As promised earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency has released methane pollution standards for the oil and gas industry. While regulation of methane is a necessity, these rules are much too weak to accomplish the administration’s goals of meaningful greenhouse gas reduction. Here is why:
Methane Must Be Regulated, But New Rules Underestimate Its Power
Methane is 86 to 105 times as powerful as carbon dioxide at disrupting the climate over a 20-year period. The EPA and many news organizations misreport the real power of methane by using old science since updated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Obama’s new rules calculate that methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeline. However, this ignores the fact that methane is most potent when it is first released. Scientists say that methane could push the climate over a “tipping point” in the next 18-25 years, causing runaway global warming, and making a 100-year timeline obsolete. In order to take the threat from methane seriously, we must join the IPCC and assess methane’s threat on a time scale that makes sense in the context of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Craig Sautner lights a plastic jug of water from his well on fire. Methane from nearby hydraulic fracturing natural gas drilling has contaminated his water supply.
Oil and Gas Industry—Especially Fracking—Is the Largest Industrial Methane Polluter
It is undisputed that the oil and gas industry is the largest industrial emitter of methane. A recent study of the major gas producing shales found that the Barnett Shale around Dallas was leaking the equivalent of 16 coal plants worth of greenhouse gases every year. Similar studies from Colorado found that highly fracked areas leaked more than 19 tons of methane an hour. But we don’t actually know how much the oil and gas industry is emitting. The Obama administration’s new rules are aimed at reducing methane between 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels. Unfortunately, no one really knows how much methane the oil and gas industry pumped into the atmosphere in 2005. The EPA figures that the administration’s rules rely on are based on numbers self reported by the industry. These numbers are almost certainly a fraction of actual total methane emissions. Recent studies that use planes to determine methane emissions from oil and gas operations have found much higher rates of pollution than the industry or the EPA will currently admit. For example, a study released this August found that natural gas gathering facilities, which collect methane from fracked wells, lose about 100 billion cubic feet of gas every year—eight times more than the EPA estimates. A Stanford report concluded that there is already about 50 percent more methane in the atmosphere than previously estimated by the EPA. The New York Times recently reported that the creator of the technology commonly used to measure methane emissions by the oil and gas industry thinks his invention is not accurate the way the industry and some research groups use it, and is missing a huge portion of the pollution actually released by the industry.
These Rules Won’t Cut Enough Methane
These regulations are based on old science that misrepresents the impact of methane on the climate. The aim of the new rules is to reduce methane emissions 40 to 45 percent of an imaginary number—an underestimation of 2005 emissions. On top of that, they are only aimed at new sources, ignoring the nearly one million fracked wells and associated infrastructure that already exist in the United States. Real and meaningful reductions in methane must be made to reach the president’s global warming goals, and they have to be better than these.
Opposing Action on Climate Change
ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting Sponsors
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To celebrate 2015 Earth Day, we have just released a huge, online, and searchable archive of documents on anti-environmental campaigns, individuals involved in these campaigns and the corporations that back them.
The Anti-Environmental Archives, now live on Polluterwatch.com, is a unique archive that reveals the plotting and scheming by industry and industry-funded think tanks and coalitions against a range of environmental issues of the time – from global warming to ozone depletion, spotted owls, national parks – and the environmentalists fighting for regulation.
The 27,000+ page, text-searchable archive documents more than 300 groups in 3500 documents. The documents themselves are mounted on the great DocumentCloud platform built for journalists with a grant from the Knight Foundation in 2009 and now run by the organization, Invesigative Reporters and Editors.
This will be an ongoing project, with documents added from additional paper archives in coming months.
The files released today are mostly archives collected during the 1990s by an organization called CLEAR (Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy Research) that was part of the Environmental Working Group at the time, later curated by Greenpeace’s Research Department. Finally, they’ve been transferred from their full 15 linear feet of hardcopy files that sat in a dark room into something far more useful.
Even before CLEAR was formed, Greenpeace published its paperback “The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations” in 1993 - a tight reference guide that listed 54 different groups and organizations campaigning against environmental regulation, but alas the footnotes and research files are lost to time. We have the Greenpeace Guide scanned and up on the Anti-Environmental Archives, or see if you can find a copy on Amazon.
Turning dusty old paper files into text searchable digital files is a magical trick and a whole lot of work...
