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“Let’s Unwrap This A Bit”: Money From Big Oil Isn’t Always What It Appears To Be

In Democratic politics, no candidate ever wants to appear beholden to corporate donors, and that’s especially true when it comes from the oil and gas industry. Few industries are as unpopular among progressive voters as Big Oil.

And with this in mind, Hillary Clinton generated headlines yesterday when she was confronted by a Greenpeace supporter who pressed her on money she’s received from the industry. The visibly annoyed Democratic presidential hopeful said she’s tired of Bernie Sanders’ campaign “lying” about her.

For its part, the Sanders campaign highlighted the encounter and insisted that Clinton “has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry.” This morning, the senator himself repeated the charge, arguing, “The fact of the matter is Secretary Clinton has taken significant money from the fossil fuel industry.”

The point of the criticisms is hardly subtle: Sanders and his supporters want Democrats to see Clinton as someone who may not follow through on her energy and environmental commitments because of the money she’s received from Big Oil.

So, is that fair? Let’s unwrap this a bit.

The Washington Post published a report today, relying on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which drew an important distinction that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle: technically, both Clinton and Sanders have received money from “the oil and gas industry.”

The total for Clinton’s campaign is about $308,000; for Sanders’s, it’s about $54,000. As Clinton noted in the moment, the Center for Responsive Politics mostly aggregates contributions by employer.

If a guy who runs the commissary at Chevron in California gives $27 to Bernie Sanders, that’s counted as “oil and gas industry” money.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to suggest the Sanders has been corrupted because that guy, “feeling the Bern,” chipped in $27. But because of the way contributions are categorized, money from an oil company CEO and a donation from a gas-station janitor are both counted the exact same way: it’s technically money from the “oil and gas industry.”

Looking at the dispute in an even broader context, the Washington Post’s piece added, “About 0.15 percent of Clinton’s campaign and outside PAC money is from the ‘oil and gas industry.’ Only about 0.04 percent of Sanders’s is.” In other words, neither of these candidates is dependent on financial support from those who work in some capacity for an oil company.

So let’s unpack the question from that Greenpeace activist. The suggestion appears to be that this 0.15 percent of all Clinton fundraising – a percentage that, again, consists of contributions from employees of oil and gas companies regardless of job title – somehow influences Clinton’s behavior. The activist didn’t connect the dots, but the implication is that this 0.15 percent makes Clinton more susceptible to the lures of the oil industry than does Sanders’s 0.04 percent.

MSNBC’s report noted that Clinton has not “taken any money from PACs tied to the oil and gas industry, or companies themselves.” Lobbyists with at least some connection to the industry have made contributions, but the bulk of that money has gone to super PACs that Clinton cannot legally control.

I can think of compelling lines of attack against each of the candidates, but this probably isn’t one of them. There’s ample room for a debate about Clinton’s and Sanders’ energy and environmental platforms – both, by my estimation, are offering excellent policy blueprints – but neither appears to be in Big Oil’s pocket.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Big Oil, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Federal Lands Don’t Belong To The States”: Federal Lands Do Have An Owner, The People Of The United States

The federal government owns large chunks of the West. It owns 65 percent of Utah, 69 percent of Alaska, and 83 percent of Nevada. Some Westerners see unfairness in that. They should not.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska recently slipped an item into a non-binding budget resolution, calling on the federal government to dispose of all its land other than the national parks and monuments. That would put U.S. national forests and wildlife refuges — from the Arctic to the Everglades — up for grabs. The Senate narrowly passed it.

Three years ago, Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, demanded that the federal government turn millions of its acres over to his state. Just like that.

Thing is, the land is not Utah’s to take. Federal lands do have an owner, the people of the United States. Those acres belong as much to residents of New Jersey and Ohio as they do to the folks in Salt Lake City.

Has anyone asked you whether you want to give away federal land? Me, neither.

Some insist that the laws creating the Western states required the federal government to hand over much of the land it retained. Not so, says University of Utah law professor Robert Keiter.

On the contrary. The Utah Enabling Act stated that the inhabitants of the proposed state had to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” That sounds pretty straightforward.

