Green energy has a bright future — even without Trump

Yahoo Finance

Green energy has a bright future — even without Trump

Rick Newman June 2, 2017

President Donald Trump is trying to revive the coal industry and extend the lifespan of the oil business. But renewables like solar and wind power are still likely to thrive.

By withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, Trump has made the United States the only advanced economy that lacks a commitment to curb carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. But many energy analysts think coal is doomed anyway, because businesses and governments are shifting rapidly toward cleaner-burning fuels that are coming down in price. Oil has a longer shelf life, due to its use as a transportation fuel, but will still most likely decline as alternatives like battery-powered electric vehicles become cheaper and more efficient.

While most of the press attention focuses on energy policies formed in Washington and other capitals, an arguably more important shift has been going on among investors who think renewable energy sources—especially solar and wind—are now viable investments likely to pay respectable returns.

“The consensus among asset managers is that prices are coming down and this is a technology play,” says Matthew Weatherley-White, managing director of investing firm the Caprock Group. “There’s a lot of smart money here.”

That distinction as a technology play is important, especially with regard to solar. That means cost is likely to decline indefinitely as usage increases, the same pattern consumers have gotten used to from microprocessors that get smaller, faster and better, even as the price drops. The famed “Moore’s Law”—the doubling of processing power roughly every 18 months—doesn’t necessarily apply to energy technology, but the general principle does. As the technology catches on, scale ratchets up, prices come down and capability improves.

Battery technology, which is essential for electric vehicles, is also improving, though perhaps at a slower pace than solar panels. Wind power follows a different paradigm, with larger blades being more efficient, but also more expensive. Yet all of these technologies have scaling advantages over commodities such as oil and coal, which by definition become more scarce, and more expensive, as consumption reduces supply. Fracking has changed the equation for oil, to some extent, because it has increased supply. But there’s still a cost to pulling it out of the ground.

The development of renewable energy has been subsidized by governments in the United States and other countries, and even by state and local policies, such as tax credits for electric vehicles and access to high-occupancy lanes for anybody with a car that meets stringent emission standards. And there are two important tax breaks Congress passed in 2015 that Trump doesn’t seem so bothered by—one for solar, and one for wind and other renewables. Before 2015, Congress had traditionally extended those incentives for just one year at a time, leaving investors unsure of their long-term benefit. But the 2015 law put them in place for 5 years, giving investors a stronger incentive to bet on renewables.

“The big spook was that Trump would rescind those credits,” says Weatherley-White. “But he hasn’t even talked about that.”

Government subsidies have undoubtedly helped establish a market for renewables, but costs have now dropped enough that in some instances they’re competitive with the cost of coal or natural gas. And if cost isn’t a factor, government officials and business leaders are much more keen to invest in energy facilities likely to pollute less, since that aligns with public opinion and provides better options if the need to curb emissions grows more acute in the future.

Trump loves to stick up for coal miners, even though solar workers in the United States now outnumber them by more than 2-to-1. In fact, there are now slightly more Americans employed in renewable-energy jobs (about 750,000) than in coal and oil (about 675,000). Natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel viewed as a bridge between carbon and renewables, accounts for about 400,000 US jobs.

Since 2010, the number of solar-panel installations in the United States has surged by more than 1,600%, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. At the same time, the average cost of solar energy to consumers has fallen by more than 70%. Wind-power capacity in the United States has doubled since 2010, according to the American Wind Energy Association, with prices falling by nearly the same proportion as solar. Natural gas and coal prices have dropped during the same time frame, though not as dramatically.

By some measures, renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels, a trend that should intensify as renewables become more popular. It’s difficult to directly compare the cost of different types of energy, since there can be big regional variations and costs pop up all along the supply chain, from drilling well to power plant to residential outlet. Solar panels are more effective in some climates than others, for instance, and fossil fuels are usually cheaper when they’re closer to where they’re burned. But the World Economic Forum said recently that most nations will reach “grid parity” within a few years, with renewables matching or undercutting fossil fuels on price. Since that is likely to happen with or without government help, Trump’s fondness for the fuels of the last century won’t hold back the fuels of the next.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com 

Who really pays if Trump quits the Paris accord

Vox on CNBC Politics

Who really pays if Trump quits the Paris accord

Vox, Jim Tankersley  June 1, 2017 

No laid-off coal miners will get their jobs back if President Trump pulls the United States from the Paris accord on climate change. No extra oil rigs will sprout in the Gulf. There is no employment upside to an “America First” retreat from global leadership on one of the few issues that can accurately be described as a potentially existential threat to humankind.

There is only the profound immorality of abdication — of gleefully passing a mounting problem on to our children, and on to the poor.

Reports suggest Trump is set to fulfill a campaign promise and withdraw the US from the agreement, which aims to put the world on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he will announce a decision soon; when he makes it, he will almost certainly cast the departure in terms of job growth, particularly for the coal industry.

There is no evidence, though, to suggest the Paris deal is holding back coal or any other industry in America today. Trump’s position amounts to nothing more than a dollop of false hope for downtrodden coal communities, in exchange for a ton of additional risk heaped on everyone, particularly the poorest people in the world.

As more carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, and global average temperatures continue to rise, the odds of calamitous future environmental outcomes increase. Swamped cities, scorched crops, pandemics — nothing you would wish upon your children, or anyone else’s

“It is a decision made for domestic political purposes that puts the livelihood and lives of millions of people in developing countries at risk,” says Trevor Houser, a former climate negotiator for President Barack Obama who is now a partner with the Rhodium Group. “This is a craven, symbolic political move without any direct benefits for the constituents he’s targeting.”

The Paris agreement is only a step toward the reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions that scientists roundly agree is necessary in order to reduce the most catastrophic risks of climate change. But it is a crucial step, won through years of diplomatic grunt work, including a sustained effort to rebuild American climate credibility that had been torched by the Bush administration.

“It’s morally reprehensible to walk away from climate action.  It’s an act everyone will recall as kids gasp for air during heat waves, as homes are wiped out by larger storms, as larger fires displace homes, and as droughts lead to crop failure.” -Keya Chatterjee, US Climate Action Network executive director

The agreement will persist even if Trump pulls America from it, as he is reportedly set to do. But the accord will be weakened, and, much more importantly, so will the fragile international coalition to fight what Jason Bordoff, a Columbia professor and former climate adviser to Obama, calls “one of the most global problems.”

Ideally, the current administration would be pushing partner countries to strengthen their commitments under the agreement; instead, it is giving them an excuse to slack off.

The decision will punish the poor

For the global poor, the reduced ambition could prove disastrous. The World Bank estimates climate effects could push 100 million people worldwide into poverty over the next 15 years. A recent report from the Climate Impact Lab projects that the most damaging effects of climate change will be concentrated in “hot, poor countries” in regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change is already associated with falling crop production due to record-setting drought.

“In our benchmark estimate,” the authors write, “average income in the poorest 40% of countries declines 75% by 2100 relative to a world without climate change.” Richer, cooler countries in Europe tend to fare better, but, notably, not the United States. It would suffer economically — and on the international stage.

