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National Govt & Politics
Trump EPA acts to roll back control on climate-changing coal

Trump EPA acts to roll back control on climate-changing coal

Trump EPA acts to roll back control on climate-changing coal
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs an order withdrawing an Obama era emissions standards policy, at the EPA Headquarters in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Trump EPA acts to roll back control on climate-changing coal

The Environmental Protection Agency acted again Thursday to ease rules on the sagging U.S. coal industry, this time scaling back what would have been a tough control on climate-changing emissions from any new coal plants.

The latest Trump administration targeting of legacy Obama administration efforts to slow climate change comes in the wake of multiplying warnings from the agency's scientists and others about the accelerating pace of global warming.

In a ceremony Thursday at the agency, acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a proposal to dismantle a 2015 rule that any new coal power plants include cutting-edge techniques to capture the carbon dioxide from their smokestacks.

Wheeler called the Obama rules "excessive burdens" for the coal industry.

"This administration cares about action and results, not talks and wishful thinking," Wheeler said.

Asked about the harm that coal plant emission do people and the environment, Wheeler responded, "Having cheap electricity helps human health."

Janet McCabe, an EPA air official under the Obama administration, and others challenged that. MaCabe in a statement cited the conclusion of the EPA's own staff earlier this year that pending rollbacks on existing coal plants would cause thousands of early deaths from the fine soot and dangerous particles and gases.

The EPA was "turning its back on its responsibility to protect human health," McCabe said Thursday.

Environmentalists, scientists and lawmakers were scathing, saying the Trump administration was undermining what they said should be urgent efforts to slow climate change.

The EPA and 12 other federal agencies late last month warned that climate change caused by burning coal, oil and gas already was worsening natural disasters in the United States. It would cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage each year by the end of the century, the government's National Climate Assessment said.

"This proposal is another illegal attempt by the Trump administration to prop up an industry already buckling under the powerful force of the free market," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.

"Did the EPA even read the National Climate Assessment?" Whitehouse asked.

It's unclear whether the new policy boost will overcome market forces that are making U.S. coal plants ever more unprofitable.

Competition from cleaner, cheaper natural gas and other rival forms of energy has driven down coal use in the United States to its lowest level since 1979, the Energy Information Administration said this week. This year will see the second-greatest number of U.S. closings of coal-fired power plants on record.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the EPA's action Thursday was "targeting another regulation that would have made it nearly impossible to build any new plants."

Citing that and other Obama administration moves to tamp down emissions from coal-fired power plants in the national electrical grid, McConnell called the proposal "a crucial step toward undoing the damage and putting coal back on a level playing field."

Other Trump administration initiatives rolling aback climate change efforts would undo an Obama plan intended to shift the national electrical grid away from coal and toward cleaner-burning solar and wind power, and would relax pending tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks.

Jay Duffy, a lawyer with the Clean Air Task Force environmental nonprofit, called the level-playing field argument of the administration and its supporters "laughable."

"In every rulemaking, they're placing their thumbs on the scale to prop up coal, at the expense of public health and the environment," Duffy said.

Speaking alongside Wheeler at a news conference, Michelle Bloodworth of the coal industry group America's Power contended the new rollback could throw a lifeline to domestic coal-fired power producers.

"It does appear that this proposal would make it feasible for new coal plants" to be built, Bloodworth said.

