‘This stuff won’t go away’: PFAS chemicals contaminate Wisconsin’s waterways and soil

The Guardian

‘This stuff won’t go away’: PFAS chemicals contaminate Wisconsin’s waterways and soil

Tom Perkins October 22, 2021

Last year, residents in Campbell, Wisconsin, a four-square-mile island city in the Mississippi River, learned disturbing news: toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” used in firefighting foam at a neighboring airport had probably been contaminating their private wells for decades.

As state and local leaders search for a solution, residents now use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth. Yet the situation represents more than an enormous inconvenience. Some strongly suspect that the seemingly high rate of cancer, Crohn’s disease and other serious ailments that have plagued the island’s residents stem from the dangerous chemicals.

“It’s emotionally draining,” said Campbell town supervisor Lee Donahue. “People are angry that it happened, they’re angry that they had no control over it, and they’re angry that their well is contaminated for no fault of their own.”

Campbell isn’t alone. Across the US similar stories of water contaminated with PFAS are emerging.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products water, stain and heat resistant. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, and they persist in the environment and accumulate in humans’ and animals’ bodies. The compounds are linked to cancer, decreased immunity, thyroid problems, birth defects, kidney disease, liver problems and a range of other serious diseases.

Between July and October, officials in nearby Eau Claire in Wisconsin shut down half its 16 municipal wells over PFAS contamination, and across the state PFAS have poisoned drinking water supplies, surface water in lakes and streams, air, soil and wildlife like deer and fish that are eaten by the state’s residents.

As municipalities and residents wrestle with the water crisis, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has killed legislation and blocked funding meant to address the problem, which is likely much larger than currently known: only about 2% of the state’s utilities have tested for the chemicals, and those that have check for no more than 30 of the approximately 9,000 PFAS compounds that exist.

“We’ve had difficulty just testing water to get a handle on the scale and scope of PFAS contamination,” said Scott Laesar, water program director with the Clean Wisconsin advocacy group. “We are asking for some really basic information about what’s in people’s water, and if we can’t even get that, then we’re in a difficult spot.”

Wisconsin’s troubles aren’t unique. States around the US are contending with similar difficulties, as increased testing has revealed that drinking water supplies for more than 100 million people are contaminated with PFAS, and the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed 120,000 sites across the country that may expose people to the chemicals.

A sign warns anglers not to eat fish from the Huron River because of high levels of PFAS contamination.
A sign warns anglers not to eat fish from the Huron River because of high levels of PFAS contamination. Photograph: Jim West/Alamy

The compounds’ ubiquity makes it difficult to determine sources of contamination, but Wisconsin airports and military bases that use PFAS-laden firefighting foam have often been identified as the culprit, including in Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Campbell.

The state’s combined groundwater standard for six types of PFAS is 20 parts per trillion (ppt), and the chemicals were detected at levels up to 70 ppt Eau Claire. Madison, a city of more than 250,000 and Wisconsin’s capital, found PFAS in all of its 16 drinking water wells in May 2020, but only at levels that exceeded health standards in one of them, which had been shut down months before.

Meanwhile, the lakes and streams around Madison are contaminated at startling levels. Officials have recorded counts for multiple compounds as high as 102,000 ppt, and levels in fish from nearby Lake Monona reached 180,000 ppt. Wisconsin department of natural resources signs posted along the region’s riverbanks warn residents against eating fish.

***

Cities like Milwaukee that draw drinking water from Lake Michigan on the state’s east side face less of a threat because the chemicals are diluted by the large body of water, but many private well owners who aren’t connected to municipal systems have recorded dangerous levels.

In Marinette, just north of Green Bay along Lake Michigan, a massive 10-sq-mile PFAS plume grew from a firefighting foam testing ground owned by manufacturer Tyco Fire Products. The plume hasn’t contaminated the municipal system at high levels, but levels in nearby private wells have reached 254,000 ppt, and alderman Doug Oitzinger said rates of thyroid disease and testicular cancer in young men in the region are “off the charts”. The plume has contaminated the city’s sewage sludge, which now has to be shipped to a specialized facility in Oregon.

PFAS chemicals, including from firefighting foam, contaminates waterways throughout the US.
PFAS chemicals, including from firefighting foam, contaminates waterways throughout the US. Photograph: Jake May/AP

“This stuff is in the groundwater and won’t go away,” Oitzinger said.

Polluting the lake still has wider consequences. PFAS have been found in a range of Great Lakes fish, and the DNR issued an advisory to limit the consumption of rainbow smelt.

Though residents across the political spectrum are being exposed and PFAS legislation has had at least some bipartisan support, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership last session killed the Clear Act, which would have established drinking water standards and funded cleanup, among other measures. The bill is once again stalled in the Republican-controlled legislature. Democratic governor Tony Evers’ last budget proposed $22m for statewide PFAS testing and cleanup, but that money was stripped away. The state legislature is expected to kill new limits on PFAS being developed by the DNR.

In Campbell, town officials are demanding that the Federal Aviation Administration stop using firefighting foam with PFAS, as is now required by law, but the airport continues using it, town supervisor Donahue said. The city of La Crosse, which owns the airport, has sued PFAS manufacturers for allegedly hiding the foam’s danger.

The cleanup effort is also meeting resistance from an unlikely source – water utilities, which say they don’t have money to filter the chemicals. Meanwhile, one of the few actions taken by the DNR that would require testing and cleanup faces a legal challenge from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce trade group, which represents some of the state’s PFAS polluters. Should the case go to the state’s supreme court, it will be heard by a pro-business, Republican-controlled judge panel.

“We have an industry that would rather not know what’s out there and is engaged in a pretty cynical effort to maintain the status quo,” Laeser said. “This legislature has had numerous opportunities to invest in addressing PFAS and they have elected not to do so.”

‘There have to be consequences:’ Judge ups sentences for U.S. Capitol rioters

Reuters

‘There have to be consequences:’ Judge ups sentences for U.S. Capitol rioters

Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball October 13, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge in Washington has repeatedly sentenced people who stormed the U.S. Capitol to more prison time than prosecutors sought, saying that even people who were not violent should face consequences for joining the unprecedented assault. 

  In the past week, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has imposed sentences ranging from 14 to 45 days on four people who pleaded guilty to unlawful parading and picketing inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6 — a misdemeanor offense. 

  “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” Chutkan said at one of the hearings. 

  More than 650 people have been charged with joining the Jan. 6 violence, when supporters of Republican Donald Trump fought with police, smashed windows and charged through the building in an attempt to overturn his election defeat. So far, more than 100 people have pleaded guilty, and at least 17 of those defendants have been sentenced. 

  Four people died on the day of the violence, one shot dead by police and the other three of natural causes. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than 100 police officers were injured. 

  On Wednesday, Chutkan sentenced two cousins who breached the Capitol and took selfies while doing so to 45 days in jail. 

  Prosecutors had asked Chutkan to sentence each of the defendants — Robert Bauer of Kentucky, and Edward Hemenway of Virginia — to 30 days in prison. 

  A day earlier, Chutkan sentenced an unrelated defendant, Dona Sue Bissey of Indiana, to two weeks of incarceration. 

  Prosecutors recommended Bissey, 52, serve probation, citing her early acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with law enforcement. 

  Bissey’s friend, Anna Morgan-Lloyd, avoided jail time after pleading guilty to the same crime, receiving a sentence of three years of probation from a different judge in June. 

  Chutkan, a former public defender appointed to the federal judiciary by former President Barack Obama, last week sentenced another defendant who admitted to the misdemeanor charge, Matthew Mazzocco, to 45 days in prison. 

  That court hearing marked the first time that one of the judges overseeing the hundreds of Jan. 6 prosecutions imposed a sentence that was harsher than what the government asked for. 

  Chutkan is not the first judge to second-guess the Justice Department’s handling of the Jan. 6 prosecutions. 

  Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal court in Washington, has suggested prosecutors were being too lenient in allowing some defendants to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses. 

  At a hearing in August, Howell said even defendants facing low-level offenses played a role in “terrorizing members of Congress” on Jan 6. 

  During a plea hearing, the judge asked: “Does the government, in agreeing to the petty offense in this case, have any concern about deterrence?” 

  So far, no judge has rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors in a Jan. 6 case. 

  Almost all of the defendants to be sentenced so far pleaded guilty to non-violent misdemeanors. The Justice Department has signaled that it plans to seek much stiffer penalties for felonies. 

  In the case of Florida man Paul Hodgkins, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, the Justice Department requested an 18 month sentence. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss went lighter on Hodgkins, sentencing him to eight months. 

  (Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell) 

Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals

The Guardian

Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals

Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang October 17, 2021

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.

Related: Chemicals used in packaging may play role in 100,000 US deaths a year – study

The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.

The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.

The tally far exceeds a previous analysis that showed 29,900 industrial sites known or suspected of making or using the toxic chemicals. Map of PFAS possible locations

People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health.

Brown said he suspects there are far more sites than even those on the EPA list, posing long-term health risks for unsuspecting people who live near them.

“Once it’s in the environment it almost never breaks down,” Brown said of PFAS. “This is such a potent compound in terms of its toxicity and it tends to bioaccumulate … This is one of the compounds that persists forever.”

A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.

In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil.

‘Permeating all industrial sectors’

The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly.

The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)

“This shows how PFAS is permeating all industrial sectors,” said Peer’s executive director, Tim Whitehouse. PFAS possible locations by industry

PFAS chemicals are a group of more than 5,000 man-made compounds used by a variety of industries since the 1940s for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware. People can be exposed through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with PFAS.

The EPA acknowledges there is “evidence that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health outcomes in humans”. But the agency also says that there is only “very limited information” about human health risks for most of the chemicals within the group of PFAS chemicals.

EPA officials have started taking steps to get a grasp on the extent of PFAS use and existing and potential environmental contamination, as independent researchers say their own studies are finding reason for alarm. Last year, for instance, scientists at the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued a report finding that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water at worrisome levels.

The EPA is expected to announce a broad new “action plan” addressing PFAS issues on Monday. The list of facilities handling PFAS is one part of the larger effort by the agency to “better understand and reduce the potential risks to human health and the environment caused by PFAS,” EPA deputy press secretary Tim Carroll told the Guardian.

“EPA has made addressing PFAS a top priority,” Carroll said. “Together we are identifying flexible and pragmatic approaches that will deliver critical public health protections.”

Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS, said the EPA compilation of more than 120,000 facilities that may be handling PFAS and other recent moves shows the agency is taking the issue seriously, but more work is urgently needed.

“Unfortunately, where PFAS are used, there is often local contamination,” Birnbaum said. And while the EPA appears to be trying to get a handle on the extent of exposure concerns, progress “seems very slow”, she said.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) asserts that PFAS concerns are overblown.

Major manufacturers have backed away from the PFOS and PFOA-related chemicals that research has shown to be hazardous, and other types of PFAS are not proven to be dangerous, according to the chemical industry organization. “PFAS are vital” to modern society, according to the ACC.

But public health and environmental groups, along with some members of Congress, say the risks posed to people by industrial use of PFAS substances are substantial.

Four US lawmakers led by Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote to the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, on 6 October about their concerns regarding PFAS contamination of air and water from industrial facilities, saying: “For too many American families, this exposure is increasing their risk of cancer and other serious health problems.”

More than 150 advocacy groups also sent a letter to Regan calling for urgent action to address industrial discharges of PFAS chemicals, noting that many of the chemicals “have been linked at very low doses to serious health harms”.

Fears and foamy water

Locator map

One of the sites on the EPA list is the Clover Flat landfill in Calistoga, California, a small community in the Napa Valley area that is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The landfill sits on the northern edge of the valley atop the edge of a rugged mountain range.

Clover Flat has taken in household garbage, as well as commercial and industrial waste since the 1960s, but over time the landfill has also become a disposal site for debris from forest fires.

Though the EPA list does not specifically confirm Clover Flat is handling PFAS, the community has no doubt about the presence of the toxic chemicals. A May 2020 water sampling report requested by regional water quality control officials showed that PFAS chemicals were present in every single sample taken from groundwater and from the leachate liquid materials around the landfill.

Close to 5,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the landfill, and many fear the PFAS and other toxins taken in by the landfill are making their way deep into the community.

Geoffrey Ellsworth, mayor of the small city of St Helena in Napa county, said multiple streams cross the landfill property, helping rains and erosion drive the chemical contaminants downhill into creeks and other water sources, including some used to irrigate farmland. He has been seeking regulatory intervention but has not been successful, he told the Guardian.

A small group of Napa Valley residents have been working on a documentary film about their concerns with the landfill, highlighting fears that exposures to PFAS and other contaminants are jeopardizing their health.

“The water is full of foam and looks soapy and smells funny,” said 69-year-old Dennis Kelly, who lives on a few acres downhill from Clover Flat. His dog Scarlett has become sick after wading through waters that drain from the landfill into a creek that runs through his property, Kelly said. And for the last few years he has suffered with colon and stomach cancer.

Kelly said he fears the water is toxic, and he has noticed the frogs and tadpoles that once populated the little creek are now nowhere to be found.

“Pollution is going to be what kills us all,” Kelly said.

Kyrsten Sinema’s poll numbers should terrify her

The Week

Kyrsten Sinema’s poll numbers should terrify her

David Faris, Contributing Writer October 15, 2021

Kyrsten Sinema.
Kyrsten Sinema. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock, Library of Congress

The left-leaning group Data For Progress on Thursday released genuinely brutal poll numbers for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), whose very public role in holding up President Biden’s agenda is clearly not wearing well with her state’s primary electorate.

The survey of likely voters for her 2024 Democratic Senate primary showed just 25 percent approval for Sinema’s performance in office, as opposed to 85 percent for Arizona’s other Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, and President Biden himself. Tellingly, she trailed all four of her hypothetical primary opponents by 29 points or more.

The brewing revolt of the Arizona Democratic electorate should terrify Sinema — assuming that she has any interest in being re-elected as a member of the Democratic Party. Unlike her partner in obstruction, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sinema is not the only Democrat who could plausibly be elected to statewide office in her state. And her troubles suggest that the stalwart Democrats who vote in primary elections are yearning for the kind of party discipline former President Donald Trump imposed on wavering Republicans.

Sinema’s dreadful numbers, in fact, look a lot like those of former Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in the 2018 election cycle. One of the most prominent Trump critics in the Senate both before and after Trump’s election, Flake trailed ultraconservative Republican Kelli Ward by 27 points in a hypothetical primary, and boasted the exact same 25 percent approval number among likely GOP primary voters (albeit much closer to Election Day than Sinema is now). Seeing the writing on the wall, Flake chose to retire rather than face a near-certain primary drubbing.

Unlike Flake, a frequent recipient of Trump’s juvenile invective, Sinema has barely received any public criticism from Biden, suggesting Arizona Democrats resent her largely for opposing popular policies like paid family leave and expanded Medicare benefits. And unless she relents and helps craft a social spending bill acceptable to all factions of her party, she’s likely to follow Flake’s path to political oblivion.

Pipeline developer charged over systematic contamination

Associated Press

Pipeline developer charged over systematic contamination

Michael Rubinkam October 5, 2021

Gas Pipeline Investigation 1-9
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at podium, speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks with members of the media after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, center left, meets with members of the public and the press after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Libby Madarasz displays a placard before Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks with members of the media after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Libby Madarasz displays a placard as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at podium, speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The corporate developer of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline system that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia was charged criminally on Tuesday after a grand jury concluded that it flouted Pennsylvania environmental laws and fouled waterways and residential water supplies across hundreds of miles.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the sprawling case at a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, where Sunoco Pipeline LP spilled thousands of gallons of drilling fluid last year. The spill, during construction of the troubled Mariner East 2 pipeline, contaminated wetlands, a stream and part of a 535-acre lake.

Energy Transfer, Sunoco’s owner, faces 48 criminal charges, most of them for illegally releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties across the state. A felony count accuses the operator of willfully failing to report spills to state environmental regulators.

Shapiro said Energy Transfer ruined the drinking water of at least 150 families statewide. He released a grand jury report that includes testimony from numerous residents who accused Energy Transfer of denying responsibility for the contamination and then refusing to help.

The Texas-based pipeline giant was charged for “illegal behavior that related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline that polluted our lakes, our rivers and our water wells and put Pennsylvania’s safety at risk,” said Shapiro, speaking with Marsh Creek Lake behind him.

Messages were sent to Energy Transfer seeking comment. The company has previously said it intends to defend itself.

The company faces a fine if convicted, which Shapiro said was not a sufficient punishment. He called on state lawmakers to toughen penalties on corporate violators, and said the state Department of Environmental Protection — which spent freely on outside lawyers for its own employees during the attorney general’s investigation — had failed to conduct appropriate oversight.

In a statement, DEP said it has been “consistent in enforcing the permit conditions and regulations and has held Sunoco LP accountable.” The agency said it would review the charges “and determine if any additional actions are appropriate at this time.”

Residents who live near the pipeline and some state lawmakers said Mariner East should be shut down entirely in light of the criminal charges, but the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has long ignored such calls to pull the plug.

The August 2020 spill at Marsh Creek was among a series of mishaps that has plagued Mariner East since construction began in 2017. Early reports put the spill at 8,100 gallons, but the grand jury heard evidence the actual loss was up to 28,000 gallons. Parts of the lake are still off-limits.

“This was a major incident, but understand, it wasn’t an isolated one. This happened all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Shapiro, a Democrat who plans to run for governor next year. He said that spills of drilling fluid were “frequent and damaging and largely unreported.”

The pipeline developer continued to rack up civil violations even after Mariner East became one of the most penalized projects in state history. To date, DEP said Energy Transfer has paid more than $20 million in fines for polluting waterways and drinking water wells, including a $12.6 million fine in 2018 that was one of the largest ever imposed by the agency. State regulators have periodically shut down construction.

But environmental activists and homeowners who assert their water has been fouled say that fines and shutdown orders have not forced Sunoco to clean up its act. They have been demanding revocation of Mariner East’s permits.

Carrie Gross, who has been living with the roar of Mariner East construction in her densely packed Exton neighborhood all day, six days a week, for much of the last four years, fears that criminal charges will be just as ineffectual as DEP’s civil penalties.

“I would say this is just another example of Energy Transfer paying to pollute, and that’s part of their cost of doing business. Until somebody permanently halts this project, our environment and our lives continue to be in danger,” Gross said.

The dental hygienist lives about 100 feet from the pipelines and works about 50 feet from them. She said she worries about the persistent threat of sinkholes, a catastrophic rupture or an explosion even after construction is over.

Shapiro’s news conference was originally rescheduled for Monday, but was abruptly postponed after the state environmental agency provided last-minute information to the attorney general’s office. The new information led to the filing of two additional charges, Shapiro said.

Energy Transfer acknowledged in a recent earnings report that the attorney general has been looking at “alleged criminal misconduct” involving Mariner East. The company said in the document it was cooperating but that “it intends to vigorously defend itself.”

The various criminal probes into Mariner East have also consumed DEP, which has spent about $1.57 million on outside criminal defense lawyers for its employees between 2019 and 2021, according to invoices obtained by The Associated Press.

The money was paid to five separate law firms representing dozens of DEP employees who dealt with Mariner East. Together, the firms submitted more than 130 invoices related to Mariner East investigations, performing legal work such as reviewing subpoenas and preparing clients to testify, the documents show.

When Mariner East construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused the Wolf administration of violating the law and warned pipeline construction would unleash massive and irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s environment and residents.

“If we have a system where … the punishment, the fines, are basically seen as just a price of doing business, then we’ll continue to have violations in the commonwealth,” said David Masur, executive director of Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment.

State officials “have a huge stick they could wield,” he added. “Maybe they just have to stop hesitating and use it.”

The Mariner East pipeline system transports propane, ethane and butane from the enormous Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale gas fields in western Pennsylvania to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, outside Philadelphia.

Energy Transfer also operates the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which went into service in 2017 after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others during its construction.

Pandora papers: biggest ever leak of offshore data exposes financial secrets of rich and powerful

Pandora papers: biggest ever leak of offshore data exposes financial secrets of rich and powerful

Guardian investigations team October 3, 2021

Pandora Papers illustraion
The Pandora papers reveal the inner workings of what is a shadow financial world, providing a rare window into the hidden operations of a global offshore economy. Illustration: Guardian Design

Millions of documents reveal offshore deals and assets of more than 100 billionaires, 30 world leaders and 300 public officials

The secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people have been revealed in the biggest trove of leaked offshore data in history.

Branded the Pandora papers, the cache includes 11.9m files from companies hired by wealthy clients to create offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. They also shine a light on the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.

The files include disclosures about major donors to the Conservative party, raising difficult questions for Boris Johnson as his party meets for its annual conference.

More than 100 billionaires feature in the leaked data, as well as celebrities, rock stars and business leaders. Many use shell companies to hold luxury items such as property and yachts, as well as incognito bank accounts. There is even art ranging from looted Cambodian antiquities to paintings by Picasso and murals by Banksy.

The Pandora papers reveal the inner workings of what is a shadow financial world, providing a rare window into the hidden operations of a global offshore economy that enables some of the world’s richest people to hide their wealth and in some cases pay little or no tax.

What are the Pandora Papers

There are emails, memos, incorporation records, share certificates, compliance reports and complex diagrams showing labyrinthine corporate structures. Often, they allow the true owners of opaque shell companies to be identified for the first time.

The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington. It shared access to the leaked data with select media partners including the Guardian, BBC Panorama, Le Monde and the Washington Post. More than 600 journalists have sifted through the files as part of a massive global investigation.

The Pandora papers represent the latest – and largest in terms of data volume – in a series of major leaks of financial data that have convulsed the offshore world since 2013.

Setting up or benefiting from offshore entities is not itself illegal, and in some cases people may have legitimate reasons, such as security, for doing so. But the secrecy offered by tax havens has at times proven attractive to tax evaders, fraudsters and money launderers, some of whom are exposed in the files.

Perhaps the most significant offshore leak to date was the 2016 Panama papers, which consisted of 2.6 terabytes of data leaked from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The following year saw the release of the Paradise papers, most of which were from the offshore provider Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda. In total, that cache consisted of 1.4 terabytes of data.

Containing 2.94 terabytes, the Pandora papers is the largest of the three leaks. The files also come from a much wider array of offshore providers than previous leaks: 14 in total. Locations range from Vietnam to Belize and Singapore, and to far-flung archipelagos such as the Bahamas and the Seychelles.

Other wealthy individuals and companies stash their assets offshore to avoid paying tax elsewhere, a legal activity estimated to cost governments billions in lost revenues.

After more than 18 months analysing the data in the public interest, the Guardian and other media outlets will publish their findings over the coming days, beginning with revelations about the offshore financial affairs of some of the most powerful political leaders in the world.

They include the ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II, who, leaked documents reveal, has amassed a secret $100m property empire spanning Malibu, Washington and London. The king declined to answer specific questions but said there would be nothing improper about him owning properties via offshore companies. Jordan appeared to have blocked the ICIJ website on Sunday, hours before the Pandora papers launched.

The Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva.
The Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva. The Aliyev family has traded close to £400m of UK property in recent years. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The files also show that Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family has traded close to £400m of UK property in recent years. One of their properties was sold to the Queen’s crown estate, which is now looking into how it came to pay £67m to a company that operated as a front for the family that runs a country routinely accused of corruption. The Aliyevs declined to comment.

The Pandora papers also threaten to cause political upsets for two European Union leaders. The prime minister of the Czech republic, Andrej Babis, who is up for election this week, is facing questions over why he used an offshore investment company to acquire a $22m chateau in the south of France. He too declined to comment.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš
The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, is facing questions over why he used an offshore investment company to acquire a $22m chateau in the south of France. Photograph: Milan Kammermayer/EPA

And in Cyprus, itself a controversial offshore center, the President, Nicos Anastasiades, may be asked to explain why a law firm he founded was accused of hiding the assets of a controversial Russian billionaire behind fake company owners. The firm denies any wrongdoing, while the Cypriot president says he ceased having an active role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.

Not everyone named in the Pandora papers is accused of wrongdoing. The leaked files reveals that Tony and Cherie Blair saved £312,000 in property taxes when they purchased a London building partially owned by the family of a prominent Bahraini minister.

