Trump’s EPA quietly revamps rules for air pollution

The Trump administration has quietly reshaped enforcement of air pollution standards in recent months through a series of regulatory memos.

The memos are fulfilling the top wishes of industry, which has long called for changes to how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the nation’s factories, plants and other facilities. The EPA is now allowing certain facilities to be subject to less-stringent regulations and is letting companies use friendlier math in calculating their expected emissions.

Environmentalists and public health advocates say the memos could greatly increase levels of air pollutants like mercury, benzene and nitrogen oxides. They accuse the EPA of avoiding the transparency and public input requirements that regulatory changes usually go through.

“All of these, individually and taken together, will result in more air pollution and less enforcement of the Clean Air Act,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association.

“These were radical departures of current law when they were proposed a decade ago and they’re just as radical today,” he said, referring to the Bush-era efforts, some of which were unsuccessful, to make changes to EPA air programs.

But for the EPA and its supporters, the memos simply bring the agency back to what the relevant laws and regulations are meant to be.

“They address specific concerns that people have had for years, and just make it much simpler for people to comply — especially for existing [facilities] — to make sure they can maintain their plants and replace worn-out components and those types of things, without the threat of enforcement litigation,” said Jeff Holmstead, a former head of the EPA’s air pollution office under the George W. Bush administration who now represents regulated companies at the law and lobbying firm Bracewell.

Bill Wehrum, head of the air office under EPA chief Scott Pruitt, wrote two of the three EPA memos. He recused himself from the third memo, which Pruitt wrote.

The first memo, issued in December, states that the EPA will no longer “second guess” companies’ calculations of their expected pollution output after certain big projects under what is known as New Source Review. Under that program, the EPA reviews the changes made to a facility to decide whether they need to go through the same process as if the facility were newly built.

The December memo effectively means the EPA will usually not take action against a company for its calculations if they turn out to be wrong.

The second memo, issued in January, repeals a Clinton-era policy known as “once in, always in.” Under the previous policy, facilities could never be considered “minor” sources of hazardous pollution if they were already considered “major” sources, and subject to much stricter rules.

Now, facilities can be regulated as “minor” if their emissions drop enough.

The third memo allows companies to use a procedure known as “project netting” when applying for permits for major projects under the New Source Review program. That means companies can use a more industry-friendly emissions calculation when they argue that a particular project would reduce emissions.

President Trump added to the memos last week, signing one himself that formally asks the EPA to use more industry-friendly practices in enforcing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program, a key Clean Air Act program for air quality nationwide.

John Walke, director for clean air at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA is working to implement the policies the Bush administration failed to finish.

“I think Mr. Wehrum has decided this is likely a one-term administration and he’s going to devote his full resources to rolling back clean air, climate and public health protections in the time available to him,” Walke said.

“The most expedient and hasty way to accomplish those rollbacks is through the regular guidance documents that we have seen so far from EPA,” he said. “Rulemakings take time, they require public notice and input and hearings, and Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Pruitt plainly have no patience for those tedious fodders.”

Walke said that, taken together, the memos could allow polluting facilities to greatly increase their emissions.

The EPA didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The focus among the memos for environmental and health advocates is the one repealing the “once in, always in” policy, and letting “major” pollution sources reduce their emissions and be regulated as “minor” ones.

A coalition of environmental groups sued the EPA to stop the policy change, arguing that it should have gone through the full regulatory process, including analysis of its environmental impact and an opportunity for public comment. Democratic states joined in with their own lawsuit.

“Instead of prioritizing the health of hard-working Americans, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to let major polluters off the hook. That is unconscionable, and it is illegal,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

“If the ‘Once In, Always In’ policy is rescinded, children in California and around the country — particularly those who must live near the polluting plant or factory — may grow up in an environment with tons of additional hazardous pollutants in the air they breathe. California will not allow that to happen,” Becerra said.

