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August 08 2012

18:20

Science Denial and Andrea Saul – Romney 2012 Campaign Spokesperson

This is a guest post from Connor Gibson, originally published at PolluterWatch.

 INTRODUCTION

 
Andrea Saul, a prominent Romney 2012 campaign operative and spokesperson, formerly worked for DCI Group, a Washington DC public affairs and lobbying firm. During this period, DCI Group was on contract to ExxonMobil at the height of Exxon’s campaign attacking global warming science and climate change policy. DCI’s efforts included campaigns to undermine climate legislation and to push counter messages and spokespeople to media on the connection between extreme weather and global warming. Saul’s extensive role in these DCI Group climate campaigns can be traced through archived documents and press releases. Her role in shaping Romney’s climate and science policy is not known. 
“Gov. Romney does not think greenhouse gases are pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Air Act, and he does not believe that the EPA should be regulating them,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Humans emit it every time they exhale.”  Politico, July 2011
.
Ms. Saul has also responded to Mitt Romney's contradictory public statements on global warming. NPR reported in October, 2011:
"Romney went from believing that humans contribute to global warming, though he was uncertain how much, to saying he didn't know what contributes to global warming." Andrea Saul denied that Romney had "flip-flopped" on his climate stance, responding:
"This is ridiculous. Governor Romney's view on climate change has not changed. He believes it's occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn't know to what extent. He opposes cap and trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor. Maybe the bigger threat is all the hot air coming from career politicians who are desperate to hold on to power."

ANDREA SAUL AND DCI GROUP

  • Saul was hired March 2011 as a Romney campaign spokesperson. Today, she regularly appears in the media as the main messenger for the campaign.
  • While employed with the PR firm DCI Group as an account executive between 2004-2007, Ms. Saul helped to orchestrate a multi-faceted, covert operation to undermine science, attack scientists and confuse the public and reporters. 
  • DCI was, at that time, contracted as lobbyists by Exxon and many other corporations.  Exxon remains a DCI client today.
From 2004 to 2007, Ms. Saul worked at the DCI Group, a top lobbying and public relations firm that has represented a range of clients including the Burmese junta and has orchestrated front group campaigns for Microsoft, Verizon and ExxonMobil. More on ExxonMobil's role in climate science denial is outlined in Steve Coll's new book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.
 
Two of the DCI Group founders, Tim Hyde and Thomas J. Synhorst, began their careers with the tobacco industry where they worked to undermine the science on the dangers of smoking. For instance, Mr. Synhorst oversaw field operations with the “smokers rights” groups, a phony movement designed to shift the discussion away from the dangers of smoking to the protection of smoking rights.
 
In the early-2000s, DCI picked up ExxonMobil as a client and began operations to create confusion about climate change science. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported on a purportedly homemade YouTube video portraying Al Gore as a sinister figure who blames several problems on global warming. The video’s maker was listed as “Toutsmith” a 29-year-old who identified himself as living in Beverly Hills, California.
 
However, when Journal reporters contacted “Toutsmith” his return emails originated from a computer registered with the DCI Group. A spokesman from Exxon confirmed that the company was a DCI Group client. DCI declined to admit to the Wall Street Journal if they had made the video. 
 
According to the Wall Street Journal
"Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on YouTube.com in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday."
As part of this Exxon funded campaign, Andrea Saul was a point person behind an effort to create confusion and advance contrarian viewpoints and corporate-funded pundits. 
 
This briefing illuminates Ms. Saul’s efforts at DCI

  • PART 1) Ms. Saul advanced the opinions of contrarian scientists and corporate-funded pundits on the Exxon-funded Tech Central Station, a purported news web site;
  • PART 2) Ms. Saul sought to promote contrarian voices into the debate over hurricanes and climate change in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; 
  • PART 3) Ms. Saul promoted the views of a scientist who had no training in climate change to undermine a study on climate change effects on the Antarctic ice sheet; 
  • PART 4) Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to undermine scientific consensus on the science of climate change; 
  • PART 5) Ms. Saul pushed out press releases for a front group linked to Grover Norquist designed to undermine pending climate change legislation.

ADDITIONAL CONTENT:

(click links above to jump down to a section of the briefing)

1. Andrea Saul - Contact on Climate Change for Phony News Site, Tech Central Station

Tech Central Station is a free market news site that was established, owned and published by DCI Group until it was sold in September 2006.  According to a story published in 2003 in the Washington Monthly, Tech Central Station appeared to be less about news than lobbying. The story found:
"Tech Central Station looks less like a think-tank-cum-magazine than a kind of lobbying practice. Which makes sense: Four of the five co-owners of TCS are also the co-owners of the DCI Group, the Washington public affairs firm founded by Republican operative Thomas J. Synhorst. TCS's fifth owner is Charles Francis, who is also a senior lobbyist at DCI and is listed on TCS's phone directory. And as it happens, three of TCS's sponsors—AT&T, General Motors, and PhRMA—have also retained DCI for their lobbying needs. (Both DCI's spokeswoman and TCS's chief executive officer declined to be interviewed for this article. However, after I requested comment, the Web site was changed. Where it formerly stated that 'Tech Central Station is published by Tech Central Station, L.L.C.,' it now reads 'Tech Central Station is published by DCI Group, L.L.C.')
 
"Like its publishing arm, DCI's business is to influence elite opinion in Washington. But instead of publishing articles, DCI specializes in what's known as 'corporate-financed grass-roots organizing,' such as setting up front groups to agitate for a client's position, placing letters to the editor with key newspapers, and using phone banks to generate calls to politicians. TCS, for its part, includes a disclaimer on its site noting that 'the opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of the writers and not necessarily those of any corporation or other organization.' But it is startling how often the opinions of TCS's writers and sponsors converge."
In 2006, Andrea Saul was listed as the contact person on Tech Central Station’s webpage on climate change. The site hosted opinions written by many prominent climate change science deniers including Patrick Michaels, Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, David Legates, Robert C. Balling, Henry I. Miller, Tim Ball, William Gray, Anthony Lupo, and Roy Spencer
 

2. DCI Tech Central Station - Campaign on Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change

On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, after the worst year of hurricane damage in recent history, including the devastating and deadly hurricane Katrina, DCI was deployed to create a counter narrative on the connection between stronger hurricanes and global warming. It is unknown who the DCI client was requesting this work, or what the deliverables were.
 
As part of the DCI efforts, Tech Central Station produced and distributed a Video News Release (VNR) that called into question the science linking hurricanes with climate change. The VNR along with a known newscast that used the piece, is viewable online, preserved by the Center for Investigative Reporting:
 
 
VNRs are produced videos, contracted generally by corporations, edited as news segments and sent out to news stations in small markets in hopes of filling airtime within the actual newscast. 
 
DCI’s hurricane VNR was distributed to TV stations across the Gulf states and was aired on at least one of them. Materials accompanying the video package listed "TCS Daily Science Roundtable" as the producer. The VNR’s announcers said:
 
"There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes. Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame.
 
"Dr. William Gray and Dr. James O’Brien, two of the nation’s top weather and oceans scientists, point to scientific data for the answer […].
 
"Gray and many of his colleagues believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself."
Growing Body of Scientific Evidence on Hurricanes and Climate Change:
Around the time that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, several papers were published in the scientific literature that found a potential link between hurricanes and climate change.
 
Two months before Katrina hit, Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a 'Perspective' article in Science that examined the published literature for possible evidence linking hurricanes and climate change.  Dr. Trenberth concluded:
"Trends in human-influenced environmental changes are now evident in hurricane regions. These changes are expected to affect hurricane intensity and rainfall, but the effect on hurricane numbers remains unclear. The key scientific question is not whether there is a trend in hurricane numbers and tracks, but rather how hurricanes are changing."
Weeks before Katrina landed, Kerry Emmanuel with the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a study in Nature that reviewed the power of roughly 4,800 hurricanes in the prior few decades. His analysis concluded that hurricanes that occurred over this period were increasing in average intensity. 
"My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century."
Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a 'Viewpoint' in Science which argued that the insurance industry was vulnerable to the negative financial impact of disasters accentuated by climate change. 
 
The month after Hurricane Katrina hit, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a study of tropical cyclones in Science. The data found an increase in the number and proportion of hurricanes reaching the largest categories, which are 4 and 5. 
 
The accumulated evidence of these papers, along with the media reports, had a definitive impact on public opinion. A poll run by Time/ABC News/Stanford University at that time, found that 85 percent of Americans agreed that the Earth was growing warmer. 
 
On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, DCI responded to growing public recognition of global warming. On March 30, 2006, Andrea Saul sent out a press release alerting reporters to “experts” who could discuss the link between hurricanes and climate change. This press release furtively lists Saul as representing “Technology Commerce Society”, the tag line for TCS Daily, Tech Central Station’s daily blog website…it’s either Tech Central Station or the Technology Commerce Society. Saul’s real employer, DCI Group.
 
Ms. Saul wrote in the release: 
“Coming off one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, many are quick to blame the strength and frequency of these storms on global warming. Leading climate scientists, however, say there is no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate.” 
The scientists listed on the press statement included:
  • James J. O’Brien, director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State University – As an expert in oceanography and weather, Dr. O’Brien appeared to have little to no expertise in climate change according to his CV of published studies. 
  • Patrick Michaels, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia – A denier of anthropogenic global warming, Dr. Michaels has maintained strong ties to several denialist and front groups for oil and gas interests including the Cato Institute and the Greening Earth Society
  • George Taylor, Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon – With no training in climate change or hurricanes, Taylor’s job was “to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
  • Anthony R. Lupo, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Missouri – A global warming denier and conservative activist, Lupo has been affiliated with numerous denialist organizations including the Science and Environmental Policy Project, the Heartland Institute, and the Marshall Institute (see also Dr. Lupo's resume).

3. Andrea Saul - Promoting the Views of a Non-expert Expert

In April 2006, Andrea Saul put out a press release to promote the views of weatherman and climate contrarian George Taylor who attempted to rebut a study published in Science which found that the Antarctic ice sheet was melting. Ms. Saul wrote:
"TCSDaily Science Roundtable member and Oregon state climatologist George Taylor, expressed his concern over the legitimacy of recent claims that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting. The Washington Post article titled 'Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Melting Rapidly' (www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/03/02/AR2006030201712.html) looked to Taylor to provide an expert view on the validity of a recent study published in Science magazine on global warming."
George Taylor was the Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon and had no training in climate change or its effects on polar regions of the Earth. According to an article about his retirement in 2008, Taylor’s expertise was “ to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
 

4. Andrea Saul - Led Campaign to Undermine Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Science

In mid 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) sought to draft a consensus statement on the science of climate change. This statement examined the vast body of research on the matter in attempt to better explain the science to both scientists and the American public.
 
In response, several scientists sent a letter to the AMS in an attempt to introduce contrarian views about “natural variability” and “data uncertainty” in the climate.   The lead author of the letter was Joseph D’Aleo a well-known climate change denier who has no training in climate change science. Other signatories include contrarian scientists and corporate funded pundits such as Richard Lindzen, Sallie Baliunas, and Patrick J. Michaels.
 
To advance these views, Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to “influence the deciding committee on the final statement.” 
 

5. Andrea Saul - Work with Grover Norquist Front Group, United For Jobs

When Congress was considering a tax on oil companies in the mid 2000’s, Andrea Saul leaped to Big Oil’s defense as part of United For Jobs, front group. In a press release by Saul, she wrote:
"Today United for Jobs (UFJ) warned that federal legislation to impose a so-called "windfall profits tax" on U.S. oil companies would have a severe economic impact on public employee trust funds. The Missouri Highway Patrol Retirement System, the Public School Employees' Retirement System of Missouri, the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System, and other public retirement funds could lose as much as $325 million per year in foregone gains, according to a recent study by the Investors Action Foundation (http://www.windfallprofitstax.org/)."
United for Jobs had already led the campaign to kill the McCain-Lieberman climate legislation on a rolling basis beginning in 2004. In 2005, the latest McCain-Lieberman climate bill was gaining slow momentum and Senator McCain pushed for more votes. McCain staff told to us at the time that United for Jobs was the most formidable opponent, with their appearance as a multi-denominational coalition of "labor", black business (National Black Chamber of Commerce), and seniors groups (60 Plus Association). United for Jobs attacked numerous other proposals for greenhouse gas regulations, including a counter offense against Senator Jeff Binghaman’s carbon dioxide regulatory efforts in 2005
 
United for Jobs no longer exists, but an archived website finds that their office was located at 1920 L Street, NW Suite 200 Washington, DC 20036. At the time, this was the exact same address for Americans for Tax Reform, a corporate front group managed by Grover Norquist, an associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff
 
DCI Group served as the contact and distribution node for United for Jobs reports and press releases.
 

Leaked Document: DCI, Heartland Institute and Exxon plan attacks on Clean Air Act

An anonymous source sent Greenpeace a copy of an invitation, agenda and attendees list for a May 2006 meeting organized by the Heartland Institute and hosted at the DCI Group offices “to discuss public policy challenges related to the Clean Air Act.” The only corporation represented at the meeting was ExxonMobil. Exxon representatives gave two presentations over the course of the full day meeting. Six ExxonMobil staff are listed as invited guests. Two DCI – Tech Central Station representatives are named on the invitees list, along with a note “plus DCI field officers and staff”. It is unknown whether Andrea Saul attended this meeting.
 
 
 
 
Organizations invited to this session included:
{cke_protected}

DCI Group former staff within Romney 2012 campaign:

(Quotations sourced from Democracy in Action)
 
Matt Rhoades, Campaign Manager:
“(announced Feb. 15, 2010) A vice president with DCI Group, May 2007-Feb. 2010. Communications director on Romney's presidential campaign, Jan. 2007-March 2008. A deputy communications director in charge of research for the RNC during the 2006 election cycle. Research director for the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. Deputy research director at the RNC, 2003-04. White House Liaison at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the Bush Administration, and earlier an Associate Director in the White House Presidential Personnel Office. B.A. from Syracuse University, 1997; and an M.A. from The George Washington University, 1999.”
Andrea Saul, Press Secretary:
“announced March 3, 2011 as communications advisor to Free and Strong America PAC) Press Secretary for Carly Fiorina’s U.S. Senate race in California. Communications director for Gov. Charlie Crist during his recent U.S. Senate run but resigned in April 2010 upon his decision to switch party affiliation. Press secretary to U.S Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) during much of 2009. Director of media affairs for McCain-Palin, responsible for organizing all television, radio and surrogate activity. Director of media affairs at the Republican National Committee, 2007-08. Associate account executive at DCI Group, 2005-07. Graduate of Vanderbilt University, 2004. twitter
Evan Yost, Deputy Communications Director and Research Director:
“(June 2011) M.B.A. in finance, accounting from Rice University, 2011. A director at DCI Group, 2007-09. Deputy director of research on John McCain 2008 in 2007. Special assistant for strategic initiatives in the Office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, 2005-06. B.A. in English literature from The Johns Hopkins University, 2000.”
 

 

July 28 2012

13:00

The Real Train Wreck: ALEC and "Other ALECs" Attack EPA Regulations

When business-friendly bills and resolutions spread like wildfire in statehouses nationwide calling for something as far-fetched as a halt to EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, ALEC is always a safe bet for a good place to look for their origin.

In the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists, as CMD explains, have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy." In short, they have de facto veto power over whether the prospective bills they present at these conferences become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

For a concise version of how ALEC operates, see the brand new video below by Mark Fiore.

 
ALEC Rock

ALEC, though, isn't the only group singing this tune.

As it turns out, one of the "Other ALECs," or a group that operates in a similar manner to ALEC, will be hosting its conference in the immediate aftermath of ALEC's conference: the Council of State Government's (CSG) regional offshoot, the Southern Leadership Conference (SLC).

Like ALEC, CSG produces its own "model bills," which it calls "Suggested State Legislation" (SSL). SSL is enacted via an "up or down" vote manner at CSG's national meetings. This process mirrors that of its cousin ALEC, with corporate lobbyists also able to vote in closed door meetings.

Some key differences between CSG and ALEC: the former is bipartisan in nature, while the latter is Republican Party-centric; CSG has a far larger budget, due to the fact that 43 percent of its funding comes from taxpayer contributions; and CSG is not explicitly ideological in nature because it was founded as a trade association for state legislators (not as a corporate front group like ALEC, although CSG is now heavily influenced by the same forces).

SLC's annual meeting will be held in Charleston, West Virginia from July 28-31.

TruthOut's ongoing "Other ALECs Exposed" series (written by yours truly) digs deep into the machinations of "Other ALEC"-like groups.

One of the key threads tying these two particular groups together is their agreement on derailing what they describe as "job-killing" EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations. ALEC has referred to these sensible standards on multiple occassions as a "Regulatory Trainwreck."

ALEC, SLC and EPA "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolutions

ALEC's "Regulatory Trainwreck" Resolution

ALEC has two model bills on the books that call for EPA regulations to be eliminated: the State Regulatory Responsibility Act and the Resolution Opposing EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck. Essentially clones, the two bills passed nearly a decade apart from one another, the former in 2000, the latter in 2011.

ALEC's description of EPA regulations reads like the apocolypse is looming.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a war on the American standard of living," it wrote. "During the past couple of years, the Agency has undertaken the most expansive regulatory assault in history on the production and distribution of affordable and reliable energy…These regulations are causing the shutdown of power plants across the nation, forcing electricity generation off of coal, destroying jobs, raising energy costs, and decreasing reliability."  

Former CMD reporter Jill Richardson wrote in a July 2011 story that the concept behind the resolution originated at ALEC's December 2010 policy summit. Richardson explained,

The policy summit included a session led by Peter Glaser of Troutman Sanders LLP law firm in which Glaser, an attorney who represents electric utility, mining and other energy industry companies and associations on environmental regulation, specifically in the area of air quality and global climate change, told the crowd that "EPA's regulatory trainwreck" is "a term that's now in common use around town. I think everybody should become familiar with it." (See the video here.) Along with the presentations, ALEC published a report called "EPA's Regulatory Trainwreck: Strategies for State Legislators" and provided "Legislation to Consider" on its site, RegulatoryTrainwreck.com. For the public, they created the website StopTheTrainwreck.com.

The Resolution calls for the EPA to stop regulating greenhouse gases for the next two years as a "jobs creation" mechanism.

After the midterm election ransacking, in which the GOP won large majorities in state legislatures nationwide, it was off to the races for "Regulatory Train Wreck" resolutions to pass around the country, and pass they did. 

The "Regulatory Trainwreck" resolution, according to ALEC, has been introduced in an astounding 34 states, passing in 13, as of a June 2011 press release.

This assault conducted by ALEC and its corporate backers is merely the tip of the iceberg. ALEC itself boasts,

There are 27 groups of state and local officials that opposerecent EPA action, including tens of thousands of state legislators, utility commissioners, agricultural department officials, foresters, drinking water administrators, fish and wildlife agencies, solid waste management officials, state wetland managers, mayors, counties, and cities.

One of these 27 groups included CSG's Southern Leadership Conference.

SLC Adopts the "Regulatory Train Wreck" Resolution as its Own

On July 19, 2011, the SLC adopted the ALEC Regulatory Train Wreck resolution at its 65th Annual Meeting in Memphis, TN. The Resolution called for, among other things, to

  1. "Adopt legislation prohibiting the EPA from further regulating greenhouse gas emissions for the next 24 months, including, if necessary, defunding the EPA greenhouse gas regulatory activity;"
  2. "Impose a moratorium on the promulgation of any new air quality regulation by the EPA, including, if necessary,the defunding of the EPA air quality regulatory activities, except to address an imminent health or environmental emergency, for a period of at least 24 months;"  

In other words, this is a copycat of the ALEC Resolution. SLC, like ALEC, chocks it up to the false dichotomy of regulation vs. jobs, and regulations "killing jobs." As DeSmogBlog has written, the opposite is actually the case.

The resolution's opening paragraph is a case in point. It reads,

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed, or is in the process of proposing, numerous regulations regarding air quality and regulation of greenhouse gases that likely will have major effects on Southern state economies, impacting businesses, manufacturing industries and, in turn, job creation and U.S. competitiveness in world markets."

Lobbyists representing the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), Southern States Energy Board (a lobbying tour de force, which has a whole host of dirty energy clients in the oil, gas, and nuclear power sectors), Piedmont Natural Gas, Spectra Energy, and Southern Company were all in attendance to vote on this resolution. 

Dirty energy sponsors of the 2011 SLC meeting included the likes of Spectra, General Electric, ACCCE, Chevron, Honeywell, Piedmont Natural Gas, BP, Southern Company, and Atmos Energy, to name several.

If adopted at a federal level, this resolution would, of course, make all of these companies a hefty fortune.  

ALEC's Bifurcated Approach: Strip Federal Regs, Attack Local Democracy

Oil, gas, nuclear and utility corporations that fund ALEC and groups like CSG would like nothing more than to see EPA regulations disintegrate into thin air.

Part one of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda showed that, along with pushing for the elimination of EPA regulations, it has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate local democracy as we know it, including altering key standards such as zoning rights - a Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

This would mean only extremely underfunded and understaffed state regulatory agencies like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation would have any oversight on environmental regulatory issues. 

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become one of Big Business' favorite domiciles for pushing its "Corporate Playbook." 

Image CreditLane V. Erickson ShutterStock

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALECExposed project)

June 02 2011

19:32

President Obama Must Say No To Dirty Energy's Wish List

Originally published at TomDispatch.

In our globalized world, old-fashioned geography is not supposed to count for much: mountain ranges, deep-water ports, railroad grades -- those seem so nineteenth century. The earth is flat, or so I remember somebody saying.

But those nostalgic for an earlier day, take heart. The Obama administration is making its biggest decisions yet on our energy future and those decisions are intimately tied to this continent’s geography. Remember those old maps from your high-school textbooks that showed each state and province’s prime economic activities? A sheaf of wheat for farm country? A little steel mill for manufacturing? These days in North America what you want to look for are the pickaxes that mean mining, and the derricks that stand for oil.

There’s a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. If we’re going to have any hope of slowing climate change, that coal -- and so all that future carbon dioxide -- needs to stay in the ground.  In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.<!--break-->

Doing so, however, would cost someone some money.  At current prices the value of that coal may be in the trillions, and that kind of money creates immense pressure. Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on the project, opening a huge chunk of federal land to coal mining.  It holds an estimated 750 million tons worth of burnable coal. That’s the equivalent of opening 300 new coal-fired power plants. In other words, we’re talking about staggering amounts of new CO2 heading into the atmosphere to further heat the planet.

As Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute put it, “That’s more carbon pollution than all the energy -- from planes, factories, cars, power plants, etc. -- used in an entire year by all 44 nations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean combined.”  Not what you’d expect from a president who came to office promising that his policies would cause the oceans to slow their rise. 

But if Obama has admittedly opened the mine gate, it's geography to the rescue. You still have to get that coal to market, and “market” in this case means Asia, where the demand for coal is growing fastest. The easiest and cheapest way to do that -- maybe the only way at current prices -- is to take it west to the Pacific where, at the moment, there’s no port capable of handling the huge increase in traffic it would represent.

And so a mighty struggle is beginning, with regional groups rising to the occasion.  Climate Solutions and other environmentalists of the northwest are moving to block port-expansion plans in Longview and Bellingham, Washington, as well as in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since there are only so many possible harbors that could accommodate the giant freighters needed to move the coal, this might prove a winnable battle, though the power of money that moves the White House is now being brought to bear on county commissions and state houses. Count on this: it will be a titanic fight.

Strike two against the Obama administration was the permission it granted early in the president’s term to build a pipeline into Minnesota and Wisconsin to handle oil pouring out of the tar sands of Alberta. (It came on the heels of a Bush administration decision to permit an earlier pipeline from those tar sands deposits through North Dakota to Oklahoma).  The vast region of boreal Canada where the tar sands are found is an even bigger carbon bomb than the Powder River coal.  By some calculations, the tar sands contain the equivalent of about 200 parts per million CO2 -- or roughly half the current atmospheric concentration. Put another way, if we burn it, there’s no way we can control climate change.

Fortunately, that sludge is stuck so far in the northern wilds of Canada that getting it to a refinery is no easy task.  It’s not even easy to get the equipment needed to do the mining to the extraction zone, a fact that noble activists in the northern Rockies are exploiting with a campaign to block the trucks hauling the giant gear north. (Exxon has been cutting trees along wild and scenic corridors just to widen the roads in the region, that’s how big their “megaloads” are.)

Unfortunately, the administration’s decision to permit that Minnesota pipeline has made the job of sending the tar sand sludge south considerably easier. And now the administration is getting ready to double down, with a strike three that would ensure forever Obama’s legacy as a full-on Carbon President.

The huge oil interests that control the tar sands aren’t content with a landlocked pipeline to the Midwest.  They want another, dubbed Keystone XL, that stretches from Canada straight to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. It would take the bitumen from the tar sands and pipe it across the heart of America. Imagine a video game where your goal is to do the most environmental damage possible: to the Cree and their ancestral lands in Canada, to Nebraska farmers trying to guard the Ogallala aquifer that irrigates their land, and of course to the atmosphere.

But the process is apparently politically wired and in a beautifully bipartisan Washington way. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must approve the plan for Keystone XL because it crosses our borders.  Last year, before she’d even looked at the relevant data, she said she was “inclined” to do so. And why not? I mean, the company spearheading the Keystone project, TransCanada, has helpfully hired her former deputy national campaign director as its principal lobbyist.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, those oil barons the Koch Brothers and that fossil fuel front group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pushing for early approval.  Michigan Republican Congressman Fred Upton, chair of the House Energy Committee, is already demanding that the project be fast-tracked, with a final approval decision by November, on the grounds that it would create jobs. This despite the fact that even the project’s sponsors concede it won’t reduce gas prices.  In fact, as Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation pointed out in testimony to Congress last month, their own documents show that the pipeline will probably cause the price at the pump to rise across the Midwest.

When the smaller pipeline was approved in 2009, we got a taste of the arguments that the administration will use this time around, all masterpieces of legal obfuscation. Don’t delay the pipeline over mere carbon worries will be the essence of it. 

Global warming concerns, said Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg then, would be "best addressed in the context of the overall set of domestic policies that Canada and the United States will take to address their respective greenhouse gas emissions." In other words, let’s confine the environmental argument over the pipeline to questions like: How much oil will leak?  In the meantime, we’ll pretend to deal with climate change somewhere else.

It’s the kind of thinking that warms the hearts of establishments everywhere. Michael Levi, author of a Council on Foreign Relations study of the Canadian oil sands, told the Washington Post that, with the decision, “the Obama administration made clear that it's not going to go about its climate policy in a crude, blunt way." No, it’s going about it in a smooth and… oily way.

If we value the one planet we’ve got, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to be crude and blunt. And happily that planet is pitching in. The geography of this beautiful North American continent is on our side: it’s crude and blunt, full of mountains and canyons. Its weather runs to extremes. It’s no easy thing to build a pipeline across it, or to figure out how to run an endless parade of train cars to the Pacific.

Tough terrain aids the insurgent; it slows the powerful. Though we’re fighting a political campaign and not a military one, we need to take full advantage.

Originally published at TomDispatch.

May 18 2011

21:05

Hillary Clinton's State Department Sued Over Failure To Reveal Contacts With TransCanada Tar Sands Lobbyist

Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International, and the Center for International Environmental Law just filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department and Hillary Clinton (Friends of the Earth v. State Department) over the agency's controversial handling of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

The suit follows an extensive effort by the environmental groups to seek information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about contacts between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for TransCanada Pipelines - the company seeking to build the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline to carry dirty tar sands crude from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. Secretary Clinton's State Department is mulling whether to grant a thumbs up or down to TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit to build and operate the 1,959-mile tar sands pipeline.

Elliott was the national deputy director of Hillary Clinton's presidential run, assisting her efforts to win support of delegates and strengthening her ties with influential Democratic governors to win endorsements.

In his current role as a registered lobbyist for TransCanada, Elliott would obviously be in a good position to reach out to Secretary Clinton's office to lobby for the Keystone XL pipeline. <!--break-->

Suspicions that such lobbying pressure had occurred were stoked by Secretary Clinton's inappropriate public statements in California last fall, where she told an audience that she was "inclined to" approve the Keystone XL project.

Many environmental groups called on Clinton to recuse herself from the Keystone XL pipeline decision, noting that her tentative nod of approval was extremely premature. The State Department had not yet completed its mandated environmental impact statement, nor reviewed the huge numbers of public comments about the merits and demerits of the Keystone XL project.

So how had Secretary Clinton reached her inclination to approve the pipeline without waiting on the due diligence of her State Department staff?

Whether or not Elliott did contact Secretary Clinton or her staff remains to be seen, largely because the State Department rejected the groups' December 2010 FOIA request seeking records of any contacts between Elliott and the State Department. Independent FOIA experts, as well as the environmental groups, contend that the State Department's denial of the FOIA request was illegitimate.

While the State Department did accept a subsequent FOIA request from Friends of the Earth in February, it failed to meet the deadline to respond.

“Why is the State Department refusing to release these communications?,” asked Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “This calls into question the agency’s decision to rush the review of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite its massive environmental risks and bipartisan opposition to it."

After exhausting all other options to get the State Department to come clean about its contacts with Elliott, the groups announced today that Earthjustice has filed suit on their behalf against the State Department and Hillary Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State.

“Clearly, TransCanada hired Mr. Elliott to take advantage of his previous service to Hillary Clinton,” said Kenny Bruno with Corporate Ethics International. “We think the public has a right to know in what ways TransCanada and Mr. Elliott have attempted to influence Secretary Clinton’s view of this controversial project.”

Read the complaint filed by Earthjustice [PDF] on behalf of the environmental groups.

May 06 2011

10:05

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate - Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.

The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.  <!--break-->

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization. 

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.

Read more: Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate

March 24 2011

17:56

Koch Brothers Set Up Shop in Tar Sands Territory

The Koch Brothers, architects of the Tea Party and bankrollers of climate-change denial, have recently set up shop to lobby the Alberta government, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Alberta's lobbyist registry shows that on March 15, 2011, Koch Industries signed up to lobby the province on energy and resource development policy issues, as well as taxation and economic development.  The registry shows the company's lobbying activities started March 3, with no fixed end date.

Koch Industries spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia did not say what the company's objectives are in lobbying the Alberta government, but her one-sentence statement noted that, "Koch companies want to add value by providing quality services and products our customers desire and value in a way that is compliant with all laws and regulations".

"Compliant with all laws and regulations" seems a bit dubious given the pro-industry and anti-environment lobbying connections to Koch's Albeta activities we uncovered. <!--break-->

Calgary-based lobbying group Global Public Affairs was recently hired to head up Koch's activities.  GPA has clients listed in the petrochemical and tar sands already.  According to the record, Calgary-based David Keto has been hired to arrange meetings and conduct grassroots and informal communications on behalf of the company.  Keto was executive assistant to cabinet minister David Coutts for two years ending in 2003. 

The filer on the lobbying record is former Chief of Staff for former Minister of the Environment David Anderson, who was minister from 2003 through 2004 under Prime Minister Paul Martin.  Randy Pettipas left government to take the position of CEO of Global Public Affairs

A bit of digging reveals that Pettipas worked for the now-defunct Astroturf group the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions from October 2002 through April 2004 (exactly when his former boss, David Anderson, was environment minister).  The short-lived CCRES claimed to be a grassroots group of business, industry and consumer advocacy groups.  An October 2002 list of its members showed its members were exclusively industry groups including major petroleum, industrial, chemical and transportation associations, and in particular the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association, Petroleum Services Association of Canada, Propane Gas Association of Canada and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.  

The Astroturf group appears to have been created entirely on behalf of dirty energy industry interests to defeat the Kyoto Protocol. 

According to Sourcewatch, the domain name for CCRES was registered in September 2002, just a week before its first media events by National Public Relations, Canada's largest PR agency and an affiliate of Burson-Marsteller.  Grassroots indeed.  The group worked hard to persuade Canadians that Kyoto was a bad idea and instead promoted a "made in Canada" solution. 

CCRES made the spurious claim that if Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Canadians would suffer as businesses and individuals were forced to pay out of pocket for exceeding Kyoto's aggressive targets. CCRES argued that, "This transfer of wealth could instead by spent in Canada, developing technologies that fight greenhouse gases and that can be sold around the world."

Their tired argument that investing in a clean energy future would be costly, burdensome, and would drive up the cost of energy prices and manufactured goods was plain wrong.  They were not looking for "made in Canada" solutions: they were looking to delay action towards real solutions in order to prolong their dirty energy profits on the backs of Canadians. 

More recently, Pettipas has worked on behalf of anti-environment organizations including Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Alliance Pipeline Limited Partnership, and the Canadian Energy Infrastructure Group.  It also lobbied on behalf of mining big wig Teck Resources Limited, a major player in Alberta's tar sands.  Teck Resources has been repeatedly criticized and sued for violating environmental laws and standards including in both 2003 and 2008 for heavily contaminating the Columbia River, and causing a lead spill.  The company's Red Dog mine operation in north-western Alaska was ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most polluting facilities in the United States.

If the CCRES and Pettipas' activities give any indication, the Kochtopus has more than a few tricks up its sleeves for its lobbying efforts in Alberta. Keep an eye out for new developments on this front. 

Image Credit: Zina Saunders at Mother Jones

December 22 2010

21:00

Coal Lobbyist Grinches Stole 2010 As Obama Transparency Initiative Falters

Despite President Obama’s campaign pledges of government transparency and limiting the influence of K Street lobbyists on policymaking, coal industry lobbyists got their stockings stuffed with wishes this year in Washington.  Climate and energy legislation is dead, the Environmental Protection Agency is entering its 21st year of failing to regulate mercury emissions from coal plants, coal ash regulations are delayed indefinitely, mountaintop removal mining continues, and the myth of “clean coal” is alive and well thanks to continuing praise by President Obama and Vice President Biden.

Happy Holidays!  Here’s a lump of coal, no two, and some coal ash slurry to wash it down with.  Don’t worry, it’s “clean coal!”

The Coal Grinches aren’t here to steal Christmas gifts from Whoville residents.  They’re here to steal a safe climate, clean water and breathable air from every American man, woman and child. And we won’t know when they’ve come and gone, thanks to the White House’s apparent neglect (or shutdown?) of the “open government” records of its meetings with lobbyists. <!--break-->

Arianna Huffington recently pointed out statements that Barack Obama made about government transparency as a candidate and early on in his presidency, noting that he hasn’t followed through on his rhetoric, and in fact seems headed down the well-worn path laid by the transparency-trampling Bush administration.


Back in the year 2007, B.W. (Before WikiLeaks), Barack Obama waxed lyrical about government and the internet: "We have to use technology to open up our democracy. It's no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interest and pursued policy that could not stand up to the sunlight." …
Not long after the election, in announcing his "Transparency and Open Government" policy, the president proclaimed: "Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset."


Yet here we are closing the books on 2010 and the public is witnessing shockingly little openness and accountability from this, the “transparency” Administration.

The Obama White House has opened its doors wide for coal lobbyists, and his regulatory agencies are struggling to stand up to the onslaught of coal industry lobbying dollars.  Witness the recent and repeated delays and setbacks on critical regulations for dangerous coal industry practices that threaten public health and the environment.

Let’s take a look at coal industry lobbying efforts targeting the White House, or more specifically, at what little we know about just how extensive the reach of coal power players is under Obama’s watch.

