By Dana Drugmand
Electric buses are replacing existing diesel-fueled fleets at an accelerating rate, and the transition to battery-powered buses is outpacing even the most optimistic projections. In this light, it should come as little surprise that commentators and organizations with ties to the Koch network and the oil industry are attacking a transportation option that yields fewer fossil fuel profits and cleaner, healthier air for people and planet.
A string of recent commentaries published in the conservative Washington Examiner have relied on a handful of critical reports about the rollout of electric buses in individual municipalities, which the commentators use to portray electric buses, as a class, as uneconomical and unreliable.
Despite these efforts by Koch affiliates and oil industry consultants, the electrification of bus transit is firmly underway. These high tech buses are already being widely deployed throughout China, which, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), is adding about 9,500 electric buses every five weeks. As China leads the way and North American and European municipalities follow suit, analysts expect this momentum to accelerate and predict 80 percent of the global municipal bus fleet to be electric by 2040.
That is bad news for the oil industry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that switching from internal combustion engine transport to electric vehicles will displace 7.3 million barrels of oil a day.
According to Bloomberg, this year electric buses already will lower diesel consumption by 233,000 barrels a day.
Who's Behind a Series of Drive-by Attacks on Electric Buses in the Washington Examiner?
As more cities and states move toward this electrified mass transit option, it cuts into the demand for conventional diesel fuel—and into fossil fuel industry profits. A Washington Examiner article from Dec. 12, 2017 explores the rise of electric vehicles with a particularly telling headline: "Rise of electric vehicles threatens oil industry."
More recently, the Washington Examiner has run a series of opinion pieces criticizing electric buses. The main arguments are that they are expensive and unreliable, prone to breaking down. These pieces share arguments, and their authors share affiliations, with the Koch brothers and other oil industry funders.
For example, one commentary by Philip Wegmann looks at a new electric bus fleet on Martha's Vineyard, pointing to the cost of the vehicles and the fact that they experienced technical problems early on. The piece neglects to mention any benefits of these buses to the environment or public health, nor does it reference the fact that the Vineyard Transit Authority's slow rollout of the buses was expected and that they plan on doubling the size of the electric fleet by next summer.
Wegmann has been closely tied to the Koch network since the beginning of his career. He started his writing career as a fellow of the Koch's America's Future Foundation writing program. Wegmann is currently a fellow at the Steamboat Institute, a right-wing think tank affiliated with the Koch-backed State Policy Network. This year, he was awarded the Steamboat Institute's Tony Blankley fellowship, which came with a $10,000 stipend and a host of other benefits.
Prior to joining the Examiner as a staff writer, Wegmann worked for conservative media outlet The Daily Signal, which is published by the Koch network-funded Heritage Foundation and which also features work by fellow America's Future Foundation alumnus Michael Bastasch.
Another Examiner piece by Wegmann slams electric buses in Los Angeles. "They don't run, they are expensive, and they're Chinese," Wegmann wrote. LA's neighbor Santa Monica is also converting its buses to electric, and Wegmann again attacks that move in another commentary. He again played the cost card, and claims, without statistical evidence, that "basically no one" rides the new buses.
Wegmann continues to rail against the electric bus in the Examiner, as recently as last week commenting on Atlanta, Georgia's purchase of a fleet from the Chinese company Build Your Dreams (BYD). "One expects cities like Albuquerque and Los Angeles to drop millions on the novelty environmental fleets, not a deep red state in the South that traditionally votes Republican and cares more for business than green pipe dreams," he writes.
Ross Marchand echoes this criticism in another Examiner opinion piece. Marchand is director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which is basically a front group funded in part through Koch-connected channels. Previously Marchand interned for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), both part of the Koch network.
Marchand's argument is primarily based on expense, but he even claims that electric buses could "prove dirtier than conventional fleet depending on which energy sources America relies on in the future." He backs that statement with a link to a piece by Jonathan Lesser, president of the consulting firm Continental Economics. Lesser has an antagonistic record towards clean energy policies, and he has "submitted expert testimony and reports on behalf of major utility and fossil fuel interests like Exelon, Occidental, Duke Energy, and FirstEnergy," according to the Energy and Policy Institute.
Lesser is also frequently contracted by the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that has received millions of dollars in funding from foundations in the Koch donor network.
Electric Bus Myths, Debunked
The claims laid out by electric bus antagonists use limited views and dog whistles of "communism" and "environmental zealotry" to attack the electric vehicles, especially when compared to "cleaner natural gas-burning buses." The unreliability argument is backed, for instance, by an investigative story in the LA Times from May that looks at problems with range and quality encountered by the Chinese e-bus manufacturing company BYD.
The Times article raises legitimate concerns about the products delivered by BYD, and the company responded with a statement saying that glitches are to be expected with "any groundbreaking technology." However, the article referred only to BYD buses, and not the electric bus industry as a whole.
"That was an article about a company, but the headline was about a category," Ryan Popple, CEO of electric bus maker Proterra, told GTM. "I hope that people don't paint a broad brush over the whole category." While the BYD buses struggled on hills—a major focus of the LA Times article—competitor Proterra's electric buses have been tested, for instance, in the mountains around Park City, Utah, to the satisfaction of local municipal transit planners, who ordered six units to serve the local bus routes.
Had he wanted, Wegmann could have looked even closer to find a counterpoint to the problematic BYD buses in Los Angeles. Foothill Transit, which serves 22 cities from downtown LA to the east, first tested Proterra buses in 2010 and is still using them.
"The technology is very robust," Doran Barnes, Foothill's executive director, told the Seattle Times. "We've had very few problems." Foothill Transit now operates 17 Proterra electric buses, and recently ordered 13 more, including a new set of all-electric double decker buses. Foothill Transit has pledged to serve its hilly region with an exclusively electric fleet by 2030.
So despite the early performance and mechanical issues from at least one manufacturer, as these issues are resolved and technology continues to improve, municipal transit authorities across the U.S. continue to order more of the buses from BYDand other major electric bus manufacturers like Proterra and New Flyer.
As for the cost argument, it is true that electric buses cost more up front than their diesel-powered counterparts. However, those costs are falling, and when considering the entire life cycle of the vehicle—purchase price, fuels, operational and maintenance expenses—electric buses prove to be cheaper than their diesel counterparts.
Moreover, according to BNEF, the projected decline in battery costs likely make electric buses cost-competitive with diesel at the point of purchase by 2026. By then, the number of electric buses on the road is expected to more than triple and make up nearly half of the worldwide city bus fleets.
There are solid reasons behind this trend. Electric buses are better for public health (reducing local air pollution from burning diesel), better for the climate (increasing efficiency and reducing reliance on fossil fuels), and make economic sense in terms of their full cost of moving passengers, when factoring in maintenance and fuel cost-savings. These various benefits are explained in a May 2018 report from U.S. PIRG and Environment America.
In terms of public health, there is no question that electric is better. Diesel exhaust is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a likely carcinogen, and it is internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent that is also responsible for respiratory and other illnesses. Chicago estimates that its electric buses will result in $55,000 in healthcare savings annually per bus, while a Columbia University analysis for New York City pegs it at $150,000 per bus.
Another obvious benefit of shifting from diesel to electric buses is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. In the U.S. alone, converting transit buses to electric could save over 2 million tons of emissions each year, a clear win for the climate.
Electric buses also have lower operating and maintenance costs. As with other electric vehicles, there is no fuel cost. Chicago Transit Authority estimates it saves $25,000 annually in net fuel costs for each bus.
