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Mon, 2014-09-22 13:00Farron Cousins
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Senate Republicans Go All In On Keystone XL

Six years have passed since TransCanada originally sought a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Republicans in Washington have not given up fighting for the project. In spite of the fact that the pipeline will create fewer than 40 permanent jobs; would pose serious risks to potable water supplies; and would potentially raise energy prices for American consumers, some of our elected officials still believe that the pipeline would be a boon for the United States.

In the last week, the Republican-led efforts to force President Obama to approve the disaster of a plan have reached a fevered pitch. To begin with, to mark the 6th anniversary of the original permit application, every single Republican in the U.S. Senate signed a letter to President Obama demanding that he take action and approve the pipeline.

In the letter, Republican Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) played on the fears of American citizens while trying to force an approval. Hoeven wrote“After more than six years of study, five favorable environmental reviews, numerous polls showing the support of the American people, ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East, it is way past time we take off the blinders and do what is in the best interest of the United States: approve the Keystone XL pipeline.”   

Not to be outdone, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an appeal to the American public (and the dirty energy industry) by making the bold claim that, if Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, the Keystone XL pipeline will be one of their top priorities. McConnell claimed, “If we have a new majority next year, and a new majority leader, the Keystone pipeline will be voted on on the floor of the Senate, something the current majority has been avoiding for literally years.”

Even before the anniversary of the application, Senate Republicans were hard at work trying to force the project’s approval. A few days before they sent a letter to the President, Senate Republicans (and a West Virginia Democrat) introduced a bill that would strip the President of his authority to approve pipeline projects, and would limit the review period by the State Department down to 120 days. According to The Hill, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill back in June.

Tue, 2014-08-26 12:49Farron Cousins
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Florida Governor Rick Scott Meets With Climate Scientists, Learns Nothing

Republican Florida governor Rick Scott has always had a huge problem when it comes to the environment.  To begin with, he has repeatedly made it clear that he does not believe in climate change, and certainly not the role that human beings play in exacerbating the problem. 

But, facing a fierce opponent with a stellar environmental record in this year’s gubernatorial race, Scott has had to swallow his pride and open up to the idea that he is wrong on climate change.

Governor Scott recently met with prominent climate scientists from universities with the expressed goal of learning all that he could about climate change.  The truth, however, is that the entire experience was more of a publicity stunt than a science lesson.

According to the scientists, at least half of the thirty-minute meeting was spent with Scott asking questions about the scientists’ education, classes they teach, and various other “small talk” questions.  This left them only 15 minutes to explain the science behind anthropogenic climate change to the inattentive governor.

Think Progress, via Reader Supported News, has more:

Ben Kirtman professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t honestly believe the governor is climate literate, and I don’t think he is particularly interested in becoming climate literate.”

David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, told ThinkProgress that he thought the governor’s decision to take up “almost half” the meeting with small talk showed that he wasn’t truly interested in the meeting.

If we were talking about things that he was sincerely interested in, that small talk would have been very short,” he said.

They also note that during the entire meeting, Scott did not ask a single climate change-related question.

Sat, 2014-07-26 08:00Farron Cousins
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Just In Time For Midterms, Congress Kissing Up To Dirty Energy

Congress has less than a week left to finish delivering promises for their donors before they head out for a month-long August recess undoubtedly filled with campaigning, and members aren’t wasting any time in their attempts to suck up to the dirty energy industry.

It is simple math: Congress currently has a 15% approval rating, and every single seat in the House of Representatives is up for election this year (as it is every two years). Reports show that the candidate with the most money wins 91% of the time

When 80% of the public disapproves of the job that you’re doing, the only way to counter that negativity is with a massive advertising blitz, and that costs a lot of money. In order to satisfy the equation, Republicans in Congress are hoping to secure money from electric utilities.

They know what they need, and they also know how to deliver. Republicans in Congress have launched relentless attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), specifically targeting the agency’s power plant pollution rules that require a 30% reduction in emissions by the year 2030.  

Leading the charge is the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Republican Hal Rogers. The committee’s Republicans were able to push through a spending bill that cuts deeply into EPA funding, and also takes aim at some of the agency’s most aggressive climate change initiatives.

As mentioned above, the main target of the committee was the EPA’s power plant rule, but it also tries to defang the EPA’s proposed rules on corporate dumping in waterways.  The ranking Democrat on the committee, Jim Duran, said that there were at least 24 measures in the Republican budget that were designed as “veto bait” for President Obama, which would give the campaigning Republicans an edge when it comes to vying for dirty energy funds.

Fri, 2014-05-30 15:35Farron Cousins
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Life Saving Regulations Stalled In Bureaucratic Abyss

There is an unspoken rule in American politics: when you have bad news to deliver, do it on a Friday afternoon.  This helps to ensure that fewer people will see it, fewer will have time to analyze it, and the media will forget all about it over the weekend.  If you really want the issue to die, release it on a Friday before a holiday weekend, and that’s exactly what the Obama administration did last week when they released their bi-annual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda reads like a laundry list of proposed safety regulations from nearly all the major regulatory agencies.  Digging into the Department of the Interior section of that list, you will find countless stalled regulations pertaining to the dirty energy industry, some of which have been in limbo since the days of the former Bush administration

Ben Geman at National Journal explains:

Thu, 2014-05-22 08:42Farron Cousins
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New Report Exposes Fossil Fuel Front Groups Behind Attacks on Renewables

Fossil fuel exploitation in the United States has reached a fevered pitch.  Oil production is at a near-record high, and fracking activities have made the U.S. the number one producer of natural gas.  All of this comes at a cost.  In 2013, the oil industry averaged 20 oil spills per day, destroying countless swaths of the environment and leaving toxic chemicals for nearby residents to deal with.  Meanwhile, oil and gas train derailments have totaled at least 11 in the last 11 months. 

During this period of dirty energy dominance, investments in renewable energy continued to fall by 14% in 2013.  The United States is averaging 20 oil spills per day, 1 dirty energy transport train derailment and explosion per month, and yet we’re still doubling down on fossil fuels. 

This all seems fairly shocking, until you peel back the curtain on who is behind the efforts to keep renewable energy solutions out of the picture, which is exactly what a new report has done.  The Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) has released a report detailing not only the fossil fuel front groups behind the attacks on clean energy, but also how they are able to use their money and political muscle to prevent a viable market for clean energy, limiting energy choices for consumers.

From the report, Attacks on Renewable Energy Standards and Net Metering Policies By Fossil Fuel Interests & Front Groups 2013-2014:

The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to achieve their goals. Self-identified “free market think tanks” are among the most effective advocates for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for policy changes. Dozens of these so-called free market organizations, a majority of which are members of the State Policy Network (SPN), worked to influence state level energy policies and attack the clean energy industry…

Fossil fuel-funded front groups operate in multiple areas to influence the policy-making process in their attempts to eliminate clean energy policies. First, groups like the Beacon Hill Institute provide flawed reports or analysis claiming clean energy policies have negative impacts. Next, allied front groups or “think tanks” use the flawed data in testimony, opinion columns, and in the media. Then, front groups, like Americans for Prosperity, spread disinformation through their grassroots networks, in postcards mailed to the public, and in television ads attacking the clean energy policy. Finally, lobbyists from front groups, utilities, and other fossil fuel companies use their influence from campaign contributions and meetings with decision makers to push for anti-clean energy efforts.

In addition to listing the individual groups that are fighting against clean energy, EPI also provides a chart showing which groups are most active in energy-producing states, and how their attacks on renewable energy have derailed (or inspired) legislation in each state.  Proposals have ranged from charging citizens an extra $50 - $100 a month if they install solar panels, to smear campaigns geared towards convincing the public that installing clean energy technology in their homes is an investment that will never pay off for consumers.

The report lists the usual suspects as the main culprits:  Heartland Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the State Policy Network.  The money behind these groups is from sources like the Koch brothers, Exxon, and many other dirty energy heavy hitters.

