The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Senate 'Puts Party Loyalty Above the Good of Our Nation' With Confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions—who has a civil rights history was so troubling that a Republican Senate refused to confirm him as a federal judge in the 1980s—was confirmed Wednesday in the full Senate (52-47) to serve as U.S. Attorney General, despite the unprecedented and growing opposition to Donald Trump's unfit nominees and the radical, minority views they represent.
"Jeff Sessions fits right in with Donald Trump's collection of unqualified, unfit nominees who have largely been hostile to the missions—and, at times, very existence—of the agencies they've been asked to lead," Martin Hayden, Earthjustice vice president of policy and litigation, said. "Sessions' abysmal record of opposition to fundamental civil rights and environmental protections disqualifies him for service as head of our federal department dedicated to justice for everyone in our country.
"President Trump's nominees may have been released with a fury, but they are barely dragging across the finish line—winning confirmation only because Republican senators have put party loyalty above the good of our nation ... Earthjustice will hold Sessions accountable in the court of law."
What is Sen. Sessions' record on environmental protection?
He has a dismal record on the environment, climate change and pollution control efforts. A climate change denier, Sessions has opposed nearly every piece of global warming and environmental legislation since 1997.
This year, Sessions opposed amendments in the Energy Policy Modernization Act that would have incentivized energy efficiency, phased out fossil fuel subsidies, and established a national energy efficiency standard.
In 2015, he voted for a resolution to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution standards for new and modified power plants. Sessions has also pushed to gut clean water rules, undermine the protection of imperiled plants and wildlife and opposed climate change science education.
In 2012, he supported a resolution that would roll back protections from toxic mercury which EPA estimates prevent 11,000 premature deaths a year. Also, during a Senate hearing on climate science, he refused to accept that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that global warming is happening and humans are causing it.What does the U.S. Attorney General do?
The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer for the U.S. federal government and head of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General is sworn to enforce and uphold all laws of our nation, including the laws that protect our right to a healthy environment and the laws that uphold our fundamental civil rights. There is no fixed term length for the Attorney General position.
Sessions has voted to defund renewable and solar energy development, voted against tax incentives for renewables like solar and wind, and favored the renewal of oil and gas exploration subsidies. On its most recent National Environmental Scorecard, the League of Conservation Voters scored Sessions in the single digits: an appalling 4 percent—and 7 percent over his whole career, placing him in the lowest quarter of all senators.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Despite the numerous race-related skeletons in Sen. Jeff Sessions's closet, some time was spent at his confirmation hearings discussing his various financial ties to the fossil fuel industry and how that might affect his approach to environmental and energy issues as attorney general.
Sessions was questioned on his failure to disclose oil income on land he owns in a national wildlife refuge, first reported this week by the Washington Post. Sessions also waffled back and forth on climate change during his hearing, acknowledging it is "plausible" but questioning "how much is happening and what the reaction would be to it."
Sessions has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel industries and an Alabama Power-owned utility is his largest corporate donor. Next week, the oil and gas parade continues: mark your calendars for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief nominee Scott Pruitt's confirmation hearing, announced for Wednesday, Jan. 18.
For a deeper dive:
Climate change: LA Times
Pruitt date: Greenwire
By Jo Miles
We all expected that Trump's cabinet would mean trouble for many of the things we care about, from clean energy and healthy communities to our very democracy itself. But his chosen nominees are worse than we could have imagined. These individuals, responsible for the policies and decisions that affect the lives and well-being of all Americans, have a combined net worth of more than $13 billion so far—that's five times the net worth of President Obama's cabinet and more wealth than a third of American households. As you might expect, their ties to corporations run deep and those ties are reflected in their positions and past actions. Here's what you should know about what Trump's nominees mean for our food, water, environment and democracy—and how you can oppose their confirmations:
Nominated for: U.S. EPA Administrator
Why you should worry: Pruitt has bragged about suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) multiple times, has often decried its decisions and now he's on deck to run it. His troubling history includes:
- He opposed attempts to regulate fracking on federal lands.