Two environmental groups opposed to the EPA’s move have put out recent analyses of the change, focused on specific areas of the country.

The Environmental Integrity Project looked at 12 industrial plants in the Midwest and concluded they could increase their pollution to 540,000 pounds annually, a fourfold growth.

The Environmental Defense Fund looked at the Houston area, and said that 18 facilities there could increase their emissions to 900,000 pounds a year, two and a half times current levels.

Holmstead said opponents of the Trump administration’s policy are unlikely to prevail. The Supreme Court ruled in the 2015 Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association case that federal agencies can repeal policy memos with other policy memos and don’t have to go through the full regulatory process to do so.

“I think the environmental groups are going to have a real uphill battle trying to get through court that this is somehow improper,” he said. “That really does fly in the face of the Perez decision.”

As for the increase in emissions, Holmstead said environmentalists are wrong. In many cases, the new policies will allow facilities to carry out projects that reduce emissions, or simply operate under a lower paperwork burden.

“They have yet to come up with any real-world examples of how that might happen,” Holmstead said of the scenarios in which pollution might increase. “These reforms are not going to lead to pollution increases.

“I don’t think that there will be a meaningful impact one way or another.”

[The Hill]

Ryan Zinke refers to himself as a geologist. That’s a job he’s never held.

Defending his decision to shrink the Bears Ears national monument to lawmakers last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke fell back one of his favorite credentials.

“I’m a geologist,” he said. “I can assure you that oil and gas in Bears Ears was not part of my decision matrix. A geologist will tell you there is little, if any, oil and gas.”

Since becoming leader of the 70,000-employee agency, Zinke has suggested that he was a geologist or former geologist at least 40 times in public settings, including many under oath before Congress.

He uses it as a credential booster, saying things such as, “I can tell you, from a geologist, offshore mining of sand is enormously destructive environmentally, as in comparison to seismic,” as he told the House Natural Resources Committee last month.

And, “Florida is different in the currents — I’m a geologist — it’s different in geology,” in an interview with Breitbart News, defending his decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

In May, he criticized the work of the US Geological Survey, saying at a press conference in Alaska that “I think the assessments of the USGS has done previous, I think they fall short, from a geologist’s point of view.”

Zinke, however, has never held a job as a geologist.

In his autobiography, Zinke wrote that he majored in geology at the University of Oregon, which he attended on a football scholarship, and chose his major at random.

“I studied geology as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog, and I never looked back. I am just glad I did not find electronics,” he wrote, adding that he was focused and a good student, and earned an outstanding academic achievement award his senior year.

After graduating, Zinke wrote that he considered a career in subsurface geological surveying, but after a meeting with a Navy commander, “I realized that I was doing a lot more thinking about SEAL activities — or what I thought SEAL activities would be — than I was about geological exploration and surveying.”

His LinkedIn page, his book, and various news clips piecing together his post-military life — compiled by the left-leaning group American Bridge — show that once Zinke retired as a SEAL he went into business and politics, never mentioning work in the field of geology.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift provided this statement to CNN: “Ryan Zinke graduated with honors with a B.S. in Geology. His intended career path was underwater geology – and he had college jobs to support that career. Upon graduation he was recruited to be an officer in the US Navy SEALs where he proudly served for 23 years and retired with the rank of Commander.”

Interior did not answer if Zinke is or has been a member of the American Institute of Professional Geologists or the Association of State Boards of Geologists.

Several geologists who CNN has spoken with have flagged his comments as disingenuous, saying that someone with a 34-year-old degree who never worked in the field is not considered a geologist.

“He seems not to be familiar with modern geologic knowledge,” said Seth Stein, a professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “In particular, geologists now know that the climate is warming rapidly because of human activities. This is is causing many serious problems including rising sea level, which is a major threat to coastal communities.”

In addition, Zinke’s numerous rollbacks of environmental protections, wavering stance on climate change, and allegations by career staff that he surpassed certain reports have at least one Democratic member of Congress asking whether he should be using his college degree as a credibility booster.

