Tag Archives: environment

Rep. Amodei’s Wonderful Record: January De-Regulation Edition

Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) record in the 115th Congress is as dubious as the institution itself.  For a group touting their “accomplishments” the actual record doesn’t quite hit that level.  Post Office namings, and other minutiae are not included in this list.

Roll Call 8, January 4, 2017:  Midnight Rules Relief Act — “This bill amends the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to consider a joint resolution to disapprove multiple regulations that federal agencies have submitted for congressional review within the last 60 legislative days of a session of Congress during the final year of a President’s term. Congress may disapprove a group of such regulations together (i.e., “en bloc”) instead of the current procedure of considering only one regulation at a time.” Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill (238-184).   But, wait, there’s more:

“According to the CRA, resolutions of disapproval not only nullify the regulation in question; they also prohibit a federal agency from issuing any other regulation that is “substantially the same” in the future, unless specifically authorized to do so by a future act of Congress. As a result, these mass-disapproval resolutions would permanently block agencies from addressing threats to public health and safety.”  (emphasis added)

Those who believe that things like corporate accountability, safe working conditions, clean air, and clean drinking water are important wouldn’t find this very appealing.  However, that didn’t stop Rep. Mark Amodei from supporting this bill, which was essentially a solution in search of a problem.

Roll Call 23, January 5, 2017:  “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017”  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.  “(Sec. 3) The bill revises provisions relating to congressional review of agency rulemaking to require federal agencies promulgating rules to: (1) identify and repeal or amend existing rules to completely offset any annual costs of new rules to the U.S. economy.” [Cong]  This is vague to the point of ridiculousness.  There are several ways to do a cost analysis, and we can bet that the GOP has in mind only the most stringent, even if there is an obvious benefit to public health, safety, or general well being.  Frankly, there are some rules we have put in place which are expensive in terms of commercial and industrial calculations, but necessary in terms of public health and safety — we do not allow, for example, the unlimited release of arsenic into supplies of drinking water.   It’s hard to imagine this as a “major piece of legislation” without considering the potential hazards it creates for local governments and citizens who have to live with the pollution, work rules, and other regulations which place them at risk.

Roll Call 45, January 11, 2017: “(Sec. 103) This bill revises federal rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to require a federal agency to make all preliminary and final factual determinations based on evidence and to consider: (1) the legal authority under which a rule may be proposed; (2) the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with a rule; (3) whether existing rules have created or contributed to the problem the agency may address with a rule and whether such rules may be amended or rescinded; (4) any reasonable alternatives for a new rule; and (5) the potential costs and benefits associated with potential alternative rules, including impacts on low-income populations.”  Here we go again!  Yet another way to tie the hands of executive branch departments and agencies, and a GOP tenet for some time now.  Remember, the rules don’t have to be in one category (for example, environmental regulation) they can also cover such things as SEC rules and regulations, banking, and other financial regulations.   Representative Amodei, voted in favor of this bill and perhaps needs to explain if he meant this to handcuff the financial regulators who are responsible for seeing that Wall Street doesn’t replicate its performance in the run up to the Housing Crash of 2007-2008.

Roll Call 51, January 12, 2017:  SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, and yet another House attempt to slap a “cost-benefit” analysis on SEC regulations on financial market transactions.  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.    There were objections to this bill at the time, and this is one of the more cogent:

“The most prominent new requirement would mandate that the SEC identify every “available alternative” to a proposed regulation or agency action and quantitatively measure the costs and benefits of each such alternative prior to taking action.  Since there are always numerous possible alternatives to any course of action, this requirement alone could force the agency to complete dozens of additional analyses before passing a rule or guidance. Placing this mandate in statute will also provide near-infinite opportunities for Wall Street lawsuits aimed at halting or reversing SEC actions, and would be a gift to litigators who work on such anti-government lawsuits. No matter how much effort the SEC devotes to justifying its actions, the question of whether the agency has identified all possible alternatives to a chosen action, and has properly measured the costs and benefits of each such alternative, will always remain open to debate.”

Speaking of a “Lawyers Full Employment Bill,” this is it.  Imagine voting in favor of allowing an infinite and interminable number of lawsuits demanding that the SEC consider ALL available options before promulgating a rule.  That didn’t stop Representative Amodei from voting in favor of it.

If you’re seeing a pattern, you’re right.  “De-regulation” has been a Republican talking point for the last 40 years.  However, while the term sounds positive when it’s generalized the devil, as they say, is in the details.  The January flood of deregulation bills in the 115th Congress wasn’t designed to tamp regulations on ordinary citizens, but on the corporations (especially in terms of environmental issues) and Wall Street players who want more “flexibility” in their transactions.

What the Republicans have yet to provide are instances of jobs lost because of environmental regulations.  Since this evidence is scarce, the next ploy is to argue that the costs outweigh the benefits.  By emphasizing the short term monetary costs the GOP minimizes the importance of long term economic or environmental costs, and the impact deregulation has on residents in our states and communities.

We can point to jobs lost after financial deregulation — Nevada was one of the poster children for financial sector deregulation impact.  Eight months later, Representative Amodei has yet to offer more than the usual highly generalized platitudes about the significance of the deregulation fervor during the first month of the 115th Congress.

We’ll be taking a look at some other “important” votes taken by our 115th Congress.  In the mean time, it’s depressing but productive to watch what this current Mis-administration is doing in regard to North Korea, Iran, women’s issues, common sense gun control legislation, and the various and sundry scams and grifts associated with the Cabinet.

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The Bully Budget: A Saturday Rant

The proposed budget from the White House is a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid picture of this administration’s Ideal Government. That, after all, is the function of any budget — the household budget is a plan for the ideal month or the ideal year for expenditures.  So, if this is the administration’s ideal state, it’s pathetic.

At bottom, it’s a massive transfer of wealth from working Americans and small businesses, to the wealthy and multi-national corporations.  It supports the military-industrial complex, but not the workers who build the various machines of war. It supports the fossil fuel industry, but not those who labor in the oil fields, or want to make the family budget stretch to putting more gasoline in the tank. It is a budget which quantified people without adding to the quality of their lives. It is a budget that is all stick and no carrots.

It is a budget which calls for more people to “save” for the exigencies and emergencies in their  lives without granting them the tools needed to secure their own futures. It is a budget which tacitly blames people for circumstances that are beyond their control. It is a budget that assumes the mythology of the fictional Horatio Alger, without bothering to read the book in which our young hero goes from rags to riches by marrying the boss’s daughter.

It is a budget that insults the American public — as if we don’t “need” the documentary films by Ken Burns on PBS, as if we don’t “need” exhibitions of art in our museums, as if we don’t “need” programs like art and music in our schools, as if we don’t appreciate the services of our local libraries. It is a budget that presumes that only the cultured (and rich) who can afford to buy the books, the art, the travel to faraway places, will actually benefit from the accessibility to the arts and humanities.  It is a budget that assumes no quantifiable benefit will accrue to a youngster from a family with limited resources who sits in a library thumbing through a book on dinosaurs, or the planets, or flowers and wildlife.

It is a budget that denigrates the efforts of a mother who takes the kids to the museum on a Saturday, the father who sits with his sons and daughters to watch a PBS documentary on “American Experience” and asks questions of them afterwards to see what they’ve learned.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep the families safe. It cuts expenditures for promising medical research, for containing the dismal prospects of epidemics, even for the ‘welfare observations’ made by the volunteers from Meals on Wheels who not only deliver food to elderly relatives who want to remain in their homes, but observe and report circumstances that impinge on that person’s safety and health.  What the family wants to know is that an elderly grandparent is Okay today, and tomorrow. There will be a time when independence is no longer an option, but as long as the grandparents, or great-grandparents, can stay in their beloved homes, and the relatives can be assured they are safe; programs for the aging help keep those homes safe and the occupants secure.

It is a budget that doesn’t even keep struggling families safe from food insecurity. A full pantry is to be the responsibility of the family.  Except real life doesn’t quite work like that.  If the family consists of a mother who stays home (the traditionalist Ideal) and a father who has a minimum wage job, filling up the cabinets and refrigerator with food is a daily struggle. Even when both parents are working keeping up with the dietary needs of two children puts the “insecurity” into the food equation.  No one is safe who is unfed. Dietary deficiencies have medical consequences.  The Army found that out during World War II when many draftees had to be rejected for dietary related physical conditions; the result was the school lunch program.

It is a budget that presumes that all police officers and law enforcement agencies operate in a realm reminiscent of Scott Foresman’s Dick and Jane readers. There is no need to fund community policing because every officer walks his beat, knows every family in the neighborhood, and returns silly children to the safety of their living rooms. The founding philosophy of this budget is that parents really don’t have “The Talk” with their POC offspring, ignoring the point that policing services are better and safer when the people in the neighborhood feel secure talking to their law enforcement officers.

It is a budget that threatens the safety of entire cities.  Air and water pollution regulations, decried by ultra-conservatives as destructive of jobs (never specified), are to be relaxed. Smog is really no respecter of neighborhood boundaries. Pollution of ground water resources doesn’t respect city limits or county boundaries.  Chemical spills endanger our very own habitat. Toxic emissions don’t magically evaporate.  There are health implications for all deregulation. There are insurance implications for all deregulation. There are property value implications for all deregulation. As property values decline in neighborhoods susceptible to pollution, so do the revenue prospects of the very cities and counties which rely on property taxes.  Deplete the tax base and we diminish the ability of the community to deal with the results of environmental pollution.

It is a budget by and for bullies.  It is an Ideal Plan for beefing up our military, with all manner of equipment with which we can bully those with whom we share this planet. It is not a budget — an Ideal Plan — for talking to our allies, approaching our foes, and addressing the concerns of those who are unsure of our motivations. It is a budget which allows the selfish and successful to announce firmly that they don’t intend to pitch in a dime more than they must toward satisfying the needs of their fellow citizens. It is an Ideal Plan for a mean-spirited, minimal, and squalid vision of America.

 

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Amodei votes to make oil corporation corruption easier

On February 1, 2017 Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) cast two ill considered votes. He voted Yes on HJ Res 41, to eliminate the requirement that oil and energy companies report their payments to foreign governments.  Think about this for a second, while African and other nations around the world are trying to root out corruption, the US House has approved allowing these corporations to hide their payments to foreign governments.  (Vote 73)

Also on February 1, 2017, Representative Amodei voted to scrap a rule preventing the pollution of streams by coal extraction companies. HJ Res 38, vote 71. Thus much for concern about clean drinking water in these regions, about polluted streams’ impact on wildlife, and the effect of pollution on recreational use (hunting and fishing) and tourist attraction.

Representatives Kihuen, Titus, Rosen, voted against these two pieces of Republican legislation.

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My List

Monday morning the need for accountability becomes paramount.  There are some issues which require continuous investigation and reporting, my list:

  • The efforts of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. Investigations have been launched, some ongoing since last summer.  Efforts to curtail or stall these investigations could easily be characterized as evidence substantiating the charges.
  • The efforts of Tom Price as a cabinet member to implement the elements of his Empowering Patients First Act, which would send the health insurance system back to the days of junk insurance and perhaps worse should the corporations be allowed to bypass state consumer protection systems.
  • The unholy alliance of Pruitt, Perry, et.al. to deconstruct environmental protection in favor of protecting the interests of exploiters and polluters.
  • The efforts to suppress voting and civil rights.
  • The privatization of public education, and coordinated efforts to use public funds to support religious efforts.
  • The tendency to demonize members of minority/ethnic communities.

That should keep journalists busy for a while?

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Cost Benefit Analysis Scramble

Cost Benefit Analysis

One of the dark clouds on the week that was in the U.S. Supreme Court was the decision in Michigan v. the Environmental Protection Agency, one portion of which reads:

“Our reasoning so far establishes that it was unreasonable for EPA to read §7412(n)(1)(A) to mean that cost is irrelevant to the initial decision to regulate power plants. The Agency must consider cost—including, most importantly, cost of compliance—before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary,…”

Important Distinctions

First, let’s differentiate between a CBA (a cost benefit analysis) and a Cost Effectiveness Analysis (CEA).   There are two important functions of a CBA: (1) To determine if an investment or a decision is justifiable or feasible. (2) To provide a way to compare and contrast alternative projects or proposals. Additionally, “In CBA, benefits and costs are expressed in monetary terms, and are adjusted for the time value of money, so that all flows of benefits and flows of project costs over time (which tend to occur at different points in time) are expressed on a common basis in terms of their “net present value.”

The most common use of the CEA is found in the health sector.  In a CEA  the outcome is expressed as a ratio.  The denominator is the quantified gain, while the numerator is the cost associated with the gains.  For example, we know that sterilized surgical theaters yield quantifiable positive results for patients, therefore the costs associated with sterilization far outweigh the costs of sanitizing the facilities.

Another analysis which gets folded into the mixture is the analysis of the Social Return on Investment, or abbreviated SROI.  There are four elements considered: Inputs (investments), Outputs (products), Outcomes (benefits), and Impact (difference between the policy or practice change and what would have happened if nothing had been done.) [Investopedia]

There are other formats for analysis:  Cost/utility analysis; Risk/benefit analysis; and the Economic impact/analysis.  The definitions and descriptions of these forms are readily available from online sources.

The problem is that the CBA isn’t a static form of analysis.  Just as each problem in both the public and private sector has unique factors, the CBA may take on some elements from other formats – the CEA, the SROI, and the others.  Often the term “CBA” is used with great precision, i.e. it returns a study yielding a net present value.  There are other examples illustrating how the term CBA in common parlance and news reporting is an admixture of individual studies speaking to the CEA ratios, or the SROI elements.

As in so many other unfortunate instances, the cost/benefit analysis has come to mean what the partisan advocates want it to mean. One of the pitfalls involved in being a good consumer of news and political rhetoric is that the listener is required to sort out precisely what analysis is being described or advocated. The most common source of confusion comes when a CBA is conflated with an Economic Impact Study:

“One industry’s outputs are inputs to other industries, and vice versa. Input-output analysis measures all of the linkages and flows within the matrix (the economy). Based on these linkages and flows, the cumulative effect of any given stimulus (or change) can be derived. This is how multipliers are calculated.” [Decision Analyst Ser]

A public sector example might be that of a decision to build a public broadband access system.  This would trigger spending for infrastructure necessities for the system, which in turn increases employee and contractor income, causing (in sequence) more disposable spending for the local (or national) economy.  If we study the “linkages and flows” as the the project impacts the community we can calculate the cumulative “economic impact.”

So, when politicians speak to the necessity of doing cost/benefit analyses on government regulation it’s important to pin them down on precisely what form of analysis they are advocating, and how the form of the analysis can influence the reported results.

Good news Bad news

The bad news from the Michigan v. EPA  decision is that the EPA is required to perform a cost benefit analysis on emission regulations promoted by the EPA.  The slightly better news is that the decision doesn’t do what corporate radicals want – dismantle the EPA. Nor does the decision declare that the EPA may not issue rules on carbon or other pollutant emissions, granted that it does constitute another shackle on the Agency’s attempt to clear the air.

One way to support the efforts of the EPA to enforce the provisions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts might be be advocate for more, not less, study – studies which incorporate the CEA elements (health benefits included) and SROI quadrants which incorporate social benefits.

The argument that government regulations should hinge upon the notion that private sector operations should agree that the regulations are “not too expensive,” is a narrow, corporatist, perspective, and one which would all but insure no regulation of exploiters and polluters.  A better approach is to take into consideration the cumulative economic impact of regulations and the social returns we can make on our national investments.

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Heller: Environmental Equivocation and the Koch Brothers

Heller 3

Nevada Senator Dean Heller (R) was one of 98 members of the upper chamber to vote for an amendment to S. 1 (Keystone Pipeline bill) in which the Senate declared ‘global climate change is NOT a hoax.’ [rc 10] That’s good for starters.  However, Senator Heller didn’t get over the finish line. Along came vote number 12, which sought to clarify the nature of the global climate change:

S Amdt 58: (2) “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], in addition to other institutions, such as the National Research Council and the United States (U.S.) Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), have concluded that it is extremely likely that global increases in atmospheric [greenhouse gas] concentrations and global temperatures are caused by human activities.”;…

If one of the significant causes of global climate change isn’t human activity, then what might Senator Heller be thinking?   Is the Senator one of the 18% of all Americans who believe the current situation is the result of natural environmental patterns? Is he one of the 70% of Tea Party Republicans who believes there’s no solid evidence for global climate change?  Or, is he part of the 30% of moderate Republicans who believe there’s no solid evidence for global climate change?   [Pew]

“Opinions of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents divide into four roughly equal size groups: 23% say there is solid evidence of global warming and it is mostly caused by human activity; 19% say warming exists but is due to natural patterns; 25% see no solid evidence and say it is just not happening; 20% say there is no solid evidence but not enough is known yet.” [Pew]

If Senator Heller’s vote on the “hoax issue” is sincere, then he’s probably not a member of the 19% “natural patterns” Republican brigade, nor would he be a member of the “just not happening” chorus. That leaves the 25% who quibble about “not enough is known yet” crowd.  He’s certainly not part of the 23% who say there is solid evidence, and the phenomena is caused by human activity.

Senator Heller will no doubt emphasize his vote on the Hoax Issue as evidence of his moderate views. However, that second vote narrows the box into which he’s placed himself, a box generally shared by those who hew towards the fossil fuel corporation’s line adopted by the less moderate strain of the GOP.

In order to adopt this weasel position between and among the Republican camps one has to ignore the science from NASA (Climate Change Evidence),

“On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities have increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” [NASA]

It would also be necessary to ignore the conclusions of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a pre-industrial era (AD 1000 – 1750) concentration of approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) to around 383 ppm, as measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii in 2007.[2,9] The carbon in the atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source, so that scientists can tell that fossil fuel emissions comprise the largest source of the increase since the pre-industrial era.” [UCS]

For those inclined to get into the molecular weeds behind this conclusion, the UCS offers a more detailed discussion at the link given above.

Is he thinking the Union of Concerned Scientists might be “too liberal?” Then, he might want to have a look at the joint publication from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society.  It’s not like the price is too steep – he could buy a copy for $5.00.

The Big Publication in this field comes in the form of reports from the International Panel on Climate Change.  Their conclusion in 2014 couldn’t be more clear and  precise:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. {1}”

“Anthropogenic” is a fancy scientific way to say ‘US.”  Humans, human beings, persons, people…

Taking the argument one step further, even the Gas Giants are bending their positions on global climate change.  Consider the actions from Shell Oil which generated three prospects and settled on their ‘greenest one’ as company policy back in 2008:

“The greener Blueprints scenario, it said, would be better for both the company and for the world. Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer publicly called for governments to impose a price on carbon emissions. He wasn’t alone: BP and Exxon, once famous for funding bogus “climate skeptic” research, joined Shell in offering to work with President Obama on a real climate policy, with Exxon executives noting that they’d favor a carbon tax over cap-and-trade.”  [Slate]

Before patting ExxonMobil on the back, that corporation seems to have been trying to play both sides of the road since 2008. The Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil were major funders of the “countermovement” on climate change, but more recent donations to the anti-science activities appear to be coming from such sources as the Donors Trust, and Donors Capital, organizations which are “dark money,” and do not publish the sources of their funding.

Since 2008, Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil have pulled back their funding for climate change denying publications, but the Koch Brothers have surfaced as one of the major contributors to the Donors Trust.

“Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who’ve given at least $10,000 fill the group’s coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA’s Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation,chaired (PDF) by none other than David Koch.” [MJ]

Interesting, the ultra-conservative advocates of the exploiters and polluters who finance that “countermovement” on global climate change are the self-same fat cats who bankroll anti-government, anti-tax, anti-bank regulation, and anti-climate improvement actions.

If Senator Heller has ‘doubts’ about the significance of human activity as it relates to global climate change, from whence is he receiving those uncertainties?

It’s not from the International Panel on Climate Change, it’s not from the British Royal Society, it’s not from the National Academy of Sciences, or the Union of Concerned Scientists, and it’s not from NASA.  That leaves the Koch Brothers and the dark money in the Donors Trust and Donors Capital funds.

Receiving one’s marching orders from the Donors Trust (rather than IPCC or NASA) is no way to convince any thoughtful person that the position taken is “moderate” in any way. It’s far easier to come to the conclusion that Nevada’s junior Senator has adopted the Koch Brother’s radical reactionary brand of Republicanism.  As every grandmother ever said, “You are known by the company you keep.”

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Amodei and Heck Do It Again!

Pollution air In case you missed it —  amidst all the publicity about the pipeline vote – the House of Representatives has again demonstrated its proclivity to promote the interests of corporate  exploiters and polluters (read — Koch Brothers):

“The House voted 229-191 to pass H.R. 1422, which would change the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group that gives scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Also called the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, the bill would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to corporations to serve on the SAB, prohibit independent scientists from talking about their own research on the board, and make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the board.” [TP]

How nice for the Koch Brothers and the multi-national corporations which are annoyed by having to discuss such matters as global climate change, air pollution, and other topics related to whether or not our grandchildren will inherit a viable planet.

So, what did Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) do for the grandchildren?  He voted in favor of the Ignore The Science Bill.  Representatives Heck (R-NV3) and Amodei voted in favor of the bill on Roll Call 525.   Representatives Horsford (D-NV4) and Titus (D-NV1) thought enough of the kidlets to vote against this sop to multinational corporations. But wait! There’s more.

The House also passed H.R. 4795 – yet another pro-pollution bill:

“The Clean Air Act requires major new or expanding sources of air pollution to obtain permits with pollution limits before the facilities start construction.  These preconstruction permits ensure that a new or expanded facility will not increase local air pollution to levels that violate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets for six principal air pollutants.  When EPA updates each air quality standard to reflect the latest science, permit applicants have to meet the new, more protective standard and show their emissions will not harm public health.

H.R. 4795, introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), creates a loophole in this process.  The bill establishes imprecise procedural requirements for EPA to follow after setting a new air quality standard.  If EPA does not meet those requirements, then a new or expanding facility can apply for a preconstruction permit based on the old air quality standard, which is not adequate to protect public health.  In effect, this bill could give new sources of pollution “amnesty” from new science-based air quality standards.”  [DEC]

Got that?  If Spew & Blow Corp. doesn’t like the new air quality standards, it can use the Scalise Loophole to get around them.  How convenient.  And what did our Representatives do?  The two Republicans (Heck and Amodei) voted for the “Promoting New Manufacturing Act” – the title should really have been the “Promoting More Pollution Act of 2014.”   Horsford and Titus both voted against this travesty of a bill.

Could we have any better demonstration of how closely Congressional Republicans, including our Congressional Republicans, are tied to the Koch Brothers?

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