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The Heartland Institute is trying to nurture the next generation of climate change deniers.

The conservative and libertarian think tank has sent out 25,000 copies of the organization's book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, and an accompanying 10-minute DVD to 25,000 science teachers this month, according to a Frontline report. The book argues that climate change is not settled science.

Katie Worth, who authored the Frontline report, called the effort a "massive propaganda campaign by the nation's leading climate change skeptical think tank."

The Heartland Institute, which has received funding from polluting industries such as Exxon and the Koch family, rejects the scientific community's widespread consensus that human activity causes climate change.

The organization plans to send the materials to another 25,000 teachers every two weeks until every public-school science teacher in the nation has a copy, Heartland president and CEO Joseph Bast said.

This means the book and DVD could end up in the mailboxes of more than 200,000 K-12 science teachers in the country. The campaign began in mid-March.

Frontline also published a cover letter of the materials from Lennie Jarratt, project manager of Heartland's Center for Transforming Education, who asks that the teacher "consider the possibility" that climate science is not settled.

The 2015 book is coauthored by Drs. Craig D. Idso, Robert M. Carter and S. Fred Singer, who have been heavily involved in the "debate" over global warming.

Here are some tidbits about the authors:

  • According to DeSmog, Idso believes that "CO2 is not a pollutant" and is the chairman and former resident of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, which has a mission is to "separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change."
  • Carter, who passed away last year, was an Australian marine geologist and a paid climate change denier, SourceWatch noted. He once asserted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not found evidence that global warming was caused by human activity.
  • Singer, a former space scientist and government scientific administrator, founded the Science & Environmental Policy Project in 1990, a 501(c)(3) "educational group" focusing on global warming denial, according to DeSmog. Idso and Singer helped develop the Heartland Institute's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. Singer said in Jan. 2016 that "the real threat to humanity comes not from any (trivial) greenhouse warming but from cooling periods creating food shortages and famines."

The letter directs teachers to visit Izzit.org to access an online guide to using the DVD. Izzit.org is a "right-wing advocacy organization" that provides free educational videos to U.S. educators and homeschoolers.

The National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, California nonprofit that monitors climate change education in classrooms criticized the mailing campaign.

"It's not science, but it's dressed up to look like science," NCSE executive director Ann Reid told Frontline. "It's clearly intended to confuse teachers."

Climatologist Michael Mann also tweeted that the Heartland Institute is trying to "indoctrinate children with climate denial propaganda."

Bast, Heartland's president, said that some teachers have appreciated the information and even asked for a Heartland speaker to visit a class.

However, many science teachers have not welcomed the campaign.

As Frontline wrote:

Lori Baker, a sixth-grade science teacher at North Putnam Middle School in Roachdale, Indiana, found the package in her school mailbox and was dismayed by its contents. "I read quite a bit of the book, actually, and it was extremely frustrating. It's an attempt to sound science literate, but there's very little actual data," she said.

Baker pointed to the first paragraph of the foreword, written by Marita Noon, executive director of Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy, a nonprofit and lobbying group that advocates for the use of fossil fuels. In it, Noon writes that Obama's description of climate change as the greatest threat facing mankind is "laughable" at a time when "ISIS is beheading innocent people."

"That as a foreword to something claiming to be scientific is pretty shocking," said Baker.

By Ben Jervey

Religious leaders and environmental justice activists in Richmond, Virginia, are "pushing back" against the Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward campaign's efforts to target minority communities while promoting the "importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people's lives better."

One element of the strategy to win the "hearts and minds" (as Alex Fitzsimmons of Fueling U.S. Forward put it) of minority communities was on display in Richmond, Virginia, last December, when the group threw a gospel concert that included pro-fossil fuel propaganda and a surprise award payment of four attendees' electric bills.

As the New York Times described:

Though few in the crowd knew it, the concert had a powerful sponsor: Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group for fossil fuels funded by Koch Industries, the oil and petrochemicals conglomerate led by the ultraconservative billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch. About halfway through the event, the music gave way to a panel discussion on how the holidays were made possible by energy—cheap energy, like oil and gas.

The concert flier was adorned with a red car bearing Christmas gifts. "Thankful for the fuels and innovation that make modern life possible," it read.