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  • Four days after officials sealed off an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. for secret arguments in a mystery case about a grand jury subpoena, a three judge panel unanimously agreed that an unknown company – owned by an unknown foreign country – had to abide by a lower court order enforcing a subpoena in a mystery case which some believe is related to the Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “The Grand Jury seeks information from a corporation (“the Corporation”) owned by Country A,” the judges wrote in their three page opinion, the first public document in a case known only as “In Re Grand Jury Subpoena.” Without giving any details on the identity of the company, or the country, the ruling rejected the efforts of both to avoid the grand jury subpoena for unknown information, leaving the subpoena in place. The decision revealed that the company refusing to comply with the subpoena was being fined by the courts. “When the Corporation failed to produce the requested information, the court held the Corporation in contempt, imposing a fixed monetary penalty to increase each day the Corporation fails to comply,” the decision read. In their ruling, the judges said that sovereign immunity could not insulate foreign countries from criminal liability, meaning in this case that the U.S. legal system could have ‘subject-matter jurisdiction over criminal offenses’ involving this foreign company, owned by a foreign government. “Consequently, we are unconvinced that Country A’s law truly prohibits the Corporation from complying with the subpoena,” the judges concluded. The new bits of information spurred all kinds of speculation from legal and political circles – but the bottom line is that no one has confirmed what kind of company, which country, or even who is investigating the matter. Company owned by a country…I have some guesses https://t.co/CfFOyQBsXG — Scott Stedman (@ScottMStedman) December 18, 2018 Some legal experts believe the company is a state-owned bank, which might have done business with the Trump Organization – but those type of details remain unknown at this time. The court’s decision could still be appealed to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • A federal judge agreed to delay sentencing for President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI. >> Read more trending news Flynn resigned from his post in the Trump administration in February 2017 after serving just 24 days in office. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials and agreed to fully cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.  >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: FBI 302 shows Flynn misled FBI agents about 2016 Russian contacts Update 7:45 p.m. EST Dec. 18: Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an order restricting the travel of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Sullivan ordered Flynn to turn over his passport and stay within 50 miles of Washington, D.C., beginning on Jan. 4, 2019, according to reports from CNN and Axios. Flynn has remained out of jail while awaiting his sentencing for lying to Congress. Update 2:20 p.m. EST Dec. 18: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon that Flynn’s criminal case had nothing to do with Trump. “The activities that he is said to ... have engaged in don’t have anything to do with the president,” Huckabee Sanders said. “We wish Gen. Flynn well and we'll continue to focus on doing what we do here everyday.” Update 1 p.m. EST Dec. 18: Attorneys for Flynn asked U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to delay his sentencing Tuesday after the judge asked whether Flynn wanted to wait until after his cooperation with Mueller’s team was completed before being handed his sentence, CNN reported. Authorities said in court records filed earlier this month that Flynn has met with investigators 19 times since pleading guilty in December 2017. He’s provided information in three separate investigations, including the probe into Russian election meddling, officials said. >> From Cox Media Group's Jamie Dupree: After stern criticism, federal judge delays Flynn sentencing Sullivan paused court proceedings for about half an hour Tuesday to allow Flynn time to confer with his attorneys about whether to postpone the sentencing hearing until after he’s completed his cooperation with authorities, Vox.com reported. Flynn’s attorney suggested in court that most of Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller had been completed, the news site reported, although the attorney added that it was possible Flynn could cooperate further in a case brought against his former business associates in a federal court in Virginia.  >> Michael Flynn's former business associates accused of illegally lobbying for Turkey An indictment unsealed Monday showed authorities charged Flynn’s former business partner, Bijan Kian, 66, and Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin, 41, with conspiracy, acting in the U.S. as illegal agents of the government of Turkey and making false statements to the FBI. Update 12:50 p.m. EST Dec. 18: Court proceedings resumed just after 12:40 p.m. Tuesday after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan called a recess to the proceedings. Sullivan cautioned people not to 'read too much into the questions' asked before the break, including a question about whether Flynn could have been charged with treason, The Huffington Post reported. 'I wasn't suggesting he had committed treason,' Sullivan said, according to Vox.com. 