Julia Conley

EPA scientists allege in letter that the 'war on science' has continued under the Biden administration

Four scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency are alleging that the "war on science" is continuing under the Biden administration, with managers at the agency altering reports about the risks posed by chemicals and retaliating against employees who report the misconduct.

The government watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a formal complaint Friday on behalf of the scientists with the EPA's Office of the Inspector General, calling for an investigation into reports that high-level employees routinely delete crucial information from chemical risk assessments or change the documents' conclusions to give the impression that the chemicals in question are not toxic.

The group also wrote to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on Environment, calling on lawmakers to work with the inspector general to investigate the allegations.

The report follows outrage about officials in the Trump administration covering up scientific facts by deleting the EPA's climate change website, but PEER emphasized that the problem is persisting at the agency six months into President Joe Biden's term.

"These alterations of risk assessments are not just artifacts of the Trump administration; they are continuing on a weekly basis," said Kyla Bennett, science policy director at PEER who formerly worked at the EPA.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency is responsible for evaluating the risks of existing chemicals as well as those slated to be manufactured in or imported to the United States.

The four employees said in the complaint that they've observed "numerous instances" in which significant changes were made to their own assessments, including:

  • The removal of language identifying possible adverse effects of chemicals, including developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity;
  • Changes to report conclusions to indicate that there are no signs of toxicity "despite significant data to the contrary"; and
  • Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees "to secure their agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health."

"The resulting Material Safety Data Sheets lack information vital to prevent harmful exposures, such as proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, first aid, and firefighting measures," said PEER.

In one case, managers increased the dose considered safe for consumption for a certain chemical by nearly 10,000-fold, according to The Hill.

"All of these altered assessments need to be pulled back and corrected in order to protect both workers handling chemicals and the American public," said Bennett.

According to PEER, staff scientists at EPA have spent months raising concerns internally and filing a formal complaint on their own—only to face "harassment from managers named in the complaints."

Hours after PEER filed the complaint on Friday, the organization said, the four whistleblowers' names were released internally at the EPA in "a troubling move" by someone at the agency.

"Whistleblowers help protect us all—we must protect them," PEER said.

The organization called on the inspector general to "identify all the alterations and restore the correct risk information," and to dismiss the civil service managers found responsible for the misconduct in the investigation.

"EPA's lack of accountability for scientific misconduct poses a direct danger to public health," said Bennett. "Inside EPA, scientific integrity has become an oxymoron and a cure will require a complete overhaul."

'Triumph for environmental justice': Oil companies scrap pipeline plans amid grassroots pressure

Community activists in Memphis, Tennessee and northwest Mississippi celebrated a grassroots victory on Saturday after two oil companies canceled plans to build a pipeline that would have run through wetlands and several low-income, majority-Black neighborhoods.

Valero and Plains All American Pipeline had long planned to construct the Byhalia Connection pipeline, which would have been 49 miles long and linked two pipelines that transport crude oil to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

The two companies announced they were canceling the project "due to lower U.S. oil production resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic," but opponents of the pipeline noted that the announcement followed grassroots organizing by climate action advocates, homeowners, and elected officials at the local and federal levels.

"This is a win for the entire community of Memphis, Tennessee, but especially those in the Black community who fought it courageously," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, tweeted.

Community members in Memphis neighborhoods including White Chapel, Westwood, and Boxtown objected to the pipeline project, which would have run over the Memphis Sand Aquifer—leading to fears that an oil spill would pollute the drinking water of about one million people.

Local organizations Protect Our Aquifer and Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) led rallies and garnered the support of former Vice President Al Gore and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), while the Memphis City Council weighed an ordinance to make it harder for the companies to begin construction.

MCAP leader Justin J. Pearson organized canvassers and lobbied the city council, and called Friday's announcement "an extraordinary testament to what Memphis and Shelby County can do when citizens build power toward justice."

