The outbreak of COVID-19 across the U.S. has touched every facet of our society, and our democracy has been no exception.
The pandemic poses unique challenges with respect to the 2020 election, and several states have already rescheduled spring primaries for the summer. State election officials are weighing not only the public health concerns of in-person voting but also the possibility of voter disenfranchisement for those who would inevitably choose to stay home. Uncertainty surrounding the duration of the outbreak also raises concerns about voter safety for the general election in November.
This issue brief from The New Center discusses various state decisions, the state-specific provisions governing the postponement of elections, implications for the general election, and how a combination of drastically expanding mail-in voting alongside in-person voting may offer the best option to conduct a fair, secure, and inclusive 2020 election.
Which states have postponed their primaries?
Since President Trump's declaration of a national emergency over the coronavirus on March 13, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have postponed their primaries. Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming have replaced in-person primary voting with comprehensive mail-in systems. Ohio has postponed its primary and switched to a nearly all-mail election, with in-person voting allowed for people with disabilities and those without mailing addresses.
Despite the national emergency, three states, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois held their primaries on March 17 as scheduled. Wisconsin will hold its primary as scheduled on April 7, but on March 27, Governor Tony Evers requested that the state send absentee ballots to all 3.3 million voters—a task some state legislators and election clerks claim to be logistically impossible within such a short time frame. Several groups have filed lawsuits seeking to postpone the election and extend the deadline for absentee voting.
What legal provisions govern the postponement of a primary election?
The process involved in delaying a primary election varies by state, and some states are better prepared than others to modify their elections in emergency situations. A handful of states have statutes that allow for the postponement of an election in case of an emergency, and most of these statues grant unilateral decision making power to the governor.
Other states, such as Pennsylvania, do not have legislation on the books explicitly addressing election postponement. And state law sets Pennsylvania's primary election date for the fourth Tuesday in April in a presidential election year. Postponement of the Pennsylvania primary required the passage of a bill to amend the election code, and this would also be the case for any other primary with a date set by law.
A similar lack of clear guidelines for postponing elections caused confusion in Ohio and shed light on the importance of emergency contingency plans. The Ohio Democratic primary was scheduled for Tuesday, March 17. On Monday the 16th, Governor Mike DeWine expressed his desire to delay the in-person election and extend absentee voting due to the coronavirus outbreak. Without the authority to unilaterally postpone an election, he promised to support a lawsuit asking the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to exercise its power to do so. Judge Richard A. Frye rejected the lawsuit, claiming that the last-minute postponement would set a "terrible" precedent.
Shortly after, DeWine's chief health adviser declared a public health emergency and ordered the polls to close. This prompted a lawsuit from the Ohio Democratic Party. "Nothing in Ohio law provides that Respondent Secretary has the power to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election," says the lawsuit. "Instead, the legal authority to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election rests with the Ohio General Assembly." The Ohio Supreme Court denied this legal challenge. In addition to officially postponing the election to April 28, Ohio has also decided that the rescheduled primary will be conducted almost exclusively by mail.
If the outbreak extends through the fall, can the November general election be postponed?
The general election could theoretically be postponed, but several obstacles make this scenario highly unlikely. The Presidential Election Day Act, passed in 1845, sets Election Day as "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November." Therefore, postponing election day would require Congress to pass legislation that would be signed by the president and upheld in the courts.
In the unlikely case that this would happen, any flexibility in determining the length of the election delay would be limited by the Constitution. The 20th Amendment states that "The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January… of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."
What about mail-in voting for the general election?
While postponing the general election is effectively out of the question, voting by mail is one potential solution that could allow elections to continue while also prioritizing public health. While states do not have the power to change the date of their general elections, they do have broad jurisdiction to decide how to conduct them. Several states have expanded absentee voting options to some degree or adopted universal mail-in primaries, which can serve as "test runs" for expansive mail-in voting in the general election. And five states, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, automatically mail ballots to all registered voters for all elections. An additional 28 states offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, which means voters may vote by mail for any reason if they request a ballot in advance. The remaining 17 states offer absentee voting to those with valid excuses. Voters with injuries or illnesses qualify, as do those who will be out of the country on election day.
For the states that do not automatically mail ballots to all voters, uncertainty surrounding the outbreak's timeline has led state and local election boards to mobilize in preparation for a surge in demand for general election absentee ballots. But some leaders have hesitated to support the changes that would be involved. Democrats have traditionally been eager proponents of expanded absentee voting, which Republicans have dismissed as partisan power grabs. However, evidence does not support the belief that mail-in voting offers an unfair advantage to Democrats. In the 2016 presidential election, the rates of mail-in voting for Democrats and Republicans were about the same. If the coronavirus outbreak necessitates a nationwide move to mail-in voting, state election officials will have to weigh several logistical and substantive concerns:
Costs and Logistical Hurdles
The Brennan Center estimates that it would cost about $1.4 billion to implement nationwide mail-in voting for the general election. This estimate includes the cost of postage, ballot printing, and other equipment necessary for the transition. Maintaining in-person elections, bolstering online voter registration, and educating the public on these new measures would increase the overall cost of adequate general election preparation to about $2 billion. The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package includes a fraction of this estimated cost—$400 million—to help the states expand mail-in voting and make other election preparations.
Expanding mail-in voting cannot happen overnight. States that wish to make significant changes to their voting systems have a short window of time to do so before the November elections. And the more ballots states need to mail, the more time they will typically need. They will also need to hire and train new workers, verify voter mailing addresses, print ballots, mail them well in advance of the voting deadline, use signature-matching technology to validate them once they return, build in time to rectify any issues that may arise with signature matching, and count the votes. It will be up to each state to balance public health, election security, and feasibility when determining how to prepare for the general election.
While mail-in voting facilitates participation for many, it creates barriers for others when it is the only option. Many voters are comfortable with the civic experience of casting a ballot at a local polling place and might choose not to vote at all if absentee voting is the only option. Postal delivery is less convenient for voters who live in certain rural areas or who rely on P.O. boxes that are not necessarily nearby. And many Native Americans on reservations do not receive mail at all. For non-English speakers, translated instructions on a mailed ballot might not be as useful as a bilingual poll worker who can answer specific questions in person.
