Sierra Club Compass
This morning, Professor Laurence Tribe, a Constitutional law professor at Harvard University, will be testifying before a U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and we fully expect that he will take aim at one of the most significant policies this country has ever undertaken to curb climate-disrupting carbon pollution -- the Clean Power Plan. Big polluters and their allies love to point to Tribe’s attacks on the EPA’s broadly popular policies, and for good reason: he’s on their payroll.
While using the Harvard name and reputation, there’s one aspect of Tribe’s portfolio that’s lesser-known: he’s done the dirty work for oil and coal companies that poison our air, our water, and our climate. Tribe’s disclosure form for Harvard Law lists clients ranging from the American Petroleum Institute to the Petroleum Marketing Association of America to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound -- an organization with an innocuous enough name that was actually bankrolled by none other Bill Koch.
And, of course, there’s one of his latest clients: Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company. Tribe is on board with Peabody as part of their efforts to attack the Clean Power Plan. He’s submitted comments to the EPA attacking the plan alongside Peabody, and now he’s set to do the same in front of a friendly audience in the Republican-held U.S. House.
Other legal scholars have already picked apart Tribe and Peabody’s arguments.
Lisa Heinzerling, a Professor of Natural Resources Law at Georgetown University, told ThinkProgress that “Tribe and Peabody Energy do not raise any new points that are relevant from a legal perspective in this document.” In fact, Heinzerling notes that they are based more on colloquial persuasion toward political minds than in legal grounding, saying arguments “are not made in a way that seems seriously pitched to legal actors. They seem much more like a kind of political declaration for an argument pitched to politicians.”
Richard Revesz, dean emeritus and Lawrence King Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, went even further, saying Tribe’s arguments are “flatly wrong.” Revesz further contested Tribe’s assertion that the Clean Power Plan was a “drastic change” from past Presidential action, noting that “For the past quarter of a century, each president, Democratic and Republican, has taken measures to regulate the emissions of existing power plants because they are the nation's largest sources of many harmful air pollutants.”
Indeed, despite Tribe’s lengthy credentials and powerful alliances, his earlier fights on behalf of big polluting industries haven’t been successful. Tribe fought against a foundational piece of the Clean Air Act, arguing against the National Ambient Air Quality Standards on behalf of the American Trucking Association, and lost in a unanimous Supreme Court ruling. He also helped develop an argument on behalf of General Electric that claimed the federal Superfund law (CERCLA) was unconstitutional. But, he came up short twice.
It’s all part of a disturbing trend of so-called experts pushing polluter propaganda to the public while collecting checks from the oil, gas, and coal industry. That’s why its important to remember that when Tribe testifies before Congress, we’ll be hearing what the coal industry wants us to think. Other scholars and the public have a different opinion entirely. In fact, millions of Americans have submitted comments in support of the Clean Power Plan. Poll after poll shows strong majorities support it and want it enacted. Now, its time we turn down the polluter propaganda and turn up the pressure to make sure distractions don’t derail this critically important effort to protect our families and our communities.John Coequyt From Compass
Richmond, CA is a small, previously unknown, town with just over 100,000 residents on the coast of the San Pablo Bay. That changed in 2014 when Chevron contributed over $3 million to win legislative seats in Richmond -- and failed.
Chevron, one of the biggest oil corporations in the world, has a refinery based in town. On August 6, 2012, an explosion at the refinery rocked the small city, sending over 15,000 of its residents to nearby hospitals and starting a community movement to take back Richmond from the corporate giant. The community rallied, and in the 2014 elections gained positions over the Chevron candidates. We had the opportunity to talk to one of these successful candidates, Jovanka Beckles -- now a city council member -- about her experience with Chevron in Richmond, the difficulties her community faces, and above all, how she and her town defeated Big Oil.
Q: Can you please give the readers an idea of what the Richmond community is like? What is its relationship with Chevron?
Richmond is a diverse community. We have large populations of Latinos and African-Americans and smaller populations of Asians and Caucasians. It is primarily a working-class city with a relatively large number of unemployed, disenfranchised residents. More recently, we have seen a lot of improvement in the lives of our citizens. We protect our undocumented workers. Our crime levels have decreased substantially.
As far as Chevron goes, until recently Chevron dominated our economy and politics, doling out favors to residents at its leisure. Most people, with the encouragement of Chevron, had bought into the idea that Chevron was good to, and for, the community. Finally, that understanding is changing.
Q: What kind of effect does being so close to the Chevron Refinery have on your community and the health of the people that live there?
We have known for years that the refinery emissions are a real threat to our health. We can see environmental racism at work in Richmond. [Environmental racism refers to the idea that dangerous and harmful practices by companies are oftentimes committed in minority neighborhoods.] The asthma rates in children living downwind from the refinery, who are mostly children of color, are much higher than in other communities. Yet Chevron has consistently put their profits before our health. They couldn’t get away with it if they were polluting a middle-class community.
