politics

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:

Sun, 2013-11-17 06:00Farron Cousins
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U.S. House Prepares Early Christmas Gift To Natural Gas Industry

The holiday season has officially kicked off for consumers, with massive sales and discounts being advertised in all forms of media.  But the U.S. House of Representatives doesn’t have to fight the crowds to find the perfect gift for the dirty energy industry – they believe that the best gift is the one you make yourself.

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.

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