Good things are happening! Watch out corporate America: A tidal wave of worker strikes is developing nationwide. Meanwhile, Biden opts to shake up the U.S. Court of Appeals, while the fossil fuel industry just lost a major source of financing. Finally, the ultra wealthy will now have to confront the costs of climate change — at least in the insurance rates they pay for their waterfront mansions.
A dark money group created by allies of President Joe Biden released an ad last month thanking Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for pushing to lower prescription drug prices — just before she told the White House she will oppose Democrats’ drug pricing plan.
While Sinema previously campaigned on a pledge to reduce drug costs, the freshman senator and one-time-progressive-turned-corporatist has emerged as the chief roadblock to Democrats’ plan to allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate significantly lower prescription drug prices. Because Democrats hold a narrow 50-50 majority in the Senate, they cannot afford to lose any votes on the measure.
In early August, Building Back Together, a nonprofit created to support Biden’s agenda, announced it was launching a $10 million ad campaign to build support for Democrats’ infrastructure plans while lawmakers were out of town on a long summer recess period.
“The goal, officials said, was to bombard the home districts of members of Congress with ads — both televised and digital — to keep the pressure on to follow through on their votes as well as to underscore much of the agenda’s popularity with the public,” the Associated Pressreported at the time.
One of the ads released by Building Back Together thanked Sinema and her counterpart, Sen. Mark Kelly, for working to reduce drug prices.
“President Biden and Sens. Kelly and Sinema delivered for us,” the ad says. “They’ve pulled our economy back from the brink, and now they’re fighting to create millions of good-paying jobs and lower the costs of health care, child care and prescription drugs. Thanks Sens. Kelly and Sinema for delivering for Arizona.”
Clearly, the ad campaign failed.
Earlier this month, Sinema informed the White House of her opposition to the drug pricing plan, days after a Big Pharma-funded front group started running television, radio, and digital ads calling her a “bipartisan leader” and a “independent voice for Arizona.” The front group has already spent roughly $600,000 boosting Sinema on the Arizona airwaves, according to data from AdImpact.
Over the course of her career, Sinema has raised more than $500,000 from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries, according to OpenSecrets.
Now, Sinema is threatening to tank both infrastructure bills — the bipartisan, industry-friendly deal she helped negotiate and Democrats’ broader $3.5 trillion reconciliation spending package meant to fund Biden’s economic, health, and climate agenda — if Democrats don’t pass her bill first.
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Editor’s note: Click here to watch the video of Sirota discussing the reconciliation bill with Breaking Points’ Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti.
Way back in August, The Daily Postertold you that progressive House Democrats’ willingness to hold out for a serious anti-poverty and climate-focused reconciliation bill would likely determine the outcome of the epic battle unfolding on Capitol Hill.
We also told you that if progressives began holding out, corporate Democrats, egged on by a deal-hungry president, would revise their strategy and try to help their business donors hollow out that bill by defanging the legislative details.
One month later, all of that has proven to be true, and this conflict has now devolved into what most fights in Washington become: a clash between good policy and blatant corruption, and a deeper struggle between aspiration and lethargy.
“All Done Together, Or It’s Going To Be None”
Thanks to the whip count work of The Daily Poster, The American Prospect and The Intercept, we know that 21 House Democrats have publicly pledged to vote against passage of a business-sculpted infrastructure bill unless it remains coupled with the much bigger reconciliation legislation, which is supposed to include climate initiatives, drug pricing measures, anti-poverty programs and higher taxes on the wealthy.
This two-track strategy is sound: The idea is that the only way to get corporate Democrats to provide necessary votes to pass a reconciliation bill they hate is to link it to an infrastructure boondoggle that their corporate donors desperately want.
“We’re either going to have to get this all done together, or it’s going to be none,” Daily Poster subscribers were told during last week’s live chat with Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle, who has committed to withholding his vote. “That’s the practical reality.”
If progressives follow through and vote down the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it would be no small thing. It would not only be a reversal from their previous surrender on a $15 minimum wage as part of President Joe Biden’s COVID relief bill, it would be the first time in forever that progressive lawmakers actually opted to wield real power.
That’s yuge — but there’s a catch.
Progressive holdouts have — deliberately — not made specific demands about what they believe must be in the reconciliation legislation. That omission has created the political space for corporate Democrats to try to whittle down the bill to barely anything at all. If that effort is successful, it would force progressives to choose between voting for an empty husk of a bill that is at least called “reconciliation,” or risk getting nothing at all. Corporate Democrats would be betting that under enough pressure, progressives will eventually choose the husk and calculate that they’d be able to sell it to voters back home as a spectacular victory.
In the last two days, this kind of pressure has ratcheted up in a coordinated fashion.
Biden is now reportedly telling corporate Democrats that they get to decide how much to slash out of the reconciliation bill.
Similarly, John Podesta — who ran the corporate-funded Center for American Progress — circulated a memo on Capitol Hill telling progressives to suddenly back off the $3.5 trillion framework, even though it already passed the House and Senate, even though $3.5 trillion is already a compromise from $6 trillion, and even though $3.5 trillion is a comparatively paltry sum that’s less than what the government is expected to shovel out the door to the Pentagon in just the next 5 years alone.
Podesta has declared that “we will not secure the full $3.5 trillion investment” — demanding Democrats once again back off and live to never fight another day, all in the name of protecting the party’s prospects in the upcoming midterm elections.
Somehow forgotten is how the same demands for compromise and capitulation were made during President Obama’s first two years, resulting in an all-too-small stimulus that did not adequately boost the economy, and that helped create the conditions for Democrats’ electoral shellacking in 2010.
Pay Attention To The Billionaires Behind The Curtain
We know what’s at issue in this conflict — and it’s not some earnest policy dispute over which particular policies would be good for the country. We’ve long known what needs to be done to fight the climate crisis, make taxes more fair, and prevent Americans from being fleeced with the world’s highest prices for medicine — and with the nation facing a climate cataclysm, a health care emergency, a pandemic, and economic turmoil, much of that has been promised by Democrats and is supposed to be in their reconciliation bill.
But in recent weeks, we’ve seen these agenda items put on the chopping block: Tax measures have been trimmed, prescription drug pricing provisions have been voted down, threats against climate programs have been made. This has happened because of a factor that politicians rarely acknowledge and that reporters and pundits at corporate media outlets don’t like to mention.
And that factor is: blatant, obvious corruption in a capital city immersed in corporate cash, overseen by business lobbyists who buy votes, and run by lawmakers who have their own financial interests in mind.
Some obvious examples:
The Daily Posterreported that after campaigning on a promise to reduce prescription drug prices, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., threatened to oppose those provisions as a Big Pharma-funded dark money group began bankrolling ads for her — a move boosting drugmakers’ support for Sinema beyond even the hundreds of thousands of dollars of pharmaceutical industry campaign cash she’s already raked in. The pharma front group, Center Forward, has already spent around $600,000 on TV and radio ads characterizing Sinema as the second coming of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, according to data from AdImpact.
The Daily Posterbroke open the story of three House Democrats blocking those same prescription drug provisions after they hauled in roughly $1.6 million of campaign cash from the pharmaceutical industry, and as one of the lawmakers’ top aides became a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist. Facing an angry backlash from voters, one of the lawmakers effectively admitted that the industry uses campaign cash to buy political access to legislators, while another refused to stop taking the industry’s money because he said that would “defund my campaign.”
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., used his chairmanship of the House’s tax-writing committee to eliminate or defang provisions closing tax loopholes that benefit billionaire dynasties and private equity moguls — and he did this almost exactly a year after Wall Street helped him buy reelection in the face of a tough primary battle.
The nine House Democrats leading the charge against their party and pushing to decouple the infrastructure bill from the reconciliation bill raked in more than $3 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries — the industries most opposed to the latter legislation.
