climate

Green "Billionaire's club" Conspiring to Save the Environment?

  • Posted on: 8 August 2014
  • By: JesseColeman

Vitter alleges a "Billionaire's club" is conspireing to save the environment.

Green Billionaire's Club?

Is a “billionaire’s club” conspiring to help the environment? A new report by the Senate minority’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee called “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” says yes. The report was ostensibly commissioned by David Vitter, the ranking republican in EPW. Despite a lack of good grammar, the Vitter’s "Billionaire’s club" report represents a significant amount of government time and energy. It tracks donations from major environmental foundations to various non-profits, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. It has tables and graphs. But as Lee Fang points out, it is missing some important context:

“Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elite, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combating global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.”

Rather than a tool for open government, Vitter's Billionaire's Club report seems more like a distraction from the real billionaires in politics, major corporations and industrialists, with whose agenda David Vitter is strongly aligned.  

David Vitter and The Koch Brothers

  Interestingly, Vitter has ties to his own billionaires club, specifically the billionaire Koch Brothers. Sen. Vitter has vociferously supported the Billionaires, and was caught on camera saying: "I think the Koch Brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth… I’ll be honest with you, God bless the Koch brothers." According to ThinkProgress, the Koch brothers have blessed Senator Vitter right back. A review of campaign contributions finds that he and his leadership PAC have received at least $57,500 from the Koch brothers’ corporate political action committee - the same PAC that has been repeatedly accused of breaking elections laws surrounding money contributions. Besides the Koch brothers, Senator Vitter's largest political contributors are billionaire oil and gas interests.  

David Vitter and the environment

Vitter is not usually a friend of environmental legislation. Oil Change International has Vitter siding with billionaire fossil fuel interests 94% of the time. For example, David Vitter was instrumental in delaying EPA ‘s assessment of the health risks of formaldehyde, while being lauded by companies that use or manufacture the chemical, like Koch Industries. Formaldehyde, which has been conclusively linked to cancer by the National Cancer Institute, is still only a “probable” carcinogen according to the EPA. Furthermore, as Steve Horn points out, Vitter's green Billionaire's club report may have an ulterior motive in blocking environmentalists:

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recentU.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

  Should there be less money in politics and more disclosure? Yup. Just funny to hear that from David Vitter. In fact there is a bill that Sen. Vitter could support, that would help reduce the influence of secret money in politics. Called the DISCLOSE Act, it seeks to reduce the torrent of dark money unleashed by the Citizens United v. FEC supreme court decision. However, the DISCLOSE Act would also force transparency on the Koch political giving machine, well known for obscuring the origin of political contributions. In spite of EPW's focus on Vitter's billionaire's club and political spending by environmental groups, Senator Vitter has refused to support campaign finance reform, or efforts aimed at reducing the wealthy's influence in politics, like the DISCLOSE Act. 

If the Senate was interested in uncovering secretive funding apparatus bent on twisting government policy to the detriment of people and their future, perhaps a look into climate change denial organizations would be a better use of tax dollars. A report by Drexel University's Robert Brulle found that 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010. This dwarfs most of the numbers used in Vitter's Billionaire's club report. However, Vitter has called climate change science “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage.” Perhaps Vitter and his staff should read Greenpeace's report on Koch funding of climate change denial, if he is so interested in secretive manipulations of politics. Billionaire's club.

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Obama's State of the Union speech riddled with oil industry talking points

  • Posted on: 30 January 2014
  • By: JesseColeman

Test your BS meter with this one question quiz:

Which part of Obama's State of the Union was written by the oil industry?

a) “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades”
b) “natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
c) fracking for oil and gas can be "sustainable"
d) all of the above

The answer is literally, "all of the above."

During his State of The Union speech, President Obama said:

"The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades."

The phrase “all of the above,” which the president used in his 2012 State of the Union address as well, is the creation of the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying and public relations arm, the American Petroleum Institute (API). According to the New York Times, the phrase was introduced in 2000 by API to advocate for oil drilling. API’s position at the time was “that an effective national energy policy must, at a minimum, allow for all of the above.” API, proud of the hegemony of their ideas, actually predicted the president would champion the pro-fossil fuel message in this most recent State of the Union address, the day before the speech was given.

