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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's budget request for Fiscal Year 2017 continues a trend of flat or declining funding for the protection and recovery of endangered species. The Service's overall budget request for the endangered species program increased slightly to $251 million from $234 million, but still represents less than 15 percent of the $2.2 billion in annual subsidies the federal government gives to oil and gas companies to extract fossil fuels on public lands.
"We're deeply disappointed that once again the Obama administration has failed to request sufficient funds to ensure the survival and recovery of the nation's plants and animals that are on the brink of extinction," said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of more than 99 percent of the species under its protection and put hundreds on the road to recovery, but much more money is needed to fully implement the law and ensure recovery for the more than 1,500 threatened and endangered species in the U.S."
As part of the president's budget request, the Fish and Wildlife Service requested an additional $6 million, for a total of approximately $89 million, for the recovery of 1,619 species. This represents an increase of only 7 percent from last year, despite more than 200 species having been added to the endangered list in the past five years. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this level of funding is virtually the same as what was provided to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010.
"The reality is that hundreds of endangered species receive less than $5,000 per year for their recovery and, of those, more than 100 receive less than $1,000 per year or just $3 per day," said Hartl. "We need a much stronger commitment from the next president and the next director of the Fish and Wildlife Service if we're going to tackle the extinction crisis occurring right here in the United States."
In its proposal the administration requested approximately $22.9 million to protect additional imperiled species as threatened or endangered -- a small increase from last year, but roughly the same amount of funding received in 2010. This is despite the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service faces a backlog of more than 500 species awaiting protection decisions.
"Delaying protection for species increases extinction risk and ultimately makes recovery more expensive," said Hartl. "Yet year after year, the Fish and Wildlife Service fails to ask for the money needed to consider additional species for protection."
In contrast to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has responsibility for only 87 domestic endangered species, requested an additional $31.2 million for its implementation of the Endangered Species Act for a total of $216 million,
"The Obama administration is just not asking for the money needed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to fully implement the Endangered Species Act," said Hartl.
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
"The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight. We can't add radiological releases from U.S. nuclear plants to this list."
In the wake of another nerve-wracking outage at a Russian-held Ukrainian nuclear energy facility this week, 90 groups and dozens of individuals wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden expressing "grave concerns regarding security at U.S. nuclear power plants."
"We commend and wholeheartedly support your administration's much-needed efforts to make nuclear plants in the Ukraine war zone more secure in the face of daunting political and military challenges," states the letter, spearheaded by Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) and sent to the White House Wednesday. "This work protects not only Ukraine but the entire planet."
"Our concern is that the security of U.S. nuclear power plants does not seem to be receiving a commensurate amount of attention, neither from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nor the administration," the coalition explained. "Worse, your administration is also seeking to expand the nuclear industry in dangerous ways that compound nuclear plant security threats."
"Attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
While the letter argues that given the associated security threats, "federal funding should prioritize scaling up renewables, storage, efficiency, and transmission upgrades, so as to phase out nuclear power as quickly as possible," it also calls for immediate action.
"Nuclear plant security MUST begin at home," the groups declared, urging the U.S. government to "learn the lesson" from Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) since Russian forces invaded Ukraine early last year—that "attacks on nuclear facilities and other external dangers they face are credible threats and could happen here."
"The recent catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the crash of two Boeing 737 Max jets demonstrate the real-world consequences of inadequate or capriciously enforced safety regulation and oversight," the organizations asserted. "We can't add radiological releases from U.S. nuclear plants to this list."
The coalition also sent the president a separate document detailing security concerns and recommendations for U.S. facilities, but the letter highlights the top takeaways:
The coalition is calling on the Biden administration to enforce "enhanced, mandatory security measures for existing nuclear facilities and spent nuclear fuel to make them less vulnerable to attack," at the cost of licensees, not U.S. taxpayers.
The groups' recommendations include changes to storage policies. The letter says that "instead of transporting it to proposed CISFs, most spent nuclear fuel should be stored at reactor sites using hardened onsite storage (HOSS)."
\u201cHoltec International, a private company that builds casks to store nuclear waste, was given a license to store the nation's entire high-level nuclear waste in NM. We spoke with Director of the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club, Camilla Feibelman about it.\nhttps://t.co/vB4TEm4tAe\u201d— KRWG Public Media (@KRWG Public Media) 1684767759
In a statement, Kevin Kamps—a radioactive waste specialist with Beyond Nuclear, which signed the letter to Biden—took aim at Holtec International, a U.S.-based company that owns a proposed New Mexico CISF, has handled spent fuel in Ukraine, and recently signed a contract to deploy small modular nuclear reactors in the war-torn country.
"Holtec's performance in handling spent fuel has been abysmal in Ukraine and similarly abysmal in the United States," said Kamps. "That's one illustration among others that the problem is not limited to Ukraine, and that U.S. nuclear plants are subject to security threats we need to start addressing."
