EPA watchdog faults agency for Pruitt’s 24/7 security costs
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
Tuesday, September 4
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency failed to properly justify spending more than $3.5 million on around-the-clock security for former head Scott Pruitt, including nearly $1 million in travel costs for his bodyguards, the agency’s internal watchdog concluded on Tuesday.
The EPA allowed Pruitt and his team to increase the security detail to 19 agents, up from six for Pruitt’s predecessor, without proving the need, “an undocumented decision (that) represents an inefficient use of agency resources,” the inspector general concluded.
Pruitt left the EPA in July after less than 1½ years and amid unending revelations of scandals over his spending and other allegations of abuses of office. The new acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, ended the unprecedented full-time security detail that same month.
The inspector general’s report said Pruitt’s security costs were more than double those of his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, during her last year. It also cited $106,507 in overtime — some of it in 2016, before the Trump administration — for security that lacked proper authorization.
Travel costs for Pruitt’s bodyguards more than tripled, to $739,580, from February 2017 to December 2017, owing to Pruitt’s insistence on 24-hour-a-day security and on premium-class travel for himself and a bodyguard, the report said.
Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware and a vocal critic as ethics allegations mounted against Pruitt, called the agency’s security spending “simply unacceptable.”
“This report confirms what we suspected — Mr. Pruitt’s excessive, 24/7 security detail and the costs it incurred while Pruitt traveled the world first-class on the taxpayers’ dime was not properly justified and was not based on a security threat analysis on risks to Pruitt,” Carper said Tuesday.
Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt — an avid enforcer of President Donald Trump’s mission to roll back regulation that the Trump administration deems unfriendly to business — “not only held the EPA’s mission in contempt, but saw his post as a chance to pamper himself on the American taxpayer’s dime.”
The EPA did not immediately comment on the inspector general’s findings.
The inspector general’s report says the agency contended “the level of protection is an administration decision, informed by the awareness of risks and the potential impact of those risks to the efficient functioning of the agency.”
In testimony before a Senate committee in May, Pruitt sought to shift responsibility for the decision to expand his security detail to subordinates, testifying that EPA security officials made the decision to go to around-the-clock protection before his arrival at the agency in response to an assessment of threats.
He then read aloud from an internal report, compiled months after the decision was made, of negative statements made against him through social media posts. None of the perceived threats he cited resulted in any arrests.
“Those decisions are made by current law enforcement officials at the agency,” Pruitt said. Asked whether he had directed that his security to be increased, Pruitt demurred: “I was aware of communications taking place. I was not at the agency at the time. I was actually — that was before confirmation.”
The Associated Press first reported in April that Pruitt’s preoccupation with his safety cost taxpayers more than $3 million in his first year as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.
Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.
HUD AWARDS NEARLY $2.1 MILLION TO PROVIDE AFFORDABLE HOUSING TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN OHIO
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Ben Carson, Secretary
September 4, 2018
NEW vouchers to provide permanent housing to additional 424 Ohio low-income disabled residents
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today awarded $98.5 million to 285 local public housing authorities across the country to provide permanent affordable housing to nearly 12,000 additional non-elderly persons with disabilities including $2,050,682 and 424 vouchers to serve 12 Public Housing Agencies in Ohio.
The housing assistance announced today is provided through the HUD’s Section 811 Mainstream Housing Choice Voucher Program which provides funding to housing agencies to assist non-elderly persons with disabilities who are transitioning out of institutional or other separated settings; at serious risk of institutionalization; homeless; or at risk of becoming homeless.
“HUD is committed to making sure people with disabilities have a decent, safe and affordable place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “Working closely with our local partners, we help residents with disabilities live independently and fully enjoy the use of their homes.”
“Section 811 provides critically important affordable housing serving the most vulnerable individuals with disabilities across the state,” said HUD Midwest Regional Administrator Joseph P. Galvan. “It will promote independence and diversion from costly institutionalization and will prevent homelessness.”
