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About 10 years ago, Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBST or rBGH, was in trouble. Leading dairy processors and major supermarket chains, such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger and Safeway were banning the use of rBST in dairy production. Monsanto had big plans for rBST, which is injected into cows to increase milk production. But consumers didn't like the idea of consuming milk, one of the the most wholesome foods, with GMO hormones. As a result, dairy products labeled "rBST-free" became common.
To counter consumer opposition, a Monsanto PR firm launched a "grassroots advocacy group" with a slick website called "American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology" (AFACT). The aim was to defend farmers' use of rBST and "educate" the public about it.
By Rebekah Wilce
The world of independent chemical testing has a shiny veneer. The public is reassured that chemicals they're exposed to on a daily basis are certified by technicians in spotless white lab coats who carefully conduct scientific studies, including on animals in neat rows of cages.
But a federal grand jury investigation that ended with convictions in the early 1980s discovered that Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT), the largest such lab in the U.S., conducted trials with mice that regularly drowned in their feeding troughs. The dead animals would decompose so quickly that "their bodies oozed through wire cage bottoms and lay in purple puddles on the dropping trays." IBT even invented an acronym "TBD/TDA" for its raw safety data, later discovered to mean "too badly decomposed."
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The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals
The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy released a trove of rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents Wednesday stretching back to the 1920s. The documents are available here.
Together, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment.
By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelly and Graham Readfearn
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of emails obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump administration.
Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt's time spent as the Sooner State's lead legal advocate and in particular show a "close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt's office and the fossil fuel industry," CMD said in a press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.
Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt's office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon's international travel costs. They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network.
On the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rule, Pruitt's office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company's formal legal response. Pruitt's office was aiming to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensable aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
"Any suggestions?" Pruitt's office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the Freedom of Information Act response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the Attorney General's correspondence, although Pruitt's deputy later wrote "thanks for all your help on this."
In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt's office. The next day, Pruitt's office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, "I'm glad the Devon team could help and thanks for all of your work on this."
This batch of emails was not among those published by the New York Times as a part of its investigation into the correspondence Pruitt and other Republican state-level Attorneys General had with energy companies, which revealed that Devon had ghostwritten letters which Pruitt's office sent to federal officials and agencies.
By Deirdre Fulton
Newly sworn-in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, whose nomination was ardently opposed by environmentalists and who is poised to roll back major climate and clean water regulations, addressed his employees for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
During his remarks, in which he did not mention the pressing crisis of climate change or the matter of public health, Pruitt quoted Sierra Club founder John Muir, saying: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in."
Environmentalists were not impressed.
It's difficult to imagine that EPA staffers—hundreds of whom publicly opposed Pruitt's confirmation in the days before the Senate vote—were too pleased, either.
"For some scientists in the agency, [Pruitt's] first speech was probably the equivalent of Voldemort himself walking into Hogwarts and assuming the top job," wrote Andrew Freedman at Mashable.
Pruitt addressed that tension obliquely, telling those who were gathered: "Civility is something I believe in very much. We ought to be able to get together and wrestle through some issues in a civil manner."
The Los Angeles Times reported:
He expressed admiration for the many employees he met during his first meetings at the headquarters who have been with the agency for decades.
"You can't lead unless you can listen," Pruitt said. "I seek to listen, learn and lead with you." But he also bemoaned the "toxic" nature of modern politics.
Pruitt also lobbed subtle barbs at the agency's past leadership, saying EPA needs to avoid abuses. "Regulations ought to make things regular. Regulators exist to give certainty to those we regulate," he said. (Last week, he was even more critical of the Obama-era EPA, telling the Wall Street Journal that it had "disregarded the law").
But Pruitt made no mention of what's likely to be big news this week: Trump is planning to sign executive orders that would start the process of rolling back two major EPA regulations: the Clean Power Plan, one of [President Barack] Obama's signature climate programs and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which regulates pollution in smaller bodies of water.