At the time, commenting on the event and the campaign to the New York Times, Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, called it "an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy."

Many local environmental advocates from minority communities felt the same. Last week, the region's congressional representative, A. Donald McEachin, hosted an environmental justice roundtable at a Baptist church in Petersburg, Virginia, a suburb of Richmond with a strong majority of residents that are people of color.

As reported in the Progress-Index, a daily newspaper from Petersburg, Virginia, a manager of the Virginia Conservation Network—a diverse group of conservation organizations that among other issues supports clean energy—said that the roundtable with Rep. McEachin was an effort "to push back against the Koch brothers."

Conservation organizer Mariah Davis, also with the Virginia Conservation Network, described the Fueling U.S. Forward event as "a distasteful effort by Koch to sway low-income communities away from clean energy."

According to the Progress-Index, Rep. McEachin himself, speaking of the Fueling U.S. Forward concert, "equated the group's payment of citizens' electric bills with the '30 pieces of silver' Judas took to betray Jesus."

As Fueling U.S. Forward works to purchase the hearts and minds of minority communities with electric bill payments and college scholarships, the campaign promotes oil and gas as necessary and cheap sources of energy. Not factored into their definition of "cheap," however, are the multitude of public health and environmental costs that are inflicted upon the lower-income communities the campaign is targeting.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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By Stacy Malkan

British writer George Monbiot has a warning for those of us trying to grasp the new political realities in the U.S. and the UK: "We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates," he wrote in the Guardian.

Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to President Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, "the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity," Monbiot wrote. "His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it."

This network, or dark money ATM as Mother Jones described it, refers to the vast amount of hard-to-trace money flowing from arch-conservative billionaires, such as Charles and David Koch and allies, and corporations into front groups that promote extreme free-market ideas—for example, fights against public schools, unions, environmental protection, climate change policies and science that threatens corporate profits.

Investigative writers Jane Mayer, Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others have exposed how "the story of dark money and the story of climate change denial are the same story: two sides of the same coin," as U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse described it last year in a speech.

The strategies of the "Koch-led, influence-buying operation"—including propaganda operations that spin science with no regard for the truth—"are probably the major reason we don't have a comprehensive climate bill in Congress," Whitehouse said.

While these strategies have been well-tracked in the climate sphere, less reported is the fact that the funders behind climate-science denial also bankroll a network of PR operatives who have built careers spinning science to deny the health risks of toxic chemicals in the food we eat and products we use every day.

The stakes are high for our nation's health. Rates of childhood cancer are now 50 percent higher than when the "war on cancer" began decades ago and the best weapon is one we are hardly using: policies to limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

"If we want to win the war on cancer, we need to start with the thousand physical and chemical agents evaluated as possible, probable or known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization," wrote scientist and author Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, in The Hill.

Reducing known agents of harm has had "less to do with science and more to do with the power of highly profitable industries that rely on public relations to counteract scientific reports of risks," Davis noted.

Chemical Industry Propagandists

When products important to the chemical and junk food industries run into trouble with science, a predictable cast of characters and groups appear on the scene, using well-worn media strategies to bail out corporations in need of a PR boost.

Their names and the tactics they use—lengthy adversarial articles, often framed by personal attacks—will be familiar to many scientists, journalists and consumer advocates who have raised concerns about toxic products over the past 15 years.

Public records requests by U.S. Right to Know that have unearthed thousands of documents, along with recent reports by Greenpeace, the Intercept and others, are shining new light on this propaganda network.

Key players include Jon Entine, Trevor Butterworth, Henry I. Miller and groups connected with them: STATS, Center for Media and Public Affairs, Genetic Literacy Project, Sense About Science and the Hoover Institute.

Despite well-documented histories as PR operatives, Entine, Butterworth and Miller are presented as serious science sources on many media platforms, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Philadelphia Enquirer, Harvard Business Review and, most often, Forbes—without disclosure of their funding sources or agenda to deregulate the polluting industries that promote them.

Their articles rank high in Google searches for many of the chemical and junk food industry's top messaging priorities—pushing the narratives that GMOs, pesticides, plastic chemicals, sugar and sugar substitutes are safe and anyone who says otherwise is "anti-science."

