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Seventeen months after a settlement approved by a federal court paved the way to take big steps to address the water crisis in Flint, groups are back in court to ensure the City can successfully execute key provisions to protect the public from further lead exposure.
"The Concerned Pastors for Social Action remain vigilant in our commitment to getting every lead pipe in Flint out of the ground. We're back in court to ensure that the City finishes the work it's required to do by a federal court order, and that they do it the right way," said Pastor Allen Overton, representing Concerned Pastors for Social Action.
Two main issues will be presented to U.S. District Judge David Lawson: First, whether the City can defend the methods it used to conclude that there are fewer than 18,000 lead and galvanized steel service lines in Flint and about how much it will cost to replace them. Second, whether the City should be required to act faster to ensure that each household is receiving a faucet filter immediately after its service line is replaced to prevent lead spikes in the drinking water.
"The people of Flint are not going to accept shoddy, half-finished work when it comes to replacing lead-tainted water pipes. The City of Flint needs to properly identify which water lines still need to be replaced, and secure the funding to do the job right. Nothing less will be tolerated," said Melissa Mays of Flint.
The groups have raised questions about whether the City inadequately analyzed the number of pipes to replace by relying on guesswork and a rigged formula. If the City's analysis is incorrect, it will run out of the $97 million in funding it received to replace every lead service line under the agreement.
In addition, groups are asking the court to require the City to complete required visits to each home more quickly to ensure they have a properly installed faucet filter immediately after its lead water line is replaced. The groups are also asking for additional reporting documenting the visits. To date, the City has failed to conduct the required visits to verify that filters are installed, increasing the risk that lead service line replacement could make things worse, not better, in the short term for some Flint residents.
"The City of Flint is either unwilling or unable to meet its legal obligations under the water settlement, which is unacceptable. We will not give up on the protections negotiated on behalf of Flint's residents, who have a right to safe drinking water at home," said Cyndi Roper, NRDC's Michigan Senior Policy Advocate.
Flint's lead pipe water settlement of 2017 is the result of a lawsuit Concerned Pastors for Social Action v. Khouri filed by Concerned Pastors for Social Action, Flint resident Melissa Mays, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the ACLU of Michigan. The agreementsecured clear, specific steps the City must take to address the water crisis in Flint. It requires the state of Michigan to pay for and the city to complete thousands of lead service line replacements in Flint within three years at no cost to Flint residents. The settlement agreement also requires the state to provide filters and filter-installation services to residents; offers tap water monitoring above and beyond the requirements of federal regulations; and requires the city, state, and MDEQ to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Emergency Administrative Order.
NRDC works to safeguard the earth--its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.(212) 727-2700
"Bring our 'Audit the Pentagon' bill to the floor," said Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan.
The Democratic co-chair of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus challenged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to act on his words after the Republican leader conceded Monday that there is wasteful spending at the Pentagon, which has never passed an independent audit.
"We need to get the efficiencies in the Pentagon," McCarthy toldCNN, criticizing GOP senators for seeking out ways to expand the military budget beyond the level set in the newly passed debt ceiling agreement.
"Think about it, $886 billion. You don't think there's waste? They failed the last five audits," said McCarthy. "I consider myself a hawk, but I don't want to waste money. So I think we've got to find efficiencies."
The $886 billion figure McCarthy referenced is the military spending topline for fiscal year 2024 that House Republican leaders and the Biden administration agreed to as part of their deal to raise the debt limit.
That spending level, which still must be finalized in the appropriations process, is right in line with President Joe Biden's budget request, which calls for a $28 billion increase over the current military budget of $858 billion.
McCarthy voted for that budget late last year even as critics condemned it as outrageously wasteful.
In response to McCarthy's CNN interview, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—who has been demanding cuts to Pentagon spending for years—tweeted that the Republican leader should finally "put his money where his mouth is and bring our 'Audit the Pentagon' bill to the floor."
