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The McConnell-Boehner Congress this week lobbed fewer public interest attacks than in its first couple of weeks – likely because Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s State of the Union address kept them otherwise engaged – but the U.S. Senate did bring upon itself a good dose of ridicule by debating whether human activity is causing climate change. Forty-nine GOP senators, bucking what 97 percent of scientists say, said “no.”

What public interest assaults are coming next week? Here’s what we know about so far. Please contact us if you have questions.

• Senate lawmakers will try to fast track the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Jan. 29 on the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act (PDF) (S. 33). The measure would limit the time the Department of Energy has to consider applications to export liquefied natural gas. There are multiple problems with expediting the export of LNG. For instance, it could lead to higher natural gas prices, harming consumers who rely on it. Prioritizing LNG exports would help the fracking industry at the expense of the rest of the economy. And it appears as though exporting LNG is counter to a 1975 law.

• The Senate likely will vote on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. If this bill succeeds, it will mean higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists. The purpose of the Keystone pipeline is to take landlocked tar sands oil to the export-oriented refineries of the Gulf Coast, refine the low-grade oil and then ship the product to world markets.

The pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world across America’s largest freshwater aquifer, risking a major oil spill and causing dangerous pollutants to be released into the air during the refining process. A 2013 Public Citizen report questioned the safety of Keystone XL’s Texas segment, documenting anomalies that could lead to spills or leaks.

More info:

Statement: KXL: Not in the National Interest

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Statement of Susan Harley, Deputy Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a ranking member of the House Budget Committee, today laid out his proposal to increase tax equity for working families.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen should be applauded for including a Wall Street tax (also called a financial transaction tax or financial speculation tax) as a key part of his action plan to address tax fairness.

The plan contains tax code changes designed to benefit working-class families over the wealthy. Van Hollen proposes to pay for the tax cuts for individuals by instituting a “high roller” fee to curb Wall Street speculation. Van Hollen made the commonsense suggestion that the U.S. should “move forward in concert” with European countries that are poised to institute an expected 0.1 percent tax on financial transactions.

It’s wonderful to see Rep. Van Hollen champion a fee on Wall Street trades as a way to level the tax playing field for working Americans. This is an easy way to raise hundreds of billions in revenue while slowing down the kind of high-speed trading that helped lead to the spring 2010 flash crash that was a large reason the stock market plummeted 1,000 points in a few minutes. We and our allies look forward to working with the lawmaker and other leaders in Congress to get a Wall Street speculation tax passed.

Also welcome in Rep. Van Hollen’s plan is a proposal to limit a deduction now taken by companies that pay executives more than $1 million in annual compensation, a figure that Congress has already declared an unnecessary business expense. Loopholes in the current law permit companies to deduct as a business expense the payment of more than $1 million if it is considered “performance based.”

Details of the action plan are still being discussed, but what was unveiled today is a great starting point for all upcoming tax and budget negotiations in the 114th Congress.

1) Lawmakers will attempt to weaken dozens of health and safety laws – including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act – by requiring regulatory agencies to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives. What counts and does not count as an indirect cost or a potential alternative? The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (H.R. 185), which could be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as Tuesday, leaves that up to the industry’s imagination.

In addition, the RAA would hamstring agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill would subject their work to review by the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is known for delaying, diluting and blocking important new safeguards. Federal agencies usually take years to issue health and safety standards, but this bill would make that process even longer.

More info:
Fact Sheet
Report

2) The Senate will start debate Monday on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. If this bill succeeds, it will mean higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists. The purpose of the Keystone pipeline is to take landlocked tar sands oil to the export-oriented refineries of the Gulf Coast, refine the low-grade oil and then ship the product to world markets.

The pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world across America’s largest freshwater aquifer, risking a major oil spill and causing dangerous pollutants to be released into the air during the refining process. A 2013 Public Citizen report questioned the safety of Keystone XL’s Texas segment, documenting anomalies that could lead to spills or leaks.

More info:
Statement
KXL: Not in the National Interest

3) The House if bringing back a Wall Street reform rollback measure that failed last week.

On Wednesday, progressives beat back an attempt by the House GOP to delay a key element of the Volcker rule, which was part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The provision is designed to prevent mega-banks from gambling with taxpayer-insured deposits.

