The Trump Administration Is Letting Wells Fargo Get Away With Grand Theft Auto

The Nation

The Trump Administration Is Letting Wells Fargo Get Away With Grand Theft Auto

The recent fine assessed by the CFPB is window dressing on a miscarriage of justice.

By David Dayen       April 23, 2018

Donald Trump speaks during an event at the White House in this December 7, 2017 file photo. Trump tweeted on December 8 that fines and penalties against Wells Fargo would not be dropped, and could actually be “substantially increased.” (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)

In January, Wells Fargo announced a one-time benefit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of $3.89 billion. With the 40 percent cut in the corporate-income tax, Wells could write down the cost of its deferred tax liabilities—money it owed down the road to the government. So with the stroke of a pen, Donald Trump made Wells Fargo $3.89 billion richer.

The benefits didn’t end there. In the first quarter of this year, Wells Fargo enjoyed a drastically reduced effective income-tax rate of 18.8 percent, down from 27.5 percent a year earlier. That produced a $636 million savings, on top of the $3.89 billion. Wells Fargo’s Q1 income would have declined year-over-year were it not for the tax law.

When you put Wells Fargo’s ongoing tax bounty against Friday’s $1 billion fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for scamming customers on mortgage and auto loans, the penalty looks more like a kickback, worth 22 percent of what Wells Fargo has been gifted in tax savings so far. Over time that $1 billion will constitute a smaller and smaller percentage of the tax perk, more like a tip to the Trump administration—a thank-you for its generous support.

The Trump administration gets something out of it too. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under the misdirection of anti-regulatory zealot Mick Mulvaney, had been criticized for not recording a single enforcement action in the 135 days since Mulvaney took over. The Wells Fargo fine, an outgrowth of a defensive tweet from the president in response to media reports that the case would be tossed out altogether, is intended to be the exception that disproves the rule. “We have said all along that we will enforce the law,” Mulvaney got to say in a statement. “That is what we did here.”

Except that doesn’t seem to be what Mulvaney did, because “enforcing the law” would have meant sending a criminal referral to the Justice Department for sanction against individual Wells Fargo executives. Instead, the bureau, along with the bank regulators at the OCC, settled for another fine, paid by shareholders instead of executives, ensuring that nobody in charge at Wells Fargo will see the inside of a jail cell for crimes that include what amounts to grand theft auto. Critics of the Obama administration’s approach to corporate crime fumed at a series of weak fines that created no accountability in the banking sector. The Trump administration’s alternative of one marginally bigger fine does not represent an advance.

It’s important to understand just what Wells Fargo did in this case, as described in the consent order. Regulators identified two violations: Wells Fargo charged “rate lock” extension fees to borrowers who wanted to keep their initial interest-rate quote for a mortgage, when the delays were of Wells Fargo’s own making; and the bank “force-placed” auto insurance on borrowers’ loans without telling them, in many cases causing loan defaults and repossessing the vehicles.

We’ve known about the auto-insurance abuses since at least last July, and the rate-lock extension fees since Wells Fargo self-reported last October. The CFPB had already been investigating this before Mulvaney entered the office. “Investigations that take many months or even years, and that are just now being finalized, are due to the aggressive work my team did to bring predatory behavior to light,” said his predecessor, Richard Cordray, who’s now running for governor of Ohio. “To suggest this is the work of Mulvaney, who has done nothing but throw sticks in the spokes of a talented, hardworking CFPB team of devoted public servants, is preposterous.”

The consent order unveils a significant amount of information about how Wells Fargo went about overcharging customers. On the mortgage issue, Wells Fargo brokers sold a policy that would lock in interest rates when delays were caused by borrowers. But the CFPB found internal communications showing that they were not training loan officers correctly on what to tell borrowers about the rate-lock policy. And indeed, the policy was inconsistently applied, with borrowers paying in cases where Wells Fargo was to blame for delays in mortgage processing. An extra quarter-percent in an interest rate can translate into paying thousands of dollars more over the life of a loan, giving borrowers incentives to lock in rates. Charging borrowers these rate-lock fees when Wells Fargo was responsible for the delay amounts to theft.