Furthermore, the U.S. PIRG report states that:
"According to studies of electric buses currently in operation, electric buses save at least $0.19 per mile in lower maintenance costs. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs."
While the e-bus costs more upfront, the fuel and maintenance cost-savings make up the difference, usually within 10 years.
Improved models and better battery technology are moving toward solving reliability issues, too. The newer electric bus models apparently can travel up to 200 miles or more on a single charge. Proterra makes e-buses designed to go 200 to 350 miles, for example. Electric buses also have fewer parts than diesel buses, which would theoretically require less maintenance.
Given these considerations, many cities are now announcing transitions to electric bus fleets. New York City announced in April its plans to electrify its fleet by 2040. Los Angeles is committed to an entirely zero-emissions fleet by 2030. Seattle is purchasing 120 e-buses by 2020 and has committed to electrifying its entire fleet by 2040.
Electric buses are moving toward the mainstream, despite attacks from oil industry apologists.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Steve Horn
The Iowa Senate has advanced a bill which critics say could lead to the criminalization of pipeline protests, which are being cast as "terrorist activities." Dakota Access pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners and other companies have lobbied for the bill, Senate Study Bill 3062, which opens up the possibility of prison time and a hefty fine for those who commit "sabotage" of critical infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines.
This bill, carrying a criminal punishment of up to 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines, resembles the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, a "model" bill recently passed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That ALEC bill, intended as a template for state and federal legislation, was based on Oklahoma's HB 1123, which calls for citizens to receive a felony sentencing, $100,000 fine, and/or 10 years in prison if their actions "willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility."
According to disclosure records, corporations lobbying for the Iowa bill include not only Energy Transfer Partners, but also Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, Valero Energy, Magellan Midstream and others. The Iowa State Police Association has also come out in support of the bill, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is against it. The bill has passed out of subcommittee and next goes in front of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill's introduction comes as President Donald Trump called for Congress to pass a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill in his State of the Union Address, which according to a leaked outline of his proposal published by The Washington Post, includes pipelines and would expedite the federal regulatory permitting process for them, largely by simply removing environmental requirements.
State Sen. Jack Shipley (R), one of the Judiciary Subcommittee "yes" votes, told the Des Moines Register that the bill was necessary "as evidenced by terrorist activities on pipelines, many many pipelines."
Sen. Charles Schneider, who also voted to advance the bill out of subcommittee, is one of two Iowa ALEC state chairs. The other "yes" vote came from Sen. Rich Taylor, a Democrat.
ALEC is a corporate-funded group which brings together primarily Republican Party state legislators and lobbyists at annual meetings to vote on proposed "model" legislation, generally drafted by corporate lobbyists and attorneys. The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act passed through ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its States & Nation Policy Summit in December held in Nashville, Tennessee.
Energy Transfer Partners' Iowa lobbyist, Jeff Boeyink, formerly served as chief of staff for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who now serves as U.S. Ambassador to China. Branstad was one of ALEC's key founding members in the 1970s. Energy Transfer in the past has funded ALEC meetings, though it is not clear if they are a current donor, as ALEC does not list funders on its website, nor does it make public who sponsors its meetings.
Boeyink told the Des Moines Register that he believes Energy Transfer Partners is the "poster child" showing the bill's necessity, alluding to the months-long protests which erupted against the Dakota Access pipeline in both North Dakota and Iowa. But one of the leading opponents of the bill, Bold Iowa, has come out against the legislation and sees it as overreach.
"This latest attempt by Big Oil to silence dissent is no surprise," Ed Fallon, director of Bold Iowa, said in a press release about the bill. "This is legislative extremism at its worst. The bill's backers want you to believe this is about cracking down on arson and vandalism. But the hundreds of pipeline protesters who were peaceful, nonviolent and didn't engage in property destruction could be accused of interrupting service under this bill and subject to insane consequences."
The director of ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force, Grant Kidwell, told DeSmog that he expects the model bill could be introduced in other states in the weeks ahead. He also pointed out that it is not only an ALEC model bill, but also one passed at the corporate-funded Council on State Governments.
Before coming to ALEC, Kidwell worked as a senior policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity, the lobbying, advocacy and electioneering group funded and founded by money from the Koch Family Foundations and Koch Industries.
"States are recognizing the importance of critical infrastructure and the threats to it," Kidwell told DeSmog. "Oklahoma enacted legislation in 2017 protecting critical infrastructure before ALEC began its consideration of model policy on the issue. Iowa is currently considering legislation to protect critical infrastructure and likely many more states will as well."
Members of the Iowa-based lobbying teams for the bill, representing Koch Industries and Energy Transfer Partners, did not respond to a request for comment.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
By Steve Horn
A leaked memorandum published by The Intercept and Documented Investigations shows that a Koch Industries' donors network, known as the Seminar Network, has taken credit for Donald Trump approving the permits for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines during the first months of his presidency.
The memo also applauded efforts by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter in Wisconsin to pass a deregulatory measure there known as the REINS Act. The Seminar Network, which meets secretly twice a year, is made up of donors who give at least $100,000 toward Koch-led political and philanthropic efforts.
Koch Industries has a business interest in both pipelines, though their approval has not been something its funded network has widely discussed. Quietly, though, Koch has advocated for the pair of pipelines in regulatory hearings in both Iowa for Dakota Access—as previously reported by DeSmog—as well as in Canada, as reported in 2012 by InsideClimate News.
The REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, which GOP officials have been pushing in Congress since Obama's first term, passed as state law in Wisconsin in 2017. The law, long considered crown jewel legislation by the Koch front group AFP, gives legislative bodies full veto authority over regulations proposed by executive agencies. Conservative groups in Wisconsin already are using the law to sue the top state public education officer.
"State legislatures, particularly in states with a strong Network presence, have also made significant progress toward removing harmful and unnecessary regulations. For example, Wisconsin this year went so far as to enact the nation's first REINS Act, which will require legislative approval of any issued regulation that has an impact above a certain cost threshold," reads the Koch Seminar Network document.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded group of mostly Republican Party state legislators, has a REINS Act model resolution on the books, which supports the federal version of this legislation. In 2017, six states introduced pro-REINS Act resolutions: Kansas, Montana, Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina. ALEC—which brings corporate lobbyists and state legislators together at annual meetings for networking, seminars and voting on what it dubs "model policies" —maintains close connections with the Koch network.
Koch, KXL, DAPL Business Ties
Koch Industries also owns assets in a tar sands reservoir located in Alberta, Canada, both in the form of lease holdings for land and as a company with a drilling interest. For the latter, Koch owns Koch Oil Sands Operating, which has a drilling interest in both the Gemini and Muskwa tar sands fields in Alberta.
It also owns 1-2 million acres' worth of land (the exact number is contested) in the tar sands for prospective future leasing, according to a 2013 report published by the International Forum on Globalization. Keystone XL, the pipeline owned by TransCanada and approved by Trump and his U.S. Department of State in March 2017, would bring around 500,000 currently-booked barrels per day of tar sands oil from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma, where the pipeline connects with TransCanada's Gulf Coast Pipeline.
Gulf Coast, which was approved by President Barack Obama in a 2012 election season executive order, sends the tar sands bitumen down to Port Arthur, Texas, where the substance is refined into products and then sent to market.
