Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Trump’s Passion for Military Men Will Take Us Back to King George

In real life, human memories work better than they do in Orwell’s 1984. Or do they?

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In his inaugural address, President Trump described a dark and dismal United States, a country overrun by criminal gangs and drugs, a nation stained with the blood seeping from bullet-ridden corpses left at scenes of “American carnage.” It was more than a little jarring.
Certainly, drug gangs and universally accessible semi-automatic weapons do not contribute to a better life for most people in this country. When I hear the words “American carnage,” however, the first thing I think of is not an endless string of murders taking place in those mysterious “inner cities” that exist only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump.
The phrase instead evokes the non-imaginary deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in real cities and rural areas outside the United States. It evokes the conversion of millions of ordinary people into homeless refugees. It reminds me of the places where American wars seem never to end, where new conflicts seem to take up just as the old ones are in danger of petering out. These sites of carnage are the cities and towns, mountains and deserts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and other places that we don’t even find out about unless we go looking.
They are the places where the United States fights its endless wars.
During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today, he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He’s referred to his latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as “a military operation.” He’s similarly stocked his cabinet with one general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.
Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. Yet he’s more ambivalent about what the military actually does.
On the campaign trail, he railed against the folly that was — and is — the (second) Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was “totally against” it from the beginning. It’s not clear, however, just where Trump thinks the folly lies — in invading Iraq in the first place or in failing to “keep” Iraq’s oil afterward.
It was a criticism he reprised when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. “Mike,” he explained, “if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place.” Not to worry, however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, “Maybe we’ll have another chance.” Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and Donald Trump’s version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!
Perhaps Trump’s objection is simply to wars we don’t win. As February ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia for the good old days when “everybody used to say ‘we haven’t lost a war’ — we never lost a war — you remember.” Now, according to the president, “We never win a war. We never win. And we don’t fight to win. We don’t fight to win. So we either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.”
The question is, which would Trump prefer: Winning or not fighting at all?
There’s probably more than a hint of an answer in his oft-repeated campaign promise that we’re “going to win so much” we’ll “get tired of winning.” If his fetish for winning — whether it’s trade wars or shooting wars — makes you feel a little too exposed to his sexual imagination, you’re probably right. In one of his riffs on the subject, he told his audience that they would soon be pleading they had “a headache” to get him to stop winning so much — as if they were 1950s housewives trying to avoid their bedroom duty.
But daddy Trump knows best: “And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again.’ You’re gonna say, ‘Please.’ I said, ‘Nope, nope. We’re gonna keep winning.’”
There’s more than a hint of where we’re headed in Trump’s recent announcement that he’ll be asking Congress for a nearly 10 percent increase in military spending, an additional annual $54 billion for the Pentagon as part of what he calls his “public safety and national security budget.” You don’t spend that kind of money on toys unless you intend to play with them. 
Trump explained his reasoning, in his trademark idiolect, his unique mangling of syntax and diction:
This is a landmark event, a message to the world, in these dangerous times of American strength, security, and resolve. We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name only do one thing, win. We have to win.”
So it does look like the new president intends to keep on making war into the eternal future. But it’s worth remembering that our forever wars didn’t begin with Donald J. Trump, not by a long shot.
The Forever Wars
Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel, The Forever War, which won the three major science fiction prizes — a Hugo, a Nebula, and a Locus — was about a soldier involved in a war between human beings and the Taurans, an alien race.
Because of the stretching of time when traveling at near light-speed (as Einstein predicted), while soldiers like Haldeman’s hero passed a few years at a time at a front many light-years from home, the Earth they’d left behind experienced the conflict as lasting centuries. Published just after the end of the Vietnam War — fought for what seemed to many Americans like centuries in a land light-years away — The Forever War was clearly a reflection of Haldeman’s own experience in Vietnam and his return to an unrecognizable United States, all transposed to space.
In 1965, Haldeman had been drafted into that brutal conflict, probably one of those that Donald Trump thinks we didn’t “fight to win.” It certainly seemed like a forever war while it lasted, especially if you included the French colonial war that preceded it. But it did finally end, decisively, with an American loss (although, in a sense, it’s still being fought out by the thousands of Vietnam veterans who live on the streets of our country).
After the attacks of 9/11 and George W. Bush’s declaration of a Global War on Terror, some people found the title of Haldeman’s novel a useful shorthand for what seemed to be an era of permanent war. It gave us a way of describing then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a new kind of war against an enemy located, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press on September 30, 2001, “not just in Afghanistan. It is in 50 or 60 countries and it simply has to be liquidated. It has to end. It has to go out of business.”
More than 15 years later, after a decade and a half of forever war in the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still in business, along with a set of new enemies, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon; al-Shabaab in Somalia; and ISIS, which, if we are to believe the president and his cronies, is pretty much everywhere, including Mexico. In a war against a tactic (terrorism) or an emotion (terror), it’s hardly surprising that our enemies have just kept proliferating, and with them, the wars. It’s as if Washington were constantly bringing jets, drones, artillery, and firepower of every sort to bear on a new set of Taurans in another galaxy.