A representative of the two oil companies sparked local outrage when they said South Memphis, where the Boxtown community was established in the 1860s by people who had been enslaved, had been identified as "the point of least resistance."

"We've shown them that we aren't the path of least resistance," said Pearson. "We are the path of resilience."

Lawyers for the two companies began legal proceedings against local landowners who refused to make deals with project officials; they planned to invoke eminent domain against the property owners. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case in New Jersey that a company could use eminent domain to build a natural gas pipeline on state land.

"Their playbooks are the same everywhere," Pearson said on Twitter on Friday. "Find the poor. Appease the rich and politically powerful. Misinform the community. Make local leaders afraid to stop them. Exploit the poor. Reap billions in profits from the deaths of the poor and marginalized."

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which helped landowners fight the two companies in the legal battle, called Friday's announcement "a triumph for environmental justice."

"We are so inspired by the people of Boxtown, Westwood, and White Chapel, and the work of our amazing partners MCAP and Protect Our Aquifer, for showing what is possible when a community stands together," said Amanda Garcia, director of the SELC's Tennessee office.

The Capitol rioters didn't just target Congress and cops — new evidence shows how they went after journalists

Press freedom advocates on Saturday were encouraged by news that the U.S. Department of Justice has begun making arrests related to attacks on journalists at the Capitol on January 6, when hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump violently breached security measures to try to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results.

In addition to attacking some members of the Capitol Police—including one who later died of his injuries—and stalking lawmakers, some of those who attempted the insurrection targeted members of the media by damaging their equipment, assaulting them, and trying to chase them away from the Capitol.

Starting last week, the Washington Post reported Saturday, the FBI began arresting people who were violent towards journalists during the riot and who prevented them from reporting at the scene. At least five people have been charged so far, and authorities expect more arrests.

"The vilification of the media that we saw from the previous administration was incredibly concerning, and that played into a longer arc of rising anti-press sentiment across the country," Katherine Jacobsen, a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told the Post. "January 6 showed that what the administration says about the media does matter, words do matter, and can have very negative, very real [impacts] on reporters and their ability to do their jobs safely."

Advocates began calling for those who targeted journalists at the Capitol to be held to account shortly after the attack.

"The violence displayed toward the media during the assault on the United States Capitol has no place in a democracy," said Carlos Martinez de la Sern, a program director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, two days after the riot. "Individuals who threatened and assaulted journalists must be held accountable for their actions."

The FBI is charging the people in question with "committing violence in the restricted grounds of the Capitol, or destroying property on the Capitol grounds," the Post reported, because there are no federal laws specifically barring attacks on journalists.

Those charged so far include Shane Jason Woods of Illinois, who allegedly tackled a cameraperson with a news outlet to the ground; Sandra Weyer of Pennsylvania, who allegedly filmed and encouraged a group of men to attack a New York Times photojournalist; and Chase Kevin Allen, who was reportedly filmed stomping on reporters' equipment.

"It's about damn time," Detroit-based journalist Martina Guzman tweeted.

During the riot, the phrase "murder the media" was scrawled on a door inside the Capitol and a mob destroyed equipment owned by Associated Press reporters, reportedly tying some electrical cords from the cameras into a noose.

The attack on the Capitol and attempt to stop the democratic process came as Trump and other Republican lawmakers made false claims about the legitimacy of the election results and claimed the election had been stolen—and followed years of attacks by Trump on the media, which he referred to as "the enemy of the people" at rallies, prompting outcry from U.S. press freedom groups as well as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

Following years of hostility toward journalists coming from the White House, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press said the recent charges "send a very clear message that the Justice Department will protect journalists who are doing their jobs to keep us informed."

"We welcome the Justice Department's steps to hold people accountable for assaulting journalists and damaging their equipment as they documented one of the worst attacks on our democracy in recent times," said Bruce Brown, the group's executive director.

