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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Education Department and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her repeal of Obama-era regulations covering for-profit colleges and universities. The AFT, alongside Student Defense, a legal and advocacy organization for students, said DeVos had pushed through “a repeal riddled with errors and unfounded assertions” of the Gainful Employment Rule. The rule, enacted in 2014, required colleges and universities to maintain a certain student debt-to-earning ratio, according to NBC News. The rule also effectively blocked for-profit colleges from receiving aid under the Higher Education Act Title IV student programs, in addition to other regulations for colleges and universities. DeVos repealed the law in June, after previously delaying regulations that imposed requirements on for-profit colleges and universities. The AFT and Student Defense are calling for a reverse of the repeal, re-establishing the regulations for for-profit colleges. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explain a drop in the number of hazardous waste sites that the agency cleaned up last year. The figures show that the agency had the highest number of unfunded construction projects at major hazardous waste sites of the last 15 years. In 2019, the EPA did not have funding to begin work on 34 so-called Superfund sites, a number more than 50 percent above the highest figures from the Obama administration.
A coalition of more than 320 groups will ask the White House to extend its comment period on planned changes to a bedrock environmental law. President Trump this month announced the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would allow greater industry involvement in environmental reviews of projects and reduce the role climate change plays in those assessments. On Monday, the coalition will send a letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) asking for the extension.
As Google seeks to improve its technology and fight off stiff competition in this space, it makes little sense that it would welcome government regulation. So why would Pichai suggest the opposite? One big reason is to head off the kind of regulation he doesn’t want. Both the U.S. and the European Union are moving closer to instituting rules for artificial intelligence, and their approaches are already diverging. This month, the Trump administration released a draft set of guidelines for federal agencies to consider when making rules for artificial intelligence in the private sector, emphasizing that they must “avoid regulatory or non-regulatory actions that needlessly hamper AI innovation and growth.” Meanwhile, the European Union is contemplating sweeping rules, like a five-year ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces. Google might be just fine with the latter regulation — Google doesn’t sell facial recognition technology, though its rivals Microsoft and Amazon do — but Pichai is clearly concerned about the possibility of conflicting global regulatory standards, and the expense and headaches they will create for the industry. Moreover, Google has its own set of principles for dealing with artificial intelligence, and it’s been touting them as a potential framework for governments since 2018. While the company’s framework sounds nice enough — it urges privacy features in private companies’ AI work and asks that they don’t reflect unfair human biases — it’s a far cry from the type of firm public policy that would protect marginalized groups, the democratic process, and other important considerations of global life in 2020.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the Trump administration over its Thursday rollback to protections for streams and other smaller bodies of water, saying that the new rule is an "outrageous assault" on clean water regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled its Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which leaves much environmental regulation to state and local authorities. It replaces an already-repealed rule implemented by the the Obama administration that expanded the types of waterways protected by federal law.
A coalition of environmental groups are publicly calling on automakers to drop their support for the Trump administration’s move to prevent California from setting its own fuel efficiency standards. The five organizations took out an advertisement in The Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press and The Sacramento Bee that reads: “Why are some automakers suing for more carbon pollution?” It was followed by an open letter asking automakers General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi to “immediately withdraw from litigation against existing clean car standards.” The letter was signed by leaders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The EPA finalized rules on Thursday that remove Clean Water Act protections for many seasonal streams and wetlands — and one gauge of how consequential the changes are for major industries like agriculture and oil producers, who applauded the move, and green groups is to look at the final stages of the regulation's drafting. Why it matters: Meetings with the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) give regulated industries, environmentalists and others a final chance to try and influence regulations. How it works: OIRA keeps a tally of who met with their people and EPA staff after EPA sent them the final rule for review. The records list 32 meetings with outside parties dating back to 2018, which encompasses both the recision of Obama-era protections and the new regulation that greatly scales back oversight.
In the more than 50 years since its passage, the Fair Housing Act has helped fight discrimination in mortgage lending, zoning restrictions that prevent people from being able to choose where to live, and local landlord abuses. In 1973, the United States government used it to charge Fred Trump and his son, our current president, with housing discrimination. Rather than fight those charges, the Trumps signed a consent decree requiring changes to the way they managed their properties. The Fair Housing Act was the only backstop for the people the Trump family discriminated against, and now the Trump administration is seeking to gut its protections.