After The American Petroleum Institute debuted the phrase in 2000, it was quickly picked up by republicans with wells to drill. John Mccain made it a central part of his 2008 campaign for president. Republicans in the house and senate used it to promote offshore drilling. The former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, now under federal indictment for corruption, listed the phrase on his campaign website.

ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in world history, continues to use the phrase in advertisements today, like this ad from ExxonMobil:

XOM-ALL-OF-THE-ABOVE1
This isn't just etymological trivia. The use of oil industry talking points by the president indicates how ingrained and powerful the fossil fuel industry is in the U.S’s energy conversation.

It also casts a revealing light on other pro-fossil energy comments made by President Obama in the speech, like promoting “Energy Independence.” The idea is, if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices and reducing dependence of “foreign” energy supplies. This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. The oil industry wants to sell it's product on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is. Currently there are plans for 25 Liquified Natural Gas export terminals in the US, and the American Petroleum Institute is spending millions of dollars to undo a decades old law that prohibits the export of crude oil. As more oil and gas is drilled from American soil and water, more gas and oil will be exported. We will continue to import oil and other goods from around the world, regardless of how much drilling happens in the U.S.

Another energy myth promoted by the Obama administration and the fossil fuel industry is natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewable energy.

The truth is that gas is primarily comprised of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Some scientists believe that methane could be up to 105 times as destabilizing to the global climate as carbon dioxide. When fully burned, gas releases less CO2 than coal or oil, but currently huge amounts of methane are escaping unburned into the atmosphere. An increase in spending on gas infrastructure, like pipelines, Liquified Natural Gas export terminals, or vehicle refueling stations, is not a bridge to renewable energy. It is the same old fossil fuel infrastructure that poses serious threats to the earth’s climate and local environments. The U.S doesn’t need more spending on fossil fuels, it needs a real commitment to renewable energy, efficiency, and cutting carbon pollution.

Gas Pipeline Construction in Bradford
Gas Pipeline Construction in Bradford County, Pennsylvania

 

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Google Still Supporting Climate Change Deniers. Why Google, Why?

  • Posted on: 27 September 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

The heartland institute funded this billboard.

Yet another Google-funded organization is out promoting conspiracy theories about the threat of man-made global warming. On Monday, September 23, the Google-financed Heritage Foundation hosted hosted Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, Willie Soon, and Bob Carter to present “Climate Change Reconsidered II,” in which they argued that the world’s scientific community have systematically overstated the dangers to humanity of unregulated carbon pollution.

Like the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, Soon, and Carter have significant funding from the fossil-fuel industry and a long record of questioning not only the economics of regulating climate pollution but the underlying science itself, as explained in our new Dealing in Doubt report

Greenpeace activists confronted Bast at Heritage after the event, asking him to reveal whether Chicago magnate Barre Seid funded the multimillion-dollar climate-denial initiative. Bast refused to answer the question.


 

Since Google’s selection of former Republican representative Susan Molinari as their chief lobbyist, the Internet giant has embraced key players in the climate-denial machine. In the last few months, Google was the top funder of the annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, famed for its “CO2: We Call It Life” ads, held a fundraiser for the re-election of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who penned the book “The Greatest Hoax,” and was revealed to be a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has argued that “substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States.”

Google’s support of the Heritage Foundation elicited new criticism from climate scientists associated with the company.

“Their motto may be ‘don’t be evil,’ but they apparently don’t have any problem with giving it money,” climate scientist Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, told Hill Heat in an e-mail interview.

“If you want to be a corporate leader on climate change or science education, you should fund groups to combat the anti-science garbage produced by Heritage, not the other way around,” said climate scientist Simon Donner, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, when asked for comment.

Dr. Dessler and Dr. Donner were Google Climate Science Communication Fellows in 2011. They and 15 other Fellows recently sent an open letter to the company criticizing its fundraiser for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), writing that “in the face of urgent threats like climate change, there are times where companies like Google must display moral leadership and carefully evaluate their political bedfellows.”

