Koch Brothers: Apocalyptical Forces of Ignorance and Greed, Says RFK Jr.
At this year's Waterkeeper Alliance conference in Boulder, Colorado, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. delivered a provocative unscripted keynote that lambasted the carbon lobby for undermining democracy and subverting the common right to a healthy environment.
Speaking to a group of activists, including more than 200 Waterkeepers from 30 nations, Kennedy declared, “We are engaged, as Abraham Lincoln said, 'in a great Civil War.'" This time, he said, "the conflict involves all the Earth’s peoples. It’s not just a battle to protect our waterways, our livelihoods, our property and our backyards. It’s a struggle for our sovereignty, our values, our health and our lives. It’s a battle for dignified humane and wholesome communities. It’s a defensive war against toxic and economic aggression by Big Oil and King Coal. It’s a struggle to break free of the 'soft colonialism' of carbon’s corporate tyranny and create an economic and energy system that is fair, rooted in justice, economic independence and freedom.”
He started by talking about the disproportionate impact of pollution on the poor and minorities. “Polluters,” he explained, “assault soft targets first—and that means the poor.” He recounted how the majority of toxic industrial sites and noxious facilities are in lower income communities where residents lack political power or connections to protect themselves. He gave examples of these environmental injustices including, Emelle, Alabama, which is home to the largest toxic waste dump in America—one of the country's most impoverished regions where one-third of the residents live below the poverty line and more than 65 percent of the residents are black—Chicago’s south side, which has more toxic waste sites than any other American community and East Los Angeles, a primarily black and Hispanic community, which is the most contaminated zip code in America.
“In these communities,” he said, “Not just the land and water, but the people have been commoditized—and everything becomes expendable in the drive for corporate profits.”
But he added, “It’s not just the poor who are under assault. The corporate hunger for profit is threatening all people with loss of their natural world and the other assets of their patrimony."
Kennedy said that corporate efforts to privatize the commons are occurring in all parts of the world and that “environmental injury correlates almost perfectly with political tyranny.”
"In China, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, environmental destruction went hand in hand with political despotism and corruption," he continued. "Thanks to the Pinochet regime, the forests and waters of Chile are no longer owned by the Chilean people. Every single river in Chile is now owned by a Spanish company, Endessa which plans to dam all of them for private profit. So the people of that nation no longer own their rivers, they don’t own their forests. Even the highways, railroads, utilities, airports, stadiums and prisons—all the public spaces that once formed our civic lives are being occupied by private and corporate wealth."
Kennedy recalled that during the 1994 campaign to save the iconic BioBio river from Endesa’s dam builders, the Chilean human rights lawyer, Juan Pablo Ortega had lamented, "Supposedly we have a democracy after Pinochet left, but it’s folly to call a system a 'democracy' when the people have no control over their resources. We Chileans are no longer the sovereigns of our lands.”
Kennedy assured the crowd that "This is what the battle is about. It’s about losing control of the commons. The air, the water, the wildlife, the fisheries and public lands, the shared resources of our society: The commonwealth assets that provide the gravities around which communities coalesce.”
To give context to the history, Kennedy talked about the many environmental insults in the 1960’s that spurred the modern-day environmental movement, including the 1963 extinction of the Eastern Peregrine Falcon from DDT poisoning, the burning of the Cuyahoga River, the Santa Barbara oil spill and the declaration that Lake Erie was dead, which all occurred in 1969. The Santa Barbara spill held the record for the largest oil spill until Exxon Valdez and the BP Deepwater Horizon. In those three examples, polluters had effectively privatized a major American river, one of the Great Lakes and all the beaches in Southern California.
In response to such insults, in 1970, 20 million Americans, 10 percent of our population, came out on the streets for the first Earth Day in "a democratic reassertion of popular sovereignty over the common’s, those crowds demanded that our political leaders return to the American people the ancient environmental rights that had been stolen from our citizens since the Industrial Revolution,” Kennedy said.
In response to this massive public outpouring, Republicans and Democrats working together passed, over the next 10 years, 28 major environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, RCRA, TSCA, FIFRA, The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act and Superfund. All of these statutes were intended to restore our rights to the public commons. What happened next? "These new prohibitions against corporate pollution hurt the industry’s bottom line. So the polluters fought back," he declared.
Throughout the next three decades, polluters funded politicians including Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, their appointed judges and various Republican Congresses chipped away at the new environmental laws. But then, according to Kennedy, the industry achieved its most brazen and stunning victory. Kennedy said, "In the year of the millennium, the most corporate friendly Supreme Court since 1933 stopped the 2000 election vote count in Florida and stole the presidency from Senator Al Gore, the greenest presidential candidate in our history. That decision turned the White House over to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, two Texas oilmen."
