By Lee Fang
If the billionaire Koch brothers turn to the White House for favors, they will see many familiar faces.
Newly disclosed ethics forms reveal that a significant number of senior Trump staffers were previously employed by the sprawling network of hard-right and libertarian advocacy groups financed and controlled by Charles and David Koch, the conservative duo hyper-focused on entrenching Republican power, eliminating taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.
Some of the relationships were well-known. Marc Short, for instance, now Trump's chief liaison to Congress, previously led Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the dark money nonprofit used by the Koch brothers and their donor cohort to dispense money to allied groups. Freedom Partners, which maintains an affiliate Super PAC, was at the center of the Kochs' $750 million election effort during the campaign last year.
But the ethics forms, made available to the public on Friday evening, reveal a number of previously undisclosed financial ties between the Koch network and Trump's inner circle of political aides.
America Has a Koch Problem https://t.co/ochBtJRg5V #kochbrothers @foe_us @SierraClub @greenpeaceusa @350 @billmckibben @ClimateReality— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485364846.0
Donald McGahn, Trump's campaign attorney turned White House counsel, provided legal services to a range of outside Koch groups working to influence the election. McGahn, through the law firm Jones Day, advised Freedom Partners, as well as i360, the Koch's big data firm set up to identify and target voters and Americans for Prosperity, the election advocacy and grassroots lobbying organization run by the Koch brothers. Ann Donaldson, McGahn's chief of staff, came to the White House from McGahn's law firm. Her financial disclosure shows that she also provided legal services to Freedom Partners and i360.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager turned close White House advisor, consulted over the last year for Americans for Prosperity's national foundation, as well as for the Michigan and Ohio chapters of the group. Conway served as a board member for the Independent Women's Forum, a Koch-backed group whose goal is "increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."
The fact that Trump's political team worked for the Koch network during the campaign adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between the president and the most well-known pair of Republican billionaires.
The Koch network has long pioneered a strategy of backing GOP campaigns by using seemingly independent nonprofits and outside election groups. Election law prohibits organizations that raise and spend unlimited funds, such as the Freedom Partners' Super PAC and Americans for Prosperity, from directly coordinating with candidates.
But those rules are rarely enforced. Moreover, campaigns and Super PACs have danced around the coordination prohibition by employing individuals who split their time between candidates and outside groups, making them a crucial conduit for potential coordination.
Despite the common myth that the Koch network, in the words of Politico, "sat out" the presidential campaign, Koch groups were active in battleground states that proved critical to Trump's victory. Americans for Prosperity employed 650 staff members during the campaign, with many stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri. The field staff, using the new data tools from i360, focused on making sure Republican voters made it to the polls.
In the aforementioned states, Americans for Prosperity also aired negative ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the campaign, linking her to Democratic candidates and problems allegedly caused by the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which blanketed swing state television stations, held Clinton responsible for healthcare with "higher cost, lost coverage, lost doctors."
The election effort swept the GOP to a level of national power not seen since the 1920s. And the Koch network has been quick to seize upon unified Republican control of Washington to quickly score a range of policy and political victories.
Freedom Partners Vice President Andy Koenig told the Los Angeles Times after the election that his group hoped Trump would "walk in with an eraser" and wipe out as many Obama reforms as possible. The group formulated a "Roadmap to Repeal," a memo calling for the administration to prioritize revoking the Paris climate change treaty, repealing clean water rules and eliminating limits on pollution from coal-fire power plants.
In recent weeks, Trump and congressional leaders have used a little-known procedure called the Congressional Review Act to swiftly roll back the very regulations identified by the Koch memo. And they have been aided by a team that came to the White House policy staff directly from the Koch network.
Koenig, the former Freedom Partners vice president, is now working in the White House as a policy assistant. Koenig's financial disclosure shows that he made $320,000 at the group before moving through the revolving door.
In addition, Andrew Bremberg, now the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Bethany Scully, an official working in Trump's Office of Legislative Affairs, both worked for Freedom Partners. Bremberg's disclosure shows that he consulted for the group through a consulting firm he owns called Right Policy LLC.
