Kellyanne Conway’s ‘opioid cabinet’ sidelines drug czar’s experts

President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a “just say no” campaign.

Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine a year ago.

“It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” said a former Trump administration staffer, using shorthand for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has steered federal drug policy since the Reagan years.

The office’s acting director, Rich Baum, who had served in the office for decades before Trump tapped him as the temporary leader, has not been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings, according to his close associates. His schedule, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, included no mention of the meetings. Two political appointees from Baum’s office, neither of whom are drug policy experts, attend on the office’s behalf, alongside officials from across the federal government, from HHS to Defense. A White House spokesperson declined to disclose who attends the meetings, and Baum did not respond to a request for comment, although the White House later forwarded an email in which Baum stressed the office’s central role in developing national drug strategy.

The upheaval in the drug policy office illustrates the Trump administration’s inconsistency in creating a real vision on the opioids crisis. Trump declared a public health emergency at a televised White House event and talked frequently about the devastating human toll of overdoses and addiction. But critics say he hasn’t followed through with a consistent, comprehensive response.

He has endorsed anti-drug messaging and tougher law enforcement. But he ignored many of the recommendations from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential commission about public health approaches to addiction, access to treatment, and education for doctors who prescribe opioids. And he hasn’t maintained a public focus. In Ohio just this week, it was first lady Melania Trump who attended an opioid event at a children’s hospital. The president toured a manufacturing plant and gave a speech on tax cuts.

Much of the White House messaging bolsters the president’s call for a border wall, depicting the opioid epidemic as an imported crisis, not one that is largely home-grown and complex, fueled by both legal but addictive painkillers and lethal street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

“I don’t know what the agency is doing. I really don’t,” said Regina LaBelle, who was the drug office’s chief of staff in the Obama administration. “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”

Conway touts her opioids effort as policy-driven, telling POLITICO recently that her circle of advisers help “formalize and centralize strategy, coordinate policy, scheduling and public awareness” across government agencies.

That’s exactly what the drug czar has traditionally done.

Conway’s role has also caused confusion on the Hill. For instance, the Senate HELP Committee’s staff has been in touch with both Conway and the White House domestic policy officials, according to chairman Lamar Alexander’s office. But lawmakers who have been leaders on opioid policy and who are accustomed to working with the drug czar office, haven’t seen outreach from Conway or her cabinet.

“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, which has the country’s highest overdose death rate. “I’m uncertain of her role.” The office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another leader on opioid policy, echoed that — although Portman’s wife, Jane, and Conway were both at the event with Melania Trump this week.

Some drug abuse experts and Hill allies find a silver lining, noting that Conway’s high rank brings White House muscle and attention.

“If I want technical advice, I’m going to work with Baum,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), a co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. “If I want to get a message to the president, Kellyanne is somebody that I know I can talk to.”

“It’s a really good sign that one of the president’s top advisers has been assigned to such an important topic,” said Jessica Hulsey Nickel, president and CEO of the Addiction Policy Forum.

Baum’s email called the drug office the “lead Federal entity in charge of crafting, publishing and overseeing the implementation of President Trump’s National Drug Control Strategy,” which multiple agencies review. He called Conway’s opioids cabinet an “interagency coordinating apparatus for public-facing opioids-related initiatives” and said that it was not overseeing national policy. But several administration officials did say her cabinet was indeed focused on a variety of policies.

Whatever Conway’s ties to the president, her career has been in polling and politics, not public health, substance abuse, or law enforcement.

Some of her “cabinet” participants do have a broad, general health policy background. But they don’t match the experience and expertise of the drug office’s professional staff. In her circle is Lance Leggitt, the deputy director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council who was also chief of staff to former HHS Secretary Tom Price. Another top Price aide, Nina Schaefer, recently returned to the Heritage Foundation. The conservative think tank then touted her as having managed “the development of the HHS response to the opioid abuse crisis,” but when POLITICO recently tried to contact her, she said through a spokesperson she was not an expert on the topic.

Among the people working on the public education campaign that Trump promised is Andrew Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani’s 32-year-old son, who is a White House public liaison and has no background in drug policy, multiple administration sources told POLITICO. Nor has Conway spent her career in the anti-opioid trenches.

“Kellyanne Conway is not an expert in this field,” said Andrew Kessler, the founder of Slingshot Solutions, a consulting group that’s worked on substance abuse with many federal agencies. “She may be a political operative and a good political operative,” he added. “But look. When you appoint a secretary of Labor, you want someone with a labor background. When you appoint a secretary of Defense, you want someone with a defense background. The opioid epidemic needs leadership that ‘speaks’ the language of drug policy.”

The set-up befuddles other experts who’ve worked on substance abuse for prior administrations. Fresh ideas are fine, they say. But the drug office has a purpose.

“The whole reason we created ONDCP in 1988 was to be a coordinating force with power in the government and to bring together 20 agencies, many reluctant to be involved in drug control,” said Bob Weiner, who served in that office in both the George W. Bush and Clinton White Houses. “This is exactly when the agency should get maximum support from the White House,” he added.

An ONDCP spokesperson told POLITICO the office “works closely with other federal agencies and White House offices, including Kellyanne Conway’s office, to combat the opioid crisis” but declined to say whether the office’s career experts have attended any of her “opioids cabinet” sessions. The drug office is still crafting the annual drug control strategy, outside the Conway group, administration officials said.

A senior White House official confirmed that officials considered kicking off the media campaign with a big splash during the Super Bowl, but that fell through. Beyond that, many experts on drug policy and substance abuse say messaging alone won’t solve the problem anyway. People with addiction need treatment, and many people get addicted in the first place to painkillers their doctors have prescribed. An ad campaign won’t solve that.

One big test for the drug office will come when Trump releases his budget Monday, which is expected to slash the office’s budget, turning much of its work over to HHS and the Department of Justice. Both departments are developing their own opioid approaches; in past administrations, the drug czar would have coordinated. Lawmakers are already sounding the alarms over the budget plan.

A bipartisan group of senators last week wrote a letter to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, urging him to reconsider and maintain the office’s programs that “prevent and fight against the scourge of drug abuse.”

Pushback to a similar proposal last year led the Trump administration to reverse the decision and maintain the office’s budget. Lawmakers hope that there will be a similar outcome this time — along with a smarter utilization of the drug policy office.

“What we haven’t seen is the kind of coordination of critical programs that ONDCP has traditionally done,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire, another state with one of the highest overdose death rates in the country.

Trump officials say it was the Obama administration that began undermining the drug policy office, demoting the director from the Cabinet, shrinking the staff and stressing the health aspects more than a law enforcement-focused “war on drugs.” They say the emergency requires a new approach.

Bob Dupont, who served as the second White House drug czar under President Gerald Ford, before the formal drug policy office was created, and still informally advises the Justice Department on drug policy, believes the White House will eventually realize it needs the expertise that ONDCP has to offer.

The West Wing doesn’t “have the staff or capability” to carry out drug policy work like ONDCP does, Dupont told POLITICO. “I don’t think swashbuckling your approach is going to last very long.”

[Politico]

CDC to cut by 80 percent efforts to prevent global disease outbreak

Four years after the United States pledged to help the world fight infectious-disease epidemics such as Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is dramatically downsizing its epidemic prevention activities in 39 out of 49 countries because money is running out, U.S. government officials said.

The CDC programs, part of a global health security initiative, train front-line workers in outbreak detection and work to strengthen laboratory and emergency response systems in countries where disease risks are greatest. The goal is to stop future outbreaks at their source.

Most of the funding comes from a one-time, five-year emergency package that Congress approved to respond to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. About $600 million was awarded to the CDC to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics. That money is slated to run out by September 2019. Despite statements from President Trump and senior administration officials affirming the importance of controlling outbreaks, officials and global infectious-disease experts are not anticipating that the administration will budget additional resources.

Two weeks ago, the CDC began notifying staffers and officials abroad about its plan to downsize these activities, because officials assume there will be “no new resources,” said a senior government official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss budget matters. Notice is being given now to CDC country directors “as the very first phase of a transition,” the official said. There is a need for “forward planning,” the official said, to accommodate longer advance notice for staffers and for leases and property agreements. The downsizing decision was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The CDC plans to narrow its focus to 10 “priority countries,” starting in October 2019, the official said. They are India, Thailand and Vietnam in Asia; Jordan in the Middle East; Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal in Africa; and Guatemala in Central America.

