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Overseeing Koch Profits: The Roots of David Vitter’s Green Billionaires Club Report

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Caricatures of the Koch Bros.

A deeper look at the Koch Bros ties to a recent congressional report.

A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Kristina Moore, the Senate staffer listed as the author of U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) “green billionaire’s club” report published by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on July 30, has career roots tracing back to the Koch Brothers’ right-wing machine.

Metadata from Vitter’s green billionaire’s club report shows Moore’s name as the author, though it remains unclear whether or not she authored it alone. Moore did not respond to a question about her authorship sent via email.

During a July 30 presentation of the report given to conservative transparency advocacy group Cause of Action, Vitter thanked Moore and several other staffers for their help putting together the 92-page document.

Moore — EPW’s senior counsel for oversight and investigations — went to law school at George Mason University School of Law, graduating in 2007. David and Charles Koch both serve as major donors to George Mason University and also endow George Mason’s Mercatus Center, where Charles sits on the Board of Directors.

While attending law school, Moore concurrently worked as chief of staff for formerU.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), according to financial disclosure documents obtained by DeSmogBlog.

As a Davis staffer, Kristina Moore (then Kristina Husar), attended two Mercatus Center-sponsored retreats in 2006 and 2007, held in Richmond, Va. and Willamsburg, Va., respectively.

Husar served as the first Mercatus Fellow for Regulatory Studies. In February 2006, she wrote an article in the Small Business Advocate about attending the Mercatus retreat.

Originating as the Austrian Economics Program in the late-1970s and then hubbed at Rutgers University, Mercatus — latin for “markets” — has held annual congressional staff retreats from its inception, according to SourceWatch. The Center for Public Integrity pointed to the retreats as example of potentially illegal unregistered lobbying in a 2006 investigative piece.

The retreats fit under the broader umbrella of Mercatus’ “Capitol Hill Campus” program, which it devoted over $1.6 million to both in 2006 and 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

Beyond Moore, a close look into the origins of and people behind the Vitter green billionaire’s club report show Koch brothers ties through and through.

Mercatus-Taught Oversight Techniques

Prior to working for Vitter’s EPW Committee, Moore worked for U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), serving as senior counsel for the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Issa.

The Watchdog Institute revealed in a February 2011 investigation that many of the so-called “oversight” investigations conducted by the Committee benefited corporate campaign contributors.

And many of Issa’s Oversight Committee staffers, including Moore, attended Mercatus Center staff retreats. Mercatus schooled them in oversight tactics and techniques.

“In February 2009…Issa…approved a trip to a Mercatus-funded retreat for his committee staff director, Larry Brady,” wrote The Watchdog Institute. “On his disclosure form, Brady, who did not respond to an interview request, cited the purpose of the trip: ‘Provide in-depth briefings on issues of relevance to oversight investigations.’”

Daniel Epstein’s Koch Connection

Daniel Z. Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action — which did the presser premiering the Vitter green billionaire’s club report to the U.S. public — formerly served as counsel for Issa’s Oversight Committee before launching Cause of Action.

Epstein, who worked alongside Moore for the Oversight Committee’s investigations team, introduced Vitter at the event.

On the day of the release and the day after the release of the report, Cause of Action published four different items on its website promoting it, including issuing a public statement.

According to a 2009 article appearing in The Hill, Epstein served as “an associate in legal reform at the Koch Foundation, working together with Koch Industries Inc.’s assistant general counsel.”

“The job was an interesting mixture of corporate culture with an emphasis on social change — I miss that synergy,” he told The Hill at the time.

On his personal website, Epstein lists that 2008-2009 gig as “Counsel, Legal Reform at CGKF.” CGKF is shorthand for the Charles G. Koch Foundation and an in the Marin Independent Journal confirms Epstein worked there from June 2008 through January 2009.

Beyond Koch ties, Epstein also has personal financial ties that may make him averse to environmental regulations.

financial disclosure form submitted by Epstein when he worked for Issa’s Oversight Committee shows that he had (or still has) personal investments in both Dominion Resources and Duke Energy.

Both of those companies stand to lose from President Barack Obama’s U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coal-fired power plant regulations, as both Dominion and Duke own coal-fired power plant assets.

“God bless the Koch brothers”

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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

1:33 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Flag against a blue sky: Green Port Long Beach

The “Green” Port of Long Beach will now export millions of tons of pollutants per year.

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary.

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing.

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City’s leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

But the Long Beach City Council voted “nay” in unanimous fashion to do the environmental impact study. Earthjustice had argued it was required to do an environmental review under the legal dictates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“It’s disappointing that the City would turn a blind eye to even doing some basic analysis of the impacts of this decision to lock into 15 years of exporting dirty fuels abroad,” said Martinez.

“More than 100 residents showed up at the August 19 hearing to support pausing this deal and are deeply concerned about how climate change and pollution from exporting dirty fuels impacts them and future generations.”

Adding insult to injury, Sierra Club endorsed Vice Mayor and City Council member Suja Lowenthal in her Democratic Party primary race for State Assembly, which she recently lost.

The floodgates have been opened, then, to export massive amounts of coal and petcoke from the self-styled “Green Port.”

It comes at a time when numerous California refineries are retooling themselves to blend more tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), which gets to the Golden State mainly via rail.

Further, it happens at the same time critics say the Obama Administration is exporting climate change by exporting coal abroad — often to countries without any meaningful regulations — even as his administration regulates U.S.-based coal-fired power plants.

Union, Oxbow Representatives Oppose Enviro Review

While the majority of those who testified at the August 19 hearing before the Long Beach City Council voted spoke in favor of doing an environmental impact statement, several industry executives and union workers spoke out against it.

“First and foremost, you should know the facilities on Pier G are world-class operations that set the bar for environmental excellence in our industries. We are very proud of what we do here with the port,” Clayton Headley, Oxbow’s vice president of supply for the Pacific region stated at the hearing.

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Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

10:26 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A caricature of the Charles & David Koch as clowns

“The most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth?”

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter’s chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.”

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company’s most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Not Just Wisconsin Energy

Financial disclosure forms for 2013 obtained by DeSmogBlog show that, beyond We Energies, Vitter also owns stock in other companies with “skin in the game” on fossil fuel investments, such as General ElectricNextEra Energy and Emerson Electric.

Like We Energies, NextEra Energy — which owns Florida Light & Power — said greenhouse gas regulations at either the federal or state level could hurt its corporate bottom line in its most recent SEC Form 10-Q.

“[NextEra] business could be negatively affected by federal or state laws or regulations mandating new or additional limits on the production of greenhouse gas emissions,” reads the Form 10-Q.

“Extensive federal regulation of the operations of [the company] exposes [it] to significant and increasing compliance costs and may also expose them to substantial monetary penalties and other sanctions for compliance failures.”

Vitter also owns stock in oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Vitter owns $250,000-$500,000 in Chevron stock alone, not including ownership in other related holdings, such as the company’s mutual funds. When that is tallied, Vitter owns hundreds of thousands more dollars worth of Chevron holdings.

Spokespeople for U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Sen. Vitter’s office did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmogBlog sent via email.

Transparency is in the Eye of the Beholder

In the opening section of the report, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works wrote that “the Billionaire’s Club is not, and seemingly does not, want to be transparent about the groups they fund and how much they are supporting them.”

Yet the hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments owned by Vitter in companies that stand to lose from the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules go unmentioned anywhere in the report.

Transparency, some would say, is in the eye of the beholder.

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Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

1:04 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

TransCanada’s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada‘s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials.

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Proponents and Opponents Respond

Twitter has been abuzz since rumors of the announcement started swirling and many prominent individuals with a stake in the fight have already chimed in.

“Keystone XL delay further proof that State Department has bungled this process and has no business overseeing environmental reviews,” tweeted Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner Ross Hammond.

Bill McKibben — whose organization 350.org led the civil disobedience Tar Sands Action in summer 2011 that put the Keystone XL and tar sands on the map for many — also responded.

It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time–that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it. While we’re at it, the State Department should also request that physics delay heat-trapping operations for a while, and that the El Nino scheduled for later this spring be pushed back to after the midterms. One point is clear: without a broad and brave movement, DC would have permitted this dumb pipeline in 2011. So on we go.

Elijah Zarlin, CREDO’s senior campaign manager, said: “It is deeply disappointing that Secretary Kerry and President Obama can’t yet muster the courage to stand up to the oil industry and reject Keystone XL. Still, this is yet another defeat for TransCanada, tar sands developers like the Koch Brothers, and oil-soaked politicians. No doubt, the nearly 100,000 people who have pledged to risk arrest to stop Keystone XL played a key role in pushing the administration to more accurately consider the full impact of this project – which must clearly result in rejection. No delays will diminish our commitment to stopping Keystone XL.”

On the other side, Fox News referred to the decision as a “Friday News Dump” and the Koch Brothers-funded American Energy Alliance (AEA) tweeted, “Most had never even heard of @justinbieber back when @TransCanada applied for #KeystoneXL permits,” alluding to the fact Keystone XL has now been up for debate for five years.

Industry-funded Energy in Depth spokesman Steve Everly echoed AEA.

“It took the U.S. less than 4 years to win two theaters in World War II,” stated Everly. “It’s been five years and we can’t approve a metal pipe.”

One thing’s for certain: the prospective pipeline will likely become a major politico “hot potato” in the months leading up to the November 2014 elections. Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Patron Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

President Obama bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett — the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 – may soon get a whole lot richer.

That’s because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making.

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett’s no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest.

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It’s through Berkshire that he’s making a killing – while simultaneously killing the ecosystem – through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett’s BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

“BNSF is the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That’s enough to light up 10 percent of the nation’s homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy,” Dickinson explained.

Beyond MidAmerican Energy, Buffett also owns the coal-burning PacifiCorp and his BNSF freight trains are largely responsible for the coal export boom unfolding in the northwest corridor of the United States.

“PacifiCorp…owns the most coal plants in the West and recently unveiled a long-term energy plan that did not include a single wind project over the next ten years,” explained a recent blog post written by the Sierra Club. “And Warren Buffett is still involved with one of the biggest coal-burning schemes of all — ongoing plans to export coal…to…Asia.”

“Buffett’s BNSF Railway would be the primary transporter of that coal, and the company has tried to get the coal export terminals approved over the objections of thousands of activists across the Pacific Northwest.”

And as his slam dunk, Buffett also has plans to convert BNSF’s freight trains to utilize fracked shale gas. He then plans to use those same shale gas-powered trains to transport fracked shale oil from North Dakota (5-percent of BNSF’s total shipments and 190,000 cars/week), a win-win for Buffett and a lose-lose for the ecosystem and the climate.

“We have a couple locomotives we’re experimenting with this year on it. The railroads are definitely experimenting with converting to natural gas,” he told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a March 2013 interview. “[Y]ou’ve got to look at converting any kind of an engine to natural gas.”

‘Tis quite the list of “dirty deeds” by the man coined the “Oracle of Omaha.” And relative to his uber-wealth – to cue up the AC/DC – they’re “done dirt cheap.” Read the rest of this entry →

Three States Pushing ALEC Bill To Require Teaching Climate Change Denial In Schools

7:23 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - known by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” – has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.

January hasn’t even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its ”Environmental Literacy Improvement Act“ - which mandates a “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year.

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act“ in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states, an undeniable form of “big government” this “free market” organization decries in its own literature.

ALEC’s ”model bills” are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key - though far from the only - vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda through in the states.

A Frankenstein Co-Created with Heartland Institute

DeSmogBlog investigation last year found that the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act’s origins date back to 2000.

The Act’s creation is directly connected to the ongoing efforts of another corporate-funded group, the Heartland Institute – of “Heartland Institute Exposed” fame – a group well plugged into the climate change denial machine.

ALEC’s Natural Resources Task Force, now known as its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, adopted this model at a time when the Task Force was headed by Sandy Liddy Bourne. Bourne, who served in this capacity from 1999-2004, would eventually ascend to the role of Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC in 2004.

Upon leaving ALEC in 2006, Bourne become Heartland’s Vice President for Policy Strategy. Today she serves as Executive Director of the American Energy Freedom Center, an outfit she co-heads with Arthur G. Randol. Randol is a longtime lobbyist and PR flack for ExxonMobil, a corporation which endowed the climate change denial machine for years.

Heartland’s website still lists Bourne as one of its “experts,” stating that ”Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent.”

Importantly, Heartland is still a member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force that originally passed the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.

According to internal documents leaked to and published by DeSmogBlog in Feb. 2012, Heartland obtained funding for a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms” project beginning in 2012. This curriculum aims to teach that there “is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather.”

If this sounds similar to ALEC’s model bill, it should, given the fact that the two outfits share funding from the same honey pot. In fact, Heartland actively promotes the ALEC model on its website.

Model Bill Introduced in OK, CO, and AZ
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North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license