This program helps to further the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act by helping persons with disabilities live in the most integrated setting. The program also encourages partnerships with health and human service agencies with a demonstrated capacity to coordinate voluntary services and supports to enable individuals to live independently in the community.
Public Housing Agency City Vouchers Amount
- Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority Columbus 79 $397,611
- Great Dayton Premier Management Dayton 50 $286,476
- Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority Toledo 41 $165,819
- Mansfield Metropolitan Housing Authority Mansfield 35 $156,337
- Erie Metropolitan Housing Authority Sandusky 35 $195,620
- Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority Ravenna 45 $222,081
- Jackson Co. Metropolitan Housing Authority Wellston 19 $70,040
- Licking Metropolitan Housing Authority Newark 35 $178,320
- Warren Metropolitan Housing Authority Lebanon 19 $110,713
- Fayette Metropolitan Housing Authority Washington Court House 28 $108,397
- Marion Metropolitan Housing Authority Marion 19 $72,639
- City of Marietta Marietta 19 $86,629
HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and http://espanol.hud.gov. You can also connect with HUD on social media or sign up for news alerts on HUD’s Email List.
You can follow Secretary Carson on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Death of Afghan group’s founder unlikely to weaken militants
By KATHY GANNON
Tuesday, September 4
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of Afghanistan’s outlawed militant network that bears his name, is unlikely to weaken the group that is considered the most formidable of the Taliban’s fighting forces.
The Taliban said Haqqani died Monday at age 71 after reports of years of ill health, including Parkinson’s disease. Because of his infirmity, stewardship of the organization had been given to one of his 12 sons, Sirajuddin, whose military prowess is credited with plotting and carrying out some of more audacious attacks assigned to the network.
The younger Haqqani is also deputy head of the Taliban, who have waged increasingly sophisticated and coordinated attacks against Afghanistan’s struggling security forces. Washington’s own watchdog in a recent report said nearly half of Afghanistan is either under the control of the Taliban or influenced by the religious militia.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, once hailed as a freedom fighter by U.S. President Ronald Reagan for opposing the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan during the Cold War, had been paralyzed for the past 10 years, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Reports of his death were widespread in 2015, and he had not been heard from in several years.
In announcing his death, Mujahed called Haqqani a religious scholar and exemplary warrior. The United States declared the Haqqani network a terrorist organization in 2012, and it has been one of the fiercest opponents for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The elder Haqqani’s death is not expected to affect the network’s military might or strategy.
One of the most resilient of Afghanistan’s insurgents, Haqqani joined the Taliban when they overran Kabul in September 1996, expelling feuding fighters whose battles left the capital in ruins.
Haqqani was among the Afghan mujahedeen, or holy warriors, that the United States backed to fight the former Soviet Union’s invading army that entered Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a pro-Moscow communist government. Haqqani was praised by the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.” After 10 years in Afghanistan, Moscow negotiated an exit from the country in an agreement that eventually led to the collapse of Kabul’s government and a takeover by the mujahedeen.
Declassified U.S. cables called Haqqani a “moderate socialist” who did not embrace the Taliban’s strict rules that denied education to girls. “Haqqani functions more in the military area, and is not a force in setting Taliban political or social issues,” the cables read.
Born in 1947 into the powerful Zardran tribe that dominates southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces, Haqqani was a close friend of Osama bin Laden, who often took refuge in his camps outside Khost.
Haqqani’s association with Pakistan dates back to his early years, when he studied a conservative form of Islam at the Darulaman Haqqania madrassa, or religious school, in northwestern Pakistan. The school’s top cleric, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, once said in an AP interview that Haqqani was a serious student.
Haqqani’s rigid interpretation of Islam launched him on the road to insurgency in the early 1970s when he returned to Afghanistan to open a madrassa and organized a movement against Afghanistan’s monarch, King Zahir Shah, according to unclassified U.S. documents that tracked Haqqani’s militant career.