What did we find? Let’s start with at Earth Day, seeing as we’ve released this archive on the occasion.
On Earth Day in 1996, the Heartland Institute published its “Free Guide for Saving the Planet” outlining the “sound science” that put paid to various environmental issues of the day – ozone depletion isn’t happening, neither is global warming, second hand smoke is good for you, oil isn’t running out… you get the picture. They apparently distributed this paper nationwide on campuses and elsewhere. It includes:
- Climate denier Dr. Sallie Baliunas, writing here for the George C. Marshall Institute an article titled the "Cold Facts on Global Warming", calling for a five year delay on any government action and concluding, "The entire hypothesis of a disastrous manmade global warming is suspect."
- Dr. Fred Singer this time questioning the dangers of ozone layer depletion and the role of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)
- An article questioning the EPA's assessment of the health impacts of secondhand smoke, a hot topic for the tobacco industry at the time.
- Another article by Joe Bast of Heartland bragging about reduced pollution from automobiles since the 1970s, without mentioning that these gains were forced by environmental regulations.
Consumer Watch’s Earth Day 1997 document was just as good: "A Vision for our Environment, Our Children, Our Future" offered "Principles for New Environmental Policy" including:
- Economic Growth is Prerequisite for Environmental Progress
- Land and Natural Resources are Best Managed by Private Owners
- No Regulation Without Representation
Signatories included most of the anti-environmental organizations and individuals of the day. Some of them, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are still very much in action.
In 2005 there was the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Earth Day “The sky isn’t falling” release, proclaiming the earth’s future was “as green as ever.”
The sad and important thing is that some of these organizations are still banging the same drum, with the same arguments, 20 years later.
These documents paint a portrait of the days of early climate denial.
It was around the mid-90’s that Philip Morris and PR company APCO were employing Steve Milloy for the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition. Milloy turns up a lot in these papers, from his book, “silencing science” to his involvement in Consumer Alert and his Op Eds.
The Kyoto Protocol hadn’t yet been agreed, but the Global Climate Coalition was up and running with its “Global Climate Information Project”.
The best books written on this period of raging anti-environmentalism during the Clinton presidency were David Helvarg’s “The War Against the Greens” (1994, with an updated version released in 2004) and Andy Rowell’s 1996 book, Green Backlash, both documenting the birth of the so called Wise Use Movement, a term appropriated by Ron Arnold from Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the US Forest Service who coined the term "conservation ethic". These books also document the role of multiple front groups being set up by PR companies such as Burson Marstellar
The archive has a trove of documents from the George C. Marshall Institute, one of the early think tanks funded by corporates, and a large focus of Naomi Oreskes’ book – and now film - “Merchants of Doubt.”
The Marshall Institute’s resident senior scientist was Sallie Baliunas, who published a “study” that attacked the models of global warming, argued temperature records were wrong, and that it had all happened before. Baliunas was an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and would later take on a protégé, Willie Soon. Together, they would take millions from the fossil fuel industry for work to counter the climate science consensus. Baliunas worked closely with the Cooler Heads Coalition, in 1998 publishing another paper we found in these files.
There is a Competitive Enterprise Institute brochure from the 90’s where they actually admit who funded them. Also within the archive are documents from the 2000s via research and FOIA's conducted by Greenpeace Research Department, including that somewhat famous memo from Myron Ebell and Chris Horner of CEI to the Bush White House CEQ’s Phil Cooney pushing back on the Bush Administration moving forward at all on climate and imploring Cooney not to quit the White House after it was revealed that he was editing EPA reports on climate change, an episode made famous by Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth.
There are literally hundreds of documents from organizations pushing anti-environmental legislation, and seven pages of documents on the issue of "property rights". There are copious documents on the fight against Federal control of land in the West, managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Manangement and other agencies including grazing permits, mining permits and national forest leases. This fight is still going- to take Federal public land away from the government - including the ALEC assisted push by Ken Ivory of the Americans Land Council. More coming on this thread.
These are just some of the documents we’ve found when going through these files with the new text search capability.
What will you find?
And contact us if you have useful documents to add to the archive at:
Greenpeace Research Department
702 H St NW #300
Washington, DC 20001
Fracking companies had extensive influence over a critical study of the groundwater impacts from fracking, according to insider documents released by Greenpeace. In 2010, amidst growing worries about the environmental impacts from fracking, Congress compelled the EPA to conduct a study. The study was supposed to be a definitive look at the issue, exploring if and how fracking contaminates groundwater supplies. That study was supposed to be released in 2012, but has been delayed until 2016. Documents released as part of Greenpeace investigation have found that the EPA was forced to rely on shale companies like Chesapeake Energy for data, funding, and access to fracking sites. The shale industry in turn constrained the study, limiting what could be studied and when. These constraints led to the eventual cancellation of perhaps the most important part of the study - the "prospective" section.
Industry Actions leads to the Cancellation of Science
When the EPA's study was first conceptualized, it was supposed to include retrospective and prospective portions. The retrospective pieces would examine data collected by the industry in the past. The prospective section was where new scientific study would be done. The prospective studies were supposed to take baseline data from groundwater in areas that had not yet been drilled, and compare them to samples taken after drilling and fracking occurred. This type of prospective study, which starts pre-fracking, has never been done before and represented a major advance in the scientific study of fracking's impacts. The prospective portions would be the most reliable way to determine whether oil and gas development contaminates surface water and nearby aquifers. One EPA scientist told Inside Climate News "The single most important thing you could do is prospective studies.” However, the EPA was reliant on two shale companies for access to areas that had not yet been fracked, an arrangement that led to the full cancellation of the entire prospective section of the EPA's study. Documents obtained by Greenpeace show that Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies that initially agreed to cooperate with the EPA on the prospective portions of the study, actually drilled wells at their prospective study site, before the EPA was able to collect baseline data. This effectively torpedoed the entire project, and attempts at replacing the location, originally in Louisiana, with one in Oklahoma, also ended in failure. The correspondence between Chesapeake and EPA includes a draft press release announcing the cancellation of the prospective study in Louisiana conducted with Chesapeake. The release blames the cancellation on "scheduling conflicts, " resulting in Chesapeake drilling the well before baseline data could be collected. The press release was jointly edited by EPA and Chesapeake, but never released to the public. The EPA would never publicly announce the cancellation of the prospective studies, and only after increased pressure from Greenpeace did they reference it's cancellation deep on the study's website. The second prospective study, to be conducted with Range Resources, has also been cancelled. The cancellation of the prospective pieces has had a major impact on the usefulness of the study. "We won’t know anything more in terms of real data than we did five years ago," said Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA's 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the draft plan of the study. (from Inside Climate News)
Kids in Pennsylvania hold tap water contaminated by nearby shale drilling
Delay and Obstruct - Study attacked on all sides by Industry
The documents reveal a number of instances where the fracking industry delayed and obstructed the EPA’s attempts to study fracking. The industry waged an attack from every side, political, scientific, and procedural. As Sharon Kelly writes for Desmog, "Watered-down federal research weakens the possibility for future regulations. It also has been used to justify loopholes in federal environmental laws for the oil and gas industry." Kelly points out the 3 step process that various industries have employed to impact unwanted studies:
Step one: using a rhetoric of collaboration and “non-adversarial” relationships, the industry effectively establishes inside access to what otherwise should be an independent research process. This allows the industry to meddle with study methodologies, pick and chose its own favored experts, and distort findings. Step two: through inside access, the industry affords itself the authority to contest, after the fact, any findings that it is not able to water down on the front end. Step three: this access also allows industry the ability to impose infeasible methodological demands on the agency, slowing the process to a crawl and at times forcing the agency to give up trying to get answers to certain key questions.
This Pennsylvania resident's water changed color and taste after a fracked well was placed near her property.
Here is a list of findings from the documents:
- Chesapeake only allowed for baseline sampling after the fracking wells had initially been drilled, rather than beforehand, as EPA scientists preferred. Without having baseline data pre-drilling, the industry can claim that contaminates existed there before their drills pierced the aquifer. The Industry has claimed this in multiple cases where groundwater impacts from fracking have occurred.
- Chesapeake demanded the EPA reduce the depth of their study from 300 to 150 feet, and demanded that the EPA focus solely on the fracking stage, not drilling, completion, or other stages where contamination can occur.
- API and ANGA tried to have their own consultants shadow the EPA's scientists during the study. This proved to be distracting to the scientists conducting the study.
- At the same time, Chesapeake and Range, the two companies that were supposed to cooperating with EPA on the prospective study, were attacking other EPA studies of water contamination cases. While initially finding evidence of contamination from Chesapeake Energy wells in Pennsylvania and Range Resources wells in Texas, The EPA never pursued any regulatory action.
- Chesapeake was, as one EPA email put it “part of the team here” when it came to the water study.
- The Inspector General of the EPA tried to investigate “the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” In response, pro-fracking Congressional representatives demanded the investigation “immediately end.”
As Neela Banerjee writes in Inside Climate News: "The industry balked at the scope of the study and sowed doubts about the EPA's ability to deliver definitive findings. In addition, concerns about the safety of drinking water conflicted with the Obama administration's need to spur the economy out of recession while expanding domestic energy production."
A Chesapeake drilling site warns of water contamination
Does Fracking Contaminate Water Supplies?
Studies conducted since the EPA’s study began have found evidence that fracking affects groundwater supplies. A 2013 Duke University study found that within a kilometer of fracking wells, methane concentration in drinking-water wells was 6 times higher than the surrounding area. A University of Texas-Arlington study from 2013 found elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale. See Greenpeace's fracking page for a list of groundwater contamination incidents.
Written by Sue Sturgis. Crossposted with permission from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
Last week Fortune magazine named the Southern Company a top utility for the sixth year in a row, citing its "wise use of corporate assets" and "social responsibility." The nation's fourth-largest electric utility is headquartered in Atlanta and serves more than 4.4 million customers in the South through its subsidiaries Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.
But the good press was soon followed by bad: Two days after Southern received Fortune's honor, the news broke that Greenpeace and the Virginia-based Climate Investigations Center obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the company was the leading funder of a controversial scientist whose work has been used to raise doubts about the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change in order to stall regulatory action. The Southern Company is the top carbon polluter among U.S. utilities and the eighth-biggest in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action.
The documents show Southern provided more than $400,000 between 2006 and 2015 to fund research by and part of the salary of Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics -- more than a third of Soon's total funding. In return, Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the utility the right to review his scientific papers before publication while promising not to disclose the company's funding without its permission. Other contributors to Soon's work revealed in the documents include oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute -- corporate funding sources that in some cases Soon failed to disclose in violation of journal policy.
The Smithsonian has asked its inspector general to review Soon's ethical conduct. In addition, three U.S. senators -- Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies including Southern, trade groups and other industry organizations seeking to unearth the extent of what they call "climate denial-for-hire programs."
"We've known for many years that the tobacco industry supported phony science claiming that smoking does not cause cancer," said Boxer, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "Now it's time for the fossil fuel industry to come clean about funding climate change deniers."
Soon, an aerospace engineer whose work has depended heavily on funding from fossil-fuel interests, has promoted the hypothesis that the sun causes climate change, making him a favorite of the climate change denial crowd. He has served as an adviser to various denialist think tanks and has spoken at denialist conferences.
Soon's scientific work has long been controversial, with a widely criticized 2003 study he co-authored with astronomer and fellow climate change denier Sallie Baliunas leading to theresignations of several editors who were involved in the journal's peer-review process. The publisher eventually admitted that the flawed study should not have been published.
Scientists have pointed out various weaknesses in Soon's work, such as misinterpreting other scientists' data and relying on obsolete information for analyses. Some have noted an even more fundamental problem: Soon's claim that any evidence of a sun effect means carbon dioxide is not driving climate change. For example, in a 2009 article titled "It's the Sun, Stupid!," Soon wrote that because he has assembled evidence supporting the hypothesis that the sun causes climatic change in the Arctic it "invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change."
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Earth Institute at Columbia University, critiqued Soon's claim at Real Climate:
But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.
Paying to turn doubt into 'conventional wisdom'
The Southern Company has long been involved in efforts to mislead the public about climate change and to block regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1998, as the United States was considering signing the international Kyoto Protocol treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions, Southern was part of an initiative called the Global Science Communications Team that brought together industry, public relations and think tank leaders to devise a plan to confuse the public about the state of climate science.
The company's representative on the team was research specialist Robert Gehri, who was also Soon's contact at the utility.
Though the Kyoto-era communications effort was supposed to be secret, a memo from the group written by an American Petroleum Institute representative became public. It said "victory" would be "achieved" when industry leaders, the media and average citizens "understand" uncertainties in climate science, and when recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom."
