Senate

Mother Nature Braces For Republican Environmental Onslaught

With evidence of climate change all around us — floods, droughts, super-storms — it would make sense that now would be the time for our elected leaders to start taking the threat of climate change seriously. Sadly, the opposite is taking place in the United States, and Republicans are leading the charge to completely dismantle the few environmental protections that are in place.

This multi-faceted attack is coming from both state governors and members of Congress, and includes attacks on federal agencies and rules.

Senators Call For End To Arctic Drilling As Shell Gets Permits To Begin Work In Chukchi Sea

Shell received the final permits it needed to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea last Wednesday, but a group of Senators led by Oregon's Jeff Merkley is calling for a ban on Arctic drilling altogether.

According to the Associated Press, the permits are somewhat conditional: In granting the company the green light, the Department of the Interior said Shell can only drill the top sections of wells, or to about a depth of 1,300 feet, because critical emergency response gear, including a well-capping device in the event of a blowout or leak, will not be present for the foreseeable future.

New Senate Majority Puts Keystone XL At The Top Of To-Do List

The Republican Party now controls the legislative branch of the U.S. government, but even before they were sworn in, they had made their priorities for the country clear. They want the Keystone XL Pipeline to become a reality.

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming appeared on Meet The Press to push the pipeline by quoting misleading and dishonest industry talking points: “[Obama’s] own State Department said it’s 42,000 new jobs…He’s going to have to decide between jobs and the extreme supporters of not having the pipeline.”

Barrasso is playing fast and loose with the facts here. As we pointed out years ago, the job numbers used to sell the pipeline are completely fabricated. For example, his claim that the State Department estimates 42,000 jobs from the pipeline has no basis in reality. The State Department has said that the pipeline will only create about 35 permanent U.S. jobs.

The 42,000 number that Barrasso is throwing around is based on the total number of direct and indirect permanent and temporary jobs that are estimated to be created by the pipeline. Almost all of these jobs would disappear within the span of 2 years.

But even if the 42,000 figure were accurate, it isn’t a substantial gain for the United States. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. economy adds an average of 50,000 new jobs every single week, so an $8 billion pipeline that traverses some of the most delicate environmental areas of the country is hardly worth the economic and environmental costs.

Republicans in Congress Seek to Crush the Environmental Protection Agency

A week after their electoral victories in the 2014 midterms, Senate Republicans have already set their sights on one of their all-time favorite targets: the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who will become the Senate majority leader when the 2015 Congress convenes, announced last week that one of his main goals was to “rein in” the EPA. One of the main items that McConnell has problems with is the agency’s power plant emissions standards that would cut down on the amount of allowable air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

McConnell said that he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop these power plant rules.

McConnell ran his campaign on an anti-environment, pro-coal platform, playing up Kentucky’s fears that the EPA’s policies would kill jobs in the coal-dependent state. McConnell’s challenger, Democratic candidate Alison Grimes, could have easily challenged those talking points, but failed to do so.

Nevertheless, the facts are there, and the coal industry has had a devastating effect on Kentucky, as I previously reported:

Republican Senators Push Manhattan Institute's Dirty Energy Propaganda Paper

Two Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be releasing a white paper later this week that will allegedly make the case that “regulations” and legislation that “raises energy costs” is damaging America’s underclass. 

Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Tim Scott (SC) have teamed up with the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research to once again push the bogus theory that government regulations and environmental safeguards are costing American consumers too much money and destroying jobs. The paper will officially be released at a Manhattan Institute event on September 18.

According to The Hill, a representative from Murkowski’s office said that the Senators will be speaking about “the economic, political, and social consequences of allowing energy insecurity to rise in America.”

Both Murkowski and Scott have been notorious opponents of many of the Obama administration’s environmental protection initiatives and have also been on the receiving end of the dirty energy industry’s largesse. Murkowski’s two largest donor industries are electric utilities and the oil and gas industries, receiving a combined $1,490,257 over the course of her career in the Senate.  Scott, a freshman Senator, has received $411,701 from the two industries during his short time in office.

