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Other view: Don't gut the clean power plan

This appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Republicans have pledged that they would not just repeal the Affordable Care Act, but also replace it with a serious alternative. They should hold themselves to the same standard on climate change. If President Donald Trump moves to eviscerate the nation’s efforts to combat global warming, Republicans must have a believable alternative plan ready that would reduce emissions as much or more than current regulations would, enabling the United States to meet its international commitments.

Trump can start the process of undermining federal efforts to reduce the emissions of heat trapping gases any time he wants—and he appears poised to begin soon. Much of the nation’s climate policy was not explicitly written into law by Congress; rather, the Environmental Protection Agency assembled it during the Obama years, based on general authorities Congress gave the agency years ago in the Clean Air Act. Using this administrative approach, the EPA has over the past decade finalized a series of rules on both vehicles and power plants, most notably the Clean Power Plan, which demands that electric utilities cut their emissions from existing power stations. What all this means is that the country’s climate policy is quite vulnerable to ongoing legal challenges and to attacks from the new administration—much more so than policies Congress has specifically authorized, such as Obamacare.

Now that the Senate has confirmed the president’s pick to lead the EPA—former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt—The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report that Trump is preparing executive orders demanding that the agency rewrite the Clean Power Plan and a water quality rule, appearing to confirm predictions that the new administration would be hostile to environmental concerns. At best, a rewrite would signal that the administration will put enforcement of the Clean Power Plan on hold as a long, formal process of regulation drafting and litigation takes its course. The country could also see its premier global warming policy replaced by a substantially weakened rule that lends the United States little international credibility—and harms what had been accelerating global efforts to fight emissions collectively.

For all the talk of job-killing federal overreach, the EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan would cost the economy only $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion in 2030—far less than a drop in what is now a $17 trillion economy—and that ignores the value of various health and climate benefits on the other side of the ledger. Even for those on the fence about climate science, it should be clear enough that the United States must participate in the international effort to hedge against very bad potential climate outcomes.

If Trump or other Republicans have a better way of doing this, they should detail it before doing anything to the Clean Power Plan. In fact, a coterie of senior former GOP officials have offered a conservative path forward, proposing to replace EPA climate rules with a substantial carbon tax whose revenue would be rebated straight back to Americans. This is what conservative governing looks like. What do Trump and the rest of his party want to do?

Other view: An outlaw killing in Malaysia

This appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post.

If spread on a battlefield or used against a population, the nerve agent VX would be terrifyingly deadly. A liter of the substance contains enough lethal doses, theoretically, to kill 1 million people. Less than 10 milligrams—a small drop on the skin—can kill a grown man.

This is also one reason it is so monstrous that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his coterie of brutalists may have used VX to murder his half-brother Kim Jong Nam, while he was waiting to board a plane in an international airport in Malaysia. The killing, captured on surveillance video, displays the coldblooded mentality of Pyongyang’s young dictator, who has cut down relatives, colleagues and anyone else who might threaten him, while confining hundreds of thousands of people in bleak prison camps and building nuclear and missile forces to threaten the world.

The assassination by poison is reminiscent of how former KGB officer and dissident Alexander Litvinenko was silenced in London with radioactive polonium put into his tea. A British investigation found that the Russian security service and President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” it, although there was no direct proof, just a telltale radioactive trace left by the Russians who carried it out. In the same way, the killing of Kim Jong Nam may not have carried Kim Jong Un’s personal signature, but seems likely to be the result of his orders.

North Korea has had a chemical weapons program since the 1980s. It is one of the few nations that have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans VX. Aside from the bucking of international norms, the assassination underlines grave questions about how Kim might behave in moments of crisis with the regime’s nuclear weapons. He is impetuous, irrational, bullying and armed.

North Korea ought to be placed back on the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism, from which it was removed almost a decade ago. China made a positive move recently in curtailing coal imports from North Korea, but sanctions could be intensified still further against Pyongyang’s financial system and the Chinese companies that do business there. There must be no ambiguity in the message from the United States and its allies: This was outlaw behavior.

Stapilus: The impact, not the numbers

Last May, I wrote about a report from the Wilderness Society contending that since statehood, 41 percent of the “endowment” lands Idaho originally received from the federal government had been sold.

A couple of weeks later, the Department of Lands wrote to take issue with the Society’s numbers, especially with the 41 percent figure—the correct figure would have been about a third. Since the reply was widely disseminated in news stories at the time, and since the numbers differ largely on the relatively technical basis of what you choose to include or not, I didn’t return to it in a later column because whether the amount was 41 percent or 33 percent, it still was a lot. The Society’s basic point, that a lot of land had been sold off, appeared to remain, though no fine point was put on its implications.

Last week, another shoe dropped, this one less about the numbers than about the meaning of the transactions. This came in the form of new research from the Society and the Idaho Conservation League that, in their words, “reveal what appear to be widespread violations of the Idaho constitutional limit on how much land the State Land Board can sell to private parties. The new findings further deflate claims by public land takeover advocates that Idaho citizens won’t be locked out of their forests and recreation lands if they are given to the state. The sales in question span nearly a century, from statehood in 1890 until sales in the 1980s.”

That makes them pertinent indeed. As the groups also pointed out, “The Idaho Legislature is also considering a measure (Senate Bill 1065) from Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, that requires all state agencies to prioritize privatization of state lands.”

And the response this time from the Department of Lands was a little different. Director Tom Schultz released a statement saying, “At this time I am not prepared to concur with or dispute the conclusions reached by the Wilderness Society. Even though no discrepancies have been identified over the past 30 years, I intend to hire an independent auditor to review IDL’s records and advise the Land Board on its findings. I understand that the analysis by the Wilderness Society may raise concerns about land sales, and want to assure Idahoans that there are measures in place today to ensure that individuals and businesses do not purchase lands exceeding constitutional limitations.”

(The department did point out that there appear to have been no instances of such sales in at least the last 30 years or so.)

Because it had to fulfill detailed information requests from the environmental groups some time ago, the department has been aware for a while this question has been pursued. If it had an easy response to the allegation, it would have offered it. By assigning the case to an independent auditor, the declaration of problematic sales (assuming the groups’ research is on track) would come from a non-state employee, which would be a little easier for everyone on the state side to swallow.

What this suggests is that the allegation, of regular extra-constitutional land sales to private parties across much of Idaho’s history, has a good chance of holding up.

What if anything will be done about it is another question, further down the road.

Letter: Radio ad a slap to veterans

As a war veteran and member of local veterans’ organizations, I would like to say that I am appalled and insulted by Canyon Pawn Shop’s radio ad giving communist Russia praise and thanks for interfering with America’s affairs.

Communist Russia has always been an enemy of the United States. Our veterans of previous wars fighting such countries laid down their lives to keep our country safe and free and for you to praise Russia is a slap in their faces and all veterans are insulted by your actions.

Lastly, if you love Russia so much give me a call, I’ll come and help you pack.

Ramon Galindo