Polluting Politics: Koch Industries and Others Spend Millions to Gut Clean Water Act Protections
Americans like the Clean Water Act (CWA), which was passed in 1972 to clean up the country's waterways polluted by decades of industrialization and weak regulation, because they like having access to safe drinking water as well as clean water for activities like swimming, boating and fishing. It seems like a no-brainer. So it was no surprise when the general public submitted more than 800,000 comments during the public comment period last year in support of President Obama's plan to restore CWA protections to the country's small waterways.
However, a new report from Environment America, Polluting Politics: Political Spending by Companies Dumping Toxics in our Waters, shows opponents to the CWA are spending significant amounts of money to act against the public interest.
"Year after year, polls show that more Americans are concerned with the pollution and quality of our waterways more than any other environmental issue," the report begins. "And after toxins in Lake Erie left 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents unable to drink the water coming out of their taps last August, the need to protect our waterways is clear and present."
But, the report says, "Corporations and industry groups that oppose restoring Clean Water Act protections can drown out the voice of the average voter by spending enormous sums on election campaigns and lobbying."
The report reveals that currently, half of the U.S.'s lakes, rivers and streams are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking, and that 206 million pounds of toxic materials are dumped in our waterways each year. Polluting Politics ties some of the polluters to investments in political candidates who might work to minimize CWA protections.
"As it turns out, the same companies that are polluting our waterways with toxic chemicals are also polluting our politics with their spending,” said report author Ally Fields, clean water advocate at Environment America.
What these companies want is to stave off regulations that would limit the discharge of industrial chemicals from fracking and agricultural runoff (especially from factory farms), and restore wetlands and protect them against development. Those are regulations the public likes and wants. But to a large degree, the public interest has been trumped by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2006 that have left half the country's waterways—which provide drinking water for a third of Americans—vulnerable to toxic pollution. And these big spender have swooped in to try to exploit those loopholes.
The report revealed that AK Steel Holding Corp, the top water polluter, dumped 19,088,128 pounds of toxics into waterways in 2012. And in 2014 it spent $739,752 on lobbying to try secure its ability to keep on polluting. Industrial foods company Tyson Foods, the second biggest water polluter with 18,446,749 pounds dumped, spent $1,163,838 on lobbying. The U.S. Department of Defense was the third largest waterway polluter at 10,868,190, but does not spend money on lobbying. But chemical company Cargill, checking in at fourth, spent about $1,300,000 to allow it to keep dumping more than 10,600,000 pounds of toxic materials into U.S. waterways.
Those top polluters were not the biggest spenders though. That honor went to the number six polluter, Koch Industries, a notorious source of large campaign contributions to industry-friendly candidates. It dumped 6,657,138 pounds of toxics in 2014. Last year, it spent a whopping $13,800,000 on lobbying, with another $7.7 million spent in last year's elections, according to Polluting Politics. Given the Koch brothers' propensity for pouring campaign money into 501 (c) 4 groups that don't have to reveal their funders, the amount was likely much more.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Another outsized spender was chemical company DuPont, which dumped about 5,500,000 pounds of toxics and spent nearly $9,300,000 to protect its right to do so. According to the report, the top 10 companies were responsible for almost 100 million pounds of toxics in public waterways—as well as $53 million on lobbying and $9.4 million in campaign contributions. And the three top polluting industries—energy/natural resources, agribusiness and construction—spent more than $237 million on campaign contributions in the 2014 elections. Meanwhile, industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Farm Bureau, spent tens of millions more on lobbyists who were frequently well-connected former government officials.
“It’s clear that our nation’s polluters have deep pockets, but hundreds of thousands of Americans have raised their voices in support of doing more to protect our waterways, from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound,” said Fields. “It’s time for Congress to listen to citizens, not the polluters, and let the EPA finish the job to protect our waterways.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Bill Maher is sick of billionaires' obsession with Mars, more like "Mars-a-Lago," he said.
In a new animation produced by ATTN:, the popular talk show host of Real Time, discusses the perils of our planet, including how "climate change is killing us."
A group of prominent climate scientists have written a study explicitly refuting statements made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on climate data. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Pruitt claimed in a written response that satellite data shows a "leveling off" of warming over the past two decades.
By David Pomerantz
The Nevada Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would dramatically increase the growth of renewable energy in the state, but Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major donor to Donald Trump, is attempting to prevent the bill from becoming law.
By Yosola Olorunshola
Whether it's through fashion or protest, Vivienne Westwood is not a woman afraid of making a statement.
On May 23, she rocked up to the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London with a special guest—the Grim Reaper—to issue a strong statement on the Church of England's position on fracking.
By Paul Brown
The food industry and big agricultural concerns are driving climate change and at the same time threatening to undermine efforts to feed the world's growing population, according to GRAIN, an organization that supports small farmers.
Particularly singled out for criticism are the large chemical fertilizer producers that have gained access to the United Nations talks on climate change. GRAIN accuses them of behaving like the fossil fuel companies did in the 1990s, pushing false information in the hope of delaying real action on climate change.
By Sydney Robinson
By John Rogers
Maybe it's because I first started working on clean energy while serving in the Peace Corps he founded, or maybe it's my years of working on these issues from his home state. But I can't help thinking about the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth, and connecting his stirring rhetoric to the energy challenges of our times.
Here's what our 35th president might have said about the challenges of energy transition and the opportunities in clean energy:
"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said Wednesday in its 2017 annual review that the solar industry alone provides more than three million jobs worldwide, and projected that the renewable industry could employ 24 million people by 2030.