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Leading Global Warming Deniers Just Told Us What They Want Trump to Do

Mother Jones

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What does a climate change denier wish for when everything seems possible? With Congress and the White House in agreement on the unimportance of science, there’s no need to settle for rolling back President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda one regulation at a time. It’s time to get the Environmental Protection Agency out of climate change altogether.

To get a sense of what the wish list looks like, the annual conference of the Heartland Institute would be a good place to start. The right-wing think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch groups—and is best known for pushing out misinformation on climate change—has sponsored this annual gathering for the last 12 years. This year the theme was “Resetting Climate Policy,” reflecting the triumphant and hopeful mood of the conference now that they control the agenda.

The usual ideas floated at the conference have ranged from abolishing the EPA to touting the universal benefits of fossil fuels, but this year one idea in particular dominated the discussions: Climate deniers think they have a chance to reverse the EPA’s endangerment finding that formally says greenhouse gasses poses a threat to Americans and their health. That 2009 determination, prompted by a Supreme Court decision in 2007, is the basis for the EPA’s regulatory work on climate change.

“We’ve been at this for 33 years. We have a lot of people in our network,” Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast tells Mother Jones, “and many of these people are now in this new administration.” Transition staff and new appointees in the Trump administration “occasionally ask us for advice and names of people,” he added.

Rescinding the endangerment finding is the “number one” priority Bast sees for Trump’s EPA. “I think it’s almost a sure thing they are going to revisit it,” Bast says. “Whether they are going to succeed is maybe a 90 percent certainty.”

Bast overstated the strength of his case. The problem with rescinding the endangerment finding is that the EPA would somehow have to make a convincing case that holds up in court that climate change isn’t a threat to humanity. In other words, it would be incumbent upon the EPA to disprove climate change is real.

During, his confirmation hearings, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt acknowledged that the endangerment finding was the “law of the land” and there is “nothing that I know that will cause a review at this point.” But he has recently suggested he may attempt to change course. He went on CNBC and claimed “we don’t know” that the science is settled, and insisted “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

Cato Institute’s Director for the Center for the Study of Science, Patrick Michaels, who gave an address to the meeting, agreed that the administration should make reversing the endangerment finding its priority. At one point in his presentation, Michaels asked if David Schnare—who previously spent years suing the EPA until he became a transition appointee at the agency—was in the audience. “David’s big on this,” Michaels said. Schnare was not there, but he helped to emphasize Bast’s point: Trump’s appointees are familiar, friendly faces.

In his keynote address, House Science Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) expressed his gratitude to Heartland for its “help and support.” Asked if he will be holding a hearing on the endangerment finding, Smith answered, “Probably….It hasn’t been set yet. We can add that to our list.” Smith, who has already held a “Making EPA Great Again” hearing, will plans a hearing for next week questioning the scientific method of climate studies.

For anyone who acknowledges climate change is a reality and a threat, Smith’s final words about President Trump to the roughly 200 attendees who were gathered might be considered ominous: “You won’t be disappointed with the direction he’s going.”

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Leading Global Warming Deniers Just Told Us What They Want Trump to Do

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The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

Nanette Barragán is used to facing off against polluters. Elected in 2013 to the city council of Hermosa Beach, California, she took on E&B Natural Resources, an oil and gas company looking to drill wells on the beach. Barragán, an attorney before going into politics, learned of the potential project and began campaigning for residents to vote against it. The project was eventually squashed. In November, she won a congressional seat in California’s 44th district.

To Barragán, making sure President Trump’s environmental rollbacks don’t affect communities is a matter of life or death. The district she represents, the same in which she grew up, encompasses heavily polluted parts of Los Angeles County — areas crisscrossed with freeways and dotted with oil and gas wells. Barragan says she grew up close to a major highway and suffered from allergies. “I now go back and wonder if it was related to living that close,” she says.

Exide Technologies, a battery manufacturer that has polluted parts of southeast Los Angeles County with arsenic, lead, and other chemicals for years, sits just outside her district’s borders. Barragán’s district is also 69 percent Latino and 15 percent black. She has become acutely aware of the environmental injustices of the pollution plaguing the region. “People who are suffering are in communities of color,” she says.

Now in the nation’s capital, Barragán is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s newly formed environmental task force and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation on topics like energy and public lands and is chaired by climate denier Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican. She knows the next four years will be tough but says she’s up for the challenge. “I think it’s going to be, I hate to say it, a lot of defense.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

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Government Official Who Negotiated Trump Hotel Deal Says Deal Is Fine

Mother Jones

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A top government official who negotiated a controversial deal to lease a historic Washington, DC, property to Donald Trump has announced that he sees no problem with the arrangement—despite a clause in Trump’s contract that prohibits any elected officials from benefiting from the deal.

Since before Trump’s inauguration, ethics experts and Trump critics have cried foul over the 60-year lease Trump signed with the General Services Administration in 2013 to take over the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Long before he ran for president, Trump beat out a handful of large hotel chains to redevelop the property, which had long languished under poor management, costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

In late November, George Washington University law school professor Steve Schooner wrote in Government Executive magazine that the lease Trump signed includes a clause that prohibits any elected officials from benefiting from the deal. For months, the GSA has been silent on the question of whether Trump’s election causes a breach of the contract.

Today, Kevin Terry, a GSA contracting officer who oversaw the original contract negotiations with Trump, released a letter declaring that there was no reason for concern. In the letter, which is reprinted in its entirety below, Terry takes the position that there is no violation of the clause because the Trump Organization has been rearranged to steer any profits from the hotel away from Trump’s bank accounts while he’s in office. Trump owns more than 76 percent of the project; his children own the remainder.

According to Terry’s letter, the Trump Organization has presented documents to the GSA showing that although any profits (or losses) are accrued among the partners based on their ownership, any profits that would have gone to Trump himself will be kept separate and unavailable for Trump’s personal use until he is out of office. Under the terms of the original agreement, Trump could have withdrawn money with ease, but the new corporate structure (established before Trump’s inauguration) would prevent this, Terry wrote.

Schooner, who raised the original concerns, was scathing in his response to Terry’s letter. “Disgusting,” he wrote in an email to Mother Jones. He is bothered that Terry’s analysis does not take into account—or even acknowledge—the inherent conflict of interest in the decision.

“It is deeply troubling that the contracting officer’s letter makes no reference to the underlying conflicts of interest, which, of course, undercuts any suggestion that he (the contracting officer) engaged in independent analysis,” says Schooner, who teaches government contracting law. “The CO’s decision favors the President, who, in effect, is his supervisor, just as it favors the GSA (in terms of maintaining the status quo); but it also pleases his (the CO’s) ultimate supervisor – the head of the agency – who serves at the President’s pleasure.”

In December, congressional Democrats said they had been briefed by GSA officials who believed Trump would be in violation of the lease when he was inaugurated. Today, Reps. Elijah Cummings and Peter DeFazio, the top Democrats on the House Government Oversight and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees, respectively, condemned Terry’s decision, calling it is a reversal from what the GSA had previously told them.

According to Terry’s letter, while Trump is in office, his share of the hotel’s profits will be available for the hotel to use in its operations. The Democratic lawmakers said that was not an acceptable arrangement. “This decision allows profits to be reinvested back into the hotel so Donald Trump can reap the financial benefits when he leaves the White House,” Cummings and DeFazio said in a statement. “This is exactly what the lease provision was supposed to prevent.”

Terry’s letter is defensive and makes a dig at critics of the deal.

“To date, most of the review and reporting on the clause has focused on only a few select words, and reached simplistic ‘black and white’ conclusions regarding the meaning and implications of the clause,” Terry wrote. “However, it has been less widely reported that other legal professional and former government contracting officials have reviewed the language and come to different conclusions.”

Not all attorneys agreed with Schooner’s interpretation of the contract’s clause about elected officials. Some argued that the contract was written in a way that barred elected officials from becoming new parties to the deal but did not seem to prohibit someone from becoming an elected official after signing the contract. In a letter to the GSA that was included with Terry’s announcement, Trump’s personal attorney, Sheri Dillon, made a similar argument.

But that’s apparently not the reasoning that Terry used in making his decision that there was no breach of contract. Instead, he relied on the belief that Trump would have to wait until he left office to receive any profits from the hotel.

Terry’s letter points out that the property was a money-loser for the federal government before the Trump lease, but that the Trump Organization has been paying $250,000 a month in rent since it signed the lease. According to Terry, Trump has paid $5.1 million so far.

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Contracting Officer Letter March 23 2017 Redacted Version1 (PDF)

Contracting Officer Letter March 23 2017 Redacted Version1 (Text)

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Government Official Who Negotiated Trump Hotel Deal Says Deal Is Fine

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What’s Missing From This Photo of Politicians Deciding the Future of Women’s Health?

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump met with the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus at the White House Thursday to try to hammer out a deal on Obamacare repeal. A major question in the final negotiations? Whether or not maternity care and mammograms should be considered “essential” treatments covered by all health insurance policies under the Republican proposal. (“I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” quipped Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who supports scrapping the requirement. He apologized.)

The White House happily snapped a photo of the gathering that will go a long way toward deciding the future of women’s health in America, and EMIILY’s List, the group that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to Congress, also blasted out a photo of the event to reporters. Notice anything?

Here’s another angle:

Update: Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray has weighed in:

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What’s Missing From This Photo of Politicians Deciding the Future of Women’s Health?

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Devin Nunes Is Playing a Familiar Republican Game Today

Mother Jones

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When a big story breaks while I’m at lunch, it can be a real pain in the ass. Instead of following it in real time, I have to rush around later trying to piece together what’s happened. On the other hand, sometimes this is a blessing, because by the time I get to the story it’s clearer what the real issue is. I think today is an example of the latter.

For starters, here’s a nutshell summary of what happened. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, took the stage a few hours ago to declare himself “alarmed.” He believes that some of Donald Trump’s transition team might have been “incidentally” recorded during surveillance of foreign nationals. He won’t say who. Nor will he say who the foreign nationals were, other than “not Russian.” And as soon as he was done with his press conference, he trotted off to the White House to brief President Trump.

There are several problems here. First, Nunes didn’t share any of this with Democrats on the committee. Second, incidental collection is both routine and inevitable in foreign surveillance. Congress has had ample opportunity to rein it in if they wanted to, and they never have. Third, if this was part of a criminal investigation, Nunes may have jeopardized it by going public. Fourth, the chair of the Intelligence Committee isn’t supposed to be briefing the president on the status of an investigation into the president’s activities.

This is plenty to embarrass the great state of California, from which Nunes hails. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think any of this is the biggest issue. This one is:

He claims to have gotten the information personally from an unspecified source, and had not yet met with FBI Director James Comey to review the raw intelligence intercepts he was provided. Why would he go public without first consulting spies to see if what he had was actually worth sharing with the public?

Oh. This is one of those deals where the Republican chair of a committee gets some information; releases a tiny snippet that makes Republicans look good; and then eventually is forced to release the entire transcript, which turns out to be nothing at all like the snippet. We’ve seen this gong show a dozen times in the past few years.

My advice: ignore everything Nunes said. He’s obviously carrying water for Trump, hoping to drive headlines that vaguely suggest the Obama administration really was listening in on Trump’s phone calls. I gather that he’s succeeded on that score. For now, though, there’s no telling what this raw intel really says. Eventually the intelligence community will provide analysis, and committee Democrats will get to see the transcripts too. Then we’ll have a fighting chance of knowing whether it’s important or not. In the meantime, everything Nunes said is literally worthless. He’s not “probably right” or “probably wrong.” He’s nothing.

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Devin Nunes Is Playing a Familiar Republican Game Today

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