Department of Interior announces e-bike regulations despite lawsuit, conservation concerns

Staff and wire reports

The Department of the Interior on Friday announced that it finalized electric bike (or e-bike) regulations that it says paves the way for land managers to allow more people, especially older Americans and those with physical limitations, to experience bicycling on public lands managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

“Enhancing access to our public lands and expanding recreational opportunities to all Americans is a priority for the Trump Administration,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said in a release. “The new regulations allow our public land managers to provide e-bike access to bike trails, enhancing the opportunities to utilize our public lands to create life-long memories.”

The final regulations come 13 months after Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to grant e-bike riders the same access in parks as muscle-powered cyclists.

The policy change toward the end of August 2019 came without public disclosure and without an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposal before it was implemented, moves that appear in conflict with the Code of Federal Regulations. The secretarial order called for the policy to be adopted “unless otherwise prohibited by law or regulation” within two weeks. It also called for public comment, after the fact, some time in the future.

Last December, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit to overturn the Interior Department’s move to expand e-bike access in the National Park System.

The 31-page filing, made by PEER with three other conservation groups and two individuals, charged that the decision-making process violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs also argued that an advisory committee comprised of industry-friendly representatives met regularly with Interior officials to lobby for the increased access and helped develop the new policy.

Officials with PEER said Friday that Interior’s announcement would not derail the lawsuit.

Concerns ranging from the risks of high-speed e-bikes to visitors and wildlife, spooking horses on mixed-use trails, and degrading the quality of the backcountry experience have not been addressed, the organization said.

“The Park Service’s undue haste resembles an e-bike whizzing by with an irresponsible teenager on the throttle,” PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins said in a release. “Interior and the Park Service realized they were caught with their legal pants down and are scrambling for cover.

“This rule is the product of industry influence having nothing to do with improving the park experience – a topic on which the Park Service has yet to even do a preliminary assessment. Given the major challenges facing a Park Service in the grip of a pandemic, this is a questionable use of its limited regulatory resources.”

Bicycling is an excellent way to experience America’s rich natural heritage, and innovations in e-bike design have opened the possibilities for a greater number of people, particularly for those with limitations stemming from age, illness, disability or fitness, especially in more challenging

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2020 Election Live Updates: Despite Concerns of Health Experts, Trump Plans Rallies at White House and in Florida

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump is planning to host hundreds of people on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday for his first in-person event since he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, three people familiar with the plans said on Friday, and his campaign announced that he would hold a rally in Florida on Monday.

The president was expected to make remarks from one of the balconies at the White House to the crowd, which was expected to include people attending an event elsewhere in Washington staged by a Trump supporter, Candace Owens, one of the people familiar with the plans said. The event, which was first reported by ABC News, continues Mr. Trump’s pattern of using the White House for political events, as he did with his speech to the Republican National Convention.

Some in the White House and on the Trump campaign expressed concern about what the president might say in his remarks at the Saturday event, and feared the entire event would serve to underscore existing criticism that Mr. Trump has been cavalier about a virus that has killed over 210,000 Americans.

The event will come just two weeks after a Rose Garden celebration of the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, an event that White House officials are looking at as the possible source of an outbreak of the coronavirus that has infected Mr. Trump, the first lady and at least two dozen other people.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, told CBS News Radio Friday that there had been “a superspreader event in the White House,” noting that people had crowded together there without wearing masks.

One person familiar with the planning for the White House event said that all attendees would be required to bring and wear a mask, and that they would have to submit to a temperature check and a fill out a questionnaire.

And Mr. Trump is planning to hit the campaign trail again, even as outside medical experts caution that doing so could pose risks to himself and others: The campaign announced that he would deliver remarks at a “Make America Great Again” event at Orlando Sanford International Airport on Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

Attendees at the Florida event will be asked to sign a disclaimer stating that “you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19.”

In a meeting after the Republican National Convention, where the president staged his acceptance speech on the South Lawn in front of supporters — many of whom had not been tested — the president joked about the agitation he had caused among his critics about how he may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job,

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McConnell says he’s avoided the White House for months because of Covid concerns

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he hasn’t gone to the White House since August because their approach to safety during the coronavirus pandemic “is different than mine.”

Speaking at an event in Erlanger, Kentucky, McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, suggested he didn’t think the Trump administration had been doing enough to keep the White House safe from Covid-19.

“I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th, because my impression was their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” McConnell said.

The remark came as the White House has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with the president, first lady, top advisers and numerous staffers testing positive for the disease in the past week.

McConnell made the comment when asked if he thought President Donald Trump should be more transparent about his health, given his positive coronavirus diagnosis and medical treatment.

“We talk a lot on the telephone. I think he’s perfectly fine. He seems normal,” McConnell said, adding that the focus of their talks has been Amy Coney Barrett, who begins her Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court on Monday.

“We’re having numerous discussions on Judge Barrett and the way forward on that,” McConnell said.

McConnell was not present at the Sept. 26th Rose Garden event at the White House where Trump nominated Barrett. Numerous attendees, including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, later testing positive for the coronavirus.

Julie Tsirkin contributed.

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White House blocks CDC on Florida cruise ship ban amid election concerns

Video: Trump Predicts Supreme Court Will Decide Election Outcome as He Pushes Quick Confirmation (Cover Video)

The White House reportedly overruled the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over a ban on passenger cruises in Florida, in an apparent attempt at appealing to voters in the swing state.

a large ship in a body of water

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Florida, where Mr Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden have been almost tied in recent polls, typically brings-in billions in income.

But CDC orders, originally introduced in April at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, had banned cruise passenger ships with a “no sail” order, in an attempt to control Covid-19’s spread.

That order was due to expire on Wednesday, which could have seen Florida’s cruise industry restart after a five month absence without an extension.  

Making an appeal to the White House coronavirus task force this week, CDC director Robert Redfield reportedly wanted to extend the “no sail” ban until next year, amid coronavirus concerns.

According to Axios, the CDC was instead overruled at that meeting, with the vice president outlining alternatives.

The White House and CDC later announced that the “no sail” ban would be extended up-until October 31, in line with the cruise industry’s self-imposed deadline – but months before Mr Redfield had requested.

It is the latest point of contention between Mr Redfield and the Trump administration, who were described as undermining the CDC director on public health policy.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has berated the director for promiting mask wearing and cautioning against his claims that a coronavirus vaccine would soon be possible.

Defending the decision, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgensrern denied any political motivation behind the October 31 deadline for cruises, in comments made to Axios.

“The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public

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Interior Employees Raise Concerns After Department Celebrates ‘European Heritage Month’

The Interior Department celebrated European Heritage Month in August, an unusual move that has caused some employees to feel uneasy. 

Interior published an online monthly magazine as part of that celebration, which highlighted the history and accomplishments of various European cultures in the United States. While the same publication put out previous issues that focused on other groups such as LGBTQ and Asian Americans, the publication caused a stir among some employees who saw the celebration as insensitive and improperly promoting ideals related to white pride.

Employees at Interior said they could not recall Interior ever recognizing European Heritage Month previously, with one saying the department “made up their own commemorative month.” The publication was put together by the head of “special emphasis programs” at the Interior Business Center, though the magazine is labeled as a publication of Interior’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administrative Services. A division of Interior’s Office of Civil Rights, the department’s special emphasis programs website lists nearly a dozen events and groups as part of its observance policy and European heritage is not one of them. There does not appear to be any national recognition of August as European Heritage Month. 

Some Interior workers who were aware of the publication became annoyed and angry about it, one employee said. The message appeared to promote a “white lives matter” ideology, said the individual, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, and was especially troubling “during a time of civil awakening.” 

Steve Carlisle, the editor of the magazine, told Government Executive he had no intention of making a political statement and did not want to “insult anybody or hurt anybody.” He said he and his colleagues gave “a lot of consideration” to the potential blowback of publishing the issue, but ultimately decided it was important to “make content relevant to everyone” and saw it as a way to “celebrate immigration.” Carlisle came up with the idea for the magazine during the novel coronavirus pandemic, as Interior employees could no longer gather in person to celebrate various cultures each month. 

“Taken as a whole,” he said of the project, “it is really about including as many groups and backgrounds of people as we possibly can.” 

The issue highlights the history of many Europeans arriving to the United States through Ellis Island and goes on to highlight specific experiences of Welsh, Irish and German Americans, including some first-person narratives of Interior employees who vacationed in their ancestral homelands. It also included references to National Parks with “European connections.” The Interior employee took issue with a blurb on the large number of Native Americans in Florida at the time of European contact, suggesting it only served to highlight that those populations have been almost entirely wiped out. 

Another Interior employee said the entire issue of the magazine was “tone deaf.” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has flagged various organizations that celebrate European heritage as associated with white nationalism. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore, R-Va., once sparked a brief

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Garden City residents meet over crime concerns

GARDEN CITY, Ga. (WTOC) – After a deadly double shooting and several other acts of gun violence, Garden City leaders and residents came together at a community meeting Monday night to discuss how to make their community safe again.

a group of people sitting at a bus stop: After a deadly double shooting and several other acts of gun violence, Garden City leaders and residents came together at a community meeting Monday night to discuss how to make their community safe again.

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After a deadly double shooting and several other acts of gun violence, Garden City leaders and residents came together at a community meeting Monday night to discuss how to make their community safe again.

“I never even thought it could come to this in my lifetime,” said resident Melvin Pinckney.

Melvin Pinckney has lived in the Rossignol Hill neighborhood for 80 years. He is just one of many concerned Rossignol Hill residents who came to the Garden City Homestead Association’s community meeting.

Members of the association, along with the police department and city council, voiced their concerns about the violence in the area.

During the meeting, the association introduced a 10 step plan to prevent and eliminate gun violence. It’s called Operation Protect and Serve. It includes plans to form a community watch group‚ encourage residents to install home surveillance systems, and more.

Pinckney says he agreed with the plan introduced and would like to see a stronger police presence in his neighborhood.

“I am angry about all of this stuff. Just do like you used to do. Every time I used to walk out my house I used to see one and I would love to see that now. I’m serious.”

Another resident, Lena Harris, recently lost a nephew to gun violence. She says it was one of the reasons she and her husband came to the meeting.

“We are community advocate. We have been for a while now, but that definitely makes us feel like there is an urgency to do something, to get our neighborhood back and take control and illuminate the crime that’s going on,” Harris said.

Both Pinckney and Harris say they were happy with the solutions leaders shared to curb violence in their community.

They’re looking forward to what’s to come once this plan is implemented.

The Garden City Homestead Association President says he plans on bringing this plan to Garden City Council next Monday. Police also say they are increasing patrols and Tuesday, they’ll be installing two surveillance cameras in the Rossignol Hill neighborhood.

Copyright 2020 WTOC. All rights reserved.

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Homespun BLM products including cookie kits, garden gnomes raise concerns of exploiting movement

A few weeks after nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, Julie Muller looked for something positive she could contribute to the movement from her Houston home.

The 67-year-old white woman, who has been selling homemade cookie-decorating kits online since March, decided to offer one with a Black Lives Matter theme. The kit comes with cookie cutters imprinted with former President Barack Obama’s face, sprinkles and icing in red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.

Other examples of homespun BLM merchandise include wine stoppers and even garden gnomes — objects more often associated with white suburbia. The white sellers insist they are not trying to make light of racial issues or widen their profit margins. But to many onlookers, the sales through the crafts marketplace Etsy may straddle an uncomfortable line between supporting the movement and exploiting it.

Muller’s three children were the first to warn her she might appear to be capitalizing on racial unrest. But that’s partly why she wanted to act.

Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“I’ve been thinking about what’s systemic racism and what is racial profiling,” Muller said. “It’s more about doing my part. What can I offer?”

The protest movement ignited by Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer compelled businesses large and small to declare publicly that they were “woke” to the pain of Black people. Manufacturers soon began making BLM T-shirts, face masks and signs.

It’s not surprising that independent merchants wanted to express solidarity too, said Patti Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

To demonstrate sincerity, sellers should commit to making these items permanently to show their efforts are not just an attempt “to jump on a fad,” she added.

There’s also potential for the items themselves to be seen as offensive or tone-deaf.

Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller's cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller’s cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ashleigh Boutelle, 45, of Twin Peaks, California, custom paints garden gnomes as a side business. After making gay pride gnomes, he decided in July to try painting a Black Lives Matter gnome. The yellow-and-black-clad gnome — a nod to the colors used on a Black Lives Matter website — wears a “BLM” hat. He also painted it with a darker skin tone.

“I was just trying to be very careful and present something that you might say is neutral,” Boutelle said. “Hopefully, someone who sees it is not offended.”

He has since gotten a few orders for either Black Lives Matter gnomes or African American gnomes. Boutelle hopes people don’t question his sincerity because his support is displayed on a mythical figure with a pointy hat.

“I like the idea of offering it to

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Trump, White House demand FDA justify tough standards for coronavirus vaccine, raising concerns of political interference

The White House’s involvement appears to go beyond the perfunctory review that agency officials had expected, and is likely to reinforce public concerns that a vaccine may be rushed to benefit the president’s reelection campaign. Polls show that the number of people who say they’re willing to take a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today has nosedived from 72 percent in May to 50 percent as of early this month, according to Pew Research Center, largely because of concerns that politics, rather than science, is driving the process.

Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be available by Election Day, or possibly sooner, worrying scientists that he might attempt to intervene in the review process. Companies will begin reporting safety and effectiveness data in coming weeks and months. And in conversations with some advisers, the president has directly tied the vaccine to his reelection chances, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The White House’s decision to weigh in on the FDA plan was assailed by former FDA commissioners who had served both Republican and Democratic presidents.

“I don’t know of any precedent where the White House asked to adjudicate scientific and clinical guidances, even in past public health emergencies,” said Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s first FDA commissioner. “To build trust among patients and providers, you wanted to leave these matters to the FDA process, which has a lot of rigor and integrity.”

Robert Califf, commissioner under President Barack Obama, said White House officials lack the expertise to assess the FDA’s safety protocols. “For the president to weigh in is not good,” he said, “and it sets a precedent, which is worrisome in many regards, and makes you worry about what he’ll do about the decision itself about individual vaccines.”

The push from the White House comes during a week in which top health administration officials, including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, vowed there would be no political interference in the vaccine approval process and sought to boost public trust in the process.

So far, the White House has not asked the FDA to withdraw or change the guidance for an emergency authorization of the vaccine — a far quicker process than a formal approval that gives the FDA the flexibility to set a lower bar for safety and effectiveness. The agency expects to use the process because of the urgency of the situation. In a Wednesday phone call, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Hahn the agency had to provide the detailed justification for the guidance, according to two people familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The FDA, which had planned to release the guidance this week, instead has been working on detailed scientific justifications for the questions raised by White House officials, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. White House officials are especially interested in the agency’s recommendation

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Toilet cam: Otumoetai College sparks concerns over bathroom cameras

A Bay of Plenty college is the latest secondary school to spark concerns over security cameras in student toilets.

A mum of two girls at the school was appalled to discover Otumoetai College had installed wall-mounted cameras inside student toilets.

The woman, who does not want to be named, has told the school her daughters will not be using the toilets until they are taken down.

She claims the spherical cameras are high on bathroom walls, capturing vision from inside the cubicles.

But the school says the cameras are only in the public areas of the toilets to ensure the individual safety and security of its students.

The woman said she thought her daughter was mistaken when she said the school had placed cameras inside the bathrooms.

It took a photo to convince her they were real and her daughter wasn’t making up the story.

