Congress

Fri, 2012-12-14 10:36Farron Cousins
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Senator Boxer Creates First U.S. Climate Change Caucus

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced earlier this week that she would be taking the initiative to form the first Climate Change Caucus in the U.S. Senate.  Boxer, long considered a champion of environmental causes, said that she decided to form the committee to address growing public concerns over the inaction of the federal government to address the threat of climate change.

The Hill quotes Senator Boxer talking about the new committee, “It is going to work with all the committees and all the committee chairmen to make sure we can move forward legislation that reduces carbon pollution and also works on mitigation and all of the other elements.

To date, the United States has not passed a single law or resolution addressing the threat of climate change, although several have been introduced.  The majority of these bills died in committee, while one, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, passed the House of Representatives but failed to get enough votes to pass in the Senate. 

Boxer says that some Democrats have expressed interest in the committee, and that she hopes she can get broad bipartisan support and membership for the new committee.

Thu, 2012-07-19 12:16Farron Cousins
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House Republicans Attempt To Block Black Lung Protection Funding

In what could possibly be a new low for one of the most anti-environment, pro-dirty energy industry Congresses in history, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are attempting to gut funding for measures that would reduce the occurrence of black lung in mine workers. The funding cut was inserted into the 2013 appropriations bill that provides funding to the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The language inserted into the appropriations bill reads:
  

SEC. 118. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners' Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation (Regulatory Identification Number 1219-AB64) being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.
 

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee inserted the language into the bill. The Appropriations Committee is currently led by Republican Chairman Harold 'Hal' Rogers from Kentucky and, not surprisingly, his largest campaign financier during his 20+ years in office has been the mining industry. That industry has pumped more than $379,000 into his campaigns over the years, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. DirtyEnergyMoney.org shows Rep. Rogers receiving over $430,000 in polluter contributions since 1999, well above the average for members of Congress. The majority of the dirty money has come from the coal industry.

Mon, 2012-06-18 12:56Farron Cousins
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Dirty Energy Industry Sues EPA Over Clean Air Initiatives

In a blatant insult to the millions of Americans who would breathe easier under the EPA’s air pollution controls, the dirty energy industry, along with other groups, has sued the EPA to stop regulating toxic industrial air pollution. The Center for American Progress has the story:
  

Two essential Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, regulations to protect children, seniors, the infirm, and others from air pollution are under attack from the coal industry and many utilities.

Last year the EPA issued two rules that would reduce smog, acid rain, and airborne toxic chemicals: the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

On July 6, 2011, the EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution—two of the main ingredients in acid rain and smog—from power plants in upwind states that were polluting downwind states. An interactive EPA map demonstrates that pollution doesn’t stop at state borders.

Then, on December 16, 2011, the EPA finalized the first standards to reduce mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxic air pollution 21 years after controls on such pollution became law.

Today more than 130 coal companies, electric utilities, trade associations, other polluting industries, and states are suing the EPA in federal court to obliterate, undermine, or delay these essential health protection standards. A parallel effort is underway to block the mercury reduction rule in the Senate, which is scheduled to vote on it this week. This CAP investigation found that these utilities were responsible for 33,000 pounds of mercury and 6.5 billion pounds of smog and acid rain pollution in 2010 alone.

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The industry has been actively working to undermine the work of the EPA for years, and this lawsuit comes on the heels of a package of legislation recently introduced by House Republicans that would gut the EPA of most of their regulatory authority over air pollution emissions, including mercury emissions.

Fri, 2012-03-02 16:50Farron Cousins
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U.S. Chamber Hits The Road To Promote "Oily" Highway Transportation Bill

A bitter fight has erupted in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks surrounding the fate of a much-needed transportation and infrastructure bill. Congressional Democrats wanted to pass a bill that would fund projects to help rebuild roads and bridges, but Republicans were against the idea.

So, in an attempt to get something more tangible out of the legislation, Congressional Republicans loaded the bill down with dozens of handouts to the oil industry, including immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded access to U.S. lands for oil exploration. The amendments would also take national gas tax money away from public transportation projects, and reduce the amount of federal contributions to public employee pensions – two actions that will have devastating effects on middle class America. And with the fight bringing the discussion on the legislation to a halt, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took it upon themselves to hit the road and sell the bill to the American public.

From the U.S. Chamber:

The business group will be hosting breakfasts, lunches and policy roundtables with local chambers and business associations this week in 12 different cities in Ohio, Idaho, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana.

Janet Kavinoky, the Chamber’s executive director of transportation and infrastructure, will be on the road trip, along with Alex Herrgott, one of the business group’s transportation lobbyists.

“The idea is to get out, give people a good sense what the bill is and get them talking to their members of Congress and have them get the bill done,” Kavinoky said. “We want Congress to feel like it needs to come back to Washington and get the bill done and put it to bed.”
Sat, 2011-12-10 07:15Farron Cousins
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North American Air Pollution Statistics Will Take Your Breath Away

Two separate reports released this week offer a grim look at the state of air quality in North America. The continent already produces 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants, resulting in an array of health and environmental problems.

According to a joint report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club, the situation in America is getting worse. Their report rated the top 5 worst states for toxic power plant emissions. Some of the chemicals used to rank the states’ emission status included chromium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. These represent four of the most toxic heavy metals found in power plant emissions.

The report, titled “AMERICA’S TOP POWER PLANT TOXIC AIR POLLUTERS listed the 5 worst states as follows:

Pennsylvania (#1 rankings for arsenic and lead)
Ohio (#2 rankings for mercury and selenium)
Indiana (#4 rankings for chromium and nickel)
Kentucky (#2 for arsenic)
Texas (#1 rankings for mercury and selenium)

This report comes as the U.S. EPA is working on new standards for power plant emissions. The agency is under a court order to establish new emission standards, but action on air pollution standards has stalled, thanks to an attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to strip the EPA of their court-granted authority to regulate air pollution.

