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Crime-and-courts
Police seize explosives at Queensbury apartment complex

QUEENSBURY — Police seized a large quantity of illegal explosives from an apartment at the Montcalm Apartments complex late Sunday and arrested a resident of the home who they believe had been hoarding the materials for decades, authorities said.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office was sent to Building 12 on the complex’s north side around 4 p.m. Sunday for a “domestic dispute,” and remained on the scene until early Monday. A number of apartments were evacuated as the explosives were removed, and part of Burke Drive was closed.

No injuries were reported. The resident of apartment 117B, identified as Michael J. Young, 54, was arrested on a felony count of criminal possession of a weapon and sent to Warren County Jail for lack of bail.

Warren County Sheriff Bud York said a cache of dynamite, blasting caps, black powder, commercial fireworks and the ingredients to make explosives were found, and it was among the biggest seizures that explosives experts had seen in the region in decades. There were more than 1,000 blasting caps and rolls of blasting cord alone, police said.

Had the materials been set off, the explosion would likely have leveled numerous buildings in the complex, authorities said.

“I don’t want to get overdramatic, but it would have been devastating,” York said.

Police are unsure what his intent was, and said there did not appear to be any plans to use the devices. York said the investigation was continuing, and additional charges were possible, including a potential federal prosecution.

Young formerly worked in the explosives/blasting industry locally, and was believed to have come into possession of the materials during that time, police said. But he hadn’t worked in the industry since the late 1990s.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office, State Police, FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms responded.

“Within two hours we had six bomb experts there,” York said.

Authorities said police were sent to the home when a woman who had lived in the apartment with Young called to report that she wanted to retrieve property. York said the responding officer noticed materials that seemed illegal, and when additional officers responded, they discovered more explosives.

The Sheriff’s Office notified Tim Fischer, a retired State Police bomb disposal team leader who works as a consultant for York’s office, and Fischer brought in other agencies to help remove the materials safely.

Fischer said the cache was among the three biggest he had seen in his 30-year career, with materials in every room, out in plain view and in cabinets.

Some of the materials dated back to the 1950s, and because of their age, were very unstable. Any heat or friction could have caused ignition, he added.

“An accidental fire could have caused a problem,” he said.

Neighbors said the police presence at the complex was large Sunday night.

They described Young as a nice, polite man who was disabled with a foot problem and had lived in the building for about 10 years.

Senior citizens occupy many of the apartments on the north side of the development. One woman, who declined to give her name, said Building 12 was evacuated but residents were allowed to return late Sunday night.

“They told us everything would have been gone” if the explosives had been triggered, she said.

Neighbor Frank Simione said Young seemed friendly, and he would occasionally see him working with model rockets on a picnic table in front of the building.

“I saw them pull up with the bomb squad around 9 or 9:30 and take something away,” he said.

Montcalm Apartments is on Burke Drive and was formerly known as John Burke Apartments.

Management of the complex said they were still looking into the incident as of Monday and had no immediate comment.


Bruce Squiers, Special to The Post-Star  

Over the weekend, Paul Kuzmich tags trees that are being sold for the holidays at Kuzmich’s Christmas Tree Farm next to Willard Mountain ski area on Herrington Hill in Easton. The tree farm has served the community since 1913. To see an interactive map of locations where Christmas trees are sold in the area, go to poststar.com.


Business
AP
2 fight for control of consumer watchdog; judge yet to rule (copy)

WASHINGTON — Through emails, tweets and doughnuts, the two dueling acting directors battled Monday for control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, nation's top financial watchdog agency.

Leandra English, who was elevated to interim director of the bureau late last week by its outgoing director, sent staff an email offering Thanksgiving wishes. Meanwhile President Donald Trump's choice for the role — White House budget director Mick Mulvaney — then emailed staff to tell them to "disregard" any instructions from English.

Laying down markers in what has quickly become a war of optics, both signed their missives "Acting Director."

