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A couple things happened late last week that feel worth mentioning, to kick off this week on a hopeful note.
First, in a bit of legislative wonkery, the House of Representatives voted against an amendment that would have prevented the Department of Defense from studying how climate impacts threaten national security.
Gone are the fevered dreams that Ivanka's moderating influence or Elon's persuasive position as an economic advisor will amount to anything beyond optics for Trump on the Paris agreement. Replacing it is the knowledge that our commander-in-chief will gladly shoot us in the collective foot if it means appeasing Presidents Bannon and Putin.
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No one thought that Lamar "my career has been funded by fossil fuels" Smith was going to put on an unbiased hearing on climate science. After all, the minority Democrats on Smith's House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology published a report this month, Much Ado About Nothing, which details Smith's "crusade to attempt to undermine and invalidate" Tom Karl's pause-buster study. (Yet Smith still can't get NOAA's name right)!
Despite a line-up of three industry voices against a lone voice of reason in Dr. Rush Holt of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the hearing failed to land any substantial blows against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead, Holt and the pro-science members of the committee explained the many ways in which Smith's "sound science" fixation sounds stupid to those who know science.
While Smith did his best to use this weekend's fake news about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to stir up drama, the fact that the "whistleblower" told E&E there was no data manipulation took the wind right out of his sails. Instead of problems with the conclusion of the study, the concern Bates had was that the data wasn't archived properly because the paper was rushed, which isn't true. So when Smith asked if Science would retract the paper, Holt reiterated these points. He added, "This is not the making of a big scandal" and "there is nothing in the Karl paper that, in our current analysis, suggests retraction." Score one for science!
The industry speakers, on the other hand, made relatively drab and inconsequential statements in the form of vague platitudes about the need for "sound science" instead of "secret science." For those who missed it, The Intercept had a great piece the other day on this Orwellian term and its tobacco industry-origins (which the ever-awesome Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson entered into the record to close the hearing). Because while Smith claims it will make science at the EPA better, what it would really do is prevent the EPA from using studies that rely on confidential health records or studies of individual events, which by definition can't be replicated.
Dr. Holt made it clear that, "The Secret Science Act, as it has been previously introduced, has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works." Though, given its design as a vehicle for the tobacco (and now fossil fuel) industry to prevent regulation, one might believe that it is less a misunderstanding of science than a deliberate attempt to cripple it.
The second aspect of "making the EPA great again" was proposed reform to the EPA's Scientific Advisory Boards. This idea was deceptively described by the industry speakers as an effort to increase "diversity" and "balance" and provide more "perspective" to these review boards. What they really do is give industry a seat at the table so they can do what industry wants- fight regulation. That Smith called on Jeffrey Holmstead, who was once disqualified as an expert witness by a judge due to his multiple conflicts of interest, namely lobbying for coal and other energy companies, tells you everything you need to know.
The third witness was Dr. Richard Belzer, an economist and president of "Regulatory Checkbook," who seems to be in the outer orbit of the Koch universe and whose Twitter feed appears to be a bizarre advertisement for a wine website. His main contribution was that cost-benefit analyses should be called benefit-cost Analyses because ... benefits are better? It wasn't really clear.
The last witness on Smith's side was Dr. Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council. She made a valiant effort to portray the injection of biased industry voices into the federal peer review process as a matter of balance and perspective, which one would expect from someone representing an industry group.
Our favorite part of the hearing, though, came not from any of the witnesses but from Rep. Don Beyer, who donned a red "Keep The EPA Great" hat after saying that, "We will not help anyone by disputing climate science with stories from white nationalist websites like Breitbart.com or tabloids like the Daily Mail."
Given Rep. Smith's history of writing op-eds for Breitbart and reliance on the Mail to attack NOAA, we couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Watch the hearing here:
The other day, an Environmental Defense Fund post called out Trump's EPA Admin nominee Scott Pruitt for possible impropriety and what looks like "pay-to-play" situations, where Pruitt, on multiple occasions, received money from the energy industry and shortly after took efforts to defend them.
And as E&E points out, since Pruitt has a super-PAC, he can still "keep raising money from the corporate interests he is charged with regulating." On top of that, as one of the first Cabinet-level appointees (who are prohibited from soliciting money) to have a super-PAC (which exists to solicit money), the legality and potential for corruption threatens to undermine what little credibility Scott "unprecedented, secretive alliance" Pruitt would have as the EPA administrator.
But not content merely pulling strings behind the scenes, the Koch network continues to pander the public with an offensively ironic effort to improve the reputation of fossil fuels by supposedly "standing up for poor, underserved communities." (Similar efforts have been taken by tobacco and soft drink companies to sell their products.) Hiroko Tabuchi, in a great piece in the New York Times, pulls back the curtain on a Koch effort to convert minorities to its fossil fuel religion—in some cases fairly literally, as the piece opens with a scene from a Koch-sponsored gospel concert.
The front group putting on the show is Fueling U.S. Forward, which has already come up a couple times over the short year of its existence. It puts a contemptible, self-serving effort into painting fossil fuels as "pro-human" and "sustainable," in order to improve the public image of the Koch's oily empire.
For those wondering if perhaps the Kochs really are sticking up for the poor and not just using them for their own gain, a 2016 literature review makes it clear that "children, and especially poor children, now bear a disproportionate burden of disease from both environmental pollution and climate change due to fossil fuel combustion."
And abroad, even more heartbreaking are the 1.3 million African children who are starving thanks to a drought amplified by climate change. Their families are surviving by making soup out of chalk or ash from the fire, with one man even contemplating selling his 10 year old daughter as a bride so she'd be the husband's responsibility to feed.
Meanwhile, the Koch's Fueling U.S. Forward reportedly planned to spend $10 million a year on its pro-fossil fuel efforts.
Al Gore was the latest participant in the president-elect's parade of pandering, meeting with daughter Ivanka Trump and then Donald Trump himself. Might this mean we might see a change his position on climate change? And will the impeccably cited letter to Ivanka or interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the Dakota Access Pipeline, both published in the Observer, which is owned by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, make a difference? Does any of this portend a softening of Trump's denial?
Despite the fact that Donald Trump campaigned against special interests and suggested his primary opponents who begged for Koch cash were puppets, he now seems to be happy to #StaffTheSwamp with Koch operatives.
Beyond Myron Ebell and David Schnare on his environment team, news broke Sunday that Trump picked Steven Groves to lead the Department of State "landing team." Groves is an international policy wonk at the Koch (and Exxon, and Korean gov't) funded Heritage Foundation, and just last week, he wrote an article advocating for a pull-out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a way to exit the Paris agreement. As the negotiating framework for the UN's climate efforts and the underlying basis for the Paris agreement, if the U.S. were to leave the UNFCCC, it would remove us from the negotiating table altogether.
Not only would this "lead to political consequences with our allies," as Groves admitted in a House Science hearing last April, but it would also mean that Trump wouldn't be able to negotiate an amazing new treaty on climate, as the U.S. would no longer be part of the negotiating framework.
But contradictory advice is nothing new to the Heritage Foundation, which during the Farm Bill fight in 2013 told the GOP to split the bill into two parts. When Republicans did as they were told, Heritage still wasn't happy. Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said: "Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before." Because of this stunt, as well as their push for 2013's government shutdown, former House speaker Boehner said: groups like Heritage had "lost all credibility."
Unfortunately, from the top of the Trump administration down, a distinct lack of credibility seems to be the unifying factor. But it is ironic that despite the Koch network's distinct lack of effort to get Trump elected, they are nonetheless filling Trump's administration with their operatives, from VP Mike Pence to CIA chief Mike Pompeo to Ebell, Schnare and Groves. And on the Energy Department front, it's been reported by E&E that Thomas Pyle of Koch-funded American Energy Alliance is running the transition, while the Interior is being led by Doug Domenech, of Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation. And according to PoliticoPRO, on the Treasury team are Heritage-affiliated Bill Walton and Curtis Dubay.
The question is: Does Trump even know the Kochs are pulling his strings? Or does he really think he's "No puppet?"
For years now, Senate Majority Leader and possible undercover turtle Mitch McConnell has been a stalwart defender of his Kentucky home in the so-called war on coal.
Delegates holding "Trump Digs Coal" signs at the Republican National Convention in July at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
With Obama on his way out and energy lobbyists ready to move into the White House, McConnell is surely telling everyone the war is soon over, right? Not exactly.
Which is why McConnell now says it's "hard to tell" if jobs will return because coal mining is "a private sector activity." Turns out that cheap natural gas and renewables are the real enemy of coal, not all those pesky regulations that fight asthma, black lung or climate change. After nearly a decade railing against the war on coal, it seems regulations are secondary to the one force the right loves most: the free market.
Which is why we now see a variety of stories that explain why Donald Trump can't stop the growth of clean energy. So he'll probably have to walk back on this campaign promise. Just like his promise to drain the swamp. Or to release his tax returns. Or to disclose his charitable giving. Or to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Or to repeal Obamacare. Or to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.
At this rate, Trump might break a record for broken promises before even starting his term.
Which is actually pretty encouraging.