The Trump policy team includes Brian Blase, a special assistant to the president working on healthcare issues, who came to the White House from the Mercatus Center, the Koch network think tank at George Mason University.
A number of Vice President Mike Pence's staff also came directly from Koch organizations. Andeliz Castillo, named earlier this year as a Pence senior aide, came from the Libre Initiative, the Latino outreach arm of the Koch network. Stephen Ford, Pence's director of speechwriting, previously worked as a speechwriter for Koch's Freedom Parters.
To be sure, there is not perfect harmony between the Koch brothers and Trump. The Koch network harshly criticized the American Health Care Act, attacking it for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. And the groups have lobbied against the so-called border adjustment tax, a proposal favored by some in the Trump White House.
But if the latest member-wide email from Americans for Prosperity is any indication, the Koch brothers have much to celebrate with Trump in the White House.
The email, titled, "Thank you, President Trump," hails the president for issuing an executive order to repeal of Obama's "Clean Power Plan," the biggest pillar in the previous administration's climate change strategy. The message goes on to boast that Americans for Prosperity is providing the lobbying muscle, along with paid advertisements and mobilizing calls to Congress, to help confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
By Alleen Brown
Under orders from President Trump, the Army Corps of Engineers on Feb. 7 approved a final easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Construction has re-started, and lawyers for the company said it could take as little as 30 days for oil to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline.
While the Standing Rock Sioux and neighboring tribes attempt to halt the project in court, other opponents of the pipeline have launched what they're calling a "last stand," holding protests and disruptive actions across the U.S. In North Dakota, where it all began, a few hundred people continue to live at camps on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, using them as bases for prayer and for direct actions to block construction. Last week, camps were served eviction notices from Governor Doug Burgum and from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, demanding that they clear the biggest camp, Oceti Sakowin, by Wednesday and a smaller camp, Sacred Stone, within 10 days.
Dakota Access Pipeline 'Could Be Operational Within 30 Days' https://t.co/LVGuunbOcu (@ecowatch @priceofoil) #NoDAPL— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1487102408.0
The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline didn't come from nowhere. It's a direct descendant of the Keystone XL fight—both pass through the territory of the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, which includes bands of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people. And when Standing Rock tribal members saw that it was time to mobilize, they turned to relatives that had fought the Keystone XL.
In 2014, Joye Braun was living at an anti-Keystone XL camp called Pte Ospaye, on the Cheyenne River reservation, when she first heard about a new pipeline that would pass just outside the border of the Standing Rock reservation, on land leaders said would be tribally controlled if the U.S. government obeyed its treaties. "I went holy crap, here comes another one," she said. Two years later, she would find herself helping set up Sacred Stone camp, the first anti-Dakota Access pipeline camp.
Now, most of the thousands of people that visited Standing Rock last fall have returned home, and some have taken up long-shot local fights against the oil and gas industry. In Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee it's the Diamond pipeline; in Louisiana, the Bayou Bridge. In Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa actually voted to decommission and remove the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline from their reservation.
Many communities have turned to direct action as a last resort. The city of Lafayette, Colorado, which has long attempted to block fracking in the area, has even proposed a climate bill of rights, enforceable via nonviolent direct action if the legal system fails.
In at least four states, encampments built as bases for pipeline resistance have emerged. They face corporations emboldened by Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, which have used their first month in power to grant fossil fuel industry wishes, overturning environmental protections, appointing former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, and reviving the halted Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
"Forces arrayed against us are quite wide in my opinion," said Owl, a member of the Ramapough-Lunaape tribe who helped set up a camp in New Jersey to oppose the Pilgrim pipeline. "They are hell-bent on this infrastructure."
Here's what you need to know about the Trans-Pecos, Atlantic Sunrise, Sabal Trail and Pilgrim pipelines:
Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
By Alleen Brown
In Donald Trump's first week as president, text describing two rules regulating the oil and gas industry was removed from an Interior Department website. The rules, limiting hydraulic fracturing and natural gas flaring on public lands, are in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
The changes were noted by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative or EDGI, which has been monitoring changes to federal web sites since Trump's inauguration.
