Congress

Fracking Coming to Washington D.C.'s Drinking Water?

Over the past several years, the battle over fracking has brought Congressional hearings, protests and huge industry money to Washington DC. But in recent months the topic has taken on a new, more local turn in the nation's capital as oil and gas companies push to drill in a national forest near in the city's backyard and an unusual cast of charaters are lining up to oppose it.

The fight is over access to drill for shale gas in the George Washington National Forest and officials from the Environmental Protect Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service have come out in opposition, even though some of these same federal agencies have in other contexts helped to promote expanded shale gas drilling.

The forest is one of the East Coast’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of its last old growth forests.

Horizontal drilling, key to shale gas extraction, has never before been permitted in the George Washington National Forest. But as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service prepares a new 15-year plan, drillers are pushing hard for the ban to be lifted despite the industry’s long record of spills, air pollution and water contamination on public lands.

Koch & Exxon-funded Willie Soon Challenged by Students at Climate Denial Event

Crossposted from PolluterWatch.

Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.

Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.

Ryan Budget Includes Mandatory Approval Of Keystone XL, Other Dirty Energy Giveaways

In what is becoming an annual tradition, Republican Representative Paul Ryan has put forth his budget plan for the coming fiscal year.  Ryan’s previous budget proposals were approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but rejected along party lines in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. 

Not unlike his previous budget plans, the new Ryan budget would be a disaster for the environment.  In addition to cuts to crucial environmental and health programs, the budget would mandate immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Like other proponents of the pipeline, Ryan cites the “large” numbers of American jobs that would be created by the construction and maintenance of Keystone XL.  However, the massive job boon from Keystone is an industry myth, as reports – even those from TransCanada – show that the pipeline would only create a few thousand permanent jobs, so few that it would have almost zero impact on the unemployment rate in America.  Ryan claims that the pipeline will bring at least 20,000 new jobs to America, and an additional 118,000 in indirect jobs.  The State Department says that, in the end, only 35 new jobs would be created from the pipeline. 

As Ben Geman at The Hill points out, the inclusion of Keystone XL shows how entrenched the modern Republican Party has become with the oil industry, and how essential the pipeline is in the Party’s negotiations with Democrats.

Dick Armey's Tobacco Ties: The Early Years

This is the first of a three-part series on Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) and his relationship to Big Tobacco throughout his career.

Dick Armey, who recently resigned from the Tea Party group Freedomworks, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1984, as a representative from Texas. A smoker, Armey first appeared on the tobacco industry's radar in 1985 after he appeared at a press conference in support of a bill aimed eliminating the federal tobacco support program – something the industry did not favor.

Even thought he opposed tobacco price supports, which put him squarely on the opposite side of that issue from the tobacco industry, Armey solicited a relationship with the industry.

In 1987, Armey wrote a
letter to Samuel Chilcote, President of the Tobacco Institute, saying he had a lot to learn about politics and asking if Chilcote would do him the “great personal favor” of sitting on his Political Action Committee Advisory Committee. Handwriting on the letter, apparently by Chilcote, cites a scheduling conflict, and indicates Chilcote likely did agree to Armey's request.

Nevertheless, after that the Tobacco Institute started regularly donating funds to Armey's re-election campaigns through its political action committee (“TIPAC”) in fairly small amounts at first – just $250 in 1987. The industry's donations to Armey grew steadily as his time and his influence in the House increased. By 1991, Armey was getting
$500 donations from TIPAC, plus additional donations from individual cigarette companies

By 2000-2001, Armey was routinely pulling in $1,000 donations from TIPAC and individual tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds (RJR), Lorillard and Philip Morris.

National Climate Assessment Delivers Dire Warning On Climate Threat

A draft version of the 2013 National Climate Assessment is making headlines this week, and not because it is so uplifting.  According to the report, the effects of climate change are becoming alarmingly visible throughout America and the rest of the world.

The 1146-page report reads less like a government assessment and more like the Old Testament.  Accounts of hurricanes, droughts, floods, impending famines, and natural disasters of every kind are listed in the report, and all of these occurrences have been directly linked back to climate change.

Poll Shows Strong Bipartisan Support For Healthy Environmental Choices From Congress

While politicians in America have been slow to react to both the threat of climate change and the need for expanded renewable energy resources, the American public has made their priorities clear:  Give us clean energy that protects our health, our environment, and our resources.

According to a new poll conducted by ORC International for The Civil Society Institute and the Environmental Working Group, strong majorities of Americans from both ends of the political spectrum believe that Congress should take public health and safety measures into consideration before giving a blank check for production to the dirty energy industry.

Among the major findings of the survey:

Wind Tax Credit Avoids The Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

The U.S. government has managed to postpone financial calamity for a few months with the passage of a so-called “fiscal cliff” deal.  While the deal is hardly anything to celebrate in the larger scheme of things, it did provide a one-year extension for a critical clean energy mechanism – the wind energy production tax credit.

The credit has been in jeopardy since it was first introduced, with Republicans in Washington threatening to kill the tax credit, citing its estimated cost of $12.1 billion over the next decade as too costly.  However, the credit breaks down to a mere 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of wind energy produced in America, making it one of the cheapest subsidies approved for energy projects.

The extension of the credit comes at the perfect time, as the United Nations recently released a report detailing the ways in which climate change could cause financial disasters across the globe.

Among the more dire warnings in the U.N. report is the threat of water scarcity, which could devastate commodity markets, as agriculture would take a massive hit and crops would be decimated.  So while the United States might have postponed the drop over the fiscal cliff, the threat of the environmental and climate change cliff is very real, and very much in need of addressing. 

The wind production credit extension will keep the tax credit alive for the year 2013, which wil help wind energy companies to resume growing and to hire back workers laid off in the past year. Its fate after that remains unclear.

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.

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.

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.

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