Sunday, May 03, 2015

PNN - the Forest of MAY

PNN - The Forest of May
Brook Hines - Orange Squeeze Commentator
EG Vallianatos - EPA Whisteblower
Kari Birdseye - Earth Justice
Staci-Lee Sherwood - Turtles in Trouble
Representative Alan Grayson -  TPP Analysis

1. Fracking bill passes Florida House over Fierce Democratic Opposition

The Florida House passed its own hydraulic oil fracturing bill on Monday, saying it would provide a framework to regulate the burgeoning industry while Democrats fiercely denounced the proposed law, saying it put out the welcome mat for fracking in environmental sensitive areas such as the Big Cypress Preserve.

The bill  (HB 1205) passed 82-34 along party lines after Democrats said the bill opens the door for widespread fracking – using high-pressured water and chemicals to force oil from deep within the earth – and that the process will poison water and make the state vulnerable to earthquakes, such as Oklahoma has been experiencing.
The Senate’s version of the bill is set for Tuesday’s calendar.

An accompanying House bill  would keep companies from having to disclose the chemicals they use for propriety reasons.
“Instead of regulating fracking, we need to ban fracking,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee. “Our aquifer is so sensitive and our lands are so sensitive that this is not the right answer.”

Democratic leader Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, joked that fracking appears to be the Republicans alternative energy plan, calling it one of the worst bills of the session and referenced gas coming out of water taps in North Dakota where fracturing is taking place.
“Forget about solar, forget about wind, forget about ocean currents and turbines,” he said. “This is a plan that you can cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner at home using that gas coming out of your tap.
He said chemicals that make up toilet bowel cleanser and that are used in leather tanning will be pumped by companies into the ground during the fracking process and could have unintended consequences, such as affecting cattle that will drink polluted water.

Republicans, though, said the law was environmentally friendly, putting in place a regulatory scheme to stop what is the “Wild Wild West” culture of fracking in Florida.

Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Valrico, said  the bill that includes a moratorium on fracking until a study is completed and rules are established. “Fracking is allowed today without the extra regulation presented in this bill,” he said.

Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he was perplexed while Democrats opposed the bill. “All about this bill is about transparency about regulatory abilities and helping protect our environment,” he said.
Not all Democrats opposed the bill.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, said there is currently unauthorized fracking in Collier County and that the bill would put an important moratorium in place for a two years. “At least we’d have something in place that taps the brakes,” she said.

Other Republicans said most of the criticism came from counties that didn’t produce any oil.

“I’m proud I was able this morning to fill up with petroleum and I am proud you were able to fly a plane here today,” said Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Milton, adding that the production of oil fracking takes place three miles below the surface while the aquifer stop at 2,500 feet. - BUT IT MUST BE PUMPED THROUGH OUR AQUIFER

After the session, Pafford said he was concerned with the companion bill that was postponed that would allow oil companies to keep secret their chemical mixture. “When you are challenging to get that information you have already been sick. So you have been ingesting it for months, maybe a year,” he said.

But make no mistake, the Florida House is inviting fracking into the state by acknowledging it, not regulating it,” the Democratic House leader said.

“Clearly, this is a move toward fracking,” he said.  “It’s state endorsing the practice as long as you can meet requirements.”

2. BOO BOO our parks going CONDO!
And in Congress while the republican lead house moves quickly to sell off all national parks...
SELL OFF Americas National Parks?

A group of Republican congressmen this week took an aggressive step in a campaign to seize and sell off America’s national forests and other public lands. 
In launching what they are calling the “Federal Land Action Group,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) plan to develop a legislative framework for giving states control of America’s public lands. Calling the federal government a “lousy landlord for western states,” Rep. Stewart said “we simply think the states can do it better.”
Bishop, who is also chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said that “this group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners.”

This latest effort to transfer or dispose of national forests and public lands was immediately blasted by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, as being unwise, unpopular, and illegal.
“Building on the ideas of extremists like Cliven Bundy, House Republicans have formed a group to explore the idea that if you see a federal resource you like, maybe you can just take it,” said Grijalva in a statement. “There is no legal authority to give these lands away to developers and no chance the American people will support such a scheme.”
In addition to Bishop and Stewart, the group’s “Congressional team” includes Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV), Diane Black (R-TN), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Cresent Hardy (R-NV), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Bishop, who has long advocated for state seizure of America’s national forests and other public lands, has recently found more creative ways of pushing his Cliven Bundy-inspired agenda forward.
Earlier this week, Bishop attached a provision to a defense spending bill to delay the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for at least 10 years. In addition to putting the bird at high risk of extinction, the measure would turn over management authority of 60 million acres of the bird’s habitat on U.S. public lands to individual states — an area 27 times the size Yellowstone National Park. 
In a letter to House leaders, 26 environmental groups called the provision a “brazen power grab of federal lands.”
Rep. Bishop and his “Federal Land Action Group” are not alone in their efforts to seize and sell America’s public lands. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lisa Murkowski, have been vocal proponents of such proposals in the U.S. Senate. Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) also recently introduced the “American Land Act,” which would force the Department of the Interior to sell one-third of the land managed by the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and use the “potentially billions” of dollars in revenue for transportation infrastructure. 
Despite being considered unconstitutional by legal scholars, similar proposals to seize control of America’s public lands have been introduced by right-wing lawmakers in eleven western states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Washington. 
Thanks to support from the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and front groups for the oil industry’s PR giant, Richard Berman, as well as increasing lobbying by the Utah-based American Lands Council, these proposals have now gained prominence at the national level. 
Even with the increase in activity, bipartisan public opinion research has shown that Western voters from all political parties oppose these proposals, and believe that transferring control of public lands to state governments would result in reduced access for recreation, and the lands being sold off to the highest bidder to cover extreme costs of management.
Nonetheless, Representatives Bishop and Stewart are moving forward with the Action Group as a “starting point,” and plan to hold a series of forums “with the goal of introducing transfer legislation.” No timeline has been announced for the forums or the group’s next steps.

3. We don't need no stinking science
Yesterday, by a party-line vote, Republicans in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology approved a budget authorization for NASA that would see continued spending on Orion and the Space Launch System but slash the agency's budget for Earth sciences. 

This vote follows the committee's decision to cut the NSF's geoscience budget and comes after a prominent attack on NASA's Earth sciences work during a Senate hearing, all of which suggests a concerted campaign against the researchers who, among other things, are telling us that climate change is a reality.

The recently approved budget would cover 2016 and 2017, and it contains two scenarios based on the degree to which the overall budget is constrained. 

An analysis of the bill shows that it would keep spending in line with the Obama administration's request but shift money from basic sciences to human exploration. The Orion crewed capsule and Space Launch System rocket would both see an addition of hundreds of millions of dollars. Planetary science would also see a boost of nearly $150 million.

But the love of planets doesn't extend to our own. The added spending is offset by a huge drop in spending on Earth science, from $1.947 billion under Obama's proposal to $1.45 billion under the optimistic budget. If budget constraints kick in, it would drop to $1.2 billion—a cut of nearly 40 percent. Development of space technology would also take a hit of about $125 million.

The committee's press release about the budget claims that the bill is receiving widespread support. Among the groups quoted is the Planetary Society, which is obviously pleased about the boost to its favored area of research. But a check of the Planetary Society's website reveals that it calls the bill"flawed" and states, "Obviously, the cuts to Earth Science make this a hard bill to support, therefore The Planetary Society cannot support the full bill as written at this early stage."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was also not pleased. In a statement released yesterday, he said, "The NASA authorization bill making its way through the House of Representatives guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events." He also criticized the cuts to space technology development.

The bill comes a week after the same committee reauthorized the America COMPETES act, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. As at NASA, geoscience funding takes a hit, down 12 percent at the NSF, with environmental research from the DOE taking a 10 percent hit. There's even worse news for social sciences, which have been targeted by Republicans in both the House and Senate—the NSF would no longer fund any social sciences under the new bill.

It's difficult to escape the impression that the recent budgets are part of a concerted effort to ensure that the country does nothing about addressing climate change. In the Senate, testimony by NASA Administrator Bolden was used by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as an opportunity to claim that the Earth sciences aren't "hard science" and that NASA's attention would be better focused elsewhere

Meanwhile, the America COMPETES renewal indicates that the House isn't interested in having the country compete in renewable energy. It chops the DOE's renewable/efficiency budget by over half, and it does the same to the ARPA-E advanced energy program.

4. New York Times Editorial - GETS IT RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!

More Excuses on the Patriot Act
MAY 1, 2015
Software designers have a term — “minimal viable product” — to describe early versions of things like iPhone apps that they can rush to market. The idea is to get something out and refine it as they go along. That’s the argument being made for a measure in Congress that would modify the Patriot Act to make it somewhat harder for the government to conduct mass surveillance of Americans without regard to whether they committed any misdeeds.
Sure, there are compromises, Americans are told, but we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The bill is a “critical first step toward reining in” surveillance by the National Security Agency and is a basis for more reform, said Human Rights Watch.

Except the Constitution is not Candy Crush.
The same idea — let’s do what we can and improve it later — was used to shove the original Patriot Act through Congress. It was used to justify the inadequate changes later made to the act, many of which made it more intrusive on Americans’ rights. In 2008, we got a “reform” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that provided retroactive cover for the illegal surveillance of innocent Americans conducted under President George W. Bush behind the false flag of counterterrorism.
The new bill, the USA Freedom Act, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday in a 25-to-2 vote and sent to the floor for what seems like near-certain approval. 

It does contain useful changes to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was cynically misinterpreted by the Bush administration to cover the collection of millions of telephone records in the United States and elsewhere. Section 215 will expire on June 1 if Congress does not act, but that is unlikely.


WASHINGTON — The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.

“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate.
Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.

The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do.

Watchdog groups have gone to the F.E.C. with complaints that probable presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley are skirting finance laws by raising millions without officially declaring that they are considering running.

Ms. Ravel, who led California’s state ethics panel before her appointment as a Democratic member of the commission in 2013, said that when she became chairwoman in December, she was determined to “bridge the partisan gap” and see that the F.E.C. confronted such problems. But after five months, she said she had essentially abandoned efforts to work out agreements on what she saw as much-needed enforcement measures.

Now, she said, she plans on concentrating on getting information out publicly, rather than continuing what she sees as a futile attempt to take action against major violations. She said she was resigned to the fact that “there is not going to be any real enforcement” in the coming election.

“The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner.

Republican members of the commission see no such crisis. They say they are comfortable with how things are working under the structure that gives each party three votes. No action at all, they say, is better than overly aggressive steps that could chill political speech.

“Congress set this place up to gridlock,” Lee E. Goodman, a Republican commissioner, said in an interview. “This agency is functioning as Congress intended. The democracy isn’t collapsing around us.”

Experts predict that the 2016 race could produce a record fund-raising haul of as much as $10 billion, with the growth fueled by well-financed outside groups. On their own, the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch have promised to spend $889 million through their political network.

With the rise of the super PACs and the loosening of legal restrictions on corporate spending, campaigns and groups are turning to creative new methods of raising money. Writing in March in The Washington Post, Ms. Ravel charged that some candidates — she did not name names — appeared to have been amassing large war chests at fund-raisers this year without acknowledging that they were at least considering a presidential run, which would trigger campaign finance limits and disclosure.
She said it was “absurd” to think that such politicians were not at least considering a White House run under federal law.

“It’s the Wild West out there in some ways,” said Kate A. Belinski, a former lawyer at the commission who now works on campaign finance at a law firm. Candidates and political groups are increasingly willing to push the limits, she said, and the F.E.C.’s inaction means that “there’s very little threat of getting caught.”

As a lawyer in Silicon Valley who went after ethics violators in California during her time there, Ms. Ravel brought to Washington both a reformer’s mentality and a tech-savvy background, and she has used Twitter and other media to try to attract young people and women to politics.

But her aggressive efforts have angered some Republicans, who charged that an F.E.C. hearing she scheduled for next week on challenges facing women in politics was not only outside the commission’s jurisdiction but a thinly veiled attempt to help the presidential bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ms. Ravel called the accusations “crazy.”

Some disputes between the commissioners have gotten personal.

A disagreement over how to treat online political ads, for instance, turned tense when Ms. Ravel received anonymous online threats over charges that she was trying to “regulate” the Internet. She angrily confronted Mr. Goodman, charging that he had unfairly “fanned the flames” against her by mischaracterizing her position in an interview he did on Fox News. But Mr. Goodman said he had no regrets about challenging her position, which he saw as opening the door to greater regulation of Internet activities.

Relations between the two have been difficult ever since.

Last fall, Ms. Ravel did join Republicans on the commission — and took some criticism from the left — in a 4-to-2 decision that eased rules growing out of the Citizens United decision and a related case. But she has had little success in persuading Republicans to vote with her on enforcement measures.

She said she was particularly frustrated that Republican commissioners would not support cases against four nonprofit groups — including Crossroads GPS, founded by Karl Rove — accused of improperly using their tax-exempt status for massive and well-financed political campaigns.

A surge in this so-called “dark money” in politics — hundreds of millions of dollars raised by nonprofits, trade associations and other groups that can keep their donations secret — has alarmed campaign-finance reformers who are pushing to make such funding public.
But Mr. Goodman said the problem was exaggerated. He and other Republicans defend their decisions to block many investigations, saying Democrats have pushed cases beyond what the law allows.

“We’re not interested in going after people unless the law is fairly clear, and we’re not willing to take the law beyond where it’s written,” said Caroline C. Hunter, a Republican commissioner. Democrats view the law “more broadly,” she said.

The commission has not always been so hamstrung. In 2006, it unanimously imposed major fines against high-profile groups — liberal and conservative — for breaking campaign finance laws two years earlier by misusing their tax-exempt status for political fund-raising and campaigning. The penalties put political groups on notice, and experts credited them with helping curb similar abuses in the 2008 campaign.

These days, the six commissioners hardly ever rule unanimously on major cases, or even on some of the most minor matters. Last month at an event commemorating the commission’s 40th anniversary, even the ceremony proved controversial. Democrats and Republicans skirmished over where to hold it, whom to include and even whether to serve bagels or doughnuts. In a rare compromise, they ended up serving both.

Standing in front of a montage of photos from the F.E.C.’s history, Ms. Ravel told staff members and guests that there was a “crisis” in public confidence, and she stressed the F.E.C.’s mandate for “enforcing the law.” But the ranking Republican, Matthew S. Petersen, made no mention of enforcement in his remarks a few minutes later, focusing instead on defending political speech under the First Amendment.

As guests mingled, Ms. Weintraub — the commission’s longest-serving member at 12 years — lamented to a reporter that the days when the panel could work together on important issues were essentially over.

She pointed to a former Republican commissioner standing nearby — Bradley A. Smith, who left the agency in 2005 — and said she used to be able to work with commissioners like him even when they disagreed on ideology.

Laughing, Mr. Smith assumed a fighting stance and yelled at Ms. Weintraub: “Let’s go right now, you speech-hating enemy of the First Amendment!”

A few feet away, Mr. Goodman was not laughing. As Ms. Weintraub condemned the F.E.C.’s inertia, he whispered a point-by-point rebuttal to show that things were not as bad as she made them sound.

With the commission so often deadlocked, the major fines assessed by the commission dropped precipitously last year to $135,813 from $627,408 in 2013. But like most things at the F.E.C., commissioners differ over how to interpret those numbers.

Republicans say they believe the commission’s efforts to work with political groups on training and compliance have kept campaigns within the legal lines and helped to bring down fines.

The drop in fines “could easily be read as a signal that people are following the law,” said Ms. Hunter, the Republican commissioner.  Ms. Ravel scoffed at that explanation.

“What’s really going on,” she said, “is that the Republican commissioners don’t want to enforce the law, except in the most obvious cases. The rules aren’t being followed, and that’s destructive to the political process.”


PNN News Director Rick Spisak brings you an interested assemblage of voices. 

Our Political Columnist Brook Hines will discuss her take on the latest MONKEY-SHINES in Tallahassee.

We will bring you an exclusive interview with Kari Birdseye Campaign Manager of Earth Justice discussing the battles they have underway protecting our home PLANET.
We will hear from Staci-Lee Sherwood Turtle Activist discussing the Trouble facing turtles today!

And in a rare and special treat we will have a discussion with EPA Whistleblower EG Vallianatos about his experiences at the EPA.

Tune in Sunday at 7pm (Eastern)

Interviewed EG Vallianatos EPA Whistleblower and author of POISONED SPRING - today for Sundays show his indictment of EPA leadership is powerful - you must hear it - TUNE IN Sunday 5/3/15 at 7pm (eastern) - LISTEN

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