The draft plan called for spending $5 million over two years to "maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences," the New York Times reported:
It would measure progress by counting, among other things, the percentage of news articles that raise questions about climate science and the number of radio talk show appearances by scientists questioning the prevailing views.
While the United States signed the treaty that November, the Clinton administration did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. The Bush administration rejected it altogether three years later.
A decade after its efforts to block U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, the Southern Company had become the nation's top lobbyist on federal legislation to address climate change by creating an emissions trading plan, which it opposed. A 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found the utility had nearly twice as many climate lobbyists as any other company or organization. While the House of Representatives approved the bill, it was defeated in the Senate.
More recently, Southern deployed its lobbying power to block carbon emission limits for power plants proposed by the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the carbon regulations this summer, but they're now being challenged in court by 12 states and a coal mining company.
In 2013, as the administration was preparing to roll out the rules, a lobbyist with a utility consortium told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Southern Company devotes more resources to lobbying than most utility companies and is "very active in pushing its point of view." Indeed, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics classifies the company as a "heavy hitter" for its generous spending on lobbying (over $12 million in the 2014 cycle alone) and campaign contributions (over $1.4 million in 2014, with most of that benefiting Republicans).
Southern's campaign contributions have helped promote climate science denial in Congress. The top recipient of contributions from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 campaign cycle was Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is part of what Climate Progress has dubbed the "Climate Denier Caucus." Perdue has accused the EPA of "overreaching" in its efforts to address climate change and has echoed the line Southern has pushed, saying that "in science, there's an active debate going on."
And Perdue's not the only leading recipient of Southern's political support to help spread the questionable scientific talking points the utility has paid for: Rep. Gary Palmer, an Alabama Republican who received $18,000 from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 cycle, last year told WATE that science "says global climate change is more a function of nature and solar activity than it is anything man does."
Chalk it up as yet another "victory" for a company that last year raked in $2 billion in profits.
Crossposted from Greenpeace.org: Statement from Greenpeace US Executive Director, Annie Leonard, on Nazca Lines Situation
I am deeply disappointed that Greenpeace engaged in an action at the sacred Nazca Lines in Peru.
Written by Kert Davies - former Research Director of Greenpeace USA - crossposted with permission from Climate Investigations Center: Five Questions on Climate Change for Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO.
Five questions reporters might ask Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO on climate change and energy:
1. YOUR PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE SCIENCE?
Lisa Nelson, you stated recently that you “don’t know” the science of climate change.
Q: What is your plan to further inform yourself on climate change?
Q: What sources of information will you be seeking and what questions about the science of climate change are you seeking to answer first?
Note: Nelson answered to National Journal “I don't know the science on that" when asked specifically whether human emissions are the primary driver of climate change.”
2. ALEC’s POSITION ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
Q: Will you be seeking advise and counsel from ALEC’s Board of Directors, Private Enterprise Advisory Council, Board of Scholars or Private Sector Members to clarify ALEC’s position on climate change in the wake of Google and other recent corporate departures?
Notes: ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling was recently quoted saying ALEC doesn't have a position on climate science anymore than a policy “jelly beans”, a strange analogy for a crucial issue of our times.
Lisa Nelson said on Diane Rehm: “To be clear: ALEC has no policy on climate change, and does not take positions without underlying model policy. " Yet the organization's September 24th letter to Google stated ALEC “Recognizes that climate change is an important issue...” However, the ALEC website is more direct yet equivocal on the scientific basis: “Global Climate Change is Inevitable. Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”
Which is it?
3. ALEC SPONSORS CONTROL OF MEETING AGENDA?
There are many events (luncheons, workshops, etc.) held during ALEC conferences.
Q: How much control do sponsors have over session topics and speaker selection? Have the Heartland Institute or CFACT indeed paid ALEC to hold sessions about climate change during your meetings? Or did ALEC request that they hold these briefings?
4. BALANCED “EXCHANGE” ON CLIMATE SCIENCE?
ALEC stated in its September 24th Letter to Google that it “just hosted a roundtable conversation for a variety of companies—including Google—on this very issue.”
Q: Will you provide evidence of this “roundtable” and what companies were present?
Note: There was a Google presentation within the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force session of the July annual meeting, but specifically on the subject of Google's renewable energy goals, not climate change.
