Goverment Twists Fracking Report

 

Image result for photos fracking

 

EPA’s late changes to fracking study downplay risk of drinking water pollution

Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking.
Ray Kemble holds two samples of well water from his neighborhood in Dimock, PA. He says the water was contaminated after fracking. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

This story was reported in conjunction with APM Reports.

Top officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year made critical changes at the eleventh hour to a highly anticipated, five-year scientific study of hydraulic fracturing’s effect on the nation’s drinking water. The changes, later criticized by scientists for lacking evidence, played down the risk of pollution that can result from the well-drilling technique known as fracking.

Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.

In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of “widespread, systemic impacts” as the agency’s top finding.

In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies.

In all, the agency identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources. The agency also identified hundreds of other spills, many of which reached soil and water.

It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release.

The authenticity of the documents — before and after the changes — was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.

In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the “(no) widespread, systemic” language as a “bizarre conclusion” and “irresponsible.” Others said they were “surprised and disappointed” that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out.

The revised summary was quickly embraced by the oil and gas industry, which for nearly a decade had been fighting off environmentalists’ attacks and negative news coverage about fracking’s alleged harm to the environment.

Industry representatives cheered the findings, touting them as validation that fracking is safe.

Media organizations big and small highlighted the conclusion in headlines and sound bites. In a 140-character information ecosystem, suddenly the industry had the benefit of government assurance that fracked wells did not pose a significant threat to water supplies.

Those reports won the day, dominating the news cycle despite the EPA report noting that fracking activities, including chemical spills and faulty well construction, did have an impact on drinking water resources.

It’s not unusual for government agency reports to be edited and crafted in a way that provides positive context for a preferred policy. When research is mischaracterized by policy-makers, however, it raises concerns about the politicization of government science.

“There’s not really a wall between science and politics,” said Dominic DiGiulio, a former EPA scientist. “In my opinion, that statement was put in there to ensure that there would not be blowback from the oil and gas industry.”

The oil and gas industry, along with Republican allies in Congress, has regularly criticized the EPA for investigations into fracking, arguing that state regulators have primary responsibility over the oil and gas sector. Even as it was conducting the broad study, in three instances the EPA withdrew abruptly from investigations into landowner complaints over water contamination related to fracking.

Agency scientists are revising the study, a standard process with all EPA research that involves input from the public and the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, a peer review group that provides scientific advice to the agency.

EPA officials say they hope to release the final version of the $29 million study by the end of the year.

Burke and his boss, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, declined requests for interviews. Asked about the late changes in the news release, Tom Reynolds, who ran the agency’s communications office when the study was released, declined to comment.

The revelations come as Republican President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office on a pledge to abolish the EPA and eliminate regulations on oil and gas activities to boost energy exploration. It might be difficult for Trump to eliminate the agency, but even slight reductions could have a major effect on an agency that already has been hit by budget cuts.

Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Areas where hydraulic fracturing is being used to extract oil or natural gas. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Between 2010 and 2016, the EPA’s budget was reduced $2.1 billion, or 20 percent. There are also 1,902 fewer EPA employees than in 2010.

Congress called for study

The oil and gas industry has used hydraulic fracturing for decades. The process sends a mix of water, chemicals and sand into the subsurface at high pressure.

In the past 20 years, its use has dramatically increased as technology has combined with horizontal drilling techniques to produce vast amounts of affordable fossil energy from shale rock formations.

Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 
Gas, thought to have fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, has been replacing coal steadily for U.S. electricity generation for more than a decade. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – APM Reports

The number of hydraulically fractured wells drilled nationwide has jumped from 24,000 in 2000 to 300,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As natural gas production has grown over that decade, the portion that is coming from fracked wells has grown to two-thirds. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. – APM Reports

Fracking has been the linchpin in the nation’s energy economy for the past decade. It has unearthed huge amounts of oil and gas, reducing the nation’s dependence on coal for electricity generation and its reliance on foreign oil.

The government reported in May that hydraulically fractured wells provided two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 – nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2000.

Natural gas is also seen by many, including the Obama administration, as a cleaner-than-coal bridge to a time when most electricity will come from renewable sources. In addition to making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of oil and natural gas, fracking has delivered an economic boost to many parts of the country.

But like many industries relying on natural resources, the prospect of jobs has collided with environmentalists and residents worried about clean air and clean water.

Landowners in many states, including Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Wyoming, have complained that their drinking water was contaminated after fracking activity occurred near them.

Concerned about the complaints and potential impacts, Congress in 2009 urged the EPA to study fracking’s impact on drinking water. Supporters of the congressional action cited a 2004 EPA study that said fracking was safe; they claimed the study politicized the science and played down negative findings.

So EPA scientists spent years evaluating scientific reports from academics, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. They took their own water samples, conducted laboratory analysis, did computer modeling of potential contamination, interviewed residents reporting water quality changes and negotiated with oil and gas companies to acquire proprietary well drilling data.

