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In the face of state and federal inaction amidst mounting ecological devastation, grassroots groups in Alachua, Orange, Lee, Brevard, and Osceola counties are advancing county-wide laws to recognize the legally enforceable rights of the Santa Fe River, Wekiva River, Econlockhatchee River, Caloosahatchee River, Indian River Lagoon and the Kissimmee River.
The laws are being proposed either through the citizens' initiative process or through county charter review commissions. In addition to Rights of Nature, the laws also recognize rights of local residents to a healthy environment and clean water. Business entities and governments are prohibited from violating these rights. Efforts are aimed at giving Floridians the opportunity to vote on these measures in 2020.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the measures as part of a growing movement to use municipal law-making to recognize the legal rights of ecosystems, and to challenge corporate power and undemocratic forms of state preemption that have allowed the degradation of rivers, springs, and aquifers in Florida.
"Florida residents are increasingly aware that the problems with our water originate from the concept that corporations have the rights of humans while nature and aquatic ecosystems have no legal rights. We have seen this past week that this imbalance of rights continues to generate negative consequences in Florida and around the world. It will take a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change this equation - and that is happening right now across this state," says Chuck O'Neal, of Orange County.
The Florida laws are among the first in the nation to pursue recognition of rights for specific ecosystems. They follow the lead of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, passed by Toledo, Ohio, voters in February 2019.
Residents speak out:
"Groundwater in the Floridan aquifer forms the springs that feed the Santa Fe River. The same groundwater provides our drinking water - so if we save the springs and river, we also save our drinking water." - David Moritz, Alachua County
"The Caloosahatchee River's right to exist must be elevated to the highest level allowed. We must recognize the rights of the river if we are to protect the ecosystem and residents' health and safety." - Karl Deigert, Lee County
"Our river was destroyed in the name of flood control, killing the wildlife it supported. A Kissimmee River Bill of Rights will ensure that this living breathing ecosystem will never be assaulted again." - Barbara Cady, Osceola County
"We have a community of good people fighting a broken system to protect our waters. We must unite in the realization that the system has failed us. It doesn't work - at least, not for us. We must therefore shift our paradigm and plainly declare the inherent rights of nature." - Melissa Martin, Brevard County
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights-building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.(717) 498-0054
"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," the Senate Finance Committee chair said of the House speaker's debt reduction panel.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Friday warned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's commission tasked with reducing the nation's growing debt is a "prescription for trouble" that will likely result in the slashing of vital programs on which tens of millions of Americans rely—including Social Security.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently announced the launch of a fiscal commission that will find ways to reduce the national debt—on the heels of striking a deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the nation's borrowing limit until 2025.
While some other leading Republicans have embraced the idea of a commission, many Democrats are wary.
Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, toldThe Associated Press that he views the plan as a way for Republicans to rack up "ideological trophies."
"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," Wyden said, adding that Republicans are "looking at a glide path to reduce benefits."
Biden was loudly booed by GOP lawmakers during his State of the Union address in February when he accused some Republicans of wanting to "sunset" Social Security, prompting McCarthy to shake his head no. A week earlier, McCarthy had asserted that cuts to Social Security and Medicare—each of which serve more than 65 million Americans—were off the table.
However, last month McCarthy alleged that Biden "walled off" cuts to Social Security and Medicare during the debt ceiling talks and said the commission would "look at" reducing funding for both programs.
"I'm going to make some people uncomfortable," the speaker said.
\u201cAfter trying to cut veterans benefits and funding for law enforcement during the debt ceiling negotiations, House Republicans will now create a commission to cut Social Security and Medicare.\n\nIt\u2019s Kevin McCarthy with Pandora\u2019s Box.\u201d— Mondaire Jones (@Mondaire Jones) 1685995803
In response to McCarthy's commission launch, Andrew Bates, the White House deputy press secretary and senior communications adviser, issued a memo warning that Republicans are going after Social Security, despite previous pledges.
"These new statements from the speaker demonstrate that the House GOP are reversing the promise they made to President Biden and the country in the State of the Union, and that to shield billionaires and multinational corporations from paying a cent more in taxes, they very much intend to slash Americans' Medicare and Social Security benefits," Bates wrote.
"The American people—including majorities of conservatives—reject that approach, and support President Biden's work to stand up for the benefits they pay their entire lives to earn," he added.
Advocacy groups also panned the idea of a GOP-led fiscal commission.
"Kevin McCarthy's commission is a scheme to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors," Social Security Workstweeted Friday. "Hands off our earned benefits!"
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios," said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
As insurance giants limit coverage in hundreds of disaster-prone areas across the United States, a Senate panel on Friday launched an investigation into seven major carriers' continued backing of planet-heating fossil fuel projects that are driving increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent letters to the executives of seven companies—American Insurance Group (AIG), Berkshire Hathaway, Chubb, Liberty Mutual Group, Starr Wright USA, State Farm, and Travelers Insurance—demanding that each firm disclose how it underwrites, invests in, and profits from coal, oil, and gas.
The letters—also signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both members of the committee—further ask the companies to explain what plans, if any, they have to reduce, wind down, or eliminate support for current and proposed fossil fuel projects in accordance with the Paris agreement's goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. In addition, the letters seek information about the insurers' climate-related lobbying activities and human rights policies, including methods for securing free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities affected by drilling or pipelines. The companies have until June 23 to respond to the questions.
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios, which threaten lives, livelihoods, and the federal budget," Whitehouse said in a statement. "This information is especially relevant as some of these companies begin to pull out of certain markets because they see the coming catastrophic climate risks—despite continuing to provide services to the fossil fuel industry."
As The Wall Street Journalreported Thursday, AIG is planning to scale back home insurance sales in roughly 200 ZIP codes around the country at elevated risk of floods or wildfires, affecting parts of Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Montana, New York, and Wyoming.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas."
Earlier this year, Farmers Group stopped accepting new applications for home insurance policies in Florida, citing hurricane exposure and soaring rebuilding costs. AIG and Chubb had already begun to restrict coverage in California last year. Two weeks ago, State Farm halted the sale of new residential and commercial property insurance policies in the state. Earlier this week, Allstate confirmed it did the same thing last year.
Unmitigated global warming is fueling larger and more frequent blazes in the U.S. West and elsewhere, intensifying hurricanes and typhoons, and causing sea-level rise, which increases the likelihood of flooding and damaging storm surge events in coastal areas.
With an estimated $582 billion invested in fossil fuels, meanwhile, U.S. insurers are making the problem worse, progressive lawmakers and advocates argue. Despite mounting evidence of the climate emergency's growing toll of death and destruction as well as abundant warnings from scientists who have made clear that exploiting new oil and gas fields is incompatible with preserving a habitable planet, U.S. insurers have yet to rule out support for increased fossil fuel extraction and combustion.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas," Deanna Noël, climate campaigns director at Public Citizen, said Friday in a statement.
"AIG executives need only look out the windows of their New York City board rooms to see the realities of an unfolding climate crisis," said Noël, alluding to smoke-filled skies brought about by wildfires still raging in Canada. "Empty climate promises do nothing but set entire regions of the country on course to be deemed too risky to insure and communities everywhere to grapple with an uncertain future. Inaction and inadequate action are unacceptable."
Referring to the budget committee's recent hearings examining how "climate change poses multiple 'systemic risks' to the economy," Whitehouse, Wyden, and Sanders wrote:
Witnesses have warned that sea-level rise and wetter, more intense storms could eventually make more than $1 trillion in coastal real estate uninsurable, and therefore unmortgageable, leading to a coastal property values crash; that more frequent and intense wildfires could result in a similar death spiral for Western property in the wildland-urban interface; that climate-related losses are making it harder for the insurance industry to price risk, already resulting in insolvencies among regional insurers; and that, as demand for oil and gas declines, hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuel assets may be stranded (the "carbon bubble"). Each of these disruptions could become "systemic," and more than one could occur simultaneously.
The trio proceeded to ask each company how it "evaluates these climate-related risks, decides to invest in or underwrite fossil fuel expansion projects that drive such risks, and prices policies insuring such projects." As the senators observed, "Underwriting dangerous fossil fuel projects makes it harder to achieve global climate goals, and there is little transparency about how the myriad risks factor into industry decisions."
"Given the threat that climate change poses to both the insurance industry and its policyholders, it is difficult to understand how the industry can carefully price and manage climate risk in some areas of its business while simultaneously having no apparent plan to phase out its underwriting of and investment in the projects and companies generating the emissions that are causing these very harms," the letter says. "Many fossil fuel projects would not be able to move forward without insurance, and all industries and sectors in civil society have a role to play in meeting the United States' international climate goals."
"The criminal evidence unsealed in the indictment shows in painstaking detail that he acted as if he is above the law, while willfully and recklessly endangering our national security," said MoveOn Political Action's executive director. "Now is the time for Donald Trump to be held accountable."
As the unsealed indictment against former President Donald Trump and aide Walt Nauta provoked shocked and horrified reactions on Friday, Special Counsel Jack Smith vowed to seek a speedy trial while also emphasizing the severity of the 38 charges.
"Today an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice," said Smith, who was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in November, after the twice-impeached former president announced he is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
"This indictment was voted by a grand jury of citizens in the Southern District of Florida and I invite everyone to read it in full to understand the scope and the gravity of the crimes charged," he continued. "Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States and they must be enforced. Violations of those laws put our country at risk."
"We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone," Smith added. "It's very important for me to note that the defendants in this case must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. To that end, my office will seek a speedy trial in this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused."
\u201cWATCH: Complete statement from Special Counsel Jack Smith: "Today an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice."\u201d— CSPAN (@CSPAN) 1686338168
The indictment—which journalist Judd Legum described as "absolutely devastating"—outlines that Trump faces 31 counts related to withholding national defense information. Additionally, he and Nauta face five counts related to concealing possession of classified documents. They also each face a count related to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
In what Norman Eisen—a Brookings Institution senior fellow in governance studies who was special counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee from 2019-20, including for Trump's first impeachment and trial—called "perhaps one of the most damning statements ever made about an American president," the indictment says:
The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.
The indictment explains that after leaving office in January 2021 "Trump caused scores of boxes, many of which contained classified documents, to be transported" to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, where FBI agents executed a search warrant last August. Even though "Trump was not authorized to possess or retain those classified documents," the document adds, he stored them throughout the club, "including in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room."
\u201cThis is devastating. I have looked at all prior prosecutions under the Espionage Act and have never seen egregious facts like this.\n\nTrump "stored his boxes containing classified documents .. in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room."\u201d— Ryan Goodman (@Ryan Goodman) 1686333316
The indictment accuses Trump of showing classified materials to people who lacked security clearance to see them at least twice at his golf club in New Jersey. The first time was in July 2021, during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff.
The former president "showed and described a 'plan of attack' that Trump said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official," according to the document. "Trump told the individuals that the plan was 'highly confidential' and 'secret.' Trump also said, 'As president I could have declassified it,' and, 'Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.'"
\u201cDocumenting this crime spree is the best idea we ever had!\u201d— Ken Klippenstein (@Ken Klippenstein) 1686338778
\u201cI mean, there's a tape of Trump saying, "this plan for invading a foreign country is completely secret, I can't declassify it, and here, have a look."\n\nThis doesn't seem like one of those close calls.\u201d— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben) 1686334667
Then, in August or September 2021, Trump allegedly showed a representative of his political action committee "a classified map related to a military operation," told the unnamed individual that he should not be doing so, and said not to get too close.
After the FBI launched a criminal investigation in March 2022, which led to a grand jury issuing a subpoena for all records with classification markings in mid-May, "Trump endeavored to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations and conceal his continued retention of classified documents," the document details.
It goes on to share some comments Trump supposedly made to his attorneys in late May 2022, when the lawyers said they needed to search for materials to comply with the subpoena:
In a series of tweets after the indictment was unsealed, Noah Bookbinder, head of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that "this is consistent with what we expected and what had been previously reported, but the details make Donald Trump's alleged conduct even worse than we knew."
\u201cIn overall narrative sweep, the indictment contains no new episodes or chapters. But the details revealed in those chapters--especially the completely brazen lawless obstruction from time they got subpoena to return of it w false certificate - are new and totally incendiary.\u201d— Harry Litman (@Harry Litman) 1686336024
"The national security importance of the documents at issue is striking: Documents about American and foreign nuclear capabilities and military vulnerabilities, as well as about plans for possible military action. The damage if this information was compromised is not trivial," Bookbinder added. "That Trump allegedly on two occasions showed highly classified documents to and discussed them with civilians with no security clearance is just shocking. It violates the most basic understanding of how classified information works."
"The indictment also cleverly goes through Trump's many statements about the importance of enforcing laws governing classified materials and of having presidents and former officials who understand and follow those laws," the CREW leader noted. "So it becomes awfully hard for him to say he didn't know or didn't understand. The indictment makes even more clear that, if proven, he knew what he was doing and chose to subordinate national security interests and the law to his own whims. It sure doesn't look good."
\u201cAny other former government employee who stole classified docs, refused to return them, lied about having them, & instructed others to destroy or hide them would have been prosecuted already and sentenced to decades in prison. So yes, two tiers.\u201d— Jameel Jaffer (@Jameel Jaffer) 1686342794
Trump—whom the Manhattan district attorney in April charged with 34 felony counts related to alleged multiple hush money payments—and his supporters continued to frame his latest historic indictment as a "sad day for our country," with the former president maintaining his innocence and saying in a Friday fundraising email, "If our Free Republic has ANY hope of survival, then our movement MUST win in 2024 and DISMANTLE the Deep State for good."
As Common Dreamsreported earlier Friday, survey results shared with The Guardian show 12 million people in the United States, or 4.4% of the adult population, think the use of violence is justified to restore Trump to power. While the ex-president's critics called for allowing the legal process to play out and welcomed that he may be convicted in the case—and even face prison time—some also acknowledged the risk of violence.
"No one is above the law—including Donald Trump," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement. "This indictment must now play out through the legal process, without any outside political or ideological interference. We encourage Mr. Trump's supporters and critics alike to let this case proceed peacefully in court."
\u201cWhat I would say to this, with an eye towards not escalating, is that it\u2019s up to voters if they want these maniacs to be in the majority.\u201d— Brian Schatz (@Brian Schatz) 1686339056
MoveOn Political Action executive director Rahna Epting said Friday that "Donald Trump has regularly flouted and violated the law for much of his time as a political candidate and elected official. The criminal evidence unsealed in the indictment shows in painstaking detail that he acted as if he is above the law, while willfully and recklessly endangering our national security."
"Now is the time for Donald Trump to be held accountable," she continued, noting that MoveOn members have previously signed petitions calling for Trump to be disqualified from running for office again for his role in inciting insurrection—which Smith is also investigating. "No matter his front-runner status, Donald Trump does not belong on anyone's ballot. He belongs in a courtroom."
MoveOn is part of the Not Above the Law coalition, which also includes CREW, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, Greenpeace USA, Indivisible, NextGen America, Our Revolution, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Stand Up America, and other groups.
"In the United States, no one is above the law—not even a former president," the coalition declared Friday. "The rule of law is a basic principle—everyone must equally abide by our nation's laws, and those laws should be equally enforced. Trump must not be held to a different standard because he's rich, famous, or a former president."