The 4 Koch-funded Pols Behind the Plan to Kill the EPA -- and What to Expect from Scott Pruitt
February 21, 2017 lex Kotch / DeSmogBlog and EcoWatch & Ken Kimmell / Union of Concerned Scientists
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz turned heads when he introduced a bill on February 3, 2017 to "completely abolish" the US Environmental Protection Agency. Gaetz's bill came the day after a Senate committee voted to confirm Scott Pruitt (a fossil fuel-friendly attorney general who has sued the EPA 14 times) to head the agency. Meet the four GOP reps who have raked in cash from some of the biggest corporations peddling fossil fuels, including Koch Industries, Duke Energy, Chevron and ExxonMobil.
These 4 Koch-Funded Congressmen
Are Behind the Bill to Abolish the EPA
Alex Kotch / DeSmogBlog and EcoWatch
(February 17, 2017) -- Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz turned heads when he introduced a bill on February 3 to "completely abolish" the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"Today, the American people are drowning in rules and regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats," Gaetz told fellow GOP lawmakers in an email reported by the Huffington Post "and the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender."
Rep. Gaetz's bill came the day after a Senate committee voted in favor of confirming Scott Pruitt, the fossil fuel-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma who has sued the EPA 14 times, to head the agency.
And like Pruitt, Rep. Gaetz and his three fellow sponsors of H.R. 861 have all benefited from campaign donations from oil, gas and coal companies and large electric utilities.
The four GOP representatives have raked in campaign cash from some of the biggest corporations peddling fossil fuels, including Koch Industries, Duke Energy, Chevron and ExxonMobil. What's more, an independent political spending group funded by an oil and gas company stepped in with ad buys to aid in Gaetz's recent US House race.
Over their careers, these legislators appear to have responded in kind, pushing legislation favored by the industries reliant on fossil fuels. Here's who they are, how much they've received from the industry and what they've been up to in recent years.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Since 2010, Gaetz's political campaigns have received $28,000 directly from fossil fuel companies and energy utilities, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
These donors include the corporate PACs of utilities including Duke Energy, Gulf Power, NextEra Energy, Progress Energy, Southern Company and Teco Energy; oil and gas companies Chevron, Exxon and Koch Industries; and individual donors including the CEO of Gulf Power and the CEO of Global Industries and Dore Energy.
In 2016, as Gaetz ran for his first term in Congress, a super PAC supporting him received a $100,000 donation from Harness Oil and Gas, a Texas-based company reportedly run by family friends. This super PAC, North Florida Neighbors, spent more than $460,000, the bulk of its total expenditures during that election cycle, supporting Gaetz.
As a Florida state legislator, Gaetz successfully fought the requirement that gas sold in the state contain a minimum percentage of ethanol, something he called "a feel-good attempt to use alternative energy."
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)
Massie, a US representative since 2012, was first elected with the backing of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, which heavily opposes environmental regulations and regularly questions whether humans are affecting the climate.
In his three congressional campaigns, Massie took in nearly $155,000 from companies working in various parts of the oil, gas and coal industries, including Alpha Natural Resources, Chevron, Duke Energy, Exxon, Halliburton and Koch Industries, as well as from CSX Corporation, a transportation company that operates trains carrying coal, oil, natural gas and frac sand, an essential material used in shale drilling.
From his position in Congress, Massie has attacked and attempted to weaken the EPA repeatedly. He co-sponsored a 2016 bill to shift how the EPA analyzes greenhouse gas emissions in favor of fossil fuel companies -- a bill lobbied for by Marathon Petroleum (which has given him $20,000) and the US Chamber of Commerce (which raises doubt about human-caused climate change). Before that, he co-sponsored a 2015 resolution weakening an EPA rule under the Clean Air Act and a 2014 bill lowering EPA ambient air quality standards.
The Liberty for All Super PAC, funded mostly by the young, Texas-based millionaire investor John Ramsey, spent nearly $630,000 backing Massie for Congress in 2012. Unsurprisingly, Ramsey has "oil and gas ventures," according to his biography on the super PAC's website.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)
Loudermilk's state and federal campaigns have received more than $60,000 from fossil fuel companies and trade associations, including Duke Energy, Exxon, Georgia Mining Association, Georgia Power, Koch Industries and Valero Energy.
In Congress, Loudermilk has co-sponsored several energy-related bills: a nuclear energy bill for which Duke Energy and Southern Company lobbied; a repeal of the US crude oil export ban, which numerous fossil fuel companies, including BP, Chevron, Exxon, Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips, lobbied in support of; and a bill challenging EPA greenhouse gas regulations, another piece of legislation oil and gas companies and utilities favored.
Both Loudermilk and Massie sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology -- which has jurisdiction over the EPA, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- and its subcommittee on oversight, key positions that would naturally attract the attention of fossil fuel companies.
Loudermilk's 2015 financial disclosure statement reveals that he received state funding to attend and speak at a "conservative policy summit" hosted by the climate change-denying Heritage Foundation, which has reportedly received $780,000 from ExxonMobil and nearly $6 million from Koch family foundations.
Another speaker at the conference was Myron Ebell, the notorious climate change denier who led Trump's EPA transition team. Ebell crafted Trump's plan to hobble the EPA.
As a Georgia state senator, Loudermilk was on the communications and technology task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative bill mill that unites state legislators and big business representatives.
ALEC has a history of producing templates for anti-environmental legislation involving climate change denial, promoting gas pipelines and attacking residential solar energy.
In addition, ALEC is funded by many of the same fossil fuel corporations that donated to the campaigns of Loudermilk and his fellow legislators hoping to abolish the EPA: Chevron, CSX, Dominion, Duke Energy, Exxon and Koch Industries, to name a few.
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
PACs and employees of companies in the energy and natural resources sector have given more than $265,000 to Palazzo's four federal election campaigns, which includes $168,000 from oil and gas companies.
The fourth-largest donor is Mississippi Power, an electric utility owned by Southern Company that burns coal and natural gas and has given Palazzo's campaigns more than $34,000. Palazzo has also taken in $24,000 from Chevron, nearly $20,000 from Koch Industries and $19,000 from General Electric.
In 2015 Palazzo voted to oppose an EPA rule that increased emissions standards for coal-fired power plants and the year prior, he voted to halt defense spending on climate change initiatives and cut all funding for the Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy program.
In previous years, Palazzo voted to speed up natural gas pipeline permits, allow state laws to supersede federal EPA laws regarding hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and cut funding to the EPA, among other measures.
While serving as Mississippi state representative, Palazzo was also a member of ALEC.
Rep. Gaetz's office declined to offer comment, while the other three representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
While their bill to kill the EPA has been receiving little support from either political party and is unlikely to pass, its mere existence marks the extent to which fossil fuel funding has the potential to influence elected officials. This bill joins an effort already underway among the GOP-controlled House, Senate and White House to roll back regulations to protect the environment and public health.
Congressional observers likely can expect to see more of the same from these four representatives in the future.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
(February 17, 2017) -- Voting largely along party lines, Congress just confirmed Scott Pruitt as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- an attorney who has spent his professional career suing the EPA to stop the agency from performing its fundamental mission of ensuring clean air and water for all Americans.
This confirmation marks a sharp break with precedent; most EPA administrators from both parties have come to the office with a demonstrated commitment to the EPA's mission.
One might even say that this vote signals the end of an era of bipartisan congressional support for a strong federal role in protecting our environment, as this newly confirmed administrator is likely to dismantle the safeguards that both parties have supported since the 1970s.
What that means for all of us who care about clean air and water and the protection of our environment is this: It is up to us to monitor carefully what happens next and to be prepared to spring into action as needed.
Here are some of the key developments I'm watching for:
Will Scott Pruitt Recuse Himself?
As repeatedly noted in his nomination hearing, Pruitt has represented the State of Oklahoma in numerous lawsuits against EPA. Many of these cases are still active today, directed at major EPA regulations, including the Clean Power Plan (which limits carbon emissions from power plants); national air quality standards; mercury emissions from coal plants; methane limits for the oil and natural gas excavation; and a Clean Water Act rule that clarifies federal jurisdiction over bodies of water.
During the nomination hearing, Pruitt did not commit to recusing himself from these cases, but he did say he would rely on advice from the EPA ethics counsel. Common sense tells us that he cannot possibly be impartial on these issues and conflicts of interest abound.
For example, the state attorneys general who joined him in the suit against the Clean Power Plan have written a letter to the Trump administration, asking the president to issue an executive order declaring that the rule is unlawful. Responding to this request would, in the normal course of business, require EPA input, since it is an EPA regulation.
How can Scott Pruitt possibly participate in any review of that request given that, just a few weeks ago, he himself was one of the attorneys general making this claim?
He must recuse himself, as 30 senators have made clear in a recent letter.
Will Scott Pruitt Cut Federal Law Enforcement?
As a candidate, Trump pledged to dismantle the EPA. He lacks a filibuster-proof majority to change the laws that created the EPA, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. But he could cripple the EPA with budget cuts, which are much harder for a minority to stop.
By wide margins, most Americans favor enforcement of laws that protect our air and water. Cutting EPA enforcement will therefore be unpopular -- but Scott Pruitt is likely to argue that we can rely on states to enforce environmental laws, so cutting the EPA's budget won't do any real harm.
This is a dangerous myth.
Having served as a state environmental commissioner, I know from personal experience that state environmental agencies are already strapped. They typically lack the technical experts employed at the EPA and stand in no position to take on additional enforcement responsibilities shed by the EPA.
In Massachusetts where I served, for example, my former agency's staff was cut nearly in half between 2002 and 2012 due to budget cuts, even as the agency's responsibilities grew. That occurred in a state well known for its strong commitment to environmental protection.
As a result, my agency was forced to cut back on important and effective programs, such as water sampling to locate sources of bacteria that pollute rivers. If the EPA's budget is cut, it will mean even fewer resources for states, because states now receive a significant share of the EPA's budget to cover enforcement activities.
Second, state environmental agencies sometimes experience political pressure against enforcement that might harm a large employer or impose significant costs on residents. We saw some of this in play in Flint, Michigan, where a state agency did not enforce a law requiring corrosion treatment of pipes to reduce lead contamination; it took an EPA staffer and outside scientists, as well as the residents themselves, to blow the whistle on lax state enforcement.
Third, states are not equipped to deal with the widespread problem of interstate pollution. To cite one of the most egregious examples, the state of Maryland could shut down virtually all in-state sources of air pollution and yet still not be in compliance with health-based air quality standards due to pollution from neighboring "upwind" states.
A strong federal law enforcement presence is needed to address the simple fact that air and water pollutants do not honor state boundary lines.
We and others stand prepared to fight crippling budget cuts at the EPA and explain that the protection of our air and water requires both federal and state environmental law enforcement.
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future.
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