Before we dive in, some quick background if you haven’t been following this saga:
WHAT IT MEANS:
- In June, the North Carolina departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services began investigating the presence of a chemical compound called GenX in the Cape Fear River. A Chemours facility in Fayetteville produces the chemical for use in industrial processes. By August, the DEQ had ordered Chemours to stop discharging GenX and two other compounds into the river. Then, on September 5, the state ordered Chemours to stop releasing all fluorinated compounds into the river or face legal action and the suspension of its permit. The next day, the state found Chemours in violation of state groundwater standards in non-potable wells at its facility and later ordered the company to provide bottled water to well owners near its plant. Then, earlier this month, the state cited Chemours with violating the conditions of its wastewater discharge permit and announced that the permit would be suspended at the end of the month. (See the DEQ’s timeline here.)
- What’s new: Officials say tests have shown that GenX contaminated at least eighty-five wells near the Chemours plant.
- Chemours spox: “The company has worked in good faith to cooperate fully with all of DEQ’s requests, including capturing all wastewater they have previously requested that we capture. While we do not believe there is a legal basis on which to suspend or revoke the permit, we will accept the DWR’s invitation in its letter that we meet with them and look forward to discussing a path forward.”
The DEQ’s actions here strike me as a stark contrast between the state’s reaction to Duke Energy’s coal ash contamination. While the McCrory administration was almost servile to the boss’s former employer, Governor Cooper’s team hasn’t tolerated nonsense. In other words, elections matter.
At a hearing yesterday in which Duke Energy sought a rate increase, the company argued that legislation passed in 2014 after coal ash contaminated the Dan River had nothing to do with that spill.
- “The question matters because part of Duke Energy Progress' rate hike request turns on whether shareholders or ratepayers should pay the costs of cleaning up coal ash ponds as now required by law. One of the issues in the case is whether those costs were prudently incurred. The Sierra Club, among others, argues that storing hundreds of tons of toxic coal ash in unlined pits near water was not prudent.”
- “Duke argues that it followed state and federal regulations at the time and that North Carolinians who benefited from the cheap electricity created by burning coal should now help bear the cost of regulations put in place long after ash pits were established.”
THE FIGHT FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION
Washington in the age of President Trump—as a scan of any day’s headlines will show—is a hot mess of factionalism and dysfunction. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which currently has two people, with two very different agendas, claiming to be acting director.
WHAT IT MEANS:
- The backdrop: Last week, Obama appointee Richard Cordray resigned ahead of a probable bid for Ohio governor. Before leaving, he appointed his chief of staff, Leandra English, acting director, presuming that she would serve until a Trump nominee would be confirmed by the Senate, as the law establishing the CFPB entitled him to do. However, Trump, citing a different federal statute, appointed his own acting director, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney. English sued, and Mulvaney—who appeared in the office yesterday with donuts—sent an email telling CFPB employees to disregard English’s instructions.
- “On Monday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, brought in doughnuts for employees. Around the same time, Leandra English, the agency’s other acting director, sent an all-staff email thanking the work force for its service. Awkward.”
- “And so unfolded another frenetic workday in this corner of a capital city defined by hyperpartisan dysfunction: Two public servants—one a holdover from the Obama administration, the other a rushed temporary appointee by President Trump—messily and publicly vied to lead an agency that has fought for consumers while under political assault by Republicans. Its future as an independent agency rests on who leads it next.”
That last sentence is key. The future of the agency, which was established to protect consumers from predatory lenders after the financial crisis, is legitimately at stake. Mulvaney and other Republicans have accused the CFRB of being too antagonistic to the financial services industry; they want it scaled back or even dismantled. The bureau’s defenders argue that it has successfully helped nearly thirty million Americans collect $12 billion in refunds and canceled debts.
- Trump can appoint his own permanent director, but he or she (probably he, given the administration’s tendencies) will have to undergo Senate confirmation and get sixty votes to clear a filibuster, which means he’ll have to appeal to some Democrats. If English remains in her post until then, the bureau will continue aggressively pursuing consumer claims. If Mulvaney takes over, the bureau is likely to be gutted even before Trump’s pick takes over.
- Elizabeth Warren: “The agency was built to be as far away from partisan politics as humanly possible—including exactly what Donald Trump is doing now. The DNA of this agency is to work for America’s families and to stand up to big Wall Street banks. Mick Mulvaney wants to work for Wall Street banks and step on American families.”
- “Republicans have long said the agency has overreached. On Saturday, Mr. Trump publicly offered his thoughts on the agency’s performance. ‘The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, has been a total disaster as run by the previous Administrations pick,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘Financial Institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public. We will bring it back to life!’”
- His claim about the banking sector is—surprise—bogus. Financial services companies are doing just fine, thank you very much: “Federally insured commercial banks and savings institutions reported more than 5 percent growth in the third quarter from a year earlier. Of more than 5,700 institutions reporting, more than two-thirds (67 percent) had year-over-year growth in quarterly earnings. The proportion of unprofitable banks fell. Quarterly net earnings also were up in the second quarter.”
English’s lawsuit is currently before a Trump-appointed judge, Timothy Kelly, who thought it an “extraordinary remedy” for block a presidential appointment but also criticized the White House’s arguments.
This post was excerpted from the
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