Q: Can you talk about the Chevron Refinery Fire and the days that followed, and how you think that affected your community’s relationship with Chevron?
The fire was a real wake-up call and made us all aware of the potential dangers we face every day being next to the Chevron refinery. We know that it could have been much worse. But at the same time it woke many of the people who had believed the corporate hype about how good Chevron is for our community, showing them what we had been saying all along—the Chevron refinery was and is a threat to our welfare. If Chevron wants to really help the Richmond community it will do everything in its power to make its operations as safe as possible.
Q: In 2014, despite the fact that Chevron contributed over $3 million to get their candidates elected, members of the Richmond community succeeded in beating out these candidates and electing community members that were not backed by the corporation, you being one of them. Can you tell us what it was like being a part of such an incredible success story and how you think it impacted Richmond?
It is an incredible feeling to have beaten the Chevron candidates. Hundreds of people worked hard for months to mobilize and use our collective strength as a powerful tool that money could not buy! I'm so very proud of Richmond voters. It shows that when a community is paying attention, no amount of misinformation and outright lies will prevail, no matter how many times it’s stated throughout the city on billboards, internet ads, and all the outlets that money can buy. It shows that a united, informed community is powerful!
Q: What do you think makes your community different? Why were you successful in challenging the big money of Chevron?
I think what makes our community different is that a group of dedicated, progressive individuals who oppose corporate control has worked incredibly hard for the last ten years to bring progressive change to Richmond. At the same time, dedicated environmentalists organized to stand up against Chevron, uniting our causes.
Q: Moving forward, what would you like to see Chevron do to prevent fires like the one in 2012 from happening again? What would you like them to do to reduce the health concerns for everyone in the Richmond community? Do you have a strategy in mind to get these plans going?
There are a number of steps that can be initiated to reduce the likelihood of fires and make the refinery safer for the community. These include having more oversight of production, using “best available control technology,” BACT, to run the refinery, putting in place severe penalties for failure to reduce emissions and unsafe operations, and making the unions stronger, including giving workers the right to shut down dangerous operations.
Q: What would you hope other communities fighting similar battles can learn from Richmond?
I would like other communities to be inspired, motivated, and have the confidence to know that it is possible to beat what seems like insurmountable odds. We have learned a lot about how to run a ground campaign, how to fight back. I think we learned how to balance attacking Chevron and putting our positive vision forward. We’d be happy to talk with anyone who is thinking about mounting a people’s campaign.
Kate McCormick From Compass
Today, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, keeper of the global coal plant tracker database, released a comprehensive report on the global coal pipeline -- and the news is big. The global boom in coal-fired power plant construction is going bust.
Since 2010, for every coal plant completed worldwide, two proposed coal plants have been shelved or canceled. We have known for a while that the coal industry was facing serious headwinds -- even banks like Citi and Goldman Sachs have been warning of coal’s impending decline -- but the scale of project failure should be a wakeup call to anyone who still thinks the coal industry’s salvation lies in a 21st-century global coal boom.
Globally, in 2014, for the first time ever, carbon emissions were flat as the world economy grew, largely due to reduced coal use and the expansion of clean energy. Even as coal use continues its rapid decline in the United States with 187 coal plants announced for retirement since 2010, thanks in large part to widespread grassroots pressure from communities demanding an end to deadly pollution, the U.S. coal industry was counting on a booming exports business to keep it afloat. But today’s report shows this is simply not going to happen.
According to this new report, coal use in China declined for the first time in 2014, while the economy simultaneously grew at 7.3 percent, proving that coal is not synonymous with growth. The picture in India is even more dismal for coal companies looking to the subcontinent for salvation. There, for every one project that was completed, six were shelved or canceled. And that coal renaissance that was supposedly going to take place in Europe? In the EU, retired coal capacity outpaced new capacity by 22 percent. Nowhere is the European shift away from coal more apparent than in the UK, where the leaders of the three main political parties recently made a joint commitment to accelerate the shift to a low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for electricity.
The evaporation of coal prospects overseas also buoys the work of local residents and First Nation communities as they fight to stop new coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf of Mexico. These groups have been working to demonstrate the devastating effects that the proposed railway and port infrastructure would have on human health and traditional fishing. All along, activists have worked to show that these coal projects were financially untenable. This new report provides further evidence that coal industry forecasts of an insatiable coal boom in Asia were more marketing pitch than business plan. This will further undermine the remaining projects, as the proposed export terminals continue to fall like dominoes under the combined pressure of grassroots activism and economic realities.