On Jan. 21, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) page, which describes various regulations for how the oil and gas industry should operate on federal land, still included a section on the Methane and Waste Prevention rule. The regulation was part of the Obama administration's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. By Jan. 28, the section was gone.
The rule, which is widely opposed by the oil and gas industry, limits fossil fuel companies' ability to vent and flare gas on public land, which releases methane, a greenhouse gas around 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It was one of the first Obama era regulations to be targeted by a Republican-controlled Congress empowered by Trump. On Feb. 3, at least five days after the site had been updated, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the methane rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 days to eliminate federal regulations legislators don't like. The bill awaits a Senate vote.
New Bill Would Block EPA From Regulating Greenhouse Gases https://t.co/WtKItMefJQ @BusinessGreen @GreenCollarGuy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486423817.0
Also removed was text within a section on the Interior Department's hydraulic fracturing rule, Obama's primary attempt to limit the impacts of the controversial oil and gas extraction method. The page still notes that the rule exists but it no longer describes what it does. The deleted text stated that the regulation was meant "to ensure that when operations are undertaken on lands where a BLM permit is required, steps are taken to ensure wellbore integrity, proper waste water management and greater transparency about the process, including information about the composition of fracturing fluids."
Reviled by the industry and by Republicans, the fracking rule was struck down in a federal court last June, when a judge ruled that the Interior Department lacks authority to regulate fracking. The Obama administration had been appealing the decision.
Also removed was text noting "ongoing regulatory efforts" to update old rules that have not kept up with the way oil and gas companies operate today.
A BLM website dedicated to the methane rule is unchanged. "The text was updated because the Venting and Flaring rule was no longer a proposed rule as indicated on the old webpage," said BLM spokesperson Michael Richardson. "The BLM is proceeding to implement the rule now that it has changed from a proposed rule to a final rule until directed otherwise."
Richardson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation over the hydraulic fracturing rule.
"It's hard to tell how significant these changes are, but there's certainly a striking congruence with the attacks on the methane rule under the current administration," said Rebecca Lave, who's leading EDGI's monitoring effort.
The group has also been involved in an effort to extract environmental and climate databases from federal sites and preserve them for researchers, in case the Trump administration takes them down. On Tuesday, the Open White House federal data website ceased functioning. A message at the top of the page read: "Check back soon for new data."
Max Ogden, a programmer for the non-profit Dat Data Project tweeted that he had downloaded the data on inauguration day and would redistribute soon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also recently moved inspection reports offline that include information about animal abuse at various facilities, which will now only be accessible via notoriously slow Freedom of Information Act requests.
Trump Administration Tells EPA to Cut Climate Change Page From Website https://t.co/TgAwdWDav4 @earthisland @Earthjustice— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485383707.0
So far EDGI hasn't noticed similar removals of entire environmental databases. In addition to changes the group anticipated, such as deletions of references to the previous administration, Lave said, "What we're seeing instead is patterns of changes in wording, we're seeing the removal of links to basic information, we're seeing to some extent the beginnings of reorganizations in federal agencies."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
By Lee Fang
The leaked draft of a presidential memorandum Donald Trump is expected to sign within days suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through their purchase of "conflict minerals."
The memo, distributed inside the administration on Friday afternoon and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act, for two years—which the rule explicitly allows the president to do for national security purposes. The memorandum also directs the State Department and Treasury Department to find an alternative plan to "address such problems in the DRC and adjoining countries."
The idea behind the rule, which had bipartisan support, was to drain militias of revenue by forcing firms to conduct reviews of their supply chain to determine if contractors used minerals sourced from the militias.
The impending decision comes as Trump held a meeting Wednesday with Brian Krzanich, the chief executive of Intel, one of the leading firms impacted by conflict mineral regulations. At the White House today, Krzanich appeared with the president to announce a new manufacturing plant in Arizona.
Human rights advocates—who had celebrated the conflicts rule as a major step forward—were appalled.