In a campaign led by climate accountability organization Forecast the Facts, over 150,000 people have signed petitions challenging Google’s support for climate deniers, and have staged protests in Washington DC, New York City, and Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

 
Here's a link to the Google-ALEC petition:
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Global warming = Sandy. Which politicians get it, which don't

  • Posted on: 31 October 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by David Pomerantz, crossposted from Greenpeace blogs.

Meet Hurricane Sandy, brought to you by global warming.

That's a tough message to swallow right now. It means that the devastating scenes we are seeing from the Northeast are not a freak coincidence, but a reflection of our new reality on a hotter, less stable planet, and a reality that will get much worse if we don't do something about it.

Fortunately there are things we can do, both to better prepare ourselves for more extreme weather events like Sandy, and to slow down the global warming at their root.

But whatever we do won't matter until our politicians start getting honest about the problem.

Some are doing so. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo connected the dots in his briefing this morning:

“There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement. Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality ... I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a 100-year flood every two years now."

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm sees the obvious too:

“There’s a clear link to climate change. And, yet, for the first time in over a quarter century, climate change was not brought up even once at the presidential debates.”

President Clinton may have drawn the sharpest, clearest connection so far, in a critique of Gov. Romney earlier today:

Clinton gets the facts slightly wrong in his scathing take-down of Gov. Romney (he made his "rising seas" joke at the RNC, not in a debate) but his point stands that Romney's campaign has completely ignored the looming thread of climate change, and even flirted with denying it. Perhaps even worse than Romney's joke that Clinton mentioned - one that is likely to become infamous in the post-Sandy world - is the fact that Romney's budget proposal would cut FEMA funding by 40 %. That's not exactly a smart resilience policy for a hotter planet with more extreme weather events.

Despite President Clinton's praise, President Obama has also been mostly silent on the climate discussion for some time. While Obama has made strides on clean energy in his presidency, he has run a campaign almost entirely devoid of any mentions of climate change, instead trying to out-embrace Gov. Romney for who could better endear himself to the fossil fuel industry responsible for the problem in the first place.

It may feel funny to talk about politicians right now, but if we are serious about steeling ourselves for the next disaster and slowing down the global warming that's putting these hurricanes on steroids, then part of picking up the pieces means finding out which politicians we can trust to be honest about what's exacerbating these disasters.

That starts with the next president. Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney will likely both be talking about Sandy this week: it's a good chance for them to show they'll be one of the politicians who gets it.

Aerial views of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast on October 30, 2012.

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Big Coal: decades of deception

  • Posted on: 10 September 2012
  • By: Cindy Baxter

Coal giant American Electric Power's slogan in the 70's.

[See our full archive of coal advertisements here]

“Can coal be cleaned before it’s burned? Of course it can!

Although this language comes from a 1970s advertisement from coal giant American Electric Power, this claim would be right at home with today’s “clean coal” advertising.

When someone sent us some old 1970’s newspaper advertisements from coal-burning giant American Electric Power, questioning proposed regulations to stop coal pollution, the language had a familiar ring to it. How long had the industry been telling us that coal was clean? Has the industry been using the same deceptive advertising campaigns to scrub its image (and delay important regulations to protect public health) for decades? So we went back through the archives to review the record.

We found that the coal industry has spent at least four decades spinning lies to convince us coal is clean, and any scientific evidence on pollution is crooked.  The industry further claims that any pollution regulation will cost jobs and cripple the economy.

The origins of truth spinning by the coal industry dates back to the birth of public relations in the first part of the twentieth century. The coal industry claimed they had cleaned up dirty coal eliminating the “black froth” on streams so that nearby waterways would remain “pristine.”

 


 

The 70’s and the Clean Air Act

The real spin from the coal industry began in the 1970’s when the Clean Air Act introduced air quality guidelines to curb sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that come from burning coal.

 
The coal industry pursued an aggressive PR offensive.  American Electric Power (AEP), then the country’s largest coal-burning utility company, launched ads calling for modifications of the Clean Air Act, or else the country would face “galloping unemployment.” 
 

AEP also ran ads warning that scrubbers designed to remove life-threatening pollutants from smokestack emissions wouldn't work, but would create large quantities of “oozy gook.