Countries where the CDC is planning to scale back include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo. Last year, when Congo experienced a potentially deadly Ebola outbreak in a remote, forested area, CDC-trained disease detectives and rapid responders helped contain it quickly.

In Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, an emergency operations center established last year with CDC funding is operational but still needs staffers to be trained and protocols and systems to be put in place so data can be collected accurately from across the country, said Carolyn Reynolds, a vice president at PATH, a global health technology nonprofit group that helped the Congolese set up the center.

This next phase of work may be at risk if CDC cuts back its support, she said. “It would be akin to building the firehouse without providing the trained firemen and information and tools to fight the fire,” Reynolds said in an email.

If more funding becomes available in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, the CDC could resume work in China and Congo, as well as Ethiopia, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, another government official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss budget matters.

In the meantime, the CDC will continue its work with dozens of countries on other public health issues, such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, polio eradication, vaccine-preventable diseases, influenza and emerging infectious diseases.

Global health organizations said critical momentum will be lost if epidemic prevention funding is reduced, leaving the world unprepared for the next outbreak. The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.

On Monday, a coalition of global health organizations representing more than 200 groups and companies sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking the administration to reconsider the planned reductions to programs they described as essential to health and national security.

“Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operations, but the U.S. also stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research,” wrote the coalition, which included the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium and the Global Health Council.

The coalition also warned that complacency after outbreaks have been contained leads to funding cuts, followed by ever more costly outbreaks. The Ebola outbreak cost U.S. taxpayers $5.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding, forced several U.S. cities to spend millions in containment, disrupted global business and required the deployment of the U.S. military to address the threat.

“This is the front line against terrible organisms,” said Tom Frieden, the former CDC director who led the agency during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. He now heads Resolve to Save Lives, a global initiative to prevent epidemics. Referring to dangerous pathogens, he said: “Like terrorism, you can’t fight it just within our borders. You’ve got to fight epidemic diseases where they emerge.”

Without additional help, low-income countries are not going to be able to maintain laboratory networks to detect dangerous pathogens, Frieden said. “Either we help or hope we get lucky it isn’t an epidemic that travelers will catch or spread to our country,” Frieden said.

The U.S. downsizing could also lead other countries to cut back or drop out from “the most serious multinational effort in many years to stop epidemics at their sources overseas,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben said the agency and federal partners remain committed to “prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats.”

The United States helped launch an initiative known as the Global Health Security Agenda in 2014 to help countries reduce their vulnerabilities to public health threats. More than 60 countries now participate in that effort. At a meeting in Uganda in the fall, administration officials led by Tim Ziemer, the White House senior director for global health security, affirmed U.S. support to extend the initiative to 2024.

“The world remains under-prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberately released,” Ziemer wrote in a blog post before the meeting. “. . . We recognize that the cost of failing to control outbreaks and losing lives is far greater than the cost of prevention.”

The CDC has about $150 million remaining from the one-time Ebola emergency package for these global health security programs, the senior government official said. That money will be used this year and in fiscal 2019, but without substantial new resources, that leaves only the agency’s core annual budget, which has remained flat at about $50 million to $60 million.

Officials at the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Security Council pushed for more funding in the president’s fiscal 2019 budget to be released this month. A senior government official said Thursday that the president’s budget “will include details on global health security funding,” but declined to elaborate.

[Washington Post]

Trump administration ends EPA clean air policy opposed by fossil fuel companies

The Trump administration announced Thursday it is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was withdrawing the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which dictated how major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated.

Under the EPA’s new interpretation, such “major sources” as coal-fired power plants can be reclassified as “area sources” when their emissions fall below mandated limits, subjecting them to differing standards.

Though formal notice of the reversal has not yet been filed, EPA said the policy it has followed since 1995 relied on an incorrect interpretation of the landmark anti-pollution law.

“This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

Prior to his confirmation by the GOP-dominated Senate in November, Wehrum worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies. The American Petroleum Institute was among the industry groups that had called for the longstanding policy to be scraped.

The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” as one that has the potential to emit 10 tons or more per year of any hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons per year of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. For more than 20 years, EPA’s “once-in always-in” required major sources to remain subject to stricter control standards, even if they took steps to reduce their pollution below the threshold.

Republicans quickly cheered the move by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, especially those from states that produce oil, gas and coal.