"Any executive action suspending the U.S. conflict minerals rule would be a gift to predatory armed groups seeking to profit from Congo's minerals as well as a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt," said Carly Oboth, the policy adviser at Global Witness, in a statement responding to a Reuters article that first reported the move.
"It is an abuse of power that the Trump administration is claiming that the law should be suspended through a national security exemption intended for emergency purposes. Suspending this provision could actually undermine U.S. national security."
Advanced computer chips, including technology used in cell phones and semiconductors, contain minerals often sourced from war-torn countries in central Africa. Firms such as Intel, Apple, HP and IBM use advanced chips that contain tantalum, gold, tin and tungsten—elements that can be mined at low prices in the the DRC, where mines are often controlled by militias fueling a decades long civil war.
Why Fixing Your Phone Is One of the Most Empowering Things You Can Do https://t.co/Q4u7I8sBso @Greenpeace @HuffPostGreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473802510.0
American tech companies, such as Intel, lobbied directly on the rule when it was proposed. But since passage, tech firms have largely used third party business groups to stymie the rule. Trade groups representing major U.S. tech firms and other manufacturers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, attempted to block the rule through a federal lawsuit. In 2014, a federal court struck down a part of the rule that forced firms to reveal DRC conflict minerals on their corporate websites.
Intel is also one of the firms that has touted its effort to comply with the law, publishing a report that notes the company has conducted 40 on-site reviews of smelters in the eastern DRC.
Reuters also reported that acting SEC chief Michael Piwowar has taken steps to also weaken enforcement, asking staff to "reconsider how companies should comply."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
By Sharon Lerner
While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts and first telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove mentions of climate change from its website—and then reversing course—many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.
The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. "I don't know what's going to happen. No one knows what's going to happen," one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she's been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump's claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change and the EPA itself.
#Trump's War on #Science Sparks Massive Resistance https://t.co/1Zgu6zhYGY @ScienceMarchDC @MichaelEMann @BillNye @billmckibben @SierraClub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485439425.0
"It's strange," the woman said. "People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs." Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. "Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press," said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA's new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.
The directives have left scientists fearing reprisal for merely mentioning the global crisis that has been at the center of their professional lives for years. It's the topic "whose name cannot be uttered," as one Forest Service employee put it to me. A nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture employee offered a series of euphemisms—"extreme weather events, very unusual patterns," he riffed—before turning serious. "I'm actually scared to talk to you," he said, turning his hanging name tag inward and backing away from me. The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China. My presence inspired fear.
Afraid or not, many federal researchers continued doing their jobs despite the impending doom, presenting research on everything from disease-causing mosquitos to heat waves, decreasing water availability and toxic algal blooms—all issues that have become dramatically more important as the Earth has warmed.
With the dark political backdrop, the hub of productive energy at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the EPA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service, brought to mind a cartoon character whose feet continue to frantically pedal in the air even after he's gone off the cliff.
Among the meeting's attendees, who included researchers from academia, the private sector and government, there was no discussion of whether climate change is real, no tangled Kremlin-speak suggesting that "the ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue," as Scott Pruitt, Trump's nominee to head the EPA, put it in his confirmation hearing last week.
Instead the scientists were focused on the measurable and indisputable changes they've observed—how habitat changes have resulted in epidemics of plague in prairie dogs that can spread the disease to humans, for instance or the way that algal blooms on lakes have impacted the fishing industry. Indeed, the breadth of the climate science at the conference spoke to the absurdity that even someone as powerful as the president of the U.S. could undo it. The Senate held its first hearing on climate change more than 30 years ago and in the intervening years, as understanding of our warming planet has grown, the government has not only collected precise measurements of vanishing arctic ice, rising sea levels, increasing global temperatures, river flooding, drought and heavy rain, it has used that data to understand the short- and long-term consequences of the phenomenon.
As a report I picked up at one of the tables, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States, makes clear, these many objective phenomena have health consequences "now and in the future." Among those listed were heat-related illness and death, drowning and injuries from flooding, lung and respiratory diseases due to worsening air quality, intestinal illnesses and blood stream infections from water-related infections, water-borne infections and Lyme disease.
