DeGette seeks to stop deceit, kickbacks in substance-abuse treatment

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, in a January 2017 photo. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette has added to the political and legal pressure Colorado is putting on the Trump administration over climate change policy.

DeGette, D-Denver, this week joined two Democratic leaders in Congress in writing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting information about why the agency is lessening its enforcement of environmental regulations intended to halt global warming.

“We are deeply concerned that these actions undermine key enforcement programs and severely limit EPA’s ability to address climate change and protect public health and the environment,” the letter says.

DeGette is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

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She and the co-signers referred to media reports and the EPA’s own data that show the agency launched 20 percent fewer civil enforcement actions against polluters for environmental law violations in the fiscal year ending in September 2017.

The EPA also filed 30 percent fewer criminal cases in the same year, dropping enforcement to its lowest level in more than a decade, the data show.

EPA officials have denied lax enforcement. They say they are seeking more efficient ways of deterring polluters.

But DeGette, along with Colorado residents and governments that filed lawsuits, do not believe the EPA. They say the agency is pandering to oil and gas companies and other corporations for economic development, regardless of environmental consequences.

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The letter from DeGette to the EPA says more than 1,600 workers left the agency in the first 18 months of the Trump administration.

“We are concerned that historically low staffing levels, combined with a series of recent actions taken by EPA management, undermine the agency’s enforcement capability,” says the letter.

The other co-signers are Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment.

The House Democrats criticized a recent EPA policy requiring political appointees to review the need for ongoing environmental enforcement actions.

They also said the EPA’s lax enforcement is shifting more environmental control to states that might not be “executing their delegated duties to ensure a consistent minimum level of protection nationwide.”

The concerns raised by DeGette are shared in pending lawsuits filed by Colorado residents and local governments.

The city and county of Boulder, as well as San Miguel County, filed a lawsuit last April against oil and gas companies ExxonMobil Corp. and Suncor Energy. The lawsuit accuses them of generating emissions that contribute to wildfires, flooding, public health hazards and agricultural deficiencies.

“These communities felt that it was important to seek relief for their taxpayers for the costs of climate change from the companies that have knowingly profited from climate change while misleading the public about their knowledge of climate sciences,” Marco Simons, an attorney representing the Colorado local governments, told Colorado Politics.

The lawsuit was filed in state court in Boulder County but transferred to federal court in Denver, where it is awaiting further action by a judge.

Another lawsuit pending in federal court in Oregon names two Colorado teenagers as plaintiffs, saying their futures are imperiled by global warming. It seeks an injunction against the EPA and other government agencies for policies and practices the plaintiffs say contribute to climate change.

One of the plaintiffs is identified as Nicholas V. from Lakewood.

“As a Catholic, he is drawn to the intersection between his church and environmental stewardship, and was inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home,” the lawsuit says.

“Pine beetles and wildfires, forcing Nick to stop visiting some of his favorite places, have destroyed forests in Colorado, where Nick used to go hiking, fishing and camping,” the complaint says. “Nick enjoys fishing, especially in Boulder Creek, but due to wildfires and variable water flows from droughts and floods, he has not been able to go fishing for the past three years. Nick and his family grow fruit trees, have a garden and buy food from local farmers. Hail, rainstorms, drought and pests have ruined their garden several years over the last decade.”

The other teenaged Colorado plaintiff in the lawsuit is identified as Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M. from Boulder.

“Of Aztec descent, Xiuhtezcatl engages in sacred indigenous spiritual and cultural practices to honor and protect the Earth,” the lawsuit says. “Xiuhtezcatl has suffered harm to his spiritual and cultural practices from defendants’ actions. Climate change also harms Xiuhtezcatl’s personal safety, property and recreational interests through the resulting increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, drought, declining snowpack, pine-beetle infested forests and extreme flooding near his home in Colorado.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the committee over the subcommittee on which DeGette serves as the ranking member.

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