Trump moves to overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act

The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled significant changes to the nation’s landmark environmental law that would make it easier for federal agencies to approve infrastructure projects without considering climate change.

Many of the White House’s proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act have been supported by business groups that contend the law has delayed or blocked projects like laying out oil pipelines and building dams and mines, among other things.

Environmentalists said that the rules would endanger wildlife and lead to more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, and contend that the regulations should be strengthened not weakened as the world copes with global warming.

If the proposals are enacted, it would be the first overhaul of NEPA in more than 40 years.

The plan, released by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, would no longer require any form of federal environmental review of construction projects that lack substantial government funding. The change would also widen the category of projects that will be exempt from NEPA regulations.

“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, bigger, better fast and we want to build them at less cost,” President Donald Trump said at the White House on Thursday.

The move is the latest effort by the Trump administration to roll back a slew of environmental regulations in place to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect natural habitats from drilling and development.

The changes are expected to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. There will be a 60-day comment period and two open hearings before the final regulation is delivered.

The administration has argued that the law can increase costs for builders, block construction projects and threaten jobs for American workers and labor union members.

“The step we’re taking today, which will ultimately lead to final regulations, I believe will hit a home run in delivering better results to the American people by cutting red tape that has paralyzed common sense decision making for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday.

Jay Timmons, president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that the president’s plan is exactly what his group wanted.

“Our efforts should be used for building the infrastructure Americans desperately need, not wasted on mountains of paperwork and endless delay,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, argued that the changes prioritize polluters and corporations over the environment.

“This NEPA rewrite favors big polluters and corporate profits over balanced, science-based decision making and would prevent Washingtonians from voicing their views on proposals ranging from siting a new fossil fuel pipeline in their backyard to building an open-pit mine that could destroy the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery,” she said in a statement.

“We need to make smarter environmental decisions, not roll back the safeguards we already have,” Cantwell said.

The administration’s proposed changes might not make it through court, according to Bruce Huber, an environmental law professor at Notre Dame Law School.

“The law requires federal agencies to report the environmental impacts of their actions that significantly affect ‘the quality of the human environment,’” he said. “If the regulations announced today drive agencies to diminish the extent or quality of their reporting, federal courts may very well conclude that their reports do not comply with the law.”

William Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that the White House’s proposal is consistent with other environmental regulation rollbacks.

“This is all about the election and Trump getting out there and shoring up his base,” Snape said. “The Trump administration has been losing more cases than it’s winning in oil and gas – and this is a chance to blame someone else.”

[CNBC]

Trump Calls Climate Change ‘Very Serious,’ But Touts Book By His NJ Golf Consultant Praising His Environmental Record

During a press gathering today, President Donald Trumpunexpectedly backtracked on his previous, stated belief that climate changes is a “hoax” and instead called it a “very serious subject” and claimed that he had a book about the topic he was going to read.

In the midst of massive, cataclysmic wildfires ravaging Australia, the devastating impacts of climate change have become a worldwide news topic. So, Trump’s apparent reversal on the issue, noted by New York Times’ climate change reporter, Lisa Friedman, seemed to have the potential for a breakthrough moment.

But as Trump expounded on the book referenced, it became clear he was not discussing one based on scientific research.

After a follow-up, the Times’ Friedman confirmed the book that Trump, who is notoriously averse to reading long news articles or briefing folders let alone books, plans to read is a hagiographic, self-published book written by his former New Jersey golf course consultant during the 2016 campaign. Russo worked for Trump for 17 years and is not a climate scientist.


[Mediaite]

Trump Wants to Keep Secret Service Travel Bill Out of Public View

The White House is desperately trying to keep President Donald Trump‘s exceptionally hefty Secret Service bill from being released in full to the public–at least not before the 2020 presidential election.

According to the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to negotiate an embargo on that information. Congressional Democrats, however, are insisting that the total amount of money spent by the public on Trump’s travels be released.

Those fierce discussions are reportedly being held in the context of a draft bill that would return the Secret Service to the purview of the Treasury Department–the traditional umbrella agency for the aptly-named law enforcement and computer crimes organization tasked with guarding the president and his family as well as other high-profile members of the U.S. government.

Founded by infamously violent union-buster Allan Pinkerton in 1865, the Secret Service initially served to combat the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. In 2003, control over the agency was gifted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks and the so-called “War on Terror.”

Mnuchin has been itching to return the Secret Service to its original home for some time and Democrats have been more than happy to oblige that request.

But congressional Democrats have one major condition: the Secret Service would have to disclose the full amount of taxpayer dollars spent on protecting Trump and his family–including his adult children Ivanka TrumpJared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.–during their frequent travels within 120 days of the bill’s passage.