The property clause of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court cases hold that the U.S. keeps public lands in trust for all Americans. The government may keep, sell or give away the land — as well as decide what may be done on it.

Even if the federal government were obligated to unload that land, Keiter writes, “that obligation does not require the federal government to give land to the states.”

Sales of federally owned land should go to the highest bidder, with the proceeds dropped in the U.S. Treasury. If the state of Utah cares to participate in the auction, good luck to it.

In reality, the federal government has, over the years, disposed of many millions of its acres — some sold, some given to homesteaders, some handed to the states.

Western states didn’t care about this mostly parched land until the feds started building huge irrigation projects in the 1920s. Many states, including Utah, actually refused offers of public lands because they didn’t want to lose federal reclamation funds, mineral revenue, and highway money.

Federal ownership does have its advantages. About 330 million acres of federal lands are used for grazing cattle and sheep. Ranchers last year paid only $18.5 million in fees to use that land, whereas the feds appropriated $144 million for the grazing programs, according to a Center for Biological Diversity study.

“Had the federal government charged the average private forage market rate for non-irrigated lands in the western states,” the study says, “grazing receipts would have been on average $261 million, greatly exceeding annual appropriations.”

The oil and gas industries operating on public lands currently enjoy discounted royalty rates, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. We really ought to be charging them market rates.

Ronald Reagan famously said of the Panama Canal, “We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours.”

How did the federal government originally obtain title to the Western lands? Through treaties with France, Britain, and Mexico.

So American taxpayers did indeed pay for that land and made it more fruitful. That’s why it’s ours, all of ours.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, June 11, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Federal Government, Property Clause, Public Lands | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Full Credit Or Blame On Gas Prices”: Republicans Must Be Awfully Impressed With Obama Right Now

It was just a couple of years ago that Republicans positioned gas prices one of the nation’s most important political issues. Mitt Romney, during his failed presidential bid, argued President Obama “gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch.”

The argument was always a little silly. Gas prices were extremely low when Obama first took office in early 2009 because there was a global economic crisis underway, weakening demand and pushing prices at the pump much lower. Consumers were paying more in 2012 than 2009, but that was because the economy had recovered.

But if Romney was correct, and the president deserves “full credit” for the price of gas, Republicans must be awfully impressed with Obama right now.

The average cost of filling up at the gas pump will soon be less than $3 a gallon across the U.S., according to projections from AAA on Friday.

The auto group said that the average price of gas may drop below $3 “sometime in the next couple of weeks” for the first time in four years.

About half of all U.S. gas stations are now selling gasoline for less than $3 per gallon. The most common price is $2.99 per gallon, AAA said.

This is easily a three-year low for gas prices, largely the result of weaker foreign demand.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not arguing that Obama deserves the credit for lower prices. He doesn’t. I’m arguing that it was lazy dumb for Republicans to argue that Obama deserved the blame for higher prices, and the right shouldn’t try to have it both ways.

Indeed, let’s not forget that Republicans actually spent a fair amount of time in the president’s first term arguing that Obama was deliberately trying to raise the price at the pump as part of a specific environmental agenda.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), during his vice presidential run, said in September 2012, “[T]he Obama administration’s policies are they’ve gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive.”

In 2011, with gas prices rising, Republicans again insisted Obama was doing this on purpose. This odd line was pushed by Haley Barbour and the Koch brothers’ AFP, among others. When prices dropped, the argument went away. Then prices rose again, and the theory made a comeback, with prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and assorted Fox News figures insisting higher gas prices are the “conscious policy of this administration.”

By this reasoning, do Republicans believe Obama is still trying to raise gas prices, and just failing miserably in his goal?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Gas Prices, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Cudgel For The Oil Industry”: Chevron’s Lobbyist Now Runs The Congressional Science Committee

For Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the country with $26.2 billion in annual profits, it helps to have friends in high places. With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”

Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”

Sayle’s ethics disclosure, obtained by Republic Report, shows that he was paid $500,000 by Chevron’s lobbying firm before taking his current gig atop the Science Committee.

In recent months, the House Science Committee has become a cudgel for the oil industry, issuing subpoenas and holding hearings to demonize efforts to improve the environment. Some of the work by the committee reflect the lobbying priorities of Chevron.

In December, the Science Committee, now chaired by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), held yet another hearing to try to discredit manmade global warming. In August, the committee issued the first subpoena in twenty-one years, demanding “all the raw data from a number of federally funded studies linking air pollution to disease.”

Though Chevron has gone to great lengths to advertise a lofty environmental record, the company continues to break air pollution laws while quietly backpedalling on its prior commitments to renewable energy. A Bloomberg News investigation reported that Chevron estimated that its biofuel investments would return only 5 percent in profits, a far cry from the 15 percent to which the oil giant is accustomed, and quietly moved to shelve renewable fuel units of the company. In California, Chevron is battling the newly created cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution. And in states across the country, Chevron has lobbied and provided financial support to a range of right-wing nonprofits dedicated to repealing carbon-cutting regulations, including the low-carbon fuel standard.

Earlier this year, Dow Lohnes’ lobbying practice merged with Levick, a public affairs firm.

 

By: Lee Fang, The Nation, February 21, 2014: This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Big Oil, Congress, Environment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let The Public Beware”: Is Fracking Causing Earthquakes?

In Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and other states, people who have rarely experienced earthquakes in the past are getting used to them as a fairly common phenomenon. This dramatic uptick in tremors is related to drilling for oil and natural gas, several reports find. And the growing popularity of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is in part to blame.

Between 1970 and 2000, there was an average of 20 earthquakes per year within the central and eastern United States. Between 2010 and 2013, there was an average of more than 100 earthquakes annually. A United States Geological Survey released last month summarized research on man-made earthquakes conducted by one of the agency’s geophysicists:

USGS scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. Much of this wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production and is routinely disposed of by injection into wells specifically designed for this purpose.

So, the actual hydraulic fracturing process itself is not to blame in these cases; instead, it’s the injection of wastewater into deep wells that accompanies it.

Hydraulic fracturing produces a higher volume of wastewater than traditional drilling — as the name implies, drillers use millions of gallons of high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to break apart rock and release gas trapped in pockets in the earth. The wastewater generated is often contaminated with salt or poisonous chemicals, and environmental regulations bar drilling companies from allowing it to mix with drinking water; oftentimes, the most economical way for these companies to  dispose of it is to sequester it deep in the ground, below aquifers. Once there, it changes pressure underground and lubricates fault lines, with the potential effect of causing earthquakes.

In both Texas and Oklahoma, the number of earthquakes per year has increased ten-fold. And wells storing wastewater from fracking have also been linked to hundreds of earthquakes near Youngstown, Ohio.

Studies last year found that the largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma — which was felt 800 miles away in Milwaukee, Wis., damaged 14 homes, injured two people and buckled a highway — could be linked to wastewater injection. Damage from the quake, which measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, “would be much worse if it were to happen in a more densely populated area,” the USGS wrote.

And as quakes increase in frequency, residents of Oklahoma and Texas are taking notice. More noticeable than the shaking, for many, is the noise these quakes make: a loud boom, like artillery fire.

In the Netherlands, where the Groningen gas field lies, quakes have also become more frequent, increasing from about 20 each year before 2011 to an average of one per week. Shell and Exxon Mobile, active in the gas field, set aside $130 million to strengthen buildings as the quakes increased in severity. But residents of the area worried that a 4-or-5 magnitude earthquake –the likelihood of which, experts warned, is increasing — would threaten the integrity of the country’s dikes, which protect the low-lying northern Netherlands.

Last month, the country’s government decided to scale back production of natural gas on the Groningen field, foregoing one billion euros a year by 2016, even as the country struggles to cope with the European Union’s deficit reduction targets.

But similar reductions in the US are unlikely. The oil and gas industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in both Texas and Oklahoma, and natural gas has become widely popular among electric utilities for its low cost.

 

By: John Light, Bill Moyers Blog, February 14, 2014

February 17, 2014 Posted by | Environment, Fracking | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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