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Updated: 5 hours 2 min ago

Obama commutes 330 sentences in a bittersweet advance for clemency

10 hours 35 min ago
The White House clemency program fell short of its initial ambitions.CREDIT: AP Photo/Marc Levy

President Obama commuted 330 prison sentences on Thursday afternoon, bringing his total to 1,715 prisoners who will serve shorter time than they were sentenced to by judges and juries.

The bulk of the commutations go to people who were busted on drug charges, both major and minor, and then subjected to outdated mandatory minimum sentences or federal sentencing enhancements.

Some 67 of the petitioners granted clemency Thursday were imprisoned for life. Obama has now replaced life sentences with shorter terms for 568 people throughout his 8 years in office — and shortened more prison terms than any other president in history.

The push still comes dramatically short of the administration’s initial ambitions. When Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder launched their clemency initiative in hopes of righting some of the wrongs of America’s long drug war, the administration hoped to shorten 10,000 criminal sentences.

Those soaring early hopes leave Thursday’s announcement — described by the Associated Press as Obama’s final act in office, though he could legally issue further commutations and pardons prior to Donald Trump’s swearing-in at noon Friday — in an uncomfortable limbo.

On a range of administrative and legislative issues far broader than clemency alone,criminal justice reform advocates have had their best years with Obama in power. But ending at just 17 percent of the commutations that Holder told reporters he hoped to reach leaves those same observers wondering what went wrong.

That won’t matter much to people like Norman Brown, one of the clemency recipients who has already walked free. (Unlike a pardon, a commutation shortens the original court sentence but does not necessarily free someone from prison immediately.)

Brown had been in on a life sentence since he was a young man, hammered by the tough-on-crime era of crack cocaine sentencing rules. He moved into a halfway house around Thanksgiving 2015, more than a decade after his first clemency petition had been denied by President George W. Bush.

“I went to lunch with President Obama and six other commutees,” Brown told the Washington Post last summer. “I would like to hold a woman’s hand. I would like to have a conversation with her. I would like to have dinner with her,” Brown said he told Obama. “[H]e looked at me, and he said, ‘I understand.’”

Brown’s story will sit rough in the ears of the thousands of drug prisoners Obama turned down or never reached. But harsh questions about the clemency push falling short of its lofty goals may also be unfair.

The importance of commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence on the eve of the Trump era

The administration was bombarded with tens of thousands of prisoner petitions for either commuted sentences or outright pardons. Each needed meticulous review. And because the administration only started its public solicitation for unjust drug sentences in 2014, the project has always operated under a sort of pit-and-the-pendulum fatalism.

Thousands of lawyers around the country stepped up to volunteer their time in reviewing the applications. It was the largest pro-bono effort from American lawyers in history, the attorneys who helmed this initial volunteer review say. Applicants who passed this initial smell test then had to be passed to federal lawyers at the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) for further study.

OPA staff review is a multi-layered process that usually includes soliciting input from the judges and prosecutors involved in a given case. Once lawyers there culled the pool given to them by the pro bono attorneys, the files and recommendations had to be passed along to the White House itself, combed by one last bureaucratic layer, and then actually delivered to Obama.

All those steps and time pressures considered, the administration’s historic level of executive clemency for prisoners is astounding. But the inherent slowness and complexity of the process prompted Deborah Leff, a lifelong advocate for low-income people’s right to good representation in court, to resign from the OPA in frustration.

More people could have been helped, argue critics like Mark Osler, if the administration had issued categorical clemency to huge swathes of applicants caught up in drug war rules.

But the broader problem, as Vox’s Dara Lind has noted, is that America’s collective interest in mercy remains tightly constrained even at this high tide for criminal justice reforms. A persistent focus on low-level, non-violent drug felons is destined to leave the vast majority of America’s world-leading prison population locked up. There simply aren’t enough of those so-called “non-non-nons” to fix the American carceral state, even if they all moved home tomorrow.

Obama commutes 330 sentences in a bittersweet advance for clemency was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mnuchin dumbfounded by questions about ethics of Trump holdings

10 hours 40 min ago
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) schooled the Treasury secretary nominee over the sham of Trump’s faux “divestment.”Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin CREDIT: C-SPAN

Trump Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin struggled to answer basic questions about ethics laws and his potential role in handling the president-elect’s massive financial holdings at Thursday’s Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former auditor, noted that Trump’s debts to foreign countries could impact national security. She explained why his proposed plan to donate the “profits” from his hotels that come from foreign governments is all but meaningless.

Mnuchin, who has no government experience but years of experience as a Goldman Sachs Wall Street banker and hedge fund manager, was unable to answer McCaskill’s basic questions about ethics rules and how the process will work.

“[If] somebody wants to come in and buy one of President Trump’s properties, and if CFIUS [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which the treasury secretary chairs] meets, and you decide it’s going to risk national security,” she asked, “the ultimate decision is whose?”

After dodging the question with a comment about how he’d take his role as CFIUS chair “very, very seriously,” she asked him again.

“Do you know whose decision it is, ultimately, under the law?” she asked.

“Yes. It’s mine.” he responded.

“No,” she admonished him. “It’s not. It’s the president of the United States’. You make a decision and then it goes to the president and the president gets to decide — the same guy that, I think, is going to hire his own ethics person.”

McCaskill then lamented that “we got the emoluments clause because a foreign government gave a snuffbox to the president of the United States. That almost seems kind of de minimis, in light of how complicated the international aspect of holdings that the president is going to stay with through his presidency.”

Finally, she noted that her ears “perked up” when she heard that the president’s pledge about “profits from foreign governments going to the treasury,” because “as you well know, you benefit from income to your business, even if it’s not profitable. Correct?”

A confused Mnuchin asked “How do you benefit of income if it’s not profitable?”

McCaskill explained that if Trump’s Washington hotel is losing $1 million a year, a foreign government government buys a suite of rooms for $800,000, he’d benefit from that income.

“I’m following your reasoning,” Mnuchin replied wearily. But when asked who would make that call about whether his businesses are profiting from foreign involvement, he simply offered to “follow up with her” about the “interesting comments” she had raised.

Watch:

https://medium.com/media/527ce599d02d3d3cf8d514949dfbe59a/href

Mnuchin dumbfounded by questions about ethics of Trump holdings was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Don’t let the incoming Trump administration fool you on immigration

10 hours 46 min ago
Trump’s first actions on immigration policy may be characterized as “moderate.” Don’t believe it.CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

When Donald Trump is sworn in as President of the United States, millions of American families will be watching. Many of those families will be waiting to see how Trump deals with the more than 750,000 immigrants who entered the country as children and who have now come forward, passed background checks, and received temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

As a candidate, Trump promised to end DACA. But as president-elect, Trump has said — without offering specifics — that he’ll “work something out that’s gonna make people happy and proud.” So what exactly will he do?

As early as his first day in office, President Trump could rescind the memorandum that created DACA and announce that he is revoking the deportation protection these young people have been offered. He could similarly rescind the memorandum that now guides the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement actions and go after Dreamers using the identifying information that they provided to the government.

Thanks to Obama, immigrants are getting better jobs

But another and more likely possibility is that, in the days and weeks after the inauguration, the Trump administration could rescind the DACA memorandum but say that DACA recipients who do not commit crimes will remain low priorities for enforcement, and will be permitted to retain DACA until their current grant expires. Alternatively, the administration could remain silent about the DACA program or issue a combination of half-baked statements that only create more uncertainty.

Such an approach would almost certainly be described in the media as an act of moderation — however, it’s anything but. In the absence of a clear statement that DACA will remain in place until Congress passes legislation to resolve the issue appropriately, and that new applications and renewals will be processed in accordance with the program’s existing guidelines, tens of thousands of recipients will begin losing protection each month.

Without DACA, nearly 650,000 young people who are estimated to be working lawfully under the program eventually will lose work authorization and be driven out of the workforce. This would rob the country of at least $433.4 billion in gross domestic product over a 10 year period, and would be enormously disruptive to businesses that would face substantial turnover costs. Meanwhile, those people who would continue working without authorization would be subject to the heightened risk of wage theft and workplace violations that disproportionately affect unauthorized workers, but ultimately harm all workers.

Such an approach would almost certainly be described in the media as an act of moderation — however, it’s anything but.

The ripple effects of rescinding DACA without a replacement and instead allowing the program to phase out over time would be felt widely, as hundreds of thousands of recipients would lose access to driver’s licenses and health insurance and face significantly greater financial instability.

