By Dan Nosowitz
The Farm Bill, which is supposed to be passed about every five years but which has for the past few been substantially delayed, finally saw the Senate floor Thursday, where it passed by a vote of 87 to 13.
One of the largest, most complex and most important pieces of legislation of the year, the Farm Bill includes legislation for environmental protections, farm subsidies, food safety, international trade and many other topics, but the majority of the funding is dominated by SNAP, better known as food stamps. The bill that passed the Senate floor on Tuesday clocks in at $867 billion.
Easily the most controversial proposal to the Farm Bill was an attempt by many Republican Senators to impose new work requirements as a prerequisite for receiving SNAP benefits. Various estimates exist for exactly how many people would have lost benefits—it's likely between one and two million households—but none of that really matters, because, due to outspoken opposition from Democrats, that proposal did not make it into the final draft. Donald Trump has been vocal in his desire to cut SNAP, and the Farm Bill does not necessarily limit his ability to do so, according to the Washington Post.
Farm subsidies were also a contentious point in the Farm Bill discussions, with groups like the Environmental Working Group repeatedly laying out the gaping loopholes that allow people to obtain subsidies despite not actually farming. Those loopholes were not closed; in fact, they were expanded, to relatives including nephews, nieces, and cousins, who can be considered performing "farm work" by doing vague "management" which may not be on the farm at all. Chuck Grassley, one of two farmers in the Senate, actually broke from his Republican party and voted against the Farm Bill because of this.
Making it official with my hemp pen!🖋️ Proud to have served as conferee on #FarmBill & to fight for #Kentucky prior… https://t.co/4L2Et3RDiZ— Leader McConnell (@Leader McConnell)1544483580.0
As expected, the Farm Bill also legalizes the national production of hemp, fully removing it from the list of controlled substances—as long as the crop contains less than 0.3 percent of THC. Advocates include Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime supporter of legalized hemp, who hopes his home state of Kentucky will become a major player in what's expected to be a billion-dollar industry. McConnell actually signed the bill with a pen made of hemp.
The bill is enormous, an 807-page behemoth, and everyone is still working their way through it. But the next step is for the bill to pass in the House, and after that to be signed into law by the president. It's expected to do both, as the House and the president have both voiced support for the current bill.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
After weeks of discord over the potential appointment, Sen. Joe Manchin, the pro-coal Democrat of West Virginia, was named the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday.
Many Democrats and environmental groups were adamantly opposed to Manchin serving as the top Democrat on the committee that oversees policies on climate change, public lands and fossil fuel production.
Following the nod, Manchin said in an online statement he will work with "both sides of the aisle to find common sense solutions for long-term comprehensive energy policy that incorporates an all-of-the-above strategy and ensures our state and our nation are leaders in the energy future."
Manchin is a rare Democratic lawmaker in deep-red West Virginia, but he has consistently supported the state's coal miners. West Virginia is the nation's second-leading producer of coal. He slammed President Obama's "war on coal" and supported President Trump's controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a paltry lifetime score of 45 percent for his environmental voting record.
"Appointing Senator Manchin as ranking member of the Energy Committee is completely at odds with any plan for real climate action," 350.org executive director May Boeve said in a provided statement. "Manchin has taken every opportunity to put Big Oil before the health and safety of communities and our climate."
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is a champion of strong climate action and is a potential 2020 presidential candidate, tweeted last week: "Our party must be wholly committed to ending America's dependence on fossil fuels. Manchin literally shot climate legislation in one of his campaign ads."
In a 2010 television commercial, Manchin bragged about suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and shot a copy of the Democrats' cap-and-trade bill.
Dead Aim - Joe Manchin for West Virginia TV Ad www.youtube.com
David Turnbull, the strategic communications director with Oil Change USA, said in an online statement that Manchin has "enjoyed nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from oil, gas and coal interests in his career."
"If Senator Manchin wants to be taken seriously as someone serious about taking the critical step to move our economy off of fossil fuels, and not someone beholden to the fossil fuel industry, he should take the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, today," Turnbull added. "It only makes sense that he promise to reject money from the industry being regulated by the committee he'll lead for the Democrats. Until he does, we'll know who he truly answers to."
Tuesday's appointment was not a total surprise. The former West Virginia governor has been a member of the committee since he was elected to the Senate in 2010. He is also the ranking chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy.
Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive upstart of New York who is leading efforts of the Green New Deal, expressed concerns about Manchin taking the position.
"I have concerns over the senator's chairmanship just because I do not believe that we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating and touching with our legislation," Ocasio-Cortez said at press conference held outside the Capitol last month, according to The Intercept.
But last week, Manchin surprisingly voted against Bernard McNamee, a fossil fuel lawyer that President Trump named to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Senator withdrew his support due to his concerns about McNamee's stance on climate change. McNamee was ultimately confirmed in a straight party-line vote.
"Climate change is real, humans have made a significant impact, and we have the responsibility and capability to address it urgently," Manchin said in a statement posted on The Hill after changing his mind about McNamee.
1,000+ Youth Activists Storm Capitol to Demand #GreenNewDeal https://t.co/WrKxoEiG34 @350 @billmckibben @sunrisemvmt— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1544572817.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Andrea Germanos
Denouncing his "strong ties to corporate agribusiness and pesticide companies," more than 240 groups urged the Senate on Wednesday to reject the nomination of Scott Hutchins, President Donald Trump's pick for chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"The election last week demonstrates that people across the country are tired of this administration's dangerous anti-science, pro-industry agenda," declared Tiffany Finck-Haynes, pesticides and pollinators program manager with Friends of the Earth. "We urge the Senate to listen to the American people and reject this pesticide industry loyalist who will put corporate profits over farmers, public health, and our environment."
If appointed Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics—a position with "broad implications for the future of American agricultural science and policy-making"—Hutchins would be the third Dow executive at the USDA, making the cozy relationship between the Trump administration and the agribusiness giant even more clear.
In a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the massive coalition opposed to Hutchins warns that by appointing someone that "spent over 30 years of his career working at Dow Agro Sciences with a focus on pesticides," the Trump administration has once more demonstrated its willingness to put its "unhealthy relationship" with Dow Chemical ahead of the "health and safety of the American public and our environment."
The letter from the coalition—which includes ActionAid USA, Family Farm Defenders and Interfaith Worker Justice—states:
Scott Hutchins has a history of defending the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2001, Hutchins expressed disappointment that Dow needed to limit uses of the pesticide, complaining that the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) put Dow's organophosphates under scrutiny.
Hutchins encourages growers to use pesticides, even when less toxic alternatives are available. In a 2006 presentation, Hutchins claimed, "Integrative Pest Management does/should NOT advocate avoidance of technology." While many practitioners of Integrative Pest Management view the practice as a way to significantly reduce synthetic pesticide use and utilize them as a "last resort," Hutchins has co-opted the term to encourage pesticide application.
"Should Scott Hutchins gain control of USDA's research programs," the letter continues, "he could use the agency's infrastructure and grant making to advance his harmful vision of chemical intensive agriculture under the guise of ecologically sustainable practices."
According to Jim Goodman, board president of the National Family Farm Coalition, one of the signatory groups, "In nominating Scott Hutchins to the position of Chief Scientist at USDA, the Trump Administration has, again, proven that they are more interested in promoting the agenda and profit of industrial agribusiness over scientific integrity, the protection of public health, and the well-being of farmers, farm workers, and rural communities."
The Senate Agriculture Committee announced Tuesday that Hutchins' hearing would be held Nov. 28.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Elliott Negin
The steady parade of unqualified, ideologically driven appointees for key Trump administration positions has resumed now that things in Washington have settled down after the mid-term elections. Last week, Trump tapped Matthew G. Whitaker to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This Thursday, the Senate will hold a hearing to confirm attorney Bernard McNamee to fill a vacancy at the five-member, presidentially appointed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a relatively obscure—but critically important—independent agency that oversees interstate power lines and pipelines.
Trump presumably picked McNamee to put the administration's pro-fossil-fuel spin on a number of key decisions FERC will make in the coming months, especially one that would bail out uneconomic coal plants. If that happens, Americans will be saddled with higher electric bills, more toxic air pollution and more heat-trapping emissions that cause climate change. The commission also will be considering rules that would encourage energy storage, rooftop solar installations and remotely located renewable sources.
McNamee would replace Robert Powelson, a former utility executive and Pennsylvania utility regulator who left the commission in August after less than a year. One of the three Republicans on the commission, Powelson maintains that FERC should be insulated from political pressure. "I don't make any decision based on the fact that I'm a lifelong Republican," he told Energywire. "I have a mean independent streak in me."