While voter fraud is rare, mail-in voting is more prone to it than other voting methods. For example, "ballot harvesting" scandals involve the altering of absentee ballots by volunteers or other political operatives who are tasked with collecting and submitting these ballots on behalf of voters. States scrambling to expand their mail-in voting systems might be more prone to these issues than others with robust mail-in voting systems that have been developed over the course of several years.
Certain precautions can help prevent this type of fraud by making it more convenient for voters to deliver ballots on their own. Tammy Patrick, a former county election official who is now a senior adviser at the nonprofit Democracy Fund, suggests that states offer prepaid return postage, accept ballots postmarked as late as election day, and designate convenient drop-off locations for voters who prefer to deliver their ballots in person.
"If you do these things, no one needs to pick up your ballot—it's convenient for voters to maintain power and authority over their own ballot. Not doing these things risks a situation where a voter has waited until the last day, and someone shows up at their door offering to take their ballot and they see it as their last opportunity. That could be someone with good intentions or not," Patrick told ProPublica.
Another security issue that could be amplified with the adoption of universal mail-in voting is voter coercion, which occurs when family members or others exert pressure on voters to vote a certain way. While all voters can be susceptible to coercion, absentee voters are especially prone—the kitchen table does not provide the same degree of freedom to vote independently as the voting booth does. But the same measures that would help prevent ballot tampering by making the process more seamless might also be useful in thwarting coercion efforts. For example, averting family scrutiny becomes easier when you have the option to return your ballot in a prepaid envelope and avoid having to provide postage from home.
Expansive mail-in voting systems and secure elections are not mutually exclusive as long as voters have plenty of options and privacy is prioritized. Colorado, which has one of the most secure mail-in voting systems in the country, maintains the option to vote in-person. An in-person vote voids that voter's mailed ballot.
Suggested Best Practices for States
When it comes to elections, there is no one-size-fits-all reform that would work for all 50 states. Many states did make changes to their primaries that prioritize both the health of the public and the integrity of the election. Even without postponement as an option for the general election in November, states still have the opportunity to make meaningful changes if they act quickly. To the extent that it is feasible, each state should consider the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will continue through the fall and make in-person voting too dangerous.
Expand mail-in voting options
States should mobilize to change their voting procedures in a way that offers mail-in voting to as many eligible voters as possible. States that currently require an excuse to vote absentee should eliminate these requirements and allow any voter to request an absentee ballot online. States that already offer "no-excuse" absentee voting should move in the direction of the few states that automatically send ballots to all eligible voters.
Enact measures to secure mail-in elections
States should work to implement identity verification measures, such as signature-matching technology, for their mail-in ballots while also planning to rectify inevitable technical issues that might incorrectly invalidate some ballots. To combat ballot tampering as well as the increased likelihood of voter coercion that expanded absentee voting can bring, states should enact precautionary measures that promote and facilitate ballot delivery by the voters themselves rather than a third party. These include offering prepaid postage, accepting ballots postmarked as late as election day, and setting convenient drop-off locations for in-person delivery. Removing any opportunity for a third party to intercept the ballots or observe the votes of others can help preserve election integrity. Exceptions for elderly or disabled voters in need of assistance are often appropriate, but third-party assistance in these cases should require some extra form of authentication.
Maintain the option to vote in person
While states should encourage as much absentee voting as possible to protect the health of their voters and poll workers, they should also retain the option to vote in person to give everyone a fair chance to participate. While health concerns about crowds at the polls are valid, expanded absentee voting should reduce the number of voters who show up. To reduce crowds even further, states should consider adding new polling locations if possible.
Retaining an in-person voting option would expand voter access and serve as another layer of protection against fraud or coercion. With this option, a voter who is not satisfied with the absentee ballot they submitted can invalidate it by going to the polls on election day and casting a new one. A system of expanded mail-in voting alongside traditional, in-person voting is likely the best way to promote both public health and participation in the democratic process amid this unprecedented public health crisis.
Reposted with permission from The New Center.
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By Gretchen Goldman
The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has released their consensus recommendations to the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The group of 20 independent experts, that were disbanded by Administrator Wheeler last October and reconvened last week, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, has now made clear that the current particulate pollution standards don't protect public health and welfare.
The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) — the remaining seven-person committee that is providing science advice to the EPA on the particulate matter standards — meets this week to discuss their recommendations on whether the current standards are adequate. The letter from the Independent Panel will be the elephant in the room.
The Elephant in the CASAC Meeting
CASAC has already acknowledged that they don't have the expertise to conduct the review but you know who does? The Independent Panel. The Panel has more than double the experts of CASAC, and importantly, it has multiple experts in each of the necessary scientific disciplines critical to ensure a comprehensive, robust review of the science supporting the standards.
As a result, we should watch whether or not CASAC aligns with the panel in their recommendations on the standards. If CASAC doesn't decide this week to make a similar recommendation as the Independent Panel, they'll have to explain why they disagreed with a larger, more experienced, and more diverse set of experts on the topic. In any event, the administrator will have access to both CASAC and the Independent Panel's recommendations when he ultimately makes the decision of where to set particulate pollution standards. The panel's recommendations should hold the administrator's feet to the fire.
The Fine Particulate Matter Standards Don’t Protect Public Health
The standards of greatest interest are the primary PM2.5 standards. These are the standards for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (fine particulate matter) that are designed to protect public health. The panel supported the preliminary conclusions of a Draft EPA Policy Assessment that the current standards aren't requisite to protect public health.
The letter cited new and consistent epidemiological findings, supported by human and animal studies and other studies with natural experiments, as providing "clear and compelling scientific evidence" for tighter standards. Since the last particulate matter review, several new large-scale epidemiological studies provide powerful evidence that particulate matter is causing adverse health outcomes (such as early death, heart attacks, and respiratory stress) at locations and during time periods with concentrations at or below the level of the current standards.
