Sam Ross-Brown

Sam Ross-Brown is The American Prospect's associate editor. 

Recent Articles

Incoming EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s Other Target: Clean Water

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to protect clean water, but his selection of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency tells a different story.

(Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, December 7, 2016. S cott Pruitt’s nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn dire warnings about his impact on climate change, but the Oklahoma Attorney General could wreak just as much havoc on another core EPA mandate: the protection of clean water. Pruitt is well known for his legal challenges to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but his assault on clean-water protections has been just as fierce. In 2015, Pruitt led a multi-state lawsuit against Obama’s Clean Water Rule, a regulation aimed at protecting source water for one in three Americans. As with his Clean Power Plan suit, Pruitt and his allies succeeded in blocking the rule’s implementation. “I don’t think he’s found an EPA rule he hasn’t wanted to sue over,” says Michael Kelly, Clean Water Action’s national communications director. Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail that...

Transportation Secretary Foxx Moves to Heal Scars of Urban Renewal

For Anthony Foxx, fixing America’s roads and bridges isn’t just about rebuilding. It’s about addressing the racial and economic divisions long embedded in the nation’s infrastructure in places like Pittsburgh.

(Photo: Flickr/Ronald Woan)
(Photo: Flickr/Ronald Woan) Pittsburgh's Hill District P ittsburgh’s Hill District has been at the nexus of African American cultural and economic life for decades. As the Great Migration kicked off after World War I, the neighborhood became a destination for blacks escaping the inequality and violence of the Jim Crow South. Beginning in the 1920s, the area became known as “ Little Harlem ” and “the Crossroads of the World ” for the eclectic jazz clubs and theaters that were essential stops for superstars like Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne. It was also home to one of the most prosperous African American communities in the country, boasting dozens of black-owned businesses. “ Because of these stories, a lot of people consider the Hill District home,” says Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation. “It was the place where their family connected with the city, where they landed. It was the figurative and literal heart of...

Fighting Over Fuel

The auto industry, already under fire following a string of safety recalls, has successfully lobbied for multiple loopholes in federal emissions standards, and is now battling with regulators to weaken the administration’s signature fuel economy plan.

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File
AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File A motorist puts fuel in his car's gas tank at a service station in Springfield, Illinois. F ive years ago, the Obama administration announced an ambitious fuel economy plan mandating that automakers attain an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Designed to eliminate 6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases over 13 years—more than the nation’s entire annual carbon footprint—the program represented the administration’s most ambitious effort to combat climate change. But the plan may fall far short of its goals, critics say, largely because automakers have successfully lobbied for multiple, industry-friendly loopholes and giveaways that significantly undermine the fuel efficiency targets. And now, carmakers are asking for even more. As part of a federally-mandated review halfway through the 13-year program’s implementation, federal officials and automakers are locked in tense, closed-door negotiations over how tough emissions rules will be. The players...

Democrats Ramp Up Calls for Garland Confirmation Hearing

Senators Charles Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse took to the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday to demand that the Senate give Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a fair confirmation hearing. League of Conservation Voters (LCV) activists joined them, carrying boxes containing petitions with more than 200,000 signatures gathered nationwide calling on Republican senators to act.

“For nearly four months, Senate Republicans have sat on their hands and refused to do their jobs,” said Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Environmental cases are now winding their way through the courts, and they’re going to determine how clean our air and water are. … So it’s imperative … that we get a decent Supreme Court.”

In March, Obama nominated Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Garland’s strong reputation among conservatives as well as liberals seemed to suggest a quick confirmation. Yet even before Garland was tapped, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP-controlled Senate would refuse to confirm any replacement nominated by Obama.

Senate Republican leaders have honored that pledge. In an early morning meeting Wednesday, key staffers in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told LCV organizers that under no circumstances would Garland get a hearing. “We asked, what if there were different nominees, if he withdrew, if they added someone else, and basically what circumstances would have to happen?” Seth Stein, LCVs’ national press secretary, told The American Prospect. “It was a very strong ‘It’s not going to happen.’”

It has been 84 days since Obama tapped Garland, the longest a Supreme Court nominee has waited for a Senate hearing in U.S. history (the previous record was 83 days). “They’re playing partisan politics at its very worst and have really sunk to a new low with this unprecedented and extreme obstruction,” said Tiernen Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president.

For environmental advocates, the stakes could not be higher. In February, three days before Scalia’s death, the high court blocked the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature climate change initiative. The unprecedented stay order, which halts the plan’s implementation while a GOP-led lawsuit works its way through the courts, seemed to confirm fears that the high court would soon kill the measure. Although Scalia’s death made such a ruling less likely, the stay order still puts the plan’s future in uncertain territory.

Senator Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, also pointed to the high court’s attack on campaign-finance rules, which has given certain industries, like the oil and coal sectors, a blank check to influence policymaking in Washington. “This should not be complicated,” Whitehouse said. “Protect Citizens United with a vacancy and use Citizens United to buy a polluter-funded Congress, and protect the fossil fuel industry from any progress on climate change.” Not surprisingly, McConnell has long been one of the top recipients of oil and coal money in Congress.

“Our Republican colleagues have a choice to make,” Schumer added. “They can continue to keep the seat vacant so Donald Trump can fill it. Or they can do their jobs and give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote.”

Tea Partiers and Progressives Unite Against 'Deceptive' Florida Ballot Initiative

A bipartisan "green tea" group is fighting for solar in Florida.

(Photo: AP/The Tampa Bay Times/Chris Zuppa)
(Photo: AP/The Tampa Bay Times/Chris Zuppa) Suzanne Zeller of St. Petersburg, Florida, participates in a rally for clean energy at Williams Park, across from Duke Energy headquarters, on November 13, 2013. A n unlikely alliance of Tea Party conservatives and progressive climate advocates has come together to fight a controversial solar energy ballot initiative in Florida. Launched in 2015, the so-called “green tea” coalition that includes the Christian Coalition and the Sierra Club, are standing firm against a measure that would enshrine Florida’s anti-solar policies in the state constitution. The coalition views the amendment as a power grab by the state’s largest utility companies that could cripple the state’s nascent solar industry and undermine consumers’ ability to tap into Florida’s vast solar energy potential. The Florida Right to Solar Energy Choice Initiative , which heads to voters in November, would give residents “the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on...

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