The House bill (H.R. 37) would permit banks to retain certain high-risk assets that are part of so-called collateralized loan obligations through 2019. Originally, the 2010 Volcker rule called for divestiture by 2012. In response to the legislation, Public Citizen sent out an emergency alert to activists, which led to a flood of calls to representatives’ offices on the day of the vote. A media statement called attention to the bad bill as well. The House leadership didn’t get the votes they needed to pass the measure. Chalk one up for Main Street.

But the House is now amending the rules to make it easier to pass H.R. 37 and will bring it up again this week. It likely will pass the House, but the fight will move to the U.S. Senate. Look to this space for updates.

Want to do something? Tell President Barack Obama to Veto That.

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Note: On Wednesday, Jan. 7, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Just one day after the start of the 114th Congress, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will discuss legislation that, if passed, will ultimately bypass the Obama administration and unilaterally approve the Keystone XL pipeline. If this bill succeeds, it will once again show how out of touch Congress is with policies that benefit Americans. While the Keystone pipeline remains irrelevant for improving America’s energy security, its approval will mean higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists.

 
The Keystone XL pipeline is not in the national interest. Proponents claim that the pipeline will supply the U.S. with more oil and lower prices for consumers – but in reality the opposite will occur. As we explained in a 2013 report, the very purpose of the Keystone pipeline is to take landlocked tar sands oil to the export-oriented refineries of the Gulf Coast, refine the low-grade oil and then ship the product to world markets.

 
As previous data have shown, the average U.S. gasoline price is lower when we have not exported oil. This means the pipeline will actually raise – not lower – prices for U.S. consumers, as it exports the oil overseas.

 
The low gas prices we are seeing across the U.S. now underscore the fact that the pipeline isn’t needed. The U.S. already has more oil than it can process, proving that passing the Keystone XL pipeline bill is not about supplying oil to the U.S. market, but rather lining the pockets of the big oil industry.

 
In addition, the pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world across America’s largest freshwater aquifer, risking a major oil spill and causing dangerous pollutants to be released into the air during the refining process. A 2013 Public Citizen report questioned the safety of Keystone XL’s Texas segment, documenting anomalies that could lead to spills or leaks.

 
Instead of voting on legislation that would pass the Keystone XL pipeline without presidential approval, Congress should focus on giving families the tools they need to become energy independent. Rooftop solar, expanded mass transit and incentives for alternative fuel and super-fuel efficient vehicles are what families need – not more pipelines.

As 2015 begins, here are 28 blog posts from 2014 to highlight Public Citizen’s work on Capitol Hill, in the courts and beyond in the year gone by.

Take a look, steel yourself for the work ahead in 2015 and sign up for Public Citizen’s weekly blogs email to make sure you don’t miss the in-depth research, incisive analyses and informed observations from our experts and advocates.

JANUARY

1. Multiplying Risks by Twenty-Four: Absurd Implications of a Bad McCutcheon Ruling, by Adam Crowther, researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Imagine a world in which well-reasoned, appropriate limits established by the government were overlooked by individuals and the government itself, allowing people and businesses to exceed reasonable limits by 24 times the legal threshold. Read more.

FEBRUARY

2. Anti-Regulation Talking Point Dominates NBC Climate Change Debate, by Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

On NBC’s Meet The Press, viewers this past weekend were treated to the spectacle of a climate change “debate” featuring TV personality Bill Nye, who is wonderful at explaining scientific concepts to children (and presumably would do the same to those who willfully ignore or deny that climate change is happening) against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) who is one of the most prominent climate change deniers in Congress. Read more.

3. Natural Gas Climate Change Impact Almost as Bad as Coal Because of Methane Leakage, by Heather Smith, policy and communications intern for Public Citizen Texas

While we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing the words “natural”, “healthy” and “environmentally-friendly” thrown around in advertisements for a variety of consumer goods, it’s important to remember that household items are not the only things capable of being greenwashed – case in point, natural gas. Read more.

MARCH

4. The 2014 Trade Agenda: What Hole? Keep Digging, by Ben Beachy, research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division

The President’s 2014 Trade Policy Agenda, released today by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), violates the first law of holes: when you are in one, stop digging. Instead, it sticks to the first rule of PR, when the data is against you (e.g. when export growth under last year’s trade agenda amounted to zero percent), distract. Read more.

