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Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 504-5660
Kelly Trout, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0722, email@example.com
Bruce McIntosh, Western Nebraska Resources Council, (402) 416-3239
The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Nebraska Resources Council, and Friends of the Earth expanded their suit against the Keystone XL pipeline today to challenge claims that spills from the pipeline are unlikely and that the project is therefore "not likely to adversely affect" whooping cranes and other endangered species that depend on the rivers and other habitats crossed by the pipeline.
"With recent pipeline spills in the Kalamazoo and Yellowstone rivers, not to mention the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it's outrageous that TransCanada is still trying to pull the wool over the American public's eyes by somehow claiming Keystone XL is safe," said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney with the Center. "Spills are just one of the many problems that make this pipeline an environmental disaster. Tar sands oil is expensive, consumes tremendous amounts of water and energy to mine and refine, and pollutes our air, land and water."
For their analysis of endangered species, TransCanada concluded that spills are "unlikely" to occur. This is directly contradicted by the State Department's final environmental impact statement for the pipeline, which estimated that the pipeline will cause about two spills every year of its estimated 50-year lifespan. And an analysis by a professor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. John Stansbury, concluded that the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline is likely to have more than eight times as many spills, take more than 10 times as long to shut down in the event of a rupture and spill more than six times as much as raw tar sands oil as TransCanada estimates. The pipeline would cross hundreds of rivers and streams, including the Missouri, Yellowstone, Niobrara and Platte rivers. A spill in any of those rivers would be disastrous for wildlife and people.
If permitted to stand, the State Department and Fish and Wildlife Service's determinations, made in environmental reviews under the Endangered Species Act, will allow TransCanada to avoid a formal analysis that would include additional safeguards for endangered species and the rivers they depend on for their survival.
"The Keystone XL pipeline should not be approved," said Bruce McIntosh, an ecologist with the Western Nebraska Resources Council. "I've spent my life appreciating and studying Nebraska's Sand Hills. A pipeline across a landscape of moving sand and water is a recipe for disaster."
On Oct. 5 the groups filed suit challenging premature work by TransCanada on the proposed pipeline route, including mowing of native prairie vegetation and trapping and relocation of thousands of endangered American burying beetles prior to final approval of the pipeline by the State Department. Separately, Friends of the Earth unearthed State Department documents through the Freedom of Information Act confirming a review process irrevocably tainted by Department employees' pro-pipeline bias and complicit relationships with industry executives.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil strip-mined from Canada's "tar sands" into the United States each day. In addition to the many rivers crossed by the proposed route, the pipeline would cross Nebraska's legendary Sandhills and pass directly across the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a source of drinking water for millions of Americans and a major source of water for agriculture. TransCanada's existing Keystone I tar sands pipeline has reportedly leaked 14 times since it went into operation in June 2010, including one spill of 24,000 gallons.
"It's outrageous that the government is moving forward based on the bogus determination that spills from the Keystone XL pipeline are unlikely. The Keystone I, barely a year into existence, has already spilled 14 times in the U.S. alone," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "We are taking legal action to remedy this injustice."
"After holding our entire economy hostage and threatening to trigger a global financial meltdown, Republicans protected wealthy tax cheats and creepy billionaires," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
A preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released Thursday estimates that the $21.4 billion in IRS funding cuts that Republicans and the Biden White House agreed to enact as part of their debt ceiling agreement would result in $40.4 billion in lost tax revenue—adding to the federal budget deficit.
The CBO provided its estimate to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who said in a statement that "after holding our entire economy hostage and threatening to trigger a global financial meltdown, Republicans protected wealthy tax cheats and creepy billionaires."
"Republicans' fealty to their megadonors is on full display, as is the hypocrisy of forcing cuts to the IRS that add $19 billion to the deficit," said Whitehouse, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "By contrast, President Biden's budget would have cracked down on wealthy tax cheats while making pro-growth investments in workers, families, and small business—and reduced the deficit by $3 trillion."
"There's a sharp contrast there," the senator added, "and the best explanation is Republican fealty to their dark-money megadonors."
The debt ceiling legislation that is now headed to President Joe Biden's desk after the Senate passed it late Thursday includes $1.4 billion in cuts to IRS funding that was aimed at providing the agency with the resources to pursue rich tax evaders, who cost the federal government tens of billions of dollars in revenue each year.
By itself, the $1.4 billion IRS cut would add $900 million to the deficit over a 10-year period, according to a separate CBO analysis released earlier this week.
But the White House and Republican leaders also reached a tentative side deal to cut $20 billion more from the chronically funding-starved agency over the next two fiscal years and use the money to prevent cuts to other federal spending programs.
