Environmentalists and Nebraska farmers are upping the pressure on President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline following an oil spill that took place over the weekend.
The rupture occurred in central Arkansas, about 20 miles north of Little Rock, as Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil — the same Alberta crude the Keystone pipeline would carry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling it a “major spill” as officials from the EPA and Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are currently conducting an onsite investigation while ExxonMobil continues its cleanup efforts.
The company said more than 12,000 barrels of oil and water, or 185,000 gallons, had been recovered by Sunday. Reports say the line gushed for 45 minutes before being stopped and 22 homes were evacuated.
The Arkansas accident was the second Canadian crude oil spill in less than a week, as last Wednesday a train derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota.
The 20-inch Pegasus pipeline runs from Illinois to Texas and carries 90,000 barrels of crude per day. TransCanada’s 36-inch Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with the pipeline system that would carry the tar sands oil to refineries in Texas along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
A Media Matters report states that “Keystone is all risk and no reward for America. The fact that Canadians don’t want Keystone built across their own country tells us everything we need to know about the risks.” The report cautions about TransCanada’s poor safety record, citing 12 oil spills in the first year of operation of another section of the Keystone pipeline. However, TransCanada promises that new technology from its Calgary control room can better monitor pipeline pressure and shut off a leak within 15 minutes. But environmentalists say the tar sands pipeline is more vulnerable to leaks because “the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the oil sands can separate under pressure or high temperature and create explosive natural gas, heavy compounds, and corrosive acids.”
In an interview about the Arkansas spill, Keystone XL opponent and founder of climate action group 350.org, Bill McKibben, said “the power of the fossil fuel industry in Washington is enormous. They have all the money. The only thing we can stack up on the other side is the power of movements. We’ve been building them as fast as we can. We’ve had the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years about anything, about this pipeline. We had 40,000 people on the Mall last month in D.C. in the largest climate rally ever. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but we’re fighting it as hard as we can.”
The president is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by this summer.
By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, April 1, 2013
Although everyone from President Barack Obama to House Speaker John Boehner has lamented the negative impact of the $85 billion budget sequestration, at least two major Washington figures are thrilled about the severe cuts. For Charles and David Koch, the sequester accomplishes the goal that motivated the billionaire brothers to help launch the Tea Party movement in 2010: weakening the federal government. And now that the cuts have begun to take effect, the Koch brothers are reveling in their success.
Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing dark money group founded by the Koch brothers in 2004, sent out an email to supporters over the weekend claiming credit for sequestration. The email, from AFP President Tim Phillips, claims, “While Speaker Boehner and the GOP deserve credit and thanks for taking a gutsy stand, it’s important to realize what an incredible impact AFP activists like you” have had in convincing Congress to slash the federal budget across the board.
“These combined efforts helped spread a message across the country that enabled House Republicans to take heart and do the right thing knowing that conservatives had their back,” Phillips continues. His full letter, which also brags that USA Today “recognized the effectiveness of AFP activists and gave us the opportunity to articulate the importance of sequester cuts,” can be read here.
The Koch brothers are also taking to the airwaves to keep up the pressure for even more cuts. Public Notice, to which Charles and David Koch donated $8 million between 2009 and 2011, released a new ad Tuesday minimizing the impact of the sequester — and encouraging the government to make even deeper cuts.
“President Obama calls sequestration a ‘meat cleaver’ that will ‘eviscerate’ government services,” the ad’s narrator ominously charges. “What is sequestration? A three-percent cut in government spending. Three cents out of every dollar the government spends. We’re more than $16 trillion in debt, and the government wastes billions each year on duplicate programs.”
“Americans have made tough choices and cut back. Washington refuses,” the ad concludes. “Call Washington and ask them why it’s so hard to cut spending.”
The ad — which ignores the fact that government spending under President Barack Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s — will reportedly run until March 15.
Charles and David Koch’s enthusiasm for the sequester isn’t hard to understand. Although the cuts will have a devastating effect on society’s most vulnerable, they will likely boost Koch Industries’ bottom line. The budget sequester is expected to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts, and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has warned that “under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the nation’s transition into a clean energy economy.” Both outcomes would seem to be very good news for the oil billionaires.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 5, 2013
In January, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of “high-handedness.” He was just getting warmed up.
Over the next 3 1/2 months, Scalia asked whether federal immigration policy was designed to “please Mexico,” fired off 12 questions and comments in 15 minutes at a government lawyer in a case involving overtime pay, and dismissed part of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s defense of President Barack Obama’s health-care law as “extraordinary.”
Scalia’s tone this year, particularly in cases involving the Obama administration, is raising new criticism over the temperament of a justice who has always relished the give-and-take of the Supreme Court’s public sessions. Some lawyers say Scalia, a 1986 appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan, is crossing the line that separates tough scrutiny from advocacy.
“His questions have been increasingly confrontational,”said Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who served as Reagan’s top Supreme Court advocate. While the justice has always asked “pointed” questions, in the health-care case “he came across much more like an advocate.”
Scalia’s approach is fueling the perception that the biggest cases this term, including health care, may be influenced by politics, rather than the legal principles that he and other justices say should be their guide. A Bloomberg News poll in March showed that 75 percent of Americans think the court’s decision on the 2010 law will be based more on politics than on constitutional merit.
“Someone who had just tuned into the health-care argument might get the impression that the court is a much more partisan institution than it actually is,” said David Strauss, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
The week after the health-insurance argument, Obama showed a willingness to make the court an issue in his re-election campaign, saying a ruling striking down the law would be“judicial activism” by “an unelected group of people.” The court will probably rule by the end of June.
Scalia, 76, declined to comment for this story, said Kathy Arberg, a Supreme Court spokeswoman.
The justice has never shied away from controversy. He once wrote that a colleague’s reasoning in an abortion case “cannot be taken seriously.” When the court expanded the rights of prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he dissented by saying the ruling “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”
In 2009, he told a college student she had posed a “nasty, impolite question” when she asked whether book tours by the justices undermined their case for banning camera coverage of arguments. In 2006, he flicked his hand under his chin, using a dismissive gesture he said was Sicilian, to show his disdain for a reporter’s question.
In the courtroom, he is quick with one-liners, drawing laughter more frequently than any other justice during the court’s current nine-month term, according to DC Dicta, a blog that tracks the court.
Of late, Scalia’s most pointed remarks have come at the Obama administration’s expense.
In January, he directed his fire at Malcolm Stewart, a Justice Department attorney. Stewart was defending the EPA’s use of administrative compliance orders that demand an end to alleged environmental violations, in many cases insisting that recipients restore their land to its previous state.
‘That’s Very Nice’
Scalia made his contempt clear after Stewart said that people and companies could seek to change any “infeasible”requirements.
“Well, that’s very nice,” the justice said. “That’s very nice when you’ve received something called a compliance order, which says you’re subject to penalties” of $32,500 per day.
When Stewart said the EPA had modified the order at issue, dropping a requirement that an Idaho couple replant vegetation on their property, Scalia scoffed again. “It shows the high-handedness of the agency, it seems to me, putting in there stuff that is simply not required,” he said.
The court unanimously ruled against the EPA in March, giving landowners more power to challenge compliance orders in court.
With health care, Scalia’s primary target was Verrilli, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer. Defending the law’s requirement that Americans get insurance or pay a penalty, the solicitor general argued that uninsured people often receive care, even if they can’t pay for it, because of the “social norms to which we’ve obligated ourselves.”
“Well, don’t obligate yourself to that,” Scalia said.
Later, Scalia called one strand of the government’s defense– its contention that Congress could legally enact the law as a tax — “extraordinary.”
The following day, he mocked an assertion by another Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, as the court considered what would happen to the rest of the law should a key provision mandating that most Americans obtain insurance be declared unconstitutional. Kneedler said the court should look at “the structure and the text” of the 2,700-page statute.
“Mr. Kneedler, what happened to the Eighth Amendment?”Scalia asked, referring to the provision of the U.S. Constitution that bars cruel and unusual punishment. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?”
At times during the health-care debate, Scalia took to stating his position, rather than asking questions. He all but declared that he would vote to invalidate the whole law, not just the insurance mandate. “My approach would say if you take the heart out of the statute, the statute’s gone,” he said.
In a Labor Department case that concerns claims for overtime pay by drug-industry salespeople, lawyer Stewart urged the court to side with the employees and defer to the department’s interpretation of a federal wage-and-hour law.
Scalia, who directed a dozen questions and comments at Stewart, criticized the department for laying out that position in court filings, known as amicus briefs, rather than through formal rulemaking.
“This is part of a regular program that the agency has now instituted, to run around the country and file amicus briefs –is that it?” Scalia asked — again calling the approach“extraordinary.”
Scalia described as “extraordinary” yet another administration position, this time when Verrilli urged the court to strike down Arizona’s illegal-immigration law. Scalia bristled when the solicitor general said “we have to have the cooperation of the Mexicans,” something Verrilli said the federal government could best secure without state interference.
“So we have to enforce our laws in a manner that will please Mexico?” Scalia said. “Is that what you’re saying?”
Not everyone thinks that Scalia has gone too far. Ilya Shapiro, an opponent of the health-care law who attends eight to 10 arguments each term, says he sees no change in Scalia’s approach.
“He’s sarcastic, and he goes right to the heart of the weakness of the advocate who’s in front of him,” said Shapiro, a senior fellow at Washington-based Cato Institute, which advocates for limited government.
On health care, Scalia was simply trying to “express his exasperation with the government’s assertion of power,” he said.
To other Supreme Court lawyers, Scalia’s questions show a troubling pattern. Rather than merely probing legal arguments, he has served as a “partisan cheerleader,” said Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington, which supports the administration on health care and immigration.
“It’s disturbing to see a justice use oral argument as a platform for expressing the talking points that you hear each night on Fox News,” Kendall said. “I can’t think of a serious question that he posed in either argument suggesting that he was open to have his mind changed.”
By: Greg Stohr, Bloomberg News, May 15, 2012
It is a seemingly immutable law of modern Republican rhetoric that the word “regulation” can never appear unadorned by the essential adjective: “job-killing.”
As in nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney, after winning the Illinois primary: “Day by day, job-killing regulation by job-killing regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, this president is crushing the dream.”
Or House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) denouncing “the president’s job-killing regulatory agenda” last month after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new limits on coal-fired power plants.
Or Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who said during her presidential campaign that the EPA should be renamed the “Job-Killing Organization of America.”
Hating regulation is an old argument, but the phrase is a relatively new trope. A Nexis search of articles from U.S. newspapers and news services shows that the words “job-killing regulations” appeared just a handful of times in 2007 — but several hundred times in 2011.
This inflated rhetoric is often accompanied by bad science — or, perhaps more precisely, inherently inexact science badly used. Opponents of a particular regulation tout inflated projections of the regulatory body count, more often than not financed by the affected industry. Ditto, by the way, for those on the other side.
For example, when the EPA last year issued rules to limit mercury and other power-plant emissions, the industry-backed American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity estimated the regulations would trigger the loss of 1.44 million jobs.
At the same time, the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst concluded that the rules would instead create 1.46 million jobs through retrofitting old plants and switching to new sources of renewable energy.
The EPA itself came up with much more modest predictions — that the rules would create about 50,000 one-time jobs and another 9,000 additional jobs annually. All in the broader context of a rule that the agency estimated would deliver annual net benefits of between $166 billion and $407 billion from cleaner air, including avoiding as many as 51,000 premature deaths annually.
Lesson One: If you plug your cherry-picked assumptions into your preferred model, it’s easy to obtain the desired result. Lesson Two: Jobs are only part of the larger picture.
A new report from the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law attempts to bring some economic rationality to the regulatory discourse — however quixotic that might be in the current political environment, not to mention in a presidential election year.
The report is titled “The Regulatory Red Herring: The Role of Job Impact Analyses in Environmental Policy Debates.” Yet somewhat surprisingly, Michael Livermore, the institute’s executive director, does not oppose factoring job impact into the cost-benefit analysis. Rather, he argues for adopting a more sophisticated approach than the prevalent knuckleheaded assumption — my words, not his — that increased regulation inevitably results in fewer jobs.
If an employer’s costs increase as the result of a regulation, Livermore notes, that is another way of saying that the employer has to hire workers to, say, install new technology while other employers hire workers to produce the new equipment.
In a healthy economy, the cost of layoffs should be transitory, as workers quickly find new jobs. In an economy like the current one, the impact of such layoffs may be more persistent — but any new jobs created may be more significant since, in a soft labor market, otherwise unemployed workers may be hired.
Can these cross-cutting impacts be accurately measured in a dynamic economy? Perhaps more important for the current discourse, is it possible to have the jobs and regulation discussion without ignoring the inherent limitations of economic modeling?
“The jobs impact analysis is important and we should do it, but the way it’s discussed now is completely wrong,” Livermore told me.
First, he said, “we talk about the jobs impact on the one hand and the other impacts (such as health and safety improvements) on the other hand, and they’re treated as apples and oranges.” Instead, he said, “we need to integrate the jobs impact into the broader costbenefit analysis.”
Second, Livermore said, is a failure among those doing the analyzing to disclose the assumptions and limitations of their models — and the willingness of politicians (and the media, for that matter) to treat the resulting figures as gospel rather than guesstimate.
“The real problem is the way they’re used in the political back and forth,” Livermore said. “They’re used as sledgehammers to beat up the other side.”
No surprise there. But a useful reminder at a time when the phrase job-killing has become mind-numbing.
By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 24, 2012
By the very nature of political journalism, the attention of those covering the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest tends to be focused on areas of disagreement between the candidates, as well as on the policy positions and messages they are eager to use against Barack Obama. But there are a host of other issues where the Republican candidates are in too much agreement to create a lot of controversy during debates or gin up excitement in the popular media. Areas of agreement, after all, rarely provoke shock or drive readership. But the fact that the Republican Party has reached such a stable consensus on such a great number of far-right positions is in many ways a more shocking phenomenon than the rare topic on which they disagree. Here are just a few areas of consensus on which the rightward lurch of the GOP during the last few years has become remarkably apparent:
1. Hard money. With the exception of Ron Paul’s serial campaigns and a failed 1988 effort by Jack Kemp, it’s been a very long time since Republican presidential candidates flirted with the gold standard or even talked about currency polices. Recent assaults by 2012 candidates on Ben Bernanke and demands for audits of the Fed reflect a consensus in favor of deflationary monetary policies and elimination of any Fed mission other than preventing inflation. When combined with unconditional GOP hostility to stimulative fiscal policies—another new development—this position all but guarantees that a 2012 Republican victory will help usher in a longer and deeper recession than would otherwise be the case.
2. Anti-unionism. While national Republican candidates have always perceived the labor movement as a partisan enemy, they haven’t generally championed overtly anti-labor legislation. Last Thursday, however, they all backed legislation to strip the National Labor Relations Board of its power to prevent plant relocations designed to retaliate against legally protected union activities (power the NLRB is exercising in the famous Boeing case involving presidential primary hotspot South Carolina). Meanwhile, at least two major candidates, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, have endorsed a national right-to-work law, and Romney and Perry have also encouraged states like New Hampshire to adopt right-to-work laws.
3. Radical anti-environmentalism. Until quite recently, Republicans running for president paid lip service to environmental protection as a legitimate national priority, typically differentiating themselves from Democrats by favoring less regulatory enforcement approaches and more careful assessment of economic costs and market mechanisms. The new mood in the GOP is perhaps best exemplified by Herman Cain’s proposal at the most recent presidential debate that “victims” of the Environmental Protection Agency (apparently, energy industry or utility executives) should dominate a commission to review environmental regulations—an idea quickly endorsed by Rick Perry. In fact, this approach might represent the middle-of-the-road within the party, given the many calls by other Republicans (including presidential candidates Paul, Bachmann, and Gingrich) for the outright abolition of EPA.
4.Radical anti-abortion activism. Gone are the days when at least one major Republican candidate (e.g., Rudy Giuliani in 2008) could be counted on to appeal to pro-choice Republicans by expressing some reluctance to embrace an immediate abolition of abortion rights. Now the only real intramural controversy on abortion has mainly surrounded a sweeping pledge proffered to candidates by the Susan B. Anthony List—one that would bind their executive as well as judicial appointments, and require an effort to cut off federal funds to institutions only tangentially involved in abortions. Despite this fact, only Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have refused to sign. Both, however, have reiterated their support for the reversal of Roe v. Wade and a constitutional amendment to ban abortion forever (though Romney has said that’s not achievable at present).
5. No role for government in the economy. Most remarkably, the 2012 candidate field appears to agree that there is absolutely nothing the federal government can do to improve the economy—other than disabling itself as quickly as possible. Entirely missing are the kind of modest initiatives for job training, temporary income support, or fiscal relief for hard-pressed state and local governments that Republicans in the past have favored as a conservative alternative to big government counter-cyclical schemes. Also missing are any rhetorical gestures towards the public-sector role in fostering a good economic climate, whether through better schools, basic research, infrastructure projects, and other public investments (the very term has been demonized as synonymous with irresponsible spending).
Add all this up, and it’s apparent the Republican Party has become identified with a radically conservative world-view in which environmental regulations and collective bargaining by workers have strangled the economy; deregulation, federal spending cuts, and deflation of the currency are the only immediate remedies; and the path back to national righteousness will require restoration of the kinds of mores—including criminalization of abortion—that prevailed before things started going to hell in the 1960s. That Republicans hardly even argue about such things anymore makes the party’s transformation that much more striking—if less noticeable to the news media and the population at large.
By: Ed Kilgore, The New Republic, September 19, 2011