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September 18, 2014

EPA v. Polluters – Senators Begich & Murkowski on the Wrong Side

 

Alaskans have a (how shall I put this) prickly relationship with the EPA for the most part. You can live most anywhere in the lower 48, and chances are you’ve never had to personally interact with the EPA and don’t know anyone who has. You live in your house, you do your thing, and the only time it comes up is when you hear the Tea Party talk about how all them damn regulations keep mucking things up and killing business and jobs.

But in Alaska, the EPA and its involvement in development both big and small seems to be on everyone’s radar, and there’s always someone with a grumbly story about the EPA and how they were a fly in the ointment when someone they know tried to put in a gas station, or build a house near a lake, or any number of things.

So, I thought it might be interesting to check out a panel discussion at Netroots Nation that talked about the EPA entitled “Progressives vs. Polluters.” It was a fascinating discussion and considering some news today, it turned out to be more relevant to Alaska than I had imagined when I attended.

Miles Grant of the National Wildlife Foundation moderated the panel.

Senator Ben Cardin (D) from Maryland was there, and talked about the work he was doing to restore the beleaguered wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, legislation he’s worked on that would ban mountaintop  coal removal which he termed “barbaric,” and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, also known as “fracking” which is a toxic disaster for groundwater that is spreading across the continent. Fracking is happening in Alaska right now, but not anywhere near population centers, so it has not been much in the conversation.

The Senator talked of children suffering from asthma and lead poisoning, and called on those in the room to remind progressives, and conservatives alike that these are not partisan issues.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins spoke next. She is the CEO for Green for All. She talked at length about the false choice between either jobs and a good economy or clean air and water. Our children deserve and can have both, she said. She spoke in glowing terms about the new EPA head, Lisa Jackson. She described Jackson as “fierce” and urged those standing up for the environment to support her, and stand up for her.

“You have to be able to reward and punish in politics,” she said. “Our allegiance should not be to the Democratic party, it should be for clean air and water. When you’re not right, we’re going to get angry.” (Remember that part. It’s going to come up again later.)

Last up was David Roberts from Grist. He was recently in Brazil for a c40 group of cities working on climate and environmental issues. Argentina described a network of incentives that would give tax breaks to businesses that cut pollution. Why would they choose this path instead of implementing legislation? Because they can’t enforce laws.  In China, environmental pollution of air and water is causing widespread civil unrest. There are thousands of protests and marches and clashes because of untenable conditions. The Chinese government is trying to make environmental laws, but it is impossible to enforce its will on distant provinces.

Here’s what I thought was fascinating. The notion that the United States has a central government agency that has both the laws, the infrastructure and staff to enforce them, and the culture of the rule of law, is the envy of the world. The Environmental Protection Agency is considered to be a shining accomplishment of the American government. We’ve had it for so long that we take it for granted and don’t realize how special it is, explained Roberts. What the EPA really represents is not a draconian agency that stifles job creation and kills the economy, but extraordinary social and health benefits for relatively small cost. With the EPA, we can actually force corporations to do what we want them to do. Other places can’t.

Although the Right wants to frame the EPA and its regulations as onerous and restrictive, other countries are literally choking. Kids are dying. People are sick. What we have in the EPA is some sort of way to ensure basic economic and social justice, the rule of law and the ability to use government for good.

Now, back to Alaska. We already knew that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) is one of those who consider the EPA that is the envy of the rest of the toxic planet an “out of control government agency.” She was even the lead sponsor of a bill that would have the politicians in congress, not the EPA regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. So, we don’t expect much from Republicans in Alaska who have proved time and again that they are so far in the pockets of Big Oil that they’re eating lint. But we’d like to think that Democrats might have a slightly different sensibility – a vision for a healthy future for the planet, for our children, and for the generations to come. That’s one of the things that makes them different from Republicans. Right?

Not so fast.

Not in Alaska, anyway.

According to a report from Alaska Business Monthly: (my snarky red quotation marks added)

Begich Co-Sponsors Bill to ImproveOffshore Permitting Process
Joins bipartisan group of senators in effort to speed development

In his ongoing effort to promote oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic, U.S. Sen Mark Begich has cosponsored legislation to improve the permitting process for offshore oil and gas exploration and development. Begich has joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a dozen other senators in cosponsoring The Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act.

Please notice the word “Jobs” thrown in there. One style point for the co-sponsors who hope for knee-jerk approval from people who have not read the bill.  If you called it the “Let’s be really fast about permitting for drilling offshore where there’s lots of floating ice, and the nearest Coast Guard base  is more than 2000 miles away Act” it might not get as much support.

