Healey to sue Trump administration to save Endangered Species Act

BOSTON (Public News Service) — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says she intends to sue the Trump administration over new rules that would gut the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit she announced Monday alleges that the changes are illegal and that the administration failed to review environmental impact and ignored public opinion.

The Endangered Species Act was enacted more than 40 years ago and has since prevented the extinction of 99% of all listed species – including the bald eagle, humpback whale, green sea turtle and whooping crane. Healey said the new rules violate the act’s purpose, which has helped revive some of Massachusetts’s endangered and threatened species.

“These protections have boosted our piping plover recovery, increasing populations here in Massachusetts alone by 500% since 1990,” Healey said. “It used to be that there were no peregrine falcons in our state, but now our state is home to more than 40 breeding pairs of those falcons.”

Healey said the new rules pave the way for approval of oil, gas and other development projects despite potential species impact. Supporters of the rules say they create greater transparency.

Under the new rules, economic factors can be considered when making endangered species determinations. They also make it easier to remove protections for a species.

Healey said these rules are unpopular and will help businesses exploit the environment.

“The Endangered Species Act has been one of our most successful environmental laws,” she said. “It was passed many years ago and, significantly, it was passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. And I think that speaks to the common understanding of the importance of this law.”

The new rules are expected to appear in the Federal Register this week and will go into effect 30 days after that.

Reporting by Jenn Stanley

New rule threatens more immigrant family separations

NEW YORK — Nutrition and immigrant advocates are condemning a new rule denying green cards to immigrants who have received or might receive needs-based public assistance.

The rule, issued Monday, would force immigrants in families with citizens and legal permanent residents to choose between splitting their family up or removing the entire family from the country. According to Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, that puts everything from food assistance to Medicaid and housing support out of reach.

“It’s an impossible choice. It’s cruel,” Berg said. “It’s counterproductive because it’s going to hurt our economy and hurt the ability of people to become economically self-sufficient.”

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the rule allows the government to insist that immigrants who come to the country will not be a drain on society. But Berg pointed out immigrants pay payroll taxes, sales tax, real estate taxes and even income taxes, often covering benefits only available to citizens.

“They contribute far more to society overall than they ever take out,” he said. “This has nothing to do with budget savings. This has everything to do with attacking people because they represent a different language or a different skin color.”

He added that, on average, immigrants who achieve citizenship have lower poverty rates and higher incomes than native-born Americans.

Berg said he believes the new rule will have a negative impact on the nation’s economy by eliminating an important pool of workers.

“People impacted by this are some of the hardest working people in the country in the lowest-paid, most dangerous, vital jobs such as looking after our kids and preparing our food,” he said.

Organizations opposed to the new rule have vowed to challenge it in court.

Reporting by Andrea Sears

New Mexico explores measures to combat domestic terrorism

SANTA FE, N.M. — The risk of domestic terrorism will be discussed at a summit in Santa Fe on Wednesday with the goal of preventing a deadly attack in New Mexico similar to the one in El Paso, Texas, on August 3 that left 22 dead.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will convene legislators of both parties and others to analyze and discuss proactive measures. University of New Mexico professor Emile Nakhleh said three factors are driving domestic terrorism: the number of weapons available to American citizens; pervasive use of social media’s dark side; and a more diverse U.S. population that creates fear among some people.

“This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, and I expect, unfortunately, I expect domestic terrorism to increase exponentially as we move on in the next decade,” Nakhleh said.

Nakhleh said he believes the federal government should convene a task force dedicated to the issue. Lujan Grisham signed two gun-related bills this year including expanded background-check requirements for firearms sales and prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from possessing guns.

Earlier in his career, Nakhleh tracked international terrorist organizations, and he said violence or the threat of violence is how they attempt to control others. He said domestic terrorists create fear among the nation’s non-white population, which acts as a cancer on democracy and undermines a creative society.

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“Diversity has been the backbone of what has made America great. This is the only nation on Earth that has been created and developed by immigrants,“ he said.

Nakhleh believes legislation should be passed to curtail some weapons, excluding guns used for hunting or sporting activities.

“We are talking about deadly weapons that are weapons of war that were invented and created to fight wars, not to use domestically,” Nakhleh said.

Since the El Paso shooting by an apparent white supremacist, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals as to whether new gun laws will be considered.

Reporting by Roz Brown

AARP recruiting tax-aide volunteers in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. – The nation’s largest free tax-aid program is looking for volunteers in Oregon.

For more than 50 years, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program has assisted people with low and moderate incomes file their taxes.

More than 1,000 volunteers helped 45,000 Oregonians file their 2018 returns this year.

Bob Bruce, AARP Oregon’s state coordinator for the Tax-Aide program, says despite changes to the code that some believe have simplified it, folks still find filing taxes confusing and frustrating.

With the program, filers get one-on-one attention.

“The program provides a way of personally helping individual families with their taxes, and in some cases, we help educate taxpayers about credits that they don’t even know that they’re eligible for,” Bruce points out. “So it’s a very satisfying experience for volunteers.”

Bruce says some commonly overlooked programs include credits for child care, parents sending children to college and the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families.

On 2018 returns, volunteers helped Oregonians receive more than $11 million in Earned Income Tax Credits and more than $47 million in refunds overall.

AARP is recruiting through the end of October.

Bruce says AARP is looking to fill a variety of roles, including people with computer expertise, management of clients and translators.

While there were nearly 130 sites across Oregon this year, Bruce says there’s still a need for more workers.

“We would like to be able to serve more areas of the state because we know there’s a need,” he stresses. “Our difficulty is that we simply do not have enough volunteers, particularly in the rural areas where we would like to provide more services.”

Before the season starts, volunteers complete tax preparation training and IRS certification.

Folks interested in volunteering can head to AARP’s website.

Reporting by Eric Tegethoff

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