In every state, young people with DACA are now able to obtain driver’s licenses, but only a small number of states grant licenses to unauthorized immigrants without DACA. In many parts of the country — particularly rural areas with little to no public transportation — having a driver’s license is an absolute necessity. Having a license not only expands opportunities for persons who are licensed, but also increases the percentage of people on public roads who have been trained, tested, and insured.

Furthermore, half of DACA recipients — like most Americans — receive health insurance through their employer. Ending DACA means that hundreds of thousands of young people will lose their health insurance. This will not only interfere with their ability to access necessary health care, but will also have public health consequences and will unnecessarily place strain on emergency rooms that already provide the least cost-effective form of care possible. Under current law, DACA recipients are not eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and are prohibited from purchasing insurance on the individual exchanges.

DACA also plays a key role in expanding access to higher education. In a handful of states, many DACA recipients can afford to enroll in college only because they are eligible for in-state tuition. If DACA were repealed, many would have to drop out of their courses of study. A recent survey found that DACA recipients are majoring, specializing, and training in a wide array of disciplines, including early childhood education, biochemistry, computer science, neuroscience, nursing, and social work.

Trump transition seeks info about undocumented immigrants

Because DACA has enabled recipients to gain an education and find employment that better matches their skills and training, it has increased financial independence. One in eight DACA recipients has bought a home since participating in the program, and most are able to pay their mortgages through wages they earn. Ending DACA and allowing work authorizations to expire would put nearly 100,000 DACA recipients in danger of foreclosure.

All of these harms can be avoided with virtually no effort.

President-elect Trump said recently that he is working on a “very firm” plan with “a lot of heart” to address the situation facing Dreamers that will be ready in two to three months. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House, hoping to prevent DACA recipients from losing work authorization and to buy time for Congress to act on more a lasting solution, recently introduced the BRIDGE Act, which largely mirrors the qualifications of DACA and offers similar protections for three years from the date of enactment.

Millions of families will be watching particularly closely in the coming days to see how President Trump addresses this situation — and the entire country will feel the consequences of his decision.

Tom Jawetz is the Vice President for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.

Don’t let the incoming Trump administration fool you on immigration was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump breaks another promise, appoints top campaign donor and NFL owner as U.K. ambassador

11 hours 19 min ago
“I want the great negotiators negotiating our deals.”New York Jets owner Woody Johnson watches a video presentation announcing a concert by Paul McCartney at MetLife Stadium, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. CREDIT: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Donald Trump has reportedly tapped New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as the next ambassador to the United Kingdom, breaking a campaign promise not to appoint political donors to negotiate with other countries.

A Trump transition official confirmed the news of Johnson’s appointment to NBC News. Trump said a guest at a luncheon was “sitting next to the ambassador Woody Johnson, going to Saint James,” according to the NBC report.

In August of 2015 at a campaign event in Greenville, SC, Trump promised that he will have great negotiators for diplomats, not “nice people that got there because they gave political contributions.” He specifically criticized the Obama administration’s appointment of Caroline Kennedy, a Democratic donor, to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan:

Carl Icahn’s one of the best. If I put Carl in charge of Japan, “Carl, handle Japan trade deals.” It’s over, just walk away let him run the- oh forget it. They even know that they don’t have a chance. Okay? It’s over. You understand. Not Caroline Kennedy, I love her, but not Caroline. .. I want the great negotiators negotiating our deals, I don’t want these nice people that got there because they gave political contributions.

Trump made a lot of promises about what he will do as president. We’ve documented 663 of them.

Trump might say that Johnson has experience in sports and business, while Kennedy is just a “nice” person, but this would ignore her experience in law, publishing, philanthropy, education, and charity.

Hiring political donors to be ambassadors is something many other presidents have done; President Obama picked Dan Rooney, the owner of the Steelers and campaign contributor, as ambassador to Ireland. Trump, however, criticized Obama for a pick like Kennedy and said he would not follow suit. Johnson is a major Trump donor.

Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, owner of the New York Jets and chairman of a private investment firm in New York City endorsed Trump in May of last year. The RNC then announced Johnson was both a Trump Victory Vice Chair nationwide and a State Victory Finance Chair in New York.

Johnson himself contributed $100,000 to the Victory Fund in late June. A few weeks later, he hosted a fundraising event at his East Hampton estate, with tickets going for $10,000 and $25,000 apiece — one of at least six fundraising events for Trump he co-hosted.

The ambassador to the U.K. will be busy. Trump said in his first U.K. interview that he would “work very hard” to get a U.S.-U.K. trade deal done, and vowed to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May soon after he takes the White House. Johnson would likely play a key role in those negotiations.

Trump’s secret bundler list

And he would not be alone. Trump has signaled he would nominate other big donors to staff his administration. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick to run the Department of Commerce, was an economic adviser to the Trump campaign, maxed out on his donations to Trump, and reportedly hosted a fundraiser in the Hamptons for him this year, after the RNC announced he was a State Victory Finance Chair in both Florida and New York.

Trump also picked Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and a big GOP donor (though he gave no money personally to Trump), to be deputy Commerce secretary. The Ricketts family donated $1 million to a pro-Trump Super PAC in September. Since Trump’s election, Ricketts’ family fortune has grown by about $700 million because of rising share prices for TD Ameritrade, an online discount brokerage Todd’s father Joe founded.

This month Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier, to run the incoming White House’s public engagement with the U.S. business and political community. In July, the RNC named Scaramucci a State Victory Finance Chair in New York. He was reportedly a co-host for two Trump Victory Fund events and he gave $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund in June.

Johnson has been preparing for the new job, signaling he would surrender control of his football team.

In 2006, Johnson was one of four billionaires who got in trouble for utilizing a tax shelter scheme (he reportedly reached a settlement in 2003 and paid 100 percent of the tax due plus interest).

As a bundler back in 2008, he raised at least $500,000 for McCain’s campaign and coordinated a McCain fundraiser in New York City that brought in a staggering $7 million. Prior to backing Trump, Johnson was finance chairman for Jeb Bush’s campaign, until it fizzled out and gave more than half a million dollars to Bush’s super PAC. Trump lamented Johnson’s choice, claiming one year ago that if he’d supported Trump’s bid, the Jets would have been a more successful football team.

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Woody Johnson, owner of the NYJets, is @JebBush's finance chairman. If Woody would've been w/me, he would've been in the playoffs, at least!

 — @realDonaldTrump

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The Jets, after Johnson switched over to Trump, finished 5–11, dead last in the AFC East in the 2016 season.

Trump breaks another promise, appoints top campaign donor and NFL owner as U.K. ambassador was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s Treasury secretary pick claims the unemployment rate is ‘not real’

11 hours 24 min ago
“The average American worker has gone nowhere,” Mnuchin said in his confirmation hearing.fTreasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

FSteve Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, claimed during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the unemployment rate is “not real” and that “the average American worker has gone nowhere.”

In response to a line of questioning by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) about what he would do to protect voters from another recession, Mnuchin claimed that he has traveled with the president and understands why Trump was elected.

“The unemployment rate is not real,” he said. “The average American worker has gone nowhere, and president-elect is committed, as am I, as his economic adviser, to work for the American people and grow the American economy so that the average American worker does better.”

On the campaign trail, Trump also repeatedly claimed that the unemployment rate is a “phony number,” and that the real rate could actually be close to 42 percent.

No, Donald Trump, The Unemployment Rate Is Not A ‘Hoax’

But Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the co-founder of a major lending bank, should know better. Calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed but actively seeking employment. The number is a critical indicator of how the economy is doing and is widely used by economists. The number is respected by both Democrats and Republicans as a valid indicator of job growth. The BLS has calculated the rate the same way since the 1940s, and its methods do not change from one administration to the next.

The rate has also fallen by more than one-third since President Obama took office, dropping last month to just 4.6 percent — the lowest level since August 2007.

Despite the (real) numbers, a recent poll found that 53 percent of Republicans believe that the unemployment rate has risen under Obama. More than a third of all Americans think its worse now than when Obama took office.

Some believe that there’s a better measure to track unemployment. That statistic, called the U-6, tracks everyone who is out of work, people not looking but who want work, and those unable to find full-time employment. That number is higher — currently it hovers over 9 percent. But Mnuchin made no mention of this statistic being a better indicator of job growth, and it’s not clear he would give any credence to any labor statistic as Treasury Secretary.

Trump’s Treasury secretary pick claims the unemployment rate is ‘not real’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

All talk?

12 hours 12 min ago
CREDIT: AP Photos/Graphic by Adam Peck

Donald Trump made a lot of promises about what he will do as president. We’ve documented 663 of them — and we’ll be keeping tabs.

