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]

Scott Pruitt Declares War on Air Pollution Science

The Trump administration’s environmental denialism runs much deeper than global warming. That became clear just one month into the presidency, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where panelist Steve Milloy—formerly a paid flack for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries and member of the president’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—argued that the mainstream science on the health risks of air pollution was wrong. Contra the Centers for Disease Controlthe World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and most publishing epidemiologists, Milloy insisted that excessive particulate matter is not linked to premature death—and that scientists who advise the EPA made up evidence to support the Obama administration’s regulatory priorities. “These people validate and rubber-stamp the EPA’s conclusion that air pollution kills people,” he said. His co-panelists nodded in agreement.

Milloy called for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to overhaul the agency’s scientific advisory boards, the bodies that ensure public health regulations are based on sound, peer-reviewed science. Milloy said scientists who receive EPA grants are biased toward regulation, and thus Pruitt should ban them from serving on the boards. He and his co-panelists also argued for more representation from polluting industries, which clearly do have a bias against regulation.

Milloy and others on the anti-environmental fringe are getting their wish. On Tuesday, Pruitt announced massive changes to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, both of which advise EPA on the science behind proposed regulations. Pruitt announced that EPA will no longer appoint scientists who have received grants from the agency to these boards. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency,” he said. Pruitt is also expected to replace every single member whose term is expiring instead of renewing some for a second term, as is common practice. Terry Yosie, former director of the Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told me, “It’s fair to say that this has never happened to this sweeping degree before of existing board members whose terms are expiring this year.”

These changes have been expected for several weeks, but it’s all the more concerning when we look at who these new advisors are. A list of expected appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, obtained by the Post, E&E News, and The New Republic, shows that Pruitt is expected to appoint multiple people who have downplayed the impact of air pollution on public health. These deniers will have the influence to contort EPA science, leading to the weakening or even repeal of clean-air regulations that protected Americans for decades.

Of the 17 new members expected to be appointed to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), three hail from large fossil-fuel companies: Southern Company, Phillips 66, and Total. Three are from red-state governments; one is from a chemical industry trade association; the rest are from various universities and consulting groups. Five of the 17 hold views on air pollution that are outside of the scientific mainstream. Of the three new members expected to be appointed to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC), one is an air pollution skeptic.

Most toxicologists and epidemiologists accept that air pollution can harm humans, and that excessive air pollution can lead to death in vulnerable populations (like children and the elderly). That’s why the government regulates it—principally under the Clean Air Act, a widely popular law passed in 1963 and amended multiple times with unanimous or overwhelming support in the Senate. Through that law, we have various regulations on specific air pollutants, including National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone.

Several expected SAB appointees will likely argue that these regulations should be weakened. Michael Honeycutt, the director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has been aggressively seeking a spot on one of the scientific advisory boards since last year. He is “one of the top ozone science doubters in the state,” according to a 2016 profile in the Houston Press:

Honeycutt is the guy who has been leading the charge against making any changes to air quality standards in Texas. He and a bunch of TCEQ scientists have followed in the footsteps of Republicans in Texas and across the country in vowing to oppose EPA air quality changes until the end of time, more or less. He’s stated in the past he’s against any measures to reduce air pollution mainly because he feels they would be too expensive. Aside from that, Honeycutt reasons that ozone levels aren’t an issue at all because  “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors” so they’re rarely exposed to significant layers of ozone.

The EPA considers ozone a harmful air pollutant. “Reducing ozone pollution makes breathing easier,” the agency’s website reads. “Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.” Honeycutt, who’s been trying to undercut the scientific basis for smog regulations since 2010, argues that people aren’t outside long enough for high levels of ozone exposure to make a difference.

Robert Phalen, who directs the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California Irvine, is not an obvious ideologue like Honeycutt, but his research findings would support a deregulatory agenda for air pollution. “The relative risks associated with modern [particulate matter] are very small and confounded by many factors,” he wrote in a 2004 study. “Neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations.” Phalen has argued that the air is currently too clean, because children’s lungs need to breathe irritants in order to learn how to fight them. “Modern air,” he said in 2012, “is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Anne Smith, an analyst at NERA Economic Consulting, has argued against President Barack Obama’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan. Specifically, she took issue with how his administration classified the health risks of particulate matter. She contends that one can’t know for certain whether a death during, for instance, a smog event was directly caused by air pollution. Mainstream scientists acknowledge as much, but say the strong statistical correlation between death rates and pollution rates are enough to prove the risks. Smith disagrees.

The rest of the expected nominees are similarly skeptical. The University of North Carolina’s Richard Smith is the author of a recent peer-reviewed study that found “No association of acute deaths with levels of PM2.5 or ozone.” Stanley Young, a listed expert at the climate-denying Heartland Institute, has written that there is “empirical evidence and a logical case that air pollution is (most likely) not causally related to acute deaths.” And Tony Cox—the one expected to be appointed to the clean air board—has long argued that the public health benefits of reducing ozone pollution are “unwarranted and exaggerated.”

Unlike with climate change, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is driven by humans, some peer-reviewed studies cast doubt on air pollution’s health impacts. But other peer-reviewed studies say air pollution’s health risks are even greater than we currently assume. And the majority of scientists agree that air pollution poses a threat to public health, and can trigger death in vulnerable populations. The disproportionate number of doubters on Pruitt’s science advisory team doesn’t reflect that robust debate happening within the scientific community. Instead, it drastically tips the scales in favor of Pruitt’s deregulatory policy agenda. Or as Milloy, the EPA transition team member and CPAC panelist put it on Tuesday afternoon, “More winning!”

[New Republic]

EPA cancels appearance of scientists at climate change event

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has canceled the appearance of three scientists at an event on Monday in Rhode Island about a report, which deals in part with climate change.

The New York Times reports EPA spokesman John Konkus confirmed on Sunday that agency scientists would not be speaking at the event in Providence. Konkus did not provide an explanation.

The event is designed to draw attention to the health of Narragansett Bay, which forms New England’s largest estuary.

A spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island says the event will go on as planned and the report that EPA scientists helped work on will be released.

In a statement to The Associated Press Sunday night, Reed said “muzzling EPA scientists won’t do anything to address climate change.”

[CBS News]

Reality

You can read the report here.

Trump EPA Pick Defends His Extreme Views as ‘Sound Science’

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the federal office for chemical safety, defended his record against fierce attacks from Democrats, who accused him of downplaying the risks of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I have been objective in my work and applied sound science to come to my conclusions,” said Dourson, a toxicologist who is Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Dourson to commit to recusing himself from EPA decisions involving chemicals that industry players had paid for him to review, pointing out that his proposed standards for safe exposure were often much weaker than the EPA’s.

Dourson refused to state whether he would recuse himself, saying only that he would rely on EPA’s ethics officials to determine if such actions was necessary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Dourson hasn’t been directly paid by chemical companies within the past year, making it unlikely that he would have to recuse himself because of ethics laws, The New York Times reported.

In his opening remarks, Dourson promised to protect the American public, “including its most vulnerable.” He added that his research and consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, received only one-third of its funding from private industry, with the remainder coming from government sponsors.

But Dourson’s testimony did little to assuage Democrats. When Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Dourson if he would weaken the EPA’s existing standards for 1,4-Dioxane — a solvent that the agency has classified as a likely carcinogen — Dourson said he would “bring new science and thinking into the agency.”

Markey lashed out, saying that Dourson’s proposed standard for 1,4-Dioxane was 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s. “You’re not just an outlier on the science — you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” Markey said.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, repeatedly quoted praise for Dourson from toxicology professionals who described him as “highly qualified” and “a leader in the field of risk assessment.”

Democrats do not have the votes to block Dourson’s nomination, but if he passes out of committee — which didn’t vote on his nomination Wednesday — they could threaten to prolong the nominating process by using a Senate procedure that requires 30 hours of debate for each nominee.

[NBC News]

Reality

Dourson has written books and often engages in “faith based science” which cherry-picks actual scientific evidence to fit into a Biblical narrative.

Treasury removes report contradicting Mnuchin on tax cuts

The Treasury Department has taken down a 2012 economic analysis that contradicts what Secretary Mnuchin has said about the effects of corporate tax cuts, the WSJ reports. What happened:

  • Mnuchin said workers benefit the most from corporate income tax cuts.
  • The 2012 analysis from the Office of Tax Analysis revealed that workers pay 18% corporate taxes, whereas owners of capital pay 82%, so cutting them impacts owners more.

A Treasury spokeswoman told the WSJ the paper was “dated” and “does not represent” current thinking at Treasury.

[Axios]

Trump Administration Rejects Study Showing Positive Impact of Refugees

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. The issue has sparked intense debate within his administration as opponents of the program, led by Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, assert that continuing to welcome refugees is too costly and raises concerns about terrorism.

Advocates of the program inside and outside the administration say refugees are a major benefit to the United States, paying more in taxes than they consume in public benefits, and filling jobs in service industries that others will not. But research documenting their fiscal upside — prepared for a report mandated by Mr. Trump in a March presidential memorandum implementing his travel ban — never made its way to the White House. Some of those proponents believe the report was suppressed.

The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”

But White House officials said those conclusions were illegitimate and politically motivated, and were disproved by the final report issued by the agency, which asserts that the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American.

“This leak was delivered by someone with an ideological agenda, not someone looking at hard data,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman. “The actual report pursuant to the presidential memorandum shows that refugees with few skills coming from war-torn countries take more government benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services than the average population, and are not a net benefit to the U.S. economy.”

John Graham, the acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the health department, said: “We do not comment on allegedly leaked documents” and that no report had been finalized. He noted that Mr. Trump’s memorandum “seeks an analysis related to the cost of refugee programs. Therefore, the only analysis in the scope of H.H.S.’s response to the memo would be on refugee-related expenditures from data within H.H.S. programs.”

The three-page report the agency ultimately submitted, dated Sept. 5, does just that, using government data to compare the costs of refugees to Americans and making no mention of revenues contributed by refugees.

“In an average year over the 10-year period, per-capita refugee costs for major H.H.S. programs totaled $3,300,” it says. “Per-person costs for the U.S. population were lower, at $2,500, reflecting a greater participation of refugees in H.H.S. programs, especially during their first four years” in the United States.

It was not clear who in the administration decided to keep the information out of the final report. An internal email, dated Sept. 5 and sent among officials from government agencies involved in refugee issues, said that “senior leadership is questioning the assumptions used to produce the report.” A separate email said that Mr. Miller had requested a meeting to discuss the report. The Times was shown the emails on condition that the sender not be identified. Mr. Miller personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered, according to two people familiar with the talks.

He has also played a crucial role in the internal discussions over refugee admissions, which are capped by an annual presidential determination that is usually coordinated by the National Security Council and led in large part by the State Department.

This year, officials at the State Department as well as the Department of Defense have argued vociferously that the United States should admit no fewer than the 50,000-refugee cap that Mr. Trump imposed in January as part of the travel ban, but Mr. Miller has advocated for a much lower number — half or less, according to people familiar with the internal talks who described them on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to detail them. The Department of Homeland Security last week proposed a cap of 40,000. The limits being debated would be the lowest in more than three decades.

“We see an administration that’s running a program that it’s intent on destroying,” said Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, one of nine refugee resettlement agencies opposing the cut in admissions. “We do have champions in the White House and in the administration, but they’re not being given a voice in this.”

The issue is coming to a head as Mr. Trump attends the United Nations General Assembly this week for the first time as president. The United Nations has repeatedly appealed to nations to resettle 1.2 million refugees fleeing war and persecution from all over the world, and former President Barack Obama used the gathering last year to tout his goal of admitting 110,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ends this month, and to pressure other countries to follow the lead of the United States in embracing more displaced people.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, has highlighted his goal of radically cutting refugee admissions. The president moved swiftly after taking office to crack down on refugees, issuing his original ban against travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries only a week after taking office.

Facing legal challenges to that order, his administration released a second travel ban two months later against six countries, along with a presidential memorandum in which Mr. Trump called on the secretary of state to consult with the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security and his White House budget director and submit within 180 days “a report detailing the estimated long-term costs of the United States Refugee Admissions Program at the federal, state, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs.”

The budget Mr. Trump released in May argued that refugees and other immigrants were a fiscal drain. “Under the refugee program, the federal government brings tens of thousands of entrants into the United States, on top of existing legal immigration flows, who are instantly eligible for time-limited cash benefits and numerous noncash federal benefits, including food assistance through SNAP, medical care and education, as well as a host of state and local benefits,” the document said.

It would be less costly, it argued, if there were fewer refugees, since “each refugee admitted into the United States comes at the expense of helping a potentially greater number out of country.” Inside the administration, those who espouse this view argue that any research purporting to illustrate fiscal benefits of refugees is flawed and reflects only wishful thinking.

As Mr. Trump deliberates privately about the issue, a coalition of human rights and religious groups as well as former national security officials in both parties has formed to encourage him not to allow the refugee cap to plummet.

“From a national security standpoint, while we can’t take an unlimited number of refugees, we need to show our friends and allies that we stand with them and this is a shared burden,” said Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush.

“They’ve generated a lot of economic value,” Mr. Chertoff added in an interview. “I don’t think refugees are coming to take American jobs.”

Trump on Climate Change and Hurricanes: ‘We’ve Had Bigger Storms’

President Trump on Thursday dismissed the impact of climate change on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the two major storms to make landfall in the United States in the last month.

“We’ve had bigger storms,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, following a trip to Florida to assess the impact of Irma.

Trump later ignored a question about his views on climate change, according to reporters traveling with him.

The president’s trip to Florida was the third he’s taken to survey damage from Harvey and Irma, both of which were unusual it their strength and severity.

Harvey broke the record for rainfall from a tropical cyclone in the United States, dropping more than 50 inches of rain on parts of Texas and Louisiana late last month, leaving Houston inundated.

Irma, at its peak, packed sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, making it one of the five strongest storms to form in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a Category 5 hurricane for three days and three hours, the second-longest for any storm on record.

Climatologists have said that while climate change didn’t cause the two monster storms, it likely exacerbated them and made them stronger.

Trump has said he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus of climate change, calling it a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to undermine the American economy.

[The Hill]

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