Tag Archives: EPA

Get the Popcorn Ready for July 2

Ars Technica reports (https://bit.ly/2kRp1y9) that a federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to provide documents on which Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the agency, relied in stating, in March 2017, that carbon dioxide was not a major contributor to climate change. See https://bit.ly/2JowYWp Immediately after Pruitt’s statement, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on which Pruitt relied in his conclusion which conflicts with the overwhelming consensus of scientific thought on the subject, including statements published by EPA itself before Pruitt assumed his position.

According to the Ars Technica report, the EPA refused the FOIA request and PEER sued the agency. On June 1, Beryl A. Howell, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 19-page opinion ordering EPA to produce the documents by July 2 or explain why they can’t by July 11. https://bit.ly/2Jleztq

The opinion opens by observing that EPA’s own webpage contradicted Pruitt’s statement, yet “EPA has performed no search for and produced no records in response to the plaintiff’s FOIA request.” EPA stalled for over a year.

The judge would have none of EPA dissembling and stumbling attempts to shield the Administrator and avoid justifying the statements he made:

“Particularly troubling is the apparent premise of this agency challenge to the FOIA request, namely: that the evidentiary basis for a policy or factual statement by an agency head, including about the scientific factors contributing to climate change, is inherently unknowable. Such a premise runs directly counter to “an axiom of administrative law that an agency’s explanation of the basis for its decision must include ‘a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made,’” [case citations omitted] EPA’s strained attempt to raise an epistemological smokescreen will not work here to evade its obligations under the FOIA. [Opinion at 10]

In a major case of understatement, typical of judicial opinions, Judge Howell said:

“At the outset, EPA’s apparent concern about taking a position on climate change is puzzling since EPA has already taken a public position on the causes of climate change. The D.C. Circuit described as “substantial” the “body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA,” which “scientific evidence of record included support for the proposition that greenhouse gases trap heat on earth that would otherwise dissipate into space; that this ‘greenhouse effect’ warms the climate; that human activity is contributing to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases; and that the climate system is warming.”  [citations omitted]

And,

“EPA is construing the second part of the FOIA request far more broadly than the text supports in a thinly veiled effort to make the request more complex and burdensome than it is.”

And, finally,

“EPA has failed to demonstrate a viable legal basis for its refusal to conduct any search whatsoever in response to the plaintiff’s straightforward FOIA request. When the head of an agency makes a public statement that appears to contradict “the published research and conclusions of” that agency, Compl. ¶ 20, the FOIA provides a valuable tool for citizens to demand agency records providing any support, scientific or otherwise, for the pronouncement, and to oblige agencies to search for and produce any non-exempt responsive records. Compliance with such a request “would help ‘ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.’”

If the EPA had devoted the time spent resisting the FOIA request on actually complying with it, the agency would have been finished with this matter long ago. Now the agency has been ordered to finish the search in a month and report shortly thereafter on remaining issues.

I cannot avoid the conclusion that the professional agency staff at EPA knows that the documents sought to support the Administrator’s claims re climate change simply don’t exist. They are doing what they can to protect Pruitt from himself, but Chief Judge Howell has seen through the smokescreen. Pruitt has no meaningful science or internal agency research to support his right-wing political position that, as his President and enabler Donald Trump would put it, “climate change is a hoax.” So, July 2, assuming EPA does not continue to resist by appealing to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will be an interesting day of reckoning.

Why Are Pruitt’s Basketball Tickets Not a Bribe?

On June 3, the New York Times reported that Scott Pruitt was given access, allegedly at market value, to University of Kentucky basketball tickets in a section that is reserved for ticketholders who donated at least $1 million to the university. Other perks were attached to the tickets, including watching from the players’ entrance as the team entered the playing court. The “market value” apparently was $130 per ticket, paid in cash and there is no receipt. An email from the ill-named EPA Ethics Office approved the purchase in advance in the belief that it would be paid by check.

The seats belonged to Joseph W. Craft III, a coal executive who gave more than $2 million to the Trump presidential campaign. According to the NYT report, Craft met with Pruitt seven times or more during Pruitt’s first 14 months as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The “or more” results from the fact that the NYT has documents showing that Pruitt and Craft were scheduled to meet on two other occasions but, curiously, “officials would not confirm them.” The known and scheduled contacts occurred at meetings and speeches in Washington, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia.