The study was highly anticipated and in the months before its release in June 2015, a draft assessment was shared with top policymaking and public information officials, according to internal emails.

A gas well pad in Dimock, PA.
A gas well pad in Dimock, PA. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Meetings involved White House advisers Candace Vahlsing and Dan Utech and officials from the Energy and Interior departments. Vahlsing and Utech declined to comment, a White House spokesman said.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Frank Benenati also was involved in the study’s “messaging,” according to the emails. Benenati, now the EPA’s director of communications, didn’t respond to specific questions about his involvement with the study.

A former EPA official involved in the study defended the controversial line about no “widespread systemic impacts,” saying the lack of a definitive conclusion required the agency to give a nuanced view of fracking. “In this area, there’s incomplete information,” said Ken Kopocis, who was the deputy assistant administrator for water at the EPA. “And so scientists will introduce some element of judgment in drawing their conclusions.”

Kopocis also said it’s common for the White House to be involved in meetings discussing major scientific reports because it’s necessary to inform other agencies involved in oil and gas issues.

The EPA report did note a number of instances in which fracking activity, including poorly designed well construction, chemical spills, well blowouts and direct drilling into formations containing water, had a “documented impact” on drinking water.

The findings included a 2010 chemical spill in Kentucky that killed threatened fish, a well blowout in North Dakota that resulted in chemicals potentially reaching a nearby aquifer and direct drilling into drinking water resources in Wyoming.

The report concluded that 9.4 million people lived within a mile of a hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The agency also reported 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012. In 324 of those cases, the EPA said spills reached soil, surface water or ground water. A spreadsheet of those spills was included in the study.

On the day of the release, when asked to quantify the risks of fracking, Burke demurred. “The study was not, nor was it intended to be, a numerical catalog of all episodes of contamination,” he said.

The examples of documented contamination were overshadowed by the last-minute changes that shifted the tenor of the report.

Some experts in hydraulic fracturing say the late edit exonerated the practice in the public eye.

“It’s not Watergate, but it completely alters the take-home message of the report,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford University, who believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.

He worries that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer. “It’s still making a big, big difference because it supports the narrative that there aren’t problems,” Jackson said.

DiGiulio, after leaving his job as an EPA scientist, joined Jackson in a research project at Stanford that found fracking had a “clear impact” on drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The agency had earlier abandoned its research into problems at Pavillion and turned the investigation over to the state. It was one of the three instances in which the EPA withdrew from investigating suspected contamination incidents in the past four years. The others were in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas. The agency did not include water testing data from those cases in its national study on drinking water.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board, however, suggested the agency “should include and critically analyze” findings from those three locations. The advisory board also rebuked the EPA’s conclusion of no “widespread systemic impacts.”

Calling the phrase “ambiguous” and inconsistent with the observational data, the advisory board directed the EPA to show the underlying data to back up its claim of no “widespread, systemic impacts”.

“We suggested that they provide a definition of ‘systemic,’ a definition of ‘widespread’ and then provide quantitative data to support the conclusion,” said Peter Thorne, a University of Iowa environmental scientist who chairs the Science Advisory Board. “That is all a way of asking them to put that kind of scientific rigor behind a statement as broad as that.”

Near Dimock, Pa.
Near Dimock, Pa. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Study took pressure off industry

McCarthy, the head of the EPA, said at the National Press Club last week that the agency will soon release the final study. She also said her agency is balancing the requests of the 30-member Science Advisory Board with the study’s limitations. During her remarks, McCarthy noted that the four board members with oil and gas ties dissented from the criticism of the phrase.

This was one science advisory board that was as fractured as the subject matter,” McCarthy said. “While I can’t tell you the direction it is going to take, we are going to listen to all sides in terms of what the members thought, and we’ll come to the best decision that we can.

The EPA has the authority to manage drinking water impacts to water resources and to oversee drinking water impacts through several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.

But states largely oversee oil and gas development.

The industry, heavily invested in continuing the practice, has steadily battled the EPA. The companies and their industry groups have also repeatedly said there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

That’s why the outcome of the EPA study was important.

If the study had emphasized major problems with the practice, it could have meant increased oversight by state regulators, a call for banning fracking in certain communities and even calls for additional federal oversight.

Instead, the draft study took pressure off the industry.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency says that technology causes no widespread, systemic risk, that’s a big deal,” said Kevin Book, head of the research team at ClearView Energy Partners, which advises oil and gas investors. “That reinforces the sense that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on.”

How the language changed

The documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that on April 24, 2015, an executive summary was circulated that said “hydraulic fracturing activities have contaminated drinking water resources in a variety of documented cases. Despite these risks, the number of documented impacts is quite low.”

Nowhere did the draft state that there was no widespread, systemic impact on water.

On May 4, EPA officials met with key advisers to Obama, officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to make sure they were “clear on messaging,” according to public documents.

By May 12, the executive summary had changed to include the phrase: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts.”

And on May 20, another change deleted a sentence that said “a low rate of documented impacts does not minimize the effects experienced by citizens whose drinking water resources have been impacted.”

The agency’s news release also was altered in the days before the draft study was released.

A version circulated internally in early June featured a headline emphasizing vulnerabilities to drinking water.

But the news release issued publicly on June 4 featured a less forceful headline and a smaller, second headline saying that fracking had not “led to widespread, systemic impacts” and that the study “identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Within a day, the Marcellus Shale Coalition from Pennsylvania put together a collection of TV news reports, all emphasizing the lack of impact and largely ignoring the vulnerabilities.

Industry has battled EPA

Today the oil and gas industry continues to use the study to advance drilling around the world.

The Maryland Petroleum Council is highlighting the research as it pushes to allow fracking in that state. And earlier this month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group, urged the EPA to keep the language in the study. It said the report could affect New York’s statewide ban on fracking and influence whether other countries adopt the practice.

The American Petroleum Institute released its own industry-backed study confirming that hydraulic fracturing has led to no widespread, systemic impact to drinking water.

“It has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion, yet hydraulic fracturing and its peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

Milito also said he believes the EPA’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the report because it was swayed by the testimony of landowners who were complaining about their drinking water.

In addition to requesting supporting evidence, several members of the board characterized the phrase as a “value statement,” not a scientific one.

Board member Thomas Young, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Davis, said he believes the phrase is misleading because the federal agency may not have found a widespread impact, but impacts could still be occurring.

“When you say that there’s no impact, people leap to the conclusion that there is no way in which this material is making it to water resources,” he said. “And I do not think that has been proven.”

Young said he was unaware that the EPA had made last-minute changes to the study or the news release. He said he would have chosen different wording but understood the push to put a conclusion on a multiyear study that cost millions.

Congress, the oil and gas industry and environmental groups would not have settled for a report simply calling for additional research, Young said. “Most people don’t really want to spend millions of tax dollars on a study that comes up with the answer of ‘more study is needed.’”

The study ran into a number of difficulties when it began five years ago.

The EPA, for example, tried to work with oil and gas companies to conduct testing on sites before, during and after a fractured well is drilled. Called “baseline testing,” it would have allowed scientists to see whether the process resulted in any contamination of groundwater. Despite pledges of cooperation from the industry, the EPA could never reach agreement with any company to conduct the tests.

“Initially, industry was very supportive of working together with the EPA to do some field studies,” said Robert Puls, a scientist who oversaw the study in 2010 and 2011. “As the details for doing those studies got closer and closer to actual implementation, their resistance seemed to grow.”

Puls said he left his position at the EPA in 2011 partly because he was frustrated with resistance by oil and gas companies to work with the EPA on the study.

“They didn’t protect my water”

The Science Advisory Board isn’t the only group questioning how EPA officials could make the general claim that fracking caused no “widespread, systemic impacts” without scientific basis.

Many landowners who believe their water was harmed by hydraulic fracturing say the EPA let them down by minimizing the impact.

“They’re supposed to protect my water,” said Bill Ely, who owns land in Dimock, Pa., and settled a lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas over tainted water. “I pay them to protect my water. They didn’t protect my water or these people in this area here.”

Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.
Bill Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

A spokesman for Cabot did not return messages. Company officials have said that any problems with the water in Dimock occurred long before the company drilled in the area.

Ely is one of several dozen landowners in Dimock who noticed water was changing color once drilling started in their community in 2009.

The complaints from landowners placed Dimock at the center of the fight over the environmental safety of fracking. Movie stars and environmentalists visited the small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and called for the practice to be banned. Industry groups countered with analysis that the practice is safe and brings money and jobs to an economically depressed area.

Since the first incident occurred in 2009, state and federal regulators became heavily involved in Dimock.

In 2010, Pennsylvania regulators announced a settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas that required the company to pay $4.1 million to residents for drilling violations. Regulators said Cabot’s drilling practices allowed combustible methane to contaminate drinking water. And this year two families also won a $4.2 million court case against the company for negligence and creating a nuisance. More than a dozen other families settled with the company for an undisclosed sum.

Cabot has not disclosed terms of its settlement with landowners. Attorneys for Cabot said in court that the methane leaking from the wells was occurring naturally and was a problem before the company drilled in the area.

In 2012, the EPA conducted a study of private water wells of 64 homes in Dimock. The agency eventually determined “that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require action by the agency.”

But another federal agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, looked at the same data and concluded in June 2016 that chemicals in the water wells in 27 of the 64 homes were high enough to affect human health.

Some landowners are still pushing for the government to do more.

Every few weeks, Ray Kemble, who said he has one of those 27 homes, has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water. The tanks, which sit in a shed outside his home, ensure he has clean water. His property, which sits across the street from a well pad, is covered with anti-fracking signs.

Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells.
Ray Kemble has to fill two 325-gallon tanks with water every few weeks to ensure he has a constant supply of clean water. His home is one of the 27 in Dimock that have a high concentration of harmful chemicals in their water wells. – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Kemble has been questioning the EPA’s conclusion of no widespread, systemic impact, including publicly testifying before the Science Advisory Board. He said he’s disappointed that regulators, including the EPA, didn’t do more for him.

“Why do we have to fight the government when the government was supposed to be protecting us?” he said. “Those agencies were put there to protect the people from stuff like this from happening.”

Drilling provides economic boost

Though some landowners in the Dimock area are unhappy with fracking in the community, it has provided an economic boost.

Cabot has a major presence in the community and says it has invested $1.5 billion in Dimock and surrounding areas in Susquehanna County. Cabot trucks can be seen regularly throughout the rural community and the company has a new corporate office in nearby Montrose.

Cabot is among many companies to tap into the energy rich Marcellus Shale Formation that lies under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Landowners are paid monthly, and drilling has increased employment in rural parts of the country. Jobs in the oil and gas extraction sector grew nationally by 33,600 between 2006 and 2016, government figures show.

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. He wouldn’t say how much he’s being paid for his mineral rights but said a majority of landowners are happy with the natural gas activity in the area.

“We’ve had a shot in the arm,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this community in 50 years.”

Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community. 
Bill Aileo, a homeowner in Dimock, said the natural gas boom has helped the community.  – Amanda Hrycyna for APM Reports

Obama’s embrace of fracking has forced him to walk a fine line.

He acknowledges that the fracking process, along with transporting and storing oil and gas, could release methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The outgoing administration this month issued rules to prevent methane leaks on federal lands. But Obama has said that gradually transitioning from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  “We’re going to have to straddle between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be and build that bridge,” he said in October.

The specifics of Trump’s approach are unknown. Last Monday, Trump issued a video statement saying that energy issues, including fracking, will be a top priority when he takes office.

“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs. That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said.

Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to lead the transition at the EPA. The president-elect also has pledged to further deregulate the oil and gas industry, but his position on fracking has been contradictory. In September, he vowed to expand natural gas production from fracking and coal production, two competing energy resources.

In August, Trump told a Colorado TV station that he was willing to let voters have a say on fracking bans, but in April he criticized New York state’s ban on the practice.

The disagreement over the environmental impact of fracking will continue in the Trump administration. In addition to finishing the study on hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water, the EPA will continue to pay for research on fracking.

In September, it announced a $2 million study that will examine how oil and gas development is affecting water quality and its impact on human health. The study is focused on an area that includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Some scientists, landowners and environmental advocates believe that the EPA lacks credibility to research fracking’s impact on drinking water. They have grown suspicious about how the EPA handles fracking issues.

“They don’t know who to trust,” said Raina Rippel, who directs the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks health impacts on people in high-fracking areas. “They don’t necessarily feel that the state regulatory agencies or the federal regulatory agencies are listening. They feel so severely betrayed right now.”

Correction: The original text inaccurately named the Clean Water Act. It has been corrected.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott.

President-Elect Trump on the Issues

 

CHARTS: Here’s What Donald Trump Has Said On The Issues

Hand holding bullhorn blocked by cork stopper

Gillian Blease/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Before Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January, there are a lot of questions about how he will decide key policy issues.

We’ve identified the top 10 issues voters care about most according to a 2016 survey from the Pew Research Center and charted what Trump has said about each of them. The issues are, in order: the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, health care, gun policy, immigration, Social Security, education, Supreme Court appointments and the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.

Where we could, we gave Trump’s stances a simple “Yes” or “No,” but also used the rating “It’s Complicated” in cases where his stance is more nuanced or has changed.

(Trump has given clues on what he’ll prioritize in his first 100 days, which we’ve posted here and fact checked here.)


The Economy

Trump hopes to grow the economy by significantly lowering taxes. Under his plan, he says a middle-class family with two children would get a 35 percent income tax cut. He will also reduce the number of tax brackets from seven down to three, which would largely benefit the wealthiest Americans. When it comes to business tax rates, Trump wants to go from a 35 percent rate to 15 percent.

Trump is also big on infrastructure as a way to create jobs. He says he would grant the permit needed for the Keystone Pipeline despite opposition from environmental activists, as NPR’s Scott Horsley outlined. He also plans to cancel all payments to U.N. climate change programs and put that money toward “water and environmental infrastructure,” as he wrote in his 100-day action plan. Trump would also lift restrictions on the oil, coal, shale and natural gas industries. In addition, he plans to impose tariffs to discourage companies from relocating to other countries.

Relevant stories

Terrorism

Trump made fighting terrorism a central pillar of his campaign and strengthened his hard-line stances with each high-profile terror attack, from the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last December to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., in June.

In his 100-day action plan, Trump promised to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.” During his campaign, he also condoned other extreme counter-terrorism tactics, like waterboarding.

Relevant stories

Foreign Policy

When it comes to foreign policy, Trump’s main focus has been to upend U.S. trade policy. He has promised to renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, the United States’ free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. According to NPR’s Marilyn Geewax, actually doing away with NAFTA might not actually be feasible, but Trump could undermine it. He also wants to label China a currency manipulator and, per his 100-day plan, “identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately.”

Relevant stories

Health

Trump’s main goal for health care policy is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That feat will be harder than Trump seems to think, as we reported. To completely repeal and replace the act, he would need 60 votes in the Senate, which is the number needed to overcome a filibuster. Though they’ll make up a majority, there will be only 51 Republican senators come January. He recently signaled in an interview that he may be open to keeping provisions of Obamacare that expand insurance to people with pre-existing conditions and to young people.

Trump has also promised to allow tax deductions for child care and elder care and to create tax-free dependent care savings accounts, with matching contributions for low-income families. As we reported earlier this year, that would cost the government $25 billion annually.

Relevant stories

Gun Policy

Donald Trump aligned himself strongly with the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him, and also with Second Amendment protectionists (though no major candidate claimed to want to take away gun rights outright). Trump has said states should be more diligent about putting criminal and mental health records into existing background check systems.

Relevant stories

Immigration

Restricting immigration appears to be top-of-mind for Trump’s presidency, at least initially. In his 100-day plan, Trump promised to cancel federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” though he hasn’t specified which funds he would cut. There’s no legal definition for this type of city; it’s used to describe places with policies limiting how much local authorities can collaborate with federal authorities on immigration issues, such as detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to CNN.

Trump has also promised to undo all of President Obama’s executive actions, which include two on immigration (only one of which is in effect). Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals allows certain people brought to the country illegally as children to apply for protection against deportation for two-year periods. That protection would go away, it seems.

Trump has also promised to deport immigrants in the country illegally who have committed crimes, stop immigration from “terror-prone” regions and begin “extreme vetting” of people entering the U.S. He has also mostly stood by his vow to build a wall on the country’s southern border, and make Mexico pay for it. Trump and some surrogates have said recently they would be OK with certain areas of the border having fence, rather than wall.

Relevant stories

Social Security

Trump does not want to privatize Social Security, nor does he want to raise the retirement age or increase taxes. He told AARP he plans to fund the entitlement program through “an economy that is robust and growing,” and he specifically highlighted his tax and immigration plans as key players in that growth.

Relevant stories

Education

Trump has been vocal about school choice, which allows parents to choose to send their child to any type of school: traditional public, private or charter. Critics sayschool choice leads to a gap in equitable school investment. Proponents say it increases competition between schools. In addition to school choice, Trump wants to end the Common Core standards, which are the federal guidelines created for K-12 education across the country. States were able to choose to opt in (some didn’t) — and the federal government encouraged it.

Relevant stories

Supreme Court Appointments

Trump has released two lists, adding up to 21 judges, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy resulting from Antonin Scalia’s death last February. According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, the lists are very conservative and a lot is unknown about who is helping Trump make this selection. With two other justices over 80 years old, it’s possible Trump will be able to nominate more than one justice during his presidency.

Relevant stories

The Treatment of Racial and Ethnic Minorities

The relationship between police and their treatment of African-Americans was a common topic this election year. Trump ran as the “law and order” candidate and he’s sticking to it: He plans on increasing funding for federal law enforcement “to dismantle criminal gangs and put violent offenders behind bars.” He also wants to provide more funding and training to local police departments.

Trump has been criticized for his own rhetoric on minorities, most notably referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists in his June 2015 announcement speech and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Relevant stories

Stephan Bisaha, Alyson Hurt, Clinton King and Lisa Charlotte Rost designed the charts for this post. A version of this story, breaking down where all the major candidiates stood, was published ahead of Election Day.

Election–How Do You Feel ?

 

Image result for photos donald trump

Congratulations to all the Trump voters out there !

To those who feel shocked, embarassed, fearful about the election results, remember that President Trump will enjoy both a Senate and House of Representatives of his own party, as President Obama has not.  You can always feel worse.

What can be done?  SOMETHING !  And you’ll feel better.

( This all begins again in 3 years.  And all House members run again in 2 years.  Who is your representative in the House?  Click here.  )

For a start you can contact your local Democratic organization and offer to volunteer (and/or write them a check if you can). Google on something like “Democratic organization Lake County, or New Trier Township, or McHenry, Illinois. Or inquire at an organization listed in Wikipedia.  Might be interesting to contact Bernie Sanders’  people at Our Movement.  They’ll all be glad to hear from you.

