All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

UPDATE: 8 more Democratic presidential candidates sign 2020 WE ARE INDIVISIBLE PLEDGE

By Roger Straw, May 24, 2019
[UPDATE: As of May 24, 15 of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates have signed!  – R.S.]

I highlighted the 2020 We Are Indivisible Pledge on these pages on May 6.  At that time, 7 Dem presidential candidates had quickly taken the pledge (Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Harris, Inslee, Sanders and Warren).

As of May 8, 15 of the then 22 declared candidates signed on. Two more Democratic candidates are running as of May 24, neither of which have signed the pledge.

Signed the Pledge: Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Klobuchar, Moulton, O’Rourke, Ryan, Sanders, Swalwell, Warren and Williamson.

Yet to sign the pledge (2 new candidates in CAPS): Bennet, Biden, BULLOCK, DE BLASIO, Delaney, Gabbard, Gravel, Messam and Yang.

Regular folks like you and me are also asked to sign the Indivisible 2020 We are Indivisible Pledge. (You can sign here: pledge.indivisible.org.)

We must defeat Donald Trump. The first step is a primary contest that produces a strong Democratic nominee. The second step is winning the general election. We will not accept anything less. To ensure this outcome, I pledge to: 1) Make the primary constructive. 2) Rally behind the winner. 3) Do the work to beat Trump.

For more info, see below.

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent


Indivisible press release:  

INDIVISIBLE RELEASES “WE ARE INDIVISIBLE” PLEDGE FOR 2020 CANDIDATES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2019

Washington, DC — The Indivisible Project today unveiled its 2020 “We are Indivisible” pledge that asks Democratic presidential candidates and grassroots Indivisible groups to commit to a constructive primary, backing the eventual Democratic presidential nominee and working to defeat Trump in November.

“Democrats do not need to choose between creating space for a healthy primary debate and taking back the White House in 2020. Indivisible’s pledge invites candidates and grassroots leaders to join together in rejecting that false choice, and recognizing that those two goals support each other,” Indivisible’s national political director María Urbina said. “As a progressive movement, we are united in our commitment to a robust primary that elevates the best ideas, and to winning in November 2020.”

As a demonstration of unity, Indivisibles and others will be hosting 2020 unity kickoff events across the country on the weekend after the Democratic National Convention, which they can begin registering now at pledge.indivisible.org.

“We believe in rigorous and spirited primaries, and we also know that once we have a nominee, our entire focus must turn to defeating Trump. The “We Are Indivisible” Pledge commits all of us to a debate of ideas followed by dedicated work to make our ideas reality,” Indivisible’s co-executive directors Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin said. “This pledge is about beating Donald Trump and the anti-democratic, xenophobic right wing. And it’s about the ideas and vision we need for a post-Trump future.”

The “We Are Indivisible” 2020 Pledge builds on the success of Indivisible’s 2018 midterm endorsement program. To seek the Indivisible Project’s endorsement in a primary, every candidate and every endorsing local Indivisible group had to affirm that they’d endorse the ultimate Democratic primary winner and work hard to elect them. This model empowered Indivisible groups to elevate progressive challengers, including freshman standouts like Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It also positioned Indivisible groups to serve as unifying forces after the primary, rallying progressives together to knock doors and flip seats across the country.

Below is the full pledge language:

The “We Are Indivisible” Pledge

We must defeat Donald Trump. The first step is a primary contest that produces a strong Democratic nominee. The second step is winning the general election. We will not accept anything less. To ensure this outcome, I pledge to:

GRASSROOTS

  1. Make the primary constructive. We’ll make the primary election about our hopes for the future, and a robust debate of values, vision and the contest of ideas. We’ll remain grounded in our shared values, even if we support different candidates.
  2. Rally behind the winner. We’ll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is—period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats.
  3. Do the work to beat Trump. We’re the grassroots army that’s going to power the nominee to victory, and we’ll show up to make calls, knock doors, and do whatever it takes.