Ironically, the former Oklahoma attorney general spoke of the need to be "open and transparent"—on the same day that the public awaits the court-ordered release of thousands of emails Pruitt's office sought to withhold from the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy. The emails are expected to be released by end of day Tuesday.
And he stated: "We can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment," leading Center for Media and Democracy director of research Nick Surgey to say Pruitt was "already talking about putting the interests of the environment against the interests of industry."
Politico reported that "Pruitt delivered his remarks to about 100 employees gathered at the agency's headquarters, an event that also included a conspicuous handful of security personnel." Pruitt is reportedly "expected to request an around-the-clock security detail from his agency, according to an internal agency email" seen by Greenwire.
Watch Pruitt's full speech here:
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.
In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.
Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.
On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.
"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."
Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee—weighed in on the case, urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:
"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."
"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."
Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.
At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.
After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.
By Martha Roberts
Scott Pruitt, President Trump's pick for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is withholding thousands of emails related to his ties to major energy interests who may have donated to his political causes.
Such stonewalling makes it difficult for senators to vote on his nomination since they can't know if these contacts were appropriate. It is particularly disturbing because Pruitt—who as EPA administrator would be charged with overseeing vital clean air and clean water protections for our nation—has a long history of opposing bedrock safeguards in concert with industry players.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a report Tuesday about the absent emails with an Oklahoma court, the latest chapter in the watchdog group's two-year saga to get a response to its request for records from the Oklahoma Attorney General's office. An emergency hearing before the court has been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16.
Pruitt's absent emails so concerned Senate Democrats that they have asked that voting on Pruitt's nomination be postponed until after the Oklahoma court holds its hearing. Meanwhile, questions surrounding Pruitt's nomination continue to grow.
In January, Environmental Defense Fund filed a Freedom of Information Act request for EPA records relating to development of Pruitt's bare bones ethics agreement with the EPA. Unfortunately, the request to get these records swiftly, in time to inform consideration of Pruitt's nomination, was rejected. We continue to wait for these key documents.
What Else Is Out There?
Pruitt's office has said it identified more than 3,000 emails responsive to CMD's request. But when CMD finally got a response last week—after two years of waiting and a hearing before a state judge—Pruitt's office only provided 411.
Moreover, in at least 27 instances, emails responsive to CMD's request were previously released in a separate open records request—but not turned over to CMD. All this begs the question: What else is Pruitt's office withholding from the public?
Pruitt's Past Professional Behavior is Revealing
In 2014, Pruitt was identified as leading an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with big energy interests.
He copied and pasted industry requests and sent them to senior federal officials under the seal of the Attorney General's office. And his staff fundraised from oil and gas interests during work hours.
Pruitt also routinely joined with major industry players in 14 lawsuits against bedrock EPA clean air and clean water protections that limit dangerous pollutants such as mercury, smog, arsenic and carbon.
Efforts to roll back such protections endanger children's health. Without these safeguards, our kids would suffer from even more asthma attacks, more brain development risks and other serious health consequences.
Pruitt Even Refused to Answer Senators
Meanwhile, Pruitt is even stonewalling U.S. senators charged with taking his testimony under his confirmation process. In written answers to questions posed by senators, Pruitt told them almost 20 times to file open records requests in Oklahoma rather than answering the senators' questions—the same kind of requests that suffer a two-year backlog in the office Pruitt leads.
In one instance, he even told a senator to file an open records request with his office to get more information—about open records requests in Pruitt's office.
It's already clear from the information we do have on Pruitt that he's entangled in a web of campaign contributions and lawsuits to oppose clean air and clean water safeguards. It's deeply troubling to consider that there's even more out there that we just don't know about.
Martha Roberts is an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Legal and Regulatory Program. She works to support climate change mitigation and secure clean air through policy initiatives and strategic litigation.
By Samantha Parsons
George Mason University (GMU) students filed a lawsuit Thursday against George Mason University and fundraising arm, the George Mason University Foundation, in hopes of obtaining grant and gift agreements between private donors and the foundation.