“It’s morally reprehensible to walk away from climate action,” says Keya Chatterjee, the executive director of the US Climate Action Network. “It’s an act everyone will recall as kids gasp for air during heat waves, as homes are wiped out by larger storms, as larger fires displace homes, and as droughts lead to crop failure.”

It won’t create jobs

Trump has said the agreement gives “foreign bureaucrats” control of America’s energy reserves. (It doesn’t.) He’s cast it as a job killer. (It’s not.) Many US corporations support the agreement, including some large oil and gas companies, like Exxon Mobil. Clean energy advocates worry that stepping away from the deal would hamstring renewables here, which are growing so fast that there are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the US.

“It’s the equivalent of a president saying, ‘There’s no future for the US in medical research,'” says Josh Freed, the clean energy vice president at the centrist think tank Third Way. “The president is purposely giving up on an entire sector that could drive global economic growth.”

The most notable corporate support for exiting the deal comes from the coal industry, which is hoping against hope — and the economics of low-cost natural gas — that a complete abandonment of emissions-reduction efforts will lead to an industry renaissance. It’s a last gasp, and unlikely to work, as Houser and Bordoff wrote in a detailed recent analysis.

And it will hurt American leadership

Once Trump quits the deal, he will inflict lasting damage on American foreign policy efforts, well beyond collaboration on environmental issues.

The agreement is in many ways emblematic of how leaders in Washington — on both sides of the aisle — have long viewed America’s role in the world. It does not commit the US to a go-it-alone effort. To the contrary: It leverages promised US emissions cuts to win pledges from the world’s fastest-growing carbon polluters, China and India, as well as other Western and developing countries.

By exiting, Trump would forfeit that leverage. He would return the US to its days of being distrusted by the international community on the issue, and further the belief, particularly in Europe, that America is an unreliable partner.

A future administration could take steps to rejoin the agreement — or to reengage in global climate talks, if Trump walks away from them entirely. But the damage would linger. In Copenhagen in 2009, efforts to forge an international climate deal were hampered, in part, by the deep-rooted suspicion Obama’s team (including Houser) faced from European, Chinese, and other negotiators in the wake of the Bush administration’s foot-dragging on emissions reductions.

It took years, and a batch of controversial regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, to rebuild that credibility and pave the way for Paris. To now quit that agreement would, Houser says, “be the second time Lucy has pulled the football.” The world might not give us a chance for a third.

Commentary by Jim Tankersley, policy and politics editor at Vox.

Single-payer healthcare plan advances in California Senate — without a way to pay its $400-billion tab

Los Angeles Times Essential Politics

This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Ballot measures California Legislature. Reporting from Sacramento.

Single-payer healthcare plan advances in California Senate — without a way to pay its $400-billion tab

Patrick McGreevy June 1, 2017

A proposal to adopt a single-payer healthcare system for California took an initial step forward Thursday when the state Senate approved a bare-bones bill that lacks a method for paying the $400-billion cost of the plan.

The proposal was made by legislators led by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) at the same time President Trump and Republican members of Congress are working to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Despite the incredible progress California has made, millions still do not have access to health insurance and millions more cannot afford the high deductibles and co-pays, and they often forgo care,” Lara said during a floor debate on the bill.

The bill, which now goes to the state Assembly for consideration, will have to be further developed, Lara conceded, adding he hopes to reach a consensus on a way to pay for it.

Republican senators opposed the bill as a threat to the state’s finances.

“We don’t have the money to pay for it,” Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) said. “If we cut every single program and expense from the state budget and redirected that money to this bill, SB 562, we wouldn’t even cover half of the $400-billion price tag.”

Berryhill also said the private sector is better suited to provide healthcare.

“I absolutely don’t trust the government to run our health system,” he said. “What has the government ever done right?”

Lara’s bill would provide a Medicare-for-all-type system that he believed would guarantee health coverage for all Californians without the out-of-pocket costs. Under a single-payer plan, the government replaces private insurance companies, paying doctors and hospitals for healthcare.

The California Nurses Assn., which sponsored the bill, released a fiscal analysis this week that proposed raising the state sales and business receipts taxes by 2.3% to raise $106 billion of the annual cost, with the rest proposed to come from state and federal funding already going to Medicare and Medicaid services.

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado Hills) called the plan “reckless” and said the taxes would hurt businesses and families while financially crippling the state government.

“It’s offensive to the people who have to pay for it,” he said.

Some Democrats felt the bill was rushed and undeveloped. Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) withheld his vote on the bill on grounds it does not provide enough detail of what a single-payer system would look like.

“This is the Senate kicking the can down the road to the Assembly and asking the Assembly to fill in all of the blanks,” Hueso said. “That’s not going to happen this year.”

Lara said action is required because of what is happening in Washington.

“With President Trump’s promise to abandon the Affordable Care Act as we know it — for one that leaves millions without access to care — California is once again tasked to lead,” he told his colleagues.

He said his father recently had heart bypass surgery but went through the emergency room for help after his insurance company initially turned him down.

Even if the bill is approved, it has to go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been skeptical, and then voters would have to exempt it from spending limits and budget formulas in the state Constitution. In addition, the state would have to get federal approval to repurpose existing funds for Medicare and Medicaid

How Fox News dealt with CBO saying 23 million would lose coverage under the AHCA

Vox

How Fox News dealt with CBO saying 23 million would lose coverage under the AHCA

We watched every instance in which Fox News had to confront the number.

Updated by Alvin Chang    May 31, 2017

The morning after a nonpartisan analysts reported that the Republican replacement for Obamacare would cause 23 million people to lose their health insurance — many of them in the reddest states — Fox & Friends invited President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, onto the show.

The exchange went like this:

BRIAN KILMEADE (host): 23 million will lose insurance. True or false?

MULVANEY: False. If you look at the methodology, they assume that folks who were on Medicaid, which is free, will choose to get off Medicaid when the mandate goes away. Now you tell me if this sounds like the real world.

STEVE DOOCY (host): Sure. And I know the [Congressional Budget Office] looked at it. Millions of Americans are not going to buy insurance if they don’t have to because they don’t want to.

It was one of the rare instances Fox & Friends mentioned the “23 million” number, but a quintessential example of how the Fox News Channel has often covered the devastating CBO analysis — by obscuring details and blaming the source, which is similar to how right-wing news sites cover this administration.

Mulvaney does both, saying CBO erred in saying people would voluntarily leave Medicaid. He (and the hosts) fails to mention that the bill kicks low-income adults without children off Medicaid and makes it easier for states to kick people off the program.

It’s part of a pattern on Fox News, which often framed the CBO score in two ways. The first was that the CBO analysis is wrong, or that CBO has been unreliable in the past. The second is that Obamacare is failing and this bill gives people the freedom to escape that failure.

Not thinking too hard about the human cost

As my colleague Jeff Stein writes, this bill is a bigger liability for Republicans than Trump’s scandals. It’s what Democrats are campaigning on and what seems to have the most resonance, perhaps because people don’t want to be in the traumatic situation of having to choose between financial ruin and medical treatment.