The auto-insurance scam was even worse. All car owners must have insurance attached to the vehicle. Wells Fargo worked out a plan with auto-loan customers whereby, if the borrower did not obtain insurance, the bank could automatically place it and charge the premiums through the loan payment. It turned out that Wells Fargo executed this force-placed auto insurance 2 million times since 2005, including hundreds of thousands of instances where the borrower already had auto insurance. Numerous other times, the borrower obtained the required insurance but Wells Fargo never canceled the force-placed policy. Even if Wells Fargo eventually canceled the policies, it failed to refund borrowers for unnecessary or duplicative insurance.

The CFPB has documentation that Wells Fargo knew about high cancellations of auto insurance placed on borrowers in error. It knew that the system for force-placing insurance was inadequate and led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary insurance policies. Furthermore, borrowers who were unaware of the extra insurance premium got behind on payments as a result. Between 2011 and 2016, at least 27,000 car owners went into default and lost their vehicles because of a scam operation Wells Fargo ran. It’s really just stealing cars.

So the CFPB knows who received the briefings that Wells Fargo was stealing cars and ripping off mortgage borrowers. It has names on internal documents of executives who were discussing these issues. It is aware of who turned a blind eye to this scheme that impoverished people and took their cars away. Isn’t that enough to refer to the Justice Department to investigate violations of criminal laws involving theft and fraud? The CFPB cannot make its own criminal cases, but it has every authority to make a criminal referral. The bureau declined to comment on whether it did refer the case to the Justice Department.

Critics of the culture of no accountability on Wall Street have clamored for this level of justice since the financial crisis. Nobody was demanding a relatively higher fine, even one that could be termed as the largest fine in the CFPB’s history. The belief is that the only way to truly hold top bankers accountable would be to make them feel the consequences of their actions. That’s what happened to a small degree earlier this year, when the Federal Reserve relieved Wells Fargo board members of their jobs. And the OCC’s consent order with Wells Fargo gives that agency the power to fire executives or board members in the future, a direct consequences of the Fed’s bold action.

But the real sanction for criminal activity should be a criminal sentence. Wells Fargo merely had to pay back some of its tax benefits. It even booked this charge in the first quarter, retaining a net profit of $4.7 billion. And the CFPB may not be able to bring a case like this in the future, as a bipartisan bill in Congress would strip it of oversight of certain insurance products, like car insurance sold by a financial company.

If this is what’s considered “enforcing the law,” then the law only technically still exists.

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David Dayen is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, which won the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize.

Trump officials went on a taxpayer-funded shopping spree. Here’s the bill.

ThinkProgress

Trump officials went on a taxpayer-funded shopping spree. Here’s the bill.

Well over $3 million and counting.

Adam Peck      April 24, 2018

 

Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer joined the cabal of cabinet-level officials from the Trump White House who have to defend themselves against charges of misusing taxpayer dollars for his own benefit.

The New York Post discovered that Lighthizer had authorized nearly $1,000,000 in spending to renovate two of his Washington, DC offices on the taxpayer’s dime. That figure included a 30-inch, $859 plaque emblazoned with the words “Executive Office of the President,” 90 office chairs billed at $600 apiece, and a $3,500 antique desk for himself.

Lighthizer, Donald Trump’s top general in his Great Trade War of 2018, defended the exorbitant spending in the most Republican way imaginable: he blamed President Obama.

“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama Administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” read a statement issued by Lighthizer’s office. “Laughable,” was what one former Obama administration official said in response. Combined, the past two Trade Representatives spent less than half of what Lighthizer’s office spent during the same period of time.

But Lighthizer’s spending got us thinking. Donald Trump filled his cabinet with a who’s who of multi-millionaires (and the occasional billionaire) and yet several of them have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for private flights overseas, lavish furniture for their offices and residences, and the occasional soundproof phone booth.

Here’s a quick look at the creative and extravagant ways these millionaires have spent your money (so far).

Credit: Adam Peck. Photos via Getty Image. Photo of urban cowboy Ryan Zinke via @VP/Twitter
Credit: Adam Peck. Photos via Getty. Photo of Urban Cowboy Ryan Zinke via @VP twitter. 
A few notes about what these figures do (and do not) include. Government officials always travel for work, but the Trump administration has an unusual appetite for first class or privately chartered flights. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in privately chartered domestic flights (not including his attempt to book an Air Force jet for his honeymoon), in sharp contrast to former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither, who always flew in coach on commercial airlines.

 

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images CREDIT:
 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been dogged by similar accusations of exorbitant spending for months. His office shelled out over $40,000 for the purchase and installation of a soundproof phone booth for his office, more than $2,000 for two desks for his office (after his initial request for $70,000 was denied), and an additional $2,460 to repair the door to his deeply discounted apartment, which was busted down after his security detail grew concerned he was unconscious and in need of medical attention. Turns out he was taking a nap.

