Weekly Mulch: Murkowski Vs. the EPA

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) pulled out a rarely-used Congressional tool in an attempt to keep the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating carbon and other greenhouse gasses. Sen. Murkowski offered a “resolution of disapproval” of the EPA’s impending action, which would limit companies’ carbon emissions.

The resolution would overturn the EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide is harmful to the public health. Three Democrats—Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)—joined Sen. Murkowski and 35 Republicans in sponsoring the resolution.

“Ms. Murkowski’s Mischief‘”

“This command and control approach is our worst option for reducing the gasses associated with climate change,” said Sen. Murkowski on the floor of the Senate yesterday. She called the EPA’s actions “backdoor climate regulations with no input from Congress” and said they would damage the country’s flailing economy.

The EPA first announced in April 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses posed a threat to the public health. The agency formalized that finding last month, giving itself the power to regulate emissions of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. In March 2010, for instance, the agency is expected to announce carbon emissions rules for the auto industry that would match California’s higher standards. Sen. Murkowski’s resolution would derail that process.

Sen. Murkowski argued that she wants to give Congress room to come up with a legislative solution to climate change, but her critics see a more dangerous tilt to her resolution. “It’s a radical attempt by the legislative branch to interfere with executive branch scientists,” writes David Roberts at Grist.

Responding to “Ms. Murskowski’s mischief” on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called the resolution an “unprecedented effort to overturn scientific decision” and “a direct assault on the health of the American people.”

Resolution of disapproval

What is a “resolution of disapproval?” Grist’s Roberts called it “the nuclear option.”

“It would rescind the EPA’s endangerment finding entirely and thereby eliminate its authority over both mobile and stationary sources,” Roberts explains. “Furthermore, the administration would be prohibited from passing a regulation “substantially the same” as the one overruled, so the constraint on the EPA would effectively be permanent.”

This type of resolution was created by the Clinton-era Congressional Reform Act. The resolution has one big advantage: It cannot be filibustered. Passage requires only a majority in both houses of Congress. Members have tried using it in the past to delay the Dubai Ports World deal, derail FCC regulations on new media, and stop the flow of bailout funds.

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones has been following Sen. Murkowski’s actions closely. She reports that “Senate supporters of climate action say Murkowski could obtain the votes of moderate Democrats from coal, oil, and manufacturing states. However, a resolution would still need to be approved by the House and signed by the president—both long shots, to put it mildly. ‘I think we’re a little worried about [Murkowski’s resolution] winning. I’m not sure we’re worried about it becoming law,’ a Senate Democratic staffer says.”

But Grist’s Roberts argues that passage in the Senate alone would be a problem. “Even if blocked by the House or vetoed by the president, such a public, bipartisan slap at the administration would be highly embarrassing and demoralizing,” Roberts writes. “It would mean at least ten conservative Democrats washing their hands of the administration’s initiative.”

Climate change and Congress

Sen. Murkowski insists that she’s still ready to work with her colleagues on climate change and that it’s better to approach the problem of climate change via legislation, not regulation.

But no one in Washington believes that climate change legislation is going to pass—even come to the Senate floor—any time soon. The issue was already in line behind health care, and the election of Republican candidate Scott Brown to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat this week means that none of the bills that the Senate is working on are likely to come to a vote this year.

“There was hope that the [climate] bill would come to the floor in the spring,” writes Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. “Regrettably, a narrow majority of Massachusetts voters have made it significantly more likely that Congress won’t address the problem at all. Proponents focused on solutions have vowed to “persist,” but Massachusetts has made a difficult situation considerably worse.”

The role of special interests

Sen. Murkowski has come under criticism for allowing Bush-era EPA administrators, now lobbyists representing clients on climate change issues, to help her craft an earlier amendment cracking down on the EPA. Yesterday, she said that those criticisms are “categorically false.”

But as JP Leous reports at Care2, Sen. Murkowski does receive substantial backing from energy industries that oppose climate change legislation and regulation.

“According to OpenSecrets.org Sen. Murkowski has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from polluting companies, and some of her biggest campaign contributors in recent years include firms with fossil-fueled motives like Exxon Mobil Corp,” Leous writes “Add those dots into the mix and a different picture emerges — and it starts to look like a person who is poised to introduce legislation next week attacking the Clean Air Act.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Boxer charged, “Why would the Senate get in the business of repealing science? Because that’s what the special interests want to have happen now. Because they’re desperate.”

The Democratic Senators who co-sponsored the resolution also come from energy producing states where companies object to the new EPA regulations.

If at first you don’t succeed…

If Sen. Murkowski’s resolution does pass the Senate, there’s little chance it will pass the House as well. But this isn’t the only option that regulation opponents are looking at to fight the EPA. The Chamber of Commerce and other groups are planning to challenge the regulatory action in court, as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports.

Last week, these opponents met to discuss their strategy. What’s interesting, Sheppard says, is that “the group was apparently divided on the best course of action. The Hill observes that “two camps have emerged.” One wants to challenge whatever rules the EPA issues, while another wants to question the science of global warming itself.”

We’re back to that old saw? With legislation off the table, the fight over climate change, for now, is in the regulatory arena.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Saying 'No' to Corporate America

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

By proposing financial reforms that won't curb Wall Street excess, U.S. policymakers have offered an unacceptably weak response to our enormous financial crisis. If voters don't demand that their elected representatives help workers and consumers instead of simply boosting corporate profits, the economic downturn will last for several more years and leave the economy vulnerable to another bank-induced meltdown.

The banks have unbelievable lobbying clout. In an interview with Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks, Heather Booth,  executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, describes how one-sided the Wall Street reform fight has been. Despite broad public support for a fundamental financial overhaul, going up against the bank lobby is, as Booth describes, "a David and Goliath fight." It's basically Americans for Financial Reform against every major corporation in the U.S.

Booth notes that the Chamber of Commerce has vowed to spend $100 million on a campaign to defend the "so-called free enterprise system"--you know, the "free market"--in which corporate lobbyists spend millions of dollars to write the rules of the economic game. Just seven financial lobby groups have spent a massive $147 million peddling influence over the past two years.

In fact, as Janine Wedel observes for Salon, the U.S. economic system is starting to look an awful lot like the clannish systems of government that looted Eastern European countries in the early 1990s. Today, the public good takes a backseat to the narrow interests of powerful corporations.

With the Obama administration working with advisers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, we're not just watching Wall Street write its own regulations. We're watching the financial sector re-write the official role of the government in the economy. In this new role, the government's top priority is securing profits for corporate America.

"The intertwined coterie of financial and policy deciders in the United States is creating not only the financial architecture of the future, backed by the power and billions of the state, but, more generally, new relationships between the bureaucracy and the market," Wedel writes.

GRITtv's Laura Flanders echoes this theme in an interview with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and journalist Russ Baker. Lobbyists have so thoroughly hijacked the U.S. economy, Perkins argues, that the nation's government now resembles those of Latin American nations he worked with in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I don't think the U.S. president has much power these days, to be honest with you. . . . It's the big corporate executives who call the shots today, and let's face it, they financed Obama's campaign," Perkins says.

The very efforts the government deployed to save the financial system are being perverted to create another disaster. In a five-part interview with Paul Jay of The Real News, Jane D'Arista, an influential economist and author of The Evolution of U.S. Finance, explains how Wall Street destroyed itself over the past decade. By borrowing massive amounts of money, Wall Street was able to place bigger bets in the capital markets casino, resulting in huge profits when those bets paid off. But when the bets backfired, the losses were just as massive. Companies couldn't pay them off, so the government stepped in to support them.

One of those support mechanisms came from the Federal Reserve, which began making incredibly cheap loans to firms that engaged predominantly in speculative trading. The Fed used to lend exclusively to commercial banks, which used the money to make loans that helped grow the real economy. But now those loans are being used to support risky securities trading, so we're seeing big profits in the financial sector, without much help for workers and consumers. This is a major long-term problem--if the economy can't keep pace with the Wall Street casino, those speculative trades are going to backfire and we'll be right back to the chaos of September 2008, only with an even weaker economy.

All hope is not lost. As Perkins and Baker emphasize in their interview with Flanders, citizens have to demand corporate accountability and a government that actually serves the public good. For much of the past decade in Latin America, governments have been elected that stood up to major corporations and demanded that they stop pillaging their nation's resources at the people's expense.

In addition to demanding much stronger reforms for the financial sector, we have to demand that the government respond seriously to problems facing workers. With the unemployment rate at 10.2% and expected to go still higher, we need jobs. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama's economic stimulus package helped stave off total economic devastation. What we need now is another stimulus to get people back to work, not just slow the pace of job losses.

"A bold, ambitious jobs bill can make a huge difference--the stimulus got us out of the ditch, a new effort can get us going in the right direction again," Benen writes.

And the only argument against this plan is that we "can't afford it." That is--the government's fiscal deficit is too high, and we just can't spend money to help people in real economic trouble.

But as Christopher Hayes writes for The Nation, the deficit excuse is pretty pathetic. Economic stimulus bolsters economic growth, thus improving tax returns for the government in the future. And any spending on any project can be taken out of the budget from other measures. Hayes notes that our massive military spending is almost never included in discussions about "fiscal responsibility." If we were really worried about how much it would cost to fix the economy, we could stop spending so much money killing people.

"Fiscal conservatism and deficit concern is nearly always code speak in Washington for something else," Hayes writes. "Most often, when someone in Washington says they're concerned about the deficit, what they're really saying is, 'I would like to make sure we have a government that focuses maximally on blowing people up.'"

The government has to start saying 'no' to corporate America. Corporate profits are not the same thing as a strong economy. We need to demand an economic policy that answers to workers, not just bank balance sheets.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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Chamber Me This.

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce's recent actions on two of the most important issues facing our country, healthcare reform and climate change, are a complete riddle to not only me, but to many of the chamber's own members and former supporters.

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Weekly Mulch: Autumn Fools

By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

After several prominent members left the Chamber of Commerce over its prehistoric climate change policies, the organization appeared to do an about-face on its climate stance during a press conference on Monday. Sound too good to be true? It was. Members of the Yes Men, a group of satirical, anti-corporate activists, posed as Chamber of Commerce officials and held a fake press conference claiming that "There is only one sound way to do business: That's to support a strong climate-change bill quickly, so that this December in Copenhagen, President Obama can lead the entire business world in ensuring our long-term prosperity." In reality, the Chamber has not changed their climate stance and continues to oppose climate change legislation. The Yes Men's stunt is just one more in a chain of hoaxes this Autumn, including a boy in a balloon, death panels on health care reform, and recent allegations that radical Islamists are using interns to infiltrate Capitol Hill.

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iQuit

The US Chamber of Commerce is up to its eyeballs in disgruntled members and as a membership organization, perhaps it will consider the incredible amount of damage it has done to is reputation by aggressively resisting climate change initiatives and legislation.

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Diaries

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