TRUMP'S EPA ROLLS BACK NC'S WATER PROTECTIONS: Krista Early, who directs Environment North Carolina’s campaigns to protect the state’s waterways and drinking water, said the rollback undoes 50 years of progress. "It strips regulations that have protected our drinking water and our wetlands and our feeder streams throughout the entire nation," Early said. Intermittent streams and isolated wetlands are no longer protected from pollution or development. Yet, Early said, they still feed into the creeks and rivers that become drinking water from many parts of the state. When it rains, the contaminated runoff will lead to more fish kills, chemical spills and toxic algae blooms, she said. "With the weakening of the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Water Act, we are now looking at regulations that have currently been in place in North Carolina no longer being in place, and there’s no way for us to come back from this because our hands are tied," she said.
NC DOT HOPING FOR A "NO SNOW" WINTER DUE TO FINANCIAL WOES: The last time the Triangle received any significant snowfall was in December 2018. That storm dumped several inches of snow and ice in nearly every county in North Carolina, forcing the state to respond with brine and plows to keep highways open, said Bobby Lewis, NCDOT’s chief operating officer. “That particular three-day event, as short lived as it seemed, it cost us about $45 million,” Lewis said in an interview Friday. “My hope is that if it’s going to be cold, let it be cold. But no precipitation.” NCDOT has spent close to $400 million on storm-related cleanup and repairs in the last 16 months, compared to a long-term average of about $66 million a year, Lewis said. The federal government should reimburse the state for much of that money. But that can take a while. NCDOT has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for about $85.5 million to cover the cost of cleaning up debris and fixing secondary roads damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. As of Dec. 31, the state was still waiting for $19.5 million, according to Emily McGraw, NCDOT’s state maintenance engineer.
AUDIO RECORDING SURFACES OF TRUMP DEMANDING OUSTER OF YOVANOVITCH: President Trump is allegedly heard on a recording demanding the firing of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during a private dinner with top donors in April 2018, according to an audio file obtained by ABC News. “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” Trump is heard saying, according to ABC News, which said it reviewed the tape. The recording, which The Washington Post has not independently verified, appears to corroborate an account of the evening by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani. In a recent interview, Parnas said he told Trump that evening that Yovanovitch was working against him. In an interview with Fox News later Friday, Trump did not deny it was him on the tape. Instead, when asked about it, he defended his decision to fire Yovanovitch and skirted whether he was relying on Parnas to do it. “Well, I wouldn’t have been saying that. I probably would have said — it was Rudy there, or somebody — but I make no bones about it, I want to have ambassadors — I have every right, I want ambassadors that are chosen by me. I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors, and that’s a very important thing,” Trump said.
TRUMP'S DEFENSE TEAM BEGINS THEIR ARGUMENTS TODAY: On Friday, Jay Sekulow, a member of Mr. Trump’s legal team, characterized the presentation he and his colleagues plan to make on Saturday as “a trailer” and “coming attractions.” He added that the more meaningful and substantial presentation of his team’s case will be reserved for next week. Nonetheless, the president’s lawyers will have three hours, and anything they say will resonate over the weekend and could be seized on by Democratic presidential candidates who will be campaigning aggressively ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. With this in mind, the president’s lawyers are likely to take the opportunity to try out a few sound bites that could foreshadow the arguments they plan to push in their fuller presentation on Monday. A whistle-blower complaint filed in August said that White House officials believed they had witnessed Mr. Trump abuse his power for political gain. President Trump is accused of breaking the law by pressuring the president of Ukraine to look into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election.
IRAQI SHIITES GATHER TO PROTEST U.S. TROOP PRESENCE: The protesters, mostly Shiites from the capital but also from Iraq's southern provinces, walked to an assembly point in the Jadriya neighborhood. Al-Sadr, whose party won the most seats in the May 2018 parliamentary elections, had called the rally to demand the withdrawal of American troops following the Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike near Baghdad's airport that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The killing drew the ire of Iraqi officials from across the political spectrum. According to U.S. military officials, rather than draw down, Americans have poured 20,000 additional troops in the Middle East to counter what Washington describes as an escalating threat from Iran. There are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, where they help train and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State group. Iran has long sought the withdrawal of American forces from neighboring Iraq, but the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad has added new impetus to the effort.