Tue, 2014-05-06 07:00Farron Cousins
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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.

Wed, 2014-04-09 13:06Carol Linnitt
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Greenpeace Complaint Against Ethical Oil Brings “Corrosive Effect of Oil on Our Politics” to Light

When Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart filed an official complaint with Elections Canada, he did a lot more than question the implications of the Ethical Oil Institute’s collusion with the Conservative Party of Canada: he called national attention to the corrosive effect oil money has had on Canadian politics in recent years.

At the broadest level,” Stewart told DeSmog Canada via e-mail, “we are trying to rebalance the playing field between money and people power in Canadian politics. You can never eliminate the influence of money on politics, but you can limit it and make it more transparent.”

Greenpeace’s request for an investigation is based on the fact that corporate donations to political parties are banned in federal politics — yet money raised by the Ethical Oil Institute appears to have been spent on advertising and other activities developed and implemented by people directly involved in the Conservative Party of Canada. The institute does not disclose its funding sources, but its website states it does “accept donations from Canadian individuals and companies, including those working to produce Ethical Oil.”

Tue, 2014-02-04 11:39Farron Cousins
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Duke Energy Spills Thousands Of Tons Of Coal Ash Into North Carolina River

Residents in the city of Eden, North Carolina are currently in danger of having their drinking water destroyed thanks to Duke Energy.  The coal giant has reported a coal ash spill in the Dan River with as much as 82,000 tons of the toxic pollutant released into the waterway.

According to EcoWatch, it took an astounding 24 hours after the accident occurred for Duke to issue a press release to inform the public about the chemicals that were very quickly making their way down river.  It is currently estimated that 22 million gallons of coal ash are now flowing along the river.  The spill has already been declared the third largest in U.S. history.

This was not an unavoidable catastrophe.

Duke was warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2009 that the coal ash storage site was falling apart, and the EPA even noted several instances of coal ash sludge already leaking from corroded pipes.  The EPA report also noted that portions of the dam that were supposed to be keeping the coal ash in its retention pond were crumbling.

The coal ash spill is the second major environmental chemical spill in less than a month, following the West Virginia chemical spill in early January.

Thu, 2014-01-30 14:31Farron Cousins
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House Energy Committee Votes Down Climate Reality

The House Energy and Commerce Committee had the opportunity earlier this week to pass an amendment making it clear that the House accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is real. But it seems that once again dirty energy industry money was enough to convince the Republicans on the committee that science doesn’t matter.

Twenty-four House Republicans voted against the amendment. Introduced by Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky, the amendment stated that the House of Representatives accepts that climate change is happening and that it is the result of rising greenhouse gas emissions. The failed amendment was tacked onto the Electricity Security and Affordability Act which will prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enacting emissions standards on electricity plants until carbon capture technology is more “commercially viable,” which is industry slang for “cheap.”

ThinkProgress has the details on the committee’s decision to deny reality:

Fri, 2013-11-22 11:45Farron Cousins
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Report: Gas Industry’s Campaign Donations Reach Record Levels

As elected officials in Washington continue to mull the possibilities of setting stricter standards for fracking, the natural gas industry has decided to pull out all the stops to defeat these standards before they can even see the light of day.  A new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) shows that the industry’s campaign contributions are now at record levels as they battle politicians wishing to tighten the reins on fracking.

According to the report, natural gas campaign donations to politicians in states where fracking is taking off have risen by 231% in the last 8 years.  But the industry is also hedging its bets in non-fracking states, as donations to politicians in those areas saw an increase in donations of 131%. 

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, isn’t surprised by the increase.  Of the report, Sloan said, “Like many industries under increasing scrutiny, the fracking industry has responded by ratcheting up campaign donations to help make new friends in Congress…As CREW’s report shows, the fracking boom isn’t just good for the industry, but also for congressional candidates in fracking districts.”

CREW goes on to explain where the bulk of the money is going:

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