As the Trump shutdown lumbers on, The Washington Post reports:
On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management changed its plan to allow for 19 percent of its 9,260-person workforce to continue on the job during the shutdown.
According to BLM officials, employees who are back on the job are working on activities including law enforcement, grazing activities and preparing for March lease sales that will take place in several Western states.
Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, for its part, has also brought back employees to avert any delays in its March auction for offshore oil and gas drilling.
Priorities. The most important thing to accomplish for the GOP is selling off the public’s land and drill, baby, drill. Jerks.
But some Democrats and environmental groups attacked the decision as political and dangerous.
On Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led a group of House Democrats in calling the assistance to the oil and gas industry “an outrageous step,” with a “farcical” justification in a letter to acting Interior secretary David Bernhardt.
“One of the most striking features” of the shutdown, the lawmakers wrote, “is the way the administration has bent over backwards to ensure that the pain of the shutdown falls only on ordinary Americans and the environment, and not on the oil and gas industry.”
Shocking, I know, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron, et al, don’t want to alter their profit streams, asking to be able to continue sending bomb trains throughout the country. The reason? Updating the safety equipment would cost money. What a compelling argument, worthy of a 6th grade debate team.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.
The trade group, which represents companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, has long argued that forcing oil producers and shippers to use newer tank cars and replace older models would impose high costs on the industry and lead to a shortfall in tank car capacity.
The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment. It also challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.
If Exxon Mobil were forced to spend $100,000,000 updating the bomb cars, ((a number I just pulled out of the air, and probably a lot more than they would actually pay)) would it be a large enough number to reduce their annual profits measurably? In 2014 alone, ExxonMobil reported revenue of $394,105,000,000. Chevron’s reported revenue for 2014 was $211,970, 000,000 by the way. I would hazard a guess their accountants are top notch, and most of the costs of updating bomb trains would be written off as operating expense, right? The oil industry has been making immense, unimaginable profits for decades, or more.
In other words, protesting that updating the rail cars so that they don’t blow up communities and cause fires that last for weeks because updating the rail cars would cost too much is a lame argument. Cries pleading poverty from corporations as wealthy as Chevron is laughable.
Love Is Letting Go
Not that the Transportation Department and Barack Obama will listen to me, but my negotiation points would include the tax subsidies the oil and gas industry currently enjoy: fix the bomb trains and you get to keep half of your tax subsidies.
The oil industry’s lobbyists like to argue that its array of tax write-offs (which allow companies to deduct everything from drilling costs to the declining value of their wells) aren’t any different than other deductions for less publicly reviled companies. Cutting them will discourage new exploration and put jobs at risk, they claim.
Yet, some of the breaks are anachronisms that date back almost to the days of John D. Rockefeller. And in a world of permanently high crude prices, there’s very little rationale for subsidizing the bottom lines of companies like ExxonMobil and BP.
Make no mistake, either: Those profits are perfectly healthy. Between drilling and refining, Exxon’s U.S. operations alone earned $7.5 billion after taxes in 2012. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the so-called “independent” oil companies and the top oil driller in Texas, raked in $7.1 billion via its oil and gas division.
I ran across a quite interesting discussion of the history of the Oklahoma oil boom in the 1970s and its subsequent bust in the early 1980s, which is linked with the story of Penn Square Bank. There is a book by Phillip Zweig specifically on this topic, called Belly Up: The Collapse of the Penn Square Bank, I think I’ll have to look for a copy.
Now of course a debacle of the Penn Square variety requires at least one other thing, which is a banking industry so fixated on this quarter’s profits that it can lose track of the minor little fact that lending money to people who can’t pay it back isn’t a business strategy with a long shelf life. I hope none of my readers are under the illusion that this is lacking just now. With interest rates stuck around zero and people and institutions that live off their investments frantically hunting for what used to count as a normal rate of return, the same culture of short-term thinking and financial idiocy that ran the global economy into the ground in the 2008 real estate crash remains firmly in place, glued there by the refusal of the Obama administration and its equivalents elsewhere to prosecute even the most egregious cases of fraud and malfeasance.
