Environment

Burr, Tillis reject effort to overturn Trump power plant rule

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Democrats’ attempt to overturn a controversial Trump administration power plant regulation.

Democrats forced a Senate floor vote on a resolution to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant rule, which was seen as a weaker replacement for an Obama-era regulation to clamp down on power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The effort was seen as largely symbolic, given that Democrats hold 45 seats in the chamber (two independent senators also caucus with the Democrats). The resolution required only a majority to pass, but it fell short by a vote of 41-53.

Both North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr voted against the measure.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who’s facing a tough re-election bid next year, was the only Republican who broke ranks to support the effort. Three Democrats — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones of Alabama Joe Manchin of West Virginia — sided with most of the GOP in voting against the resolution.

A Sinema spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. Our state, which is situated at the end of the nation’s air pollution tailpipe, has made substantial progress in reducing harmful emissions by increasing energy efficiency, adopting clean energy technologies, and improving air quality and public health,” Collins said in a statement. “While I am pleased by the progress our country has already made in reducing air pollutants, the Administration’s rule to repeal and rewrite the Clean Power Plan is a step in the wrong direction.”

Senate Democrats sought to force their Republican colleagues to go on the record backing a Trump rule that critics say falls short of what’s needed to combat climate change.

“The Trump administration’s Dirty Power Scam comes at a time when Americans are demanding we take bold action to confront the climate crisis and it must be reversed,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week when he announced the vote.

Senate Republicans control the voting schedule in the chamber, but Democrats were able to force a vote using the Congressional Review Act. The law allows Congress to overturn federal agencies’ regulations within 60 days after a rule is finalized. A CRA vote can be placed on the Senate calendar by securing the signatures of 30 members.

The Trump EPA regulation, dubbed the “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, was put forward as a replacement for President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.” The Obama measure was a centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to fight climate change and would have set national emission limits for coal-fired power plants. The Trump EPA argued that Obama’s approach was illegal, and gives states far more flexibility over cutting emissions, The New York Times reported in June when the rule was finalized.

“The EPA has a congressionally mandated duty to protect the human health and the environment,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who authored the resolution. “The EPA has abdicated its responsibility in promulgating this deeply flawed rule.”

Defending Democracy, News

Report from Burr’s committee urges White House to combat 2020 election interference

Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Richard Burr (R- N.C.) (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Senators say Kremlin-backed group targeted African Americans in 2016

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report Tuesday calling on the Trump administration to take steps to combat foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. elections.

The bipartisan recommendation was part of the committee’s new report detailing Russia’s attempts to use social media to sway the 2016 presidential election. The warning comes as President Donald Trump is the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House over allegations that he has improperly urged other foreign governments to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.

“The Committee recommends that the Executive Branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election,” says the report, which was released jointly by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).

The report is the second volume of the committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Burr and Warner released the first volume of their investigation in July. The two senators have stressed the importance of maintaining a bipartisan investigation even as the subject of election interference has become politically charged on Capitol Hill.

The report issued Tuesday found that the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and while supporting Trump.

The senators also concluded that the effort was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”

No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African Americans, the committee found. “By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016,” the report says.

Burr said in a statement Tuesday, “Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government.”

Many of the Senate’s findings were also laid out in the report issued earlier this year by former special counsel Robert Mueller, who warned lawmakers that Russians continued to interfere with U.S. elections ahead of 2020. “They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller said in July.

In addition to urging the executive branch to guard against foreign election interference, the senators are recommending that social media companies improve information sharing between the public and the private sector. And the senators are urging Congress to consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements.

“Now, with the 2020 elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos,” Warner said in a statement. “The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon – and their techniques will only get more sophisticated.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

Environment, News

‘Parents like me should not have the burden of proving that coal ash is dangerous’

Susan Wind and her husband, David Wind. They moved to Florida due to concerns about elevated cancer risks in Mooresville, N.C.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Susan Wind’s 19-year-old daughter is recovering from thyroid cancer, but Wind still worries constantly about her family’s health.

Wind, a former resident of Mooresville, N.C., moved with her family to Florida after her daughter was among the 110 people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the area within the last five years.

“We didn’t feel safe,” she told Policy Watch in an interview on Wednesday. Her daughter is improving, but she still struggles with her health, Wind said. The move to a new state was hard on her kids, and she’s still concerned about her family. “I’m worried about all of our health,” she said.

After her daughter’s diagnosis, Wind began to investigate the high rate of thyroid cancer in two zip codes near Lake Norman: 28115 and 28117. She believes the illnesses could be linked to toxins contained in the coal ash found throughout the community. She raised $110,000 for a Duke University Study to investigate what might be causing the cancer.

Scientists recommend expanding investigation of suspected thyroid cancer clusters in NC

Policy Watch reported about the suspected cancer cluster and Wind’s family in June 2018.

Wind’s former home is less than two miles from Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Plant, which sits on Lake Norman.

North Carolina officials in April ordered Duke to remove coal ash from its impoundments at Marshall and five other plants.

Meanwhile, Duke is contesting the decision through the Office of Administrative Hearings.

This week, Wind traveled to a hotel outside of Washington, D.C., to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its plans to roll back rules the Obama administration put in place in 2015 to regulate coal ash disposal at power plants around the country.