Many of those who stand to lose insurance live in states that voted heavily for Trump. The bill hurts a host of demographic groups that support Trump — including older Americans, those who live in more rural areas, and areas suffering most from the opioid crisis.

The CBO scores get at the heart of these fears.

So the injection of these numbers into the AHCA debate caused a dissonance on several Fox News shows. When Fox & Friends had to confront these numbers, the reaction was to minimize the CBO analysis. For example, in March, after the first CBO report, Kilmeade acknowledged that Trump voters would be hurt but assured them this was part of a larger plan:

They say the people that are going to be hurt most under the current plan, the way the calculus is done by the CBO, are Americans between the age of 50 and 64. Right before Medicare, the older part and last leg of their career. That translates into mostly Trump voters.

But then you factor in the fact that this is a three-phase plan. The second phase is when [Health and Human Services Secretary] Tom Price is supposed to theoretically sit there and put in regulations that’ll make this more of a conservative project.

Host Ainsley Earhardt questioned the CBO, saying:

Here’s the thing. Donald Trump says the Democrats are the ones that put us in this mess. They are complaining about this.

Can you really trust the CBO? Can you trust the report?

Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare, he said blatantly — we played the sound bites for you yesterday — he said we can trick the CBO, call them mandates and not taxes, and they will pass this thing through.

Then on May 4, the House prepared to vote on the second version of the AHCA without a CBO score showing the policy’s impact. That morning, Doocy confronted the “24 million” number by saying it’s better because it “reduces taxes and stuff like that”:

When you saw that figure a month or two ago, where something like 24 million would wind up losing their health care: That is a great political ad for the Democrats, whoever is going to run against any of the Republicans coming up in 2018.

But here’s the thing: What if it’s — the hope for everybody is this is actually better. Reduces taxes and stuff like that.

And ultimately, when it comes to politics, this is going to redeem Speaker Paul Ryan. Plus, it’s going to give President Trump his first big — and it is big — legislative win.

I’m largely focusing on Fox & Friends because it has one very important viewer — President Trump — who has praised the show multiple times, and even thanked them for helping him win the presidency. It is the inner monologue of a president who has aggressively criticized most other media outlets for their reporting of his presidency.

Some shows on the network were slightly more nuanced, saying that people will choose to be uninsured because Obamacare will no longer mandate people to have insurance.

The bottom third also suggests the new version of the bill protects people with preexisting conditions. It does not.

There was little talk of why the mandate existed in the first place, and the mechanism the AHCA uses in its place: a penalty for people who want to buy insurance on the marketplace after a lapse in coverage.

Painting the CBO — and subsequently the media — as biased

Occasionally a guest would be on a Fox News show to represent the opposing viewpoint, and they would defend the 24 million number, though almost immediately a conservative guest or the host would reframe the discussion around CBO’s credibility or Obamacare’s failure. But it was this inherent conflict — between left and right, between “them” and “us” — that framed the coverage around the CBO report.

After watching the nearly 100 times people on Fox News confronted these numbers, the CBO report stopped feeling like a number describing humans. Rather, it felt like a political concoction — a number whipped up to make Obamacare repeal harder.

In fact, media outlets and experts who cited the CBO score were also treated with contempt. Below is a screenshot of a segment on how unfairly the mainstream media is treating the AHCA after the CBO score:

It’s cruel to disorient people like this

American health care is complicated. This AHCA debate is complicated. Yet it’s these complicated details that determine the cost and quality of care for our bodies.

So when nonpartisan analysts say that a bill will cause 23 million to lose insurance in 10 years and make costs skyrocket for older and poorer Americans, it should clarify our political opinions.

But Fox News has taken advantage of television as a medium to try to convince its viewers that “23 million” is a partisan tool, not an evidence-based projection. It’s basing its rhetoric on personality, on partisanship, on tribalism, and insisting that people trust them, not the mainstream media or the nonpartisan analysts who are desperate to take down Donald Trump.

Let’s put it this way: When our satellites tell us a powerful hurricane is headed toward us, it’s irresponsible not to tell everyone to get out of the way. But convincing the people that the tools are malfunctioning, that the hurricane isn’t coming their way, that the rest of the news reports are wrong? That’s cruel.

Renewable Energy Growth, 40 Years Ahead of EIA’ s Forecast

EcoWatch

Renewable Energy Growth, 40 Years Ahead of EIA’ s Forecast

By Sun Day Campaign     May 30, 2017

The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information’s (EIA) Electric Power Monthly (with data through March 31) reveals that renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar—inc. small-scale PV, wind) accounted for 19.35 percent of net U.S. electrical generation during the first quarter of 2017. Of this, conventional hydropower accounted for 8.67 percent, followed by wind (7.10 percent), biomass (1.64 percent), solar (1.47 percent) and geothermal (0.47 percent). Combined, non-hydro renewables accounted for 10.68 percent of total generation.

Yet, just five years ago, in its 2012 Annual Energy Outlook, EIA forecast: “Generation from renewable sources grows by 77 percent in the reference case, raising its share of total generation from 10 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2035 … The share of the total electricity generation accounted for by non-hydropower renewable generation increases from about 4 percent in 2010 to 9 percent in 2035.”

If one assumes growth continuing at about the same annual rate as during the 25-year EIA forecast period (2010-2035), renewables would not be expected to reach 19.35 percent until roughly the year 2057—40 years from now.

EIA’s 2012 report further forecast: “Wind [electrical generating] capacity increasing from 39 gigawatts (GW) in 2010 to 70 GW in 2035.” A corresponding chart illustrates that projection and also shows solar reaching 24 GW of capacity in 2035.

In reality, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest Energy Infrastructure Update, with data for the first three months of 2017, wind generating capacity already totals 84.59 GW while utility-scale solar has reached 25.84 GW (and this does not include distributed small-scale systems such as rooftop solar). *

“Thus, not only has renewable energy’s share of total domestic electrical generation nearly doubled in the past seven years, it has reached a level of output that EIA—just five years ago—did not anticipate happening for another four decades,” Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, noted.

“While one might conclude that EIA’s methodology is seriously flawed, it is also safe to say that renewables—especially solar and wind—are vastly exceeding expectations and breaking records at an astonishing pace.”‘

This is clearly evidenced by comparing 2017 to 2016 year-to-date. During the first quarter of 2016, renewables provided 17.23 percent of total generation versus 19.35 percent in 2017. Actual generation by renewables is 9.70 percent greater than just a year ago. In particular, solar (i.e., solar thermal, utility-scale PV and distributed PV) has ballooned by 34.1 percent, wind has expanded by 11.4 percent, conventional hydropower has grown by 7.7 percent and geothermal has increased by 3.2 percent. Only biomass has declined year-on-year—by 1.6 percent.

* Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Electrical production per MW of available capacity (i.e., capacity factor) for renewables is often, but not always, lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. The total installed operating generating capacity provided by utility-scale renewables in 2017 is now 19.5% of the nation’s total for the first three months of 2017 (according to the latest U.S. FERC figures) whereas actual electrical generation from renewables for the same period is roughly 19.4 percent. However, both of these figures understate renewables’ actual contribution because neither EIA nor FERC fully accounts for all electricity generated by smaller-scale, distributed renewable energy sources. FERC’s data, for example, is limited to plants with nameplate capacity of 1 MW or greater and thereby fail to include distributed sources such as rooftop solar.