Seventeen of the top 21 people in the new administration were from the oil or allied industries. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, was the CEO of oil service company Halliburton and the owner of millions of dollars of Halliburton stock, which would appreciate enormously during Cheney’s administration. Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron, which named an oil tanker after her. Cheney immediately convened 90 days of secret meetings with carbon and nuclear industry CEO’s.
“For the first three months of the Bush administration, Cheney presided over clandestine convocations during which he invited the nation’s worst polluters to rewrite environmental laws to make it easy to drill, to burn, to extract, to ship, to distribute carbon fuel," said Kennedy. "It was an all-out victory for the carbon industry and an unconditional defeat for humanity.”
The 2005 Bush/Cheney Energy Bill was the product of those secret meetings, including the “Halliburton Loophole” to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which exempted natural gas companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. This change in the law allowed a new industry known as shale gas fracking to grow without regard to its widespread environmental costs, including drinking water contamination, a cascade of global warming fugitive methane emissions, earthquakes, road destruction and human health impacts.
Even as they dismantled America’s environmental laws by statute, Bush and Cheney stocked the regulatory agencies with industry lackeys and profiteering cronies who weakened and auctioned off America’s public lands and forests to the campaign contributors at fire sale prices, according to Kennedy.
But George W. Bush wasn’t done. He next appointed two ultra-corporatist U.S. Supreme Court Justices—John G. Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006. Kennedy said that it is wrong to think of these judges as traditional conservatives. “They are not. They are corporatists. If you analyze their decisions, there is no coherent conservative political philosophy. They have taken the 'conserve' out of conservatism. The only predictable outcome of their rulings is that 'the corporation always wins.'"
The apogee of their unctuous worship of unsheathed corporate power was the Supreme Court’s 2010 5 to 4 decision in favor of Citizens United, which, as Kennedy proclaimed, “turned American democracy over to large corporations.”
The so called “Citizens United” decision is the "most sweeping expansion of corporate power this century. In an acrimonious split decision, the five 'conservative' justices declared that, in the eyes of the Constitution, corporations were people and money is speech," continued Kennedy.
Corporate campaign donations, in other words, are protected by the First Amendment making most restrictions on corporate donations to political candidates unconstitutional. That case effectively overruled a century of corporate campaign finance restrictions that limited a corporation's ability to purchase political candidates.
The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission unleashed a tsunami of corporate cash in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. It helped create super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporate and union treasuries, as well as from individuals, and it triggered a boom in political activity by tax-exempt "dark money" organizations that don't have to disclose their donors.
“And today it’s hard to argue that we still have a democracy in this country when you have the Koch brothers, the two richest people in America, who have pledged already to put nearly $900 million into this presidential election, which is comparable to the amount spent by either political party," said Kennedy. "This year’s presidential election is going to cost $10 billion with half of that coming from 100 wealthy families. Nearly $1 billion is coming from two brothers."
And, said Kennedy, “You will hear no criticism from the press, the supposed guardians of our democracy. And that’s because most of that money will go to media advertising—the 4th estate has been bought off.”
And the data shows that 91 percent of the time, the candidate with the most money wins the election. "So democracy is for sale and the Congress that we have today is the best one that money can buy, which by definition, is oligarchy not democracy," said Kennedy. "Predictably, the rich are now buying themselves politicians and then deploying to reduce taxes on their class and to rid themselves of pesky regulations that protect public health. Our politicians are no longer public servants. They are indentured servants of the Koch brothers and their ilk. They are no longer engaged in public service, but in the mercenary enterprise of ransacking on behalf of Big Oil."
So Kennedy asks, "What happens to a country when moneyed interests run its political system?" First, he says, “The political character of a nation tends to reflect its economic organization. As the economy slides towards monopoly in leading sectors like energy, agriculture and media, the political system will lean toward oligarchy.” In addition, he says, “Oil and coal by nature are autocratic and authoritarian. Nations controlled by those industries customarily list toward autocracy and away from democracy. It’s a phenomenon known as the 'resource curse.' So with democracy for sale and the carbon cronies winning the auction, we have the perfect storm for corporate tyranny."
