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]

Trump: I want to focus on North Korea not ‘fixing somebody’s back’

President Trump praised health care block grants on Saturday, saying they allow the states to focus on health care, but said he would rather focus his energy on tensions with North Korea than “fixing somebody’s back or their knee.”

“You know in theory, I want to focus on North Korea, I want to focus on Iran, I want to focus on other things. I don’t want to focus on fixing somebody’s back or their knee or something. Let the states do that,” the president told Mike Huckabee on the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s “Huckabee.”

“The block grant concept is a very good concept, and if you have good management, good governors, good politicians in the state, it’ll be phenomenal,” he continued.
“I could almost say we are just about there in terms of the vote, so I expect to be getting health care approved,” he said.

Trump’s comments come after Senate Republicans failed twice this year to fulfill a seven-year campaign promise of repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

The latest repeal and replace failure was the Graham-Cassidy bill, which included block grants to states.

However, the legislation failed after Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine) announced their opposition to the bill last month, effectively killing it.

Trump has expressed frustration in his Republican colleagues in the Senate for their health care failure, so much so that he called Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday to discuss the issue.

The move is likely to unsettle Republicans on Capitol Hill who have been working with Trump on tax reform in recent weeks.

[The Hill]

Trump buried in mockery for false claim he ‘has the votes’ to repeal Obamacare: ‘News to everyone in the Senate’

During his Indianapolis speech touting tax reform, President Donald Trump claimed the GOP “has the votes” to pass the party’s unpopular Obamacare repeal and replace bill — despite it being pulled from a Senate floor vote and effectively killed the day prior.

Naturally, Twitter took Trump to task for this week’s latest false claim.

“This would be news to literally everyone in the Senate,” Reuters’ Pete Schroeder tweeted.

“Fact check: No, he doesn’t,” CNN’s Jim Acosta responded.

His bold claim during his tax reform speech was not the first time Trump claimed the GOP had votes that didn’t exist that day. Earlier, he said they had the votes, but could not pass it because “there’s an ailing senator in the hospital” — another false claim.

[Raw Story]

 

Trump Keeps Lying Graham-Cassidy Failed Because a Senator’s in the Hospital

Appearing on Fox & Friends this morning, Donald Trump explained that Republicans “have the votes” to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care bill but the legislation nonetheless can’t pass because a crucial senator is in the hospital.

In reality, there is no hospitalized senator. But Trump has constructed for himself an alternative version of reality in which not only is there a hospitalized senator but the budget reconciliation instructions which expire tomorrow somehow return early next year, meaning that when the fake senator’s hospitalization ends they’ll be able to come back and pass the bill.

Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth, remarkably, did not press Trump on this extraordinary claim.

But Trump keeps saying it. The “hospitalized senator” theory first appeared on his Twitter account Wednesday morning.

Then during his tax reform comments later that day he made a modified version of the claim, saying the issue was that “we have a wonderful senator, great, great senator, who is a yes vote, but he’s home recovering from a pretty tough situation.”

This appears to be a reference to Sen. Thad Cochran who, though not hospitalized, is at home recuperating from some kind of urological issue.

However, Trump appears to have cause and effect reversed here. According to Cochran’s staff, he is resting in Mississippi because there are no crucial senate votes rather than the senate not holding votes because Cochran is in Mississippi. No less an authority than Bill Cassidy stated flatly on Tuesday that “we don’t have the votes” with John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul all publicly opposed. Indeed, the real question regarding the whip count seems to be whether or not the bill really has the unanimous support of all the other senators, or if a handful of private opponents are simply laying low and letting those four take the heat.

Either way, the situation poses the obvious question of why Trump is saying this.

Is he trying to mislead his supporters? Is someone on his staff trying to mislead him? Has he become confused and nobody on his staff wants to correct him?

[Vox]

Media

http://video.foxnews.com/v/5591727368001/

Trump Falsely Claims Americans With Pre-Existing Conditions Are Guaranteed Coverage Under New Health Bill

President Donald Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to assure Americans their latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) covers people with pre-existing conditions.

Both the president and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) is co-sponsoring the health care bill known as the “Graham-Cassidy plan,” took to Twitter to defend the legislation, expected to be up for a vote on the Senate floor next week. “I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions. It does! A great bill,” Trump wrote Wednesday night. “Repeal & Replace.”

Graham quoted the president’s tweet later Wednesday, adding that any claims his bill doesn’t cover those with pre-existing conditions should be called “#FakeNews on steroids!”

Unlike former President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law, however, the new Republican bill would not guarantee coverage for people living with pre-existing conditions. Instead, the Graham-Cassidy plan would disproportionately harm sick people and Americans living with a variety of medical factors, who could see their insurance costs soar if the legislation were to pass.

The bill would allow states to opt to waive Obamacare rules requiring basic health benefits, essentially cutting protections for sick people in an effort to keep premiums from rising. The waivers allow states to charge more for health insurance offered to people with pre-existing conditions—including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s (or dementia), cerebral palsy and even pregnancy, among other medical factors that could have resulted in denied coverage prior to Obamacare—while continuing to receive federal block grant funding.

Experts say the bill could raise health care costs for those with pre-existing conditions to a point where insurance would be virtually unaffordable for millions of people.

The Graham-Cassidy plan would allow states to more easily gut protections for sick people than the previous Senate bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, as well as the House’s failed effort, the American Health Care Act. The earlier Senate bill would have let states request a reduction from the federal government in what was considered “essential health benefits,” while the House bill would have allowed states to charge more for people living with certain pre-existing conditions when searching for insurance.

The new bill—seen by House Majority Leader Paul Ryan as “our best, last chance” to repeal Obamacare—has received criticism from the even health care industry, which said it would damage existing benefits and do little to reduce insurance premiums that continue to tick upward for millions of Americans.

“The Graham-Cassidy plan would take health insurance coverage away from millions of people, eliminate critical public health funding, devastate the Medicaid program, increase out-of-pocket costs and weaken or eliminate protections for people living with pre-existing conditions,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Democrats are warning that if a sudden vote on the legislation is held before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) can issue a full report on it, there could be serious implications for years to come.

“Thus far, every version of Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace the ACA has meant higher health costs, millions of hard-working Americans pushed off coverage, and key protections gutted with devastating consequences for those with pre-existing conditions,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter Monday to CBO Director Keith Hall. “A comprehensive CBO analysis is essential before Republicans force a hasty, dangerous vote on what is an extreme and destructive repeal bill.”

So, while those with pre-existing conditions wouldn’t have their insurance suddenly ripped away, the Graham-Cassidy plan could make it increasingly difficult for sick Americans to afford any insurance at all. Until the CBO is able to fully assess the latest Republican-led attempt to overhaul the nation’s health care system, the bill’s total impact will remain unknown.

[Newsweek]

Reality

The key section lies in the bill’s rules for state waivers from many regulations in the Affordable Care Act (starting at page 8 in the bill.) If a state says it “intends to maintain access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions,” then it can allow insurance companies to charge sick people more than healthy ones.

Interior Dept. Halts Study Into Appalachian Mining Technique’s Likely Health Hazards

The Trump administration has halted a study of the health effects of a common mining technique in Appalachia, which is believed to deposit waste containing toxic minerals in ground waters.

A letter from the Interior Department directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to “cease all work” on a study of the potential health risks of mountaintop removal mining for people living near surface coal mine sites in central Appalachia. The Interior Department acknowledged in a statement that it had “put on hold” $1 million in funding for the two-year project as part of a review of its grants, which is focused on “responsibly using taxpayer dollars.”
“The Trump Administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars and that includes the billions of dollars in grants that are doled out every year by the Department of the Interior,” the statement said.

Still, the National Academies — a nongovernmental institution that researches and advises the government on science and technology — plans to move forward with part of the research, and will hold previously scheduled public meetings this week in Kentucky, the Academies said in a statement.

Political reaction was swift to the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the study of “the potential relationship between increased health risks and living in proximity to sites that have been or are being mined or reclaimed for surface coal deposits,” which began last year and was expected to take two years to complete.

“Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems,” Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking democrat on the House Committee of Natural Resources, said in a statement.
“Clearly this administration and the Republican Party are trying to stop the National Academy of Sciences from uncovering exactly how harmful this practice is,” Grijalva said.

“It’s infuriating that Trump would halt this study on the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, research that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years,” said Bill Price, Senior Appalachia Organizing Representative for environmental advocacy group Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

[CNN]

Trump Attacks Merck CEO for Stepping Down from Manufacturing Council in Protest

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier resigned Monday from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in protest of President Donald Trump’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump immediately blasted the drug executive on Twitter.

“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” Frazier, the only African American CEO of a major pharmaceutical company, wrote in a tweet.

Shortly afterward, Trump responded by saying that in light of the resignation, Frazier will have more time to “LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

A rally by hundreds of white nationalists in Virginia took a deadly turn on Saturday when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters and killed at least one person. A white supremacist has been charged.

At a news conference after the death, Trump denounced what he called an “egregious display of hatred and bigotry” displayed by antagonists “on many sides.” That drew an immediate backlash from people who felt Trump had not taken a strong enough stance against bigotry and extremism.

Frazier isn’t the first CEO to step down from a presidential advisory council to protest Trump’s actions. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick left in February over the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger later departed the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum in June, after Trump said he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Musk also left the manufacturing council.

In addition, several executives are no longer part of the council since they are no longer CEOs. They include: Mark Fields, of Ford; Klaus Kleinfeld, of Arconic; and Mario Longhi, of U.S. Steel.

Earlier this summer, Trump talked about taking presidential action on drug pricing to address the rising costs of prescription drugs in recent years.

Drugmakers are “getting away with murder,” Trump said during a January news conference.

[CNBC]

Trump Mindlessly Tweets Fox & Friends Report That Blames Him for Obamacare Premium Hikes

President Donald Trump promoted a Fox News article that suggests he is responsible for Obamacare premium hikes.

At 4:40 a.m. ET on Thursday, Trump shared a tweet from his favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, that warned Obamacare premiums would be rising.

But the article concluded by suggesting that the president was at fault for the premium hikes because he had threatened to withhold payments from insurers.

The Journal reported that insurers are concerned about Trump’s threat to halt payments to the industry that in turn help bring down costs, as well as whether Republicans will continue to enforce the individual mandate to buy insurance.

According to the Journal, one insurer in Montana linked the bulk of its proposed 23 percent increase to those two concerns.

[Raw Story]

Trump Accuses Ex-FBI Director Comey of ‘Crimes’ and Calls for Him to Be Investigated By a ‘Special Council’

President Donald Trump continued a Twitter flurry Saturday morning by accusing former FBI Director James Comey of “crimes” and demanding to know why Attorney General Jeff Sessions or a “special council” have not investigated him.

Starting bright and early Saturday morning, Trump has furiously tweeted — ten times in 2 hours — on a variety of subjects from Hillary Clinton to Obamacare.

“So many people are asking why isn’t the A.G. or Special Council [sic] looking at the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes. 33,000 e-mails deleted?” Trump tweeted before defending his son, Donald Trump Jr. over his emails, writing: “My son Donald openly gave his e-mails to the media & authorities whereas Crooked Hillary Clinton deleted (& acid washed) her 33,000 e-mails!”

You can see those tweets and quite a few more below:

[Raw Story]

Reality

Donald Trump demanding investigations of his political rivals and those in law enforcement who investigated him screams that he is completely innocent.

Let’s step through each claim:

Donald Trump Jr. openly gave emails

Trump’s eldest son released the emails just minutes before The New York Times published a report detailing the contents of the emails, which show that Trump Jr. was told before the meeting that the information about Clinton was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s presidential campaign.

Democrats are obstructionists

No, one of the parties has an idea for healthcare for this country, Democrats, and they passed it and it is called the Affordable Care Act. Republicans only want to take it away.

And just the previous week, ten Democrats put forth a plan to mend the ACA that did not involve removing 22 million Americans from healthcare coverage.

Republicans, on the other hand, made obstructionism their party identity for 8 years during the Obama Administration.

Hillary Clinton sold Russia Uranium

Clinton did not sell a uranium mine to Russia, she was Secretary of the State Department when they and, this is important, 9 total agencies signed-off on a sale of an energy company to a Canadian-based Russian subsidiary. Again, very important, she didn’t have the power to approve or reject the deal.

Hillary Clinton acid washed 33,000 emails

You can’t “acid wash” emails, that’s not a thing.

Trump Endorses Repeal-First Strategy if Health Care Deal Not Reached

As Senate negotiations continue over the stalled Republican health care bill, President Donald Trump Friday morning called on senators to pass a simple repeal of Obamacare now and focus on replacing it later this year if no deal is reached.

Trump’s tweet came just after Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sent a letter to the White House urging the president to support a repeal-first, replace-later strategy if there is no agreement by the time senators return from their week-long Fourth of July recess on July 10.

The idea has been floated by some Republicans since a planned Senate vote on the GOP Better Care Reconciliation Act was postponed Tuesday because leaders were unable to secure the 50 GOP votes needed to pass it.

Sasse has been working quietly with the White House on the idea, according to a Senate Republican aide who said the administration was receptive to the idea.

“You campaigned and won on the repeal of Obamacare. So did every Republican senator. We should keep our word,” Sasse wrote in the letter.

“On the current path, it looks like Republicans will either fail to pass any meaningful bill at all, or will instead pass a bill that attempts to prop up much of the crumbling Obamacare structures,” he added. We can and must do better than either of these — both because the American people deserve better, and because we promised better.”

Sasse also asked the president to call on Congress to cancel its scheduled month-long August recess to work on a replacement bill for a Labor Day vote. “After we gave our word to repeal and replace Obamacare’s monstrosity,” he said, “we should not go back to our states during August as the American people struggle under fewer choices and skyrocketing costs. We should remain in D.C. at work.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has publicly been advocating starting the idea of starting with a full Obamacare repeal publicly for two weeks, quickly retweeted the president and added his support.

Sasse has kept a low profile throughout the negotiations on health care, refusing to comment or publicly engage on the bill.

The idea was considered by Republican leaders at the beginning of this year when Trump took office but it was quickly dropped when they realized it would be too politically difficult to replace Obamacare outside the reconciliation process where the Senate would need the support of Democrats to pass a replacement.

Senate Republicans continue to discuss a way forward in the health care bill, considering changes to appear both moderates and conservatives to get the support of 50 of 52 Republicans.

[NBC News]

 

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