CANDIDATES

  1. Make the primary constructive. I’ll respect the other candidates and make the primary election about inspiring voters with my vision for the future.
  2. Rally behind the winner. I’ll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is—period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats. Immediately after there’s a nominee, I’ll endorse.
  3. Do the work to beat Trump. I will do everything in my power to make the Democratic Nominee the next President of the United States. As soon as there is a nominee, I will put myself at the disposal of the campaign.

# # #

ABOUT THE INDIVISIBLE PROJECT

The Indivisible Project is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Our mission is to cultivate and lift up a grassroots movement of local groups to defeat the Trump agenda, elect progressive leaders, and realize bold progressive policies. Across the nation, thousands of local groups are using the Indivisible Guide to hold their members of Congress accountable. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.

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    E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math

    By Lisa Friedman, New York Times, May 20, 2019
    The Hunter power plant in Castle Dale, Utah, which burns an estimated 4.5 million tons of coal a year.  Credit: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

    WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

    The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

    It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules.

    It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling method is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.

    Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.

    The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former E.P.A. officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June. William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. air quality chief, acknowledged in an interview the new method would be included in the agency’s final analysis of the rule.

    The new methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. On paper, that would translate into far fewer premature deaths from air pollution, even if it increased. The problem is, scientists say, in the real world there are no safe levels of fine particulate pollution in the air.

    “Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University. He called the expected change a “monumental departure” from the approach both Republican and Democratic E.P.A. leaders have used over the past several decades and predicted that it would lay the groundwork for weakening more environmental regulations.

    “It could be an enormously significant impact,” Mr. Revesz said.

    The Obama administration had sought to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Plan by pushing utilities to switch away from coal and instead use natural gas or renewable energy to generate electricity. The Obama plan would also have what’s known as a co-benefit: levels of fine particulate matter would fall.

    The Trump administration has moved to repeal the Obama-era plan and replace it with the ACE rule, which would slightly improve the efficiency of coal plants. It would also allow older coal plants to remain in operation longer and result in an increase of particulate matter.

    Particulate matter comes in various sizes. The greatest health risk comes from what is known as PM 2.5, the range of fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter. That is about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

    The E.P.A. has set the safety threshold for PM 2.5 at a yearly average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. While individual days vary, with some higher, an annual average at or below that level, known as the particulate matter standard, is considered safe. However, the agency still weighs health hazards that occur in the safe range when it analyzes new regulations.

    Industry has long questioned that system. After all, fossil fuel advocates ask, why should the E.P.A. search for health dangers, and, ultimately, impose costs on industry, in situations where air is officially considered safe?

    Mr. Wehrum, who worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for chemical manufacturers and fossil fuel businesses before moving to the E.P.A., echoed that position in the interview. He noted that, in some regulations, the benefits of reduced particulate matter have been estimated to total in the range of $40 billion.

    “How in the world can you get $30 or $40 billion of benefit to public health when most of that is attributable to reductions in areas that already meet a health-based standard,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for air and radiation. Credit: Ron Sachs/CNP/MediaPunch

    Mr. Wehrum confirmed that he had asked his staff to study the issue and that the final version of the ACE rule would include a variety of analyses, including one that does not take into consideration health effects below the particulate matter standard. He acknowledged that doing so would reduce the 1,400 premature deaths the agency had initially predicted as a result of the measure.

    He called the attention given to that initial forecast “unfortunate” and said the agency had included the figure in its analysis to show the varied results that can be achieved based on different assumptions.

    Mr. Wehrum said the analyses the agency is conducting “illuminate the issue” of particulate matter and the question of what level is acceptable for the purposes of policymaking. He said new approaches would allow for public debate to move ahead and that any new methods would be subject to peer review if they became the agency’s primary tool for measuring health risks.

    “This isn’t just something I’m cooking up here in my fifth-floor office in Washington,” Mr. Wehrum said.

    Roger O. McClellan, who has served on E.P.A. advisory boards and as president of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, an industry-financed research center, said the data for health risks below the particulate matter standard was weak and that he did not accept the argument that agencies must calculate risk “down to the first molecule of exposure.”

    “These kinds of approaches — that every molecule, every ionization, carries with it an associated calculable health risk — are just misleading,” Mr. McClellan said.

    To put the matter in perspective, most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits. On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 m.p.h., or even 25.

