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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday, following revelations that he had taken at least two dozen private and military flights at taxpayer expense since May. But who hasn’t been taking private flights among the members of President Trump’s Cabinet? We now know that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have all flown on noncommercial or government planes rather than commercial ones, collectively racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to taxpayers. Zinke went so far as to fly on a plane owned by oil and gas executives after giving a motivational speech to Las Vegas’ new National Hockey League team.

For Pruitt, the news comes as he’s found himself battling several other mini-scandals from his short tenure. He’s faced congressional inquiries for having an 18-person, 24-hour security detail, building a nearly $25,000 secure phone booth for himself, and taking frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma. But the most jarring aspect of his plane controversy is how it looks against the Trump administration’s proposal to cut one-third of the EPA budget.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Pruitt has taken at least four trips on chartered and government flights since his confirmation, at a cost of $58,000, according to documents provided to a congressional oversight committee. The EPA has defended Pruitt’s travel by saying the four noncommercial flights were for necessary trips to meet stakeholders around the country and that there were special circumstances that prevented commercial flying.

But what exactly was Pruitt up to on these trips? On one of them, his only public meeting in Oklahoma, he and six staffers took an Interior Department plane from Tulsa to Guymon, a town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, at a cost of $14,400. The trip’s stated purpose was to meet with landowners “whose farms have been affected” by a federal rule making more bodies of water subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Pruitt has argued for overturning the rule since before his arrival at the EPA, and he has begun the process of reversing it.

One of the things Pruitt reportedly talked about in his meetings with farmers in late July was closing the EPA’s 10 regional offices and reassigning staff to work in state capitals. According to an affiliate of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau that helped organize the event and was tweeting about his remarks that day, Pruitt floated the idea to an audience of farmers assembled in Guymon.

A screenshot of the tweet provided to Mother Jones. The original tweet appears to have been deleted.

The farm policy publication Agri-Pulse took note of the tweet and requested comment from the EPA at the time. Agency spokesperson Liz Bowman told the publication that Pruitt “believes it is his responsibility to find the best and most efficient way to perform environmental protection” but repeated that there weren’t plans to close any regional offices “in the foreseeable future.”

Politico reported earlier this year that the White House was looking at shutting down two of the EPA’s 10 regional offices in its budget request. A Chicago Sun Times columnist reported that the Chicago EPA office, where 1,000 people work, could be on the chopping block. Though the agency quickly denied the rumors, there were protests not just from EPA staff, but from Democratic and Republican politicians representing areas that would be affected. By June, the idea appeared to be off the table. That month, Pruitt told members of the House Appropriations Committee that he did not intend to close regional offices. He dismissed the reports that he was considering closing the Chicago office as “pure legend,” saying, “It is not something that is under discussion presently.”

The EPA employs roughly 15,000 people, many of whom work across the country in regional offices, carrying out day-to-day environmental oversight and delivering grants to fund state environmental programs. In early May, Democratic senators who sit on the oversight committee for the EPA wrote to Pruitt, “Whether reviewing discharge permits for compliance with Federal pollution standards and state water quality standards, or inspecting facilities to see if they are operating in compliance with their permits, we count on regional staff to provide guidance to state pollution control staff, the public and regulated entities.” Regional staff, for instance, have played a key role in the response to recent hurricanes, analyzing soil and water samples for contamination. It’s unlikely that Pruitt would seek simply to move the EPA’s regional office staffers to state offices. He has already sought to cut more than 1,000 positions from the agency through buyouts, and the closure of regional offices could be an additional pretense to eliminate jobs.

On Thursday, the EPA declined to give Mother Jones more context on Pruitt’s remarks about regional offices that day or why he would be floating the idea well after denying it was under consideration. Instead, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox offered this statement: “Anyone that takes time to read President Trump’s budget will realize that no money is allocated to close down regional EPA offices.”

The president of the EPA employees union, John O’Grady, commented that closing regional offices and moving the regulators into state capital buildings would be “a whole ball of wax” that the administration hasn’t thought through.

“If they do that, I’m going to come out and say quite frankly we’re thrilled that the administration has decided to put U.S. EPA employees at the state office,” he said. “Now we can tell for sure that the states are following federal laws correctly.” He added, “They’re trying to dilute the EPA as a cohesive unit. They’re trying to get rid of us.”