5. ALEC OPPOSITION TO SUBSIDIES FOR FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR ENERGY?
ALEC maintains positions against government mandates and subsidies which backstop the organizations opposition to renewable energy targets.
Q: Given ALEC’s emphasis on free markets and subsidies, does the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force plan to pass model legislation limiting fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies and corporate welfare?
Is a “billionaire’s club” conspiring to help the environment? A new report by the Senate minority’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee called “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” says yes. The report was ostensibly commissioned by David Vitter, the ranking republican in EPW. Despite a lack of good grammar, the Vitter’s "Billionaire’s club" report represents a significant amount of government time and energy. It tracks donations from major environmental foundations to various non-profits, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. It has tables and graphs. But as Lee Fang points out, it is missing some important context:
“Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elite, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combating global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.”
Rather than a tool for open government, Vitter's Billionaire's Club report seems more like a distraction from the real billionaires in politics, major corporations and industrialists, with whose agenda David Vitter is strongly aligned.
David Vitter and The Koch Brothers
Interestingly, Vitter has ties to his own billionaires club, specifically the billionaire Koch Brothers. Sen. Vitter has vociferously supported the Billionaires, and was caught on camera saying: "I think the Koch Brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth… I’ll be honest with you, God bless the Koch brothers." According to ThinkProgress, the Koch brothers have blessed Senator Vitter right back. A review of campaign contributions finds that he and his leadership PAC have received at least $57,500 from the Koch brothers’ corporate political action committee - the same PAC that has been repeatedly accused of breaking elections laws surrounding money contributions. Besides the Koch brothers, Senator Vitter's largest political contributors are billionaire oil and gas interests.
David Vitter and the environment
Vitter is not usually a friend of environmental legislation. Oil Change International has Vitter siding with billionaire fossil fuel interests 94% of the time. For example, David Vitter was instrumental in delaying EPA ‘s assessment of the health risks of formaldehyde, while being lauded by companies that use or manufacture the chemical, like Koch Industries. Formaldehyde, which has been conclusively linked to cancer by the National Cancer Institute, is still only a “probable” carcinogen according to the EPA. Furthermore, as Steve Horn points out, Vitter's green Billionaire's club report may have an ulterior motive in blocking environmentalists:
What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.
We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recentU.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.
Should there be less money in politics and more disclosure? Yup. Just funny to hear that from David Vitter. In fact there is a bill that Sen. Vitter could support, that would help reduce the influence of secret money in politics. Called the DISCLOSE Act, it seeks to reduce the torrent of dark money unleashed by the Citizens United v. FEC supreme court decision. However, the DISCLOSE Act would also force transparency on the Koch political giving machine, well known for obscuring the origin of political contributions. In spite of EPW's focus on Vitter's billionaire's club and political spending by environmental groups, Senator Vitter has refused to support campaign finance reform, or efforts aimed at reducing the wealthy's influence in politics, like the DISCLOSE Act.
If the Senate was interested in uncovering secretive funding apparatus bent on twisting government policy to the detriment of people and their future, perhaps a look into climate change denial organizations would be a better use of tax dollars. A report by Drexel University's Robert Brulle found that 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010. This dwarfs most of the numbers used in Vitter's Billionaire's club report. However, Vitter has called climate change science “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage.” Perhaps Vitter and his staff should read Greenpeace's report on Koch funding of climate change denial, if he is so interested in secretive manipulations of politics. Billionaire's club.
Last week in Washington DC, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political dark money group met with corporate funders at the DC headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is the lead lobby group for the fracking and shale industry, with a budget of $69 million in 2012. O’Malley’s group is called newDEAL, which describes itself as a “national network searching the country for state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives to help them share their innovative ideas.” I found out about the meeting when I was forwarded an invitation. When I replied to a RSVP, I was initially sent a welcoming “see ya there” from Lauren Wessler, the organizer for the event. Wessler works for Helen Milby, who runs HM&CO, a fundraising group that connects corporations with legislators. Her work has been described as “To communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.” O’Malley created newDEAL with Alaska Senator Mark Begich, and the group is co-chaired by democratic politicians Cory Booker, and CO Governor John Hickenlooper. They bill themselves as “pro-growth” democrats, but an expose by Lee Fang in Vice revealed that newDEAL was funded by some of the largest corporations in the US, the same corporations that provide the majority of funding to republican politicians. newDEAL funders include Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life, Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of Tuesday's event, ANGA. Given the corporate connection, the newDEAL is an attempt to grow O’Malley and company’s political war chests with corporate dollars, more “deal” than “new.” A few hours after receiving confirmation of my RSVP, another email buzzed into my inbox from Lauren. Apparently she had made a mistake. “The room seats less people than I originally thought…So sorry,” read her retraction of my RSVP. Sounds fishy, but OK. Maybe there just isn’t enough space at the largest fracking lobbyists’ headquarters for a researcher from Greenpeace. But there are always those people who RSVP and don’t show, so I went to ANGA the day of the event, just in case they could squeeze me in. The O’Malley connection to ANGA is particularly interesting given the battle the gas industry is waging in his state. Fracking is still being studied in Maryland, and drillers have not yet started exploiting the shale that lies under parts of the state. Maryland is also home to Cove Point, a proposed Liquified Natural Gas export plant. The plant will be the 3rd LNG export plant fully permitted in the US according to most analysis. Cove Point was just conditionally approved by FERC, which just released an Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s statement has been roundly criticized for missing key elements, such as climate impacts, community safety, marine impacts, and fracking.
Cove Point has been particularly controversial because it would be located in a populated, residential area on the coast of Maryland. Assistant fire chief for the area Mickey Shymansky resigned after calling attention to the fire department’s inability to control a disaster at the plant. So, what does O’Malley’s financial relationship with ANGA change about the future of fracking and gas exports in Maryland? Alas, we were unable to find out. When I arrived at ANGA’s headquarters I told them my name and showed them my RSVP. The front desk person gave me a leery eye, and within minutes a large man named Pablo came out of an elevator bank and walked up to me. “You have to leave the premises.” he said. Why? I asked “They said that if you come in we aren’t allowed to let you up” He said. “Who is they?” I asked. “You know who” he said. “America’s Natural Gas Alliance?” “Yes” Pablo said “But I have an RSVP, did they say my name specifically” “yes” he said. O’Malley and company plan on using newDEAL to fund campaigns of like minded politicians, basically creating a money laundering dark money pipeline from corporate interests to campaign coffers. As Ruth Marcus said in her Washington Post editorial last week:
Big money is troubling; secret money is toxic. Having millions of dollars from outside groups pumped into elections distorts the democratic process. Not knowing what interests are behind those millions magnifies that distortion.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the 2012 election saw more than $250 million in political spending by nonprofit groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, up from $86 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2004. Wonder how many of those millions was from the shale industry, looking to open Maryland for drilling? Or Wal-Mart, trying to erode minimum wage? Or Wall Street making sure limits on risky banking will not be enforced?
Climate Investigations Center: Craig Idso and Heartland Institute Climate Change Denial "NIPCC" Report
Crossposted from the Climate Investigations Center, written by Kert Davies (a former Greenpeace employee).
Background briefing, April 2014
Craig Idso: “Climate change is good for you”
This week the Heartland Institute will release another chapter of its NIPCC, the “not the IPCC” document that will tell you the opposite of the main message that’s been coming from the prestigious IPCC, namely that climate change is a threat to security, food and mankind and especially a threat to the world's poor, along with ecosystems worldwide including coral reefs, polar regions, and the wildlife and myriad of creatures these ecosystems support.
Heartland Institute on the other hand, in its NIPCC “Climate Change Reconsidered II: the Biological Impacts” document, will say that climate change is good for the world, will have a net benefit for both plants and human health. This is the latest line run by right wing think tanks like Heartland, the coal industry’s ACCCE coalition, Peabody Coal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and echoed across the blogosphere by climate deniers.
This set of messaging and all 'reports' to back this line, all appear to be coming from one organization, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and specifically from its chairman and former president, Craig Idso, one of the NIPCC’s lead authors, who has been arguing the same “C02 is beneficial” line for nearly 20 years, along with his father, Sherwood Idso.
The Center's claimed mission is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change.” Its main publication is CO2 Science, a weekly magazine that features articles questioning the science verifying man-made climate change and its impacts.
In 2012, leaked documents from the Heartland Institute revealed that they were paying Craig Idso $11,600 a month for his NIPCC work. We do not know how much Idso has been paid since that time, or prior.
The organization’s total funding peaked in 2009 at $1.5 million a year. Funders have included ExxonMobil (total, $100,000 since 1998), Donors Trust, Sarah Scaife Foundation and a number of other right wing funders. See Conservative Transparency for a recent (but not full) breakdown. The Center's IRS 990’s are here at Citizen Audit.
Publications produced by Craig Idso, with members of C02Science,org:
- In 2011 he and Sherwood wrote a book entitled “The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment”.
- Idso has produced a series of video documentaries espousing his theory of C02’s beneficial effect on plant life.
- Keith and Sherwood Idso wrote a paper in 1992 about how C02 benefits plant life, referenced in the NIPCC’s Summary for Policymakers.
After founding the organisation, Idso got his PhD in geography at Arizona State University under the tutelage of one of the very early climate deniers employed by the fossil fuel industry, Robert C Balling Jr.
Idso, the Greening Earth Society and the Western Fuels Association
Robert Balling, Idso's mentor, was one of the leading scientists paid by the Greening Earth Society, the climate science-denying front group created by the Western Fuels Association, one of the first and earliest coal industry groups funding the denial of climate change. But the coal industry's line was not 'climate denial' but 'climate change is good for you'. The Western Fuels Association is a cooperative of utilities and power companies supplying coal from the Powder River Basin in the western U.S.
Robert Balling was one of the seven scientists deployed by Western Fuels in the 1990s to challenge the prevailing consensus in climate science. Other names included some who are still on the core climate denial team today: Willie Soon and Patrick Michaels.
It was the Greening Earth Society for which Craig and Keith Idso penned a paper in 1995: “The Greening of the American West: The Atmosphere’s Rising CO2 Concentration Is Stimulating Woody Plant Growth in the U.S. Forests, Grasslands, and Deserts.”
Idso, Fred Palmer and Peabody Coal
From its inception, the Chair and CEO of the Western Fuels Association and the Greening Earth Society was Fred Palmer, who was also a registered lobbyist for the Western Fuels Association, a coalition of utility and coal companies.
Palmer is now the Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Peabody Energy (Peabody Coal). (Guardian backgrounder 2011), and was in the media in 2010 leading the charge for “green coal.” He chaired the World Coal Association from 2010 to 2012. Peabody is behind the recent climate denial hub "Advanced Energy for Life" campaign, working with Burson Marsteller as revealed by Climate Investigations Center.
From 2001-2002, Craig Idso served as Director of Environmental Science at Peabody Energy in St. Louis, MO. This was to set up the long relationship with the company that continues to this day.
Idso and ACCCE Tout the Social Benefits of Carbon
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is an industry group promoting coal, of which Peabody coal is a key corporate member.
There is a major fight heating up at the State and Federal level on how we set what the government calls the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric calculated by the Government on the harm carbon (C02) does the economy, to our health and to the planet. These social costs range from the medical bills and lost workdays (when a mother has to take her asthmatic child to the hospital), all the way to the impact of sea level rise on coastal communities.
In 2013, the EPA recalculated the social cost of carbon and increased the figure to $35 per metric ton, up from $21.
ACCCE and Peabody Coal retaliated by questioning why the Obama EPA didn’t included analysis of the benefits of CO2, enhancing agriculture, for instance.
As part of this argument, ACCCE released a report in January, entitled "The Social Costs of Carbon. No, the Social Benefits of Carbon" claiming the government is vastly underestimating the social benefits of coal as well as the benefits from the carbon dioxide pollution produced by burning that coal, including enhancing photosynthesis and agricultural productivity. DeSmogBlog has more details.
Footnotes of the report reveal ACCCE commissioned Craig Idso to undertake a study that appears to be a rehash of the work he has done for 20 years. Idso's contracted study, titled “The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide,” which makes up a large part of Chapter III of the ACCCE "Social Benefits" report.
Idso and ALEC
Idso’s “benefits of C02” was also a topic at the 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council Annual meeting. According to Sourcewatch, he spoke at a workshop of state legislators that was to be titled "Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2." The title was later changed to "Benefit Analysis of CO2".
ALEC has also used that same “CO2 is beneficial” line in submissions to the EPA.
Idso told the audience that we “should let CO2 rise unrestricted, without government intervention”, a very different recommendation than that emanating from the IPCC and the vast majority of the world's climate scientists.