You’ll notice that all these piles of cash are almost never mentioned in any of the coverage of the palace dramas in Washington. It seems that a prerequisite for a TV anchor job or a Beltway reporting gig at a corporate media outlet is an ironclad commitment to standing in the shadow of a Mount Everest-sized pile of corporate campaign cash, and insisting with a straight face that politics is just a battle of ideas between earnest statesmen presenting different visions for the country’s future.
The average cable TV news viewer is led to be entranced by the audiovisual show of Washington’s soundbite fireworks — and to pay no attention to the billionaires sculpting the legislative language behind the curtain.
In this phantasmagoria of propaganda and bullshit, we’re asked to believe that these corporate Democrats are genuinely worried about spending too much money — even as they back ever-more-bloated budgets for a Pentagon that is so wasteful and so unregulated that it regularly loses track of hundreds of millions of dollars.
We’re asked to perceive these corporatists as the real financial tightwads, even as they are pushing self-enriching SALT tax breaks that could hand half a trillion dollars to the richest 1 percent of the country.
We’re asked to believe that these alleged fiscal hawks are upset about the reconciliation bill’s alleged $3.5 trillion price tag — even though that’s not the actual price tag, because it does not take into account the $2 trillion of revenue that would be raised by the remaining tax provisions in the legislation.
We’re asked to believe that it is the progressives who are being unreasonable by demanding the government do the absolute minimum to fight a climate crisis that threatens all life on the planet — and we’re further asked to believe that corporate Democrats are pragmatic “centrists” for working to make sure their fossil fuel industry donors can continue incinerating the ecosystem that supports human existence.
In short, we’re asked to believe ever-more ridiculous lies designed to avert our eyes from the payoffs, graft, and legalized bribes taking place right in front of our faces.
The Laziness Factor
Corruption, though, is only most of the story — but not all of it. The other factor is what the bible calls sloth — and what is more commonly called laziness. And it is laziness enabled by privilege.
When forced to choose, Democrats in Washington have for decades prioritized norms over values, bipartisan rhetoric over legislative accomplishment, and conflict avoidance over political warfare — even when that warfare is necessary to solve problems imperiling the country.
The party of Franklin Roosevelt welcoming the hatred of oligarchs became the party of Bill Clinton deregulating Wall Street. The party of Lyndon Johnson twisting the arms of his own party’s legislators to pass Medicare became the party of Barack Obama refusing to even gently pressure his fellow Democrats to challenge the health care industry — and worse, brushing backDemocrats who tried to do the right thing.
Put another way: The party that once seemed to understand that power concedes nothing without demand has become a party whose leaders preemptively demand concessions to power — because they are the power, and they don’t need the concessions.
In this reality, Democratic decision makers can opt to languorously party on Manchin’s yacht rather than fight because they don’t need to do anything for their own survival — the campaign finance system preordains most incumbent reelections, and the revolving door guarantees their post-government wealth.
In the present moment, this is one reason why we haven’t seen a Senate full of millionaires end the filibuster.
It is also probably part of why we haven’t seen Biden use his bully pulpit and the White House’s vast political resources to exert much public pressure on corporate-aligned lawmakers in his own party – even when they are from blue districts and blue states where he could exert disproportionate influence. He’s the president — the difference between campaigning hard to secure a good reconciliation bill and just sitting in the White House letting Congress turn a decent bill into a meaningless piece of paper doesn’t materially impact his life.
This is also why we are starting to see screams of establishment anger at progressive lawmakers promising to hold out — and why folks like Podesta are couching that rage in the veneer of party “unity.”
Their bellowing is getting louder not because progressives are doing the wrong thing, and not because progressives voting down the infrastructure bill automatically kills everything – on the contrary, congressional leaders can keep bringing these bills back up until they have a deal.
No, the pressure from establishment voices is intensifying because progressives are for the first time in generations threatening to use their legislative leverage — and that could force Washington sloths to actually do real work if they want to be able to tout some kind of legislative accomplishments amid weak job approval numbers.
The notion of having to really work hard — to campaign out in the country, to get in lawmakers’ faces, to pressure members of one’s own party — is offensive and shocking to corporatists who have gotten used to controlling everything without so much as lifting a finger.
Conflict averse to their core, they cannot see the necessity of a protracted battle against their corporate donors and for the cause of helping lots of people. They don’t appear to aspire to much more than a nice press release, and they don’t seem to believe there is a political imperative or electoral upside in making sure legislation truly improves voters’ lives.
In short, they don’t want a fight — indeed, they do not want a world in which progressives even try to fight.
That’s not a world today’s Washington careerists have ever lived in — and because of that, the economic, health care, and environmental crises we face have now become existential.
But that world of pitched battles and tenacious political combat did once exist. It defined the epoch when Democrats passed the most popular programs in American history and built their most durable majorities.
While those are seen as the bygone days of a halcyon era, it can also be the present moment — but only if enough outside pressure is brought to bear, and only if progressives hold out.
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The Shell River, named for the clams and mussels lining its riverbed, was only a few inches deep where it abutted the Central Minnesota encampment where Dawn Kier and her colleagues were living. From Kier’s perch in a lawn chair near the water on a recent late-summer evening, the river looked calm as it flowed past swaying cattails and thin stands of wild rice nearly ripe enough for harvest. But Kier had a keen knowledge of the complexity beneath the surface.
“There’s this whole water system underneath the riverbed,” Kier explained, as dusk enveloped the canopy of pine trees overhead. “And there are cracks and fissions where the water comes up to the surface.” She worried about what else might be seeping through those cracks, thanks to the construction of the Line 3 pipeline through the region by a Canadian oil company called Enbridge.
“Enbridge drills so far under the water that they risk hitting the aquifers,” Kier said, referring to a spill of drilling fluids known as a frac-out. Such frac-outs have released thousands of gallons of drilling fluids in the region this summer, which can disrupt ecosystems, including suffocating mussels and fish.
Kier has watched water levels in the river, which eventually flows into the Mississippi, fall as much as six inches in a single day as, amid a historic drought, Enbridge drained billions of gallons of water from the tributary to lay pipes under the riverbed.
Kier, an Anishinaabe woman in her late 40s and citizen of White Earth Nation, is living here to protect the region from further harm. (The Anishinaabe are a group of people indigenous to the Great Lakes region in the present-day United States and Canada.) She has been running an encampment here all summer, one of six Indigenous-led camps for people who call themselves water protectors and have been trying to stop construction of Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline.
Line 3, Enbridge’s largest ever project and part of North America’s longest pipeline, zigzags nearly 350 miles across Minnesota and through more than 200 bodies of water. Construction on the project, a rerouting and expansion of an old pipeline, began last December.
Water protectors had high hopes that after a campaign promising to fight climate change, President Joe Biden would revoke permits for the pipeline, but instead, his administration defended the Trump administration’s approval in federal court.
Now the project is more than 90 percent complete — and if finished, it will carry nearly one million barrels of oil each day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to a terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, on the shore of the eponymous Great Lake. That is enough to almost entirely replace the lost supply caused by Biden’s much-vaunted cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline in January.
Enbridge’s new pipeline is projected to emit the carbon dioxide equivalent of 50 new coal plants, greater than the sum of all other emissions in the state of Minnesota combined.
In a region that has been dependent on extractive economies like iron mining and logging since white settlers began colonizing the area in the 19th century, this is far from the first time the Anishinaabe people have had to protect themselves and the land from threat. Already this summer, commercial agriculture operations, which use local waterways for irrigation, and a drought caused by climate change had made lakes and rivers which usually grow wild rice inhospitable for the plant which is at the center of economic and spiritual life for the Anishinaabe people.
Enbridge’s success so far in pushing the project through — even as Democrats hold the governorship and half the legislature in Minnesota as well as governing majorities at the federal level — shows that the party is not yet willing to take on the fossil fuel industry. Despite dire warnings from scientists that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground to avert the worst impacts of climate change, the pipeline, which will transport the dirtiest fossil fuel, has the backing of politicians from both parties, environmental regulators, and local law enforcement.
Still, water protectors continue to mount a massive resistance — filing lawsuits, coordinating with environmental groups, pushing to elect supportive politicians, and orchestrating dozens of nonviolent direct actions. Since construction began last December, over 900 people have been arrested protesting Line 3. Now, more than two dozen congressional Democrats have joined the call to cancel the project, and earlier this month, several of the progressive House Democrats known as “the squad” visited Minnesota to personally voice their opposition.
Such efforts are putting pressure on Biden and the Democratic Party to take the most consequential and needed step to tackle climate change: Stopping new fossil fuel development.
But even if Line 3 becomes operable, water protectors intend to sustain what they’ve built for as long as it takes to turn the tide against Enbridge and the fossil fuel industry.
“You can live without oil,” said Kier, gesturing to the assemblage of tents and teepees around her, “But you can’t live without water.”
As Kier was talking, her 10-year-old son interrupted her, shrieking he’d been stung by a bee. “I’m dying!” he cried melodramatically.
“No you’re not, I promise,” said Kier, laughing, explaining that just like everything else around here, the insects are angry because they don’t have enough water.
“The bees are thirsty,” she said. “Everybody’s dying of thirst right now.”
The Makings Of A Movement
Elsewhere at the encampment, water protectors cooked a dinner of wild rice and split pea soup in a makeshift outdoor kitchen under an awning of bright blue tarps. A painted wooden sign over their workspace asked, “If the wild rice and trees and water are gone, will you still love oil?”
On that particular evening, the encampment was sparsely populated, since most water protectors had taken the fight to other parts of the state. But according to Kier, during the biggest feasts this summer, more than 200 people gathered here.
The encampments along Line 3’s route through Minnesota resemble the wild rice camps traditionally set up by Anishinaabe people during periods of harvest. Many of the people staying there are veterans of the Standing Rock protest camps set up in North Dakota in 2016 to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline, where the term “water protector” was first adopted by the movement.
“I witnessed an awakening in the world of Indigenous sovereignty, and the need to stand with the land itself,” said Tara Houska, who spent six months at Standing Rock. After those protests, Houska, an attorney and former Native American affairs advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign, founded the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous women- and two spirit-led resistance group, which has its own encampment along the pipeline route called Namewag.
While Line 3 and Standing Rock are “different territories and different struggles,” Houska said, “they’re connected through the protection of Indigenous land and pushing back against the climate crisis and trying to protect the places that are left.” One major difference is that while Dakota Access had a single river crossing, Line 3 crosses under 22 rivers, increasing the potential environmental impacts of a spill. Moreover, the tar sands oil that flows through Line 3 is more difficult to clean up than other crude oil, because it is denser than water and therefore sinks, making conventional cleanup methods unworkable.
The Giniw Collective engineered many of the nonviolent direct actions this summer, such as water protectors fastening themselves to construction equipment and forming human barricades across access roads. These activities led to hundreds of arrests, but didn’t receive the same level of mainstream media coverage as the Standing Rock protests, possibly in part because most news outlets haven’t been welcome at the Giniw Collective encampment. Giniw and other groups involved in the movement instead rely on their own coverage, livestreaming direct actions or frac-outs on social media.
Still, according to Houska, these actions helped the water protectors score access to officials. “We didn’t gain consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers until over 100 people had been arrested,” she said.
The encampments aren’t just barracks for water protectors; they’re an intentional glimpse into a fossil-free future. People might stay for only a couple of days, or weeks or months, but everyone contributes to cooking, cleaning, and sustaining camp life. Visitors to the camps learn about treaty rights and decolonization, receive training in direct action protest, and connect with the water and land they are here to protect. The idea, said Houska, is to grow the movement beyond stopping this single project.
Kier, Houska, and their colleagues are fighting a pipeline that has been in the works for more than five years, winding its way through a complicated permitting process.
In 2016, President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice issued a consent decree requiring Enbridge to replace its old and corroding Line 3 pipeline, which had been in operation since 1968 and been responsible for multiple major leaks, including the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
But instead of replacing the old pipeline, Enbridge proposed a longer, wider pipeline that would transport twice as much oil along a different route. The company negotiated an agreement with landowners to leave the old line in the ground, saving $1.5 billion in cleanup costs. “In effect, the EPA is ‘punishing’ Enbridge for a devastating spill by requiring the company to build an entirely different pipeline that Enbridge has wanted for years,” argued a petition drive organized to revise the consent decree.
According to Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner, the new Line 3 “is not an expansion but a restoration of the pipeline’s original design capacity,” and its new route “reflects the request from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe that the pipeline be routed off of their reservation.” But the new route cut through Anishinaabe treaty land, where the rights to fish, hunt, and gather wild rice. And other tribes opposed the new route.
“As a sovereign nation, we are confounded that we are being forced to choose between two evils as both routes pass through our lands,” said Fond du Lac tribal council chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. at the time.
The spending included sponsoring a “Wild Rice Festival” in Deer River and a county fair in Bemidji, paying for an “upgrade to communications equipment” for the Alvarado Fire Department, buying new rescue equipment for the Hill City and Cohasset fire departments, and direct payments to the Cloquet and Aitkin city coffers to fund a bike trail extension and public park refurbishment, according to Enbridge’s website.
“Enbridge was able to invest a lot in communities ahead of time, and kind of seduce them into supporting the pipeline,” said state Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL), who has been working to mobilize lawmakers against the pipeline.
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Enbridge was the biggest spender on lobbying in the state of Minnesota, spending a total of nearly $20 million in those years.
Pipeline opponents had reason for hope when Minnesota voters elected Tim Walz as governor in 2018, since Walz, a Democrat, had tweeted during his campaign: “Any line that goes through treaty lands is a nonstarter for me.” But in mid-November 2020, when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued the final state permits Enbridge needed to begin construction, Walz gave up his opposition to the project.
By that point, however, one other impediment to the pipeline had arisen: Biden’s presidential victory. Local tribes and environmental groups filed an appeal with the new administration to rescind Enbridge’s federal permits, since the Trump administration had granted those permits without conducting an environmental impact study on the project. “We all thought Biden was going to come in and axe this project,” said Kier at the Shell River camp.
In September, Biden’s press secretary told ABC news that the president would not revoke permits for the pipeline since it was under “active litigation,” although it’s not at all clear how that litigation could prevent Biden from cancelling the pipeline. The White House did not respond to The Daily Poster’s request for comment.
10,000 Gallons Of Drilling Fluids
Early on a July morning this summer, a group of water protectors traveled to the Willow River near Lake Superior to try to prevent Enbridge from drilling and laying pipes under the water. As soon as they arrived, they realized something was wrong.
“There was [an Enbridge] boat parked on the bank of the river… that was sitting like it had been hastily left there,” recounted Shanai Matteson, one of the water protectors. Nearby, the river was bubbling, a patch of the riverbed was stained a yellow-orange color, and equipment by the water’s edge was labelled “spill kit.”
The group realized they were witnessing the aftermath of a frac-out.
The MPCA later confirmed the frac-out at the Willow River. While Enbridge and the MPCA claim the substances released during a frac-out are nontoxic, such as bentonite clay and xanthan gum, such spills are violations of the company’s drilling permits, since they threaten aquatic life and upset the hydrology of the river.
According to a 2000 paper published by an Enbridge environmental analyst and presented at the International Pipeline Conference, “The long-term effects of deposition drilling fluid in wetlands are yet unknown. However, there is evidence that the short-term effects of releasing drilling fluid into wetlands include temporary displacement of resident fauna, smothering of [bottom-dwelling] organisms and plant root systems, increased turbidity of water quality, and effects on water chemistry and wetland hydrology.”
After the Willow River frac-out, 32 state DFL lawmakers asked the MPCA to release information on all of the frac-outs that had occurred during construction and suspend Enbridge’s drilling permits “until the state is no longer experiencing drought conditions and until a thorough investigation can be completed by your agency so that the causes of these releases are fully understood and further releases can be avoided.”
On August 9, the MPCA responded, confirming that it had recorded 28 frac-outs totaling at least 10,000 gallons of released drilling fluids, about half of which occured on wetlands.
“I want to be clear that the MPCA’s 401 Water Quality Certification does not authorize any release of drilling fluid to any wetland, river or other surface water,” wrote MPCA commissioner Peter Tester. While the agency is conducting an investigation into the spills, it has not suspended the pipeline’s construction.
The high rate of frac-outs suggests Enbridge might not know much about the land where it is drilling, said Laura Triplett, a geology professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, who is publicly opposed to Line 3.
“They must have convinced themselves and convinced the MPCA that this was a reasonable and safe place to do horizontal drilling. But then it wasn’t. Either someone’s lying, or someone did a bad job.”
Tripett says there’s further evidence that Enbridge doesn’t know the landscape as well as it should: The company drastically underestimated the amount of water it would need to remove from wetlands to lay pipes.
Enbridge had initially received a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources to remove 510 million gallons of water, but in June, the company modified its request to nearly 5 billion gallons. The request was approved by state officials without any investigation into why Enbridge had so grossly miscalculated the amount of water it needed to displace.
“The hydrogeologists who Enbridge hired, they claim to be some of the top in the state,” Triplett said. “If they’re wrong about the wetlands, they are wrong about the wetland impacts, and that means the permit should not have been issued.”
On September 17, Minnesota regulators ordered Enbridge to pay $3.3 million for illegally drilling in a protected wetland and breaching an aquifer, causing 24 million gallons of groundwater to leak. “Enbridge’s actions are a clear violation of state law, and also of the public trust,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Barb Naramore told The Associated Press.
Water protectors say state agencies’ responses to the frac-outs and dewatering efforts suggest Enbridge has a cozy relationship with those charged with regulating the company, and they worry about what will happen if the pipeline is completed and there is an oil spill.
“We do know it’s going to spill,” said Kier at the Shell River camp, gesturing upriver to where pipes were laid a couple months ago, the sound of drills humming overhead for days. It’s a common refrain among water protectors that an oil spill is inevitable.
According to Kellner, the Enbridge spokesperson, “Replacing the existing Line 3 pipeline with one made of thicker steel, with more advanced coatings, will better protect Minnesota’s environment and people for generations to come.” She added that in 2020, Enbridge delivered one of the highest volumes of oil in its history with its best-ever safety record.
Still, between 2002 and 2018, Enbridge reported 307 spills in its pipeline network, an average of one spill every 20 days, according to a report from Greenpeace. In 2019, one of those incidents became one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history when it released more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, which flows into Lake Michigan. The river ran black, and Enbridge didn’t notice the spill for 17 hours, a response that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is now Biden’s energy secretary, called “anemic” and “wholly inadequate.”
If Line 3 becomes operable, Enbridge will be responsible for self-reporting spills to regulators. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources foundthat Enbridge had failed to report a spill along its Line 13 pipeline for over a year, despite having knowledge of the accident.
In addition to spills, there is also the environmental impact of the oil that will be running through Line 3. Enbridge has repeatedly argued that pipelines don’t lead to carbon emissions, and that the oil it is designed to transport will reach the market, whether the new Line 3 is built or not. “Forcing the transport of essential energy off of pipelines only moves it to more carbon-intense alternatives — via ship, truck, and most notably rail,” said Kellner, the Enbridge spokesperson.
But the Alberta Tar Sands have had to slow down oil production in recent years due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure connecting the tar sands to the United States. Climate scientists have found that because of this bottleneck effect, pipelines can be a massive source of emissions, since they enable a greater transfer and therefore consumption of oil.
A Minnesota state study using the federal government’s methodology for calculating the social cost of carbon consumption found that Line 3’s climate damages are estimated at up to $287 billion over a 30-year lifetime.
This summer, the water protectors witnessed the consequences of burning those fossil fuels on the landscape of Northern Minnesota. “We fought most of this project under smoky skies and a red sun from wildfires, and empty rivers because of a drought,” said Houska of the Giniw Collective. “It’s a situation where we’re being confronted very blatantly by the decision to engage in extractivism as the only way of life.”
“A Police State Owned By Canadian Multinationals”
“There is a crime underway,” said Winona LaDuke as she sat in a large armchair in her home on the White Earth Reservation, stroking a pointy-eared dog wriggling in her lap on a recent August day. LaDuke is the founder of the Indigenous environmental justice organization Honor the Earth and a leader of the Line 3 resistance movement. She’s long been involved in national politics and environmental movements, including the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. But this fight is in her backyard.
Just down the road is her hemp farm, powered only by humans and horses — the manifestation of LaDuke’s belief that “fossil fuel addiction,” as she calls it, isn’t the only way to live.
Enbridge, meanwhile, has parched the local land dry and its pipeline threatens to pollute the nearby Shell Lake, where she has been harvesting wild rice for much of her life.
“No one is prosecuting the crime, we can see that,” she continued. “We are getting charged trying to stop the crime.”
Earlier this summer, LaDuke was arrested “for the sole reason that I believe that the Shell River, like the other rivers of northern Minnesota, and like our Akiing [land] itself, should be protected, not exploited to sickness and death,” as she wrote in a dispatch from the Wadena County Jail. After three nights in jail, she was released with misdemeanor charges.
The problem, said LaDuke, is that Enbridge appears to have local law enforcement in its pocket — and she isn’t the only one who believes this. After they discovered the Willow River frac-out, Matteson and other water protectors left to gather equipment to collect water samples. On their way back, Matteson says they were stopped three times by law enforcement.
“Their primary concern is to come out and police people who might take water samples or observe the cleanup process, rather than actually make sure that the water gets tested and that the agencies get notified,” said Matteson.
LaDuke doesn’t buy it. “It’s bad enough if you’ve got a police state that’s owned by your state,” she said. “But a police state owned by Canadian multinationals? Really? You just do that?”
Police aren’t the only local authorities being paid by Enbridge.
The route permit issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the agency which oversees permitting for energy infrastructure projects, required Enbridge to hire and pay a team of “independent environmental monitors” to monitor construction and watch for permit violations.
While the monitors report to state agencies, they are there acting in lieu of agency officials, meaning that construction is largely supervised by people who were selected and paid by Enbridge.
None of those monitors were on the ground at the Willow River frac-out, according to video footage taken by water protectors.
“We Have To Stop It”
“This is way bigger than I planned,” Joe Morales told the crowd of over a hundred people that gathered around him in a large circle under the blazing Minneapolis sun. Morales had helped the group come together to take part in the Treaty People Walk for Water, which began at the headwaters of the Mississippi River a couple weeks before, and ended later that day on August 25, across the river at the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul.
The walk, which had taken water protectors past fields of corn, small farmhouses, and Lutheran churches, was organized in the tradition of American Indian Movement protest walks of the 20th century, Morales had explained earlier. This new effort, he said, was both a prayer walk and a declaration of treaty rights.
“Article 6 of the Constitution states that treaties are the supreme law of the land, and that no state or local government can supersede that,” Morales explained. “In those treaties, the rights to fish, hunt, gather, and travel are guaranteed. As such, we’re walking on those rights.”
At the beginning, only a half-dozen water protectors had accompanied Morales. But as the 256-mile walk gained attention and crept closer to the Twin Cities, more people had joined. Now, looking out over the packed crowd, Morales teared up as he thanked those who had been with him since day one.
“I’m sorry if the food was sometimes a little short. I’m sorry if the water wasn’t cold enough. But you showed up and you stayed,” Morales said. He paused, wiping tears from his eyes, before addressing the walkers who had joined for the final day. “I’m going to ask you not to abandon us. No matter what happens. And we will stop it. I believe that in my heart. We have to stop it.”
The walkers ended their journey at the state capitol building on a Wednesday afternoon, marching hundreds strong, fists raised in the air, in silent prayer. Over a dozen painted teepees set up on the neatly trimmed lawn stood in stark contrast to the imposing capitol building, surrounded by barricades and state police officers brought in to respond to the protest.
The next day, as water protectors continued to occupy the capitol lawn, Gov. Walz was asked by a caller on Minnesota Public Radio about his ongoing support for Line 3. “One pipeline is not going to be where we win this battle on climate change,” he replied, adding that the pipeline had survived the scrutiny of the regulatory process and multiple legal challenges.
Houska from the Giniw Collective disagreed. “Well, this one pipeline is a ten-percent expansion of the tar sands industry,” she said. “So it’s certainly not going to help the climate crisis.”
Protest movements like this one, however, might help stop the climate crisis. A recent report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International found that Indigenous-led resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure has, over the past decade, “stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.”
Even if Line 3 is completed, this resistance movement is prepared for what’s next. As LaDuke put it, “I’m going to be fighting Enbridge for the next 20 years.” One element of that fight is a novel legal framework, now gaining momentum, that LaDuke believes could play a key role in the fight.
Last month, the White Earth Nation filed a lawsuit in tribal court, arguing that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permits that allowed Enbridge to remove billions of gallons of water from the state’s wetlands put the livelihood of manoomin, or wild rice, at risk. The sacred plant, which first led the Anishinaabe people to the region centuries ago, is a food staple and key commodity, access to which is protected by treaty rights across the region.
This lawsuit is the first rights-of-nature case to be filed in tribal court, and a federal judge has blocked the Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to have the case thrown out. (The department is appealing that decision.)
Biden, meanwhile, has maintained his silence on the pipeline even, as he traveled along the East Coast surveying the damage from Hurricane Ida, a climate change-fueled storm that claimed at least 60 lives in the U.S and up to an estimated $80 billion in damages. “The nation and the world are in peril,” the president told reporters.
In Northern Minnesota, that peril has arrived, under Biden’s watch.
“They are reaching into the last beautiful places, they are coming for the places that we, as Indigenous people have been displaced to, or removed to, or what we were able to save during colonization,” concluded Houska. “They are acting like we are sacrifice zones, like it’s not real, it doesn’t matter. That’s never been the case. We are defending the sacred, we’re defending our own land.”
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Texas’ draconian abortion ban is headed to Florida.
On Wednesday, Florida Representative Webster Barnaby (R), introduced legislation that tracks Texas’ new law banning nearly all abortions. Like the Texas law, Barnaby’s bill would ban all abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. That occurs about six weeks into pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant. Barnaby’s abortion ban, like Texas’ law, would only be enforceable by private citizens, who can collect a $10,000 bounty by filing a lawsuit. Abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman receive an abortion after six weeks could be sued. And like the Texas law, Barnaby’s bill contains no exception for rape or incest.
The notion of a “fetal heartbeat,” defined in the bill as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac,” is itself controversial. An ultrasound can detect some activity at about six weeks of gestation. But “flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine,” Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained. The sound does not “indicate the viability of a pregnancy.”
Nevertheless, Barnaby’s bill has strong prospects in Florida. Earlier this month Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) said the Florida Senate would consider a bill modeled after Texas’ law in the upcoming legislative session. “When the Supreme Court goes out and makes a decision like this, it clearly is going to send a signal to all the states that are interested in banning abortions or making it more restrictive to have an abortion,” Simpson said. Simpson did express some reservations, however, about the bounty system. The bounties are the only real distinguishing feature of the Texas ban, however.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprows (R) was less specific but said he considered himself “a national leader in developing pro-life legislation” and would support “a bill that saves every unborn life possible” as long as it could also withstand “judicial scrutiny.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) also signaled he was open to an abortion ban modeled after the Texas law. “We’ll have to look, I’m going to look more significantly at it… I’ve always been somebody that really does support protections for life,” DeSantis said on September 2.
Nikki Fried (D), the Florida Agriculture Commissioner who is running for governor, was less enthusiastic. “This bill is dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional. The hypocrisy of this attempt by Governor (Ron) DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature to take away our rights while at the same time preaching ’my body, my choice’ when it comes to wearing masks is absolutely disgusting,” Fried said.
Florida legislative committees are beginning to meet this week in preparation for the 2022 legislative session, which begins January 11, 2022.
Who is Webster Barnaby?
Barnaby is a freshman member with a thin legislative record. Prior to introducing the abortion bill on Wednesday, he was best known for speaking at three Trump rallies during the 2020 campaign.
In October, Barnaby gave a remarkable invocation at Trump’s first campaign after recovering from COVID:
I thank God that Donald Trump has been raised again, and been given an extension of life. So Father tonight we thank you that you’ve healed our land. You’ve removed the plague of corona in the name of Jesus. Tonight you will see evidence of a strong man, Donald J. Trump, a man that’s recovered… Remove fear from this nation in the mighty name of Jesus.
In November, Barnaby won and Trump lost. During his first legislative session, Barnaby’s most notable legislation would have granted “a speaker two minutes for public remarks over a loudspeaker before a high school championship game.” He proposed the legislation “after the Florida High School Athletic Association prohibited the Cambridge Christian School of Tampa from offering a prayer over the public-address system before a football championship game at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium in 2016, sparking an ongoing legal battle.” Under the bill, athletic associations would be “barred from controlling the school’s remarks or choice of speaker.” The bill passed the Florida House but was not approved by the Senate.
Comcast bankrolls Barnaby and other anti-abortion legislators in Florida
A review of Florida campaign finance filings reveals that prominent corporations have donated to Barnaby since 2019, including NBCUniversal and its parent company Comcast.
In 2019, when Georgia attempted to implement a six-week abortion ban, NBCUniversal signaled that it would reconsider producing content in Georgia if the law went into effect. “If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future,” the company said at the time. The bill was ultimately blocked by a federal judge.
NBCUniversal has stayed silent about the Texas abortion ban. In 2020, Comcast and NBCUniversal donated $2,000 to Barnaby. In the 2020 cycle, Comcast donated $225,000 to anti-abortion legislators in Florida, according to a recent Popular Information investigation.
Other corporate donors to Barnaby include Duke Energy ($1,000), Greenberg Traurig ($1,000), NextEra Energy ($2,000), McGuireWoods ($500), and StateFarm ($500). None of these companies responded to Popular Information’s requests for comment.
After the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, AT&T announced that it was suspending contributions to all 147 Republicans who tried to overturn the election results:
Employees on our Federal PAC Board convened a call today and decided to suspend contributions to members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes this week.
In February, however, AT&T donated $5,000 to the House Conservatives Fund. The chair of the House Conservatives Fund is Jim Banks (R-IN), who objected to the certification of the Electoral College in January. Banks also signed an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court supporting Texas’ efforts to throw out the election results in several states. The House Conservatives Fund also serves as the primary fundraising vehicle for the Republican Study Committee (RSC). The overwhelming majority of members of the RSC voted to overturn the election results on January 6. The RSC has pushed false claims that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.
In March, when the donation first became public, AT&T told Popular Information that its policy was still not to donate to members of Congress who objected to certification. AT&T claimed that the House Conservative Fund “assured” the company that its PAC contribution would not support the re-election of Republican objectors.
Our employee PACs continue to adhere to their policy adopted on January 11 of suspending contributions to the re-election campaigns of members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes. The House Conservative Fund has assured us that none of the employee PAC’s contribution will go toward the re-election of any of those members of Congress.
When Popular Information’s reporting was picked up by the Dallas Morning News, AT&T expanded on its commitment. “Any future contributions to multi-candidate PACs will require such consistency with the policy suspending individual contributions,” a company spokesperson said.
Six months later, AT&T is charting a very different path. In August, new FEC disclosures reveal, AT&T donated $15,000 each to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). These donations will support the reelection of every Republican objector running for reelection.
Popular Information contacted AT&T and asked whether, as it had pledged in March, it had secured a commitment that none of the funds it donated to the NRCC or NRSC would support Republican objectors. This time, the company did not respond.
Earlier this month, legislators in Texas passed a law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, making Texas the state with the most restrictive laws in the country. Yesterday, dozens of companies signed a statement, “Don’t Ban Equality In Texas,” to protest the Texas abortion ban and similar bills that are being considered in other states. An excerpt:
Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our workers and customers….
Simply put, policies that restrict reproductive health care go against our values and are bad for business. It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out. The future of gender equality hangs in the balance, putting our families, communities, businesses and the economy at risk.
Among the companies that signed the statement are Yelp, Lyft, Patagonia, Capgemini Invent, Box Inc., and Ben & Jerry’s.
“Really the statements are just a vehicle,” Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy at the Tara Health Foundation, said in an interview. “But the outcome we seek to achieve is privately or publicly that companies pour some cold water on the fervor within states to advance needless reproductive health restrictions that harm the workforce” Stark is part of the coalition that put together the letter.
The coalition focused on recruiting companies that have a growing footprint in Texas, although many companies with large offices in Texas did not participate.
The coalition ran a similar campaign in 2019 in response to abortion bans in Georgia and other states. That effort included over 180 companies, employing 129,000 workers, that came forward to “stand against policies that hinder people’s health, independence, and ability to fully succeed in the workplace.”
But not all the companies that signed the 2019 letter were signatories on the coalition’s most recent letter.
In contrast to the 2019 letter, which had over 180 signatories, the latest letter only has 59 signatories. Dozens of former signatories are missing, including Slack, Square, H&M, IDEO, Tinder, Warby Parker, and Zoom.
Popular Information contacted these companies to ask if they supported the new statement focused on Texas’ law. A Warby Parker spokesperson declined to comment, citing the SEC quiet period. Tinder, a Texas-based company, did not specify if they supported the statement, but shared with Popular Information a memo from its CEO, Shar Dubey, where she called SB 8 “regressive,” “unfair” and a “big step back in women’s rights.” The rest of the companies did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Microsoft and Starbucks declined to participate, reports The Wall Street Journal. Both companies have a large presence in Texas. This summer, Microsoft announced it was committing $200 million to build five new data centers in Texas. Starbucks operates over 1,200 stores in Texas, according to data from ScrapHero.
Big tech companies stay silent
Big tech companies are conspicuously absent from the “Don’t Ban Equality” statement. Many prominent technology firms have large offices based in Texas and thousands of employees impacted by the law.
Earlier this week, Popular Information reported that Apple is soon to be Texas’ largest employer, with a $1 billion campus in Austin set to open next year. Apple did not sign the statement. A report in the New York Times said its silence is contributing to “employee unrest.”
Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., commonly known as HP, is moving its global headquarters to Spring, Texas from San Jose, California, set to open in early 2022, but did not sign the statement. Earlier this month, HP told Reuters: “[HP] encourages our team members to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth.”
Other companies that did not sign the statement but have large presences in Texas include IBM and Dell, which both have over 10,000 employees in Texas.
Other major technology companies missing from the list include CharterCommunications, Comcast, and AT&T. Earlier this month, Popular Information identified these three companies as the top corporate donors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban. Collectively, the three companies have donated over $600,000 to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban since 2018.
A dark money group funded by drugmakers launched ads promoting Sen. Kyrsten Sinema just before the Arizona Democrat informed the White House that she opposes the party’s plan to lower prescription drug prices as part of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation package. Sinema’s threat to kill the legislation came despite a recent poll showing more than 80 percent of Arizonans support the Democrats’ proposal.
Democrats’ drug pricing measure is based on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. It would allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. H.R. 3 would save the government $456 billion over 10 years and “reduce prices by 57 percent to 75 percent, relative to current prices” for various medicines, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
On Sunday, Politico reported that Sinema “is opposed to the current prescription drug pricing proposals in both the House and Senate [reconciliation] bills,” adding that she “met with President Joe Biden on Sept. 15 to discuss the social spending package.”
Because Democrats only hold a 50-50 majority in the Senate, Sinema’s opposition threatens to kill the drug-pricing measure in the upper chamber. The Daily Poster recently reported that three Democratic lawmakers started similarly threatening to derail the provision in the House, after they vacuumed in more than $1.6 million of cash from the pharmaceutical and health products industries.
Pro-Sinema Ads Came Just Before Arizona Senator’s Threat
Sinema’s threat to kill her party’s signature drug legislation came almost immediately after she was boosted by a dark money group bankrolled by the pharmaceutical industry.
Center Forward, a Washington-based nonprofit, has been running television, radio, and digital ads cheering on Sinema in Arizona since September 9, according to a Daily Poster review of ad buy records. The group has also sent out pro-Sinemamailers.
Tax filings show Center Forward is bankrolled by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerful D.C. drug lobby. PhRMA donated $4.5 million to Center Forward between 2016-2019, accounting for more than a quarter of its revenue during that time, according to data reviewed by The Daily Poster.
“Independence, Bipartisanship. Straight talk. These are Arizona traditions and Kyrsten Sinema is carrying them on,” says one 30-second digital ad from the group, which includes a written reference to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Center Forward’s board includes Libby Greer and Cindy Brown of Forbes-Tate Partners, who both lobby for PhRMA. They reported lobbying Congress for PhRMA on “issues pertaining to prescription drug pricing” in their firm’s most recent lobbying filing, covering April to June this year. Brown and Greer also lobby for pharmaceutical companies Amgen, Bayer, Gilead Sciences, Eli Lilly, Merck, Novartis, and Sanofi.
Center Forward’s Facebook ad, which directs viewers to Sinema’s Senate website, praises her work on a $1.2 trillion, business-friendly bipartisan infrastructure package she helped negotiate that passed the Senate last month.
“When Arizona needed an infrastructure deal to boost our economy and create jobs, Kyrsten Sinema led the way,” the ad says. “A bipartisan plan that will invest in Arizona’s transportation and infrastructure systems, create jobs, and help keep families safe.”
This year, Sinema has received political action committee checks from drugmakers Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sunovion, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Sinema Threatens To Kill Entire Reconciliation Bill
House leaders have delayed consideration of the Senate infrastructure deal as Democratic lawmakers write the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better Act, an all-purpose vehicle for funding Biden’s economic, health, and climate agenda.
Progressives have pushed to keep the reconciliation effort and the bipartisan infrastructure deal linked, with the thinking being that conservative Democrats like Sinema would pick apart the broader Biden agenda bill on its own or decide not to pass it at all.
House leaders and Biden have largely backed that strategy. Following pressure from conservative Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed last month to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill by September 27, which is next week. Democrats are still writing the reconciliation bill.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, has said she believes enough members of her caucus are ready to vote down the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless Democrats also pass the broader spending package.
Only weeks after corporate lobbyists launched a campaign to derail the reconciliation bill, Politico Playbookreported Monday that Sinema issued an ultimatum to Biden last week: “If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill,” they wrote.
“Independence, Bipartisanship. Straight talk. These are Arizona traditions and Kyrsten Sinema is carrying them on. An independent voice. A bipartisan leader. When Arizona needed an infrastructure deal to boost our economy and create jobs, Kyrsten Sinema led the way. A bipartisan plan that will invest in Arizona’s transportation and infrastructure systems, create jobs, and help keep families safe. Thank Kyrsten Sinema, and tell her to keep fighting as an independent voice for Arizona.”
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Editor’s note: This is being co-published with Eoin Higgin’s newsletter The Flashpoint. Daily Poster supporters can subscribe to The Flashpoint for 20% off by clicking here.
Nora DiNuzzo couldn’t believe it when she learned that on August 19, her local school district overrode the mask mandate at her children’s school in North Allegheny, Pennsylvania. The district instead left the decision up to the families, since, as one parent put it on the local news, “What is best for my child may not be best for your child.”
DiNuzzo disagreed, since she has a child under 12, who legally isn’t allowed to be vaccinated yet. “My unvaccinated child had no other protection from the virus except masking,” she said. “And masking is only effective if everyone does it.”
Days after the board’s decision, DiNuzzo and several like-minded parents in this Pittsburgh suburb took their school district to court. On August 23, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Horan found in their favor, issuing a restraining order preventing the school district from overriding their school’s mask mandate. The order was issued on procedural grounds, leaving the substance of the override aside.
“We caught them in a procedural issue, but obviously there was a reason behind why we brought the suit and hoped to overturn the decision,” DiNuzzo said.
The judge’s order was bolstered on August 31, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) instituted a new statewide mask mandate. But according to DiNuzzo, the mandate is open-ended and enforcement remains spotty — which she says has allowed many parents in the district to ignore the requirement.
“We’re in the fight of our lives here to keep our kids safe,” DiNuzzo said.
The North Allegheny fight came as students across the U.S. began returning to school amid escalating resistance to public health mandates. The stories from DiNuzzo and other parents around the country reveal the extent to which some school authorities and parents will go in order to ignore the science and resist doing the right thing for the good of the community
A new study released September 1 strongly suggests that mask-wearing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID.
Researchers at Yale University, Stanford Medical School, the University of California, Berkeley, and the nonprofit policy organization Innovations for Poverty Action used data collected from a survey of 341,830 adults in 600 rural communities in Bangladesh, where just over 10 percent of the population is estimated to be vaccinated. The findings were clear: Mask-wearing prevented one-in-three symptomatic COVID infections and a sustained encouragement pressure campaign resulted in a threefold increase in the use of masks.
“These results illustrate the remarkable protection that low-cost masks provide,” study co-author Dr. Stephen Luby, professor of medicine and infectious disease at Stanford, said in a statement.
Study co-author Laura Kwong, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said that the results were “consistent with lab research” on the effectiveness of masking to prevent COVID.
“These results suggest that we could prevent unnecessary death and disease if we got people to wear high-performance masks, such as surgical masks, in schools, workplaces, shopping centers, places of worship, and other indoor spaces,” Kwong added.
The study used a number of tactics to enforce masking, relying on social pressure. By gently enforcing the norms, researchers increased masking in the communities from 13 percent to 42 percent.
“Stress Levels Are Off The Charts”
Around the country, adults — mostly parents, but not always — are using measures instituted by school districts and states like mask mandates as proxies for their culture war against public health. From Los Angeles to New York, anti-vax and anti-health mandate conspiracists are making it harder to control the spread of the disease in schools, and forcing parents to make difficult decisions.
“As a parent, I feel like I’m sending my kids — one vaxxed, two not old enough yet — directly into the line of fire, but as a working mom, what other options do I have?” Amanda Kegley, a parent in Minnesota, told me. “Stress levels are off the charts.”
Pfizer and BioNTech, which manufacture one of the most widely used COVID vaccines, have said they will seek authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to start vaccinating children aged 5-11 next month, and children younger than 5 in November.
Masks are required in Kegley’s school district, but children will remove them to eat in the cafeteria, risking infection. But with no remote learning option, there’s little she can do but hope that people follow the rules — and that’s far from certain.
“There’s a loud group of parents claiming masks are ‘child abuse’ and they’ll send their kids without [them], despite the requirement,” Kegley said.
St. Paul isn’t the only municipality to face off against conspiracy theorists with outlandish claims of masks harming children. In Los Angeles, anti-vaxxers and angry parents alike have fought against the state’s school mask mandates.
But as the Los Angeles Timesnoted in an article last month on the conflict, for many students, masking has become normalized and second nature. And even those who don’t like wearing them have largely accepted their responsibility to keep others safe, as Hawthorne High School senior Patrick Ugwuezumba told the Times.
“I don’t like it,” Ugwuezumba said, “but if it’s going to keep me safe, and other people safe, I might as well wear it.”
Continuing Struggle Over Mask Mandates
Some parents, like Nicole Sokolowski in New York City, want districts to do more. Sokolowski told me that while she welcomes the vaccine mandates in New York, she wishes the city’s schools would expand the requirement to anyone who enters the building.
“I would like to see the COVID vaccine mandated for parents or caregivers that enter the school,” Sokolowski told me.
Though difficult to enforce, the impulse to control the environment as much as possible is an understandable one — especially given the behavior of some authorities like the school board in North Allegheny. According to Katie Leslie, another activist in the district who has two children in North Allegheny, some local anti-maskers are poking at the language of Pennsylvania’s new statewide mask mandate to find weak spots they can exploit, such as language that states districts “may” require medical documentation for mask exemptions.
“Some districts are already creating exemption forms and stating that they will not ask for medical documentation,” Leslie said. Furthermore, she added, “The legislature and several public and private schools are also suing to have [the mandate] overturned.”
For DiNuzzo, who has been fighting to keep her children safe from the disease for over a year-and-a-half, the efforts of anti-maskers is mind boggling. “It shocks the conscience,” she said.
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The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was released in August and represents the consensus of thousands of scientists, makes one thing abundantly clear: There is no sustainable rate of C02 emissions. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the world must get to net-zero emissions. That means transitioning off fossil fuels sooner rather than later.
In light of this reality, the Biden administration’s reconciliation package — which can be approved by Congress without Republican support — includes “an aggressive climate policy that would compel utilities to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to wind, solar or nuclear energy.” The reconciliation package represents the best chance to take urgently needed action on climate change. Any climate legislation outside of reconciliation would be filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Ultimately though, it will be members of Congress, not the Biden administration, that will author the climate-related portions of the reconciliation bill. And the person with the pen is Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is reportedly planning to “remake President Biden’s climate legislation in a way that tosses a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry.”
While Manchin has acknowledged that fossil fuels contribute to climate change, he is planning to craft the climate portion of the reconciliation bill to “protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas.” Manchin will have plenty of help from a phalanx of former staffers who are paid to represent the fossil fuel and energy industry.
A Popular Information review of the Senate Lobbying Database found that six former Manchin staffers are currently listed on 15 lobbying contracts with fossil fuel and energy companies. Collectively, these contracts are worth $2.4 million per year.
These lobbyists “spend much of their time serving as professional Manchin whisperers, advising clients on how Manchin thinks and, in some cases, lobbying his office.” Lobbying rules allow former staffers to lobby their old bosses after one year.
Jonathan Kott, for example, formerly Manchin’s communications director, was hired by a lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, in June. Manchin even supplied a quote for Capitol Counsel’s press release, saying Kott was a “trusted senior advisor for seven years.”
Less than a month later, Kott was added to a $200,000 per year contract with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). Kott will be able to immediately be able to lobby Manchin because he worked for Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) before becoming a lobbyist. Kott told the Washington Post that he speaks with Manchin and his office regularly. “I try not to call him because he’s a busy man but I know he’s available when needed,” Kott said.
We don’t know precisely what Kott has been chatting about with Manchin. But AFPM has actively opposed Biden’s efforts to address climate change and reduce the use of fossil fuels. In August, the CEO of AFPM, Chet Thompson, published a column in the Billings Gazette saying that Biden needed a “different approach to environmental goals.” Thompson objected to Biden’s executive order “formalizing the goal that half of all new vehicle sales in the United States will be electric by 2030.” He said the goal was a blow to “consumer choice” and called on Senator John Tester (D-MT) to demonstrate “courage and action” by opposing the move on behalf of “Montana fuel refiners.”
Elliott Howard worked for Manchin in various capacities from 2016 until March of this year — most recently as a professional staff member for Manchin on the Senate Energy And Natural Resources Committee. In March, Howard joined Jim Massie & Partners, a boutique lobbying firm that specializes in representing energy companies, as a senior director. Since then, Howard has been listed on nine lobbying contracts with fossil fuel companies worth a collective $1.56 million. Howard’s clients include BP, NRG Energy, and Colonial Pipeline, the largest oil pipeline in the United States.
Other former Manchin aides with fossil fuel industry clients include former Chief of Staff Patrick Hayes (Exelon), former Chief of Staff Larry Puccio (Appalachian Natural Gas Operators Coalition), former Chief of Staff Hayden Rogers (National Mining Association), and former Legislative Assistant Thomas Lucas (Sempra Energy).
Oil and gas industry shower Manchin with campaign cash
Manchin is the top recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry. In the 2021-2022 election cycle, Manchin has received more than $179,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to OpenSecrets.
This amount includes $13,000 from the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance (DEPA), a lobbying group founded by the billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm. In 2016, while serving as Trump’s energy advisor, Hamm said we should “double U.S. oil production.”
Over the years, Hamm has used the DEPA to advocate for more oil and gas drilling and less federal oversight. “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded. Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk,” Hamm said.
The DEPA “have [also] led the fight to protect longstanding tax loopholes worth billions to the oil and gas industry,” reports the Rolling Stone. Hamm’s company, Continental Resources, also donated $5,000 to Manchin this year.
Manchin also received $2,500 from the American Gas Association (AGA), the gas industry’s most powerful trade group and a long-time supporter of Manchin’s career. The group has been notorious for its efforts to discourage the use of electrical appliances as a substitute for gas services. This year, an NPR investigation found that the AGA was “actively involved in passing state-level bills, along with utilities and local gas trade groups, that block critical local action to cut heat-trapping emissions.”
Other donors this election cycle include Marathon Oil ($10,000), Cabot Oil and Gas ($10,000), Consol Energy ($5,000), NextEra ($3,500) and Dominion Energy ($2,500).
Manchin’s coal companies
Manchin doesn’t just receive contributions from fossil fuel companies. He maintains lucrative ownership stakes in two coal companies that he founded, Enersystems and Farmington Resources. Enersystems “purchases low-quality waste coal from mines and resells it to power plants as fuel” and Farmington Resources “holds coal reserves” and supports mining activity.
The companies are currently run by Manchin’s son, Joe Manchin IV. Senator Manchin’s stock is held in a “blind trust.” But Manchin, of course, is aware of his own financial stake and his son’s economic interest in the firms. Manchin’s stock has produced “more than $4.5 million” in dividends since Manchin joined the Senate in 2010.
A rapid move away from coal and other fossil fuels would likely have a negative financial impact on Manchin and his family.
Since September 1, about one in ten women have effectively been stripped of their reproductive rights. That’s when an extreme abortion ban went into effect in Texas — home to 7 million women aged 15-49.
For nearly three weeks, Texas’ largest employers, whose employees are now subject to the law banning all abortions after six weeks, have responded with silence. But there are new signs that this posture is unsustainable.
Apple is one of Texas’ most important employers. The company produces its Mac Pro at a $200 million facility in Austin. Its 7,000 employees in the city represent the largest concentration of workers outside of its headquarters in Cupertino, California.
But, according to a report in the New York Times, Apple’s silence on the Texas abortion ban is contributing to “employee unrest” at the company. On Thursday, Apple posted an unsigned statement on an internal messageboard addressing the issue. The message, which was published by TechCrunch, strongly suggests Apple opposes the ban without explicitly stating its opposition:
A message about women’s reproductive health care
At Apple, we support our employees’ rights to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health.
We are actively monitoring the legal proceedings challenging the uniquely restrictive abortion law in Texas. In the meantime, we want to remind you that our benefits at Apple are comprehensive, and that they allow our employees to travel out-of-state for medical care if it is unavailable in their home state. If you need help in navigating your care or that of your dependents, your health plan carrier can confidentially assist you.
Your health and well-being remain our highest priority, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that you and your families have access to the care that Apple provides.
On Friday, CEO Tim Cook answered a question about Apple’s stance on the Texas ban at an all-staff meeting. Cook said that “the company was looking into whether it could aid the legal fight against the new law.”
Apple has considerable leverage over the abortion debate in Texas and across the country — but it is not related to its ability to pay for lawyers. Apple’s leverage rests in its status as a major employer and driver of economic growth.
If Apple believes that its employees should be able to “make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health,” it could publicly state that it will not expand its workforce in states that limit abortion rights. That would have a major influence not only in Texas but in numerous states considering following Texas’ lead.
Thus far, however, Apple and other companies have been unwilling to make any public statements about reproductive rights that could impact its bottom line.
The economic impact of Texas’ abortion ban
Texas’ abortion ban could make it significantly more difficult for Apple and other major employers in Texas to attract top talent. A recent survey of 1,689 college-educated adults who do not live in Texas found that the state’s new abortion ban would discourage them from taking a job in Texas.
A similar percentage (63%) said they “would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban similar to [Texas’] SB 8.” Half of respondents (49%) said “they would think about moving out of state if a law like SB 8 passed in their state.”
The poll also asked respondents “how they would feel if they found out their company was making political contributions to candidates and elected officials who support abortion bans and restricting abortion access.” 64% said those donations would make them feel less positive about their company and just 14% said such donations would make them feel more positive.
As Popular Information reported earlier this month, top donors to Texas’ abortion ban include Charter Communications ($313,000), AT&T ($301,000) USAA ($152,000), Farmers Insurance ($120,000), Anthem ($87,250), General Motors ($72,750), CVS Health ($72,500), and Comcast/NBC Universal ($58,250).
The architect of Texas’ unusual abortion ban — which delegates law enforcement to private citizens — is former Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell. In a recent brief filed with the Supreme Court, Mitchell revealed a radical ideology that extends far beyond the issue of abortion.
Mitchell filed an amicus brief on behalf of Texas Right to Life in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The Supreme Court will hear the case, which challenges the validity of a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, later this year. Existing Supreme Court precedent protects the right to abortion up to about 24 weeks.
In the brief, Mitchell argues that abortion is the product of irresponsible behavior by women. Mitchell asserts that women can “control their reproductive lives” without “access to abortion” by “refraining from sexual intercourse.” Mitchell claims that today women choose “to engage in unprotected (or insufficiently protected) sexual intercourse on the assumption that an abortion will be available to her later.” He encourages the court to fully repudiate Roe v. Wade and asserts that women can “change their behavior.”
Adam Mortara, a lawyer who co-authored the brief with Mitchell, told the New York Times that Mitchell had embraced “radical concepts” in his effort to ban abortion.
Mitchell also encourages the court, in future cases, to overturn opinions that outlawed criminal cases for gay sex (Lawrence) and legalized same-sex marriage (Obergefell). He describes both decisions as “lawless.” He acknowledges the court would have difficulty overruling those cases in a decision about abortion. But he encourages the Supreme Court to write an opinion that leaves Lawrence and Obergefell “hanging by a thread.”