U.S. House of Representatives

Disclosure Fail: Industry Reps Testifying for Denton, Texas Fracking Bill Left Ties Undisclosed

March 24 hearing prior to the passage of a controversial bill out of committee that preempts cities in Texas from regulating hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas obtained from shale basins, featured numerous witnesses who failed to disclose their industry ties, including some with ties to the Koch brothers

The next day on March 25, Texas Senate Bill 1165 — “Relating to the express preemption of regulation of oil and gas operations and the exclusive jurisdiction of those operations by the state” — passed in the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee unanimously. Its companion bill, HB 40, also only received a single dissenting vote, and it now advances to a full floor vote in both chambers.  

The legislation is seen by some as part of the multipronged effort to chip away and ultimately defeat the Denton, Texas fracking ban voted on by the city's citizens on Election Day 2014, with another prong being the lawsuits filed against the city.

The March 24 Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development hearing on SB 1165, lasting over four hours, featured a long list of witnesses testifying for and against the bill.

Though everyone testifying in support of it had industry ties, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that a few of them did not disclose this when signing up to testify and simply wrote they were testifying as “self.” 

Peabody Coal Lawyer Laurence Tribe, Obama's Law Professor, Testifies in Congress vs. EPA Carbon Rule

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School and of-counsel at the firm Massey & Gail LLP, recently testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce against the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule

Currently working as legal counsel for coal industry giant Peabody Energy and helping the company write comments, Tribe submitted a 57-page legal memo to accompany his five-minute testimony (starting at 22:43). In December 2014, Tribe submitted 35 pages worth of comments to the EPA on its proposed rule.

Joining Tribe were both New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz and Hunton & Williams attorney Allison Wood, who testified for and against the Clean Power Plan, respectively. But Tribe served as the star witness and fielded most of the questions from the Committee during the question-and-answer session.

Fittingly given his distinguished legal background, Tribe argued against the Clean Power Plan on constiutional law grounds. 

“Burning the Constiution should not become part of our national energy policy,” Tribe wrote in the early pages of the legal memo he submitted to the Committee. “At its core, the issue the Clean Power Plan presents is whether EPA is bound by the rule of law and must operate within the framework established by the United States Constitution.”

He also proposed a solution — favored by his client Peabody  in a section titled, “There is a Better Way.”

“The United States could…support carbon capture and storage technologies,” Tribe wrote, not mentioning Peabody's advocacy for so-called “clean coal.” 

“An 'all of the above' energy policy can support all forms of domestic energy production that will minimize carbon emissions, protect consumers and American jobs, and ensure that the U.S. remains independent from unreliable foreign sources of energy.”

Keystone XL Vote Analysis: House Proves Who They Serve

This is a guest post by Matt Maiorana, cross-posted with permission from Oil Change International. 

2015 is already bringing new challenges — including a congress that’s set on ignoring climate science and fighting for the fossil fuel industry instead of the American people.

One of their first acts of business has been an attempt to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite President Obama stating that he’ll veto the legislation. This hasn’t stopped pro-oil legislators from pushing the issue forward and it’s clear why.

We crunched the numbers and found that in today’s Keystone XL vote, members of the House of Representatives who voted ‘yes’ on approving the pipeline took a combined total of over $13 million dollars from the Oil and Gas industry in 2014 ALONE.

Compared to members of the House voting against the pipeline, they took 8.5x more money on average. And this doesn’t even include all the ‘dark money’ being spent by the fossil fuel industry in the most recent elections.

State Department's Keystone XL Contractor ERM Approved Project Now Melting Glaciers

A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.

TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.

ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.

A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.

The Kumtor Gold Mineowned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project. 

ERM Group Melting Glaciers

“The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers,” explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.

“Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management.” 

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.

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.

How Much Did Seven House Votes Pushing Keystone XL Cost Taxpayers?

News broke recently that the 37 House votes to repeal Obamacare cost taxpayers $55 million. The House has voted for Keystone XL eight times, and Oil Change International says the House members who voted for it took six times as much money from the oil industry as their colleagues who voted against. Those votes cost Big Oil $36 million. How much did they cost us, the taxpayers?

Turns out it’s pretty much impossible to calculate the cost of any House activity. The Congressional Research Service refuses to offer estimates, calling it “methodologically impossible.”

The $55 million figure for the Obamacare repeal votes is extrapolated from a number in a CBS report from last year, on the occasion of the House Republicans’ 33rd vote to repeal Obamacare, and Politifact says it is so rough an estimate that it amounts to a false claim.

But let’s play anyway!

Bill to Block EPA Climate Regulations Moves Forward in Congress

On Tuesday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives moved one step closer to passing a bill to permanently prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating global warming pollution. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill, H.R. 910 or the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” in a vote that fell mostly along party lines.

Under the guise of lowering gas prices, the bill would deliver several very lethal blows to EPA efforts to address climate change – and to President Obama’s energy agenda – by:

Are U.S. House Republicans confusing "Americans" with the "American Petroleum Institute" by cutting pollution protections?

Kids love clean air and support EPA

Recent polls confirm that Americans across the country and political spectrum actually do agree on at least one thing: that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should keep doing its job – and even do more – to set limits on air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, two influential groups feel differently than nearly seven in ten Americans on this issue: Republicans in the House of Representatives and the American Petroleum Institute, a powerful lobbying group representing the oil and gas industry.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Lung Association, who represent environmentalists and American lungs, respectively, each released public polls asking whether EPA scientists or Congress should make decisions about pollution limits. A key finding of the National Lung Association poll was that “voters overwhelmingly oppose Congressional action that impedes EPA from updating clean air standards [PPT].

At the same time, Congressional Republicans are claiming a mandate to cut funding for government programs like the EPA. House Republicans almost unanimously voted to prevent the EPA from doing its job – and specifically from enacting regulations on carbon emissions this year - by cutting EPA’s 2011 budget by $3 billion in the spending bill which passed the U.S. House on February 19, 2011. 

”This is about listening to our country, listening to the people who just elected this Congress to restore discipline with respect to our spending,” Frank Guinta (R-New Hampshire) said during the debate on the budget legislation. But to whom Republicans are listening should perhaps be up for debate.

Big Pharma Lobbyists Script Speeches In U.S. Congress, Industry Fights Against Generic Drugs

While our focus here at DeSmogBlog is to expose the public relations and lobbying antics that hinder effective responses to climate change, we are always on the lookout for other examples of how lobbying and PR impede progress on critical legislative efforts to protect people instead of profits.

The health care reform bill in front of the U.S. Congress provides several noteworthy examples, perhaps none so appalling as that described in a front-page New York Times article this week about the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to script the floor speeches delivered by members of the House of Representatives.

The article, “In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’”, describes how lobbyists working on behalf of Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, succeeded in having their ghostwritten talking points repeated, often verbatim, by over 40 lawmakers on the House floor - 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

Genentech also succeeded in getting many of its willing spokespeople in Congress to mention the issue of generic drugs, a critical item on the industry’s lobbying agenda in the health care reform debate.  Genentech no doubt hoped to drum up additional support for an amendment put forth by Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), in whose district Genentech is located.  Rep. Eshoo’s provision would have granted pharmaceutical companies up to 12 years of monopoly advantage – and perhaps longer – to sell their profitable cancer, diabetes and AIDS drugs without competition from cheaper generic forms.

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