Fox News journalist gives eyewitness account of Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting reporter

Good Morning America

Fox News journalist gives eyewitness account of Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting reporter

Morgan Winsor,  Good Morning America May 25, 2017

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna says she was among a handful of journalists who witnessed Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montanta’s special House election, slam a reporter to the ground Wednesday night.

In a Fox News report summarizing the alleged incident, Acuna said she and two members of her production crew — field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Raily — had a scheduled interview with Gianforte at the candidate’s office in Bozeman, Montana, on Wednesday. Gianforte entered the room and “exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman” with Acuna and her team, she said.

“During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act,” Acuna wrote in the Fox News report. “Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.”

The encounter suddenly took a violent turn, she said.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

“Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer,” Acuna continued. “Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.”

Gianforte, a former technology executive, left the scene after providing statements to local sheriff’s deputies, according to Acuna.

Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on its website Wednesday night.

The statement added that the “nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that four people were present for the alleged incident.

As a result of the citation, Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7.

In the Fox News report, Acuna said she and her crew are “cooperating with local authorities” and will have to appear in court.

Before the charges were filed, Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon issued a statement, placing the blame on Jacobs and claiming the candidate’s actions were a response to Jacobs pushing a phone in his face during “a separate interview in a private office” that he entered “without permission.”

“Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” according to the statement. “Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

In the Fox News report, Acuna wrote that she and her production crew “at no point” saw Jacobs demonstrate “any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

ABC News’ Adam Kelsey contributed to this report.

 

ThinkProgress

GOP candidate’s attack on journalist is an extension of Trump’s violent, anti-media rhetoric

The alleged assault of Ben Jacobs did not happen in a vacuum.

Lindsay Gibbs,  Sports Reporter at ThinkProgress     May 25, 2017

Wednesday, on the eve of Montana’s special election for its congressional seat, Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs approached Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. Jacobs wanted to know if Gianforte supported the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office had just revealed would cause 23 million Americans to lose insurance.

Gianforte dodged the question, but when the reporter persisted, the candidate “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” according to an eyewitness account by Fox News reporters who were on the scene. Then Gianforte began punching Jacobs, who released audio of the incident.

Jacobs was taken to the hospital, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, and the special election is proceeding as previously scheduled, with no prominent GOP figures rescinding their support of Gianforte.

It’s appalling, but ultimately not surprising, that a politician allegedly assaulted a reporter who was merely doing his job. This is the result of the violent, anti-media rhetoric that President Trump has been spewing since early in his campaign. It’s a progression of — not an exception to — the current climate of the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership.

Throughout his campaign — and since his victory — Trump told his supporters the story of a crooked, “liberal media” conspiring to spread lies to take down him and his supporters. Trump has, in no uncertain terms, said that the media is the enemy and the “opposition party.”

And at Trump’s campaign rallies, where violent incidents grew to be quite common, anger was often targeted at this agreed-upon enemy: the media.

In October, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reported that the disdain for reporters at Trump rallies had turned into “outright hostility.” Members of the press contingent were met with boos, abusive slurs, and obscenities as they were merely trying to do their job.

“Reporters are now concealing or removing their press credentials when leaving the pen to avoid confrontations with Trump’s supporters,” Farhi said. “The atmosphere is particularly threatening to female reporters and to female TV reporters whose faces are well known, reporters say. (‘The camera draws the hate,’ as one put it.) Some reporters have wondered aloud about the need for more security, or at least more barriers to separate them from the crowd as they enter and exit Trump’s events.”

Trump sometimes even singled out reporters on the campaign trail, leading to targeted abuse and even death threats.

“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED. MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR,” one Trump supporter tweeted at NBC reporter Katy Tur after Trump repeatedly called her out during campaign rallies.

Tur wasn’t the only reporter who felt unsafe on the campaign trail.

“He was unhappy with some story I had done and he did a little impression of me on stage, and started talking about this terrible CNN reporter,” CNN’s Sara Turner said during the campaign. “Then he called me out by name. The next thing I knew, I had thousands of Trump fans turning around [and] jeering at me.”

In February, Paste Magazine published an article examining Trump’s impact on the media entitled “Should American Journalists Fear for Their Physical Safety?”

The lede summed it up: “Probably.”

It’s important to note that Trump himself has never body-slammed any reporters to the ground for asking a simple question about health care (though he did defend his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested and charged with simple battery of former Brietbart reporter Michelle Fields in March).

But the environment he cultivates around himself, and the casual rhetoric he uses —Trump once thanked his supporters for being “vicious” and “violent” in the lead-up to the election — has consequences.

As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Trump’s rhetoric fits into a pattern of what researchers refer to as “stochastic terrorism” —using suggestive language rhetoric to inspire radicals to carry out violent acts. In other words, it’s possible to spur others to violence without explicitly instructing them to do so.

And it’s not a coincidence that Gianforte was an ardent Trump supporter who went hunting with Donald Trump Jr. and campaigned beside Vice President Mike Pence. The Guardian’s Jacobs, who had covered the Montana special election extensively, reported before the alleged assault that Gianforte was “eager to embrace Donald Trump … and regularly talks about ‘making America great again’ and ‘draining the swamp.’”

It’s certainly not a surprise to see that Gianforte himself has “joked” about violence against the media in the past.

At one campaign event earlier this year, the Missoulian reported that a Gianforte supporter asked the candidate, “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”

After asking the question, the supporter turned to the reporter beside him and mimed strangling him. Gianforte reportedly smiled, before responding: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.”

Ultimately, Gianforte might face zero political consequences for his actions.

Over half of registered voters in Montana cast their ballots before Wednesday. Gianforte’s opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, is still an underdog. Even though the race was tightening before Gianforte slammed a reporter to the ground, Gianforte could still win this election. And if he does win, it appears he’ll also be welcomed to Washington with open arms.

GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, are all stillsupporting Gianforte. Trump and Pence have not commented. Conservative pundits are spinning the story away.

Jacobs, who has also reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russia, approached a politician at a campaign event and asked a crucial policy question, one that Montana voters deserved to know the answer to.

In Trump’s America, that’s now viewed as a threat.

From Montana Public Radio

On Eve Of Election, Montana GOP Candidate Charged With Assault On Reporter

Jessica Taylor and Eric Whitney   May 24, 2017  Updated on May 25th

The Montana special congressional race was roiled on the eve of Thursday’s vote after GOP nominee Greg Gianforte allegedly “body slammed” a reporter and was subsequently cited by local authorities.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office announced they were charging Gianforte with misdemeanor assault:

Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault (MCA 45-5-201). The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.

According to audio posted by Ben Jacobs, a political reporter with The Guardian, he was attempting to ask Gianforte a question, ahead of a campaign event in Bozeman, about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Republican health care bill, which showed that 23 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 if the bill were enacted.