International Forum on Globalization
Koch Industries even nearly testified at a 2012 hearing in support of its development of tar sands, before backing out after signing confidentiality agreements with impacted landowners. Much of the tar sands extracted in Alberta is refined at Koch's refinery in Pine Bend, Minnesota, which is owned by its subsidiary Flint Hills Resources and is the top refiner of tar sands in the U.S. at 223,000 barrels per day, as of 2013.
For Dakota Access, Koch also quietly came out in support of the pipeline via its front group, the 60 Plus Association, which purports to be a conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons for seniors. Through intermediary groups, 60 Plus had received tens of millions of dollars from the Koch network.
Koch Industries has a direct tie to Dakota Access, through a storage terminal part-owned by its subsidiary Flint Resources and located in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. As DeSmog previously reported, this terminal, called the COLT Hub, feeds oil into the Dakota Access pipeline.
Back in 2015 when the pipeline was hotly contested in Iowa, a representative for 60 Plus testified on behalf of Dakota Access in front of the Iowa Utilities Board.
"The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is important to seniors for several reasons. High energy prices are disproportionately impacting America's low and fixed-income senior citizens today—citizens that often have limited financial resources with which to meet their needs," the 60 Plus representative testified in September 2015. "By helping the United States to better capitalize upon its growing domestic energy resources—and affordably transport these resources to market—the Dakota Access Pipeline will help to foster stability within energy markets nationwide, and improve the availability of affordable American produced crude oil."
60 Plus also began lobbying and campaigning on behalf of the Dakota Access as the protest movement grew against the pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Around the same time those protests began in September 2016, 60 Plus deployed its chairman, Jim Martin, to begin lobbying Congress about Dakota Access. Martin also wrote an opinion piece that month supporting the pipeline for the publication Morning Consult.
"Whether it's heating or cooling your home or putting gas in your car, the cheaper the energy, the more economically stable your checkbook will be," wrote Martin. "The 60 Plus Association's 5.5 million members know this all too well. This is why as an organization that champions free enterprise and who have championed energy issues for seniors before, we strongly support the Dakota Access pipeline."
'Whole New Level'
In the 2018 election cycle, the Koch network plans to spend up to $400 million to keep the Republican majority in Congress and GOP control over statehouses nationwide.
"We've made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50," Charles Koch, one of the infamous petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers, said in January at a private Seminar Network meeting held in Indian Wells, California. "The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Steve Horn
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has sued Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers for what it alleges was a state education agency's violation of an anti-regulatory law—long pushed by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers—known as the REINS Act.
Wisconsin's version of REINS, or Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, is a piece of legislation heavily lobbied and advocated in favor of for over half a decade by Americans for Prosperity, a policy and electioneering advocacy front group founded and funded by the Koch Family Foundations and Koch Industries.
The bill, which has a federal equivalent in Congress, has long been seen as the crown jewel of the Koch network. It essentially gives legislative bodies full veto power over regulations, including proposed environmental safeguards, which have been proposed by executive agencies—even when those regulations are mandated by laws legislatures have passed.
WILL's November 20 lawsuit, if successful, would be the first time the REINS Act is used to halt a proposed regulation. WILL is funded almost entirely by the conservative Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation, which has offices located next door. Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in 2018, became the first state chief executive to sign the state equivalent of REINS into law.
Walker has long maintained close ties with the Koch network and has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the juggernaut.
The federal version of the REINS Act, first introduced early in Barack Obama's presidency, was again proposed during the 2017 congressional session. The bill passed early in the year in the House, but not in the Senate, where it currently has 38 co-sponsors.
Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Republican in the South Dakota legislature, recently told the Heartland Institute that he too is in the process of bringing a version of the REINS Act to his state. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group which brings lobbyists and generally Republican Party state legislators together to vote on model bills at its annual meetings, has a resolution in support of the REINS Act as one of its pieces of model legislation.
Wisconsin Supreme Court, WILL Tie
WILL has brought the lawsuit directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It argues that Evers, a Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate, has promulgated proposed regulations without sending a detailed "scoping statement" to the state's Department of Administration. That office functions, in essence, as an extension of the governor's office.
Such a statement would have laid out the costs for stakeholders to comply with the proposed rules. The lack of this statement was discovered via an open records request filed by WILL, according to the complaint and exhibits from the case. The Wisconsin version of REINS requires that this type of scoping document be published, mandating that if the costs of regulatory compliance rise above $10 million, the bill or regulation either be rewritten or discarded.
"State Superintendent Evers is blatantly violating newly enacted state law," Rick Esenberg, WILL president and general counsel, said in a press release. "The legislature passed the REINS Act to make all agencies, including the Department of Public Instruction, more accountable to the elected-state legislature and open to the people of Wisconsin. No one, including Superintendent Evers, is above the rule of law in Wisconsin."
As the Associated Press noted, Gov. Walker recently appointed Dan Kelly, who formerly sat on WILL's litigation advisory board, to the Supreme Court in July 2016. Upon the appointment, WILL issued a statement in support of Kelly.
"I've known Dan a long time and enjoyed our personal and professional relationship. He is a very bright, capable attorney who believes in a judiciary that interprets the law objectively, fairly, and follows where the law might lead," WILL's Esenberg said in a press release. "His experience unquestioningly qualifies him for the Supreme Court where reason and sophisticated legal analysis guides public policy affecting nearly six million Wisconsinites."
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce—the Wisconsin state-level equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—has inserted itself into the case by filing an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of WILL's lawsuit.
Legal Representation Issues
Beyond the lawsuit itself, Evers is actually having problems related to legal representation for the nascent case because he does not want to be represented by counsel from the office of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel has come out in agreement with REINS and its implementation.
Pointing to this set of circumstances, Evers wrote a letter on Nov. 28 and then held a subsequent press conference on Nov. 29 laying out why he would like to use his own team of lawyers, including Department of Public Instruction in-house counsel, for the case.
"I believe that your office is neither willing nor ethically able to provide representation in this matter," wrote Evers. "[Wisconsin Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct] require all attorneys, including those at the Department of Justice, to advocate for their clients, abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and avoid conflicts of interest."
Evers and the rest of the Walker-run bureaucracy are at odds to begin with because, in Wisconsin, the state superintendent of public instruction, an office Evers also holds, is an elected post. Further complicating things: Evers, if he wins the Democratic Party gubernatorial primary in August, would be Walker's opponent in the general election.
"In perhaps the most outrageous Republican attempt to consolidate all political power in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General Brad Schimel, echoing French king Louis XIV, has effectively declared that he is the state (l'état, c'est moi)," wrote Wisconsin attorney Lester Pines of the development. "Schimel's expression of absolute authority arose in the latest effort by Walker to gain control of the only other executive officer created by the Wisconsin Constitution who has vested executive power, the superintendent of public instruction."
Dairy State Crucible
As previously reported by DeSmog, Schimel was also a co-plaintiff for the lawsuits spearheaded by then-Oklahoma Attorney General and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt against the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan would have regulated carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt—a climate change denier, as is President Donald Trump—has repealed the Clean Power Plan and now mulls its required replacement.
A spokesperson for Schimel's office, Johnny Koremenos, told WisPolitics.com that the Office of the Attorney General is his legal counsel whether "Evers likes it or not."
"Whether Superintendent Evers likes it or not, the State of Wisconsin is the actual defendant in this lawsuit, and his personal opinions as to what the law is or should be will have no bearing on the attorney general's power or ethical duty to represent the state," said Koremenos.
Beyond the legal representation quagmire, Evers' Department of Public Instruction has also called for the lawsuit to be dismissed on its face. Agency spokesperson Tom McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "The case has no merit, period. The only people that don't understand this is WILL."