On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, numerous groups are assembling and preparing to fight back. One that is flying under the radar? Educators and their allies, who are working to protect both public education and their students from the administration.

See someone being harassed? There are ways you can help. Watch the full video here.

Reading List

Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence. What does that mean for whistleblowers in the future?

The success of activism at Standing Rock is inspiring Texans to fight another pipeline.

Refugees are waiting apprehensively for the Trump administration’s immigration plans. It’s not looking good.

Soundbite

“The venue we have for entertainment is filled out. It’s going to be typically and traditionally American.”

— Tom Barrack, inauguration committee chairman, on why Kanye West was not invited to perform at Trump’s inauguration

All talk? was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Sen. Franken to Rick Perry: ‘I don’t think you’re ever going to be a climate scientist’

12 hours 38 min ago
Trump’s energy secretary pick was slammed for pretending he has evolved from his long-standing climate science denial.Energy Secretary-designate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) slammed President-elect Donald Trump’s energy secretary nominee, Rick Perry, for dodging questions about his previous climate science denial in his confirmation hearing Thursday.

Perry wants us to believe he’s a changed man. The former Texas governor wants us to believe he’s not the laughingstock of a 2011 GOP presidential debate who couldn’t remember that the Department of Energy (DOE) was the third agency he wanted to eliminate. And he wants us to think he’s evolved on climate science.

Climate-Science Denying Governor Perry Renews Declaration Of Drought Disaster Throughout Texas

Perry told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee that because he now actually understands what DOE does, he doesn’t want to shut it down. And he has memorized one of the soundbites Trump nominees use to dodge questions on climate change: “I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of its naturally occurring and some of it is caused by man-made activity.”

But the problem with that last dodge is that the most recent review of the climate science — approved by every major government line by line — finds that all of the warming since 1950 is due to human activity.

So Franken and Sanders were having none of it, quoting back at Perry his earlier statements denying climate science. Here’s Franken:

https://medium.com/media/819094644d3f0d696a329889138decdf/href

Franken asked Perry to specifically answer the question “How much climate change do you think the science shows is due to human activity?” Perry retreated to the same response interior secretary-designate Rep. Ryan Zinke (and countless other conservatives) have used, that he’s not “claiming to be a climate scientist.”

Franken shot back, “I don’t think you’re ever going to be a climate scientist,” noting that someone who wants to run the DOE can’t keep dodging the question. But Perry does anyway.

And so it was left to Sanders to press the issue, asking whether Perry agrees with the majority of scientists who say climate change is a “global crisis” that “requires massive cuts in carbon.”

https://medium.com/media/624c77f0ea1612f6027372044ac858df/href

Perry dismissed the question — one of the most important questions facing the nation — by calling it an “academic discussion” and “an interesting exercise.”

I will respond that I think that having an academic discussion, whether it is with scientists or whether it’s with you, is an interesting exercise, but do I have a record of affecting the climate in the world and in this country and the answer is yes, when you lower carbon emissions by 17 percent and sulfur dioxide by 66 percent, and NOx by 58 percent 60 percent, don’t you think that is a good thing?

So Perry admits that by lowering carbon emissions he has been “affecting the climate in the world and in this country.”

However, Perry seems to think that lowering emissions of sulfur dioxide and NOx [oxides of nitrogen] are somehow germane to the climate change issue. Hopefully DOE scientists will explain to him that they aren’t greenhouse gases.

It’s worth noting that the reductions in sulfur dioxide and NOx that Perry is now bragging about were due to EPA regulations that Republicans like Perry fought against from the get-go. And now team Trump wants to kill the EPA regulations that would keep lowering carbon emissions.

Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy development

Finally, Perry’s claims that he will fight for DOE research also ring hollow given that Trump campaigned on killing all federal clean energy development — and his transition team has a budgetary blueprint that would scrap the DOE’s Office of Electricity, Office of Fossil Energy, and its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Sen. Franken to Rick Perry: ‘I don’t think you’re ever going to be a climate scientist’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mnuchin’s bank foreclosed on thousands of homeowners, but: ‘I’m proud of our results’

12 hours 43 min ago
Steven Mnuchin came under fire during his confirmation hearing for numerous complaints against OneWest.Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin at his confirmation hearing Thursday. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

At Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin’s Senate hearing on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly brought up the foreclosure practices of the bank Mnuchin previously ran, OneWest.

During one particularly heated exchange, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) aired a laundry list of complaints that were made about OneWest’s practices while Mnuchin was CEO.

Brown cited the assertion by the community group California Reinvestment Coalition that the bank foreclosed on 60,000 homes across the country and denied three-quarters of borrowers’ applications for loan modifications so that they could avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. He brought up a consent order that OneWest entered into with the Office of the Comptroller for the Currency (OCC) over “errors that resulted in financial harm.” This included 10,781 loans the OCC determined needed to be remedied, including 23 foreclosures on borrowers who weren’t actually in default on their loans and 54 that violated the the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by foreclosing on active duty military families.

At one point, Mnuchin cut in to defend the practices, saying he followed loan modification procedures imposed on the bank by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and that while it was “unfortunate” and “inappropriate” that the bank foreclosed on military members, it compensated the families.

“I’m proud of our results,” he said.

https://medium.com/media/1dcca3a23d7f33526218e9b418789a3e/href

Brown went on to bring up a leaked memo written by top prosecutors in the California attorney general’s office from 2012 that outlined evidence that the bank broke California foreclosure laws. Officials found that the bank frequently backdated documents illegally to speed up the foreclosure process, among other violations. It also said that OneWest officials stymied the officials’ investigation.

The senator also mentioned a OneWest employee who said in a 2009 deposition that employees were forced into “robo-singing,” or singing off on foreclosures without adequately reviewing or verifying information.

Other complaints have been brought against the bank that Brown didn’t mention. The California Reinvestment Coalition recently filed a lawsuit with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accusing it of redlining by rarely lending to people of color and operating few branches in their neighborhoods. Its reverse mortgage unit, which makes loans typically to elderly homeowners who borrow against their home’s equity, is under investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Inspector General.

Mnuchin defended the bank’s practices by saying that it offered restitution and corrected errors in any cases where it was found to have wronged borrowers. But the bank may not have been held accountable for all of its actions. Even though the California officials who wrote the memo about OneWest breaking the law advised that the attorney general bring a case against it, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a senator, declined to do so.

Mnuchin’s bank foreclosed on thousands of homeowners, but: ‘I’m proud of our results’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The 4 biggest problems with Trump’s choice to head the EPA

13 hours 2 min ago
Six hours of questioning revealed four key problems about Scott Pruitt.Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, March 10, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday to make the case for why he should be confirmed as President-elect Donald Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Six hours of questioning revealed four key problems about how Pruitt would run the agency:

1. Pruitt has significant conflicts of interest.

Several Democratic Senators asked Pruitt about his ties to the oil and gas industry.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Pruitt several questions about a letter he sent the EPA in 2011 written almost entirely by Devon Energy. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sharply questioned Pruitt about his fundraising from oil and gas companies and other fossil fuel interests.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) raised a different concern, one that an independent watchdog has already asked the EPA ethics office to examine. As Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times to block pollution limits, and several of those cases remain pending. If confirmed as EPA administrator, Pruitt will become the defendant in these suits and also would have authority to modify the rules at issue in the litigation. As Markey said, Pruitt would become “plaintiff, defendant, judge, and jury.” He repeatedly pressed Pruitt to recuse himself in these cases. Pruitt only committed to recusing himself if directed by the EPA ethics office.

2. Pruitt approaches regulation from the perspective of a polluter.

In his opening line of questioning, Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) asked Pruitt to describe his “environmental philosophy.” Pruitt responded: “The role of a regulator…is to make things regular.” He said that those who are regulated often don’t know what is expected of them under environmental law. He came back to this theme several times during his back and forth with senators.

By focusing on regulatory certainty as a key priority, Pruitt appears to view the role of EPA administrator through the lens of the regulated entity — the polluter — rather than the environment or public health. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) appeared to become frustrated with Pruitt’s process-focused approach during her questioning. She eventually urged: “I need you also to be worried about human health….I need you feel it….I need you to know it.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also asked Pruitt tough questions about his lack of focus on public health. Booker reminded him of the Devon Energy letter and listed the industry-supported lawsuits against EPA that Pruitt has joined. Then, noting that more than 100,000 children in Oklahoma suffer from asthma, he asked pointedly: “How many letters did you write to the EPA about this health crisis?…Did you even file one lawsuit on behalf of those kids to reduce the air pollution in your state and help them have a healthy life?”

3. Pruitt does not see climate change mitigation as a priority.

Pruitt did not mention climate change in his written remarks. That alone reflects where Pruitt ranks climate change on his list of priority issues to tackle during his possible tenure as EPA administrator.

In his oral statement, Pruitt briefly mentioned climate change, but said the debate over “what to do about” it is unresolved. “Science tells us the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change,” he said. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

This debate is not unresolved. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated with “high confidence” that delaying efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make it difficult if not impossible to keep warming below catastrophic levels. In a later tense exchange with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pruitt acknowledged that EPA has a role in regulating carbon dioxide, but he did not actually commit to reducing carbon pollution.

4. Pruitt lacks experience in environmental protection.

Pruitt has built his career on using litigation to fight federal environmental regulation but has little experience fighting for environmental protection. The Environmental Integrity Project searched the Oklahoma Attorney General’s website in vain for announcements of environmental enforcement actions.

Scott Pruitt’s record reveals a long history of industry favoritism

Pruitt held up one environmental achievement during his testimony that appears to lack much basis. In his opening statement, Pruitt claimed that he helped reach a “historic agreement” to clean up the Illinois River, which was plagued by pollution from poultry farms. In reality, Pruitt’s predecessor filed the case in 2005 and took it to federal court in 2009. The trial ended in February 2010 — months before Pruitt even became Oklahoma Attorney General. Pruitt never took further action on the case. Instead, as the New York Times reported, Pruitt chose a path that delayed full compliance with pollution limits and demonstrated his eagerness to “put cooperation with industry before confrontation.”

Sen. Booker further questioned Pruitt on the Illinois River case and concluded that his priority is not federalism and states’ rights, as he claimed, but rather “deregulation and siding with polluters against the environment and public health standards.”

Taken together, Pruitt’s antipathy for federal environmental regulation, close relationships with industry actors, and lack of experience in and focus on environmental and public health protection promise to take the EPA in a starkly different direction in the future.

Alison Cassady is the Director of Domestic Energy at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.

The 4 biggest problems with Trump’s choice to head the EPA was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump press secretary turns press conference into infomercial for Trump’s D.C. hotel

13 hours 35 min ago
Profiting off the presidency before he’s sworn in.CREDIT: Screengrab

During a pre-inauguration news conference on Thursday, Sean Spicer, President-elect Donald Trump’s soon-to-be press secretary, dismissed concerns his boss is using the power of the presidency to promote his Washington, D.C. hotel and thereby line his pockets.

With regard to Trump’s decision to dine at the hotel’s restaurant on Wednesday night — Trump also reportedly plans to eat there Thursday — Spicer said, “I think that’s pretty smart.”

“I think the idea that he’s going to his own hotel shouldn’t be a shocker,” Spicer continued. “It’s a beautiful place, it’s somewhere that he’s very proud of and I think it’s symbolic of the kind of government that he’s going to run.”

Spicer went on to encourage people to check out the place for themselves.

“It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by,” he said.

https://medium.com/media/18a3e410005e0cc5996bd52a34805d1f/href

But even if the journalists Spicer was addressing wanted to visit the Trump International Hotel, they couldn’t. That’s because the hotel— which is owned by the federal government but under a 60-year lease to the Trump Organization — has banned media members from the premises this week. (After the presser, Spicer disputed those reports, even though the hotel’s marketing director confirmed to Politico on Wednesday that media isn’t being allowed in and journalists reported being barred from entry hours after Spicer’s news conference.)

Spicer also didn’t mention the fact that as soon as Trump is sworn in, he’ll be violating the lease agreement he struck with the government for the hotel, which stipulates that no elected federal official may hold the lease. But as both landlord and tenant, it’s unlikely President Trump will take action against himself.

Perhaps most significantly, Spicer also ignored that Trump’s plan to maintain ownership of the hotel will result in him violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution — a clause that prohibits the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments— shortly after he takes office. Since the election, Trump Organization officials have not only booked and hosted events for foreign governments at the hotel, but they’ve actively solicited business from diplomats.

Trump press secretary blasts BuzzFeed’s reporting as ‘attack on Christ’

During a news conference last week, Trump’s lawyer Sheri Dillon argued that since “paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present,” President Trump won’t actually violate Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars federal office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

But ethics lawyers — including Richard Painter, former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush — disagree.

In a column published by the Atlantic on Wednesday, Painter and three other ethics experts point out that “by ‘emolument,’ this provision means any benefit derived from dealing with a foreign government. It is well-settled that receipt of such emoluments is strictly prohibited for persons holding positions of trust with the U.S. government.”

“The Framers included this provision in the Constitution to guarantee that private entanglements with foreign states would not blur the loyalties of federal officials, above all the president,” they add. “Yet that lesson seems lost on Trump, whose continued significant ownership stake in the Trump Organization forges an unbreakable bond between Trump and a global empire that will benefit or suffer in innumerable ways from its dealings with foreign governments. Trump’s actions in office will thus be haunted by the specter (and perhaps reality) of divided interests.”

To consider one concrete post-election example, the government of Bahrain, which has a long record of human rights abuses, held its National Day celebration at Trump International last month. Might President Trump be reluctant to take aggressive action against Bahrain since their government is also his benefactor? That’s exactly the sort of conflict the Emoluments Clause is intended to prevent.

But Congressional Republicans have so far shown little inclination to hold Trump accountable. Unless they do, the Constitution is nothing but a sheet of paper.

Instead of selling his business or putting his assets in a blind trust — steps every other modern president has taken to quell potential conflicts of interest — Trump’s plan is simply to relinquish day-to-day control of the Trump Organization to two of his adult children, Eric and Donald Jr. But both of them are close with their father and were intimately involved with transition duties, which suggests the firewall between Trump’s business and duties as president will be anything but airtight.

Asked about Trump’s conflicts of interest during a CNN appearance last month, Spicer made a case that corruption is legal as long as it’s done in the open.

“Conflicts of interest arise when you’re not — when you’re sneaky about it, when you’re shady about it, when you’re not transparent about it,” Spicer said. “If you tell everyone, here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here are the people that are playing a role — that’s being transparent.”

On the contrary, the Oxford dictionary defines a “conflict of interest” as “a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.” Trump using the office of the presidency to promote his hotel is exactly that sort of situation, regardless of whether or not he’s transparent about it.

Trump press secretary turns press conference into infomercial for Trump’s D.C. hotel was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump made a lot of promises about what he will do as president. We’ve documented 663 of them.

17 hours 18 min ago
The people who elected Trump expect him to come through.CREDIT: AP Photos/Graphic by Adam Peck

Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office 583 days after he first announced his improbable run for the White House.

Along the way, he made 663 promises (and counting), according to a ThinkProgress analysis of Trump’s public statements that examined well over 4 million words from his media interviews, his policy position papers, and his speeches to supporters, interest groups, and national television audiences.

These promises matter. Trump’s voters expect him to deliver. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pointed out two weeks ago on the Senate floor regarding Trump’s pledge to not cut entitlement programs like Medicare, “This was a central part of his campaign… This is what he asked millions of elderly people and working class people to vote for him on.”

Yet attention spans are shorter than ever, and Trump himself is skilled at distracting attention from policy or scandal with tweets and endless varieties of incendiary remarks. It’s easy to forget what he told voters he would do.

So starting the week after the election, ThinkProgress undertook a two-month research project to document every promise Trump made, from the golden escalator ride to the inauguration. They are housed here in ThinkProgress’ searchable, interactive Trump Promises Database:

https://medium.com/media/2293dfc3a19938c9a818bcbc04ba78e5/hrefMethodology

ThinkProgress examined 583 days of Trump’s public statements, from his campaign announcement speech on June 16, 2015 all the way up to the day before his inauguration. This included thousands of radio and television interviews, speeches, tweets, and campaign policy documents — well over 4 million words and counting.

Our basic criteria were: 1) a statement made by Trump or by a policy document or questionnaire issued in his name, 2) about what would or would not happen during or as a result of his presidency, 3) about which a reasonable person could be disappointed should the promise be broken.

Every time Trump made a new statement or claim about what he would or would not do as president, or guarantees about what he’d ensure would or would not happen, it went on the list. This includes instances when Trump straightforwardly said “I promise” or “I guarantee,” but also instances when he said that “we will” do something or that something “will never” happen if he became president.

What Trump promised America, specifically

We did not include the most general and vague of Trump’s promises, including his regular pledges to make America great/safe/rich/strong again. We did not include a promise if it would be impossible or unfeasible to judge whether it had been kept. We did our best to prune away promises that were examples of empty rhetoric or obvious hyperbole.

For instance, this promise was too vague for us to include:

“We will bring America together as one country again. United as Americans in common purpose and common dreams. We will have a thriving economy. A strong border. A powerful military. A peaceful nation. A rising standard of living. This is what I promise you.”

While these promises were specific and measurable enough to include for future scrutiny:

“And we will produce 25 million jobs over a period of 10 years as sure as you are standing there.”“We’ll build a wall, I promise. I promise, we will build a wall. If there’s ever a second term, you’ll say, man, he got that wall built fast, we’re going to put him up. So we’ll see. We’ll build the wall.”“ As part of removing the defense sequester I will ask Congress to fully offset the cost of increased military spending.”

After culling the list for duplicates and similar variations of the same promise, we counted 663 promises candidate Trump made before taking office.

Forgotten promiseshttps://medium.com/media/7751a109a76854b94e98e8ed906a948d/href

By now, everyone knows that Donald Trump has promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, repeal and replace Obamacare, and renegotiate trade deals. But he’s also made plenty of other promises that most people haven’t heard or have since forgotten about.

Here are a few examples of largely forgotten promises that appear in ThinkProgress’ Trump Promise Database:

Edward Snowden will get kicked out of Russia

“[Russian President Vladimir Putin] would never keep somebody like Snowden in Russia. … Look if that — if I’m president, Putin says, hey, boom, you’re gone. I guarantee you this.”

Trump will rename Mt. Denali

“President Obama wants to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali after more than 100 years. Great insult to Ohio. I will change back!”

The deficit will be under $400 billion

“We’re not going to have a $400 billion deficit. That will go away rapidly and we’ll get along.”

Trump will call Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini “baby”

“You know the president calls him the Supreme Leader? I guarantee you I will be never calling him the Supreme Leader. He’s not going to be called — I’ll say, “Hey baby, how ya doing?” I will never call him the Supreme Leader.”

Trump will save Medicare without cuts

“I’ll save Medicare. Ben Carson wants to get rid of Medicare. You can’t get rid of Medicare. You know, Medicare’s a program that works. There’s fraud, there’s abuse, there’s waste, but you don’t get rid of Medicare. You can’t do that. People love Medicare. And it’s unfair to them. I’m going to fix it and make it better, but I’m not going to cut it.”

Trump will triple Border Patrol agents

“We’re going to triple up the number of the Border Patrol.”

Apple will make products in America

“We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries.”

Trump will only use John Deere and Caterpillar tractors to build wall

“China, 2,000 years ago built a wall that is 13,000 miles long and they didn’t have Caterpillar tractors. We do. And we only want to use John Deere and Caterpillar, we don’t want to use Komatsu right? We don’t want to use Komatsu. We’re going to use our tractors.”

Accountability

All politicians promise things in their campaigns for office. Trump is not new in this regard. However, Trump’s promises were often so outlandish, far-reaching, and ridiculous that they received disproportionate attention.

After the election, the president-elect did not walk back the scope of his campaign promises, saying in this “thank you” speech to Cincinnati supporters in December that “anything we want” is possible:

People are constantly telling me, and telling you, to reduce our expectations. Those people are fools. They are fools. But this campaign proved that the old rules no longer apply. That anything we want for our country is now possible. Anything we want. Anything, Right? Now is not the time to downsize our dreams but to set our sights higher than ever before for our country.

Following a meeting with the House Republican Conference on January 4, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said the Trump administration would not shirk from promises made in the heat of the campaign:

Today our message is very simple. Working with the leadership here in the House and in the Senate, we’re going to be in the promise-keeping business. The president-elect campaigned all across this country. He gave voice to the frustrations and the aspirations of the American people. He laid out an agenda to make America great again, and my message on his behalf today before this conference and before members of the Senate is that we intend to keep those promises.https://medium.com/media/a3ed5796361e8993ba2ae7b6a515a7cb/href

Trump’s ambition matches his self-confidence. He has told his supporters he will accomplish all of the things he has said he will do in his first term, so that he can use his second term to relax.

“So I’m just telling you I can do it all in four years,” Trump told an audience in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last February. “But if I’m doing a great job, let me have four easier years, okay? Let me have four easier years. Let me have four years of relaxation because I’ll do most of the work in the first four years. By that time we’ll have a really strong military, we’ll be taking care of our vets better than any vets are taken care of anywhere.”

Starting on Inauguration Day, ThinkProgress will track which promises Trump fulfills, breaks, or ignores over the course of his presidency — including any new ones he makes after he takes office.

He has even made promises about keeping his promises.

“Promises, promises, all talk, no action,” Trump told a Michigan audience in August. “All talk, no action politicians. They talk, talk, talk. You vote them in with great fanfare, and then they do nothing. With Trump, that’s not going to happen. Believe me.”

We’ll be watching.

Judd Legum, Josh Israel, Esther Yu Hsi Lee, Zack Ford, Laurel Raymond, Aaron Rupar, Jonathon Padron, and Adam Peck contributed reporting and graphic design work to this project.

Trump made a lot of promises about what he will do as president. We’ve documented 663 of them. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump to break a key promise before even taking oath

17 hours 46 min ago
He said he’d ‘absolutely’ have Hispanic people in his cabinet. He has zero.With the selection of former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA) to be Agriculture Secretary, Trump’s will have zero Hispanic cabinet secretaries. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Candidate Donald Trump assured voters last August they could always trust him to keep his word. “In this journey, I will never lie to you. I will never tell you something I do not believe.” Contrasting himself to his opponent, he lamented “sometimes I can be too honest.”

But President-elect Donald Trump, a day before taking the oath of office, has already broken a key campaign pledge.

In an April 2016 on-the-record telephone interview with Newsday’s editorial board, Trump made it clear that he would have a diverse cabinet that would “look like America.”

Rita Ciolli, editorial page editor, asked him point-blank. “We’re trying to get a sense, would your cabinet look like America? Will there be women in there, blacks and Hispanics?”

“Oh absolutely,” Trump replied. “It’s so important.”

But Trump, who claimed to “love Hispanics,” said he has a “great relationship with the blacks [sic],” and boasted of hiring “tremendous numbers of women” in high ranking positions, has created a cabinet just two women, one African American, and zero Hispanics. Two more women have also been tapped for positions that are considered “cabinet level.”

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Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics! https://t.co/ufoTeQd8yA

 — @realDonaldTrump

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On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Trump transition officials say former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA) is Trump’s choice to be secretary of agriculture. Perdue, a non-Hispanic white male, would fill the final untapped position in Trump’s initial cabinet.

Though white men make up just about 31 percent of Americans, if the senate confirms all of Trump’s choices, his cabinet would include white males in charge of the departments of state, treasury, defense, justice, interior, agriculture, commerce, labor, health, energy, veterans affairs, and homeland security. By contrast, President Obama’s initial cabinet won praise as the “most diverse in history.”

Trump to break a key promise before even taking oath was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

See someone being harassed? Here’s how you can help.

17 hours 48 min ago
Be direct, distract, delegate, or delay.https://medium.com/media/4dd8e33d37e2597c15c8543d433618ed/href

Donald Trump is going to be the president, and people are scared.

Trump’s election emboldened people who hold racist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic views. Since November 8, there’s been an uptick in reported harassment and hate attacks against marginalized groups all over the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 400 hate incidents in the first week after the election alone. Two weeks later, that number jumped to 700.

Some Americans feel helpless in the face of what’s happening to the country. But, if you witness one of these attacks, there are ways to intervene.

Collective Action for Safe Spaces and ThinkProgress have collected some tools so you can help, if you feel that you can do so safely.

Watch the video above to learn more.

Transcript:

HARASSER 1: Speak English. You’re in America.

HARASSER 2: Black lives don’t matter. There ain’t no proof.

HARASSER 3: She’s a Middle Eastern terrorist and she will probably get deported.

JESSICA RAVEN, Collective Action for Safe Spaces: It’s 2017 and people are scared, but sometimes, as a bystander, there are ways that you can help.

Here are 4 ways you can be an active bystander and respond to harassment:

1. Be Direct

Talk to the target

KRYSTAL ATHA, Collective Action for Safe Spaces: Are you okay?

Do you need help?

RAVEN: Or the harasser.

ATHA: What are you doing?

It looks like they don’t want to talk.

RAVEN: 2. Distract

Divert attention away from the situation by distracting the harasser or the target.

ATHA: Do you know what time it is?

Excuse me, where’s the nearest metro?

RAVEN: Or, if you feel safe, use your body to create a physical barrier between the harasser and their target.

3. Delegate

If you don’t feel safe, you can find someone who does.

