It has become tiresome to rip on President Obama for failing America and the world on climate. We could not help but get excited in November 2008 when we realized Bush II and his oil lackeys were out of office in two months. But one could argue that President Obama led us on by saying things like “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” And, regarding White House leadership, “That will change when I take office.”
The bar for Obama administration action on climate has become so low that it doesn’t take much to get people excited. For example, the President used the words “climate change” during his recent state of the union address, having failed to mention this existential dilemma last year. Some people read a lot into that.
So, yesterday, it was unsurprising to see an over-excited reaction to a State Department announcement on a new climate initiative. President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called a press conference to announce that the United States and several other countries would start a new, official collaboration to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon and HFCs. However, it’s pretty clear that this is no announcement about US policy to reduce climate pollution. It’s great countries are talking, but also not new. The US contributed $12 million for this collaboration. This is is about what Mitt Romney would have earned after taxes if he paid the same tax rate my mother does. $12 million is lot of money for one person, but for an intergovernmental partnership to tackle global climate disruption, it’s laughable.
The best thing about Secretary Clinton’s announcement yesterday is that the Obama administration publicly professed to being active on climate, and reiterated actions they’ve been taking already to reduce climate pollution. The worst thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it reminded everyone of what the Obama administration has done to increase climate pollution. A large funder of Obama’s campaign in the past, who has contributed $35 million to campaigns and environmental causes, announced her support was gone because of Obama’s failures on climate.
Let’s put this in context.
A lot was achieved up front when the President pushed for passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. The bill included grants and tax incentives for efficiency and renewables production and research, smart grid development, and low-emissions vehicles. The Obama administration has continued to press continuing incentives for renewables and efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet implemented any standards for large stationary sources of climate pollution that have any significant impact, but the new vehicle standards will have an impact. Expectations for EPA, however, remain much higher than for the rest of the Obama administration, and we still hold out hope for climate pollution standards to be strengthened on both vehicles and stationary sources.
So far, we can’t put a number on how much less climate pollution the world will see because of the Obama administration. We can say that the US goal of 17% under 2005 levels by 2020 is so unambitious that it was possibly imminent before the President announced it. We can also say that the Obama administration may be doing as much to increase climate pollution through other measures.
Although the President has continued to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, the reality is that his administration has been a great friend to coal, oil, and gas.
In the first quarter of 2011, US exports of coal rose by 49% compared to the same quarter of 2010, amounting to 26.6 million short tons. This is the highest amount of coal exported since 1992 (when 27 million short tons were exported).
Similarly, if vehicles in America become more efficient, the plan seems to be to make sure the oil is burned anyway. 2011 was the first year in almost two decades when the US became a ‘net exporter of fuel’. In each day of February, the US exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum than it imported. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration now appears bent on drilling in the Arctic which is more accessible to climate polluters because they’ve made the ice melt.
It seems the general attitude among climate advocates has gone from glum to numb. To be fair, our despair about climate policy is fueled by the undying Republican platform that environmental ignorance and scorn are praiseworthy. There are also Democrats who have donned ignorant and scornful attitudes about climate disruption, but mostly their problem is letting Republicans spearhead the debate on climate. Climate disruption for the Obama White House seems to be viewed not as a real problem but a political problem.
Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
Hillary Clinton and the State Department have the final word on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, unless President Obama intervenes. The influence of tar sands industry lobbyists connected to Hillary Clinton is finally getting some media attention, but there is still more to this story.
Clinton's State Department is finally complying with a FOIA request for documents, after a lawsuit filed in May by three watchdog groups over an alleged lack of transparency regarding contacts with TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott, a former staffer on Hillary Clinton's presidential run. Elliott has earned at least $310,000 as TransCanada Pipelines’ in-house lobbyist to influence Congress and several federal agencies, including the State Department, on the Keystone XL pipeline.
However, the tar sands industry’s use of former Clinton associates to lobby on the controversial project extends beyond Mr. Elliott. DeSmogBlog has uncovered seven other influencers or lobbyists with ties to Clinton and Obama who have lobbied on behalf of tar sands interests for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
These lobbyists are spread out over three firms, including one that was the largest single source of funds of any corporate entity to Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Included in their midst is a lobbyist with close ties to top Obama adviser David Plouffe, and a former Koch Industries operative now lobbying for the Koch-friendly Keystone XLproject.
The presence of so many former Clinton associates on the lobbying roster for polluter clients on a high-profile controversy suggests a clash with the repeated campaign pledges of greater transparency and tougher dealings with lobbyists by Secretary Clinton’s boss, President Obama.
“This is somebody who’s been in Congress for twenty-six years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign, and now he tells us that he’s the one who will take on the ol' boy network,”Obama said before a crowd in Elko, Nev. "The ol’ boy network? In the McCain campaign, that’s called a staff meeting," Obama said.
TransCanada Corp's permit request for the Keystone XL network of long-distance pipes represents a clear test of those pledges of transparency and a less cozy relationship with corporate lobbyists. The proposed pipeline would shuttle what is described as the dirtiest oil on the planet – Canada’s tar sands crude – to petroleum refineries on the Gulf Coast. Ultimately, much of the oil will be shipped overseas to foreign markets, undermining claims that this project would boost U.S. energy security.
Below is a description of the influence peddling firms and lobbyists that DeSmogBlog has identified as having close connections to Hillary Clinton and President Obama that are working to convince the State Department to approve Keystone XL.
McKenna Long & Aldridge lobbies for Nexen Inc., a company with present growth strategies that include “oil sands, including our 65% operated interest in the Long Lake project.” Nexen has paid McKenna over $1.8 million since 2007 in lobbying fees. Talisman, another major energy company in Canada, has paid McKenna $90,000 over the last two years for lobbying.
Frank McKenna, the first-named principle of McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as Canadian ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-6. [Correction: Frank McKenna has no affiliation with McKenna Long & Aldridge. I regret the error.]
Gordon Giffin, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, served as U.S. Ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration (1997 to 2001), and was a key fundraiser and donor to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and White House campaigns. Giffin was one of 22 “Bundlers for Hillary Clinton who have registered as Federal Lobbyists” cataloged by Public Citizen. He’s also been a donor to Bill Clinton’s campaigns and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation. Giffin sits on the boards of four Canadian companies, including Canadian Natural Resources Limited, a major tar sands player.
Maryscott “Scotty” Greenwood, another McKenna lobbyist, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Chief of Staff to Gordon Giffin when he was U.S. ambassador to Canada. Considered by The Hill Times as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Government and Politics in 2010,” Greenwood is valued by McKenna for her ability to reach Secretary Clinton on the phone, according to a biography on the firm's principal Frank McKenna: “Because of her up attitude and the jobs she has held, [Scotty Greenwood] can get through on the phone to virtually anyone of influence within the US Democratic ranks, including the likes of U.S. secretary of the state Hillary Clinton.”
Greenwood was a member of the important Credentials Committee at the 2008 Democratic Convention - the committee appointed by Chairman Howard Dean that was responsible for deciding how to handle Hillary Clinton's delegate challenges. She was also the Executive Director of the Georgia Democratic Party, where she met Giffin.
Indeed, one of the emails obtained by FOE et al in their FOIA request shows Scotty Greenwood emailing news that "Sen Lugar calls for approval of KXL" to Gordon Giffin, Paul Elliott, Marja Verloop and an ExxonMobil lobbyist. (See pg 137 of this PDF)
David Pollak joined McKenna as a “Senior Strategic Advisor” in August 2009. Pollack served as Co-Chairman of the New York State Democratic Party from 2006 – 2008, and was a Hillary Clinton Super-Delegate.
In May 2010, McKenna Long & Aldridge hired Alex McGee, who previously worked for Koch Industries as the Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector (KCPS). Prior to that, he spent five years as the Department of Energy's (DOE) Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. McGee’s bio claims he was “a strategic player in the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” McGee now lobbies on behalf of TransCanada.
The web of tar sands lobbyist cronies with ties to Hillary Clinton pressuring the State Department to approve Keystone XL shows that President Obama must take personal responsibility for the transparency and objectivity of this permit decision. It appears that Secretary Clinton is too compromised by this web of polluter influence peddlers from her past to say no to Keystone XL.
Saying no to this filthy tar sands pipeline is the only viable option for President Obama, who campaigned not only on a platform of strong climate action and ending our oil addiction, but also for transparency and minimizing the role of corporate lobbyists in policy decisions.
Right now, the State Department’s capitulation to lobbyists – and secrecy about Secretary Clinton’s contacts with lobbyists – stinks to high heaven, as the recently released emails demonstrate. Hopefully this amended FOIA request will compel the State Department to reveal all the facts about lobbyist influence over Hillary Clinton’s position on Keystone XL.
DeSmogBlog's Emma Pullman contributed research to this report.
** Clarification added to note that Earthjustice, which represents the environmental groups, filed the amended FOIA today on their behalf.
Most of the time, polluter lobbyists manage to operate behind the scenes, pushing their agenda without public scrutiny. But today, newly published internal emails offer a glimpse into how a major tar sands polluter has been using insider access to get special treatement at the State Department. The emails, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Friends of the Earth, reveal improper conduct between State Department officials and Paul Elliott, a lobbyist pushing the tar sands Keystone XL pipeline for Transcanada. As the Washington Post reported this morning, the emails "show how Elliott tried to exploit relationships built in political campaigns, with mixed results. The e-mails are almost all between Elliott and a special assistant to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. All three knew one another from working on Clinton’s presidential campaign."
It's clear that the State Department's determination that the Keystone XL pipeline would have "no significant impact" on the environment is seriously flawed (see It's Easy to Find "No Significant Impact" if You Do No Significant Study...), and these emails provide some clues why. Instead of performing a rigorous environmental impact statement, a senior State Department official was busy helping TransCanada's CEO with "insight on what he'd like to see by way of on the record comment during this public comment period of this Keystone KXL draft environmental impact statement.” according to one email from Elliott. In yet another example of the revolving door between polluting industries and our public officials, that senior State Department official, David Goldwyn, is now himself a polluter lobbyist, and testified before Congress in favor of the tar sands pipeline.
The State Department has clearly heard a lot from polluter lobbyists pushing tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline. Let's make sure they hear from us: join Tar Sands Action on October 7th for a rally at the final hearing for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington DC. We might not get special "insight" from the State Department about what kind of public comment they'd like to see - but I think we'll have some ideas of our own.
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