McNamee, who has no utility sector experience, is all about partisan politics. He worked for Republican attorneys general in Virginia and Texas and advised Republican Sens. George Allen and Ted Cruz before joining the Department of Energy (DOE) in May 2017 as deputy general counsel for energy policy.
Last February, he left DOE to work for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a libertarian think tank funded by a rogues gallery of polluters, including Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Luminant, the largest electric utility in Texas. It's the same outfit that produced Trump's unqualified—and rejected—nominee to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White.
While at TPPF, McNamee penned a paean to his favorite energy source for The Hill, a political trade publication, titled "This Earth Day, let's accept the critical role that fossil fuel plays in energy needs." "We have been told that fossil fuels are wrecking the environment and our health," his April 17 column read. "The facts are that life expectancy, population and economic growth all began to increase dramatically when fossil fuels were harnessed…." Renewable energy sources, he added, cannot replace fossil fuels, but not to worry, "America is blessed with an abundant supply of affordable natural gas, oil and coal."
McNamee rejoined DOE in June as the executive director of the agency's policy office. Before and after his brief stint at TPPF, he promoted Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to require regional transmission operators to buy electricity from power plants that can store a 90-day fuel supply on site, ostensibly to strengthen electricity-grid resiliency. The plan, which would prop up coal and nuclear plants that have been struggling to compete on the open market with cheaper natural gas and renewables, would cost ratepayers an estimated $17 billion to $35 billion annually.
At Trump's behest, Perry asked FERC in September 2017 to issue grid resiliency rules to protect failing coal and nuclear plants. FERC rejected the request, concluding that DOE did not provide any evidence that coal and nuclear plant retirements would undermine grid reliability. An analysis by Mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM of the impact of closing at-risk plants in its region also found no threat to the grid.
Besides trying to reverse FERC's coal- and nuclear-power bailout decision, McNamee could do lasting damage in other ways. For example, the commission is currently not required to consider the impact of climate change when making electricity policy decisions, but the two Democratic commissioners think the "social cost of carbon"—the financial damage caused by carbon pollution—should be incorporated in environmental reviews for gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Likewise, the commission will be deliberating over whether it should eliminate barriers to electric energy storage, make it easier for solar panel owners to sell their excess power back to electric utilities, and recommend federal incentives for more transmission-line construction, which would enable remotely sited wind and solar projects to compete with natural gas. Given McNamee's biases, it is unlikely he would support any of those initiatives.
This week's confirmation hearing, hosted by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, will be chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is no stranger to the FERC confirmation drill and quite knowledgeable about the commission's mandate. In her opening statement during a FERC commissioner confirmation hearing in 2013, Murkowski made a case for rejecting an Obama nominee that could be easily applied to McNamee.
"FERC is independent by law and by design. It is clearly distinct from executive agencies that carry out policy directives from the White House…," she explained. "It is critically important for us to enable the agency—and its professional nonpartisan employees who report to the chairman as their CEO—to maintain its strong culture as an expert agency free of undue political influence."
Murkowski should hew to that line on Thursday—and the Senate should reject the McNamee nomination.
- The Best and Worst Midterm Results for the Environment ›
- Judge Halts Keystone XL, Rules Trump 'Cannot Simply Disregard ... ›
- Judge: Wildlife Must Be Considered Before Permitting Fracking Off ... ›
A climate change skeptic who once labeled President Obama's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions a communist plot is now the nation's top environmental enforcement official.
Thursday the Senate narrowly confirmed Jeffery Bossert Clark, a lawyer who defended BP after the Deepwater oil spill, to be assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The office handles all environmental litigation, including bringing both civil and criminal cases against corporations and people who violate pollution control laws. It is responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and other major federal environmental laws.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Clark repeatedly dodged questions about his views on climate change.
In a 2010 talk at the National Lawyers Convention, he said the Obama administration's policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were "reminiscent of kind of a Leninistic program from the 1920s to seize control of the commanding heights of the economy."
In the same speech, Clark blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the agency's "overly ambitious agenda needs to be checked by judicial review."