'I was just curious.' Update 12:05 p.m. EST Dec. 18: Court proceedings were paused Tuesday morning for a recess to allow Flynn time to confer with his attorneys after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan asked whether Flynn could have been charged with treason, The Huffington Post reported. Court is expected resume at 12:30 p.m. Sullivan asked Flynn several questions earlier Tuesday to make sure he wanted to proceed with his sentencing hearing. Sullivan asked Flynn to consider whether to push the hearing back until after he’s completed his cooperation with Mueller’s team, Vox.com reported. Update 11:40 a.m. EST Dec. 18: Flynn told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday that he knew it was a crime to lie to the FBI, CNN reported. Sullivan asked Flynn a series of questions Tuesday to make sure he wanted to move forward with his sentencing hearing after Flynn said in a defense memo that the FBI never warned him that it was against the law to lie to federal agents. Update 10 a.m. EST Dec. 18: Flynn has arrived at the courthouse ahead of his scheduled sentencing hearing. Original report: President Donald Trump on Tuesday wished Flynn luck ahead of his scheduled sentencing for lying to FBI investigators probing Russian election meddling and its possible ties to Trump and his presidential campaign. “Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” Trump wrote Tuesday morning in a tweet. “Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!” >> Michael Flynn's former business associates accused of illegally lobbying for Turkey Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced at an 11 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, according to court records. Prosecutors asked a judge earlier this month to sentence Flynn to little or no jail time in connection to the case, citing his cooperation with investigators. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation  In a memo filed last week, Flynn’s attorneys asked he be spared jail time and suggested that FBI agents played to his desire to keep the situation quiet and, as a result, kept him from involving a lawyer when investigators approached him just days after Trump’s inauguration. Mueller’s team has sharply pushed back at any suggestion that Flynn was duped, with prosecutors responding that as a high-ranking military officer steeped in national security issues, Flynn “knows he should not lie to federal agents.” >> Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison, Trump responds on Twitter Flynn is, so far, the only member of Trump’s administration to plead guilty to charges in the Mueller investigation, according to Reuters. Last week, a federal judge in New York sentenced Trump’s former long-time attorney Michael Cohen to 36 months in prison for charges that included one count of lying to Congress that had been levied against Trump’s former fixer by Mueller’s office. Trump has frequently railed against the investigation, which he has called a witch hunt, and denied any collusion with Russia. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • As two Chicago police officers tried to locate the source of gunshots on the city’s South Side Monday night, they scrambled up an embankment and onto a set of southbound train tracks, walking south and keeping an eye on a northbound train as they searched for the potential shooter. Police officials said Officers Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, and Conrad Gary, 31, likely never heard the southbound train coming up behind them. According to The Chicago Tribune, one officer’s body camera footage offered investigators a glimpse into what took place as both men were killed. “They had no idea the train was behind them,” Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman, told the Tribune. “They hear the noise (of the northbound Metra train), we suspect. That masks the noise of the other train that is right behind them.” The oncoming South Shore train struck the officers on a viaduct over 103rd Street, the Tribune reported. They were killed instantly.  >> Read more trending news The newspaper reported that it was not yet known how fast the South Shore train was going, but Michael Noland, CEO and president of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said South Shore trains typically go around 65 mph on that stretch of track. The company, which operates South Shore trains on the city’s Metra tracks, is downloading the train’s event recorder to turn over to police investigators.  Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Monday night that Marmolejo and Gary, both relatively new officers on the force, responded shortly after 6 p.m. that evening to 103rd Street and Dauphin Avenue when the city’s ShotSpotter system picked up the sound of gunshots.  “While doing the most dangerous thing a police officer can do -- and that is to chase an individual with a gun -- these brave young men were consumed with identifying a potential threat to their community and put the safety of others above their own,” Johnson said.  Guglielmi told the Tribune that the body camera footage shows the officers get out of their patrol car after spotting someone who could have been the shooter. They cross the viaduct and head south in the direction they apparently believe the suspect is moving.  “They were deciphering the offender’s direction of flight,” Guglielmi told the newspaper.  A gun and shell casings were found near where the officers died, the police spokesman said. A person of interest was being questioned in the case Tuesday, the Tribune said.  Johnson said Monday night that Marmolejo had been on the force for more than two years. Gary was on the force for 18 months.  According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Marmolejo is survived by his wife and three children. Gary, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is survived by his wife and an infant daughter.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was subdued as he spoke of the effect the officers’ deaths on the department, which has lost two other officers in the line of duty this year.  “I’m not usually one for a loss of words, but I think you can understand the idea in trying to express the immense sense of devastation to the Chicago Police Department,” Emanuel said.  He praised Marmolejo and Gary for working to keep their community safe, at the expense of their own lives.  “There they were, responding to ShotSpotter, doing their job trying to protect the rest of us,” the mayor said. “We’ve lost two young men, both fathers with young families. This holiday will never be the same for those two families, and while our hearts are with them, we’ve lost people who answered the call to make Chicago a better place.” Emanuel said he spoke to one of the families alongside the superintendent.  “There are no words that can express the grief, the sense of loss -- it just knocks you back on your heels,” Emanuel said. “As we go about our time with our families, let us remind ourselves that there are others who cannot.” Marmolejo and Gary are the third and fourth Chicago officers slain in the line of duty this year. Officer Samuel Jimenez, 28, was one of four people who died, including the gunman, in a Nov. 19 mass shooting at the city’s Mercy Hospital & Medical Center. The other victims in that shooting were Dr. Tamara O’Neal, 38, and 24-year-old pharmacist Dayna Less. All three were killed by O’Neal’s former fiancé, 32-year-old Juan Lopez, who then killed himself.  