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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

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People keep building in flood-prone places like Houston.

Over the past two days, the storm — anticipated to hit Texas later Friday — has rapidly strengthened into a Category 3 major hurricane, packing 120 mph winds and a threatening a multi-day rainfall so heavy you’ll need a yardstick to measure it. The storm’s impact could be among the worst in U.S. weather history, rivaling even Hurricane Katrina.

The implications are hard to put into words, so I asked my meteorologist colleagues to describe them using one or two:

“Epic, unprecedented” — Brian McNoldy, hurricane specialist at University of Miami

“Unprecedented danger” — Marshall Shepherd, meteorology professor at University of Georgia

“In a word: life-changing. The question is where, how expansive, and how many people’s lives it will change. If nothing else this should be a big wake-up call to many.” — Anthony Fracasso, forecaster at the NOAA Weather Prediction Center

“Dangerous, scary” — Adam Sobel, hurricane expert, Columbia University

“Epic deluge” — Ryan Maue, hurricane expert, WeatherBELL analytics

“One word, given the storm’s longevity: torturous” — Jim Cantore, the Weather Channel

“Simply: overwhelming” — Taylor Trogdon, National Hurricane Center

“Prolonged misery” — Rick Smith, NWS meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma

Two answers, not playing by the rules with both. 1.) Forecast challenge of a career. 2.) Enormously challenging.” — Matt Lanza, energy industry meteorologist based in Houston

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People keep building in flood-prone places like Houston.

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Trump wants to ignore the effects of climate change when permitting infrastructure projects.

The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, filed a lawsuit on Friday to get the agency to say how it plans to handle Administrator Scott Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest. Pruitt is now in charge of enforcing rules that he tried to unravel with numerous lawsuits as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

“Administrator Pruitt’s ability to serve as an impartial decision maker merits close examination,” Becerra said in a statement.

In April, Becerra filed a broad Freedom of Information Act request for documents tied to Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest and efforts to follow federal ethics laws. Generally, agencies must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, though they have some wiggle room. But four months later, the EPA has yet to turn over anything.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times that the agency had twice told Becerra’s office they were working on assembling the documents. She said the lawsuit was “draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment.”

The suit from the Golden State is just part of the legal backlash Pruitt’s staring down: He’s already been sued over ozone regulations and the suspension of methane restrictions for new oil and gas wells.

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Trump wants to ignore the effects of climate change when permitting infrastructure projects.

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You’ve Probably Forgotten Half the Terrible Things Donald Trump Has Already Done to Our Planet

Mother Jones

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It’s been an eventful 100 days.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has done his best to fulfill his campaign promise to roll back environmental regulations and liberate business from what he insists are job-killing, growth-impeding, unnecessary constraints. During a Republican primary debate in Michigan, he articulated his vision for the Environmental Protection Agency this way: “Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.”

So now at the 100-day mark, if not mission accomplished, he has certainly gone a long way towards fulfilling that dream.

Since 2009, Climate Desk, a collaboration among 14 news organizations—Mother Jones, CityLab, Wired, Slate, Reveal, The Atlantic, the Guardian, Grist, HuffPost, Fusion, Medium, the New Republic, Newsweek and High Country News—has tried to fill a void in climate coverage and explore climate change in all its complexity. And while the previous seven years have certainly had their fill of complexity, the Trump administration, with its the potential to unravel hard-won climate agreements and undo a generation or environmental protections, poses even greater challenges for journalism. Or, to borrow a line from Trump, this is more work than our previous life.

To mark the first 100 days of the Trump era, Climate Desk partners have put together a series of stories examining what’s changed so far. In New Republic, Emily Atkin writes that Trump has already “done lasting damage to the planet” by issuing executive orders, initiating regulatory rollbacks, and approving oil pipelines. This article by Jonathan Thompson of High Country News looks at Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s efforts to protect the coal industry as it faces increased competition from natural gas, wind, and solar power. In a memo earlier this month, Perry warned that “regulatory burdens” were endangering the nation’s electricity supply. “Judging by Perry’s memo, and by much of the Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions during the first 100 days, they yearn for a time when such memos were pounded out on manual typewriters,” writes Thompson.