As discussed at length in the NYT article, Craft has been aggressively pursuing the rollback of environmental restrictions on the coal industry. Pruitt, with the overt support of Donald Trump, has been happy to oblige, including, for example, repealing the Obama instituted Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and stopping enforcement of a rule prohibiting coal-powered plans from dumping toxic metals into rivers. The latter move was sought by a coal industry group on whose board Craft sits.

So, as you and your progeny experience worse air and water pollution and possible cancers and other adverse health consequences down the road, you have Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump to thank.

Returning to the main point of this post, I understand the notion that paying someone market value for an item can be seen as “not a gift” but a mere purchase like any other purchase. Clearly, when you buy something on Amazon, even at a discount from other available prices, no one would rationally argue that Amazon made a gift to you.

However, if you are exploiting a personal relationship with Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, who is selling you an item at a market price but it is an item that cannot be bought anywhere else unless you are a person of similar economic standing and advantage as Bezos, that, in my view, is quite another matter. To put the obvious meat on that bone, if Bezos has tickets behind home plate for the World Series, and if Bezos wants something you have or you have the power to deliver or even materially influence on his behalf, it is clear, I suggest, that Bezos would have effectively bribed you by “selling” his World Series tickets to you, even if you paid full price. You could not have bought those tickets in the open market and, even if you could get them on, say, StubHub, it would be most efficient, not to mention friendly, to accept the offer from your pal, Jeff.

Here are the relevant elements of the basic federal bribery statute:

18 U.S. Code § 201 – Bribery of public officials and witnesses

(a) For the purpose of this section—

(1) the term “public official” means … an officer or employee or person acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any department, agency or branch of Government thereof ….;

(3) the term “official act” means any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit.

(b)Whoever—

(1) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official… or offers or promises any public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent— [bold face emphasis added]

(A) to influence any official act; or

(B) to influence such public official… to commit or aid in committing, or collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or

(C) to induce such public official … to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official or person;

(2) being a public official … directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: [bold face emphasis added]

(A) being influenced in the performance of any official act;

(B) being influenced to commit or aid in committing, or to collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or

(C) being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of the official duty of such official or person;

(3) ….

(4) ….

shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

(c)Whoever—

(1) otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty—

(A) directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any public official … for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official … [bold face emphasis added] or

(B) being a public official … otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official or person;

….

 (3) directly or indirectly, demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of the testimony under oath or affirmation given or to be given by such person as a witness upon any such trial, hearing, or other proceeding, or for or because of such person’s absence therefrom; [bold face emphasis added]

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.

In case you’re wondering, 18 U.S, Code § 641 defines “value” as “face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.” The Department of Justice describes the two core sections of 18 U.S. Code § 201 as “bribes” versus “gratuities.” The critical difference is the lesser, but still significant, penalty for a “gratuity.”  https://bit.ly/2p2S0nU

I cannot claim expertise in the field of bribery of federal officials, but on the face of it, I do not understand how the sale, at any price, of restricted access tickets to a sports event is not the offer and acceptance of a thing of value and, in the obvious circumstances of this case and the relationship between Pruitt and Craft, therefore a bribe under 18 U.S. Code § 201. Add this to the long list of questionable actions by Pruitt, which have led to at least a dozen investigations into his conduct. I invite anyone with expertise in the area to enlighten me regarding how the sale of highly restricted sports tickets to the head of an agency that is being solicited to undertake acts in favor of the seller’s interests is not a bribe.

 

Scott Pruitt – Destroyer of Worlds

Do you know how many soldiers make up a platoon in the U.S. Army? While answers vary by source, there appears to be consensus around a size of 16 to 60 soldiers. Thus, the security detail demanded by Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, numbering at least 20 is the equivalent of having a full-time platoon of American soldiers for “protection.” Exactly what Pruitt is so afraid of remains an open question.

On the one hand, we have Pruitt stealing, in effect, from the public through a multitude of unjustifiable first-class trips, installation of a “secure phone booth” costing more than $40,000, and other over-the-top charges for his office rework. On the other hand (or is it the same hand?), we have a man who, before his appointment by Trump was firmly entrenched as a public official in Oklahoma with the industries seeking to exploit the environment for private gain, now using his federal office to further reward those same industries and companies.

