Advocates deliver 100,000 comments and petitions to the EPA

Advocates deliver 100,000 comments and petitions to the EPA

In comments and petition signatures delivered to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning, more than 100,000 people urged the

agency to update the safety requirements for some of the country’s largest hazardous chemical processing facilities.

Comments and signatures were gathered by Public Citizen, Greenpeace, U.S. PIRG, the Sierra Club, BlueGreen Alliance, and many others.

The chemical processing facilities in question are places like fertilizer plants, oil refineries, and bleach manufacturers. Roughly 110 million Americans, or one-third of the country, live in a high-risk zone near a chemical processing facility.

The Center for Effective Government has put together a handy (or terrifying) map showing the locations these chemical plants, and their proximity to public schools.

The EPA is looking for ways to improve its Risk Management Program, a move prompted by an executive order from President Obama that was issued in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

The fertilizer plant, which housed more than 270 tons of flammable chemicals but lacked a fire sprinkler system, exploded last April while emergency crews were responding to a fire. The blast killed 15 people, injured 226 more, and destroyed 150 homes.

The EPA’s new plan could prevent tragedies like the one in West, Texas by making new safety standards a requirement for facilities that manufacture and process hazardous chemicals.

The EPA’s new plan to manage these dangerous plants should include requirements for safer processing methods, reduced use of the most dangerous chemicals, and of course, commonsense safety measures like fire sprinklers.

With more than 110 million Americans at risk, it’s far past time for the EPA to act.

Kelly Ngo is the Online Advocacy Organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.

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Below is my comment calling on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to put an end to secret political spending by corporations and others attempting to tilt elections while evading accountability.

You should sign on to Public Citizen’s comment and submit your own personal comment too.

Why should the FEC listen to you?

Well, for starters, because the FEC is in charge of our federal election laws, and you are a voter. You might have noticed our election system is kind of a mess. It wasn’t great before the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling – and it’s now so overrun with billionaire-backed sham campaigns and corporate sock puppet groups that it’s hard to believe any candidate capable of challenging rule by the One Percent can win.

So here’s the comment I submitted urging the FEC to require disclosure of political spending. It won’t fix everything – we need a constitutional amendment to carry things as far as we really need them to go – but it can, at least, fix something.

(And you can help by signing on to Public Citizen’s comment and submitting your own personal comment too.)

To the FEC:

How much are our elections being distorted by secret spending?

How many candidates don’t run because they don’t want to put their families through the horror show of ugly, unaccountable attacks?

And how many don’t run because they don’t want such attacks to occur on their behalf?

My sense is – and I think a lot of Americans would agree – that the kind of people who are so utterly disgusted by the mire of secret spending are the same kind of people who actually should be involved in politics.

Let’s be honest. You know the slash-and-burn political adds that dark money groups run don’t “inform” anyone – they shrink the electorate by making as many reasonable people as possible feel nothing but disgust and contempt for the process. If congressional approval ratings are any indication, they work. And with the electorate reduced to each party’s base of die-hard standard bearers, it’s no wonder nothing gets done. (I know you folks don’t have to look far to notice partisan gridlock causing inaction, do you?)

But of course the solicitation of comments for this rule is supposed to signify a change at the FEC, right? You’re working together to make some things happen now, right?

Too often, “bipartisanship” means Republicans and Democrats getting past their differences in order to dupe the public and deliver what corporate lobbyists want.

I hope the FEC’s new emphasis on working together is not that.

Here’s to hoping the FEC’s efforts really can result in new rules requiring disclosure of the corporations and individuals behind the dark money campaigns corrupting our elections.

If I didn’t believe it could make a difference, I wouldn’t be submitting this comment.

But after the past five years or so – especially since the Supreme Court’s appalling ruling in Citizens United v. FEC – it’s hard to imagine anyone who cares about our elections isn’t feeling at least a little bit cynical.

But cynical is better than hopeless.

And if you still think your agency is capable of addressing our dysfunctional elections, then by all means give it the best damn shot you can.

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Tax watchers and nonprofits have been waiting to hear four little words from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen … and they may have just heard them.

Those words? “[A]nd other (c) organizations,” spoken last Friday in an interview with Tax Analysts Magazine. In that interview,Commissioner Koskinen said for the first time that a new definition of political activity will apply beyond just 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.

Why are those words so critical? Nonprofits organized under section 501(c) of the tax code are allowed to do some political activity without disclosing the source of their funding. Those groups have poured more than $100 million into our elections just this cycle, all without having to tell voters who is buying the ads they’re seeing. The IRS is currently working on new rules that could clarify the definition of political activity and drive political spending to groups that do disclose their donors.

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Hey shareholders, want some alarmist conspiracy theories from a newspaper editorial that conveniently ignores facts in order to make a tortured argument sound plausible? That’s the Wall Street Journal’s latest take on a new index designed to encourage transparent, open elections.

At issue is the CPA-Zicklin Index, which ranks companies’ political spending disclosure policies based on factors like whether a company discloses contributions to candidates, parties, dark money groups, etc.

If the Journal wasn’t so busy packing red meat into their editorial on the index (Unions! Soros!) it would have likely noted that corporate political spending disclosure lags woefully behind union political spending disclosure. It probably also would have noted that support for shareholder resolutions calling on companies to disclose political spending has been steadily increasing over the years since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling.

While many companies have commendably decided to be more transparent about how they work to influence elections, inaction by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has left plenty of wide open avenues for dark money.

In other words, even for companies that rank well on the index, there is room for improvement.

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The Roman army responded to desertion by randomly executing a tenth of those soldiers remaining. They called it decimation, derived from the Latin word for “tenth.” This discipline, of course, prompted all soldiers to police against desertion so as to save their own skins.

New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley seems to have borrowed a piece of this incentive structure for a current financial situation. In a speech on October 20, this key regulator of the nation’s largest banks proposed that a major chunk of pay for all senior executives at a particular bank be forfeited when the bank violates the law.

Specifically, Dudley proposes that part of senior bankers’ pay be sequestered in a “performance bond.” If the bank must pay a large fine, this bond is forfeited and paid as part of the fine. “This would increase the financial incentive of those individuals who are best placed to identify bad activities at an early stage, or prevent them from occurring in the first place.”

Making bankers pay for fraud may stifle a replay of one of the glaring judicial miscarriages following the response to the financial crisis of 2008. Despite the massive frauds subsequently documented by the Department of Justice, no senior executives faced penalties. The billion-dollar fines meted out by the DOJ were, in fact, borne by shareholders innocent of any conspiracy.

Prosecutors have offered varying reasons for this indefensible result, including the recent excuse offered by James Cole, who just retired as deputy attorney general at the DOJ: the fraudsters were “rocket scientists” who simply outsmarted the prosecutors. Under the Dudley scheme, even if the DOJ failed to track down some of the guilty individuals, all the senior bankers at a firm would nevertheless suffer at least some financial pain.

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