“It is completely irresponsible to deregulate coal any further so utility companies can save a buck,” Wind told EPA officials as she testified at a public hearing on the proposal.  Read more

News

Burr, Tillis stick with Trump as Senate passes another resolution to block border emergency declaration

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted again on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

The Senate voted 54-41 to end the declaration, delivering a rebuke that’s likely to be symbolic. Both chambers of Congress already voted to block the resolution, but the effort failed after the U.S. House failed to override Trump’s veto in March. The White House is expected to veto the resolution again.

Eleven Republicans joined Senate Democrats this week in voting to block Trump from circumventing Congress to obtain funding for a controversial border wall. The National Emergencies Act allows Democrats to seek a vote on repealing the emergency declaration every six months. The resolution disapproval requires a simple majority to pass the Senate.

The list of Senate Republicans who broke ranks was nearly identical to the roster that opposed Trump’s declaration in March. They were: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida voted to block the emergency declaration in March, but missed the vote Wednesday. His office said he would have voted again to block the emergency declaration.

Congressional Democrats and other Trump critics have slammed their GOP colleagues for bypassing the legislative branch and allowing the administration to divert funds for military projects in their home states. The Defense Department announced it would delay or suspend 127 military construction projects to help fund a $3.6 billion wall.

Those projects include $30 million for a ground transport equipment building at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, $8 million for a space control facility at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, $80.3 million for North Carolina military projects, and many others.

Democrats have pointed to those stalled projects in an attempt to put pressure on some of the more vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2020, including Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Each of them sided again with Trump in Wednesday’s vote. North Carolina’s Richard Burr also voted “no.”

Ahead of the March vote, Tillis penned an op-ed saying he planned to vote against Trump. “As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.” He later changed his mind, citing a “crisis” at the border.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote Wednesday that siding with Trump “is a vote in favor of cutting funding for our military and slashing support for critical military projects in red states as well as blue.”

More importantly, he said, lawmakers should terminate the emergency declaration on constitutional grounds. Trump, he said, has “trampled” on Congress’ constitutionally granted power of the purse.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who’s also facing a tough re-election campaign in 2020, spoke out against Trump’s emergency declaration ahead of the Wednesday vote.

“The question is simply this: should the Congress of the United States of America yield its constitutionally prescribed power of the purse to the president? And the answer to that question, regardless of who is in the White House and who is controlling Congress, should be no,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) again backed Trump on the matter, saying the president’s declaration was “squarely within existing law” and that Democrats had failed to give the “very real crisis” on the border the resources it required.

“Senate Democrats are making us repeat the same show vote again,” McConnell said.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

Details from D.C. as U.S. House launches official impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks towards to a podium to speak to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — It’s official: President Donald Trump is the subject of a U.S. House impeachment inquiry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday that they’re moving forward with an “official impeachment inquiry” into the president in the wake of reports that he pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate his political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The president must be held accountable; no one is above the law,” Pelosi said after a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the House Democratic caucus.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” she added. She said she had directed six committee leaders already investigating the president to continue under the framework of a formal impeachment inquiry.

The announcement came after escalating pressure within the Democratic caucus to launch an official impeachment probe, a topic that has divided the caucus so far this year.

Some Democrats have been pushing for impeachment for months, but many moderates and leaders of the party were reluctant to take what could be a politically perilous route for some. But in light of recent reports about Trump pressuring the Ukranian president, moderate Democrats and leaders said there was no alternative to impeachment proceedings.

According to The New York Times204 members of the House backed an impeachment inquiry by Wednesday morning, representing more than two-thirds of the Democratic caucus and one independent lawmaker, Justin Amash from Michigan. The list includes all three North Carolina Democrats — Representatives Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price. Impeachment backers would need 218 votes for the House to approve articles of impeachment.

House lawmakers said they expect the chamber to move forward rapidly on the matter, although the exact timeline remains unclear. The House is slated to go on recess for the next two weeks.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. Lawmakers have demanded he turn over a whistleblower’s complaint related to Trump’s call with the Ukranian president. House Democrats announced a vote Wednesday on a resolution expressing disapproval over the administration blocking the release of the complaint.

Democrats stressed that the Ukraine controversy offers a clear trigger for the impeachment inquiry that isn’t as complicated as some of their other allegations, like accusations that Trump has violated the emoluments clause or claims that he obstructed justice.

“People don’t know what emoluments are, but they get this. Or, how do you prove collusion, but you get this. Those things will continue and they’re still egregious, but this is something that’s easier to put out in a tweet, or easier to explain,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.).

Her staff was keeping track of the calls coming in Tuesday. She estimated her office got about 50 calls about impeachment, and only two of them were against it. “The phone’s been ringing,” she said.

Titus said the official inquiry brings a new urgency to the investigations and that there were discussions about bringing lawmakers back early from the scheduled recess to dig in.

Impeachment prospects in the Senate are far from certain. It appears highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled chamber would vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial, if the proceedings went that far.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of an “obsession with relitigating 2016” on Tuesday.

He said Pelosi’s announcement “confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment.”

Meanwhile, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for the whistleblower complaint to be turned over to congressional intelligence committees.

As impeachment talk dominated Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted Tuesday, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and “total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats.” Trump also said he authorized the release of the transcript of his call.

House Republicans similarly decried Democrats’ decision to plow ahead with impeachment proceedings.

Rep. Denver Riggleman, a freshman Republican from Virginia who serves on the Judiciary Committee, called the announcement a “head scratcher.” He said Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since his 2016 election. “As a new congressman, it just feels like we can’t get anything done for our districts as they continue down this rabbit hole and it’s very frustrating.”

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said Democrats will suffer political consequences. “Good luck,” Gosar said Tuesday evening. “It’s caustic.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.