While the atmosphere at the CFPB may seem like routine Washington theatrics, which person will run this agency for the coming days, weeks or possibly months will have a real impact on banks and other financial companies and their customers.

English has asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney from taking over the bureau. She cited the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She said that as deputy director, she became the acting director under the law and argued that the federal law the White House contends supports Trump's appointment of Mulvaney doesn't apply when another statute designates a successor. The case, at the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., is being handled by Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee approved by the Senate recently.

English was promoted to chief of staff to deputy director by Richard Cordray as he prepared to resign last Friday.

The Trump administration defended its position in a court brief filed near midnight Monday.

It said that both the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and the general counsel of the CFPB "agree that the President of the United States lawfully designated John M. Mulvaney as the CFPB's Acting Director pursuant to the VRA (Vacancies Reform Act).

"Plaintiff's arguments to the contrary rest on a bureaucratic sleight-of-hand effected on the final day of former CFPB Director Richard Cordray's tenure," it said, alluding to English's elevation by Cordray to the agency's top job on an acting basis.

The judge had said earlier that he would read the government's response and "go from there."

Cordray was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama and has been long criticized by congressional Republicans as being overzealous, but lauded by consumer advocates for aggressively going after banks for wrongdoing, like in the case of Wells Fargo. He was one of the last Obama-era political holdouts.

Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina, has called the agency a "joke" and an example of bureaucracy run amok. He is expected to be critical of the bureau's previous work and will likely push to dismantle some of the agency's previous actions.

Cordray said Monday that the issue should be settled by a court.

"The law says that I shall appoint the deputy director, and I did so," he said. "My understanding of the law is that the deputy director becomes the acting director upon my departure. If there are disagreements about those issues, then they should be settled in the courts."

Mulvaney arrived Monday morning at the agency with doughnuts, and his staff tweeted out photos of him meeting with agency division heads. Meanwhile, English sent a department-wide email saying she hoped everyone had a great Thanksgiving. English also plans to have meetings on Capitol Hill, including with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Meanwhile Mulvaney quickly responded to English's email, instructing CFPB staff to "disregard" any directions from her.

At the center of the controversy are two laws: the Dodd-Frank Act, the law passed after the financial crisis that created the bureau, and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which gives the president authority to appoint temporary department heads while their permanent nominees are approved by the Senate.

While the Vacancies Act does allow a president to appoint acting directors at agencies like the CFPB, the Dodd-Frank Act has specific language that seems to indicate that only a deputy director can step into the acting director position. English was elevated to the deputy director position shortly before Cordray resigned.

But English's push to be recognized as the legitimate acting director took a blow Monday after a memo was released from Mary McLeod, the CFPB's general counsel, saying she agreed with the White House that Mulvaney should be recognized as acting director.

The Office of Legal Counsel, which acts as a legal adviser to the president, also argued that Mulvaney, not English, was the legitimate director of the department.

"The Administration is aware of the suit filed this evening by Deputy Director English. However the law is clear: Director Mulvaney is the Acting Director of the CFPB," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

One straightforward solution to the issue of who runs the CFPB is for Trump to nominate his own permanent director. But it may take several weeks for someone to be nominated and even months until the Senate were to confirm his or her appointment.

Until the issue of who is in charge is cleared up, any actions taken by the CFPB are likely to come under legal scrutiny from the banks, credit card and other financial companies that the agency oversees. No fines are likely to be imposed or new regulations written.


Business
AP
Senators consider automatic tax hikes if revenue falls short (copy)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are considering a trigger that would automatically increase taxes if their sweeping legislation fails to generate as much revenue as they expect. It’s an effort to mollify deficit hawks who worry that tax cuts for businesses and individuals will add to the nation’s already mounting debt.

The effort comes as a second Republican senator, Steve Daines of Montana, announced Monday that he opposes the tax bill in its current form. Previously, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he opposed the bill, leaving Senate Republicans no room for error as they hope to vote on the bill this week.

Both senators complained that the tax bill favors large corporations over small businesses. Republicans have only two votes to spare in the Senate, where they hold a 52-48 edge and anticipate Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie.

At the White House, President Donald Trump maintained that the bill would help all Americans.

“I think it’s going to benefit everybody,” the president said. “It’s going to mostly benefit people looking for jobs more than anything else, because we’re giving great incentives.”

A new congressional estimate says the Senate tax bill would add $1.4 trillion to the budget deficit over the next decade. But GOP leaders dispute the estimate, saying tax cuts will spur economic growth, reducing the hit on the deficit.

Many economists disagree with such optimistic projections. The trigger would be a way for senators to test their economic assumptions, with real consequences if they are wrong.

“Do we have realistic numbers and is there a backstop in the process just in case we don’t?” asked Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.

“We should build in the ‘What if?’ What if this doesn’t work?” Lankford said. “What changes might be needed in the tax code in the days ahead to be able to adjust in what scenario?”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Trump administration and Senate Republican leaders are open to some kind of a trigger to increase revenues if the tax plan falls short.

Neither Corker nor Lankford spelled out exactly how the trigger would work, noting that senators still are working on the proposal. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the trigger is possible. But, he added, the proposal could run afoul of the Senate’s byzantine budget rules.

Trump and Senate Republicans scrambled Monday to make changes to the bill in an effort to win over holdout GOP senators and pass a tax package by the end of the year. Corker said he spoke to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and economic adviser Gary Cohn throughout the weekend, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was at his Senate office Monday.

“Very possible,” Corker said when asked if he might vote “no” in the Senate Budget Committee today if the revenue issue isn’t settled. “It’s important for me to know we’ve got this resolved,” he said.

Johnson told Wisconsin reporters Monday, “If we develop a fix prior to committee, I’ll probably support it, but if we don’t I’ll vote against it.”

Trump and Senate leaders are trying to balance competing demands. While some senators fear the package’s debt consequences, others want more generous tax breaks for businesses. In a boost for the legislation, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would back the measure.

Trump hosted Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee Monday at the White House. GOP leaders still were trying to round up the votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

Whatever the Senate passes must be reconciled with the House version of the tax bill.

Trump suggested he is open to making unspecified changes to the way millions of “pass-through” businesses are taxed, a sticking point for some lawmakers. These are businesses in which profits are passed onto the owners, who report the income on their individual tax returns. The vast majority of U.S. businesses, big and small, are taxed this way.

Both Daines and Johnson said the current bill doesn’t cut business taxes enough for these types of partnerships and corporations. Johnson gets substantial income from such companies, including a manufacturer he helped found in Wisconsin and a commercial real estate company, according to his financial disclosure statements.

Johnson said Trump has assured lawmakers there will be changes. Trump is to travel today to Capitol Hill to lobby Republican senators personally.

The overall tax package blends a sharp reduction in top corporate and business tax rates with more modest relief for individuals.

In signaling his support, Paul wrote in an op-ed on Fox News: “I’m not getting everything I want — far from it. But I’ve been immersed in this process. I’ve fought for and received major changes for the better — and I plan to vote for this bill as it stands right now.”


Local
State demands more dredging to remove PCBs

New data gathered by the Department of Environmental Conservation show that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are still heavily contaminating the Hudson River, the state says.

The news comes after a seven-year cleanup paid for by General Electric Co. decades after it dumped PCBs into the river.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on the brink of announcing that GE’s job is done, except for maintaining vegetation and continuing to pay for sampling.

But state officials have insisted the dredging did not do enough to clean the river. The state conducted its own study of the river this year after a dispute with EPA.

The state said EPA should take 1,800 samples to fully test the level of PCB contamination in the river. EPA intended to take 375 samples.

In the end, the state took more than 1,400 samples on its own. EPA agreed to take an additional 100 samples above the number it had previously planned to do.

DEC is still waiting for data on its sampling. The initial evaluation of every sample was completed less than two weeks ago. Now analysts must look closely at all of the data to determine any conclusions. The state plans to issue a report in January or February.

But one thing is clear, DEC officials said: The river is still sick. It is much more contaminated than EPA had expected it to be after dredging.

So the state urged EPA not to issue a certificate saying General Electric had completed the cleanup.

“It’s clear from the state’s ongoing research that EPA’s job is not done and they cannot declare that this remediation is complete,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “If the federal government fails New York, we will explore all legal options to challenge the EPA’s decision and ensure this river is not left to suffer the consequences of pollution for generations to come.”

He also sent a letter to EPA, detailing the preliminary results of the sampling.

In it, he wrote, “recent sampling by the state suggests that River Section 2 is two to three times more contaminated than EPA estimated it would be at the completion of the dredging remedy, and there are other areas of the Upper Hudson where levels of PCB left behind are well above 50 parts per million (ppm) at the surface, and likely higher levels just below the surface. If these levels of PCB were found on land they would be regulated under the Toxic Control Substance Act, and EPA would require that they be disposed of in a permitted hazardous waste landfill.”

Last week was the deadline to submit any arguments for or against a Certificate of Completion. While EPA officials have said for a year that the dredging is over, they have been studying the river before issuing the certificate.

EPA officials said Monday they would make a decision about the certificate by the end of the year. In the meantime, they will look at DEC’s data.

“EPA will carefully consider the recent letters from Commissioner Seggos and Attorney General Schneiderman in reaching a decision on GE’s request for the Certificate of Completion,” said EPA spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski.

She noted that the certificate would confirm that GE had completed all actions required in a consent decree regarding the cleanup. The decree did not assume the river would be PCB-free at the end of the dredging.

Still, state officials said the river is much less clean than the decree intended, and that the eventual recovery will take much longer than expected. The ultimate goal in the decree — fish safe to eat — won’t be met for at least 55 years, according to current data, DEC officials said.

Also, some fish have such high PCB concentrations that DEC officials said it is a “near certainty” they will never recover as much as was ordered in the decree.

The state asked EPA to plan out “remedial” dredging in certain areas, based on the higher-than-expected PCB contamination results in data gathered during and after dredging.

“Much more PCB (than expected) was found in the river during both project design and project implementation, and the state has confirmed that more PCB was left behind than was intended when the remedy was selected,” Seggos wrote. “Despite persistent calls throughout the remediation from the state, NOAA and other stakeholders, EPA has never considered adjusting the remedial work to take the increases in known PCB mass into account. EPA has not provided any sound scientific basis for dismissing such consideration. EPA has an obligation to consider the science, and the new data that the state has collected, before making any determination about relieving GE of its liability for the ongoing contamination of the Hudson River.”

Seggos also called for EPA to begin investigating PCB contamination in the Lower Hudson River, south of the Troy dam. The 150-mile stretch of river has contaminated fish that aren’t getting better, he said.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence and data that the remedy is not protective of human health and the environment, EPA legally cannot certify the PCB remedy for the Upper Hudson River as complete,” he wrote. “EPA must instead move forward with gathering additional data and performing the evaluations necessary to determine how much further sediment removal is necessary to meet the ROD (Record of Decision) goals, ensure habitat reconstruction is performed properly, and at the same time move forward with the needed investigation work in the Lower Hudson. The state stands ready to work with and support EPA in accomplishing these tasks.”

General Electric disagreed with the state’s assessment and issued its own statement in response.

“GE successfully completed the Hudson River dredging project in 2015, having removed all of the PCBs that EPA targeted for removal, and having met all of our commitments to EPA and New York state,” said Mark Behan of Behan Communications, which was hired by GE to handle media coverage related to the PCBs issue.

Behan also noted that the state was involved in the entire cleanup.

“The state played an instrumental role in every major decision related to the dredging project and approved and oversaw the work,” he said in the statement. “The EPA’s latest report shows PCBs have already declined by more than 70 percent. EPA found the dredging remedy is functioning as intended and will protect human health and the environment. EPA is not recommending additional dredging.”