RJN

 

 

The Donald Wins in Bankruptcies

When Trump’s casino in Atlantic City went bankrupt, lots of workers and contractors got stiffed.  Asked about this, The Donald said, “I did what was best for my company”.

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A deputy New Jersey attorney general wrote in 2007 that Donald J. Trump’s flagship casino, the Taj Mahal, had reported that it paid $2.2 million in alternative minimum assessment tax in 2003, which was not true. It had paid only $500 in income taxes. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

By the time Chris Christie became governor of New Jersey, the state’s auditors and lawyers had been battling for several years to collect long-overdue taxes owed by the casinos founded by his friend Donald J. Trump.

The total, with interest, had grown to almost $30 million. The state had doggedly pursued the matter through two of the casinos’ bankruptcy cases and even accused the company led by Mr. Trump of filing false reports with state casino regulators about the amount of taxes it had paid.

But the year after Governor Christie, a Republican, took office, the tone of the litigation shifted. The state entertained settlement offers. And in December 2011, after six years in court, the state agreed to accept just $5 million, roughly 17 cents on the dollar of what auditors said the casinos owed.

Tax authorities sometimes settle for lesser amounts to avoid the costs and risks of further litigation, legal experts said, but the steep discount granted to the Trump casinos and the relationship between the two men raise inevitable questions about special treatment.

“You can’t tell whether there’s something problematic, but it’s pretty striking that this one was written down so much,” said David Skeel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who specializes in bankruptcy law and reviewed the case at the request of The New York Times.

The refusal by Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, to release his personal income tax returns has become a growing issue in the campaign. He has also boasted of his success in lowering his tax burden as a businessman, declaring last year in an interview on Fox News that only “a stupid person, a really stupid person, is paying a lot of taxes.”

By that measure, the deal with New Jersey looks remarkably shrewd. The casinos did far better, for example, than those that benefited from a program Mr. Christie introduced in 2014 under which the state agreed to consider reducing penalties for delinquent taxpayers but only if they caught up on all overdue taxes and interest.

Public records do not create a clear picture of how the agreement was reached. A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump said she would be in touch regarding questions sent to her. But she did not reply further or respond to subsequent messages.

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Mr. Trump and Gov. Chris Christie at a campaign rally in Texas in February. Mr. Trump has given Mr. Christie, a longtime friend, the task of heading his transition committee. CreditCooper Neill for The New York Times

Brian Murray, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, said the governor had not been aware of the tax dispute and, therefore, could not comment on the terms of the settlement.

The Times discovered the agreement during a review of the thousands of documents filed in the bankruptcies of Mr. Trump’s casinos. The taxes went unpaid from 2002 through 2006, during which time Mr. Trump was leading the company as chairman and, until 2005, as its chief executive. He reaped millions of dollars in fees and bonuses from the company, even as it underperformed competitors, lost money every year and saw its stock collapse.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Christie met in 2002, when Mr. Christie was the United States attorney for New Jersey. Mr. Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry, then a federal judge in the state, had mentioned to Mr. Christie that her famous brother would like to meet him. They struck up a friendship. Mr. Christie was invited to Mr. Trump’s third wedding in 2005, and Mr. Trump was a prominent guest at Mr. Christie’s inauguration in 2010. They have double dated with their wives.

Their bond has occasionally included financial largess from Mr. Trump. His foundation made large donations to the Drumthwacket Foundation, which finances maintenance and improvements to New Jersey’s historic governor’s residence, after Mr. Christie became its honorary chairman. Mr. Trump also made large contributions to the Republican Governors Association when Mr. Christie was its chairman.

After attacking Mr. Christie during the recent Republican primary contest, Mr. Trump seriously considered choosing him as his running mate before picking Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. But Mr. Christie has remained a vocal supporter and was given a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and Mr. Trump has given his friend the task of heading his transition committee.

“Donald and I, along with Melania and Mary Pat, have been friends for over a decade,” Mr. Christie said when he endorsed Mr. Trump in February. “He has been a good and loyal friend.”

The state corporate tax at the center of the dispute went into effect in 2002. It was called the alternative minimum assessment and was created, in part, to prevent businesses from avoiding taxes through accounting maneuvers.

An executive with the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey testified at a state hearing in 2003 that Atlantic City casinos saw their state tax liability quadruple, primarily because of the new alternative minimum tax, during its first year. But the Trump casinos decided the tax did not apply to them, according to court filings.

After the Trump casinos filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004 for the third time, state officials noticed the company had not been filling out the required schedule for the minimum tax assessment. The Trump casinos had reported losing money and paid a little more than $600,000 in state income taxes in 2002, and only $1,500 in 2003. State auditors determined that the Trump casinos should have paid $8.8 million in alternative minimum taxes for those two years, according to court records.

