Marjorie Taylor Greene in new attack on Fauci demands his salary be stripped
By Laura Olson
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia on Tuesday led a group of House Republicans calling for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, formalizing their intense criticism of his public statements and actions throughout the coronavirus pandemic into legislation.
Those GOP lawmakers can’t actually oust Fauci from his post as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top Biden administration adviser. Instead, the bill led by Greene would eliminate his federal salary, which was more than $417,000 in 2019.
“Dr. Fauci was not elected by the American people. He was not chosen to guide our economy. He was not chosen to rule over parents and their children’s education,” Greene said. “But yet, Dr. Fauci very much controlled our lives for this past year.”
Greene was joined at the news conference by Republican cosponsors of her legislation, including Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, of Arizona; Buddy Carter, of Georgia; and Bob Good, of Virginia.
Their bill has no likelihood of passage in the House, which is controlled by Democrats, but the event gave Greene and other conservatives another chance to attack Fauci, who became the face of the federal government’s response to COVID-19.
They accused him of misleading the public by shifting his guidance on mask-wearing and details of how the virus is transmitted — even though he and other leading scientists have defended the updates to those recommendations as the expected result of learning more about a brand-new health threat.
“As a scientist, as a health official, when those data change, when you get more information, it’s essential that you change your position because you have to be guided by the science and the current data,” Fauci said in a recent interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
Fauci has been a political lightning rod throughout the pandemic, with liberals praising the charismatic public health official and Republicans demonizing him as the Trump administration struggled to contain the virus, at times taking actions counter to Fauci’s counsel.
Those attacks against Fauci have renewed amid the release of thousands of pages of Fauci’s work emails throughout the pandemic, which were acquired by BuzzFeed and the Washington Post via Freedom of Information Act requests.
“He’s an actor, and deserves an Academy Award for best dramatic acting in a pandemic,” Gosar said of Fauci.
Gosar accused Fauci of knowing that the virus causing COVID-19 originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. But Fauci’s emails have not shown that to be the case, and broader evidence remains inconclusive as to the virus’ precise origins.
Others focused on the lockdowns that affected U.S. schools and businesses last year, with Good blaming Fauci for “ridiculous policies that locked down our churches and small businesses.”
The White House has made clear that it is standing with Fauci, with President Joe Biden saying recently that he is “very confident” in Fauci’s ability to do his job.
The GOP news conference came a day after Greene sought to tamp down a wave of criticism she has faced for repeatedly using Holocaust comparisons to criticize face-mask mandates that have been enacted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Those statements drew a rebuke from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and the prospect of a censure by the U.S. House. On Monday, Greene visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., and afterward acknowledged to reporters that some of her past comments were “offensive” and “hurtful.”
“There is no comparison to the Holocaust,” Greene said Monday evening.
Greene was stripped earlier this year of her committee assignments for her past social media postings in which she supported violence against Democratic leaders and lawmakers.
Mayors of U.S. cities plead for federal funds to alleviate housing crisis
By Ariana Figueroa
WASHINGTON—The mayors of cities in Ohio, Montana and Arizona stressed the need for affordable housing to be included in any congressional infrastructure package during a Tuesday hearing before the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee.
Mayors Daniel Horrigan of Akron, Ohio, Cyndy Andrus of Bozeman, Mont., and Corey Woods of Tempe, Ariz., all said that their cities are facing a housing crisis. For businesses to retain talented workers and for their communities to grow, they need help from the federal government to invest in affordable housing, they said.
“Housing is the basic building block of a community,” Andrus said in her opening statement. “Why build all that infrastructure if no one can afford to live in the community?”
She added that the median price for a single-family home in April in Bozeman was $660,000 —a 50% increase within a year. She said a similar increase is being seen with town homes and apartments.
Woods said that homeownership in Tempe is out of reach for many residents, which has led to a high number of renters. He said 42% of them are “cost burdened”—meaning those households pay more than 30% of their gross income in rent.
Woods said that even though the city has invested $1.2 million in affordable housing for 325 rental units and 50 homes, “we do not come close to meeting the needs of our cost-burdened residents nor addressing our extraordinary increase in unsheltered individuals.”
“That only scratches the surface,” he said. “We need additional support from the federal government.”
Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, asked Woods how much housing his city needed.
He said that Tempe would require 11,000 units of housing by 2040 to keep pace with the current demand.
Negotiations continued Tuesday over an infrastructure deal, with a bipartisan agreement among 10 senators in trouble after opposition was voiced by progressives including Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, POLITICO reported.
At the hearing, Republicans said they were hesitant to include housing as part of infrastructure legislation.
The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said that instead of spending additional money for affordable housing, he would rather repurpose unused COVID-19 relief funds for “real physical infrastructure.”
“It means things like roads, bridges, ports and airports,” he said. “Housing is not infrastructure. Housing is housing.”
Horrigan, the mayor from Ohio, disagreed and argued that housing is critical infrastructure.
“All other infrastructure—water meters, roads, electrical lines, broadband fiber, sewers—ultimately connect to houses,” he said in his opening statement.
Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown said that he was concerned that affordable housing is becoming out of reach for families.
Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said that mayors could help Congress understand what infrastructure those cities need, such as transportation, replacement of lead pipes and broadband, in order to “revitalize a neglected neighborhood and bring new residents and customers to Main Street.”
“These issues all intersect—and while they may look different in Bozeman and Akron and Tempe, we know they are national problems,” he said in his opening statement. “Mayors and city councils and county commissions can do a lot of good – but they can’t do it all on their own.
Josh Parsons, a commissioner from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, objected to any funds from Congress’ transportation bill spent on anything unrelated to infrastructure. He suggested, like Toomey, that any leftover funds from the COVID-19 relief packages be used instead.
“There has already been a huge amount of money that has been allocated,” he said, adding that Treasury guidance has forbidden use of the relief package money for infrastructure. The Treasury Department does allow states to use some COVID-19 relief funds for broadband infrastructure.
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said that while “nobody likes wasteful spending,” people in his state who have lived there for generations are struggling to find affordable housing “because quite frankly the cost of homes is so damn high.”
“The bottom line is that if you don’t have places for people to live, you don’t have a manufacturing base, you don’t have the ability for businesses to expand,” he said.
U.S. House panel probes slow cleanup of ‘exploited’ coal mining sites
By Jacob Fischler
A U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee examined the cleanup needs for regions transitioning away from coal production Tuesday, with witnesses representing coal workers and Native American communities saying energy companies should be responsible for returning the land to its pre-mining state.
Much of the conversation at the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing centered on the concept of “environmental justice” and the restoration of mining sites, including at recently closed coal production locations in Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona.
“These communities, and especially Indian Country, have been really exploited,” subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal, (D-Calif.), said. “It’s a really horrible, horrible situation.”
But Republicans on the panel criticized opposition to fossil fuels as “job killing,” and said the shift to cleaner energy sources has resulted in employment losses and a hit to economic development in mining regions. Some Western states like Wyoming have been able to strike a balance between environmental protection and fossil fuel production, they said.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-Calif.), suggested Wyoming’s experience did not remove responsibility from “deadbeat coal companies” that created “very real burdens and hardship” for struggling communities.
Coal in decline
Coal use has declined by 46% since its peak in 2007, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a U.S. Energy Department agency.
That decline has led to the industry abandoning mines, often without the cleanup required by federal law, said Mary Cromer, the deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, a group that advocates for coal workers and others who live near mining sites.
“As coal declines, coal mining regulations are failing to keep up, and coal companies are increasingly abandoning their environmental obligations, leaving too little in bond money to cover reclamation costs,” she said. “Coalfield communities worry they will be forever burdened with hazardous and unusable land and polluted streams.”
One particularly affected community is the Navajo Nation, home to the Kayenta and Black Mesa coal mines and the coal-powered Navajo Generating Station that closed in 2019.
Navajo people bore the brunt of the job losses when those sites closed in 2019, as well as the environmental degradation from decades of mining that still hasn’t been mitigated, said Nicole Horseherder, the executive director of the Arizona-based Native American environmental group Tó Nizhóní Ání.
Mining “scarred” Navajo land and polluted the local water supply, she said. Leases require Peabody Western Energy, the operator of the Northern Arizona mines and plant, to return the land to the same quality it was before mining, but the company hasn’t met that standard and the federal government has done little to force the company, she said.
Congress should “require a significant mine permit revision” before renewing permits for companies like Peabody to force them to complete cleanup, Horseherder said.
Republicans said federal bureaucracy can slow the process of mine reclamation and held up Wyoming as an example of success.
The state’s coal mines are managed “in a manner that protects the state and provides for responsible coal resource development,” Kyle Wendtland, the administrator of the Wyoming Land Quality Division, testified.
The state annually revises the bonds mining companies pay to ensure there is enough money to reclaim an abandoned mine.
Jobs in mining
Members of both parties agreed closings of coal plants have had painful economic consequences for some areas, but disagreed about what to do about it.
Republicans blamed Democratic policies discouraging fossil fuels for closing the Navajo Generating Station and other sites across the country.
Putting coal plants out of business was unfair to tribes because it took away jobs and cheap energy and made tribes responsible for the global issue of climate change, Republicans said.
Reclamation and cleanup could provide job opportunities for miners and other workers affected by the decline of coal, Horseherder said, echoing a component of the “just transition” away from fossil fuels that President Joe Biden and others have promoted to help displaced workers find new employment.
But Republicans argued that was insufficient.
The subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Pete Stauber, said the average salary for the mostly Navajo workforce in the mines of Kayenta was north of $100,000. The jobs paid much better and lasted longer than the temporary jobs of a cleanup project, he said.
“Is losing hundreds and hundreds of union, Native American jobs with an average salary of $117,000 per year part of a just transition?” asked Stauber, who represents a mining region in Northern Minnesota.
Fossil fuel production and environmental protection can co-exist, several Republican members said.
Other witnesses called on the federal government to establish better safeguards to ensure that mining companies pay for cleaning up abandoned mines.
Joseph G. Pizarchik, the director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement during the Obama administration, called on Congress to ban self-bonds. Self-bonds allow companies to offer only a promise to reclaim the site without a separate upfront payment to ensure the funding is available. Pizarchik called self-bonds “essentially no bond at all.”
“It is clear that the regulations that govern the use and replacement of self-bonds do not work and cannot be fixed,” he said.
Rep. Diana DeGette, (D-Colo.), praised her state’s Office of Justice Transition, a Department of Labor and Employment agency that provides resources to displaced coal workers, and asked if a federal equivalent would be helpful.
“That would be tremendously helpful,” Horseherder answered.
Cromer said there are several strategies lawmakers should pursue to keep job losses to a minimum. The problem was too large, she said, for any single policy to be enough.
“Because our region has been so dependent on this one industry for so long—and that historically has provided high-wage jobs—there’s no one idea, there’s no one business that’s going to be able to come in and make sure that that transition occurs,” she said.
Laura Olson, Ariana Figueroa and Jacob Fischler cover Washington for the States Newsroom network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.