Mnuchin has reportedly attempted to meet the Democrats in the middle and agreed to such disclosures on a relaxed timeline. The Mnuchin-supplied timeline, perhaps not entirely so curiously, would have the cost disclosure occur only after the 2020 election. The timing dust-up has been a point of serious contention.

Per the Post‘s report:

In a statement, the Treasury Department confirmed that Mnuchin has been working with Secret Service Director James Murray and congressional committees on a bill to transfer the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security to Treasury, but did not address the dispute about the reporting requirement.

“Conversations about the return of the Secret Service to the Treasury Department are ongoing, and we decline to comment on individual aspects of those conversations,”an anonymous Treasury official told the outlet.

But Democrats are said to be adamant and insist that the public has a right to know how much they’re paying for the Trump family’s repeat travels to their personally-owned hotels and golf resorts in Florida and New Jersey.

Why all the concern? Democrats likely view the information as an effective and useful political prize; the White House an onerous liability and embarrassment.

As Law&Crime previously reported, President Trump’s extensive golf habit has already cost the public far in excess what former president Barack Obama’s did—and Trump accomplished that feat in a stunning three years compared to Obama’s eight.

As of 2020, Trump’s golf habit alone has cost taxpayers in the ballpark of some $115 million. During Obama’s presidency, the former first family spent roughly $114 million in public funds on travel total.

As noted, Obama golfed quite a bit as well—and was often taken to task for indulgence in the country club sport.

But the Secret Service travel tab for Trump is seen as particularly problematic because he was one of Obama’s biggest critics on the golf front—using it as an attack line during the 2016 presidential election—and insisted he’d largely abandon the game if elected.

“I love golf,” then-candidate Trump told a Florida crowd in 2016, “but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t ever think I’d see Doral again. I own Doral in Miami. I don’t think I’d ever see many of the places that I have. I don’t really ever think I’d see anything–I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals.”

Now one of those would-be deals is an effort to keep his publicly-subsidized golf games on the down low.

[Law and Crime]

Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Trump’s gossipy whispers regarding a “big” response in Iraq foreshadowed what was to come. After hours of silence, senior officials in the Trump administration argued that what had taken place in Iraq was not an act of aggression. Instead, they said both publicly and behind closed doors on the Hill that killing Qassem Soleimani was designed to “advance the cause of peace,” as U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook put it in a Friday interview

Those Mar-a-Lago guests received more warning about Thursday’s attack than Senate staff did, and about as much clarity. A classified briefing on Friday, the first the administration gave to the Hill, featured broad claims about what the Iranians were planning and little evidence of planning to bring about the “de-escalation” the administration says it wants.  

According to three sources either in the room or told about the discussion, briefers from the State Department, Pentagon, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claimed that killing Soleimani was designed to block Iranian plans to kill “hundreds” or even thousands of Americans in the Mideast. That would be a massive escalation from the recent attack patterns of Iran and its regional proxies, who tend to kill Americans in small numbers at a time. 

“This administration has absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt when it makes these kinds of claims. When you’re taking action that could lead to the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years, you need to do better than these kinds of assertions,” said a Senate aide in the room. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also said publicly that the Iranians planned to kill hundreds of Americans before Soleimani’s killing.

Nor, said four sources who requested anonymity to discuss a classified briefing, did the briefers provide detail on a key question surrounding an act of war against a regional power: what next? 

[The Daily Beast]

Trump EPA to roll back Obama-era chemical rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to roll back a set of Obama-era standards outlining how companies must store dangerous chemicals, the Washington Post reports.

Where it stands: The rules were enacted following a 2013 explosion in Texas that killed 15 people. Officials blame arson for the deadly blast, but the fertilizer plant fire was fueled by 80,000–100,000 pounds of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate. Under the EPA’s newly weakened rules, companies will no longer have to provide public information on what chemicals they store onsite.

  • Companies will also be freed from several safety procedures, including obtaining a third-party audit following an accident or conducting an analysis after major chemical releases.

Between the lines: This is the latest rollback that shows how the broad reach of President Trump’s deregulatory push goes far beyond the climate change policies of his predecessor, Axios’ Amy Harder notes.

[Axios]

Transcript Shows WH Made Up Details of Trump’s Zelensky Call

The release of the transcript of President Donald Trump’s first call in April with Ukrainian President-elect Volodomyr Zelensky was meant to bolster the case that Trump had nothing but good intentions in his dealings with Ukraine—but it also showed a White House summary of the same call released to the public shortly after it occurred was largely fabricated. 

The White House readout, a summary of the call released hours after it occurred, claimed Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—within its internationally recognized borders—and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelensky and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

Such statements are nowhere to be found in the transcript of the call released by the president on Friday. That transcript shows Trump congratulating Zelensky on his recent election win, promising to arrange a White House visit for him, and recounting the large number of Ukrainian women who participated in Trump’s Miss Universe competitions.