“The EPA’s decision today is consistent with President Trump’s agenda to keep America’s air clean and our economy growing,” said Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming. “Withdrawal of this policy means manufacturers, oil and gas operations, and other types of industrial facilities will have greater incentive to reduce emissions.”

Environmentalists predicted the change would drastically weaken limits on toxic heavy metals emitted from power-plant smokestacks.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health,” said John Walke, the director for clean air issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

John Coequyt, who leads climate policy initiatives for the Sierra Club, said the move will lead directly to dirtier air and more deaths.

“Trump and Pruitt are essentially creating a massive loophole that will result in huge amounts of toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead being poured into the air we breathe, meaning this change is a threat to anyone who breathes and a benefit only to dangerous corporate polluters,” Coequyt said.

[CBS News]

Trump administration rescinds Obama guidance on defunding Planned Parenthood

The Trump administration announced Friday it is rescinding guidance from the Obama administration that made it harder for states to defund Planned Parenthood.

The guidance, issued in 2016, warned states that ending Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood or other health-care providers that offer abortions could be against federal law.

The Obama administration argued Medicaid law only allowed states to bar providers from the program if those providers were unable to perform covered services or if they can’t bill for those services.

However, the Trump administration rescinded that guidance Friday in a letter to state Medicaid directors, arguing it was part of the Obama administration’s effort to favor abortion rights.

“Reinstating the pre-2016 standards frees up states to once again decide for themselves what reasonable standards they use to protect Medicaid programs and their beneficiaries,” Charmaine Yoest, assistant Health and Human Services secretary for public affairs, said in a press call with reporters Friday morning.

“This is part of the Trump administration’s effort to roll back regulations the Obama administration put out to radically favor abortion.”

Anti-abortion groups cheered the announcement Friday as another step toward defunding Planned Parenthood.

President Trump and his administration have taken … an important step toward getting American taxpayers out of funding the abortion industry, especially Planned Parenthood,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group in Washington, D.C.

She urged Congress to “finish what this pro-life administration has started” by defunding Planned Parenthood.

States such as Texas have tried to ban Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid programs but were blocked by the Obama administration.

While rescinding the guidance won’t automatically allow states to ban Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs, it signals that the administration supports such efforts.

Texas submitted a request to the Trump administration last year requesting permission to bar Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program, but the administration has not yet responded.

Approval from the administration would likely spark similar efforts in other conservatives states but also would encourage legal challenges.

Planned Parenthood on Friday said rescinding the guidance would effectively encouraging states to block the organization from state Medicaid programs.

“They couldn’t get the votes to pass it in Congress, so now they are pushing states to try and block care at Planned Parenthood,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“Without Planned Parenthood, many of our patients would lose access to health care altogether — either because there are no other providers in their community or because other clinics cannot serve all of our patients.”

he administration has already taken several actions in President Trump’s first year in office supporting its anti-abortion stance.

In April, Trump signed legislation that nullified an Obama-era rule that effectively barred state and local governments from withholding federal funding for family planning services to groups that provide abortions.

The announcement on Friday comes the same day as the March for Life, an annual march against abortion in Washington, D.C.

Trump is set to speak at the march live via video, the first president to do so.

Also set to speak at the event are House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and Chris Smith (N.J.)

[The Hill]

Trump fires council advising on HIV/AIDS

President Trump has fired the entire council that advises his administration about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who works on HIV testing programs, told the newspaper the members were informed by letter this week that their terminations were effective immediately.

The Washington Post said the council, which was set up in 1995, makes national HIV/AIDS strategy recommendations — a five-year plan which sets out how health officials should respond to the epidemic.
The council is made up of doctors, members of industry, members of the community and people living with the disease.

The Washington Blade, an LGBTI newspaper, cited sources with knowledge of the terminations as saying that the terms of several council members appointed during the Obama era still had time to run.

Anger Over Trump’s Health Cuts
The mass dismissal follows the resignation in June of six other representatives of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, who said at the time they were frustrated with Trump’s health care policies.

Several members slammed Trump’s planned American Health Care Act (AHCA), saying it would leave many of the 1.1 million Americans with HIV/AIDS without access to proper treatment. AHCA failed to pass in Congress this year, despite several attempts.

