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.
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.
At Public Citizen, we’re not afraid to answer the really scary questions, whether they come from journalists, political leaders, our opponents or our supporters. But there are some questions continue to haunt us, especially on Halloween. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether these questions are tricks or treats.
- It’s an age old debate: tricks or treats. Will you stand up for the right to trick in your neighborhood?
- Is giving free candy to children socialism?
- Does it seem wrong to foreclose on houses that are haunted by ghosts?
- Vampires vs. werewolves. Why can’t both sides get along?
- Is it time to abolish candy corn?
- Is Halloween giving witches a bad name?
- Last night, an unnamed assailant toilet-papered the White House. What is your reaction?
- Is it right to let our children dress up as princes and princesses? What message are we sending about monarchy?
- Is it realistic to ask zombies to become vegetarians to fight climate change?
- Count Dracula is now hundreds of years old, yet he’s still collecting Social Security checks every month. Does that seem fair to you?
- What do you say to pumpkins who are sick of being carved? Don’t they have rights too?
- Some people say that ghosts are the solution to climate change since they don’t pollute. What is your reaction?
- Some states won’t allow dead people to vote without a valid ID. Is that discrimination?
- President Trump never severed his business ties to Big Garlic, and vampires are outraged. What do you think?
- Some ghosts are saying that calls for greater transparency amounts to hate speech. Are they right to be upset?
- Some people are saying democracy is for people? But what about monsters? Don’t they deserve democracy too?
- Vampires are saying that blood banks on Wall Street have grown too big to fail. Should we break them up?
- If giving up dark money meant you also had to give up dark chocolate, would you do it?
- Do you support Mediscare for all?
- Can Hell really afford universal Hell-th care?
- Should death be considered a pre-existing condition?
- Hell is building a wall to keep Donald Trump out. Should Purgatory pay for it?
- Is your personal data safer with the Devil or Mark Zuckerberg?
- Which costume is scarier on the Halloween before an election: James Comey or Vladimir Putin?
- In your opinion, was the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. a trick or a treat?
- Who would be scarier to bump into in a graveyard late at night: Nosferatu or Ted Cruz?
- Trolls: adorable or deplorable?
- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she’ll be handing out Whoppers this Halloween. Should we believe her?
Happy Halloween from your friends at Public Citizen!
A recent report by the University of Houston details how the fourth largest city in the nation can reduce air pollution by replacing old, polluting vehicles. (Full disclosure: the report was funded in part by Public Citizen and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.) By 2040, the eight-county Houston region will have 30-50% more cars on the road and 40-80% more trucks. A business-as-usual scenario for those vehicles would lead to 122 additional deaths in Houston. In contrast, replacing pollution intensive vehicles with electric and clean tech vehicles could save 246 lives.
Houston has battled air pollution—particularly ozone—for decades. Air quality is complex in Houston, with pollution contributions from cars and trucks, energy generation, and one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical manufacturing facilities found anywhere in the world.
Scientists are increasingly appreciating the role that transportation plays in air pollution. Diesel trucks are some of the worst offenders, and the best thing Houston can do to fight pollution from the transportation sector is to replace our oldest and dirtiest trucks.
This turns out to be true whether those trucks are replaced with electric vehicles or so-called “emissions controlled” vehicles. Newer diesel engines can be up to 90% cleaner than their older cousins. This fact, combined with the low-cost and familiarity of diesel engines, means that regulators looking for cheap and easy solutions to clean the air often turn to diesel vehicles first.
But there are a number of reasons why electric vehicles (EVs) are a better alternative to “clean combustion” vehicles. Let’s look at a few of them now.
Electric vehicles save money. If you purchase an electric car or truck today, you will spend more than if you purchased an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. But that doesn’t mean EVs cost more. In fact, over the lifetime of ownership of a vehicle, you will save money if you purchase an EV. The first saving comes in fuel costs—it’s more expensive to fill a gas tank than to plug in your car at home or at work. The next savings is in maintenance cost. EVs have fewer moving parts, so the long-term maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is significantly less than an ICE vehicle. And with EV prices declining rapidly, even the initial cost will be less than that of an ICE vehicle within about seven years. Sometime between now and then, we are likely to see a tipping point, as vehicle purchasers begin to appreciate how they can save money with EVs.
Electric vehicles are inherently cleaner. EVs never have tailpipe emissions—they are truly zero emissions. They do pull energy from the electricity grid, and most of the energy on the grid comes from fossil fuel sources today. But Texas’ grid is getting cleaner by the year. Which means that the air pollution EVs are indirectly responsible for will continue to decrease.
Clean tech does not always work. “Clean diesel” vehicles, unlike EVs, still emit pollution. And the amount of pollution they emit is highly dependent on how they are used and how frequently they are serviced. Diesel trucks rely on something called a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to reduce air pollution. But DPFs only work at certain operating temperatures. Vehicles that idle for long periods of time, such as drayage trucks operating at the Port of Houston, often fall outside of those temperatures, rendering the DPF ineffective. Vehicle emissions controls also only work if vehicles are continuously maintained (this is why you have to get an emissions test on your car every year). As “clean diesel” trucks age, they stop being so clean.
These are a few of the reasons why we advocate for replacing today’s transportation fleet with electric vehicles—the fleets of the future. Texas has $209 million dollars in Volkswagen mitigation funds to spend on clean transportation in the coming years. Cheap, “clean” diesels may seem like a bargain, but they are not. As we propel Texas and Houston toward a cleaner future, we should embrace the best technologies available. Our lives depend on it.