ATHA: Does the target have friends nearby?

Is there someone who works there?

RAVEN: 4. Delay

If you can’t intervene in the moment, offer support to the target after the incident.

ATHA: Is there anything I can do to help?

You deserve to be treated with respect.

RAVEN: These are some of the many strategies for responding to harassment as an active bystander.

Check out Collective Action for Safe Spaces for more ways to help or to support their work.

See someone being harassed? Here’s how you can help. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Standing Rock has inspired Texans to fight another pipeline

17 hours 51 min ago
If it worked in North Dakota, can it work around the country?The Big Bend region of Texas. CREDIT: Pixabay

By Jeremy Deaton

The months-long protest at Standing Rock, North Dakota drew national media attention and accomplished a temporary victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in December, when the Army Corps of Engineers blocked construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Now, it is inspiring pipeline opponents across the country.

Just this past weekend, native groups and supporters protested oil and gas infrastructure in at least four different states, including North Dakota, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas.

Organizers in Texas are working to block a natural gas pipeline, and they admit they are following the blueprint created at Standing Rock — a blueprint for civil disobedience that could prove vital as environmental organizers look to take on Donald Trump.

The Trans-Pecos pipeline crosses a pristine region of Texas.

The Trans-Pecos pipeline will carry natural gas fracked in West Texas across the Rio Grande to Mexico. Energy Transfer Partners, the same company overseeing the Dakota Access pipeline, is constructing the project. The firm expects the pipeline, which will snake across the largely unspoiled Big Bend region, to be operational early this year.

Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission is paying for the project as part of an effort to modernize the country’s power sector. Mexico wants to generate less electricity from coal and more from cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas.

CREDIT: Energy Transfer Partners

Pipeline opponents worry about the environmental impact of construction and the danger of leaks once the pipeline is finished. As NBC News reported, most towns along the pipeline’s path rely on volunteer emergency response teams, which could prove unable to stop a fire at the site of a leak.

Landowners are concerned about losing their property to eminent domain. Private property, locals have said, is sacrosanct in Texas.

Protesters have learned from Standing Rock.

Demonstrators have deployed several tactics that proved successful in North Dakota.

Organizers have formed a diverse coalition that includes ranchers and environmentalists, just as organizers in North Dakota brought climate advocates and veterans into the fold. These constituencies have varied reasons for opposing the project: protecting water supplies, preventing fracking, averting climate change, or guarding sacred sites along the pipeline’s path.

Demonstrators from the Society of Native Nations. CREDIT: Society of Native Nations

“There are several different reasons why stopping this pipeline is important,” said Yolanda Bluehorse, a member of the Society of Native Nations, a Native American advocacy group. “For us, it’s the land itself. It’s very sacred to us… The outdoors is our church.”

And like organizers at Standing Rock, demonstrators have set up camps near construction sites to maintain a continued presence. The Society of Native Nations’ camp currently hosts dozens of demonstrators. Organizers expect as many as 300 protesters over the next month.

Organizers have prepared for civil disobedience by assembling observers, legal counsel, and medical support. This proved key to efforts at Standing Rock.

In North Dakota, demonstrators met with mace, rubber bullets, and water cannons in freezing temperatures. News outlets ran videos and photos of injured demonstrators, recalling scenes from the civil rights movement that won public sympathy for beleaguered protesters. The New Yorker reported that it was these videos that drew so many veterans to Standing Rock.

https://medium.com/media/8226554acdf11b4e3296948c13a02d43/href

Bluehorse said that she and her colleagues have sought the advice of organizers at Standing Rock.

“We’ve learned a lot from Standing Rock,” Bluehorse said.

Last month, the Army Corps of Engineers blocked construction near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Trump may revive the project after he takes office, though it’s possible that the pipeline is already sunk — torpedoed by missed deadlines and falling oil prices.

Stalling construction can sometimes force developers to abandon a project. Bluehorse hopes this tactic will prove successful in Texas.

“People of different races and beliefs are coming together for one thing,” said Bluehorse, “to stop this pipeline and protect the water.”

In the age of Trump, advocates are thinking locally.

Trump, who supports the Dakota Access pipeline, is likely to support the Trans-Pecos project, which will export American-fracked natural gas though a pipeline paid for by Mexico. Because the last segment of the Trans-Pecos pipeline will cross under the Rio Grande, the project requires a presidential permit, which Obama issued in May.

There is no reason to think Trump would overturn this. In fact, quite the opposite: The president-elect has said he wants to ramp up fossil fuel production and narrow the trade deficit with Mexico. The pipeline offers a way to do both.

However, as reported in Bloomberg, imported gas “will lower power costs in Mexico — including those at factories churning out everything from car parts to flat-screen TVs for American consumers.” This will drive down the cost of some goods made in Mexico, making it harder for American manufacturers to compete.

The Big Bend region of Texas is absent of natural gas pipelines. CREDIT: Energy Information Administration

In addition, until recently Trump held stake in Energy Transfer Partners, and Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, sat on the company’s board of directors. Both men received generous campaign donations from the firm’s president, Kelcy Warren.

For protestors, Trump’s agenda may prove irrelevant. If demonstrators build sustained public opposition to the project and manage to stall construction, that may be sufficient. The Big Bend Conservation Alliance, a Texas group opposing the pipeline, has filed a petition for review with the DC Circuit Court — which could potentially block the project.

For organizers, the pipeline offers a well-defined, locally-relevant problem with a discrete objective. As with Standing Rock, local leaders assembled a diverse coalition of committed, noisy, passionate grassroots activists in place of a top-down, media-driven campaign. Protesters persuaded their friends to make their home in a frigid tent for weeks or months on end. It worked in North Dakota. It could work in Texas, too.

“Get active,” said Bluehorse. “When you see a group of different people that are coming together like this… it’s pretty beautiful, I have to say.”

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

Standing Rock has inspired Texans to fight another pipeline was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The U.S. abortion rate is at an all-time low

18 hours 31 min ago
Will that change under Trump?Pro-choice activists celebrate during a rally at the Supreme Court in Washington, June 27, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

A new report found that the U.S. abortion rate has dropped to its lowest point since Roe v. Wade first made abortion legal.

The study from The Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States,” reveals that for the first time since 1975, the number of abortions in the United States dropped below one million. The abortion rate also declined to the lowest rate ever recorded — 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44. That’s a 14 percent decline from 2011.

Abortion rates declined nationwide from 2011 to 2014, though select parts of the country experienced sharper declines than others. “Declines were steeper in the West and the South (16% each) than in the Midwest (9%) and the Northeast (11%),” according to the study. Notably, three states — Delaware, Hawaii, and Texas — experienced a decline in the abortion rate at least twice that of the national rate of decline.

As in previous years, the Northeast — which generally enjoys greater freedom to abortion access and was the only region that had more clinics providing abortion services in 2014 than in 2011 — maintained the highest abortion rate, followed by the West, the South, and the Midwest. The five highest abortion rates were in the District of Columbia (which actually experienced a 15 percent increase), New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida.

Although researchers did not directly examine reasons driving the abortion rate’s decline, the authors suggest potential factors, including improved contraceptive use — which led to a decline in the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate — as well as widespread clinic closures and other state-level attempts to otherwise restrict abortion access.

The abortion providers who will see us through a Trump presidency

With regards to contraception, the study specifically refers to long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods, like the IUD and the implant. Reliance on these “increased 130 percent between 2007 and 2009, and this trend continued…through 2012.” What’s more, the proportion of women obtaining LARC methods at Title X-supported clinics — a patient population that tends to skew young and low-income, and accounts for the majority of unintended pregnancies — increased four percent between 2011 and 2014.

This increase in LARC use is noteworthy. Under the Affordable Care Act, plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace must cover contraceptives at no cost, including IUDs. Prior to the ACA, the financial burden of IUDs was prohibitive; they could cost up to $1,000. Obamacare, then, is partially responsible for helping to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies — and arguably the number of abortions — in recent years.

The study offers additional speculation as to why the abortion rate has dropped: punitive measures designed to obstruct abortion access. These efforts — like mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, and counseling, as well as targeted regulation of abortion providers (also known as TRAP laws) — exist to discourage women from seeking abortion care and directly impact the provision of services.

“Abortion restrictions and clinic closures mean that patients may need to travel greater distances to access services,” says Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study. “The majority of abortion patients — 75 percent — are poor or low-income, and nearly two-thirds are already parents. It can be very difficult for them to arrange for time off from work, transportation and childcare. While many find ways to access care despite these obstacles, some of the abortion rate decline is likely attributable to women who were prevented from accessing needed services.”