The legislation will “closely align the standards” for drilling in the Arctic with those used for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Gee. That should make us all sleep better tonight.

It will also make the federal government work on a six month deadline for permitting. Anything else would simply be an “unreasonable delay.”

The legislation is a present for Shell, who has been trying to get permits to begin drilling off the north coast of Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

“EPA has been struggling for years to reinvent the wheel and companies who have spent billions to create American jobs have paid the price,” Begich said. “This legislation is just one more tool in the box to get us moving on much-needed domestic oil and gas.”

Paid the price? Poor babies. I bet they’ll be bankrupt if we make them prove they can drill safely, and to the standards set by the federal government. Let’s check out their profits in 2011 to see how they suffer:

We could read this article -Shell profits double to $18.6bn, boosted by high oil prices

Or this one – Exxon and Shell profits surge on higher oil prices

Or this one from The Guardian in the UK – Shell makes nearly £1.6m profits every hour

This bill is cosponsored by Senator James Inhofe, (R-OK). He’s the guy that last year called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”. The rest of the motley crew on board with Inhofe and Begich on this bill are John Barrasso, R-WY; Rob Portman, R-OH; John Hoeven, R-ND; John Cornyn, R-TX; Roy Blunt, R-MO; Dan Coats, R-IN; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX; Bob Corker, R-TN; John Thune, R-SD; Richard Lugar, R-IN; and Mary Landrieu, D-LA and of course, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

For anyone who is interested in reading about how heinous EPA regulations are devastating the economy in general, you can read all about it at the Economics Policy Institute website. You can start with this one:

Tallying up the Impact of New EPA Rules – Combined costs of Obama EPA rules represent a sliver of the economy and are far outweighed by cumulative benefits

Meanwhile, back in Alaska, we are reminded that both the red and the blue have the sheen of oil.

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Comments
15 Responses to “EPA v. Polluters – Senators Begich & Murkowski on the Wrong Side”
  1. M. Paul says:

    The fracking pain of progress

    Sounds like a good name for a blog post unfortunately I have about 120 seconds to comment. Out in the bristol bay we have a co-op drilling for a hydro-thermal electricity generating system. I am being deliberately vague. Anyway, with one hole drilled and the other hole soon to be started it had recently come to my attention that the process to get the water from one well hole to the other is…wait for it…fracking. Hmmmm. I know a number of people who have wells within a mile of the site but most like their tea steeped long and dark and their chicks for free.

    I have to support Bigiach but only because I understand the cross-section of those he represents out here in western Alaska. Is he right in supporting the this so called jobs bill? Most likely not.

    I need to make the time to do a lot more research, but don’t we all, but am buried under a wind fall of work in a short summer season.

    That my friends is why I drop in here.

    M. Paul

  2. Dagian says:

    In the same spirit, I copied & pasted something that was on NPR yesterday. (I don’t know how long links stay ‘good’).

    http://www.npr.org/2011/06/21/137309964/climate-change-public-skeptical-scientists-sure

    June 21, 2011
    The American public is less likely to believe in global warming than it was just five years ago. Yet, paradoxically, scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is real and caused largely by human activities.

    Something a bit strange is happening with public opinion and climate change.

    Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication, delved into this in a recent poll. He not only asked citizens what they thought of climate change, he also asked them to estimate how climate scientists feel about global warming.

    “Only 13 percent of Americans got the correct answer, which is that in fact about 97 percent of American scientists say that climate change is happening, and about a third of Americans just simply say they don’t know,” he said.

    Most Americans are unaware that the National Academy of Sciences, known for its cautious and even-handed reviews of the state of science, is firmly on board with climate change. It has been for years.

    So far the evidence shows that the more people understand that there is this consensus, the more they tend to believe that climate change is happening, the more they understand that humans are a major contributor, and the more worried they are about it.

    - Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication
    Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy, paraphrased its most recent report on the subject.

    “The consensus statement is that climate changes are being observed, are certainly real, they seem to be increasing, and that humans are mostly likely the cause of all or most of these changes,” he said.

    That’s not just the view of the U.S. National Academies. There’s also a consensus statement from the presidents of science academies from around the world, including the academies of China, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Russia, France, Brazil, the list goes on.

    Cicerone also points to strong statements about climate change from the leading professional organizations in the United States, including from the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society and others.

    Of course, it’s still possible to find a few scientists who reject the consensus. Cicerone says it is appealing to think they are right when they say there’s no need to worry about complicated cap-and-trade policies or otherwise fuss about climate change.

    “I think rooting for the underdog, the David against the Goliath, is something that we all do — I think it’s particularly American, although it happens everywhere,” he said. “And in fact, this is the way scientists work.

    “Scientists don’t gain respect, and attention, and fame, if you will, by going along with the mainstream, and I don’t know of many scientists who try to go along with the mainstream — they’re trying to go the opposite direction.”

    Though a few are still finding reasons for doubt, Cicerone says he and most of his colleagues find the science of climate change is stronger the harder they look. So does this public disbelief mean that Americans are becoming more anti-science?

    Related NPR Stories

    In 2012 GOP Race, Climate Policy Is A Non-Issue
    Conservative voters’ views of climate change have shifted in recent years.
    Leiserowitz of Yale University says that’s not what his polls show.

    “Most Americans have overwhelming trust in the science and trust in scientists,” he said.

    But the public is largely unaware of the consensus because that’s not what they’re hearing on cable TV or reading in blogs.

    “They mostly get exposed to a much more conflicted view, and that’s of course not by accident,” he said.

    Leiserowitz is now starting to ask how public opinion changes when people actually know that the National Academy of Sciences and other groups consider climate change to be a big concern.

    “So far the evidence shows that the more people understand that there is this consensus, the more they tend to believe that climate change is happening, the more they understand that humans are a major contributor, and the more worried they are about it,” Leiserowitz said.

    He says if you drill down a bit, the American public actually is not split when you ask them if they’d like to see a gradual transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

    “We find overwhelming bipartisan agreement about that,” he said.

    As it happens, that transition is a step toward slowing the pace of global climate change.

  3. jimzmum says:

    Why is this not a national issue? Sadly, I think that since the past Friday, every danged thing in the US revolves around insurance. Somebody please fix it. Himself and I would help at the get-go, but we are too fixated/whatever on saving our home.

    P.S. The back room is still there!

    • mike from iowa says:

      There is an old saying from somewhere-don’t worry about your enemies,your friends will do you in. I guess it is just human nature. For all the rain we’ve had in the oast couple weeks,my only problem is an unlit water heater,and I’m too old and stove up to keep taking ice cold showers. Folks up here are sending you our best thought waves and prayers that you remain safe. As for all the rest of your travails,I have no suggestions or answers.

  4. North of the Range says:

    Leaving aside the environmental issue momentarily, what does MB even gain politically by this? It’s not like the R party up here will be all affable and say at re-election time, “Oh, let’s not go after that seat too hard, Begich co-sponsored that Shell bill back in 2011.” Course not.

  5. Zyxomma says:

    One of the few cabinet appointments on which our president has not disappointed me is Lisa Jackson. She’s trying her damnedest, and has stopped automatically permitting mountaintop removal. Whenever you write to an official regarding extractive industries (mining and drilling, primarily), please remind them that fresh water is only 1% of the water on earth. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that is more precious and more in need of protection.

  6. I wish I had thought of your phrase – so deep in their pockets they’re eating lint – ! Ha!

  7. blue_in_AK says:

    Mark is a huge disappointment — not that I’m terribly surprised. I certainly hope he has a more progressive challenger in the primary next time around.

  8. NickWI says:

    Of course they are on the wrong side you don’t get into office in Alaska without kissing up to Big oil. You can balance things in this manner. Open a window in each of the Beaufort and Chukhi seas for drilling, and everywhere else is set aside as a national monument. if there is ever a spill that window is closed same thing with ANWR and the NPRA. preserve as much as it as possible while giving some area for drilling. in ANWRS case the drilling should be horizontal and originate from outside the preserve. the ground above is protected and preserved and they still get their oil fix.

  9. yukonbushgrma says:

    Is anyone surprised to see that the only other Dem is “Mary Landrieu, D-LA”? I can understand that she wants to get her state’s economy back … but at what price?

    “… will ‘closely align the standards’ for drilling in the Arctic with those used for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.” — Yeah, AKM, that sure does make me feel a whole lot better. (/snark). I guess hurricanes and icebergs kind of cancel each other out, eh?

    (I would hardly call this group “bipartisan.” Two Dems from big oil states, and a bunch of Rethugs.)

  10. mike from iowa says:

    I wonder if Begich thinks that shutting down drilling in the Gulf after the spill is considered an unreasonable delay? We can have cost-effective and safe guidelines if Congress and Big Oil would do the right thing and protect the environment without fighting regs every step of the way. Too many Dems are getting the look of greed in their eyes and are selling US out to moneyed interests.

    • John says:

      Or if he thought closing the shipping lanes for a few days after the Exxon Valdez spill was an unreasonable delay. I’m thrilled that Begich is my Senator, but sometimes he is very very wrong.

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