“I’m not sure Secretary Zinke was paying attention during those geology classes,” said Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Zinke has, several times, fallen back on his geology degree to justify his decisions. For example, in a hearing in March before the Natural Resources Committee, Zinke said, “as a geologist, the fair proposition is if you’re going to develop on federal land, there needs to be a reclamation plan to make sure that it’s returned to as good or better condition than what you found it.”

And in December, when he ordered a nationwide survey of minerals, Zinke said, “right now the United States is almost completely reliant on foreign adversaries and competitors for many of the minerals that are deemed critical for our national and economic security. As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the risk this presents to our nation.”

In September, he touted fracking at a Heritage Foundation event, saying, “I’m a former geologist. I say ‘former’ because when I went to school, I was taught that we are going to be out of oil in 2003; that there was peak oil. That’s not possible with fracking.”

And in July, when discussion national monuments he was considering shrinking, Zinke was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal saying, “the area of the monument – it’s actually four separate parcels – is a ‘little disconnected,” he told reporters during a helicopter tour. “The boundaries are difficult to discern – between private, public, state lands,’ he said. ‘The features, as a geologist, I was particularly fascinated with the basalts and the volcanics – beautiful ground.”

In one Senate Appropriations hearing last June, Zinke called himself a geologist four times, including while discussing coal revenue and potential drilling sites.

“I’m a geologist,” Zinke said. “And I don’t consider myself a genius, but I’m a pretty smart guy.”

[CNN]

Trump moves to ban most transgender troops

President Donald Trump on Friday issued orders to ban transgender troops who require surgery or significant medical treatment from serving in the military except in select cases — following through on a controversial pledge last year that has been under review by the Pentagon and fought out in the courts.

The memorandum states that while the secretary of defense and other executive branch officials will have some latitude in implementing the policy, “persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — including individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances.”

The document provides few details about how the ban will be implemented, what will happen to those who are currently serving and under which limited circumstances transgender troops may be able to serve.

The memo also said that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, “in the exercise of his independent judgment, has concluded [the policies] should be adopted by the Department of Defense.”

It added that “the Secretary of Homeland Security concurs with these policies with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard,” which would also be affected by the policy.

In a subsequent statement, the White House press office explained that the policy was “developed through extensive study by senior uniformed and civilian leaders, including combat veterans.”

“The experts’ study sets forth a policy to enhance our military’s readiness, lethality, and effectiveness,” it continued, adding that officials “concluded that the accession or retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — those who may require substantial medical treatment, including through medical drugs or surgery — presents considerable risk to military effectiveness and lethality.”

“This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen,” the White House statement concluded.

LGBT advocates who have sought to head off such a move in the courts swiftly slammed the decision, calling it “appalling, reckless and unpatriotic.”

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence are literally wreaking havoc on the lives of our military families,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “This unconscionable attack on our military families cannot stand — we refuse to allow it.”

[Politico]

Notes, emails reveal Trump appointees’ war to end HHS teen pregnancy program

The Trump administration’s abrupt cancellation of a federal program to prevent teen pregnancy last year was directed by political appointees over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News.

The trove shows three appointees with strict pro-abstinence beliefs — including Valerie Huber, the then-chief of staff for the department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health — guided the process to end a program many medical professionals credit with helping to bring the nation’s teen pregnancy rate to an all-time low.

Prior to serving at HHS, Huber was the president of Ascend, an association that promotes abstinence until marriage as the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.

The $213 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program was aimed at helping teenagers understand how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It had bipartisan support in Congress and trained more than 7,000 health professionals and supported 3,000 community-based organizations since its inception in 2010.

In the notes provided to NBC News, Evelyn Kappeler, who for eight years has led the Office of Adolescent Health, which administers the program, repeatedly expressed concerns about terminating the program, but appeared out of the decision-making loop and at one point was driven to tears.