"Jeffrey Bosson Clark's blatant hostility toward environmental protection is good news for polluters, but awful news for the rest of us," said EWG President Ken Cook. "The guy who defended the company that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is not likely to aggressively go after corporate environmental outlaws."
The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.
Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.
Barrasso also formally requested Senate appropriators provide the EPA's inspector general with "sufficient funding" to carry out ongoing investigations into Pruitt's behavior.
"Scott Pruitt's low-rent grifting has finally become an albatross for those who have supported and defended him even as the scandals and investigations mounted," said EWG President Ken Cook. "It's one thing when Pruitt's swamp stench lingers over only him, but it appears to be infiltrating the airspace around Republicans in Congress and President Trump."
Sen. Barrasso is the latest Republican senator to demonstrate growing impatience with Pruitt. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and close friend and political mentor to Pruitt, blasted the administrator during an appearance on Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham's radio show and in an interview with The Washington Post this week.
Ingraham called on President Trump to fire Pruitt after learning he tasked an aide with reaching out to conservative donors for help getting his wife a job.
In her Tweet, Ingraham blasted Pruitt for damaging Trump.
And the same day, the conservative magazine National Review published an editorial calling for Pruitt's dismissal.
Pruitt Ordered Staff to Delay FOIA Requests, Top House Dem Says https://t.co/l2RpWQLD4g @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1528752305.0
By Christian Detisch and Seth Gladstone
In the wake of Senate Republicans' ever-deepening debacle over their flailing attempts to strip health insurance from 22 million people, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperate to do something—anything—to show that he can get legislation passed. To this end, he's bypassing the standard committee review process to push a complex 850+ page energy bill straight to the full Senate floor. Perhaps not surprisingly, this legislation, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, would be a disaster for public health and our climate.
Despite its benign-sounding name, the bill would be a catastrophe, effectively locking the U.S. into fossil-fuel dependency for decades. This dirty energy legislation would allocate millions of dollars for the discovery and extraction of fossil fuels off U.S. coastal waters, speed up the review period required for fracked gas terminals and instruct the Bureau of Land Management to create a program to expedite drilling and fracking permits. These are shameful giveaways to the oil and gas industry—directly in line with Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda.
Even worse, the bill gives no mention of clean wind and solar power—precisely at a moment in our history when we need to transition to 100 percent renewable energy now. The science is clear: If we're going to have a chance of avoiding the worst of climate catastrophes and public health crises in coming years, we need to get off fossil fuels immediately.
Thankfully, the Trump/McConnell dirty energy bill could be shelved indefinitely. After all, the Republicans are looking for an easy win, and any significant opposition from Democrats to this bill would deter them from proceeding. As of this publication, only Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, has publicly opposed the legislation.
Senate Democrats need to hear from all of us urgently—tell them to oppose the Trump/McConnell Dirty Energy Bill now.
We know who Trump and McConnell are really looking out for: their deep-pocketed Big Oil and Gas donors. But we have a chance to stop this bill and move immediately on the path to the clean energy revolution. We must each tell our senators to stand up to this dangerous bill, and publicly oppose it. Our health and the future of our planet depend on it.
Unsurprisingly, every senator on the list is a Democrat. Meanwhile, we could probably count with two hands the number of Republicans in Congress who think climate change is even real.
"The stakes for protecting the environment and public health have never been higher and the threats have never been greater," the LCV said earlier this year. "We must do more than ever to work with our allies in Congress—and mobilize the public—to fight the Trump administration and the extreme Congressional leadership who want to roll back our bedrock environmental laws and President Obama's incredible progress."
Here are the 10 best senators for the environment:
Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon. Lifetime score: 99%
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat from New Jersey. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island. Lifetime score: 98%
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin. Lifetime score: 97%
Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat from New Mexico. Lifetime score: 96%
Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island. Lifetime score: 96%
You might be scratching your head wondering why Sen. Bernie Sanders isn't on this list. Well, you might remember that last year he was very busy "running his historic presidential campaign," as Josh Fox pointed out in this blog post, and missed some critical environmental votes.
By Brendan DeMelle
Nineteen U.S. Senators who understand the need to clear the PR pollution that continues to block overdue climate policy spoke out on the Senate floor Monday in support of the Senate Web of Denial Resolution calling out the destructive forces of fossil fuel industry-funded climate denial.
