Friday Finds: (Corporate) Welfare Queens
Dirty energy industry takes handouts despite record profits
Last week, oil and gas companies announced billion-dollar profits in their second quarter, reports the New York Times, even as they continue to receive government subsidies. BP, the infamous oil company that wrecked the Gulf’s economy and environment last year with an unprecedented oil spill, reported about $5.6 billion in profits, and Exxon Mobil earned about $10 billion in April, May and June. While these corporations are busy laughing all the way to the bank, this week President Obama signed a debt deal that won’t cut oil and gas subsidies but will cut about $500 billion from “nondefense discretionary spending,” which includes funds for investments in health and environmental protection, among other things. No need to worry, though. The American Petroleum Institute assured the American public that, “When our industry does well, much of America does well also.” What a relief!
A number of mega corporations and politicians have secretively been collaborating on ghostwriting “model” legislative bills that legislators then introduce in state capitols across the country, reports the Center for Media and Democracy. Many of the bills pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) target environmental regulations, like forbidding local governments from limiting pesticide use, opposing uniform rules on hazardous coal combustion, and putting the regulation of fracking in the hands of the states rather than establishing federal safety and environmental standards. Despite its nonprofit status, which limits its ability to lobby, ALEC members regularly hand bills to legislators, which some argue is the very definition of lobbying. Add that to the fact that the Koch brothers are very big fans and funders of ALEC, and it’s not hard to see that this is a recipe for environmental and democratic disaster.
This week, California’s Environmental Protection Agency announced that it’s setting a goal to limit hexavalent chromium in drinking water, a first in the nation, reports the Los Angeles Times. Most people remember hexavalent chromium from the movie Erin Brockovich, which chronicled the story of Brockovich and her ultimately successful suit against Pacific Gas & Electric over groundwater contaminated with the toxic heavy metal. Though California’s new goal of .02 parts per billion is not yet an enforceable standard, public health advocates hope that it will pressure state and federal officials to set enforceable standards for hexavalent chromium. According to the Environmental Working Group, last year 31 out of 35 cities tested positive for chromium 6 in their tap water, a worrisome figure considering that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering proposing hexavalent chromium as likely to cause cancer in humans when ingested.
Though most of the attention on the News Corporation scandal has been on its phone-hacking adventures, the media conglomerate is also guilty of another scandalous endeavor—waging an all-out war against climate science, reports Grist. Thanks to media conglomerates like News Corp. that have “replaced reasonable coverage of science with deliberate rabble-rousing,” the number of Americans who believe climate change is a problem largely caused by humans has dropped dramatically since its peak in 2000—when a majority of Americans said they wanted the president to limit carbon emissions. Though Rupert Murdoch himself has “acknowledged the seriousness of climate change,” News Corp. outlets like Fox News continue to parade a long list of climate deniers, most likely because it boosts their ratings.
A group of unlikely allies has come together for a common cause—stopping the approval of genetically modified salmon, reports the Los Angeles Times. Eight senators from across both sides of the aisle, including Democratic Senator Mark Begich from Alaska, are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “immediately cease” the consideration of GE salmon due to concerns that its approval may harm jobs, the environment and even consumers. Environmental concerns include the possibility that the GE fish could escape and potentially harm unmodified fish or even out-compete native populations for food. Another concern is that not enough study has been done to determine the human health impacts of eating a genetically modified organism, a complaint that’s commonly brought up with other genetically modified crops, such as alfalfa and sugar beets. Said Begich, "I just don't see a reason from a fundamental standpoint why we have to start manufacturing 'Frankenfish' when we have incredible fisheries that employ thousands of people.”