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On this week's weekly Independent comics page, coming to you live from a Palm Springs vacation rental: The K Chronicles brings us an episode of Black Eye for the White Guy; This Modern World asks you to spot the mistakes; Jen Sorenson examines the phenomenon of Bourgeois Bubbas; Red Meat forces Milkman Dan to take some time off; and Pele gives Trumpy a cut at Apoca Clips.

Published in Comics

On this week's temblor-shaken weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat reveals that Earl is having problems sleeping; Apoca Clips receives a visit from America's Mayor; This Modern World calls Fox and Friends; Jen Sorenson bemoans the prevalence of the victim mentality; and The K Chronicles witnesses federal intimidation at a church.

Published in Comics

The punch-counterpunch sparring between the Trump administration and the state of California over rollbacks of federal environmental regulations is often described as a war of words, with neither the president nor Gov. Jerry Brown giving an inch.

Some of the disputes are largely symbolic—foot-stamping gestures from Washington, D.C., designed to resonate with the president’s core supporters rather than to hold up in court.

But the latest skirmish is serious: The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to unravel fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks not only threatens California’s autonomy in setting its own emissions limits; it also could derail the state’s ability to reach its future greenhouse-gas-reduction goals.

“This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean-vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board, in a statement. “This is not a technical assessment; it is a move to demolish the nation’s clean-car program. The EPA’s action, if implemented, will worsen people’s health with degraded air quality and undermine regulatory certainty for automakers.”

The gauntlet was thrown down by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a darling of the Trump administration for his zeal in dismantling Obama-era environmental regulations. Even though Pruitt is the target of multiple investigations for alleged ethical transgressions and has found his job security in question, the effect of his current decisions may resonate far beyond his or his boss’ terms in office.

“There have been some troubling developments,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School. “But I think a lot of this is ultimately not going to happen.”


Putting the Brakes on Fuel Efficiency

Sivas said an attack on the fuel-efficiency standard is one of the critical fights for California, which must drastically reduce emissions from the state’s enormous transportation sector to stay on track in cutting carbon.

At issue are miles-per-gallon standards set near the end of the Obama administration. They require an average 45.4 miles per gallon by 2022 and more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Standards differ by vehicle type and are stricter for cars than for SUVs and light trucks.

Chet France, the former EPA senior executive who directed the office that crafted the regulations, says the fuel-standard rule is solid. France, who retired in 2012, said the benchmarks were the product of rigorous technical research and vetting with federal agencies, the California air board and car manufacturers.

The rule was reviewed again during the last days of the Obama administration and determined to be reasonable.

“The mid-term review was thorough and found that advances in auto-industry technology meant that meeting the standards was easier and cheaper than the EPA had predicted,” France said. “It concluded that the standards were attainable, and, if anything, they could have gone further.”

Pruitt called the current regulations inappropriate, saying they “set the standards too high.” He said his agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would revisit them, but he has not yet announced any proposed changes.

In explaining its rationale, the EPA is expected to dust off a decades-old analysis that suggests lighter, more fuel-efficient cars are not substantial enough to withstand crashes and thus pose a danger to drivers. Federal and state crash tests disprove that, but Sivas said she anticipates similar arguments.

The state is pushing back hard. Brown, during a recent visit to Washington, told reporters that the rollback is “not going to happen, and the attempts to do this are going to be bogged down in litigation long after we have a new president.”

On Tuesday, May 1, California filed its 32nd lawsuit against the Trump administration, asserting that in preparing to change the emission standards, the EPA is violating the Clean Air Act and failing to follow its own regulations. In announcing the suit, which 17 other states have joined, Brown conjured images of floods and wildfires ravaging the state as greenhouse gases warm the planet.

“This is real stuff,” he said. “I intend to fight this as hard as I can.”

In addition to rolling back mileage requirements, Pruitt has signaled that he may revoke California’s legal authority to establish its own emissions standards, independent of federal benchmarks. A dozen other states have adopted California’s standards; together, that coalition represents more than a third of the national auto market.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt said in television interview in March. While the state may set its own limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, he said, it “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country.”

California’s right to request a waiver from federal clean-air laws is well established and, legal experts say, the burden would be high for the administration to convince a court that there is a compelling reason to change the longstanding policy.

Pruitt told lawmakers in Washington, D.C., last week that his agency was engaged in talks with California officials regarding proposed changes.

California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young said the state has had three meetings with the EPA since December, adding: “Nothing substantive was discussed, so I wouldn’t characterize them as negotiations.”

He said the board had not seen a final proposal, and no future meetings were scheduled.

On Friday, Nichols tweeted to Pruitt: “Call me.”


Opening the Coast to Drilling

Perhaps the most consequential of the administration’s many moves to expand domestic-energy production is the Interior Department’s five-year plan to offer lease sales in federal waters off the outer continental shelf, including parcels where drilling has been banned for decades. That includes the California coast.

The plan, announced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, envisions drilling in the Arctic, off the Hawaiian coast and in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as expanding existing exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The leasing is scheduled to begin in 2019 off the north coast of Alaska, and then move to the lower 48 states, the agency said.