    Jonathan M. Samet, a pulmonary disease specialist who is dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said the most recent studies showed negative health effects well below the 12-microgram standard. “It’s not a hard stop where we can say ‘below that, air is safe.’ That would not be supported by the scientific evidence,” Dr. Samet said. “It would be very nice for public health if things worked that way, but they don’t seem to.”

    Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization that is funded by the E.P.A. and industry groups, acknowledged there was uncertainty around the effects of fine particulate matter exposure below the standard.

    He said it was reasonable of the Trump administration to study the issue, but he questioned moving ahead with a new system before those studies are in. “To move away from the way this has been done without the benefit of this full scientific peer review is unfortunate,” he said.


    For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
    Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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      States aren’t waiting for the Trump administration on environmental protections

      More than a dozen states are moving to strengthen environmental protections to combat a range of issues from climate change to water pollution, opening a widening rift between stringent state policies and the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.

      In recent months, Hawaii, New York and California have moved to ban a widely used agricultural pesticide linked to neurological problems in children, even as the administration has resisted such restrictions. Michigan and New Jersey are pushing to restrict a ubiquitous class of chemical compounds that have turned up in drinking water, saying they can no longer wait for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action.

      Colorado and New Mexico have adopted new policies targeting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel drilling and limiting where these operations can take place. And more than a dozen states have adopted policies that would force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars than required by federal standards.

      The growing patchwork of regulations is creating uncertainty for American businesses as state lawmakers vie to change rules that, in past administrations, were more likely to be set at the federal level.

      “At the end of the day, I think regulated entities want to know what the expectations are,” said Wendy Heiger-Bernays, an environmental health professor at Boston University. “They’d prefer not to have two different standards — one in one state and another in another state.”

      Local officials say the jumble of policies also threatens to create disparities, not only in obligations placed on businesses but also in the level of protections guarding human health in different communities.

      California is leading more than a dozen states to require higher gas mileage than the federal standard. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

      “It is difficult to communicate to your customers that New Jersey or Minnesota or Vermont has evaluated the risk to their residents differently, and that one state places a lower value on protection of public health than another,” Brian Steglitz, the water treatment manager for Ann Arbor, Mich., said last week in testimony before a panel of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

      Since President Trump took office, his administration has scaled back numerous environmental rules enacted under President Barack Obama and declined to impose federal limits on some contaminants and pesticides. The Trump administration also has reversed course on climate change, refusing to embrace the limits on greenhouse gas emissions that the federal government previously had pledged to adopt under an international agreement.

      In an interview, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the federal government regularly works hand-in-hand with the states, which often are the more appropriate forum for litigating such environmental matters. For example, he said, the Trump administration has allowed many states to shape their own strategies for meeting air quality standards, rather than imposing a federal plan.

      “Overall, we try to defer to the states as much as possible,” Wheeler said — though he added that the administration would oppose state action that would “interfere with national commerce” or “create uncertainties for consumers or for businesses.”

      At the Interior Department, which controls industry access to vast swaths of public lands, spokeswoman Molly Block said in an email that the administration views its more business-friendly approach as a key contributor to the nation’s vibrant economic growth under Trump.

      “We will continue our work to advance President Trump’s deregulatory agenda, which has boosted the American economy,” she said.

      In some states — especially those newly under Democratic control — the federal approach has created a vacuum that other officials have rushed to fill. For example, when New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) replaced a Republican in the governor’s mansion earlier this year, one of her first acts was to sign an executive order focused on climate change. It instructs regulators to develop statewide limits on greenhouse gas emissions and a more stringent renewable energy requirement for New Mexico’s power sector.

      “A lot of what you see in that executive order reflects a lack of action on the federal level,” said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. “The state is feeling like we need to fill the gap.”

      In Orgeon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign a bill this week to codify federal clean air and clean water standards that were in place before Trump took office, making them enforceable under state law even if the White House rolls them back. The Trump administration is poised to replace at least three major policies this year, and has delayed or altered many others.

      States also are taking the lead on chemical and pesticide regulation, as the EPA in some cases has held off on setting exposure limits or banning some substances outright.

