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House Democrats: Anti-Regulatory Legislation “Dead on Arrival”
As the saying goes, “elections have consequences.” Donald Trump’s election certainly has, leading to the rolling back and gutting of hundreds of regulations that protect the health and safety of workers, consumers, children, minorities and the environment. However, the most recent power shift—the House moving to leadership by a pro-safeguards majority– has begun providing a critical check, by ensuring that legislation being pushed by corporate special interests to make it harder for our government agencies to bring back the protections that we’ve lost under Trump has no chance of passage. That’s good news for those who want our government to work for hardworking Americans and their families, not for huge corporations.
When the Republicans controlled the U.S. House of Representatives, they passed numerous pieces of anti-regulatory legislation with vague, neutral sounding titles like the “Regulatory Accountability Act” and the “Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.” Far from being neutral and balanced, these bills were designed to make it harder for our regulatory agencies to protect the public by creating more avenues in the rulemaking process for corporate special interests to influence government officials. While many passed the House under Republican control, none passed the U.S. Senate or even made it to the Senate floor.
If there was any doubt that anti-regulatory legislation will go nowhere now that voters have put the House back in Democratic control, a leading Democrat in the House who chairs the committee that such legislation would have to go through just put those to bed. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law had this to say about the prospects for anti-regulatory legislation in his committee: “These bills are handouts to corporate special interests. They are dead on arrival.”
Cicilline has a strong track record of fighting for consumer, worker, environmental and minority and LGBTQ protections. He has been vocal in opposing the Trump administration’s radical deregulatory agenda and the stream of corporate lobbyists that have been tapped to run agencies that are supposed to be regulating the very corporations those lobbyists once worked for.
Senate Republicans are likely to keep wasting time pushing the same anti-regulatory legislation to “lock in” the deregulatory damage being caused by this administration so that it’s harder for government agencies in the future to bring back the protections the public lost. Fortunately, those bills don’t stand a chance with Cicilline and other leaders in the House, who instead will be focused on pointing out how the Trump administration is failing to safeguard the public in order to protect corporate profits.
Postal Banking Could Help the USPS’s Bottom Line While Serving Millions of Struggling Families Mainstream Banking Has Left Behind
It is undeniable that our conventional banking system leaves many communities in the dust. Between rural and even urban communities with few or no local bank branches, historically underserved communities of color where bankers have deemed it unprofitable to locate branches, and communities where banks are not trusted, many households fall through the cracks of our traditional financial system.
Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households (or 100 million people) do not have access to affordable financial services. As many as 8 million American households don’t have access to basic banking, like a checking account, and 1 in 5 Americans don’t have access to affordable accounts, debit cards, and credit.
And when members of these communities cannot access traditional financial services, they have no recourse but to turn to alternatives. Millions of Americans—mostly the working poor, and disproportionately African-American or Latinx—rely on costly, predatory financial institutions including payday lenders and check-cashers who charge exorbitant interest rates and fees that trap unbanked and underbanked households in a debt cycle.
No one policy can correct the injustice of so many Americans being unable to access retail banking and forced to utilize more financially dangerous services, but one way to broaden access to responsible financial services is to allow the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to provide some basic banking services. “Postal banking” could help ensure that all Americans have a safe, trusted source of low-cost, high-quality consumer-driven financial services in their communities. Affordable financial services provided by the USPS could help struggling families nationwide achieve financial stability – and strengthen the USPS mission to serve the public.
There are a number of reasons the USPS is the ideal provider of these services. The USPS does a much better job than conventional banks of reaching all of America’s geographic locations—with 31,000 branches serving every community in the country, fifty-nine percent of post offices are in zip codes with either no bank or only one bank. The USPS is also legally required to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. Unlike mainstream banks, the USPS is not-for-profit and does not target or decline to serve vulnerable communities.
Furthermore, the USPS already does offer some limited financial products, including the sale of money orders, international money transfers to nine countries, and cashing of U.S. Treasury checks. Without even requiring an act of Congress, the Postmaster General can take action under the Postal Service’s existing authority to offer more basic financial services, including expanded money orders, check cashing, pre-paid gift cards, and bill payment.
There’s a path forward to do even more if Congress were to change the laws. For instance, the USPS could be given the authority to offer checking or savings accounts or even short-term “postal loans” as a much safer alternative to payday loans.