Council members also complained that, since taking office, Trump had failed to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, a position first created during the Clinton administration.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/12/30/president-trump-fires-council-advising-hiv-aids/992426001/

Zinke reprimanded park head after climate tweets

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke brought the leader of a California park to his office last month to reprimand him for climate change-related tweets the park had sent via Twitter, two sources close to the situation said.

Zinke did not take any formal disciplinary action against David Smith, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. And the tweets at issue weren’t deleted, because they didn’t violate National Park Service or Interior Department policies.

But Zinke made it clear to Smith that the Trump administration doesn’t want national parks to put out official communications on climate change.

And by bringing Smith from California to Washington, D.C., to deliver the tongue-lashing, he also sent a message to the park service at large.

One source said Smith “got a trip to the woodshed” and described his one-on-one meeting with Zinke as “highly unusual.”

Another source said Zinke expressed concern with the tweets during the meeting, and told Smith “no more climate tweets.”

Other sources with knowledge of the meeting confirmed that Zinke wanted to stop tweets about climate change.

The Park Service didn’t respond to various questions about the situation, including requests to confirm the Zinke-Smith meeting and to identify who sent the tweets at issue.

“Many of our 417 National Park sites have a social media presence and content is generally determined at a local level,” Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in a statement.

Smith did not talk to The Hill for this story, and the Park Service did not make him available for an interview.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, denied the description of the meeting.

“You have been given really bad information,” she said, declining to elaborate or to make Zinke available for an interview.

The meeting came after a series of 15 tweets were sent on Nov. 8 by Joshua Tree’s Twitter account. The tweets were focused on climate change’s impacts both on national parks in general and on Joshua Tree in particular.

The tweets were based on scientific conclusions, sometimes citing federal government reports and including caveats when necessary.

An overwhelming consensus—over 97%—of climate scientists agree that human activity is the driving force behind today’s rate of global temperature increase. Natural factors that impact the climate are still at work, but cannot account for today’s rapid warming,” read the first tweet of the series.

“Current models predict the suitable habitat for Joshua trees may be reduced by 90% in the future with a 3°C (5.4°F) increase in average temperature over the next 100 years,” said another.

It detailed climate change’s expected impacts on the desert Southwest, including on flora and fauna species like pinyon pine and desert iguana, and linked to a Park Service web page with more details on Joshua Tree and climate change.

The tweets got significant attention, garnering far more retweets and likes than the vast majority of tweets from national park accounts.

It’s not the first controversy surrounding the Park Service’s social media under the Trump administration.

On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, the Park Service’s main Twitter account retweeted a comparison of the inauguration crowd size on the National Mall — which the agency manages — against an obviously larger crowd from former President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

The tweet was soon deleted.

Days later, the Twitter account of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park sent out tweets with facts about climate change. They were deleted, and the agency said a former employee with access to the account was responsible.

Trump’s opponents celebrated both episodes, along with the Joshua Tree tweets, as rebellion against the new administration, including Trump’s skepticism of human-induced climate change.

Conservationists say Zinke’s admonishment over the Joshua Tree tweets is especially troubling, both because of the chilling effect on the agency and as a sign of the administration’s views on global warming.

“This meeting shows how little respect Secretary Zinke has for the front-line employees who manage our national parks and public lands. It also reveals how far the Trump administration will go to hide basic facts from the American people,” said Aaron Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, which has fought much of Zinke’s agenda.

Zinke’s decision to call the Joshua Tree superintendent to Washington also serves as a window into Zinke’s leadership style.

He’s caught significant attention as Interior secretary for his brash style, reflected in direct attacks on the outdoor gear maker Patagonia after it criticized him; accusations that “the dishonest media or political operatives” were trying to tie him to Whitefish Energy’s utility repair contract in Puerto Rico; and his declaration that controversies surrounding his travel spending are “a little BS.”

Zinke has instructed employees to raise a flag for the secretary atop Interior’s building when he is there and has had commemorative coins made for him.

Maureen Finnerty, a retired Park Service superintendent and career official with the agency, accused Zinke of ignoring science in criticizing the tweets.

“The parks should be at the forefront of climate change discussion, because it’s impacting them,” she said.

Finnerty is chairwoman of the Coalition to Protect National Parks, a group composed largely of retired Park Service employees who advocate on numerous agency issues.

In Zinke’s time as secretary, he’s worked to roll back nearly all of the department’s major climate policies, including a moratorium on new coal mining on federal land and a policy to limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling.

The changes have been less pronounced at the Park Service. But the agency did scrap a controversial Obama administration policy from December 2016 that asked parks to formulate plans for preserving natural resources and protecting them from threats like climate change.

If Zinke wants park employees to avoid talking about climate change, he should be more transparent about it, Finnerty said.

“They should go through the process, they should be transparent about it, they should seek whatever input they need, and then they can change the policy,” she said.

[The Hill]

Trump moves to weaken black lung protections

President Donald Trump is considering weakening a regulation intended to protect the health of one of the demographics he has often claimed to care most about — America’s coal miners.

A notice labeled “Regulatory Reform of Existing Standards and Regulations; Retrospective Study of Respirable Coal Mine Dust Rule” was published on Thursday by the White House for the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The stated purpose of the reevaluation would be to determine how a 2014 rule passed under President Barack Obama regulating coal miners’ exposure to coal dust “could be improved or made more effective or less burdensome.”

When the rule was first implemented, it utilized new technologies and increased sampling in mines so that workers would have real-time information about dust levels. This would in turn allow both the miners and operators to minimize the chances that workers would be overexposed to coal dust, which has caused an epidemic of black lung disease among coal miners.

In spite of a 1969 law that increased coal mine safety requirements, more than 76,000 coal miners throughout America died of black lung disease between 1968 and 2014. Many of those deaths occurred among coal miners whose entire mining careers took place after the 1969 law had taken effect.

In response to the announcement that the coal dust rule would be reevaluated, the National Mining Association released a statement saying, “While we’ve not had any discussions with the agency regarding the retrospective study, we think it might shed valuable information on operation of the rule since its promulgation and ways it might be improved to provide further protection for miners while eliminating unnecessary implementation requirements for operators.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for mining company Murray Energy — whose owner, Bob Murray, was a major Trump backer in the 2016 election — released a statement saying that it is “pleased that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reexamining the Obama administration’s Respirable Dust Rule, which fails to protect coal miners in any way.”

Although coal mining has been on the decline in Appalachia over the past few years, that isn’t as a result of Trump’s policies. Part of that is something Trump can’t control. And part of it is something Trump doesn’t want to control. The chief struggle facing coal miners is that natural gas, solar and wind power can outcompete coal due to their low cost and abundance. Making matters worse for coal miners themselves, the coal mining jobs are often the best-paying ones in their area, and job retraining programs have a spotty track record of actually helping individuals who use them.

This latest policy undermines Trump’s longstanding claim to be an ally of coal miners, which he bragged about when he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. “I happen to love the coal miners,” Trump proclaimed at the time.

Trump may have let his true feelings about coal miners be known during a Playboy interview in 1990, however.

“The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.'”

[Salon]

CDC banned from using ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ on official documents

The Trump administration has reportedly banned the Centers for Disease Control from using the phrases “evidence-based” and “science-based” on official documents.

Senior CDC officials distributed the list of “forbidden” words and phrases to policy analysts at the CDC on Thursday, the Washington Post reported Friday. The list also bans the use of “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender” and “fetus.”

Analysts are reportedly prohibited from using the phrases on official documents they prepare for the 2019 budget, which is expected to be released in February.

An analyst who attended the meeting at the CDC in Atlanta told the Washington Post that instead of “evidence-based” or “science-based,” policy analysts are instructed to use the phrase, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

The analyst told the Post that other branches of President Trump’s health department are likely adhering to the same list of banned words. The source said that others at the meeting reacted with surprise when given the list.

“It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’” the analyst said, “In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint.”

The Trump administration has been repeatedly scrutinized for declining to acknowledge science-based findings, particularly related to climate change. Trump himself has not said whether he believes in climate science, and numerous members of his administration and his appointees have denied aspects of scientific consensus related to global warming.

[The Hill]

Trump Says He Wants To Cut ‘70 To 80 Percent’ of Regulations

It can be notoriously difficult to pin down Donald Trump on the finer points of policy. But on Monday morning, the Republican presidential nominee put forth a surprisingly specific proposal: He is going to cut “70 to 80 percent” of federal regulations if he wins the White House.