Then Kennedy asks, “What do you think accounts for the Koch Brothers’ generosity to our political system?” He answers his question with a battery of new questions. “Do you think that Charles and David Koch are putting nearly $900 million into the election because of some patriotic impulse? Do you think they are putting nearly $900 million into this election because they love America? Do you think that they are putting nearly $900 million into the election because they love humanity? Our environment? Or our purple mountain’s majesty? Our democracy? Or free market capitalism?”
To each question, the crowd enthusiastically said, "No."
“Do you think they have a moral compass?" Kennedy replied, and when the crowd answered “No” he corrected them. "Well they do have a moral compass. It’s pointed straight at Hell.”
The crowd roared. But Kennedy wasn't finished yet.
"These are the apocalyptical forces of ignorance and greed. These are the four horsemen from the book of Revelations herding humanity toward a dystopian nightmare of their creation. Koch Industries is not a benign corporation. It’s a suicide pact for creation. It’s the archetype of 'disaster capitalism.' It’s the command center of an organized scheme to undermine democracy and impose a corporate kleptocracy that will allow these greedy men to cash in on mass extinction and the end of civilization."
Kennedy went on to explain, "These men claim in their rhetoric to embrace a theology of free market capitalism. But if you look at their feet instead of listening to the seductive noises that issue from their mouths and their phony think tanks, the truth is clear. These men hate free markets. They want a system of cushy socialism for the rich and a savage, merciless capitalism for the poor. The real purpose of their 'think tanks' they created and fund—like the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute—is not to promote free market capitalism, but to gin up the philosophical underpinnings for a scheme of uncontrolled corporate profit taking. And the press, consolidated as it is into private monopolies, and relieved of social obligation are on the carbon and pharma pay role and in full cahoots with the scheme. They don’t love markets—they despise them. The Koch Brothers’ purpose in purchasing our political system is to engineer monumental subsidies and market failure, which are their formulae for profit. And the winds, the storms, the floods, the heatwaves, the fires and the melting continents that they cause, the cities that they drown, the refugees they drive from their lands all provide new opportunities for profit and authoritarian control."
Kennedy shared a story about the commercial fisheries on the Hudson River, among the oldest commercial fisheries in North America. He began his career as an environmental lawyer representing these fishing families. He explained how the fisheries regulated themselves as a sustainable industry for more than three centuries.
"The fishermen had a business model that worked," he said. But then General Electric "used its political clout to cheat the free market and to arrange vast subsidies for itself by externalizing its costs and dumping its toxins into the river. In this way, GE privatized the fish in the Hudson River. New York’s constitution says that we, the people of New York State, own the waterways of the state and we own the fish in the Hudson. But we don't own them anymore. The General Electric Company owns every fish in the river because they privatized them. They put their toxins in our fish and our cash in their pockets.
"While we own to fish legally, we can’t use them. GE has liquidated a public asset for cash and profit. All those men and women who made their living on the river and lived decent lives—they are all out of work and out of luck and General Electric has liquidated their assets and their livelihoods for corporate profit."
He went on to explain; “Now the coal industry has done the exact same thing to every freshwater fish in America.” The National Academy of Science found dangerous levels of mercury in every American freshwater fish. The mercury is mainly coming from coal fired power plants. Since there is no known safe level for mercury consumption, the fish are no longer suitable for public consumption and are effectively privatized. “King Coal has privatized every fish in America by putting toxic mercury in every filet," he said.
"Whether we recognize it or not, we are all locked in a life and death struggle with these corporations over control of our landscapes and political sovereignty," Kennedy said. “If a foreign nation did to our country what the coal and oil barons do every day, we would consider it an act of war! They poison our rivers and aquifers, steal our fish, flood our cities and trample our democracy. They are pilfering our values, robbing our culture, impoverishing our lives, sickening our children and stupefying our minds with pollution. They subvert our heritage by privatizing our patrimony. They are turning America into a colonial economy.
"Under the colonial model multinational corporations exploit weak political systems to commoditize and privatize a nation’s resources. A robust democracy would never allow a foreign company to plunder the nation’s natural resources, poison her landscapes and subjugate her people. So colonialism requires the multinationals to weaken and capture the indigenous political system of the target nation. They do so by making alliances with local oligarchs with military and intelligence apparatus and conservative religious organizations and buying off the media. All these indigenous elites get a share of the profits in exchange for allowing the theft of their country’s resources. Pollution is not just theft—it is treason. The Koch brothers are not just America’s biggest polluters—they are thieves and they are traitors to our country and their crimes against America and humanity have made them the richest men on Earth.