Now that the downturn in oil prices is under way, and panic selling of energy-related junk bonds and lower grades of unconventional crude oil has begun in earnest, it seems likely that we’ll learn just how profitable the fracking fad of the last few years actually was. My working guess, which is admittedly an outsider’s view based on limited data and historical parallels, is that it was a money-losing operation from the beginning, and looked prosperous—as the Oklahoma boom did—only because it attracted a flood of investment money from people and institutions who were swept up in the craze. If I’m right, the spike in domestic US oil production due to fracking was never more than an artifact of fiscal irresponsibility in the first place, and could not have been sustained no matter what. Still, we’ll see.
The more immediate question is just how much damage the turmoil now under way will do to a US and global economy that have never recovered from the body blow inflicted on them by the real estate bubble that burst in 2008. Much depends on exactly who sunk how much money into fracking-related investments, and just how catastrophically those investments come unraveled. It’s possible that the result could be just a common or garden variety recession; it’s possible that it could be quite a bit more. When the tide goes out, as Warren Buffet has commented, you find out who’s been swimming naked, and just how far the resulting lack of coverage will extend is a question of no small importance.
At least three economic sectors outside the fossil fuel industry, as I see it, stand to suffer even if all we get is an ordinary downturn. The first, of course, is the financial sector. A vast amount of money was loaned to the fracking industry; another vast amount—I don’t propose to guess how it compares to the first one—was accounted for by issuing junk bonds, and there was also plenty of ingenious financial architecture of the sort common in the housing boom. Those are going to lose most or all of their value in the months and years ahead. No doubt the US government will bail out its pals in the really big banks again, but there’s likely to be a great deal of turmoil anyway, and midsized and smaller players may crash and burn in a big way. One way or another, it promises to be entertaining.
We’ll see, but it might be a good time to start putting a few Krugerrands under your mattress…
The bank is often cited as being partly responsible for the collapse of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, which had to write-off some US$500+ million in loans purchased from Penn Square. [↩]
During the very first week of the 114th Congress, the new agenda was made clear: Bills to end the Affordable Care Act, to restrict abortion rights, to stop Obama’s immigration plan, and a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Paul Krugman laughs, and points out the absurdity of the GOP’s Carbon Keynesianism…
It should come as no surprise that the very first move of the new Republican Senate is an attempt to push President Obama into approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands. After all, debts must be paid, and the oil and gas industry — which gave 87 percent of its 2014 campaign contributions to the G.O.P. — expects to be rewarded for its support.
Building Keystone XL could slightly increase U.S. employment. In fact, it might replace almost 5 percent of the jobs America has lost because of destructive cuts in federal spending, which were in turn the direct result of Republican blackmail over the debt ceiling.
Oh, and don’t tell me that the cases are completely different. You can’t consistently claim that pipeline spending creates jobs while government spending doesn’t.
Consider, for example, the case of military spending. When it comes to possible cuts in defense contracts, politicians who loudly proclaim that every dollar the government spends comes at the expense of the private sector suddenly begin talking about all the jobs that will be destroyed. They even begin talking about the multiplier effect, as reduced spending by defense workers leads to job losses in other industries. This is the phenomenon former Representative Barney Frank dubbed “weaponized Keynesianism.”
And the argument being made for Keystone XL is very similar; call it “carbonized Keynesianism.” Yes, approving the pipeline would mobilize some money that would otherwise have sat idle, and in so doing create some jobs — 42,000 during the construction phase, according to the most widely cited estimate. (Once completed, the pipeline would employ only a few dozen workers.) But government spending on roads, bridges and schools would do the same thing.
And the job gains from the pipeline would, as I said, be only a tiny fraction — less than 5 percent — of the job losses from sequestration, which in turn are only part of the damage done by spending cuts in general. If Mr. McConnell and company really believe that we need more spending to create jobs, why not support a push to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure?
So what should be done about Keystone XL? If you believe that it would be environmentally damaging — which I do — then you should be against it, and you should ignore the claims about job creation. The numbers being thrown around are tiny compared with the country’s overall work force.
Infrastructure improvement? Blasphemy! Spending money to fix bridges, roads, water supply pipes, commuter rails – that’s Socialism! But building a massive pipeline to ship oil from Canada to China via the Gulf of Mexico is God’s commandment. If you consider Mammon a God that is…
Here are real world consequences of removing all vestiges of restraint of corporate purchase of elected officials, only partially hidden corruption. We are getting the best politicians money can buy, in other words, with the obvious point being it isn’t our money, but corporate dollars that have all the buying power.
The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.
But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.
The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.
Cheap for corporations, $16,000,000 isn’t very much when gutting environmental law is the end result. Remember your high school history books and how indignant the outrage was when discussing the Teapot Dome Scandal? Well, this is a gazillion or two times worse…
Here’s a brief refresher of the Teapot Dome Scandal via Wikipedia:
In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy largely converted from coal to oil fuel. To ensure the Navy would always have enough fuel available, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control.
Later in 1922, Albert Fall leased the oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation. He also leased the Elk Hills reserve to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. Both leases were issued without competitive bidding. This manner of leasing was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies, which secretly made Fall a rich man. Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.32 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.34 million today). It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living prompted speculation.
Sound familiar? Except in this case, the public isn’t outraged, or even well informed that elected officials are getting paid off in such a brazen manner.
Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.
“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice,” said David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican who served a decade as attorney general in Oregon. “The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used.”
For Mr. Pruitt, the benefits have been clear. Lobbyists and company officials have been notably solicitous, helping him raise his profile as president for two years of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a post he used to help start what he and allies called the Rule of Law campaign, which was intended to push back against Washington.
Big Government, saving you from an oil tanker blowing up in your neighborhood. What a travesty! Shut it down!
While the existence of this virtual pipeline is obvious to its neighbors—trains are visible from homes, the local commuter rail station, a park and a popular jogging trail—it is officially secret. Delaware Safety and Homeland Security officials contend that publicizing any information about the oil trains parked there would “reveal the State’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks,” according to a letter to The Wall Street Journal.
Finding the locations of oil-filled trains remains difficult, even in states that don’t consider the information top secret. There are no federal or state rules requiring public notice despite several fiery accidents involving oil trains, including one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.
The desire for secrecy seems wrongheaded to some experts. “If you don’t share this information, how are people supposed to know what they are supposed to do when another Lac-Mégantic happens?” asked Denise Krepp, a consultant and former senior counsel to the congressional Homeland Security Committee.
She said more firefighting equipment and training was needed urgently. “We are not prepared,” she said.
In May, federal regulators ordered railroads to tell states about the counties traversed by trains carrying combustible crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota so local first responders could be notified.
The Journal submitted open-records requests to all 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia and received at least some information from all but 14: Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia.
Mapping data received from the disclosing states, the Journal found a lot of other cities in the same situation as Newark. On its way to refiners on the East Coast and along the Gulf of Mexico, oil often sits in tank cars in railroad yards outside Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Penn., and passes through Cleveland, Chicago, Albany, Seattle and a dozen other cities.
I’ve been looking for a while to take a photo of one of these oil tankers in Illinois, but haven’t found one yet. Do you have a photo?
The Bakken crude contains a lot of butane, making it volatile but useful for mixing with heavier oils or as a refined byproduct, said refinery manager José Dominguez. On a recent afternoon, the refinery was running mostly Bakken oil, along with some diluted crude from Canadian oil sands and a ship’s worth of light sweet oil from Basra, Iraq.
When Norfolk Southern began routing crude trains through Newark, it didn’t notify the local emergency officials. Last March, a year after trains started turning up, Fire Chief A.J. Schall sat down with officials from the railroad and refinery to discuss the crude shipments.
“It shows a lack of communication,” he said. By the summer, Norfolk Southern and PBF paid for Mr. Schall and another local fire chief to fly to Colorado and attend a three-day class on crude-by-rail trains.
Ok, problem solved, just fly local officials to Colorado, and give them a cannabis stipend…
Oh, and in case it isn’t clear, I’m a liberal who believes government is frequently the solution to our nation’s problems which puts me radically at odds to the flame throwers like Ted “Calgary” Cruz who want to shut the government down because they are opposed to some policy or other.
How simply ridiculous. Was this an ALEC bill? A Koch Industry bill? Which industrial baron insisted upon this travesty?
the House on Tuesday quietly passed a bill that environmentalists say would hamper the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to use the best scientific information when crafting regulations to protect public health and the environment.
The House voted 229-191 to pass H.R. 1422, which would change the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group that gives scientific advice to the EPA Administrator.
Also called the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, the bill would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to corporations to serve on the SAB, prohibit independent scientists from talking about their own research on the board, and make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the board. The purpose of the bill, according to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), is to increase transparency and accountability to the EPA’s scientific advisors. Burgess said on the floor Tuesday that the board “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” With this bill, Burgess said the inclusion of industry interests would erase “any appearance of impropriety on the board.”
But scientists, environmental groups, and health experts have said that the bill compromises the scientific independence of the SAB, and makes it harder for the Board to do its job, thereby increasing the amount of time it takes to implement EPA regulations.
“The supposed intent [of the bill] is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) on the House floor on Tuesday. “It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.”
not to mention there is also HR 4012, the so-called “Secret Science” Reform Act, which is another effort to destroy the EPA, or at least delay it from doing its job:
Under HR 4012, some of the best real-world public health research, which relies on patient data like hospital admissions, would be excluded from consideration because personal data could not, and should not, be made public. Demanding public release of full raw data the agency cannot legally disclose is simply a way to accuse the agency of hiding something when it has nothing to hide. What matters is not raw data but the studies based on these data, which have gone through the scientific process, including rigorous peer review, safeguards to protect the privacy of study participants, and careful review to make sure there’s no manipulation for political or financial gain.
As many politicians have taken pains to point out, they are not scientists, so they should listen to scientific advice instead of making spurious demands for unanalyzed data.
HR 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, sponsored by vocal EPA adversary Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would similarly erect pointless roadblocks for the agency. The Science Advisory Board, composed of some of our nation’s best independent scientists, exists not to advocate any particular policy, but to evaluate whether the best science was used in agency decisions. This bill would make it easier for experts with ties to corporations affected by new rules to serve on the SAB while excluding independent scientists from talking about their own research.
In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.
Over the past few years, the Republican party has engaged in an unrelenting partisan attack on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They have harassed the administrator, attempted to delay every new regulation, questioned the integrity of academic and EPA scientists, and sided with industrial polluters over the American people. Later this week, the Republican Majority in the House will continue this assault by considering H.R. 4012 and H.R. 1422.
H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Act of 2014, is an insidious attack on the EPA’s ability to use the best science to protect the health of Americans and the environment. Republicans will claim that H.R. 4012 increases EPA’s transparency, but in reality it is an attempt to prevent EPA from using the best science to protect public health and the environment. This bill would prohibit EPA from relying on scientific studies that involve personal health information or other data that is legally protected from public disclosure.
Any effort to limit the scope of science that can be considered by EPA does not strengthen scientific integrity, but instead undermines it. It would also increase the likelihood of litigation because EPA’s actions would be based on inadequate and incomplete science, leaving any regulation open to legal challenges which would delay the implementation of important public health protections. The true intent of H.R. 4012 is to delay EPA action because that is what industrial polluters want. H.R. 4012 is not only bad for public health, but it is also bad for the taxpayer. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the bill as reported would cost American taxpayers as much as $1 billion dollars over four years.
So happy that 18% of the electorate is able to set pollution policy for the entire nation. I mean, who would want clean air or water? Or lakes and streams one could actually fish in? No, much better to destroy our planet and wait for The Rapture…1
I’m being sarcastic, in case this is not obvious. You cannot see my smirk after all [↩]
Gail Collins provides a good elevator pitch description of a tax policy tool called tax extenders…
One of the very, very few things the current Congress seems determined to deal with before it vanishes into the night is the problem of “tax extenders.” Extenders are strange but much-loved little financial mutants. Sort of like hobbits or three-legged kittens.
Congress, in its wisdom, has created a raft of temporary tax breaks for everybody from teachers to banks that make money overseas. Most are really intended to be permanent. But calling them short-term measures tricks the Congressional Budget Office into underestimating how much they cost. “If you pass a new tax cut, you’ve got to find offsetting spending cuts. But these are in a sense free,” said Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.
After the election, both parties appeared inclined to just extend all the tax cuts for two years while making principled mumbling about reform down the line.
But then the Koch brothers roared into the picture. They feel that it’s wrong for the government to give a special benefit to an industry that’s one of their competitors. Especially a government that they and their associates devoted nearly $60 million to getting into office. Politico reported that their representatives have been meeting with Speaker Boehner’s staff.
And you know, they have a point. If Congress actually wanted to do serious reform, it should get rid of special tax breaks for the wind and solar energy sectors. While, of course, also removing all the tax breaks for drilling oil.
Oh, dandy. Aren’t you glad that Bush Cheney and that merry band of war criminals decided to piss away trillions of dollars and uncounted lives in the sands of Iraq in order to free Iraqi oil from Saddam Hussein?
Since the American-led invasion of 2003, Iraq has become one of the world’s top oil producers, and China is now its biggest customer.
China already buys nearly half the oil that Iraq produces, nearly 1.5 million barrels a day, and is angling for an even bigger share, bidding for a stake now owned by Exxon Mobil in one of Iraq’s largest oil fields.
“The Chinese are the biggest beneficiary of this post-Saddam oil boom in Iraq,” said Denise Natali, a Middle East expert at the National Defense University in Washington. “They need energy, and they want to get into the market.”
“We lost out,” said Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official in the Bush administration who worked on Iraq oil policy. “The Chinese had nothing to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply.”
Especially when it turns out Exxon Mobil and their ilk expected to be able to reap their usual massive profits…
Notably, what the Chinese are not doing is complaining. Unlike the executives of Western oil giants like Exxon Mobil, the Chinese happily accept the strict terms of Iraq’s oil contracts, which yield only minimal profits. China is more interested in energy to fuel its economy than profits to enrich its oil giants.
Chinese companies do not have to answer to shareholders, pay dividends or even generate profits. They are tools of Beijing’s foreign policy of securing a supply of energy for its increasingly prosperous and energy hungry population. “We don’t have any problems with them,” said Abdul Mahdi al-Meedi, an Iraqi Oil Ministry official who handles contracts with foreign oil companies. “They are very cooperative. There’s a big difference, the Chinese companies are state companies, while Exxon or BP or Shell are different.”
China is now making aggressive moves to expand its role, as Iraq is increasingly at odds with oil companies that have cut separate deals with Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.
Good for Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the few Senators who actually cares about the average citizen, and our planet…
Bernie Sanders used to be Congressman-at-large from Vermont. Now he’s Vermont’s junior Senator. In so many ways, however, he’s the nation’s Senator-at-large, showing the way when so many others in Congress have lost theirs.
While a good chunk of Congress, including a majority of the freshman class in the House, are climate-change deniers, Sanders has no illusions about where we need to be headed. That’s why he introduced the 10 Million Solar Rooftops bill last June. That bill, now with seven co-sponsors, was approved for a vote by the full Senate in December. It’s also why he introduced legislation to end oil and coal subsidies last year. That bill got just 35 votes in the Senate. But he vowed Tuesday not to give up.
“We’ve got to end all of the tax breaks for the oil companies and coal companies and I’m going to introduce legislation to do just that,” Sanders told demonstrators clad in black-and-white striped referee shirts who rallied to “blow the whistle” on members of Congress and Big Oil. Ending tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies would reduce the deficit by more than $40 billion over the next 10 years. Sanders’ legislation will end those tax breaks and tens of billions of dollars in other special subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.
Besides ignoring Sen. Sanders’s bill last year, and Obama’s budget proposal, Congress refused to go along with the proposal of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who wanted to cut some $2 billion in subsidies solely from the five big dogs in the oil business: BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
Together over the past decade, those five have together put $1 trillion on their bottom lines. And yet some of them have had years in which they not only paid zero income taxes, they actually got rebates. Exxon Mobil paid $39 million in taxes on the $9.9 billion in U.S. profits it made for 2009-2010. Its effective tax rate? 0.4 percent. Outrageous, but perfectly legal. Sanders told the 350.org crowd, “One of the absurdities that goes on right here in Washington, D.C., is that Congress keeps voting not for the interest of our children, not in the interest of our future, but for the profits of the huge oil and coal companies.”
There’s a good reason for this outcome. In 2011 alone, oil and gas companies spent more than $100 million lobbying Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics reports. Since 1990, they have collectively passed out $238.7 million to candidates and parties, three-fourths of it to Republicans. Exxon Mobil alone contributed $872,694 to candidates in 2010-2011. Sitting members of Congress received $12 million in contributions from oil and gas interests from July 2009 through July 2011, according to the non-partisan research group Maplight.