NEIS director Dave Kraft asked, "What sense does it make to send tens of millions of dollars to Ukraine to enhance security and safety, when our own 92 operating reactors and 90,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes are not secure?"
"What sense does it make to sprinkle the next-generation micro- and mini-nuke reactors around the nation and the world, boasting they can be mobile on flatbed trucks or housed in factories or Walmarts, when it is daily demonstrated that silent drones are capable of turning heavily armored tanks and military vehicles into shredded heaps of burning metal?" he added. "This is the real world nuclear power now exists in, and this administration is not prepared to provide the safety and security necessary for it to survive."
\u201cThe United Nations\u2019 nuclear watchdog is pushing for a last-minute agreement to secure Ukraine\u2019s huge atomic power plant in Zaporizhzhia ahead of a counteroffensive that could see\u00a0Kyiv\u2019s forces drive directly through the potentially hazardous facility.\nhttps://t.co/hcErCVkWZ8\u201d— Nukes of Hazard (@Nukes of Hazard) 1684872110
On Monday, for the seventh time since the Russians took control of ZNPP last year, Europe's largest nuclear facility was fully disconnected from Ukraine's electricity grid and had to rely on backup diesel generators. The outage lasted over five hours.
Reutersreported that a "Russia-installed local official said Ukraine had disconnected a power line and Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said the problem was caused by Russian shelling."
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday's incident "demonstrates the highly vulnerable nuclear safety and security situation" at the facility and reiterated that "this simply can't go on."
"We're playing with fire. We must act now to avoid the very real danger of a nuclear accident in Europe, with its associated consequences for the public and the environment," he added. "I'm continuing to engage in intense negotiations with all the involved parties to secure the protection of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. I will not stop until this has been achieved."
"Every time disaster strikes, our healthcare workers show up for us—even when it means putting their own lives at risk. It's time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles."
In her first piece of House legislation, Democratic Pennyslvania Congresswoman Summer Lee on Thursday introduced a bill that would provide hazard pay, protective gear, and transportation for essential U.S. healthcare workers.
The Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act—co-sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), with a companion bill introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—would empower the Department of Health and Human Services to authorize hazard pay of up to $13 per hour or $25,000 annually per worker.
The bill would also implement additional safety measures, including the provision of personal protective equipment and alternative transportation, for essential healthcare professionals and supporting services during emergencies and natural disasters.
"We need bold action starting with the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to protect our healthcare workers, patients, and communities they care for."
Lee's bill is endorsed by groups including SEIU Health Care Pennsylvania, American Federation of Teachers, American College of Nurse Midwives, and the National Hispanic Medical Association.
"I've been fighting for fair wages and safe conditions for our hospital workers from my time as an organizer and state legislator all the way to Congress," Lee said in a statement. "Every time disaster strikes, our healthcare workers show up for us—even when it means putting their own lives at risk. It's time we show up for them with pay and protection, not just bells and whistles."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8Today, I'm introducing my first bill!\ud83d\udea8\n\nEvery day, #HealthCareHeroes show up for us, even when it means putting their own lives at risk. \n\nI'm introducing the Hazard Pay for Health Care Heroes Act alongside @SenMarkey to ensure critical funding for hazard pay & safety!\u201d— Congresswoman Summer Lee (@Congresswoman Summer Lee) 1685028224
During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, masks and other protective equipment for healthcare workers was often in short supply.
In addition to an elevated risk of contracting Covid-19, healthcare workers often endured grueling work schedules,
post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and other physical and mental health challenges.
"With public health and environmental crises from pandemics and train derailments to climate-driven disasters becoming more frequent and more dangerous, we need bold action starting with the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to protect our healthcare workers, patients, and communities they care for by providing the hazard pay and safety tools they need to continue to keep our loved ones safe during emergencies," Lee said.
"Healthcare workers are on the frontlines of our nation's dual public health and climate crises."
Markey said that "healthcare workers are on the frontlines of our nation's dual public health and climate crises, treating and tending to communities hit hardest by extreme weather and environmental disasters."
"These heroes deserve more than our gratitude—they deserve better pay and stronger protections," he added. "I am proud to join Rep. Lee in introducing the Hazard Pay for Healthcare Heroes Act to ensure healthcare workers who are responding to these emergencies are provided hazard pay and given the safety tools necessary to protect patients and themselves."
"Every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks."
As the U.S. edges closer to a self-inflicted economic disaster whose most immediate cause is House Republicans' refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless President Joe Biden agrees to slash social programs and give the fossil fuel industry more handouts, the earliest potential victims of the GOP's hostage situation—which could provoke the nation's first-ever default as early as June 1—are coming into view.
"Seniors nationwide are on the frontlines of the fight to raise the debt ceiling, because if the federal government can't make a June 2 payment slated for Social Security recipients, the oldest beneficiaries—those over 88—and people with disabilities will be the first to suffer," The Washington Postreported Wednesday amid ongoing negotiations. "Roughly $98 billion worth of benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military and civil retirement payments, are scheduled to go out in the first two days of June, according to an analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center."
"Social Security benefits are distributed four times a month, but the earliest round of payments go to retirees older than 88 years, as well as people with disabilities and seniors with especially low incomes—and less than $2,000 in assets—who are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)," the Post noted. "Even a weeklong holdup, economists say, could be devastating for the roughly 27 million Americans who rely on Social Security for most of their income. Food insecurity and poverty rates will almost certainly rise, and people will probably forgo medical treatments, as families struggle to make do without necessities."
"There's no fallback if these checks are late," Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the newspaper. "These are people who are literally not allowed to have emergency savings."
Progressives have long accused House Republicans, who know full well that failing to increase the federal government's arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional borrowing limit prior to the quickly approaching default "X-date" would unleash devastating impacts domestically and globally, of weaponizing the nation's credit rating to advance their reactionary agenda. With a five-seat House majority and the ability of any party member to introduce a motion to remove the speaker—a rule the far-right Freedom Caucus secured in exchange for electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to the role—the GOP has significant leverage over the fate of the U.S. and world economy.
Earlier this week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) admitted that his party, led by the House Freedom Caucus to which he belongs, is exploiting the ongoing standoff in a bid to gut the nation's already meager welfare state and weaken its embryonic climate policies.
Referring to the austerity-or-default bill House Republicans approved last month, Gaetz told reporters, "My conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don't feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."
\u201cMatt Gaetz says that Republicans "don\u2019t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."\n\nWho is that hostage?\n\nSocial Security \u2014 and everyone who relies on it.\u201d— Social Security Works (@Social Security Works) 1685026405
Soon after the passage of the Limit, Save, Grow Act, the White House abandoned Biden's earlier refusal to hold debt ceiling negotiations and began signaling its openness to certain GOP proposals, only for McCarthy to make even more extreme ransom demands and constantly move the goal posts.
As the Post reported: "Republicans in Congress have maintained that they don't want to cut Social Security benefits, though at least one recent budget blueprint calls for raising the eligibility age for full retirement from 67 to 70 to account for longer life expectancies. The GOP has also proposed a host of cuts and additional work requirements for other federal benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps, that experts say would have an outsize impact on the country's seniors."
In a Thursday statement, Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick said that "every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks many can't live without."
Biden and House Republicans have yet to reach an agreement. According to Thursday reporting from The Associated Press on the contours of a possible deal, the GOP may abandon its demand to further boost military spending in favor of maintaining the already historically high levels proposed by Biden, while Biden may agree to roll back Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding if the GOP lets his administration funnel that money into the social safety net.
The fact that Capitol Hill's deficit hawks are eager to attack the poor but don't support reducing the ever-expanding Pentagon budget or hiking taxes on corporations and the rich to increase revenue exposes the "fraudulent" nature of their current crusade, journalist David Sirota tweeted.
Rescinding the recently enacted IRS funding boost would help wealthy households evade taxes, adding an estimated $114 billion to the federal deficit. Meanwhile, House Republicans are reportedly working on legislation that would make permanent certain provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Trump-era law whose benefits have flowed overwhelmingly to the top 1% while adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.
On Thursday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) sounded the alarm about House Republicans leaving the Capitol with no debt limit agreement reached just days before the X-date.
\u201cWe are days away from Republicans hurtling our economy towards a devastating default on our debt for the first time in American history and @SpeakerMcCarthy just sent everyone home.\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1685036582
Tlaib, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), was echoing warnings made Wednesday by CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Deputy Chair Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), both of whom said that some Republicans are eager to create an economic crisis because they think it would help their electoral chances next year.
Notably, the latest episode of fiscal brinkmanship could have been avoided had Democrats listened to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressives who called on the party to raise the debt ceiling—or abolish it altogether—when it still controlled both chambers of Congress last year.
Corporate Democrats refused to act during the lame-duck session despite Warren's warning that GOP lawmakers desperate to win the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming Biden for it.
A growing number of congressional lawmakers—including prominent progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have implored Biden to invoke his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a default, an option the president has thus far resisted.
On Thursday, Social Security Works and Indivisible led more than 30 progressive advocacy groups in urging Biden to take executive action to disarm the debt ceiling.
\u201cIf the GOP insists on catastrophic cuts or a disastrous default, President Biden should prepare to act using the 14th Amendment to protect working families. Read our letter w/ @SSworks \ud83d\udc47\ud83d\udc47\u201d— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1685032177
"The choice facing the executive branch is clear: Act or default; act or increase the suffering of millions; act or go into economic tailspin," says the letter. "If Republicans in Congress prove unwilling or unable to produce the votes for a bill that avoids default without catastrophic cuts to critical programs, it will fall to you to protect working families from their economic sabotage."
"You have promised to prevent a default, without granting legitimacy to the legislative hostage-taking being undertaken by congressional Republicans," the letter concludes. "Fortunately, the 14th Amendment provides a clear route for you to deliver on that promise. We will stand with you should that route prove necessary."