"The colonial model results in the evolution of an upper class with massive wealth and political power, the elimination of the middle class and the exponential increase of an impoverished class who eke a declining meagre living from the barren polluted moonscapes left behind by greed and pollution. And, when you have a wealthy class and a poor class and no middle class, you get extreme political division. The role of one political party devolves into a single minded mission of protecting the perks and power of the wealthy class and the rights of corporations to rape the land and enslave the people."
This is why, as Kennedy explained, we have another precedented divide between Democratic and Republican parties in this country. Since tax breaks for billionaires and unregulated pollution are not potent vessels for populism, the corporate kleptocracy must steal elections, eliminate poor voters from the rolls, lie about the issues and employ propaganda and all the lowest alchemies of demagoguery, including appeals to religious and patriotic symbols and dividing the electorate using bigotry, greed, and racial and religious prejudices—the “wedge” or “cultural war issue," according to Kennedy.
Even using these techniques, as Kennedy says, the policies they advocate are so viscerally unpopular that their hold on the voting public is always remaining tenuous. “Politics,” Kennedy explained “Is driven by both money and political intensity. Since they don’t have reliable ground troops, they must overwhelm the system with their money.” For this reason, “The hostile takeover of our democracy by polluting corporations and our country’s transition into a colonial economy is completely reliant on the financial floodgates opened by Citizens United."
To further make his point, Kennedy said, "So you have the Koch's who have deployed their front group ALEC—American Legislative Exchange Council—in every state working with local legislators in the anti-American enterprise of impeding the transition to new energy by bribing and blackmailing politicians to weaken support for wind and solar and foster a hostile environment toward renewables.
"The Koch brothers understand that renewables are good for the economy, good for our security and good for democracy. They create high paying jobs, promote small businesses, create wealth, democratize our energy sector, give us local, resilient power and reduce dependence on foreign carbon that makes them for the country, but bad for the Koch brothers.
"Renewables fill the Koch brothers with fear. In order to compete, they have to rig the rules that govern energy in this country to favor the dirtiest, filthiest, most destructive, most poisonous and addictive fuels from hell over the cheap, clean, green, local and patriotic fuels from heaven. But even with market and utility rules against them, new renewable technologies are so efficient that the allow wind and solar to beat the carbon industry even in their rigged markets and slanted playing fields—the only way for carbon to survive is by massive subsidies. The Koch brothers cannot compete against renewables in a free market without their subsidies."
A recent report by the International Monetary Fund said, global energy subsidies amounts to $5 trillion annually, with the U.S. providing $700 billion in subsidizes to big oil "the richest industry in the history of the planet," remarks Kennedy.
"Why would we be doing that?" he asks. "The only reason we'd give subsidies to a century old industry with the biggest profits in human history is because the oil barons own our government. There is no economic reason. Carbon’s economic model is looking at the same bleak future as the horse and buggy industry faced in 1903. So what do you do when your profits rely on a fading economic model? You use your money and use the campaign finance system that consists of legalized bribery to get your hooks into a public official who allows you to privatize the commons, dismantle the market place and rig the rules to give you monopoly control," Kennedy explained.
Free market capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised. But, according to Kennedy, it must be harnessed to a social purpose, as it will drag us down the path of political oligarchy and environmental destruction. Free market rules should allow people to make themselves rich by doing good things for humanity. But under the Koch’s scheme, oilmen get rich by dong bad things to humanity, he said.
Corporations are a useful economic tool. However, "corporations should not be running our government because they don't want the same thing for America as Americans want," he continued. "They don't want democracy. They want profits. They want no competition. They are corrupting our democracy. They are stealing everything that we care about in this country.
"I believe in a true free market where you can't make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community, where we properly value our national resources and where we reward efficiency. But polluters make themselves rich by making everybody else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves while lowering quality of life for everybody else. They undervalue natural resources or take them for free. And they do it all by escaping the discipline of the free market. Polluters externalize their costs to artificially lower the price of their product. The 28 environmental laws that we passed after the first Earth Day in 1970 were intended to restore true free market capitalism by forcing actors in the marketplace to pay the true cost to bring their product to market. There is a huge difference between true free market capitalism—which makes a nation more efficient, more prosperous and more democratic—and the kind of corporate crony capitalism which we have today."
After 45-minutes of some of the most powerful comments about the reality of the world today, Kennedy finished by telling the crowd, “But we are not going quietly. We’ve heard the summons to the barricades and we are filling the streets. We are the soldiers in a revolution against carbon. And this is an industry that no longer has a justifiable economic model.”