5. Engaged Citizens Leave Standing Room Only at Public Hearing on the Austin Energy 10 Year Energy Plan, by Kaiba White, energy policy and outreach specialist at Public Citizen Texas

Over 100 people packed the Shudde Fath Conference room at Austin Energy headquarters for a joint hearing in front of the Electric Utility and Resource Management commissions.  Not prepared for the enthusiastic turnout, Austin Energy staff provided additional chairs, but many attendees were left with standing room only. Read more.

APRIL

6. General Mills’ Misadventures With Our Legal Rights, and … Power to the People! by Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Finally, we can strike one off our list. We can remove big corporate food manufacturer General Mills from Public Citizen’s Forced Arbitration Rogues Gallery, an unofficial catalogue of some of the many corporations that use their fine-print contracts to deprive consumers of the right to sue, forcing them instead to resolve disputes in individual, secret arbitration. Read more.

7. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, by Taylor Lincoln, research director, Adam Crowther, researcher, and Lisa Gilbert, director, from Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

In January, Public Citizen issued two reports that looked at the possible outcomes of the U.S. Supreme Court case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The most dire outcome — a full repeal of limits on the total amounts that individuals can give to federal candidates and parties (i.e., aggregate limits) — meant that individuals would be able to contribute as much as $5.9 million to candidates and parties. On Wednesday, the prediction became reality when the court issued a decision that eliminates all aggregate limits. Read more.

MAY

8. Federal District Court Grants Default Judgment Against KlearGear, by Scott Michelman, attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, in 2012 an online retailer called KlearGear tried to extort $3500 from its customer John Palmer because his wife Jen criticized the company online; when John refused to pay, KlearGear reported the supposed “debt” to the credit agencies, ruining John’s credit for more than a year. Read more.

9. Activists and Duke Shareholders Hold Executives’ Feet to the Fire, by Kelly Ngo, online advocacy organizer with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Activists and shareholders took Duke Energy’s executives to task. News outlets estimated that between 100 and 200 protestors took to the streets of Charlotte to protest Duke’s multiple environmental mishaps, including the infamous Dan River coal ash spill, as well as the company’s political spending. Read more.

10. Maryland Sets Bar High for Construction Worker Safety and Health, by Keith Wrightson, workplace safety expert for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law House Bill 951 which requires the state to convene a work group to study the benefits of implementing a safety and health questionnaire and rating system as a part of the state funded public works projects. The legislation was inspired by a 2012 Public Citizen report that showed safety shortfalls cost the state $712.8 million between 2008 and 2010. Read more.

JUNE

11. Ready for Bullying? by Paul Alan Levy, attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group

Last week, the pre-campaign PAC promoting Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, Ready for Hillary, demanded that both Zazzle and CafePress, the rival print-to-order companies that designers use to fill orders for Tshirts and other paraphernalia displaying their designs, stop selling material displaying the following design Read more.

12. LNG Exports Are Illegal, by Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

As the White House, Congressional leadership and energy regulators at FERC are fast-tracking natural gas exports, they’re forgetting one important fact: it’s against the law. Read more.

JULY

13. Sick of Corporate Tax Defections, by Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing entitled “The U.S. Tax Code: Love It, Leave It, or Reform It!” where the focus was on the corporate tax maneuver called inversions. Inversions occur when corporations purposely renounce their American citizenship, usually by merging with a foreign corporation and reincorporating in a low- or no-tax country (also called a tax haven) in order to be treated as a foreign corporation and escape U.S. tax liabilities. Read more.

14. Senator McConnell: Federal ID Requirements Disenfranchise People Who Dislike EPA’s Carbon Pollution Rule, by David Arkush, Managing Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is complaining about the ID requirements to get into the federal buildings in which the hearings will take place. The ID requirements mean that some of his constituents won’t be able to attend! Ahem. Voter ID laws, anyone? Read more.

AUGUST

15. Does $760M a Year of Industry Funding Affect the FDA’s Drug Approval Process? by Sidney Wolfe, M.D., founder and senior advisor of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

In 1992, because of widespread concern that the US Food and Drug Administration was taking too long to approve drugs, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) was enacted, authorizing the FDA to collect user fees from drug companies to expedite the approval process. Besides providing funding for an increased FDA staff, the act established performance goals during the approval process to ensure more rapid review. Read more.