What happens in the days and months ahead with the WILL lawsuit, though, will likely have big implications for environmental regulations not only in Wisconsin but likely far beyond, with the Dairy State once again serving as a test case and battleground for the implementation of the Koch agenda.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
Baldwin as Trump Tells Laid Off Coal Miner: 'As of Today Your Coal Mines Will Have Absolutely No Regulations, None'
By Jenny Pierson
Saturday Night Live returned this week with guest Alec Baldwin reprising his role as an openly insecure President Donald Trump.
In the cold open, Baldwin/Trump returned to his supporters in Kentucky to explain some surprising facts. For instance: "A lot of poverty is white now."
But the more issues his supporters raise, the more he ignores (or as he said, "junked!") the problems of job loss, health care, minimum wage and addiction—and the sadder it gets that his audience still supports him.
SNL cast member Beck Bennett as a Trump supporter replies to these insults: "Well, I trust your judgment, sir. There must be some reason you're a billionaire."
"See, we think exactly alike," said Trump. "I say quietly to myself ... there must be some reason I'm a billionaire."
The sketch ends with Baldwin's needling plea for the approval ratings Trump's missing: "So, we cool, right? We still love Trump?"
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
In summary, LD 1505 would prohibit a municipality from "adopting or continuing to enforce any ordinance or rule regarding the sale or use of pesticides." The legislation would affect the regulations of 27 Maine municipalities.
The Forecaster's Marian McCue reported that LD 1505 is similar to model legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the notorious and powerful conservative lobbying group.
McCue noted that a rep for the DC-based pesticide lobbying group, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, spoke in favor of the bill at a hearing on Monday.
Other supporters of the bill include businesses such as tree services and pest management companies who say the various local laws make it difficult to do business. According to the Press Herald, Walt Whitcomb, the commissioner of Conservation, Forestry and Agriculture, argued that local pesticide regulations were a confusing "patchwork" of controls. He added that many measures were more strict than state and federal laws and applied to products deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But Mary Ann Nahf, who chairs the Conservation Commission for the coastal town of Harpswell, contended that the pesticide ordinances were designed for a community's specific needs. She described how local lobstermen prompted the town's ban on an insect growth regulator because it also turned out to be harmful and even deadly to lobsters. Nahf pointed out that the town's ban ultimately led the whole state to tighten its regulations of the chemical near the ocean.
Maine is one of only seven states that allows its municipalities to adopt pesticide standards stricter than the state. None of the 27 municipalities have an outright ban on pesticide use and some areas, like Harpswell, have waivers for pesticide use.
Opponents of LD 1505 stressed that local pesticide bans are necessary to protect human health and the environment.
"These bills have been handcrafted by big business to weaken—among other policies—state and local environmental laws that states have fought for and enacted over decades," Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said.
Heather Spaulding of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association had similar words.
"LD 1505 is the latest in a pesticides industry-backed campaign to keep the public in the dark about agrichemicals," Spaulding said, adding that Maine has no "meaningful statewide pesticide spray buffer zones to protect communities from pesticide drift," and local ordinances fit the needs of their communities.
The State and Local Government Committee has scheduled a work session for the bill next week.
For better or worse, corporations have a major influence on climate change policy. Just look at Koch Industries, a multinational conglomerate owned by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch that has contributed hundreds of millions to federal candidates and lobbying over the last 25 years.
The "Corporate Carbon Policy Footprint," a new analysis from U.K. nonprofit InfluenceMap, now ranks Koch Industries as the company with the strongest opposition to the Paris climate agreement and most intensely lobbies against policies in line with the landmark global accord.
The InfluenceMap scoring system does not measure a company's actual greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, it measures "the extent to which a corporation is supporting or obstructing the climate policy process."
For the InfluenceMap report, researchers analyzed more than "30,000 pieces of evidence" on 250 global companies and 50 major trade associations on their lobbying records, advertising, public relations and sponsored research, according to Bloomberg.
The research group gave the Wichita-based company an "F" grade for its anti-climate actions:
"Koch Industries appears to be actively opposing almost all areas of climate legislation. In 2014 in the US, they were reportedly active in their opposition to a carbon tax, funding politicians and campaigns to oppose the tax. Similarly, in 2014 they appear to have opposed the U.S. EPA Clean Power Plan in consultation and through direct engagement with policy makers, and boasted about their success in blocking the US Cap and Trade Scheme in 2010. Additionally, they appear to be opposing measures to transition to a low carbon economy, advocating against renewable energy subsidies, and funding groups that have opposed energy efficiency standards, the repeal of fossil fuel subsidies and the need for action on climate change. They seem to be exceptionally active in opposing renewable energy standards across the U.S. Both the organization and its CEO, Charles Koch, appear to have questioned climate change science, and have reportedly funded climate denial. Senior executives are active in both the National Association of Manufacturers and ALEC, which also appear to be resisting climate change related regulations and policies."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Silicon Valley tech giant Apple was ranked highest on the list and has an A+ for its support of climate change action and its positive engagement with a number of climate change policy areas.
Here are the report's key findings:
- 35 of the 50 most influential are actively lobbying against climate policy. They include companies in the fossil fuel value chain (ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, Chevron), energy intensive companies (BASF, ArcelorMittal, Bayer, Dow Chemical and Solvay) and electric utilities with large amounts of coal generating capacity (Southern Company, Duke Energy and American Electric Power).
- Also in this group of 35 influential companies holding back climate policy are four powerful automotive manufacturers (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, BMW and Daimler). The research found the companies lobbying to delay or dilute efficiency and CO2 emissions standards and procedures both in Europe and North America. Depending on region, passenger vehicle emissions account for 12% or more of all greenhouse gas emissions.
- On the other side, 15 of the 50 most influential are pushing for an ambitious climate policy agenda, favoring renewable power and electric vehicles. They include signatories to the RE100 initiative committing to buying 100% renewable power (Apple, Ikea, Unilever, Coca Cola and Nestle) as well as power sector companies (SSE, Enel, EDF, Iberdrola and National Grid) who are shifting their business models towards low carbon electricity generation.
"The data shows the climate policy agenda, in terms of corporate influencing, is being driven by a small number of massive global corporations," Dylan Tanner, InfluenceMap executive director, said in a statement. "It also shows a group of powerful of companies in the tech, consumer goods and utilities sectors increasingly pushing for policy to implement the Paris Agreement."
InfluenceMap also ranked "influencers" or powerful trade associations that actively lobby against climate policies. A number of trade associations received an "F" grade, but here are the bottom five: U.S. Chamber of Commerce; American Petroleum Institute; American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity; National Mining Association; and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Check out the full list here.
By Danielle Corcione
I thought I knew what garbage looked like. Then I arrived in Bangalore, the third-largest city in India.
There was trash almost everywhere you looked. Plastic bottles, food packaging and other waste that could've potentially been recycled contaminated the landscape, even in people's front- and backyards. When I'd ride into the city from the ashram where I was staying in the countryside, I'd inhale toxic fumes of garbage piles burning and observe wild animals rummaging through fields of trash.
During my first day on Commercial Street, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, I could feel the pollution sink into my pores and ignite oils on my face. The ground was no better. While wearing only flimsy flip-flops, I nearly stepped on a rat with a candy wrapper in its mouth.
My experiences weren't just anecdotal. According to a 2016 study by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore generates 5,000 metric tons of garbage a day, of which only 10 percent on average is recycled. The city's landfills, however, can only handle 2,100 tons of waste per day.
