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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?

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

February 10 2010

18:55

PolluterHarmony: A Match Made In Washington

Congressmembers, are you too busy being indentured servants to corporations to find love?

Lobbyists, did that pickup line about healthcare flop with your beloved Senator?  Well, have you heard the one about “clean coal” yet?

Polluters, are you too shy to admit the things you’d like to do to Rep. Joe Barton

Well, you are all in luck.  Today marks the launch of PolluterHarmony.com, a new online matchmaking service designed to help dirty polluters and their lobbyists find that perfect politician to live forever in holy mmm…
<!--break-->
Forget Citizens United, PolluterHarmony knows all about uniting citizens, like the match made in heaven between Koch Industries and Sen. James Inhofe.

Speaking of below the Beltway… PolluterHarmony knows that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Rrrow!-AK) likes it dirty, as dirty as it gets in fact.  She’s on the receiving end of $111,296 in contributions from coal interests in the 111th Congress. 

Kert Davies, director of PolluterWatch.org, the masterminds behind PolluterHarmony, notes in his blog on Huffington Post that PolluterHarmony.com is “a dating service dedicated to helping polluter industry lobbyists, CEO's and propagandists match up with willing public officials, making it even easier to buy and sell influence, sabotage global warming solutions and derail our clean energy future.”

Wow, I never imagined that such connections could be made any easier than they already are. 

PolluterHarmony proves that anything is possible! 

So, all you D.C. polluticians, why wait for all that snow to melt?  “Start your long-term collusion today!”

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