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U.S. EPA to revise proposed freeze of vehicle fuel economy rules

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U.S. EPA to revise proposed freeze of vehicle fuel economy rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday the agency would revise its proposed freeze of vehicle fuel economy standards before unveiling its final regulation in the coming months.

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

In August, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed freezing requirements for new cars and trucks at 2020 levels through 2026 but EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in an interview at the agency’s headquarters “our final regulation is not going to be the same as our proposal.”

“We’ve taken constructive comments, criticisms, concerns from a whole host of different interest groups,” Wheeler said. “I hope our final regulation is something that everybody can get behind and support.”

Two U.S. officials briefed on the matter said they expected the EPA to wind up requiring a small increase in the yearly fuel efficiency gains, likely around mid-June, but said the precise figure had not been finalized. It is also not clear what flexibilities will remain in the final rule.

Obama-era rules adopted in 2012 called for a fleetwide fuel efficiency average of 46.7 miles per gallon by 2026, with average annual increases of nearly 5 percent, compared with 37 mpg by 2026 under the Trump administration’s preferred option.

The administration’s proposed changes would also strip California of the ability to impose its own state emissions standards or require a rising number of electric vehicles.

The proposed fuel efficiency freeze would hike U.S. oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels per day by the 2030s, according to administration officials. Wheeler denied the rules were written at the behest of oil industry lobbyists.

“This has nothing to do with the oil industry. We’re not doing this for the oil industry. I’m not doing this for the oil industry,” Wheeler said.

The Trump administration said in August that the freeze would save automakers more than $300 billion in regulatory costs and reduce the projected cost of a new vehicle by $1,850.

It also said the measure would save lives because Americans would more quickly buy newer safer vehicles, a claim disputed by California and environmental groups.

Automakers like General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp oppose a freeze but want requirements reduced to account for changes in oil prices and consumer demand. All have pushed for a compromise deal to head off years of legal uncertainty.

The White House in February ended talks with California to try to reach a deal. Reuters reported in March the White House had held meetings with automakers to push them to back it in its fight with California.

California last week sued the EPA over its failure to provide data used to justify easing vehicle efficiency standards.. California and 16 other states had previously vowed to challenge any emissions rollback.

Wheeler heaped scorn on California. “This is so much more about politics for the state of California than it is protecting the environment,” Wheeler said.

California’s top air regulator Mary Nichols said in February the proposal flies “in the face of science, logic and any effort to protect public health.”

Reporting by David Shepardson, Tim Gardner, mValerie olcovici and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Tom Brown

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Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases

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Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases

The Supreme Court will decide whether the main federal civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination applies to LGBT people.

The justices say Monday they will hear cases involving people who claim they were fired because of their sexual orientation. Another case involves a funeral home employee who was fired after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The cases will be argued in the fall, with decisions likely by June 2020 in the middle of the presidential election campaign.

The issue is whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, but federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.

The big question is whether the Supreme Court, with a strengthened conservative majority, will do the same.

The Obama administration had supported treating LGBT discrimination claims as sex discrimination, but the Trump administration has changed course. The Trump Justice Department has argued that Title VII was not intended to provide protections to gay or transgender workers. The administration also separately withdrew Obama-era guidance to educators to treat claims of transgender students as sex discrimination.

President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices will take up three cases in the fall.

In one, the federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The second case is from Georgia, where the federal appeals court ruled against a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs.

The third case comes from Michigan, where a funeral home fired a transgender woman. The appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.

The funeral home argues in part that Congress was not thinking about transgender people when it included sex discrimination in Title VII.

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Kellyanne Conway: Trump can’t be impeached by an investigation Democrats started

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Kellyanne Conway: Trump can't be impeached by an investigation Democrats started

As thousands gathered on the White House lawn for the annual Easter egg roll on Monday morning, Kellyanne Conway criticized House Democrats latest impeachment push, calling it “a ridiculous proposition.”

News broke on Sunday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to hold a private conference call with fellow Democrats to discuss the possibility of impeaching President Trump.

The issue was raised again after a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released last week, which Dems argue provides evidence to the contrary of Attorney General William Barr’s summary that the investigation found no evidence that President Trump obstructed justice.

However, Conway pushed back.

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“You can’t impeach a Republican president for something the Democrats started, which is this ridiculous investigation that has cost us $25 million, over 2500 subpoenas,” Conway told “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt on Monday morning.

“The special counsel provides a report to the attorney general who, in concert with the deputy attorney general and office of legal counsel, decided there was no obstructive conduct. They could not bring obstruction charges – they made that decision,” she continued.

“I’m sure if director Mueller and his team could have brought those very clear charges they would have.”

She added that many in the media are now trying to “save face” after fiercely believing and predicting Mueller’s investigation would uncover collusion between Trump and Russia, which would have supplemented their arguments in 2016 that Trump “lied and stole the election.”

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As the 2020 election approaches, Conway also commented on the wide array of Democrats entering the race and reminded viewers that candidates need to run on real issues.

“Simple math,” she said. “One, 19, 50, anything times zero, simple multiplication … 19 are running, but if your message is zero it’s a big zero.”

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Ex-Trump attorney Dowd disputes Mueller report, says president never tried to oust special counsel

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Ex-Trump attorney Dowd disputes Mueller report, says president never tried to oust special counsel

President Trump never said he wanted to “get rid” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and instead cooperated fully with his investigation, according to one of the president’s former attorneys.

John Dowd, who served as a member of President Trump’s legal team from June 2017 until March 2018, discussed Trump’s approach to Mueller during an interview on “Fox & Friends” Monday.

Frequent media accounts prior to the release of the report suggested Trump tried to fire Mueller at times during the Russia investigation. The report itself said Trump told then-White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to tell the acting attorney general that Mueller “must be removed.” McGahn refused.

But asked on Monday when Trump said to fire Mueller, Dowd said: “He never did. I was there at the same time that the report says McGahn mentioned this, and I was assigned to deal with Mueller and briefed the president every day.

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“At no time did the president ever say, ‘you know, John, I’m going to get rid of him.’ It was the opposite.

“Here’s the message the president had for Bob Mueller, he told me to carry — number one, you tell him I respect what he is doing; number two, you tell him he has my full cooperation; number three, get it done as quickly as possible; and number four, whatever else you need, let me know.

“That was always the message and that is exactly what we did.”

Dowd continued, saying he spoke to Mueller about the president’s frequent public criticism of the investigation.

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“I talked to Bob about that. I said, ‘do you understand what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘oh, it’s political, he has to do that for political reasons’.

“I said, ‘I tell you what, the president and I will make sure, we’ll say publicly cooperate with Bob Mueller’ and we did early on. So that was it.”

Host Steve Doocy then asked Dowd about “the suggestion from the report that Don McGahn, the president’s attorney, was told go out and fire him” Mueller.

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“I just I think there was a misunderstanding,” Dowd said.

“I just don’t believe it. I think the president simply wanted McGahn to call Rosenstein, have him vetted, because the president believed Mueller did have some conflicts.”

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