Trump, lagging badly in the polls, made his anti-regulatory vow while speaking at a farmers’ roundtable in Boynton Beach, a town in the must-win state of Florida. The real estate mogul did not explain how his administration would determine which rules to axe, or how they would go about accomplishing such an unprecedented rollback through executive fiat.

“We want clean air, we want clean water,” Trump said. “But we have and you have situations and regulations, which we’re gonna cut ― we will probably cut 70 to 80 percent of the regulations, OK?”

The Republican nominee told farmers that the regulatory oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, a favorite target of his, was simply too much to bear. The federal agency that enforces clean air and water laws has been a “total disaster,” and regulations on the whole “have been a total catastrophe,” he said.

Trump clarified, however, that he likes fresh air as much as the next person. “Look, we all believe in environment,” he said. “I mean, my primary thing with the environment ― immaculate air, beautiful clean air, and crystal clean water. That’s it. Once you go beyond that, you start to lose all of us, OK?”

Facing an increasingly narrow path through the electoral college, Trump has been banging the anti-regulation drum hard in recent days, starting with his “contract with the American voter.” In that agenda, Trump says that he will require that two regulations be repealed for every new one that goes into effect, offering no rationale for that seemingly arbitrary ratio.

A President Trump might be surprised by how difficult it would be to repeal 70 to 80 percent of federal regulations. A president could undo certain regulations that are established through executive action, and effectively weaken others by choosing not to enforce them much. But businesses mostly face regulations that have been established by Congress, through laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Congress would therefore have to undo such laws.

Trump has gone so far as to claim that the nation’s coal barons are practically starving, thanks to regulations.

“I have friends that own the mines. I mean, they can’t live,” Trump said at a Pennsylvania campaign event in August. “The restrictions environmentally are so unbelievable where inspectors come two and three times a day, and they can’t afford it any longer and they’re closing all the mines. … It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. We’re going to use our heads.”

(h/t Huffington Post)

Reality

The Code of Federal Regulations is the published list all of the general and permanent rules and regulations by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States. In it is the 50 categories that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation, which consists of a lot more than “clean air.”

Just to name a few examples of the regulatory agencies that are designed to keep you safe as a homeowner, motorist, student, employee, employer, and a consumer of fruits, vegetables, meat, drugs, alcohol, utilities, banking, and shipping include:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): regulates and promotes air transportation safety, including airports and pilot licensing.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): ensures free and fair competition and protects consumers from unfair or deceptive practices.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): administers federal food purity laws, drug testing and safety, and cosmetics.
  • National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): prevents or corrects unfair labor practices by either employers or unions.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): develops and enforces federal standards and regulations ensuring working conditions.

 

 

Trump Wants to Roll Back Food Safety Regulations

Donald Trump floated rolling back food safety regulations if he wins the White House in November.

In a fact sheet posted online Thursday, the campaign highlighted a number of “specific regulations to be eliminated” under the GOP nominee’s economic plan, including what they called the “FDA Food Police.”

“The FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food,” it read.“The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when,” the statement continued. “It also greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.”

The fact sheet was later removed from the website and a new fact sheet detailing Trump’s economic agenda did not include mention of the FDA.

The FDA recently completed an overhaul of the food safety system with seven rules to better protect consumers from food-borne illnesses. Manufacturers of both animal and human food are now required to implement preventive controls to minimize the risk of contaminating food when it’s manufactured, processed, packed or held by a facility.

Trump’s economic policy plan also calls for “an immediate halt to new federal regulations and a very thorough agency-level review of previous regulations to see which need to be scrapped.”

Agencies would be required to list all regulations and rank them in terms of their contribution to growth, health and safety. The ultimate goal, Trump said, would be to strengthen the rules that are useful and reduce the rules that harm the economy.

(h/t The Hill)

Reality

Republicans can complain about regulations all they want, FDA food regulations on hygiene are part of the reason why when eating food you don’t think twice about if it will kill you.

Who cares what report they manipulate to show regulations kill jobs (overall they don’t) when we are talking about public safety.

Probably the most recent famous incident involving sub-standard sanitary conditions resulting in a public health crisis was the listeriosis outbreak caused by Blue Bell ice cream in 2015 that caused 5 deaths.

These protections are what Trump wants to repeal. This isn’t funny.