Karen Hao in Mother Jones gives us a historical perspective on the EPA, returning to a very different 100-day mark: the first 100 days of the agency’s existence. In a look at what the Trump administration has done to the Office of Environmental Justice, created during the George H.W. Bush administration, Nathalie Baptiste explores what has happened to a program which defined its mission as reducing the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people. And Rebecca Leber examines how Trump’s assault on environmental regulations could be considered one of the greatest successes of his administration—at least according to his standards.

But before exploring some of these stories, take a look at a brief but revealing timeline of some of the highlights of the assault on the environment during the first 100 days of the Trump administration:

Jan. 20: Within moments of Trump’s inauguration, nearly all references to climate change disappear from the White House official website. While there’s nothing unusual about a new administration changing the website, the new language is telling. “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule,” reads the new site’s only reference to climate change. “Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

Jan. 23: The EPA receives a gag order on external communication, including press releases, blog posts, social media and content on the agency website. A former Obama administration EPA official describes the action as “extreme and very troubling.”

Jan. 24: Within days of becoming president, Trump signs an Executive Order that reversing environmentalists’ hard-won efforts to block the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. On the same day, Trump meets with three Detroit auto industry executives and promises big regulatory rollbacks.

Jan. 25: The Trump administration reportedly mandates that all EPA studies and data be reviewed by political staffers before being released to the public. These restrictions far exceed the practices of past administrations, according to former EPA staffers.

Feb. 7: The House Science Committee, led by climate denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), holds a hearing titled “Making EPA Great Again.” Smith attacks the agency, accusing it of pursuing a political agenda and using questionable science to burden Americans with regulation.

Feb. 17: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s controversial EPA pick, is confirmed by the Senate. In his former career as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times.

Feb. 28: Trump signs another executive order to dismantle the Waters of the US rule, a controversial Obama-era policy intended to protect waterways and wetlands from pollution.

Mar. 9: In a television appearance, Pruitt dismisses the basic scientific understanding that carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of climate change. He then questions the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. His comments are condemned by scientists, environmental activists, and Obama EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. That same day, the head of EPA’s Office on Environmental Justice, Mustafa Ali, resigns from his post after a 24-year career, saying he had “not heard of anything that was being proposed that was beneficial to the communities we serve.” He adds, “That is something that I could not be a part of.”

Mar. 16: Trump proposes slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, as well as cutting spending on climate change programs across the State Department, NOAA, NASA, and the Interior Department. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” says White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney during a press briefing.

Mar. 27: In his most significant environmental order yet, Trump begins begins the process of gutting Obama’s landmark Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate policies.

Apr. 26: Trump signs another executive order, this time in an attempt revoke national monuments created by Obama and Clinton. It’s uncertain whether this is even legal.

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You’ve Probably Forgotten Half the Terrible Things Donald Trump Has Already Done to Our Planet

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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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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

Mother Jones

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Jason Holley

One cold November day last year, Chris Turley, a 28-year-old member of the Osage Nation, set out from the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma reservation upon a quest. He had a wool hat pulled down over his crisply cut black hair and wore military fatigues, just as he had done when he served in Afghanistan as a Scout in the US Army. He carried a rucksack filled with MREs—Meals, Ready-to-Eat—and bottled water, a tent, and a sleeping bag. Tucked away was also an emergency medical kit.

Departing on foot, he headed north through the tall prairie grass. He went past scattering herds of cattle and grinding oil pumps. Thirty miles later, around midnight, he stopped near the Kansas border and made camp in the darkness. He slept in his tent, curled in the cold. In the abruptness of dawn he woke, poured water into a container with premade eggs and quickly ate, and then set out again. The rucksack weighed 80 pounds and his right leg especially burned. In Afghanistan, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had shivved through his knee. (He received a Purple Heart and a Commendation with Valor, which said his “actions under intense enemy fire when wounded, and courage when facing the enemy in close proximity, not only eliminated and disrupted the enemy but saved the lives of his fellow Scouts.”) Doctors had predicted he’d never walk again without help, but after months of rehabilitation, he did.

Now he marched forward, day after day. He entered Kansas, passing through Greenwood County and Brown County—where members of the Kickapoo Tribe invited him to attend a round dance—and continued into Nebraska, until, after hiking for nearly three weeks, he hitched a ride to his final destination: the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There, on the North Dakota plains, he joined forces with the Sioux who’d been protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline near the border of their reservation, fearing it would destroy their sacred burial sites and contaminate their water supply. “Anyone who knows me knows I am a warrior of this country, I love it with all my heart,” Turley wrote on his Facebook page. “I am also a Native of this country and I’m showing my support for Standing Rock.”

For Turley and many other Osage, the fight had a deep resonance, evoking memories of the tribe’s own struggle over oil and land rights during the early 20th century—a struggle that culminated in one of the most sinister crimes in American history. In 2012, when I first visited the Osage Nation Museum, its then-director, Kathryn Red Corn, told me about this mysterious and deadly plot. I was shocked that I had never learned about it in school or read about it in books, and over the next several years I began to try to uncover the depths of the wrongdoing.

Turley told me that when he was young he had heard about the killings from elder members of the tribe. “Every Osage knows about the murders,” he said. He learned that the Osage once laid claim to much of the Midwest (Thomas Jefferson described them as a “great nation”), but like so many American Indians, they were gradually forced off their ancestral lands. They were driven into Kansas in 1825 and were relocated during the 1870s to the reservation in northeast Oklahoma. By then, their population had dwindled to a few thousand because of massacres and disease and starvation. Although the new reservation was bigger than the state of Delaware, the land was rocky and presumed worthless.

Several years later, an Osage Indian pointed out to a white trader a rainbow sheen on the surface of a creek. It was oil. The reservation, it turned out, was sitting above some of the largest deposits of petroleum then known in America, and to extract that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In 1906, the tribe granted each of its 2,000 or so registered members a headright, essentially a share in the mineral trust. In 1923 alone, the tribe collected what would today amount to more than $400 million—the New York Times deemed them the wealthiest people per capita in the world. Belying long-standing stereotypes, they lived in mansions and had white servants and rode in chauffeured cars. “Lo and behold!” exclaimed the Outlook, a New York City magazine. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Then, one by one, the Osage with headrights began to be murdered off. During what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, there were poisonings, shootings, and even a bombing. Several of those who tried to catch the killers were themselves killed, including one attorney who was thrown from a speeding train. As the death toll reached more than two dozen, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation—later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—took up the case. It became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations. But for two years, the bureau bungled the case, failing to make any arrests.

Fearing a scandal, the bureau’s new director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to an old frontier lawman named Tom White, who assembled a team of undercover operatives, including an American Indian agent. In 1926, they captured one of the criminal masterminds—a prominent white settler who had orchestrated an intricate plot to steal the Osage’s headrights and fortune. But, as I discovered from my research, the extent of the killings was far greater than the bureau ever exposed, and there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of murders that went unsolved. The perpetrators absconded with much of the Osage’s fortune, which was further diminished by the Great Depression and the depletion of oil reserves.

Turley thought about the Osage murders during the demonstrations at Standing Rock. The Sioux weren’t looking to make money; they were just trying to protect the environment. And yet the struggles came down to the same fundamental issue: the right of American Indians to control their lands and resources. Which is why the Standing Rock demonstrations seemed to galvanize so many nations of American Indians, each with its own bloodstained history, its own saga of incursions upon its sovereignty. Native Americans made pilgrimages to Standing Rock from across the country—from the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California and the Blackfeet Nation in Montana to the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Gray, a former Osage chief, wrote on Facebook, “The principle of any tribe’s sovereign right to protect what’s important to them is why hundreds of tribes have sent food, supplies and money to their aid.”

Turley helped provide security for the protesters—or “water protectors”—including by guarding convoys headed off the reservation to resupply them. “It was kind of like a covert op,” he said. When the word came down, on December 4, that the Department of the Army had refused to allow the oil company to build the pipeline, “we all sang and danced,” Turley recalled.

Yet President Donald Trump—who until recently had an investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline—reversed the decision upon taking office. The Sioux are contesting Trump’s action in court, but their legal options are quickly dwindling, and it may become harder for demonstrators to gather in the future: A state legislator introduced a bill making it legal for a person to “unintentionally” run over protesters.

Many American Indian leaders fear that the pipeline is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempt to erode tribal sovereignty. Reuters reported that some of the president’s advisers even hope to “privatize” American Indian reservations, fulfilling the old dream of white settlers to open these lands to unfettered development.

Jim Gray says the Trump administration will confront an American Indian movement galvanized and united by Standing Rock. “In the old days, our people didn’t have much of a voice,” he told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall. “Now we do…The world is watching.” As for Chris Turley, he’s back at his home in Osage territory. But if summoned by the leaders of any tribe in need, he says he’s prepared to pack up his rucksack: “I can walk across America.”

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

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A Lot of Trump Voters Only Heard One Thing: Build the Wall

Mother Jones

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The Washington Post has a story on the front page today that’s already become so common it’s almost a cliche. It’s about the small-town folks who voted for Donald Trump but somehow didn’t realize he was going to do things that might harm them. Today’s example features on-the-ground reporting from Durant, Oklahoma, and Exhibit A is Betty Harris:

She likes the president’s promises to crack down on illegal immigration, which she thinks has hurt the job market, and to bully manufacturers into staying in the country. She said both of her daughters were out of work for months because they worked for companies that moved overseas.

But Harris is upset by the president’s proposed budget, which would dramatically cut funding for the Robert T. Davis Senior Center, managed by the Bryan County Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

There seem to be an awful lot of people who heard only one thing from Trump during the campaign: He was going to build a wall and keep out all the Mexicans. Now, as best I can tell, the unauthorized population of Durant is at most 1 percent. But no matter. Illegal immigration still seemed like a scary thing, and Harris was all in favor of stopping it cold.

Over and over, I read stories where I hear this. Trump got the votes of people who liked his promise to stop illegal immigration. And that was about it. They didn’t really hear the part about repealing Obamacare. They didn’t hear the part about cutting the budget. They didn’t hear the part about climate change being a hoax. They didn’t hear the part about 86ing regulations that protect workers but are disliked by big corporations. They didn’t hear the part about big tariffs, which would make the stuff they buy more expensive. They didn’t hear the part—or didn’t care—about gigantic tax cuts for the rich.

Over and over, it’s illegal immigration. And now they’re shocked that Trump wants to take away their health care and their senior center and their workplace safety rules and all the financial regulations that protect consumers. They didn’t notice him talking about all of that. Or else they didn’t think he was serious. Or they didn’t realize that when they voted for Trump, they were voting for a White House full of true-believing conservatives who have never cared about the working class and still don’t.

The saddest part, from their point of view, is that they’re probably not even going to get their wall. They’re just going to get all the stuff they didn’t want.

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A Lot of Trump Voters Only Heard One Thing: Build the Wall

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Farmers Are Cheering Trump’s Repeal of an Environmental Rule That Doesn’t Affect Them

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump rose to power amid solid support from the agricultural heartland—he gained endorsements from dozens of farm-state pols and agribiz execs and polled well among farmers. Since the inauguration, however, things have been rocky. Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee machinations amount to an attack on Big Ag’s labor pool, and his moves to kill trade pacts endanger much-needed export markets. But with the stroke of a pen on Tuesday, the new president delivered a gift that delighted his ag supporters.

But did Trump serve a real policy triumph, or an empty gesture?

To answer that question, you’ll need a bit of background. What the president did was sign an executive order commanding the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Waters of the United States Rule, a policy put into place by the Obama administration. WOTUS, as it is known, is a kind of addendum to the Clean Water Act of 1972, designed to define the kinds of waterways that are under EPA regulation. It was triggered by a split 2006 Supreme Court decision called Rapanos v. United States over whether a developer could fill in a wetland to build a shopping center.

WOTUS has emerged as a major bête noire in some ag circles. Agribiz lobbyist Larry Combest, a former US rep from Texas, declared it “one of the biggest land grabs in American history.” The American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents the interests of Big Ag, has vilified WOTUS since its inception, charging that it gives the EPA massive power to regulate farms.

At his signing ceremony, Trump gave voice to these complaints. Deeming WOTUS “one the worst examples of federal regulation,” Trump insisted that “it has truly run amok” and is “prohibiting farmers from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing.” Echoing the Farm Bureau, he said WOTUS meant that the EPA can regulate “nearly every puddle and every ditch on a farmer’s land,” and vowed that his executive order would “pave the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

Just one problem with that rhetoric: WOTUS has very little to do with farming. The original Clean Water Act exempted agriculture, and WOTUS maintains that status, notes Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group. “What’s so bizarre about the fight over WOTUS is that the only sector of commerce that’s clearly exempt from the rule has kicked up the most dirt about it,” Faber said. Granted, defining what constitutes a waterway worthy of regulation is a complex process, and even WOTUS’s supplementary introduction is 299 pages. But concerns about ag are dispensed with on page 8:

This rule not only maintains current statutory exemptions, it expands regulatory exclusions from the definition of “waters of the United States” to make it clear that this rule does not add any additional permitting requirements on agriculture.

In a January 2017 report, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service analyzed the WOTUS and came to the same conclusion as the EPA: The final rule “makes no change to and does not affect existing statutory and regulatory exclusions: exemptions for normal farming, ranching, and silviculture activities such as plowing, seeding, and cultivation.” The report notes that the Obama administration at one point proposed an interpretive rule that triggered confusion in the ag world about whether farm ditches might fall under regulation. But the EPA withdrew that particular proposal way back in January 2015, the CRS report states.

What’s more, says Faber, replacing WOTUS will be a long slog, requiring a lengthy rulemaking process. And once that process is done, he adds, the new rule will itself be subject to lawsuits from environmental groups that it’s deemed too weak.

So why did Big Ag fight so hard to kill WOTUS, and cheer so much when Trump moved against it? Faber declined to speculate.

I put the question to William Rodger, a spokesman for the Farm Bureau. He declined to talk but pointed me to brief the group filed in 2016 urging a federal court to overturn the rule. The document lists examples of farmers who, it insists, would run afoul of WOTUS.

One, in Oklahoma, had planned to clear a 50-acre plot next to his property for cattle grazing and farming. “But because the property contains a small creek bed—which is usually about 5-6 inches deep but ‘will often go dry’—the creek is likely to be deemed a ‘tributary’ under the Rule,” the doc states. As a result of the rule, the farmer “has therefore been forced to halt all plans for improving his property because the new regulation, if allowed to go into effect, will require him to obtain a costly jurisdictional determination from the Army Corps of Engineers and, depending on the outcome, a permit from EPA.” But an EPA fact sheet on WOTUS makes clear that such intermittent streams aren’t in fact regulated.

The Farm Bureau document also notes a farmer whose land has drainage ditches “that would also likely count as ‘tributaries’ under the Rule if it were allowed to come into effect.” But the EPA fact sheet states that “farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to receive exemptions from Clean Water Act Section…when they construct and maintain irrigation ditches and maintain drainage ditches.”

Even so, at an event after Trump signed the executive order, the Farm Bureau treated EPA Director Scott Pruitt to a “hero’s welcome” for his role in Trump’s WOTUS move, Bloomberg reports. In a statement, the group’s executive director, Zippy Duvall, insisted that the “flawed WOTUS rule has proven to be nothing more than a federal land grab, aimed at telling farmers and ranchers how to run their businesses,” and praised Trump for delivering a “welcome relief to farmers and ranchers across the country.”

Seems to me that by celebrating Trump’s attempt to dismantle a rule that so little affects agriculture, Big Ag is being a pretty cheap date—especially given what’s going on with trade and immigration.

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Farmers Are Cheering Trump’s Repeal of an Environmental Rule That Doesn’t Affect Them

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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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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

Mother Jones

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On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed nine worshippers after reading Bible verses with them. As it was later revealed, the 22-year-old Roof was a white supremacist. After an eight-day trial in the Charleston federal district court, on December 15 the jury found Roof guilty of all 33 federal counts—including hate crimes and obstruction of exercise of religion—18 of which carry the federal death penalty. This week, after less than three hours of deliberation, the jury sentenced Roof to death, making him the 63rd person who will be held on federal death row.

Federal law classifies the jury’s decision as a binding “recommendation,” which means, according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “there’s likely a decade worth of appeals.” Roof could be well into his 30s before he is executed.