Attorneys general from five states have raised objections to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rollback of Obama-era regulations that stipulate how coal-fired power plants dispose of waste containing arsenic, lead and mercury. The lawyers representing Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Vermont expressed concerns about the proposed changes, which would weaken rules dealing with the residue from burning coal, called coal ash, in a Tuesday comment addressed to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “When power plants burn coal, the resulting waste—coal combustion residuals, or coal ash—includes a host of toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury,” they wrote. “These chemicals pose numerous dangers to human health, including cancer, cardiovascular effects, and neurological effects.”
President Trump has said his plan to weaken federal mileage standards would make cars cheaper and “substantially safer.” But the administration’s own analysis suggests that it would cost consumers more than it would save them in the long run, and would do little to make the nation’s roads safer. The revised Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule, which has not been released publicly, would require automakers to increase the average fuel efficiency of the nation’s fleets by 1.5 percent per year between model years 2021 and 2026. Rules put in place by the Obama administration, by comparison, require a nearly 5 percent annual increase. If finalized, the proposal would mandate more progress on fuel efficiency than the Trump administration’s initial effort to freeze fuel standards in the years ahead. But the new analysis, outlined in a letter Wednesday by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), projects that the benefits of Trump’s proposed rollback would not significantly outweigh the costs. Trump’s approach would lower the sticker price of new cars, according to the documents, but drivers would spend more at the gas pump over time by driving less efficient vehicles.
So-called “forever chemicals” have been discovered in drinking water at 34 previously-unknown locations, according to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group. The environmental watchdog group found perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are particularly resistant to breaking down in the environment and have been linked to numerous health problems, were found at some of the highest levels in Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia, and indicate both the Environmental Protection Agency and previous reports by the EWG have underestimated the levels. Researchers analyzed tap water samples in 44 locations in 31 states and Washington, D.C., and found only one location — Meridian, Miss. — with no detectable PFAS and only two locations — Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Ala. — with levels below that considered hazardous to humans, according to EWG. Utilities that test independently are not required to publicly report the results or make them available to the EPA or state water agencies. The top five locations for PFAS levels were Brunswick County, N.C.; Quad Cities, Iowa; Miami; Bergen County, N.J. and Wilmington, N.C.
On Friday, activists will take to the streets in Los Angeles to attempt to prevent a consequential giveaway of an obscure piece of technological architecture. A newly formed private equity firm named Ethos Capital is bidding to take over the registry that handles the .org domain, which is reserved for nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Ethos would be able to raise prices without limit on website owners, and it could use its power to sell the browsing data of users of .orgs, which include practically every human rights organization in the world. Since the announcement of the proposed purchase, .org owners, advocacy groups, and members of Congress have howled in protest of this injection of the profit motive into a rare unspoiled, public service–focused corner of the internet. As a full disclosure, the Prospect is one of those nonprofits with a .org website, and we are a signatory to a petition opposing the sale, joined as of Tuesday by over 21,000 individuals and over 600 organizations. The entire market for domain name registries is broken, a troubling combination of government-granted monopoly, disinterested (at best) regulators, and eager extractors of profit. Users pay a relatively trivial amount for the rights to website names, and don’t really notice the enormous amounts of excess profit taken from them and hundreds of millions of their colleagues, a few bucks at a time.
The Trump administration has fired the latest salvo in its never-ending assault on environmental safeguards: a proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to overhaul its regulations governing federal agency compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposal would narrow the scope of NEPA’s protections, weaken federal agency duties when the law applies, and attempt to shield violations of NEPA from judicial oversight. More significantly, the proposal is wildly inconsistent with NEPA’s most fundamental goal: fostering deliberation and democratic participation to improve the government’s capacity to promote social welfare.
Communities across the United States are starting to ban facial recognition technologies. In May of last year, San Francisco banned facial recognition; the neighboring city of Oakland soon followed, as did Somerville and Brookline in Massachusetts (a statewide ban may follow). In December, San Diego suspended a facial recognition program in advance of a new statewide law, which declared it illegal, coming into effect. Forty major music festivals pledged not to use the technology, and activists are calling for a nationwide ban. Many Democratic presidential candidates support at least a partial ban on the technology. These efforts are well intentioned, but facial recognition bans are the wrong way to fight against modern surveillance. Focusing on one particular identification method misconstrues the nature of the surveillance society we’re in the process of building. Ubiquitous mass surveillance is increasingly the norm. In countries like China, a surveillance infrastructure is being built by the government for social control. In countries like the United States, it’s being built by corporations in order to influence our buying behavior, and is incidentally used by the government. Today, facial recognition technologies are receiving the brunt of the tech backlash, but focusing on them misses the point. We need to have a serious conversation about all the technologies of identification, correlation and discrimination, and decide how much we as a society want to be spied on by governments and corporations — and what sorts of influence we want them to have over our lives.
Cicilline is an unlikely leader of a bipartisan coalition. He’s a feisty combatant for the left on Fox News and a pugnacious tweeter. That morning, he had written on Twitter that the Republicans at the impeachment hearings were asking questions that were “absolutely bonkers,” adding, “I’m half-expecting to hear them bring up the grassy knoll or jet fuel melting steel beams next.” This month, during the debate over Iran, he wrote that there are “real questions about whether the president knows what he’s doing.” But for his Silicon Valley investigation, he’s drawn unexpected allies to his side, not just Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin moderate who is his Republican counterpart on the subcommittee, but top Judiciary Republican Doug Collins and Rep. Matt Gaetz, both fervent Trump allies who have harangued Cicilline and his Democratic colleagues over impeachment. Perhaps one reason for the strange bedfellows is Cicilline’s willingness to take on his fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans, for abdicating their responsibility—in his view—to rein in the Big Four over the past two decades. The party in Shaw was to celebrate the release of Matt Stoller’s book Goliath, which grew out of a widely discussed Atlantic article about how corporate Democrats “killed their populist soul.” Giving speeches alongside Cicilline at the event were Faiz Shakir, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign manager; and Rohit Chopra, a Democratic Federal Trade Commission commissioner who has strongly criticized his own agency for what he sees as its inadequate approach to Silicon Valley. Cicilline called Stoller, a staunch proponent of more stringent antitrust enforcement, “an inspiration,” and thanked him for telling such an “important story.” But Cicilline has also drawn allies because his investigation is regarded as scrupulous and serious, something Congress does not always have a reputation for these days.
Bill Marler, the Seattle lawyer who represented hundreds of victims in the Jack in the Box food poisoning case in the 1990s, was outraged by the avoidable tragedy that sickened 700 and claimed the lives of four children. He courted the media to get the E. coli bacteria on the agenda of policymakers — and played a key role in getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to outlaw the most virulent strains of the pathogen in meat. Now, Marler, 62, is at it again. This time he is taking aim at salmonella, which over the past decade has become the most dangerous bacteria in meat. On Sunday, Marler filed a petition with the USDA — just as he did regarding E. coli a decade ago — asking it to agree with his legal, scientific and moral arguments to ban dozens of salmonella strains from meat. The USDA’s data shows that about 1 in every 10 chicken breasts, drumsticks or wings that consumers purchase is probably contaminated with salmonella, which largely comes from fecal matter getting on meat during slaughter.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed tech giant Facebook on Thursday, accusing the social media company of abusing technology to mislead users and calling its behavior "shameful." “The Facebook business model is strictly to make money. They don't care about the impact on children, they don't care about truth, they don't care about where this is all coming from, and they have said even if they know it's not true they will print it,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “I think they have been very abusive of the great opportunity that technology has given them,” she added. Pelosi’s comments came in response to a question about whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or other tech executives, largely based in or near Pelosi’s San Francisco-area district, have too much power. Facebook has at least one office in Pelosi’s district. “All they want are their tax cuts and no antitrust action against them,” Pelosi said of Facebook. “And they schmooze this administration in that regard because so far that’s what they have received.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden called for revoking a key legal protection for online companies in an interview with The New York Times released Friday. The presidential hopeful railed against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms, when asked about his concerns with Facebook. "[The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can," Biden told the Times editorial board, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms." Biden's firm stance against the legal protection breaks with the other Democratic nomination contenders, some of whom have been critical of the law but none of whom have called for it to be "revoked."
A coalition of 14 states and two major cities filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to block the Trump administration from eliminating food stamp benefits for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans. The administration's new rules will restrict the ability of states to provide food stamps to jobless residents. Instead, "able-bodied" Americans who are not caring for a child less than 6 years old will be eligible for food stamps only if they're employed or enrolled in a vocational training program.
The House on Thursday passed mostly along party lines a measure that would overturn a Trump administration rule rolling back protections for student loan borrowers, but the margin was well short of being veto-proof. The joint resolution passed 231-180 with six Republicans joining 225 Democrats in favor. It now heads to the Republican-led Senate but must wait until after the presidential impeachment trial. Still, the House’s action marks the first time in the 116th Congress that lawmakers have sought to overturn a Trump administration regulation via passage of a resolution under the Congressional Review Act. The law allows Congress to overturn regulatory actions of federal agencies with a simple majority vote in both chambers, but subject to a presidential veto. Democrats in the Senate can force a vote, and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is leading the effort in the chamber to get the resolution cleared.
After Democrats swept into control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, something unusual happened: almost no incoming freshmen sought a seat on the House Financial Services Committee. Not only is the panel one of the most important and wide-ranging in Congress—with jurisdiction over banking regulations, the affordable housing crisis, economic discrimination, retirement security, and the macro economy—it’s historically been a landing spot for swing-state Democrats looking for a fertile source of campaign fund-raising from deep-pocketed financiers. Yet the centrist Democrats saw more peril than promise in accepting Wall Street donations. This practically unprecedented situation created an opportunity for progressives who were unable to secure spots on other exclusive committees to jump onto Financial Services, like superstar congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But overseeing the financial sector is anything but a consolation prize; as Occupy Wall Street taught us, the industry is right at the heart of why the economy no longer works for most Americans.
Low-income communities and communities of color face disproportionate environmental harms. Industrial sites, such as coal plants and refineries, are up to 54 percent more likely to be located in predominantly black neighborhoods and 35 percent more likely in neighborhoods afflicted with high levels of poverty. In a recent paper, Professor Brie Sherwin argues that flooding due to hurricanes only exacerbates the disparate effects of industrial pollution. Specifically, Sherwin asserts that inadequate regulations and procedures both before and after storms contribute to disproportionate harms to low-income communities and communities of color in the wake of natural disasters. Flooding aggravates zoning and industrial pollution problems. When floods cause leaching and spills from industrial sites containing toxins and pollutants, the substances cause increased risks of health hazards in the surrounding communities. Because industrial sites are reportedly more often placed near low-income communities and communities of color, these communities also suffer the effects of toxic spills caused by floods.
Last year was the second-warmest year ever recorded and the past decade the hottest on record, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Wednesday. Global surface temperatures in 2019 were cooler than only 2016, the agencies said. The decade of 2010 to 2019 was also the warmest ever recorded and the past five years have been the five warmest, according to the agencies.
House lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with restrictions on federal marijuana research and are putting pressure on regulators to change the rules. While 33 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, federal research is extremely restricted. During a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing Wednesday, bipartisan lawmakers pressed officials from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse about obstacles to studying the safety and effectiveness of cannabis products, including hemp-based cannabidiol.
Roughly 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. last year, according to new research, marking a 22 percent increase from 2018. YouMail, a company that provides a service to block robocalls, estimated that the average American received 178.3 robocalls during the year. “We’ve now had well over 100 billion robocalls in the past two years,” YouMail CEO Alex Quilici said in a statement. “It’s no wonder that an anti-robocall bill passed Congress overwhelmingly and was signed by the President on December 31, 2019.” President Trump in late December signed a bill aimed at reducing the number of robocalls made in the U.S., an issue that had united both chambers and both parties in Congress.