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."
That was just one of a host of problems uncovered at IBT which conducted an estimated 35 to 40 percent of all the toxicology tests performed in the U.S. including for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated products and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulated pesticides and chemicals. Scientists at the FDA were the first to spot the fraud and misconduct and blew the whistle on IBT in Senate hearings in the late 1970's. Soon after, the EPA was forced to deal with the issue and estimated behind the scenes that some 80 percent of the data provided to them for chemical registration from IBT was nonexistent, fraudulent or invalid.
The IBT scandal presented the EPA with a potentially immense crisis. Knowing that almost every IBT test it had looked at was seriously flawed and presumptively fraudulent, it could order retests and withdraw its approval from every IBT-tested chemical. This course of action would have been fully warranted, scientifically. But it would have had drastic effects on the chemical industry, on public confidence and on the newly-formed EPA itself.
What the EPA did instead is revealed in a transcript of a meeting that took place at the Howard Johnson Inn in Arlington, Virginia on Oct. 3, 1978. This secret meeting was between senior figures at EPA, Canada's Health Protection Branch, and executives of the chemical industry and was intended to solve the IBT "problem."
This transcript is part of more than 20,000 documents, weighing more than three tons, just released by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, on the "Poison Papers" website. Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum, who used documents obtained through public interest lawsuits and open records requests to investigate chemical pollution and digitized by journalist Peter von Stackelberg. Van Strum's remarkable story was detailed this week in The Intercept.
The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides & Other Chemicals https://t.co/hmgtYCtt7b— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501170415.0
A Conversation About Collusion
The Poison Papers represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920s. Collectively they shed light on what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves.
The Howard Johnson's transcript is a prime example of the materials in the trove. It allows us to "listen in" on a conversation that took place decades ago, but still has implication for us today.
The transcript "exemplifies as well as any other single document among the Papers the history of everyday regulatory failures and agency complicity that is the unknown story of the EPA and its enduring collusion with the chemical industry, and whose result is a systemic failure to protect the American public from chemical hazards," said Dr. Jonathan Latham, director of the Bioscience Resource Project.
"Not One" IBT Study Free of Errors
The Howard Johnson's meeting was called to discuss the IBT scandal and plan a way forward. No consumer groups, environmental groups or members of the public were present that day in Arlington under HoJo's cheerful orange roof when the topic of how to deal with the dead animals, the fraudulent and the corrupt data was discussed.
Near the outset of the meeting, the EPA's Fred Arnold, acting branch chief of Regulatory Analysis & Lab Audits, assured the chemical company representatives present that no chemicals would be removed from the market, even though the studies supposedly showing their safety had been proven fraudulent:
"We determined that [i]t was neither in EPA's interest or the public interest or the registrants' interest [to replace all IBT data] because a large number of studies, which were performed at IBT, were performed satisfactorily," Arnold said. (p. 6).
Yet Arnold's contention that some of the studies were "satisfactory" was contradicted multiple times in the same meeting. It was later stated, for example, that not one IBT study was free of errors (p. 16). Dr. Arthur Pallotta, consultant to the Special Pesticide Review Division in the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, stated that "there were few [IBT] studies that did not have discrepancies, errors and omissions" (p. 27). Elsewhere in the transcript, EPA accepted that more than 80 percent of the test results from IBT were invalid (p. 123).
But Arnold's assertion that it wasn't in anyone's interest to demand new studies had striking ramifications. It was the grounds for not removing any chemicals from the market, for reassuring the public, and for kicking the IBT mess down the road. By 1983, EPA had determined that more than 90 percent of IBT's studies submitted to them had serious, invalidating problems.
A "Salvage Operation": Ignoring Scientific Controls
Early in the meeting, EPA made a list of IBT errors that it planned to ignore to make the task of "validating" IBT's studies manageable.
It planned to ignore whenever animals were missing from (or added to) studies. No statistic existed—nor does it now—to compensate for such measurement irregularities, but this difficulty was glossed over by the EPA.
