Big Coal takes control of the US Congress | RenewEconomy

Big Coal takes control of the US Congress

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Tony Abbott probably feels he has friends in high places. Or at least those that agree that the climate is not worth fighting for, or that coal is anything other than good for humanity.

On Tuesday night in the US, Republicans – and particularly those who reject climate science and despite renewable energy, won big in the US Congressional elections.

As the US website Grist notes today, this is not good news for climate. The Senate is now in the hands of a group of people who make Maurice Newman and Corey Bernardi look moderate.

The US Senate will now be led and controlled by veteran Mitch McConnell, from the coal state of Kentucky, who has attacked Obama for not sharing his love of burning coal.

McConnell recently sidestepped questions about climate science by saying “I’m not a scientist”, and then went on to repeat claims by a George Will, a contributor to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, that climate scientists had only recently been predicting a coming ice age.

But McConnell is not nearly as scary as some of the others now with large influence.

Jim Inhofe, who says global warming is a hoax, is now in charge of climate policy.
Jim Inhofe, who says global warming is a hoax, is now in charge of climate policy.

Jim Inhofe, recently wrote a book called The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has argued that global warming is good for humanity. Along with coal. He is almost certain to be the next chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that controls the Environmental Protection Agency, which has responsibility for climate change policies.

Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, also plays the “global cooling” riff, and says there is no data to support global warming. He said recently: “It’s cold. Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen.”  He will likely be chair of the Committee on Science and Technology.

Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Republican who has actually argued that climate change needs to be addressed, but acted otherwise, is to be chair of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, which has carriage of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that will provide an export outlet for Canadian tar sands in the Gulf of Mexico. She approves of that project  and her 121-page “Energy 2020” report laid out her plans to expand oil and gas drilling in federal onshore and offshore lands, including the Arctic.

ernstAnd these leaders are urged on by a new group of eager Tea-Party types who are, if that is at all possible, even more extreme. Take, for instance, Joni Ernst, the newly-elected Senator for Iowa, a “biscuit-baking, gun-shooting, twangy, twinkly farm girl,” as the Washington Post described her. Ernst (pictured right in her advertising campaign) simply wants to “shut down the EPA”, and according to Grist’s David Roberts, has also sort of “whackadoo” theories.

It’s worth noting that the EPA was created by Republicans, in much the same way as the renewable energy target was launched in Australia by the conservative Coalition, which also argued for an ETS before Big Coal took control of its agenda.

Conservative commentators in Australia – including Greg Sheridan and Andrew Bolt – were luxuriating in the Republican wins in Congress, suggesting they validated Tony Abbott’s dumping of the carbon price, and that an ETS was now dead in the water in the US.

It already was. There was no chance that a nationwide-ETS could have ever have passed Congress with the Republican gerrymander in the House, and Obama would not have tried. Hence the focus on regulation through the EPA.

And while the Republican gains in the House and Senate, and the new chairs of key committees will increase the fire and brimstone surrounding climate change policy – and lead to some ludicrous claims – it may not have that much of an impact.

As many commentators have noted, Obama still has power of veto over legislation. He is almost certain to use that to protect the EPA. Less certain is the fate of Keystone XL, which some speculate he may trade as a bargaining tool, despite it being made a signature issue by the environmental movement.

“Obama will not let congressional Republicans make him look like a feckless liar to our allies, whose cooperation we need to get a more ambitious climate agreement in the 2015 round of negotiations in Paris,” Ben Adler writes, also in Grist.

“So Obama will make a stand on EPA authority if he must. And before it even comes to that, Senate Democrats will likely throttle any EPA authority repeal with a filibuster.” This relates to their ability to demand any new legislation require a 60 per cent majority, which the Republicans do not have, before it is enacted.

The power they do have is to reject any Obama nominees in key agencies, such as the EPA. And to block new legislation and reverse others that are not worth a filibuster or a veto. So a Republican push to stop the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from protecting America’s small streams and wetlands – that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans – will be put into effect.

Likewise, the EPA will likely be stopped from even proposing new safeguards for smog-causing ozone; even though scientists have found current standards are too lax.

And, according to the National Resource Defence Council, they will prevent any new safeguards on any issue – be it banking, food safety, environment, etc. – by taking away the ability of scientists and experts to set standards. The so-called REINS Act would require both houses of Congress to approve every new standard, the NDRC says.

Like Australia’s conservative Coalition, Republicans are also cutting funds to environmental bodies such as the EPA, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as scientific research.

And like the Australian Coalition, the Republicans will likely target any programs that promotes renewable energy (with the exception of wind energy, which is popular in the mid-West and even Texas) and anything that looks like intelligent social policy with an environmental hue such as mass transit and transit-oriented affordable-housing development.

King Mountain Wind Ranch Texas (Courtesy NREL Credit - Cielo Wind Power) PIX 10558

As one US-based correspondent noted, almost everyone – including the Republicans – expect control of the Senate to go back to the Democrats in 2016. That’s because there will be a higher turnout because of the Presidential election, and the Senate seats up for grabs that year will be favourable to Democrats.

Here’s his thoughts on the matter, which I find to be as cogent an argument as i have seen.

This year also saw an unusual number of Senate Democrats from Red states retiring, so those open seats were a big advantage for the Republicans – this time around.

Next time the situation will be exactly reversed, with a good many Republican seats up for grabs in largely Blue states.  Moreover, these will be Republicans who won in the off-election in 2010, and they will no longer enjoy the advantage of low turnout.

“Bear in mind that Senators are elected to six-year terms, and it is a Constitutional requirement that one third of all Senate seats be filled every two years.  So, some years favor one party, and other years favor the other party.  If all were elected at once, the Democrats would likely not have lost control of the Senate in this election.

Still, however, nothing will change in 2016.

Odds are that we will again have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House.  So, the gridlock of the last four years will continue without letup. The Republican House will not vote on presidential initiatives, and the Republican filibusters will not let anything get out of the Senate either.  The Republicans will not likely win the White House, but a Democratic president will effectively be a lame duck (in legislative terms) from the day of inauguration.

So, what the professional politicians are really doing is to prove that the country can get along without a functioning national legislature at all.  Most of the real work is being done at the state level, and this is especially true with respect to alternative energy.

In fact, the only reason that there are any Federal incentives at all is because they come in the form of tax credits, and Republicans will almost always vote in favor of lower taxes, even if those credits are for alternative energy.  Taxes are a bigger issue for the broad Republican base, than alternative energy is for the relatively small number of fossil fuel campaign donors.  Even the Fossil Fools recognize that their guys have to get elected, so they continue to donate, even though their proteges occasionally have to vote for a renewable energy tax credit that is popular with their constituents.

But that is it for serious, broad-based incentives.

There is also some indirect support in the form of government grants to support renewable energy research, but, again, its existence is rather a side-effect.

So, if Ancient Rome is anything to go by, the Presidency will become increasingly “imperial”, and the Congress, like the Roman Senate, will be in no real position to change that.  Aside from a growing tendency for presidents to simply ignore the law, or to interpret it in very strained ways, Congress is nearly always too divided to take a strong stand on most issues.  As individuals they are too busy grandstanding for their constituents to bother with general policies that might be to the benefit of the country as a whole.

Finally, this is one of the main reasons that I keep pushing the idea that it is more effective just to ignore national government, and to find ways to get what you want anyway.

We learned quite some while ago that states and cities can do lots of useful stuff for their citizens, regardless of what is happening in Washington D.C., and Australia appears to be learning much the same lesson, according to RenewEconomy’s own reporting.  South Australia is right up there with Germany in adopting renewable energy, Tasmania already has a ton of hydro, the ACT is following in South Australia’s footsteps, and lots of cities and large private companies are making vigorous moves, even in the most backward states.



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  1. Phil Gorman 5 years ago

    The world is sleepwalking into climate catastrophe. Wilful ignorance rules. With the drastic reductions in albedo and melting permafrost the feedback loops are becoming unstoppable. There may be no end to human greed and folly but there will be a wretched end to the global corpocracy we’ve allowed to take us over.

    • lin 5 years ago

      It is more a manufactured ignorance than wilful ignorance. Big money, smart propaganda and a complicit media is all it takes. However, these groups are very busy plugging holes in their case. More and more people are seeing climate change with their own eyes and feeling it in their wallets. It is just a matter of time until the Fossil Fuel empire crumbles. Hopefully we still have time to turn things around.,7064

      • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

        i agree to some extent. I also think the divest movement is very powerful and sort of a self fulfilling prophesy in some ways. at the moment ff aren’t being hurt by divestments here and there but when they find it hard to get the better directors for their boards because they’ve become regarded as toxic as tobacco companies to social good (or worse) it will start to bite. as more and more institutional investors start to leave the market the share prices will start to soften. at some point there will be a run and the enormous carbon bubble will burst relatively rapidly. nobody can say if that happens after the methane bombs start exploding in the polar regions or not. Climate lags emissions by ten years. Climate Action lags recognition of the catastrophic dangers by who knows how long?

  2. johnnewton 5 years ago

    I wonder, as the changes (in climate) and the floods, droughts and ice melts continue, how long can the deniers keep denying? Ask farmers, fishermen, firemen about climate change. They’re not deniers. They know it’s real. It’s the shiny bum politicians who are denying. Hopefully as reality sinks in, there will be a change.

    • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

      since when did facts stop people having religious views. climate denial is essentially a faux-religion to shroud fucked-up and outdated world views and bigotry. it’s the last bastion of bigotry that will still get published in the papers (well the Murdoch gutter press anyhow).

  3. philipsclassic 5 years ago

    i heard the turnout was only at 30%, sad we are just sitting by and letting this happen.

  4. Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

    The role of renewable subsidies is to get the prices down to where wind and solar are competitive. Onshore wind is now the cheapest source of new electricity in the US. Solar will soon be number two and should continue to drop in price and take the number one spot away from onshore wind.

    Subsidies have done their job. More would be helpful in accelerating installation, but solar and wind will continue to be installed simply due to their costs.

    The most important things that need to be done in the US now are 1) close coal plants, 2) minimize natural gas/methane leaks, and 3) bring affordable longer range EVs to dealers’ showrooms.

    President Obama has the power to do the first two via EPA regulation. That legislation has been passed and has also passed Supreme Court review.

    Affordable EVs will be created by car companies, spurred on by Tesla which has the backing and momentum to take battery prices down to the $100/kWh range.

    The US won’t assist much in furthering tidal and wave technology but other countries are making that effort. When prices drop the US will jump in.

    It’s sad that the US will do far less than it could to fight climate change, but the world will go on without assistance from the Republican controlled Congress. The ‘Great Transition’ is underway, moving in spurts and stalls in individual countries but at an accelerating rate on a global level.

    • Doug Cutler 5 years ago

      Referencing the Green Dragon of renewable energy – and with apologies to the Eagles (though perhaps they might appreciate the transposed context):

      “They stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast”

      On a more practical note I wonder if Obama’s “deal” with irrational Republicans will be to allow the Keystone pipeline while holding firm on EPA coal restrictions through veto if necessary. As long as humans keep driving gasmobiles the oil will flow somewhere but once longer range affordable EVs show up in large numbers Keystone and other pipelines will begin to dry up anyway.

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        I’d have no problem with the Keystone being used as a bargaining chip. As long as the pipeline doesn’t run through very sensitive areas it’s just one more pipeline of many. Preventing the Keystone won’t mean we’ll quit using oil.

        If we can get battery prices down (which seems very possible) then we’ll likely see people move to EVs and demand for oil will plummet.

        • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

          the source area is very sensitive, Bob! As are many areas on the route. there’s an amazing doco White Water Black Gold I think it is called about the tar sands poisoning if indigenous tribes, wholesale destruction of boreal forests and consumption of so much water in the extraction processing of the sands that rivers are running dry and fish migrations for spawning are being vanished from existence.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            The route was redesigned so that it would stay clear of the most sensitive.

            Tar oil sands are going to get moved to refineries as long as demand pays the cost. Right now it’s going by rail. If the Keystone is stopped the sludge will continue to be moved by rail or a different pipeline will be built.

            Blocking the Keystone will have no impact on CO2 emissions from petroleum. Blocking the Keystone will not stop the destruction of large parts of Canada.

            The only solution for stopping Canadian tar sand oil and all the other crappy petroleum operations is to lower demand to the point that it becomes insignificant. And we best do that by switching to EVs and electric public transportation.

          • Doug Cutler 5 years ago

            Recent drop in oil prices has already seen a number of Alberta oil sands projects scaled back, suspended or even cancelled. High cost oil sands extraction requires a high price for oil. Oil prices may recover from recent downturn but once EVs reach a critical mass in the market the oil price will fall again never to recover. The oil sands will be one of the first things to go.

  5. Rob G 5 years ago

    If we look on the bright side (yes there might be one!) what we will see is Obama vetoing most of the stupidity for the next two years. The EPA will carry on with their C02 reduction plans. We’ll see a dysfunctional senate and congress, that is Republican controlled, unable to agree due to mass divisions within that side of politics. And what Americans will see is two years of inability to do anything, this will send a pretty clear message to voters who have been repeatedly told that political stalemates are all Obama’s fault. Now there are no excuses if they cannot function as a party (which I doubt they can) then they will be exposed. This will help the Democrats in 2016.

    When fearing climate policy change, America has a growing reputation for individual states to lead the way. The benefits of a booming renewable industry is already being seen. And the number of states are moving quickly and growing in number. Come Paris 2015, Obama will stitch America into a commitment that will not be undone – he wants the world to put pressure on his country to get passed the climate deniers. Hillary, will then take the reigns…

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Having Republicans take over the Senate makes no difference in terms of legislation. The House blocked just about anything useful during the previous four years. Congress will be pretty much more of the same. All good legislation passed while PBO has been in office came in his first two terms while Democrats held Congress.

      There will probably be a rush to fill as many presidential appointments as possible between now and January. It will be extremely difficult (read: impossible) to get an even slight liberal person confirmed by the Senate after the new Congress takes over. PBO has been successful in filling a lot of federal judgeships with more liberal individuals and since these are lifetime appointments that will determine the course of courts for a long time.

      Bottom line – the US government is likely to sit things out for the next couple of years. We’re not likely to pull the sort of crap that is happening in Australia because PBO is not a friend of coal and has the power of the veto. And there are not enough Republican votes in the Senate to override his veto.

      Most of what will happen with federal legislation over the next two years will be political theater.

      • Rob G 5 years ago

        I always value your comments Bob. My partner follows US politics closely and majored in it at Masters level, so some of her interest has rubbed off on me and I too follow with interest.
        What we have here in Oz is something surreal. We’ll look back and wonder how this ever happened. I’d like to think when sensible government return that things will happen very quickly. I’d say that once the Democrats get numbers back that we’ll also see some pretty swift action. Any word on whether Al Gore will run?

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          I really don’t see Gore returning to politics. It’s going to be an interesting primary season. I’ve got nothing against Hillary, but I’d like to see some younger candidates get in the race.

          I’m Al’s and Hillary’s age and I think the presidency would be better served by someone with more vigor than someone our age can bring to the office. And I’d like to see someone who has grown up with modern technology rather than before it, like we did. Someone who is in more contact with the median age of citizens.

          I look at what you’re going through with your present government and sympathize. We suffered through eight years of George Bush. Six years after he left office we are still in recovery and may be for several more years.

          I suspect Oz’s renewable energy sector will recover fairly quickly with a change of administration. The market will drive change. All you really need is for the government to declare a lot of the built up expense of fossil fuel capacity and grid expansion a bad investment. Then pay it off over a few decades with government money and quit trying to shove it down consumers’ throats. We’ve got to deal with many more years of religious idiots trying to harm us due to GWB’s stupidity.

  6. Jim Young 5 years ago

    The perfect storm of conditions for this cynical take-over was assisted in Kentucky by $45 million spent on the senate race. To the best of my knowledge $45,444,337 was spent in a state with a population of 4,395,295 people, 1,390,456 of whom voted for senators. That’s an average of $32.68 per vote,

    The winner spent $34.66 for each vote, while the loser spent $29.91 per vote. The percentage McConnell won by is surprisingly close to the higher percentage his side paid per vote.

    Why do my friends and I see this so obviously different than what the Supreme Court Justices would try to have us believe?

  7. coomadoug 5 years ago

    Great informative article mate

  8. Rudy Haugeneder 5 years ago


    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . . . Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems, says the title.

    Corey J. A. Bradshaw1 and Barry W. Brook

    Author Affiliations

    . Edited by Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved September 15, 2014 (received for review June 5, 2014)


    The planet’s large, growing, and overconsuming human population, especially the increasing affluent component, is rapidly eroding many of the Earth’s natural ecosystems. However, society’s only real policy lever to reduce the human population humanely is to encourage lower per capita fertility. How long might fertility reduction take to make a meaningful impact? We examined various scenarios for global human population change to the year 2100 by adjusting fertility and mortality rates (both chronic and short-term interventions) to determine the plausible range of outcomes. Even one-child policies imposed worldwide and catastrophic mortality events would still likely result in 5–10 billion people by 2100. Because of this demographic momentum, there are no easy ways to change the broad trends of human population size this century.


    The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system. There are consequently more frequent calls to address environmental problems by advocating further reductions in human fertility. To examine how quickly this could lead to a smaller human population, we used scenario-based matrix modeling to project the global population to the year 2100. Assuming a continuation of current trends in mortality reduction, even a rapid transition to a worldwide one-child policy leads to a population similar to today’s by 2100. Even a catastrophic mass mortality event of 2 billion deaths over a hypothetical 5-y window in the mid-21st century would still yield around 8.5 billion people by 2100. In the absence of catastrophe or large fertility reductions (to fewer than two children per female worldwide), the greatest threats to ecosystems—as measured by regional projections within the 35 global Biodiversity Hotspots—indicate that Africa and South Asia will experience the greatest human pressures on future ecosystems. Humanity’s large demographic momentum means that there are no easy policy levers to change the size of the human population substantially over coming decades, short of extreme and rapid reductions in female fertility; it will take centuries, and the long-term target remains unclear. However, some reduction could be achieved by midcentury and lead to hundreds of millions fewer people to feed. More immediate results for sustainability would emerge from policies and technologies that reverse rising consumption of natural resources.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      “Humanity’s large demographic momentum means that there are no easy policy levers to change the size of the human population substantially over coming decades, short of extreme and rapid reductions in female fertility; it will take centuries,”

      I call BS. The way we slow and eventually reverse population growth is by 1) educating females and 2) increasing job opportunities for females, 3) improving the safety nets that make it possible for people to have decent later years without depending on having a lot of children and 4) making birth control methods readily available for those who desire them.

      We need to move a lot of the lower skill manufacturing from China (which is starting to run short of workers) to the countries with the highest birth rates. A lot of that manufacturing is activities such as clothing manufacturing and small product assembling which tends to employ a lot of women.

      A woman bringing in a paycheck is more valuable to a modest income family than one staying home and caring for children. Women who bring in a paycheck have more power within the home which can mean more control over their own bodies.

      Look at population growth in developed countries. Many are reproducing at or below replacement rates. In developed countries that don’t allow much immigration population levels are declining. That trend has developed in only a few years, certainly not even a half a century.

      Go to this page and sort the countries based on 2013 population growth rates. Those higher growth rate countries are where we need to establish factories and build economies.

      In 2005-10 there were 23 countries with zero or negative population growth rates. But 2013 that number had risen to 39.

  9. Ettore Greco 5 years ago

    It must be funny for some to see everyone rushing to the right and to the left, running political campaigns and elections when they already know that everything is fixed right from the start. Why these masquerades when it is clear that Jeb Bush will be at the White House in 2016 and all the promises made by these State politicians will hold no value? Today a widespread turmoil and a growing social discontent should be viewed in a larger context and not simply within the walls of local politics. We are now experiencing one of the stages of a World conspiracy and wherever you are in the World you are also part of it. Don’t let the media fool you. The conspiracy is not a theory. With 2.3 trillion dollars officially declared missing by the Bush administration one day before 9/11 and 2 more trillions stolen between the “Savings and Loan” affair and Enron a few Zionists like the Bush family and Dov Zakheim are now waiting for the total collapse of the world financial system and a World War of Religions. They maneuver from behind the scene to generate terror, chaos and despair in all places setting an idyllic stage for the next big surprise, one New World Order that was invoked for the first time by the father and will be announced by the son and next US president Jeb Bush. From ISIS to Al Qaeda how could anyone still believe the story of Osama bin Laden? The short memory of the people works wonders for the Zionists. Perhaps a few will still remember when George W. Bush told the terrorized US citizens to seal their windows with duct tape to protect from an imminent chemical attack. An irony like this can tell a story. The next day on the shelves of the stores all over the US there was no more duct tape for sale. But a recent revelation should soon come back to mind and clarify any possible inquiry: —Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in an interview with the Daily Beast, Sept. 16 “Here’s the problem. He [Sen. John McCain] did meet with ISIS, and had his picture taken, and didn’t know it was happening at the time”. This picture is the obvious evidence that the World conspiracy is not a theory. The chief of ISIS is that same Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who spent time in a US prison and in a meeting with Mc Cain before being released in 2009. There is no doubt that the Zionists and their counter terrorist agencies have all the means to enlist and pay well mercenaries of all Countries and Islamic extremists without having to show their face or their wallet

    Once you recognized the objective of the Conspiracy all the rest will be easy to comprehend and to foresee. Besides, it will make no more sense to continue to play Monopoly when somebody has already stolen all the money.

  10. William Blomfield 5 years ago
    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      I think at this point governments are going to serve as catalysts – they will largely function to slow or speed the transition to renewables. The “reaction” has a life of its own, now driven my market forces.

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