Pruitt also spent more than $150,000 on first class flights, an expenditure he defended by claiming to be the target of constant, unnamed threats. “Look, there have been incidents on planes. There have been incidents in airports, and those incidents, you know, occurred, and they are of different types,” Pruitt eloquently told CBS News earlier this year. “These threats have been unprecedented from the very beginning, and the quantity and type are unprecedented.” It’s unclear just how recognizable Scott Pruitt thinks he is to the general public, though judging by how many of you didn’t realize the photo above is a stock image of “caucasian politician” and not, in fact, Scott Pruitt, the answer is: not very.

What’s not included in this total are things like questionable salary expenses. Take Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney. From his days in Congress, Mulvaney has sought to abolish the CFPB, arguing the agency tasked with protecting taxpayers from predatory financial institutions is a federal boondoggle. During the most recent budget process, he submitted a request for zero dollars for the agency, arguing it was their duty to be “responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.” Instead, he hired at least eight people to work at the CFPB, half of whom have annual salaries in excess of $250,000, more than $100,000 above the top salary allowed under the federal government pay scale.

Enbridge shares fall on Minnesota pipeline route ruling

Reuters – Business

Enbridge shares fall on Minnesota pipeline route ruling

Reuters          April 24, 2018 

Toronto, April 24 (Reuters) – Shares of Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge Inc dropped more than 4 percent on Tuesday after a Minnesota judge agreed the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project was needed, but rejected the company’s preferred route.

Enbridge has proposed a C$8.2 billion ($6.4 billion)replacement of its existing Line 3 export pipeline, which extends from Alberta into Wisconsin, doubling capacity on the line to 760,000 barrels per day.

But the project has run into opposition in Minnesota from the state, along with Native American tribes and environmental activists who have questioned whether the replacement is needed.

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly, of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings for the Public Utilities Commission ruled late on Monday that Enbridge should be issued permission for the replacement, but said the company should use its existing right of way, adding hurdles to the project’s construction.

Under the judge’s recommended route, the existing pipeline would need to be removed and the new one put in its place. Enbridge had asked to leave its current Line 3 in the ground and lay new pipe, at times following a new corridor in the state.

The company said in a statement that it was pleased the judge had supported the project and said it would review her recommendations on routing.

The latest obstacle to Line 3 comes as work has been halted on Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain expansion pending a May 31 decision on whether the project, which faces opposition in the Canadian province of British Columbia, will go ahead.

Canada’s oil producers, meanwhile, are desperate for new export pipelines, as rising production and tight capacity on existing pipelines and via rail has led to Canadian crude trading at a wide discount to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark.

Shares of Enbridge were down 4.72 percent at C$37.94 on Tuesday morning.

($1 = 1.2827 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Julie Gordon in Toronto; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Enbridge Line 3 project should follow existing route

SF Gate

Judge: Enbridge Line 3 project should follow existing route

Steve Karnowski, Associated Press       April 23, 2018

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, AP. In this Aug. 21, 2017, file photo, automated welding takes place as sections of the replacement Enbridge Energy Line 3 crude oil pipeline are joined together in Superior, Wis. An administrative law judge … more

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota regulators should approve Enbridge Energy’s proposal for replacing its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline only if it follows the existing route rather than company’s preferred route, an administrative law judge recommended Monday.

The proposal has drawn strong opposition because Enbridge’s preferred route would carry Canadian tar sands crude from Alberta across environmentally sensitive areas in the Mississippi River headwaters region where American Indians harvest wild rice and hold treaty rights.

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly’s recommendation that the Public Utilities Commission should order that the replacement follow the existing route sets up further disputes, however, because the existing line crosses two Ojibwe reservations where tribal governments have made it clear that they won’t consent and want the old line removed altogether.

O’Reilly wrote that Enbridge has established that the project is needed, but that the negative consequences to Minnesota of the company’s more southerly preferred route outweigh the benefits. The cost-benefit analysis shifts in favor of approving the project if Enbridge builds the pipeline in Line 3’s existing trench, she said.

Hundreds of people are fighting for and against a proposed oil pipeline that could run through Minnesota.