Just as bad, many IBT studies appeared to be shorter in time than protocols called for. As David Clegg of Canada's Health Protection Branch explained to the meeting:
"Now, we have come across the 90-day study where the study started on, let's say, the 1st of June. The invoice for shipment of the test material from the firm was the 9th of June, and the diet preparation sheets are for the 12th of June.
"In other words, by the time the diet was prepared, according to the raw data, the study has been underway for 12 days for a 90-day study.
"This does not necessarily invalidate the study, of course. You can still get some information from it, but the whole base line, which you are working from, has to be altered to deal with an 88-day [sic] study or whatever length it is and conclusions have to be drawn on this sort of basis." (pp. 34-35).
EPA also noted that IBT had major problems with its controls. It had run a system known as "common controls." These controls were often in different rooms or carried out at different times, presumably with rats from different batches. EPA proposed cobbling such experiments together and thus making use of these controls. Clegg's tone was apologetic:
"I can't say that I am very happy about this on scientific grounds, but we are trying to run this as a salvage operation and, if we can come up with something which gives us a reasonable base line for controls which may be applicable to a number of studies, then, when controls are not available, we'll compare them against those controls," he said (p. 41).
EPA Adopts Unsigned Studies
EPA's Arnold also admitted at the meeting what appeared to be EPA's own historical fraud. In revisiting original data sent to them by IBT, manufacturers might find that, in the past, EPA had itself examined the tissue samples and determined there to be "no significant finding" when in fact "the truth of the matter is the organ was never examined" (Arnold, p. 102).
By the time the FDA and EPA had taken a strong interest in the testing lab, IBT had begun a "policy not to sign" its own reports, according to the transcript, indicating that staff were unwilling to stand behind the findings.
As Fred Arnold told the attendees, "A number of scientists, who may have been involved in the early states of a test, are no longer there and nobody can state, categorically, that everything reflected in the report, in fact, is borne out by the raw data" (pp. 63-64).
Arnold admitted that EPA had in the past sometimes accepted unsigned studies. So he stated that its remedy to the new signature problem would be to adopt such unsigned studies in order not "to create a double standard now" (p. 64), effectively adopting IBT's unprecedented practices as its own.
It was later uncovered in court proceedings that IBT also forged signatures.
The Howard Johnson Take-Home
Three IBT officials went to prison, closing a chapter on a massive scientific fraud, but the book was never closed.
"As the Howard Johnson transcript reveals, a majority of the IBT studies were never intended to be redone, and still underlie the U.S. chemical regulatory system," said Latham.
Author Carol Van Strum commented on the significance of the transcript for Center for Media and Democracy:
"The 1978 Howard Johnson transcript records a crucial meeting of EPA, Canadian, and pesticide industry officials to discuss EPA's response to massive fraud in the safety tests for pesticide registrations. At the meeting, Fred T. Arnold, chief of EPA Regulatory Analysis and Lab Audits, assured industry that EPA's discovery of fraudulent, invalid, or nonexistent safety tests would 'not interfere with the ability to control pests and market pesticides.' This document was the linchpin of my book, A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights, documenting the government's acceptance of phony industry studies while dismissing reports of human illness, death, involuntary abortions, birth defects, and other effects of pesticide exposure."
The Poison Papers website and document trove is a project of the Bioscience Resource Project of Ithaca, New York, and the Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wisconsin. You can explore the Poison Papers documents at PoisonPapers.org. You can read the illuminating Howard Johnson's manuscript here.
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.
"These documents represent a tremendous trove of previously hidden or lost evidence on chemical regulatory activity and chemical safety. What is most striking about these documents is their heavy focus on the activities of regulators," Dr. Jonathan Latham, executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, said. "Time and time again regulators went to the extreme lengths of setting up secret committees, deceiving the media and the public, and covering up evidence of human exposure and human harm. These secret activities extended and increased human exposure to chemicals they knew to be toxic."
The Poison Papers are a compilation of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests and public interest litigation. They include scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions and sworn testimonies.
The majority of these documents have been scanned and digitized for the first time and represent nearly three tons of material. The regulatory agency sources of these documents include: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. Chemical manufacturers referenced in the documents include: Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and Union Carbide, as well as many smaller manufacturers and the commercial testing companies who worked for them.
