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U.S. Makes Major Changes to Endangered Species Act

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  • The Department of Interior announced upcoming changes to the Endangered Species Act, which are being criticized by environmental activists. 
  • Critics are afraid these changes could allow regulators to overlook climate change and factor in economic costs when determining if a species should be listed.
  • The Department of the Interior made a statement calling the changes effective.
  • But two states have vowed to take the Trump administration to court over the revisions.

Changes Made to the ESA

The Department of Interior’s changes to the long-standing Endangered Species Act are being met with criticism from environmental activists and Democratic leaders. 

Enacted in 1973, the ESA has been seen as an effective measure and is credited with saving the bald eagle, grizzly bear, and other species from extinction. The new regulations were approved by the Trump Administration on Monday and were released in part with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Some are afraid these changes will allow for the costs of protection to become a factor in deciding if a species should be listed as endangered or threatened. According to the release, a line in the ESA that stated these decisions would be made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination”  will be removed. 

Instead, the update says, “the Act does not prohibit the Services from compiling economic information or presenting that information to the public as long as such information does not influence the listing determination.”

While it does include that the information should not “influence the listing determination” critics are upset the initial language was removed in the first place. They worry that any presentation of economic data could sway decisions no matter what. 

The changes also include a new definition for the term “foreseeable future.”

“The term foreseeable future extends only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine that the conditions potentially posing a danger of extinction in the foreseeable future are probable,” the revisions read. “The Services will describe the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis.”

The term is used in important elements of the ESA, such as the determination of threatened species and critical habitats. Many critics are concerned this revised definition will allow regulators to take climate change out of the picture when listing species since they can decide how far down the road they want to look on a case-by-case basis. Since the effects of climate change are not necessarily immediate, this could give them space to ignore its potential impacts. 

Another major change will rescind a blanket rule that gave threatened species the same protections as endangered species. This will only apply to newly listed threatened species. 

Support for Changes

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said these changes will make sure the ESA remains effective. 

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species,” Bernhardt said. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation. An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Bernhardt was not the only person to support the act. Several Senators, legislators, and leaders from multiple industries spoke in favor of it, including Senator Steve Daines (R-MT)

“These new rules will lead to more transparency, increased recovery of species greater conservation, and will help take the decision making powers out of the hands of radical activists in the courtroom,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said in a statement with the Department of the Interior. “I applaud the administration for taking this action.” 

Lawsuits Against Changes

However, the criticisms of the changes have led to strong pushback from Democrats. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a statement announcing her plans to sue the Trump administration over them.

“By gutting key components of the Endangered Species Act, one of our country’s most successful environmental laws, the Trump Administration is putting our most imperiled species and our vibrant local tourism and recreation industries at risk,” Healey said. “We will be taking the Administration to court to defend federal law and protect our rare animals, plants, and the environment.”

Healey is not alone. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also plans to take these changes to court.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,” he said in a statement. “Our precious wildlife and ecosystems are in critical danger. By rolling back the Endangered Species Act the Trump Administration would be putting a nail in our coffin – all for the sake of boosting the profits of those putting these species at risk in the first place. We’re ready to fight to preserve this important law – the species with whom we share this planet, and depend on, deserve no less.”

The changes to the ESA come just a few months after a U.N. report claimed that one million plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction, with many facing that possibility in just decades. Right now, environmental groups see high stakes and a ticking clock when it comes to the matter. 

The regulations are set to go into effect in 30 days. Right now it is unclear if the planned lawsuits will block this.

See what others are saying: (WBZ Boston) (Sacramento Bee) (NPR)

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Derek Chauvin and 3 Others Ex-Officers Indicted on Civil Rights Charges Over George Floyd’s Death

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  • The Justice Department filed federal criminal charges Friday against Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers after a grand jury indicted them for violating the civil rights of George Floyd.
  • The indictment charges Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao for violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force. All three, as well as Thomas Lane, were also charged with failing to provide medical care to Floyd. 
  • Chauvin was additionally hit with two counts in a separate indictment, which claims he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy who he allegedly held by the neck and repeatedly beat with a flashlight during a 2017 arrest.
  • Chauvin was already convicted last month of murder and manslaughter over Floyd’s death, which Kueng, Lane, and Thao were previously charged for allegedly aiding and abetting.

Former Minneapolis Officers Hit With Federal Charges

A federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest that lead to his death last summer, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Chauvin, specifically, was charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Ex-officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted for willfully failing to intervene in Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.

All three men, as well as former officer Thomas Lane, face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In a second, separate indictment, Chauvin was hit with two counts of civil rights violations related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017. During that incident, Chauvin allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

The announcement, which follows a months-long investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, comes just over two weeks after Chauvin was found guilty of three state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

He is currently awaiting his June 25 sentencing in a maximum-security prison.

State-Level Charges

Kueng, Lane, and Thao all face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Kueng and Lane were the first officers to responded to a call from a convenience store employee who claimed that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill. Body camera footage showed Floyd sitting in the car and Lane drawing his gun as the officers ordered him out and handcuffed him. 

Floyd can be heard pleading with the officers not to shoot him.

Shortly after, Chauvin and Thao arrived, and the footage shows Chauvin joining the other officers in their attempt to put Floyd into the back of a police car. In the struggle, the officers forced Floyd to the ground, with Chauvin kneeling on his neck while Kueng and Lane held his back and legs. 

Meanwhile, in cellphone footage taken at the scene, Thao can be seen ordering bystanders to stay away, and later preventing a Minneapolis firefighter from giving Floyd medical aid.

Their trial is set to begin in late August, and all three are free on bond. The new federal charges, however, will likely be more difficult to prove.

According to legal experts, prosecutors will have to show beyond reasonable doubt that the officers knew that they were depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights but continued to do so anyway.

The high legal standard is also hard to establish, as officers can easily claim they acted out of fear or even poor judgment.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)

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Caitlyn Jenner Says Her Friends Are Fleeing California Because of the Homeless Population

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  • California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage after an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday that was filmed from her Malibu airplane hangar. 
  • “My friends are leaving California,” she said. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’”
  • Many criticized Jenner for sounding out of touch and unsympathetic to real issues in California and suggested that she prioritize helping the homeless population rather than incredibly wealthy state residents.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Remarks

California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage on Wednesday after suggesting that wealthy people are fleeing the state because of its homeless population.

Jenner sat down for an interview in her Malibu airplane hangar with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Jenner is one of the handful of Republicans aiming to unseat current Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election in the fall. While polls show that most Californians do not support recalling Newsom, the conservative-led movement to do so gained enough signatures to land on the ballot.

“My friends are leaving California,” Jenner claimed during the interview. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’” 

“I don’t want to leave,” she continued. “Either I stay and fight, or I get out of here.”

Jenner’s Remarks Prompt Backlash

Her remarks were criticized online by people who thought Jenner sounded unsympathetic and out of touch to the real issues in the state. Many found it hypocritical that Jenner has slammed Newsom for being elite but was so concerned for wealthy people who don’t like having to see unhoused residents on the street.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Ca.) called Jenner out on Twitter for seemingly fighting for a small percentage of Californians. 

Unlike you, Dems are focused on the 99% of people who don’t own planes or hangars,” he wrote. “And you know what’s going to help reduce homelessness? The #AmericanRescuePlan, which your party opposed.”

Others suggested she prioritize directly addressing the homeless situation.

“If you don’t like the homeless situation, instead of hiding in your PRIVATE PLANE HANGAR, your campaign should be about helping them,” actress Merrin Dungey said. “They don’t like their situation either. Your lifelong privilege is showing. It’s not a good color.”

Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist and reality star, is one of the most prominent transgender Americans. Because homelessness is such a common issue within the trans community, some were frustrated she was not using her campaign to fix the situation, and rather used it to complain about how it impacted her wealthy friends. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Politico) (Washington Post)

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Derek Chauvin Seeks New Trial In George Floyd Murder Case

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  • A lawyer for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, filed a motion Tuesday for a new trial.
  • Among other complaints about Chauvin’s conviction, the attorney cited “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”
  • He also claimed the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial, arguing that publicity before and during it threatened its fairness. 
  • John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

Derek Chauvin’s Attorney Files Motion for New Trial

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is officially asking for a new trial, hoping to overturn his conviction for the murder of George Floyd.

His attorney, Eric Nelson, filed court paperwork Tuesday laying out a number of errors he believes were made during Chauvin’s legal proceedings that violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. Nelson cited alleged issues, including, “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”

The filing did not cite any specific examples of jury misconduct, but Nelson also argued that the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial.

The court proceedings took place in the same city where Floyd was killed and where protesters drew national attention by calling for justice in his name. As a result, Nelson claimed that publicity before and during the trial threatened its fairness. He also argued that a defense expert witness was intimidated after he testified, but before the jury deliberated.

His filing asks for a hearing to impeach the guilty verdict, in part, on the grounds that the 12 jurors “felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations.”

It’s unclear exactly what will come of this request, but John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

For instance, a judge previously denied Chauvin’s request to move the trial in March, saying, “I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (CBS)

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