Forced to leave Afghanistan because of his agitation against the monarchy, which was eventually overthrown, Haqqani set up a madrassa in Miran Shah, in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.
During the 1980s, Haqqani’s military prowess in Afghanistan brought him attention from the United States and Pakistan. He received both money and weapons from the U.S.
While the Soviet Union poured in men and money, weapons were sent to Pakistan by the U.S. and several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Suitcases full of cash were delivered to the mujahedeen through Pakistan,
Fighters from the Muslim world were recruited to fight the Soviets, and bin Laden was among the first to sign up. Many of the Arab fighters were drawn toward Haqqani because he was an Arabic speaker and a ferocious warrior. Those who remain in Afghanistan, including the new head of al-Qaida, Ayman al Zawahri, are believed to be protected by the Haqqani network, and they are believed to help fund it.
Haqqani developed close ties with Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, as well as Pakistani militant groups, many of whom were being groomed by the ISI to fight neighbor India in the disputed Kashmir region.
After the Russians left and Afghanistan’s communist government fell, Haqqani served briefly as justice minister. He soon abandoned the mujahedeen government, frustrated by relentless infighting, and returned to Khost where he maintained close contact with militants, including bin Laden.
After taking power in September 1996, the Taliban embraced Haqqani for his military skills, according to a declassified 1998 cable from the U.S. Embassy. That cable also said Haqqani “is close buddies with many Arab and Pakistani Islamists.”
In August 1998, U.S. cruise missiles targeted Haqqani’s base in a failed attempt to kill bin Laden. Several Pakistani militants affiliated with the Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen group were killed in that attack.
Following 9/11 and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, the Taliban were routed from Kabul and Haqqani was ordered by Mullah Omar to move the Arab fighters to safety.
“It makes me sad that he is no longer among us,” Fazlur Rehman Khalil, co-founder of the outlawed Harakat-ul Mujahedeen, said Tuesday. Khalil lives freely on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, currently promoting a fatwa, or religious edict, banning militant violence in Pakistan.
After his death was announced, the Haqqani family released a statement that said security issues prevented the holding of communal prayers for him and instead urged his followers to gather in mosques and “jihadi” centers around the country and offer prayers in his name.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed.
Opinion: ’Tis the Season for Trump’s Tariffs
By Michael McGrady
According to a report by Criteo, the holiday shopping season is beginning earlier and earlier. In 2017 alone, most major retailers — including Walmart, Target and Best Buy — initiated holiday marketing strategies in October. This early sales engagement contributed to a $680.4 billion revenue drive, according to the trends of this report and National Retail Federation numbers sourced by Statista.
Last year’s strong holiday shopping season is owed to the growth of consumer wages, a strong employment number, and a slew of other metrics. To note, consumers are likely to drive sales even higher this year. However, there are a few elephants in the room.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration forced its hand against China in a new chapter of protectionist parley. The administration is on the verge of levying 10 percent to 25 percent tariffs on a variety of consumer imports from Chinese manufacturers. Additionally, the levy’s overall valuation on coming imports is $200 billion. This number doesn’t account for the more than $30 billion in Chinese imports already under national security tariffs and American trade controls.
These tariffs could mean higher prices for American companies and consumers as the holiday season approaches.
Multinational retailers and brands with large markets in the United States already expect a strong shopping season. Nevertheless, retailers of all types stress concerns over major consumer repression and price increases if the current and coming tariffs have long-term staying power.
“We carry about 40,000 products every single day in a typical store and much of those products come from China, and it’s how we as a craft and fabric retailer have been able to supply such an incredible assortment to our readers and be the strong, growing, profitable retailer that we are today,” says Jill Soltau, the CEO of Joann Fabrics and Crafts, in a recent interview with Business Insider. Soltau’s company also launched a petition opposing Trump’s tariffs.