In contrast, today AEP’s subsidiary, Appalachian Power has quite a different take on scrubbers.   The company states on its website that the sludge from scrubbers is harmless: “…. This harmless substance then is sent to a landfill. The scrubber captures almost all of the SO2 produced from burning coal. That makes our air cleaner. It also gives plants the flexibility to use locally-available high-sulfur coal, which helps keep fuel costs low.”

To get around the local pollution problems and to adhere to the new air quality regulations, the industry started building tall stacks to disperse the pollution instead of reducing it.  When the EPA targeted tall stacks, AEP again fought them tooth and nail.

 

When the Middle East oil embargo sent gas prices skyrocketing, the industry tried to use concerns about the crisis to support its agenda. The Saudis would buy US coal, screamed one advertisement.  “What time is the electricity on today?”  asked another.  “Fanatical Environmentalists” were threatening America’s future, according to one ad.

 

What acid rain?

In 1980 the U.S. government began what would be a decades-long effort to grapple with the problem of acid rain caused by sulfur emissions from coal-fired power stations.

The coal industry attacked the emerging scientific consensus on acid rain.  Edison Electric Institute, funded by the utility industry and member of the Coalition for Energy Environment Balance, published “Facts About Acid Rain.”  The author, Alan Katzenstein, later worked for the Tobacco Institute and claimed that second hand smoke was harmless.

 

1990 Clean Air Act Amendments
When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 despite a barrage of industry-launched court cases, scrubbers became mandatory for all new power plants. Yet the coal industry still argued that regulation would “short circuit America’s electricity system”

 

But the lights stayed on.

In fact, the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments have saved billions of dollars spent on human health and worker days, according to a 2011 EPA analysis. A 2009 EPA report states that acid rain deposits over the US have decreased by 43 percent.

Enter the Greenwash

Once the coal industry had to comply with new standards, it began scrubbing the record of its resistance to public health standards.   The industry claimed that its state of the art technology cleaned up the emissions and pollution from coal plants that they had furiously spurned the previous decade. “A cleaner environment is on everyone’s agenda” said the EEI.
 

Enter climate science denial
By the early 1990’s, there was a new threat to Big Coal. After years of scientists' warnings about the impacts of greenhouse gases from burning coal and other fossils fuels, climate change began to emerge as a widespread concern. Once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first report, the coal industry rolled out the same attacks on the scientific evidence.

A new industry front group, Information Council on the Environment, ran a test series of advertisements challenging climate science. The objective was to “reposition global warming as theory, not fact.”  This strategy formed the beginnings of a decades-long, industry-funded campaign of climate science denial that continues to this day.

An economic argument was also used against climate action, with claims that a treaty like the Kyoto Protocol would ruin the economy. The “not global, won’t work” mantra of these ad campaigns has been a consistent excuse from U.S. officials in international climate talks for the last 12 years.  

 

The new “clean coal”

By the 2000’s, the coal industry increasingly relied on its “coal is clean” mantra.

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, the coal industry coalition, argued that coal was “better for the economy and cleaner for our environment.” 
 

Industry convinced federal agencies to pour taxpayer subsidies into a search for new coal emissions technologies including “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS.

CCS would bury C02 in underground aquifers. Despite being a prohibitively expensive and unproven technology, it has become the new poster child for clean coal.

By 2007, ABEC was claiming that they were going “beyond clean”. CCS was portrayed as being just around the corner, and pollutants like SO2 and NOX were now reduced to “near zero.” 

 

In 2008, ABEC morphed into the “American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity” (ACCCE) that mobilized industry supporters across the country before the elections.  ACCCE now claims “clean coal technology is real – and it is deployed across the U.S. and around the world to the benefit of people and our planet.”

The coal industry has spent decades trying to convince Americans that protecting our health and the environment will destroy the economy and leave us in the dark.

Yet our country has continually improved public health and environmental protections without the economic disasters hyped by the coal industry.

We couldn’t believe them then. Why should we believe them now?

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Could we really have expected a tiger to change its stripes? Tillerson invokes Raymond.

  • Posted on: 27 June 2012
  • By: Cindy Baxter

ExxonMobil advert, published in May 2000, questions climate science. This was in a series of adverts as opinion pieces, begun by Mobil as early as 1972 to question the Clean Air Act and continued after the ExxonMobil 1998 merger, when the ads promulgated Lee Raymond's anti climate-science stance. 

When Greenpeace first began focussing on ExxonMobil's funding of climate denial, its CEO and Chairman was arch denier Lee Raymond.

Raymond had spent years - and millions - on denying the science of climate change, both in funding right wing think tanks and scientists, and in his role as chair of the American Petroleum Institute's climate change committee.  A 1998 document revealed ExxonMobil plotting with some of those think tanks to challenge climate science. 

For years, Exxon had paid for expensive, weekly "Opinion Advertorials" on the New York Times opinion pages challenging the science (see image).

When Raymond stepped down and Rex Tillerson  took over in 2006, we hoped the worst was over.  That year, ExxonMobil dropped its funding of the Competitive Enterprise Institute that ran the charmingly titled "Cooler Heads Coalition". The final straw for ExxonMobil was the CEI's "C02 is life" advert (this links to an annotated version, but it's the original ad) positing that we couldn't get enough of the stuff.  

In dropping the CEI, ExxonMobil told everyone it had been "misunderstood" on its stance on climate change - and the media were led to believe that this tiger had changed its stripes. Its "Corporate Responsibility report" that year stated it was dropping its funding of a few think tanks because their "‘position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."

And yet, the company continued to fund deniers and does to this day. As of May last year, Exxon has poured a total of $26,061,235 into the campaign against climate denial.  While the funding in 2010 was just above $1 million, well down from its 2005 peak of $3.478 million, in 2010 Exxon started funding one of the think tanks that it had dropped and arguably the first off the blocks in the climate denial campaign, the George C Marshall Institute.  The Koch brothers have taken up where Exxon left off, but its legacy is clear.

But yesterday, Tillerson stepped right back into Raymond's old shoes, revealing that the company truly hasn't changed its thinking.  While he doesn't disagree  with the fact that climate change is happening,  he thinks we can adapt to it.  

The public is illiterate on science, and it's Exxon's job to fill in the gaps for everyone, apparently.  We just have to trust them as they know best (?).

Climate change, he says, is a “great challenge,” but it could be solved by adapting to risks such as higher sea levels and changing conditions for agriculture.
“There are much more pressing priorities that we, as a human race, need to deal with.”

“Increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have a warming impact,” “As a species that’s why we’re all still here: we have spent our entire existence adapting. So we will adapt to this,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”

While Tillerson has accepted the science of climate change, saying we can all adapt is no different. It's the same old obfuscation we have been seeing from this company, and from the denier groups it's been funding.   It's all about ExxonMobil being able to continue to pump fossil fuels out of the ground - and into the sky, and its profits from doing so. Which is why Tillerson says that fracking science is also "solid"/ 

Apparently, this man has "seen the drafts" of next year's IPCC report. Not sure what to make of this, but the question must be asked: how has he seen these drafts?  What might a company that is so keen on climate science do with early drafts?  A spot of lobbying?

The science on the impacts shows us that we will NOT be able to adapt.

Tillerson's comments remind me of a US delegate, J.R.Spradley, way back in 1990 when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was being negotiated.   When confronted by the Bangladeshi delegation about the impacts of sea level rise, he told them:  "the situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won't have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish."

Tillerson says that the world’s poorest residents “don’t even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably.”

All the predictions on the impacts of climate change point to the world's poorest bearing the brunt of the worst impacts.  The quality of life for small island states who could lose their entire nations will cease to exist as they know it.

But right now, much closer to home, Colorado's on fire. I'm sure Tillerson's words will be welcomed by residents forced to flee from the flames.

If we don't change tack, we are currently heading to a 3.5degC temperature rise.  This infographic from the scientists at the Climate Action Tracker gives us a clear outline of what we can expect.

It seems that what we can also continue to expect is business as usual from ExxonMobil so that it can continue its own business as usual.

What it also shows is that a tiger really cannot change its stripes.

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