Decades before Haldeman’s Forever War, George Orwell gave us an unforgettable portrait of a society controlled by stoking permanent hatred for a rotating cast of enemies. In 1984, the countries of the world have coalesced into three super-nations — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, recalls that, since his childhood, “war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war.” Smith joins thousands of other citizens of Oceania in their celebration of Hate Week and observes the slick substitution of one enemy for another on the sixth day of that week:
“When the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the two thousand Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces — at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.”
Except that there is no actual announcement. Rather, the Party spokesman makes the substitution in mid-oration:
“The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia!”
And it had always been thus. “Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.”
1984 is, of course, a novel. In our perfectly real country, human memories work better than they do in Orwell’s Oceania. Or do they?
The United States is at war with Iraq. The United States has always been at war with Iraq. Except, of course, when the United States sided with Iraq in its vicious, generation-destroying conflict with Iran in the 1980s. Who today remembers Ronald Reagan’s “tilt toward Iraq” and against Iran? They’re so confusing, those two four-letter countries that start with “I.” Who can keep them straight, even now that we’ve tilted back toward what’s left of Iraq — Trump has even removed it from his latest version of his Muslim ban list – and threateningly against Iran?
Many Americans do seem to adapt to a revolving enemies list as easily as the citizens of Oceania. Every few years, I ask my college students where the terrorists who flew the planes on 9/11 came from. At the height of the (second and still unfinished) Iraq War, when many of them had brothers, sisters, lovers, even fathers fighting there, my students were certain the attackers had all been Iraqis. A few years later, when the “real men” were trying to gin up a new opportunity to “go to Tehran,” my students were just as sure the terrorists had been from Iran. I haven’t asked in a couple of years now. I wonder whether today I’d hear that they were from Syria, or maybe that new country, the Islamic State?
I don’t blame my students for not knowing that the 9/11 attackers included 15 Saudis, two men from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one Egyptian, and one Lebanese. It’s not a fact that’s much trumpeted anymore. You certainly wouldn’t guess it from where our military aid and American-made weaponry goes. After Afghanistan ($3.67 billion) and Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt is the next largest recipient of that aid at $1.31 billion in 2015.
Of course, military aid to other countries is a windfall for U.S. arms manufacturers. Like food money and other forms of foreign aid from Washington, the countries receiving it are often obligated to spend it on American products.
In other words, much military “aid” is actually a back-door subsidy to companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Being wealthy oil states, the Saudis and the UAE, of course, don’t need subsidies. They buy their U.S. arms with their own money — $3.3 billion and $1.3 billion worth of purchases, respectively, in 2015. And they’re putting that weaponry to use, with U.S. connivance and — yes, it should make your head spin in an Orwellian fashion — occasional support from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, by taking sides in a civil war in Yemen. U.S.-made fighter planes and cluster bombs have put more than seven million Yemenis in imminent danger of starvation.
War Without End, When Did You Begin?
When did our forever war begin? When did we start to think of the president as commander-in-chief first, and executor of the laws passed by Congress only a distant second?
Was it after 9/11? Was it during that first Iraq war that spanned a few months of 1990 and 1991?
Or was it even earlier, during the glorious invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury? That was the first time the military intentionally — and successfully — kept the press sequestered from the action for the first 48 hours of that short-lived war. They did the same thing in 1989, with the under-reported invasion of Panama, when somewhere between 500 and 3,500 Panamanians died so that the United States could kidnap and try an erstwhile ally and CIA asset, the unsavory dictator of that country, Manuel Noriega.
Or was it even earlier? The Cold War was certainly a kind of forever war, one that began before World War II ended, as the United States used its atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to, as we now say, “send a message” to the Soviet Union. And it didn’t end until that empire imploded in 1991.
Maybe it began when Congress first abdicated its constitutional right and authority to declare war and allowed the executive branch to usurp that power. The Korean War (1950-1953) was never declared. Nor were the Vietnam War, the Grenada invasion, the Panama invasion, the Afghan War, the first and second Iraq wars, the Libyan war, or any of the wars we’re presently involved in. Instead of outright declarations, we’ve had weasely, after-the-fact congressional approvals, or Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, that fall short of actual declarations of war.
The framers of the Constitution understood how important it was to place the awesome responsibility for declaring war in the hands of the legislative branch — of, that is, a deliberative body elected by the people — leaving the decision on war neither to the president nor the military. Indeed, one of the charges listed against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was: “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the others who met in the stifling heat of that 1776 Philadelphia summer, close enough to battle to hear the boom of British cannons, decided they could no longer abide a king who allowed the military to dominate a duly constituted civil government. For all their many faults, they were brave men who, even with war upon them, recognized the danger of a government controlled by those whose sole business is war.
Since 9/11, this country has experienced at least 15 years of permanent war in distant lands. Washington is now a war capital. The president is, first and foremost, the commander-in-chief. The power of the expanding military (as well as paramilitary intelligence services and drone assassination forces, not to mention for-profit military contractors of all sorts) is emphatically in presidential hands.
Those hands, much discussed in the 2016 election campaign, are now Donald Trump’s and, as he indicated in his recent address to Congress, he seems hell-bent on restoring the military to the superiority it enjoyed under King George. That is a danger of the first order.

