Editorial July 24, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

“The bill does not improve anything unless you count leaving States and the coal industry to decide how much the environment can be polluted.”

When you burn coal you get three products; energy, air pollution, and leftover materials known as coal ash. Coal ash is toxic and the EPA has taken quite some time coming up with regulations that control the storage and disposal of that material in a fashion that does not threaten human and environmental health. Containing the ash is considered serious business at the EPA but not so this bill

The regulations were recently completed and HR 1734 responds by removing the EPA authority to impose them. Rather, the bill rolls back rules to set lower environmental and health standards that States have to meet. From those reduced standards the federal government can intervene if the States fails to meet those standards but that is a bit of a moot point since States currently operate at reduced standards in the absence of the new EPA rule.

The irony in this bill is in the difference between its title and its requirements; ‘Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulations Act’. The bill does not improve anything unless you count leaving States and the coal industry to decide how much the environment can be polluted. You could say it doesn’t make any promises it can’t keep; it doesn’t actually improve coal combustion materials regulations and doesn’t actually say what improvement means. We are left with the conclusion that it sounds like it is doing something good with residuals when all it really does is allow them to be stored with less environmental oversight and procedures to protect health and the environment.

It is a familiar mantra that States can make better decisions than the federal government in some areas. The sheer existence of the EPA tells us that States have done a pretty good job of allowing pollution over the years from the energy sector in particular. An EPA blog notes that “Surely no factor was more pivotal in the birth of EPA than decades of rampant and highly visible pollution.”

There were other factors that raised the national consciousness on air, water, and land pollution and, as EPA notes, it was not just about pollution but how to solve the pollution problem and that takes ideas, discussion and implementation. Rules and regulations were developed and implemented. Around 1980 EPA recognized several super-fund site; sites so polluted that the cost of cleanup was great. The work on those projects continues today and taxpayers are on the hook for some of the expense.

Some Members of Congress, through HR 1734, now want to lessen the EPA influence on States which most certainly increases the options for pollution-inclined businesses to ply their influence at the State level where they are more likely known and sympathized with as they lament this EPA rule or another cutting into their profits. And if those legislatures act as this bill would allow it, it will be the profits that govern environmental regulation decisions, not the health of the people.

This bill, then, is not an ‘improvement’ at all but rather a return to the conditions that created pollution problems in the first place.

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Quotes on the Issues

“Today’s Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports offer mixed news.  On the one hand, Medicare’s Trustees reaffirm that the Affordable Care Act is improving the program’s long-term sustainability.  Their report shows that the Medicare trust fund will remain solvent until 2030, thirteen years longer than had been projected in 2009 before health care reform was enacted.  Historically low rates of growth in cost per-beneficiary in recent years reflect the success of delivery and payment system reforms in the law that are containing costs while improving health care quality.  Next year, it is expected that seven out of ten beneficiaries will see no increase in their premiums.

“At the same time, Social Security’s Trustees present both short and long-term challenges.  Sometime next year, Social Security’s Disability Insurance’s funding shortfall will completely deplete its trust fund, threatening a benefit cliff for some of the most vulnerable Americans, should Congress fail to act.  It is important to note that Social Security’s total available resources – the combined disability and retirement trust funds – remain solvent through 2034, an improvement of one year since the last Trustees Report, offering Congress flexibility to prevent disability cuts in 2016.  In the long run, however, Social Security’s finances will continue to deteriorate.  The sooner Congress acts to shore up Social Security solvency, the less likely it will be that the most vulnerable will bear the burden – and the better off future generations will be.” House Minority Whip’s Office

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Foreign Affairs

Russian Threat

Russia, with love? Yet another top U.S. general has named Russia as the top national security threat facing the United States, using almost identical language as several other four-stars in recent weeks to describe the place Moscow holds in the hearts of senior U.S. military leadership. Foreign Affairs Paul McCleary

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International Security Shift

July 17, 2015 by Sam LaGrone
The following is the July 14, 2015 Congressional Research Service report, A Shift in the International Security Environment: Potential Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress. USNI

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Arming Troops at Home

“We can and must do more to protect our troops.  Yesterday’s murder of four United States Marines is a heartbreaking reminder that our men and women in uniform can be targets here at home, as they often are abroad.  Long before the Chattanooga attack, we had been working to clarify a post commander’s authority to allow carrying of personal firearms.  This year’s National Defense Authorization Act will reflect that work.  Together, we will direct the Pentagon to end the disconnect between the threats our warfighters and their families face and the tools they have to defend themselves.” Rep Mac Thornberry Chair, House Armed services Committee.

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ISIS

A fresh look at the army of terror.

The National Interest online

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ISIS Transforming Into a Functioning State

‘It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery and turned children into killers.But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes’

New York Times

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