In some cases, they are even gaining in influence as they align with establishment institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cornell University and the University of California, Davis.

Yet their funding sources trace back to the same "ultra free market" ideologues from oil, pharmaceutical and chemical fortunes who are financing climate science denial—Searle Freedom Trust, Scaife Foundations, John Templeton Foundation and others identified as among the largest and most consistent funders of climate-change-denial groups, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD.

Those seeking to understand the dark money network's policy goals for dismantling health protections for our food system would do well to keep an eye on these modern propagandists and their messaging.

Jon Entine—Genetic Literacy Project / STATS

Jon Entine, a former journalist, presents himself as an objective authority on science. Yet ample evidence suggests he is a longtime public relations operative with deep ties to chemical companies plagued with questions about health risks.

Over the years, Entine has attacked scientists, professors, funders, lawmakers and journalists who have raised concerns about fracking, nuclear power, pesticides and industrial chemicals used in baby bottles and children's toys. A 2012 Mother Jones story by Tom Philpott describes Entine as an "agribusiness apologist" and Greenpeace details his history on their Polluter Watch website.

Entine is now director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a group that promotes genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The site claims to be neutral, but "it's clearly designed to promote a pro-industry position and doesn't try to look neutrally at the issues," said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union.

"The message is that genetic engineering is good and anybody who criticizes it is a horrible ideologue, but that's just not indicative of where the scientific debate actually is."

Entine claims, for example, that the "scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than for global warming"—a claim contradicted by the World Health Organization, which states it is not possible to make general statements about GMO safety and by hundreds of scientists who have said there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.

The Genetic Literacy Project also has not been transparent about its connections to Monsanto. As one example, the site published several pro-GMO academic papers that emails later revealed were assigned to professors by a Monsanto executive who provided talking points for the papers and promised to pump them out all over the internet.

Another example: Genetic Literacy Project partners with Academics Review on the Biotechnology Literacy Project, pro-industry conferences that train scientists and journalists on how to "best engage the GMO debate with a skeptical public."

Academics Review, which published a report in 2014 attacking the organic industry, presents itself as an independent group, but emails revealed it was set up with the help of a Monsanto executive who promised to find funding "while keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information." Emails also showed that Academics Review co-founder Bruce Chassy had been receiving undisclosed funds from Monsanto via the University of Illinois Foundation.

By Steve Horn

Mike Catanzaro, President Trump's recently minted top energy aide, has officially begun his first week on the job at the White House. He was hired to move policy measures through federal energy and environmental agencies in a synergistic way.

A long-time oil and gas industry lobbyist who has spent his career passing in and out of the government-industry revolving door, Catanzaro actually got his start as a writer. Working for the conservative newspapers Human Events and Evans-Novak Political Report, Catanzaro's views on climate change—and climate denial—were on full display in articles published during his formative years as an up-and-coming conservative star.

DeSmog has reviewed articles found in the Human Events archives, no longer found on the publication's website and they shed new light on Catanzaro and his views as Trump's right-hand man on climate, energy and environmental policy.

Catanzaro's articles, obtained through the University of Wisconsin Libraries System, purport that mainstream U.S. environmental groups are driven by Marxist ideology and that global warming is a "liberal concept" (as opposed to a scientific reality). They also reveal him writing puff pieces on organizations such as the climate change-denying Heartland Institute and individuals such as prominent climate denier Fred Singer.

Alarmism

In March 2001, Catanzaro wrote an article titled Energy Secretary May Be Barrier to Sound Energy Policy about then-President George W. Bush's U.S. Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, which covered O'Neill's views on what he referred to as "global warming" (in scare quotes). Catanzaro found O'Neill's posture on climate problematic, as O'Neill wanted the Bush administration's policy to be "grounded in science."

Human Events; University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

Citing O'Neill's "alarmism," Catanzaro wrote that there is a "lack of consensus on whether global warming is occurring or what its impact on climate and weather might be." Yet that same year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its more than 1,000 page assessment, assembled and reviewed by hundreds of scientists, cataloging evidence for exactly such a scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and some of the resulting impacts.