16. Breaking: Public Citizen and The US Chamber of Commerce Agree on Something! (Sort of), by Emily Peterson-Cassin, Bright Lines Project coordinator for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

The US Chamber of Commerce just published another blog post slamming an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulemaking that could clarify the rules for nonprofits and reduce the influence of undisclosed political spending (like the more than $35 million the Chamber spent in 2012). The Chamber points out that vague rules are bad rules, and that the IRS’s first draft of proposed rules was deeply flawed. We agree! Read more.

17. Save the Lobbyists! by Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

K Street has taken to the courts, insisting that somewhere in the Constitution it reads that lobbyists have a right to serve on government-established advisory committees that provide consultation to government agencies. After fighting this issue for four years, it looks like the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is about to surrender to the lobbyists. Read more.

SEPTEMBER

18. Is There a Billionaire Cancellation Effect? by Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen

The Republicans have their billionaires, the Democrats have theirs. What’s the big kerfuffle about campaign spending, right? Wrong. Read more.

19. Congress’ Smackdown of Fast Track: Sweet 16 Bday, by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division

Sixteen years ago today, 171 Democrats and 71 GOP Representatives united to vote down then-President Bill Clinton’s request for Fast Track authority. As President Barack Obama now seeks to revive the extreme Nixon-era trade procedure, the 1998 Fast Track smackdown is worth remembering. Read more.

20. Streamline the Rules-Making Process, by Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Proposals for systems to eliminate outdated regulations are in vogue. Various bills pending before Congress range from instituting a cost cap requiring the repeal of a regulation before enacting a new one to establishing a commission to recommend rules for elimination. But comments from industry and even a chief advocate for a regulatory review commission suggest that these are solutions in search of a problem. Read more.

OCTOBER

21. Outrage of the Month: Peddling Bad Medicine With Deceptive Advertising, by Michael Carome, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

Too often, companies entice consumers into purchasing health care products based on deceptive advertisements that overstate the potential benefits of the products and omit key information about risks. One such company is Winter Park, Fla.-based HealthFair, a company that peddles inexpensive cardiovascular disease screening packages to people across the country for whom the screenings are medically inappropriate. Read more.

22. Decimate Wall Street, by Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

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. Read more.

NOVEMBER

23. A Letter to Fair Trade Activists: While They Play Poker, Let’s Play Chess, by Alisa Simmons, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division

Is President Obama really going to sell us out on trade? Did Sen. McConnell have a full or half smile in the last press conference where he talked about Fast Track? Is Rep. Boehner really going to have a showdown with President Obama over immigration and how will that impact Fast Track? What about the news stories stating that TPP will be signed next month? Read more.

24. America’s New Healthcare Bind: How to Overcome the “Family Glitch,” by Vijay Das, health care advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Millions of Americans will go online to obtain or re-enroll in health coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) insurance marketplaces. Working families once again will try to pick a health plan that works for them. Yet this year, the task will be particularly difficult. Read more.

25. Proposed Texas Textbooks Deny Climate Change, by Louchin Chi, intern at Public Citizen Texas

The Texas Board of Education is scheduled to meet from November 18-21, 2014 to vote on the approval of the textbooks proposed by publishers for Texas schools. These Texas textbooks have drawn national criticism for providing blatantly incorrect information about climate change and environmental issues. Read more.

DECEMBER

26. The Road Ahead for the Clean Power Plan, by Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy and Climate Program

Twenty-five thousand Public Citizen activists joined the 2 million Americans who submitted comments in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, giving the proposal to cut carbon pollution from power plants strong public support. Next stop: a final plan. Read more.

27. Wall Street, D.C., by Lisa Gilbert, director, and Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate, for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

In a must-pass spending bill to keep the United States government functioning, JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon personally lobbied enough Democrats to win a provision that subsidizes the bank derivatives business, a.k.a. the gambling part. Read more.

28. CRomnibus Analysis: Grassroots Resistance Sparks Congressional Revolt, by Rick Claypool, online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

 The congressional leaders who negotiated $1.1 trillion federal spending bill – dubbed the “CRomnibus” – must not have known they were in for a fight. But when Public Citizen and other public interest allies got hold of the 1,600-page bill and saw that it contained a bevy of atrocious policy riders that had nothing to do with funding the government, the fight was coming. Read more.

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