News, Trump Administration

Public comments still being accepted on Trump proposal that would leave 55,000 citizens without a home

On May 10, 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule affecting “mixed-status families” in public housing.

“Mixed-status families” are those with members eligible for public assistance and ineligible based on their immigration status. The current rule states that these families are permitted to live in public housing, but the ineligible family members would have to “pay their own way,” out-of-pocket, and would not receive personal federal assistance.

Crucially, not every immigrant who is ineligible for public housing is necessarily undocumented. Immigrants can have legal status and still be ineligible for public housing.

As we reported earlier, the new HUD rule states that every member of a family would have to be eligible in order to live in public housing.

According to data from HUD, an estimated 25,000 families would be forced to make the choice between breaking up their family and becoming homeless. It is estimated that 55,000 U.S. citizen children around the country would lose their subsidized housing as a result of this rule.

The rule would also require residents under 62 years of age to have their immigration status verified through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements or SAVE Program. Families with members judged to be ineligible through this program would be evicted from their housing within 18 months.

The proposed rule is not yet in effect. It is open for public comment until tomorrow, July 9. HUD is accepting comments here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Common Cause NC will consider dropping lawsuit after lawmakers pass ‘gold-standard’ redistricting reform

If Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and other GOP legislative leaders want Common Cause NC to drop its partisan gerrymandering lawsuit, they’re going to have to enact redistricting reform first.

“If Republican legislative leaders had enacted real redistricting reform — like they repeatedly called for and sponsored when Democrats were in power — litigation would never have been necessary,” said Executive Director Bob Phillips. “Instead, they have blocked reform and engaged in blatant partisan gerrymandering of our state’s voting districts.”

The organization sent a news release to media Monday morning responding to Lewis’ formal call last week for them to drop the lawsuit in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stay out of federal partisan gerrymandering claims.

Lewis incorrectly told reporters at a press conference that the high court’s opinion set a precedent that courts could not weigh in on partisan gerrymandering — it’s up to lawmakers to regulate redistricting. The opinion, however, acknowledges states’ efforts in the battle against partisan gerrymandering and specifically mentions a Florida state Supreme Court opinion.

He called on Common Cause and other plaintiffs in the state lawsuit to drop it and engage in conversation with legislators about reform.

Common Cause NC has been lobbying for redistricting reform for more than a decade — neither party has passed any measures to take on the issue of partisan gerrymandering. There are currently six redistricting reform bills pending at the legislature, none of which have been scheduled for even a hearing this session.

Phillips said in the Monday news release that if Lewis is sincere about pursuing redistricting reform, he can start with the 2009 ‘Horton Independent Redistricting Commission’ bill, which he, along with now House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, sponsored at the time. That bill called for adoption of a state constitutional amendment creating an independent citizens commission to draw North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts free from partisan politics, with full transparency and robust public input.

“So, we call upon Rep. Lewis and his fellow Republican legislative leaders to enact a true citizens redistricting commission now, and only after passing into law a gold-standard model of reform would we consider his request,” Phillips said.

Lewis responded on Twitter that he had not received any communication or the press release from Common Cause.

“The only commission bill filed in the House would let Democrats pick roughly 2/3 of the commission,” he added. “Not a good basis for a conversation and far from a ‘gold-standard.'”

The Common Cause v. Lewis trial is set to start July 15. A pre-trial hearing is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Environment

PFAS in garden compost: Comment now on proposed rules on how much, if any, contaminants this material should contain.

NC Policy Watch sampled sludge from the DAK Americas plant in Fayetteville, which was shipped to McGill Environmental, a composting facility in Sampson County. The sludge contained high levels of 1,4-Dioxane, but the compost did not. Policy Watch’s investigation prompted state regulators to test the compost for 1,4-Dioxane and other contaminants. Results showed the compost contained 20 types of perfluorinated compounds –PFAS. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Compost is supposed to enrich your garden soil for a healthy summer bounty: tomatoes, peppers, green beans and melons. But some compost used on gardens and farms in North Carolina — and nationwide — contains perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS.

The state’s compost rules are up for re-adoption, but they don’t require compost — or the materials used to make it, known as feedstock — to be tested for these harmful contaminants. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a variety of health disorders: a depressed immune response, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy — known as preeclampsia — hormonal disruption, developmental problems, and even cancer. Yet there is no state or federal standard for PFAS in compost and its feedstock.

However, the public can influence the final rule language, which must be approved by the Environmental Management Commission. A public hearing on the proposed compost rules is scheduled for Tuesday, July 16, at 6 p.m., at the NC Department of Environmental Quality, 217 W. Jones St. The public can also comment in writing. Contact Jessica Montie at jessica.montie@ncdenr.gov, 919-707-8247. The comment period ends Aug. 16.