They write, "New and compelling evidence that health effects are occurring in areas that already meet or are well below the current standards." Notably, this evidence cuts across different locations with different study populations, different study designs, and different statistical approaches.
Given the weight of the evidence from new studies across scientific disciplines and consistent with the decision-making process that EPA and its science advisers have used for many years, the panel recommends a particulate matter standard between 8 µg/m3 and 10 µg/m3 for the annual PM2.5 standard (compared to the current standard of 12 µg/m3) and between 25 µg/m3 and 30 µg/m3 for the 24-hour standard (compared to the current standard of 35 µg/m3) to protect public health. These ranges are tighter than those recommended in EPA's Draft Policy Assessment.
Keeping the Current Fine Particulate Matter Standards Ignores the Science
The Independent Panel rejected a potential argument for maintaining the current primary PM2.5 standards. The Draft Policy Assessment offered up an alternative rationale that might be used if the agency were to reject the draft assessment's recommendation to strengthen the standards and maintain the current standards. This alternative rationale explains that such a move would require the administrator to be arbitrarily selective in choosing which new studies to accept and which to toss and to disregard new epidemiologic evidence showing effects at lower levels.
The panel roundly rejected this justification, noting that, "Arguments offered in the draft Policy Assessment for retaining the current standards are not scientifically justified and are specious." This is important because if the administrator fails to strengthen the standards, he'll have to explain (both in court and in the court of public opinion) why he feels such a decision is science-based, as required under the Clean Air Act. And one proposed argument he could use has just been debunked by this expert Panel.
Otherwise, the EPA’s Draft Policy Assessment Is Scientifically Sound
While the Independent Panel critiqued some details of the EPA's Draft Policy Assessment, the panel agreed that the draft science and policy assessments were cohesive and robust and the panel commended the "good faith effort" involved in the policy assessment. Specifically, the panel affirmed the use of EPA's causality framework used in the Integrated Science Assessment they reviewed last year and the Policy Assessment's new use of a hybrid modeling technique that allows for better assessment of risk from particulate matter exposure across the country especially in rural areas.
This diverges from what the seven-member CASAC has said and done around the EPA's assessment of the science and policy. In December, they concluded that the agency's draft science assessment was not a scientific document (it is) and CASAC Chair Dr. Tony Cox has been critical of the agency's causality framework that has been developed with dozens of experts over more than a decade. This view is not shared by the scientific community, and now, not shared by the Independent Panel either.
Other Particulate Pollution Standards Also May Need Revamping
The Independent Panel decided other particulate standards were also inadequate. On PM10, particulate matter less than 10 micrometers, the panel recommended revising this standard downward given that the PM2.5 component would also be tightened and noted several research and monitoring areas that need further work. On the secondary standards, i.e. the standards designed to protect welfare effects, such as visibility, the panel concluded that the standards should be tightened in order to be more protective.
The Panel Condemns the EPA’s Broken Process
The Independent Panel's deliberations, demands for further research, and unanswered questions highlight how broken the EPA process is. In a normal review cycle, the panel would have had the opportunity to talk with agency scientists directly. The EPA staff would then have considered their comments and revised the Integrated Science Assessment in response to the committee and panel's suggestions. But because the administrator disbanded the panel and abbreviated the process, there was no opportunity for such dialogue and refinement of the agency's science assessment before policy decisions were discussed. But alas, the panel had to make do with what was available to them and CASAC does too.
Fortunately for CASAC, an Independent Panel has already done their job, and they are free (and encouraged) to run with it, especially given the long list of ways that EPA Administrator Wheeler has damaged the ambient air pollution review process.
Listen and watch this week as CASAC discusses the same questions that the Independent Panel did last week. If CASAC comes to different conclusions than the larger, more experienced, and more diverse Independent Panel, we should ask why.
You can raise these questions yourself and demand that the administrator follow the panel's recommendations, by providing written or oral public comments at a future CASAC meeting and commenting on the docket for the particulate matter rule-making. I'll be providing public comments this afternoon urging CASAC to follow the advice of the Independent Panel and commenting on the EPA's problematic process and drawing attention to that elephant in the room.
Gretchen Goldman is the research director at the Center for Science and Democracy.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Union of Concerned Scientists.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Attorneys general and mayors from more than 25 states have banded together to oppose the easing of auto efficiency standards proposed by Scott Pruitt, the scandal-plagued administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"All Americans—not only the residents of the states, cities and counties signing this manifesto—deserve to enjoy fuel-efficient, low-emission cars and light trucks that save money on gas, improve our health and support American jobs. We strongly urge the auto industry to join us, and to use its influence with the Administration to ensure that these standards remain in place," the declaration states.
The document was signed by attorneys general from 11 states including New York, Iowa and Massachusetts, and mayors of more than 50 cities.
The lawmakers promised to legally defend current Obama-era fuel economy standards calling for new cars and light trucks to average 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
"Given our responsibilities to our citizens, we also strongly oppose and will vigorously resist any effort by the Administration to prevent states from enforcing reasonable, commonsense emissions performance standards for vehicle fleets sold in their jurisdictions," they state.
"Such standards are particularly appropriate given the serious public health impacts of air pollution in our cities and states and the severe impacts posed by climate change, including recent storms, droughts, floods and fires that have hit multiple regions of the U.S. in just the past few years. If the Administration attempts to deny states and cities the basic right to protect their citizens, we will strongly challenge such an effort in court."
Nobody knows better than Angelenos the importance of cleaner vehicles to our health. I stand with my fellow… https://t.co/IuOPqZ4J7y— Mayor Eric Garcetti (@Mayor Eric Garcetti)1522709146.0
They conclude, "If federal officials obstruct progress on this front, states and cities will pick up the leadership mantle to protect our constituents' health, support our local economies, and maintain the international competitiveness of the U.S. automotive industry. With the support of the American people, which we already strongly enjoy, we are confident we will prevail."
They anticipates more state and local elected leaders will "soon be added" to the declaration.
Pruitt defended his decision at the EPA headquarters on Tuesday. He said that revising the standards is "another step" in President Donald Trump's "deregulatory agenda."
