Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Center Square

Wisconsin Republican resolution to overrule Evers’ emergency order could get vote

(The Center Square) – The pressure for lawmakers to cancel Gov. Tony Evers’ coronavirus emergency order is growing.

Twenty-seven Republican senators and representatives in Madison on Friday signed a resolution tp overturn the governor's order to keep coronavirus restrictions in place until mid-March.

“Given that legislative oversight is vital to ensuring the governor's proper exercise of the emergency powers granted by section 323.12 of the statutes, legislative oversight is rendered useless if the governor ignores the temporal limitations on the emergency powers by continuously reissuing emergency declarations for the same emergency,” the resolution states.

Wisconsin law allows the legislature to overturn a governor’s emergency order by resolution. The Wisconsin Senate has placed the resolution on its calendar for next Tuesday.

Gov. Evers on Friday side-stepped questions about his ability to continue the emergency order, or even if it is necessary given Wisconsin’s falling coronavirus numbers. Instead the governor said coronavirus restrictions, and the state’s mask mandate are popular.

“You’ll recall the last time the MU Law Poll asked about support for face coverings in October 2020: ‘In October, 72% agree that masks should be required in public places, while 26% disagree with requiring masks. In August, 69% supported a mask requirement and 29% were opposed,’,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “‘Support for a mask requirement exceeds 60% in all regions of the state.’.”

The governor added: “Ending the public health emergency would eliminate one of the few tools left the state has to mitigate the spread of the virus that is killing our friends, families, and fellow Wisconsinites while we work to distribute the vaccine across our state.”

But the Republican lawmakers say the issue is not the popularity of a mask requirement or other coronavirus restrictions, rather the governor’s abuse of power.

New Republican Senator Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, called the governor’s emergency order ”unconstitutional.”

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly agreed.

“Regardless of political persuasion, everyone should be greatly troubled by a governor who steadfastly refuses to recognize limits on his authority,” Justice Kelly told The Center Square. “Instead of gracefully recognizing the limits placed on him by the law, Gov. Evers has issued a string of executive orders, each declaring the same emergency over and over again, as if they were incantations for bringing expired powers back to life. His executive orders are nothing but camouflage for straight-up power grabs.”

This is not the first time Republicans have called to override Gov. Evers’ emergency orders, but it is the first time their call has been placed on the legislative calendar for a vote.

Texas governor, attorney general to sue Biden over immigration

(The Center Square) – Texas plans to sue the Biden administration over several executive orders recently issued, and immigration policy is front and center.

“A new crop of Texas-led lawsuits awaits Joe Biden's White House,” Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted. “Texas will take action whenever the federal government encroaches on state's rights, or interferes with constitutional rights, or private property rights or the right to earn a living.”

Texas, along with California, leads the states in the number of times it has sued the federal government. Arguing against federal government overreach and in favor of the Tenth Amendment, Texas’ legal actions have ranged from suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), the Clean Power Plan, and many other issues. Now immigration is policy is the target.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state will sue the Biden administration after the Department of Homeland Security announced it was implementing an “illegal deportation freeze” for 100 days.

The agency says the purpose of the freeze “will allow DHS to ensure that its resources are dedicated to responding to the most pressing challenges that the United States faces, including immediate operational challenges at the southwest border in the midst of the most serious global public health crisis in a century. Throughout this interim period, DHS will continue to enforce our immigration laws.”

Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske in a memorandum ordered agencies reporting to DHS to “review immigration enforcement policies and set interim policies for civil enforcement.”

But Paxton replied in a letter, tweeting, “Border states like Texas pay a particularly high price when the federal government fails to faithfully execute our country’s immigration laws. I won’t tolerate unlawful acts from Joe Biden’s administration. Today, I am taking action.”

Paxton argues the administration is obligated to consult with Texas before reducing immigration enforcement measures.

“DHS’s failure to provide Texas with pre-implementation notice of the memorandum – combined with its quick implementation of the memorandum – makes waiting impracticable. We require an immediate response or we will seek relief to enjoin your order, as contemplated by the Agreement,” Paxton writes.

The DHS memo states that deportations will continue under certain circumstances, including deporting those who pose a national security threat, those who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, who have been released from prison and are determined to be a security threat, and anyone who illegally entered the United States after Nov. 1.

“Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States,” Pekoske states in the memo. “DHS must implement civil immigration enforcement based on sensible priorities and changing circumstances. DHS’s civil immigration enforcement priorities are protecting national security, border security, and public safety.”

Biden’s new immigration proposal, among other measures, offers an eight-year path to citizenship for roughly 11 million undocumented individuals living in the U.S.

Abbott tweeted in support of Paxton, saying, “Biden is trying to halt deportations of illegal aliens who already have a final order of removal from the U.S. This abandons the obligation to enforce federal immigration laws. Texas is fighting this attempt to grant blanket amnesty.”

In response to Biden’s plan, Lora Ries and Hans von Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellows, said in a statement, “No president has the power to override existing immigration law and establish a general administrative amnesty for illegal immigrants, even providing them with government benefits. Pursuing a legislative amnesty, however, is not only unnecessary but unwise. It would make our southern border less secure, cause even more foreigners to overstay their visas, and act as an incentive to attract even more illegal immigrants to the country.”

Permian Basin tax revenue skyrocketed in 2020

(The Center Square) – Reeves County and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District saw dramatic increases in oil and natural gas property tax revenue in fiscal 2020, both receiving the most of any ISD or county in Texas.

Statewide, Texas ISDs received more than $2 billion from taxes on oil and natural gas production, pipelines and gas utilities. Counties received $688 million.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD received $167.6 million from mineral properties producing oil and natural gas, pipelines, and gas utilities – an increase of 53 percent from fiscal 2019, far more than any other ISD. Reeves County received $74.5 million in oil and natural gas property taxes – an 80 percent increase from last year.

“The oil and natural gas industry is very important to our area,” Reeves County Judge Leo Hung said. “It has both a direct and indirect impact on our economy. It is great to hear that Reeves County is currently the top producing county in the state of Texas even though production is significantly down from last year. We are optimistic that production and drilling will increase in the coming months as a result of availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the rebound of our economy.”

Independent school districts across the Permian Basin received $978.75 million and counties in the Permian Basin received $334.3 million in oil and natural gas property taxes, the Texas Oil & Gas Association said in a statement accompanying its annual report on the statewide impact of the industry.

“While oil prices plummeted in the wake of the pandemic, the need for products made from oil and natural gas skyrocketed," Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples said. "Nearly every in-demand product we need to be safe, to save lives and to power our economy – from face shields and hand sanitizers to high-speed internet connections and computers – is made possible by oil and natural gas.”

The Permian Basin of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico has produced hydrocarbons for roughly 100 years. In January 2020, it supplied more than 35.6 billion barrels of oil and 125 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“Implementing hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, and completion technology advancements during the past decade has reversed the production decline in the Permian, and the basin has exceeded its previous production peak, set in the early 1970s,” the U.S. Energy Information Agency states. “In 2019, Permian Basin production accounted for more than 35 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and more than 16 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production. As of 2018, EIA estimates remaining proven reserves in the Permian Basin exceed 11 billion barrels of oil and 46 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, making it one of the largest hydrocarbon-producing basins in the United States and the world.”

While producing a massive scale of product, the Texas oil and natural gas industry has taken the lead in developing environmental solutions to significantly reduce emissions and flaring, the association points out.

“The oil and natural gas industry is the nation’s leading investor in emission-reducing technologies and as a result, Americans are breathing the cleanest air in decades, the U.S. leads the world in reducing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, and methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems are down 23 percent since 1990,” Staples said.

According to data from Railroad Commission of Texas, the percentage of natural gas flared out of all the natural gas produced in Texas decreased by 80 percent between June 2019 and May 2020. Last August, the commission reported that less than one half of one percent of the natural gas produced in Texas was flared or vented.

“This progress – and ways to build on it – must be part of more rational discussions about the future of our energy, the environment and the economy,” Staples added.

The reports come as President Joe Biden ordered a 60-day pause to new drilling on federal lands and halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Biden administration orders halt to new oil and gas drilling on federal lands for 60 days

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden’s administration issued an order temporarily halting leases and permits for oil and gas development on federal land, fulfilling a pledge he made during his campaign, despite pushback from the industry and states that rely on revenue from energy development.

Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order that suspends approval of new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days. The order also “temporarily elevates review” of other agency decisions for DOI leadership.

“The Order does not impact existing ongoing operations under valid leases and does not preclude the issuance of leases, permits and other authorizations,” DOI said in a statement Thursday.

Biden, whose campaign pledged to ban new leases and reinstate environmental regulations rolled back by the Trump administration, has nominated U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to serve as DOI secretary pending the Senate’s approval.

The order was criticized Thursday by energy industry groups and praised by environmental watchdog organizations.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers said in a statement that the move means the U.S. will have to rely on foreign countries for energy development and risks American jobs.

“With this move, the administration is leading us toward more reliance on foreign energy from countries with lower environmental standards and risks to hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue for education and conservation programs,” he said. “We stand ready to engage with the Biden administration on ways to address America’s energy challenges, but impeding American energy will only serve to hurt local communities and hamper America’s economic recovery.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, warned that the temporary ban is “a precursor to a longer-term ban.”

Sgamma added that if the acting secretary does not hold quarterly lease sales as required by law, the Alliance is “prepared to challenge this intended ban in court at the appropriate time.”

Dan Ritzman, the lands, water and wildlife director for the Sierra Club, tweeted that the organization “welcomes this opportunity for the Biden administration to chart a new path for our country’s lands and waters.”

“Pausing new fossil fuel decisions brings us closer to healthier communities, a healthier climate and healthier wild places,” he said.

Several western states rely heavily on tax revenue from energy development that takes place on federal lands, such as Wyoming and New Mexico.

A federal lease moratorium would result in a $639.7 billion hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, California, and Alaska by 2040, according to a report released last month that was commissioned by the Wyoming Legislature.

“The economic predictions are devastating, to be blunt, to Wyoming,” Gov. Mark Gordon said when the study was released.

Gordon’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the DOI’s order.

Conservation projects also rely heavily on revenue from energy development on federal lands.

DOI disbursed $8 billion from offshore and federal land energy development to the states in 2020, down from $11.69 billion in 2019.

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which passed Congress with bipartisan support, relies on oil and gas development royalties to pay off the National Park Service’s $12 billion maintenance backlog.

The Land Water Conservation Fund, which GAOA requires to be funded with $900 million annually, is funded by federal offshore oil and gas revenue, which in turn is distributed to states for conservation projects.

DOI announced on Tuesday that LWCF’s State and Local Assistance Program will get over $302.3 million for fiscal year 2021 that’s apportioned to states.

Colorado, for instance, is set to receive almost $5.2 million of that apportionment.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson told The Center square the funding will “help support critical Colorado Parks and Wildlife projects and allow us to provide opportunities for both recreation and resource conservation. This funding helps us to ensure Coloradans will be able to enjoy our resources for generations to come.”

The Bozeman, Mont.-based Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) recommends utilizing user-based funding streams for conservation and recreation instead of relying on oil and gas revenue.

“Arguably, recreationists and conservationists would benefit the most from unshackling funding from energy revenues. Establishing a federal advisory committee could be an initial step toward finding a user-based model that can provide the resources necessary to steward our public lands for future generations,” PERC said in a recent report.

Biden also revoked the Keystone XL’s permit and rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, among other orders on his first day in office.

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson: Recent media attacks about 2022 Senate race

(The Center Square) – There is a reason Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says people are seeing his name in the newspaper and all over cable TV: Democrats want to take his Senate seat in two years.

Johnson on Thursday told News Talk 1130 WISN’s Jay Weber that the recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and all of the attention he’s getting from national news outlets has a purely political motive.

“They want the Senate seat, there’s no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “I’ve known for quite some time that they are going to do everything to destroy me. And I continue to push back on them.”

The "them," according to Johnson, is both Democrats and the media.

“We are seeing the cancel culture kick into overdrive, the purge,” Johnson said Thursday. “That’s basically what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is engaging in. They basically made my point for me.”

Johnson wrote an op-ed this week that explained the questions that millions of Trump voters continue to have about the November election. It also called out the paper for an opinion piece last week suggesting Johnson incited this month’s riot at the U.S. Capitol. The Journal Sentinel then footnoted, and refuted Johnson’s piece.

