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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."
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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Chris Taylor
The best part of my 9th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference so far was trying to get into the host hotel in Denver.
When I pulled up in my cab, it was surrounded by hundreds of protestors marching on the sidewalk and shouting some of my favorite chants. Any possible entrance into the hotel was blocked by yellow police tape or a barricade. So I marched with them for a bit, pulling my suitcase behind me, and then ducked under the tape to get into the hotel.
By Alex Carlin
A recent New York Magazine article about the climate ruin we are facing, by David Wallace Wells, has caused a furor for describing the catastrophes that could happen to our planet by the end of the century if we do not mitigate the harms to our climate and reverse course. This op-ed by guest contributor Alex Carlin contends that those crises could happen much sooner, and he details steps he believes could help forestall disaster.
What should we do?
Trump climate policy is blind and deaf to the fact that the Climate Bomb can cause millions—or even potentially billions—of deaths by mid-century. I believe Trump's rogue refusal to defuse the Bomb is an unfathomably heinous crime against humanity.
By Richard Eskow
When he withdrew from the Paris agreement last week, Donald Trump gave a speech so filled with falsehoods that it triggered detailed rebuttals by publications ranging from Politifact to Scientific American. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column, which hands out "Pinocchios" for false or misleading statements, was forced to note that "we do not award Pinocchios in roundups of speeches." But by then Trump probably had more Pinocchios than the Disneyland gift shop.
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.
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."
By Richard Eskow
When the history of Donald Trump's Administration is written, people may point to the appointment of a Koch brothers' operative to a little-known White House position as a turning point in Trump's evolution from unorthodox Republican candidate to doctrinaire corporate politician.
Meet Trump Legislative Director Marc Short
Think of it as a merger or an acquisition. His administration hires suggest that Trump, who ran a heterodox and intermittently populist (if consistently bigoted) campaign, has been joining forces with the more established corporate extremism of the Republican Party establishment.
Consider Marc Short's appointment as Director of Legislative Affairs. According to the White House website, the Office of Legislative Affairs "serves as the President's primary liaison to the United States Congress and is responsible for advancing the President's legislative agenda on Capitol Hill."
The Director of Legislative Affairs has typically been an obscure figure, plucked from a staffer job on Capitol Hill. And while the position calls for "working with Senators, Representatives and their staffs to promote the President's priorities" (as the White House website puts it), Great Britain's Prince Phillip may have captured a key aspect of the job more pithily when he was introduced to one of Short's predecessors some years ago:
"Ah," Prince Philip said, "the spear catcher."
But Marc Short, who is reportedly Donald Trump's choice to fill the position, is more accustomed to doling out cash than he is to catching spears. It's true that Short has some Hill experience, as chief of staff to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).
Short isn't really a policy wonk. He's an operative in Republican and right-wing circles. After serving as finance director for Oliver North's failed senatorial campaign, Short reportedly helped Pence run the House Republican Conference, managed the Reagan Ranch and was a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security under Bush.
The Kochs' Dark Money
Short is best known for his tenure as president of the Koch brother's Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the political fund organized by the Koch brothers to advance their far-right, pro-corporate, anti-environmental agenda. While the group describes itself as a "business league," the Center for Media and Democracy noted that its fundraising cycles much more closely resemble those of a political party, complete with high-tech voter lists and opposition research.
The Washington Post described the organization as "carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors" and said it operated "de facto banks" that were "feeding money to groups downstream."
Freedom Partners has reportedly cut checks for as much as $63 million to support campaigns and causes beloved by the Kochs and their allies, including anti-environmental groups, the National Rifle Association and two different groups working to repeal Obamacare, the 60 Plus Association and the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) run by Koch money man Sean Noble (who renamed the group American Encore).
CPPR/American Encore created some bad headlines for the Kochs.
It was forced to pay huge fines as part of a settlement with California Attorney General–now Sen.–Kamala Harris for activities that were described as "campaign money laundering," although Noble and the Kochs denied wrongdoing. Three other groups that received Freedom Partners funding were fined by the Federal Election Commission last year for violating campaign regulations.
This is classic dark money behavior and Short was in the middle of it.
Short doesn't just give money away. As president of Freedom Partners he received a lot, too. The latest IRS filing for the organization shows that Short was paid $1,110,328 in 2015 by the nonprofit, and received another $48,444 in "other compensation from the organization and related organizations." The last person to hold his White House job reportedly received $172,200 per year—an excellent standard by most measures, but a step down from Short's former salary.
The Kochs' Dark Money Man Peddled a Plan to Take Down Trump
Short's path to the White House was not without a surprise or two. He left Freedom Partners in 2016 to join Marco Rubio's campaign, a move that was interpreted by some as a sign that the Republican establishment wanted to stop Trump at all costs.
If the right-wing National Review is to be believed, Short was so determined to stop Trump that he personally presented Charles Koch with a plan for blistering ads "a detailed, eight-figure blueprint for derailing (Trump) on Super Tuesday," but was rebuffed.
He's come a long way since then.
So why the change of heart?
Perhaps because the candidate Short once wanted to stop is now poised to deliver on key elements of the Koch brothers' agenda. Trump is appointing oil industry executives and lobbyists to a number of top positions and denies the reality of climate change. His xenophobic and bigoted rhetoric fuels the kind of fear that does great things for gun sales.
Like Freedom Partners, Trump is pushing deregulation. And Trump, together with his congressional allies, is poised to repeal Obamacare.
Recently, the Kochs' "grassroots" group Americans for Prosperity, is telling potential donors (with typically hyperbolic capitalization) that the Kochs' three-part agenda consists of "1. REPEALING OBAMACARE; 2. FIXING OUR BROKEN TAX SYSTEM"—that is, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy—and, "3. CUTTING FEDERAL SPENDING."
Freedom Partners gave more than $130 million to organizations that supported Obamacare's repeal in 2012 along, according to its IRS filing. $115 million was given to the CPPR and $15.7 million went to the 60 Plus Association, which also lobbied heavily against it. CPPR funneled money to other groups as well, creating a fake storm of "grassroots" opposition.
Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity routinely used Obamacare as a hot-button issue, targeting key Democrats with "issues ads" in their re-election races—which, of course, means that they were aiding Republicans in those races. American Encore also spent millions the same way.
A Friendly Koch Takeover
Short is not the only Koch person to join the Trump Administration. Vice President Mike Pence is a Koch ally and he has been helping stack the cabinet with a coterie of Koch friends. Pence may become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history—outstripping even Dick Cheney in influence.
And while Trump has differed with the Kochs on some key issues—including trade, Social Security and Medicare—they have always agreed on deregulation, privatization, the climate, taxes and Obamacare. Trump's appointments suggest that he may be moving closer to the Kochs on other issues as well.
One thing seems clear already: the Kochs and their big-money allies seem poised to gain more influence than ever during a presidency they once tried to prevent.