That report was a collaboration of 11 federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, State and the Interior, many of which have been working on ways to avert and address further disastrous impacts. Scientists have come up with specific plans for disposing of our waste in a hotter world, for instance and have identified people most vulnerable to climate change (such as kids and the elderly). They have calculated and prepared for increased amounts of storm water and developed an integrated heat health information system that includes air quality forecasts and resources for heat waves.
This data visualization shows the record low Arctic sea ice extent on Aug. 26, 2012. With less ice to reflect sunlight, larger areas of open water absorb more of the sun's heat. This heat slowly escapes into the atmosphere, causing atmospheric heating during the Arctic autumn.Scientific Visualization Studio / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
For those who spend their professional lives focusing on this complex web of interconnected phenomena causing and resulting from climate change, denial and the censoring of the term puts them at war with observable reality. Whether they can utter the word "climate" or not, the fire season will still be 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s, as a Forest Service employee pointed out to me. (A 2015 report from the agency confirmed his point). And last year will still have been the hottest year on record, following the one before that and the one before that—knowledge we have thanks to research from NASA and the federal National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.
It's Official: 2016 Was the Hottest Year Ever Recorded https://t.co/E8F4UfbiHj @MichaelEMann @350 @RobertKennedyJr @NRDC @ClimateReality— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484762732.0
The question that hovered over what is likely the last EPA-sponsored conference on environmental and health, at least for a while, was what would happen to all this research as Trump moves forward. In a luncheon keynote speech on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich seemed to acknowledge that the new president would likely cut at least some government funding for environmental research. Gingrich, whose fee for speaking at events in Washington, DC recently increased to $25,000 based on his "insight into Trump," urged scientists to "defend what you do." In his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks, Gingrich suggested that environmental scientists not dwell on the imminent decrease in government funding for their work but instead be cheered by the "enormous opportunity" to get private sector funding. The statement elicited a snort of derision from someone at a table near mine.
The extent to which Trump will decimate government efforts to protect people and the planet from climate change and other environmental problems remains to be seen. In the meantime, work continued. At the conference on Wednesday, a young woman gave out publications including a booklet called Science Matters from the EPA's display table. While a nearby giant screen flashed colorful aerial images from NASA satellites of shrinking sea ice in the arctic and global air pollution, she said, "we're just doing our jobs until we hear otherwise."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
By Alleen Brown
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine is facing pressure from landowners in his home state of Virginia to stand against the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to mid-Atlantic markets.
He's made some moves in that direction: he's held private meetings with landowners in the pipeline's pathway; he's asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to strengthen the consultation process for residents; and he introduced an amendment to a federal energy bill that would encourage regulators to carry out a review of the cumulative impact of the region's four planned pipelines.
But he hasn't ruled the pipeline out, making environmentalists worry that he ultimately shares the quietly fossil-fuel friendly politics of the Democratic Party.
Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign pushed the debate over banning hydraulic fracturing onto primetime and into the Democratic Party's platform committee. But the Sanders view did not prevail in the end. The platform calls for stronger regulation of fracking—while affirming that it will continue.
Kaine's record on energy is mixed. He's been supportive of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and introduced legislation to speed up liquid natural gas exports. In 2012 he pushed for the construction of one of the nation's last new coal plants. And he helped pressure the federal government to lower Virginia's greenhouse gas emissions goals under the Clean Power Plan.
In Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's biggest investor, Dominion, was the largest single corporate contributor to local politicians between 1997 and 2016 and Kaine has accepted his share of the company's cash and gifts: more than $300,000 in total since 2001. When asked what he thought of Kaine, senior American Petroleum Institute lobbyist Louis Finkel told Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani, "He's the best we could have hoped for." Virginia's governor and longtime friend of the Clintons Terry McAuliffe supports the pipeline.
Still, many environmentalists consider Kaine someone who can be swayed. After all, he was one of the earliest legislators to declare opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Obama eventually cancelled the pipeline in order to demonstrate to global policymakers his dedication to fighting climate change.
