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Zinke Caught in Conflict of Interest With Oil Giant Halliburton
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has spent his first 15 months opening public lands to oil and gas drilling, has been linked to a development project with Halliburton chairman David Lesar, POLITICO reported Tuesday.
Lesar is backing a real estate development in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Montana and receiving help from a foundation started by Zinke and currently run by his wife, Lola.
Lola Zinke has agreed in writing to allow the Lesar-funded development, which would convert an industrial area into a hotel and shops, to build a parking lot on land donated to the Zinke's foundation for a Veteran's Peace Park, which has remained undeveloped for nearly 10 years. The Zinkes also own land across from the development that stands to increase in value, real estate agents told POLITICO.
The development would also include a microbrewery, a project for which Zinke has spent five years lobbying town officials. Whitefish city planner David Taylor told POLITICO that the developers would allow the Zinkes to own and run the microbrewery, though the developers themselves said nothing had been decided.
"The sad fact is that this is just the latest example of Zinke attempting to personally benefit from a resource that should benefit the public," Whitefish conservation group the Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger told The Associated Press. The Western Values Project has called for an investigation into Zinke's offer of the land, donated for a park, to private interests and has asked Zinke to recuse himself from any future arrangements the Department of the Interior (DOI) makes with Halliburton.
Halliburton is the largest oil services company in the U.S., and ethics experts told POLITICO any deal between the company and the Zinkes presents a conflict of interest, since Halliburton stands to benefit from DOI plans announced under Zinke to open public lands to fossil fuel interests, such as the decision to open U.S. coasts to offshore oil drilling. POLITICO highlighted the DOI's move under Zinke to loosen Obama-era fracking restrictions on federal lands after lobbying by Halliburton, one of the world's largest fracking companies. DOI is also responsible for drilling and pipeline safety standards
Marilyn Glynn, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics under President George W. Bush, also thought the development deal meant that Zinke should now remove himself from any decisions that could impact Halliburton.
"In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you'd never run across something like this," she told POLITICO.
Zinke claimed he had resigned from the foundation that owns the park land after becoming secretary, but the foundation's annual report, which he says is a mistake, lists him as an officer, while his wife is president and his daughter is treasurer.
Public Citizen federal ethics law specialist Craig Holman said even his wife and daughter's involvement in the deal is enough to trigger conflict of interest rules that require executive branch officials to remove themselves from decisions impacting groups with which they or their close relatives have a financial relationship.
"Entering this type of business relationship could very clearly open the doors [of government] to business interests that have stakes before the office holder," Holman told POLITICO. "Clearly, any substantial development project next to the vacant lot owned by Zinke's foundation would significantly boost the value of the lot. The conflict-of-interest statute would be invoked if even the nonprofit on which Zinke or his spouse serves as an officer, as either paid or unpaid officers, derives a financial benefit."
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By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
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A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.