In the recording, Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte says he doesn’t have time and directs Jacobs to talk to his spokesman, then there is a scuffle and a crash.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte can be heard yelling. “The last guy did the same damn thing. Get the hell out of here.”

Gianforte’s campaign spokesman claimed in a statement that Jacobs interrupted an interview “without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions.”

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground,” Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon said. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

That account from the campaign, however, appears to be contradicted by three Fox News journalists who had been in the room setting up for an interview with Gianforte:

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.

Jacobs tells Gianforte he broke his glasses and that he was going to report the incident to the police. He later called into MSNBC and said that he was getting his elbow — which may have been injured during the altercation — X-rayed at a nearby hospital.

In his statement on the Gianforte’s misdemeanor assault citation, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who has previously donated $250 to Gianforte’s congressional campaign, said that his “contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”

Shortly after the assault charges against Gianforte were announced, both the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian newspaper rescinded their endorsement of Gianforte Wednesday evening.

The incident comes less than 24 hours before voters in Montana were set to head to the polls in a race that is seen as a potential bellwether for the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The race between Gianforte and Democratic nominee Rob Quist had already tightened in a state that President Trump won by 20 points last November. It’s unclear what effect the altercation might have on the contest, but at least one-third of voters have likely already cast their ballots early. The contest is to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who Trump named his Interior secretary earlier this year.

Spending looks likely to reach $18 million in the fast moving, 85-day shootout, a record for the seat and double what was spent in the 2016 race. The candidates have each raised about $5 million, with more than $7 million being spent by outside groups.

Montana’s contest pits a wealthy businessman — Gianforte, who narrowly lost the race for governor last year — against Quist, a locally famous singer-songwriter and political neophyte.

Democrats were already hopeful that negative headlines from Washington, D.C., would give the Stetson-wearing crooner Quist the momentum he needs to score an upset — and that was before the altercation between Gianforte and the reporter on Wednesday evening.

But Republicans have held Montana’s House seat since 1996. The GOP is confident that Treasure State voters will stick with the party of Trump, who won Montana by 20 points in November.

Quist was slow out of the gate, taking a month to get a campaign ad on TV, and he didn’t get financial backing from the national Democratic Party until halfway into the 12-week race.

By contrast, Gianforte quickly won millions in support from the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, the NRA and allied national groups. Gianforte had campaign ads on TV days before he even secured his party’s nomination.

Gianforte has paired himself with aspects of the president’s agenda in this race — promising “to fight back against Washington, D.C.’s war on the West” — after distancing himself from then-candidate Trump last fall. Gianforte was the only Republican statewide candidate in Montana to lose in November, receiving the fewest votes of any GOP candidate in what was otherwise a party sweep.

In that campaign, Democrats successfully painted Gianforte as a “New Jersey millionaire” trying to buy the governorship.

Gianforte moved to Montana 24 years ago from Pennsylvania, starting a software company that Oracle purchased in 2011 for $1.5 billion. Gianforte spent $6 million of his own money running for governor, and has loaned his House campaign $1.5 million this time around.

(His former employee Steve Daines, also a Republican, won Montana’s U.S. House race in 2012 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014.)

Quist has attempted to demonize Gianforte for his wealth and out-of-state origins. In early ads, Quist defended himself against NRA attacks by polishing a vintage Winchester rifle, which he says he’s owned since “long before Greg Gianforte showed up from New Jersey.”

Late in the race, Quist pivoted to emphasizing Gianforte’s support for the House health care bill. On the day it passed, the Republican told reporters he would have voted against it. But on the same day, in a recorded phone call to party backers that was leaked to the New York Times, Gianforte said he was “thankful” that it passed.

Republicans attack Quist for a history of personal financial troubles. But the Democrat has attempted to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse by saying his money problems are related to a botched surgery that rendered him indebted and uninsurable. Quist’s final TV ads say that he, like half of all Montanans, could lose health coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

There’s no reliable public polling, but this week Gianforte is telling his backers, “this race is closer than it should be.” Both his and Quist’s volunteers have fanned out across the state in advance of an unusual election day that falls on the Thursday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock picked the election date, the earliest allowed by law.

“The biggest hurdle for us has been trying to combat voter confusion,” said Rebecca Connors, clerk of Missoula County, the state’s second most populous, on Monday.

Just weeks before absentee voting began May 1, a bipartisan bill to conduct the election solely by mail-in ballot failed in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

“I feel like a lot of voters never found any resolution of how that outcome came, so we’re getting lots of calls,” said Connors.

Connors also notes that many traditional polling places won’t be open, they’re either already booked for school graduations, or too expensive to staff for county governments which struggled to meet 2016 election expenses.

Prior to Wednesday’s altercation, University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin said Quist’s best shot hinges on a big Democratic turnout combined with low enthusiasm from Republican voters. But given the GOP’s superior numbers in Montana, “Gianforte has a much bigger margin of error,” Saldin said.

The Montana polls close Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

Eric Whitney is a reporter with Montana Public Radio.

Behind the Montana special election “body slam” story is an important point about the AHCA

Updated by Tara Golshan  May 24, 2017

Republican Greg Gianforte is up for election tomorrow in a special House race in Montana — and he, allegedly, decided to body-slam Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after a question about the projected effects of the health care bill Republicans passed earlier this month.

And there’s a way to almost make sense of it. Let’s walk through this:

Jacobs, according to the audio the Guardian released of the incident, asked Gianforte what he thought about the new report from the Congressional Budget Office on the House’s health bill. It’s a pretty innocuous question. (I asked about half a dozen Republican politicians the same question earlier in the day — though none of them had quite the reaction Gianforte did.)

But for Republicans like Gianforte, the answer is complicated. As it turns out, the updated CBO score looks bad — it estimated the number of uninsured would increase by 23 million in the first 10 years and make it much harder for those with preexisting conditions to obtain coverage — barely an improvement on the first draft of the bill Republicans considered.

Gianforte has publicly come out against the American Health Care Act, saying he would not have voted in favor of the version that passed the House, and, as Jacobs pointed out, that he was waiting to make further judgments after the CBO’s score. Privately, Gianforte expressed (in a leaked audio tape) that he was happy the Obamacare repeal and replace process is in motion, which Democrats took to mean that the House passed the bill.

There is no explaining why Gianforte allegedly chose to physically assault Jacobs, but the context around it clarifies just how high the stakes are with health care for Republicans in vulnerable districts.

The Montana special election is proving to be a much closer race than expected in such a deeply red state. And as Vox’s Jeff Stein explained, it’s not only President Trump’s scandal-soaked White House that’s gaining Democrats some ground. It’s policy — and specifically, health care:

Trump may be increasingly unpopular nationally, but Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act — which Trump has backed but the conservative vision for which entirely predates his rise — is far more politically toxic. The evidence is mounting in ongoing congressional campaigns. In the upcoming special elections in Georgia and Montana, Democrats’ closing pitches have had far more to do with defending Obamacare than attacking Trump, while the Republicans in those races look to the president for political cover.

