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August 23 2012

10:00

US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”
 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

August 03 2011

13:15

U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Launches Campaign To Lobby For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Last Friday, after applauding the House's vote to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America is run out of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber's main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it's also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company's project.

The launch comes at a pivotal moment for Keystone XL. The Obama administration has the final say in approving the pipeline, and they've said the decision will be made by the end of the year. The new House legislation declared that the Obama administration must make the call by November 1st. A final environmental review of the prospective project is expected from the State Department in August. (To learn more about how tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL are a much greater risk than normal crude pipelines, see my earlier post.)

Which is all to say: the next couple months will determine whether or not Keystone XL is approved and built. Given the U.S. Chamber's long history of support for all things fossil fuel -- and long history of fighting against any sort of pollution controls -- it's no real surprise that the Chamber is throwing its considerable weight behind Keystone XL. But until now, the nation's largest lobbying group (which spends more money than the next five lobbying groups combined, and which receives the majority of its funding from 16 anonymous corporate donors) hadn't done more than release comments in support of the Keystone XL project. (Well, publicly, that is. They've probably done quite a bit behind closed doors.)

So what more do we know about the Partnership to Fuel America? According to the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, it will be "comprised of American businesses and industries that understand the need for more energy in the United States and believe that Canada's significant resources can help achieve that goal." Their site makes numerous references to "North American energy," but the only North American sources of energy listed are Canada's tar sands, and every news item listed on the site is specifically about the Keystone XL project.

Though you won't find him anywhere on the official site, the "partnership" is being led by a gentleman named Matt Koch, who is vice president for Oil Sands and Arctic Issues at the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy. And, no, I couldn't find any evidence that this is some long-lost Koch brother of the Koch Industries clan, but lately he's been earning his living off of fossil fuels just the same.

Before working for private industry, Matt Koch served in George W. Bush's White House, as an Associate Director of Cabinet Affairs, and also in the Department of Energy. Before settling into the capital, Koch served as Natural Resource Policy Director at the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations, securing the Lone Star State's oil interests inside the Beltway.

Immediately before joining the U.S. Chamber's payroll, Koch was Director of Federal Relations at the American Petroleum Institute, and one of their chief lobbyists. According to the Institute for 21st Century Energy, Koch was "API's chief advocate and issue manager for all downstream and refining-related issues affecting the oil and natural gas industry."

What's more, he was "responsible for initiating and managing API's ongoing, multifaceted oil sands strategy and campaign." Now he's running that very same strategy for the U.S. Chamber, and the big tar sands battle of the moment is the Keystone XL.

It's worth noting that this Partnership to Fuel America launch -- the overt and very public alignment between the U.S. Chamber and TransCanada's Keystone project -- comes at the very moment that both the Chamber and the Keystone XL are being acutely targeted by various activist campaigns. 350.org just launched the clever and timely "U.S. Chamber of Secrets" website as part of their ongoing campaign to expose the organization as a front group for fossil fuel corporations and other big polluters. (Check out their impressive infographic about the Chamber, which tells a pretty startling story.)

Meanwhile, a whole slew of activists are gearing up for the Tar Sands Action in late August, which is specifically targeting the Keystone XL pipeline, which organizers describe as "a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent."

But, now, there's no need to speculate about a possible link between the U.S. Chamber and the Keystone XL project. That connection is now public and crystal clear. So it must be asked: why is the U.S. Chamber spending so much energy and resources supporting a project that will be built, operated, and profitted from by a Canadian company, one the U.S. Chamber isn't supposed to represent? Perhaps that answer lies in those other, more renowned Kochs, who stand to make a killing off of Keystone XL if it's completed, and who are known to have shady ties to the U.S. Chamber.

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