"This president has shown tremendous courage to say to the American people that America is going to be put first, and I think this mid-term evaluation, the auto sector, the importance of auto manufacturing in this country, the president is again saying, America is going to be put first, and we have nothing to be apologetic about with respect to the progress we've made in reducing emissions as a country," he said.
Pruitt Sees EPA As Political Stepping Stone https://t.co/XCBZAbcBs5 @YEARSofLIVING @NRDC @DeSmogBlog @ClimateNexus… https://t.co/VsxorVs6p3— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521478037.0
By Ken Kimmell
A major front in the climate change debate has moved to the courtroom, as I've previously discussed. Last week, plaintiffs in two separate cases won significant procedural victories—one against major fossil fuel companies, and a second against the Trump administration. Here are the latest developments and their implications.
Bay Area vs. Big Oil
In this suit, The People of the State of California v. BP et al., the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued five major oil companies (BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Shell), charging that these companies created a public nuisance by extracting and selling oil, coal and gas while misleading the public about the harms that these products cause.
The two cities filed in state court and under state law. This was an important strategic choice, as the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California) had dismissed prior cases brought in federal court, holding that congress enacted the Clean Air Act to comprehensively address the emission of greenhouse gases, and that therefore there was no role for federal lawsuits of this kind.
Citing the precedent of these earlier rulings, the defendant oil companies transferred the cities' cases to federal court, and argued that the cities' claims were preempted by federal law. In response, the cities claimed that they had a right to file in state court and that their claims under state law were not preempted by federal law, and they asked the judge to send the cases back to state court.
A federal district court judge issued a decision that neither side argued for. The court decided in the oil companies' favor that the case was properly in federal court, reasoning—with some logic—that climate change is an international problem, that state courts might apply inconsistent standards if allowed to adjudicate these cases, and that only the federal court could apply a uniform standard.
But, the court went on to find that the two earlier cases which had dismissed federal court suits did not apply to this case. The court found that while the Clean Air Act addresses the emissions from fossil fuel combustion, the San Francisco/Oakland case was not about emissions of pollutants, but rather an alleged scheme to sell a product through deception. The court reasoned—again with some logic—that the Clean Air Act offered no remedy for that conduct, and therefore did not preempt this lawsuit.
This part of the ruling was a major win for the plaintiffs, as it seems to take away the key defense of preemption that the oil companies seemed to be counting on.
On top of this, the court also ordered the parties to participate in a five-hour "climate science" tutorial for the court, to be held on Mar. 21. The judge ordered the parties to "trace the history of scientific study of climate change, beginning with scientific inquiry into the formation and melting of the ice ages, periods of historic cooling and warming, smog, ozone, nuclear winter, volcanoes and global warming." And further, to inform the court of "the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise and coastal flooding."
This is fascinating and highly unusual. As anyone who has seen a trial on television or in the movies knows, courts don't conduct tutorials; they oversee trials, in which lawyers present the testimony of witnesses under oath and each side gets to examine and cross examine. The sheer novelty of this procedure is a good sign for the plaintiffs. Why would the judge invest time and energy to learn about climate science unless he thought the plaintiffs' legal claims might rest on a durable foundation? Also, the fact that the court asked for a climate science timeline suggests the court is honing in on some key questions: what did the fossil fuel companies know about climate change, when did they know it, and how did their public statements square with the scientific consensus at the time?
All eyes will be on this climate science tutorial, which will presumably be open to the public. To my knowledge, this is the first time climate science will be presented to a court in this fashion, and it offers an excellent opportunity to highlight the longstanding and well-supported scientific consensus.
It is too early to confidently predict what lies ahead but, on the basis of the judge's initial opinion, one can say this: the courtroom door is open now on these issues as it never has been before.
Kids sue to protect themselves and future generations.
In this case, Juliana v. the United States, a group of kids are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect them against the harms of climate change. I wrote about the novelty of this case last fall, and its early success when a federal district court judge in Oregon ordered the case to trial, rejecting all the Trump administration's procedural defenses.
Since that time, the Trump administration asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to dismiss the case. This was an unusual move because, ordinarily, a party to a lawsuit cannot appeal until the trial court has issued a final judgment. In this case, however, the district court had not done so. Predictably, the court of appeals ruled that the appeal was therefore premature, and sent the case back to the district court.
(Full disclosure: UCS joined a friend of the court brief on this issue, ably authored by Earthjustice attorneys).
The case was originally set for trial in February, 2018, but the Trump administration's appeal delayed that. Presumably, the next step will be for the court to set another trial date.
This is not good news for the Trump administration. At a minimum, a trial on this will be a public relations nightmare in which an appealing group of kids, represented by experienced attorneys, will have the opportunity to question Trump administration officials in open court. They will no doubt ask questions that the administration will find extremely difficult to answer, such as: Why has the Trump administration sought to withdraw from the Paris agreement, rolled back regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and promoted subsidies for coal? Does the Trump administration not accept climate science? Does it not care about the harm of runaway climate change?
Further down the line, if the plaintiffs are successful in district court and if the court of appeals or the supreme court affirms the ruling (all very big "ifs," of course), the Trump administration faces the prospect of being forced under court order to develop and implement a plan to address climate change.
Chickens coming home to roost.
These lawsuits and the apparent judicial receptiveness to them—at least so far—are not accidental. Courts are heavily influenced by historic context, and judges are no doubt well aware of the pressing urgency of climate change and the failure of the federal government to address it. With no solution in sight, it is not surprising that courts are increasingly willing to hear cases urging a strong judicial role.
Is it ideal that courts, rather than our elected representatives, would decide these issues? Of course not. Maybe it is time for those who have opposed having our elected leaders take action on climate to consider this question–would they prefer the courts to do that job?
From repealing and replacing Obamacare to constructing that border wall, President Donald Trump has broken a lot of promises that he made on the campaign trail. However, there is one area where Trump has been seemingly true to the his word—crippling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the first of a series of reports from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), the Trump administration poses the greatest threat to the EPA's 47-year history.