In a July 17, 2017 note, she says she was admonished to “get in line” and told it was not her place to ask questions about the agency’s use of funds. In a July 28 note, Kappeler recalled she was “frustrated about the time this process is taking and the fact that (her staff) has not been part of the discussions.” She described being “so rattled” that “my reaction when I got on (sic) the phone was to cry.”

She and her staff “were not aware of the grant action until the last minute” — an apparent reference to the decision, it says.

Last month, Democracy Forward, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group, sued the administration for unlawfully terminating the program after the agency took months to respond to its Freedom of Information Act request.

The group claims the newly obtained emails show that HHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act that bars arbitrary decision-making and that the political appointees thwarted the will of Congress.

“Now that we’ve seen these documents, there is no question to us why the Trump administration withheld” the emails, said Skye Perryman, the group’s lawyer. The decision to end the program “was made hastily, without a record of any reasoned decision making and under the influence of political appointees who have long opposed evidenced-based policy,” she said.

Parties suing over the action include the city of Baltimore and the Healthy Teen Network, which represents grantees across the country.

HHS has given different explanations about its decision to terminate the program, including claims that it was ineffective or that it did not conform to the president’s proposed budget. HHS did not respond to emails or answer questions about who was responsible for ending the program.

HHS spokesman Mark Vafiades directed NBC News to a fact sheet and announcement on the agency’s website. They state that 73 percent of the projects funded by the program “had no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior, with some teens more likely to begin having sex, to engage in unprotected sex or to become pregnant.”

“The evidence stands in stark contrast to the promised results,” the statement says.

The story behind the program’s demise is one of a growing list of examples of the control Trump political appointees are exerting at federal agencies.

It is also part of a broader narrative about programs benefiting women and children becoming political targets under a president who insists he is an advocate for women’s rights and health. Under Trump, a mandate under the Affordable Care Act to cover contraceptive coverage has been rolled back, while Republicans in Congress have sought to defund Planned Parenthood and proposed budget cuts to Medicaid, which covers half of all births.

In July 2017, the Office of Adolescent Health notified 81 grantees including the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that it would be discontinuing funding under the Obama-era program beginning this June, with some programs cut off immediately.

After the program’s 2010 inception, teen pregnancy and birth rates fell faster than ever. Health care experts say considerable research and money that has already been invested in the program will be wasted and the number of at-risk teens will increase.

The president of the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and women’s health advocacy groups, such as Planned Parenthood, have expressed alarm.

Haywood L. Brown, president of ACOG, called the program “vital.” The administration’s decision, Brown said in a statement, is “highly unusual” and a “step backward for ensuring healthy moms and healthy babies.”

In an op-ed last year, Ron Haskins, previously a Republican co-chair of a bipartisan commission on evidence-based policy making established by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that by ending the program, Trump has “exploded one of our most promising evidence-based programs.”

In a June 21 note by Kappeler, Steven Valentine, Huber’s deputy, is described as having “taken the lead” in reversing the program. Valentine directed Kappeler to halt the review process for the grants, the notes say.

Before coming to HHS, Valentine was a legislative assistant to Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., an outspoken abortion rights opponent. Valentine also worked for a short time at the Susan B. Anthony List, a political organization that supports candidates who oppose abortion rights.

Don Wright, a senior career official at HHS, stated in a July 28 email to Kappeler that he himself was only “tangentially” involved in the discussions about the program’s termination. But one set of notes documents him instructing skeptical career staff members on the appropriate behavior of civil servants. He later complained to Kappeler about “rolling of the eyes by some staff,” her notes say.

Weeks later, Wright was made acting secretary of the department.

Also according Kappeler’s notes, some staff “expressed concerns about being able to ask questions in this environment and the lack of engagement by policy staff directly with the program office.”

Kappeler’s memos “are quite revealing of the agency’s improper and unlawful decision making,” said Perryman, Democracy Forward’s lawyer.

“The documents also show HHS disregarded the views of experienced career employees including those of the director of the Office of Adolescent Health,” she said.

Another appointee involved in terminating the teen pregnancy program was Teresa Manning, an anti-abortion activist and Trump appointee who was in charge of the department’s family planning programs and who has publicly questioned the efficacy of several popular contraception methods. She was previously a lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee and for the Family Research Council. In January, Manning abruptly resigned.

In November, HHS announced a $10 million research initiative to ensure “any sex education programs follow the science to improve youth health and well-being,” including “sexual risk avoidance.”

Despite their popularity in some conservative regions and school districts, abstinence-only programs have been shown not to work.

A June 2005 study conducted by Case Western Reserve University found that the sexual education programs that Huber ran in Ohio promoting abstinence-only education had “critical problems.” The study suggested the program conveyed “false and misleading information” about abortion, contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections and misrepresented “religious convictions as scientific fact.”

In King County, Washington — one of the parties in the suit challenging the program’s termination — grantees created a 15-lesson sex education curriculum known as Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH).

The FLASH program educates students on options including abstinence, the use of birth control and the importance of consent before engaging in sexual activity. It is now used in 44 states and taught in every school district in King County, which has seen a 63 percent drop in teen pregnancies since 2008.

King County was granted $5 million to conduct the first scientific evaluation of the FLASH program, and now it is unable to complete the study. The $3 million already spent is now wasted taxpayer dollars, according to King County spokesman James Apa.

[NBC News]

Reality

Data shows clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S

Trump’s DOJ goes after Wisconsin county for pushing nurse assistant to get flu shot against her ‘sincerely held Christian belief’

The Trump Justice Department is suing Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County for alleged civil rights violations after requiring a worker at a county-run nursing home to get a flu shot — an action she said is against her religious beliefs.

Christian Post reported Wednesday that nursing assistant Barnell Williams, who worked Lasata Care Center in a town roughly 26 miles north of Milwaukee, spoke with her highest-ranking supervisor about getting a religious exemption for a policy requiring employees to get flu shots.

“Under the nursing home’s then policy,” the Christian Post noted, “an employee’s failure to receive the mandatory shot without a formal religious or medical exemption, was deemed a ‘voluntary resignation.’”

Based on her interpretation of the Bible, Williams told Campus Administrator Ralph Luedtke it was her “sincerely held Christian beliefs” that she could not put “certain foreign substances, including vaccinations, in her body because it is a ‘Holy Temple.’”

The administrator told Williams she’d need a signed letter from her pastor attesting to that belief, and when she explained that she was unaffiliated with any church, Luedtke gave her an ultimatum — get the shot or “consider this your last day.”

Williams acquiesced and got the shot, but immediately “became emotionally distraught and cried uncontrollably” in the aftermath, the DOJ’s lawsuit claims.

“Williams suffered severe emotional distress from receiving the flu shot in violation of her religious beliefs, including withdrawing from work and her personal life, suffering from sleep problems, anxiety, and fear of ‘going to Hell’ because she had disobeyed the Bible by receiving the shot,” it continued.

The suit claims that Lasata Care Center “could have reasonably accommodated Williams’ religious objection to receiving the mandatory flu shot,” and noted that it has in the interim changed its policy and no longer requires letters from clergy for religious exemptions.

[Raw Story]

Trump insists on arming teachers despite lack of evidence it would stop shootings

In the past 24 hours, Donald Trump has thrice backed a plan to arm teachers in US schools despite the lack of evidence showing this would end school shootings.

Facing opposition from the country’s largest teachers’ unions, school security guards and military veterans, the president continued to endorse the plan in White House meetings and on Twitter.

“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said Thursday morning in a meeting about school safety at the White House.

In the Thursday meeting, the president suggested offering bonuses to teachers who are trained to carry concealed weapons.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said at a Wednesday night listening session with loved ones of people killed in mass shootings.

There are few examples available of armed citizens stopping mass shootings and it is difficult to track, in part because it is difficult to know what a gunman was planning before they were stopped.

A 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of US active shooter incidents in the US between 2000 and 2013 said of the 160 total incidents examined, 21 were stopped by citizens, workers or off-duty police officers. Of the 21 people, six were armed.

An active shooter incident is defined as a shooting that occurs in a confined, populated area and in which law enforcement or citizens could affect the outcome based on their response. Shootings related to gang violence, accidents and suicides were not included in the tally.

The majority of the 160 incidents, 56.3%, were ended by the shooter before police arrived. Either the shooter committed suicide, stopped shooting or fled the scene. “The FBI recognizes that seeking to avoid these tragedies is clearly the best result,” the study concluded.

Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers was immediately opposed by the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – as well as the teachers’ union in Florida’s Broward County, where last week’s shooting took place.

Individual teachers criticized Trump’s suggestion on social media under the #ArmMeWith campaign. There, teachers asked that the money that would be needed to fulfill Trump’s plan instead be used to improve schools resources such as mental health services and basic classroom supplies.

A former assistant principal who stopped a shooting at a high school in Mississippi while armed told the New York Times the experience left him with nightmares and acute stress for six months afterward.

“It doesn’t matter what a pistolero you are, or think you are,” Joel Myrick said. “You don’t need to be in school in charge of protecting children.”

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), the nation’s largest school policing group, also said it opposed arming teachers. They noted law enforcement officers responding to an incident may mistake armed personnel not in uniform as the assailant. They also emphasized how law enforcement officers receive ongoing practice in high-stress and difficult shooting environments.

At the Wednesday listening session, Trump also described a situation where there would simply be more armed people on campus – not just teachers.

“They may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force,” Trump said. “And they’re very adept at doing that. You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school.”

Veterans disputed this claim on Twitter.

Jay Kirell, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, said it was “extremely difficult” to shoot under stress. “Cops & soldiers literally get paid to do this & most of them can’t shoot accurately under stress,” Kirell tweeted.

Daniel Riley, an infantryman in the Marines who attended Columbine high school, guessed how many Marines would have been needed to prevent students being killed at his alma mater during the 1999 attack.

“Using my knowledge of both, my guess on what it would take to prevent kids from being killed on 4/20/99: at least 20 Armed Marines (And it’s still a maybe),” Riley said. “And that’s somehow ‘common sense’?”

Trump’s proposal ignores the efficacy of gun laws in other countries where there are far fewer incidents of gun violence.

[The Guardian]

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]

Trump: US could use some ‘good old Global Warming’ to heat up cold states

President Trump took to Twitter Thursday to note the record-breaking cold weather currently slamming much of the eastern U.S., saying the country could use some “global warming” during the cold snap.

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record,” Trump tweeted. “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Large swaths of the U.S. are expected to see record-breaking cold temperatures over New Year’s weekend, with some areas expected to have low temperatures in the negative 40s.

Much of the Northeast is also facing wind chill advisories over the weekend, with wind chills in New England expected to measure between 20 and 40 degrees below zero.

Weather is not climate, however. NASA defines climate as “how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time,” while weather is defined as “what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time.”

Trump has denied that global warming exists in the past, claiming it was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In June, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, a worldwide pact to cut back on carbon emissions in order to reduce global warming.

Trump has argued the Paris deal puts the American economy at a disadvantage because other nations – primarily China and India – are not aiming to cut their emissions in real terms under the deal.

Trump took particular aim this year at the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-administered account that international officials hope will inject up to $100 billion in annual climate adaptation financing for poor nations by 2020.

Obama pledged $3 billion for the fund and was able to spend $1 billion before leaving office. Trump said future payments for that fund would now stop.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/366734-trump-us-could-use-some-good-old-global-warming-to-heat-up-cold

 

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]

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]

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