Nancy Sorrells, who sits on the steering committee of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance, which is organizing against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said she believes that Kaine will come around to rejecting it. "He has a strong moral sense," she said. "I think he can look at it and it will be the logical thing."
"We feel like the heart side of Kaine is here with the landowners and that's the way that we fight these pipelines," said Jane Kleeb, a key organizer behind the defeat of the Keystone XL, whose organization Bold Alliance is working with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline activists. "Tim Kaine has to be the number one focus right now of the landowners: get him to be their champion."
Kaine did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept.
In Keystone's wake, natural gas pipelines are emerging as a gauge of Democrats' environmental seriousness. In the Appalachian basin alone, 19 major natural gas pipeline projects, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, have been proposed to carry fracked gas from production sites to markets, making them a focal point of the environmental movement.
The pipeline protesters have seen victories. On Earth Day, construction of the Constitution pipeline in New York halted when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied a key permit under the Clean Water Act. Only days earlier, pipeline company Kinder Morgan announced that it would cancel its Northeast Energy Direct pipeline because it lacked purchasing commitments from customers.
Organizers have not yet succeeded, however, in forcing regulators to link the infrastructure projects to one of Democrats' most pressing goals. The party's platform committed Democrats to "meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to 'well below' two degrees Celsius." It goes on to call for a "comprehensive approach that ensures all federal decisions going forward contribute to solving, not significantly exacerbating, climate change." But for now, the impact of new fossil fuel projects is not routinely measured against national and international climate goals.
Last week, Oil Change International, which is dedicated to revealing the societal costs of fossil fuels, released a report that shows how the 19 proposed Appalachian Basin pipeline projects could fail such a climate test. According to the study, the Energy Information Administration projections of fossil fuel consumption suggest that "even if the U.S. reduced all coal and petroleum use to zero by 2040, the U.S. would still exceed its climate goals based on natural gas emissions alone." Since pipeline investments would incentivize the production and shipment of natural gas for decades, the report says, the pipelines are inconsistent with the 2-degree climate goal.
And yet, Democratic Party power players continue to push natural gas as part of a climate change solution. At a Politico-hosted panel event Wednesday, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, former Obama energy advisor Heather Zichal, who sits on the board of Cheniere Energy, said she is in favor of developing a climate test for infrastructure—but she also supports fracking. Another panelist was one of Kaine's companions on Clinton's short list of potential running mates, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose memoir, published this spring, states that "fracking is good for the country's energy supply, our national security, our economy and our environment."
"I think that there's a cognitive dissonance," said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzmann, "There's not really a way to do fossil fuels right anymore."
Kleeb, the anti-Keystone organizer, believes post-Bernie Democratic politics will require inviting more "keep it in the ground" organizers into positions of party power, starting within the Clinton campaign. "We need at the very least a stable of advisors of people like me—Josh Fox, Bill McKibben—that know the science, know the movement fighters," said Kleeb, who was recently elected chair of Nebraska's Democratic Party.
Of course, for many of those fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, climate is not the motivating factor. It's one of the distinctive features of the anti-pipeline movement that no two activists are fighting for quite the same thing.
Lewis Freeman, a former plastics industry lobbyist who briefly worked for the American Petroleum Institute and describes his politics as moderate, said his motivation is to preserve the harsh Appalachian landscape. In mountainous Highland County, where he's from, the line would pass through "karst" terrain, made of limestone caves with connecting fissures through which seeping contaminants easily impact the water supply.
"I have respect for the industry, but I don't believe that that means that the energy industry should have the right to build a pipeline or an energy property anywhere they want," Freeman said. "I do not believe that it is prudent on any measure, for safety or environmental reasons, to build a pipeline through the area where they want to build it."
The activists are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must approve the pipeline for it to go forward, to conduct a study that would examine the cumulative impact of four pipelines that have been proposed for the area. They've also raised questions about the necessity of the pipeline to state and national power needs and the impact on ratepayers. Sierra Club has filed an anti-trust complaint against Dominion with the Federal Trade Commission.