The group's stunning analysis, The EPA Under Siege, draws on institutional history and the insight of more than 50 interviews with long-term EPA staff, who are unidentified in the report for their protection. The report's authors have identified plummeting morale, mutual distrust between political appointees and career staff, and paralysis of operations within the EPA under current Administrator Scott Pruitt.
"Twice before, presidential administrations in North America have targeted their own environmental agencies with comparable aggression, in the early Reagan administration (1981-1983) and under Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2006-2015)," the EDGI report's authors state. "Trump's assault is on track to surpass these."
The EDGI is an international coalition of academics and nonprofits organizations that formed after Trump's election to address potential threats to federal environmental and energy policy. You may know of their detailed work on tracking changes to federal websites.
There are many unsettling revelations from the report, but this section says it all:
"From their front row seats, many agency veterans now think they see a gathering profile of the Trump administration's long game: to abolish the EPA. 'I think there's a general consensus among the career people,' one tells us, 'that at bottom they're basically trying to destroy the place.' Another, working in a different office, elaborates: 'I think this is just phase one … I think there's a much bigger master plan [discernible] if you read into what came out of restructuring ... we're going to be structured out. I think they're either going to break us up again and send us back to the ... programs we came from, or combine us with Energy or strip even further programs from us so that there's just a real exceedingly small base that's doing this work. I think the plan is to get rid of EPA.'"
Here are some of the other allegations from the EPA staff (you can read the whole collection of quotes here):
Pruitt has never met with environmental groups. "I don't believe he's met with any environmental groups to date, so he's still kind of sticking with his core business, government groups." Almost no one interviewed in the report has had contact with Pruitt himself or seen him around the office. Rather, they take note of his frequent trips around the country and visits with like-minded constituencies, such as Western governors, farmers and coal miners.
Pruitt has banned staff from taking notes. "There's a premium on, I would say secrecy. Meaning senior managers that are going into meetings with Pruitt…. aren't [allowed to compile] written materials. They're asked not to take notes, not to take a computer in and type notes… Everything is just verbal. If it's just verbal, then there's no record that you can get a FOIA to see what happened."
Pruitt has requested around-the-clock security. "Pruitt is requesting in the 2018 budget that he have a security team, 24/7, made up of 10 people because he feels his life is I guess at risk because there's such internal hatred at EPA. This is scary and unfounded."
Pruitt's first speech to the agency was carefully stage-managed to avoid dissent. His speech also never alluded to the EPA's longstanding work in safeguarding human health, science, scientists, ecology or even climate change. One staff member recalled, "I can say that many of us were seething after watching his speech. Well, watching it 'live' from the EPA TV. Junior staff were not permitted to attend in person. All staff were provided with the opportunity to rsvp to attend but apparently the rsvp list was reviewed with a fine toothed comb so only those certain to not cause a disruption during the speech, would be there. I assume that means old people with suits (which is what we saw on the EPA tv while watching the speech). Yes, I too was wondering when he would mention human health. Apparently never!"
Trump's visit to the EPA was met with frustration from staff employees. During Trump's March 28 visit to the agency's headquarters to sign "new energy revolution" executive order to undo Obama's climate policies he was flanked by coal miners, Pruitt, Vice President Mike Pence and the new Secretaries of Energy Rick Perry and Interior Ryan Zinke. However, few people at the EPA were invited. One interviewee said, "We were frankly insulted that the President would come to EPA to announce that he is overturning the work to battle the most urgent environmental problem of our generation—climate change. It was beyond comprehension that an Administration could be so arrogant and callous." Another veteran official described it as an "in-your-face, insulting [a] thing as I've experienced in my time here."
Some staff believe that Trump's draconian 2018 EPA budget proposal was influenced by conservative think-tanks. One EPA worker's "personal opinion" was that "it's all from the Heritage Foundation's report, almost verbatim ... they just literally went through the list and said well this is climate change, boom this goes. EJ [environmental justice] we couldn't care less about that, this goes."
By Andy Rowell
Since Donald Trump was elected, there has been an assault on the pillars of what many would be considered a free and fair democratic society: the right to protest and the right to free speech.
As millions stand up for science, for women's and LGBT rights and for the climate, the authorities are trying to crack down on peaceful dissent, leading one commentator to argue that there is a now a "free speech crisis in America."
Many veterans of protests will argue that we have been here before. Indeed, I wrote a book more than 25 years ago, titled Green Backlash, that looked at how the authorities were trying to silence environmental activists. But these are dark days again, with a country-wide attack on civil rights.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than 30 separate anti-protest bills have been introduced in the country since Nov. 8 last year, in "an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century."
Many of these have been introduced in states such as North Dakota, where indigenous activists spent months fighting the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.
The Guardian reported that more than 20 states have proposed bills that would "crack down on protests and demonstrations" since Trump was elected.
One bill under consideration in Tennessee could effectively allow a driver to legitimately run over a protester "who is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising due care."
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, a new bill deliberately aimed at stopping protests against the oil and gas industry and other "critical infrastructure" was sent to the governor to sign at the end of last month.
According to a report in the Intercept, the Oklahoma law "is unique ... in its broad targeting of groups 'conspiring' with protesters accused of trespassing. It takes aim at environmental organizations Republicans have blamed for anti-pipeline protests that have become costly for local governments."
Under the newly signed law, any person who even enters property containing "critical infrastructure" without permission could face a fine of not less than $1,000 or six months in jail. Intent to "willfully destroy" or "impede or inhibit operations of the facility" means the person faces a fine of $10,000 or one year in jail. Should someone be convicted of causing damage, they face a fine of $100,000.00 or 10 years in jail.
As the Intercept noted, "Significantly, the statute also implicates any organization 'found to be a conspirator' with the trespasser, threatening collaborator groups with a fine 'ten times' that imposed on the intruder—as much as $1 million in cases involving damage."
It is not surprising that the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association supports the legislation.
Another bill which recently passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives would not only seek damages from someone caught trespassing, but also, "A person or entity that compensates or remunerates a person for trespassing ... may also be held vicariously liable for any damages to personal or real property committed by the person compensated or remunerated for trespassing."