The judge noted that Enbridge’s easements with the federal government that allow the company to run six pipelines through the two reservations, including Line 3, expire in 2029, and the commission can’t require the tribes to consent to replacing Line 3 within their reservations. But she said commission approval of in-trench replacement would likely encourage Enbridge and the tribes to “accelerate discussions that must inevitably occur prior to 2029” anyway.

The commission is expected to make its final decision in June. O’Reilly’s recommendations aren’t binding on the commission, but they’re the product of an extensive public hearing and comment process and voluminous filings, so they’ll be hard for the commissioners to disregard. Commission Chair Nancy Lange acknowledged at a hearing last month that whatever the commission decides, the dispute is likely to end up in court.

Enbridge said the project is necessary to ensure the reliable delivery of crude to Midwestern refineries.

“Enbridge is pleased that the Administrative Law Judge has listened to the extensive evidence that there’s need for this safety-driven maintenance project,” the company said in a statement. “We will be taking time to review in more detail the recommendation that we use the existing right-of-way, and will have additional comments to follow.”

Environmental and tribal groups — including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA and Honor the Earth — said there’s no good reason to allow Enbridge to build the project, regardless of what route it takes.

If the project is approved, some opponents have threatened a repeat of the protests in North Dakota near the Standing Rock reservation that delayed work for months on the Dakota Access pipeline, in which Enbridge owns a stake. Similar concerns over the role of tar sands oil in climate change, and indigenous rights, have fueled opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to an export terminal in British Columbia.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge says the existing line, which was built in the 1960s, is subject to corrosion and cracking and can run at only half its original capacity because of its accelerating maintenance needs. The Jobs for Minnesotans coalition of business, labor and community leaders backs the project, saying it will create 8,600 well-paying jobs with a total economic impact on the state of $2 billion.

Line 3 carries crude oil 1,097 miles (1,765 kilometers) from Hardisty, Alberta, through North Dakota and Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge says the replacement would restore its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day. Enbridge wants to shift much of the last half of the current 282-mile (454 kilometer) route in Minnesota into a more southerly, 337-mile (542 kilometer) corridor to Superior. Enbridge estimates the overall cost at $7.5 billion, including $2.6 billion for the Minnesota segment.

Enbridge has already begun work in Canada and Wisconsin. Construction sites near Superior have been the scene of protests and several arrests.

“We urge the PUC to listen to the voices of thousands of Minnesotans who have marched, submitted public comment, and testified against Line 3 and reject this dangerous pipeline once and for all,” Margaret Levin, director of the Sierra Club’s Minnesota chapter, said in a statement.

Tara Houska, national campaigns director of Honor the Earth, said the tribes have made it “crystal clear” that a new line is not acceptable to them.

“Tar sands pipelines carry too much environmental and economic risk to move forward, especially since all these pipelines cross Indigenous lands,” Rachel Rye Butler, tar sands campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said in a statement.

First-ever ocean plastic cleaner will tackle Great Pacific Garbage Patch

New York Post

First-ever ocean plastic cleaner will tackle Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Saqib Shah, Orig. Pub. by The Sun        April 23, 2018

Modal Trigger. The Ocean Cleanup.

The first-ever machine to clean up the planet’s largest chunk of ocean plastic is due to set sail.

It’s heading to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, halfway between California and Hawaii, where it will commence collecting the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic rubbish amassed there by ocean currents.

The system uses a combination of huge floating nets (dubbed “screens”) held in place by giant tubes, ironically made out of plastic, to suck stubborn waste out of the water.

It will then transfer this debris to large ships that will take it to shore for recycling.

The beginnings of this intricate system will launch from San Francisco Bay within weeks and will start working by July, with plans to keep extending it thereafter.

Modal Trigger. The Ocean Cleanup.

Ultimately, Ocean Cleanup (the Dutch non-profit behind the project) aims to install 60 giant floating scoops, each stretching a mile from end to end.

Fish will be able to escape the screens by passing underneath them, while boats will visit to collect the waste every six to eight weeks.

The ambitious system is the brainchild of Dutch teen prodigy Boyan Slat, who presented his ocean cleaning machine at a Tedx talk six years ago.

Despite skepticism from some scientists, Slat dropped out of unit to pursue the venture, raising $2.2 million from a crowd-funding campaign, with millions more brought in by other investors.

Modal Trigger. The Ocean Cleanup.

Slat commented: “The cleanup of the world’s oceans is just around the corner.”

“Due to our attitude of ‘testing to learn’ until the technology is proven, I am confident that – with our expert partners – we will succeed in our mission.”

