If you don’t typically pay attention to the Arizona Corporation Commission, now is a good time to start.
The role of this government agency is to set rates and policies for utilities. That sounds simple enough, right? But for over a year now, the commission has been in the process of developing a “clean energy” plan that looks to ban all fossil fuels in our state. Next week, this renewable energy mandate will be brought up for a vote again. And the consequences could be a disaster.
Green New Deal mandates would cost ratepayers over $6 billion
In July 2020, the commission quietly released its plan to impose California-style energy mandates in our state. But it wasn’t until August of this year that an independent cost analysis had been completed. And the results were eye-opening.
In order to achieve the 100% clean energy mandate by 2050, utilities would need to phase out all fossil fuels, purchase more solar and wind generation, expand lithium-ion battery storage, and convert natural gas generation to green hydrogen. The cost for all this would be over $6 billion, which comes out to an estimated $60 per month or $720 per year for the average ratepayer.
Remember when the green energy lobby said that these mandates would actually save you money? It turns out that was just another lie. But the cost isn’t the only issue.
In the wake of multiple federal court rulings striking down all provisions of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) has suspended their vaccine mandate for employees. A number of colleges and universities followed Biden’s executive order requiring federal contractors to get vaccinated.
MCCCD notified employees that it would hold onto the policy detailing their now-suspended mandate on their website, indicating that they would await further ruling on the subject. For the time being, their January 7 deadline is no longer in effect.
“Given the rapidly changing landscape, if an employee would like to voluntarily provide your vaccine information or continue with the accommodation process you may certainly do so,” wrote MCCCD. “MCCCD will leave the Federal Vaccine Mandate submission structure (including this website) in place and will continue to monitor the situation.”
All three of Arizona’s public universities — Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University (NAU), and University of Arizona (UArizona) — also have employee vaccination mandates in place. UArizona and NAU told AZ Free News that they were reviewing the court ruling and its potential impact, and indicated that ASU was as well.
“At this time, we continue to strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated and verify their vaccination status,” said UArizona spokeswoman Holly Jensen.
Pima Community College also has a vaccine mandate; spokeswoman Libby Howell told Arizona Republic that they were keeping their mandate in place despite the ruling, but noted that their governing board may decide to vote to suspend it next week.
The federal contractor vaccine mandate was suspended nationwide on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, a Trump appointee to Georgia’s southern district court, in the State of Georgia, et al., v. Biden, et al.
Baker’s opinion concurred with those issued by judges in separate rulings on other mandates prompted by Biden: that the president’s exercise of power didn’t align with the Constitution or other legal precedents. Baker also cited the ruling of another federal judge in Kentucky, Gregory Van Tatenhove, a Bush appointee, who previously suspended the same order in several states: Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
“As another Court that has preliminarily enjoined the same measure at issue in this case has stated, ‘[t]his case is not about whether vaccines are effective. They are.’ […] Moreover, the Court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe,” wrote Baker. “However, even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that, while the public indisputably ‘has a strong interest in combating the spread of [COVID-19],’ that interest does not permit the government to “act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”
The reason that Baker applied his ruling nationally — as opposed to a limited application like Tatenhove’s Kentucky v. Biden ruling — was because the intervening plaintiff, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC), is a national company.
Data from the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that nearly 1.2 million Arizona workers would lose their jobs under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) office conducted the research, published through the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Businesses & Entrepreneurship days before Thanksgiving.
The 1.2 million workers account for 33 percent of Arizona’s workforce. Compliance would further cost Arizona businesses at least $70 million total. The main types of workers impacted come from America’s backbone: wholesale trade, retail, and manufacturing. These three categories of workers were largely classified as “essential workers” throughout 2020 and this year. Arizona ranked 12th for the number of workers it may lose, after California (nearly 4.8 million), Texas (over 4.5 million), Florida (over 2.9 million), New York (over 2 million), Ohio (nearly 1.9 million), Georgia (over 1.8 million), Illinois (nearly 1.7 million), Pennsylvania (under 1.7 million), North Carolina (under 1.6 million) Michigan (under 1.5 million), and Tennessee (over 1.2 million).
According to the research, nearly 45 million workers nationwide are at risk of losing their jobs: about 22 percent of the nation’s entire workforce, ringing in at a compliance cost of at least $1.29 billion.