It is currently unclear what "compensated" actually means and whether it is a way of trying to undermine more mainstream environmental organizations who have offered some kind of background support to protesters.
This has been widely condemned: Johnson Bridgwater, head of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Intercept, "There is a strong and real fear that this could be used as an attempt to crush a group or a chapter of Sierra Club unfairly ... We see all of these bills as nothing more than corporate America being fearful of how successful the Standing Rock protests were."
UN experts have branded the bills being introduced across the country as "incompatible with U.S. obligations under international human rights law." David Kaye and Maina Kiai, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, argue that some specific pieces of legislation are "criminalizing peaceful protests."
The ACLU and National Lawyers Guild also believe that many of the bills violate the U.S. Constitution.
Vera Eidelman from the ACLU told the Guardian, "This flood of bills represents an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century. And many of these bills attack the right to speak out precisely where the Supreme Court has historically held it to be the most robust: in public parks, streets and sidewalks."
The two UN experts David Kaye and Maina Kiai have now written to the U.S. government arguing that the legislation "severely infringes upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly."
Meanwhile, dozens of people who were innocently watching Trump's inauguration have now been charged with multiple felonies, including journalists and people just holding banners. Art Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU in Washington, DC, argued, "To the extent the government is prosecuting people who were not breaking any law, of course it will have a chilling effect on participation in protest."
And that is what Trump and others want: to chill people into silence.
The House Science Committee will hear testimony March 29 that will question whether climate change is a human induced phenomenon. The hearing, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method, is a just another prong in the current effort to undo the environmental progress made during the Obama years.
It coincides with the efforts of the Trump administration, which has proposed to strip the federal budget of any monies that would be targeted to cutting carbon dioxide emissions. To that end, the president has signed executive orders to weaken Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would cut CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030, and eliminate rules to cut methane emissions from natural gas drilling.
Witnesses at next week's hearing will represent all points of view, including Judith Curry, who has serious doubts about climate change and has criticized other scientists for not expressing the same cynicism, and Climate scientist Michael Mann, who was invited by the Democrats on the committee. Mann is a professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, who told the New York Times earlier this year that if human-induced climate change was not part of the equation, the amount of warming in 2016 would have less than one-in-a-million odds of occurring. "One could argue that about 75 percent of the warmth was due to human impact," Mann told the Times.
Neither side is likely to persuade the other during the hearings. Each side is dug in, with the Trump administration's point person being the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He said earlier this month in an interview on CNBC that "I would not agree that (carbon) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
EPA Chief Denies CO2 as Primary Driver of Climate Change https://t.co/gHj2KJDrQm @tcktcktck @OneWorld_News— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489186508.0
Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists have said that the matter is settled: "Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities."
Trump's response? He has proposed to cut EPA's budgets budget by roughly 30 percent, from $8.1 billion to about $5.7 billion, while also slashing the agency's workforce from 15,000 to 11,800. Among the programs to be shed: Energy Star, which is a globally recognized symbol for the 5 billion products that have met the highest energy efficiency standards. Its supporters say it is a $54 million a year program that saves $34 billion a year in electricity costs.
"The new administration has concerns about the EPA but they have never been about Energy Star," Lowell Ungar, senior policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said in an earlier interview. "This helps consumers across the country: rural, urban, coastal and middle of country. Why threaten a program that saves consumers money?"
It's important to note that not all Republicans are against action on climate. After all, the EPA was created under Republican President Nixon in 1972.
A conservative group called republicEN is trying to sway conservatives to think differently. The organization believes that the denial of climate science is anathema to both American and conservative causes. As such, it said the loudest voices are drowning out those of the most reasonable, which includes much of the national electorate.
There are "small government" solutions, the organization said. Eliminating subsidies to all energy sources would correct market distortions, the group touts.
Meantime, 13 Republican members of the Climate Solution Cause—a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives which explores policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate—are pressing forward, having just invited EPA Administrator Pruitt to Florida to see the effects of rising tides.
"We can't deal in alternative facts, or alternative realities," said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, in a release by republicEN. "We have to deal with whatever there's consensus about as a starting point in legitimate debates that do exist." Sanford criticized Republican reluctance to take on the issue, "Even though the scientific consensus has been clear ... You talk to old-timers, and they say it's changing."
Los Angeles-based law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman filed lawsuits last week on behalf of 136 plaintiffs from across the country who allege that exposure to Monsanto's glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Three bundled complaints were filed last week in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
"We're bringing the lawsuit to address the injuries that have been caused by Roundup and glyphosate to mainly farmers and farm workers, but we think that consumers and home gardeners have also been affected," Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a co-counsel in the lawsuit, told St. Louis Public Radio.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. at a press conference with Baum Hedlund clients outside of the courthouse in Fresno, California in January.Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman
The firm also filed another 40 cases in Alameda County, California, Superior Court, on Friday. The 40 individuals, all from California, allege that exposure to the herbicide caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The St. Louis plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injuries against defendants Monsanto, Osborn & Barr Communications, Inc. and Osborn & Barr Holdings, Inc., all of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Alameda lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injuries against defendants Monsanto and Wilbur Ellis Company, LLC of San Francisco, California.
More than 700 Roundup cancer claims have now been filed in state and federal courts. Kennedy estimated that claims could increase to 3,000 in the next few months.
Monsanto, which is awaiting a multi-billion dollar merger with Germany's Bayer, is facing a spate of controversy this month over its flagship product.
First, California became the first U.S. state to require the company to label Roundup as a possible carcinogen in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65.
California Judge Rules Against Monsanto, Allows Cancer Warning on Roundup https://t.co/YxVFlGWRj4 @food_democracy @justlabelit— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489274104.0
Then last week, a federal judge in San Francisco unsealed documents suggesting that company employees had ghostwritten scientific reports that U.S. regulators used to determine glyphosate does not cause cancer. Court files also indicated that Jess Rowland—a former senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who chaired a committee on cancer risk—worked with Monsanto to suppress reviews of glyphosate.