"There is plenty of waste and fraud at the Pentagon," wrote Pocan, who co-chairs the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus alongside Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
\u201c.@SpeakerMcCarthy is right! There is plenty of waste and fraud at the Pentagon. He should put his money where his mouth is and bring our #AuditThePentagon bill to the floor. https://t.co/1Z4O1yiGmC\u201d— Rep. Mark Pocan (@Rep. Mark Pocan) 1686002123
The bipartisan Audit the Pentagon Act of 2023 would "administer a 0.5% cut to the budget of any office at the Pentagon that does not receive an audit for the first year of the bill's enactment," according to a summary of the legislation. That penalty would rise to 1% in subsequent years, exempting "funding for personnel, families, and military healthcare" from automatic cuts.
Of the bill's 19 co-sponsors, eight are Republicans—though McCarthy is not one of them.
The speaker's remarks Monday came as war hawks in the Senate Republican caucus continued to express dismay over the military spending level set in the debt limit deal, even though it would bring the Pentagon budget to a record high while cutting spending on education, housing programs, and other critical services.
Under the agreement, which drew applause from the CEO of one of the world's leading weapons manufacturers, military outlays would account for nearly 56% of total discretionary spending. But that's apparently not enough for Senate Republicans.
"We're playing a dangerous game with our national security," claimed Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "The bill [McCarthy] produced is inadequate to the threats we face. If the Republican speaker takes the position that we're going to be tough on China... I don't see how we do that with a declining Navy."
Graham and other Republican senators—along with Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.)—are "looking for creative ways to increase the Pentagon budget" beyond the $886 billion topline, Politicoreported last week.
"The most likely vehicle is the next emergency supplemental for Ukraine, which they hope to cram with cash for other Pentagon priorities that normally wouldn't be in the measure," according to Politico. "But doing so could also mean a partisan clash if Democrats oppose reopening the deal through a supplemental without some relief for domestic spending priorities."
The looming fight over Pentagon spending comes months after the Congressional Budget Office issued a report concluding that "the Department of Defense can't accurately account for or report on its physical assets or spending." The department has previously worked to cover up evidence of its massive waste, which is often a boon to arms makers.
Last month, a former top contract negotiator at the Pentagon toldCBS News that "the gouging that takes place" at the Defense Department "is unconscionable," with private companies dramatically overcharging the government for military equipment and other items.
Those comments led a group of senators, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to demand a Pentagon investigation into price gouging by top government contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon.
"The DOD can no longer expect Congress or the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending while simultaneously failing to account for the hundreds of billions it hands out every year to spectacularly profitable private corporations," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Pentagon chief.
"We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law," asserted one of the plaintiffs.
Progressive advocacy groups are suing Mississippi officials over a new state law requiring permission to hold public protests near state government buildings in the capital city of Jackson.
A lawsuit filed last week by JXN Undivided Coalition, Mississippi Votes, Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, Black Voters Matter, and a trio of activists challenges S.B. 2343, which is set to take effect on July 1. The legislation required prior approval from Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell or Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey for public demonstrations on the grounds of or near state government buildings including the Capitol Complex, Governor's Mansion, state Supreme Court, and other edifices.
"The JXN Undivided Coalition and its members have for years engaged in the deeply American tradition of peacefully gathering on public property to convey to elected officials what matters most to us," the group said in a statement on Monday. "What matters most to us is the right to vote and the right of political self-determination for Jackson residents."
"We have spoken, and the state has responded with a sweeping prohibition of speech next to properties in Jackson occupied by state officials absent prior authorization," JXN Undivided Coalition added. "We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law."
\u201c.@JxnUndivided files lawsuit to stop new law requiring the Public Safety Commissioner or Capitol Police Chief\u2019s permission to protest or gather in Jackson anywhere near buildings occupied by a state employee \u2014 aka damn near all of non-residential Jackson. https://t.co/ISwW2dakw1\u201d— Blake Feldman (@Blake Feldman) 1685977958
According to the suit:
This year, Mississippi made peaceful protests on public sidewalks and streets next to state government buildings in Jackson without written prior permission from one of two state officials. The new law... is an unconstitutional prior restraint that does not further a constitutionally sufficient or permissible purpose. Those who peacefully protest without state government authorization and who are charged with crimes for doing so may be prosecuted and sentenced to prison. This chills protected speech.