“My other point that I have been making consistently is the grotesque bias in the media and the social media has done far more harm to this democracy. They interfered in this election. They chose a side. They had an effect far greater than anything a foreign entity like Russia could ever hope to achieve,” Johnson said. “They’re just not willing to admit it.”

Johnson has not said what he plans to do about reelection in 2022. There’s speculation that he will either run for the U.S. Senate again or perhaps run for governor. There’s also some thought he might not do either. He didn’t give any insight into his future on Thursday.

Johnson did say he expects the political division in this country to get worse because of media and social media bias.

“I am so concerned about the ongoing bias in the media, and how it is just going to inflame the situation,” Johnson said. “They are the inciters. They are the ones who are responsible for a great deal of the division and the rancor in this country.”

Wisconsin’s next vaccine phase could mean long waits for vulnerable people

(The Center Square) – As many as 1.6 million people in Wisconsin could be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine under the state’s newest vaccine plan. But being eligible doesn’t guarantee a shot.

The Department of Health Services’ vaccine subcommittee has agreed to an expansive list of people who will be eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1b. The list includes people over 65, teachers, prisoners and inmates, grocery store workers, mink farmers, bus drivers, and many more. DHS estimates one in three people in Wisconsin would be included in Phase 1b.

Doctors and government watchdogs say that’s a mistake.

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, said Wisconsin has been slow to get the coronavirus vaccine to people in the state. Adding over a million-and-a-half people to the list isn’t going to change that.

“According to DHS’ own statistics, [Wisconsin] has been given almost 778,000 vaccines to distribute from the federal government and they have administered 248,000 vaccine shots total to date,” Healy said Thursday. “Just 45,638 Wisconsinites have been fully vaccinated so far.”

Healy blames Gov. Tony Evers for waiting on a vaccine plan, then trying to micromanage vaccine distribution.

“We have known that the COVID-19 vaccine was coming to Wisconsin for weeks and yet, here we are in mid-January, with bureaucrats debating who should receive the vaccine,” Healy said. “And while the bureaucrats spend countless hours debating who should be eligible, they have not put in the time to develop the plan on how they will deliver the vaccine shots to real people.”

Wisconsin is ranked at the bottom of Midwestern states when it comes to vaccine distribution. That will likely only get worse if Phase 1b includes a third of the state’s population.

Vaccine committee co-chair Dr. Jonathan Temte with the UW-Madison School of Medicine on Wednesday said Wisconsin doesn’t have the doses to vaccine such a large Phase 1b group.

"It's going to be a very, very, very long time for this target to be hit," Temete said.

Healy said instead of trying to satisfy groups for political purposes, Evers and his administration should focus on the people who are most at risk from the virus.

“We need to focus on our most vulnerable populations,” Healy told The Center Square. “We know from the data that COVID-19 is a problem for those with a serious pre-existing condition and the elderly. That is exactly who should be receiving the vaccine first. Not prisoners. Not non-critical workers. It makes no sense that the Evers administration would consider a state prisoner to be the same priority as a 65-year-old person. To all of us with elderly family who we have not seen in months out of precaution, it is infuriating.”

Analysis: COVID-19 vaccine ad void leaves states with millions of doses

On Interstate 59, a neon billboard used by the Alabama Department of Public Health advises motorists to get their flu and pneumonia vaccines. Placards placed atop gas pumps around the state also promote the flu vaccine.

But the vaccine that will quell COVID-19, a virus that has killed 400,000 nationwide, crippled businesses and prompted governments to force onerous restrictions on the public, gets no mention.

Karen Landers, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Health, said the state has “no specific marketing campaign going on” because “the vaccine supply is less than the demand, here and nationwide.”

Alabama, though, has plenty of medicine and many residents wondering how to get it. Records show that the state has received 444,000 doses of the vaccine as of Friday, and has vaccinated 100,000 people, using around 23% of its allotted doses.

Across the U.S., 31 million doses of the COVID vaccine have been distributed as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while states have administered 12 million, around 38%. The vaccine produced by pharma giants Moderna and Pfizer are two-dose treatments that provide up to 95% protection.

The failure of Alabama and other states around the country to launch vaccine advertising campaigns – touting the medicine’s efficacy and informing people how and where they can receive it – is creating potentially life-threatening confusion.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to spend more money on vaccinations, allocating $400 billion in a plan that includes using local pharmacies (a feature borrowed from the Trump administration) and mass vaccination centers. Biden said the push will include a public awareness campaign aimed at promoting the importance of getting inoculated.

But for now the lack of advertising is striking because local and federal government agencies routinely spend large sums on public health campaigns – including warning people how to behave in response to COVID-19.

The Obama administration spent $684 million driving awareness of the Affordable Care Act starting in 2013, although it was dogged by the rollout of a federal web portal widely viewed as disastrous. The pharmaceutical industry spent $9.5 billion on digital advertising alone in 2020, according to researcher eMarketer.

One of the challenges of the COVID vaccine, as with Obamacare, is connecting with people who are hard to reach, including those without internet service or who aren’t avid news followers.

Yet while the vaccine is in the early stages of distribution, information on what it does and how to get it can only be found at the websites of state and county health departments.

By contrast, when the virus emerged last spring, local governments quickly took to the airwaves with ads urging people to “stay home, stay safe,” collectively spending millions of dollars on multi-platform announcements, including government-produced signage distributed to businesses notifying patrons that masks were required for entry.

The lack of comparable information about the vaccine is contributing to supply and demand mismatches.

When a Walgreens in Louisville, Ky., found itself sitting on vaccine ready to expire, it made a public announcement that anyone could get the vaccine. The store was subsequently overwhelmed.

For that last-minute move, the store was criticized by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who said the vaccine needed to be held for people who deserve it in accordance with CDC guidelines.

In Michigan, under some of the most onerous shutdowns in the U.S. ordered by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the lack of an information campaign has confused the public.

“No one here even knows that there is a vaccine available,” said Joel Fragomeni, a Detroit-based comedian who volunteered for AstraZeneca’s clinical trial of its COVID vaccine, which is expected to be approved in the spring. “People are still mostly locked down waiting for the weekly cases report to see what can be opened and closed.”

States were presented in October with a 57-page guide to prepare to distribute the vaccine, including two pages devoted to how to drive awareness among the public.

Among the suggestions: “Keep the public, public health partners, and healthcare providers well-informed about COVID-19 vaccine(s) development, recommendations, and public health’s efforts.”

It is not clear why the states or the federal government have been slow to advertise availability. Some experts say the unprecedented speed with which the medicine was developed may have caught authorities unprepared as they were preoccupied with other aspects of the pandemic.

In addition, broad confusion over who should get the first available doses has made messaging difficult.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office in August signed off on a $5 million ad campaign to promote masking. But the governor’s website homepage makes no mention of the vaccine, listing only new positive case rates. The state is sitting on 43% of the 1 million vaccine doses it has received and has yet to spend anything on vaccine awareness.

New York City in April launched a $10 million campaign advising residents how to behave as the virus spread. The state launched an additional campaign in July urging residents to wear masks.

New York has used less than half the vaccine it has been given, as people seek information on how and where to sign up to receive a dose.

California spent millions on billboards, social media and broadcast spots in July telling people to wear masks and keep away from each other, promoting the campaign in a press release on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s home page.

Newsom’s office last issued a statement on the vaccine in late December, noting that California would partner with CVS and Walgreens to inoculate residents of long-term care facilities. Since then, information has been so scarce that residents have begun to crowdsource details.

The Ad Council and the CDC continue to run 60-second announcements on CNN’s Headline News urging people to stay home, avoid businesses like restaurants and bars and distance from each other.

National television spots urging viewers to get a vaccine for shingles – which kills roughly 100 people a year – are in full rotation in places like the Weather Channel.

The Ad Council, a consortium of private firms started during World War II that produces ads for the public good, has co-produced ads since the beginning of the pandemic advising people to stay home, keep away from each other and wear masks. In November it promised a $50 million campaign to drive awareness of the vaccine.

Last week, the council announced it had not yet met that goal, although it promised a campaign was forthcoming.

In an email, Ad Council spokesman Ben Dorf said that “even while many Americans have already started the vaccination process – we recognize that there is currently a lack of confidence and credible resources for people to go to, leading to mass hesitation, fear, misinformation and complacency.”

Polls contend many Americans are reluctant to take a vaccine, with the perhaps most politically opportunistic naysayer being Vice President Kamala Harris, who in October said she wouldn’t take it if President Trump were telling her to. She was vaccinated in December.

Dorf promised advertising in the future, although he specified no time.

“This is the biggest issue of our lifetime and it requires an effort like never before, in terms of size, scale, speed and urgency,” he wrote.

Emails to the CDC were referred to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which did not respond.

Pfizer, Moderna, Walgreens and CVS did not respond to calls and emails requesting information on marketing plans for the vaccine.

Critics: Biden’s Keystone XL cancellation to cost jobs, won’t help climate

(The Center Square) – Canadian company TC Energy is suspending work on the Keystone XL oil pipeline as President Joe Biden followed through on his pledge to revoke its federal permit.

The 1,700-mile pipeline project was first proposed in 2008. It was blocked by former President Barack Obama, citing environmental concerns. But revived under the Trump administration.

The pipeline, if finished, would carry approximately 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Passing through six U.S. states, the project has faced multiple legal challenges.

"As a result of the expected revocation of the Presidential Permit, advancement of the project will be suspended," Calgary, Alberta-based TC Energy said in a statement.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted and published a lengthy statement saying that he was “deeply concerned” about Biden’s repeal.

“Doing so would kill jobs on both sides of the border, weaken the critically important Canada-U.S. relationship, and undermine U.S. national security,” Kenney said.

Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, said Biden's decision will put thousands of Americans out of work and isn’t based on science.

"The pipeline – the most studied infrastructure project in American history – is already under construction and has cleared countless legal and environmental hurdles," Durbin said in a statement. "Halting construction will also impede the safe and efficient transport of oil, and unfairly single out production from one of our closest and most important allies."

Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) President David Holt said, “President Biden bowed to the demands of a handful of special interests on his first day in office at the expense of American laborers, workers, families, and small businesses who depend on reliable energy.”

Pipelines and advanced pipeline technology provide the safest method for transporting energy, the Department of Transportation reports. The quantity of oil the Keystone XL would carry every day is equal to 4,150 trucks or 1,185 rail cars, Holt notes.

“This is a pipeline that has already committed to being zero carbon emissions and operated by 100% renewable energy," he said. "It is unfortunate that, in this instance, ideology has trumped common sense, and will achieve the opposite environmental effect than was intended.”

Critics argue not completing the pipeline will reverse more than a decade of work accomplished by the Department of State, Department of Energy and PHMSA. The agencies concluded that Keystone XL would be “an incredibly safe pipeline with state-of-the-art monitoring technology, would lower gasoline and diesel prices and would reduce carbon emissions associated moving oil into American refineries.”

“Shutting this project down at a time when the U.S. has returned to being a net oil importer and lost the energy independence that took decades to achieve will, once again, put energy prices in the hands of foreign nations at the cost of our families and small businesses,” Holt added.

Revoking the permit defies environmental and economic logic, the Heritage Foundation said in a statement.

“The climate impact of the pipeline will be practically undetectable, as confirmed by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and State Department’s environmental impact assessment. Blocking Keystone XL isn’t going to stop the production of Canadian oil or prevent oil from reaching refiners in Texas and Louisiana,” Heritage Foundation senior analysts Nick Loris and Katie Tubb, said in a statement.

“Instead, prohibiting the pipeline will create more inefficient and riskier methods of transporting crude, whether that is more tankers from overseas or carrying Canadian crude by truck or rail. At a time when economic growth and job creation are desperately needed, is the administration going to dismiss so many thousands of well-paying, shovel-ready construction jobs?”

Environmental groups saw the move as the first among many on their wish list.

“These huge first steps show Biden is serious about climate action, but re-entering the Paris Agreement and canceling Keystone must be the start of a furious race to avert catastrophe,” Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Much more is needed, and we’re increasingly hopeful the administration will stop approving new fossil fuel projects and speed the transition to clean, distributed energy that climate science and justice demand.”

Biden signs mask mandate as first executive order, says Trump left ‘generous’ note

(The Center Square) – Wearing a mask at a desk in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden signed a federal mask mandate Wednesday as his first executive order.

Biden’s first event broadcast online since taking the oath of office earlier in the day addressed things he said are “bold and vital” and starting points to “rebuild the backbone of the country, the middle class” amid COVID-19.

As media were being ushered out following the signing of three orders, Biden was asked what Trump wrote in a letter a former Trump staffer acknowledged the former president left.

“The president wrote a very generous note, but because it was private, I won’t talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous,” Biden said.

During the event, which lasted nearly 3 minutes, Biden signed three measures from a stack of more than a dozen executive orders.

“They are important, but we will need legislation for a lot of things we want to do,” Biden said.

In front of cameras, Biden briefly talked about responding to the pandemic. He adjusted his mask several times before signing the first order that he said requires “masks be worn, social distancing, on federal property, interstate commerce, etc.”

Biden had said he wants a mask mandate for the first 100 days of his administration as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be delivered across the country.

A second order he signed provides “support for underserved communities,” he said.

“And we’re going to make sure we have some bedrock equity, equality in how we treat people in health care and other things,” Biden said.

As he motioned to a stack of other orders he was expected to sign, he said a third would have the U.S. “rejoin the Paris Climate Accord as of today.”

Trump exited the Paris Climate Accord among some of his first executive actions in 2017. The former president said the treaty was not favorable to the United States.

Biden’s event Wednesday ended without any further detail on other orders.

Media reports indicate other executive actions include ending a national emergency that allowed money to be used for border wall construction, work at preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and orders reversing Trump orders on deportations, among others.

Another area Biden is addressing deals with extending deferral of student loan repayments to Sept. 30 and extending foreclosure and eviction prohibitions until March 31.

Trump issues pardon, waves to Florida supporters in last presidential motorcade

(The Center Square) – In the last hour of his presidency, Donald Trump pardoned Al Pirro, the ex-husband of Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, and waved to thousands of supporters in Palm Beach from inside a black armored Escalade during a slow-motion south Florida motorcade to Mar-a-Lago.

After a sendoff Wednesday morning at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington that included a 21-gun salute from four Army cannons, Trump arrived aboard Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport at 10:54 a.m., more than an hour before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

Trump; first lady Melania; youngest son, Barron; and Trump's adult children – Donald Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany – were greeted by cheers from hundreds of supporters at the airport with "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing on loudspeakers.

Without taking questions from reporters, the Trumps left the airport in a motorcade that slowly crawled down Southern Boulevard through West Palm Beach and was captured by local TV news crews.

The outgoing president responded with double thumb-ups to red-white-and-blue-clad supporters who were waving Trump flags and displaying more of a party atmosphere than anger over his election defeat.

Crowds along Trump’s motorcade route to Mar-a-Lago grew as it neared the causeway to Palm Beach Island, with many holding “THANK YOU” and “TRUMP WON!” signs.

As the motorcade wound into Mar-a-Lago, just as Biden was entering the Capitol to be sworn in, Trump – in what may have been the last act of his presidency – announced he was pardoning Pirro, who had been convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion and sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2000.

Besides leaving behind an uncertain legacy in the wake of his four years as president and facing questions about his continued influence and potential 2024 presidential run, Trump also faces questions at home – literally.

Most notably: Can the former president legally live in his revenue-generating, members-only club under a 27-year-old agreement?

When he turned the private residence purchased in 1985 into a private club in 1993, Trump agreed with the town of Palm Beach to limit membership to 500 and to restrict stays to no more than seven consecutive days and three weeks annually, including for Trump and his family.

Some Palm Beach residents say they will take legal action to ensure the town enforces the agreement, which the Trump Organization says doesn’t exist.

Attorney Reginald Stambaugh called on the Palm Beach Town Council in December to protect property values and relieve anxiety over security, traffic and noise.

"Palm Beach has many lovely estates for sale,” Stambaugh wrote. “Surely (Trump) can find one which meets his needs.”

That, apparently, is an option Trump is considering.

Meanwhile, his club could be facing sanctions for failing to comply with COVID-19 protocols pending an investigation by Palm Beach County.

Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth, has called on Palm Beach County to shut down Mar-a-Lago after its New Year’s Eve party, citing many widely circulated videos showing dozens of people dancing and drinking without masks as rapper Vanilla Ice performed.

“Mar-a-Lago is a club. A club is a business. Businesses must comply with Palm Beach County’s mask order,” Hardy wrote.

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