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Investigation Exposes Revolving Door Between Fossil Fuel Lobbyists and Politicians
There was much speculation about Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's motivation for pushing the first full Senate vote this week on approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Some revolved around her trying to improve her chances in the Dec. 6 Senate runoff against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy (neither candidate got a majority on Nov. 4). Others say she's likely to lose anyway and that her grandstanding was directed at oil and gas companies that might provide a lucrative landing spot for her after she leaves the Senate in January.
That latter speculation isn't idle, as a new report from DeSmogBlog and Republic Report indicates. Natural Gas Exports: Washington's Revolving Door Fuels Climate Threat lays out how corporate lobbyists swap roles with politicians and government officials constantly, leading to excessive influence by corporations on lawmakers, the Obama administration and federal agencies. It describes how this revolving door eased the way for Big Oil to land four permits for liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities from the Obama administration since 2012. And while the report, the first salvo in an ongoing investigation of what it calls "the LNG exports influence peddling machine," looks specifically at LNG export facilities, its conclusions could be applied to the entire machinery of climate denier influence in Washington DC.
"The 2014 U.S. congressional midterm elections are now complete, and the Republican Party controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate," says the report. "Some have forecasted that this could have catastrophic impacts for progress on climate change and environmental protection in general. But below the radar in Washington DC—little noticed by the media or public—a major change on energy policy has already been long in the making. Corporate lobbyists have helped to engineer a transformative shift with little scrutiny or meaningful debate: plans to extract U.S. natural gas and export the gas overseas to more lucrative markets. This shift—if fully realized—will continue to transition the U.S. into a resource colony, where our communities, homes, air and water are exploited and polluted so that large multinational corporations can pursue ever-higher profits by selling U.S. fossil fuels abroad."
Four permits for LNG export facilities have already been approved, with many more in the pipeline. To feed these facilities and as domestic gas prices rise as a result of export, there will likely be increased pressure to expand fracking dramatically.
"Big oil and gas companies have engineered this policy outcome through shrewd hiring of Washington insider lobbyists and public relations professionals: Obama and Bush Administration veterans, as well as former Capitol Hill staffers, who have moved through Washington’s revolving door to high-paying influence peddling jobs," the report authors write.
They go on to enumerate the officials who formerly served both administrations or as congressional staffers, then moved on to new jobs representing LNG companies where they now lobby their former colleagues. Conversely, the report calls out former fossil fuel industry lobbyists who are now elected officials chairing key congressional committees. It describes how many of those officials and lobbyists work specifically within the Democratic Party, often working with those who give lip service to addressing climate change while working behind the scenes to further the interests of fossil fuel companies."Natural gas interests and the LNG lobby have in fact gone on a hiring spree targeting Democratic officials and those close to the administration," they say.
The report includes an endless stream of revealing nuggets like this one: "When lawmakers convened for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in July 2014, they were greeted with packets reminding them of the event’s sponsors: Cheniere119, the LNG firm that was the first to win an export license from the federal government, and ANGA, the lobbying association pushing for more exports."
These influence peddlers have greased the regulatory process that goes through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), streamlining it with inadequate attention to citizen concerns about community safety, health and climate impacts, the report says. It cites Dominion's Cove Point facility in Maryland as an example. The proposed and now approved LNG export facility led to a wave of organizing, public testimony, protests and rallies by citizen and environmental advocacy groups like Calvert Citizens for a Health Community and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, charging FERC with ignoring their input in the rush to approve it. The report names former Democratic Congressman Lewis F. Payne, Jr. of Virginia and three former congressional staff members who lobbied for Dominion on behalf of Cove Point.
Meanwhile, a bill was introduced in Congress called H.R. 6, which would have required the DOE to speed up the approval process for LNG export facilities. The report explains that two staff members of the House committee hearing the bill were former LNG lobbyists and that among the 57 corporate or corporate-backed entities lobbying for it were "Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Anadarko, Statoil, Eastman Chemical, FirstEnergy Corp, General Electric, Halliburton, Dominion Resources, Dow Chemical, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Sempra Energy, Marathon Oil and BP." The bill passed the House but not the Senate.
"Unfortunately, as lobbying and influence peddling heats up in Washington and elsewhere, so too does the planet," report authors Lee Fang of Republic Report and Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog conclude. "Relentless fracking and opening the export floodgates with U.S.—harvested shale gas can only make the planet hotter still."
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
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Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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