Not only could these changes help provide financial stability to unbanked and underbanked households, but they could also help guarantee the financial health of the USPS. Expanding the existing services could bring in around $1.1 billion per year, and if Congress were to allow the USPS to expand into other alternate financial products, it could generate nearly $9 billion in revenue annually. Postal banking should be part of any solution that Congress puts forward to address the grave financial situation of the postal service.
Finally, these sorts of postal banking services have many successful analogues in other countries, reaching around 1.5 billion people globally. We even have precedent for postal banking in this country; from 1911 to 1967, the U.S. Post Office offered savings deposit accounts. We have plenty of good models to look to in designing a good postal banking program.
Recently, Public Citizen’s Financial Policy Advocate Bartlett Naylor provided written testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for a hearing held today on the financial condition of the postal service. While the hearing was not primarily focused on postal banking, Congressman Harley Rouda (Calif.) did ask the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Frederic V. Rolando, for his opinion on implementing some postal banking measures:
.@RepHarley: Mr. Rolando, there are 68 million Americans who are under-served by banks and financial institutions, do you believe the #postal service should be given authority to offer limited financial services?
Watch for answer from @NALC_National President #postalbanking pic.twitter.com/k14oSXZdNI
— Take On Wall St (@TakeOnWallSt) April 30, 2019
Mr. Rolando’s answer to Rep. Rouda was encouraging, and demonstrates the extent to which a hearing devoted entirely to postal banking is warranted.
It is unacceptable that so many Americans are left to struggle without access to local, low-cost, high-quality financial services. Postal banking is one badly needed step in righting this wrong. You can learn more about postal banking by visiting the Campaign for Postal Banking website.
It’s time for postal banking to be expanded and restored in the United States. Call on the Postmaster General to implement postal banking now or write a letter to the editor of your local paper in support of postal banking.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Tim1965,
“United Postal Service HQ“|CC BY 3.0
Remembering Workers Who Died or Suffered on the Job Must Also Include Safeguards Against Heat
During Workers’ Memorial Week (April 22- 28), Public Citizen joined with organizations across the country to remember fallen workers and fight for safer workplaces, including for employees exposed to the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace.
According to the AFL-CIO, nearly 5,200 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2017 alone, and millions more were injured or maimed. Heat stress killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000 workers from 1992 through 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Notwithstanding these alarming figures, many deaths – including heat-related fatalities – go underreported.
A broad coalition of advocacy groups and experts have mounted a campaign to pressure the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish protections for workers who are subject to extreme heat. In the summer of 2018, Public Citizen and a network of more than 130 labor, environment and public health organizations petitioned OSHA to issue a national heat stress standard. This petition marked the launch of a national campaign to win that standard and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and rising temperatures on the health and safety of outdoor and indoor workers.
This Workers’ Memorial Week, more than 100 organizations submitted a joint letter to United States Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt. The letter calls for swift action from the Labor Department to enact protective policies to shield workers from the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace.
The language of the letter also memorializes some of the workers we have lost from heat-related fatalities, “Behind the statistics are individual workers who will never return home after a hard day’s work, or who will be forever changed from irreversible injuries and illnesses.” Last year, Peggy Frank, a 63-year-old mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, died from hyperthermia (an abnormally high body temperature) in her non-air-conditioned mail truck on a day that reached 115 degrees. A decade earlier, in 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant teen farmworker, died from heat exhaustion after laboring more than nine hours without accessible shade or water. These are just two of the countless workers who have died or suffered because of extreme heat exposure.
For Workers’ Memorial Week, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health also highlighted preventable heat-related fatalities in its Dirty Dozen 2019 Report, which identifies companies that put workers and communities at risk. The report detailed how Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez, an immigrant farmworker, died from heat exhaustion on a Georgia tomato farm during his first week on the job. OSHA fined Beiza Brothers Harvesting for exposing Chavez to “hazards of high ambient temperatures and working in direct sunlight.” And at the warehouse XPO, one worker died and six women have suffered miscarriages under overheated, high-stress working conditions. After an exposé and a union organizing drive, XPO closed the warehouse.
Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S., and climate change is resulting in more frequent and more intense days of extreme heat. Heat stress dramatically increases the risk for workers who labor in hot conditions, whether outdoors or in warehouses, kitchens or confined spaces. As record-breaking summer temperatures become the norm – 18 of the past 19 years have been the hottest on record – workers are at increased risk for heat illnesses.
Public Citizen published a report showing that during the July 4, 2018, holiday week, an average of more than 2.2 million construction and farm workers labored in extreme heat each day. Another report by Public Citizen, Farmworker Association of Florida and an Emory University researcher showed that extreme heat in Florida put construction and farmworkers at risk of illness, injury and death in 2016. According to climate change forecasts, heat will continue to climb in years moving forward.
Workplace safety and oversight hearings are a top priority for leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. In response to the growing heat risks to workers nationwide, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said she plans to introduce legislation this year to protect workers from heat. Public Citizen and its partners support the introduction of bicameral legislation to protect outdoor and indoor workers from heat this Congress as we continue to push OSHA to act under its authority.
During Workers’ Memorial Week, it’s important to remember those workers who have died on the job, and for OSHA and Congress to advance workplace protections to prevent future tragedies. In the absence of strong rights and enforcement, we endanger our workforce and make another generation of workers vulnerable to the harms of climate change.
You can take action in support of workers, by joining our grassroots petition to OSHA for national heat protections. No more workers should die from this preventable situation.
Tax Day 2019: It’s Time to Release the Returns, Repeal the Tax Scam, and Reinvest in America
It’s Tax Day again, when we all come together to chip in our fair share toward the cost of government. That is—except for the tax cheats and corporations so adept at wiggling out of their tax bills they pay $0, or worse, get a refund check from Uncle Sam. Big name companies like Netflix, Amazon, IBM, and GM are just tip of the iceberg when it comes to large, profitable corporations that paid no taxes or got money back from the government last year.
The need for a real tax code overhaul has never been greater, especially since the partisan tax giveaway package that was rushed through the process without hearings or proper input from the public. It was the product of K Street lobbying, with Public Citizen research showing that more than 60 percent of the D.C. lobby corps tried to influence the tax package—more than 7,000 individual lobbyists.
President Trump and the GOP made a lot of false promises about the 2017 tax giveaway package—which voters rightly saw as a scam, and it remains very unpopular to this day. It’s no surprise since the tax cut legislation has done much to enrich wealthy shareholders, corporate CEOs and Wall Street bankers and while average Americans have felt little assistance from the changes. And, the hole in the budget these tax cuts are already leaving will lead to declining services for families that are suffering and fewer health care dollars for seniors and others who need care.
Before we get to next year’s Tax Day, we need to do three things: release Trump’s tax returns, repeal the provisions of the 2017 tax giveaway bill that enriched the wealthy and corporations, and redesign the tax code in a way the will create new revenues to reinvest in American communities.
Release the Returns
Public Citizen’s members and supporters, have been clamoring for the release of Trump’s tax returns since he first announced his candidacy for office, including countless activists participating in Tax March events across the country two years ago. Yet, Trump has refused to disclose his tax information. This, despite decades of precedent set by his predecessors.
That’s why we were so pleased that the text of H.R. 1, the For the People Act –the sweeping ethics, campaign finance and voting rights reform package made it clear that future presidential and vice-presidential candidates and office holders will be required by law to disclose tax information moving forward, including business and individual income tax returns. Even though HR 1 passed with overwhelming support in the House last month, we must not be made to wait until the For the People Act is signed into law to determine how his tax policy maneuvers have personally benefited the president.
The Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) recently, after much deliberation, used the power granted to the committee under Sec. 6103(f)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code to request the past six years of President Trump’s personal and some of his business tax returns from the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department. The letter of the law is clear: It says that the Treasury Secretary shall furnish the returns to the Committee upon written request. There is no wiggle room.
Yet the first deadline set by Chairman Neal came and went without Sec. Mnuchin having provided the returns. That is inexcusable. Now Chairman Neal has more than generously provided a new deadline of April 23. However, it’s outrageous Treasury did not meet the first deadline– so Public Citizen is joining allies for a rally today at 5pm outside of the IRS to demand that they not take any additional time but that they release the returns now!
The Ways and Means Committee needs Trump’s tax return information to perform proper oversight into exactly how much he personally financially gained by pushing for specific tax changes and signing the 2017 bill into law. Most of Trump’s hundreds of businesses are organized as limited liability companies (LLCs) and those types of entities received an extremely generous new deduction. Not to mention the need for oversight into the many questions about the president’s possible financial connections to Russia and other foreign powers that may have influenced policy decisions. Also, with oversight authority over the Internal Revenue Service, the Ways and Means Committee must investigate whether the agency has been properly auditing the president.
