Plum Island has fascinated conspiracy theorists for decades. Weird and sinister speculation about the government’s germ research on the 3-mile strip has spawned legends that only get better with age, like the alleged post-World War II recruitment of Nazi scientists to work there on a biological-weapons program, or the research conducted there that supposedly led to the spread of Lyme disease.
But now, there’s a far different type of controversy spreading over Plum Island: how to use it after the Homeland Security Department packs up the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and moves west, to a new $1 billion lab in Manhattan, Kan.
Under a current budget-balancing plan, the federal government intends to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder, raising an estimated $32.8 million to offset a portion of the cost of the Kansas lab.
But on Wednesday, a group of New York and Connecticut members of Congress, joined by environmentalists, launched an effort to convince House and Senate appropriators to drop the sale.
These lawmakers from the Long Island Sound region — including Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, among others — argue in a letter to their colleagues that the environmental and ecological value of the island exceeds the estimated proceeds that could be raised by selling it. Instead, they want it turned over to the National Park Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We need to proceed very carefully when considering the future of this environmental and ecological treasure,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. “We have a responsibility to ensure the protection and preservation of this national treasure, not only for those living near their shores, but for their children and children’s children.”
Of course, there’s no disputing that Plum Island for years housed some of the most lethal bacteria known to humankind — organisms responsible for swine flu, foot-and-mouth disease, and other livestock ailments. The George W. Bush administration even acknowledged in 2008 that — 20 years earlier — there had been accidents at the facility, including one in 1978 involving the release of highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease into the cattle-holding pens on the island.
And the House and Senate members arguing to keep Plum Island in federal government hands admit it might take millions of dollars to remediate after decades of germ-research use. But they argue that “the environmental significance of the Plum Island area cannot be overstated.”
The government’s own environmental impact statements say that a vast number of species could be impacted by development on Plum Island, including at least two endangered species, the piping plover and the roseate tern. In addition, the lawmakers argued that development of the island may affect the already endangered Atlantic ridley sea turtle and three other species.
“From personal visits, photos, and conversations with experts, we know that the island is a critical habitat and a pristine landscape that must be protected in perpetuity,” the lawmakers wrote to their congressional colleagues.
What We're Following See More »
As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."