Trump Administration Cuts Back Federal Protections For Streams And Wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency is dramatically reducing the amount of U.S. waterways that get federal protection under the Clean Water Act — a move that is welcomed by many farmers, builders and mining companies but is opposed even by the agency’s own science advisers.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the repeal of an earlier Obama-era waterrule in September, chose to make the long-anticipated announcement Thursday in Las Vegas, at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show.

“All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government,” Wheeler told reporters on a conference call before the announcement.

“Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states,” he added. “And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”

The biggest change is a controversial move to roll back federal limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by President Barack Obama.

The Obama executive action, which broadened the definition of “waters of the United States,” applied to about 60% of U.S. waterways. It aimed to bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.

However, various business interests painted the regulation as a massive federal overreach. Within weeks after the change was announced in May 2015, 27 states sued to block it. At the time, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a leading critic, called the new rule “so broad and open to interpretation that everything from ditches and dry creek beds to gullies to isolated ponds formed after a big rain could be considered a ‘water of the United States.’ “

The revised rule announced Thursday states that ephemeral bodies of water — those that form only after rainfall or that flow only part of the year and dry up at other times — are among those that are not subject to federal control. This exception also applies to waste treatment systems, groundwater, prior converted cropland and farm watering ponds.

It also identifies four categories that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act: large navigable waters such as the Mississippi River, tributaries, lakes and ponds, and major wetlands.

“This isn’t about what is an important water body. All water is important. This is about what waters Congress intended for the agencies to regulate,” Dave Ross, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, told reporters on the conference call. “And we have clearly established those lines.”

However, the revision has also encountered broad criticism. As the proposed rollback was taking shape last year, 14 states sued the EPA over the impending rule change, saying it “ignores science and the law and strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act.”

In a draft letter posted online late last month, the 41-member EPA Science Advisory Board, which is made up largely of Trump administration appointees, said the revised definition rule “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” The letter is signed by the board’s chair, Michael Honeycutt.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under Obama who implemented the 2015 regulation, is among the revision’s most vocal critics. Now president and CEO of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, McCarthy slammed Thursday’s announcement.

“So much for the ‘crystal clear’ water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.”

In a speech on Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual gathering in Austin, Texas, Trump hinted at the change, calling the 2015 Obama rule “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” he said. “As long as I’m president, government will never micromanage America’s farmers.”

He said the new regulations would “allow states to manage their water resources based on their own needs and what their farmers and ranchers want.”

When Trump first proposed the new rule in late 2018, Randy Noel, then chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, told NPR that “I’m pretty excited about it because we hadn’t had any lots to build on.”

Noel lives in south Louisiana, an area with a lot of wetlands. He said developers were running scared because it wasn’t ever clear which wetlands were federally regulated and which weren’t. “Hopefully, this redefinition will fix that,” he said.

But Janette Brimmer, with the legal advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement that under the new rule, “few protections will remain to stop polluters from dumping toxic byproducts into our waters.”

The kinds of ephemeral waterways now excluded from federal regulation under the revamped rule make up a large part of the waterways in the arid Southwest and states such as New Mexico.

Rachel Conn, the project director with Amigos Bravos, a New Mexico-based conservation group that focuses on water issues, says those ephemeral streams are important to bigger water systems though, like the Rio Grande.

“And it is from these bigger systems that close to 300,000 New Mexicans receive their drinking water,” she says.

Trump ordered a review of the nation’s waterways barely a month after taking office. He said at the time that while clean water was “in the national interest,” it must be balanced against “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of the Congress and the States under the Constitution.”

Since taking office, Trump has aggressively sought to roll back environmental regulations, particularly those seen as an obstacle to business. According to an analysis by The New York Times that was updated a month ago, the administration has revised or eliminated more than 90 environmental rules in the past three years, although several were reinstated following legal challenges and several others are still in the courts.

[NPR]

Virulent Anti-Semite Rick Wiles Has Once Again Received White House Press Credentials

As we have noted several times before, right-wing conspiracy theorist and End Times broadcaster Rick Wiles is deeply anti-Semitic and dedicates many of his TruNews programs to railing against Israel and Jews. Despite this, Wiles and his network still regularly receive press credentials from the Trump administration to join the White House press corps in covering international events.

Most recently, Wiles and his TruNews team turned up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where President Donald Trump delivered a speech and hobnobbed with world leaders.

This is the same Wiles who, last November, dedicated an entire program to declaring that the effort to impeach Trump was a “Jew coup” that will eventually lead to a “purge” in which millions of Christian are killed.

“That’s the way the Jews work, they are deceivers, they plot, they lie, they do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda,” Wiles said during the program. “This ‘impeach Trump’ effort is a Jew coup and the American people better wake up to it really fast … This is a coup led by Jews to overthrow the constitutionally elected president of the United States and it’s beyond removing Donald Trump, it’s removing you and me. That’s what’s at the heart of it. You have been taken over by a Jewish cabal. The church of Jesus Christ, you’re next. Get it through your head! They’re coming for you. There will be a purge. That’s the next thing that happens when Jews take over a country, they kill millions of Christians.”

Despite Wiles’ virulent anti-Semitism, he and his network were again invited to cover the World Economic Forum and last night’s TruNews program featured Wiles along with co-hosts Edward Szall and Doc Burkhart broadcasting from the event and thanking Trump and the White House for inviting them.

“We just want to thank President Trump and the White House for extending the invitation to be here,” Wiles said. “Your TruNews team was sitting in the audience, very close to the stage. We got to see the president up close, hear the entire speech, and we’re again just honored that we are here. The White House has treated all of the media with a lot of respect and professionalism and courtesy.”

“We are honored to be here representing the Kingdom of Heaven and our king, Jesus Christ,” Wiles added. “Almighty God’s favor is on TruNews.”

[Right Wing Watch]

Donald Trump Tweets His Defense by Attacking AOC

President Donald Trump’s lawyers, who launched his defense at his impeachment trial in the Senate Saturday morning, have claimed that they will respond substantively to Democrats’ methodical case for why the president should be removed from office. But shortly before the Senate convened for the first day of the White House defense, the president teed up the proceedings with a tweet strong on name calling and short on evidence. 

His targets include two lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandra  Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who have no role in the impeachment trial. Trump also posted tweets quoting Fox Business News host Lou Dobbs praising him. 

Trump’s defenders thus far have not disputed the facts of the case against him. Senate Republicans have complained about comments by Democratic impeachment managers and launched attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy and other topics that are at best tangental. Trump’s lawyers on Saturday have said they will focus on Vice President Joe Biden’s actions related to Ukraine in 2016, and that the president did “nothing wrong. White House counsel Pat Cipollone promised in his opening remarks that Trump’s team will focus on evidence that the House impeachment managers did not include. But their boss appears to have another strategy.

[Mother Jones]

Trump issues veiled threat at NPR after Pompeo blow-up with reporter over Ukraine

President Donald Trump issued a veiled threat against National Public Radio on Sunday morning, just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on an expletive-filled rant at an NPR reporter that she revealed to the public afterward.

On Sunday, the president retweeted Fox News host Mark Levin who argued, “Why does NPR still exist? We have thousands of radio stations in the U.S. Plus Satellite radio. Podcasts. Why are we paying for this big-government, Democrat Party propaganda operation.”

To which the president added, “A very good question!”

You can see the tweet below:

[Raw Story]

Trump says lead impeachment Democrat Schiff has not paid ‘price, yet’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that the Democratic lawmaker leading the impeachment case against him, Representative Adam Schiff, has “not paid the price, yet” for his actions, a statement Schiff said he viewed as a threat.

The vitriol from Trump against Schiff and other Democrats followed three days of their arguments in his impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate on charges he abused the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, and then tried to obstruct an investigation by Congress.

“Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” Trump said on Twitter.

Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if he took the Republican president’s social media post as a threat, Schiff said, “I think it’s intended to be.”

As lead impeachment manager, Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, played a central role in Democrats’ efforts to paint Trump’s behavior as dangerous to democracy the Republican-led Senate, where Trump is likely to be acquitted.

While some Republican senators said Schiff had been effective, most appeared unswayed. The lawmaker from California, a former federal prosecutor, has been a regular target of attack from Trump and Trump’s Republican supporters in Congress.

Some Republican senators took umbrage at Schiff’s more pointed comments, including that the president could not be trusted to do the right thing for the country and that Republican senators were under extreme pressure to acquit Trump.

Schiff said on NBC he was making the argument “that it’s going to require moral courage to stand up to this president.”

“This is a wrathful and vindictive president,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s any doubt about it and if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today, saying that I should pay a price.”

Trump regularly levels personal attacks against political opponents. His broadsides against Schiff have included “pencil neck” and “liddle.” Critics accuse Trump of using an anti-Semitic trope in referring to the Jewish lawmaker as “shifty.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s Twitter post. Representatives for Schiff said they had nothing to add to the congressman’s comments.

TRUMP’S DEFENSE

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told Fox News Channel she had not spoken to Trump about the tweet but, “I think he means he hasn’t yet paid the price with the voters.”

U.S. Senator James Lankford, a Republican, likened Trump’s comment to those of Democrats who say Republicans will pay a price at the ballot box for supporting Trump or will pay a price in the future as they are held accountable.

“I don’t think the president is trying to be able to do a death threat here or do some sort of intimidation,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Both of them are saying the American people will speak on this.”

Another House impeachment manager, Democrat Zoe Lofgren, told CNN Trump should “get a grip” and be more presidential. “The president has a tendency to say things that seem threatening to people,” she said.

Trump’s team of lawyers began their defense on Saturday, arguing Democrats’ efforts to remove the president from office would set a “very, very dangerous” precedent in an election year.

Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team, told “Fox News Sunday” the conduct described in the Senate trial did not amount to an impeachable offense. He shrugged off a recording first reported on Friday in which Trump told Lev Parnas, an associate of his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, he wanted to see the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, fired.

“The president has full authority to fire an ambassador,” Dershowitz said.

During the House of Representatives impeachment hearings last month, witnesses described Giuliani as leading efforts to pressure Ukraine on investigating former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic candidate, and his son Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Yovanovitch was seen as resisting those efforts and was recalled in May.

[Reuters]

Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map (She did)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly lashed out at a reporter for NPR after an interview in which he was questioned about Ukraine and issues that are at the center of the impeachment trial against President Trump.

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly said during a segment on “All Things Considered” on Friday that Pompeo forcefully questioned whether Americans care about Ukraine and if the veteran journalist — who had recently returned from reporting in Iran — could find the former soviet country on a map.

“He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the F-word in that sentence and many others,” Kelly told her co-host Ari Shapiro, according to a transcript of the program.

“He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away.”

“He said, ‘People will hear about this,’” Kelly recounted.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The secretary is expected to travel to Ukraine on Thursday, committing to a trip that was postponed in December over increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Pompeo is a key figure in the impeachment trial against Trump following testimony from multiple officials about an effort by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to push for the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in order to clear the way to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations that would politically benefit Trump.

The secretary has been accused of failing to protect Yovanovitch from a smear campaign spearheaded by Giuliani. He has also been implicated in green-lighting Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, with U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified that “everyone was in the loop.”

Kelly asked Pompeo if he tried to block Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

“The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here,” Pompeo responded. “I’ve been clear about that, I know exactly what we were doing, I know precisely what the direction our State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy.”

Pompeo has rarely given media interviews to mainstream outlets, typically speaking with conservative news or local outlets when traveling outside of Washington. The secretary said he agreed to sit down with NPR’s Kelly to discuss the administration’s strategy on Iran.

Kelly was recently in Tehran and reported on the fallout surrounding the U.S. targeted killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

“You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran,” Pompeo said when asked if he owed Yovanovitch an apology. “That’s what I intend to do.”

“I have defended every State Department official. We’ve built a great team,” he added.

Pompeo has said in previous media interviews that the State Department is obligated to launch an investigation surrounding the allegations that Yovanovitch was surveilled but has provided no details of any inquiries.

Pompeo grew increasingly irate when Kelly pressed him on his failure to speak out in defense of Yovanovitch after relentless public attacks on her professionalism and character led to her removal.

“Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?” Kelly asked.

“I’ve said all I’m going to say today,” Pompeo answered. “Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.”

[The Hill]

Trump doubles down on his promise to ‘save’ Social Security a day after suggesting he was open to cuts in the program

President Trump sought to defend his Social Security record in a Thursday afternoon tweet, accusing Democrats of wanting to “destroy” it and pledging he would “save” it — only a day after he suggested he was open to overhauling it alongside Medicare. 

Trump said: “Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security. I have totally left it alone, as promised, and will save it!”

The comments came only a day after he suggested in a CNBC interview that he was open to overhauling both social safety-net programs, saying it was “the easiest of all things” and it would happen at the “right” moment after the election. 

White House spokesperson Judd Deere defended the administration’s record on entitlements in an email to Business Insider on Wednesday, saying, “With no benefit cuts, President Trump is keeping his commitment to the most vulnerable Americans especially those who depend on Medicare and Social Security.”

Deere added: “His budgets have proposed more savings to mandatory programs than any President in history, including lowering drug costs, eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, and getting people off welfare and back to work.”

Trump faced significant criticism from Democrats after his remarks on the entitlement programs aired on CNBC. Both Social Security and Medicare are highly popular with voters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading presidential candidate, said in a Wednesday tweet that Trump “lied” about his 2016 campaign pledge to guard both programs from cuts.

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another frontrunner, also pounced, saying she would “fight” to expand Social Security instead.

[Business Insider]

Trump Goes Off on ‘Mini Mike Bloomberg’ After Fox & Friends Airs Attack Ad

President Donald Trump fired back at Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg in response to his new campaign ad — airing on Fox & Friends — slamming the president’s behavior as “erratic and out of control.”

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed Bloomberg’s 2020 campaign manager Kevin Sheekey who took aim at Trump’s military accomplishments and why Bloomberg would be a more stable commander-in-chief: “It’s not all about spending money… so throwing money at a problem is not leadership.”

Trump, who refers to the billionaire as “Mini Mike Bloomberg,” tweeted following the ad that the presidential hopeful and former New York City mayor “is playing poker with his foolhardy and unsuspecting Democrat rivals.”

“The fact is, when Mini loses, he will be spending very little of his money on these “clowns” because he will consider himself to be the biggest clown of them all – and he will be right!,” President Trump blasted.

Galia Slayen, national spokeswoman for the 2020 Bloomberg campaign, responded to Trump’s tweet by asking if the attacks on “mini” Mike Bloomberg is set to become “a morning routine.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Just Called Climate Scientists ‘Foolish Fortune Tellers’

Despite a growing mountain of evidence that shows the world is careening towards a climate catastrophe, symbolized this month by the devastating bushfires in Australia, President Donald Trump thinks that “this is not a time of pessimism, this is a time for optimism.”

In his remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday morning, Trump spent the vast majority of his speech reeling off a laundry list of economic indicators that showed just how strong the U.S. economy is. But he finished his address by attacking climate change activists and scientists who have been raising the alarm about the plight of the planet.

“Fear and doubt is not a good thought process,” Trump said. “Because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism in action. But to embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom, and their predictions of the apocalypse.”

Trump once again repeated the lie that the U.S. has “the cleanest air in the world” when, in fact, his administration has made the air quality in the U.S. worse. According to the Environmental Performance Index, a metric from environmental scientists at Yale and Columbia, the U.S. ranks 10th when it comes to clean air quality.

Trump also said that today’s climate scientists are simply repeating errors of the past when “foolish fortune tellers…predicted an overpopulation crisis in the 1960s, mass starvation in the 70s, and an end of oil in the 1990s.”

Climate change is a hot topic at Davos this year, and an hour before Trump took the stage, Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish activist who the U.S. president has criticized for her outspoken opinions and “anger management issues,” told the world’s elite that they have done “basically nothing” to avert a climate catastrophe.

“Pretty much nothing has been done since the global emissions of CO2 has not reduced,” Thunberg said. “If you see it from that aspect, what has concretely been done, if you see it from a bigger perspective, basically nothing, it will require much more than this, this is just the very beginning.”

Trump labeled activists like Thunberg “alarmists” who are simply seeking “absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.”

“We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country, or eradicate our liberty,” Trump added.

Thunberg said the world needed to pay attention to the findings of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which shows that in order to have the best chance at keeping the rise in global temperatures to under 1.5 degrees, countries must limit carbon emissions to a collective 420 gigatons.

She added that people often assume that “future generations will somehow suck hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere, even though such technology doesn’t exist yet.”

One of those people appears to be Trump, who made a cryptic reference to some unknown scientific breakthrough that would solve the current crisis.

“We’re continuing to work on things that you’ll be hearing about in the near future,” Trump said. “You’ll be hearing about it but we have found the answers to things people said, would not be possible certainly not in a very short period of time.”

[Vice]

“Birth tourism” is Trump’s next immigration target

The Trump administration has a new target on the immigration front — pregnant women visiting from other countries — with plans as early as this week to roll out a new rule cracking down on “birth tourism,” three administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has threatened to end birthright citizenship and railed against immigrant “anchor babies.” The new rule would be one of the first tangible steps to test how much legal authority the administration has to prevent foreigners from taking advantage of the 14th Amendment’s protection of citizenship for anyone born in the U.S.

  • “This change is intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” a State Department official told Axios.
  • The regulation is also part of the administration’s broader efforts to intensify the vetting process for visas, according to another senior administration official.

The big picture: “Birth tourists” often come to the U.S. from China, Russia and Nigeria, according to the AP.

  • There’s no official count of babies born to foreign visitors in the U.S., while the immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies — which has close ties to Trump administration immigration officials — puts estimates at around 33,000 every year.

How the new regulation would work: It would alter the requirements for B visas (or visitor visas), giving State Department officials the authority to deny foreigners the short-term business and tourism visas if they believe the process is being used to facilitate automatic citizenship.

  • It’s unclear yet how the rule would be enforced — whether officials would be directed to consider pregnancy or the country of the woman’s citizenship in determining whether to grant a visa.
  • Consular officers who issue passports and visas “are remarkably skilled at sussing out true versus false claims,” the senior official said.
  • “The underlying practical issue is that very few people who give birth in the U.S. got a visa for that specific purpose. Most people already have visas and come in later,” according to Jeffrey Gorsky, former chief legal adviser in the State Department visa office.

This is but one step in the administration’s plans to make it harder for people from other countries to benefit from birthright citizenship.

  • “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the senior official said. “Just the legal recognition that this is improper and wrong and not allowed is a significant step forward.”
  • The plans to address the use of B visas for birth tourism were included in the latest version of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.
  • Immigration experts expect there to be a similar rule for Customs and Border Protection to go along with the State Department’s regulation.

What to watch: Most of Trump’s major immigration moves have been met with lawsuits. If the regulation leaves it to officers’ discretion to ensure that B visas aren’t used for birth tourism, it would be difficult to challenge in court, according to Lynden Melmed, an attorney and former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

  • “State Department officials have all the discretion in the world to deny people visas,” said Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute. Foreign nationals who are outside the U.S. and have not yet received visas “don’t have a lot of legal standing.”
  • But specific restrictions that could keep out non-birth tourism visitors — such as pregnant women coming to the U.S. for business, etc. — would be legally questionable, according to Melmed and Gorsky.

[Axios]

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