The Poison Papers catalogue the secret concerns of industry and regulators over the hazards of pesticides and other chemicals and their efforts to conceal those concerns.
Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum.
"In total, the stark truth revealed by these 50 years of documents is that the entire pesticide industry could not exist without lies, coverups, rampant fraud, and government enablers," said Van Strum, who authored the 1983 book Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights.
Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is the abundant evidence that EPA and other regulators were often knowing participants or even primary instigators of these cover-ups. These regulators failed to inform the public of the hazards of dioxins and other chemicals; of evidence of fraudulent independent testing; and of widespread human exposure. The papers thus reveal, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves, an elaborate universe of deception and deceit surrounding many pesticides and synthetic chemicals.
The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include dioxins, herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dicamba, Permethrin, Atrazine and Agent Orange) and PCBs. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic and persistent ever manufactured. Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold today, either as products or as product contaminants.
"The Poison Papers will be a tremendous resource for researchers, the media, and everyday Americans worried about many of the chemicals used on farm fields and in common consumer products," said Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Explore: Some of the 20,000+ documents in this repository have surfaced over the years. Many have never been seen online or publicly written about. The Poison Papers therefore offer a unique opportunity for researchers, the public and the media to discover much more about what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom.
Poison Papers Reveal:
Secrecy — They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high-level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. Internal minutes contradict the agency's longstanding refusal to regulate dioxins or set legal limits.
Collusion — They demonstrate EPA collusion with the pulp and paper industry to "suppress, modify or delay" the results of the congressionally-mandated National Dioxin Study, which found high levels of dioxins in everyday products, such as baby diapers and coffee filters, as well as pulp and paper mill effluents.
Deception — They provide important new data on the infamous Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) scandal. By the late 1970s, it was known that more than 800 safety studies performed by IBT on 140 chemicals produced by 38 chemical manufacturers were nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid. The Poison Papers, however, show that EPA and its Canadian counterpart, the Health Protection Branch (HPB), colluded with pesticide manufacturers, to keep invalidly registered products on the market and covered up massive problems with many IBT tests.
Cover-up — The papers also show that EPA staff had evidence that this IBT scandal involved more independent testing companies and more products than ever officially acknowledged.
Concealment —Show that EPA concealed and falsely its own studies finding high levels of dioxin–2,3,7,8-TCDD–in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange) by the federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Intent — Show that Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers were written up untruthfully for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects. These fraudulent studies were heavily relied upon by EPA to avoid regulating dioxins. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.
Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.
Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.
Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.
What Is Net Metering?
Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.
For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.
If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.
How Net Metering Works
There are two general ways net metering programs work:
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.
In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.
How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?
Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:
- You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
- If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
- Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.
With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.
You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.
Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.
Is Net Metering Available Near You?
Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.
In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.
If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:
- Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
- Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.
Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.
Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar
Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:
- The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
- State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
- Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.
In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering
Why is net metering bad?
When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.
In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.
How does net metering work?
With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.
Can you make money net metering?
You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.
On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.
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.
Now that's the way to start an ALEC conference.
This is going to be interesting. Donald Trump has had six months to show what kind of a president he is going to be, and I wonder what those at ALEC think of him now. Unlike many other Republican presidential candidates during the last election, including Vice President Mike Pence, Donald Trump never appeared and kissed the ALEC ring. I don't think he was the first (or second or third) choice of most ALEC members.
But Big Coal, which drives ALEC's energy and anti-environmental model policies, is burning bright for him now. The fracking industries and king coal producers Noble Energy and ARCO dominated the first day of the 44th ALEC conference. The terms "clean coal" and "clean fossil fuels," oxymorons if I ever heard one, were uttered so many times by the gas and oil industry that I lost count. And dirty coal dominated the day, with the gas and oil industry, including ExxonMobil, paying tens of thousands of dollars to host the first lunch and an entire afternoon of workshops.
The big coal producers can barely contain their glee at the gutting of environmental policies rolling out of the White House. At the opening lunch, Noble Energy executive Chip Rimer extolled that the "oil and gas industry is an example of what good policies can do."
At the afternoon workshops paying homage to fossil fuels, a Colorado state senator exclaimed how "great" it is to see the federal government shifting back to fossil fuels. Yikes. A Colorado commissioner talked about burdensome, "purely political" state regulations while simultaneously bemoaning that some of her constituents are living surrounded by intrusive sound barriers erected by the fracking industry. Exactly whose rights are being infringed upon?
A gas and oil representative lamented that all the public hears about is when something goes wrong, like the "Firestone event." Turns out the "Firestone event" was a deadly house explosion that recently occurred in Firestone, Colorado where two people were killed. The conflagration was caused when a well owned by Anadarko Petroleum was still attached to an abandoned, leaking gas line. Anadarko, a big fracking company, is a sponsor of the ALEC conference. What a nuisance that the public remembers such an event and that the state would step in to require additional safety precautions!
Renewable energy technologies are the enemy at ALEC. The Colorado Senator stated that renewable energies can't even be considered an industry because of the subsidies needed and because "we can't afford charities." Totally ignored are the massive public subsidies handed out to the gas and oil industry. Even one of the presenters had to remind the audience that the fracking industry had received billions of dollars in public subsidies. You could hear a pin drop in response.
And on the docket today is the consideration by the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force of a model policy resolution condemning Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, pushed by Americans for Tax Reform. PACE programs allow property owners to receive low-cost commercial loans to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects with long-term repayment options.
Sigh. So much for the free market.
Chris Taylor is an American lawyer and a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from the 76th District (in and around Madison, Wisconsin).
Reposted with permission from our media associate Center for Media and Democracy.
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.
While the Paris agreement focuses on lowering CO2 emissions, there is a second indispensable task we must also perform to defuse The Bomb: restoring the Arctic ice.
For thousands of years, the frozen Arctic has been keeping our climate hospitable—until now. The Arctic is a critical part of the earth's mechanism for controlling the planet's temperature and climate.
But ominously, the Arctic Ocean has nearly finished changing from a state of "perennial ice"–covered with sea ice in the winter and never substantially ice free in the summer–to a state of "seasonal ice"–substantially ice free in the summer.
Completing this switchover would herald the biggest change in the global ecosystem since before the start of human civilization, and it would have a devastating impact.
Billions of people will face the risk of death in this century from adverse climate change outcomes such as starvation, heat stress, resource wars and disease if we don't restore the perennial ice.
The UK's Special Representative for Climate Change, Sir David King, warns us that with current climate policies we risk simultaneous collapses of basic crop production in the major breadbaskets of the Northern Hemisphere.
Dr. Peter Carter, an expert reviewer of the IPCC 5th assessment, says that "the entire world depends on the high food productivity of the Northern Hemisphere. The IPCC 5th assessment and recent research shows that the world's best food producing regions in the northern hemisphere are vulnerable to a high probability of multi-breadbasket failure from already committed (locked in) global climate change." Carter expects that, in this context, the effects of the Arctic sea ice switchover would "end the great food production of the Northern Hemisphere, world food output would plummet and with that the world population, losing billions of lives by mid-century."
Here are three reasons why restoring sea ice in the Arctic is mandatory for preventing mass starvation.
First, an agriculture that provides enough food requires a predictable and favorable Earth Climate System.
A relatively unsung factor is surprisingly vital in this system: high-altitude atmospheric jet streams which circulate the planet in paths whose routes and speeds are critically important for the type of weather and climate that farms require to produce food.
The behavior of the jet streams depends on a particular "temperature gradient"–the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the Tropics.
For millennia, the perennial ice of the Arctic has been an important factor in keeping these jet streams consistent and stable. But since the mid-80s the Arctic has been heating significantly faster than the Tropics–a phenomenon called "Arctic amplification." Diminishing sea ice has been playing a leading role in this, and the resulting smaller gradient has already caused the streams to change their speeds and typical paths.
This kind of jet stream disruption leads to unpredictable, unfavorable and extreme weather, with massive swings to heat or cold, devastating droughts, lingering blizzards and mighty floods.
When, perhaps within only a few years, the Arctic Ocean switches fully to seasonal ice conditions, the jet streams will almost inevitably take up new patterns of behavior, leading to weather that is quite different from what our farmers need to feed the population. By mid-century, much of our agricultural land will be toasted or flooded–or both at different times.