As much as Trump and his administration appear to be digging their heels in on not releasing the returns,
To quote @AOC – Congress didn’t ask you.
Congress: “We’re going to need a copy of the President’s tax returns from 2013-2018.”
45: “No, I’m ‘under audit.’ ”
Congress: “We didn’t ask you.”
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 3, 2019
Repeal Tax Giveaways to the Rich and Corporations
As a basic matter, we must repeal the 2017 tax cut legislation that showered millionaires and billionaires with ridiculous handouts, while adding nearly $2 trillion to the deficit. The legislation included huge giveaways for corporations and also worsened the unfair tax advantages that multinational companies have over Main Street businesses by giving provisions like an extra 50% off coupon to multinational corporations that book profits to offshore subsidiaries. And, Big Banks got huge tax windfalls at the same time that they are raking in record profits.
Yet, how did these companies use that extra money? By spending more than 140 times as much on buying back their own stock than on increasing wages for workers. We need to fix that by increasing the tax rate for corporations and closing loopholes that benefit Wall Street investors and high-paid CEOs over average Americans. We should also discourage outsourcing of jobs and investment by taxing profits at least at the same rate when they are earned by foreign subsidiaries, while making sure they don’t “invert” and re-incorporate in low tax countries.
Reinvest in American Communities
Public Education, health care for seniors and low income individuals, aid for the less physically and mentally able, providing nutrition assistance to the hungry, rebuilding roads and water pipes, tackling climate change and growing green jobs– the list of communities’ needed investments is endless. As time goes by, these needs are only going to increase. Corporations and banks used to pull more of their weight when it comes to taxes, they must pick up the slack. And, by asking the very wealthy to pay more of their fair share, we will have more money to give a hand up to those who need it most.
We can do this by taxing the wealth of millionaires and billionaires, by strengthening the estate tax, and increasing the marginal tax rates for the richest among us. At the same time, a small tax on Wall Street trades of 10 cents per $100 traded could create $777 billion in new revenues over the next decade, repaying America for crashing the economy while calming the markets by tamping down risky high-speed trading. Combined, new tax progressive policies could create trillions in new revenues that could be reinvested in our communities. Instead of turning our back on hard-hit areas, we need to create equal opportunity and provide a level playing field for all Americans.
But, once we fill all of the loopholes and otherwise strengthen the code, we will need equally strong enforcement. Right now, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is an over-politicized and under-resourced agency, and it is focused in the wrong direction. We also need to make paying taxes as easy as possible by having IRS have its own free-file program and by using return-free filing, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed. Also, audits and other enforcement by the IRS should concentrate more on big-money taxpayers and corporations to maximize the agency’s bang for the buck. And, the job of the IRS also has an impact on our democracy since it oversees tax status of nonprofits, and it must provide clear rules regarding political activity. That’s a lot of work on an agency that has seen steep cuts to its budget over recent years.
The first step toward a fairer tax code is getting Trump’s tax returns so Congress has all of the information it needs for accountability including investigations into who benefited the most from the 2017 tax changes, specifically one supposedly wealthy owner of real estate businesses. Then, Congress needs to go back to square one so that the American people can properly weigh in as our nation’s leaders take the time needed to properly craft a more progressive tax code that benefits everyone not just a privileged few
Compulsory Licensing for Hepatitis C Medication in Malaysia
By Lekhya Kintada
In August of 2017, the Malaysian Cabinet decided to make available affordable generic versions of the hepatitis C cure sofosbuvir (Sovaldi). The U.S. government and the patent-based pharmaceutical industry are placing some pressure on Malaysia for this decision, but it is an important one to protect public health.
Approximately 500,000 people in Malaysia are living with hepatitis C (HCV). Sofosbuvir, as a direct-acting antiviral medicine, has cure rates of over 90% and far fewer side effects than previous treatments, representing a breakthrough for people with chronic HCV. However, the cost of treatment is exorbitantly expensive, making the treatment less accessible to patients. The list price of Sovaldi in the U.S. is $84,000 and RM 300,000 ($71,300 USD) in Malaysia. The Malaysian household income per capita is a small fraction of this price: $4,571.17. As of 2017, only 500-550 patients per year had received treatment.
Since sofosbuvir is patented, a government-use license is needed to waive the monopoly right and enable the sale of generic drugs at affordable prices. In other words, the Malaysian government granted the U.S.-based corporation Gilead Sciences a patent covering sofosbuvir. In exchange, Malaysia retains the right to make use of the patented invention to serve the public interest. This government use is a core feature of patent systems everywhere.
The Health Ministry of Malaysia, in cooperation with Geneva-based Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), is hoping to procure a generic sofosbuvir, priced at RM 1,000, for use in public hospitals throughout the country.
Gilead had announced earlier in 2017 that Malaysia would be included in the company’s own licensing plan – allowing some generic versions to be sold locally. Gilead Sciences signed non-exclusive licensing agreements with seven India-based generic pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce and sell sofosbuvir in 91 least developed countries. Most of the middle-income countries where the vast majority of hepatitis C patients live were excluded from the licenses. Malaysia was one of those 41 middle-income countries.
Gilead also failed to register the drug in many of the 105 countries within the licenses territory. This obstructed access to hepatitis C treatment.
The Malaysian government engaged in negotiations with Gilead to be included in the licenses and reduce the price. Negotiations failed in 2016.
Malaysia’s decision to license government-use is believed to be the pivotal reason Gilead is now including Malaysia in its licensing plans. Gilead may have hoped that the Malaysian government would reverse its government use decision, or at least that Gilead would be able to control the terms of licensing and generic competition. However, relinquishing the government use license would limit what Malaysia can import or produce. Gilead’s licenses are dependent on conditions set by the company, and Gilead could also alter or terminate them.
Currently, the Malaysian government continues to face pressure from the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and potentially the U.S. government to undo an action taken to make a key hepatitis C medicine more affordable in Malaysia. However, according to TRIPS Article 31, usage of patented drugs in a non-commercial sector does not require prior negotiation with the patent holder. A government agency or a third party (e.g. a generics company) can be authorized to import or manufacture a generic version of a patented drug limited to use in public programs and hospitals. Government use does not override a patent. Rather, the government has the right to make use of an invention which is embedded in this initial grant of every patent.
In the 2018 Special 301 Report, the USTR announced that it will conduct an Out-of-Cycle Review of Malaysia to “consider the extent to which Malaysia is providing adequate and effective IP protection and enforcement, including with respect to patents.” The WTO Ministerial Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health not only recognized the legality but also the desirability of countries taking pro-public health measures and not letting patents come in the way of people’s health interests. The U.S. government should not criticize Malaysia for making use of an invention to protect public health. It is consistent with Malaysia’s international obligations and long-established U.S. policy.
In this way, Malaysia is making strides in the public health sector. For example, Malaysia became the first country to issue a compulsory license on a medicine to treat HIV, following the adoption of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health in 2003. In 2017, it was again the first country to issue a government-use license for HCV treatment. These decisions showcase the Malaysian government’s commitment to provide lifesaving medicines to its people. Thus, the decision to issue a government-use license for sofosbuvir is an admirable example of a country exercising its right to make medicines available to save thousands of people from serious ailment and potentially death.
The “Return to Prudent Banking Act” Will Help Protect Us From Another Financial Crash
The “Return to Prudent Banking Act” Will Help Protect Us From Another Financial Crash
We need strong rules for Wall Street.
When we don’t have them, Americans suffer. It happened with savings and loan association deregulation, which led to a real estate collapse; it happened with the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, which led to the 2008 financial crash.
Now, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), has introduced the “Return to Prudent Banking Act.” The bill would restore the “wall” that previously existed under Glass-Steagall, preventing FDIC-insured commercial banks from participating in investment activity.
The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 was designed to keep commercial banks, which traditionally make relatively safe decisions in pursuit of long-term profits, from taking on short-term speculative behavior that carries high risks. For decades, Glass-Steagall worked, and it worked well.
But then in 1999, the statute was repealed. During an era of aggressive deregulation, the commercial bank Citicorp and the insurance company Travelers Group had merged the year before, forming the first “megabank,” known as Citigroup. Since that merger was considered a violation of Glass-Steagall, the law was changed to effectively repeal Glass-Steagall and allow Citigroup’s merger to go through. Effectively, megabanks formed on Citigroup’s model, now able to become supersized through mergers, were also then able to gamble with taxpayer-backed deposits. The results were calamitous.
Within a decade, the 2008 financial crash brought our economy to shambles and cost Main Street heavily. Foreclosure rates skyrocketed and home values plummeted. Many prudent savers saw their long-term retirement savings vanish into thin air. Already marginalized communities like people of color and people with disabilities were hit particularly hard, and many communities have still not completely recovered from the Great Recession. And of course, taxpayers paid trillions to bail out the failed megabanks. Had Glass-Steagall not been repealed, perhaps the crash would not have happened at all, because banks would not have been allowed to take massive risks that inflated a housing bubble whose rupture collapsed the economy.
Even industry veterans, like John Reed and Sanford Weill, who founded Citigroup and in doing so effectively helped repeal Glass-Steagall, now recognize that doing away with Glass-Steagall’s protections was a mistake.
Reed has written about the “culture clash” that developed at banks and how investment and traditional bankers tend not to mix well. In this clash of views that happened post-Glass-Steagall, investment bankers won out and steered the banking industry toward a riskier, short-term oriented culture.
Unfortunately, the Volcker Rule put in place through the Dodd-Frank Act didn’t solve this problem. That rule prohibited banks from doing proprietary investment trading—trading on their own behalf—but allowed banks to still do it on behalf of clients. The Volcker Rule didn’t solve this issue partly because of the loopholes in the law, but also because of its complexity and lack of transparency. Many financial industry professionals including Reed and Weill now call for a return to Glass-Steagall’s clear rules.
We cannot let a financial crash happen again. For the health of our economy and the security of our savings, we must prevent greedy investors from gambling with the fate of our financial system to make a quick buck. Without stronger rules on Wall Street like the Return to Prudent Banking Act, it could happen again.
Tell your members of Congress to cosponsor the Return to Prudent Banking Act and send a clear signal that if banks are “too big to fail,” then they’re too big to exist.
Photo Credit: David Shankbone [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
Letting Dirty Trucks Glide Past Pollution Protections
The White House agency in charge of reviewing regulations, the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), conspired with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to circumvent important rulemaking requirements – and ram through a deregulatory giveaway to “glider” trucks, which are super-polluting diesel freight trucks created by dropping old, dirty truck engines into new truck bodies. If allowed to go forward, this loophole for the trucking industry will pollute our air and harm children’s health.
The story begins several years ago when, under the Obama administration, the EPA applied its new, cleaner emissions standards to glider trucks. When the Trump administration took power, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attempted to exempt glider trucks from the Obama era emission standards as a handout to the industry that makes them. The EPA’s Inspector General (IG) is already investigating the EPA’s role in this tawdry tale, but new reporting makes clear that the White House’s role in this incident needs to be investigated as well.
When Public Citizen examined the glider truck carve-out, we discovered potential manipulation of the EPA’s rulemaking process, as outlined in testimony to the EPA’s scientific advisory board in 2018, before the IG investigation was requested. From documents publicly available at the time, we found that the EPA intentionally avoided conducting certain analyses to conceal the harmful health impacts of allowing dirtier emissions from glider trucks, especially on children.
U.S. Senate Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee reached a similar conclusion in December 2018 and requested that the EPA’s IG investigate the agency’s process for repealing cleaner emissions standards for glider trucks.
Now, newly released documents show that EPA’s IG is almost certain to confirm our suspicions: that the agency knowingly refused to do numerous analyses on the harmful impacts of its carve-out for glider trucks that normally are required when taking this type of regulatory action.
Usually, an agency’s attempt to skirt analytical requirements runs into problems when the regulation is sent to OIRA, the small office in the White House that is tasked with reviewing and approving certain regulations and their accompanying analyses.
But the new documents show that OIRA acted as an accomplice, helping the EPA flout the analytical requirements. In fact, it looks like OIRA deliberately fast-tracked the glider trucks carve-out by allowing the EPA to bypass analyses that are required for exemptions from new emissions standards.
A few weeks ago, a Bloomberg Law reporter broke the story that former EPA head Pruitt received a handwritten letter from a former Republican congresswoman from Tennessee asking for the glider carve-out. One of the largest glider truck manufacturers is based in her district.
The story, based on EPA documents obtained by the reporter through a Freedom of Information Act request, confirmed strong suspicions that the EPA was lowering the emissions standards for glider trucks as a political favor to the congresswoman and the glider manufacturer.
Buried within the hundreds of pages of documents were emails from staff at both the EPA and OIRA showing both agencies colluding to rush through the glider truck carve-out by skipping the required analyses.
OIRA was created under President Ronald Reagan to review and approve the most important and impactful regulations from federal agencies. But since its founding, OIRA generally has opposed strong regulations that protect the public while favoring deregulation.
This incident is just the latest example.
The reason the EPA sent its glider trucks carve-out to OIRA in the first place is because the regulation was classified as an “economically significant” regulation. In other words, the EPA (correctly) believed that the regulation would have major economic impacts. Such rules have to be reviewed by OIRA.
When a rulemaking is classified as “economically significant,” in addition to putting it under OIRA review, it also normally triggers a requirement to assess its potential costs and benefits. And when it’s a rulemaking from the EPA, this designation also triggers the requirement to look at the public health impacts on children and minorities. All of these analyses ultimately would need to be reviewed by OIRA as it does its review of a rule.
Yet the EPA sent OIRA the glider truck rulemaking without any of the required analyses. In fact, the regulation had virtually no evidence to support it. Moreover, the EPA did nothing to refute its earlier findings from the Obama administration that exempting glider trucks from clean air standards would lead to enormous amounts of harmful pollution that would negatively impact vulnerable populations.
Normally, OIRA would have rejected the regulation and told the EPA to do the supporting analyses before allowing the EPA even to propose the rulemaking. Under the Obama administration, OIRA never hesitated to hold up regulations, often for years, while it insisted agencies provide more information and analyses to justify regulations.
As emails between the EPA and OIRA show, OIRA allowed the EPA to change the designation of the glider truck regulation from “economically significant” to merely “significant” to let the EPA propose the carve-out without having to do the various analyses required of “economically significant” rules.
This was the very last change the EPA made to the regulation before OIRA ended its review of the regulation and approved EPA to propose it publicly. OIRA wanted the change in order to cover its tracks, since leaving the regulation as “economically significant” would have led to questions as to why the typical analyses that accompany “economically significant” regulations had not been done by EPA.
One of the email subject lines from an EPA staffer reads, “RE: last minute significance change request from OMB.” While the content of the email is redacted, the subject line clearly indicates that OIRA (housed within OMB) requested that the EPA change the significance designation of the regulation.
Subsequent emails dispel any doubt that this occurred.
One email from an EPA staffer to other high-level EPA political appointees reads, “we just received word from OMB that they have cleared the Glider NPRM (with the change from “economically significant” to “significant”).” In other words, OMB cleared the change in the rulemaking’s designation from “economically significant” to “significant.”
Another internal EPA email makes clear that OMB requested the change, “…given that OMB was the one proposing the change be made from ‘economically significant’ to ‘significant…’”
Interestingly, this email chain also contained an email from an EPA career staffer with the subject line, “Why the draft glider repeal NPRM is Economically Significant.” This indicates that the EPA’s career staff believed the proper classification for the glider truck exemption would be an “economically significant” regulation.
These emails should lead the EPA’s IG to conclude that agency violated basic requirements in the regulatory process in trying to exempt glider trucks from pollution standards. With OIRA’s help, the EPA deliberately mischaracterized its carve-out for glider trucks to make it look like it was complying with requirements in the rulemaking process, when in fact it was not.
This raises profound concerns about the integrity of both the EPA’s rulemaking process, which already has come under close scrutiny due to numerous lapses under the Trump administration, as well as the integrity of OIRA’s regulatory review process.
A top to bottom audit of the EPA’s rulemaking process and OIRA’s regulatory review process might reveal that this incident is just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s Going on with the Mueller Report?
One of the defining qualities of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interreference in the 2016 presidential election was the absence of internal leaks. (Mueller’s team primarily communicated their case by releasing unusually detailed indictments and charging documents.)
So when news came out that the report was finished, anticipation was exceptionally high. Last Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released a 4 page “summary” of the over 400-page report. President Donald Trump and his defenders instantly began describing it as a “total exoneration”, despite the fact that the summary and report specifically state that it “does not exonerate him.” This bit of cognitive dissonance was followed by Barr claiming this his “summary” was not a “summary.” All of this was too much for some members of the Mueller team and stories began emerging that Mueller had already provided his own written summary that was bypassed for Barr’s version which was they said gave a deceptive impression.
The public deserves to see the full report for a number of reasons and the Trump administration’s absurd handling of it so far only adds to the arguments. This was the background for the 330 rallies nationwide that Public Citizen, MoveOn, Indivisible and others in the Trump is Not Above the Law coalition organized on Thursday demanding the full release of the report.
At the flagship event in front of the White House, Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert was joined by a number of speakers, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler. Nadler’s played a key role in the proceedings, including recently receiving authorization for a subpoena for the report. Nadler was received as a folk hero at the event, best captured by the spontaneous chant of “thank you” that broke out while he was on stage. You can watch a full video of the event here.
Activist pressure has already proved very consequential in this process. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Mueller was able to finish his investigation even though Trump threatened its very existence innumerable times. The pressure of the massive number of people that got involved in the Trump is Not Above the Law effort clearly played a significant part in the calculation.
We must keep up the pressure until we have the full report. You can help by calling Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Doug Collins at 202 225-9893. Tell him that the public paid for the Mueller investigation and we deserve the full story about Russian interference in our election.
The American People Deserve a Clean Budget That Protects the Public
The scandal over cutting Special Olympics funding and the subsequent walk back has been trending in the news for good reason: it shows the depths that the administration will shamelessly sink to in harming marginalized communities. President Trump may have since walked back the originally planned cuts, but that the proposal made it into the budget in the first place is telling. That’s far from the only example of abject cruelty in the Trump budget, however; for additional examples, look no further than the other provisions of the president’s proposed budget for FY2020. The proposed budget would make deep cuts to the social safety net and earned benefits, while funding a wasteful and racist wall at the border and slashing funds for environmental protections and other measures that protect Americans.
Here are some of the worst features of the Trump Budget:
- Hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Americans’ earned benefits—chiefly, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security disability insurance—which millions of Americans rely on for their basic health and well-being;
- Massive cuts in the student loan program, despite the crisis levels of debt students and recent graduates already face;
- Deep decreases in funding for social programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing vouchers, Head Start, and other crucial services;
- $8.6 billion in funding for the construction of a racist southern border wall that will imperil the natural habitat along the Rio Grande river and cost long-time families their homes, in addition to the billions of dollars the president recently chose to appropriate for the wall under the guise of a sham National Emergency, which Public Citizen is fighting in court on behalf of the Frontera Audubon Society and three plaintiffs among our members from Texas.
It is often said that a president’s budget is a “statement of priorities.” Frequently, the administration’s proposed budget is little more than a wish-list that will bear little resemblance to the ultimate funding package upon which Trump and Congress will (hopefully) agree in order to avoid another shutdown. Congress still needs to pass the actual appropriations bills, and in addition to advocating to oppose these types of dangerous proposed cuts to agency funding, we also need to ensure that the budget process is not hijacked for partisan purposes.
All too often in recent years, Congress’ role in the budget process has been abused to enact dangerous, unpopular policies that harm the public. By inserting “poison pill” policy riders into must-pass appropriations bills, some members of Congress routinely push forward policies that would damage Americans’ health, wealth, and environment.
That’s why the Clean Budget Coalition is calling on Congress to pass a budget that does not abuse the budget process to roll back public protections. The Coalition’s demand is simple: no appropriations measures should move forward if they contain poison pill riders that go against the public interest.
Poison pill riders are unpopular and dangerous. The American people support policies that ensure social and economic justice, protect workplaces and the environment, promote access to justice and fair housing, protect consumers from corporate wrongdoing, protect human and civil rights including the rights of immigrants, and guarantee access to vital health care services including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Our budget should reflect these priorities, and should certainly not include any measures that go against them. The Clean Budget Coalition calls for Congress to remove any poison pill riders that would undo any of these protections.
What the American people need is not a government budget filled with deep cuts to healthcare, badly needed social programs and retirement benefits. It’s not a racist, environmentally destructive wall. It’s also not a budget that is used to sneak bad policies through the congressional backdoor—policies that would never pass on their own due to their harmful nature. What Americans do need is a budget that recognizes and affirms the people’s right to a clean environment, comprehensive healthcare, and economic, civil, and social justice. Congress must act to ensure that, and not the cruel and shameful document put forth by the administration, is the kind of appropriations package that is ultimately agreed upon. And, they must stand strong with the American people to demand a clean budget, free from poison pill riders that harm the public interest.