He likely will not be executed at all, because a federal death sentence often does not result in a lethal injection. To be eligible for federal death row, the defendant’s crime has to have a national angle, such as bombing a federal building. Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the 2013 attack, but his appeals process is likely to extend for years. Today, 23 people on death row have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to be executed. Three co-defendants who have been on federal death row for the longest period of time were convicted in a series of drug-related murders: Richard Tipton, Corey Johnson, and James H. Roane Jr. have been awaiting execution since 1993.

Contrast this with executions on the state level. Between 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, and 2016, the government only put three inmates to death. States have carried out 1,439 executions since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment does not violate the Constitution. Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was the last person to be executed by the government, in 2003, for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 19-year-old Tracie McBride. His was a federal case because the 1995 crime took place on the federal property of a US Air Force base.

There have been no federal executions during President Barack Obama’s two terms. Obama’s efforts to reduce the federal prison population during his presidency and his discomfort with the death penalty, which he described as “deeply troubling,” coincided with the long appeals process and recent questions about the efficacy of lethal injection drugs. The effect was a halt to federal executions. Nationwide support for capital punishment has been dropping steadily over the last two decades. Today, only 49 percent of Americans support the death penalty for murderers, down from 80 percent in 1994. Among Republican voters, however, 72 percent support the death penalty for violent murderers.

President-elect Donald Trump is one of those death penalty supporters. On the campaign trail in December 2015, Trump announced that as president, he would sign an executive order mandating the death penalty for convicted cop killers. As attorney general, Jeff Sessions—who has supported the death penalty—could move this pledge forward by addressing a number of institutional and practical problems that have been obstacles to federal executions.

“It takes a long time and it takes a lot of money to execute folks,” says Monica Foster, a lawyer whose clients include defendants on federal death row. The average cost of defending a federal death penalty case is $620,932. Inmates typically spend more than a decade in the appeals process before entering death row and awaiting execution.

Opponents of capital punishment believe that it’s immoral, racially biased, and not a deterrent for crime. Sixty-two percent of those awaiting death in federal prisons are nonwhite. “The federal death penalty reflects the state penalty system’s problems of racial bias, poor lawyering, and unreliable evidence,” says Miriam Gohora, a law professor at Yale Law School. But Trump’s pick for attorney general disagrees. At a 2001 congressional hearing on racial and geographic disparities in the federal death penalty, Sessions stated he was against a moratorium on the federal death penalty for several reasons, one of them being that “the death penalty deters murder, as studies as recent as this year have found.” A 2008 Death Penalty Information Center survey published in 2009 found that 88 percent of criminologists do not consider the death penalty a deterrent to violent crime.

“I would expect that the incoming administration would be more aggressive in seeking the federal death penalty,” says William Otis a professor of law at Georgetown law school.

If the Trump administration wanted to aggressively pursue the death penalty and carry out more executions, it would have to address the issue of lethal injection drugs. In 2011, the only American manufacturer of lethal injection drugs, Hospira, announced it would no longer produce sodium thiopental, a key ingredient in the serum used to carry out executions. The company originally intended to resume production at its Italian plant, but Italian officials refused to export the drug if it were to be used for executions. Other companies followed suit, leading to a massive shortage. Many states and the federal government were left with no method of execution, forcing a lull in carrying out capital punishments.

Some states sought to use different drug combinations that haven’t been widely tested. In Oklahoma, a new drug combination led to the botched execution in 2014 of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned during the procedure. In the wake of this incident, Obama announced that the government, through the Department of Justice, would be reviewing its death penalty protocols leading to an effective moratorium. The move was considered a victory for opponents of the death penalty.

The state of Texas recently sued the Food and Drug Administration over the withholding of a shipment of lethal injection drugs that the FDA maintains are illegal to import because they haven’t been tested for safety. “Drugs used in executions are not supposed to be safe—they’re supposed to be lethal,” Otis says, adding that the safety requirements would likely be one of the first areas the Trump administration might seek to change.

In death penalty cases like Dylann Roof’s, where there is no question about guilt or innocence, opponents of capital punishment believe that a life sentence without the chance of parole would provide justice. Roof wanted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but federal officials rejected the offer. Many family members of the victims opposed the death penalty for Roof. The morning after the jury decided on its verdict, Judge Richard Gergel formally sentenced Roof to death, saying, “This trial has produced no winners, only losers.”

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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

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