Pointing at the roaring crowd, he said, “Every single person here is willing to die with their boots on. That commitment is what brought you the Waterkeeper movement. We are going to keep fighting for these landscapes, for these rights, for these rivers and for all the values that we care for as a people and as a society."
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More than 200,000 people took to the streets in Washington, DC, today for the People's Climate March. Tens of thousands more joined via sister marches across the globe, including Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, Uganda, Kenya, Germany, Greece, United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and more.
In the U.S., more than 370 marches in nearly all 50 states took place, from the town of Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands to the streets of Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major American cities.
EcoWatch was there covering the DC march, and interviewing climate leaders and marchers from all over the nation. Watch our more than five hours of coverage here:
The Peoples Climate March was led by a coalition of frontline communities, faith leaders, labor activists, civil rights champions and climate justice advocates demanding commonsense protections for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the health of the vulnerable communities who have the most to lose under President Trump's administration.
"The sight of more than 150,000 people taking to the streets of Washington, DC, not to mention the thousands more in cities and towns across the country, displays the true power of the climate movement," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "We cannot nor will not be stopped. We will speak out, we will take to the streets and we will win.
"Donald Trump can try to stick his head in the sand when it comes to protecting our clean air and water all he wants, but that will never drown out the millions of voices across the country demanding action."
According to 350.org, the number of people far outpaced the National Park Service's permitted space of 100,000 people. The march extended for more than 20 blocks down Pennsylvania Ave., with tens of thousands more surging along the mall sending a unified message to President Trump and his administration to stand up for "climate, jobs and justice."
The day began at sunrise with a water ceremony led by Indigenous peoples at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Representatives from front line communities spoke at an opening press conference calling out President Trump for failing to address the climate crisis.
The march, which began at 12:30 p.m. EST, was led by young people of color from Washington, DC, and Indigenous leaders from across the country.
"Today we gather to see each other, to work with each other, to embrace each other and to envision a just and clean future together, one without fossil fuels," Mary Nicol, senior campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said. "We have a long struggle, but we know we will win. We will win because we stand for justice, the truth and the rights of all people."
At 3:30 p.m., crowds gathered at the Washington Monument while marches continued to take place across the country. The Peoples Climate Movement is a coalition of more than 900 organizations representing many of the major social justice, labor and environmental groups in the country, which has pledged to keep the momentum going.
The march was divided in creatively named contingents, like "Protectors of Justice," "Reshapers of Power," "Many Struggles, One Home" and "Fossil Fuel Resistance," which included the growing resistance to President Trump's and the Republican Party's dismantling of climate and environmental policies. The bloc included activists and organizations fighting oil and gas drilling, coal mining, pipelines and power plants.
"After losing the popular vote, Trump surrounded himself with fossil fuel executives, climate-deniers and Wall Street bankers hellbent on destroying our planet," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said. "The real climate solution is to keep fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewable energy."
Scott Parkin, senior climate campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, agreed.
"Executives at oil companies, coal companies and the Wall Street banks that finance coal mines and oil pipelines don't care about the climate or communities impacted by fossil fuels," he said. "The only motivation is short-term profit. Today, we march to not only say 'no more,' but also we will fight and we will win."
Nonprofits organizations and activists were not the only ones speaking out at the People's Climate March. Socially responsible businesses were there too, including Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, New Belgium Brewing Company and many others. Here's a great picture of the Ben & Jerry's melting cone:
The People's Climate March sent a resounding message to the Trump administration and members of Congress who continue to choose corporate interests over the health of people and planet: Take climate action now. The voice of the people will not be silenced.
"Today's actions are not for one day or one week or one year," Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement, said. "We are a movement that is getting stronger everyday for our families, our communities and our planet. To change everything, we need everyone."
350.org Executive Director May Boeve summed up the day perfectly.
"The first 100 days of Trump's presidency have been hard. But today I can't help but be filled with indomitable hope: We've marked the 100th day with unyielding resistance, heart and creativity.
"Today in the streets we are proving that we will continue to mobilize against Trump's fossil fuel agenda. And this is only one part of the picture: The March for Science last weekend and Monday's May Day strikes show the resistance will continue on many fronts.
"We're on the precipice of launching an ambitious new grassroots push to stop every new fossil fuel project on the table and build 100% renewable energy in towns and cities nationwide. What we are doing today gives us real leverage to get there.
"There are always holes in the Death Star, and we will keep looking for them—on the 100th day and the 1,000th. Who knows what we'll find."
EcoWatch will be covering the People's Climate March all day in Washington, DC, starting with interviews around 9:15 a.m. EST of climate leaders, spokespeople and influencers. From 10:30 - 11 a.m., 10 powerful speakers will tell their stories about why they are marching. At 11 a.m., hundreds of thousands of people will start to line up for the march. There are also hundreds of sister marches around the world.
Led by frontline and Indigenous communities, the march will begin up Pennsylvania Avenue at 12:30 p.m. towards the White House. At 2 p.m., marches will begin to surround the White House grounds, sit-down, take a moment of silence and join in a heartbeat action for 100 seconds to signify our collective stake in this fight.
"While Trump and his crony cabinet rollback hard-won protections of our communities and our climate, we are mobilizing to fight for the bold solutions we need. We will present our vision to replace the fossil fuel industry with a 100% clean energy economy that works for all. Today, we march. Tomorrow, we rise united across our communities to make our vision of a just and equitable world a reality."
By Eric Pooley
President Trump said recently that the tradition of rating a new president's first 100 days is "ridiculous." The White House then created a web page devoted to rating his first 100 days.
It's further proof, if anyone needed it, that the defining feature of this president's first 100 days is noise. Every day brings some piercing new alarm, making it hard to separate the momentarily disturbing from the truly damaging. But this is essential—especially for the environment.
While the president has flip-flopped on some signature issues, he's been totally consistent about dismantling protections for public health, clean air and clean water. So let's take a closer look at what he's done so far, and what it will mean for our health and our world.
Here are the four worst actions Trump took during his first 100 days—and one that's very good:
1. Hired Scott Pruitt
Pruitt is beginning to staff the EPA with Beltway insiders who have made their living lobbying for weaker pollution rules on behalf of industry.
For example, it has been widely reported that Andrew Wheeler may be named as Pruitt's top deputy. Wheeler is now a lobbyist for Murray Energy, a coal mining conglomerate that is demanding an end to the rule that limits mercury pollution.
In fact, a recent analysis by Columbia University Law School showed that more than one quarter of the administration's appointees so far to environmental, energy and natural resource agencies have close ties to the fossil fuel industry. The likely result: Thousands of decisions over the next four years made by those more interested in protecting polluters than public health.
That will leave a toxic legacy of more disease and premature death.
2. Undermined Chemical Safety
Last year, a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly passed the Lautenberg Act, a new chemical safety law that, after four decades of a broken system that flooded our stores and homes with dangerous or untested chemicals, finally constructed a strong chemical safety net.
But now the EPA has to finish writing the rules to implement it. For that, Pruitt has chosen Nancy Beck, an insider straight from the main chemical industry trade association who even within the last few weeks lobbied the agency on these very rules.
If those new rules give industry everything it wants, we'll have blown a historic chance to restore public trust and market confidence in the products consumers buy for household use. Our health would continue to be at risk—and undoing the damage would take years.
3. Asked to Slash the Federal Budget
The administration's budget proposal would cut the EPA by almost a third—more than any other agency—even though its budget is tiny to begin with.
Out of every $10 the federal government spends, only two cents go to the EPA. These cuts aren't being done to save money. They're part of an ideological crusade the public doesn't support.
If the EPA budget is cut this way, the loss of experts and institutional knowledge will reverberate for years. Detailed plans obtained by the Washington Post show that Trump and Pruitt want to cut a quarter of the workforce and abolish 56 programs with impacts from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound.
Together, this will lead to more asthma attacks, more health problems for the elderly and a more dangerous future.
4. Moved to Roll Back Protections from Dirty Energy
Pruitt is now trying to gut many of the same the rules and safeguards he sued to stop as Oklahoma's attorney general. They limit the amount of arsenic and acid gases power plants can emit, reduce smog that causes respiratory problems and cut carbon pollution that causes climate change.
He has signaled hostility to the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, despite the fact that virtually all power plants are already in compliance. The EPA chief and Trump have also taken aim at the Clean Power Plan, America's first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, without any strategy to replace it.
5. Fueled Environmental Activism
This is the positive legacy of the Trump administration: Americans who used to take clean air and water for granted are waking up to the danger.
Membership in environmental groups is skyrocketing—the biggest question we get these days is, "What can I do?" as women and men from all walks of life are reclaiming environmentalism as a mainstream American value.
Thousands will take to the streets in Washington and other cities on Saturday for the People's Climate March. Just as a blossoming environmental awareness in the early 1970s led to some of the bedrock laws we rely on today, I believe the great awakening of 2017 will echo for years to come.
If we work together and make our voices heard, we can limit the worst of the damage Trump intends to inflict.
A new briefing paper details how Dominion Energy's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
The planned 600-mile interstate
pipeline will carry 1.44 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through forests, critical animal habitats and pristine mountains that Dominion would be required to "reduce" between 10 to 60 feet, according to the paper released Thursday by the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The paper cites data from the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.
"In light of the discovery that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
"Dominion's pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region's environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline."
Dominion, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy. The developer promises that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will have "minimal environmental impact" and that "best-in-class restoration and mitigation techniques will be used to protect native species, preserve wetland and water resources, control erosion and minimize emissions." Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also have a stake in the project.
Environmentalists and other opponents argue that the pipeline will have adverse effects on sensitive habitats, reduce property values and introduce dangerous precedents for the seizure of private property through eminent domain.
Joyce Burton, a board member of Friends of Nelson County, expressed fears that Dominion's plan to build the pipeline on steep and landslide-prone Appalachian slopes could be catastrophic.
"Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope," Burton said.
"Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster."
Opponents of the pipeline are demanding more transparency from the company.
Ben Luckett, a staff attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said it was "astounding" that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess rock and soil that will result from cutting down the 38 miles of ridgetop for the pipeline.
"We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes," Luckett added.
"FERC and Dominion's complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act."
Dan Shaffer, a spatial analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, said there are too many risks involved with the project.
"Even with Dominion's refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety," Shaffer said.
"There is no way around it. It's a bad route, a bad plan and should never have been seriously considered."
Here are some of the new paper's key findings:
• Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
• This figure includes 19 miles in West Virginia and 19 miles in Virginia.
• The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
• Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as "overburden."
• Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
• Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.
The new EO will direct U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review the current offshore drilling plans, which limits most drilling to parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet, and reexamine opening parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to drilling. The EO will also roll back President Obama's permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic, issued in the last full month of his presidency. Zinke cautioned reporters that implementation of the EO will be "a multi-year effort," and several groups have pledged lawsuits to further slow down the process.
"Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is dead wrong," said Greenpeace USA senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best.
"Renewable energy already has us on the right track to energy independence, and opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling will lock us into decades of harmful pollution, devastating spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and a fossil fuel economy with no future. Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves—including the oil and gas off U.S. coasts—must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change."
Best added that Trump's latest executive order does not have popular support, and instead caters to "Trump's inner circle of desperate fossil fuel executives."
"Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill," she said, "but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country—from California to North Carolina—who will resist his disastrous policies."
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi agrees. "This attempt to greatly expand offshore drilling into the Arctic and Atlantic is a blatant prioritization of fossil fuel profits over the health of our climate and coastal communities," he said. "President Trump is ignoring the cries of citizens who have said offshore drilling poses too great a threat to their economies and ways of life."
For a deeper dive:
A total of 41 humpback whales died in the waters off Maine to North Carolina since January 2016, including 15 that washed up dead this year. That's about three times more than the region's annual average of just 14 humpback deaths.
"The increased numbers of mortalities have triggered the declaration of an unusual mortality event, or UME, for humpback whales along the Atlantic Coast," said Mendy Garron, stranding coordinator at the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, on Thursday.
A UME is issued whenever there is an "unexpected, involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response," she added.
So far, NOAA has examined 20 of the whales that died last year and determined that 10 of the mammals "had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds" likely from marine vessels, the agency said.
The whales may be moving around in search of prey, exposing themselves to shipping traffic, researchers suggested.
"It's probably linked to resources," Greg Silber, the large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, told reporters. "Humpback whales follow where the prey is."
The other half of the whales that were examined had no obvious signs of what caused their demise.
"Whales tested to date have had no evidence of infectious disease," Garron said.
The scientists stressed that they are unsure about what is causing the spike in humpback deaths.
"The answer is really unknown," Silber said.
By Dave Anderson
Perry's remarks came during an on-stage interview at the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn't rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
"That's a conversation that will occur over the next few years," Perry said. "There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene."
And according to Time's Justin Worland:
During a question and answer period, Perry also suggested that increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar might make the grid unreliable given they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, creating national security concerns. The Trump administration might try to preempt state and local governments that use policy to encourage clean energy to address those concerns, Perry said.
"There's a discussion, some of it very classified that will be occurring as we go further," Perry said. "The conversation needs to happen so the local governors and legislators, mayors and city council understand what's at stake here in making sure that our energy security is substantial."
Saqib Rahim of E&E News provided a slightly different quote from Perry:
"There's a conversation, there's a discussion, some of it obviously very classified, that will be occurring as we go forward, to make sure that we have the decisions made by Congress, in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America," he said at BNEF's The Future of Energy Summit, "and that states and local entities do in fact get preempted with some of those decisions."
Perry's remarks re-sparked earlier concerns that the Trump administration could seek to preempt renewable energy standard policies that are now in place in 29 states, as well as renewable energy goals adopted by another nine states. The growing number of local communities that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy could also come under fire from the Trump administration.
Renewable Energy Is Reliable and Makes America Safer—Just Ask the Department of Energy
Rick Perry is also facing scrutiny for ordering a study examining "electricity markets and reliability" that was tasked to his Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, who previously played a central role in attacks against rooftop solar for the Edison Electric Institute. Also named to lead work on the study is political appointee Travis Fisher. Fisher previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), which have received ample funding from the Koch brothers and coal industry. IER and AEA have long sought to undermine renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina, a national leader in solar energy.
Christian Roselund of PV Magazine responded to Perry's study order by pointing out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—one of the Dept. of Energy's 17 National Laboratories—has already written studies that show we can rely on renewable energy to provide much more of our electricity than it does today. In fact, one 2012 NREL study found that we could get 80 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 using existing technologies. Other studies by states and grid operators confirm that renewable energy is reliable.
Another NREL study documented the significant health and environmental benefits generated by the state renewable energy standards that the Trump administration could try to preempt. In short, these policies make Americans safer by reducing harmful pollution emitted when we burn fossil fuels—especially coal—to produce electricity.
Other reports by clean energy experts have documented the economic security benefits of these state renewable energy standards, which have supported the growth of jobs in the booming solar and wind power industries.
Real world experience also shows that renewable energy is working just fine. Texas, the state where Rick Perry was governor, actually leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Texas during the first quarter of 2017 came from wind.
Ask the Department of Defense, Too
The Dept. of Defense does not appear to share the Trump administration's concerns about renewable energy. In fact, the military has made significant investments in renewable energy in order to enhance national security—an investment that continues with Trump in the White House. The U.S. Navy just recently refuted misleading claims that a new wind farm could interfere with a radar system made by some Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who wrote a letter to the Trump administration.
Climate Change Is a Real Threat to Energy and National Security
In 2015, the Dept. of Energy released a report that documented the threat climate change poses to energy security—and by extension national security—in every region of the U.S.
Trump's efforts to rollback limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and his embrace of the so-called "clean coal" put the nation's energy and national security at further risk from climate change. Preempting state and local support for renewables would only increase those risks.
Rick Perry Could Support Renewable Energy by Working for a Smart Grid
Greentech Media reported that Perry made only "sparse" mention of renewable energy at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, but did say he wants to "help renewable energy make its way to the grid … "
Preempting local and state support for renewable energy would only ensure that less renewable energy makes its way to the grid. Perry could instead take positive steps to support integration of renewable energy by working to build a smart grid, the topic of a Dept. of Energy website. He could also support the energy storage revolution that is now underway, thanks in part to earlier investments by the Dept. of Energy.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's energy policy seems to more squarely align with fossil fuel and utility interests who seek to undermine state and local support for renewable energy.
The Trump Team Is Full of Opponents of State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
Travis Fisher is not the only political pick by the Trump administration that comes with a history of attacking state and local policies that have fueled the growth of renewable energy to benefit funders in the fossil fuel or utility industry.
Trump tapped Thomas Pyle, also of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), to run his Dept. of Energy transition team. IER and AEA have targeted state renewable energy standard policies with misleading attacks for years. During the 2016 election, Trump responded to an AEA questionnaire with pledges to "review" key U.S. clean energy and climate change policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has already fulfilled part of that pledge by beginning the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan.
Trump similarly chose climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Like Fisher and Pyle, Ebell has attacked renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Greentech Media recently took a rather revealing look at the backgrounds of some other members of Trump's energy beachhead team.
No Uncertainty About State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
At this point, it remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration would use the pretense of reliability concerns to preempt state and local support for renewable energy. If it does seek to preempt state and local control, it will certainly face significant opposition from states and local communities—including those led by Republicans—that are already leading the way on renewable energy.
The ruling against Exxon in a suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club found that the oil giant failed to update emissions-reductions technology at its Baytown, Texas refining and chemical plant.
In their suit, the groups alleged the plant illegally released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants between 2005 and 2013, while Exxon gained more than $14 million in economic benefits.
"Today's decision sends a resounding message that it will not pay to pollute Texas," Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by when polluters put our health and safety at risk."
For a deeper dive: