politics

Fri, 2013-10-25 10:00Farron Cousins
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Climate Policy Already Headlining 2014 Midterm Elections

The U.S. may still be more than a year out from the 2014 midterm elections, but Republicans in Congress are already making the Obama administration’s climate policies a key issue for voters.

Republican Representative Ed Whitfield from Kentucky announced this week that he intends to make the President’s climate change policies, specifically stricter standards on coal-fired power plants, a top talking point during the coming campaign season.  Whitfield also announced that he would introduce legislation to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal plant emissions.

The Hill quotes Whitfield as saying, “We are going to mark this legislation up, we are going to get it to the floor, we want to get it over to the Senate, and we want those senators running next year to have to have a discussion with whoever their opponent may be about the future of fossil fuel in America.”

Whitfield wants to force the issue of “restrictive” climate policy onto Democrats who are running in conservative areas of the country, with an emphasis on those running in areas that are entrenched with the dirty energy industry, like his home state of Kentucky, along with West Virginia and the Carolinas.

Representative Whitfield has long been a mouthpiece for the dirty energy industry during his tenure as the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power; a position that has earned him more than $900,000 in campaign donations from the oil, coal, and gas industries.

Fri, 2013-10-04 12:37Farron Cousins
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Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.

Mon, 2013-09-23 20:01Farron Cousins
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Regulatory Negligence Endangers Texas Citizens As Eagle Ford Fracking Impacts Soar

There’s no denying that Texas is the state that dirty energy built.  It remains the single largest source of domestically produced oil in the United States, and currently has more fracking wells than any other state.  With an abundant supply of dirty energy money, the state government of Texas is completely owned by the dirty energy industry.

This trifecta of industry domination is playing itself out in southern Texas, in what has become a no man's land for federal regulators.

According to a new report by Earthworks, energy companies drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale basin are wreaking havoc on both the environment and the people, and federal regulators have essentially abandoned the area.  This exodus of oversight has led to an increase in environmental abuses by the dirty energy industry.

But it wasn’t always this way in Texas.  According to Earthworks, regulators have been present in the area, and even carried out some needed investigations into the damage caused by drillers.  

But what the regulators found was so horrible that they had to evacuate themselves, and that was the last that residents in the area heard from them.

Wed, 2013-09-18 13:57Farron Cousins
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Whether Approved Or Not, Keystone XL Has Been A Victory For Lobbyists

For the past six years, lobbyists in Washington have made a killing shilling either for or against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  And with no clear end in sight, the folks on K Street will continue to see a flurry of cash headed in their direction.

During last year’s heated presidential race, groups spent close to $16 million directly related to the Keystone XL pipeline, with most of that money coming from industry and other proponents of the pipeline.  While opponents of the pipeline spent a few million last year – with at least one million pledged this year to fight against KXL – the lion’s share of the money spent on lobbying comes from the dirty energy industry.

Bloomberg reported the following on how intense the lobbying showdown has been in recent years:

Thu, 2013-08-15 07:00Farron Cousins
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Coal Industry Waging War Against EPA

After playing the victims of an allegedly unfair, and completely fabricated, “war on coal,” the coal industry has gone on the offensive by launching their own war on federal regulators.  Specifically, the group has their sights set on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coal lobbyists, led by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), have been meeting with White House officials to weaken EPA standards on CO2 emissions.  The lobbyists claim that a rule requiring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at all new coal-burning power plants should be removed because the technology is “not available.” 

Once you move past their talking points, their real agenda is clearly visible.  After claiming that the required technology is not available, the lobbyists then admitted that their goal was to completely exempt the industry from any form of emissions standards put forth by the EPA through the Clean Air Act.

The EPA is currently working on draft proposals that would significantly reduce the amount of allowable carbon pollution from existing power plants, a move that the coal industry views as too costly.  The lobbyists' meeting with White House officials is, according to The Hill, the most recent in a string of meetings between industry and administration officials this summer.

Mon, 2013-07-15 15:04Farron Cousins
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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. 

Thu, 2013-01-24 07:00Anne Landman
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Dick Armey's Long History of Working With Industry-Backed Groups

The second in a three-part series about Dick Armey and his relationship to the tobacco industry throughout his career. See part one here.

There is no doubt that Dick Armey considered the tobacco industry a friend, as discussed in part one of this series. There is also no doubt that cigarette makers worked to stay on Armey's good side, and in ways beyond just giving him money.  

In 1993, Armey's son, David Armey, got a job with the Ramhurst Corporation, a company created through R.J. Reynolds' effort to set up astroturf  “smokers rights” groups throughout the country in the mid-1980s. RJR created these groups to give the appearance that smokers across the U.S. were coordinating a grassroots uprising against state and local smoking bans, which at the time were being  introduced more frequently across the country.
Ramhurst hired David Armey as a contract lobbyist to help the tobacco industry fight clean indoor air laws in the states. 
Wed, 2013-01-23 05:00Anne Landman
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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.
Wed, 2013-01-02 11:02Farron Cousins
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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.

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