When I returned home, I quickly learned that Bangalore was not alone, and how the U.S. plastic lobby keeps its waste pollution behind closed doors. New York City—which has a population 1.5 million fewer people than Bangalore—throws away twice as much garbage; according to GrowNYC, residents of the Big Apple produce 12,000 tons of solid waste a day.
My experiences inspired a radical belief in me, going beyond plastic-bag bans and littering fines: Plastic should be illegal.
Communities around the world have taken action to ban single-use plastic bags. I began to wonder, could we ever take things a step further by banning plastic altogether? That's not an easy question, I quickly learned, because not all plastics are created—and therefore, disposed of—equally.
When we explore the possibility of banning plastic, we need to be specific about which kinds. The base of all plastic is resins, which are composed of polymers. Different chemicals are required to make the many different types of resin. According to the American Chemistry Council, some common types include:
- Polyethylene terephthalate, found in water bottles;
- High-density polyethylene, included in bags for grocery and retail purchases;
- Low-density polyethylene, used for food packaging and shrink wrap;
- Polypropylene, utilized for medicine bottles and bottle caps; and
- Polystyrene, typically in the form of Styrofoam.
Each of those types of plastic comes with different potential environmental costs. "The plastics of greatest concern from an environmental health perspective are polyvinyl chloride (vinyl), polystyrene, polycarbonate, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene," said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. "Using vinyl products exposes consumers to hormone-disrupting phthalates, which are dangerous at very low levels of exposure." Even getting rid of vinyl is dangerous, he said, because when incinerated, it's one of the most toxic man-made chemicals.
Additionally, I found that not all plastics are regulated equally. Although there hasn't been any federal U.S. legislation yet banning vinyl, or any other type of plastic, cities and states have successfully passed and adopted measures to ban plastic bags. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Austin, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco are among the cities to implement straight bans as opposed to fees. Meanwhile, statewide bans have passed in California and Hawaii.
"When it comes to high density polyethylene and other [types of] plastic bags, the biggest issues are with them clogging up landfills, polluting parks, and waterways," Schade said. "Plastic bags are a huge solid waste problem and a waste of precious resources."
According to the Earth Policy Institute, the U.S. consumes 100 billion plastic bags each year, which is enough to circle the equator 1,330 times.
What if plastic bags were to be banned in the U.S., as they were in Kenya earlier this year? Unfortunately that legal battle would require likely copious amounts of money to fight the plastic industry, most notably the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a pro-plastic lobbying group run by the American Chemistry Council. In her documentary Plastic Patch: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I initially watched after returning from India, journalist Angela Sun revealed that the council is an umbrella organization for Dow Chemical Company, DuPont and ExxonMobil.
According to a recent report in The Huffington Post, the group is the moneybag behind legislation to ban the banning of plastic bags. These types of laws have already passed in states like Florida and Arizona. As depicted in Sun's film, the American Progressive Bag Alliance ran negative, untruthful commercials urging Californians to vote against that state's proposed plastic bag ban years ago. This year, the Iowa became the most recent state to ban plastic bag bans following a push from the organization and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Ironically, experts tell me that plastic-bag bans can actually endanger municipalities by instigating lawsuits from "big plastic."
"Cities potentially expose themselves to lawsuits over environmental claims if they only ban plastic bags, but allow other bags to be given away for free," explained Jennie Romer, a New York City-based attorney and founder of Plastic Bag Laws. Romer works with grassroots organizations in New York City to push for plastic-bag fees; according to The New York Times, Gov. Cuomo quashed a measure to implement a 5-cent fee on plastic bags earlier this year.
There's a reason why conversations about the plastics industry revolve around plastic bags: it's a gateway to other environmental issues. Romer explained that once people get accustomed to having certain plastics banned, the plastic industry becomes concerned about the potential of all plastic products being banned rather than just bags. In other words, I realized that plastic bag legislation isn't really about plastic bags; it's about what other types of plastic can be potentially banned in the future.
While governments can regulate the plastics industry, ultimately, the effort to reduce plastic consumption comes down to shifting consumer behavior, Romer said. She adds that implementing fees encourage consumers to be more mindful compared to straight bans.
"People just don't get a bag when they get an item or two or they bring a bag when they don't want to pay a fee," Romer explained.
While plastic bags are her focus, Romer also consults on expanded polystyrene, found in Styrofoam. She believes this type of plastic requires a straight ban because it breaks up more easily and cannot be recycled, unlike high-density polyethylene in plastic bags.
Sun told me the government should have a role in regulating the labeling of plastic products. "Just because Bisphenol A [or BPA] is a buzz word and in social consciousness, the chemical industry can easily make a slight change and call it something else and still have a BPA-free label on it because it's technically free of BPA," she said. "Putting a BPA label on a baby bottle doesn't mean it's necessarily OK to be used."
Sun also stresses that while governments should implement policies to reduce plastic consumption systematically, it's up to individual people to raise awareness about the issue. No matter how much policy can influence our everyday lives, reducing plastic ultimately falls us—as individual consumers—to take action. This both inspires me and disappoints me, because it's difficult to fight against a culture specifically designed to consume plastic. After all, bringing your own reusable bag doesn't go very far when most of the products you purchase are packaged in plastic.
"Social change is hard to do, but it can be done little by little," explained Sun. "Empowered citizens in different realms have pushed and lobbied for this change. It's power to the people."
While bans, whether they are for plastic bags or certain types of resin, seem to be the best idealistic policy for the environment, I learned that they can make governments vulnerable to lawsuits by the plastic lobby. While fees can inspire a change in consumer behavior without the potential of legal action, even those are difficult to just get passed. If we seriously consider banning plastic, not only do we have to specify which kinds, but we also need to work around a system heavily influenced by plastic manufacturers. Otherwise the U.S.' garbage problem could start to look a lot more like Bangalore's.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
This week, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) made national headlines by dramatically announcing his retirement on the U.S. Senate floor. Flake focused his speech on the erratic behavior of President Donald Trump and the nationalistic, anti-immigration turn taken by some Republican Party politicians in recent years.
"I have decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself from the political considerations that consume far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles," said Flake. "To that end, I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019."
Beyond taking a stance in favor of corporate-backed free trade and "limited government and free markets," Flake's speech mostly stayed away from policy. But it did include the word "behavior" eight times, pointing to that of President Trump without explicitly mentioning the president by name.
Flake's speech has won him praise by pundits and politicians on both sides of the political aisle, ranging from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), to MSNBC show host and Capitol Hill reporter Kasie Hunt and neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol. It also has scored him countless fawning profile pieces in the media.
But with high praise has come criticism, with some critics countering that Trump merely says loudly the same things that mainstream Republican officials are dog-whistling. Others point out that on policy, Flake and Trump align on issues such as cutting health care coverage and offering tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
And as news site FightThirtyEight points out, Flake has voted for policies Trump favors 90 percent of the time. There's also the fact that in August Flake was polling at an 18 percent approval rating in Arizona and has even admitted himself he would likely lose in the Republican Party primary if he ran. Trump supporters, all the while, have cheered Flake's departure.
Yet lost in the conversation, thus far, has been almost any discussion of some of the major issues of our time: climate change, energy and the environment. And on that count, Flake has made a career out of doing the bidding of his fossil fuel and mining industry corporate campaign donors.
Here are seven reasons why Jeff Flake has been awful on the issues which, for humanity in the long run, arguably count the most.