      At least a half-dozen states have pushed forward with their own plans to limit a class of compounds known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, saying ample evidence exists to regulate them. The lab-made compounds have long been used in consumer products such as nonstick pans, water-repellent fabrics and firefighting foams.

      Long-term exposure has been associated with an array of health problems, including thyroid disease, weakened immunity, infertility and certain cancers, though researchers continue to study the human health implications. Because PFAS do not break down in the environment, they have become known as “forever chemicals.”

      Catherine McCabe, an EPA veteran, is now the top environmental official in New Jersey, which has proposed one of the nation’s most stringent standards for PFAS in drinking water. The state also is trying to compel five chemical manufacturers, including 3M and Dupont, to fund tests for the chemicals and to clean up contamination.

      McCabe said it would be better for the nation and for industry if the federal government set a single national limit for PFAS in drinking water. “It doesn’t serve anybody’s interest for us all to be coming up with different numbers,” she said.

      Given the health threat, however, McCabe said the need for action is urgent. “I would love to wait if [federal officials] were moving quickly, but they are not,” she said. “We can’t wait any longer.”

      Companies such as 3M, which faces significant regulatory and cleanup costs, also have pressed for a national standard. “We support regulation rooted in the best-available science and believe that this plan may help prevent a patchwork of state standards that could increase confusion and uncertainty for communities,” the company said in a statement.

      Wheeler said the EPA is acting with urgency, pointing to a long-term PFAS “action plan” released earlier this year. But he said the agency must undertake a “rigorous” review before settling on national standards that are legally and scientifically defensible.

      One of the most pressing splits is unfolding in the auto industry, as the EPA and the Transportation Department prepare to finalize a rollback of tighter tailpipe standards for cars and smaller pickup trucks. Last year, the Trump administration proposed freezing federal mileage requirements between model years 2020 and 2026, rather than boosting them to require that vehicles get more than 50 miles per gallon, as was required under Obama administration rules.

      California, which has received federal waivers in the past to set its own rules, has pledged to press ahead with the tighter standards regardless of what the White House decides. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia are poised to adopt California’s standards if they diverge from the federal government’s.

      Automakers, who pressed Trump to revisit the mileage targets as soon as he took office, are pressing the two sides to reach a compromise rather than fracture the nation’s car market. Two different standards could lead companies to market a small variety of more-efficient vehicles in some states while offering their entire fleet in others, said Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist.

      “That’s why there could be a stampede to buy popular larger vehicles in a neighboring state that follows the federal standard,” Bergquist said. “This is all new territory, so no one really knows how it will unfold, but it will be a headache for everyone involved, including consumers.”

      Colorado and New Mexico are in the midst of rewriting the rules for how the oil and gas industry operates, such as limits on greenhouse gas emissions from drilling operations.

      Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) recently signed a bill transferring a large portion of the state’s authority over drilling to local governments, and changing the orientation of its Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to emphasize public health and safety over extraction.

      Even as the Interior Department has relaxed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from drilling operations, Colorado is tightening its methane standards.

      New Mexico, too, is drafting a new methane rule. Meanwhile, its land commissioner last month put nearly 73,000 acres in the northwest part of the state off-limits to drilling on the grounds that the area, known as the Greater Chaco Region, is sacred to the Pueblo and the Navajo tribes.

      Interior had planned to auction off more than 4,000 acres of leases in the Greater Chaco Region last year but abruptly canceled the sale in the face of public criticism.

      Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said in an interview that his members are used to dealing with both state and federal regulators, and are engaged in discussions about how to curb methane that leaks or is deliberately released and burned off.

      “Across the board, every operator in New Mexico recognizes that limiting methane emissions while continuing growth is a top priority,” McEntyre said, adding that EPA data show overall methane emissions dropping by 4 percent in the Permian Basin, which straddles New Mexico and Texas, even as production doubled between 2011 and 2017.

      Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry recognizes the role of the states as regulators. But he said some changes, such as Colorado’s new limits on drilling, go too far.

      “The localities should not have the authority to ban oil and gas operations,” said Milito, whose group is now working with regulators to help shape how the new law is implemented. “They should have the zoning authority they already have.”

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        For safe and healthy communities…