"Natural and human systems are expected to be exposed to climatic variations such as changes in the average, range and variability of temperature and precipitation, as well as the frequency and severity of weather events," wrote the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Systems also would be exposed to indirect effects from climate change such as sea level rise, soil moisture changes, changes in land and water condition, changes in the frequency of fire and pest infestation and changes in the distribution of infectious disease vectors and hosts."

Good Things Usually Happen

In a 1997 profile of the Heartland Institute, one of the pioneering nodes of the climate change denial and anti-environmental machine, Catanzaro described the free-market think tank as a place where "good things usually happen."

"The most important subject the institute is dealing with right now is environmentalism," he wrote. "Of particular interest … is global warming and Heartland has been ahead of the curve in unraveling some of the confusions and obfuscations spewed by left-wing environmentalists on that very issue."

Though funded by wealthy donors and corporations including ExxonMobil, Catanzaro wrote that "Heartland remains a testament to the power and influence of the grassroots."

Catanzaro would, later in his career, become a lobbyist for Koch Industries and other companies such as Noble Energy, Devon Energy, Encana Oil and Gas, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and Hess Corporation. The Koch network has led the way in funding climate denial in recent years and has used "astroturf" techniques or seemingly grassroots movements which are in reality fronts for corporate interests.

Blame Yellowstone

In January 1998, Catanzaro penned an article about naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions emanating from Yellowstone National Park's geysers. Pointing to a study published in December 1997, his piece was titled, If the World is Warming, Blame Old Faithful.

Human Events, University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

The study he cited said that Yellowstone's geothermal features emit 4.4 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of about 10 medium-sized coal-fired power plants. Even with coal-fired power plants in decline in the U.S. today, there are still 363 plants open for business and located in the U.S., according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. That would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of 36 Yellowstones, according to the study cited by Catanzaro.

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By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelly and Graham Readfearn

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of emails obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump administration.

Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt's time spent as the Sooner State's lead legal advocate and in particular show a "close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt's office and the fossil fuel industry," CMD said in a press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.

Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt's office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon's international travel costs. They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network.

On the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rule, Pruitt's office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company's formal legal response. Pruitt's office was aiming to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensable aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

"Any suggestions?" Pruitt's office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the Freedom of Information Act response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the Attorney General's correspondence, although Pruitt's deputy later wrote "thanks for all your help on this."

Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General

In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt's office. The next day, Pruitt's office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, "I'm glad the Devon team could help and thanks for all of your work on this."


Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General

This batch of emails was not among those published by the New York Times as a part of its investigation into the correspondence Pruitt and other Republican state-level Attorneys General had with energy companies, which revealed that Devon had ghostwritten letters which Pruitt's office sent to federal officials and agencies.

By Alex Kotch

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz turned heads when he introduced a bill on Feb. 3 to "completely abolish" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Today, the American people are drowning in rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats," Gaetz told fellow GOP lawmakers in an email reported by the Huffington Post "and the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender."

Rep. Gaetz's bill came the day after a Senate committee voted in favor of confirming Scott Pruitt, the fossil fuel-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA 14 times, to head the agency.

And like Pruitt, Rep. Gaetz and his three fellow sponsors of H.R. 861 have all benefited from campaign donations from oil, gas and coal companies and large electric utilities.

The four GOP representatives have raked in campaign cash from some of the biggest corporations peddling fossil fuels, including Koch Industries, Duke Energy, Chevron and ExxonMobil. What's more, an independent political spending group funded by an oil and gas company stepped in with ad buys to aid in Gaetz's recent U.S. House race.

Over their careers, these legislators appear to have responded in kind, pushing legislation favored by the industries reliant on fossil fuels. Here's who they are, how much they've received from the industry and what they've been up to in recent years.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Since 2010, Gaetz's political campaigns have received $28,000 directly from fossil fuel companies and energy utilities, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. These donors include the corporate PACs of utilities including Duke Energy, Gulf Power, NextEra Energy, Progress Energy, Southern Company and Teco Energy; oil and gas companies Chevron, Exxon and Koch Industries; and individual donors including the CEO of Gulf Power and the CEO of Global Industries and Dore Energy.

In 2016, as Gaetz ran for his first term in Congress, a super PAC supporting him received a $100,000 donation from Harness Oil and Gas, a Texas-based company reportedly run by family friends. This super PAC, North Florida Neighbors, spent more than $460,000, the bulk of its total expenditures during that election cycle, supporting Gaetz.

As a Florida state legislator, Gaetz successfully fought the requirement that gas sold in the state contain a minimum percentage of ethanol, something he called "a feel-good attempt to use alternative energy."

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)

Massie, a U.S. representative since 2012, was first elected with the backing of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, which heavily opposes environmental regulations and regularly questions whether humans are affecting the climate.

In his three congressional campaigns, Massie took in nearly $155,000 from companies working in various parts of the oil, gas and coal industries, including Alpha Natural Resources, Chevron, Duke Energy, Exxon, Halliburton and Koch Industries, as well as from CSX Corporation, a transportation company that operates trains carrying coal, oil, natural gas and frac sand, an essential material used in shale drilling.

From his position in Congress, Massie has attacked and attempted to weaken the EPA repeatedly. He co-sponsored a 2016 bill to shift how the EPA analyzes greenhouse gas emissions in favor of fossil fuel companies—a bill lobbied for by Marathon Petroleum (which has given him $20,000) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which raises doubt about human-caused climate change). Before that, he co-sponsored a 2015 resolution weakening an EPA rule under the Clean Air Act and a 2014 bill lowering EPA ambient air quality standards.

The Liberty for All Super PAC, funded mostly by the young, Texas-based millionaire investor John Ramsey, spent nearly $630,000 backing Massie for Congress in 2012. Unsurprisingly, Ramsey has "oil and gas ventures," according to his biography on the super PAC's website.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Loudermilk's state and federal campaigns have received more than $60,000 from fossil fuel companies and trade associations, including Duke Energy, Exxon, Georgia Mining Association, Georgia Power, Koch Industries and Valero Energy.

In Congress, Loudermilk has co-sponsored several energy-related bills: a nuclear energy bill for which Duke Energy and Southern Company lobbied; a repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban, which numerous fossil fuel companies, including BP, Chevron, Exxon, Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips, lobbied in support of; and a bill challenging EPA greenhouse gas regulations, another piece of legislation oil and gas companies and utilities favored.

Both Loudermilk and Massie sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology—which has jurisdiction over the EPA, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—and its subcommittee on oversight, key positions that would naturally attract the attention of fossil fuel companies.

Loudermilk's 2015 financial disclosure statement reveals that he received state funding to attend and speak at a "conservative policy summit" hosted by the climate change-denying Heritage Foundation, which has reportedly received $780,000 from ExxonMobil and nearly $6 million from Koch family foundations. Another speaker at the conference was Myron Ebell, the notorious climate change denier who led Trump's EPA transition team. Ebell crafted Trump's plan to hobble the EPA.

As a Georgia state senator, Loudermilk was on the communications and technology task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative bill mill that unites state legislators and big business representatives. ALEC has a history of producing templates for anti-environmental legislation involving climate change denial, promoting gas pipelines and attacking residential solar energy. In addition, ALEC is funded by many of the same fossil fuel corporations that donated to the campaigns of Loudermilk and his fellow legislators hoping to abolish the EPA: Chevron, CSX, Dominion, Duke Energy, Exxon and Koch Industries, to name a few.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

PACs and employees of companies in the energy and natural resources sector have given more than $265,000 to Palazzo's four federal election campaigns, which includes $168,000 from oil and gas companies. The fourth-largest donor is Mississippi Power, an electric utility owned by Southern Company that burns coal and natural gas and has given Palazzo's campaigns more than $34,000. Palazzo has also taken in $24,000 from Chevron, nearly $20,000 from Koch Industries and $19,000 from General Electric.

In 2015 Palazzo voted to oppose an EPA rule that increased emissions standards for coal-fired power plants and the year prior, he voted to halt defense spending on climate change initiatives and cut all funding for the Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy program. In previous years, Palazzo voted to speed up natural gas pipeline permits, allow state laws to supersede federal EPA laws regarding hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and cut funding to the EPA, among other measures.

While serving as Mississippi state representative, Palazzo was also a member of ALEC.