Tea Partier Travis Geary, who co-chairs the anti-pipeline Augusta County Alliance with Nancy Sorrells, believes the pipelines could serve as a very different kind of litmus test for the Republican Party, whose platform would eliminate support for the Paris climate agreement. "Developing energy independence or infrastructure cannot [take priority over] protecting individual landowners who have purchased land with blood, sweat, and tears, and passed it on to family through the generations," said Geary, whose parents' cattle farm would be crossed by the pipeline. "If we lose our property rights, that's the right that everything else is based on. I would like to see more of that in the Republican platform."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
Responding to tough talk by presidential candidates about price gouging by drug companies, pharmaceutical executives have told investors that they are working actively to influence the political debate. And in a move that reveals how much leeway drug firms actually have over pricing decisions, some are even saying that they have minimized price hikes in recent months to avoid attracting attention.
Democratic contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both called for the government to do much more to bring down the price of medications. And last week, Republican candidate Donald Trump came out in support of allowing Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices, a move that places him even to the left of some leaders in the Democratic Party.
The political environment has Wall Street worried. “We heard Bernie and Hillary last night go after drug pricing again and I think that's also something we are going to hear from the Republicans," warned Jami Rubin, the Goldman Sachs health care group analyst, on an earnings conference call last week for Johnson & Johnson.
Eli Lilly executive Jan Lundberg assured investors on his company's most recent earnings call that to combat the rhetoric around drug prices, the industry maintains “an active dialogue with each of the candidates" and will “work across party lines" to influence policy.
Merck chief executive Ken Frazier, speaking at the J.P. Morgan Health Care Conference in San Francisco last month, pledged to do more as chairman of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry's lobbying group. “With respect to the political dynamic," Frazier said, “I think the most important thing, and I try to do this in my role as head of PhRMA, is I think the industry needs to communicate better with the outside world."
At the same conference, Biogen chief executive George Scangos, who also serves as co-chairman of PhRMA, said his firm increased prices on three drugs recently, but at a “somewhat lower number" to avoid placing “a target on our foreheads." He added that “it's still possible to take price increases" but that he thinks “it's wise to be a little prudent."
James Hammergren, the chief executive of McKesson, which is the largest wholesale drug distributor in the nation, echoed the call for the industry to hold off on price hikes to avoid attracting unwanted scrutiny. “I would say that political discourse that's taking place, and the congressional inquiries relative to pricing practices, I think are obviously going to have people at least pausing perhaps to consider whether now is the right time to take a price increase," Hammergren said during a recent earnings call. In 2012, the firm paid $151 million to settle claims the firm deliberately overcharged Medicaid for reimbursements for some 1,400 brand-name drugs.
Vijay Das, who is a health care policy advocate at the consumer group Public Citizen, says that the recent statements confirm that the pharmaceutical industry's “pricing decisions are based upon the reach of their market and political power, not development costs or lengthy FDA approval process." He notes that PhRMA spent $18 million lobbying the federal government in 2015 alone. Records maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics show that drugmakers across the board spent more than $235 million on lobbying last year.
John Maraganore, the chief executive of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, told investors on the company's recent earnings call that recent talk of drug pricing is “political demagoguery that's going on right now." He conceded, however, later in the call that companies will need to “think about their growth based on productivity not based on arbitrary price increases."
Shkreli made worldwide headlines for dramatically hiking prices of the drugs he bought. Newly reported emails show that Shkreli boasted that by boosting the price of Daraprim, his company would bring in $375 million a year, “almost all of it profit."
But other firms have steadily increased prices as well. Vanda Pharmaceuticals, for instance, has increased the prices of its drug Hetlioz, which treats sleep disorders for the blind, by 76 percent since it was introduced in 2014. (You may have seen its new TV ads, featuring an Afghan war veteran.)
Pfizer, since the beginning of last month, has raised prices an average of 10.6 percent for more than 60 branded products. Bloomberg reports that prices have doubled over the last year for over 60 brand-name drugs.
Meanwhile, PhRMA has reportedly invested in a new marketing campaign to boost the image of the industry.
Reprinted with permission from The Intercept.
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