Zinke said the leasing plans would expand the country’s energy independence. “This is the beginning of an opening up,” he said, promising that the months-long public-comment period before enactment would include all stakeholders. “The states will have a voice.”

Whose voice will be heeded may be another matter. Florida’s governor has already negotiated directly with President Donald Trump to exempt his state from leasing. Even though Brown had a conversation with administration officials relaying California’s wish to be included in a similar exemption, no announcement has been made that would prevent drilling in federal waters off the coast.

But this is one issue where the state may get its way, thanks to current market forces and a stubborn regulatory blockade.

The oil and gas industries have shown little interest in exploring off the California coast, and the State Lands Commission has resolved to make it much more difficult and expensive for companies to get crude oil to land and into pipelines.

The commission’s policy to prevent construction of onshore infrastructure does nothing to stop drilling but could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.

Given those financial and logistical headaches, companies may take a pass.

“A state like California is going to put its full force and resources on the line,” said Timothy O’Connor, a California-based attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. “There’s still an element of local and state control, and we are going to defend our values to their very core. That’s certainly one of them.”


Rolling Back Air Rules

California has notched two victories over the Trump administration’s efforts to undo a methane regulation instituted during Obama’s term.

The Waste Prevention Rule was to have gone into effect in January 2017, regulating emissions of natural gas leaking from more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the country.

The federal Interior Department delayed enactment of the rule and was sued by California and New Mexico. The states prevailed. The agency then suspended part of the new rule and the two states sued again, winning in court once more.

The victory has significant impact in California, home to vast, aging oil fields and energy infrastructure. Methane’s potent heat-trapping capacity makes it many times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The state Air Resources Board recently limited methane coming from both new and existing oil and gas sources.

Another win came in a suit the state joined after the EPA postponed implementation of yet another Obama-era rule aimed at combating smog. The “Ozone Rule” reduced allowable concentrations of ozone, a main component of smog.

Pruitt ordered the EPA to extend the deadline to comply with the new standards by at least a year. Two days after California and 15 other states filed suit, Pruitt reversed his decision.

The state also won a suit calling for federal transportation officials to monitor greenhouse-gas emissions along national highways, but the government is considering repealing the regulations.

In another pending case, California and other states are suing the EPA to identify areas of the country with the most polluted air. In April, Trump weighed in, directing the EPA to relax restrictions on state governments and businesses that have been key to cutting smog.

In a memo, the president instructed Pruitt to expedite a review of state smog-reduction plans and streamline the process for businesses to get air-quality-related permits. In addition, Trump ordered a review of other air-quality regulations related to public health to determine whether they “should be revised or rescinded.”

The agency said the directive was aimed at trimming costs and maximizing efficiency.


Dropping Protection for Water

In an effort to more precisely define which bodies of water are covered under federal law, the Obama administration adopted a rule in 2015 that effectively expanded the number of protected waterways, including springs and floodplains that appear for only part of the year.

The idea was to safeguard both water quality and water quantity, and to put an end to the time-consuming practice of determining status on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Supreme Court had already weighed in, but the high court’s definitions of the “waters of the United States” failed to provide adequate clarification.

The Obama administration’s definition-stretching rules were strenuously opposed by developers, who said they swept up much of the undeveloped land in California, including wetlands.

Soon after Trump came into office, the EPA launched a review of the rule, and then got rid of it.

In February, California sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which signs off on development permits in protected wetlands.

The legal case is still pending, but Sivas said the Trump administration is doing an end-run by requiring the Army Corps to run all permit requests through Washington, rather than making those determinations in regional offices.

By centralizing the decision-making, Sivas said, political appointees can circumvent scientific and legal analysis performed by field offices and determine the outcome based on other factors.

“My guess is they are going to say (to developers), ‘You don’t need a permit,’” she said.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

On this week's Rudy Giuliani-free weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at the circular speech of Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Jen Sorenson examines "dragon energy"; The K Chronicles is too old to sit in the back of the bus any longer; Apoca Clips gets the inside scoop on a chat between the Korean Leaders; and Red Meat refuses to give Milkman Dan a bonus.

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On this week's music-festivaled-out weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson tells some truths about the term "identity politics"; The K Chronicles gets excited after seeing a phone number on a license plate; This Modern World bursts the liberal bubble; Red Meat gets ready for a seafood dinner; and Apoca Clips finds a recent tragedy particularly interesting.

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On this week's bombshell-laden weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips finds Trumpy discussing his rough week; Red Meat has Earl using some exfoliant; Jen Sorenson ponders what it'll take for some people to believe Donald Trump is corrupt; The K Chronicles wonders what it'd be like if regular citizens who killed cops were treated like cops who kill regular citizens; and This Modern World fears for Robert Mueller.

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When reporter April Ryan asked Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the failure of authorities in Louisiana to charge the officers who killed Alton Sterling for selling CDs—only days after the police-involved shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento—Sanders did the thing that white people have always done to justify killing black people: resort to “local control” or “states’ rights.”

“Certainly a terrible incident, this is something that is a local matter, and that’s something that we feel should be left up to local authorities at this time,” Sanders said.

Maybe another reporter—maybe even a white reporter, because, you know, white reporters can also ask about police killing black people—could have backed her up: “You mean local in the same way that Jefferson Davis did or that George Wallace did?”

But all of the heroes in the White House press corps remained silent. So Ryan asked again. “But how does he feel about that? He was strongly behind police. He supports police as much as America does, but wants to weed out bad policing. What does he say about weeding out bad policing when you continue to see these kinds of situations occurring over and over again?” she asked.

Sanders again invoked a states’ rights argument. “Certainly we want to make sure that all law enforcement is carrying out the letter of the law. The president’s very supportive of law enforcement, but at the same time in these specific cases, in these specific instances, those would be left up to local authorities and (are) not something for the federal government to weigh into,” she said.

If you take that apart, you see that the president supports the cops. And at the same time that he supports them, he doesn’t want to weigh in on anything bad they do. Which equals: He supports them. It is as unambiguous as a dog whistle can be. And, in fact, his Justice Department, run by Klan-loving weed-hater Jeff Sessions, declined to press charges against the officers who killed Sterling back in May.

But most of the national press didn’t want to recognize the dog whistle, because to them, Sanders was right. For them, those were “local stories.” And they aren’t interested in local stories.

Neither are their white liberal audiences. There was a noted sigh of relief when the dominant “woke” hashtag shifted from #BlackLivesMatter, which forced us white people to question our privilege, to #Resistance, which means as long as you aren’t as terrible as Trump, then you are OK.

Why, nationally, aren’t we talking in the same way about the Movement for Black Lives and the disproportionate number of African Americans killed by police? In order to get a sense of this, I called up civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, who came to prominence for tweeting out the uprising in Ferguson after the killing of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

“When I think about how I have changed in the last three or four years—like my lens towards analyzing what's going on is that I now understand better the concrete structures in place that exist to almost guarantee officers don't be held accountable,” said Mckesson, who now hosts the popular podcast Pod Save the People.

Mckesson said that when he went to Ferguson or protested in Baltimore, he didn’t understand those structures—which are largely local.

“When you look at things like Stephon Clark's killing … it is unlikely for the officers to be held accountable even if you get a good attorney general, you get a good prosecutor. The laws and the court precedents are not on our side. The laws in California are not on our side. The policies and the practices at the local level are not on our side,” he said.

But, especially under the Trump DOJ, Mckesson believes that most change will also happen on that level. “There are 18,000 police departments, and most of the change is local. So we believe that if we get a fraction of the largest police departments to create structural change, that will actually ripple across the other ones,” he said.

This ripple effect would work because of the “best practices” doctrine that allows a few endowed institutes or think tanks to design policy not only for policing, but for most industries.

“You change some of the big ones, it will hopefully lead to change in some of the other ones, but this is really local,” Mckesson said, both echoing Sanders’ deflection and turning it back on her.

Still, he recognizes that, in a situation like the Gun Trace Task Force trial in Baltimore, where eight cops were charged by the feds with widespread corruption, no one on a local level was equipped to deal with it. “It was surprising; it was like the layers and layers of people and city government that had to know about this and chose to do nothing,” he said. “There was no mechanism at the city or state level that was there to do anything.”

This is the paradox. The right has, for a long time, seen the fight as local. They have been taking over school boards and other minor positions. But now that Trump is attempting to destroy much of the federal government, the serious work of the left is going to have to turn largely local, while all of the #Resistance pats themselves on the back as they wait for Mueller to save them. Or Stormy Daniels.

Meanwhile, local newsrooms are gutted every day, and the national news is just not interested in the local fights. Because they are obsessed with Trump.

“Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery,” the great reporter Jimmy Breslin, who died last year, wrote in 1990. He saw what was happening. “The scandal in journalism in our time is that ethics have disintegrated to the point where Donald Trump took over news reporters in this city with the art of the return phone call.”

Trump no longer returns the calls. He doesn’t have to. He has Twitter, and we have all become suckers, obsessing over a national soap opera, where the real change—for good and ill—is happening under our noses, in our own towns.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

On this week's FBI-rated weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World talks guns with a glib sociopath; Jen Sorenson looks at what's fueling our demise; The K Chronicles celebrates a band called Death; Red Meat gets some surprise dental work; and Apoca Clips ponders Syria.

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On this week's fascinating weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks in on The Unbelievable Trump; Jen Sorenson examines the pro-gun potshots being taken at Parkland victims; The K Chronicles ponders the Alton Sterling mess; Red Meat wants some time off work; and Apoca Clips watches as Ted Nugent sits down for a trim.

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On this week's trade-war-free weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles honors the March for Our Lives; This Modern World discovers a disconcerting black hole; Jen Sorenson discovers a technology without any privacy issues; Apoca Clips queries Trumpy about Stormy; and Red Meat deals with a bird in the house.

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