A second threat to agriculture is methane, a greenhouse gas that heats the planet like CO2 on steroids. Gigatons galore of methane and other carbon products reside under the Arctic ice and in the thawing tundra and "permafrost" nearby.
For thousands of years we benefited from a perennial state of Arctic sea ice that acted as a cap that kept this methane out of the atmosphere. As we lose the cap, calamitous methane releases become ever more likely. Large releases of methane would accelerate global warming, and the Arctic amplification would further reduce the Arctic to Tropic temperature gradient, causing more jet stream disruption, worsen weather extremes and batter our farms.
Sev Clarke, a prominent inventor of green and climate restoration technologies described the methane threat this way: "If we don't restore the ice, within 15 years methane and CO2 emissions from land and sea are likely to become so intense as to interfere substantially with normal cropping, to push land cultivation and population polewards, and to render much of the tropics unbearably hot during summer. My belief, reinforced by recent, and as yet unpublished, research by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists, is that we have just entered the phase of super-exponentially increasing methane releases from the Arctic."
A third threat to agriculture is sea level rise. Losing the perennial Arctic sea ice is speeding up the melting and partial disintegration of the great Greenland Ice Sheet, and is also having an effect in Antarctica, partly through disruption of the "great ocean conveyor" which sends Arctic-cooled water all the way to the Antarctic. Warming of this water has caused some Antarctic sheets to become unstable. These effects could lead to a devastating half meter of sea level rise by 2050, plus much more by 2100, which would wipe out huge areas of low-lying farmland.
So, as it turns out, if we want to feed our population, allowing the Arctic to lose its perennial sea ice is not an option.
It's very bad, but there are solutions.
The Arctic can be refrozen, and the sea ice restored.
Actions to restore the Arctic sea ice–combined with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere–do give us a chance to survive.
Given the stakes, why are there not scientists, engineers, planners and all sorts of able-bodied citizens calling for a restoration of the Arctic ice?
Well, actually, there are.
Climate Restoration—One Answer to 'What Should We Do?'
The above-mentioned inventor, Sev Clarke, is working with The Climate Restoration Foundation (CRF), spearheaded by the mathematician Kevin Lister. This group is working on what actually needs to happen to avoid Climate Ruin.
Do we really need to design techniques for restoring the Arctic sea ice? Why not just bring CO2 emissions down to near zero? Wouldn't that cause the sea ice to naturally restore itself, without any additional human action to restore it?
CRF says the answer is "no." That's because CO2 concentrations are so high already, and CO2 lingers in the atmosphere so long, that if we only reduce our CO2 emissions, the Arctic Ocean will not recover its lost ice anytime soon.
CRF emphasizes that we really must hurry: if the Arctic Ocean does switch its "state" from perennial ice to seasonal ice, it will "stick" there and, to a large extent, get "locked" into its new state, via a phenomenon known as "hysteresis."
They say we are on a track to cross that line in a handful of years, and once we cross that line, going back to where we need to be to feed our population becomes a Herculean task.
The CRF website describes three major actions to keep us from getting caught in this death trap: Marine Cloud Brightening, Buoyant Nutrient Flakes, and Ice Cap Thickening. Lister explained, "They are designed to keep us from getting stuck in a high temperature state. It will need all three technologies working together and on scale, and if this is done then the mutual reinforcement will be such that the sum of the effects will be greater than the individual parts."
CRF is also designing an ingenious way to pay for the task of restoring the ice via the insurance industry, where fossil fuel industries would pay an extra premium that fairly reflects the climate change liability they cause. If they refuse to pay then they would lose their ability to do business because they would be denied insurance coverage.
Keeping them firmly grounded, CRF includes the foremost authority in the polar field, professor Peter Wadhams, who for decades has been doing a magnificent job of exploring the Arctic sea ice, on top of the surface and under it by submarine, to get to the truth of what we face in this crisis. Recently he has come out with a "must read" book on this subject, "A Farewell To Ice."
Also providing support to CRF is professor Paul Beckwith who has expertise on high-altitude atmospheric jet stream issues. His focus is on addressing the aspects of Abrupt Climate Change.