1.) Climate Change Denier
Perhaps superseding all else, Flake is a climate change science denier, claiming that no one "can say definitely" what has caused global temperature increases.
"Certainly, nobody can deny that we've had several years of warmer temperatures. If that signals routine change that is manmade or not, I don't think anybody can say definitely," Flake said in 2014.
In 2015, Flake also voted "nay" on an amendment proposed by Democrats for a GOP-proposed bill in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline which asked if human activities led to climate change. Flake introduced his own amendment during the voting process, one which supported "the evaluation and consolidation of duplicative green building programs."
For insight into his motivations, look to Flake's campaign backers in the fossil fuel industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, Flake has taken $312,260 from the oil and gas industry and another $226,721 from the electric utilities industry since his congressional career began in 2000.
In the 2012 Senate race to represent Arizona, Flake took $96,000 from the oil and gas industry, $32,500 from electric utilities and $39,000 from the coal industry. That included taking money from funders of climate change denial, such as Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, and the American Petroleum Institute.
2.) Opponent of Public Lands
Flake has also long been a proponent of "states' rights" for U.S. federal lands, a colloquialism often used by conservatives and corporate-financed groups to argue for transferring ownership of federal lands to the states in order to make it easier for drilling and mining companies to access public land for extractive purposes.
In October 2016, Flake and McCain wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama requesting that his administration not designate any land in Arizona as a national monument, as was eventually done in Utah for Bears Ears. Obama eventually complied with the request, for which Flake and McCain praised him.
Flake also introduced a bill in July which would transfer and sell U.S. public lands maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Mojave County, Arizona, to county residents.
"These pieces of legislation give regional and local interests a voice in how to best to utilize and maintain lands within the state, which is critical in Arizona where nearly half the land is owned by the federal government," Flake said of the bill, which was also introduced in 2016.
The Center for American Progress has pigeonholed Flake as part of the "Anti-Parks Caucus" due to his anti-public lands politicking. Likewise, the Center for Biological Diversity put Flake on its top 15 list of "public land enemies."
3.) Rubberstamp for Trump Nominees
Flake has voted "yes" on 23 out of 24 Trump federal agency nominees, with the exception being a vote in which he didn't participate. He voted "yes" for all of Trump's energy and environmental nominees, including Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Energy Sec. Rick Perry, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Scott Pruitt.
"EPA's litany of overreaching regulations have strained Arizona's economic competitiveness," Flake said in a statement in response to Pruitt's successful nomination to head the EPA. "I was pleased to vote to confirm Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator so together we can get to work eliminating unnecessary economic barriers and restoring regulatory certainty."
Pruitt, like Flake, is a climate change denier.
4.) Cheerleader for Fracking and Coal
Flake has been supportive of the Pruitt-led EPA and its deregulatory efforts, including the rollback of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would have regulated greenhouse gas emissions of coal-fired power plants.
"It's been phenomenal to see an administration in this area, on the regulatory front, to do so much to create a better regulatory environment for businesses to prosper," he told the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. "I mentioned in a meeting just before this with Secretary Pruitt [sic] that I put out a press release from the office several weeks ago and after I put it out or approved it, I realized that we are actually complimenting the EPA for working with us on an issue that is benefiting Arizona and that I haven't done in a long, long, long time."
Additionally, Flake voted "yes" for a bill, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which would block the EPA's ability to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases to address climate change. It was lobbied for by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Chevron, America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), Peabody Energy, Edison Electric Institute and a litany of other major fossil fuel industry players.
Flake and McCain also denounced the Clean Power Plan when proposed in 2015 in a letter to then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The two of them described the plan as an "attempt to bypass Congress and commandeer the state regulatory process to impose unduly burdensome carbon-emissions regulations at existing power plants." Flake even referred to Obama's regulatory plans as a "war on coal."
"There is a war on coal at the EPA. Let's call it for what it is," Flake told an audience in 2012. "And they're going to use anything they can, it seems, to push forward that war on coal."
During the early years of the hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") boom in the U.S., Flake also voted in opposition to a bill which would have given subsidies to the renewable energy sector, giving a speech on the House floor in 2008 which stated that subsidizing the alternative energy sphere would hurt the oil and gas industry.
"While it is well and good to encourage alternative energy development, Congress should not do so by damaging our domestic oil and gas industry. In 2006 all renewable energy sources provided only six percent of the U.S. domestic energy supply. In contrast, oil and natural gas provided 58 percent of our domestic energy supply," Flake said. "The numbers don't lie. Oil and natural gas fuel our economy and sustain our way of life."
On the contrary, Flake has voted against a bill which would have ended tax subsidies for domestic production of oil and natural gas.
5.) Opponent of Indigenous Rights
Perhaps most prominently in recent years, Flake and McCain also co-sponsored and pushed a bill which was eventually inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 (NDAA) calling for thousands of acres of national parks land to be handed over to Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton for copper mining purposes. The catch: It was located on land considered holy by the San Carlos Apache tribe.
"The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards," explained a New York Times op-ed in May 2015. "[T]he giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny … The deal is an impressive new low in congressional corruption, unworthy of our country's ideals no matter what side of the aisle you're on. It's exactly the kind of cynical maneuvering that has taught the electorate to disrespect politicians—a disdain for government that hurts everyone."
The New York Times article points out, too, that Flake used to lobby for Rio Tinto (more on that below).
The secretive deal came under fierce opposition by Apaches and was met with protest. It was also criticized by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
"This is a precedent setter, because if we do not repeal this portion of [the NDAA bill], then sacred sites and religious burial sites—all the things that are by law protected—are suddenly expendable, which sets a precedent for other parts of Indian Country," Grijalva said at a July 2015 rally.
6.) Right-Wing Machine, Apartheid Ties
Flake's rise to Congress started by many acounts during his time spent as executive director of the Goldwater Institute, which is part of the right-wing State Policy Network, itself founded as an offshoot of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In his recently released book Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, Flake's book shares a title with that of the late Senator Barry Goldwater's famous 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative. Among other things, Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As Phoenix New Times reported back in 1999, Flake cut his teeth at the Goldwater Institute as an avid opponent of public schools and proponent of a voucher, school-choice system.
Before running the Goldwater Institute, Flake served as a lobbyist for the mining company Rossing Uranium in Namibia, 68 percent owned by mining giant Rio Tinto. Flake's official biography only mentions his work abroad there as executive director of the Foundation for Democracy, helping the country "usher in freedom and democracy." At the time, Namibia was run by the South African government, which imposed apartheid in the country until it gained independence in 1990.
Flake denied that the work he did helped bolster the system of apartheid, but audio arose during his 2012 run for Senate revealing his lobbying of the Utah state Senate against economic sanctions applied toward the South African apartheid regime.
National Journal reported that Flake earned $5,000 to $7,000 per month for his lobbying work, which he did as a registered foreign agent. Before that work for Rossing Uranium, Flake worked for "Smoak, Shipley & Henry, whose principals, Marion Smoak and Carl Shipley, had ties to the South African-controlled regime in Namibia during apartheid," National Journal reported.
Throughout his political career, the mining companies have contributed $287,902 to Flake's campaigns.
7.) Koch Brothers Servant
In his 2012 Senate race, Flake's biggest donor by far was Club for Growth, a group co-founded by Stephen Moore, who was a senior economic adviser for the Trump presidential campaign. Moore co-authored a book steeped in climate change denial, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, alongside Kathleen Hartnett White, who was recently named chair of the Trump White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
That year Flake received just over $1 million from the Club for Growth, which receives funding from the Koch network and other wealthy conservatives, and he was the biggest recipient of its donations for that electoral cycle. Flake also served as a signatory for Americans for Prosperity's (AFP) "No Climate Tax" pledge. AFP is a front group founded and created by the Koch Family Foundations.
