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EPA Limits Environmental Regulations During Coronavirus Crisis

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  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is scaling back its enforcement of environmental rules during the coronavirus emergency as businesses face challenges like layoffs and accessibility issues.
  • The temporary policy allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental laws, and the EPA said it will not issue penalties for violations of certain reporting requirements.
  • Many critics slammed the move, arguing that it opens doors to excess pollution and does not prioritize the health and safety of people and wildlife.   
  • The EPA defended the policy, saying it has reserved its authorities for situations other than routine monitoring and reporting and will consider the pandemic’s impacts on a “case-to-case basis.”

Temporary Policy 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will limit the enforcement of certain regulations as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leaving companies in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws. 

The agency unveiled the temporary policy on Thursday, arguing that businesses are running into obstacles like layoffs and accessibility issues as the virus alters normal life across the nation.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.  

Under normal circumstances, companies must report when their facilities release a certain amount of pollution into the air or water. Now, that requirement will be put on hold for the time being. 

“In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the policy states.

The agency also said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules. It noted that the policy does not apply to criminal violations or hundreds of the country’s most toxic waste sites that fall under the Superfund act. The EPA also said it expects public water systems to maintain high standards. 

“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the policy says.

The memo said that the changes will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, with no set end date indicated. 

Criticism of New Policy

Some, including people in the oil industry, had been asking for these regulations to be loosened, but others slammed the EPA’s choice, claiming it is too broad and lax. 

Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under the Obama administration and is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy an “open license to pollute.” 

Some called the changes “outrageous” and “evil,” accusing the EPA of prioritizing businesses over the health of individuals and wildlife.

Prominent figures in the climate change fight slammed the move as well.

“The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment,” teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted. “This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for.”

Others pointed out the irony of suspending rules that preserve air quality while a respiratory disease makes its rounds across the country. 

“What part of, ‘air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases LIKE CORONAVIRUS,’ is not clear, EPA?” one Twitter user wrote.

Defense of Policy

The EPA stood behind their move and did not agree with its classification as a dismissal of regulations. 

“It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA official who issued the policy, said that it does not excuse organizations from consequences if they do committ environmental violations.

“If you do have violations of your permit, you’re still obligated to meet your permit limits, you’re supposed to do everything possible,” Bodine told ABC. “And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn’t a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations.”

“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency,” she added. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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Donald Trump and Eldest Three Children Hit With Fraud Lawsuit From New York AG

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AG Letitia James says that the former president “falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself.” 


Lawsuit Filed Against Trump 

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that she filed a civil lawsuit against former president Donald Trump and his three eldest children over allegations that they fraudulently inflated asset valuations within the Trump Organization.

Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump are all listed alongside their father in the lawsuit. Executives Jeffrey McConney and Allen Weisselberg, the latter of whom recently pled guilty to tax crimes, are also listed alongside other Trump businesses. 

“Donald Trump, with the help of his children…and senior executives at the Trump Organization, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other things,”  a press release announcing the lawsuit claimed. 

The Attorney General’s office claims that between 2011 and 2021, Trump and the Trump Organization made 200 false and misleading claims about asset values on annual financial statements.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan. 

“The complaint demonstrates that Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us,” James said while announcing the complaint. 

Her office is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation and to bar Trump and his organization from entering into any New York real estate acquisitions for five years. The office is also seeking to recover $250 million in penalty payments, among other forms of relief. 

 The Office of the Attorney General has also referred the matter to the federal attorneys in New York and to the IRS for criminal investigation. 

“There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans,” James added in a statement on social media. 

“Trump’s crimes are not victimless,” she continued. “When the well-connected and powerful break the law to get more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources available to working people, small businesses, and taxpayers.”

Trump Allegedly Inflated Key Assets

According to James’ release, Trump “made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year.”

“And the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” the release continued. 

Among the assets Trump and his organization allegedly inflated was the Trump Tower Triplex, an apartment Trump allegedly claimed was 30,000 square feet when it is just around 11,000 square feet. Because of its ballooned size, the property was valued at $327 million in 2015, roughly three times as much as the sole apartment in New York City to ever sell for over $100 million at the time. 

For further comparison, the highest sale for a listing in Trump Tower at the time was only $16 million. 

Trump also allegedly claimed Mar-a-Lago was valued as high as $739 million based on the “false premise” that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. The lawsuit claims that Trump actually signed deeds donating those rights, limiting the property’s use to a social club. James and her office claim its value would fall closer to $75 million. 

Inflated Clauations Cannot Be “Excused”

“The inflated asset valuations in the Statements cannot be brushed aside or excused as merely the result of exaggeration or good faith estimation about which reasonable real estate professionals may differ,”  the lawsuit states, adding that instead, they are the result of improper methodology intentionally meant to falsely boost Trump’s net worth. 

The investigation into Trump’s alleged fraud began nearly three years ago, and the former president has repeatedly called it a politically motivated witch hunt. His attorney, Alina Habba, doubled down on that rhetoric in a statement Wednesday. 

“Today’s filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law – rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda,” Habba said. “We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.”

For his part, Trump has blasted the lawsuit on Truth Social, calling James a “fraud” and a “crime-fighting disaster.”

Trump previously tried to impede the probe but was ultimately ordered by a judge to sit for a deposition and turn over subpoenaed documents. Reports say he pled the fifth hundreds of times during his deposition. 

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)

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Hurricane Fiona Causes “Catastrophic” Damage in Puerto Rico, Leaving Many Without Power

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While power has been restored to some, more than a million remain without it as continued rainfall, flooding, and landslides are expected to cause further damage across the island.


Hurricane Fiona Wreaks Havoc

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico Sunday, bringing heavy rains, flooding, and landslides, while also knocking out power for the entire island and killing at least one person.

Photos and videos posted on social media show floodwaters consuming major streets and engulfing cars. Some pictures show an entire bridge flooded, making it impassible. Other footage shows a different bridge entirely uprooted and a metal barrier ripped away from the road and floating down a river of floodwater.

Officials have said conditions are still too dangerous to fully evaluate the extent of the crisis. In remarks to the public, Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, described the damage as “catastrophic.”

He asserted that the storm has been one of the most significant since Hurricane Maria — which hit the island almost exactly 5 years ago to the day — killing more than 3,000 people, leaving many without power for months, and causing destruction that the island is still recovering from.

Pierluisi noted that Puerto Rico has received over 30 inches of rain and that some areas have even gotten more rain than during Hurricane Maria. As of Monday afternoon, the National Gaurd has led 30 rescue operations so far, saving more than 1,000 stranded residents in 25 municipalities, according to the governor.

Pierluisi also added that more than 2,000 people were in the island’s 128 shelters, with officials further saying there is plenty of shelter space for those who need it. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, which will allow federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief.

Continued Issues As Storm Rages On

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s water authority has confirmed that just over 70% of the island is still without water. According to poweroutage.us, more than 1.3 million customers were still without power as of Monday morning.

The power company LUMA also stated that electricity had been restored to around 100,000 customers over the course of Sunday night, though it previously warned that the full restoration of power could take several days as the storm has created “incredibly challenging” conditions.

While Hurricane Fiona has passed through Puerto Rico, having now made landfall in the Dominican Republic, officials and experts say that heavy rains and further flooding are still to be expected for the next few days.

The National Weather Service has warned that “life-threatening and catastrophic flooding” as well as mudslides and landslides are expected to continue across the island. As a result, Pierluisi has urged Puerto Ricans Monday to remain home and in shelters so that officials can continue to respond to others in need.

He also noted that the areas most impacted by the hurricane include the southern part of the island, the southwest, and the mountains.

After moving through the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Fiona is expected to head towards Turks and Caicos Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center has said that the storm will continue to grow and by Wednesday, it is set to become a major hurricane — which means a Category 3 or higher.

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

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Government Aid Cut Child Poverty in Half During Pandemic, Data Shows

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The reduction occurred similarly across geography, race, family type, and citizenship status.


Largest Drop in Half a Century

The United States’s child poverty rate sank to the lowest level on record last year, primarily thanks to pandemic relief measures and other government programs, according to an analysis of census data released Tuesday.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s supplementary poverty measure, which accounts for safety net programs and tax credits as well as regional differences in the cost of living.

From around 11% in 2019, the percentage of kids living below the poverty line fell to 9.7% in 2020 and 5.2% the year after that.

In just two years, nearly 5.5 million kids were lifted from poverty, marking an almost 60% drop in the child poverty rate.

The Center’s researchers gave most credit to the federal government’s numerous interventions in the economy, from stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit to eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment insurance.

Without government intervention, poverty in 2020 would have experienced its second-largest recorded increase, the Center claimed, but instead, it underwent the largest single-year decline in over half a century.

Especially impactful was the expanded child tax credit, which sent up to $300 per child to households with children every month between July and December 2021.

According to the analysis, this policy alone pulled nearly three million kids out of poverty.

But the tax credit’s expansion expired at the end of the year despite Democrats’ efforts to prolong it with Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill, which was blocked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who reportedly told colleagues he was concerned that families might use the payments to buy drugs.

Poverty Before COVID

Child poverty has fallen by 59% since 1993, when it sat at around 28%, according to another analysis published Sunday by The New York Times and the nonpartisan group Child Trends.

They found that the decline occurred across all 50 states and D.C., as well as in different levels of poverty.

It similarly affected nearly all subgroups of children, — white, Black, Asian and Hispanic, single-parent and two-parent, immigrant and non-immigrant.

The causes driving the pre-pandemic decline included general economic improvement — low unemployment, a higher labor force participation rate among single mothers, and growing state minimum wages — but the researchers pinned government welfare programs as the dominant factor.

They specifically mentioned the earned income tax credit, social security, unemployment insurance, and nutrition and housing assistance.

Despite the positive trend, more than eight million children still live below the poverty line, and that number excludes those who live just above it but still struggle to meet basic needs.

The current poverty line sits around $29,000 for a family of four in a location with typical living costs.

Moreover, disparities still persist, with Black and Latino children about three times as likely as their white peers to be poor.

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

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