"Monsanto's newly released documents expose a culture corrupt enough to shock the company's most jaded critics," Kennedy said in a statement. "Those papers show sociopathic company officials ghostwriting scientific studies to conceal Roundup's risks from Monsanto's regulators and customers, including food consumers, farmers and the public."
"One wonders about the perverse morality that incentivizes executives to lie so easily and to put profits before human life," he added. "All humanity will benefit when a jury sees this scheme and gives this behemoth a new set of incentives."
Glyphosate, the most heavily used weedkiller in agricultural history, is currently used in more than 160 countries. However, a number of environmental and human health risks have been associated with its rampant use.
As Alternet wrote:
"In addition to its potential cancer-causing properties, Roundup has been linked to a host of other health issues such as ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, liver disease, reproductive problems and birth defects, as well as environmental impacts, such as the record decline of monarch butterflies. A 2014 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey detected the presence of Roundup in 75 percent of air and rainfall test samples take from the Mississippi Delta, a fertile agricultural region."
Dark Sad $ Science :.Bill Nye on Glyphosate 'We Accidentally Decimated the Monarch #Butterfly Population' https://t.co/AdXdXbJNDj @ecowatch— Rachel Parent (@Rachel Parent)1466117067.0
According to a press release from Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the lawsuits allege that Monsanto continues to proclaim to the world that Roundup creates no risks to human health or to the environment.
They also claim that Monsanto "championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed Roundup's dangers in order to prove that Roundup is safe for human use, while also ghostwriting studies and leading a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers, and the general population that Roundup was safe."
Monsanto's glyphosate woes all started when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research (IARC) on Cancer concluded in 2015 that the chemical is a "probable carcinogen" to humans. Furthermore, the IARC said that the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers.
EPA Panel Divided on Whether #Glyphosate Causes #Cancer https://t.co/RKIK6m8Wpq @nongmoreport @NonGMOProject @USRightToKnow @OrganicConsumer— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482507536.0
The biotech giant refutes the classification and insists that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer.
"We empathize with anyone facing cancer," Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord told St. Louis Public Radio via email. "We can also confidently say that glyphosate is not the cause. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen."
The IARC's classification contrasts with findings from several international agencies including the EPA and the European Chemicals Agency, which concluded earlier this month that glyphosate should not be classified as a cancer-causing substance.
The Trump administration filed a motion Tuesday seeking an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on a federal judge's Nov. 10, 2016 order in Juliana v. United States. The Trump administration also filed a motion to delay trial preparation until after its appeal is considered.
Kids Name Trump as Defendant in Landmark Climate Case https://t.co/ONB3XOIRo5— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1486750403.0
Further, the Trump administration asked for expedited review of both motions, arguing the plaintiffs' Jan. 24 letter requesting the government to retain records relating to climate change and communications between the government and the fossil fuel industry was overly burdensome. The excerpt from the government's stay motion said:
"Plaintiffs … intend to seek discovery relating to virtually all of the federal government's activities relating to control of CO2 emissions ... Compounding the United States' burdens, Plaintiffs have indicated that their intended discovery has a temporal scope of more than sixty years ... Absent relief, there will most certainly be depositions of federal government fact witnesses ... that will explore the extraordinarily broad topic of climate change and the federal government's putative knowledge over the past seven decades."
Yet, in another complex case regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and BP, the U.S. produced more than 17 million pages of documents from April to September of 2011. Plaintiffs maintain that their requests are limited, reasonable and aimed at getting to trial this fall.
Appeals typically do not occur until a trial court has issued final rulings following the presentation of evidence, but the Trump administration is asking federal Magistrate Judge Coffin to exercise his discretion to allow the case to proceed to the Court of Appeals before final judgment.
Attorneys representing fossil fuel industry defendants are expected to file papers supporting the government's motions on Friday.
"The Trump administration argues that this is a big case and so the burdens of preserving government documents warrant an expedited review," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said. "They're right. It is a big case. We have a classic example of the government's misplaced priorities: They prefer to minimize their procedural obligations of not destroying government documents over the urgency of not destroying our climate system for our youth plaintiffs and all future generations?"
In the government's answer to the youth plaintiffs' complaint, they admitted that "the use of fossil fuels is a major source of [carbon dioxide] emissions, placing our nation on an increasingly costly, insecure and environmentally dangerous path."
The case was brought by 21 young plaintiffs who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of climate danger. Judge Ann Aiken's November order denied motions to dismiss brought by both the Obama administration and fossil fuel industry defendants.
"This request for appeal is an attempt to cover up the federal government's long-running collusion with the fossil fuel industry," Alex Loznak, 20-year-old plaintiff and Columbia University student, said. "My generation cannot wait for the truth to be revealed. These documents must be uncovered with all deliberate speed, so that our trial can force federal action on climate change."
Victory for America's Youth: Federal Judge Rules Climate Lawsuit Can Proceed https://t.co/iXxiZvf5Nf @climatecouncil @energyaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478913606.0
Other pre-trial developments
- During Wednesday's telephonic case management conference between attorneys for the parties and Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took the view that the Trump administration, will have the opportunity to use executive privilege to prevent the release of evidence in the possession of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
- DOJ attorneys said they recently informed the White House that NARA was in the process of gathering documents requested by the plaintiffs. It is the DOJ's view that former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, will have the opportunity to bar release of the records of their respective administrations, but President Trump will ultimately have the authority to bar release of any and all NARA records.
- The next Juliana v. United States case management conference with Judge Coffin is scheduled for April 7 and will be telephonic.
- Attorneys for youth plaintiffs are in the process of compiling a list of prospective witnesses to be deposed, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and expect to provide that list to defendants next week.
Youth Seek Testimony From Exxon's Rex Tillerson in Federal Climate Lawsuit https://t.co/c8kaz4lKkM @ClimateDesk @globalgreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483066833.0
Juliana v. United States is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.
The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.
#Trump's #EPA Pick Sued for Denying Public Access to Emails https://t.co/9C2BjPogYc @prwatch @DeSmogBlog @KOCHexposed @SierraClub @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486495418.0
In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.
