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U.S. EPA chief defends big energy projects, says climate not top priority

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U.S. EPA chief defends big energy projects, says climate not top priority

(Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a proposal to speed state-level permitting decisions for energy infrastructure projects soon, the agency’s chief told Reuters on Thursday, blasting states that have blocked coal terminals and gas pipelines on environmental grounds.

U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is pictured EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S. April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Timothy Gardner

President Donald Trump is seeking to boost domestic fossil fuels production over the objections of Democrats and environmentalists concerned about pollution and climate change. On Wednesday he issued a pair of executive orders targeting the power of states to delay energy projects.

“We started working on it in advance, so we hope to have something out soon,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in an interview. He was unable to provide a precise timeline.

Based on Trump’s orders, Wheeler’s EPA has been tasked with clarifying a section of the U.S. Clean Water Act that has allowed states like New York and Washington to delay projects in recent years.

New York has used the section to delay pipelines that would bring natural gas to New England, for example, and Washington state has stopped coal export terminals that would open the Asian market for struggling coal companies in Wyoming and other landlocked western states.

“They are trying to make international environmental policy,” Wheeler said of Washington state, whose governor, Democrat Jay Inslee, is running for president on a climate change-focused platform. “They’re trying to dictate to the world how much coal is used.”

Wheeler said New York, which amid strong public pressure denied a clean water act permit for construction of a natural gas pipeline to New England, is forcing that region “to use Russian-produced natural gas.”

“We are importing Russian natural gas which is not produced in an environmentally conscious manner. If the states that are blocking the pipelines were truly concerned about the environment, they would look to where the natural gas would be coming from… I think it’s very short-sighted,” he said.

Wheeler said the EPA would not prevent a state from vetoing a project, but would clarify the parameters they should be able to consider, and the length of time they have to do so.

He also said that California is playing politics in its fight with the EPA to preserve its more stringent vehicle emission standards as the national standard.

CLIMATE: NOT A PRIORITY

Wheeler said he believes climate change is a problem, but that it had been overblown by former President Barack Obama’s administration – at the expense of other bigger issues like water quality.

“Yes, climate is an issue and we are working to address it, but I think water is a bigger issue,” he said.

Wheeler dismissed the findings of a report released earlier this week by EPA scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change that detailed the scale and urgency of climate change.

He said while he encouraged EPA scientists to carry out and publish research, he stressed the recent paper “did not reflect EPA policy.”

Environmental groups say the EPA’s replacement of an Obama-era rule limiting carbon emissions from power plants would likely lead to increased emissions by allowing older, more polluting coal plants to operate longer.

Asked whether the replacement – the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which gives states responsibility for regulating emissions – is stringent enough, Wheeler said it adheres to the parameters of federal law.

“I think what is effective regulation is one that follows the law and one that will be held up in court,” he said.

Several Democrats challenging Trump in the 2020 election have made climate change a top-tier issue, embracing aggressive policy platforms like the Green New Deal calling for an end of fossil fuels use.

Asked whether he was concerned that the EPA may be out of synch with polls showing an overwhelming number of young people believe climate change should be a priority issue, Wheeler was dismissive.

“I do fear that because so many people only talked about climate change. You’re right, there could very well be a new generation coming up saying that’s the only environmental issue – and it’s not,” he said.

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

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Hundreds of decks of playing cards arrive for Washington state lawmaker who criticized nurses

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Washington state lawmaker riles nurses by saying that some spend 'considerable' time playing cards

The Washington state senator who suggested that some nurses “play cards” during a “considerable” portion of their shifts received more than 600 packages of playing cards Tuesday as backlash over her remarks continued to grow.

The United Parcel Service location in Tumwater, Wash., said that it received 667 packages of playing cards addressed to state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, after an open letter criticizing her remarks circulated on Facebook last week and included Walsh’s P.O. box address, Seattle’s KOMO-TV reported.

“You said that not all nurses deserve breaks as they just sit around playing cards while on shift anyway,” the letter read. “I know nurses who can go all night without food or a bathroom break. I know nurses with nerve damage and back pain from doing whatever it takes to take care of patients. I know nurses who cry in their cars. Do you think that’s where they play cards, Senator Walsh?”

WASHINGTON STATE LAWMAKER RILES NURSES BY SAYING SOME SPEND ‘CONSIDERABLE’ TIME PLAYING CARDS

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

The letter went on to predict that after the next election cycle Walsh may find herself with “plenty of time to play cards and plenty of cards to play with.”

Walsh first drew criticism from nursing professionals while debating a bill last week that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and would also provide mandatory overtime protections for them.

She pushed for an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the provision, arguing that such small facilities struggle to provide 24-hour care as it is.

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

Despite the bill being passed with Walsh’s amendment, her ill-received comments sparked a flurry of social media posts mocking her.

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Walsh addressed the issue Monday, apologizing to those who were offended and saying she would spend a day shadowing a nurse throughout his or her 12-hour shift.

“I want to offer my heartfelt apologies to those I offended with my comments on the Senate floor last Tuesday. I was tired, and in the heat of argument on the Senate floor, I said some things about nurses that were taken out of context – but still they crossed the line.”

In 2012, some comments by Walsh on a different subject also went viral, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported. That year Walsh bucked most other members of the state GOP by speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. The state’s House subsequently backed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

The first man released from prison under President Trump’s criminal justice reform law reacted to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saying that prisoners should be permitted to vote by noting the “logistical” problems of allowing prisoners serving a sentence to vote and backing prisoners who served their time to have their rights restored.

“I do know while you’re incarcerated you do lose some of your liberties. But my thing is, once a person has been completely released and they paid their debt to society and they are back in society actually functioning, paying taxes, then they should have their rights restored to vote,” Matthew Charles, who was released from prison under the First Step Act, said on Fox News’  “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

KAMALA HARRIS BACKTRACKS, NOW SAYS CRIMINALS LIKE BOSTON BOMBER ‘SHOULD BE DEPRIVED’ OF RIGHT TO VOTE

“But during the period they’re incarcerated, it’s going to be like a complex issue because of the logistics. You got people incarcerated in states that they actually are not from.”

Sanders opened himself to scrutiny this week after saying that not only should incarcerated prisoners be permitted to vote but that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should also be permitted to vote.

“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they will be punished. But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people,” Sanders said Monday on a CNN Town Hall.

Trump’s re-election campaign called out Sanders Wednesday, describing his idea “deeply offensive.”

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“The extremity and radicalism of the 2020 Democrats knows no bounds,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News.

“Giving imprisoned terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers the right to vote is an outrageous proposal that is deeply offensive to innocent victims across this country, some of whom lost their lives and are forever disenfranchised by the very killers that 2020 Democrats seek to empower,” she said.

Fox News’ Sally Persons and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.

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George Conway praises Hillary Clinton for her op-ed on Mueller probe: ‘I’m with her’

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George Conway calls Trump a cancer that needs to be removed in blistering op-ed

The husband of top White House official Kellyanne Conway expressed solidarity with Hillary Clinton after the former secretary of state wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Congress to pursue the findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, telling his followers on Twitter, “I’m with her.”

In the piece published Wednesday afternoon, Clinton called for holding President Trump “accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law” but insisted that choosing between “immediate impeachment or nothing” was a “false choice.” She also referred to the Mueller report as “road map” for Congress.

“It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not,” Clinton wrote. “Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.”

George Conway, who has made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, praised the 2016 presidential candidate on Twitter and highlighted a portion from her op-ed, where she acknowledged that some may say she’s “not the right messenger.”

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“Perhaps so. Probably so. But if she’s with the Constitution, I’m with her,” Conway tweeted.

Conway regularly slams the president and repeatedly has questioned his mental fitness. The president fired back on Twitter last month.

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