The Point of No Return?
Lister identifies the most important moment in this emergency.
It's not when the Greenland Ice Sheet melting becomes unstoppable, or other such ecosystem events, but rather it's when "it is no longer possible to develop and deploy an effective climate intervention strategy in time."
That point of no return has now arrived, and it is staring us in the face. If people fully understood how and why their families face a ruined world by mid-century, they would be demanding, with "hair on fire" urgency, If people really understood this truly existential crisis and the need for urgent action, they would be demanding that our political leaders scramble at full speed to restore the ice and, of course, to reduce our net CO2 emissions to zero.
Restoring sea ice will certainly require some local engineering intervention, but does the situation constitute enough of an emergency to justify risking the unexplored outcomes of intervention on a global scale, of geoengineering?
As far back as 2009, The Scotsman reported that scientists feared that the lack of action in the preceding 17 years, in which "emissions of climate changing gases such as carbon dioxide soared, has set the world on a path towards potential 4°C (7.2°F) rises as early as 2060, and 6°C (10.8°F) rises by the end of the century."
The article quoted professor Kevin Anderson, who advises the UK government on climate change, and is the deputy director of the highly respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Anderson said, "The consequences are terrifying. For humanity it's a matter of life or death. We will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think it's extremely unlikely that we wouldn't have mass death at 4°C. If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving."
Anderson, no alarmist, is testifying that plausibly with "business as usual" we could have billions of deaths by 2050.
Can we avoid this catastrophe without geoengineering?
This is a question we all must consider with great care.
The Bright Side
John Nissen, founder and chair of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, cooperates with CRF.
He summed it up this way:
"The climate science establishment is so focused on the fight to reduce CO2 emissions that it has ignored the bigger picture: that the Earth System is hurtling towards a new climate regime for the planet, led by abrupt changes in the Arctic as it becomes seasonally free of sea ice. The loss of ice cover means that the Arctic will warm even more rapidly than before, threatening
- a reversal of air circulation at high latitude, disrupting climate at lower latitudes;
- further escalation of methane emissions from land and undersea permafrost;
- further escalation of melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet; and
- a huge contribution to climate forcing and the warming of the whole planet.
These dreadful consequences add up to a new climate regime for the planet. They can only be avoided by cooling the Arctic and saving the sea ice."
While he said categorically that the prospect of geoengineering should never provide polluters or governments a "get out of jail free card" to avoid their absolute duty to drastically cut CO2 emissions, he maintains that "climate change could actually be reversed with the help of geoengineering, and it would be far simpler, safer and cheaper than trying to adapt to ever worsening climate change, and sea level rise to boot."
He emphasized the bright side:
"Let's be positive and appreciate the huge benefits that climate restoration would bring. Moreover, this could be the greatest collaborative venture ever undertaken, employing our best scientific and engineering talent. It could even be an opportunity for peace, as everyone works for the same goal. And by getting together to solve the greatest challenge ever faced by human civilization, we could demonstrate togetherness and counter the divisive politics of self-interest which is sweeping the world."
Nissen even wants oil companies to get involved. He pointed out that "it is in their best interests to collaborate on climate restoration, since they would suffer the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change just as much as everyone else. Moreover, they have valuable skills and resources to help in the restoration effort."
Let's Get Ready to Rumble
We still have a golden opportunity to restore our climate, and Trump has paradoxically brought Climate Ruin back onto the international agenda in the nick of time.
But now we need specific plans that diagram, step by step, how to motivate our entire society to fully acknowledge the climate problem, including what is happening in the Arctic, and then adamantly demand that the solutions be implemented immediately.
I believe that unconditionally, we must reach net zero CO2 emissions very fast, but science is now giving us a second required task: we must also save the Arctic ice.
As Winston Churchill once said, "It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required."
If you know how we can survive the threat of Climate Ruin without geoengineering, then, by all means, please share your ideas.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Center for Media and Democracy.
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.
But Trump is not the only truth-denier in the Republican Party. In a front-page story by Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton, the New York Times documented the GOP's transformation from a party with leaders like John McCain and Newt Gingrich, who accepted the scientific consensus on the climate, to one whose leader believes it is a hoax perpetrated by China.
