Published on July 2nd, 2014 | by DeSmog Blog


Obama’s Dirty Energy Secrets

July 2nd, 2014 by  

Editor’s Note: Obama has done many great things to promote renewable energy, but his administration also has some humongous dirty energy secrets. These are not single issues, but span many issues. However, there is one trend — they are almost all housed in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I covered back-room environmental harm being done by the OMB years ago. Since then, the problems have not gone away. They have only grown. Thanks to DeSmog Blog for this excellent article integrating many important stories.


By Farron Cousins

One of highest hopes that environmentally-minded Americans had for President Obama when he first entered office was that he would finally put an end to the secrecy that marred the former Bush administration when it came to environmental policy.

The image of then-Vice President Dick Cheney meeting in secret with dirty energy industry leaders was still fresh in our heads as we went to the polls in 2008, and we were all but certain that the country chose a leader that would leave those dark days in the past. Sadly, those hopes for a policy change were dashed before the end of Obama’s first year. He talked a big game on the campaign trail, but when it came to acting on those promises, that rhetoric proved to be just as hollow as his predecessor’s.
Obama doubled down on coal, oil, and fracking, while allowing renewable energy investments to fall. But the most disturbing part of the story is that Obama and his officials have been working in secret to weaken environmental standards that his administration has been patting themselves on the back for in public.

Recently, a federal judge expanded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was filed against the Small Business Administration (SBA), which claims that officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have been working to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power plant pollution standards. The administration has been dragging its feet in providing the information requested, even after the court ruling, which has led environmental groups to file a complaint against the White House.

At issue is the EPA’s failure to update standards for existing power plants as required by the Clean Air Act — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously said was required of the agency. The current rules have not been updated since 1982, and environmental groups say that the lack of updating is due to influence from the White House itself.

EarthJustice, one of the groups leading the charge, issued the following statement in regards to the complaint:

The Obama administration worked behind the scenes to weaken the EPA’s proposal, and now they are trying to cover their tracks… The public has a right to know about the political pressure that forced the EPA to rewrite its proposal to allow for much dirtier waterways and put our health at risk.”

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) issued a statement, as well:

EPA sent over a strong rule to the White House that would get arsenic and other toxics out of our water using affordable treatment technologies. But the White House over-ruled EPA scientists and re-wrote the rule to include options that would give coal plants a free pass to continue using our waterways as their own private waste dumps. Now the White House is refusing to comply with FOIA and release information related to their review of EPA’s rule or justify why it should be withheld from the public.”

The Sierra Club joined EIP and EarthJustice in December in a lawsuit seeking a response from the administration in regards to their Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on the SBA’s role in weakening the EPA’s proposed power plant rules. In January, the White House rejected the request, which prompted the current lawsuit.

The move by the administration to ignore the FOIA request is just the latest in a long line of environmental information obstruction. And the OMB has been at the forefront of that obstruction for years.

As early as 2010, just one year after Obama was sworn in, the OMB proposed a change to the formula by which the EPA created new rules for automobile pollution and other global warming-related pollution rules.

ThinkProgress described the new formula as the equivalent of the OMB “putting a thumb on the scales” in favor of the dirty energy industry, allowing their projected costs of compliance to carry more weight than the anticipated health and environmental benefits.

Also in 2010, the EPA was about to put a rule in place that would have required air quality monitoring stations for power plants in areas with a population greater than 350,000 people. According to ThinkProgress, emails showed that the OMB once again stepped in and made the EPA change their rule so that it only applied to populations greater than half a million, exempting many large metropolitan areas.

Ironically, many industry leaders like Dow Chemical didn’t have a problem with the original 350,000 population threshold, and considered the original proposal to be “quite reasonable.”

In 2012, the OMB interfered in the EPA’s proposed particulate rules, where the latter agency was attempting to lower the allowable amount of particulates in soot down to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. According to documents obtained by the Washington Post, the OMB forced the EPA to increase the limit from the proposed 12 to 13.

