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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
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).
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
.@SenateAgDems 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.
.@SenPatRoberts 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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Tomorrow, Vermont's historic GMO labeling law goes into effect. This is the first law enacted in the U.S. that would provide clear labels identifying food made with genetically engineered ingredients. Indeed, stores across the country are already stocking food with clear on-package labels thanks to the Vermont law, because it's much easier for a company to provide GMO labels on all of the products in its supply chain than just the ones going to one state.
Alexis Baden Mayer
But this victory may be fleeting. The Senate will vote next week on a federal bill that would nullify Vermont's law and other state labeling efforts percolating, thanks to the heavy hand the ag-biotech industry wields over our congressional representatives.
With a vote for this so-called "compromise" bill, Congress would effectively be pulling transparent GMO labels from grocery stores. This legislation is in effect a voluntary disclosure bill since there are no penalties for companies that decide not to comply with the mandate to provide even the most meager disclosure mechanisms, like QR codes or 1-800 numbers. And the definition of GMO in the bill is so flawed that many products containing GMOs would not be covered.
The Senate should not vote to roll back the popularly enacted Vermont law and replace it with a giveaway to the agriculture industry. The majority of Americans support labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable if they vote to strip away transparency about how their food is produced. We urge the Senate to reject this bill.
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