But there is also a warning to accompany this good news. While larger trends are turning against coal, there are still over 1,000 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation proposed worldwide. This may not be enough to revive the coal industry in the face of accelerating coal plant retirements, but it is enough to devastate the climate and public health. To avoid catastrophic climate disruption and the global instability and human suffering it would cause, we must continue building on the progress found in the report to phase out coal plants and replace them with clean energy.
With attention turning toward the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris this December, it is critical that countries commit to ending subsidies and policies that favor coal, and instead focus on cutting-edge clean energy solutions that not only create jobs but also protect public health. As the latest reports on carbon emissions make clear, we’re moving in the right direction. Whether or not we can reach a meaningful global agreement will depend, in large part, on whether countries can continue making the progress identified in this report -- phasing out dangerous, outdated, and polluting energy, while deploying the clean energy technologies of the 21st century.Mary Anne Hitt, Nicole Ghio From Compass
Leave it to Senator Mitch McConnell to turn a powerful anti-drug slogan into a mantra for self-destruction.
The new Senate Majority Leader has been struggling to find his sea legs ever since his Republicans took over the upper chamber of Congress in January. When not locked in intractable fights with his own party in the U.S. House, McConnell’s taken loss after loss in the Senate. He wasted nearly a month of time trying to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline when he knew the President would veto the legislation anyway. In the meantime, his caucus fractured badly on votes acknowledging the basic realities of climate science, exposing his members to well-earned scorn. And, to go from the absurd to the downright bizarre, his chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee balled up some Feburary snow and threw it on the Senate floor, ostensibly to argue that climate science isn’t real but practically only earning theGOP headlines that placed themsquarely in the stone age.
Yet McConnell can only blame himself for the latest embarrassment, as his attempt to attack the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever protections from carbon pollution from power plants puts himself on the wrong side of the public, the law, other conservatives and even the utilities in his own home state.
Last week, McConnell authored an op-ed last week attacking the Clean Power Plan, instructing State’s to “just say no” and not abide by the law of the land on curbing dangerous carbon pollution. In suggesting states reject carbon pollution safeguards, McConnell trotted out all of the tired attacks the fossil fuel industry has used every time they’ve been asked to clean up their act, from saying it’d raise energy bills to claiming it’d hurt American families. But, his arguments have gone over like a lead balloon, with even McConnell’s conservative allies objecting, and critics deriding his “just say no” plan “futile”, “reckless”, and “not grounded in factual understanding.” Here’s a rundown:
The Libertarian Think Tank, Niskan Center, called McConnell’s “plan” a “futile attempt to make a point” and applauded the Clean Power Plan noting that it “gives states plenty of flexibility to decide how to meet the emissions reductions dictated by the agency.”
Former US Energy Department Official Susan Tierney called McConnell’s plan “not grounded in factual understanding,” writing to the Lexington Herald-Leader that McConnell “fails to recognize the serious threats facing our public health and environment from carbon pollution. Contrary to McConnell's claims, the Clean Power Plan allows states genuine flexibility in their efforts to reduce carbon pollution — while protecting our electrical reliability and economy and taking a powerful step toward curbing carbon pollution.”
In an op-ed in Real Clear Energy, Foley & Lardner attorneys Brian H. Potts and David Zoppo fact-checked McConnell’s “plan,” and urged states to “Just Say No” to “Just Say No,”: “Before recommending this approach, however, Senator McConnell should have done his homework… refusing to comply with the rule is not going to lower energy bills—in fact, it will only make things worse. Indeed, if the Senator’s home state “just says no,” it will increase the Plan’s cost to Kentucky by a whopping 75%.”
The New York Times shredded McConnell’s suggestions in an editorial, blasting his “plan” as “reckless,” “shocking,” and a “travesty of responsible leadership.”
To make matters worse for McConnell, his own home state is even ignoring him:
Kentucky leaders think it would be “unwise” to stop working on a strategy to implement the Clean Power Plan. According to an article in Kentucky.com, “Gov. Steve Beshear's top energy and environment experts believe it would be unwise for Kentucky to stop working toward a potential plan for complying with likely new rules to limit carbon from coal-fired power plants.”
Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet says, "The overwhelming majority of our stakeholders are telling us to make preparations to submit a plan.” In an article in the Courier-Journal, Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown stated, "Failing to follow through with creation of that plan means Kentucky would most likely have to abide by a federal implementation plan.”
Even Kentucky’s largest utility, Louisville Gas & Electric supports the state’s emerging Clean Power Plan strategy. According to E&E News, Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities spokeswoman Liz Pratt says, "Kentucky, as all other states should, is seeking to implement these new requirements under the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan in a manner which least impacts its residents.” (E&E News, 3/4/15)
McConnell seems to be sitting alone with his pals in the coal industry, because opinion everywhere else is quite clear: we need to just say yes to the Clean Power Plan.
-- Sierra Club Media TeamFrom Compass
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