U.S. Senate

Fri, 2014-06-27 01:00Steve Horn
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Revealed: Heather Zichal Met with Cheniere Executives as Obama Energy Aide Before Board Nomination

Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant for energy and climate change to President Barack Obama and nominee to sit on the board of directors of LNG export company Cheniere Energy Inc., held two meetings with Cheniere executives while working for the White House. 

White House meeting logs show Zichal attended the meetings with three executives from Cheniere, owner of the Sabine Pass LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility, the first terminal to receive a final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The meetings appear to have taken place just over two weeks apart from one another, according to the meeting logs. The first meeting was on January 14, 2013, and the second on January 29, 2013. Just over eight months later, Zichal resigned from her White House job, with Reuters citing “plans to move to a non-government job.”

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki — who is facing a major ongoing class-action lawsuit — sat in on both of those meetings. He was joined by Cheniere executives Patricia Outtrim, vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs, and Ankit Desai, vice president of government relations.

Desai, a Cheniere lobbyist, formerly worked with Zichal on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, serving as his budget director. Desai also formerly served as political director for then-U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden.


President Barack Obama (L), Heather Zichal (Center), Sec. of State John Kerry (R); Photo Credit: Facebook

Zichal served as Kerry's energy and environment policy adviser for the 2004 campaign and in 2006, became his legislative director, a job she held until becoming policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign

Wed, 2014-03-26 04:38Steve Horn
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Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, No Climate Change Discussion

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S. Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses. 

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn't mean the issue isn't important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking's accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed. 

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.   

So, why wasn't the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: 11 of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.

Tue, 2014-01-07 14:11Steve Horn
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Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law. 

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people

Dubbed the “Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act,” the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as S.244 and 415-1 in the House as H.R. 767, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) serving as the sole “nay” vote and 16 representatives abstaining. Among the abstentions were representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Campbell (R-CA).

H.R. 767's sponsor is North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who received $213,150 from the oil and gas industry prior to the 2012 election, and an additional $29,000 for the forthcoming 2014 elections.

Cosponsors include Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis ($109,050 from the oil and gas industry pre-2012 election, $28,500 in the 2014 election cycle), South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem ($95,501 from the industry pre-2012 election, $20,400 pre-2014) and Montana Republican Rep. Steve Daines ($124,620 pre-2012 election and $87,412 pre-2014).

S.244 is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has taken $291,237 from the oil and gas industry since his 2010 election to Congress. Cosponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-NDreceived $111,050 from the oil and gas industry since her 2012 electoral victory.

Fri, 2013-12-20 09:45Steve Horn
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Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Thu, 2011-09-15 18:17Steve Horn
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Vitter-Johnson FARE Act: "Shock Doctrine" Attacks On Renewable Energy

In her famous book The Shock Doctrine​: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, author and activist Naomi Klein quotes the Godfather of free market capitalism, Milton Friedman, whom she credits with mainstreaming the “shock doctrine.” Friedman stated:

“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real changes. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Under a textbook “shock doctrine” scenario as it pertains to the ongoing and escalating Solyndra Corporation hoopla, two U.S. Senators, sponsor David Vitter (R-LA) and co-sponsor Ron Johnson (R-WI), have introduced U.S. Senate Bill 1556, the Federal Accounting of Renewable Energy Act of 2011 (FARE) [PDF], or “FARE” as a direct response to the Solyndra saga – “ideas that are lying around,” to quote Friedman. 

The bill dictates that,

“Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the head of each Federal agency shall submit to Congress an accounting for all financial support (including grants, loans, loan guarantees,and direct payments) made by the agency during fiscal years 2009 through 2011 to promote the production or use of renewable energy.”

It further mandates that:

“If a recipient company received financial support to carry out a project…and the recipient company is no longer in existence or is unlikely to substantially achieve the purpose of the financial support the Inspector General of the Federal agency that provided the financial support shall conduct a preliminary investigation of the documents submitted by the company and executives of the company to determine whether the company or executives potentially committed fraud in obtaining the financial support.”

Tue, 2008-06-03 12:51Bill Miller
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Does economists’ change of tune herald turning point on climate change?

The most interesting aspect of the 1,700 prominent signatories urging U.S. politicians to make immediate, deep reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions is that so many of them are economists.

Predictably, the statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued on the eve of U.S. Senate debate on the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, affirms the long-standing scientific evidence for global warming.

But what was unusual, and surprising, was the prominent role of economists as measured by the statement that acting quickly to cut emissions “would be the most cost-effective way to limit climate change.”

Thu, 2007-12-06 11:59Bill Miller
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Business mouthpiece casts wide net in latest bid to derail climate-change efforts

True to form, the Wall Street Journal has slammed former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and tried to discredit the science arguing the case for global warming. In so doing, the pro-business bastion appears to be as far out of step with the forces driving the U.S. economy as the Bush Administration is with the majority of the U.S. electorate.

The crux of the Journal’s argument is contained in a question: “What if everyone believes in global warmism only because everyone believes in global warmism?” Here’s a better question: What if they’re right?

Fri, 2007-06-22 10:05Bill Miller
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U.S. Senate raises mileage requirement for cars but leaves taxes on oil industry untouched

The new energy bill was seen as a major defeat for automobile manufacturers and a stunning victory for oil companies, who escaped a proposed $32 billion tax increase. Ominously, President Bush said the Senate measure fell far short of his goals.

Wed, 2007-03-21 11:28Bill Miller
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Gore urges U.S. Congress to take speedy action on global warming

In his first return since 2001, when he was the defeated Democratic nominee still presiding over the Senate in his role as vice president, Gore told Congress they must slash carbon dioxide and other global warming gases 90 percent by 2050 to avert a crisis.

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