Regardless of the political semblance of a company, scores of other retailers are expressing concerns over the administration’s actions. Several companies during their quarterly reports to investors and in filings to federal regulators have all expressed concerns on tariff policies in the long term.
Brian Cornell, the CEO of Target, told investors that tariffs could have far-reaching consequences. He said: “We’re concerned about tariffs because they would increase prices on everyday products for American families.”
CEO Laura Alber of Williams Sonoma told investors that her company had done all that it could to absorb inevitable price increases. “We are aggressively working to mitigate the potential impact of these tariffs on our financial results,” Alber added.
These concerns are shared across the general retail segment. Considering the effect of tariffs on overall prices and the concerns of companies, the costs could inevitably reflect during peak shopping seasons.
Sun Xufeng with the Chinese Embassy’s Information and Public Affairs Section made clear the Chinese position on the trade war.
“The tariffs will definitely have a negative impact on both our countries … as we have always stated that a trade war serves no one’s interests,” Sun wrote in an email.
Trump’s rhetoric and Xi Jinping’s response to the administration’s self-destructive trade policy affects far more than people care to acknowledge. The potential for higher consumer prices during the holiday season is not the only concern. The truth is the world’s two largest economies are locked in an aggressive trade war. Local economies in both countries are facing unsustainable economic trends. Ultimately, we must remind our leaders that the billions of people between Beijing and Washington become victims of this bilateral governmental malfeasance.
Amazon, publicly traded retailers and thousands of mom-and-pop shops will get billions of dollars in business this holiday shopping season. But the real losers this holiday season will be the trade war’s unintended casualties: the consumers.
Trade Partnership analysts echoed these concerns in a policy brief from this past summer.
“Tariffs, quotas and retaliation would harm the U.S. economy overall, including workers in other manufacturing sectors,” the brief’s authors argue, citing aluminum and steel national security tariffs. The brief’s findings, however, can be applied equally to other scenarios. Given the nature of unemployment and consumer trends, tariffs could diminish consumer buying power.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael McGrady, a political consultant, is the executive director of McGrady Policy Research. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Trump’s rollback of pollution rules to hit coal country hard
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and JOHN RABY
Tuesday, September 4
GRANT TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — It’s coal people like miner Steve Knotts, 62, who make West Virginia Trump Country.
So it was no surprise that President Donald Trump picked the state to announce his plan rolling back Obama-era pollution controls on coal-fired power plants.
Trump left one thing out of his remarks, though: northern West Virginia coal country will be ground zero for increased deaths and illnesses from the rollback on regulation of harmful emission from the nation’s coal power plants.
An analysis done by his own Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the plan would lead to a greater number of people here dying prematurely, and suffering health problems that they otherwise would not have, than elsewhere in the country, when compared to health impacts of the Obama plan.
Knotts, a coal miner for 35 years, isn’t fazed when he hears that warning, a couple of days after Trump’s West Virginia rally. He says the last thing people in coal country want is the government slapping down more controls on coal — and the air here in the remote West Virginia mountains seems fine to him.
“People here have had it with other people telling us what we need. We know what we need. We need a job,” Knotts said at lunch hour at a Circle K in a tiny town between two coal mines, and 9 miles down the road from a coal power plant, the Grant Town plant.
The sky around Grant Town is bright blue. The mountains are a dazzling green. Paw Paw Creek gurgles past the town.
Clean-air controls since the 1980s largely turned off the columns of black soot that used to rise from coal smokestacks. The regulations slashed the national death rates from coal-fired power plants substantially.
These days pollutants rise from smoke stacks as gases, before solidifying into fine particles — still invisible — small enough to pass through lungs and into bloodstreams.
An EPA analysis says those pollutants would increase under Trump’s plan, when compared to what would happen under the Obama plan. And that, it says, would lead to thousands more heart attacks, asthma problems and other illnesses that would not have occurred.
Nationally, the EPA says, 350 to 1,500 more people would die each year under Trump’s plan. But it’s the northern two-thirds of West Virginia and the neighboring part of Pennsylvania that would be hit hardest, by far, according to Trump’s EPA.
Trump’s rollback would kill an extra 1.4 to 2.4 people a year for every 100,000 people in those hardest-hit areas, compared to under the Obama plan, according to the EPA analysis. For West Virginia’s 1.8 million people, that would be equal to at least a couple dozen additional deaths a year.
Trump’s acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist whose grandfather worked in the coal camps of West Virginia, headed to coal states this week and last to promote Trump’s rollback. The federal government’s retreat on regulating pollution from coal power plants was “good news,” Wheeler told crowds there.
In Washington, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Trump’s plan still would result in “dramatic reductions” in emissions, deaths and illness compared to the status quo, instead of to the Obama plan. Obama’s Clean Power Plan targeted climate-changing carbon dioxide, but since coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the Obama plan would have curbed other harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants as well.
About 160 miles to the south of Grant Town, near the state capital of Charleston, shop owner Doris Keller figures that if Trump thinks something’s for the best, that’s good enough for her.
“I just know this. I like Donald Trump and I think that he’s doing the right thing,” said Keller, who turned out to support Trump Aug. 21 when he promoted his rollback proposal. She lives five miles from the 2,900-megawatt John Amos coal-fired power plant.
“I think he has the best interests of the regular common people at the forefront,” Keller says.
Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy program would dismantle President Barack Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, which has been caught up in court battles without yet being implemented.
The Obama plan targeted climate-changing emissions from power plants, especially coal. It would have increased federal regulation of emissions from the nation’s electrical grid and broadly promoted natural gas, solar power and other cleaner energy.
Trump’s plan would cede much of the federal oversight of existing coal-fired power plants and drop official promotion of cleaner energy. Individual states largely would decide how much to regulate coal power plants in their borders. The plan is open for public review, ahead of any final White House decision.
“I’m getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies … and our jobs,” Trump said at the rally.
There was no mention of the “small increases” in harmful emissions that would result, compared to the Obama plan, or the health risks.
EPA charts put numbers on just how many more people would die each year because of those increased coal emissions.
Abboud and spokeswoman Ashley Bourke of the National Mining Association, which supports Trump’s proposed regulatory rollback on coal emissions, said other federal programs already regulate harmful emissions from coal power plants. Bourke also argued that the health studies the EPA used in its death projections date as far back as the 1970s, when coal plants burned dirtier.
In response, Conrad Schneider of the environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force said the EPA’s mortality estimates had taken into account existing regulation of plant emissions.
Additionally, health studies used by the EPA looked at specific levels of exposure to pollutants and their impact on human health, so remain constant over time, said Schneider, whose group analyzes the EPA projections.
With competition from natural gas and other cleaner energy helping to kill off more than a third of coal jobs over the last decade, political leaders in coal states are in no position to be the ones charged with enforcing public-health protections on surviving coal-fired power plants, said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
“Our state is beholden to coal. Our politicians are beholden to coal,” Stockman said outside Trump’s West Virginia rally, where she was protesting. “Meanwhile, our people are being poisoned.”
And when it comes to coal power plants and harm, Schneider said, “when you’re at Grant Town, you’re at Ground Zero.”
Retired coal miner Jim Haley, living 4 miles from the town’s coal-fired power plant, has trouble telling from the smokestack when the plant is even operating.
“They’ve got steam coming out of the chimneys. That’s all they have coming out of it,” Haley said.
Parked near the Grant Town post office, where another resident was rolling down the quiet main street on a tractor, James Perkins listened to word of the EPA’s health warnings. He cast a look into the rear-view mirror into the backseat of his pickup truck, at his 3-year-old grandson, sitting in the back.
“They need to make that safe,” said Perkins, a health-care worker who had opted not to follow his father into the coal mines. “People got little kids.”
Raby reported from Charleston, West Virginia. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington.