Some government accountability and labor groups are concerned about the way a federal mining-safety agency is going about soliciting comments for regulations to put on the chopping block.
In February, President Trump issued an executive order requiring the U.S. government to eliminate two regulations for every new one created.
To comply with that two-for-one order, most parts of the federal government, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, filed a formal notice with the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government, which lists new and proposed rule changes.
But one agency eyed for significant regulatory overhaul under Trump, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, decided to forgo taking suggestions there.
Instead, the MSHA posted an email address on its website to solicit suggestions for rules to cut.
For some Trump critics, the lack of formal notice in the Federal Register marks another example of lack of transparency from the administration. Meanwhile, MSHA and outside administrative law experts said the omission was perfectly legal.
“After the tragic deaths of 14 coal miners this year, it's troubling that the Trump administration is taking shortcuts to roll back safety protections for coal workers,” said Anne Harkavy, executive director of the watchdog group Democracy Forward. "Federal law requires a public process in rulemaking, and if the Administration acts on secret comments directly affecting the safety of our nation's coal miners that would be dangerous, and likely unlawful."
Phil Smith, director of communications and governmental affairs at the United Mine Workers of America, said of the push to eliminate existing mine safety rules, “It’s very troubling, because there isn’t a single mine safety health regulation that wasn’t promulgated without death or injury to a miner."
Smith called it “crazy” that the administration had adopted an approach where for “every regulation to protect miners lives they get rid of two of them" that he says provide crucial protections to miners' lives.
The fact that MSHA did not provide more public notice, he added, “tells me the Mine Safety Health Administration recognized that, and therefore they’re not being very forthcoming about getting rid regulations that are protecting miners’ lives.”
MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said that the email is one way the MSHA is accepting input from stakeholders, without elaborating.
“The Department of Labor fully complies with all public notice requirements in the Administrative Procedure Act,” Louviere said. She added that “the comments will be published on the MSHA website.”
A search of the Federal Register found one notice from the Labor Department requesting suggestions for regulations to cut under the February executive order. That request, from Labor's Wage and Hour Division, targeted minimum wage and overtime requirements across sectors of the economy.
Administrative law experts describe the decision to forgo publishing in the Federal Register as perhaps unusual, but not illegal.
Noting that posting in the Federal Register “may be more regular, more what people are used to,” Jeffrey Lubbers, an administrative law professor at American University, said that “there’s no legal requirement that they do it that.”
Richard J. Pierce, Jr., a George Washington University law professor specializing in administrative law, agreed. “There's no prescribed format” for soliciting comments, he said.
Michael Wright, who directs the United Steelworkers’ Health, Safety & Environment Department, said that while they see the low-key notice as an attempt by Trump appointees to advance “the Trump political agenda,” he thinks the effort will bear little fruit.
“Any change they make would have to be subject to a public rulemaking process, and there’s strong explicit language in the Mine Act which says they cannot change any mandatory standard in a way that would diminish protection,” Wright said. “It’s quite forceful.”
Despite Trump’s rhetorical focus on bringing back coal-mining jobs while on the campaign trail, it took the president until September to nominate a new assistant secretary to oversee MSHA, a division of the Labor Department.
Trump’s choice, David Zatezalo, was formerly an executive at Rhino Resources, a coal-mining company that was issued two “pattern of violations” warning letters from MSHA in 2010 and 2011, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
In its guidance for following Trump’s two-out-one-in order, the Office of Management and Budget did not explicitly instruct agencies such as the MSHA to file with the Federal Register.
Juliet Eilperin contributed reporting.
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-- Fire fight: House lawmakers voted 232-188 on Wednesday to pass legislation expediting approval of measures to prevent deadly wildfires, such as forest-thinning projects, the Associated Press reported. The bill passed Wednesday now heads to the Senate.
House Democrats criticized the measure as an opportunity for Republicans to roll back environmental rules. “We need a holistic fix to the wildfire budget,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said after its passage. And environmental groups are on a lobbying kick to stop the legislation.
What's next: A version of this bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), passed the House last Congress only to die in the Senate. With only a 52-vote GOP majority in the upper chamber, the same fate could again befall it.
Senators have introduced at least two of their own forest-management bills — one by a bipartisan group led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and another by four Republicans led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Pass either one, and the Senate can hammer out its differences with the House in conference. Or the GOP Senate leaders can fold forest-management changes into a must-pass bill, like one for hurricane relief, that Democrats feel compelled not to stymie.
-- Not quite ready for launch: The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s pick for NASA administrator turned into a fiery debate about Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-Okla.) professional qualifications and his views on climate change.
“The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional who is technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) in his written opening statement, per The Post's Christian Davenport. “More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to unite scientists, engineers, commercial space interests, policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration.”
Nelson added: “Frankly, congressman Bridenstine, I cannot see how you meet these criteria.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) repeatedly pressed Bridenstine on his past statements on climate change, also asking about the status of his views now.
“What concerns me the most, in addition to everything Sen. Nelson said, is that this is a science agency. … I get that you don’t have a science-centric background, and I don’t begrudge you that,” Schatz said. “I don’t have a science background, but you know what I do do: I defer to scientists.”
Bridenstine told Schatz that he believes “carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.. I believe humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
When asked “to what extent,” Bridenstine added that he does not have an answer.
“I do know humans have absolutely contributed to global warming ... Right now we are just scratching the surface to the entire system of the earth. With your help and support, we want to make sure we are getting the absolute best science,” he said, per the Washington Examiner. “NASA is the only agency in the world that can do this kind of science, and we need to make sure we are understanding it better everyday.”
-- Nevertheless, Cruz persisted: Speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz warned that Puerto Rico is still in a “life or death” situation more than six weeks after Maria hit the island.
“The Trump administration cannot handle the truth, they want to embellish it, they want to do a different story,” she said.”Well the story is not a good news story, it’s a life and death story, and survival cannot be our new way of life.”
Cruz also questioned the last-minute cancellation of a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, where she was scheduled to testify. Cruz said it was “evident that this administration does not want to listen to the truth and does not want to own up to it."
“I am here to say what I was going to say at that hearing, that they seemed not to want to hear,” she said. “Mr. Trump, do your job. Lives are at stake. This is not about politics. This is not about your ego"
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), a top Democrat on Homeland Security, said it was “inexcusable that the Republicans have delayed this hearing for the third time with no rational reason in a blatant attempt to silence the mayor and shield the Trump administration from another bad news story.” Thompson invited Cruz to speak before the committee.
“At this point the lights are not on, the drinking water is not drinkable, the roads in many instances are still impassable and everybody is pointing a finger," he added.
-- Add this to the list of revelations about Kathleen Hartnett-White: President Trump’s nominee to chair the administration’s Council on Environmental Quality once said the goal of the United Nations climate effort was to install “all-powerful government” that could in effect stamp out democracy.
It's the third such report from CNN’s KFile, which has revealed that Hartnett-White previously called climate change science a “kind of paganism” and in a 1995 essay lamented “onerous unfunded mandates” such as the Clean Water Act.
At a conference in June 2015, Hartnett was asked about the United Nation’s work on climate change, to which she said its agenda was, “Power and control, to control economies, to control individual human life and it has been from the beginning. The United Nations didn't create the climate change or global warming issue but they institutionalized it in the vast apparatus of the United Nations," per the report.
She continued: “"They moved to climate change and they all have to do with the same thing, that human beings are somehow living in a way that will destroy the mechanics of the planet and the solution is always all-powerful government that allocates resources.”
More: The Senate Environment and Public Works panel will hold a hearing on the nominations of Hartnett-White and Andrew Wheeler, Trump's choice to be the EPA's deputy administrator, next Wednesday.
-- And another damaging quote dug up by CNN: President Trump’s pick to be the top scientist for the Agriculture Department once wrote that public schools were “indoctrinating” children with ideas like “environmentalism:”
Here’s a snippet of a newsletter by Trump’s nominee Sam Clovis, as again reported by CNN’s KFile: "Many of these books contain revised American history or have been written to advance particular agenda that are quite contrary to the mainstream values of the citizenry. In an exemplar that came into my possession, a grammar school reading book celebrates same-sex relationships and environmentalism… Add to this books that advance ideas about Darwinian evolution and are void of acknowledgement of all possible scientific theories explaining the development of the human species, and we have a perfect storm where indoctrination hip-checks education right out of the way."
