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The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America have filed an amended complaint in their ongoing efforts to protect the nation's most vulnerable wildlife from tox
The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America have filed an amended complaint in their ongoing efforts to protect the nation's most vulnerable wildlife from toxic pesticides. For two decades now the Environmental Protection Agency has routinely sidestepped its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. This case would require the EPA to consult with federal wildlife agencies to create measures that would protect numerous endangered and threatened species from pesticides already known to be toxic to wildlife.
"For decades the EPA has ignored the disastrous effects pesticides can have on endangered species," said Justin Augustine, an attorney at the Center. "We're doing everything we can to force EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals don't get into the habitats of the nation's most vulnerable wildlife."
In April a federal district court in San Francisco issued an order dismissing the lawsuit but allowing the environmental groups to amend and re-file their legal complaint. The amended complaint filed yesterday responds to the procedural issues raised in the court's order. The lawsuit seeks protection for endangered and threatened species throughout the United States, including Florida panthers, California condors, piping plovers, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats, bonytail chub and Alabama sturgeon. Documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA, as well as peer-reviewed scientific studies, indicate that these species are harmed by the pesticides at issue.
"We hope to finally end the EPA's longstanding failure to protect endangered wildlife," said Augustine. "The agency's program for approving pesticides is broken."
In April a committee of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council released a report outlining numerous problems with the EPA's oversight of dangerous pesticides that are hurting endangered species across the country. The report was prompted in part by the Center's pesticide cases.
More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the United States, and the EPA has approved, or "registered," more than 18,000 different pesticides for use. There is evidence of widespread contamination of groundwater, drinking water and wildlife habitats throughout the country.
For decades the EPA has registered pesticides without input from expert federal agencies to evaluate harmful impacts to wildlife, failing to initiate formal consultations required under the Endangered Species Act. The consultation process can result in restrictions on some of the most harmful pesticide uses while identifying viable alternatives. For particularly harmful pesticides, the EPA or registrant may choose to take the product off the market.
Certain childhood cancers, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders and a host of other human-health harms linked to environmental chemical exposures are all on the rise. Meanwhile species are dying off at more than 1,000 times the normal background rate, and pollinators and other indicator species susceptible to pesticides, such as amphibians, are suffering dramatic declines.
Litigation from the Center has forced the EPA to begin consultation with the two federal wildlife agencies on pesticides risks to some endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, San Joaquin kit fox and Bay checkerspot butterfly.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
"Nothing but the power of corporate leaders to rig rules in their favor can explain this double standard."
Millions of people in the United States have little to nothing in retirement savings, a consequence of low-wage jobs that give workers minimal room to stash money away.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2021, the nation's top CEOs held an estimated $9 billion in rapidly growing special retirement accounts that aren't available to their employees—a double standard established by the U.S. tax code.
That double standard is the subject of A Tale of Two Retirements, a new report published Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Jobs With Justice. The report says that while "ordinary employees with access to 401(k) plans face strict limits on the amounts they can set aside, tax-free, for their golden years," highly paid executives of major corporations "have unlimited tax-deferred compensation accounts" known as top hat plans.
"The sections of the U.S. tax code related to employer-provided, tax-deferred retirement accounts impose one set of strict rules on ordinary workers and another set of far more flexible rules for corporate top brass," the report notes. "Employees with 401(k) plans face hard caps on the amounts they can set aside in these accounts every year. By contrast, Section 409A of the tax code allows top corporate executives to place unlimited amounts in special 'non-qualified tax-deferred compensation' accounts."
The funds in such plans are only taxed when they are withdrawn, allowing executives to reap the benefits of years of investment returns tax-free.
The new analysis shows that "at more than 20 low-wage employers, executives have sufficient deferred compensation funds to generate monthly retirement checks larger than their workers' median annual pay," pointing specifically to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon (who held over $169 million in his deferred compensation account at the end of last year) and former Home Depot CEO and current board chair Craig Menear (who has nearly $15 million in a deferred compensation account).
Home Depot employees aren't nearly as well-positioned for retirement. According to the researchers behind the new report, 53% of those eligible to participate in Home Depot's 401(k) plan have zero balances. Menear's top hat account balance is "enough to generate a monthly retirement check three times larger than the company’s median worker pay of just $30,100," the report notes.
The executive with the largest top hat account among S&P 500 company heads is Paul Saville, CEO of the homebuilding giant NVR, Inc. At the end of 2022, Saville held $488 million in his deferred compensation account—which could yield $3 million a month in retirement checks for the rest of his life.
"That's 1,513 times as much as a typical American retiree could expect to receive in monthly Social Security and 401(k) benefits," IPS and Jobs With Justice note.
Sarah Anderson, global economy director at IPS and a co-author of the new report, said that "there's no rational argument for allowing wealthy executives to shelter unlimited amounts of compensation from taxes while ordinary workers have strict limits on their annual 401(k) contributions."
"Nothing but the power of corporate leaders to rig rules in their favor can explain this double standard," Anderson argued.
"Perhaps most importantly, we need to expand Social Security, the key pillar for retirement security for most Americans, particularly low- and moderate-income families who receive little to no tax benefits."
For workers under the age of 50, the annual 401(k) contribution limit is $22,500 in 2023—a ceiling that the overwhelming majority of workers with access to a 401(k) won't hit.
"Nationwide, just 35% of working-age adults have tax-deferred 401(k)-type defined contribution plans through their employer and another 13% have defined benefit or cash balance plans. Some 42% of Americans age 56-64 have zero retirement account savings, according to the U.S. Census Bureau," the new report observes. "Americans who are unable to save for retirement need to rely on Social Security, which pays an average monthly benefit of $1,784, as of March 2023."
The report adds that while companies "often match a portion of employee 401(k) contributions," that benefit is "meaningless for the many low-wage workers who cannot afford to set aside any of their wages."
Furthermore, roughly half of U.S. workers in the private sector have no access to an employer-provided retirement plan.
"For decades now, large U.S. corporations have been making workers' retirement futures less secure by abandoning traditional pensions in favor of 401(k) plans," the report points out. "In 1984, more than 30 million Americans had defined benefit pensions through which employers bore the financial risks for their workers' retirement security. By 2020, that number had declined to just 12 million, and private sector workers were approximately 3.5 times as likely to have a defined contribution plan as a traditional pension."
IPS and Jobs With Justice highlight a number of potential policy changes that could help combat the stark and worsening retirement divide between ordinary workers—who are facing a full-fledged retirement income crisis—and executives, including changes to the tax provisions that let rich executives shelter their compensation.
"Perhaps most importantly, we need to expand Social Security, the key pillar for retirement security for most Americans, particularly low- and moderate-income families who receive little to no tax benefits," the report states. "Funding for expansion could come from lifting the wage cap on payroll taxes so that CEOs and other high earners pay roughly the same share of their total income into the Social Security fund as ordinary workers."
Scott Klinger, report co-author and senior equitable development specialist at Jobs With Justice, said that "rather than giving corporate CEOs unfair special retirement tax benefits not available to those they employ, Congress should eliminate the cap on payroll taxes paid by corporate executives so that Social Security benefits can be strengthened, especially for the 40% of American workers for whom Social Security is their sole retirement income."
"The American people expect their elected representatives to hold their colleagues to a higher ethical standard and punish those who violate the public's trust," said Stand Up America's Brett Edkins.
"House Republicans have once again demonstrated their moral bankruptcy by shielding a deceitful and indicted fraudster in their ranks," declared Stand Up America managing director of policy and political affairs Brett Edkins.
"George Santos' seemingly endless lies and criminal behavior have disgraced the GOP and left voters in New York's 3rd Congressional District without real representation," he argued. "Still, today, House Republicans voted to put political expediency over common decency."
Edkins added that "the American people expect their elected representatives to hold their colleagues to a higher ethical standard and punish those who violate the public's trust. It's time for House Republicans to grow a backbone and fulfill their obligation to their constituents."
Rather than immediately ousting Santos—who faces charges including wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of public funds—Republicans referred the expulsion resolution led by Democratic Reps. Robert Garcia (Calif.), Becca Balint (Vt.), and Eric Sorenson (Ill.) to the House Committee on Ethics.
Introduced Tuesday, the trio's privileged resolution cites a clause in the U.S. Constitution that states the House and Senate can determine how their members are disciplined, including by expulsion with a two-thirds majority.
Wednesday's 221-204 vote was along party lines, though the ethics panel's five Democrats—Susan Wild (Pa.), Glenn Ivey (Md.), Veronica Escobar (Texas), Deborah Ross (N.C.), and Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.)—plus Democratic Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (Pa.) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.) abstained.
\u201cJust now 100% of House republicans voted to block expelling con artist and indicted fraudster george santos and then cowardly buried the matter in committee to keep him in Congress.\u201d— Bill Pascrell, Jr. \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Bill Pascrell, Jr. \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1684359610
After the vote, Garcia—who has called for Santos' expulsion for months—took aim at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had said Tuesday that the House Ethics Committee should investigate the embattled freshman Republican.
"George Santos is a fraud, and Kevin McCarthy's efforts to protect him with this vote will fail. We will continue to hold him and those who protect him accountable for his fraud and lies," Garcia tweeted Wednesday, adding that "the House Republicans are now officially the SAVE SANTOS CAUCUS."
According toThe Washington Post:
Santos said that if the Ethics Committee finds a reason to remove him, "that is the process."
In March, the Ethics Committee voted to create a bipartisan subcommittee to investigate claims about Santos.
In its March statement, the ethics panel said it is working to determine whether Santos, 34, may have "engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office."
released on $500,000 bond last week after being charged on Long Island. He has pleaded not guilty and told reporters outside the courthouse that he plans to fight "the witch hunt" against him.
Prosecutors allege Santos convinced supporters of his congressional campaign to donate to a company but then used the money for exorbitant personal expenses. They have also accused him of lying on federal disclosure forms and receiving unemployment benefits when he was employed at an investment firm.
Balint warned Tuesday that if the Republicans continue to accept Santos' alleged criminal activity, it will be "a sign of the deteriorating health of our government."
"Democracies don't die overnight; they erode slowly as we degrade our ethical standards and turn away from our values," she said. "Americans want to have faith in our democracy, but with trust in government at an all-time low it's critical we take action to restore that trust."
Separately from the criminal charges, Santos has admitted to lying about his educational and professional background and his connection to survivors of the Holocaust. A New York Times investigation found that he also lied about his employees having been killed in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
"Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous," asserted PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. "The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution."
The free expression group PEN America on Wednesday joined Penguin Random House—the largest U.S. book publisher—and a group of authors and parents in a lawsuit challenging a Florida county school district's banning of titles about race and LGBTQ+ topics, a policy stemming from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' self-described "war on woke."
"Today, Escambia County seeks to bar books critics view as too 'woke,'" states the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida and seeks to return proscribed titles to school libraries.
"In the 1970s, schools sought to bar Slaughterhouse-Five and books edited by Langston Hughes," the suit notes. "Tomorrow, it could be books about Christianity, the country's founders, or war heroes. All of these removals run afoul of the First Amendment."
\u201c\ud83e\uddf5PEN America Files Lawsuit against Florida School District over Unconstitutional Book Bans\n\nLawsuit joined by @penguinrandom, parents, and authors asserts that Escambia County School Board unlawfully removes or restricts access to books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities.\u201d— PEN America (@PEN America) 1684332075
According toThe New York Times:
In Escambia County, the restrictions the lawsuit is concerned with began when Vicki Baggett, a language arts teacher at the district's Northview High School, challenged more than 100 titles beginning last year. Among them were picture books, young adult novels, and works of nonfiction. The complaint described her objections as "nakedly ideological," saying that she had argued that the books "should be evaluated based on explicit sexual content, graphic language, themes, vulgarity, and political pushes."
Among the books was And Tango Makes Three, about a penguin family with two fathers, which she objected to for "serving an LGBTQ agenda using penguins."
The school board—which is a defendant in the case, along with the district—has so far "voted to remove 10 books, some entirely and others from certain grade levels," the Times reported. "In each instance, the board did so despite a recommendation from a district-level committee of educators, media specialists, community members, and parents that the books remain in place."
\u201c\ud83e\uddf5Here\u2019s the woman responsible for the chaos in our school district. Meet Vicki Baggett, an English teacher and a member of the daughter\u2019s of the confederacy. She challenged 150 books in our district because they made white children feel bad\n #Florida #BookBan #escambia\u201d— Change The System (@Change The System) 1684340246
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement that "children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution."
"In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices," Nossel added. "In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand. The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong."
Penguin Random House CEO Nihar Malaviya said that "books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives."
"Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, [is] a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights," Malaviya added. "We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression."
Lindsay Durtschi, an Escambia County parent and plaintiff in the suit, argued that "without diverse representation in literature in school libraries and inclusive dialogue in the classroom, we are doing irreparable harm to the voices and safety of students in Florida."
"Our children need the adults in their lives to stand up for the promise of inclusion and equity," Durtschi added.
\u201cThe lawsuit says Escambia County School District and School Board violated the #FirstAmendment rights of the students, authors, and publishers by removing books \u201cbased on ideological objections to their contents or disagreement with their messages or themes.\u201d #IStandWithTheBanned\u201d— PEN America (@PEN America) 1684339173
The new lawsuit comes amid a relentless attack by DeSantis—a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate—on educational freedom from kindergarten through the university level.
On Wednesday, DeSantis signed a bill extending the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" law—which prohibits classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity—to include all grades K-12.
The governor has also replaced key state education officials with right-wing allies who toe his "anti-woke" line, while stoking a climate of fear in which educators have removed books from classroom libraries to avoid running afoul of bans on titles dealing with race or LGBTQ+ issues.
Common Dreamsreported last month that laws passed in Republican-controlled states have led to nearly 1,500 book bans nationwide during just the first half of the 2022-23 school year. This followed a record number of book bans last year, according to the American Library Association.