Gianforte’s opposition, Democrat Rob Quist — a banjo player with no prior political experience — has been hitting Gianforte hard on health care. Stein explains:

There’s a good reason for Quist to go after the AHCA rather than Trump: The president remains popular in Montana, a state he won by 20 points. (Quist’s opponent, tech millionaire Greg Gianforte, is hugging Trump about as closely as possible.) The Medicaid expansion under Obamacare covered 70,000 Montanans, and the AHCA is polling in the mid-20s nationally, while the approval rating of Obamacare skyrockets.

This is also why House Democrats keep jeering that the American Health Care Act is going to lose Republicans the majority in 2018. (They literally sang “na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” at House Republican as the AHCA passed.)

Democratic and Republican congressional campaign operatives will tell you it’s far too early to know what will actually happen in the midterm elections, but moderate Republicans who are concerned with coverage loss and represent districts that like Obamacare, but still voted for the AHCA, are already showing signs of just how hard this health care vote was for them.

Take Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who sits in an extremely vulnerable seat in 2018 — he called the new CBO score a “moderate improvement” and said he hopes the progress continues in the Senate.

Other Republicans, like moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, who was one of the Republicans who helped get the AHCA over the House finish line in May, resigned himself to just questioning the validity of the CBO report. Earlier this week, MacArthur said he would resign as co-chair of the Tuesday Group, the moderate Republican caucus, because they were just too “divided.”

The AHCA still has a long way to go — but it’s already on shaky ground. And apparently, as we saw in Gianforte’s case, it means Republicans are getting pestered with questions they don’t know how to answer.

A Republican Congressman Just Destroyed Trump’s ‘Lie’ Of A Budget

Huffington Post

A Republican Congressman Just Destroyed Trump’s ‘Lie’ Of A Budget

Michael McAuliff,   HuffPost May 24, 2017

WASHINGTON ― Citing the Bible and expressing his sympathies in advance, Republican South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford savaged President Donald Trump’s budget proposal Wednesday as a “myth” and a “lie,” hammering the White House’s spending plan more thoroughly than any Democrat.

Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who has a contentious relationship with the White House, simply did not accept the contention offered by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in a House Budget Committee hearing that the economy is going to grow at 3 percent for the next 10 years.

The White House uses that growth estimate to argue that, despite cutting taxes dramatically for the wealthy, tax revenues will actually rise so that the budget will balance in 10 years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates growth rates of just 1.9 percent.

“I have looked every which way at how you might get there, and you can’t get there,” Sanford told Mulvaney.

The South Carolinian, who describes himself as a budget hawk, went on to lay out all the ways that using a bogus estimate is terrible.

“What it does is it perpetuates a myth that we can go out there and balance the budget without touching entitlements,” Sanford said. “It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie.”

Sanford offered some basic history to challenge Mulvaney’s assumptions. For starters, he noted that the average economic expansion in all U.S. history lasts about 58 months. The current expansion begun under President Barack Obama has been underway for 94 months. The Trump budget, Sanford noted, assumes that will continue uninterrupted for an additional 214 months.

“This budget presumes a Goldilocks economy, and I think that’s a very difficult thing on which to base a budget,” Sanford said. He also noted that the Bible cautions against building a house on sand.

Sanford took specific aim at the unemployment, growth and inflation rates the budget relies on.

“Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, growth at 3 percent, and inflation held at 2 percent?” Sanford asked. “It’s never happened,” he answered, when Mulvaney didn’t.

After pointing to other assumptions in the budget that have never happened, Sanford argued that to get the growth rates assumed by the budget, it would take a return to economic and demographic circumstances that haven’t existed since the 1950s and 1960s. That was when women were entering the workforce, highways were being expanded, appliances were first flooding the markets, productivity was skyrocketing, and the Baby Boomers were going to work, rather than retiring en masse.

“Even if we went to 1990 numbers, we would only see one-quarter of what is necessary to achieve 3 percent growth,” Sanford said.

Sanford said there was a reason he took a blowtorch to Mulvaney’s numbers ― because Congress can’t have a real debate about making cuts if it’s using phony numbers.

“Literally, the speaker of the House [was] talking today about the notion of 3 percent growth and how we can balance the budget,” Sanford said to offer an example of bogus rhetoric being used.

“For us to have a real debate, we have to base it on real numbers,” he said. “I’m a deficit hawk, as you well know, and if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus-trillion hole for our kids and grandkids.”

Sanford would have kept going, but fortunately for Mulvaney, he ran out of time, and submitted the rest of his facts in writing to be included in the record.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

The place in America where (almost) no one drinks their tap water

Christian Science Monitor

The place in America where (almost) no one drinks their tap water

Local officials in eastern Kentucky’s Martin County insist the water is fine, despite repeated violations of EPA limits. But residents have been relying on bottled water for years.

Story Hinckly    Staff writer

May 18, 2017 Inez and Tomahawk, Ky.—T.J. Fannin, sitting on his porch as the sun sets, speaks fondly of the 27 years he spent working in nearby coal mines. But despite the hard labor that fueled a coal boom and sent millions of dollars into Kentucky’s coffers, he says he and his neighbors lack a basic amenity: clean tap water.

“[O]n the TV you see someone go to the faucet and get a drink of water, and it just makes me mad cause, you know, we can’t do that,” says Mr. Fannin, who buys two or three 24-packs of bottled water a month for drinking and cooking. “There’s an odor to the water…. It’s just like stagnant water [that] comes out of the bottom of a pool.”

It’s no secret that the decline of coal has hit the mountain spine of Appalachia hard. But it’s less well known that an amenity of life most Americans take for granted isn’t a given, more than 50 years after Lyndon B. Johnson launched his “war on poverty” here in Martin County, Ky.

And what really gets Fannin’s goat, he says, is that residents here face far higher water bills than in nearby counties. This, despite frequent warnings that the local water has exceeded Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits for certain chemicals.

“We should have a top-notch water system, septic system, schools, roads,” given all the proceeds from coal mining over the years, says the former miner. “We got this 4-lane [highway] down here and that’s basically all we got.”

In a place where political distrust runs high and funds are scarce, little has been done to improve the county’s water quality or infrastructure, as reported by the Ohio Valley Resource’s Benny Becker in January.

Local officials argue that the water issue has been blown out of proportion by a handful of outspoken residents, whose activism sends the water district jumping through bureaucratic hoops instead of fixing a creaking system. For the rest of the community, relying solely on bottled water is seen as just a way of life, not a reason to protest.

Two students hanging out in the high school parking lot say their parents have always had a family rule against drinking from the tap. Becky, a grocery cashier in nearby Warfield, says she hasn’t consumed the county’s water since 1999. Neither a hardware-store owner nor a retired butcher can remember the last time they drank from the tap.

“There is a fundamental breakdown in the expectation of democracy in places like Appalachia,” says Alexander Gibson, director of Appalshop, a media organization in Whitesburg, Ky. “They have observed that a complaint to the government disappears like the morning fog.”

Exceeded EPA limits repeatedly since 2005

In the bowels of the Martin County Water District offices, Joe Hammond sits in front of an Excel sheet, a map of the county’s water lines taped on the wall above him.