Attempts to outright ban and criminalize abortion are currently underway in states like Texas, Idaho, and Indiana. Under these extreme — and unconstitutional — pieces of legislation, abortion would be considered criminal homicide. In Idaho, patients and providers alike would be charged with first-degree murder. And in Iowa, legislators have introduced a bill allowing women to sue their abortion providers for emotional distress related to the procedure — despite the fact that the myth of abortion regret has been widely debunked.

But it’s not just state legislators trying to ban abortion. On January 13, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced a federal “heartbeat bill” that would end legal abortion as early as six weeks, essentially amounting to a total ban on abortion nationwide.

Today, 90 percent of all U.S. counties lack clinics that provide abortion and 39 percent of women of reproductive age live in those areas. Eliminating access altogether would be disastrous.

“Restricting access to abortion may force women to delay the procedure or carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” says Megan Donovan, Guttmacher senior policy manager. “Instead, we should focus on increasing access to the full range of contraceptive methods, as well as to abortion services. Empowering women to prevent unintended pregnancies and plan their families is both a human rights priority and smart public health policy.”

Unfortunately, under a Trump presidency and a GOP-controlled Congress, the increased access seems unlikely. Last week, Republicans took a major step towards dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which could leave millions of women without access to affordable contraception. And while this won’t happen overnight, it does pave a path towards a future spike in unintended pregnancies and potentially abortions.

Trump has vowed to punish women who receive abortions and nominate Supreme Court justices who are against Roe v. Wade. The people he has nominated in his cabinet are similarly anti-choice.

The U.S. abortion rate is at an all-time low was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Foreclosure victims say Steve Mnuchin cheated them out of their homes

18 hours 47 min ago
And the “foreclosure machine” is still kicking people out of their houses today.Steven Mnuchin, national finance chairman of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, arrives at Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

When OneWest Bank co-founder Steve Mnuchin sits before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday for a hearing on his nomination to lead the U.S. Treasury, there will be a glaring absence of testimony. None of the people on whom his bank foreclosed—tens of thousands of victims—are scheduled to speak about their experiences with apparently cruel and predatory lending practices by Mnuchin’s bank, OneWest.

Last week, 25 Democratic Senators asked the committee’s chairman to include as witnesses people who have lost their homes and suffered other financial hardship at the hands of OneWest, a bank that Mnuchin co-founded. The chairman refused.

But at least four victims, all women, were able to share their stories publicly anyway, and they all became emotional talking about the ordeals they faced. On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) invited them to the U.S. Capitol to speak about losing their homes to OneWest.

Meet the victims of Steve Mnuchin’s ‘foreclosure machine’

“Foreclosures happen in an economic crisis, but OneWest was different,” Warren said during the Senate forum. “It quickly gained a reputation as a ‘foreclosure machine.’ Even when compared to the other financial institutions that aggressively and illegally tossed families out of their homes after the financial crisis, OneWest was notorious for its belligerence and for its cruelty.”

Six years after buying Indymac Bank and turning it into OneWest, Mnuchin was able to sell the company for close to $200 million. But while Mnuchin profited, tens of thousands of families have suffered.

Eight years after the housing crash, OneWest is still foreclosing on its customers, Warren said. According to the California Reinvestment Coalition, whose executive director testified at the forum, OneWest foreclosed on over 36,000 families in California and 24,000 nationally. Some have ended up homeless, while others have dealt with extreme financial hardship that took a toll on themselves and their families.

Over the years, OneWest has been forced to pay millions of dollars to customers in court settlements for its predatory foreclosure practices. Yet many homeowners are still struggling, and warned that having Mnuchin lead the nation’s largest financial institution will spell disaster for countless more people.

Exploiting seniors

Eighty-four year old Colleen Ison-Hodroff and her husband purchased their family home in Minnesota in 1963. The couple raised their six children there and ran four grocery stores in the community.

Two weeks after her husband, Monroe, died in 2014 — 56 years after they got married and 54 years after they purchased their home — she received a letter in the mail from OneWest’s reverse mortgage server, Financial Freedom, alerting her that she had to pay off her loan immediately or they would foreclose on the home.

The bank claimed that because her name wasn’t printed on the reverse mortgage documents — which she disputes — the loan wasn’t valid after her husband’s death. “That’s a bunch of bull,” she said Wednesday.

Trump’s Treasury pick Steve Mnuchin oversaw 50,000 foreclosures against the vulnerable

“We were told that I could live in the house if Monroe passed away,” she said. “It was never Monroe’s or my intention that the survivor of the two of us would have to sell the house or leave if one of us died. We would not have signed for the loan if we thought that was the case.”

She called it an “injustice” that Financial Freedom would deceive an elderly woman, and said that when she returns to Minnesota, she doesn’t know if she will still have her home.

“I hear that Steve Mnuchin was a leader of the bank that is doing this to me and other seniors,” she said. “I do not think a man like that should be the Treasury Secretary and in charge of our economy. We can’t let that happen.”

Profits before people

Two women also spoke about being victims of Mnuchin’s bank in the past, before he sold the company. Sparks, Nevada resident Heather McCreary and her husband both lost their jobs during the 2008 financial crisis. They attempted to get a loan modification from OneWest, but the bank repeatedly denied their applications for what she calls invalid reasons.

In September 2010, she lost her home. “My family’s American Dream turned into a nightmare,” she said.

“It’s hard to explain the shame, embarrassment, and grief Jack and I felt,” she continued. “’While I will probably never know exactly what OneWest did, the outcome of my story proves that Steve Mnuchin’s company had no interest in helping us. They wanted to foreclose because they were focused on their profits.”

Teena Colebrook said she voted for Trump on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington, D.C. But she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, all too well. His bank had foreclosed on her home. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Christine Clifford bought her first home when she was 20 years old, but the financial crisis hurt her business and she sought a loan modification from OneWest. Despite mailing them the appropriate paperwork multiple times, OneWest claimed it never received her application.

“On the evening of December 3, 2009, I received a knock on my door from a man that introduced himself as the new owner of my property,” she said. “And in March of 2010, I received a final notice telling me that I had five days to leave my apartment — five days to pack up the ten years of my life I’d spent in my home.”

Clifford became emotional, tearing up sharing her story of being forced out of the home she had worked hard to purchase.

“You might say that Steve Mnuchin did not personally authorize OneWest to cheat me out of my home, but his fortune rose as a direct result of managing a company that that routinely engaged in irresponsible behavior,” she said.

Beyond the Capitol hearing, more victims go unheard

Not all victims could make it to Washington to share their stories, but have been just as burdened by Mnuchin’s lending practices. Eric Hood, a 66-year-old Dallas resident, told ThinkProgress by phone about his ongoing struggle with Financial Freedom.

Who is Steven Mnuchin?

When Hood’s mother died in 2010, he inherited her condominium located near the gulf in southern, coastal Texas. But with that inheritance came “unnecessary litigation, financial ruin and extreme emotional distress.”

As Hood has detailed in countless letters to HUD and in litigation in court, the company gives no thought to its victims when it commits mortgage fraud.

“I can guarantee you that time after time after countless time, they just run roughshod over the rules, they have no humanity, they care nothing about the bottom line to themselves, and everybody else be damned because there’s no oversight,” he said.

Hood detailed how Financial Freedom has tried to foreclose on his home, which was razed as a result of Hurricane Ike, four times. And while he’s tried to fight OneWest in court, he said that he’s afraid that Mnuchin will soon control the nation’s economy.

“Trump has made some scary decisions, and one of the worst is to put this guy in charge of our money,” he said. “I just know it’s going to go sideways, and then it’s going to go backwards. And then we’re all in trouble.”

Foreclosure victims say Steve Mnuchin cheated them out of their homes was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Hottest year ever and Arctic meltdown put the world on the brink of catastrophe

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 3:32pm
The Trump presidency may kill our last chance to avoid the worst.NASA’s 2016 land and ocean temperature index (LOTI) vs. 1951–1980 average..

NASA and NOAA reported Wednesday that 2016 beat the record for hottest year ever — a record set only in 2015, which itself had crushed the record set in 2014.

“The fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes,” said Deke Arndt, NOAA’s chief of global climate monitoring.

Even the usually staid New York Times warned of significant risks. “Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization,” the paper says.

A staggering number of countries set their all-time record this past year, according to a reanalysis of world temperature data released this week by the Koch-backed Berkeley Earth.

Especially worrisome is that carbon pollution has made the North Pole so warm that once-in-1,000-year heatwaves are becoming commonplace.