Thinking of Pruitt’s tenure as EPA head brings to mind Robert Oppenheimer, a famous physicist who led the Los Alamos Laboratory and is credited, with others, as being the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the World War II Manhattan Project that created the first such bomb. After observing the test firing in New Mexico, Oppenheimer later said it drew to his mind the words from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Pruitt, of course, appears to know little of science and to care nothing about it in any event. His worldview appears to be that Earth is here for one reason, the unlimited exploitation of its resources by mankind, through the vehicles of mining, logging, drilling, whatever it takes and wherever is desired. Thus, in the space of a little more than a year, Pruitt has:

  • spent millions on his personal around-the-clock security, including salaries ranging from $103,000 to nearly $162,000
  • slashed the working budget of EPA by about 30 percent;
  • claimed that threats against him have sky-rocketed, but there are no public reports of arrests or prosecutions;
  • flown on charter flights and first-class flights that included putting his security detail in first-class, with the excuse that being in first-class means they can exit the plane faster; when paying for his own travel, Pruitt flew coach;
  • rolled back auto fuel-efficiency rules;
  • promoted Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord;
  • directed payment of extraordinary bonuses of 30 & 52 percent to two close aides who joined him from Oklahoma;
  • taken adverse job actions against professional agency staff who questioned his spending/travel practices;
  • insisted that vehicles in his entourage use lights & sirens when moving through Washington streets to attend dinners;
  • rented a room from the wife of a lobbyist with business before the EPA;
  • denied, contrary to the evidence, that he authorized the excessive raises or that he approved the $43,000 installation of a sound-proof booth in his office, including biometric door locks and other security features more appropriate for a banana-republic dictator;
  • incurred frequent high-cost luxury accommodation charges, seeking approval after-the-fact;
  • accepted expense reimbursements from groups with business before the EPA;
  • rescinded, often with limited process, rules protecting the water, air and national parks, allowing uncontrolled exploitation of unique national resources without regard to the consequences.

In light of those and other legal/ethical lapses, the Washington Post has called for Pruitt’s firing, but Trump continues to support him because he is executing Trump’s plan to undo every environmental protection he can find. If there’s one thing Trump hates as much as exposure of his own corruption, it’s Obama-era environmental regulations. He wants them all gone and Pruitt is just the man to do his, and the exploitative industries’, bidding.

Pruitt is on par with the likes of Ben Carson, Trump’s appointed head of the Housing & Urban Development agency, for which Carson had zero qualifications, and Ryan Zinke, Trump’s appointed Secretary of the Interior, who repeatedly calls himself a “geologist,” based solely on having a college major in geology 34 years ago, and whose principal goal appears to be reducing the size of national parks so they can be exploited for minerals, oil and gas. Scott Pruitt sees his charge as clearing the way for unregulated commercial exploitation by private firms of the nation’s precious natural resources, including its clean water and air.

It is extremely unlikely that such a person would have been allowed to continue in office overseeing an agency whose legally established purpose is the exact opposite of Trump’s and Pruitt’s agenda. The Republican controlled Congress, however, continues to tolerate this situation and is thus complicit in the crimes against nature and humanity that this administration is perpetrating in the interest of enriching already wealthy corporations and individuals.

You have read it here before, but it bears repeating. We are facing a grave threat to our well-being as a people and as a country. Absent the bringing of criminal indictments and impeachment against Trump, the 2018 mid-term elections are the next real opportunity to regain the upper hand before it is too late. You should tell everyone you know that is capable of independent thought and reason why they must vote in November for Democrats, and why they must help others in need of assistance in getting to the polls and fulfilling their citizen responsibilities. This is not a drill.

Sources for this post: https://cnn.it/2vlJVOb; https://bit.ly/2J5LRwm; https://politi.co/2qD1hBg; https://wapo.st/2qFXBho; https://nyti.ms/2Eoc7iC;https://bit.ly/2JVc1De; https://bit.ly/2qfdACU; https://bzfd.it/2J6g0LZ; https://nyti.ms/2H40tiY; https://politi.co/2viE7F0.

 

EPA Docket on Re-Evaluating Regulations Is Open Through Monday

The Environmental Protection Agency docket in which the agency will carry out Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” is open through the end of Monday, May 15. To file comments, go to: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190-0042. It is a simple process. As of this writing, 50,557 comments have been filed. You can see them by clicking on the Open Docket Folder link. Most are very short and filed anonymously. One of the reasons for the anonymity is that the online comment forms do not expressly ask for identification. They used to do this routinely but not in this case.

In any event, I have not read all of the comments, obviously, but it’s a fair guess that the vast majority are from individuals arguing that the environmental regulations were adopted for good and sufficient reasons to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink and the ecosystem on which life on the Earth depends for its diversity and survival. Whether these comments will have any influence remains to be seen, but it is certain that if the people do not speak up, the Trump administration is simply going to roll over us.

Here is the comment I filed, shorter than I’d like but time constraints being what they are, this is all I could do. If you are inclined to file, feel free to echo my thoughts. It would be best not to simple repeat them, however, as EPA will ignore anything it believes is a “mass mailing” input. Or just read a few of the other public comments and say what you believe. Let’s not let the administration eviscerate the environment without putting up some resistance. Here is what I filed:

“This process is designed to fulfill a political agenda rather than being a science-based re-evaluation of regulations that have had some demonstrable unintended effects. It is therefore a misguided exercise. Undoing environmental regulations that were adopted after notice and hearing under the Administrative Procedure Act requires similar procedural processes and safeguards, including cost benefit analyses published for public evaluation and input before action is proposed and again after specific actions are proposed with stated rationales and science-based evidence. Any program designed to change regulations that is based on denial of the reality of climate change is inherently defective and may not serve as a lawful basis for altering existing environmental regulations.”

Trump Administration Climate Science Deniers Are Risking Crimes Against Humanity

As the affronts to science, human dignity, and the very viability of the planet continue to multiply, through climate change denial and evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, the question naturally arises: when and how will those responsible be held accountable for the damage they are doing, or facilitating, to the Earth? For surely the day of reckoning is coming and possibly sooner than many people think. When rising sea levels, crop failures, unprecedentedly destructive storms and other natural disasters begin to impair the water supply and food supply of the “comfortable countries,” like the United States and much of Western Europe, against whom will the public turn? And what punishment will they demand as they face the realization that the science deniers have fooled them into believing a false idea that has led to the destruction of their world? Will it even matter at that point?

A few things seem somewhat clear. While it is within reason to interpret “climate change denial” policy actions as a “crime against humanity” under existing usages of that term (specifically, the “extermination” of an entire population), the United States has never ratified the Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court and thus there is no international body with plausible jurisdiction to punish the leaders of the United States for what they are inflicting on the rest of the world by, for example, denying that carbon dioxide is a meaningful contributor to global warming. http://wapo.st/2mRiia3.

Given the Trump administration’s determined effort to gut the EPA, it will remain to the American people to punish those who, by willful ignorance or worse, have traded away the health and well-being of future generations for a few pieces of silver. Of all the crimes likely being committed by the Trump administration, including blatant conflicts of interest to interfering with the reasoned development of regulations that, properly understood, are “protections” for the people, the undermining of work to manage climate change is the most serious. The consequences of unchecked climate change will at some point become irreversible. That outcome will be directly traceable to the decisions of this administration to unleash the forces of pollution and environmental degradation without meaningful restraint or even requirements to report on what the industries are doing that negatively affects the environment.

If any of my readers doubt the certainty of what I am saying, I can only urge you to read some of the respected works on the subject that are readily available. The Sixth Extinction is a good example. There is no more important issue because the very existence of life on the planet depends on it. The actions being taken by the Trump administration are occurring without the benefit of public hearings or other meaningful input. Trump and his ideologues already know everything they want to know, no matter how inadequate.

The March for Science is on Earth Day, April 22. The Peoples’ Climate Movement March is April 29. If you care about this issue, you should add your body and those of your family to this mass demonstration in support of science and in support of the air you breath and the water you drink. Take to the streets with the masses of others who will be there to protest, peacefully but loudly, against the Trump administration’s crimes against humanity.