Flake also received a $2,000 campaign contribution from Koch Industries for his 2012 Senate race. In return, Flake has received a 98 percent scorecard rating from AFP and a 97 percent rating from Club for Growth, which he touts on his official Senate biography page.
'Children Are Watching'
In his retirement speech, Flake noted that "children are watching," too.
"It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?—what are we going to say?" Flake asked rhetorically. "I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit."
But on the issues of climate change and environmental justice, Flake's questions could easily be flipped back on him, as a politician who has paved his career with climate denial. And as 21 youth suing the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change have shown, indeed, the "children are watching."
'Landmark Decision' Casts Youth as Official Intervenors in Pipeline Case https://t.co/mOhapx7enX @kxlblockade @TarSandsAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508896206.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Elliott Negin
Thursday, the company released its annual list of its "public information and policy research" grantees, which shows that it spent $1.65 million in 2016 on a dozen think tanks, advocacy groups and associations that contest climate science and oppose both the Paris accord and a carbon tax—the very policies the company professes to endorse. Last year's outlay boosted the total of the company's expenditures on climate disinformation over the last two decades to $34.6 million.
Chamber of Horrors
Most of ExxonMobil's spending on denier groups last year—87 percent—went to four organizations: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ExxonMobil gave more than half of last year's kitty—a cool $1 million—to the chamber, which provided President Trump with a key, but fraudulent, rationale for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Parroting a recent report funded by the chamber and the American Council for Capital Formation―which received $1.78 million from ExxonMobil between 2000 and 2015—Trump claimed that over the next several decades the accord would cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion and, by 2040, eliminate 6.5 million industrial sector jobs.
"The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting U.S. targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to U.S. businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects," AP reporters Michael Biescker and Paul Wiseman pointed out. "Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation doesn't actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology."
The chamber, which has a long history of denying climate science, made similar dire warnings about job losses in a 2014 report analyzing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. That report used flawed assumptions to magnify the carbon rule's cost and exaggerate job losses and, like its recent report on the Paris agreement, didn't factor in the carbon rule's considerable benefits.
The Market Will Take Care of It
The next biggest ExxonMobil grant last year—$235,000—went to the American Enterprise Institute, which had already received $4.1 million from the company between 1998 and 2015. American Enterprise Institute economist Benjamin Zycher addresses climate issues more than anyone else these days at the free-market think tank, and his views are diametrically opposed to ExxonMobil's professed positions. He disputes the conclusions of mainstream climate science, insists that a carbon tax would be "ineffective," and calls the Paris agreement an "absurdity."
Zycher's colleague Mark Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is also no fan of the international accord. In a June 2 essay, he cited numbers from the Chamber's discredited report and maintained that "our emissions will arguably decline faster because of Trump's withdrawal—because our free market economy will be stronger and more innovative without it."
Wind Energy Blows
The Manhattan Institute, which received $705,000 from ExxonMobil between 2006 and 2015, pulled in another $135,000 from the company last year. Staffers there aren't too keen on the carbon tax or the Paris agreement, either. Senior Fellow Oren Cass, who previously worked at Mitt Romney's old firm Bain & Company, calls the accord a "fraud" and argues that a carbon tax would be "bad for the country" and "bad for the economy."
Another senior fellow at the libertarian think tank, Robert Bryce, previously worked as a newspaper reporter and for the Institute for Energy Research, a former ExxonMobil grantee that is largely underwritten by the Koch brothers. A self-styled agnostic about climate change, Bryce regularly attacks renewable energy. He especially loves to bash wind, carping about the industry's temporary federal tax breaks over the last 20 years and its threat to birds. Never mind that the oil and gas industry received an average of $4.86 billion a year (in 2010 dollars) in permanent federal subsidies between 1918 and 2009 (that continue to today), or that oil and gas industry fluid waste pits kill roughly three times more birds a year than wind turbines. Bryce never mentions either of those salient facts.
Between 2006 and 2015, ExxonMobil gave $600,000 to the American Legislative Council, a secretive lobby group that drafts sample corporate-friendly legislation for state lawmakers. Last year, the oil company gave ALEC another $76,500.
Does ALEC also oppose a carbon tax and the Paris accord? You bet.
In 2013, ALEC drafted a sample resolution for state legislators to reject "all federal and state efforts to establish a carbon tax on fuels for electricity and transportation." More recently, the director of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force slammed the Paris agreement as a "bad deal" for America. "The Paris agreement is little more than an effort by the previous president to lend some international legitimacy to his destructive regulatory campaign against affordable domestic energy," Kenneth Stein, a former legislative aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, wrote in May 25 essay on ALEC's website. "As has been seen in any number of U.S. industries, regulation and rule making stifle progress and innovation—much more so when the regulations become part of an international treaty regime."
Why bother with a carbon tax or an international carbon-reduction agreement if, as ALEC erroneously maintains, scientists haven't determined the role human activity plays in global warming? "Climate change is a historical phenomenon," its website states, "and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions."
More than 100 corporations have quit ALEC for a number of reasons, notably its scientifically indefensible position on climate change. Those companies include a number of energy sector heavyweights, including American Electric Power, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell. But not ExxonMobil.
Meet the New Boss ...
The fact that ExxonMobil's grantees contradict the company's avowed positions on climate science and policy should come as no surprise. Its funding pattern in Congress is analogous. Over the years, the company has consistently rewarded legislators who reject mainstream climate science and vote against carbon tax resolutions by funding their reelection campaigns. Half of the nearly $1.45 million it spent on candidates in the 2016 election cycle, for example, went to 81 climate science deniers in the House and 24 in the Senate. And 18 of the 22 senators who sent a letter to President Trump urging him to abandon the Paris agreement collectively received $371,000 in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil between 2011 and 2016.
Rex Tillerson began playing this game soon after he became the company's CEO in 2006. In January 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report documenting that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil had spent at least $16 million on a network of more than 40 anti-regulation groups to manufacture doubt about climate science. A week after its release, Tillerson acknowledged that his company had a PR problem. "We recognize that we need to soften our public image," he said, according to a January 10 story in Greenwire, a trade publication. "It is something we are working on."
Ten years later, ExxonMobil's PR offensive continues. Publicly, company officials repeatedly assure the news media and the general public they have seen the light. Climate change is indeed real and we need to address it. At the same time, however, ExxonMobil is still bankrolling climate disinformation groups and deniers in Congress to stymie government action.
In January, Darren Woods, who has been working for ExxonMobil since 1992, replaced Tillerson as CEO. So far, he's the same as the old boss. His inaugural blog post, which champions natural gas as "powerful tool" to reduce carbon emissions and stresses the challenge of "managing the risks of climate change" while meeting growing worldwide energy demand, could have easily been written by Tillerson. And, like his predecessor, Woods dutifully reiterated ExxonMobil's nominal support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax and the Paris agreement. But until the company stops funding climate science denier groups and the members of Congress standing in the way, it will remain a major obstacle to saving the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.
Defenders of Wildlife recently obtained a copy of Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's "Top 10 Priorities" for his department (text version). These priorities are reflected in the department's recently leaked draft 2018–2022 Strategic Plan, but the priorities themselves are noteworthy for their strikingly euphemistic tone.