As the Associated Pressreported Monday:
Critics say the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature passed the laws to take away local autonomy in Jackson and surrounding Hinds County, which are both majority-Black and governed by Democrats. Supporters of the laws say they are trying to control violent crime.
Several protests have been held near state government buildings in downtown Jackson during the past year, including some in January, February, and March against the legislation dealing with courts and policing. The Poor People's Campaign held events on a street outside the Governor's Mansion last fall to protest what organizers said was the state’s inadequate investment in Jackson's struggling water system.
In recent years, numerous states have passed laws criminalizing or restricting protest activity and protecting motorists who kill or injure protesters under certain circumstances.
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," says a new letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and three of her Democratic colleagues.
Four Democratic U.S. senators have asked Twitter CEO Elon Musk and CEO-Designate Linda Yaccarino to provide information about the social media corporation's "continued disregard for consumer safety" by June 18, the lawmakers announced Monday.
In a letter dated Friday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) expressed their concerns that since Musk purchased and assumed control of Twitter in October 2022, the company may have "violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put consumer privacy and data security at risk."
The letter follows last week's back-to-back resignations of Twitter's former head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and its former head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown.
"Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"These departures, following a string of high-profile resignations from Twitter's lead privacy, information security, and compliance officers, raise concerns about Twitter's ability to comply with its legal obligations," the lawmakers wrote. "Twitter had a poor track record of protecting consumer privacy even before Mr. Musk's takeover."
As FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar explained earlier this year, Twitter in 2011 "agreed to a 20-year consent order over its data security practices and how it uses your private information."
In May 2022, several months before Musk's acquisition of the company was finalized, "the FTC charged Twitter with violating the 2011 order for misusing personal information," Farrar noted. Twitter then "paid a $150 million penalty and entered a new consent order," which "added further provisions to protect consumers' sensitive data."
But as the four Senate Democrats pointed out in their new letter, Musk has "made numerous hasty personnel and product decisions" since he took over Twitter last October, heightening concerns about the company's adherence to the updated FTC agreement.
The resignations and terminations began well before the exits of Irwin and Brown last week, as the quartet observed:
In November 2022, Mr. Musk fired multiple top executives; top security executives resigned; and Mr. Musk fired employees who had criticized him, let go of contractors, and laid off half of the workforce. On November 9, the day before the deadline to submit a report to the FTC, the chief privacy officer, chief information security officer, and chief compliance officer all resigned. Internal messages obtained by The New York Times show that an employee suggested internal privacy reviews of Twitter's products were not occurring as they should under the order. Reports also indicated that the launch of the updated Twitter Blue subscription service "disregarded the company's normal privacy and security review." In April of this year, Mr. Musk also confirmed that over 80% of the workforce had left Twitter since he became CEO.
"These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree," the lawmakers wrote. "In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk's team has said he is 'used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.'"
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," they continued. "One employee highlighted his problematic behavior, stating, 'Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them,' and his personal lawyer Alex Spiro reportedly said, 'Elon puts rockets into space—he's not afraid of the FTC.'"
As a matter of fact, Musk's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket exploded before reaching space in April, coating a Texas community in ash and provoking fears of negative public health and environmental impacts.
The senators stressed that "regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements," they added. "If reports about Mr. Musk's actions are correct, it appears that the company may not be doing so."
Citing their concerns, the lawmakers asked Musk and Yaccarino to answer a series of questions about Twitter's privacy practices no later than June 18.
"In particular, the letter asks whether Twitter conducted a privacy and security assessment of Twitter Blue, its paid subscription service, before rolling it out earlier this year," CNNreported Monday. "Under its 2022 consent agreement, Twitter is required to perform such assessments 'prior to implementing any new or modified product.'"
"The letter also asks whether Twitter has maintained a comprehensive cybersecurity program to protect user data since Musk's takeover and whether Twitter has met various reporting requirements, including obligations to report any significant data breaches to the authorities," CNN noted. According to the outlet, the inquiry "could highlight vast legal risks for Twitter and potentially for Musk himself."