Transparent GMU, the student organization that filed the suit, is concerned about the potential for private donors to influence students' education.
In 2014, Mason students began raising concerns about the school's close relationship to the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), citing fears that CKF might have gained influence over their faculty, curriculum and research in exchange for large financial contributions.
Students filed their first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that year, seeking grant and gift agreements between the university and CKF. They were told that the documents were controlled by the GMU Foundation, which claimed to be exempt from Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. In response, students launched a grassroots campaign asking for the university to release the documents. For over two years their requests went ignored despite having collected over a thousand signatures from alumni, students, faculty and other concerned community members.
The lawsuit demonstrates these students' unwavering commitment to enforcing appropriate checks and balances over the public institution they call home. The students' legal argument asserts that their university is breaking the law by refusing to respond to their FOIA request, as a public university cannot simply conceal its records by outsourcing its public business to a private company like the foundation.
This is the first time students have sued their own university to force disclosure of agreements with the Charles Koch Foundation.
Koch and Higher Education
In the last few years, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries have gained considerable attention for their large financial contributions to conservative political candidates and libertarian political organizations. However, through further investigation, students learned that the ability of the Koch brothers to exert long-term political influence does not actually depend on individual election outcomes. Instead, the Kochs rely on an integrated strategy penned by Richard Fink, President of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, in an essay called the Structure of Social Change.
As explained by Fink, Structure of Social Change begins with corporate-funded academic research or "raw intellectual materials." These ideas are then transformed into policy recommendations at Koch-funded think tanks, which often rely on the talent of other professors on Kochs' payroll. Koch-forged policies are then championed by Kochs' advocacy groups to lobby elected officials to enact the policies. Usually, the politicians themselves are beneficiaries of political cash from Koch Industries, Koch executives and Kochs' network of dark money nonprofits.
In a self-reinforcing cycle, Koch and his donor partners contract universities to bring students into their "talent pipeline," which produces staff for the Koch network's think tanks and political groups.
The ways in which Koch gains influence over universities in order to successfully incorporate them into this integrated strategy was first exposed at Florida State University. In a 2007 grant agreement, the Charles Koch Foundation required the university to provide it with input over hiring decisions, curriculum and research.
Just last month, a new report reviewing the agreement revealed that Kochs' "Undergraduate Program" involved donor creation of several new courses, donor influence over at least nine courses and donor control over introductory "principles" courses. Today, a Koch advisory board still has control over graduate fellowship selection and dissertation topics in Kochs' graduate and Ph.D fellowship program.
George Mason University in Virginia is ground zero for Koch influence in higher education. The school has received $95.5 million from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2005, earning it the title of "Koch U" from Center for Public Integrity investigative reporter Dave Levinthal.
Students wonder: If Koch could buy that type of influence at Florida State University for $2.3 million, how much has $95.5 million bought at George Mason?
Koch and GMU
In addition to providing massive donations through the GMU Foundation, Charles Koch plays a governing role at two think tanks on GMU's campus that receive his financial support.
The Mercatus Center conducts economics research that is used by Koch-funded political groups to advocate against taxes on the wealthy, on corporations and regulations that may affect corporate profitability. Mercatus is the model program which Koch has attempted to replicate at dozens of other schools hoping to exert a deregulatory influence in their respective state capitals.
The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) coordinates networking and professional development opportunities for students interested in working at Koch-funded political groups. The curriculum taught during IHS fellowship seminars was recently criticized for being "designed more to help corporations fight regulations than to advance scholarly inquiry and understandings of political freedom" by a former student fellow.
Charles Koch sits on the Board of Directors of the Mercatus Center, which he founded and IHS, where he is the chairman. Fink, the longtime advisor who was nicknamed "Charles Koch's brain" by Koch biographer Daniel Schulman, helped Charles Koch establish the Mercatus Center and remains a member of its board.