- He condemned the EPA's attempts to study fracking's impact on drinking water as politically motivated.
- He's pushed the interests of industrial agriculture in Oklahoma, including a deregulatory "right to farm" measure.
Corporate ties: He's a member of ALEC—American Legislative Exchange Council—and has taken about $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel CEO Harold Hamm chaired his 2014 re-election campaign.
Notable quote: "It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies […] to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA and other federal agencies."
What you can do: Send an email to your senators asking them to reject Pruitt.
Nominated for: Secretary of State
Why you should worry: His tenure at Exxon gives us insight into how he'd behave as Secretary of State:
- He's presided over major deals with Russia to expand oil and gas development.
- Exxon targeted Germany, a nation with a strong commitment to renewables and energy efficiency, for natural gas drilling and fracking.
- Under Tillerson's leadership, Exxon continued to fund groups that promoted climate denial and spread misinformation about the threat of climate change.
Corporate ties: He's the former CEO of ExxonMobil and has been since 2006. He owns Exxon shares worth $151 million.
Notable fact: Tillerson once sued to keep water towers for a fracking project out of his own backyard.
What you can do: Send an email to your senators asking them to reject Tillerson.
Donald Trump's election win and his pick for attorney general could be a big boost to Bayer AG's $66 billion purchase of Monsanto Co. that is currently undergoing state and federal antitrust investigations.
President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sen. Jeff Sessions as his attorney general.Flickr
Investopedia reports that Monsanto stocks have risen more than 4 percent since Trump's surprise victory. Additionally, Terry Haines of the investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI said that the president-elect's nominee for attorney general—Sen. Jeff Sessions, a pro-business conservative from Alabama—is good news for any pending mega-deals.
"Sessions' likely nomination and confirmation by the Senate, in which he has served since 1997, is a market positive for merger and acquisition activity," Haines, who heads Evercore's Political Analysis team, wrote in a note last week.
"Sessions as attorney general would shift immediately from the current mostly 'red light' Obama antitrust/competition policy and move towards one that would be friendlier to M&A activity," Haines added.
A successful merger between the German pharmaceutical company and the St. Louis-based agritech giant will form the largest seed and pesticide company in the world. Critics are concerned that the consolidation of the two multinational juggernauts will increase pesticide and herbicide prices for farmers, and will have less incentive to compete and introduce better and cheaper products.
"Farmers get paid less for their crops, more pesticides are used and there are fewer options for consumers at the grocery store," Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, told EcoWatch after Bayer and Monsanto announced acquisition plans in September.
Haines, however, pointed out that Sessions might not think that big businesses unfairly reduces competition. "[Sessions may decide] that no reflexive test for the disapproval of a merger should be applied, as Obama regulators did with their 'no four into three' doctrine," he wrote.
Although, legal experts told Reuters that as U.S. attorney general, Sessions would be tough on any corporate crime. Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor and Columbia Law School professor, told Reuters that the senator will be "a strong supporter" of corporate enforcement.
Regardless, as Carey Gillam of U.S. Right to Know wrote that President Trump's era signals "[dark days] ahead for America's burgeoning food movement," which has been advocating for more transparency and fewer pesticides in food production. Case in point, he has picked U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director, a "designated hitter for Monsanto and the other Big Ag chemical and seed players."
In October, Trump blamed an intern for retweeting an insult to Monsanto.
"#BenCarson is now leading in the polls in #Iowa. Too much #Monsanto in the #corn creates issues in the brain? #Trump #GOP," the post read.
When asked by the Iowa Farm Bureau, "Do you support the use of biotechnology in food products and oppose efforts to require mandatory labeling for foods simply because they contain ingredients derived from biotechnology?" Trump allegedly responded, "Yes."
Not only that, Modern Farmer noted that Trump, a junk food lover, does not seem to have an interest in organic food or organic farmers, and assembled an agribusiness-friendly agriculture advisory council during his presidential campaign.