Biden’s vaccine mandate relied on the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require companies with 100 or more employees to have employees fully vaccinated or following standard COVID-19 safety protocols: masking and weekly testing. The mandate would require companies to provide paid time off for workers who get vaccinated, but it wouldn’t require costs of acquiring tests – though individual states or local laws might.
Based on recent court rulings, it’s unclear when the vaccine mandate would be implemented. A federal appeals court halted Biden’s vaccine mandate last month. Another federal court also halted a similar Biden mandate requiring Medicare and Medicaid health care workers to get vaccinated, in a case launched by a coalition involving Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Following that ruling, OSHA decided to suspend enforcement of the mandate.
The vaccine mandate also may face a challenge in the legislature. The Senate will vote on a resolution to effectively bar Biden’s vaccine mandate. Through the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the House and Senate may overturn a federal regulation without presidential approval. However, such a resolution would likely not advance in the Democrat-controlled House.
Last month, one of Biden’s chief economic advisors, Jared Bernstein, toldCNBC that adverse financial impacts due to the mandate would be overshadowed by the economic growth afforded by vaccinations. When asked if the Biden Administration expected companies to sacrifice their revenue growth, Bernstein said that he couldn’t speak for individual companies and that many would face “a very different outlook.”
“Those forecasts are for 4.5 and 6 percent. The connection between a strong economy and vaccinations and the trajectory of the caseload is extremely clear to me – and, in fact, quite elastic, it happens very quickly. And, of course, that is the motivation behind the vaccination program,” said Bernstein. “I’ve looked at almost every important variable I could find. Yet that does certainly make the case that vaccines, economic progress, strong growth, revenue growth, income growth, wage growth, jobs, GDP, industrial production – every variable I look at seems highly and positively elastic to these wiggles in the caseload.”
Bernstein serves on the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) alongside Chairwoman Cecilia Elena Rouse and fellow member Heather Boushey. Rouse served under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the National Economic Council (NEC) and CEA, respectively. Boushey would have served as the chief economic advisor for failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s transition team.
According to the CDC, a vast majority of the elderly are either partially or fully vaccinated. 88.8 percent of individuals aged 50 to 64, 99.9 percent of individuals aged 65 to 74, and 97.7 percent of individuals over 75. About 10 percent of those from each age range are awaiting their second dosage.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) defended its administrators after they revealed in a mass email those who’d received exemptions to their COVID-19 vaccine mandate. In a lawsuit against PCH (CV2021-016638), two employees claimed that PCH’s email violated their privacy and disclosed their medical information negligently.
In a 24-page response obtained by Arizona Daily Independent, PCH attorneys insisted that the scope and impact of the pandemic overshadowed the exposure of the aggrieved employees’ vaccination status. They also insisted that the apparently inadvertent disclosure about which employees were unvaccinated didn’t constitute revelation of medical records.
“While the email acknowledges PCH granted the recipients a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine requirement, the email does not indicate the basis for any employee’s exemption. And the email reveals no medical diagnosis, condition, or circumstance about any recipient,” read the response. “Plaintiffs claim their vaccination status is a private fact or medical information. For a group of employees working in an acute care children’s hospital in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 776,000 people in the United States, the disclosure of an employee’s vaccination status to other unvaccinated co-workers is not sufficient publicity to support an invasion of privacy claim. Similarly, Plaintiffs’ vaccination status is not the type of patient medical information protected from disclosure by the negligence claim they purport to state.”
Even though the identities of the unvaccinated were then shared on social media, PCH attorneys further claimed in their response that the disclosure wasn’t widely disseminated, reasonably offensive, or private. Their response also claimed that the employees’ vaccination status was of legitimate public concern due to the pandemic.
“A claim for public disclosure of private facts requires disclosure to the larger public, not simply an internal list of employees. It also requires the disclosure to be highly offensive to a reasonable person. Plaintiffs cannot show an alleged disclosure of their vaccination status to other unvaccinated co-workers meets those standards. Plaintiffs further cannot show that the email discloses private information about either of them or that sharing their vaccination status with other employees working at a pediatric hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic is not of legitimate public concern,” read the response.
In part, PCH attorneys drew the distinction between the disclosure of patient versus employee medical information when weighing legal precedent. Their response declared that the employees’ complaints about inappropriate disclosure of medical information was invalid because they were employees, not patients. They also asserted that employee vaccination status was of legitimate interest to the workforce.