Rep. Gaetz's office declined to offer comment, while the other three representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While their bill to kill the EPA has been receiving little support from either political party and is unlikely to pass, its mere existence marks the extent to which fossil fuel funding has the potential to influence elected officials. This bill joins an effort already underway among the GOP-controlled House, Senate and White House to roll back regulations to protect the environment and public health.

Congressional observers likely can expect to see more of the same from these four representatives in the future.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

By Samantha Parsons

George Mason University (GMU) students filed a lawsuit Thursday against George Mason University and fundraising arm, the George Mason University Foundation, in hopes of obtaining grant and gift agreements between private donors and the foundation.

Transparent GMU, the student organization that filed the suit, is concerned about the potential for private donors to influence students' education.

In 2014, Mason students began raising concerns about the school's close relationship to the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), citing fears that CKF might have gained influence over their faculty, curriculum and research in exchange for large financial contributions.

Students filed their first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that year, seeking grant and gift agreements between the university and CKF. They were told that the documents were controlled by the GMU Foundation, which claimed to be exempt from Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. In response, students launched a grassroots campaign asking for the university to release the documents. For over two years their requests went ignored despite having collected over a thousand signatures from alumni, students, faculty and other concerned community members.

The lawsuit demonstrates these students' unwavering commitment to enforcing appropriate checks and balances over the public institution they call home. The students' legal argument asserts that their university is breaking the law by refusing to respond to their FOIA request, as a public university cannot simply conceal its records by outsourcing its public business to a private company like the foundation.

This is the first time students have sued their own university to force disclosure of agreements with the Charles Koch Foundation.

Koch and Higher Education

In the last few years, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries have gained considerable attention for their large financial contributions to conservative political candidates and libertarian political organizations. However, through further investigation, students learned that the ability of the Koch brothers to exert long-term political influence does not actually depend on individual election outcomes. Instead, the Kochs rely on an integrated strategy penned by Richard Fink, President of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, in an essay called the Structure of Social Change.

As explained by Fink, Structure of Social Change begins with corporate-funded academic research or "raw intellectual materials." These ideas are then transformed into policy recommendations at Koch-funded think tanks, which often rely on the talent of other professors on Kochs' payroll. Koch-forged policies are then championed by Kochs' advocacy groups to lobby elected officials to enact the policies. Usually, the politicians themselves are beneficiaries of political cash from Koch Industries, Koch executives and Kochs' network of dark money nonprofits.

In a self-reinforcing cycle, Koch and his donor partners contract universities to bring students into their "talent pipeline," which produces staff for the Koch network's think tanks and political groups.

The ways in which Koch gains influence over universities in order to successfully incorporate them into this integrated strategy was first exposed at Florida State University. In a 2007 grant agreement, the Charles Koch Foundation required the university to provide it with input over hiring decisions, curriculum and research.

Just last month, a new report reviewing the agreement revealed that Kochs' "Undergraduate Program" involved donor creation of several new courses, donor influence over at least nine courses and donor control over introductory "principles" courses. Today, a Koch advisory board still has control over graduate fellowship selection and dissertation topics in Kochs' graduate and Ph.D fellowship program.

George Mason University in Virginia is ground zero for Koch influence in higher education. The school has received $95.5 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2005, earning it the title of "Koch U" from Center for Public Integrity investigative reporter Dave Levinthal.

Students wonder: If Koch could buy that type of influence at Florida State University for $2.3 million, how much has $95.5 million bought at George Mason?

Koch and GMU

In addition to providing massive donations through the GMU Foundation, Charles Koch plays a governing role at two think tanks on GMU's campus that receive his financial support.

The Mercatus Center conducts economics research that is used by Koch-funded political groups to advocate against taxes on the wealthy, on corporations and regulations that may affect corporate profitability. Mercatus is the model program which Koch has attempted to replicate at dozens of other schools hoping to exert a deregulatory influence in their respective state capitals.

The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) coordinates networking and professional development opportunities for students interested in working at Koch-funded political groups. The curriculum taught during IHS fellowship seminars was recently criticized for being "designed more to help corporations fight regulations than to advance scholarly inquiry and understandings of political freedom" by a former student fellow.

Charles Koch sits on the Board of Directors of the Mercatus Center, which he founded and IHS, where he is the chairman. Fink, the longtime advisor who was nicknamed "Charles Koch's brain" by Koch biographer Daniel Schulman, helped Charles Koch establish the Mercatus Center and remains a member of its board.

