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Collette L. Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the Georgetown and Salado salamanders today under the Endangered Species Act. As with the Jollyville Plateau and Austin blind salamanders protected last year, today's decision was spurred by a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011 that is expediting federal protection decisions for 757 imperiled species across the country.
"Saving these salamanders will also protect the precious springs that give drinking water and recreation to Texas communities," said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. "These rare salamanders are found nowhere on Earth except central Texas, and right now they're facing extinction. Endangered Species Act protection will give them a fighting chance."
The Georgetown and Salado salamanders live in springs in Bell and Williamson counties in central Texas. These fully aquatic animals require clean, well-oxygenated water and are threatened by activities that disturb their surface springs, pollute their water or reduce its flow to their underground aquatic habitats.
Although the Service previously proposed to list the Georgetown and Salado salamanders as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act, the agency today instead protected them as "threatened." The new rule recognizes state and local regulatory actions taken to benefit water quality, including Georgetown's recently enacted ordinances, but finds that the salamanders still face unaddressed threats to their survival.
"I'm glad these salamanders are finally protected, but disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service is backtracking on the level of protection," said Adkins Giese. "The Endangered Species Act has been more than 99 percent effective at saving species, but it needs to be utilized to its fullest extent if it is going to save these and other rare species that are the wild heritage of central Texas."
The salamanders have spent years waiting in line for federal protection. As part of an agreement with the Center, the Service agreed to issue protection decisions for these and two other central Texas salamanders by the end of 2013. In August the Service issued final rules listing the Jollyville Plateau and Austin blind salamanders as "endangered" and designating critical habitat. But the Service delayed its final decision on the Georgetown salamander and Salado salamander until today due to "substantial disagreement" over available data and to consider the city of Georgetown's final ordinances for water quality and urban development.
A total of 107 imperiled species from around the country have gained Endangered Species Act protection so far in response to the 2011 agreement with the Center, and another 28 have been proposed for protection.
Salado salamander (Bell County): The Salado salamander is just 2 inches long and has reduced eyes compared to other spring-dwelling salamanders in north-central Texas. It is known historically from four springs near Salado, Bell County: Big Boiling Springs, Li'l Bubbly Spring, Lazy Days Fish Farm Spring and Robertson Springs. These springs bubble up through faults in the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer and associated limestones along Salado Creek. The salamander is extremely rare and has been observed just a few times over the past several decades, despite intensive survey efforts. Although most of Bell County is still considered rural, the area is experiencing rapid human population growth. The Salado salamander's restricted range makes it vulnerable to groundwater contamination and potentially catastrophic hazardous-materials spills.
Georgetown salamander (Williamson County): The Georgetown salamander is characterized by a broad, relatively short head with three pairs of bright-red gills on each side behind the jaws, a rounded and short snout and large eyes with gold irises. It's known from springs along five tributaries to the San Gabriel River and three caves in Williamson County, Texas. The recharge and contributing zones of the northern segment of the Edwards Aquifer supply the water that feeds these springs. These zones are found in portions of Travis, Williamson, Bell, Burnet, Lampasas, Mills and Hamilton counties. The salamander is threatened by water pollution and low water flows. The Service determined in 2001 that the salamander deserves federal protection; the Georgetown salamander has waited more than a decade for the Service to finalize today's listing.
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
"I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default," wrote AFGE's leader.
A union leader representing over 750,000 government employees on Tuesday pressured U.S. President Joe Biden to reject congressional Republicans' demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and to avert an economically devastating default by invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has continued to warn that the federal government could run out of money to pay its bills as early as June 1, some legal scholars and progressive lawmakers have encouraged Biden to combat the GOP's economic hostage-taking by invoking the section of the amendment which states that "the validity of the public debt... shall not be questioned."
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) joined those calls on Tuesday, with national president Everett Kelley writing to Biden to call for "unilateral action to ensure that the government continues to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations after the Treasury exhausts all extraordinary debt measures within the next several days."
"Our union members are the doctors, nurses, firefighters, border patrol agents, corrections officers, federal police, food safety inspectors, transportation security officers, and other public servants who keep the government running around the clock," Kelley noted. "They served tirelessly throughout the pandemic, defending the public, often at great personal risk. More than a few gave their lives to their country. It would be unconscionable now to agree to a budget deal that once again sacrifices their well-being on the altar of fiscal austerity."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions and result in further unwarranted cuts to federal jobs and compensation," the union leader stressed, taking aim at a key demand of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans, who passed their so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act late last month.
Noting that "many federal agencies that deliver services directly to the public, like the Social Security Administration, are already at the breaking point from years of inadequate funding," Kelley warned that they "can in no way withstand further budget cuts of the magnitude proposed by House Republicans in the morally bankrupt 'Limit, Save, Grow Act.' This bill, even in the most diluted form, would be an economic and humanitarian calamity."
"Clearly a default must be avoided at all costs," he added. "I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default under the Constitution's 14th Amendment. You have additional authorities to mint platinum coins under 31 USC § 5112. Please use these authorities now before it is too late."
Before returning to Washington, D.C. to continue negotiations with McCarthy, Biden told reporters on Sunday that "I think we have the authority" to invoke the 14th Amendment but given the potential for a legal challenge," the question of whether it could be done in time to prevent a default "is unresolved."
\u201cQ: "It sounds like the White House is now ruling out invoking the 14th Amendment as an option to get around the debt ceiling. Is that accurate?" \n\n@PressSec: "It is not going to fix the current problem that we have right now..."\u201d— CSPAN (@CSPAN) 1684871442
Politicoreported Friday that some Biden aides worry that "even the appearance of more seriously considering the 14th Amendment could blow up talks that are already quite delicate," and actually doing so could "trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness, and damage the economy."
Kelley's letter came as a federal judge scheduled a debt limit lawsuit hearing for May 31, the day before the so-called X-date. That case—filed by another union, the National Association of Government Employees, against Biden and Yellen—cites the 14th Amendment and aims to have the debt limit statute deemed unconstitutional.
"MAGA politicians... want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
As Republican leaders in the U.S. House prepare to hold a vote this week on legislation that would block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief, progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday warned of the "ruinous impact" the GOP's resolution threatens to have on millions of borrowers.
Last year, Biden moved to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes under $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment program. The White House's popular relief initiative is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to it. A decision in the case is expected next month.
House Republicans, however, are now attempting to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Biden's student debt policies regardless of how the high court rules. At issue is H.J. Res. 45, a CRA resolution that GOP lawmakers approved in committee earlier this month in a party-line vote. House Republican leadership on Monday scheduled the measure for a floor vote on Wednesday.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel."
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) sounded the alarm about the measure's wide-ranging potential consequences, warning that it "would destroy the lives of millions of borrowers and their families by forcing them to repay thousands of dollars in already forgiven debt."
"Right-wing special interests want their supporters to believe they are simply trying to stop Biden's student loan debt relief program, but there are far greater implications afoot," a new report from AFT and SBPC points out.
In addition to nullifying Biden's promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, H.J. Res. 45 would "reverse months of paused payments and already waived interest charges implemented as part of the government's pandemic response, immediately leaving 40 million student loan borrowers past due on their loans and adding tens of billions of dollars in new interest charges," the groups noted.
That's not all. The CRA resolution also seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean after making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
As AFT and SBPC explained:
If enacted, the Republican student loan CRA scheme would undo the seventh extension of the pause on federal student loan payments first enacted by President [Donald] Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The seventh extension lasted from September 2022 through December 2022. According to the Congressional Review Act, "[a]ny rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of [CRA resolution] shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect." The CRA scheme would thus also likely undo the eighth extension of the payment pause, a "substantially the same" executive action that began in January 2023 and is ongoing.
Based on their analysis of recently unveiled Department of Education data, the two groups estimated that if the CRA rolls back the seventh and eighth payment pauses, nearly 269,000 public service workers who accessed debt cancellation from September 2022 through March 2023 under the PSLF program would see their loan balances restored. The collective student debt burden put back on their shoulders would exceed $19.5 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, on average.
In addition, roughly 2 million public service workers would lose at least some progress made toward the future cancellation of more than $178 billion in student debt under the PSLF program. As a result, teachers, nurses, first responders, and others would be driven even further into debt as they continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis and brace for the possibility of additional economic devastation brought about by the GOP's current debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel," says the report.
In a statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten condemned H.J. Res. 45, calling it "a disaster."
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
"For years, the AFT and the SBPC have fought the damage forced by the Trump administration on student loan borrowers and their families," said Weingarten. "Now, MAGA politicians don't just want to stop that progress, they want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others. It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
"Public service workers have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of others," the union leader continued. "They care deeply about what kids and communities need. We have a duty to honor and respect them—that's why, 16 years ago, a bipartisan majority in Congress made a promise to help them erase their student debt in exchange for 10 years of repayments."
"We will not stand idly by as House Republicans try to return us to those dark days," she added.
SBPC executive director Mike Pierce called Wednesday's scheduled vote on the CRA resolution "a test of American values."
"Do we stand on the side of teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members who fought to keep our kids safe and our communities healthy throughout the pandemic, or do we betray their service in pursuit of Republicans' never-ending culture war?" Pierce asked.
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers," he added, "is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that "if Congress were to pass H.J. Res. 45, the president would veto it."
"This resolution," OMB stressed, "is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief."
"The good news," the authors of a new People's Action white paper assert, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."
Amid what many experts fear is a Republican-led slow-march toward fascism in the United States, a report published Tuesday by a progressive advocacy group answers the question: "How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism?"
The white paper—entitled The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy—was published by People's Action with support from the Democracy Fund and the endorsement of more than a dozen progressive groups.
"This simple truth—that ordinary people, organized effectively, have the power to drive social change upwards to create the conditions for justice, equity, and freedom—has been the power behind every great expansion of our democracy, from abolition and women's suffrage to civil rights and marriage equality," the paper notes.
\u201cThe antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and we need an #OrganizingRevival across America to activate this potential - but organizers and funders must shift how we work together. Read our new report: https://t.co/NH3R85UXEM\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684853375
Paper co-authors Beth Jacob and James Mumm said they interviewed more than two dozen leaders of national social change networks, academics, philanthropists, and organizers.
"Arevival and expansion of community organizing is essential to reinvigorating democracy across lines of difference; this is the foundation of a multiracial pluralistic democracy," the pair asserted. "Philanthropies that want to address the root causes of racial inequity need to partner with community organizing on a long-term agendathat builds enough relationships and power to make progress on structural racism."
"Community organizing and philanthropy can reduce economic uncertainty that is fueling authoritarianism and help people win and make meaning of public investments as building blocks of an inclusive economy," the authors added.
\u201c"...[A]ction can indeed be taken to combat the daunting backward trend toward authoritarianism..." Rev. Dr. B. DeNeice Welch, leader with @gamalielnetwork, pastor at Bidwell Church in Pittsburgh. #organizingrevival #antidotetoauthoritarianism https://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684855770
Among the paper's key findings:
"Organizers and philanthropy have a big task before us: to strengthen and defend democracy at a time when some feel that democracy fails them and others want to throw it out to advance an authoritarian agenda," People's Action executive director Sulma Arias said in a statement.
"Community organizing is the solution, and for it to work, it must be fundamental to what we do, not just a tactic or short-term strategy," Arias added. "This white paper outlines the shifts and investments we need to make it work."
\u201c"This strong, clear vision couldn't have come at a better time." @democracyfund's Shuya Ohno. \n#organizingrevival\n#antidotetoauthoritarianism\nhttps://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684854969
Ana Maria Archila of Action Lab, one of the groups endorsing the white paper, argued that "in order to avert the rise of authoritarianism, and address the combined crises of climate disaster, growing inequality, unprecedented levels of loneliness and political fragmentation, we must double down on efforts to build community and transform who holds power in our democracy."
"There are no shortcuts here," Archila added. "This moment requires community organizers, donors, and leaders to reinvigorate community organizing, and re-commit to a long-term strategy to bring into existence the multiracial democracy we want."
Jacob and Munn remain hopeful, as daunting as the task ahead may be.
"The good news," they wrote, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."