When Trump pulled the U.S. from the Paris agreement, "the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise."
And the Times laid this transformation squarely at the feet of the Koch Brothers:
"Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil."
The Koch network of funders spent an estimated $1 billion over the last few election cycles telling the Republican Party what to do. "It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history," wrote Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.
You could call Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell "the men who sold the world," after the David Bowie song of the same name.
Paris Exit Was 'Victory Paid and Carried Out' by Republican Party for the Koch Brothers https://t.co/ENLbOqO62r (@EcoWatch)— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1496516404.0
Trump and his party have been marching in lockstep with the fossil-fuel industry for some time now. Even before Trump took office, the Washington Post reported that "the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump's policy agenda and staff his administration."
That influence can be seen in Trump's appointments, in his deeds and now in his budget.
The head of the EPA is the person responsible for protecting our air, land, and water. Trump chose Scott Pruitt, a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry, to lead that agency. Pruitt is known for his unusually close ties to the that industry, which are extensive even by Republican Party standards.
As Oklahoma's Attorney General, Pruitt sued the agency he now runs many times. A CMD review of Pruitt's emails showed that he allowed the industry to write the comments that he filed with federal agencies. The Koch Brothers' network of shell "advocacy groups," which CMD has analyzed at length, turned out in force to support Pruitt's nomination.
Other Trump cabinet appointees are also closely allied with the fossil-fuel industry, including Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course Rex Tillerson, who led Exxon for years.
The fossil-fuel connection runs deep in the Trump Administration. The Sabin Center analyzed lower-level appointments in agencies responsible for energy, the environment and natural resources. It found that more than half of those appointed "appear(ed) to lack expertise and/or experience" related to their new responsibilities, while more than one-quarter "had close ties to the fossil fuel industry."
In March, Trump signed an executive order and made a number of other moves that helped the fossil fuel industry by cutting the EPA, easing up on regulations, approving the KXL pipeline, and overturning Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.
Trump's proposed budget, which was released in late May, would cut the EPA by nearly one-third. That budget also includes a number of deep cuts in science spending, including cuts in the kind of research that helps us understand how fossil fuels are harming our health and our planet. Those cuts would end funding for NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), which was established by Congress to track the effects of both natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Other carbon research programs would be cut under the Trump budget. Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that additional cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) would "drastically cut into the agency's climate research, shuttering a host of labs and programs." The Department of Energy's climate research would also be cut significantly under the Trump budget.
Science noted that climate expert David Victor believes that Trump's proposed NASA cuts alone "would be a long-lasting setback to combating climate change."
With Trump's pullout from the Paris agreement, the U.S. becomes one of only three nations that is not part of that agreement. One of the other two, Nicaragua, wants a stronger agreement. The other is Syria, which is in the middle of a catastrophic civil war.
With the help of the Koch Brothers, Trump and the Republican Party have "moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world," wrote Jane Mayer.
It's time the world began to hold them to account.
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.
#Trump's #EPA Pick Sued for Denying Public Access to Emails https://t.co/9C2BjPogYc @prwatch @DeSmogBlog @KOCHexposed @SierraClub @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486495418.0
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.
Oklahoma judge just ordered the release of thousands of emails from EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. Delay this vote until we see the emails!— Brian Schatz (@Brian Schatz)1487282609.0
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.
What Is Scott Pruitt Hiding? Releases Only 411 of 3,000 Emails https://t.co/3QO9VrxWVd— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1487171063.0
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.
Follow the Money: #KochBrothers Back #Pruitt to Head #EPA https://t.co/hKGpgfZByZ @KOCHexposed @DeSmogBlog @UCSUSA @greenpeaceusa @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485793534.0
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.
MUST READ: #Trump's #EPA Pick Hides Pro-Polluter Record Behind Process Jargon https://t.co/CtBOTg3B6G @climatehawk1 @ErinBrockovich @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484846392.0
"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.
One-Third of the Trump Team Has Ties to the Koch Brothers https://t.co/FabgX9Ahzc @OpenSecretsDC @Publici— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484189109.0
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.