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Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
New Jersey's plan to lower standards for privatized clean-ups of toxic sites is on a fast track with a public hearing scheduled for today, when public attention is focused on tomorrow's elections. The proposed rules would gut key requirements for quick and complete remediation, thus removing the premise on which the Legislature authorized private contractors to oversee work previously done by the state, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The hearing today in Trenton will be the public's first chance to comment on the plan to dramatically weaken the new rules governing privately operated clean-up of toxic sites before they even go into effect. The proposed rules relax the standard for addressing vapor intrusion, delineation of the contamination source and responsibility for problems not discovered in initial reports. In justifying its proposal, the state Department of Environmental Protection stated (DEP) that it seeks to provide a "safety cushion" for responsible parties, at the request of affected industrial polluters. The rules are slated to be in effect by the beginning of 2011.
If the proposal is finalized, the Legislature has constitutional authority to veto the rules. In a letter to the legislative sponsors of the bill that set up the licensed private consultant system, New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, argued that the proposals violated both the letter and the spirit of the law. "The legislative intent was crystal clear that the privatized clean-ups would be done with speed and thoroughness," he said. "These rules would pull a regulatory bait-and-switch on the Legislature." The rules would also be subject to litigation where they explicitly contradict statutory provisions.
In addition, the proposed rules appear to be at odds with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin's oft-repeated mantra that remediation reviews would be speeded up. By inserting loopholes into what were supposed to be mandatory deadlines, the proposed rules would allow privatized clean-ups to languish.
Perhaps more significantly, the rules would lower important public health and environmental safeguards, especially protections against intrusion of poisonous vapors into buildings long after the clean-ups have been declared complete. The rules also create an incentive for consultants to overlook dangers by insulating them from liability for later discovered contamination sources.
"The chief concern about outsourcing toxic clean-ups is that protecting the public takes a back seat to the profit motive," added Wolfe, noting that the state has a history of problems with attempts to privatize environmental programs. "These rules would Halliburton-ize environmental protection in New Jersey by leaving the contractor in charge of what gets done and when."
The two public hearings on this proposal are today, November 1, 2010, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the DEP Public Hearing Room in Trenton and Wednesday, November 3, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the New Jersey Water Supply Authority in Clinton. The comment period ends December 3, 2010
See the proposed toxic clean-up relaxations
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
Sen. John Fetterman also denounced the Republican attempt to impose more punitive work requirements on SNAP recipients, saying he "didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids."
The leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said Monday that the GOP's push to impose even harsher work requirements on recipients of federal food aid is "an absolutely terrible idea" that President Joe Biden must reject as a high-stakes standoff over the debt ceiling continues.
Piling more work requirements onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—which already has work mandates—is "a nonstarter for many of us across the Democratic caucus," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toldPolitico after Biden suggested he is open to additional work requirements for federal assistance programs other than Medicaid, noting that he supported such measures as a senator—remarks that Republicans quickly seized on.
But Jayapal responded that "we did not elect Joe Biden of 1986."
"We elected Joe Biden of 2020," she added.
In exchange for any agreement to lift the debt ceiling and avert a catastrophic default, House Republicans are demanding stricter work requirements for SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which supplanted the more generous Aid to Families With Dependent Children program under the Clinton-era welfare reform law that Biden voted for.
Citing two unnamed Republicans and two Republicans and three other people familiar with the fluid talks, Politicoreported Monday that Democrats "are floating a rough proposal within their ranks that includes potential new restrictions" on TANF.
"But House Republicans, who are aware of the movement, are still demanding further concessions on work requirements for food assistance and believe they have the leverage to force them, possibly before Biden leaves for the G-7 meeting in Japan Wednesday," the outlet added.
Research has consistently shown that work requirements are effective at kicking struggling individuals and families off federal aid programs and leaving people poorer, but not at boosting employment.
As the Center for Public Integrity's Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote earlier this month, "A major study published in February from researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of Maryland found that SNAP work requirements did not boost employment or income in Virginia."
"On the contrary," Campbell wrote, "they led more than half of adults in the program to lose food aid."
In a letter to Biden late last week, members of the House Democratic Caucus Poverty Task Force stressed that "decades of research and real-world experience show that taking basic assistance away from people who do not meet rigid work-reporting requirements does not improve employment."
"These GOP proposals would have devastating impacts in our communities," the lawmakers wrote.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do."
Prominent Democratic senators have also spoken out against any agreement that weakens safety net programs and harms vulnerable families, adding to the outrage that House Democrats and progressive advocates have expressed over the GOP's work requirement proposals and the White House's apparent willingness to entertain them.
"I didn't come here to take food away from hungry kids, and that's exactly what this proposal would do; a proposal that would make Scrooge blush," Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said in a statement Monday.
"I've never met a SNAP recipient who aspires to stay on SNAP for life," Fetterman added. "Let's end the games, pay our bills, and get on with the important work people sent us here to do."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for her part, said Monday that she is "very concerned about any efforts to just tangle aid recipients in red tape in the hope that they will be choked to death rather than get the help they need."
\u201cRepublicans are holding the U.S. economy hostage and demanding a tornado of red tape that would strip away health care and other critical assistance from millions of families. They should stop playing games and join Democrats so the U.S. doesn't default on our bills.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684196639
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that House Republicans' work requirement proposals could slash federal nutrition assistance for millions of children, compounding the nation's worsening hunger crisis. In recent weeks, food banks across the U.S. have seen a surge in demand following the recent expiration of pandemic relief.
With Biden set to meet congressional leaders at the White House again on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journalreported that recent staff-level talks have "centered on several subjects on which Democrats and Republicans may be able to find agreement," a list that apparently includes "clawing back unspent Covid-19 funds, speeding up the permitting process for energy projects, capping spending, and imposing stricter work requirements on some government programs."
According toThe Washington Post, the White House "recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes"—proposals that Republican negotiators rejected.
"If the White House's position on the budget is that closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations is preferable to kicking a bunch of families in the teeth with work requirements, sure seems like now would be a great time to let the public know that," Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, wrote in response to the Post's story.
On Monday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that he "doesn't see any real movement on anything" and reiterated that work requirements for key federal aid programs must be part of any debt ceiling deal.
Progressives are urging Biden to stick to his earlier pledge to only accept a clean debt ceiling increase, arguing that any spending concessions would reward House Republicans for taking the global economy hostage.
"I don't think we should normalize such destructive tactics," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) toldAxios on Monday, adding that Biden can "expect pushback on nearly any significant concession."
"It's profoundly destructive and it also threatens to weaken the president," the New York Democrat added.
"The Forest Service has bent to the will of the oil and gas industry, and is placing fossil fuel profits above our environment and public safety."
The U.S. Forest Service on Monday gave a green light for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline to run through the Jefferson National Forest, a decision that sparked outcry from conservationists who say the Biden administration is ignoring the fracked gas project's potentially devastating impacts on the environment and wildlife.
The Forest Service's new Record of Decision (ROD) approves construction of the long-delayed pipeline across a 3.5-mile corridor of the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County, West Virginia and Giles and Montgomery Counties, Virginia.
"I can see the Jefferson National Forest from my kitchen window," said Russell Chisholm, managing director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) coalition. "This land is precious to me. It is home. The Biden administration is trying to destroy my home with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite the national forest's protected status."
"This unfinished, unnecessary pipeline project has accrued hundreds of violations," Chisholm added. "The Biden administration's next move must be to stop the MVP. On June 8th, we'll be on his front doorstep demanding he do so."
Monday's decision marks the third time the Forest Service has tried to allow Mountain Valley Pipeline construction through the Jefferson National Forest, which is home to threatened species, waterways, and old-growth forest.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected the Forest Service's 2018 and 2022 decisions granting approval for the project in the Jefferson National Forest, faulting the agency for failing to adequately consider "the actual sedimentation and erosion impacts of the pipeline," among other possible damage.
Appalachian Voices, one of the groups that sued over the previous authorizations, said Monday that the Forest Service's new decision "ignores outstanding concerns about the proposed changes to standards for soil health, old-growth forest, forest edge, species competition, and scenic viewshed standards will bring significant harmful impacts to biodiversity and lands held in the public trust."
"The Forest Service's preferred alternative to allow MVP to rip through the Jefferson National Forest grossly underestimates the lasting environmental harms from the project, ignores the overwhelming public opposition to sacrificing this treasured land, and shirks the agency's responsibility to steward forests," said Jessica Sims, the Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices. "We maintain that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without lasting damage to sensitive forests, habitats, and waters."
"Amending a forest plan 11 times to accommodate a ruinous project on treasured federal land," Sims added, "is unacceptable."
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake."
Developers of the multibillion-dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline still must obtain other federal approvals to finish the project, which is a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
"The Forest Service said it approved amendments to its Land and Resource Management Plan to allow the massive buried pipeline," The Roanoke Timesreported Monday. "But work in the national forest, which will include boring a tunnel under the Appalachian Trail at the top of Peters Mountain, cannot start until Mountain Valley has other permits in hand."
If completed, the pipeline would generate tens of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, the equivalent of roughly two dozen coal-fired power plants.
The Forest Service's latest decision comes weeks after U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm
reiterated the Biden administration's support for the Mountain Valley Pipeline in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), drawing outraged responses from environmentalists who say the White House is violating its pledge to treat the climate crisis as an existential threat.
Jill Gottesman, Southern Appalachian Landscape director for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement Monday that "the Forest Service has bent to the will of the oil and gas industry, and is placing fossil fuel profits above our environment and public safety."
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake," said Gottesman. "We have no choice but to take this battle back to the court."
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," said the head of Americans for Tax Fairness.
Americans for Tax Fairness on Monday released the group's latest report on "the threat posed to American democracy by billionaire political spenders," revealing that last year their collective congressional campaign contributions topped $1 billion for the first time.
"That 'Billionaires' Billion' was almost three-quarters more than the tycoons' total spending on the last midterms, in 2018, and 300 times more than what billionaires spent on congressional races as recently as a dozen years ago," states the ATF report.
"The Billionaires' Billion—contributed by fewer than 500 individuals—represented about one of every nine dollars raised from all sources in the 2022 elections," the analysis continues, noting that 15 of the nation's richest households were responsible for $658 million, or nearly two-thirds, of the contributions.
"Nearly 80% of billionaire cash—$782 million—went to outside campaign groups," the document adds, and in eight key races that decided which party controlled the Senate, "billionaire donations supported Republican candidates over Democratic ones by almost a 5-1 margin."
\u201cIn the three states where billionaire support was overwhelmingly on the Republican side, the Republican won the Senate race.\n\nIn North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race.\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684157314
Democrats initially secured a slim majority in the Senate—including the two Independents who caucus with the party—after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won a runoff against GOP challenger Herschel Walker in December, but that victory was quickly tempered when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona became an Independent just days later.
Although Republicans lost five of the eight key Senate races, the ATF report explains, not only did billionaire spending encourage candidates to focus on positions favored by their wealthy benefactors, but also, in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin—won by GOP Sens. Ted Budd, J.D. Vance, and Ron Johnson, respectively—the superrich overwhelmingly backed the party and "Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race."
The GOP did seize control of the House of Representatives in last year's midterms—enabling their efforts to quash recent legislative victories and priorities of congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden, including the ongoing battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling to avert the first-ever U.S. default, which economists warn would be catastrophic for the global economy.
The current makeup of Congress makes it exceptionally difficult to pass any legislation—including campaign finance reforms that critics of billionaires' influence on the American political system have increasingly demanded since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which loosened restrictions on political spending.
\u201cWhen corporations and billionaires can buy elections, the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We need to end Citizens United and restore balance to our democracy.\u201d— End Citizens United (@End Citizens United) 1684165959
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," ATF executive director David Kass declared Monday. "There are well-known solutions to the problem, including overturning Citizens United and effectively taxing the biggest sources of billionaire wealth, which now often go lightly taxed if at all."
"Those tax reforms include taxing wealth like work by equalizing the top tax rate on investment and wage income, and closing the stepped-up basis loophole that allows investment gains to go untaxed forever," Kass added. "All that's needed is for Congress to heed the call of the American people to unrig a corrupt system."
In March, Biden unveiled a budget blueprint—which included various tax reforms—that then-ATF executive director Frank Clemente said "plainly shows whose side he's on: working families struggling with the high cost of healthcare, childcare, housing and more—not the wealthy elite and their big corporations rolling in dough and dodging their fair share of taxes."
However, the GOP continues to make clear that the party only plans to serve the rich with tax breaks, not force them to pay more. Citing three unnamed sources, The Washington Postreported Monday that "the White House recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes during the ongoing negotiations over the federal budget and the debt ceiling. But Republican negotiators rejected every item."
\u201cBREAKING: Republicans have rejected a proposal to lower the debt by closing tax loopholes for the rich.\n\nRepublicans created this debt crisis with their tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats can not cave to their demands that the rest of us pay for it.\nhttps://t.co/yH6ZzfK4Rq\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684183330
"On a phone call last week, senior White House officials floated about a dozen tax plans to reduce the deficit as part of a broader budget agreement with House Republicans, including a measure aimed at cryptocurrency transactions and another for large real estate investors," according to the Post. "They were all swiftly rejected by the GOP aides on the call."