-- More on Clovis: The nominee confirmed in an Oct. 17 letter obtained by The Post's Juliet Eilperin that he has no academic credentials in either science or agriculture.
Via Eilperin: "But the former Iowa talk radio host and political science professor contended in the letter to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), that his time teaching and running for political office in the Hawkeye State steeped him in the field of agriculture."
-- “Surely I’m at least partially to blame:” A University of Tulsa law professor who taught Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt penned a brutal op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican this week expressing “regret for whatever small role I played in unleashing Administrator Pruitt on the unsuspecting public.”
Rex J. Zedalis, the professor, went on: “Pruitt was a diligent law student of mine in the early 1990s. Surely I’m at least partially to blame for failing to nurture in him a deep regard for seeing law as an instrument for addressing real facts on the ground, not simply implementing a political ideology, regardless the facts. Countless nights I’ve tossed and turned. Did I not closely guard against my personal political dispositions creeping into the classroom dialogue? Was it that my occasional bouts of cynicism left me ill-suited for academia? I understand why Obama’s environmental measures seem objectionable to Administrator Pruitt. What I fail to comprehend, though, is his utter disregard for tailoring EPA regulatory actions so they address the environment as facts demonstrate we find it, not as we imagine it.”
-- Another message to Pruitt: This time from two-time EPA chief William D. Ruckelshaus. "Pruitt operates in secrecy," Ruckelshaus, who led the agency in the Reagan and Nixon administrations, writes in a Post op-ed. "By concealing his efforts, even innocent actions create an air of suspicion, making it difficult for a skeptical public to give him the benefit of the doubt."
-- "Climate change is real:" Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)’s potentially contradictory views will be front-and-center today as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she heads, will hold a hearing on the potential for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Murkowski, who recently bluntly stated that “climate change is real,” is also a proponent of drilling in her state, and the New York Times’ Lisa Friedman writes that “Murkowski’s stance symbolizes a fundamental challenge of climate politics: How to bridge the gap between moderate Republicans from states reliant on fossil fuels on one side, and Democrats and environmental activists on the other.”
And Murkowski, Friedman points out, sees no contradiction in her views. “I think for anybody who has spent any time in Alaska, there is an awareness that we all have that we are seeing the impacts of climate change perhaps more readily than in other parts of the country because of our Arctic environment,” Murkowski told the Times. “But we’re also a place where we recognize that in order to stay warm, we have to have a resource that can keep us warm, and oil has been a mainstay for us… We’ve provided it to the country and that has allowed for jobs and revenues, it has allowed for schools and roads and institutions that everybody else around the country enjoys.”
-- Grouse joust: Govs. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Matt Mead (R-Wyo.) have warned the Trump administration against altering plans to protect the greater sage grouse across the West.
"We are both very concerned that the new administration is going to take away all the guide rails that allowed this collaboration to exist,” said Hickenlooper, referring to a 2015 plan covering 11 states, reports the Associated Press. Mead added: "If we go down a different road now with the sage grouse, what it says is, when you try to address other endangered species problems in this country, don't have a collaborative process, don't work together, because it's going to be changed. To me, that would be a very unfortunate circumstance."
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke previously signaled the department would consider making changes to the plan to give states further flexibility, per the AP.
Last month, The Energy 202 reported on how a revision of the Obama-era sage-grouse rules lacked the full endorsement of Western Republicans, who are leery the plan could backfire and lead to even more stringent regulations on Western states and energy companies operating there in the future.
-- Another climate talk, canceled: A research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station was denied approval to attend a conference where he was scheduled to present on the effects of climate change on wildfire conditions, reports E&E News.
Other researchers from the station’s Human Dimensions Science Program were also denied requests to attend, including Karin Riley -- a research ecologist who studies wildfires and the climate, and who is on board of directors for the Association for Fire Ecology -- who is hosting the conference. The denial follows reports the EPA blocked three scientists from speaking at a climate conference in Rhode Island. The move prompted protests outside the event.