Championed by Senators Whitehouse, Markey, Schatz, Boxer, Merkley, Warren, Sanders and Franken, the resolution condemns what they are calling the #WebOfDenial—"interconnected groups—funded by the Koch brothers, major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, identity-scrubbing groups like Donors Trust and Donors Capital and their allies—developed and executed a massive campaign to deceive the public about climate change to halt climate action and protect their bottom lines."
Joined in the House of Representatives by Congressman Ted Lieu (D- CA), these champions for climate action and accountability in the Senate are calling out the use of think tanks and denier-for-hire front groups to create doubt about climate science.
According to a press release issued Monday morning, the resolution condemns the "efforts of corporations and groups to mislead the public about the harmful effects of tobacco, lead and climate. The resolution also urges fossil fuel corporations and their allies to cooperate with investigations into their climate-related activities."
As DeSmog Blog, ExxonSecrets, Climate Investigations Center and others have documented repeatedly over the past decade, the oil and coal industries and their friends have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an immoral and potentially fraudulent campaign to deceive the public about the scientific consensus on manmade global warming and the need for urgent action to curtail fossil fuel pollution.
Just last week, DeSmog Blog published the latest round of Exxon's funding of climate denial groups still peddling doubt, bringing the total known funding from Exxon to nearly $34 million over two decades. Add to that the nearly $90 million pumped into the denial machine by the Koch Family Foundations, as well as the largesse emanating from the dark money ATM, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.
Think tanks and front groups involved in climate denial include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), U.S.Chamber of Commerce, Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, the Heartland Institute and many more.
Champions in the U.S. Congress are now putting the denial machine on notice with this resolution and a series of speeches that took place last night from 4:45 -6:45 p.m. EDT, and will also take place today from 5 - 7:30 p.m. EDT on the Senate floor.
Here are updates to this post from the speeches last night:
7:35pm EDT: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke last tonight and highlighted many of the points made by his colleagues throughout the day during the #WebOfDenial speeches. Whitehouse praised the peer-reviewed research into climate denial by Robert Brulle, Justin Farrell, Riley Dunlap, Aaron McCright, Constantine Boussalis and Travis Coan.
He thanked the many authors of books about climate denial, including Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway and noted that the film version of their book Merchants of Doubt is showing tonight on the Hill.
And Sen. Whitehouse called out many groups and outlets that have worked to expose climate denial and industry misinformation, including Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets and PolluterWatch, set up by Kert Davies who has gone on to found the Climate Investigations Center, also named. He thanked the journalists at Inside Climate News and their must-read "The Road Not Taken" series. He thanked David Brock's group American Bridge and Climate Nexus for its work to expose the Wall Street Journal's peddling climate denial on its editorial page (and the Partnership for Responsible Growth for correcting the record in the Wall Street Journal). He thanked ProPublica, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more.
He highlighted author Jeff Nesbit and his new book Poisoned Tea, Jane Mayer and her book Dark Money, Steve Coll and his book Private Empire on ExxonMobil as well as his role as Dean at the Columbia School of Journalism.
Sen. Whitehouse also heaped much-appreciated praise on us at DeSmogBlog, mentioning our Time Magazine "Best Blogs" accolades as well as highlighting our news coverage and our Disinformation Database. (In turn, we thank the Senator for his leadership on this issue and his colleagues for speaking about the subject of climate denial which we've focused on for the past decade.)
In closing, Sen. Whitehouse said:
"The scholarship of all these academics, all these organizations and all these authors—the detectives who are exposing the web of denial—have shined a bright light into its dark corners and illuminated its concerted effort to dupe the American public and sabotage climate action in America, all to protect the fossil fuel industry that funds it. It's sickening, but it's big. The denial web is designed to be big and sophisticated enough that when you see its many parts, you're fooled into thinking it's not the same beast. But it is. Like the mythological Hydra, many heads, same beast. …
Welcome to the Web of Denial. And thank you to those who are working to expose it. It is a filthy thing in our democracy."
7:10pm EDT: #WebOfDenial is Trending on Twitter.
7pm EDT: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) spoke about the overlap of tobacco industry attacks on science and the "fossil industrial complex" that has similarly attacked climate science to evade accountability. He also discussed the Heritage Foundation, Art Pope, Cato Institute and the forged letter scandal orchestrated by Bonner and Associates for the Hawthorn Group and its coal industry client ACCCE. Merkley highlighted the work of Justin Farrell from Yale and the money flows from Donors Trust and the Koch Brothers. "A powerful, moneyed interest has spun a web of deceit. We know that these groups are backed by special interests. All we have to do is follow the money," Merkley said.
He mentioned the more than $30 million from ExxonMobil and the denial funding from Peabody Energy revealed in its bankruptcy fillings. Merkley saved special mention for the Koch Brothers: "But as much as the fossil fuel companies have contributed to these efforts over the years, the titles of the mastermind and the kingpins of climate science denial—those titles rest with Charles and David Koch."
6:25pm EDT: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) spoke about the Mercatus Center, which he said "should be called the Koch Center" due to its massive Koch funding. He discussed the connections to the tobacco industry's attacks on tobacco science and the overlap with the Koch-funded Mercatus Center.
5:55pm EDT: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) spoke about the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and the CO2 Coalition and theCornwall Alliance for the Stewarship of Creation and mentioned DeSmogBlog's research in his #WebOfDenial speech. He also talked about the funding from Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust to denier organizations.
5:40pm EDT: Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke about the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), Willie Soon and Christopher Monckton's Hitler Youth outrage and claims to have a cure for AIDS and other "completely made up" Monckton-isms.
5:25pm EDT: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the #WebOfDenial and the $700 billion in global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, annually. He highlighted the work of Drexel University professor Robert Brulle to expose the climate change counter movement and what the Senators are calling the climate #WebOfDenial.
5:15pm EDT: Sen. Tom Udall spoke about the front groups Greening Earth Society and the Information Council on the Environment (ICE) and the web of denial.
5:10pm EDT: Sen. Christopher Coons spoke about the historical denial efforts of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC)
5pm EDT: Sen. Cardin spoke about the attacks on climate science by the defunct group Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy which received funding from ExxonMobil and the tobacco industry. He was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who was thanked for leading this effort. Whitehouse delivered his 144th statement on the need for climate action and discussed the influence of the web of denial blocking action.
Update 4:30pm EDT: Senator Reid kicked off the action on #WebOfDenial, railing against the Koch Brothers and Exxon for dishing out millions to fund climate denial organizations. Reid named Heartland Institute, Cato Institute and Americans For Prosperity, among others. You can watch the action on C-SPAN2.
"It's inspiring to see Senators join the movement to hold the likes of Exxon accountable for their decades of deception," Jamie Henn, 350.org communications director, said. "Big Oil robbed us of a generation's worth of climate action and to this day are still sowing doubt and misinformation — prioritizing profit at the expense of our climate and communities. The last 14 consecutive months have been the hottest on record, making it ever more pressing for our elected officials to bring this extensive web of climate denial to light."
Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse delivered his 143rd speech about climate change and focused on the issue of climate denial and the front groups involved in peddling doubt. Watch here:
Sen. Bernie Sanders "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the so-called DARK Act
This bipartisan "compromise" bill, introduced after years of negotiations by Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, would require businesses to label genetically modified foods. That is, if you consider a QR code, 1-800 number or a website URL a label instead of clear, concise language that 9 out of 10 American consumers want and a number of major food companies have started doing anyway. The bill would also nullify state-by-state mandates such as Vermont's and halt efforts by 30-odd states considering similar legislation.
The Senators's bill is unsurprisingly backed by the very industry that produces and profits from such products, including the Grocery Manufactures Association, Monsanto, etc. Deep-pocketed food and beverage corporations have spent millions to lobby politicians and even sued Vermont to stop GMO labeling with the belief that GMO labels would scare consumers away and that a 50-state patchwork of rules would be confusing and costly.
The Senate is voting on a very bad piece of Monsanto-backed legislation today. Text GMO to 82623 to oppose it. https://t.co/21yiDd5zpc— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467827882.0
Incidentally, as Common Dreams reported, in data revealed by OpenSecrets.org and the Organic Consumers Association, the senators who voted "yea" on last week's 68-29 preliminary vote received more than twice as much in contributions from the agriculture lobby than those who voted "No" ($867,518 for the supporters vs. $350,877 for opponents).
Opponents of the bill have dubbed it another version of the "Deny Americans the Right to Know," or DARK Act. The earlier DARK Act, which would block state labeling laws, failed in March. The New York Times editorial board also called the latest bill "flawed," stating:
While most scientists say that genetically modified foods do not pose a risk to human health, consumers should have a right to more information about what they are eating. Polls have found that a vast majority of Americans favor mandatory labels. Dozens of countries, including all 28 members of the European Union and Australia, already require similar disclosures.
Researchers have found that labels do not dissuade people from consuming genetically engineered food, which has been a big worry of farm groups and businesses. It is no surprise then that some companies, like Campbell Soup, have voluntarily agreed to label their products.
The biggest problem with the Senate bill is that—instead of requiring a simple label, as the Vermont law does—it would allow food companies to put the information in electronic codes that consumers would have to scan with smartphones or at scanners installed by grocery stores. The only reason to do this would be to make the information less accessible to the public.
So where does that leave us? Well, the decision means that debate is now limited to 30 hours and can withstand filibuster. The final vote could happen sometime tonight or tomorrow and would only require a simple majority, or 51 votes. Efforts by Sen. Bernie Sanders to put a hold on the bill have been quashed since the cloture vote mustered more than 60 yeas.
If the legislation clears the Senate, it would go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has historically voted against transparency after passing Rep. Mike Pompeo's bill (H.R. 1599) last year. It would then goes to President Obama's desk, who could sign the bill into law.
If it seems that the bill probably stands a chance, there are still a number of obstacles. As Politco's Morning Agriculture blog reported, Roberts did not exactly celebrate the cloture vote, adding, "Strange things can happen." For instance, on Wednesday during the cloture vote, GMO labeling advocates from the Organic Consumers Association threw $2,000 in cash from the Senate balcony to the floor. They yelled "Monsanto Money" and "Sen. Stabenow, listen to the people, not Monsanto" as the bills fell, according to The Hill.
Yesterday's vote also revealed that the bill has lost some steam since last week's 68-29 procedural vote. According to Politico, "Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) voted yes last week but opposed cloture, as did Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) voted for cloture after opposing the vote last week. The nays added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who did not vote last week."
Additionally, the Right-wing Heritage Foundation is also against the bill (basically, the foundation says even QR codes are too transparent) and have urged lawmakers to oppose the bill and warned it would key the vote as part of its legislative scorecard.
As for the House vote, even though the lower chamber already passed their own GMO bill, the Senate version is different enough that the House would have to vote on it again, as Grist noted.
The House has been urged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to take up and pass the bill before summer recess, which starts next Friday.
A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway told Politico that Conaway "will await the outcome in the Senate before making any public statements regarding his position on what action he believes the House should or should not take. He's still engaged in discussions with industry and other stakeholders on the matter."
Detractors of the bill are speaking out against further advancement of the bill. Sanders tweeted Wednesday: "The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they're eating."
The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they’re eating.— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467818743.0
Also, as Quartz puts it, the presidential candidate also "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the bill.
[email protected] You can find my response here: https://t.co/WKYz2b8cUO— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467826397.0
The QR Code is real by the way. If you don't have a QR scanner, the code links to a statement on Sanders's website defending his home state's GMO labeling law.
A number of environmental and consumer advocate groups have spoken out against the bill and the Senate vote.
"Friends of the Earth denounces the Senate's passage of the DARK Act, S. 764, a bill which was passed under the guise of GMO labeling," food and technology campaigner Dana Perls said. "This bill is a travesty, an undemocratic and discriminatory bill which preempts state laws, while offering no meaningful labeling for GMOs. If accepted, Americans will remain in the dark about what we feed our families. We are deeply disappointed in the members of Congress who supported this bill and who did not stand with the vast majority of Americans who want mandatory on-package GMO labeling.
"Friends of the Earth urges consumers to call on the House and President Obama to oppose any bills that would undermine state GMO labeling laws, and to only support meaningful, mandatory on-package labeling for GMO foods, including those made with new gene editing techniques."
Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow criticized Sen. Dianne Feinstein's "vote against consumers and for Big Food."
"[The legislation] rolls back the progress that people around the country have made to get clear, on package labeling for GMOs," Scow said. "The bill she voted for will leave way too many Californians in the dark when it comes to knowing what's in the food we eat and how it was produced."
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, "If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this GMO labeling 'compromise,' which does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance with the incredibly weak requirements of the bill that will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements."
[Editor's note: Read the latest here.]
Today, in a cloture vote, the Senate voted to do away with our right to know what's in our food, revoking a popular and clear state labeling law in effect inVermont and nullifying all future state labeling initiatives.
This is a slap in the face for all of the advocates that have worked hard to pass state-level measures because they believe strongly that labels should be transparent, and people should have the choice to decide whether or not they purchase and consume foods with genetically engineered ingredients. The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable for stripping away this transparency.
If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this GMO labeling "compromise," which does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance with the incredibly weak requirements of the bill that will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements. And the bill gives companies the option to use discriminatory QR codes that require a smartphone to access basic information about the food on store shelves.
Now, we call on the House not to pass the bill. We also call on President Obama to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. On the campaign trail many years ago, he promised reform on many food issues—from giving family farmers a fair shot in the marketplace to food labeling, saying we had the right to know whether or not food is genetically engineered. Before he leaves office, he has one more chance to get it right when it comes to food policy that protects people over corporations. He must veto this bill.
Watch as Senators John Tester (D-MT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) speak out today against the Senate GMO food labeling bill, with Senator Tester arguing that including the label as a QR code protects corporate food producers over consumers:
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Despite Vermont's historic GMO labeling bill coming into effect June 1, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are vigorously lobbying to get their industry-approved GMO labeling deal passed before Congress's summer break.
Senate Ag leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow hope to pass legislation allowing food companies to label their products containing GMOs with a QR code instead of on-package labels.
According to POLITICO's Morning Agriculture blog, the Senate Ag leaders are using "every part of the lobbying playbook," with "letters being sent, staffs briefed, reports and FDA assessments flaunted, and farmers and consumers are being encouraged to inundate lawmakers with phone calls."
Roberts has been reportedly distributing a flier touting that the bill will nullify the "dangerous"Vermont law and stop other states from passing similar legislation.
Why Big Ag loves (and consumers despise) the Senate bill to kill #GMO labeling. See flier from @SenPatRoberts. https://t.co/4juPSWGmZQ— Gary Ruskin (@Gary Ruskin)1467122861.0
Even though Vermont's mandate comes into effect Friday, the Senators's bill still has a small window of passage as Vermont's attorney general will not start forcing producers to label their food products containing genetically engineered ingredients until the start of 2017.
A confident Stabenow told POLITICO that enough votes will be secured for the deal to move forward, while Roberts said, "We had 46 [Republicans] last time, and we're hoping to get a few more." Last March, the Senate voted down Roberts's previous bill that would have prohibited states from requiring genetically modified food labels. The bill required 60 votes for passage but failed 48-49.
Roberts said his latest GMO bill will be the first order of business next week and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will set up a cloture vote, according to this tweet from Agripulse senior editor Philip Brasher.
[email protected] says #GMO labeling first order of business next week, McConnell to set up cloture vote @agripulse— Philip Brasher (@Philip Brasher)1467211721.0
While Democrat Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced support for the bill, it is not clear if it will gather enough votes to pass. And not to mention, the bill has to pass the House and be signed by President Obama before it becomes law.
Vermont's own Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced he will try to block Senate consideration of the bill. In a statement on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential candidate said:
I am very proud that Vermont has led the country in GMO labeling. This bill would preempt what Vermont and other states have done. GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world. It is not controversial. Already major food companies in our country have begun labeling their products. People have a right to know what is in the food they eat. I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation.
By putting a hold on the bill, Sanders can block it from coming up for debate unless the proponents can muster up 60 votes.
I will do everything I can to defeat this weak GMO labeling bill in the Senate, beginning by putting a hold on it.— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467136719.0
The Roberts-Stabenow bill has been described by opponents as another version of the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act as it includes provisions that would establish a federal program based on QR codes, a symbol, 1-800 numbers or a statement on packages referring people to websites.
While many major food companies have already started labeling their products to comply with Vermont's labeling mandate, under the new federal scheme proposed by the Senators, food makers can change their labels to a QR code.
"We need consistency across the country. And without this national solution, we risked having a system of 50 different regulations impacting our packages," General Mills' Mike Siemienas told The Olympian.
"We will continue to comply with Vermont's law until Congress and the president enact legislation that pre-empts and replaces it," Tom Hushen of Campbell's said. "With or without new federal legislation, the Vermont label will continue to appear on shelves across most of the country and well into the future."
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