The GOP only cares about symbolic victories, not about actual governance. For example, the infamous Keystone XL pipeline. Obama would have happily punted on the decision until after the election, but the GOP was more interested in scoring political points, so they forced Obama’s hand.
At the peak of December’s payroll tax cut showdown on Capitol Hill, two top Republican aides discussed with me the pros and cons of making the Keystone XL pipeline a centerpiece of the debate. They relished the idea of forcing President Obama to take a public stand on the pipeline early in an election year, instead of after the election as he had wanted. And they were eager to force him to choose between supporters in the labor movement, some of whom are pushing for the pipeline, and others in the environmental movement who vehemently oppose it. So they decided to go for it. At the same time they knew he’d likely have to reject the project, and for them that created a dilemma.
“It’s a question of whether we’d rather have the pipeline or the issue,” said one of the GOP aides. Black or white.
In the end they chose the issue.
On Wednesday, as expected, Obama shutdown the project, dooming it unless the Canadian company angling for the project goes through the costly process of reapplying and winning approval next year.
Pipe Tool Industrial
All to generate some talking points, and talking points based on lies…
The political attack here is based on a number of false and exaggerated claims — including that the pipeline construction would have created 20,000 jobs (the only independent study of the project concluded that the true number would’ve been much lower) and that the oil is now destined for China instead of the U.S.
At her own Capitol briefing Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took issue with these claims.
“If the Republicans cared so much about the Keystone pipeline, they would not have narrowed the president’s options by putting it on the time frame they did,” Pelosi said. “They left him very little choice…. This oil was always destined for overseas. It’s just a question of whether it leaves Canada by way of Canada, or it leaves Canada by way of the United States. So without taking a position on the pipeline, I don’t agree to the stipulation that this is oil that’s going to China now instead of the US. It was always going overseas. I don’t know where to, but it wasn’t for domestic consumption. And that’s really an important point because the advertising is quite to the contrary.”
Not to mention this little under-reported factoid:
In the meantime, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) launched a “countdown clock” that ticks off the time until the permitting deadline expires and posted a video on YouTube that touts the pipeline as a chance to create jobs with private investment. Playing off Obama’s mantra of “We Can’t Wait,” the video flashes phrases across the screen including, “We Can’t Wait for Leadership. We Can’t Wait for Jobs.” Environmentalists note that in December 2010, according to Boehner’s financial disclosure forms, he invested $10,000 to $50,000 each in seven firms that had a stake in Canada’s oil sands, the region that produces the oil the pipeline would transport. The firms include six oil companies—BP, Canadian Natural Resources, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Devon Energy and Exxon—along with Emerson Electric, which has a contract to provide the digital automation for the first phase of a $9.4 billion Horizon Oil Sands Project in Canada.
Bill McKibben, a climate activist and co-founder of the group 350.org, wrote in an e-mail that Boehner has received more than $1 million from fossil-fuel companies, “and now we find out that he’s got extensive personal investments in companies dependent on tarsands oil.”
“He was willing to shut down the government in part to prevent enough time for serious environmental review,” McKibben added. “In any other facet of our public life . . . this whole list taken together would be seen for the gross conflict of interest that it is.”
Although there is no single, easy answer for addressing increased gas prices in the short term, there are things we can do to guarantee that Americans aren’t victims of escalating gas prices in the long term.
* One thing we can do is eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and instead invest that money into clean energy, so that we can cut our dependence on foreign oil.
* America’s outmoded tax laws offer the oil and gas industry more than $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies, even though that industry is expected to report extra-large profits this quarter. Even as those companies are reaping near record profits, Americans are shelling out for near record gas prices. That doesn’t make sense and it has to end.
* CEO’s of leading oil companies have made it clear that such high oil prices alone offer enough of a profit motive to push them to invest in domestic oil exploration and production — even without special tax breaks.
* Speaker Boehner has said he’s open to eliminating wasteful subsidies for the oil and gas industry. For too long, our political system has avoided doing so. Now, hopefully, our leaders can come together in a bipartisan way to make it happen.
Disgusting, and released late on Friday afternoon, of course, where all such disappointing news gets dumped to be ignored. Plus ça change…
The Justice Department has closed an ethics inquiry into former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who was accused of using her position to steer lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell, where she now works. The Interior Department’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, who conducted the investigation, said Friday that she found no evidence to “conclusively determine” whether conflict-of-interest laws were violated either before or after Ms. Norton joined Shell. Ms. Kendall said that the Interior Department appeared to give Shell preferential treatment in at least two cases, but that she could not link them to Ms. Norton.
Gale Norton, former President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of the Interior, ran the department during the time when its Minerals Management Service was guilty of some of its worst excesses—including holding cocaine and meth-fueled sex and oil parties. But that didn’t stop Norton from taking to Capitol Hill Tuesday to defend the “hardworking and professional men and women of the Minerals Management Service.”
Norton was one of two Bush-era Interior secretaries who testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday morning, the first time representatives from the previous administration have been put on the hot-seat about the regulatory miscues that may have led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Current Secretary Ken Salazar joined Norton (who served in the role from January 2001 to March 2006) and Dirk Kempthorne (June 2006 to January 2009) before the panel.
In her opening statement, Norton accused critics of the Interior Department of vilifying the Minerals Management Service (now renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement). “There has been a great deal of media attention to the ethics of MMS. It pains me to see the vilification of MMS and its employees. I want to speak in defense of the vast majority of hardworking and professional men and women of the Minerals Management Service,” said Norton in her prepared opening statement.
Now, it was under Norton’s watch that many of the porn, meth, and oil parties took place at the MMS’ Lake Charles, La. office. Oh, and the sex, oil, and cocaine parties at the Lakewood, Colorado office. And Norton, who went to work for Shell Oil shortly after leaving office, has been the subject of a Department of Justice criminal investigation into whether she illegally used her position at DOI to benefit the company that would hire her soon thereafter
It’s hard to imagine anyone having a worse day than Tony Hayward, BP’s embattled chief executive, who spent Thursday in the cross hairs of an angry Congressional committee and turned in a mind-bogglingly vapid performance. But he got a run for his money from Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, who inexplicably decided to call the escrow account agreed to by BP and the White House a “$20 billion shakedown.”
If Mr. Barton was trying to be supportive of Mr. Hayward, who looked like he had not slept in weeks, he failed. Mr. Hayward delivered an opening statement full of contrition for the immense damage his company has done. He then faced Henry Waxman and other veteran interrogators armed with truckloads of documents suggesting that BP had behaved sloppily at best and at worst sidestepped safety precautions to save money.
Mr. Hayward insisted that he had never heard of any problems in drilling and completing the well that is now spouting 60,000 barrels of oil a day. He further confessed that he did not even know his company was drilling the doomed well until the day it hit oil.
Thought exercise: Barney Frank makes a criticism of a decision George Bush makes, takes the side of a foreign corporation, say Royal Bank of Scotland. Can you imagine the media storm? Exactly, the Fox News chattering heads would be yelling for Barney Frank to renounce his citizenship and move. But Joe Barton (R, Idiot) is still the ranking GOP member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Go figure.
Republican Joe Barton, who accused the White House Thursday of a $20 billion “shakedown” of BP, is the biggest recipient of oil and gas money in the House of Representatives. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee charged with grilling BP CEO Tony Hayward Thursday has collected more than $4.2 million in political contributions from the oil and gas industry.
The 60-year-old Texas lawmaker, who later apologized for using the word “shakedown,” has collected at least $1.7 million in political contributions from oil and gas interests over the past two decades, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Barton, a former oil company consultant, used his seat on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to apologize to BP CEO Tony Hayward and castigate the White House for pressing BP to finance a $20 billion fund for damage claims from its Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Barton’s biggest single corporate contributor, Anadarko Petroleum, is a 25 percent stakeholder in the Macondo Prospect, site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Individuals and PACs associated with Anadarko have given Barton’s campaigns $146,500 since the 1990 election
It isn’t just Barton. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the $20 billion escrow account a “redistribution of wealth fund.” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga) accused the Obama administration of “Chicago-style shakedown politics.”
Sarah Palin has gone so far as to suggest that the real fault for the catastrophe in the gulf lies with the environmental movement.
On June 1, the former Alaska governor and former vice presidential nominee sent this message out on Twitter: “Extreme Greenies: see now why we push ‘drill, baby, drill’ of known reserves & promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR [the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Refuge]? Now do you get it?”