Blazing the Trail

It is no secret that state investment in higher education continues to decrease, causing public universities to seek private donations to make up the difference. Most scholarships, professorships and new programs on campuses around the country would not be possible without contributions from private donors. However, academia's growing reliance on this private support brings with it a new set of challenges.

The ways in which the Charles Koch Foundation has been able to buy influence over higher education through "philanthropic" donations is a perfect example of such a challenge and demonstrates why the activities of public institutions, such as universities, should never be veiled in secrecy.

While there are still many questions to be raised and solutions to be debated regarding this changing landscape of higher education, the public must first be given the opportunity to participate in that debate. That requires transparency and students at George Mason are leading the charge to demand that they get to have their say.

Samantha Parsons is a 2016 graduate of George Mason University where she majored in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and focused her studies on structures of violence and social movements. She co-founded UnKoch My Campus.

Days before the full Senate votes on Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national investigative watchdog group, alleges in a new lawsuit that as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt has violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for failing to provide public access to official emails and other documents for more than two years. The lawsuit also asks for an injunction to prevent the Oklahoma Attorney General from destroying any documents relevant to the group's open records requests.

Alongside the petition, counsel is requesting an emergency hearing due to the impending Senate vote on Pruitt's nomination.

CMD filed seven records requests with Pruitt's office in 2015 and 2016 and another two requests last month, seeking communications with Koch Industries and other coal, oil and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General's Association (RAGA). Pruitt has yet to turn over a single document, despite acknowledging in August 2016 that his office has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to CMD's first request in January 2015.

CMD is represented in the lawsuit by Robert Nelon, a leading media and First Amendment lawyer at Hall Estill and by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, which is also leading an ongoing case against Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin for her denial of two plaintiffs' access to public records for more than 900 days in violation of this same legislation.

"Scott Pruitt has withheld access to thousands of emails with businesses or organizations whose activities adversely affect the environment and other records of vital public interest for the past two years. His inaction denies the public 'prompt and reasonable' access to public documents and violates Oklahoma's Open Records Act," said Nelon.

Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, "the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government ... so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power." The act also mandates that a public body "must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records."

"Freedom of information is essential to ensure the integrity of our government," said Brady Henderson, legal director of the ALCU of Oklahoma. "When public officials like Scott Pruitt fail to abide by Open Records Act requirements, it interferes with the people's ability to do our job holding government accountable. With Pruitt seeking confirmation to become EPA administrator, these public records are essential for the U.S. Senate to do its job too. Public records belong in public view, not hidden for months or years behind closed doors."

For the past several years, CMD has led an investigation to pull back the curtain on Pruitt's and other attorneys generals' relationships with fossil fuel industry titans and the advocacy groups they fund.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a difficult few weeks for Pruitt's nomination in which research from CMD has demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.

At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.

"Public servants at the EPA spend each day trying to counter corporations' injection of dangerous chemicals into our air, water and homes, but Pruitt refuses to discuss his deep connections to the companies he would oversee and has repeatedly shown contempt for the Senate's responsibility to their constituents to properly vet his nomination," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Families in Michigan and Pennsylvania grappling with unsafe drinking water, communities from California to Florida dealing with damage to our climate and parents looking for ways to clean up the air their kids breathe all deserve the facts behind whose interests Pruitt really serves."

After Democratic Senators boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination. Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote next week.

Deep Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry

Over the past 15 years, Pruitt has received nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including Continental Resources whose CEO served as his 2014 campaign chairman. Pruitt has also raised substantial funds for his two federal PACs—Liberty 2.0 and Oklahoma Strong—from fracking giant Devon Energy and coal company Alliance Resources. In 2014, a New York Times investigation found that Devon Energy lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the EPA and Department of the Interior under his own name.

Last year, Pruitt orchestrated an effort by Republican state attorneys general to oppose the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In March, Pruitt sent an email to supporters of his federal PAC boasting of his efforts to block Garland's confirmation as well as "successfully [block] the President's Clean Power plan, his immigration rule and his attempt at a massive takeover of the waters of the U.S."

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