Cmdr. Paul Bauer, 53, was killed the afternoon of Feb. 13 when he attempted to help other officers take into custody a fleeing man sought for questioning in a previous shooting. The Tribune reported that officers had approached Shomari Legghette, a four-time felon, to question him when he ran away on foot. Bauer, who was in downtown Chicago for a meeting after a morning of training on mass shootings, heard the call over his radio and, after spotting Legghette running by, joined the chase.  The 31-year police veteran got into a struggle with Legghette in a stairwell of a state building, where he was shot six times, the newspaper reported. Bauer’s weapon was in its holster and his radio and handcuffs were found next to his body. The Tribune reported that Legghette has been indicted on 56 felony counts of first-degree murder, armed violence, weapons and drug offenses.  Marmolejo and Gary were assigned to the department’s Calumet District, which has lost three other officers this year. Two died of suicide and a third, Officer Vinita Williams, 47, died after collapsing at the station in July, the Tribune said.  
  • The Trump administration moved Tuesday to ban bump stocks -- devices that can make semi-automatic firearms fire at a rate similar to automatic weapons -- under a federal law that also bans machine guns, Justice Department officials said in a news release. >> Read more trending news Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said authorities amended a regulation on Tuesday to include bump stocks in the definition of “machinegun” under federal law. The regulation will go into effect 90 days after it’s formally published in the Federal Register, a move expected to come Friday, according to The Associated Press. >> Read the final rule White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news briefing Tuesday that people who have bump stocks will be required to turn the devices over to officials at field offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or destroy them by March 21. >> What is a bump stock, how does it work and is it legal? Hours after Whitaker announced the move, opponents of the decision said they planned to fight the change. >> From Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree: Trump ban on ‘bump stocks’ to face immediate legal challenge The ban was expected after the Justice Department earlier this year proposed a rule to classify bump stocks and similar devices as prohibited under federal law. >> Trump administration expected to announce gun bump stock ban Trump issued a memorandum in the wake of February’s deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, ordering the attorney general to “propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns,” according to Justice Department officials. Authorities reviewed more than 186,000 public comments as part of the review process. The Justice Department opened a review of the devices in the wake of the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas that left nearly 60 people dead. Authorities said a gunman had bump stocks equipped to several weapons on Oct. 1, 2017, when he fired on festivalgoers.
  • Hours after the Trump Administration signaled that it would administratively move to ban ‘bump stocks,’ which allow semi-automatic weapons to be fired at a much more rapid rate, lawmakers in both parties said it was time for the Congress to enact those regulations into law, as opponents of the decision vowed to immediately challenge the President’s plan in court. “We will be filing our lawsuit very, very soon,” the Gun Owners of America said in a written statement. “After all, in the coming days, an estimated half a million bump stock owners will have the difficult decision of either destroying or surrendering their valuable property – or else risk felony prosecution,” the group added. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that is the plan, making clear that bump stocks will be illegal as of March 21, 2019. On banning bump stocks, Sanders says people have until March 2019 to turn them in or have them destroyed. Says they fall under same guidelines as machine guns. — Dana Brown Ritter (@danabrownritter) December 18, 2018 “A 90 period now begins which persons in possession of bump stock type devices must turn those devices to an ATF field office, or destroy them by March 21,” Sanders said at the White House briefing. Justice Department officials told reporters on Tuesday that bump stocks will be administratively banned by using language from a federal law which prohibits machine guns. There was no immediate comment from the National Rifle Association on whether that group would join in legal action against bump stocks as well. In Congress, lawmakers in both parties said while the President’s step is overdue, the House and Senate should also vote to codify the bump stock ban. “This is good news, but it is just one small step toward stopping mass shootings,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH). “We must do far more to prevent gun violence.” “There’s no justification for bump stocks that transform semi-automatic weapons into machine guns,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). A regulation – not a law – is finally being issued to ban bump stocks. This is welcome news. But the country shouldn’t have had to wait a year+ after Vegas to get the most basic regulation. It’s testament to how hard we’ll need to fight to get the comprehensive gun safety we need https://t.co/LgjgBcAhxv — Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) December 18, 2018 “The President seems to be more interested in making headlines than making progress,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). “We know that his proposal will likely be tied up in the courts.” 58 people were killed in Titus’ district in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on an outdoor concert, using ‘bump stocks’ to allow him to shoot more ammunition more quickly, in what was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. “Finally and should be codified,” said Rep. Carlos Cubelo (R-FL), one of the few Republicans who has called for action on bump stocks in Congress.