Oklahoma judge just ordered the release of thousands of emails from EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. Delay this vote until we see the emails!— Brian Schatz (@Brian Schatz)1487282609.0
Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.
On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.
"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."
Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee—weighed in on the case, urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:
"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."
"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."
Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.
What Is Scott Pruitt Hiding? Releases Only 411 of 3,000 Emails https://t.co/3QO9VrxWVd— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1487171063.0
At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.
After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.
Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born citizen and scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) when trying to reenter the country from Chile late last month. Bikkannavar was in Patagonia racing solar-powered cars. He was detained by CPB in Houston without explanation and forced to unlock his NASA-issued phone.
3 Reasons Trump EPA Pick Can't Be Trusted With Climate Science https://t.co/olPdJxwZU7 @BusinessGreen @Ethical_Corp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486859103.0
After his passport was scanned, he was taken into a back room where other detained travelers waited on cots. Bikkannavar is a member of Global Entry, a CBP program that “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers" upon arrival in the U.S.
Bikkannavar asked "Why was I chosen?" But, no response was given, The Verge reported.
Bikkannavar was questioned on basic information already provided by his Global Entry membership and then asked to hand over and unlock his work phone. He was reticent to unlock his phone because it was issued by a federal agency and might contain sensitive information—NASA employees are told to protect work data. He tried to politely explain this when the CBP officer handed him an Inspection of Electronic Devices form.
While manual phone searches are legal, travelers are not required to unlock phones. But, travelers who do not unlock phones may be further detained.
"In each incident that I've seen, the subjects have been shown a Blue Paper that says CBP has legal authority to search phones at the border, which gives them the impression that they're obligated to unlock the phone, which isn't true," said Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, according to The Verge.
Bikkannavar's form listed detention and seizure among the consequences for not cooperating and he decided to turn over his phone and PIN. The phone was returned in about 30 minutes. He immediately turned his phone off and took it to the cybersecurity team at JPL upon arriving in Los Angeles.
Bikkannavar left for Chile on Jan. 15 prior to the Trump administration's travel ban, which targeted people from seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, but returned to the U.S. four days after the ban was signed.
The ban is currently on hold after a federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge James Robart's ruling against the executive order. Bikkannavar, whose family name has roots in southern India, has been searched before but not to this extent. "Maybe you could say it was one huge coincidence that this thing happens right at the travel ban," he told The Verge.
Read Bikkannavar's account of the events from one of his friends who shared his tweet:
this is from an IRL friend of mine. this is NOT my america. EVER. #MuslimBan Siid is a US Citizen. @CustomsBorder u… https://t.co/4dtdAnTfQV— Nick Adkins (@Nick Adkins)1486409489.0
The combined wealth of eight men is greater than the poorest 3.6 billion people, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam International.
This is a massive jump from last year's estimate, which cited the world's 62 richest people having a combined wealth equal to the poorest 50 percent of the population on the planet.
Oxfam's report, An Economy for the 99%, details the widening inequality of global wealth. The report will be presented at the World Economic Forum annual summit, beginning Jan. 17 in Davos, Switzerland. The attendees will include the top business executives, policy makers and academics.
62 Richest People on Earth Own the Same Wealth as Half the World's Population https://t.co/sSmjouKVnu @globalcompact @Ethical_Corp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1453250410.0
Oxfam's goal is to draw attention to political and economic forces creating widening inequality.
"It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, who will be attending the meeting in Davos. "Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy."
The combined wealth of these eight men is greater than 164 countries GDPs:
- Microsoft founder Bill Gates, $75 billion
- Spanish retail magnate Amancio Ortega, $67 billion
- American investor Warren Buffett, $60.8 billion
- Mexican investor Carlos Slim Helu, $50 billion
- Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, $45.2 billion
- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, $44.6 billion
- Oracle founder Larry Ellison, $43.6 billion
- Media mogul Michael Bloomberg, $40 billion
The world's 8 richest have as much wealth as the bottom half of the global population https://t.co/WGHlo1nnlP https://t.co/hA0epjRkQv— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1484577427.0
Many of these top eight men have already pledged vast amounts of their fortunes to charity.
Oxfam found that incomes of the poorest people increased a meager $65 between 1988 and 2011, or $3 annually. The incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent, on the other hand, added a whopping 182 times during the same time period.
A report released December 2016 by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that 117 million American adults are living on income stagnated at $16,200 a year, before taxes and transfer payments. It concluded that the lower half of the U.S. population has been "shut off from economic growth over the past 40 years."
Tax avoidance by corporations and mega-wealthy individuals are escalating inequality between the rich and poor at a staggering rate. Oxfam's report contends that the wealthiest people and corporations are using a sophisticated network of tax havens. As a result, they are not paying their fair share. That enormous sum of money not being taxed is desperately needed by government agencies for aging infrastructure, social assistance and future-proofing cities for more extreme weather.
According to the report, it's the inequality that is holding back economies.
"Global leaders are very aware now of the fact that if stark inequality continues at this level, it has a global economic impact," said Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam, Ireland. "This is not something that is inevitable. This is something that is a result of policy choices, and can be changed with the right kinds of policy choices."
Oxfam is urging governments to increase tax transparency and halt tax avoidance by multi-national corporations.
The organization believes that governments should be designed for the bottom 99 percent of the income earners rather than the top wealthiest one percent. Mandatory public lobby registries with stricter rules on conflicts of interest would curtail this widening gap of disparity.
According to the report:
"Some of the super-rich also use their fortunes to help buy the political outcomes they want, seeking to influence elections and public policy. The Koch brothers, two of the richest men in the world, have had a huge influence over conservative politics in the U.S., supporting many influential think tanks and the Tea Party movement and contributing heavily to discrediting the case for action on climate change. This active political influencing by the super-rich and their representatives directly drives greater inequality by constructing 'reinforcing feedback loops' in which the winners of the game get yet more resources to win even bigger next time."
One-Third of the Trump Team Has Ties to the Koch Brothers https://t.co/FabgX9Ahzc @OpenSecretsDC @Publici— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484189109.0
"From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo," cautioned Oxfam's new report.