Prompted by a Policy Watch investigation, earlier this year the NC Department of Environmental Quality tested compost from McGill Environmental, a large composting facility in Sampson County. Results showed that the compost contained 20 types of PFAS. The cumulative total for all 20 was 136.8 parts per trillion; four of the compounds had concentrations of at least 10 ppt. The state has advised that people shouldn’t drink water containing more than 10 ppt of any single PFAS.

One likely source of the PFAS in compost is sludge — wastewater residuals — which McGill receives from municipal and industrial treatment plants. The sludge is mixed with other materials, like peanut shells, animal waste and untreated wood, to make the compost. It’s likely that compost at other facilities also contains PFAS if it is made with sludge.

The question of PFAS in compost arose after Policy Watch published a two-part investigation in April about a different harmful compound. Policy Watch found sludge containing 1,4-Dioxane, a likely carcinogen, was being shipped from DAK Americas, a plastics plant in Fayetteville, to McGill Environmental. The compost itself didn’t contain the compound. 1,4-Dioxane clings to water; as the compost dried the compound could have evaporated. But McGill workers could be exposed to 1,4-Dioxane either by touching contaminated material or inhaling its vapors.

In May, Michael Scott, director of the Division of Waste Management, confirmed Policy Watch’s findings to the Environmental Management Commission. At that meeting, EMC members discussed the problem of 1,4-Dioxane and PFAS in compost but decided to wait until after the public comment period to consider adding testing requirements to the proposed rules. The EMC is expected to finalize the rules this fall.

Commentary, News

The Mad Tweeter strikes again as Trump reverses course on citizenship question

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Trump administration has pulled yet another of its patented 180’s on the Census citizenship question. In some ways, of course, it’s no surprise. The nation has come to expect irrational and irresponsible last minute about-faces from the Great Prevaricator. That said, this one represents an especially unhinged act that deserves to be rejected forthwith by the federal courts.

One of the best summaries of what transpired yesterday and where things stand now comes from David A. Graham at The Atlantic. As Graham explains in A Hearing in the Census Case Turns Surreal:Government lawyers faced an irate federal judge on Wednesday, after the president publicly contradicted what they had told the court.”, the Trump presidency has grown so absurd that even his own lawyers have no idea how to deal with the president:

Federal district-court Judge George Hazel convened a call with attorneys Wednesday, trying to understand what was happening. “I don’t know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the president, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position that Mr. Gardner had shared with me yesterday,” Hazel said, referring to the Justice Department lawyer Joshua Gardner.

In short, Hazel wanted to know whether the federal government was still trying to get the question on the census, as Trump had said, or not, as Gardner had said. The question was simple, but the answer turned out not to be. (The transcript is short, and worth reading in full.)

After explaining that the judge was understandably angry, even if he was somewhat sympathetic to the plight of a Justice Department attorney attempting to represent someone as unhinged as Trump, Graham explained that the judge ordered a 2:00 p.m. hearing tomorrow to get the matter settled and that, amazingly, Trump could still end up prevailing:

Incredibly, Trump might yet get away with using a citizenship question on the census to suppress participation. For one thing, Read more

Environment

Feds want to know health effects of coatings used in Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline had begun in Northampton County, but has now stopped while the courts resolve several federal lawsuits. There are also environmental and public health concerns about the coatings used to line the pipes. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Federal regulators have asked the owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to provide toxicological information about chemicals used to coat the inside of pipes, according to a letter dated July 3.

Under the name ACP, LLC, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy co-own the 600-mile pipeline, which, if built, would transport fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia, eastern North Carolina and into South Carolina.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requested the information from Dominion in response to comments from the Virginia Department of Health.

The 3M company manufactures the pipeline coatings under the name Scotchkote Fusion Bonded Epoxy Coatings and Scotchkote Liquid Epoxy Coatings. (3M also manufactured per fluorinated compounds, otherwise known as PFAS.)

Ingredients in the Fusion Bonded Epoxy made by 3M

Material Safety Data Sheets for the products show the fusion-bonded coating contains known carcinogens. Ingredients include Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA. Exposure to BPA has been linked to reproductive and developmental effects and an increased risk of diabetes.

Ingredients in the liquid epoxy can be toxic to internal organs and irritate the skin. The epoxy is suspected to cause cancer.

FERC is asking ACP, LLC to evaluate and report on the toxicity of the epoxies from “direct and indirect human contact, ingestion or inhalation.” Regulators also want to know if the epoxies, should they enter the environment, would threaten the air, soil, surface water and groundwater.

It’s unclear if the ACP will actually be built. Work has stopped along the route while lawsuits wend their way through the courts. And the cost, once estimated at $5.5 billion, has ballooned to at least $7.5 billion.