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Trump environment nominees pressed on federal climate report

Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 1:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 1:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's nominee to serve as his top environmental adviser said Wednesday she is unconvinced by a new U.S. government assessment reaffirming that manmade carbon emissions are the primary cause of climate change.

Kathleen Hartnett White testified before a Senate committee weighing her confirmation as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House. White, who is from Texas, reiterated her view that carbon dioxide is a "plant nutrient," not a pollutant.

Pressed by Democrats about the specific evidence linking carbon emissions to global warming, White grew visibly flustered.

"I am not a scientist, but in my personal capacity I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy," said White, who holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature. "We need to have a more precise explanation of the human role and the natural role."

The climate assessment released Friday as the consensus view of 13 federal agencies concluded that more than 92 percent of the observed rise in global average temperatures since 1950 is the direct result of human activity. Since 1900, Earth has warmed by 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) and seas have risen by 8 inches. Heat waves, downpours and wildfires have become frequent.

White served under former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump's energy secretary, for six years on a commission overseeing that state's environmental agency. White was fiercely critical of what she called the Obama administration's "imperial EPA" and pushed back against stricter limits on air and water pollution.

She is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies that include Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chevron. White is also a member of the CO2 Coalition, a group that seeks to educate "thought leaders, policy makers, and the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide."

Also appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee on Wednesday was Andrew Wheeler, Trump's nominee to serve as the second-highest ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency. Until recently, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist whose clients included Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal mining companies.

Wheeler said he had not read about the new climate report and could not comment on it. He expressed general agreement that human activities play a role in climate change, though he said there is uncertainty about how much — repeating the view often cited by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, said in a media interview published earlier this week that he had given Trump a three-page plan to revive the nation's struggling coal industry, and that about a third of that plan had already been implemented by the administration.

Asked about Murray's plan, Wheeler said he had seen it but denied having a copy. He said he couldn't remember the details of the plan, though he acknowledged attending meetings where it was discussed with members of the administration and Congress.

But it was White, with voluminous past writings and speeches denying climate science and advocating the continued burning of fossil fuels, who received the most aggressive questioning by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

White stood by her past statements saying particulate pollution released by burning fuels is not harmful unless one were to suck on a car tailpipe. Asked by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey about a Harvard University study linking ozone and particulate pollution to premature deaths, especially in urban communities, White said she had not read the study but found it "confusing" that would qualify as a crisis when much of the country meets federal air quality standards.

Republicans peppered White with questions about her past opposition to federal biofuels mandates, which she said would cause food shortages and widespread hunger. Though opposed by the petroleum industry, the federal requirements requiring ethanol to be blended into fuel has broad support from members of Congress from states economically dependent on farming.

White on Wednesday disavowed her past opposition to the program, saying her writings on the subject relied on flawed, out-of-date data.

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Follow AP Environmental Writer Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

What You Need To Know: Rick Gates

Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

READ MORE: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates face new charges: report | Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probeWho is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller Files First Charges

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

>> Related: White House ‘could have done better’ handling Rob Porter allegations, spokesman says

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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