Mother Jones has pointed out that, under President Obama, the OMB is the office where environmental standards go to die. Among the rules they list as either “dying” or “stalled” within the OMB are rules on industrial boilers, ozone pollution rules, toxic chemical rules, and coal ash standards.

President Obama’s bold statements on climate change and his commitment to the environment have been severely undermined by his administration’s willingness to weaken environmental protections behind closed doors.

While we may not be getting environmental policy written by the dirty energy industry as we did with the Bush Administration, the results are still too similar — the public interest is not being served, while polluters continue to enjoy undue influence and secrecy.

Source: DeSmogBlog. Reproduced with permission.

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The DeSmogBlog Project began in January 2006 and quickly became the world’s number one source for accurate, fact based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns. TIME Magazine named DeSmogBlog in its "25 Best Blogs of 2011" list. Our articles and stories are routinely highlighted in the world’s most popular news outlets and blogs: New York Times DotEarth, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, and Treehugger, to name a few. DeSmogBlog has won the Canadian Public Relation Society’s Leadership in Communication award, and was voted Canada’s “Best Group Blog” by their peers.

  • sault

    Like others have said, lobbyists and special interests have too much influence in government. If the Obama Administration doesn’t play ball, Republicans will simply win more elections and things get even worse for the environment. This won’t change until campaign finance reform is enacted, sorry to say.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Campaign financing and the power of corporations are the major fights that Americans will next have to undertake.

      The Tea Party has it a bit right when they talk about taking back the control of our government. But it’s not “Washington” from which we have to retake power, it’s big money. Big money is getting the legislation it wants (in general) and is getting massive help from the Roberts Court. It’s going to take massive work to reverse the decisions of the five right-wingers on the Court.

      • philofthefuture

        I’m sorry but it is Washington. Who do you think allows big money? Washington. Who benefits? Washington. Face it, politicians couldn’t be bought if they weren’t for sale. Corporations actually have the high moral ground here, they are serving their constituents, (stock holders), with their actions. Are politicians serving theirs? No.

        Put the blame where it belongs.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It takes enormous amounts of money to run for office.

          We, the American voters, have allowed that situation to occur. If you want to get big money out of government then elect legislators who will work to see that happen.

          • Offgridmanpolktn

            We are in definite agreement that it is going to take the action of the voters to get the right politicians in that will do something about changing our money controlled government and also hopefully address climate change and ensuring our energy independence with renewables.
            On that effort I heard about a new group that is using grass roots funding and voter activation to help get the right people nominated and in office or the wrong ones out towards those goals.
            It was on NPR, I think the Fresh Air show this past week. Sorry for not being more specific on the name of the organization but haven’t had an opportunity to go to the website and find the links for myself yet. Was just getting back here to check replies to my comment from earlier this week, and seeing what you had to say thought you might be interested in them too.
            Have a good one, and power to and for the people. 🙂

          • Bob_Wallace

            I would think getting big money out of government is something that would appeal to (most of) the left and the non-corporate part of the right.

            If we all agreed to look for and support good candidates who promised to work to reduce the power of money and corporations we could get it done. This should be a bi-partisan issue for most Americans.

          • Offgridmanpolktn

            Should have said this the last time around that was the most interesting part of this group they aren’t following any particular party line and are doing this on a bipartisan basis.
            We’re supposed to have a nice day again here, so to many projects to keep up on outside. Next rainy day I will find the link and get it to you.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Running anything large is a juggling act. And there’s not a lot larger than the US economy.

    Moving fast in one area can cause severe disruptions in another. Closing coal plants too fast could cause the price of electricity to rise and harm our slow economic recovery. I’m not saying that this is what has been driving decisions, but suggesting people take a wider look.

    It’s like with the new heath care law. It simply wasn’t possible to get major reform unless insurance companies and pharmaceutical remained profitable. That meant something other than single payer and a reliance on generic drugs.

    We have a president, not a dictator. The President has to share power with the other three branches of government, and at this time the other two branches are controlled by the right wing. And all that means that progress is going to be slowed and messy.

    • You are right, Bob about democracy and pragmatism. Coal is already getting phased out, with or without the allegedly ICF International/NRDC written EPA Power Plant Emissions proposal. Coal has dropped in percentage of the power mix greatly over the past 10 years due chiefly to gas and now renewables, with or without Obama – and assuming ALEC don’t put the kibosh on that.

      However, Obama’s climate change initiative, post 2012, is probably going to end up like the health care cluster frack, but on steroids. During Obama’s first term Rahm Emanuel was pretty adamant on keeping environment on the backburner and pushing fossil fuel exploitation for the economy. Obama’s environmental executive orders aren’t too dissimilar to his healthcare: great for finance and insurance and unknown for everyone else. Implementation may become a mess.

      It’s hardly news that Obama is a centrist and surrounds himself with center/right types. This was made clear around November of 2008. It’s how he dealt with the economic collapse, healthcare, military, citizen spying, etc. desmogblog is kind of stating the obvious, like they famously do. His secretary of commerce is Penny Pritzker for crying out loud. She also spearheaded and funded his 2008 run. The Pritzker family just sold off its stake in Marmon Group to Berkshire Hathaway. Marmon Group held Union Tank Car, the largest producer of rail tank cars hauling light crude from Bakken shale in ND. That occasionally explode when derailed. And probably not much will get done about it.

      Basically, what we got over the past 6 years is republican environmental and energy policy by the democratic leadership council (DLC) – that now the way-right republicans can call socialism, to pull us even further to the right (or less environmental protection). That’s really not democratic principles on environmental protection to me.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “During Obama’s first term Rahm Emanuel was pretty adama nt on ke eping environment on the backburner and pushing fossil fuel exploitation for the economy. ”

        If your job is to run the country then that decision makes sense. We wouldn’t have been able to transition to a renewable grid if we were in a depression.

        “the health care cluster frack,”

        Oh, come on. Other than the web site problems (mostly caused by Republican states refusing to set up their own exchanges and overloaded the system) the health care program is doing great. Millions of previously uninsured now have health insurance and over the next few years the numbers covered are likely to rise, just as happened in Mass with their similar program.

        One has to be something of a centrist to be elected president. Neither a far right-winger or far left-winger can gain enough votes. PBO is a left-winger who is very pragmatic and moves the country as fast as the country is willing to be moved.

        The wealthy have far too much power in the US. And that is the voters’ fault.

        Given that the wealthy have an inordinate amount of power it is necessary to include them and, to some extent, let them have their way.

        If you don’t like that then work to get people elected to Congress who will return the principal of one man/woman, one vote. Whether you are liberal or conservative vote in people who will undertake true campaign reform and get big money out of our elections.

        • Obama is not a liberal. He’s what neoliberal billionaire’s think are liberal. I voted for him twice. And support his policies, kind of. He’s also a Chicago pol. So there’s always a need to look under the hood and dig a bit deeper on any and all politicians. Plus, Illinois is not an environmental state. It’s an energy, manufacturing, finance and industrial agriculture state. Most nuke production (from Exelon). Center of oil rail and pipeline transport (Keystone, first phase, goes right to Koch family’s refinery). Tar sands junction with most of the new pipeline modifications and expansions going right through the state, stored and routed to wherever it’s needed. Obama knows where he’s bread’s been buttered.

          We could probably argue Obama’s liberalism until the internet crashes. Like when I tried to sign up for Obamacare – thinking it could save me some cash as an independent contractor. BCBS was the Illinois provider anyway, so I stayed with them, as is. Nonetheless, the insurance policy is better due to Obama’s care. More expensive, though.

          On POTUS v. Senate dealing w/ climate change early on. Here’s an article from 2010 “As the World Burns” about climate change policy losing out:

          And of course on Emanuel lambesting Steven Chu about keeping his mouth shut about climate change:

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m using the word according to its common usage “liberal or conservative”.

            If you wish to redefine the word to “liberal – agrees with me on everything” you can do that but you lower your ability to communicate with others.

            PBO is a politician. One does not commonly get elected to the presidency unless they are a politician and a good one. The commanding general of a major war victory is another, but less frequently used, route.

            And once in office one has to be a clever political in order to get things done. Sometimes that means doing stuff you’d rather not move. You bargain away what you can best afford to give up in order to get what is most important.

            Now, let me ask you a couple of things.

            Has Exelon decided to build more reactors? Perhaps you don’t know that six of their existing IL reactors have been losing money for more than 5 years and are likely to be closed. Especially after they were recently refused capacity payments.

            (Did you see PBO going to bat for Exelon?)

            Was the Keystone permitted along its original route? Has it been permitted at all? Might it be in the process of being stalled to death?

            (Have you seen PBO on the stump for getting Keystone approved?)

            What value is future political power in IL to PBO? Do you think he’s going to run for state office?

            I understand being disappointed in the speed at which changes are occurring. I wish change was quicker. But I also recognize that change always takes time and when you’ve got two branches of government opposing you it’s going to slow things down a bit.

          • For some reason I get the feeling you think I was born yesterday and just fell off a turnip truck today?

            On Obama’s Exelon ties:


            from the NYT piece:

            “Exelon’s top executives were early and frequent supporters of Mr. Obama as he rose from the Illinois State Senate to the White House. John W. Rogers Jr., a friend of the president’s and one of his top fund-raisers, is an Exelon board member. David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime political strategist, once worked as an Exelon consultant, and Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, helped create the company through a corporate merger in 2000 while working as an investment banker.”

            Excelon doesn’t need to build new reactors – the ones currently running will be fine – after Chicago’s rates go up about 38% this fall.

            Keystone is with Transcanada. Transcanada doesn’t do much business in Illinois. Enbridge has the pipelines going through Illinois and bringing all the tar sands and Bakken shale oil. They’ve been upgrading, expanding and building new lines like crazy all over Illinois.


            Illinois’ New Albany shale development is another issue.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ve made no assumptions about your birth date nor possible rural roots.

            I do find your arguments very weak tea.

            And your “Rogers raised money” and “Axelrod once worked as a consultant” sort of tin foil hat stuff

            I’ve said it many times in the past and I’ll repeat it again for your benefit. Money plays much too large a role in our government. Much too large.

            But play a large role, it does. Therefore, if one wants to get things done – to move a liberal/progressive agenda – then one has to keep the moneyed people somewhat satisfied.

            If one wishes to be a purest they should count on accomplishing nothing.

          • Bob, your comment on tin-foil hat stuff is kind of silly. That was a New York Times article I quoted, with link. Basically per your request. This issue of Obama’s circle is also well documented in Chicago media. Monied interests are well ensconced in all the democratic leadership’s environmental policies. Policies which have a history of getting, well, messed up – due to politics. And money.

            Here’s our thread in a nutshell: you asked as series of questions. I answered them – with backup. My answers to your questions go into the internet ether. You’re only response is “it’s all tin-foil hat stuff.” That’s the stuff of public relations, image management, and message control. The stuff that’s doing more harm to the environment than fossil fuel exploitation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Clearly money plays too large a role in our politics.

            Clearly governing the country requires a lot of political maneuvering.

            And I’ll stick by what I said about tin foil hats.

            IMHO, you expect the President to have powers he simply does not have.

            IMHO, you are frustrated by the rate of change (as I am) and you blame PBO for not moving faster (which I don’t).

          • philofthefuture

            He’s going to need “donors” to fund his library and lifestyle after 16 though. :<)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Phil – you need to turn off Fox and Rush. They’re rotting your brain.

          • philofthefuture

            Obama is screwed on Keystone, virtually all unions support it, virtually all enviro’s revile it. That’s why he keeps stalling, damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Also as a political animal, his buddy Buffet owns the trains that are hauling the oil in lieu of a pipeline, Keystone gets built, Buffet takes a major hit. By stalling, he keeps unions at bay, envro’s at bay, and Buffet happy. As with all things political, follow the money.

            Obama is an ideologue, that is always dangerous. It’s also disastrous as they usually don’t play well with others. Clinton’s, Reagan’s, Bush’s successes were because as pragmatists they could reach across the isle and hammer out compromises. Obama refuses to bend so his approach is ‘my way or the highway’. Even his fellow democrats carp about him.

            The fact that he’s had two recent 9-0 decisions against him show’s how off the reservation he is.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s a pile of bull. Pure bull shit.

            PBO has gone well past the halfway point in attempting to reach agreements with Republicans.

            You lie like Fox Dis-News.

          • Not arguing the horns of a dilemma he’s between. However, Obama is not an idealog. At all. He’s a pragmatist. The problem is he’s backed by billionaires. As someone once said: “millionaires back republicans, billionaires back both democrats and republicans.”

            The is no reservation, by the way. Suggesting not to screw over the 99 percent, as Obama sometimes does – is not going off the reservation – except the 1 percent’s gated communities.

            Here’s an example of the rot, from New York Times – it’s about the financier Steyer and his coal past. Steyer is the new superman of the left. Steyer may have divested in coal here in the US – not necessarily fully overseas. More important is almost all major environmental NGOs and our democratic pragmatists are tied to finance. Who funds things with high returns or safe returns. Fossil fuel does that.

            Aims of Donor Are Shadowed by Past in Coal


        • philofthefuture

          Obama lied through his teeth to get Obamacare passed, and is still lying about the cost. People still, by a wide margin, either want it scrapped totally or substantially rewritten.
          The thing people refuse to admit is that renewables are not yet ready for prime time, they are close but the transition will take decades not years. The fact that Obama admits this just makes him honest, (for a change), not a sellout.
          Face up to it, if it weren’t for fracking we wouldn’t have an economy. The booms in N Dakota, Texas, etc. are what are driving the rest of the country and Obama isn’t stupid, he cannot hobble that substantially if he wants any kind of legacy.
          Nearly half the populace can’t even afford to pay federal taxes, what good is a 30% tax credit to them? What chance will they have at the $7500 EV rebate? Zero.

          Costs still have to come down substantially for renewables to go main stream. Even if EV’s were viable tomorrow, people aren’t just going to run out a buy one if they are still paying off their last car. Fleet turnover will take at least two decades alone.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oh, come on, this is a very dishonest post.

            PBO did not “lie through his teeth” to get the ACA passed. He failed to repeat in every incidence that people could keep their present insurance – if the policy met the ACA minimum requirements. Some people had pure crap insurance and had to buy something that actually protected them and their families.

            Renewables are not only ready for prime time. They are replacing fossil fuels.

            Fracking and new oil discoveries are helping our economy. There’s no doubt about that. We’re still crawling out of the second deepest financial hole in the country’s history and they are big assists.

            Wind is now our cheapest way to bring new electricity to the grid. Solar has now dropped in price where it is displacing fossil fuels.

  • Jeremy Goldstein

    Dirty energy secret. What about all the money that is spent lobbying by weapons manufacturers such as Moog, Textron, Raytheon etc. This is the real scandal. Over a 3rd of all lobbying funds come from weapons manufacturers all paying for the next war so they can sell more missiles and in turn their stock rally.

  • John Ihle

    I don’t want to sound too naïve but it begs the question what does Obama really believe with respect to the environment if he is appointing people such as those that evidently do not support solid environmental policy… in favor of (and I had to look this up) hyper capital economic policy (ie; neoliberalism).. if in fact Sunstein is a neoliberal.
    But their connections to Chicago by way of Exelon/ComEd as well as other companies and entities that put money first and, imo, have too much influence on public policy, shows that nothing has changed. And it’s not just this issue. I’d like to give Obama the benefit of a doubt but…………………………………………., I’m skeptical of Washington to say the least and Obama when he appoints people that undermine what I had hoped would be tougher, and quicker, environmental policy (and financial/economic policy) and I am extremely disappointed in his leadership on these issues thusfar.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      Have had some disappointment with Obama following through on his policy promises myself too. He didn’t even push the environmental aspect as much as cleaning up the corruption that causes the problems in the campaign literature put out a year or two before his first election. So from what was said at that time would have expected more to have been done in the first term, but he seemed to ride the fence on these issues and the marijuana decriminalization until he was sure to get his second turn at the office. Of course in either term the refusal of the republicans to even pretend to cooperate or compromise on most issues has continued the general dysfunction of the whole system.
      One question I have is in your discussions of who has been appointed to these offices restricting the actions of the EPA, are the positions ones that have had to pass congressional review? Because if so that could be part of why they tend to favor business interests over environmental, that’s who got them their jobs.

      • philofthefuture

        It takes two to compromise, Reid won’t even bring bills up for a vote. Democrats had to be embarrassed into doing a budget. There was a story a week or so ago that Reid is basically shutting the senate down until after the election as he doesn’t want to force fellow democrats to vote on anything that could be held against them in Nov.
        It is Obama that appoints executive staff. Few have been challenged excepting judiciary and now with Reid destroying senate rules they can appoint anybody they want with impunity.

        • Bob_Wallace

          And why should Reid put Democratic senators in the position of voting for something that could be used against them in a campaign?

          The Republicans in the House won’t pass jack. They are willing to destroy the nation in order to keep PBO from being successful.

          What a dishonest job you do in rewriting history.

  • JamesWimberley

    Specifically, within the OMB it’s the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (link) headed for 3 years by neoliberal Chicago academic Cass Sunstein.

    • Correct. This neoliberal environmentalism or environmental capitalism is pernicious at best deliberate at worst. At least we know where fossil fuelers are coming from. Environmental capitalism plants itself in the middle, muffles concerns, and drags environmental protection over to less protection, simply to do a deal with fossil fuel. Usually in the form of a big check. Anytime a freshwater (U of C) intellectual dives into economics or environmental protection – the outcome won’t necessarily benefit those living outside of Hyde Park in Chicago.

      A good example is natural gas as a bridge technology meme. Natural gas exploitation through fracking was pushed almost harder by environmental capitalists like Bloomberg types and many of the environmental NGOs and nonprofits like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) than oil and gas guys. Now that oil and gas development and deployment is almost done for every shale formation (except the sliver of Marcellus in New York) many of the environmental groups kind of wished they didn’t push so hard, given all the problems with land, groundwater, and air. Of course that’s the “government’s) concern now – not those who profited.

      Another problem is with environmental media. I can never tell where most of the groups are coming from. desmogblog included. The guy that started the blog, James Hoggan, and those that run it are from public relations (PR) and many of the environmental capitalists we love. They tend to raise environmental protection issues after the fact and send its readers down a rabbit hole of befuddlement. Kind of a PR move. They also count on young enthusiastic writers – the one’s who embrace PR over say journalism, seem to stick around longer than a couple of blog posts.

      So we’re left to believe desmogblog is a good PR ploy versus it’s counterpart “Energy-in-Depth.” Here’s what PR Watch has to say about energy in depth:

      Billionaires with money to burn, libertarianism and capitalism is breeding a new kind of environmentalism. It seems to be one’s PR stunt versus another’s. Instead of say, deploy pollution control, contaminated lands and water remediation, climate change mitigation and 21st century energy technology and use.

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