The former prime minister and his wife bought the £6.5m office in Marylebone by acquiring a British Virgin Islands (BVI) offshore company. While the move was not illegal, and there is no evidence the Blairs proactively sought to avoid property taxes, the deal highlights a loophole that has enabled wealthy property owners not to pay a tax that is commonplace for ordinary Britons.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair
Tony and Cherie Blair bought a £6.5m office in Marylebone by acquiring a British Virgin Islands offshore company. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The leaked records vividly illustrate the central coordinating role London plays in the murky offshore world. The UK capital is home to wealth managers, law firms, company formation agents and accountants. All exist to serve their ultra-rich clients. Many are foreign-born tycoons who enjoy “non-domicile” status, which means they pay no tax on their overseas assets.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is also named in the leak. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected in 2019 on a pledge to clean up his country’s notoriously corrupt and oligarch-influenced economy, is also named in the leak. During the campaign, Zelenskiy transferred his 25% stake in an offshore company to a close friend who now works as the president’s top adviser, the files suggest. Zelenskiy declined to comment and it is unclear if he remains a beneficiary.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whom the US suspects of having a secret fortune, does not appear in the files by name. But numerous close associates do, including his best friend from childhood – the late Petr Kolbin – whom critics have called a “wallet” for Putin’s own wealth, and a woman the Russian leader was allegedly once romantically involved with. None responded to invitations to comment.

The Pandora papers also place a revealing spotlight on the offshore system itself. In a development likely to prove embarrassing for the US president, Joe Biden, who has pledged to lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system, the US emerges from the leak as a leading tax haven. The files suggest the state of South Dakota, in particular, is sheltering billions of dollars in wealth linked to individuals previously accused of serious financial crimes.

The offshore trail also stretches from Africa to Latin America to Asia, and is likely to pose difficult questions for politicians across the world. In Pakistan, Moonis Elahi, a prominent minister in prime minister Imran Khan’s government, contacted an offshore provider in Singapore about investing $33.7m.

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will come under pressure to explain why he and his close relatives amassed more than $30m of offshore wealth. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

In Kenya, the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has portrayed himself as an enemy of corruption. In 2018, Kenyatta told the BBC: “Every public servant’s assets must be declared publicly so that people can question and ask: what is legitimate?”

He will come under pressure to explain why he and his close relatives amassed more than $30m of offshore wealth, including property in London. Kenyatta did not respond to enquiries about whether his family wealth was declared to relevant authorities in Kenya.

The Pandora papers also reveal some of the unseen repercussions of previous offshore leaks, which spurred modest reforms in some parts of the world, such as the BVI, which now keeps a record of the real owners of companies registered there. However, the newly leaked data shows money shifting around offshore destinations, as wealthy clients and their advisers adjust to new realities.

Some clients of Mossack Fonseca, the now defunct law firm at the heart of the 2016 Panama papers disclosures, simply transferred their companies to rival providers such as another global trust and corporate administrator with a major office in London, whose data is in the new trove of leaked files.

Asked why he was migrating the new company, one customer wrote bluntly: “Business decision to exit following the Panama papers.” Another agent said the industry had always “adapted” to external pressure.

Some leaked files appear to show some in the industry seeking to circumvent new privacy regulations. One Swiss lawyer refused to email the names of his high-value customers to a service provider in the BVI, following new legislation. Instead, he sent them by airmail, with strict instructions they should not be processed in any “electronic way”. The identity of another beneficial owner was shared via WhatsApp.

“The purpose of this way to proceed is to enable you to comply with BVI rules,” the lawyer wrote. Referring to Mossack Fonseca, the lawyer added: “You are obliged to keep secrecy for our clients and to not make feasible at all a second ‘Panama papers’ story that happened to one of your competitors.”

Gerard Ryle, the director of the ICIJ, said leading politicians who organized their finances in tax havens had a stake in the status quo, and were likely to be an obstacle to reform of the offshore economy. “When you have world leaders, when you have politicians, when you have public officials, all using the secrecy and all using this world, then I don’t think we’re going to see an end to it.

He expected the Pandora papers to have a greater impact than previous leaks, not least because they were arriving in the middle of a pandemic that had exacerbated inequalities and forced governments to borrow unprecedented amounts to be shouldered by ordinary taxpayers. “This is the Panama papers on steroids,” Ryle said. “It’s broader, richer and has more detail.”

At least $11.3tn in wealth is held offshore, according to a 2020 study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “This is money that is being lost to treasuries around the world and money that could be used to recover from Covid,” Ryle said. “We’re losing out because some people are gaining. It’s as simple as that. It’s a very simple transaction that’s going on here.”

Pandora papers reporting team: Simon Goodley, Harry Davies, Luke Harding, Juliette Garside, David Conn, David Pegg, Paul Lewis, Caelainn Barr, Rowena Mason and Pamela Duncan in London; Ben Butler and Anne Davies in Sydney; Dominic Rushe in New York; Andrew Roth in Moscow; Helena Smith in Athens; Michael Safi in Lebanon; Robert Tait in Prague.

Op-Ed: Are Supreme Court justices ‘partisan hacks’? All the evidence says yes

Op-Ed: Are Supreme Court justices ‘partisan hacks’? All the evidence says yes

President Donald Trump and Amy Coney Barrett stand on the Blue Room Balcony after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the Constitutional Oath to her on the South Lawn of the White House White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Barrett was confirmed to be a Supreme Court justice by the Senate earlier in the evening. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Trump and Amy Coney Barrett at the White House after she took the constitutional oath on Oct. 26, 2020, to become a Supreme Court justice. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

 

If Supreme Court justices don’t want to be seen as “partisan hacks,” they should not act like them.