“PCH did not maintain a list of unvaccinated employees for the purpose of patient diagnosis or treatment, but rather to aid PCH’s patient and employee health and safety efforts,” read the response. “Courts have found private published facts that are connected to public health and safety to be of legitimate public concern [….] Here, the matter of legitimate public concern is public health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a statement to Arizona Daily Independent the employees’ attorney, Alex Kolodin, warned that this type of defense from PCH would only set a precedent to openly distinguish between the vaccinated and unvaccinated in the workplace.
“PCH is defending their breach of duty to their employees, not by acknowledging their mistake, but by doubling down,” said Kolodin. “Yesterday, in court filings, they submitted a brief that is essentially the unauthorized sequel to ‘If I did it.’ Their claim, essentially, is that the PCH employees whose private medical information they disclosed had it coming because employee vaccination status is ‘of legitimate interest to its workforce.’ They also warned the public that, if the Biden administration mandates are upheld, they may go further still and ‘make visible distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. This behavior, by a major hospital, is disappointing to say the least.”
Kolodin later assessed to AZ Free News that PCH made extreme claims in their response.
“It’s sensational. They’re bomb throwing – this is just judicial bomb throwing,” remarked Kolodin. “They’re just putting outrageous claims out there.”
On Tuesday, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate for health care workers. Arizona health care workers under CMS jurisdiction via Medicare and Medicaid programs don’t have to adhere to the vaccine mandate. Louisiana Western District Judge Terry Doughty, an appointee of previous President Donald Trump, issued the order.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the injunction Tuesday afternoon.
“NATIONWIDE INJUNCTION Great news – a federal judge just granted our coalition’s request to STOP the Biden Administration’s overreaching ‘job or jab’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers. We will continue to take action to protect Arizona’s health care heroes,” wrote Brnovich.
Brnovich joined a coalition of 13 other states led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, in response to an emergency order issued by CMS on November 4. Under the CMS mandate, health care workers would’ve had to be fully vaccinated by January 4. That would’ve required individuals receiving vaccines requiring two doses to receive their first injection by December 6 to be fully compliant.
In a memorandum, Doughty wrote that Biden’s attempt to bypass Congress posed a grave threat to our Constitutional order. He emphasized the importance of safeguarding American liberties more so during the pandemic than at any other time.
“If the separation of powers meant anything to the Constitutional framers, it meant that the three necessary ingredients to deprive a person of liberty or property – the power to make rules, to enforce them, and to judge their violations – could never fall into the same hands,” wrote Doughty. “The executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the legislative branch to make laws, two of the three powers conferred by our Constitution would be in the same hands. If human nature and history teach anything, it is that civil liberties face grave risks when governments proclaim indefinite states of emergency.”
Although Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement on Tuesday emphasizing the importance of vaccinations to combating COVID-19 and the latest variant, Omicron, she didn’t address the ruling as of press time.
Neither did President Joe Biden. Instead, Biden’s remarks for most of Tuesday concerned bills his administration worked to pass such as the infrastructure law, with the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan occupying the remainder of that day.
Reuters noted in their coverage that the White House declined to comment on these legal losses.
This is the latest in a series of legal battles over COVID-19 vaccine mandates that the president has lost. Courts also temporarily halted the federal contractor vaccine mandate, as well as a rule through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to either be vaccinated or tested weekly.
Kentucky Eastern District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, a Bush appointee, also issued his order halting the Biden Administration’s requirement that new government contracts require contractor employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Tatenhove’s rationale for imposing the injunction was similar to Doughty’s, citing “serious Constitutional concerns.” Tatenhove didn’t dispute that the COVID-19 vaccine worked, or that the federal government could mandate vaccinations within certain circumstances. Rather, Tatenhove said that the legal question at hand concerned what authorities the president and federal government had.
“Can the president use congressionally delegated authority to manage the federal procurement of goods and services to impose vaccines on the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors? In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no,” wrote Tatenhove. “[T]here is a serious concern that Defendants have stepped into an area traditionally reserved to the States, and this provides an additional reason to temporarily enjoin the vaccine mandate.”
Read Doughty’s full opinion ordering an injunction against the CMS mandate here.