American Minimum Wage Earners Held Hostage Over Keystone XL

One of the biggest political issues facing the United States right now is economic inequality and the fight for a fairer minimum wage.  Unfortunately for American workers, that fight is being held up by another political fight that isn’t quite as large in scale, but it has some powerful proponents in the dirty energy industry. That project, of course, is the northern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama announced an extended review period for the pipeline, which would allow him to make a decision after this year’s high-stakes midterm elections.  That announcement was not joyful news to proponents of the pipeline, and they’ve now decided to tie the project into an issue that is very dear to many Americans — raising the minimum wage.

Last week, Tom Cole, a Republican representative from Oklahoma, told MSNBC that he would consider voting in favor of raising the federal minimum wage if Democrats in the House would approve the Keystone XL pipeline (video here).  Rep. Cole’s top donor industry over the course of his decade-long career in the U.S. House of Representatives has been the oil and gas industry. 

Cole says that “there’s always a potential for compromise” with his Democratic colleagues in the House, and approving something the Republicans want in exchange for something the Democrats want is how the game is played in Washington, D.C. 

But Cole’s comments go beyond the typical tit-for-tat deals that take place inside the beltway, and he is entering extortion territory by making these claims in the media, rather than to his colleagues on the House floor.

Cole’s contention is that the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs, while raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs, so overall, it’s a wash in his mind.  Both of those assertions have been thoroughly debunked.

What The Dirty Energy Industry Earns From Millions In Lobbying

When you combine the lobbies of electric utilities (representing the coal industry) and the lobbies of oil and gas interests, there is no industry that puts more money into buying politicians and influence from year to year than the fossil fuel industry. So far this year, the utilities and the oil and gas industry combined have already pumped a staggering $75.7 million into lobbying activities, and we still have more than five months left until the end of the year.

But that amount is a mere pittance when compared to the $285 million the two groups spent lobbying during 2012, or the $295 million they spent the year before. Again, when taken together, no industry outspends the dirty energy industry in Washington, D.C.

Like any savvy investor, the industry puts its money wherever they believe they can get the highest return on investment. And nowhere is that return higher than in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Just last month, Republicans in the House, joined by only 16 Democrats, passed a bill that, if signed into law, will force the Obama administration to come up with a five year plan on how best to expand drilling activities in America. The bill would require the President and his administration to vastly increase the amount of offshore areas available for oil drilling, giving the oil industry free rein over our coastal waterways. 

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.

Top Romney Advisor Touts Coal, Fails To Mention His Role As Coal Lobbyist

Jim Talent, a former Republican Senator and one of Mitt Romney’s top campaign advisors, has played an instrumental role in the Romney camp’s positions on energy.  Specifically, Talent has pushed for greater consumption and mining of coal to meet America’s energy needs.

What the campaign failed to mention is that the lobbying firm that Talent is still on the payroll with lists one of the largest coal-producing companies in the country as one of its top clients. 

And although Talent is not registered as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. (thereby making it illegal for him to engage in lobbying activities,) his website clearly states that “lobbying” is one of the services he is able to personally provide for clients.

David Halperin has the story at Republic Report:

Senator John Kerry Speaks the Scary, Ugly Truth on Climate Change

There are precious few voices in the U.S. capital these days that are speaking the truth about climate change. Which is what makes Senator John Kerry's speech on the Senate floor today so powerful, and so necessary. 

In his speech, which clocked in at nearly 55 minutes, Senator Kerry attacked a “calculated campaign of disinformation” that, he says, “has steadily beaten back the consensus momentum for action on climate change and replaced it with timidity by proponents in the face of millions of dollars of phony, contrived ‘talking points,’ illogical and wholly unscientific propositions and a general scorn for the truth wrapped in false threats about job loss and tax increase.”

The senator from Massachusetts' words were clearly timed to inject some energy into the Rio+20 meetings of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which begin in earnest tomorrow and which are struggling to stay relevant during a time when Europe is barely functioning and the U.S. is moving into election season. President Obama's decision not to attend the meetings has many diplomats and activists gathering in Brazil questioning the American committment to climate change and the great global environmental challenges.

Senator Kerry didn't mince words in his talk, calling out the “disgraceful” campaign of climate denial as the “conspiracy” that it is, and also placing some blame on the media for its reluctance or inability to bring reason and truth to the climate conversation.

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