OMB “Open Government” Records Scant To Begin With, Increasigly Barren
According to the Office of Management and Budget’s “open” meeting records database, the last publicly recorded meeting between the White House, EPA staff and coal industry lobbyists took place on April 2, 2010.

Since then, we’ve seen zero OMB disclosure of further meetings with coal lobbyists. (Who thinks there haven’t been any?) In fact, there are no records of meetings with outside lobbyists on any solid waste issue since September 22, 2010. Worse, there are few or zero records of any 2010 meeting activity for other White House offices as well. (We know they are holding meetings, after all, that’s what they do.)

OMB records of meetings involving EPA staff and outside lobbyists trail off in May 2010.

And the OMB’s disclosure page for the EPA administrator office’s meetings with outside lobbyists contains a sole archival entry from June 2006. (While the EPA is still reporting the daily schedules of its senior managers on its own, that cumbersome presentation does not distinguish between events, failing to parse actual meetings with outside lobbyists and White House staff, or to disclose the materials distributed to attendees as the OMB’s WhiteHouse.gov records are designed to do.)

Beyond what isn’t included in OMB’s meeting records, it is worth noting what is there is more than a bit outdated.  For example, the scandal-ridden Minerals Management Service is still listed as part of the Department of Interior, even though it was torn apart and renamed in May by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the wake of multiple embarrassing revelations about MMS’s close relationship with industry lobbyists.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has repeatedly extolled the virtues of government transparency and the public’s right to know.

But it seems that a potentially useful tool designed by Sunstein’s office to allow the public access to basic information about meetings between White House and agency staff and outside lobbyists has either been neglected or abandoned entirely.

This lack of disclosure appears to defy the “Open Government Directive” launched a year ago this month by the Obama administration. In practice, our window into the Obama adminstration’s meetings with lobbyists is currently draped with blackout curtains.

Coal Lobbyists Swarmed White House Last Winter
The best indication of how easily coal lobbyists are getting their message across to White House staff comes from last winter, when the coal ash issue was causing a rift between the White House and EPA.  An October 2010 report produced by DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch documented a lobbying swarm by coal ash interests involving dozens of secretive meetings with White House staff between October 2009 and April 2010.

The result? The coal lobbyists’ White House blitz achieved in short order exactly what the industry wanted by delaying federal regulation of coal ash waste indefinitely. 

Keep in mind that EPA administrator Lisa Jackson first promised a rapid regulatory response on coal ash during her confirmation hearing in January 2009 (on the heels of the December 2008 TVA disaster).  Jackson followed through partially by proposing coal ash rules sixteen months ago, when she promised to issue a decision by the end of 2009.

"We've promised that we will address regulation for coal ash by the end of the year [2009]," Jackson said. "And so, by the end of the year, we'll make that regulatory determination as to whether or not it's hazardous."


Yet EPA just announced another delay this week, stating that the agency has no idea when it will get around to issuing its ruling on whether to classify coal ash as hazardous waste.

The never-ending coal ash battle demonstrates the immense success of coal industry lobbyists in 2010, and yet coal ash is only one – albeit a significant one – of the ongoing threats posed by our addiction to dirty, dangerous coal. 

There’s also the continued assault on Appalachian communities and waterways posed by mountaintop removal mining.

A wise man once remarked:

“We’re tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels.  We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”


What happened to that guy anyway?  Oh, he’s in the White House now.  That was Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Lexington, Kentucky in August of 2007.

How long will President Obama let the coal industry’s lobbyists dictate his policy response to the number one climate killing fossil fuel? How many more pollution-related deaths will result thanks to the lobbying muscle of polluters who are holding Obama’s regulatory agencies captive?

When will the Obama administration provide the records of all the meetings it has held with coal industry lobbyists in 2010 – and all other industry lobbyists for that matter?

The Hill recently reported on a “thaw” in the Obama administration’s relations with K Street.  

“…since Democrats suffered heavy losses in November, lobbyists have seen administration officials more willing to work with business leaders, who are their clients.”


If this is what a thaw looks like, the chilly period sure was balmy. Get ready for a lobbying heat wave in 2011.

Will the Obama team, cowed by coal lobbyists, stand by and let Lisa Jackson get smacked around by the Tea Party thugs in Congress?  If so, who is to be held accountable for the added deaths and impaired lives due to delayed coal pollution control? Congress or Obama himself?

November 04 2010

21:02

Special Interests Enabled By 'Citizens United' Spent $186 Million To Influence U.S. Midterm Races

The success of GOP and Tea Party-backed candidates in the 2010 U.S. midterm elections was enabled by a massive influx of secretive spending thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

A new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation identified $126 million in unrestricted funds spent during this midterm without any disclosure of whose money it was. That figure represents more than a quarter of the total $450 million spent by outside groups on the midterms.

Sunlight Foundation notes that:

"Add the $60 million spent by groups that were allowed to raise unlimited money, but still had to disclose, to the undisclosed money and the total amount of outside money made possible by the Citizens United ruling reaches $186 million or 40 percent of the total spent by outside groups."


The two leading GOP shadow groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS - both founded and guided by GOP veterans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie - are reportedly "gloating" over their influence on the elections. The two groups spent more than $38 million on attack ads and misinformation campaigns to defeat Democratic candidates.

NBC News reports that "a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls."
<!--break-->
The result? "Republican candidates won nine of the 12 Senate races and 14 of 22 House races where American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent money."

The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for unrestricted Wall Street and corporate money to pollute U.S. elections, creating a recipe for negative attack ads to demoralize voters and secure wins for business-friendly candidates.  

Sunlight Foundation senior writer Paul Blumenthal notes: "the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allowed this election to be the costliest and least transparent midterm in recent history."

Unless Congress acts to require disclosure of funders who bankroll the front groups and attack ad squads, the 2012 presidential race and every U.S. election to come will be tainted by unaccountable special interest money.

That's bad for American democracy, no matter what party you associate with.

 

October 27 2010

19:44

Coal Lobbyists Wooed White House Staff To Influence Coal Ash Regulations Long Before Public Hearings

While the final EPA hearing is happening today in Tennessee to solicit public input on federal proposals to regulate toxic coal ash, a new report [PDF] from DeSmogBlog and PolluterWatch shows that coal industry lobbyists held dozens of secretive meetings with the White House to peddle their influence long before the Obama administration opened the process to the public.  

The coal industry’s influence on the process was largely peddled behind the scenes, beginning over a year ago, when lobbyists representing coal ash producers and users started swarming the White House to protect the coal industry from full responsibility for the potential health and water threats posed by coal ash waste.  

The lobbyists’ ability to quickly and easily gain access and influence over the White House’s review of this critical environmental regulation calls into serious question President Obama’s campaign pledge to limit the role of lobbyists in federal decision-making.<!--break-->

Between October 2009 and April 2010, coal industry representatives held at least 33 meetings with White House staff on the coal ash issue, almost three times as many meetings as environmentalists and university scientists were granted on the subject. 

At the time the lobbying spree began last fall, the industry was facing a fast-tracked effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to finally classify coal ash as hazardous waste, a much-needed designation since the ash - laden with heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and a host of other radioactive and dangerous substances – threatens water supplies and human health in communities nationwide. 

The Obama White House seems to have been more than happy to accommodate the massive lobbying blitz, which achieved in short order exactly what the industry wanted by delaying federal regulation of coal ash waste indefinitely.  

The result was that EPA was forced to issue two proposals for public comment – one much more favorable to the industry - undercutting EPA’s authority to regulate coal ash based on solid science alone. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that existing state regulations are failing to protect the public, polluter politics has once again prevailed, revealing the Obama White House to be as easily manipulated by industry lobbyists as any prior administration.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s original proposal drew instant criticism from the coal industry, and polluter lobbyists quickly began booking meetings with the White House to raise objections.  They focused their attention on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), an arm of the White House Office of Management and Budget that reviews draft agency rules. 

Overseen by President Obama's regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, OIRA is a favorite industry target to gum up the federal regulatory process because it is charged with reviewing proposed environmental rules based on multiple economic and political considerations, not strictly science.  OIRA is known to regularly solicit industry input in its review process.  The power of the OIRA was well demonstrated during the Bush administration when former OIRA head John Graham derailed dozens of environmental regulations at the behest of polluting industries.  

In the case of coal ash, White House staff held at least 33 meetings with coal ash lobbyists in the past year, calling into question the coal industry’s “undue influence” over the government’s deliberative process. 

Read the full report [PDF] detailing the coal industry lobbying blitz, and check out Greenpeace’s new spreadsheet of coal ash threats [PDF] sorted by company.

AttachmentSize coal ash report_lores.pdf371.18 KB

August 27 2010

23:04

Toxic Coal Ash Threatens At Least 137 Sites In 34 States

A new study by three top environmental groups reveals another 39 coal ash threats in 21 states, bringing the total number of known coal ash threats to 137 in 34 states.  

The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club details the newly identified slurry ponds and impoundments filled with toxic coal ash that threaten drinking water supplies and public health at sites around the country.  

Earlier this year the groups identified 31 coal ash disposal sites in 14 states, adding to the 67 sites already identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The latest report brings the total number to 137 sites where coal ash threatens public health and water supplies. 

The U.S. EPA is currently grappling with how to regulate the toxic coal ash threat, which is now checked only by individual state laws that have failed to adequately protect the public from this growing problem. <!--break-->

Adding even more evidence that “clean coal” is an industry fairy tale, coal-fired power plants around the country stockpile the toxic coal waste left over from the coal combustion process in ponds and impoundments far too often located dangerously close to drinking water supplies and residential communities.  

The report notes:
"In several cases (e.g., Hatfield’s Ferry (PA), Gallatin (TN), and Johnsonville (TN)), [coal combustion waste] disposal sites are leaking their toxic cargo into rivers just upstream from intakes for public water systems." 

The most egregious example of poor siting belongs to Massey Energy’s multi-billion gallon coal sludge impoundment, perched directly above the Marsh Fork elementary school in West Virginia.  Yes, a massive pool of dirty toxic coal waste perched above toddlers’ heads.  Great idea Massey!  (Thanks to a generous $2.5 million donation from the Annenberg Foundation, the school will soon be rebuilt in a new location.  Just in time too, since Massey had planned to build yet another coal silo near the school. The relocation will cost an estimated $8.5 million, relying mostly on state, county and local donations, with Massey agreeing to pay only $1 million.  The Annenberg contribution ensures the relocation will now move forward.)  

EPA will be hearing an earful about coal ash over the next month as seven public hearings are held in various cities to solicit public input on the coal ash regulations.  Utility industry and coal ash interests promise they will be out in force at these hearings.

An intense lobbying push by the coal and utility industries over the past year has put tremendous pressure on EPA to cave to industry demands and leave the issue up to individual states.  

Rather than spending money to clean up its toxic mess, the industry’s aggressive multi-million dollar K Street strategy threatens to undermine the critical need for strong coal ash regulations to protect water supplies and public health.

June 21 2010

17:53

BP funds full court press by DC lobbyists

The Washington Post has done a nice round-up of how desperately BP is trying to circle the lobbyists in an effort to minimize the political price it will pay for devastating the Gulf Coast.

But per Jim Hoggan's analysis here last week, no amount of PR spin will rescue the company when its own partner, Anadarko, is accusing BP of recklessness and incompetence.

The lobbyist line, of course, is that they're just there to help. In fact, the Post quotes "a lobbyist for one of the key players," saying this:

"I think for the most part the lobbyists for all the companies have just been trying to give information to people; it has not been focused on policy questions at all. There's a thirst for information despite the media saturation."

Wouldn't that sound so much more convincing if BP ("5,000 barrels per day") had been disseminating information that was accurate?<!--break-->

March 11 2010

22:20

Senators Meet With Polluter Lobbyists To Discuss 'Green Economy’ Bill

Senators working to craft legislation to transition the U.S. economy to cleaner energy and provide green jobs for Americans have a critical task ahead of them.  The U.S. economy is lagging due to an addiction to foreign sources of dirty energy, among other reasons.  Leaders from government, the private sector and even the Pentagon acknowledge the need to move rapidly towards a clean energy future that provides good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. 

Which begs the question: Why are the Senators working on this critical legislative effort spending so much time and energy negotiating with lobbyists for the dirty energy industry – the very sector that is largely responsible for our addiction to foreign oil and filthy coal and outsourced jobs?

Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman – who are spearheading the new green economy legislation – met today with a gaggle of lobbyists and front groups representing the carbon club.

E&E News reports that:
A cross section of industry power players met this afternoon in the Capitol with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. Groups represented at the meeting included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, Edison Electric Institute, Nuclear Energy Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Farm Bureau, American Forest and Paper Association, American Railroads, National Electric Manufacturers Association and Portland Cement Association.
<!--break-->
What could these lobbyists and Astroturfers for dirty energy corporations that deny the threat of climate change possibly have to offer in this conversation about how to move towards a clean energy future that will provide millions of jobs and secure our economy? 

The Wonk Room reports:

half of the lobbyist groups mentioned are legally challenging the threat of manmade climate change, with court petitions against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas endangerment finding:

– The Portland Cement Association, which has filed suit despite supposedly recognizing the need to reduce global warming pollution

– The American Petroleum Institute, which intends to blame climate policy for higher gas prices at every gas station in America

– The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has repeatedly questioned climate science

– The National Association of Manufacturers, which claims climate legislation is “anti-jobs, anti-energy

– The American Farm Bureau Federation, which argues there is global cooling

One has to wonder how productive it can be to negotiate with polluters who deny the scientific reality of global warming.

Yes, one has to wonder.  Particularly ‘ones’ named Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Too late.  The dirty industry lobbyists thought the talks were “extraordinarily productive” and “encouraging.”

John Shaw, the senior vice president of the Portland Cement Association, said:

    "It was an extraordinarily productive meeting. I think it was unprecedented for three senators, arguably each from a different political background, if you will, to sit down at a table and invite leaders from all different sectors, to try to create another level of dialogue. They want to start delving into the details, and creating those details with greater industry input than we’ve seen in the past."

“Greater industry input” than in the past?  Did Mr. Shaw’s invitation to participate in the Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force get lost in the mail?  Where has he been the past decade when the Bush White House essentially had oil and coal executives on speed dial?

Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute (EEI), told reporters:

    "It was a positive, encouraging discussion. I think they want to try and find ways to make things work from the standpoint of all the participants in that room, from the standpoint of the industrials and the oil companies."

Yes, the oil companies sure have had it tough these days, what with Exxon Mobil’s slump, merely posting profits of $19 Billion last year after its record-obliterating $45.2 Billion profit in 2008. 

‘One’ can imagine what kind of ‘green economy’ bill will emerge from negotiations with this crew.  Perhaps some more ‘green’ corporate welfare subsidies and tax cuts for oil companies?

Sorry if I sound cynical today.  I must be a “hydrocarbon denier” too.

December 01 2009

03:54

Who’s Killing the Copenhagen Climate Treaty? The Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already done everything it can to kill the chances of a legally binding agreement emerging from the Copenhagen climate change summit.

Now it can sit back, relax and watch the action from a coffee shop outside the United Nations conference, content that its efforts to derail U.S. climate policy have effectively hamstrung the international negotiations.

As explained clearly in “The Global Climate Change Lobby,” an excellent new report from the Center for Public Integrity, corporate lobbyists and trade associations focus their attention on tampering with domestic legislative efforts, and then stand by and watch as their positions and talking points contaminate international negotiations indirectly.

Business interests (or BINGOs as they’re called in U.N. speak) “can have very little effect at these meetings,” according to Nick Campbell, a European industry lobbyist who has represented the International Chamber of Commerce at U.N. climate talks since the early 1990s when the global effort to fight climate change began with the Rio Earth Summit.

If the Chamber or other lobbying groups send any staff to international summits like the upcoming Copenhagen conference, their goal is to “loiter” in the coffee shops and collect business cards from delegates they can target later on legislative matters back home.
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According to Campbell, “the advantage of coming to these meetings — as I’ve spent years trying to tell my colleagues — and I may as well talk to a brick wall over there — is that you have more opportunity talking to delegates at these meetings than you do at home.”

“You have the coffee bar; [delegates] are off-line. You might be staying at the same hotels as people,” Campbell says.
 
Brian Flannery, Exxon Mobil’s chief climate advisor and, along with Campbell, a representative of the International Chamber of Commerce, says that a UNFCCC conference “isn’t a place for lobbying. All the industry associations recognize their key issue is to work at home, with their governments, in their capitals,” Flannery says.

The U.N. talks are strictly used for networking efforts. “You form contacts all over the world, people you know who will answer the phone” later when you call them on domestic issues, according to Flannery.

But the Chamber of Commerce has not remained entirely quiet in the weeks before Copenhagen. 

The group recently issued a white paper belittling the efforts of world leaders to reach an ambitious, legally-binding agreement in the Danish capital. The report is titled “The Prospects for Copenhagen: More Realism Can Smooth the Way,”[PDF] and was produced by the Chamber’s climate policy arm, the Institute for 21st Century Energy.

“There’s very little prospect that we’ll get a comprehensive agreement coming out of Copenhagen,” says Steve Eule, the Institute’s Vice President, in an online video discussing the report.

I highlighted the Chamber’s long history of interference within the U.S. climate policy debate recently, recapping the exodus of Chamber members who fled the group this summer due to its call for a Scopes Monkey Trial of global warming science and its work to block Congressional climate and energy bills.

So it is no surprise to hear the Chamber join the chorus of naysayers who assert that a binding global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be impractical to achieve in Copenhagen. Admittedly, it would take a Herculean effort to reach a legally-binding deal, especially on the part of the United States, which has thus far failed to pass energy and climate legislation domestically, crippling the international process in the eyes of many observers.

But the Chamber’s reasoning is much different from those who predict that, while a binding deal won’t emerge in Copenhagen, such a deal is definitely achievable within 3, 6 or 12 months after (depending on when the U.S. passes its energy and climate legislation). 

The Chamber claims that a deal won’t emerge in December because it “would require large and expensive emissions reductions” and place a burden on developed nations’ economies, principally the United States economy, which is the Chamber’s primary area of interest.

The main message in the Chamber’s report - behind its lofty rhetoric about how technology can save the day (someday) and business is ready to lead the way (with a healthy and endless bucket of subsidies and little or no regulation or accountability) - is that climate change does not merit such an urgent global response.

You see, the Chamber of Commerce remains skeptical that man-made global warming is even occurring, despite all the incontrovertible proof provided by the best scientists in the world over the past few decades.

Consider this excerpt from the Chamber report’s executive summary:

“Developing countries contend that as developed countries are responsible for most of the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (a debatable claim), they should go first with emissions cuts of at least 40% to 45% below the 1990 level by 2020 and 80% to 95% below by 2050.” [Emphasis mine.]


Debatable?

That the lion’s share of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution came from the developed nations? That man-made global warming exists?

The Chamber’s past climate denial efforts offer plenty of clarity on its stances about global warming and carbon pollution from fossil fuel dependent industries.

What the Chamber’s so-called ‘Institute for 21st Century Energy’ really argues for is preserving the status quo dominance of 19th century fuels and energy technologies. Unless of course nations are willing to provide bucket loads of subsidies for the private sector to turn around and make a pitifully meager investment in new clean energy technologies, all while the atmosphere continues to cook.

The report implies that, if the U.S. were to pursue the emissions reduction target dictated by the best scientists in the world (an 80% minimum reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2050), America would be reduced to a nation of impoverished Haitian or North Korean peasants.

“An 80% cut [in global warming pollution] by 2050 would shrink the country’s 'carbon footprint,' relative to its economy and population, to levels today seen only in countries like Haiti and North Korea."  (pg. 8)


This scare tactic is thoroughly debunked by economists and national security experts at the Pentagon. In fact, only when we leave carbon-based economies behind will the United States’ (and the world’s) prosperity levels continue to increase.


The main takeaway from this ‘new’ Chamber report is that its message is not new at all. The Institute for 21st Century Energy’s message very closely resembles the arguments trotted out by the Chamber many years ago in its attacks on the Kyoto Protocol.

For example, an excerpt from the Chamber’s ‘Summary Remarks’ section of its 2005 report, Reality Check: Straight Talk About the Kyoto Protocol:


“Addressing the climate change challenge by attempting to stabilize the level of CO2 in the atmosphere (if proven necessary) would require expending absolutely vast sums of money (many trillions of dollars) on a far larger scale of intervention than that envisaged by the Kyoto Protocol. However, adopting such an enlarged intervention, premised on enforced, huge cutbacks on CO2 emissions, could be highly destructive to the economies of many nations and could severely curtail the availability of funds needed for addressing other major societal problems, particularly if such a program were to be implemented within a short time frame of a few decades.” [Emphasis mine.]
  


Different year, different treaty, same message. It may not be “proven necessary” to reduce CO2 emissions, and if it is, it will cost too much and destroy the U.S. economy, and it’s unrealistic to tackle such a problem “within a short time frame of a few decades.”

Chamber President Tom Donohue struck a different note in late September, in the wake of the membership exodus, when he promised that, “The U.S. Chamber continues to support strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change.”

But in reality, Donohue wears the Chamber’s intransigence on climate action as a badge of honor, recently telling reporters that, "If people want to attack us, bring ‘em on. We are not changing where we are. We've thought long and hard about what is important here and we are not going anywhere."

Except to the coffee shops in Copenhagen to "loiter," of course.

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