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Inside the Trump Taj Mahal. Though he was pushed out of running the company he founded, Mr. Trump said he would stay “very involved” with the casino company that would continue to bear his name. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

The company filed an administrative protest with the state, but it was rejected. The company’s lawyers continued to fight the state’s claim in bankruptcy court, arguing that the tax was unconstitutional and that it should not apply to the Trump casinos because they were organized as partnerships.

State lawyers also found other irregularities in the company’s tax filings.

In February 2007, Heather Lynn Anderson, a deputy attorney general who specializes in tax cases, filed papers in court saying auditors had discovered discrepancies that raised “numerous additional questions regarding the accuracy” of the Trump casinos’ tax returns. The company had reported lower revenue figures on its tax returns, for example, than on filings with the State Casino Control Commission. Ms. Anderson also wrote that Mr. Trump’s flagship casino, the Taj Mahal, had reported to the casino commission that it paid $2.2 million in alternative minimum assessment tax in 2003, which was not true. The company had paid only $500 in income taxes.

The state’s claim still had not been resolved by early 2009, when the Trump casinos filed for bankruptcy protection yet again. By then, the state said the total due, with interest, had risen to $29.4 million.

Mr. Christie’s name actually appeared in the bankruptcy cases during those years, when he was the United States attorney for New Jersey, and more than a dozen briefs were filed under his name as representing the federal Internal Revenue Service in its own claims against the Trump casinos. But the case was handled by an I.R.S. lawyer. Mr. Murray, the governor’s spokesman, said Mr. Christie had no supervisory role in pursuing the agency’s claims.

After Mr. Christie became governor, his friendship with Mr. Trump occasionally made celebrity news. In March 2011, The New York Post’s gossip column, Page Six, reported that the two men and their wives double dated at Jean-Georges, a luxury restaurant in Mr. Trump’s tower at Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

By then, Mr. Trump had been pushed out of running the company he founded, after his efforts to hang on through bankruptcy were thwarted by investors. But he still had financial ties to the company.

When he testified in support of the plan to reorganize the company without his direct leadership, Mr. Trump said he would stay “very involved” with the casino company that would continue to bear his name. He remained a large shareholder, controlling 10 percent of the company’s stock. And in October 2011, the company announced it had entered a joint venture with Mr. Trump and his daughter Ivanka to pursue online gambling should it become legal.

“We think we have the hottest brand there is, the Trump brand, my personal brand,” Mr. Trump told The Associated Press. “We think it’s going to do phenomenally well.”

(The joint venture agreement expired before New Jersey approved online gambling in 2013.)

Around the same time, the tone of the tax litigation softened. Ms. Anderson notified the judge in the case that the two sides were in settlement discussions. On Dec. 5, 2011, New Jersey and the Trump casino company filed a settlement agreement with the court showing that the state would accept $5 million, paid in two installments, on a tab of about $30 million.

National Polling Average

Aug 16, 2016, 1:29 PM ET

Hillary Clinton   45%

Donald J. Trump   39%

 

By the time of the settlement, the industry was suffering a long slide that had started in 2006. The Trump company had just sold one of its casinos, Trump Marina Hotel Casino, for $38 million.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Leland Moore, said the settlement was approved largely because of the risks of continuing to fight in bankruptcy court and the “concerns about the future ability of the casinos to pay their tax debts.”

The Trump casinos may not have been able to afford their long overdue taxes, but they did not turn suddenly spartan, either. They continued to rent a helicopter from Mr. Trump for $390,000 a year, until they filed for bankruptcy again in 2014.

Mr. Moore declined to release the titles of officials who approved the settlement, except to say it was agreed to by officials from both the attorney general’s office and the State Division of Taxation.

Mr. Christie was close to the attorney general at the time, Paula T. Dow, whom he had appointed and who worked for him as a prosecutor at the United States attorney’s office. A week after the settlement was signed, Mr. Christie announced that he was appointing Ms. Dow to the counsel’s office of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey until he could find her the judgeship that she desired.

“I think you all know that Paula Dow has been one of my most trusted advisers for the last 10 years,” Mr. Christie said at the time.

The Trump casinos did agree to pay more than $1 million in other taxes that the state sought in the bankruptcy cases.

Ms. Anderson, the deputy attorney general, had also prevailed over the Trump casinos in a separate case in which the company had sought a $2.7 million refund of sales taxes. She declined to discuss the cases. But her husband, Joseph Rival, has made his thoughts publicly known. He once referred to Mr. Trump as a “tax cheat” in a Twitter post. Another Twitter commenter pushed him to say which tax Mr. Trump had cheated. Mr. Rival, a conservative voter, wrote: “The State of New Jersey. He had to pay up millions, I know the lawyer that beat him.”

On another date, he posted, “My wife’s beaten him in tax court more than once.”

The settlement was one of the last disputes in that bankruptcy case, and it was finally closed in January 2012.

The following month, Page Six reported that the Christies and the Trumps were again double dating at Jean-Georges.