Thu, 2011-11-24 12:35Farron Cousins
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Congress Says No To Free Climate Service

This week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives sent a strong message to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – they’re not concerned about climate change. The NOAA had asked Congress for permission to create a new National Climate Service within the NOAA’s own offices, but Congress decided that the agency was just fine the way it is.

At a time when Congress is fiercely debating federal spending, it would seemingly make financial sense to deny additional funding to NOAA to create their new branch. But, in a rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, the new agency wouldn’t have cost anything, and NOAA didn’t ask for a single dime to fund their new venture, completely nullifying any financial argument against this common sense proposal.

The need for such an agency is completely justified, as The Washington Post points out:

Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.

Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.

So if it wasn’t about money, then what would stop congressional Republicans from giving the OK to the organization? To put it bluntly, they don’t want scientists 'scaring' people with their creepy climate change mumbo jumbo.

Wed, 2011-11-16 11:24Ben Jervey
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Senate Hearing Confirms Natural Gas Export Plans Will Raise Prices For Americans

Considering the rate at which natural gas resources are being developed, and the sudden push from industry to export the product, it might come as a surprise that the Senate’s Energy Committee hadn’t had a hearing on liquified natural gas (LNG) since 2005.

Last Tuesday, for the first time in six years, Senators brought the issue back to the Capitol spotlight, as they considered the impact of exporting LNG on domestic prices.

In order to export or import natural gas, companies can either transport it through pipelines, or ship it as liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is natural gas cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the gas becomes a liquid. Back in 2006, LNG imports far outstripped exports, and industry used that trade deficit to push for a massive expansion of domestic drilling, relying heavily on the argument for American “energy security.”

Now that that expansion is well-underway, with the infamous Utica and Marcellus shales the frontier of rapid development, utilizing controversial fracking and horizontal drilling techniques, the industry is eager to start exporting LNG to international markets where the fuel fetches a much heftier price.

Fri, 2011-11-11 10:51Farron Cousins
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Koch Brothers Behind Push To Dismantle EPA

During last week’s Americans For Prosperity (AFP) event, a common theme kept creeping into the speakers’ presentations: Dismantle the EPA. And as the major funders of AFP, Charles and David Koch are the ones pulling the strings of the American elected officials who keep clamoring for an end to all environmental protections.

Since the new Republican-controlled Congress took over earlier this year, calls for the EPA to be disbanded and general attacks on the agency have been constant. In the last 11 months, we have covered those stories here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Those in favor of saying goodbye to the EPA include presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, elected officials like Republican Representatives Mike Rogers and David McKinley, and even media figures like Fox News’s John Stossel. The attacks include false claims that the agency is destroying jobs, or just general claims that the agency’s usefulness has run its course.

But when you look past those claims, the money from the Koch brotherss and their organizations is all that you can see.

Tue, 2011-11-01 14:21Farron Cousins
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New Lake Michigan Coal Ash Spill Raises Old Concerns

On Monday, a bluff surrounding a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based power plant collapsed, sending a cascade of debris and coal ash waste from the power plant into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported by We Energies, the company who owns the power plant, but the environmental assessment will likely be less optimistic. We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE: WEC), has confirmed that the debris that made it into the river likely contained coal ash.

As of Monday afternoon, a “fuel sheen” appeared on the surface of Lake Michigan as a result of the bluff collapse. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbor were contracted by We Energies to help contain the spread of the sheen, and will be deploying about 1,500 feet of boom to help contain the waste on the surface. Shortly after the accident, residents living up to a mile away from the site along the lake were already reporting debris washing onshore.

As we have reported extensively in the past, coal ash contains countless toxic substances, including mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. It has also been reported to be more radioactive as nuclear waste. In spite of these findings, the EPA has yet to issue any firm stance on whether or not coal ash will be regulated as a “toxic waste,” partly due to the fact that the coal industry has unleashed a cadre of lobbyists to Washington to fight to protect their coal ash interests.

The EPA’s delay in issuing a ruling on coal ash has allowed the Republican-controlled Congress to gain the upper hand on the issue. In early fall 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash, and preventing them from classifying the substance as “hazardous.” Instead of EPA regulations, the bill would allow states to issue their own standards on coal ash and prevent any federal standards.

Sun, 2011-10-02 12:06Farron Cousins
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Oil Lobbyists Targeting “Super Committee”

As the so-called “Super Committee” works to figure out how to trim $1.2 trillion from the U.S. government’s federal deficit, the dirty energy industry has their lobbyists working overtime to make sure that their billions of dollars in annual subsidies aren’t among the items on the chopping block.

The Super Committee only has until Thanksgiving to submit their proposals to President Obama. And not being ones to miss an opportunity, members on the committee have scheduled dozens of personal fundraisers for their campaigns before that deadline hits. And many of the companies who fear that their subsidies could be cut will be in attendance. After all, the lobbyist blitz contains more than 180 former staffers of members of the Super Committee, so access is not an issue, and no introductions will be necessary.

The New York Times lays out the issue as follows:
  

Hundreds of lobbyists, including many former Congressional officials and frequent campaign contributors, are making their cases to the committee members.

Ethanol fuel producers, oil companies, corporate jet owners and many other businesses want the committee to guard their own special tax breaks.

“Everybody’s at risk,” said Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, “and so everyone’s going to be out there lobbying.”

With the lobbying, of course, come valuable campaign contributions. Despite calls from watchdog groups to suspend their fund-raising, most committee members are continuing to raise money from many of the same industries affected by their work.
 

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