Piles of paper teeter beside his elbows, while packs of bottled water are stacked next to the filing cabinets. He says the girls in the office drink that, not him. As far as he’s concerned, the local water is fine.

“I raised two fine young children with that water,” says Mr. Hammond, the supervisor of the water district.

But Lee Mueller, who was also born here, became concerned about the water when he moved back in the 1980s.

“I had written stories about it for years,” says Mr. Mueller, who served as the Lexington-Herald Leader’s eastern Kentucky bureau chief for three decades. He blames the water quality for his own cancer diagnosis. “I didn’t really get involved with water until we were getting notices of violation that were two months old from the water district that they were required by law to inform residents that they had exceeded contaminant levels for various cancer-causing agents.”

According to Kentucky Division of Water records, Martin County’s water system has exceeded EPA limits for certain chemicals in its drinking water multiple times every year since 2005. Martin County was out of compliance in eight of the last 10 tests for haloacetic acid (HAA5) limits and 6 of the last 10 tests for total trihalomethanes (TTHM) limits.

These chemicals – by-products of chlorine treatment intended to make the water palatable – aren’t considered as dangerous as the lead that laced Flint’s water in Michigan. But the notifications sent to residents by the water district warn that extended exposure increases the risk of cancer.

Gail Brion, an engineering professor at the University of Kentucky who previously worked for the EPA, says the agency sets conservative limits for HAA5s and TTHMs. But an ethical controversy arises, says Professor Brion, when the government gives you no choice but to pay for bottled water in order to avoid this health risk.

Funding and priorities

The highest elected official in Martin County, Judge Executive Kelly Callaham, can be found in his corner office in the county’s newest courthouse. When asked about his county’s water quality, Judge Callaham leans forward in his chair and waves one hand in the air.

“You could drink four gallons of our water every day for 70 years and you have a chance of getting cancer. Well, hell, if you eat hot dogs, read what’s in hot dogs. You could eat four hot dogs a day for 70 years and you probably wouldn’t last 70 years,” says Callaham. “ ‘Could cause cancer,’ and ‘will cause cancer’ is a whole different deal.”

Callaham blames the EPA-mandated notices and the local newspaper, the Mountain Citizen, for what he considers unnecessary hysteria.

Editor Gary Ball has published a steady stream of articles on the water issue, as well as Callaham’s alleged misuse of county finances, including the $10 million courthouse building. “The system has been mismanaged for years,” Mr. Ball says.

Kentucky began issuing a “severance” tax on coal companies in 1972 to assist economic development. According to state records obtained by the Monitor, out of $34.5 million in coal severance funds disbursed since 2001, Martin County spent $7.3 million – or about 21 percent – on sewer and water improvements.

Comparatively, state Senator Ray Jones – who represents five counties including Martin County – says his home of Pike County spent 70 to 75 percent of its severance tax funds on water and sewer infrastructure.

“A lot of it comes down to funding,” says Senator Jones, “but a lot of it comes down to priorities.”

Among other projects, Martin County spent about $3.3 million in coal severance funds on the new courthouse, and another $7 million to build the Inez Business Center. Local critics say these funds could have made a big dent in repairing Martin County’s water system, with estimates of total renovation running between $13 and $15 million.

Coal severance revenues have plummeted in recent years. In 2016, Martin County received only 12 percent of what it got in 2009. Today the revenues provide just enough to cover the bond payments on the new courthouse.

Callaham says he wouldn’t have built it if he knew the coal severance money was going to run out so quickly.

But Darren Sammons with the Kentucky Department of Local Government says, “[W]e have been advising local officials for years to expect lower coal severance revenues and to budget accordingly.”

A system built for 600, serving 3,500

Meanwhile, Hammond is left to address the water district’s manifold problems as best he can.

Martin County’s water system – including a treatment plant – was built in 1968 for 600 customers. It currently serves 3,500. This expansion of lines in eastern Kentucky’s rocky hills created an underground system susceptible to holes and line breaks – and therefore water loss.

The EPA estimates the average water loss in the US to be 15 percent per month, but Martin County has been under investigation by the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) in recent years for water loss rates greater than 60 percent.

When there’s a problem, Martin County residents often call the local newspaper instead of the water district, circumventing Hammond.

The newspaper goes directly to the PSC, which responds to the paper’s complaints by issuing Hammond extensive paperwork, which he says diverts resources away from dealing with customers’ problems.

“I’m still working on things they have asked for” – back in June 2016, he says.

‘People are afraid to complain’

A Facebook group called Martin County Water Warriors, which has more than 1,000 members, regularly posts updates on water quality issues – everything from photos of corroded water heaters to updates about the next hearing on Martin County’s water (June 1 in Frankfort, Ky.).

Nina and Mickey McCoy, longtime environmental activists, say they have also tried to organize citizen meetings to demand action on the city’s water quality, but with little effect. Once, they ordered dozens of pizzas and not a single person showed up.

In a place where Big Coal holds so much sway, few are willing to publicly share their grievances.

“People are afraid to complain about the water,” says Mr. McCoy, because they fear losing their jobs or severance packages. “Or their third cousin might be fired. It runs deep.”

There’s also a pervasive feeling that speaking up won’t accomplish anything.

“The government just doesn’t seem to work on this level for the people,” says Dan Preece, a world history teacher at Sheldon Clark High School – who is willing to speak on the record only because he is tenured.

“When the kids see over time what does get spent here … you see a new courthouse built, but we can’t get the water fixed,” says Mr. Preece. “They don’t feel like they matter, like this is not a problem worth solving.”

But Jones, for one, is working on solving it.

“It needs to be a collaborative effort between local officials, local citizens, and state officials,” says Jones, who in February introduced legislation to give the PSC greater leverage over water districts. “It’s not going to be resolved overnight… but there needs to be a plan.”

Staff writer Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting.

CSM, In Pictures Water: a vital resource in crisis

http://www.csmonitor.com/Photo-Galleries/In-Pictures/Water-a-vital-resource-in-crisis#710033

Trump administration rejects ban on harmful insecticide, dozens of farmworkers get sick

ThinkProgress

Trump administration rejects ban on harmful insecticide, dozens of farmworkers get sick

Chlorpyrifos is linked to neurotoxic symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and confusion.

By Esther Yu Hsi Lee, Immigration Reporter at ThinkProgress.     May 15, 2017

More than 50 farmworkers in California became sick from pesticide drift, Kern Golden Empire reported, one month after a controversial pesticide was deemed safe to use by the Trump administration.

On May 5, workers harvesting cabbage on a farm near Bakersfield were exposed to a “pesticide odor” from mandarin orchards in the west sprayed with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical. The active ingredient in Vulcan is chlorpyrifos, a chemical linked to human health problems manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.

Approximately 12 people with symptoms of vomiting and nausea were decontaminated, but 11 of those 12 refused any further treatment, according to an incident log on the Kern County Fire Department webpage. One person was taken to the hospital while more than half of the farm-workers left before medical personnel arrived on scene. The Kern County Fire Department, Kern County Environmental Health and Hazmat responded to the area for a mass decontamination.

“I’m not pointing fingers or saying it was done incorrectly. It was just an unfortunate thing the way it was drifted,” Efron Zavalza, Supervisor and Food Safety Specialist at Dan Andrews Farms where the incident occurred, told the publication. “The wind came and pushed everything east and you know we were caught in the path.”

“Anybody that was exposed, that was here today, we encourage them to seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait. Particularly if you’re suffering from any symptoms. Whether it’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately,” Michelle Corson, Public Relations Officer, Kern County Public Health, said.

Chlorpyrifos — a widely-used organophosphate insecticide in use for over 50 years — is used on a variety of crops like oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, and broccoli. It can cause neurotoxic symptoms in humans like nausea, dizziness, and confusion. When exposed to high dosages, humans can suffer from respiratory paralysis or death. A study by researchers at Columbia University found that exposure was linked to brain function and lower IQ among children. For years, environmental groups have pressured the EPA to look into the correlation between pesticide usage and problems that could affect workers on an organic and cellular level.

Also at ThinkProgress: Dow Chemical gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, now wants pesticide risk study buried.

During the Obama administration, EPA scientists recommended taking chlorpyrifos off the market. Despite the scientific evidence, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected the ban on chlorpyrifos on the grounds that the agency needs to “provide regulatory certainty” for the thousands of U.S. farms that rely on chlorpyrifos. Dow Chemical donated $ 1 million to fund Presdient Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony. In a letter to the Trump administration sent in April, Dow Chemical asked the administration to “set aside” and ignore research showing that the pesticide could be harmful to endangered species.

Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers

The Nation

Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers

On almost every measure, Trump is making life worse for the working class.

By Robert Borosage   May 12, 2017

Donald Trump has ginned up a continuous din in his first four months as president, with each outrage or grotesquerie immediately followed by another.

Amid the furors, it is easy to lose track of the key standard by which Trump will be judged by his key voters: his oft-repeated campaign pledge that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” These pledges have continued since Trump became president. He told the Conservative Political Action Conference that “the forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.” In the flood of reviews of Trump’s first 100 days, which focused heavily on his scandals and gaffes, few noted that he failed on this measure.

The working people who were crucial to Trump’s victory may not be impressed by more evidence that he’s a scoundrel. Most of them considered him a scoundrel when they voted for him. Their hope was that he might be their scoundrel, in contrast to the “corrupted politicians” and “failed political elite” that he railed against.

Trump understands this. That’s why so many of his stunts and boasts—the Carrier deal to keep 800 jobs here, posturing over the North American Free Trade Agreement, claiming credit for new jobs stemming from corporate decisions made long before he was elected—are designed to be seen and loved by working people. But these stunts cover the reality: Trump is shafting the very working people who supported him.

Consider these key measures.

Jobs

Trump constantly promises “lots of jobs,” and boasts of cracking down on companies moving jobs abroad. Trump officially buried the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that was dead anyway. He issued a “Buy America, Hire America” executive order, but that just called for a review, not action.

Beneath the noise, workers are getting betrayed. Trump has introduced no jobs bill. His much-ballyhooed plan to rebuild America was glaringly absent from his first budget, which actually cuts spending on infrastructure. He has abandoned the End the Offshoring Act he promised in the first 100 days, which would use tariffs to discourage companies from moving abroad. Worse, he’s backed off pressuring China on the unprecedented trade deficits we suffer, and in so doing sacrifices American jobs for China’s supposed help with North Korea. Rather than ripping up NAFTA, he now says he’ll renegotiate it, with his Commerce Secretary bizarrely suggesting that the TPP might serve as the “starting point.” His tax proposal would end taxation on profits reported abroad, giving companies even more incentive to ship jobs or create tax dodges abroad.

Worse, Trump has refused to use the power that he has. The federal government spends about $470 billion per year on contracts with firms that employ about one of five workers in the private sector. The president has the power to make his pledge of “Buy America, Hire America” a centerpiece of our procurement policy. As research by Good Jobs Nation shows, 41 of the top 100 recipients of federal contracts engage in offshoring of jobs. Those companies received $176 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2016, which is over one-third of all federal contract spending. Trump could issue an executive order excluding firms that offshore jobs from qualifying to bid on federal contracts. That would have an immediate and profound effect on offshoring. Instead, Trump bloviates, but doesn’t act.

Wages

Trump promised workers good jobs with good wages, but he has acted repeatedly to drive down wages. He won’t ask the Republican House to vote on raising the minimum wage. He supports the right-wing push for a “right to work” law, designed to weaken unions. Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court justice, will no doubt provide the fifth vote for gutting public-sector unions. Trump joined the Republican Congress to repeal Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplace” executive order, which was designed to protect federal contract employees from wage theft and workplace injuries. And the Trump administration has moved to delay—the first step to overturning—the Department of Labor’s overtime rule that would have guaranteed a 40-hour week and overtime pay for 4.2 million additional workers.

Health Care

The cruelty of Trumpcare has received significant attention. As Thomas Edsall details, Trump’s base face the most risk if this bill passes. The plan takes health insurance from millions of people, savages Medicaid, hikes premiums particularly on older workers, and undermines coverage of preexisting conditions in order to provide the wealthy with a massive tax break—$7 million a year for the 400 richest Americans with annual incomes over $300 million. Low-wage whites are a majority of the Medicaid recipients in four states—Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—that gave Trump his victory. Older workers with modest incomes who don’t get insurance from their employers will fare the worst under Trumpcare. Nate Cohn of The New York Times found that voters hit the hardest by this health-care plan, and would get at least $5,000 less in tax credits, supported Trump by a margin of 59 to 36 percent.

Retirement

One of Trump’s first acts in office was to delay implementation of the fiduciary duty rule that requires that investment advisers not cheat their clients with retirement accounts. The rule would have saved workers an estimated $17 billion per year in unnecessary fees and costs. Trump signed a repeal of the Department of Labor rule that assisted local governments in setting up public IRA programs to aid 55 million private-sector workers without a retirement plan at work.

These assaults are only part of the story. Trump’s budget makes childcare more expensive, and cuts after-school and summer programs. He’s joined with Republicans in Congress to repeal occupational protection rules for miners and construction workers. He has called for cuts in everything from education to protection of clean air and clean water. He would cut the Department of Labor budget by 20 percent, dramatically reducing enforcement of worker rights, occupational health and safety laws, and protection against wage theft. The Economic Policy Institute’s report on Trump’s first 100 days provides a more detailed indictment.

This war on workers isn’t a bug but a feature of a White House that has turned its economic plan over to Goldman Sachs alums and stocked its cabinet with “billionaires, bankers and bigots,” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Trump could have pushed to forge a bipartisan coalition to back his populist promises. Instead, he chose to let the Republican majority in Congress, driven by the radical Freedom Caucus, define his priorities. In his first months in office, he has betrayed the voters who put him there.

The question is when they will finally understand what has happened. Trump keeps posturing as a populist. The outrage of the day—from Comey to the Kushner family business in China—captures media attention. Policy is complicated, but the story is clear. Trump is betraying his promise on jobs and shafting workers. Progressives should make certain this reality isn’t lost in the din.