Economics: The Donald vs. Hilary

How Did Trump’s And Clinton’s Economic Policy Speeches Compare?

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton delivered competing economic speeches this week.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton delivered competing economic speeches this week.   Mary Altaffer and Chuck Burton/AP

Despite the vast differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, there were some striking similarities between the economic speeches they delivered this week. They both spoke in Michigan, where they both talked a lot about manufacturing, with both of them insisting that they would obtain fairer trade deals.

That’s because both candidates are trying to latch onto — and insist that they can alleviate — a pervasive feeling among Americans that they just can’t get ahead, and that it’s related to a fast-changing U.S. economy. The candidates, of course, diverge vastly on many issues, but they also have some surprising areas of agreement.

Below, listen to what they said on five different policy areas, and read how the two candidates differ.


Trade

“That is why I have announced we will withdraw from the deal before that can ever happen. Hillary Clinton will never withdraw from the TPP. She is bought, controlled and paid-for by her donors and special interests. Because my only interest is the American people, I have previously laid out a detailed 7-point plan for trade reform, available on my website. It includes strong protections against currency manipulation, tariffs against any countries that cheat by unfairly subsidizing their goods, and it includes a renegotiation of NAFTA. If we don’t get a better deal, we will walk away.” — Donald Trump

 

“But the answer is not to rant and rave – or to cut ourselves off from the world. That would end up killing even more jobs. The answer is to finally make trade work for us, not against us. So my message, my message to every worker in Michigan and across America is this: I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as President.” — Hillary Clinton

Trump and Clinton had a similar basic message on trade: I’m for trade deals; just not these trade deals.

Trump, for example, said he would “walk away” if a renegotiation of NAFTA didn’t turn out the way he wanted. And as he later added: “Trade has big benefits, and I am in favor of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers.” He also warned that the Trans Pacific Partnership would mean a million lost manufacturing jobs.

As for what he would do, in that seven-point trade plan he said he would label China a currency manipulator (people accuse China of manipulating its currency’s value to exports cheap, meaning other countries’ consumers would buy more), crack down on intellectual property theft, and impose tariffs on countries that “cheat.”

Clinton likewise says that she doesn’t want the U.S. “to cut ourselves off from the world” and that trade can “work for us.” But she also — like Trump — had strong words against TPP: “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as President.”

And she had many echoes of Trump in her speech — she said in her speech that she would impose “targeted tariffs” on companies that “break the rules.” Like Trump, she also pointed to currency manipulation and intellectual property theft as a problem.

Trump’s rejection of trade deals fits with one of his own broader campaign narratives: rejecting the establishment. Many Republicans — and, importantly, the Chamber of Commerce, which has given heavy financial support to Republican candidates — support free trade. This is just one way Trump thumbs his nose at more traditional Republican ideas.


Infrastructure

“A big part of our plan will be unleashing the power of the private sector to create more jobs at higher pay. And that means for us, creating an infrastructure bank to get private funds off the sidelines and complement our public investments. $25 billion in government seed funding could unlock more than $250 billion and really get our country moving on our infrastructure plans.” — Hillary Clinton

But we are going to look boldly into the future. We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports. That believe me folks is what our country deserves. American cars will travel the roads, American planes will connect our cities, and American ships will patrol the seas. American steel will send new skyscrapers soaring. We will put new American metal into the spine of this nation.” — Donald Trump

Another area in which Clinton and Trump broadly agree: both want to ramp up infrastructure spending.

Clinton has said she wants to spend $275 billion over five years (with additional private spending, eventually). She’s proposed an infrastructure bank — an idea that has been around in Washington for decades now (at times, with bipartisan support, though it has been more of a Democratic cause in recent years) but that continually fails to gain much traction.

The basic idea is that the government would start a fund — in Clinton’s case, $25 billion — and use it to finance major projects, for example through loans and loan guarantees (this CBO report is a good background). This can help spur new private investment that construction projects do not currently attract, as the left-leaning Center for American Progressexplained in a 2012 report.

Trump likewise in his speech touted infrastructure spending, though he didn’t get into detail. However, he has explained those details elsewhere:he has seemed close to Clinton on the idea that something like an infrastructure bank would be the way to fund those projects, as the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos wrote earlier this year, with Americans buying “infrastructure bonds.”

However, he has said he wants to spend $500 billion or more on infrastructure, nearly double what Clinton wants to spend. Because interest rates are low right now, he has said, it is a great time to borrow. This puts him at odds with current Republican economic principles, which havefocused more on reducing deficits.


Personal Taxes

“And Wall Street corporations, and the super-rich should finally pay their fair share of taxes. That’s why I support the so-called Buffett Rule, because multi-millionaires should not be able to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. We should also add a new tax on multi-millionaires, crack down on tax gaming by corporations, and close the carried interest loophole – something I’ve advocated for years.” — Hillary Clinton