Nowhere does Trump mention efforts to address Ukrainian corruption, economic prosperity, or democratic institutions. Nor does he even allude to its efforts to beat back the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those discrepancies.

The White House released the transcript in an effort to undercut claims by congressional Democrats that Trump sought to leverage a Zelensky White House visit and delayed military aid to Ukraine to solicit an investigation by Ukrainian prospectors into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and into conspiracy theories regarding a supposed Ukrainian role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Trump and his allies have claimed that the president was simply seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine, a stated objective of U.S. foreign policy for years. The readout of Trump’s April call with Zelensky indicated that Trump had indeed pressed Zelensky on that issue in particular.

But the transcript released Friday, which notes that it is not a “verbatim” account of the conversation, doesn’t even mention the word “corruption.”

The Trump White House has a checkered record of releasing summaries of his calls with foreign leaders, a practice viewed as standard in prior administrations. Many of those readouts have contained scant details of the conversations, even as foreign leaders put out far more detailed summaries, a practice that experts say allows foreign governments to put their own spin on highly consequential interactions with the president.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump Praises Business Partner Tiger Woods After Golfer Notches Record-Tying 82nd Career PGA Tour Win

President Donald Trump sent out his praise to “AMAZING CHAMPION” Tiger Woods in the wake of the golfer’s 82nd PGA Tour win.

Woods won the record-tying title Monday, tying with Sam Snead for highest number of PGA Tour championships.

“Great going Tiger!” Trump said Monday.

“Well, it’s a big number,” Woods said after winning. “It’s about consistency and doing it for a long period of time. Sam did it into his 50s, and I’m in my early to mid-40s. So it’s about being consistent and doing it for a very long period of time. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had so far.”

Trump and Woods have a warm relationship, and the president awarded Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year.

“You have seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows and I would not be in this position without all of your help… I love you guys so much,” Woods said in his speech, thanking friends and family.

[Mediaite]

Donald Trump’s Televised Cabinet Meeting Was Another Nutty Episode

oes it even matter any more that, on Monday, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago had another televised nutty in the White House? Does it matter more that, in the course of his televised nutty, the president* expressed virulent contempt for the Constitution he swore to preserve, protect, and defend. I mean, I was sitting there when he did it. I had to sit through that awful Roger Corman film of an inaugural address. Did I do that for naught?

Anyway, on Monday, the president* unburdened himself of the following thought-like objects.

On the war on terror:

“I’m the one who did the capturing. I’m the one who knows more about it than you people or fake pundits.”

On the whistleblower:

“I happen to think there probably wasn’t an informant. You know, the informant went to the whistleblower, the whistleblower had, you know, second-and-third-hand information. So was there actually an informant? Maybe the informant was Schiff!”

And then, the piece de resistance, in which Alexander Hamilton and James Madison become operatives of The Deep State…

“You people with this phony emoluments clause.”

I know he burbled on about George Washington and Barack Obama and Netflix and how unprecedented it is that he’s not taking a salary. (Herbert Hoover didn’t, nor did JFK.) But I think I briefly went to another place when he said that thing about the Emoluments Clause. How about the Bill of Rights? How about the powers of Congress? How about the impeachment provisions? What other parts of the Constitution does he consider “phony”?

[Esquire]

Trump just called the Constitution’s emoluments clause ‘phony’

Who cares about emoluments? Not President Trump, that’s for sure.

During a Cabinet meeting Monday, Trump defended his now-reversed decision to host the 2020 Group of Seven Summit at the Trump National Doral Miami resort. While on a tangent, the president hand-waved the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the federal government from receiving gifts or titles from foreign states without the consent of Congress. Trump described it as “phony,” making it unclear if he’s aware that it’s in the Constitution of the United States.

He also reportedly argued he wouldn’t have profited off the summit, world leaders deserved the best hospitality possible, and other presidents “ran their businesses” while in office, which actually hasn’t been the case since former President Andrew Johnson left office.

[The Week]

Trump Lashes Out at Coverage of Awarding G7 to Resort He Owns, Also Extolls Resort’s ‘Tremendous Ballrooms’

President Donald Trump reacted angrily Saturday to criticism of his administration announcing it would hold a summit of foreign leaders at a resort Trump owns.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders,” Trump said Saturday night.

Trump went on to praise the features of his resort like “tremendous ballrooms” and claimed again that he would not “profit” from the summit.

Trump also highlighted Doral’s proximity to Miami International Airport as a positive, but Chuck Todd and David Fahrenthold pointed to that as a negative on Friday, both of them agreeing it was a security risk for the high-profile event.

“Doral is right on the Miami airport flight paths,” Todd said. “I think one of my reporters told me there’s like 20 different flight paths that are going to have to be diverted.”

“This is such a security nightmare to put it in the middle of a neighborhood where you’re going to have the neighbors coming and going,” Fahrenthold said.

[Mediaite]

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