In a speech last week at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville Law School, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said, “This court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” She added, “Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.”

Setting aside the irony of uttering these statements at an event honoring Sen. Mitch McConnell, who blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the court and rushed through the confirmation of Barrett precisely because of their ideologies, the reality is that time and again the court’s Republican majority has handed down decisions strongly favoring Republicans in the political process.

Does Barrett really expect people to believe that is a coincidence?

In the same speech, Barrett reiterated that she is an originalist, one who believes that the Constitution must be interpreted to mean what it might have meant at the time it was adopted. Yet not one of the court’s decisions about the election process favoring Republicans can possibly be defended on originalist grounds, which shows how wrong her claims really are.

In a series of rulings, with all of the Republican-appointed justices in the majority and the Democratic-appointed justices dissenting, the court has strongly tilted the scales in elections in favor of Republicans. In 2010, in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations can spend unlimited amounts to get candidates elected or defeated.

Business interests, which overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates in their campaign expenditures, outspend unions by more than 15 to 1. There is no plausible argument that the original meaning of the 1st Amendment included a right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts in election campaigns. Neither political expenditures nor corporations, as we know them today, even existed at the founding of this country.

In decisions in 2013 and this year, the court’s conservative majority eviscerated the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a manner that helps Republicans and hurts voters of color and Democrats. In 2013, in Shelby County vs. Holder, the court, 5 to 4, nullified the law’s requirement that states with a history of race discrimination get preclearance before making a significant change in their election systems. Every one of these states where preclearance was required was controlled by Republicans.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority and said that Congress violated the principle of equal state sovereignty by not treating all states the same. Nowhere is that found in the Constitution — and it was certainly not the understanding when the 14th Amendment was adopted by a Congress that imposed Reconstruction, including military rule, on Southern states.

After the Shelby County case, Republican-controlled governments in states like Texas and North Carolina immediately put in place restrictions on voting that had been previously denied preclearance.

In July, the court, now with six Republican appointees, gutted another crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits state and local governments from having election systems that discriminate against minority voters. Congress amended this provision in 1982 to provide that the law is violated if there is proof of a racially discriminatory impact.

The case, Brnovich vs. Democratic National Committee, involved two provisions of Arizona law that the United States Court of Appeals found had a discriminatory effect against voters of color. But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Republican-appointed justices, imposed many requirements that will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to prove a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

He said, for example, that courts must consider whether the new restrictions are worse than what existed in 1982 when the law was amended, all other ways for people to vote, and the state’s interest in preventing fraud. For any restriction on voting, a court can now say it isn’t as bad as some that existed earlier, or that there are enough other ways to vote, or that the state’s interests are enough to justify the law. In her dissent in Brnovich, Justice Elena Kagan noted there’s new evidence that “the Shelby ruling may jeopardize decades of voting rights progress.”

Conservative justices, who say they focus on the text of the law in interpreting statutes, created limits on the reach of the Voting Rights Act that are nowhere mentioned in it. The result is that the laws adopted by Republican legislatures in Georgia, Florida, Texas and other states are now far more likely to be upheld.

In these and other cases, the Republican justices changed the law to dramatically favor Republicans in the political process. Barrett’s protest against the justices being seen as “partisan hacks” rings hollow when that is what they have become. And it is risible to say that “judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.” I would challenge her to give a single instance where the conservative justices on the court took positions that were at odds with the views of the Republican Party.

The most obvious example, of course, is abortion. The GOP vehemently opposes abortion rights and Republican presidents have appointed justices with that view. No one should have been surprised when the five conservative justices refused to enjoin the Texas law banning abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy even though it blatantly violates the constitutional right to abortion.

Supreme Court decisions always have been and always will be a product of the ideology of the justices. No one — least of all a Supreme Court justice — should pretend otherwise.

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and a contributing writer to Opinion. He is the author most recently of “Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights.”

The 3 U.S. negotiating errors that paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power

The 3 U.S. negotiating errors that paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power

Taliban flags.
Taliban flags. KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

 

The Taliban didn’t regain control of Afghanistan overnight, and while their return to power was years in the making, the Trump administration’s agreement with the group last year helped speed up the process, Lisa Curtis, the director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, writes for Foreign Affairs.

Curtis zeroed in on three errors the negotiation team, led by Zalmay Khalilzad, made out of “desperation to conclude a deal” and put an end to the decades-long U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The first, she writes, was believing the Taliban would eventually sit down with the Afghan government to hash out a long-term political settlement. This led Washington to exclude Kabul from their talks with the Taliban in Qatar, which Curtis argues “prematurely conferred legitimacy on the” insurgents.

The next mistake, in Curtis’ opinion, was that the U.S. didn’t “condition the pace of talks on Taliban violence levels.” Negotiations continued even amid escalating violence on the ground in Afghanistan, and ultimately the Taliban only had to “reduce violence for six days before signing the agreement.” Finally, Curtis believes the Trump administration was operating under “wishful thinking” that the Taliban was seriously interested in political negotiations instead of fighting their way back to power. The U.S., therefore, forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners without simultaneously securing a “commensurate concession” from the group.