Blazing the Trail
It is no secret that state investment in higher education continues to decrease, causing public universities to seek private donations to make up the difference. Most scholarships, professorships and new programs on campuses around the country would not be possible without contributions from private donors. However, academia's growing reliance on this private support brings with it a new set of challenges.
The ways in which the Charles Koch Foundation has been able to buy influence over higher education through "philanthropic" donations is a perfect example of such a challenge and demonstrates why the activities of public institutions, such as universities, should never be veiled in secrecy.
While there are still many questions to be raised and solutions to be debated regarding this changing landscape of higher education, the public must first be given the opportunity to participate in that debate. That requires transparency and students at George Mason are leading the charge to demand that they get to have their say.
Samantha Parsons is a 2016 graduate of George Mason University where she majored in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and focused her studies on structures of violence and social movements. She co-founded UnKoch My Campus.
Days before the full Senate votes on Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national investigative watchdog group, alleges in a new lawsuit that as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt has violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for failing to provide public access to official emails and other documents for more than two years. The lawsuit also asks for an injunction to prevent the Oklahoma Attorney General from destroying any documents relevant to the group's open records requests.
Alongside the petition, counsel is requesting an emergency hearing due to the impending Senate vote on Pruitt's nomination.
CMD filed seven records requests with Pruitt's office in 2015 and 2016 and another two requests last month, seeking communications with Koch Industries and other coal, oil and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General's Association (RAGA). Pruitt has yet to turn over a single document, despite acknowledging in August 2016 that his office has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to CMD's first request in January 2015.
CMD is represented in the lawsuit by Robert Nelon, a leading media and First Amendment lawyer at Hall Estill and by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, which is also leading an ongoing case against Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin for her denial of two plaintiffs' access to public records for more than 900 days in violation of this same legislation.
"Scott Pruitt has withheld access to thousands of emails with businesses or organizations whose activities adversely affect the environment and other records of vital public interest for the past two years. His inaction denies the public 'prompt and reasonable' access to public documents and violates Oklahoma's Open Records Act," said Nelon.
Under the Oklahoma Open Records Act, "the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government ... so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power." The act also mandates that a public body "must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records."
"Freedom of information is essential to ensure the integrity of our government," said Brady Henderson, legal director of the ALCU of Oklahoma. "When public officials like Scott Pruitt fail to abide by Open Records Act requirements, it interferes with the people's ability to do our job holding government accountable. With Pruitt seeking confirmation to become EPA administrator, these public records are essential for the U.S. Senate to do its job too. Public records belong in public view, not hidden for months or years behind closed doors."
For the past several years, CMD has led an investigation to pull back the curtain on Pruitt's and other attorneys generals' relationships with fossil fuel industry titans and the advocacy groups they fund.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a difficult few weeks for Pruitt's nomination in which research from CMD has demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.
At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.
"Public servants at the EPA spend each day trying to counter corporations' injection of dangerous chemicals into our air, water and homes, but Pruitt refuses to discuss his deep connections to the companies he would oversee and has repeatedly shown contempt for the Senate's responsibility to their constituents to properly vet his nomination," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Families in Michigan and Pennsylvania grappling with unsafe drinking water, communities from California to Florida dealing with damage to our climate and parents looking for ways to clean up the air their kids breathe all deserve the facts behind whose interests Pruitt really serves."
After Democratic Senators boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination. Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote next week.
Deep Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry
Over the past 15 years, Pruitt has received nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including Continental Resources whose CEO served as his 2014 campaign chairman. Pruitt has also raised substantial funds for his two federal PACs—Liberty 2.0 and Oklahoma Strong—from fracking giant Devon Energy and coal company Alliance Resources. In 2014, a New York Times investigation found that Devon Energy lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the EPA and Department of the Interior under his own name.
Last year, Pruitt orchestrated an effort by Republican state attorneys general to oppose the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In March, Pruitt sent an email to supporters of his federal PAC boasting of his efforts to block Garland's confirmation as well as "successfully [block] the President's Clean Power plan, his immigration rule and his attempt at a massive takeover of the waters of the U.S."