“I really thought my girl had got it wrong when she told me there were cameras in the girls’ toilets.

“I honestly didn’t think schools could do that. And we hadn’t been told.”

After seeing photographic proof of the camera, she contacted a dean at the school to raise concerns but claims she was told “not to be ridiculous” and “that’s not what we do”.

However, the principal confirmed to the horrified mum that cameras were installed throughout the school last year after a decision by the board of trustees.

She was told they were meant to counter a graffiti problem in the bathrooms and only two people had access to the footage: himself and the person in charge of IT.

The principal tried to reassure the mother the pupils’ privacy was not at stake with vision down into the cubicles blacked out, she said.

“I don’t want to even think of my daughter using the toilet and someone being able to watch her.

“That’s just disgusting.

“I told the school my daughters will not be using the toilets, ever,” she said.

“It’s completely inappropriate that they’ve done it,” she said.

She believed parents should have been notified.

Other parents she had contacted were also outraged.

But Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon told the Herald the cameras had been installed for about 20 months and only showed the wash bay areas and did not capture any vision inside cubicles.

“The reason for these cameras are to ensure the individual safety and security of our students,” he said.

Prominent notices indicated the presence of cameras in the toilets and the school had clear policy guidelines about storage and access to the information collected.

Gordon said he had only received one complaint from a parent concerned about the placement of a camera, but it only showed students entering and exiting the toilets and did not capture any vision inside cubicles, he said.

Last week, the Herald reported students at Rutherford College ripped down a CCTV camera outside the boys’ bathrooms because they were worried it might capture them exposed.

The school defended the cameras, saying they were

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Wildfires, wild horses among top concerns Utah’s ag community brought to Interior chief

SALT LAKE CITY — The looming threat of catastrophic wildfires, the overpopulation of wild horses and rangeland conditions for livestock were among the top concerns the agricultural community aired with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt during a Friday roundtable discussion in Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the conversation — and complaints — did not go unheeded by Bernhardt, who grew up in Colorado and was visiting Utah for a number of events.

“He’s very familiar with Western issues,” Lee said. “These are controversial and difficult issues. … He has not lost sight of Westerners.”

Bernhardt, in a telephone interview after the roundtable, said one of the chief complaints raised by livestock producers is the need for better management of rangeland to prevent wildfires or degradation from wild horses.

“The reality is they would like to see more active management of our rangeland, which would minimize devastating wildfires, which is exactly what the president is proposing and doing,” he said.

The Interior Department, in fact, is on the cusp of making significant management changes for how some fuels are addressed, he said.

“We are about to finalize a (new rule) for rapid treatment related to pinion juniper that will be very significant for the state of Utah,” he said.

That rule would allow the agency to do more vegetation treatments on a yearly basis, he added.

Lee said the action is critical given the impacts of catastrophic wildfires to property, life and livestock producers who have seen the charred bodies of the animals they care for.

“It really is a heart-breaking issue and a deep concern to everyone,” he said, pointing a finger at federal policies he says have fostered neglect of landscapes over the years.

“It ends up being an environmental disaster on top of everything else.”

Brian Steed, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, attended Friday’s roundtable on agricultural issues and said it was a fruitful discussion, especially when it came to rangeland management, wild horses and grazing.

“We have been working together with the wildlife community and agricultural producers over the years and that is the benefit of reducing catastrophic wildfire through these partnerships,” he said.

Noting that wildfires don’t respect geopolitical boundaries, Steed said it is critical that the state and federal government play well together.

“We have a pretty good working relationship with our federal partners in the BLM trying to identify those areas most likely to burn,” he said.

The number of wild horses in Utah — far beyond the established federal limit — was raised as a concern from both the grazing community and Steed’s agency, which has oversight of wildlife such as deer and antelope.

“Wild horses are always something we are concerned about,” he said.

Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management has oversight of wild horse and burro populations in Western states.

Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah BLM, said the agency has been successful this year at removing a number of wild horses in the state,

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