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“The GOP Won’t Be Happy”: Preparing For The Great Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Environmental Regulations

On June 2, President Obama is expected to announce his new EPA rules on extant coal-fired power plants. As Jonathan Chait points out in an excellent background piece on the legal issues, this will be the centerpiece of his second-term agenda. How strong these rules are, and whether or not his administration manages to guide them successfully through the bureaucratic gauntlet, may well outstrip ObamaCare in historical importance.

In another good piece, Chait outlines why the political blowback from these rules is likely to be very bad:

Republicans are likely to have the better of the debate politically. Support for regulating carbon emissions may be broad, but it’s tissue-thin — Americans rank climate change near or at the bottom of their priorities. A 2011 survey found the amount an average American would pay in higher electricity costs for the sake of clean energy to be a pitiably low $162 a year. The absence of an extended, ObamaCare-style legislative slog will help Obama’s case, but years of lengthy court battles won’t. Opponents may manage to sustain state-level challenges and overwhelming red-state resistance. [New York]

It’s an all too convincing argument. However, I think the political forecast is not quite so dire as he makes out, for two reasons: El Niño, and the fact that the weakened coal industry is already teetering. Knowing Republicans, there is probably nothing that will forestall an enraged GOP backlash, but these two facts might take some of the wind out of their turbines.

First: El Niño. It’s a deeply complex and still not fully understood phenomenon (Brad Plumer has a nice explanation here), but the bumper sticker idea is that the surface of the tropical Pacific gets much warmer than usual. Scientists are now giving it about a 75 percent chance that El Niño will develop over the next few months. This matters for the politics, because it means it will get hot.

El Niño is strongly correlated with high surface temperatures — both 2010 and 1998, the first- and second-hottest years ever measured, respectively, were El Niño years. Last month tied for the hottest April of all time, and this summer could be even hotter. (And down the road, 2015 will almost certainly break the record for hottest year ever recorded, possibly by a lot.)

As Nate Cohn explains, extreme heat tends to shift belief in climate change, especially when combined with El Niño’s typical bouts of extreme weather. This is a bit silly, scientifically speaking (a cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming), but it does seem to have a robust political effect.

Second is the weak position of the coal industry. Though it has made a small comeback in the last year or so, its long-term decline is almost certainly unstoppable. For most of the Obama era, it has been hammered by cheap natural gas and regulations on heavy metals, resulting in dozens of plant closures.

Solar is now so cheap that it is becoming a legitimate threat. Almost one-third of all new electricity generation was solar last year. The carbon barons are fighting a desperate rearguard action to legislate solar out of the market, but if prices continue to fall (as they are predicted to do) these kinds of actions will be ever more unjustifiable. Increasingly, coal is simply an antiquated and crummy way to generate electricity.

Of course, these trends don’t guarantee that the EPA regulations will come out unscathed. But they will shift the political terrain. Just like it’s hard to argue in favor of deregulation during a financial crisis, it will be harder to argue against climate regulations during record-smashing heat waves. And while Republicans would dearly love to burn every single gram of coal on the planet, they’ll have a harder time time doing it if Big Coal is simply losing in the market.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Can The Kochs Hold Back History?”: You Can Buy A Lie, But You Can’t Make That Lie The Truth

For a time, the press lord William Randolph Hearst did everything in his vast powers to keep the film “Citizen Kane” from finding an audience. He intimidated theater owners, refused to let ads run in his newspapers, and even pressured studio sycophants to destroy the negative.

At first, the titan of San Simeon had his way: the film faded from view after a splashy initial release. But over the years, “Citizen Kane” came to be recognized for the masterpiece it is, and now regularly tops lists as the greatest film ever made.

The modern equivalent of Hearst is the Koch Brothers, David and Charles — known without affection as the Kochtopus. On certain days, depending on the stock market, their combined worth is more than any single American’s, somewhere around $80 billion.

They have used a big part of this fortune to attack the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

Yet, while these billionaire industrialists may win in the short term — the Republican Party, their toady, is likely to pick up seats in the House and may take control of the Senate as well — in the larger fight against progress and modernity the Kochs have already lost. Clean energy is here to stay, and no sane political party would try to take away the health care of eight million fellow Americans.

Check that — they’ll try in both instances. According to one study, the Kochs have already spent $61 million on various front groups dedicated to the flat-earth proposition that the globe is not warming. But so far, the only return on that investment is a cohort of people flopping around in the waters of stupidity. About 44 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Tea Party-leaning voters believe there is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer, according to the Pew Research Center.

Now, this is not 70 percent who think Donald Duck is really a platypus, though in a way it is. This is 70 percent who have been convinced that the actual hard numbers, that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in this century, are a hoax. It’s like saying, No, it was not 75 degrees in Atlanta yesterday — that’s just your view.

What this shows is that you can buy a lie, but you can’t make that lie the truth. Over the last nine months, three exhaustive studies have shown that climate change is happening now, and will continue to unfold in real time, with record droughts in the American West, rising seas along the Atlantic coast, and global megastorms so catastrophic they will divert CNN from the missing plane. The climate experts in these studies are the gold standard — from places like the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. They are not political hacks looking to spin something.

So, the real Sisyphean struggle for the Kochs is against science itself. With the fight against solar — and other alternatives to the carbon-based source of the brothers’ wealth — the Kochs are up against market forces and the inevitability of an idea whose time has come. Across the nation, homeowners with solar have taken advantage of incentives that allow them to sell power they don’t need back to the grid. They get the citizen satisfaction of doing their own small part to reduce emissions, but they also get to tell a big corporate or government entity to stuff it. Once you’ve shown people they can be their own electrical utility, you’ve unleashed something that will be very hard to take away.

The Kochs, whose industries are among the nation’s biggest corporate polluters, are currently funding stealth campaigns to roll back incentives for clean energy. What they’re running up against are American do-it-yourselfers. The future of solar is now, with every homeowner tinkering on a roof, every company looking for tomorrow technology, every market improvement that brings the cost down and effectiveness up.

With their fight against health care, the Kochs are bumping into another wall of inconvenient truths. Not only has Obamacare exceeded expectations for sign-ups in the first year, but it’s projected now to cover more people over 10 years — 25 million — and cost $104 billion less than previously forecast, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine found, in looking at the Massachusetts model for Obamacare, that expanding health insurance appeared to save many lives. Duh. But extrapolated from this report for the nation as a whole, you can make a case that the Affordable Care Act will prevent 24,000 deaths a year. Put another way, about 6,000 people a year will die in red states that refuse to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. There are your death panels.

The Kochs also had funding ties to a campaign to persuade young people not to sign up for health care, hoping to sabotage it with beer parties and scare ads of a creepy Uncle Sam looking at a woman in an examining room. No surprise, the kids saw through it. More than enough millennials got coverage — so many, that premiums may fall in the coming sign-up period.

Next year, the Kochs will have a Congress loaded with crackpots ready to serve their agenda. There will be show hearings, bills will be introduced, meaningless votes will be taken. In the end, health care and clean energy will march on. The Kochs, to close with another film reference, will be like Harold Lloyd in one of the great scenes from the silent movie era — hanging from the hands of a giant clock. It may cost them half a billion dollars to learn that they can’t stop time.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing O-Ed Writer, The New York Times, May 8, 2014

May 11, 2014 Posted by | Clean Energy, Climate Change, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“America’s Greediest”: The Koch Brothers, The ‘Libertarians’ Who Hate The Free Market

Among the most venerable Yuletide traditions is the annual appeal on behalf of the “neediest cases,” which has spread nationwide since it first appeared in the New York Times so long ago.

More than a century later we still have the poor with us, of course, and the rich, not to mention the unspeakably super-duper-rich – many of whom comport themselves in ways that likewise provoke public concern, especially in an era of growing inequality and impoverishment.

National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason believes the time has come to revive a somewhat less charitable tradition that he and his late colleague, the great progressive journalist Jack Newfield, established at The Village Voice during an earlier era of avarice:  “The Greediest Cases.”

This holiday season we will feature a series of profiles of America’s Greediest Cases, and we encourage readers to nominate deserving public figures in the worlds of business, government, media, entertainment, and sports who exemplify the grasping materialism and rank hypocrisy of our time.

Imagine this.

You and your brother are tied as the fourth richest person in America with $36 billion in assets each, the fruits of owning the second largest privately owned corporation in the world. How would you spend your spare time and money?

Perhaps you’d donate millions to medical research, public television and the arts. Or maybe you’d dabble in politics and try to expose the “Science of Liberty” and economic freedom to help “the most vulnerable.”

That’s what the Koch Brothers do. And how are they helping the most vulnerable?

By attempting to rid the public of programs like Social Security, which has kept more Americans out of poverty than anything the government has ever done.

While the Kochs insist that their goal is freedom, their agenda seems entirely based on policies that increase economic inequality and make it easy for carbon polluters like Koch Industries to continue their unfettered domination of energy markets.

Perhaps the best example of the Kochs’ hypocrisy comes in their war on solar power.

While the Kochs spent millions to try to put politicians in office who have vowed to never raise taxes on the rich or anyone, the billionaires are aiding efforts to “tax the sun” in an effort to squash the nascent solar industry.

One of the main benefits of powering your home or business via solar cells, especially in a state like Arizona, is a process known as “net metering,” which allows you to sell excess wattage back to the utility. While the virtue of using a renewable resource that is essentially carbon-neutral is a decent selling point, it’s the economic value of net metering that has fueled Arizona’s solar boom and made it the top solar state per capita.

This boom hasn’t pleased Arizona Public Service (APS), which stands to lose as much as $2 billion over the next 20 years if solar adoption continues at the current pace. That’s why the state’s largest electricity provider has been fighting for new regulations that would raise the cost of solar by $50-$100 a month, effectively killing the benefits of net metering. And APS has been waging this battle with some very powerful allies.

Why would the Koch brothers be interested in a small regulatory battle in Arizona?

Because it isn’t just about Arizonans reaping the unique benefit of living in a desert. It’s about freedom! The freedom of carbon polluters everywhere to make massive profits at the expense of the environment.

As the decision of the Arizona Corporation Commission neared, the state was hit with a series of ads ironically decrying the solar industry’s dependence on “corporate welfare” and comparing the solar businesses in the state to Solyndra, which is conservative for “something that makes me mad for some reason.”

An APS spokesman denied that they were funding the ads because they were funding them indirectly, through a consultant. The Kochs could also deny that they were funding the effort to tax the sun, because they weren’t funding the effort directly. Instead, the dirty work was being done by The 60 Plus Association, which models itself as the conservative alternative to AARP.

The brothers help fund The 60 Plus Association through another shadowy organization known as Freedom Partners, which gave $15.7 million to the group last year. And that wasn’t the only way they were involved in the fight in Arizona.

“APS appears to be leading the first assault of a national campaign by the utility industry trade association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and fossil fuel interests like APS, to weaken net metering policies,” notes the Energy & Policy Institute’s Gabe Elsner. The EEI is trying to push “model legislation” that saps the benefits of solar in several states through the American Legislative Exchange Council, another Koch-supported group. The State Policy Network, another Koch-supported “nonprofit,” is trying to roll back renewable energy credits in several states.

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer helped popularize the term “Kochtopus” to define the Kochs’ ideological network. It’s so vast and cloaked in vagaries of election law that we truly have no idea how vast their influence is.

But we do know that again and again, these titans of industry are trying to crush renewable energy, even when it has Tea Party support, and it’s rare if they have to get a Koch Industries lobbyist directly involved. Often they’re trying to roll back breaks for non-carbon-based energy companies, while taking no such stand against the billions in government help the oil industry benefits from, but they’re even willing to pursue new regulations if it suits their needs, which led The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur to say, “…the Koch brothers hate the free market.”

The good news is that in Arizona they lost, mostly. Regulators voted to impose a $5 monthly fee on net metering, a fraction of what APS and The 60 Plus Association wanted.

The solar industry in Arizona survived this time, despite the Kochs’ best efforts.

 

By: Jason Sattler, the National Memo, December 27, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Koch Brothers | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Inconvenient Storyline”: A Second Romney-Backed Solar Company Files For Bankruptcy

On Thursday, Mitt Romney campaigned at the headquarters of Solyndra — the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan under the stimulus — and reiterated his debunked claims that its bankruptcy symbolized the corruption and cronyism of the Obama administration. But just one day later, a solar panel developer “that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor” went belly up, the Boston Herald reports, creating an inconvenient storyline for the GOP presidential nominee.

The company, Konarka Technologies, “filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate”:

“Konarka has been unable to obtain additional financing, and given its current financial condition, it is unable to continue operations,” CEO Howard Berke said in a statement. “This is a tragedy for Konarka’s shareholders and employees and for the development of alternative energy in the United States.”

The demise of Konarka could become a hot topic on the campaign trail because Romney personally doled out a $1.5 million renewable energy subsidy to the Lowell startup in 2003, shortly after taking office on Beacon Hill.

Konarka is the second Massachusetts solar company, along with Evergreen Solar and Beacon Power, to receive taxpayer dollars under Romney’s tenure and subsequently declare bankruptcy.

Romney, meanwhile, routinely dismisses the nation’s 3.1 million clean energy jobs, even as clean energy is booming in Massachusetts. The industry has created 64,000 jobs across the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, June 2, 2012

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Energy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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