Money Talks. You Don’t Have to Listen

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder)

Money Talks. You Don’t Have to Listen. It’s hard to think of little else but enormous wealth with all the past week’s Oscar hype:blockbuster box office sums, hundred-thousand dollar outfits, even miniature gold-plated statues. But not all excess wealth goes to such benign outlets as ostentatious eveningwear. The kind of money that is being thrown around right now — to advance dangerous drilling practices, attack middle-class workers, and destabilize state and federal budgets — is subtly moving around in sums that would make even the Hollywood stars blush.

Getting to know the Kochs.
I know it can be a convenient political gimmick to pick a boogeyman or two to represent a complex problem in a simplistic way, but a focus on the Koch brothers — Charles and David, each worth over $21.5 billion, largely by way of their oil and chemical holdings — is no gimmick. Their investments in building an astoundingly well-funded political infrastructure to dismantle essential regulations across the country are (unfortunately) yielding quick results.

Let’s start right here in Michigan, where a recent LA Times article revealed the influence of their largesse on the new Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton. Employees of the Koch conglomerate gave over $20,000 to Upton which makes the Kochs one of his top ten funders. Not a bad investment on their part, now that Upton is toeing the company line and trying to save the Koch’s millions each year by avoiding important pollution controls.

The Kochs’ dollars are not just limited to pushing Upton — formerly a moderate on environmental issues — into the role of chief EPA slayer. Just last election cycle they tried to bend the democratic process with huge campaign contributions at its most basic level: the ballot proposal. They put $1,000,000 toward a push to pass Prop 23 in California — an effort to roll back limits on greenhouse gas emissions on a state level. That proposition was so wrong-headed it caused the National League of Conservation Voters to place it on their Dirty Dozen list; a first for a ballot question.

It’s all the same battle.
Finally, we reach the issue which brought me, and over 2000 Michigan citizens from across the state, to the steps of the Capitol in Lansing on Saturday. The Kochs arebankrolling the efforts to neuter the unions. During a recorded prank call to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, a blogger impersonating David Koch suggests using a baseball bat when meeting with Labor, to which the chief executive of the Badger State bubbles, “I have one in my office! You’d be happy with that.”

People have asked me recently what the connection is between the defense of collective bargaining and the environment. The fact that there is a common enemy attacking both essential elements of American life certainly makes for a common alliance. More importantly, though, it is the fact that outsized political influence – in this case from two individuals from Wichita, Kansas – should not dictate the kind, and the quality, of the jobs we are fighting for in Michigan.

As we create more and more green jobs, we must be sure that they are good jobs. Union members staff the day-to-day work in the field by DEQ and DNR. Union members teach our children science in their classrooms. Unions ensure safe working conditions for the line workers and technicians installing wind turbines and solar panels.

Without the counterbalance of the unions to forces like the Koch brothers, very frankly, we do not stand a chance in the other fights we are more familiar with like climate change and renewable energy.

This really is all part of the same giant battle.

New York Times expose on hydrofracking prompts quick action.
If you’ve been searching for a 3800 word article that may be a game-changer in state and national energy policy, but you just don’t know which one to pick, let me recommend the one on hydrofracking in Sunday’s New York Times. My 25 word summary of the article is that the resulting natural gas may burn cleaner than coal for our energy needs, but the impact to our rivers and drinking water is terrifying.

As fracking continues to ramp up in Michigan, we have to look to the experiences of other states so we don’t repeat mistakes. In some cases in Pennsylvania, for instance, water being put through unfit treatment plants has radiation levels at 2,122 times the safe limit. Congress and the EPA are already demanding answers. A shorter summary of the article and its Michigan implications is already on our website.

Coming up…
Look for poor legislation on proper disposal of yard waste to hit the state legislature this week. Also, Michigan LCV will be joining conservation organizations from across the region in DC this week to lobby for full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It is an invaluable program, currently under threat of major cuts, which brings tens of millions of dollars to Michigan to preserve our greatest natural treasure.

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