They are written to evoke a responsive, progressive Interior Department serving the country by protecting our natural heritage and ensuring sensible use of our natural resources. And there's the problem. All ten priorities are entirely disconnected from Interior's actions to date. Following is our take on the doublespeak nature of the secretary's Top 10 Priorities.
1. Create a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt.
To date, Zinke is doing the exact opposite of Teddy Roosevelt's legacy. Roosevelt, the father of federal land conservation, established 150 national forests, 51 wildlife refuges, five national parks and 18 national monuments. Under Zinke, the Interior Department could strip protections from as much as 11.3 million acres of public lands and 218 million acres of marine environment designated as national monuments by presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Interior is also dismantling wildlife refuges and undermining laws that protect imperiled species on public lands.
If the secretary really wants to rival Teddy Roosevelt, he could start by abandoning the attack on our national monuments. Then he could follow up by protecting more land, air, water and wildlife under Interior's trust, as supported by huge majorities of Americans. Otherwise, history may judge him not as Roosevelt's peer, but his antithesis.
2. Sustainably develop our energy and natural resources.
"Sustainability" is a word that Zinke uses repeatedly, but doesn't appear to understand. Zinke recently joked to the National Petroleum Council that "[f]racking is proof that God's got a good sense of humor and he loves us." In March, Zinke cancelled a 2016 moratorium on new coal leases, and in July the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a new round of leasing in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Zinke has also announced offshore oil and gas leases in a 77 million-acre region of the Gulf of Mexico, in an area still recovering from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Pretending that finite sources of dirty energy will secure a sustainable future for the American people, the joke is on him, but the harm posed to wildlife and wild places is no laughing matter.
#Zinke Recommends Opening Up Pacific National Monuments to Commercial Fishing https://t.co/n7VesfHnVE @billmckibben @Oceana @WWF @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1510071650.0
3. Restore trust and be a good neighbor.
Zinke has proven himself anything but trustworthy with his closed-door dealings and speeches, refusal to publicly release his national monuments report, ethically questionable business travel, suspicious relationships with Political Action Committees and the distinct appearance of giving special attention to special interests.
Trust is a two-way street. Zinke has demonstrated mistrust of—and has outright ignored—state and local stakeholders on the years-long public process for balancing greater-sage grouse conservation with other public lands uses across 10 western states. His decision to revise the plans is a triple-whammy: wasting four years and $45 million invested in developing the existing plans, throwing the region into years of uncertainty while new plans are created, and increasing the likelihood that sage-grouse populations will continue their long-term decline and require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Zinke is even considering drilling adjacent to and even inside 30 national parks, which would not be neighborly to the wildlife and habitat the Interior Department is responsible to protect.
4. Ensure tribal sovereignty means something.
Tribal sovereignty doesn't mean "something," it means that tribes have an inherent right "to make their own laws and be governed by them." Unfortunately, Zinke failed to learn the lesson from Standing Rock with his recommendation to downsize Bears Ears National Monument, which could lift protections from thousands of Native American cultural artifacts and sacred sites. Member tribes in the Bears Ears Commission, established by President Obama to guide management of the monument, support Bears Ears remaining intact with its current level of protection.
5. Increase revenues to support the department and national interests.
The most important way the secretary can support his department is to request a budget increase … but he appears to have other intentions. According to Zinke's June 2017 Senate testimony, he is seeking to cut budgets across most of Interior: 11 percent from the National Park Service, 13 percent from BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey, and nearly half from the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation. Rather than requesting the funding, Zinke is pushing for drilling in one of America's last great wild places, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though his interest in Arctic drilling may be ideological rather than fiscal. Zinke recently rescinded a rule that would have helped ensure that companies pay fair market value for oil, gas and coal they extract on federal lands, depriving taxpayers of $75 million in revenues from energy extraction nationwide. So far, the secretary's most concrete proposal for raising revenue has been to nearly triple the entrance fees American families pay at popular national parks.
6. Protect our people and the border.
Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, administers our international borders, not the Interior Department. That aside, Zinke should be paying attention to the devastating effects the administration's proposed border wall would have on wildlife and habitat, including endangered species and several national wildlife refuges.
7. Strike a regulatory balance.
Just last week, as directed by President Trump's Executive Order 13783, "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth," the Interior Department issued a report identifying conservation, safety and public health policies as potentially "burdensome" on domestic energy production—particularly oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy sources. The report targeted a broad array of foundational protections for wildlife and habitat, including scientific consultation to protect imperiled species; protective designations for public lands and waters; public planning and appeals processes; and legislative and administrative requirements for permitting, exploring, siting, developing and transporting fossil fuels. Unfortunately, what Zinke's Interior Department considers burdensome is our country's attempt to balance energy development and natural resource conservation nationwide.
8. Modernize our infrastructure.
Zinke is asking for $1.6 billion in Interior budget cuts (see priority #5), while the National Park System has a $12 billion maintenance backlog, and the National Wildlife Refuge System is suffering a $2.7 billion backlog. The extreme budget cuts that the secretary has requested for managing agencies is not going to help alleviate these costly deficits. On a related note, the president's cancellation of his predecessor's requirement that federal projects like roads and bridges be built to withstand the impacts of climate change *might* result in a few projects being built faster, but only until the next big storm. That's not the same as "modernizing."
9. Reorganize the department for the next 100 years.
Zinke's notion of reorganization could have lasting, negative effects on both the department and constituencies it serves. Within just a few short months of his taking office, more than 50 senior Interior staff have been "involuntarily reassigned," often to positions for which they have no expertise or experience. One scientist who was moved into an accounting position told the Washington Post that he was "clearly retaliated against" for "speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities." Zinke himself has testified that he supports "an estimated reduction of roughly 4,000 full time equivalent staff from 2017," and is reportedly planning to upend hundreds more employees' lives by moving the headquarters of three agencies from Washington, DC to Denver.
10. Achieve our goals and lead our team forward.
We are not clear what Zinke's goals for the department are moving forward, especially after he compared his staff to pirates and said he's "got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag."
Zinke needs to refocus the Department of the Interior to carry out its duty to the American people to manage and protect our county's natural resources, historical sites and cultural heritage. Faithfully implemented, some of his ten priorities could be useful for guiding the department's work.
Teddy Roosevelt said, "[o]f all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us." Defenders of Wildlife is determined to hold Zinke and the Interior Department to the high standards of the conservation image in which it was created.
Two American solar manufacturers squared off with solar executives, state officials, foreign diplomats, conservative groups and ALEC in a hearing before the International Trade Commission Tuesday to halt possible imposing tariffs on the import of solar cells and modules.
Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld argued that competition from foreign manufacturers, particular Chinese manufacturers, poses an unlawful threat to domestic manufacturers and are calling for relief under an obscure U.S. trade law as their "last hope."
Solar Energy Industries Association, on the other hand, contended that imposing such tariffs could erase nearly a third of the industry's 250,000 jobs. This case could determine the future of the American solar industry and is one of the first major trade decisions of the Trump administration.
As reported by the New York Times:
"At issue is whether the financial woes of Suniva and its co-petitioner, SolarWorld Americas, are a result of unfair competition from Chinese companies benefiting from state subsidies, or of their own business practices. And though the sharp drops in the cost of panels have made it difficult for domestic manufacturers to compete, they have also fueled a boom in solar development throughout the country, providing a lift to an industry that says it now has more than 250,000 jobs."
For a deeper dive: