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The National Coal Council issues reports with titles such as "Coal:
America's Energy Future" and "The Urgency of Sustainable Coal." And
while its web site loads, Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man"
streams triumphantly over the image of an American bald eagle. Coal
boosterism from a K Street lobby shop? In fact, the National Coal
Council is an official government science panel charged with advising
the Secretary of Energy on the feasibility of clean coal technology.
Not surprisingly, the panel has at least 15 members with financial ties
to coal companies, whose fate depends on the technology's favorable
According to an investigation released today
by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the
National Coal Council is similar to other unbalanced science panels
across the government that give industry inappropriate influence over
federal regulatory policy.
Government advisory committees that deliver policy
recommendations are supposed to be comprised of members that represent
a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives of regulated
industries, consumers, and community groups. Government advisory
committees that advise agencies on scientific issues are supposed to be
made up of scientists without financial ties to industry who can render
independent, objective advice. Both types of committee are plagued with
problems, according to CSPI.
One committee with a clear scientific mandate is the Wind
Turbines Guidelines Advisory Committee at the Department of Interior's
Fish and Wildlife Service. It exists in part to recommend "scientific
tools and procedures" for assessing the risk of wind turbines to
wildlife. Instead of being comprised of scientists without financial
interests in the panel's work, the committee is stacked with
stakeholder representatives from the energy industry.
Another example is the National Organic Standards Board at
the Department of Agriculture, which determines what foods and
substances can be called organic. Despite the scientific mandate of the
board, the committee is mostly populated with representatives from
stakeholder groups, including corporations. (A General Mills
representative was designated as representing "scientists" until
consumer groups complained.)
"Over the course of the Bush Administration, government
science panels have become increasingly influenced by industry," said
CSPI lead investigator Kristin Stade, who authored the report. "Though
existing law requires balance, scientists without ties to industry are
becoming endangered species on many of these important panels."
Perhaps in response to reports from the Government Accountability Office, which in 2004 and 2008 criticized agencies for naming industry representatives to science panels,
the Department of Energy improperly reclassified industry
representatives as special governmental employees (SGEs)-the
classification normally used for scientists on the panels. On the
Energy Department's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, several members
with ties to the nuclear power industry (as well as the sole
representative from an environmental group) were improperly
reclassified as SGEs. Not surprisingly, the committee wound up
supporting a controversial industry-favored nuclear fuel reprocessing
program, according to the report.
Indeed, CSPI found a number of policy committees that
suffered from a lack of balance though they should have been comprised
of representatives from various stakeholder groups. A Sporting
Conservation Council, for instance, is dominated by representatives
from hunting and big game organizations. And at Agriculture, the Fruit
and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee and the Grain Inspection
Advisory Committee are almost exclusively composed of members
affiliated with those industries.
On science panels, agencies may grant waivers to panelists
with conflicts of interest if "the need for the individual's services
outweighs the potential for a conflict of interest," but CSPI found
waivers are often not issued. That was especially the case for Interior
and Energy department panels, where numerous conflicts of interest went
undocumented but apparently were informally waived.
To restore the integrity of the federal advisory committee
system, CSPI supports legislation that would correct many of the
chronic problems regarding balance, conflict of interest screening and
transparency. Similar legislation passed the House in 2008 but died in
the Senate. That legislation needs to be strengthened, reintroduced and
approved, the group says.
"The hundreds of federal agency advisory committees whose
deliberations affect the health and safety of the American people face
growing scrutiny by Congress, public interest organizations, and
members of the public," according to the report. "The new
administration should act immediately to address longstanding
deficiencies in the advisory committee system."
In addition to legislation, CSPI says an executive order
from incoming President Barack Obama could clarify and strengthen the
existing Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.
"Every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks."
As the U.S. edges closer to a self-inflicted economic disaster whose most immediate cause is House Republicans' refusal to raise the debt ceiling unless President Joe Biden agrees to slash social programs and give the fossil fuel industry more handouts, the earliest potential victims of the GOP's hostage situation—which could provoke the nation's first-ever default as early as June 1—are coming into view.
"Seniors nationwide are on the frontlines of the fight to raise the debt ceiling, because if the federal government can't make a June 2 payment slated for Social Security recipients, the oldest beneficiaries—those over 88—and people with disabilities will be the first to suffer," The Washington Postreported Wednesday amid ongoing negotiations. "Roughly $98 billion worth of benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military and civil retirement payments, are scheduled to go out in the first two days of June, according to an analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center."
"Social Security benefits are distributed four times a month, but the earliest round of payments go to retirees older than 88 years, as well as people with disabilities and seniors with especially low incomes—and less than $2,000 in assets—who are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)," the Post noted. "Even a weeklong holdup, economists say, could be devastating for the roughly 27 million Americans who rely on Social Security for most of their income. Food insecurity and poverty rates will almost certainly rise, and people will probably forgo medical treatments, as families struggle to make do without necessities."
"There's no fallback if these checks are late," Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the newspaper. "These are people who are literally not allowed to have emergency savings."
Progressives have long accused House Republicans, who know full well that failing to increase the federal government's arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional borrowing limit prior to the quickly approaching default "X-date" would unleash devastating impacts domestically and globally, of weaponizing the nation's credit rating to advance their reactionary agenda. With a five-seat House majority and the ability of any party member to introduce a motion to remove the speaker—a rule the far-right Freedom Caucus secured in exchange for electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to the role—the GOP has significant leverage over the fate of the U.S. and world economy.
Earlier this week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) admitted that his party, led by the House Freedom Caucus to which he belongs, is exploiting the ongoing standoff in a bid to gut the nation's already meager welfare state and weaken its embryonic climate policies.
Referring to the austerity-or-default bill House Republicans approved last month, Gaetz told reporters, "My conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don't feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."
\u201cMatt Gaetz says that Republicans "don\u2019t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."\n\nWho is that hostage?\n\nSocial Security \u2014 and everyone who relies on it.\u201d— Social Security Works (@Social Security Works) 1685026405
Soon after the passage of the Limit, Save, Grow Act, the White House abandoned Biden's earlier refusal to hold debt ceiling negotiations and began signaling its openness to certain GOP proposals, only for McCarthy to make even more extreme ransom demands and constantly move the goal posts.
As the Post reported: "Republicans in Congress have maintained that they don't want to cut Social Security benefits, though at least one recent budget blueprint calls for raising the eligibility age for full retirement from 67 to 70 to account for longer life expectancies. The GOP has also proposed a host of cuts and additional work requirements for other federal benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps, that experts say would have an outsize impact on the country's seniors."
In a Thursday statement, Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick said that "every option on the table from the MAGA House majority leaves millions of vulnerable seniors worse off—either extreme cuts against seniors' health and food security, or a manufactured default crisis that delays Social Security checks many can't live without."
Biden and House Republicans have yet to reach an agreement. According to Thursday reporting from The Associated Press on the contours of a possible deal, the GOP may abandon its demand to further boost military spending in favor of maintaining the already historically high levels proposed by Biden, while Biden may agree to roll back Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding if the GOP lets his administration funnel that money into the social safety net.
The fact that Capitol Hill's deficit hawks are eager to attack the poor but don't support reducing the ever-expanding Pentagon budget or hiking taxes on corporations and the rich to increase revenue exposes the "fraudulent" nature of their current crusade, journalist David Sirota tweeted.
Rescinding the recently enacted IRS funding boost would help wealthy households evade taxes, adding an estimated $114 billion to the federal deficit. Meanwhile, House Republicans are reportedly working on legislation that would make permanent certain provisions in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Trump-era law whose benefits have flowed overwhelmingly to the top 1% while adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.
On Thursday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) sounded the alarm about House Republicans leaving the Capitol with no debt limit agreement reached just days before the X-date.
\u201cWe are days away from Republicans hurtling our economy towards a devastating default on our debt for the first time in American history and @SpeakerMcCarthy just sent everyone home.\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1685036582
Tlaib, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), was echoing warnings made Wednesday by CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Deputy Chair Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), both of whom said that some Republicans are eager to create an economic crisis because they think it would help their electoral chances next year.
Notably, the latest episode of fiscal brinkmanship could have been avoided had Democrats listened to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressives who called on the party to raise the debt ceiling—or abolish it altogether—when it still controlled both chambers of Congress last year.
Corporate Democrats refused to act during the lame-duck session despite Warren's warning that GOP lawmakers desperate to win the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming Biden for it.
A growing number of congressional lawmakers—including prominent progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have implored Biden to invoke his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a default, an option the president has thus far resisted.
On Thursday, Social Security Works and Indivisible led more than 30 progressive advocacy groups in urging Biden to take executive action to disarm the debt ceiling.
\u201cIf the GOP insists on catastrophic cuts or a disastrous default, President Biden should prepare to act using the 14th Amendment to protect working families. Read our letter w/ @SSworks \ud83d\udc47\ud83d\udc47\u201d— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1685032177
"The choice facing the executive branch is clear: Act or default; act or increase the suffering of millions; act or go into economic tailspin," says the letter. "If Republicans in Congress prove unwilling or unable to produce the votes for a bill that avoids default without catastrophic cuts to critical programs, it will fall to you to protect working families from their economic sabotage."
"You have promised to prevent a default, without granting legitimacy to the legislative hostage-taking being undertaken by congressional Republicans," the letter concludes. "Fortunately, the 14th Amendment provides a clear route for you to deliver on that promise. We will stand with you should that route prove necessary."
"It's something that is a concern because it touches on so many aspects of the Earth, including climate, sea level, and marine life," said one oceanographer.
Antarctic currents that enrich 40% of Earth's deep ocean with oxygen and nutrients that are vital for marine life have slowed dangerously in recent decades and could collapse by mid-century, a study published Thursday revealed.
The research—which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change—showed that a 30% slowdown in deep water currents around Antarctica since the early 1990s.
Currents known as Antarctic bottom waters—which are driven by cold, dense waters off the Antarctic continental shelf—power a worldwide system of currents. The most important of these, known as the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, comprises two massive cells—one subducting downward and the other upwelling—that connect the various water basins in a global circulation system.
"If the oceans had lungs, this would be one of them."
"If the oceans had lungs, this would be one of them," Matt England of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia, a co-author of the new paper, said in a statement.
"Our modeling shows that if global carbon emissions continue at the current rate, then the Antarctic overturning will slow by more than 40% in the next 30 years—and on a trajectory that looks headed towards collapse," England added.
\u201c\ud83d\udc49\ud83d\udc49 Out today in @nature our new paper showing how meltwater increases around Antarctica are set to dramatically slowdown the Antarctic overturning circulation, with a potential collapse this century. https://t.co/p3au6k4zcK A\ud83e\uddf5on how this work came about and what we found...\u201d— Prof. Matt England (@Prof. Matt England) 1680102960
Steve Rintoul, co-author of the study and oceanographer at the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, toldThe Guardian that "changes in the overturning circulation are a big deal."
"It's something that is a concern because it touches on so many aspects of the Earth, including climate, sea level, and marine life," he added.
England and Rintoul were part of a team of researchers who in March published a study in Nature that found the vital deep ocean current is "on a trajectory that looks headed towards collapse" over the coming decades.
\u201cIt isn't just the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents that are now completely unstable, something similar is happening around Antarctica.\n\nMake no mistake, this is very bad news indeed.\n\nhttps://t.co/zeFN1Gh0iM\u201d— Bill McGuire (@Bill McGuire) 1685034661
Scientists from Australia examined the deep ocean current below approximately 13,000 feet that originates in the cold, dense waters off the continental shelf of Antarctica and flows to ocean basins across the planet.
"The model projections of rapid change in the deep ocean circulation in response to melting of Antarctic ice might, if anything, have been conservative," Rintoul said Thursday. "We're seeing changes have already happened in the ocean that were not projected to happen until a few decades from now."
England toldThe Guardian in March that "in the past, these circulations have taken more than 1,000 years or so to change, but this is happening over just a few decades."
"It's way faster than we thought these circulations could slow down," he added. "We are talking about the possible long-term extinction of an iconic water mass."
\u201cA new study warns that the deep ocean current driving the Antarctic overturning circulation\u2014a network of currents that regulate ecosystems around the world\u2014could collapse due to climate change. https://t.co/GFN4K9ucyn via @USATODAY\u201d— Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (@Yale Program on Climate Change Communication) 1681509318
The new research comes after the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service reported in February that its analysis of satellite imagery showed Antarctic sea ice coverage was 31% below average the previous month, significantly lower than the previous January low mark set in 2017.
In January, a 600-square-mile iceberg nearly the size of Greater London broke off Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf, although scientists said the event will affect—but was not caused by—climate change. January is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
"These dangerous and dirty permitting deals are a matter of life and death for millions of people across our country who are already overburdened by decades of fossil fuel pollution," warned one campaigner.
Climate action advocates responded with outraged alarm Thursday to reporting that U.S. President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans may try to strike a "dirty deal" on permitting reforms as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
The deliberations continue as fears of an economically catastrophic default are growing, with just a week until the U.S. government could run out of money to pay its bills if Congress doesn't increase the debt limit, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
"We should not be throwing people and the planet under a gas-guzzling bus just so that polluters can more easily build destructive projects."
Citing two unnamed sources close to the talks, The Washington Post reported:
The emerging deal would ease the process of building the interstate transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity across the country—a top priority for Democrats and a boon for President Biden's climate agenda, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.
To sweeten the deal for Republicans, the agreement would make modest changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of its proposed actions. GOP lawmakers have long blamed the bedrock environmental law for the yearslong delays that plague new highways, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects nationwide.
The transmission policy would be based on the forthcoming Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), the newspaper noted, adding that the agreement "would include only incremental changes" sought by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans.
House Republicans notably included H.R. 1—their fossil fuel-friendly energy package—in the so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, the "debt ceiling scam" the GOP passed last month and which established the party's priorities for the ongoing negotiations.
In response to the Post's reporting, Friends of the Earth government and political affairs director Ariel Moger said that "once again, lawmakers are expected to make the unconscionable decision to tack unpopular and environmentally harmful policies onto a must-pass bill. This deal will put communities already suffering from environmental racism at further risk by gutting essential laws."
"We should not be throwing people and the planet under a gas-guzzling bus just so that polluters can more easily build destructive projects," Moger argued. "Biden and congressional Democrats should stand up for environmental justice, reject this dirty deal, and pass a clean debt limit increase."
\u201cWe all know that we need to make the transition to clean energy as quickly as possible, but @POTUS is reportedly considering a #DirtyDeal that would lock in more fossil fuels. Keep fossil fuel handouts out of the debt ceiling deal! https://t.co/vCr7JgmqKW\u201d— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club) 1685042165
Oil Change International U.S. program co-manager Allie Rosenbluth stressed that "these dangerous and dirty permitting deals are a matter of life and death for millions of people across our country who are already overburdened by decades of fossil fuel pollution, the impacts of climate change, and compromised public health."
"The increased exposure to oil spills, gas leaks, air pollution, and water contamination would exacerbate existing environmental injustices and the climate crisis," Rosenbluth continued. "We must draw a red line and say no to Republicans taking our economy hostage to line the pockets of the fossil fuel industry."
“President Biden must enforce a clean debt ceiling package that does not allow for any rollbacks to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other bedrock environmental laws," she added. "While his recent climate track record has been nothing short of disastrous, it is not too late for him to turn it around and hold true to his environmental justice campaign promises."
The Biden administration has recently come under fire for backing ConocoPhillips' Willow oil project and a liquified natural gas (LNG) proposal, both in Alaska, as well as the incomplete Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in Virginia and West Virginia.
\u201cWe need to do everything we can RIGHT NOW to stop a debt ceiling deal from including dirty permitting reforms that fast track fossil fuels. \n\n@StopBigOil just released this ad targeting key decision makers. Please share and tag your member of Congress!\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1685037069
The MVP is a longtime priority of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a "coal baron" and recipient of fossil fuel industry campaign cash who only supported the Inflation Reduction Act last year in exchange for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreeing to push through permitting reforms friendly to the coal, gas, and oil companies.
Although opposition from frontline communities and progressives in Congress blocked versions of Manchin's "dirty deal" three times last year, he has since renewed his effort, introducing the Building American Energy Security Act—which calls for completing the MVP—earlier this month. A Biden aide said the White House backs the bill.
House Natural Resources Committee Democrats and the League of Conservation Voters highlighted Thursday that 83 lawmakers have signed a letter urging Biden, Schumer, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) "to oppose ongoing attempts to attach H.R. 1 or any other extreme proposals that gut our bedrock environmental and public laws to must-pass legislation."
\u201c#ThrowbackThursday to yesterday when 83 Democrats sent a letter to @POTUS, @SenSchumer & @RepJeffries opposing the #DirtyDeal.\n\nAs @RepRaulGrijalva said, "Our environment and health are not the GOP\u2019s bargaining chips."\u201d— Natural Resources Democrats (@Natural Resources Democrats) 1685032817
The panel's ranking member, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), led the letter and congressional opposition to last year's dirty deals.
"The growing list of my Democratic colleagues and I couldn't be more clear: Our environment and health are not the GOP's bargaining chips," Grijalva said in a statement Wednesday. "Gutting our bedrock environmental laws isn't permitting reform—it's a polluter payout. Speaker McCarthy and his extremist faction need to end this reckless scheme to force their MAGA-manufactured, polluters-over-people agenda on the American people now."
Though Jeffries is on the receiving end of the letter, he made clear Thursday that his caucus won't automatically support a Biden-backed deal, telling reporters that "it's a miscalculation to assume that simply any agreement that House Republicans are able to reach will, by definition, trigger a sufficient number of Democratic votes—if that agreement undermines our values."
\u201c\ud83d\udca1Research should inform permitting reform!\ud83d\udca1Find out what the *data* says about NEPA reviews and causes for delay: https://t.co/3yP63ck9qY\u201d— Kristina Karlsson (@Kristina Karlsson) 1685024109
Meanwhile, the Roosevelt Institute this week published an issue brief by Jamie Pleune, associate professor of law at the University of Utah, debunking the claim that reviews required by NEPA are hampering the transition to renewable energy.
"After examining 41,000 NEPA decisions conducted by the Forest Service over 16 years, we found limited correlation between the intensity of the NEPA process in question and the existence of delays," said Pleune. "Furthermore, some projects that were eligible for expedited analyses encountered delays, while some intensely studied projects were completed quickly. This indicated that the true causes of delay were external to the regulatory requirements of NEPA."
"Reducing analytical rigor or weakening environmental standards, which are some of the permitting reforms on the table in debt ceiling talks, won't address the true blockages to the buildout of renewables," she added. "In my brief, I provide progressive permitting reform, with demonstrated effectiveness, that will strengthen and improve NEPA processes while preserving community engagement and environmental protections."