'This is our future' without climate action, advocates warn after pipeline causes fire in Gulf of Mexico

A fire that raged for hours in the Gulf of Mexico Friday offered the latest illustration of the climate emergency and the urgent need to end fossil fuel extraction and invest instead in burgeoning renewable energy industries.

An underwater gas pipeline controlled by Mexico's state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, also known as Pemex, burst in the early morning hours, sending flames "resembling molten lava" to the water's surface.

The "eye of fire," as news outlets and observers on social media called the blaze after Pemex publicized the incident Friday night, happened about 150 yards from a drilling platform in the Ku-Maloob-Zaap offshore field. According to Bloomberg, the field produces more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day.

It took emergency workers about five hours to put out the flames.

"Having to put out a fire in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico feels just too difficult to believe," tweeted HuffPost editor Philip Lewis. "And yet..."

"The frightening footage of the Gulf of Mexico is showing the world that offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Washington Post. "These horrific accidents will continue to harm the Gulf if we don't end offshore drilling once and for all."

Pemex has seen production declining recently, according to Bloomberg, with output falling every year for the past decade and a half and putting the company into $114 billion in debt.

Entrepreneur and fair wage advocate Dan Price catalogued several of the past week's climate-related emergencies, including the fire in the gulf as well as deadly heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, which sparked outraged calls for climate action in recent days.

"The Gulf of Mexico is on fire, it's 112 degrees in Portland, roads and rails are crumbling from the sun, wildfire and hurricane season are here in record time and people are concerned about the cost of going green," said Price. "COMPARED TO WHAT?"

The pipeline burst days after undercover journalists released footage of lobbyists from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, in which the lobbyists discussed their fight against climate science and their reliance on centrist lawmakers such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mt.) to ensure the failure of far-reaching climate action legislation.

The progressive advocacy group RootsAction released a version of the Gulf of Mexico fire footage with images of the centrist lawmakers.

"This is our future," the group said of the image of the world's largest gulf on fire. "Don't forget who is responsible."

How Democrats fall for right wing-orchestrated attacks on Ilhan Omar

An anti-disinformation project at the think tank Atlantic Council revealed on Thursday how the Democratic Party has played into the hands of right-wing media organizations that aim to sow discord in the party and scapegoat its progressive wing, particularly Rep. Ilhan Omar.

At the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, resident senior fellow Emerson T. Brooking and research intern Avani Yadav analyzed one of the most recent controversies centered on Omar, who has been a frequent target of Republicans and centrist Democrats for her condemnation of Israeli policy, statements about U.S.-Israel relations and the powerful pro-Israel lobby, and criticism of Islamophobic U.S. policies following September 11.

On June 7, the Minnesota congresswoman noted in a tweet that the U.S., along with other countries and groups including Israel and the Taliban, has committed "unthinkable atrocities."

Omar's comments were placed in the context of a question she asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. has not officially recognized, and how victims of crimes against humanity can secure justice.

Even before Omar posted about her remarks on Twitter, former Trump administration adviser Jason Miller tweeted an edited video of her question to Blinken, which had been spliced together by a verified YouTube account called GOP War Room.

Hours later, Fox News picked up the story of the supposed "controversy," setting in motion a domino effect that made the Minnesota congresswoman's tweet a major news story for several days.

Fox "opened the floodgates for misogynistic and Islamophobic attacks against Omar," Brooking wrote. "According to a wordcloud of Twitter comments over those first two days, 'terrorist sympathizer' was especially popular."

The story "existed almost exclusively in the far-right media ecosystem" for the next two days, however, with outlets such as the Daily Wire posting about it repeatedly on social media platforms.

As Brooking explained, Omar's remarks and the outrage stoked by the right-wing media may have stayed mainly in that network of conservative outlets, likely losing steam within a few days as other political stories gained traction, were it not for a group of 12 Democrats who brought it to the attention of the party's House leadership, and to Democratic voters, on June 9.

The 12 Democrats, including Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.), and Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), upbraided Omar for supposedly "equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban," and accused her of possible "deep-seated prejudice." A day later, House leaders said comments like Omar's could undermine "progress toward a future of peace and security for all" and urged her to "clarify her words."

It wasn't until the Democrats weighed in that news stories about Omar jumped by 800%, leading major outlets like the New York Times to report on her tweet.

By the time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" on June 13 to downplay the incident, "the controversy had generated hundreds of thousands of hostile comments targeting Omar and numerous decontextualized or inflammatory articles," wrote Brooking. "It had also prompted a Republican resolution to censure Omar and fractured the Democratic caucus."

The ability of a right-wing YouTube account and Fox News to ultimately lead the mainstream news media to create a major story from an out-of-context remark by Omar represents "a powerful example of agenda-setting" by the far right, Brooking said.

"It was never about Omar's comments. It was about provoking a response. And Democrats fell for it," he added.

Watchdog says insurrectionist lawmakers should be barred from public office — including Trump

Calling on election officials across the U.S. to recognize that the nation "is at a critical crossroads," a non-profit legal advocacy group on Tuesday cited the 14th Amendment as it demanded Republicans who aided the January 6 insurrection—including former President Donald Trump—be barred from holding public office in the future.

The democracy watchdog Free Speech for People sent letters to the secretaries of state of all 50 states as part of its 14point3 campaign, calling attention to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states:

No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

"If you want to be elected president, you have to be 35 years old, you have to be a natural-born citizen, and you cannot take an oath of office and then turn around and incite an insurrection," said Ben Clements, board chair and senior legal advisor for the organization. "We are asking state election officials to do their job and follow the mandate of the Constitution."

The organization launched the campaign amid signs that Trump is preparing another presidential run in 2024, with rallies planned in key states this summer. At his first event over the weekend, Trump repeated the baseless lie that President Joe Biden was not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, calling it "the scam of the century and the crime of the century."

Should Trump attempt to seek another term, Free Speech for People said, state election officials are duty-bound to ensure his name is left off ballots because he incited hundreds of his supporters to wage a violent attack on the Capitol building on January 6 as lawmakers were preparing to certify Biden's victory.

"Secretaries of state have a duty to ensure that candidates who seek to appear on their state ballots meet the constitutional qualifications for serving in public office," said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, the group's campaign director. "We are urging them to make clear that insurrectionists such as President Trump are barred from ever again holding public office, as is required under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

While the former president explicitly told his supporters on January 6 to "stop the steal" and to go to the Capitol and demonstrate against the certification of the election results, other Republicans including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) faced backlash for their roles as well.

Both senators amplified false claims that the election had been stolen and objected to the counting of votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. They persisted in obstructing the democratic process even after the insurrection, in which five people were killed and more than 140 were injured.

Hawley also drew ire after a photograph of him raising his fist in support of the insurrection went viral. The two senators were joined by 145 other Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to overturn the election results hours after the chaos at the Capitol had been brought under control.

"Formerly elected officials who engaged in the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, or who gave aid or comfort to the insurrectionists must be held accountable," said Free Speech for People president John Bonifaz, "and if they seek to appear on the ballot again for any public office, secretaries of state and chief election officials must be clear: The Constitution bars it."

Record heat and flimsy power grid across US proves urgent need for green infrastructure

With states across the southern and western United States facing record high temperatures weeks before the hottest months of the year, scientists and progressive lawmakers on Wednesday doubled down on calls for green infrastructure to ensure the nation is prepared for increasing levels of extreme weather on a rapidly warming planet.

For the second time in four months, state regulators in Texas on Monday warned residents that the demand for energy was straining the state's power grid, asking millions to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights, and avoid washing clothes and cooking.

Nevada and Arizona residents were also advised about drought conditions, wildfires, and extreme heat, and in California regulators on Tuesday warned people that they may soon be asked to conserve energy as parts of the state saw temperatures rising to 110 degrees and several wildfires burning.

Temperatures across Texas have reached the 90s this week, and the power demand on Monday came to 70 gigawatts—breaking the state's record for June and coming close to the maximum that the grid was able to offer with some power plants offline for reasons that were unclear.

The New York Times noted that in the state's deregulated energy system, power producers sometimes "simply choose not to offer electricity into the market because it might not prove economically beneficial, leaving customers short on energy and paying high prices for the power they do get."

Following the winter storm in Texas in February that left nearly five million homes and businesses without electricity for days and was linked to more than 100 deaths, state lawmakers introduced legislation to better weatherize the power grid, but critics said this week's heat wave has demonstrated how the plan is inadequate.

"If we talk about infrastructure without considering how that infrastructure needs to match the climate conditions from today on into the future, then we're building something that won't stand a chance," Julie McNamara, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Times.

According to The Guardian, solar power generation—demand for which skyrocketed after February's power failure—has kept millions of Texans' lights from going out this week.

"We have over five times as much solar as we had a few years ago and that made the difference in having these afternoons when we've had calls for conservation," Dan Cohan, a civil engineering professor at Rice University, told The Guardian. "There likely would have been rolling blackouts if we didn't have solar farms online."

Kevin Doffing, a Houston resident who bought a solar energy system after the winter storm, told the Times, "I just don't see how we keep doing what we've been doing and expect different results."

The state's power grid was "deregulated and designed 20 years ago," said Mike Collier, a former adviser to President Joe Biden who is running for lieutenant governor in the state, and is now in "desperate need of modernization and simply hasn't kept up with technology."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted that the power grid's failure to provide for the state's needs in unseasonably cold and hot weather—both of which are expected to continue amid the climate emergency—underscores the need "to invest in clean and renewable energy infrastructure."

"The need to include climate action in any infrastructure package should not be in question," said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power.

As February's storms left 69% of Texans without electricity, the state's Republican leaders were quick to blame progressives who have pushed for a Green New Deal and an infrastructure plan that includes clean energy investments—despite agreement among experts that failures of fossil fuel-powered energy sources were behind the crisis.

In fact, said Dan Lashof of the World Resources Institute, "investing in modernizing our electricity grid to make it more resilient" is one key component of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, despite Republican claims that the proposal doesn't qualify as "traditional" infrastructure.

"Which provisions of the American Jobs Plan do opponents want to cut when they say they want to limit spending to 'traditional' infrastructure?" Lashof asked on social media.

[twitter_embed https://twitter.com/Dlashof/statuses/1404858475159560194 iframe_id="twitter-embed-1404858475159560194" created_ts=1623779336 name="Dan Lashof" embed_mobile_width=375 text="6.Investing in modernizing our electricity grid to make it more resilient and to efficiently connect wind and solar farms to homes and businesses; enhancing incentives to build solar and wind farms 3x faster than we have been? [6 of 9]https://gridwise.org/" embed_desktop_height=1171 embed_desktop_width=550 embed_mobile_height=960 id="1404858475159560194" expand=1 screen_name="Dlashof"]

"If we do all of these things fast enough and at large enough scale we will create millions of good jobs, reduce death and disease, and cut our emissions of heat-trapping pollution in half within a decade," said Lashof.

US blocks G7 progress on phasing out coal: 'Once again Joe Manchin is casting a heavy shadow'

Monday brought fresh outrage among climate campaigners after the G7 Summit ended without a commitment to ending coal extraction in some of the world's richest countries.

Five of the seven delegations—all but the U.S. and Japan—supported phasing out coal by 2040, but as Politico reported, the Biden administration forced the group to steer clear of language in its final statement that would point to the end of coal.

"The long arm of Joe Manchin reaches across the Atlantic," tweeted Politico editor Blake Hounsell.