The President Of The United States Is A Weak Man

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By Michael Golden

Monday morning, President Donald Trump sent out his heads of Justice, State and Homeland Security to publicly present his revised executive order banning immigration from a list of countries. The president always revels in these photo-ops, handing out pens and fanning the signed E.O.s for the cameras. He beams like a proud middle-schooler at commencement. Monday he did not show up. He signed it alone. If he had shown up, he would have had to at least listen to questions about the baseless accusations he made on Saturday ― that our last president broke the law. He doesn’t have any facts or answers. He can’t back it up, so he refused to show up. He hid behind his cabinet secretaries (and even they did not take questions). Trump can play the would-be tough guy with his ban, but ditching the press today was a sign of sheer weakness.
The American presidency is the most powerful office in the world. As a consequence, we sometimes confuse the strength of the office with the strength of the occupant. But deep down, most of us know. Former White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod is fond of saying: “Campaigns are like an MRI for the soul — whoever you are, eventually people find out.”
And we found out. Long before Donald Trump threaded the Electoral College to win the White House. We found out. Again and again. We were reminded each day that he was very wealthy, very skilled at television, and very weak.
A man who exaggerates his riches while lying about how much money he’s given to charity - but refuses to let voters see his tax returns, is not strong. He is not proud. He is weak.
A man who calls the press to brag about his prowess with women - pretending to be an imaginary person as the source - is not someone who possesses confidence with the opposite sex. It is a display of profound insecurity and weakness.
A man who constantly and inaccurately labels a judge “a Mexican” and claims, therefore, that the judge cannot fairly hear his case because “I’m building a wall!” - is not someone who has confidence in the justice system. It’s also not someone who has a strong case. He has only weakness, disguised in ugly bluster.
A man who is discovered to have boasted on tape about his sexual assault practices - and then goes on national television to accuse others - is not a strong adult. He is a weak child. A bottomless pit.
A man who publicly mocks a person with a disability just might be the ultimate exhibit of personal weakness. That low point for Trump was a hard one to sink beneath. But just wait. With a person this unaware of his insecurities, it is not impossible.
It is often reported that Donald Trump learned this strategy of always being on attack from the late Roy Cohn, who was Trump’s lawyer and also represented Joseph McCarthy during the investigations into Communist activity. On Saturday morning, in an astonishing display of the depth of his weakness, Trump’s accusations toward his predecessor ironically borrowed from the life of his mentor, tweeting: “This is McCarthyism!”
No one should be shocked anymore. A man of weak character will reflect weakness, cloaked in bravado. Many children do this reflexively, until they learn better. As we grow up, we generally obtain a stronger sense of security. For many reasons, documented by many biographers, Donald Trump never got to that place. He always wants more. You could say he believes that the ends justify the means - if it weren’t for the fact that no ends ever satisfy him. This is weakness. It is a very sad form of weakness. And now it is something that the country must live with daily.
Out of so many surreal moments in an 18-month long circus campaign that still seems to be selling tickets months after the results were certified, one lowlight in particular really stood out in terms of reflecting Trump’s adolescent weakness. It was in the third debate. Hillary Clinton called on Trump to condemn the Russians for interfering in the elections. When Trump refused and said that Vladimir Putin had no respect for the former Secretary of State, Clinton replied that this was because he’d “rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” As Clinton continued to make her point is full sentences, a 70 year-old man interrupted her twice with the following defense:
“You’re the puppet! No, you’re the puppet!” My five year-old cousin has more strength and sense.

Many folks who supported the president say they like him because he “tells it like it is.” Of course, this isn’t true. He may sound fresh compared to so many other politicians, but that’s not telling it like it is. It’s an act. An act that keeps on going. One weak display after another. Just when you think he can’t top his most recent offensive display, he finds a way. And Americans are kind of caught in a tough place; even when many of us know we should ignore words coming from this president, they are still words coming from a U.S. president. That’s where we are.
Donald Trump won the Electoral College. He’s the head of our government. He is commander-in-chief. At least until he’s not. But forget the whole big-shot thing. Please don’t confuse winning an election with strength. There’s a person sitting in the Oval Office, but in a way, the big chair is empty. Whether it’s calling another adult “little Marco,” falsely accusing a U.S. Senator’s father of being part of a presidential assassination, grabbing women’s genitals, telling Americans that it was the U.S. generals who lost Navy Seal Ryan Owens - you can finish the list on your own - this is not a strong person. This American president is a weak man who will saddle the closest person nearby with the blame for his own shortcomings and failures. The ultimate sign of lack of leadership. The MRI results came in a long time ago. While perhaps the exact degree of weakness in Donald Trump’s character cannot be measured with existing technology, we know enough. In just six weeks. We know far too much.

Trump Cuts Regulations as Oceanic Dead Zones Release Massive Amounts of Methane

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By Dahr Jamail

The Trump administration's campaign to roll back as many government regulations as possible is well underway. On the environmental front, Trump administration officials have already -- in one day alone, and without allowing any opportunity for public comment -- delayed the dates of 30 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules. A rule that restricted animal welfare requirements for organic poultry and livestock has been delayed by two months, and a bumble bee which was about to be added to the endangered species list has just found itself in jeopardy of extinction since the Trump administration said it would postpone the listing until at least March 21.
Meanwhile, Trump administration officials are indicating that they will be making marked changes in oil and gas industry regulations. In November, the Obama administration's EPA requested that nearly 20,000 oil and gas companies measure their methane emissions within two to six months, depending on their type of facility. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than CO2, and reducing methane emissions is a critical part of mitigating climate disruption. However, the Trump administration has been granting a 90-day extension on the measurement regulation to every oil and gas company that wants one. Many oil and gas officials now expect the methane survey to be scaled back dramatically, or altogether abandoned.
Scott Pruitt, Trump's EPA administrator and climate-denying oil and gas apologist, has even questioned whether his agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Add to this the fact that his proposed EPA budget calls for a 25 percent budget cut, which will endanger the lives of countless Americans, as regulations safeguarding clean air and water are stripped down or cut altogether.
Of course, as the denial of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continues, the world is continuing to warm. A new reminder of that comes in the form of a scientific paper published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal. The study has pinpointed the source of an enormous Pacific methane pool, uncovering disastrous news for the planet.
Enormous Amounts of Methane
The new study reveals the location of bacteria responsible for the release of massive amounts of methane in the ocean. The vast amount of methane they are producing covers an area that stretches from Panama up to Mexico, and all the way out to the Hawaiian Islands.
According to a news report on the study, the plumes of methane being released are spreading for many thousands of miles.
The bacteria generate methane when there is no oxygen present, so the newly discovered methane pools happen in deoxygenated "dead zones" of the ocean.
While the massive plumes of methane are, at present, still being absorbed back into the ocean water, study author Felicity Shelley of Queen Mary University of London told the International Business Times, "Scientists are predicting these low-oxygen zones will get larger and closer to the surface when the oceans warm." This would increase the risk of methane -- which is already being released in massive amounts in the Arctic due to melting permafrost -- being released into the atmosphere.
And troublingly, ACD is already causing an expansion in both the numbers and size of dead zones around the planet.
Growing Dead Zones
The second largest dead zone on the planet is in the Gulf of Mexico. It has consistently been measured at over 6,000 square miles, and is the result, largely, of the excessive use of chemical fertilizers by industrial agriculture in the US. The chemicals in the fertilizer cause an increase in algae in the water, which then starves other marine life of oxygen.
"The dead zone makes an area of the ocean floor -- this year about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined -- with oxygen levels so low, critters in these areas must swim away or suffocate and die," Matt Rota, senior policy director for the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), an environmental group that works to protect the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico, told Truthout in a 2015 interview about the dead zone.
Even then, the EPA was not regulating the use of these fertilizers across much of the US, so Rota's organization was suing the agency.
Now, with oil and gas proponent Pruitt heading the EPA, all bets are off on how much larger the Gulf of Mexico dead zone -- along with others near the US's coasts -- will grow.
The most current estimates show more than 400 dead zones around the world, and the number is growing due to increasingly warm waters and ocean acidification, both direct byproducts of ACD. In 2003, there were 146 dead zones; by 2009, the number had more than doubled.
In 2014, a Smithsonian-led study showed that ACD is contributing to an increase in global dead zones, in both size and number.
The dead zones' release of methane, coupled with the increase in dead zones worldwide, is a sobering discovery. Yet another source of atmospheric warming has been added to a very long list -- amid a political climate in which key regulations appear to be dead in the water.

Fossil Fuel-Funded Think Tank Lays out Anti-Clean Energy Plan for New Energy Secretary Rick Perry

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By Alex Kotch

Last week Rick Perry, the former Republican governor of Texas, became the Secretary of Energy. As head of the Department of Energy (DOE), he is now responsible for guarding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, cleaning up nuclear waste, directing federal energy research and development, and advancing domestic energy production, from nuclear and renewables to, yes, oil, gas, and coal. 
On March 2, the day Perry was confirmed, right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation published a document laying out its goals for Perry in his new post. Like the Heritage Foundation, Perry has received considerable funding from oil and gas interests, creating potential conflicts of interest as DOE chief and suggesting he might be inclined to take Heritage’s advice.
The Heritage Foundation already has had a significant influence on the Donald Trump administration, with numerous employees earning roles on his presidential transition team.
One Heritage fellow was on Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team, which created the plan to dismantle a number of environmental protections and make steep budget cuts to the agency.  
Trump went on to use a Heritage Foundation blueprint for his proposed budget, which, in addition to its big EPA cuts, would eliminate DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Fossil Energy, which works to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuel development. The president wants to cut the Energy Department budget by one-quarter, in order to increase defense spending, and to privatize Energy Star, a program that labels qualifying products as energy efficient, and related programs. 

The Heritage Plan: Fossil Fuels Only

The Heritage plan for Perry’s Energy Department predictably urges him to remove the agency from its intervention in energy markets and to cease funding renewable energy initiatives. The paper calls on Perry to “review pending energy-efficiency regulations and refrain from issuing new ones.” 
Heritage wants the department to stop using the “social cost” of carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide when it calculates cost-benefit analyses. The document even states that some adjusted estimates have indicated that doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is “a net benefit to society” (emphasis theirs), something the greater scientific community would instantly reject.
More advice from the Heritage Foundation includes hastening the exportation of natural gas; limiting the department’s spending on research and development; opening up its laboratories to far more “engagement” with the private sector; and phasing out the department’s loans, which often go towards clean energy and energy efficiency projects. 
When the Heritage authors write that their recommendations will “be met with accusations of being ‘anti-science,’ ‘anti-clean energy,’ and even ‘extreme,’” they’re exactly right.
The proposal reads like an advertisement for the deregulation of fossil fuels and the cessation of clean energy research and support. 
The Heritage Foundation has taken in large donations from the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers — whose business empire encompasses natural gas extraction and transportation — as well as ExxonMobil and two foundations of the late Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune.
Perry appears to disagree with some of these proposed cuts to his agency, particularly when it comes to moving away from technology development and commercialization, and as governor of Texas, he supported the expansion of wind energy capacity.
However, natural gas production exploded in Texas while Perry was governor, and he’s a big proponent of hydraulic fracturing and deepwater oil drilling, earning him endorsements for energy secretary from the American Petroleum Institute and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He also backed a significant coal expansion in Texas.
In 2012, Perry wanted to eliminate the very agency of which he’s now in charge, a position he has reversed. Perry has repeatedly denied the science of climate change, once calling it “a contrived phony mess,” but in a recent Senate confirmation hearing, under oath, he did acknowledge that man-made climate change exists. Also in that hearing, Perry said he supports funding research and working on renewables and energy efficiency.

Perry’s Potential Conflict of Interest: Oil and Gas Campaign Cash

Having taken over the Energy Department, Perry has a massive potential conflict of interest: As MapLight recently reported, six of Rick Perry’s past political campaigns received nearly $12 million from the oil and gas industry and roughly $1.5 million from electric utilities. 
It’s no wonder oil and gas corporations have poured cash into Perry’s campaigns: His home state of Texas houses roughly one-third of the estimated U.S. oil reserves and hosts the headquarters of major oil companies including ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, and ConocoPhillips. 
Fossil fuel executives gave the biggest cumulative sums.
Forrest Hoglund, the former CEO of both Enron and Texas Oil and Gas Corp. who now leads a natural gas transportation business, gave Perry the most, at $330,000. Perry ally and Texas oilman Jefferson Davis Sandefer gave nearly $300,000, and billionaire oilfield owner and oil and gas investor Lee Bass, along with his wife Ramona Seeligson, donated close to $290,000. Wealthy, well-known GOP megadonors who also happen to be oil and gas executives, such as Ray Hunt, T. Boone Pickens, and Trevor Rees-Jones, also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry campaigns. 
Company and trade association Political Action Committees (PACs) gave their share of donations, too, with the business that became Energy Future Holdings leading the pack at nearly $200,000 in donations to Perry’s campaigns. Valero Energy contributed $150,000, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association gave $140,000. BNSF railway, which transports crude oil, forked over $130,000, and electric utility American Electric Power gave over $90,000. ExxonMobil has contributed $40,000, while ConocoPhillips gave nearly $38,000.
Owing so much of his political career to his oil and gas benefactors, it’s hard to conclude that Perry will do much, if anything, to rein in the industry or promote clean energy and energy efficiency instead.
As Energy Secretary, Perry may apply an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy, but based on the Heritage Foundation’s plans, odds are that will look mostly like fossil fuel energy. 

Oil and Gas Lobby Fights California Regulators to Keep Injecting Drilling Wastewater into Protected Aquifers

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Last month the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), missed its own deadline for shutting down 475 oil industry injection wells determined to be dumping toxic fluids into protected California groundwater aquifers. The division said it would continue to allow more than 1,600 other wells to continue injections into federally protected aquifers because it believes they stand a chance of being exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act protections.
Yet the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), a regional oil and gas lobbying group, is still suing the agency to prevent any wells from closing.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits contamination related to oil field waste injection disposal, which commonly contains cancer-causing benzene and other pollutants.
In 2015, DOGGR, which oversees more than 50,000 wells in the state, promised to halt 475 injection wells in the state by Feb. 15, 2017, and impose minimum fines of $20,000 a day for every well continuing to operate in a protected aquifer. But on January 17, the division told the EPA that it would delay enforcing the law indefinitely, claiming it underestimated the time it would take to review the applications filed by oil companies for exemptions to regulation.
According to Patrick Sullivan, deputy communications director with the environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, DOGGR erred in three ways. 
DOGGR never should have permitted these wells in the first place,” Sullivan told DeSmog. “But after it was discovered that wastewater injection was polluting these aquifers, it set an incredibly lax deadline for closing down the wells. Then, it couldn’t even meet its own lax deadline.”
Sullivan added that DOGGR’s reasoning for not shutting down the vast majority of polluting wells is “appalling.”
Essentially our state officials have decided not to follow the law because they believe it eventually won’t apply to these water supplies. That’s like driving a car as fast as you want because you think the speed limit will be changed.” 

Industry Groups Sue to Block (Non-existent) Shutdowns and Fines

Two years earlier, WSPA praised DOGGR for its plan to shut down the wells, saying “oil producers support this review process, which protects public health.”
Now, WSPA has reversed its position. In January it filed a lawsuit, along with the Independent Oil Producers Agency and the California Independent Petroleum Association, to halt the shutdown of wastewater injections into all 45 aquifers targeted by DOGGRThe trade groups are asking that all wells remain open while the EPA reviews the applications for exemptions and that its members not be penalized the minimum daily fine of $20,000, per the state agency’s original mandate.
WSPA president Catherine Reheis-Boyd told DeSmog via email that DOGGR’s deadlines “deprive operators of their due process rights.”
WSPA believes DOGGR and other involved agencies should complete the aquifer exemption review process for all pending 42 applications, and that injection operations should cease only if an application is disapproved,” Reheis-Boyd wrote. “The EPA has now approved exemptions for three aquifers, and we anticipate additional approvals will be forthcoming.”
Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told DeSmog that it’s ironic that WSPA is complaining about DOGGR’s deadlines when DOGGR itself isn’t meeting its deadlines. 
There’s four million dollars a day that the state is not collecting while DOGGR drags its feet,” Kretzmann told DeSmog. “Meanwhile all of those wells are continuing to pollute California’s protected aquifers indefinitely.” 
Kretzmann believes part of the motivation for WSPA and other oil lobbying groups to file suit to prevent DOGGR from doing its job, even as DOGGR appears to be falling down on the job, comes down to Trump. “The industry feels emboldened by the new administration,” Kretzmann said. 

Trump’s EPA Quickly Approves Aquifer Exemptions 

Though DOGGR has been slow in reviewing the wells it had targeted as aquifer polluters back in 2015, it has been relatively quick, environmentalists say, in submitting applications to the EPA to exempt dozens of California aquifers from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Exemptions are for aquifers, rather than specific wells, and each exemption would allow many wells to operate in — and pollute  — the aquifer.
Three exemptions  — all in Kern County, the state’s biggest oil producing region – were approved last month by the EPA, just a few months after DOGGR submitted the applications. Environmentalists believe such “aquifer exemptions” give oil companies permission to dump contaminated waste fluid into these underground water supplies. 
In justifying its efforts to grant exemptions, DOGGR claims that many aquifers are too salty or otherwise polluted to provide usable water. But the Center for Biological Diversity’s Sullivan says DOGGR has relied on data from oil companies themselves to back that claim. That’s a problem because it doesn’t account for the advancing use of technology to treat brackish groundwater in California’s Central Valley.
Many of these aquifers have water that’s many times less salty than seawater at a time when desalinization is increasingly important in California,” Sullivan told DeSmog.
Sullivan added that DOGGR hasn’t proven that oil waste fluid dumped into these aquifers won’t migrate underground to affect nearby water sources. 
DOGGR critics also say the aquifer exemption process ignores the risk of manmade earthquakes triggered by oil industry injections. Last year scientists linked oilfield injections near Bakersfield to an earthquake swarm. 

Environmentalists Fear Big Oil’s Growing Influence on California Regulators

Environmentalists say they doubt that DOGGR will vigorously fight the WSPA lawsuit. Thomas Rebecci, a senior central coast organizer with Food & Water Watch, told DeSmog that DOGGR has a cozy relationship with Big Oil. 
[DOGGR’s] mission is to help the oil companies and they haven’t invested nearly enough in oversight,” Rebecci said. “It’s truly the case of the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Other critics say the problem with DOGGR goes higher, up to Governor Jerry Brown, who oversees the division. In 2011 Brown fired Derek Chernow, the head of the Department of Conservation, along with Chernow’s deputy, Elena Miller, for tightening regulations on oil companies.
Governor Brown set the tone for DOGGR when he fired Chernow and Miller for trying to fix problems,” Sullivan said. “By doing this he told the state regulators that if they do their jobs in addressing safety and the environment that they can be fired.”
Brown’s detractors say that despite California's reputation as a green leader, WSPA and other oil and gas interests exert tremendous and growing influence over him and the state’s regulatory agencies. An American Lung Association study showed California oil and gas interests, the state’s largest lobbying body by far, spent more than $36 million in the 2015-16 legislative session, up from $34 million the previous year. 
Twelve public interest groups recently challenged Brown’s green credentials in a report card reviewing his environmental policies. 
The report, titled How Green is Brown, claims that the Public Utilities Commission has approved “unnecessary” new fossil-fuel power plants (a claim backed up by a recent Los Angeles Times investigation) and that drilling and fracking have increased under Brown. 
How Brown and state regulators will respond to the fossil fuel lobby’s pressures surrounding protected aquifers remains to be seen.