“The United States would have been far better off negotiating its withdrawal directly with the Afghan government, something that Ghani himself proposed in early 2019,” Curtis writes. “By doing so, the United States would have avoided demoralizing its Afghan partners as Washington pulled back U.S. forces.” Read about how Curtis thinks the Biden administration should deal with the Taliban going forward at Foreign Affairs.

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

A Texas restaurant owner threw out a family wearing masks who were trying to protect their immuno-compromised son

Texas governor greg abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott removing his mask before speaking at a news conference about migrant children detentions. L.M. Otero/AP 

  • A Texas restaurant owner kicked a family out of his shop for wearing face masks.
  • The family said they were wearing masks because their son is immuno-compromised.
  • The owner said he didn’t know about the child’s status, but he’d continue to enforce the mask ban.

A Texas restaurant owner booted a family wearing masks to protect their immuno-compromised son, saying it was “political,” CBS DFW reported.

Natalie Wester and her husband brought their 4-month-old son to Hang Time, a restaurant and bar in Rowlett, Texas, just northeast of Dallas. Wester told CBS DFW that her son is immuno-compromised, leading the couple to don masks inside the venue out of precaution.

Hang Time’s owner didn’t approve.

Wester said their waitress approached the family at the behest of the restaurant owner and said, “This is political, and I need you to take your mask off.”

“I feel the overall reaction with masks is ridiculous in the United States right now,” Hang Time’s owner said.

The owner told CBS DFW that going maskless was part of the restaurant’s dress code, and that he had the right to refuse to serve customers breaking his rules.

But Hang Times’ anti-masking dress code wasn’t posted outside of the restaurant, CBS DFW reported.

The restaurant owner told CBS DFW that he didn’t know the Westers’ son was immuno-compromised but said he’d continue to enforce Hang Time’s no-masking policy.

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

Supreme Court
  • The reputation of the Supreme Court is sinking.
  • After decisions like the Texas abortion case, the impartiality of the Court is in doubt.
  • The hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett admitted that the Supreme Court is crumbling as an institution.

Earlier this month, the newest justice gave a speech lamenting how the Court is viewed as partisan and warning that her fellow justices must be “hyper vigilant to make sure they’re not letting personal biases creep into their decisions.” She must know something we don’t.

These remarks may seem like a surprise. After all, Barrett was confirmed to the Court in a hyper-partisan process and gave the aforementioned speech at an event celebrating Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of the judicial system’s rightward turn. Despite the hypocrisy, or perhaps because of it, the comments struck a chord.

In an age of Republicans challenging legitimate election results because they lose or might lose, the credibility of the Court is the next hammer to fall in our democracy, the last bastion of hope for nonpartisan decision making.

But now the Court is rightfully losing public support as the veneer of impartiality slips, and the hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.

Partisan justice

Even as recently as a few years ago, the Supreme Court wasn’t as partisan as it is now. Support certainly started eroding when McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to seat President Obama’s final nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But there have been recent decisions that were, for lack of a better term, bipartisan. Justice Gorsuch joined four liberal justices to support Native American land claims in Oklahoma. In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court kept the Affordable Care Act intact.

As recently as a few months ago, Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts helped keep the eviction moratorium in place in a 5-4 ruling (though this was overturned a few months later in a separate case). Roberts, the Chief Justice who many believe is trying to keep the court as nonpartisan as possible, has often found himself siding with the liberal justices.

But, on issues important to many Americans, this facade of bipartisanship seems to be disappearing. First, the Supreme Court threw out the eviction moratorium they had so recently upheld, throwing millions of struggling Americans into uncertainty.

Then the death knell came a few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court blatantly signaled a willingness to overturn Roe vs. Wade by allowing a strict Texas anti-abortion law to go into effect. Though Roberts voted with the liberals in this decision, the other Republican-appointed justices essentially overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent.

Given the 6-3 Republican majority, it’s safe to assume we will see more decisions like this in the coming years. Though Roberts can play nonpartisan as much as he wants, the conservatives have a five-justice majority even without him and can rule on cases as they wish.

Votes, not words

The Republican strategy over many decades to focus on the court has paid off. They have turned to the court to legitimize gerrymandering and gut the Voting Rights Act, and justices like Barrett and Roberts have supported them.

Both of those justices are right to worry about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. They just need to realize they’re part of the problem of the legitimacy crisis.

Democrats have proposed many solutions to this problem, from expanding the court to adding term limits. But with those ideas stalled, once unthinkable national changes emanating from the Court are very much in play.

The Texas abortion decision is just the beginning. Roe could be overturned in full later this year. Even if Democrats passed many of the landmark bills they are currently debating, there is nothing stopping the conservative court from simply striking them down, declaring them “unconstitutional” under the pretenses of their choice.

Maybe Barrett will join Roberts in making a real effort to strike a more bipartisan tone. If she’s truly worried about the perception of the Court and how some of her colleagues consider matters, she has the opportunity to do something about it. But she needs to follow Roberts with her actions and join him in crossing party lines.

It’s her votes, not her words, that count. I’m not holding my breath.