Here’s a polar view of the warming from Berkeley Earth lead scientist Robert Rohde, showing that parts of the Arctic averaged as much as 12°C (21.6°F)— warmer than normal last year.

Warming (compared to 1951–1980 average). CREDIT: Berkeley Earth

It bears repeating that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. As Arctic warming speeds up sea ice loss, it causes more extreme weather in North America, while accelerating the melting of both the Greenland ice sheet (which speeds up sea level rise) and permafrost (which releases CO2 and methane that speed up warming).

Only dramatic cuts in CO2 can avoid the Dust-Bowlification of America’s breadbasket and the inundation of our major coastal cities.

Yet while human-caused warming is now as undeniable as the health dangers from smoking, and although the entire world desperately banded together in one last ditch effort to avoid catastrophe in 2015, we are hours away from the inauguration of the most science-denying administration in U.S. history, one dedicated to stopping U.S. and global action.

In the Trump era, activism should be the sixth stage of grief.

Hottest year ever and Arctic meltdown put the world on the brink of catastrophe was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Report: 6 federal agencies investigating possible Kremlin financial support of Trump

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 2:11pm
But with Trump about to be sworn in, how long will they stay on the case?President-elect Donald Trump speaks during the presidential inaugural Chairman’s Global Dinner on January 17 in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Wednesday, the McClatchy Washington Bureau, citing multiple unnamed sources, broke news that “the FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump.”

According to McClatchy, the involved agencies are the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Justice Department, Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and representatives of the Director of National Intelligence.

The news is not altogether unexpected. During a hearing before a Senate panel last week, FBI director James Comey refused to answer questions about whether the bureau has investigated links between the Trump campaign and Russia. A day later, Trump himself dodged a reporter’s question about whether he or his campaign had any contact with Russia during the presidential campaign. And as far back as last September, news was circulating that federal agencies were looking into Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s meetings with high-ranking Russian officials.

Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report continues. “Moscow’s influence campaign following a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt effort by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’”

During the same presser where he dodged the question about alleged Russia ties, Trump acknowledged that Russia may have meddled in the election, but described an unverified dossier that alleged his campaign had colluded with the country as a “complete and total fabrication.”

Trump fabricates conversation with director of national intelligence

The McClatchy report indicates that the Kremlin’s effort to help Trump may have gone further than hacking and anti-Clinton propaganda.

“Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win,” McClatchy reports. “One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.”

That’s an explosive allegation. If true, it could implicate Trump officials in activities violating the Logan Act, which bars American citizens from interacting “with any foreign government” in an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy. But with Trump set to be sworn in on Friday, it’s unclear whether his administration will move forward with an investigation that could undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.

Trump hasn’t yet announced whether Comey will be retained as FBI director. During his confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, dodged a question about whether he accepts the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding Russia’s alleged meddling. That prompted Senate Judiciary Democrats to write Sessions a letter asking him to pledge to not interfere with investigations into the meddling if he’s confirmed.

Asked about the intelligence report during his confirmation hearing, Trump’s pick to run the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), went further than Sessions in affirming his faith in the intelligence community’s findings.

“Everything I’ve seen suggests to me that the report has an analytical product that is sound,” Pompeo said. “My obligation as director of CIA is to tell every policy maker the facts as best the intelligence agency has developed them.”

Trump claims he has 'nothing to do with Russia.' His son said the opposite.

But Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, reportedly wants to eliminate the Director of National Intelligence and instead have intelligence agencies report directly to him. And as we’ve previously detailed, Flynn has close ties to Putin and his regime.

Addressing allegations of Russian meddling in his election last month, Trump said “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” Earlier this week, Trump told the Times of London he plans to propose ending U.S. sanctions imposed against Russia in 2014 following the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal.

Report: 6 federal agencies investigating possible Kremlin financial support of Trump was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s EPA nominee took credit for a case that started years before he took office

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 2:04pm
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt didn’t start the case he says demonstrates his environmental record.Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testified Wednesday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was asked in his confirmation hearing Wednesday for examples that demonstrate his record of going after corporate polluters. The only case he cited actually began years before he took office, parties to the suit have told ThinkProgress.

In May 2011, the federal EPA, the State of Oklahoma, and the State of Texas settled with the Mahard Egg Farm for $1.9 million over violations of the Clean Water Act. Pruitt took office less than five months before.

Pruitt cited the Mahard Egg Farm case during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee after questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

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While Pruitt did technically file the case on behalf of Oklahoma, it was both filed and settled on the same day.

“It was an extensive negotiation,” said James Bradbury, the Texas-based lawyer who represented Mahard.

A spokesperson for the EPA said the case began in 2008 and negotiations began no later than 2009.

The case was brought over violations to the EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) regulations, which oversee manure and waste from animals to prevent water contamination and over-nitrogenation of the ground.

“Nothing against AG Pruitt, but it was really a DOJ, EPA-driven process,” Bradbury said.

Pruitt has been questioned by the Senate committee over his extensive ties to the oil and gas industry, as well as his seeming ignorance of environmental science and his lack of prosecutorial action on environmental violations in his state, which has one of the country’s highest asthma rates.

Trump’s EPA nominee seems unfamiliar with mainstream scientific research

Pruitt has been a staunch opponent to the EPA during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general, suing the agency numerous times over the Clean Power Plan, the Mercury Air Toxics Rule, and other regulations.

Trump’s EPA nominee took credit for a case that started years before he took office was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Scott Pruitt is a champion for states’ rights — unless they want to strengthen environmental…

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 1:51pm
Scott Pruitt is a champion for states’ rights — unless they want to strengthen environmental protectionIn his confirmation hearing for EPA administrator, he would not commit to letting California set its own emissions standards for automobiles.CREDIT: Ron Sachs / CNP /MediaPunch/IPX

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator — has a history of touting the importance of states’ rights in regulating the environment. As attorney general, he even created a Federalism Unit, dedicated to combating federal regulations that Pruitt deemed to be federal overreach.

But at his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Pruitt was less enthusiastic about California’s right as a state to review and enforce its own automobile pollution rules, which is allowed under the Clean Air Act.

“I agree to review that as each administrator before me has,” Pruitt told Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), when asked whether he would uphold the waiver allowing California to issue its own vehicle pollution standards. “Senator, as you know, administrators in the past, have not granted the waiver and have granted the waiver.”

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Later in the hearing, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) highlighted the hypocrisy in Pruitt’s insistence on states’ rights, except seemingly in instances where a state wants to deepen their environmental protections.

“It’s troublesome, because obviously what we have heard all day is how much you support states’ rights when it comes to these issues,” Markey said during the exchange. “But now when it comes to the right of California or Massachusetts and other states to be able to reduce carbon pollution, you’re saying you are going to review that.”

“So my problem really goes to this double standard that is created, that when you sue you from the Oklahoma perspective, from the oil and gas industry perspective and you represent Oklahoma, you say they have a right to do what they want to do in the state of Oklahoma,” Markey continued. “But when it comes to Massachusetts or California, when it comes to the question of those states wanting to increase their protection for the environment, protect their victimization from carbon pollution, you say there you are going to review.”

https://medium.com/media/d081468a64d418e581815b4e55beb452/href

California has been regulating pollutants from automobiles since before the EPA existed as an agency. As such, when President Nixon created the EPA, it gave California the right to enforce its own automobile emissions standards. California chose to set more stringent standards, and since automobile manufacturers were essentially required to create cars that could meet California standards, those standards became the de facto standards for the entire country, helping to drive down vehicle emissions on a wide scale.

Pruitt is right that the EPA has not always allowed California to enforce stricter environmental standards — once, during the George W. Bush administration, the EPA denied California the right to enforce a more stringent automobile emission standard.

But his hesitancy on Wednesday to promise lawmakers that he would allow California to continue crafting its own air emissions standards puts Pruitt, a champion of states’ rights, in a precarious position: to deny California’s waiver would be to subvert the right of the state to a federal entity, something that Pruitt has fought against for six years as Oklahoma Attorney General. But to allow California to set its own emission standards could anger industry — especially the oil and gas industry and automobile industry — which has been antagonistic towards vehicle emissions standards in the past.

In a statement released on Wednesday, California State Senate leader Kevin de León said that Pruitt would be met with “full resistance” if he tries to roll back California’s environmental standards.

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Statement from Senate leader @kdeleon on Trump EPA nominee refusing to commit to California's clean air waiver, key part of state's policies

 — @ChrisMegerian

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In a tweet, Sen. Harris also called Pruitt’s refusal to state whether he would uphold the California waiver “unacceptable.”

Scott Pruitt is a champion for states’ rights — unless they want to strengthen environmental… was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

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