Spokesman Mike Illenberg for the Agriculture Department, the parent agency of the Forest Service, offered this explanation: “Our front line supervisors and managers weigh a variety of factors including cost, frequency of employee travel, conference location, the number of other employees attending, among other factors in making our business decisions about conference attendance… Based on their recommendations and resource availability, Forest Service leadership gives final approval."
-- Catch-22, coal-country edition: In one town in Pennsylvania, residents are putting their faith in President Trump’s vow to bring coal back. Reuters’s Valerie Volcovici writes that despite the consensus among energy analysts that coal’s future is bleak due to economic forces like cheap natural gas (and not over-regulation), Obama-era retraining classes are undersubscribed and any future programs may be threatened by Trump administration budget cuts.
Volcovici adds: “What many experts call false hopes for a coal resurgence have mired economic development efforts here in a catch-22: Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.”
-- Corn wars: The head of an oil refiner controlled by Carl Icahn said Wednesday he was "surprised that the Trump administration caved and failed to drain the swamp as promised,” referring to the Renewable Fuel Standard. "Unfortunately legislators closely tied to the biofuel lobby sabotaged EPA's efforts by saying they would hold back EPA nominees until they got their way," Jack Lipinski, CEO of CVR Energy, said during a earnings call yesterday, per CNBC.
For more: Read The New Yorker's brilliant piece on Icahn's failed lobbying effort regarding the RFS.
-- Saving lives, but still illegal: The Trump administration is moving to gut an Obama-era climate regulation it has now found could save even more lives than previously estimated. The Post's Chris Mooney reports that when the Obama administration implemented the Clean Power Plan by trumpeting its public-health benefits, it suggested the plan could prevent anywhere from 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030. But a more recent analysis conducted by Trump’s EPA increased those figures to roughly 1,900 to 4,500 prematures deaths per year by 2030.
Trump’s EPA has insisted the CPP was established illegally, Mooney writes, and “how many lives the policy would save is not central to this legal determination and presumably would not change the agency’s decision to repeal it.”
-- A terrifying throwback Halloween story: More than two dozen people suddenly died in a small Pennsylvania town of Donora on Halloween weekend nearly 70 years ago because of toxic air.
The week before Halloween “the morning haze came and never left,” Quartz’s Zoe Schlanger writes. “The little town, built in the basin of the Monongahela River valley, began to fill up. By Wednesday, the air was thick and visibility was low... Plants began to die, then pets. By Saturday, it was people. Local fire crews raced door to door administering oxygen to people who struggled to breathe, but no one knew what was killing them.”
That was two decades before the passage of the Clean Air Act. A federal investigation later found the cause was related to a weather “inversion,” when warmer air floats above cooler air that keeps air stagnant, and prevents pollution from moving.
By Halloween, that Sunday in 1948, 26 people had died due to inhalation of sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluorine, and other poisonous gases. And Schlanger notes that US Steel Corporation, which has faced numerous lawsuits, “has never formally acknowledged its role in the disaster.”
POST PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Post and Live Nation will bring the “Can He Do That?” podcast to a live audience at the Warner Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In this live taping, political reporters Bob Woodward, David Fahrenthold and Karen Tumulty will join host Allison Michaels to review the past year in President Trump’s White House and the biggest moments that made people wonder “Can He Do That?” Tickets can be purchased now at Live Nation. Attendees will also receive a free 30-day digital subscription to The Washington Post.
- National Economists Club holds an event with the American Chemistry Council’s chief economist Kevin Swift.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on a review of emergency response and infrastructure recovery following the hurricane season.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds a legislative hearing on three water bills.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to receive testimony on potential for oil and gas exploration in the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Ripon Society holds an event on the Future of Puerto Rico.
Axios and NBC News holds an event with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing for “Examining Challenges in Puerto Rico's Recovery and the Role of the Financial Oversight and Management Board” is set for Nov. 7.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a committee hearing on the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett-White and Andrew Wheeler on Nov. 8.
House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled for an oversight hearing on “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories’ Disaster Recovery Efforts” for Nov. 14.
Witnesses share scenes from the New York attack:
The president of Argentina expresses sadness over the death of five citizens in the attack:
Hillary Clinton chats with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show:
Samantha Bee says Chief of Staff John Kelly is not the adult in the White House: