Who Is Really Blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination?

It's Charles and David Koch versus the rest of us.  Credit: Reuters
It’s Charles and David Koch versus the rest of us. Credit: Reuters

From The Media Have Forgotten Who Really Is Blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination

By Dartagnan in the Daily Kos

The media’s telescopic gaze following the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia last week was, true to form, pointing in exactly the wrong direction. Scalia’s death prompted a breathless flood of pundit analysis focused on whether the Republican Party is violating Senate protocol or the Constitution itself by refusing to vote on the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice in President Obama’s final year in office. Much chatter was devoted to rehashing the deliberate obstruction this president has had to cope with. While undoubtedly true, this misses the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter so much what Republicans’ “excuse” is—or even whether it violates the clear intent of the Constitution—it does.

What really matters is why they’re doing it, and who it serves. The answer to that question leads straight to their donor base. Although it scarcely bears repeating, the Republican Senate and (to an even greater extent) the Republican House of Representatives now exists to serve the economic interests of a tiny group of very, very wealthy people, people who now stand to either gain or lose hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars spent complying with environmental, finance and labor laws and regulations, depending on who replaces Scalia. That is what this fight is all about. For the GOP and the billionaires who pull their strings, much ballyhooed rhetoric about abortion, affirmative action, union rights and voting rights are all subsidiary to this main event.

The two most prominent members of this tiny group of people are Charles and David Koch:

“In this election cycle… the Kochs have publicly stated that they and their compatriots will spend $889 million, more than either the Republican or Democratic parties spent last time around. According to a recent analysis in Politico, their privatized political network is backed by a group of several hundred extremely rich fellow donors who often meet at off-the-record conclaves organized by the Kochs at desert resorts. It has at least 1,200 full-time staffers in 107 offices nationwide, or three and a half times as many as the Republican National Committee. They may be the most important unelected political figures in American history.”

Read more at the Daily Kos

Even at $10/barrel, oil can’t match solar on cost

World News Forum

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1889

One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says that fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price, and says the vast bulk of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global power demand over the next two decades will come from renewables.

The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.

The report is important because the Gulf region, the Middle East and North Africa will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf…

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Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

World News Forum

 Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River
Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

By Nate Schweber

Environmental damage from recent oil leak ranges from contaminated water supply to polluted farmland

GLENDIVE, Montana — When an oil pipeline burst in July 2011 and poured 63,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River 200 miles upstream from Dena Hoff’s farm of wheat, beans and corn on the Great Plains in Glendive, she felt disgusted.

When it happened again Saturday, she felt terror. This pipeline breach was underneath the Yellowstone River, just a few feet from her sheep pasture. The new spill poured out some 50,000 gallons of crude oil. Leaders of this small riverside farming and ranching community in northeastern Montana warned residents not to drink their tap water, because benzene, a carcinogen, was found in the municipal water system. Oil slicked the river for dozens of miles, almost to the border with North…

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Oklahoma coming to terms with unprecedented surge in earthquakes

By Hailey Branson-Potts in the Los Angeles Times

Crescent, Okla., like much of the state, has been hit by numerous earthquakes in recent weeks. Many scientists blame drilling operations. (Mark Potts / LA Times)

When Austin Holland was being considered for his job as the sole seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 2009, his interviewer posed a wry question: “Are you going to be able to entertain yourself as a seismologist in Oklahoma?”

Back then, the state had a 30-year average of only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. As it turns out, though, boredom has been the least of Holland’s concerns. Over the last five years, the state has had thousands of earthquakes — an unprecedented increase that has made it the second-most seismically active state in the continental United States, behind California.

The state had 109 temblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013 — more than 5,000% above normal. There have already been more than 200 earthquakes this year, Holland said.

Scientists have never observed such a dramatic swarm of earthquakes “in what’s considered a stable continental interior,” Holland said. “Whatever we’re looking at, it’s completely unprecedented.”

Oklahoma has always had the potential for earthquakes; it has a complex underlying fault system. But until recently, the most powerful quake of the modern era was a 5.5-magnitude temblor in 1952 that left a 15-meter crack in the state Capitol.

Scientists say the more likely cause of the recent increase is underground injection wells drilled by the oil and gas industry. About 80% of the state is within nine miles of an injection well, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oklahoma has seen a boom in oil and gas production, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of shooting water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and natural gas. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and several universities suggest there is a link between the quakes and disposal wells, where wastewater from fracking is forced into deep geological formations for storage.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

China Revises Environmental Law

FILE – Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing. China’s north is suffering a pollution crisis, with the capital Beijing itself shrouded in acrid smog. Authorities have introduced anti-pollution policies.

HONG KONG — After almost two years of debate, China’s parliament has passed a new law that analysts say is a positive step in addressing the country’s systemic problems with the environment. Environmental groups say that although implementation may prove difficult, the revision gives them a legal framework to challenge polluters.

The new law gives more punitive powers to environmental authorities, allows a broader range of actions for environmental organizations and defines geographical “red lines” where the area’s ecology requires special protection.

It is the first time the environmental protection law has been revised since 1989.

Lawmaker Xin Chunying, told a news briefing Thursday that the revision will have an important effect on the future of China’s environmental protection efforts. “The revision of the environmental law is a heavy blow [in the fight against] our country’s harsh environmental realities, and an important systemic construct,” said Xin.

China has suffered from the effects of its rapid development, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty but heavily damaged the environment.

Air, water and soil pollution have reached alarming levels, becoming one of the key sources of discontent for many Chinese.

Despite official pronouncements to put the environment first, local governments have for decades been judged solely on their economic performance.

Read more at Voice of America

Conservative heavyweights have solar industry in their sights

The Koch brothers and large utilities have allied to reverse state policies that favor renewable energy. Environmentalists are pushing back, but the fight is spreading and intensifying.

Americans for Prosperity, run by David Koch, shown here, and his brother, Charles, has led the effort to overturn a law in Kansas that requires 20% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources. (Phelan M. Ebanhack / Associated Press / August 30, 2013)

WASHINGTON — The political attack ad that ran recently in Arizona had some familiar hallmarks of the genre, including a greedy villain who hogged sweets for himself and made children cry.

But the bad guy, in this case, wasn’t a fat-cat lobbyist or someone’s political opponent.

He was a solar-energy consumer.

Solar, once almost universally regarded as a virtuous, if perhaps over-hyped, energy alternative, has now grown big enough to have enemies.

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

Alarmed environmentalists and their allies in the solar industry have fought back, battling the other side to a draw so far. Both sides say the fight is growing more intense as new states, including Ohio, South Carolina and Washington, enter the fray.

At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.

Net metering forms the linchpin of the solar-energy business model. Without it, firms say, solar power would be prohibitively expensive.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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Obama Punts On Keystone Pipeline

A decision to give executive agencies more time to review plans for the controversial pipeline could push a final decision to after the midterm elections

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network’s conference in New York, April 11, 2014 (Carolyn Kaster—AP)

The Obama Administration is extending its review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has become an election-year minefield.

The State Department said Friday that while the public comment period will not be extended, executive agencies need more time to review the submitted comments as well as consider a Nebraska court case surrounding the pipeline. The indefinite extension could put off a decision on the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canadian tar sands to American refineries, until after November’s midterm elections.

“On April 18, 2014, the Department of State notified the eight federal agencies specified in Executive Order 13337 we will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone Pipeline Project,” the department said in a statement. “Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state. In addition, during this time we will review and appropriately consider the unprecedented number of new public comments, approximately 2.5 million, received during the public comment period that closed on March 7, 2014.

“The Permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” the State Department statement continued. “The Department will give the agencies sufficient time to submit their views.”

The pipeline has become a focus of Republican critics of the Obama Administration’s regulatory process. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the White House Friday after news of the decision broke.

Read more at TIME

Koch Brothers Are Principal Stakeholders in Canadian Tar Sands

“The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” via the Washington Post.

David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

You might expect the biggest lease owner in Canada’s oil sands, or tar sands, to be one of the international oil giants, like Exxon Mobil or Royal Dutch Shell. But that isn’t the case. The biggest lease holder in the northern Alberta oil sands is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the privately-owned cornerstone of the fortune of conservative Koch brothers Charles and David.

The Koch Industries subsidiary holds leases on 1.1 million acres — an area nearly the size of Delaware — in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, according to an activist group that studied Alberta provincial records. The Post confirmed the group’s findings with Alberta Energy, the provincial government’s ministry of energy. Separately, industry sources familiar with oil sands leases said Koch’s lease holdings could be closer to two million acres. The companies with the next biggest net acreage positions in oil sands leases are Conoco Phillips and Shell, both close behind.

What is Koch Industries doing there? The company wouldn’t comment on its holdings or strategy, but it appears to be a long-term investment that could produce tens of thousands of barrels of the region’s thick brand of crude oil in the next three years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of barrels a few years after that.

The finding about the Koch acreage is likely to inflame the already contentious debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline and spur activists and environmentalists seeking to slow or stop planned expansions of production from the northern Alberta oil sands, or tar sands. Environmental groups have already made opposing the pipeline their leading cause this spring and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Koch brothers Charles and David “un-American” and “shadowy billionaires.”