The Garbage Patch (GPGP) spans 617,763 sq miles – which is bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, according to recent research.

The majority of it is made up of “ghost gear”: parts of abandoned and lost fishing gear, including nets and ropes, often from illegal fishing boats.

Ghost gear kills more than 100,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year, with many of the sea creatures drowned, strangled or mutilated by the plastic, claim scientists.

The GPGP isn’t the only floating mass of junk in our oceans.

It’s technically known as the eastern Pacific Garbage Patch because there is another collection of waste in the western Pacific.

Similar accumulations can also be found in the oceans’ four other circular currents, or gyres, with one patch each in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean and two in the Atlantic.

Fox News host calls on Trump to fire Scott Pruitt

ThinkProgress

Fox News host calls on Trump to fire Scott Pruitt

But President Trump still has full confidence in Pruitt.

Natasha Geiling       April 23, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the press at a news conference at the EPA on April 2, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Jason Andrew/Getty Images

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing more friendly fire after this weekend, as a fourth Republican representative along with a Fox News host called on Pruitt to resign following a barrage of scandals.

On Sunday, in response to a question on Twitter, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) said that Pruitt “should resign” and that he was the “wrong fit from the start for [sic] agency dedicated to protecting our environment.”

Frank LoBiondo: Yes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. Wrong fit from start for agency dedicated to protecting our environment. #EarthDay2018 reinforces our need to promote pristine planet via clean air & water, leaving it better for future generations. Requires leadership & balance. https://twitter.com/buckeye1960osu1/status/987829657096654853

LoBiondo is the fifth Republican lawmaker, and fourth Republican representative, to call for Pruitt to resign. In the House, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have all called for Pruitt to step down. In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) remains the only Republican to call for Pruitt’s resignation, though a number have expressed concern with Pruitt’s apparent various ethical lapses.

Last week, 170 lawmakers — all Democrats — from both the House and the Senate introduced a resolution calling for Pruitt to resign.

170 lawmakers sign resolution calling for Scott Pruitt’s resignation, including zero Republicans

But Pruitt is also facing fire from outside of the halls of Congress. On Sunday, former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and L.A.-based Fox News host Steve Hilton called for Trump to fire Pruitt, arguing that the EPA administrator has become a walking example of the kind of “swampy” mentality that Trump promised to end.

“What we need is for President Trump to take the lead, fire Scott Pruitt, and throw out the lobbyists from his administration,” Hilton said.

Hilton’s call for Pruitt’s resignation isn’t the first time that Fox News has taken an antagonistic position towards the administrator’s growing canon of scandals.

In early April, Fox News reporter Ed Henry pressed Pruitt on whether he approved raises for two political aides despite the White House not approving those pay increases. Pruitt denied he had knowledge of the raises, but later reporting revealed that Pruitt was privy to the details.

The growing chorus calling for Pruitt’s resignation comes as new information broke late last week about Pruitt’s dealings with a lobbyist couple from whom he rented a room in Washington.

In early April, ABC News reported that for a six month period during his first year as administrator, Pruitt rented a luxury condo on Capitol Hill from the wife of Steven Hart, a prominent D.C. energy lobbyist. Pruitt paid just $50 a night for the condo, and his daughter stayed there for a period of time during the summer while she was interning in D.C. — leading ethics experts to question whether the agreement constituted a gift from the lobbyist family.

Everything we know about Scott Pruitt’s infamous Capitol Hill apartment

Pruitt and Hart maintained that neither engaged in any business between the EPA and any of Hart’s clients while Pruitt was staying in the condo. On Sunday, however, the Guardian reported that Pruitt and Hart did indeed meet at the EPA in July of 2017 (while Pruitt was staying in Hart’s wife’s condo) to discuss efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

Also on Sunday, White House legislative director Marc Short told NBC’s Chuck Todd that President Trump still has full confidence in Pruitt.

“Scott Pruitt is doing a phenomenal job and the president is happy with him,” Short said on “Meet the Press.”

On Friday, Hart announced that he would be stepping down from his role of chairman at Williams & Jensen, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that represents companies like Exxon and Enbridge.