"In a fight they claimed was about shrinking the debt, they decided to prioritize rolling back IRS enforcement funding in a move that will actually increase the debt by billions."
Having secured an agreement to slash IRS funding, House Republicans are reportedly planning to introduce a massive tax-cut package later this month that includes provisions the CBO says would add roughly $3.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.
"House Republicans have proven once again that there is nothing they care about more than making sure the ultra-rich can avoid paying taxes," Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement Wednesday. "In a fight they claimed was about shrinking the debt, they decided to prioritize rolling back IRS enforcement funding in a move that will actually increase the debt by billions. They have gone to bat to protect wealthy tax cheats, and won."
The $20 billion in IRS cuts—a quarter of the $80 billion funding boost the agency received under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—aren't a sure thing.
As The American Prospect's David Dayen explains, the debt ceiling legislation headed for President Joe Biden's desk "only creates topline numbers, baselines for future budget appropriations that have yet to be written."
If the spending bills don't pass by January 1, 2024, Dayen notes, "the IRS fund transfer, which is not in the deal and is just presumed as part of the appropriation, would not happen."
Jon Whiten, communications director for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that the funding "is critical to allowing the IRS to do one of its most important jobs: crack down on tax cheating by the extremely wealthy and by big corporations."
"The IRS has had a hard time doing this lately because its enforcement budget was cut by about a fourth between 2010 and 2021," Whiten noted. "This led to 40% fewer revenue agents—the auditors uniquely qualified to examine the returns of high-income individuals and corporations."
"Ironically, for Republican leaders who have spent months clamoring about the deficit," Whiten continued, "these cuts to the IRS will increase the deficit by reducing the revenue the agency is able to collect from those who owe," Whiten continued.
"Perhaps it's less ironic and more on-brand," he added, "given that these same Republican leaders want to quickly pivot to pushing through more big tax cuts that will disproportionately reward wealthy families and corporations."
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said one campaigner.
After thwarting a last-minute bid to strip out language mandating approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the U.S. Senate late Thursday passed legislation that would raise the debt limit and avert a default.
But congressional Republicans ensured that preventing an economic catastrophe would come at a significant cost for vulnerable people and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis—and the Biden White House ultimately acceded to some of the GOP hostage-takers' demands, declining to use its executive authority to continue paying the nation's bills.
The legislation that the Senate approved by a vote of 63 to 36 could put 750,000 older adults at risk of losing federal nutrition aid, deepening the nation's hunger crisis. It also enshrines an end to the student loan payment pause before the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan.
Most alarming, from the perspective of climate campaigners, is the measure's provisions weakening the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and expediting construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile fracked gas project that could have the emissions impact of dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
"These provisions are a win for polluters, and the elected officials in their pocket," said Alice Madden, policy and political director at Greenpeace USA.
One of the fossil fuel industry's top allies in Congress, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), reportedly helped Republicans push the White House to include the Mountain Valley Pipeline language in the final legislation.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a state that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run through, put forth an amendment that aimed to strike the pipeline approval language. But his effort fell short on Thursday, with 20 Democrats and two Independents—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine—joining Republicans in voting down the amendment.
A separate amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) targeting the NEPA provisions, which would allow for speedier construction of fossil fuel projects by imposing new restrictions on the environmental review process, didn't get a vote.
\u201cThere is underpublicized, outrageous language in the debt ceiling bill that does deep damage to America's bedrock environmental law, including letting corporations write their own environmental impact statements.\n\nI'm filing an amendment to focus attention on this travesty.\u201d— Senator Jeff Merkley (@Senator Jeff Merkley) 1685654021
"By voting for a dirty deal that fast-tracks the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline and guts bedrock environmental laws, Congress betrayed people and the planet," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International. "These provisions, which are totally unrelated to the national debt, will turn historically underserved and environmental justice communities into sacrifice zones."
“We applaud the bold leaders in Congress who voted to strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline from the Fiscal Responsibility Act and put people over polluters," Rees said. "We will continue to stand with frontline communities opposing this dirty project, and we will not back down. This pipeline will not be built."
Denali Nalamalapu, communications director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, echoed that message.
"Our global movement to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline is stronger than ever," said Nalamalapu. "While we are outraged and devastated in this unprecedented moment, we will never stop fighting this unfinished, unnecessary, and unwanted project. Our hearts are broken but our bonds are strong."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet. We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been tied up in litigation for years, delaying construction as the project's owners struggle to obtain the permits necessary to run the fracked gas infrastructure through waterways and wetlands. Last month, as Common Dreamsreported, the Biden administration handed the pipeline's backers a huge victory by granting approval for the project to cross the Jefferson National Forest.
The debt ceiling legislation, formally titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would run roughshod over local and national opposition to the pipeline, ordering federal agencies to issue all permits necessary for the project's completion.
The bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden's desk, also states that "no court shall have jurisdiction to review any action taken" by federal agencies to clear the way for the pipeline—and any dispute over that provision will be under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
"This profoundly undermines the integrity of our judiciary," Merkley said Thursday. "For Congress to—by law—move a court case from one jurisdiction to another, to provide a special favor to a powerful corporation, is fundamentally corrupt. This is a line we should never cross."
"The pipeline itself is an assault against a sustainable planet," the senator added. "We must recognize that fossil gas is just as damaging as coal. Pretending otherwise is leading us to climate catastrophe."
In the wake of Thursday's vote, climate advocates are planning a June 8 rally in front of the White House to demand that Biden do everything in his power to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
"By backing Manchin's Dirty Deal, the Biden administration has signaled they are willing to sacrifice Appalachians for their own political gain," organizers said. "This is Biden's pipeline. He can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL. He can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks."
An analysis of previously secret documents published Wednesday sheds new light on how chemical corporations aped Big Tobacco by conspiring to conceal the extreme toxicity of a class of synthetic compounds contaminating the Earth's air, water, soil, plants, and animals—including most of the world's people.
Commonly called "forever chemicals" because they do not biodegrade and accumulate in the human body, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—which include PFOS, PFOA, and GenX—have myriad uses, from nonstick cookware to waterproof clothing to firefighting foam. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS is linked to cancers of the kidneys and testicles, low infant weight, suppressed immune function, and other adverse health effects. It is found in the blood of 99% of Americans and a similar percentage of people around the world.
"The industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse."
But that wasn't known until recently. Scientists and public health officials were some of the first to understand the dangers of PFAS, and in recent years, exposés like Stephanie Soechtig and Jeremy Seifer's 2018 documentary feature The Devil We Know and a 2022 episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" in which host John Oliver called PFAS "the devil's piss" raised awareness of the "forever chemicals." In 2018, Congress held its first hearing, and around that time it emerged that chemical giants DuPont and 3M understood—and covered up—the dangers of PFAS.
The Devil They Knew: Chemical Documents Analysis of Industry Influence on PFAS Science—a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Global Health—enriches understanding of the chemical industry's role in concealing the dangers of PFAS. It includes documents like a 1970 DuPont internal memo stating the PFOA C8—used to make the nonstick surface Teflon—is "highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when injected."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks," Tracey J. Woodruff—who wrote the paper with Nadia Gaber and Lisa Bero—toldPhys.org.
\u201cSee our new article using the valuable @UCSF @industrydocs to categorize strategies the industry uses to distort and hide science\u201d— Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH (@Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH) 1685645614
One 1979 DuPont report describes a range of highly toxic effects from testing PFAS on animals, including two beagles who died after being administered a single 450 mg dose of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, and rats that suffered enlarged livers and eye ulcers.
Another document, from 1980, shows DuPont and 3M learned that two out of eight pregnant employees who worked making C8 had babies with birth defects, but then lied the following year in a memo declaring that "we know of no evidence of birth defects" caused by C8.
"Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse," the paper states.
The paper's authors did not find "evidence in this archive of funding favorable research or targeted dissemination of those results."
Among the paper's key findings:
"The lack of transparency in industry-driven research on industrial chemicals has significant legal, political, and public health consequences," the paper's authors concluded. "Industry strategies to suppress scientific research findings or early warnings about the hazards of industrial chemicals can be analyzed and exposed, in order to guide prevention."
Recent years have seen an exponential proliferation of PFAS-related litigation, sometimes resulting in verdicts like the $40 million awarded by an Ohio jury to a man who claimed exposure to PFOA in his drinking water gave him testicular cancer twice.
In recent days, states including Arizona, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington have sued companies that manufacture PFAS.
"These companies have known for decades that so-called 'forever chemicals' would contaminate water supplies for generations to come but chose to sell their products anyway," said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat. "The failure by these polluters to inform the state about the risks associated with these chemicals has harmed our environment and the health of Arizonans—and they must be held accountable."
Last week, Common Dreamsreported that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also a Democrat, signed into law the nation's broadest PFAS ban. The legislation gradually phases out most PFAS use until "forever chemicals" will be prohibited in all products not essential for public health by 2032.