The link between Koch and Keystone XL is, however, indirect at best. Koch’s oil production in northern Alberta is “negligible,” according to industry sources and quarterly publications of the provincial government. Moreover, Koch has not reserved any space in the Keystone XL pipeline, a process that usually takes place before a pipeline is built. The pipeline also does not run anywhere near Koch’s refining facilities. And TransCanada, owner of the Keystone routes, says Koch is not expected to be one of the pipeline’s customers.

Read more at the Washington Post

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Elizabeth Warren Comes Down Hard Against Global Warming, Separates Herself From Hillary Clinton On Climate Change

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren
By Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Community Banks Roundtable) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, December 20th, Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren finally separated herself clearly from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regarding the issue of climate change and global warming. Here is the story:TransCanada Corporation wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry oil from Alberta Canada’s tar sands to two refineries owned by Koch Industries near the Texas Gulf Coast, for export to Europe; and Hillary Clinton has helped to make that happen, but Elizabeth Warren has now taken the opposite side.

Secretary of State Clinton, whose friend and former staffer Paul Elliot is a lobbyist for TransCanada, had worked behind the scenes to ease the way for commercial exploitation of this, the world’s highest-carbon-emitting oil, 53% of which oil is owned by America’s Koch Brothers. (Koch Industries owns 63% of the tar sands, and the Koch brothers own 86% of Koch Industries; Elaine Marshall, who is the widow of the son of the deceased Koch partner J. Howard Marshall, owns the remaining 14% of Koch Iindustries.)

David Goldwyn, who “served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs,” is yet another lobbyist for TransCanada. So, TransCanada has two of Hillary’s friends working for them. Misters Elliot and Goldwyn thus worked intimately with Hillary’s people to guide them on selecting a petroleum industry contractor (not an environmental firm, much less any governmental agency) to prepare the required environmental impact statement for this proposed pipeline.

Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State had already displayed a record of carrying out the policies that were being promoted by her lobbyist friends, when she did everything possible, early in President Obama’s first term, to support U.S. funding for the fascist junta in Honduras that perpetrated a coup d’etat on 28 June 2009 overthrowing that nation’s popular progressive democratically elected President, and who then installed their own regime, and promptly placed their country into a continuing violent terror that caused Honduras ever since to be the nation with the highest murder rate in the world. Hillary’s lobbyist friend in that particular matter was Lanny Davis, who also is an occasional Fox News contributor.

Secretary Clinton’s State Department thus allowed the environmental impact statement on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to be performed by a petroleum industry contractor that was chosen by the company that was proposing to build and own the pipeline, TransCanada. That contractor had no climatologist, and their resulting report failed even at its basic job of estimating the number of degrees by which the Earth’s climate would be additionally heated if this pipeline is built and operated. Their report ignored that question, and instead evaluated the impact that climate change would have on the pipeline, which was estimated to be none.

President Obama himself is now trying to force the European Union to relax their anti-global-warming regulations so as to permit them to import the Kochs’ dirty oil. His agent in this effort is his new U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, from Wall Street.

But on December 20th, Senator Warren signed onto a letter criticizing the Obama Administration’s apparent effort to force the European Union to agree to purchase this oil. As the Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard reported, “Six senators and 16 House members, all Democrats, wrote a letter to Froman on Friday asking him to elaborate on his position on the matter. ‘If these reports are accurate, USTR’s [the U.S. Trade Representative’s] actions could undercut the EU’s commendable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its transportation sectors,” these 22 Democratic lawmakers wrote.

Read more at the Huffington Post

Alberta Government Quietly Funded Researchers Behind ‘Independent’ Report Boosting Keystone XL

An aerial view of crude oil production in Alberta, Canada. (Flickr, Howl Arts Collective)

Before the State Department released its controversial Environmental Impact Study last week, a consulting firm called IHS CERA primed the news media by releasing its own study last year claiming that the Keystone XL wouldn’t make a substantial difference in emissions. The report was released as an “independent” study. TheNation.com filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request to the Alberta government, and found that taxpayers in Canada paid IHS CERA hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The heavily redacted contract, a version of which can be found here, provides $325,000 from the government of Alberta to IHS CERA. In addition, public budget documents from Alberta reveal that taxpayers in Canada have provided IHS with more than $545,426 in payments over the last year for energy-related work.

The Alberta government has been one of the most aggressive proponents of the pipeline. Last year, Alberta retained two DC lobbying firms with strong ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, to push for speedy approval of the Keystone XL.

Echoing the State Department EIS released last week, the IHS CERA claimed that even without the Keystone XL, Canadian oil sands would be developed by other means. “Even if the Keystone XL pipeline does not move forward, we do not expect a material change to oil sands production growth,” claims the authors.

However, assessments of the market by Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and other leading financial analysts have found that the Keystone XL is critical for the development of the high-carbon oil sands market.

Read more at The Nation

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