wages, as well as denial of sufficient breaks and meal periods. The suit is ongoing and now in the discovery phase, Allen Hutkin, the San Luis Obispo lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the workers, told me.

And as Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, Maldonado is generally seen as a moderate Republican—which would put him out of step with the Senate Republicans who will vet the USDA pick.

Meanwhile, Elsa Murano, a former high USDA official and now director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M, also is under consideration for USDA. Born in Cuba to parents who soon migrated to the United States, she too would qualify as Trump’s only cabinet pick with Hispanic heritage.

As I reported last week, Murano is also a classic example of the revolving door between industry and regulatory agencies. In 2004, Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the USDA division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. She has held that post ever since, with annual compensation of $237,980 and stock holdings worth $2,484,262 as of 2015.

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Trump Is Desperately Seeking A Latino For His Cabinet

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Why You Should Eat More Sugar

Mother Jones

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On Monday, a prominent medical journal broke with the flurry of studies recommending that Americans eat less sugar. The Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) published a study that reviewed nine guidelines on sugar intake and determined that they “do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence.”

The problem with the study: The Washington-based group, The International Life Sciences Institute, that funded it is supported by sugar-peddling companies including Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, General Mills, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and Kellogg. Additionally, one of the authors, Joanne Slavin, is on the advisory board for one of the largest suppliers of high-fructose corn syrup.

Because of these industry ties, the study sparked outrage. Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, told the New York Times, “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.”

The outrage extended even to the pages of AIM, as the journal simultaneously released an editorial criticizing the study, calling it a “politicization of science.”

As Mother Jones reported previously, “a growing body of research suggests that sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars.” In Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies, Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens chronicled the sugar lobby’s decadeslong campaign to spin its product as “a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet.”

The same story reported that “Big Sugar used Big Tobacco-style tactics to ensure that government agencies would dismiss troubling health claims against their products.” Similarly, in November, a study of historical records of the Sugar Research Foundation revealed a campaign to divert attention from the heart-health risks of sugar consumption.

It wasn’t until this year that the Food and Drug Administration introduced labels that showed added sugars in addition to total sugars. Added sugars, as Mother Jones‘ Maddie Oatman noted in 2015, are particularly harmful because they lack the fiber found in naturally occurring sugary foods (like fruit), which help regulate the absorption of food, allowing the sugar to overwhelm your system.

The lead author of the AIM paper acknowledged the industry ties to the New York Times but said he hoped people would not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The editor-in-chief of AIM, Dr. Christine Laine, defended the decision to publish the study even though the editors knew of the funding source’s industry connections. Laine told the New York Times, “We thought that this was something that our readers would be interested in, and we thought the methods of the systematic review were high quality.”

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Why You Should Eat More Sugar

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Trump’s Pick for Budget Director Isn’t Sure the Government Should Fund Scientific Research

Mother Jones

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Mick Mulvaney, the ultra-conservative South Carolina congressman whom Donald Trump has tapped to be his budget director, has questioned whether the federal government should spend any money on scientific research.

If confirmed by the Senate to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Mulvaney, a deficit hawk who recently spoke before a chapter of the right-wing-fringe John Birch Society, would be in charge of crafting Trump’s budget and overseeing the functioning of federal agencies. One thing he seems to believe the budget and the agencies should not be funding is research into diseases like the Zika virus.

Two weeks before Congress finally passed more than $1 billion to fight the spread of Zika and its effects, Mulvaney questioned whether the government should fund any scientific research. “Do we need government-funded research at all,” he wrote in a Facebook post on September 9 unearthed by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge. Mulvaney appears to have deleted his Facebook page since then.

In the post, he justified his position on government-funded research by questioning the scientific consensus that Zika causes the birth defect microcephaly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded in April that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other defects. But Mulvaney wrote:

And before you inundate me with pictures of children with birth defects, consider this:

Brazil’s microcephaly epidemic continues to pose a mystery — if Zika is the culprit, why are there no similar epidemics in countries also hit hard by the virus? In Brazil, the microcephaly rate soared with more than 1,500 confirmed cases. But in Colombia, a recent study of nearly 12,000 pregnant women infected with Zika found zero microcephaly cases. If Zika is to blame for microcephaly, where are the missing cases? According to a new report from the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), the number of missing cases in Colombia and elsewhere raises serious questions about the assumed connection between Zika and microcephaly.

According to the New York Times, the relatively low rate of microcephaly in Colombia has indeed puzzled some researchers, who point to the fact that many women likely delayed pregnancy or had abortions when testing revealed the birth defect. But that doesn’t change the scientific consensus linking Zika to microcephaly.

Here’s the full post from Mulvaney:

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Trump’s Pick for Budget Director Isn’t Sure the Government Should Fund Scientific Research

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