The G7's final communiqué committed only to accelerating "the transition away from unabated coal capacity," with no end date, in an apparent bid to appease Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia—the nation's second largest coal producer—as President Joe Biden pushes the Senate to approve his infrastructure package.

Manchin has sparked fury among progressives in recent weeks by refusing to back the For the People Act, claiming the voting rights legislation is not sufficiently bipartisan despite its broad support among voters across the political spectrum.

"Once again Joe Manchin is casting a heavy shadow," Alden Meyer, a senior associate at European environmental think tank E3G, told the New York Times.

Artist Price Garrison added angrily on social media, "We don't have any time left for this bullshit."

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said recently that global coal use must be cut in half during this decade in order to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The G7 said in its final statement that it supports those goals—without backing the steps needed to achieve them due to the Biden administration's and Japan's refusal.

"It's very disappointing," Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, told the Times. "This was a moment when the G7 could have shown historic leadership, and instead they left a massive void."

In the U.S., evidence has emerged in recent years that Manchin's allegiance to coal is unpopular among a growing number of voters. A 2018 survey by the University of Michigan found that 46% of voters in states with coal mines supported phasing out coal-fired power plants, compared to 36% who opposed the plan.

More recently, as Common Dreams reported in April, the largest union representing coal miners said it would support a transition to renewable energy in the U.S. provided policymakers ensure there is a just transition with green jobs provided for workers and income support for those who go through periods of unemployment.

At the weekend summit, the U.S. did support a $2 billion fund to support new energy industries and a just transition in developing countries and a global infrastructure plan called Build Back Better World—but the Americans did not pledge any new funding to help poor countries mitigate the climate crisis and it was unclear how the infrastructure plan would be fully funded.

"In the face of the perfect storm of planetary crises—climate, Covid, injustice, and ecosystem collapse—the world's richest democracies have responded with a plan to make a plan," Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, told Politico.

The Biden administration seemed intent on contrasting its approach to the climate crisis with that of the previous administration, in which former President Donald Trump failed to even accept the scientific consensus that the Earth is growing warmer due to human activity.

"While the previous administration ignored the science and consequences of climate change, our administration has taken unprecedented actions to prioritize this on the global stage," Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser, told the Times.

But U.S. progressives as well as leaders in the Global South were unimpressed with the results of the summit, with Pakistani climate minister Malik Amin Aslam calling the final statement a "huge disappointment."

"At the least, countries responsible for this inescapable crisis need to live up to their stated commitments, otherwise the climate negotiations could well end in futility," Aslam told the Times.

Facebook allowed pro-Trump group to pose as leftists in attempt to split Democratic vote

Reporting on Friday revealed that Facebook knowingly allowed a digital marketing firm tied to a pro-Trump group to release a series of ads purporting to be from a fake left-wing organization ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, while election officials failed to investigate the group at the time.

As The Guardian reported, a right-wing marketing firm called Rally Forge ran a $5,000 ad campaign beginning just days before the 2018 election, showing ads promoting Green Party candidates in an effort to split the Democratic vote and help Republicans in several close races. The ads were purported to be placed by a group called America Progress Now and expressed support for democratic socialism.

Facebook launched an investigation into the ads just after the election and quickly determined that America Progress Now's official page on the platform was run by the same three men—Jake Hoffman, Connor Clegg, and Colton Duncan—who were administrators for Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump college organization.

To the alarm of a number of Facebook employees, The Guardian reported, the company did not find Rally Forge or Turning Point USA to be in violation of any of its policies.

One product manager at the time said a case could be made for Rally Forge and Turning Point USA having engaged in voter suppression through the ads, and asked, "Can we strengthen our ads transparency policies so that political ads are indeed transparent to the user?"

After the election, Facebook deactivated several other right-wing accounts run by the administrators, but the move did not stop Rally Forge from establishing a "troll farm" out of Phoenix, Arizona in 2020. Working for Turning Point Action, a group linked to Turning Point USA, the firm hired teenagers to post pro-Trump messages on social media, some of which cast doubt on the integrity of the election system.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who participated in the investigation of the fake Green Party ads, wrote on Twitter Friday, "One wonders if [Rally Forge] would have escalated to troll farms, had FB deterred them in 2018."

"This is egregious," tweeted the women's rights group UltraViolet on Friday.

Beyond Facebook's decision to allow the firm to remain on Facebook after determining the ads were fraudulent, the ads "appeared to violate federal laws that require independent expenditures to be filed with the [Federal Election Commission] and include proper disclosures on advertisements," The Guardian reported.

"This is an example of why disclosure is so important in elections: swing state voters who saw 'America Progress Now' ads promoting Green party candidates would've had no idea that they were the handiwork of Republican political operatives," Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at CLC, told The Guardian.

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the FEC in 2019 over America Progress Now and the administrators' failure to disclose the true source of the Facebook ads, only to have the case dismissed before the FEC could conduct an investigation.

The election commissioners declined to look further into the complaint after a man named Evan Muhlstein contacted them to take full responsibility to the ads, claiming he alone had failed to file the ad expenditures with the FEC and saying his "inexperience" was to blame.

"The FEC's job is to enforce the transparency laws and protect voters' right to know who is trying to influence them, but the agency here failed to conduct even a minimal investigation," Fischer said.

According to former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel, who served on the commission from 2013 to 2017, Muhlstein's admission to the FEC appeared to amount to "clear fraud," as he never disclosed to the officials that the ads had been the work of Rally Forge.

At the time, though, Muhlstein's claim was enough to convince at least one FEC commissioner, James "Trey" Trainor, that the CLC had engaged in "wild speculation" by filing a complaint.

"This case wasn't about a 'fake political group … exploit[ing] Facebook rules … and hid[ing] spending from the FEC,'" Trainor wrote. "In fact, APN was established by an unsophisticated individual trying to show his support for several third-party candidates, but he got tripped by the myriad regulations governing online political speech."

Zhang denounced the FEC for failing to contact Facebook regarding Muhlstein's claim to verify that he'd administered the America Progress Now page—a cursory investigation which would have immediately revealed the true owners of the page.

"It's quite possible that FB would have blown the FEC off," Zhang said. "But many employees were upset over this case, and may have come forward if asked. I would likely have if I'd known."

50+ groups across US Northwest unveil Green New Deal vision for region's vital forests

More than 50 conservation and climate justice organizations across Northern California, Oregon, and Washington on Wednesday called on policymakers to preserve the region's tens of millions of acres of forest land by adopting a Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests—a plan comprised of six pillars aimed at safeguarding against destructive wildfires while also mitigating the climate emergency.

"Forestlands in the Pacific Northwest can become central in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and defending against the worst impacts of climate change, all the while supporting the local economies and rural communities that rely on forestlands." —50+ conservation groups

"The forests of the Pacific Northwest have the potential to take up and store as much if not more carbon per acre than any other forest in the world—including the Amazon rainforest," said (pdf) the organizations, calling for a transformation of industrial forestry in line with the demands of the Green New Deal legislation originally introduced in 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Greenpeace USA, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and several local chapters of the Sunrise Movement are among the groups calling for a just transition away from the logging industry—the number one source of carbon emissions in the state of Oregon, a direct cause of worsening wildfires impacts, and an industry that's left less than 20% of the region's forests unlogged.

"Forestlands in the Pacific Northwest can become central in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and defending against the worst impacts of climate change, all the while supporting the local economies and rural communities that rely on forestlands," the groups said.

"The forests of the Pacific Northwest are a world-class natural climate solution," said grassroots conservation group Cascadia Wildlands. "It is time that we started treating them as such."

Countering claims by Green New Deal opponents, the groups' plan emphasized that a shift away from industrial logging is far from being a job-killer.

While corporate timber companies have maximized their profits and reduced their operating costs at the expense of workers and the rural communities in which they operate, the groups noted, a Green New Deal for northwestern forests would guarantee union jobs in numerous areas including outdoor education, road and infrastructure repair, and ecological fire management.

"Hundreds of climate scientists and ecologists are telling policymakers that logging is a major source of carbon emissions, and we must do more to protect our forests so they can draw down atmospheric carbon," said Dr. Chad Hanson, director and principal ecologist of the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute. "This goes hand in hand with a just transition, because we know that real prosperity in rural communities is tied mainly to forest protection, not degradation and exploitation."

The proposal demonstrates that "there is no reason why rural communities should have to choose between prioritizing forest ecosystems or having a robust economy—we can have both," said the organizations.

The six pillars of the Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests are:

  1. Use the potential of the Pacific Northwest's forests as a climate solution by transitioning to practices that sequester and store carbon, including "implementing new directives and incentives for landowners to practice pro-forestation... [and conserving] older and unlogged forests for climate mitigation";
  2. Transform industrial forestry practices on private land by ending subsidies and tax breaks for private landowners and timber corporations, investing instead in rural education, infrastructure, and other non-logging jobs;
  3. Empower frontline and marginalized communities by ensuring "Tribes, migrants, and rural communities have stronger legal protections, economic opportunities, safe working conditions, and community services independent of logging activity or revenue," and that "Indigenous sacred and cultural sites on federal public lands are fully protected and accessible to Indigenous people for cultural practices";
  4. Raise the standard of living for forest-dependent communities through a federal jobs guarantee;
  5. Invest in communities by redirecting logging subsidies into protecting ecosystems and remediating past harms by the industry and pouring funds into rural infrastructure including broadband and transportation; and
  6. Act on the best available science by explicitly rejecting "the false solutions peddled by extractive industry," including unchecked logging.

"If done right, a Green New Deal will simultaneously mitigate the climate crisis, transform our national (and global) economy, address issues of social, racial, economic and environmental injustice, protect natural ecosystems, and create millions of good paying union jobs," the plan states. "To do this, we must demand a bold vision from leaders at both a community and national level; a willingness to truly reimagine all aspects of our economy to create a society based on principles of solidarity and ecology instead of competition and extraction."

"Through reimagining our relationship with forests across the Pacific Northwest, we can not only mitigate the climate crisis but also build a future for our region based on economic, racial, and environmental justice." —Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests

In addition to supporting communities' economies, the Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests would protect millions of people in rural communities by reducing the risk and severity of wildfires, which burned through an unprecedented 10.3 million acres in 2020.

"The climate crisis, which is being driven in part by industrial logging, increases risk and severity of wildfire," said the organizations. "Industrial logging also directly increases wildfire impacts due to the resulting monoculture tree plantations, which allow fire to burn more severely and spread more quickly. On the other hand, forests with a greater degree of protection have lower wildfire risk."

Michael Beasely, a fire behavior analyst and retired fire chief in California's Inyo National Forest, said the plan would allow "disadvantaged workers to be true heroes in the eyes of rural communities as they conduct fuel reduction close to homes and infrastructure where it matters most, in the home ignition zone."

"In turn forests can be allowed to fulfill the full range of ecosystem services, sequestration of carbon and clean water most importantly, all the while allowing for rewilding of the most remote areas, complete with intact ecosystem processes like naturally-occurring fires," said Beasely.

Adopting a Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests would allow the region to meet the bold emissions reduction targets necessary to mitigate the climate emergency while centering a just transition for workers and communities, the organizations said, emphasizing that "we do not have to wait for any new technological advances or large scale investments in facilities to do this."

"The means by which to draw down significant amounts of carbon already exist in our nation's forested lands," the plan reads. "Through reimagining our relationship with forests across the Pacific Northwest, we can not only mitigate the climate crisis but also build a future for our region based on economic, racial, and environmental justice."


Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.