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The White House has reportedly shelved a plan by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to prop up the failing coal and nuclear industries by making operators of regional electric grids buy power from aging coal and nuclear plants.
Politico reported that President Trump's advisors on the National Security Council could find no national security justification for the scheme, and advisors on the National Economic Council objected over concerns it would increase the cost of energy for consumers.
Despite the inexorable reality that coal is quickly heading toward the ashbin of history as a major of source of energy, Perry has twice put forth plans to require regional electricity suppliers to buy above-market-rate power from coal and nuclear plants, even when cheaper sources are available. The failure of the schemes is a major blow to Trump's promises to revive the dying coal industry.
"A fundamental of sound energy policy is to avoid picking winners among energy sources instead of letting the market decide. In this case, the White House was hell-bent on picking losers," said EWG President Ken Cook.
"Whether it's a dictator who says he didn't interfere in our elections or that global warming will fix itself, this president will believe almost anything he's told," said Cook. "But this scheme to bail out the dying coal industry on the backs of ratepayers was too far a stretch even for the Trump White House."
A 2017 report by EWG analyzed data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Energy Information Administration, showing that since 2009, solar power capacity has grown by a factor of 89 and wind power capacity has increased six-fold. The federal data also showed that utilities plan to close dozens of coal and nuclear units in the next few years.
Coal and nuclear capacity have declined or stagnated, as the rapidly declining cost of solar and wind power - among other factors, including the glut of natural gas and increased energy efficiency - are driving coal and nuclear plants out of the competitive wholesale market for electricity.
The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.(202) 667-6982
"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.