Pruitt promised polluters EPA will value their profits over American lives

The Guardian

Pruitt promised polluters EPA will value their profits over American lives

Dana Nuccitelli, The Guardian            April 23, 2018 

Pruitt is one of TIME’s 100 most influential people for his efforts to maximize polluters’ profits 

President Trump listens to EPA Administrator Pruitt after announcing decision to withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement in the White House Rose Garden in Washington. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

TIME magazine announced last week that Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is among their 100 most influential people of 2018. George W. Bush’s former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman delivered the scathing explanation:

If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy.

As a perfect example of those actions, the Daily Caller recently reported that at a gathering at the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Institute, Pruitt announced that the EPA and federal government will soon end two important science-based practices in evaluating the costs and benefits of regulations.

Regulating pollutants has “co-benefits,” like saving lives

When the EPA regulates pollutants, the practice often yields what are called “co-benefits.” For example, limiting allowable mercury pollution can force dirty coal power plants to install pollution-control equipment or shut down. Since coal plants produce other pollutants like soot, the regulations not only reduce mercury levels, but also particulate matter in the air. The latter isn’t an intended consequence of the regulations, but creating cleaner air and healthier Americans are unintended “co-benefits” of limiting another pollutant.

In doing cost-benefit analyses, the EPA accounts for all direct benefits and indirect co-benefits of its regulations. Certain industry groups and conservative pundits don’t like that approach, because they care more about polluter profits than they do about clean air and healthy Americans. However, during the George W. Bush administration in 2003, the Office of Management and Budget issued a guidance saying that it’s important to consider co-benefits:

Your analysis should look beyond the direct benefits and direct costs of your rulemaking and consider any important ancillary benefits and countervailing risks. An ancillary benefit is a favorable impact of the rule that is typically unrelated or secondary to the statutory purpose of the rulemaking (e.g., reduced refinery emissions due to more stringent fuel economy standards for light trucks)

Pruitt wants to disregard this Bush-era guidance and instead consider only the costs and benefits of regulating the “targeted pollutant” (mercury, in our example). They want to ignore the lives saved by also incidentally reducing particulate matter pollution. To be blunt, this makes no sense, unless your goal is to protect polluters at the expense of public and environmental health.

As a backup argument, industry groups argue that the EPA overestimates these co-benefits because particulate matter (specifically, PM2.5) isn’t harmful to human health below a certain threshold value. Not coincidentally, Pruitt’s EPA hired a scientist who has argued that American air is “a little too clean for optimum health.” However, EPA looked at the associated science and issued a memo in 2012 concluding:

Studies demonstrate an association between premature mortality and fine particle pollution at the lowest levels measured in the relevant studies, levels that are significantly below the [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] for fine particles. These studies have not observed a level at which premature mortality effects do not occur. The best scientific evidence, confirmed by independent, Congressionally-mandated expert panels, is that there is no threshold level of fine particle pollution below which health risk reductions are not achieved by reduced exposure.

The bottom line is that when considering all effects, the benefits of EPA pollutant regulations often far outweigh their costs. However, the American public sees the benefits in the form of cleaner air and water, better health, and avoided premature deaths, while industries bear the costs of complying with the regulations by reducing their pollution. Hence industry groups and their allies in the Pruitt EPA are trying to cook the books to favor profits over public health. It’s worth reflecting on the disparity between the president’s claims that EPA’s goal is to achieve “record clean Air & Water” and its apparent actual goal of maximizing polluter industry profits.

Climate costs get a similar treatment

At the Heartland Institute gathering, Pruitt also promised that the Trump administration will stop using the ‘social cost of carbon’ – an estimate of how much carbon pollution costs society via added climate damages – in crafting regulations. The Obama administration first started using the social cost of carbon in cost-benefit analyses of various government regulations. For example, when the Department of Energy considers stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances, it will account for the benefits of slowing climate change by reducing electricity consumption. Industry groups challenged that policy in court, but the Obama administration won.

Under Trump and Pruitt, the EPA has started engaging in bogus accounting to deflate the estimated social cost of carbon, and now Pruitt has promised they’ll stop using it altogether. It’s simply another way for the EPA to put industry profits above public health benefits.

Environmental groups are ready to take Pruitt to court

Pruitt hasn’t yet made good on these promises to the polluting industries, but if he does, environmental groups are confident they can beat him in court. David Doniger, senior strategic director of the National Resource Defense Council’s climate & clean energy program told me:

If Pruitt finalizes the Clean Power Plan repeal or any other rule by revising consideration of co-benefits in this way, or dropping them entirely, you can be 100% sure that we and others will sue, probably in D.C. Circuit challenges to his actions. We are confident the courts will hold this reversal of practice arbitrary and capricious. The only sound way to assess the benefits of a rule, and to weigh them against costs when that is allowed, is to assess all the benefits that can be reasonably expected to come from the action. 

It’s worth remembering that “The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” The mission of the Pruitt EPA seems to be maximizing polluting industry profits at the expense of human health and the environment.

It’s also important not to let Pruitt’s rank corruption and scandals distract from the damage he’s doing to EPA’s mission. As Christine Todd Whitman noted, the whole world is worse for Trump having nominated and the Senate GOP having confirmed Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA into a new era of maximizing industry profits and pollution at the expense of public and environmental health.

EPA chief signs proposal limiting science used in decisions

The Seattle Times

EPA chief signs proposal limiting science used in decisions

By Michael Biesecker and Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Originally published April 24, 2018

In this April 3, 2018, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at a news conference at the EPA in Washington. New internal documents say a sweep for hidden listening devices in Pruitt’s office was shoddy and wasn’t properly certified under U.S. government practices (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik,

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has signed a proposed rule that would restrict the types of scientific studies regulators can use to determine the impact of pesticide and pollution exposure on human health.

Pruitt says the change would increase transparency in the agency’s decision-making by requiring all underlying data used in scientific studies to be made publicly available.

Critics, including former EPA administrators and scientists, say Pruitt’s move is designed to restrict the agency from citing peer-reviewed public-health studies that use patient medical records required to be kept confidential under patient privacy laws.

The embattled EPA administrator signed the proposed order at EPA headquarters Tuesday in an event that was livestreamed on the agency’s website but not open to press coverage.

Wealthiest Americans poised to take advantage of loophole left by GOP tax plan

ThinkProgress

Wealthiest Americans poised to take advantage of loophole left by GOP tax plan

By Rebekah Entralgo      April 23, 2108

Credit: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation released a report Monday detailing the effects of the GOP tax bill, ahead of a Tuesday Senate hearing on the same subject.

The findings indicate that nearly 44 percent of the tax cuts for so-called pass-through businesses will go to tax filers making more than $1 million in 2018, while more than 90 percent of the cuts will go to those earning more than $100,000.

Credit: Joint Committee on Taxation

As ThinkProgress previously reported, even though Republicans repeatedly claimed their tax plan would provide cuts for small business owners, pass-through businesses are not small businesses in the mom-and-pop sense, but rather are entities like partnerships, S-corporations, and limited liability companies (LLCs).

The final version of the GOP tax bill transformed the pass-through tax break into a deduction against taxable income, effectively cutting the top rate on pass-through income down from 39.6 percent to 29.6 percent.

This provides top pass-through earners — such as hedge fund owners and lawyers — with an enormous loophole, allowing them to effectively re-characterize parts of their income to pay taxes at a rate 10 points lower than what they are currently paying.

Trump’s ‘small business tax cut’ is actually for rich people who don’t work

It’s not just business owners and lawyers with crafty accountants who stand to benefit from this loophole either: several members of Congress who helped craft the tax bill will benefit as well.

According to a report from the Center For American Progress Action Fund (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at CAPAF), there are 15 Republicans from tax writing committees in Congress that can expect to receive an average tax windfall of $314,000 from the pass-through provision.

It should come as no surprise that President Donald Trump himself, along with many of his Cabinet members, are the owners of such pass-through businesses. The Trump Organization oversees at least 500 of them. As a result, Trump could get an annual tax cut worth $23 million, while one of his closest advisers and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could see a cut of up to $17 million.

Average American workers, meanwhile, won’t be seeing much of a tax cut.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that top 1 percent will get an average cut of $1,022,120, while the middle 20 percent will get an average cut of $420.

The public has appeared to catch on to the scam. A Monday Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans, from both sides of the aisle, aren’t sure if their taxes have gone up or down.

This millionaire revealed his tax return to show just how much the GOP tax law favors the rich

MoveOn.org shared a video.
April 23, 2018

In case there was any doubt that the GOP tax plan benefits the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us, this millionaire explains how much he’ll save:

Watch This Millionaire Explain How Easy It is for the Rich to Exploit the System

This millionaire revealed his tax return to show just how much the GOP tax law favors the rich (via Patriotic Millionaires)

Posted by NowThis Politics on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

NowThis Politics

This millionaire revealed his tax return to show just how much the GOP tax law favors the rich (via Patriotic Millionaires)