Michael Bastasch

From Taxes to Keystone: Billionaire Steyer’s Ads Are Labeled ‘False’ By Fact-Checkers

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Posted by Michael Bastasch on Monday, August 11th, 2014, 11:43 AM PERMALINK

Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer has been increasing his ad buys promoting environmentalist causes and candidates. There’s just one problem: many of his ads are being fact-checked as misleading or even false.

Most recently, a Steyer-backed ad against Iowa Republican candidate for Senate Joni Ernst was rated “false” by the fact-checking site Politifact. Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action, put out an ad lambasting Ernst for signing a pledge not to raise taxes that was crafted by the group Americans for Tax Reform.

Republicans have been slammed by Democrats in the past for backing the no tax increase pledge, but the NextGen ad from July claimed the pledge “protects tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.” This, however, was declared to be false by Politifact.

“Ernst signed the Taxpayer Protection pledge, a promise promoted by Americans for Tax Reform, which is a broad vow to oppose all tax increases,” Politifact said. “It does not specify protecting tax loopholes for companies that have employees overseas.”

“In one instance, Americans for Tax Reform urged signers to vote against a bill that closed one of these loopholes, but the decision was more about stopping a tax increase than protecting outsourcing, and Ernst had yet to sign the pledge then, anyway. We rate this claim False,” declared Politifact.

Indeed, the ATR pledge states that signatories should “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

If anything, the pledge allows for closing tax “loopholes” — they just have to be offset by lowering base tax rates. ATR bills itself as a group that wants a “system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today.” Getting rid of loopholes would certainly make the tax system simpler.

NextGen Climate Action did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on their anti-Ernst ad.

The attack on Ernst was not the first time that NextGen has been called out for bending the truth in their ads. Back in January, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave a NextGen ad attacking the Keystone XL pipeline “four Pinocchios.”

Steyer was first thrust into the public sphere because of his opposition to it on global warming grounds. Despite some potential conflicts of interest with his former hedge fund, Steyer put out ads and funded studies trying to show that Keystone would harm the U.S. economy and be bad for the planet.

In particular, Steyer tried to paint the pipeline as an export project that would simply move oil through America’s heartland so it could be shipped to China, a dubious claim at best.

One ad put out by NextGen tried to show that Keystone would benefit China, not America. The ad claimed that Chinese government-backed companies had billions invested in Canadian oil sands development and was “counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada’s pipeline to ship oil through America’s heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs.”

The ad caught the attention from fact-checkers who looked into NextGen’s claims about Keystone being used to ship oil to China. Kessler wrote the “ad does not even meet the minimal standards for such political attack ads. It relies on speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality.”

Why? Because while China has invested billions in Canadian energy development, it’s only a small player in the oil production game. Asian-owned companies only make up about 7 percent of Canadian oil production — this includes China, Japan and others.

The NextGen ad also features a top TransCanada official saying “I can’t do that…” after the ad claims the company “under oath…won’t commit to selling us one single barrel” of oil. But this quote by TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alexander Pourbaix, was “turned on its head,” reports the Post.

“Here’s the context: Pourbaix had explained that the refiners sometimes export refined products such as diesel, and then will import ‘incremental volumes’ of refined products,” Kessler wrote. “So a lawmaker asked him to ensure that any volume exported was met with an equal volume of imported products, so there was no net difference.”

Pourbaix actually said, “I can’t do that because I am merely the shipper of this oil.” The ad cuts him off and then poses a question he was never asked.

“Chinese state investment in the Canadian oil sands is an interesting development, but not worthy of the jingoistic treatment given here,” Kessler wrote. “While depending on market conditions some refined products may be exported, there is no evidence that every single barrel of oil would simply pass through the pipeline on the way to overseas shores. The twisting of Pourbaix’s remarks is especially disturbing, even by the standards of attack ads.”

Despite the “four Pinocchios” rating by the Post, NextGen later recycled the debunked ad in an attack on Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in April.

Steyer again attempted to sway public support for Keystone in June by hiring former Navy SEAL chief David Cooper to say the project posed a huge national security risk. Cooper issued a report saying a “small group of evildoers could easily cause a catastrophic spill of millions of gallons of diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude, from the Keystone XL,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

“They could do it with as little as four pounds of commercial-grade, improvised explosives,” Businessweek added, citing Cooper’s report.

“A coordinated attack at several critical points would not only wreak havoc,” Cooper wrote in his report, “it would likely overwhelm the existing engineering capability needed to clean it up.”Ad Units

But National Journal noted that the report leaves out “crucial context” that dampens the Steyer’s attempt at painting Keystone as a national security liability.

“Here’s what it doesn’t say,” National Journal reported. “While terrorist attacks on energy infrastructure may be on the rise around the world, terrorist strikes on U.S. soil have declined dramatically in recent decades.”

“During this time, the most likely targets of a terrorist attack in the U.S. were businesses, followed by private citizens and property. Attacks tended to take place in urban areas, and non-fatal events vastly outnumbered deadly strikes,” the report continued, adding that Cooper even acknowledged the low probability of an attack on Keystone.

National Journal concluded that “while Keystone XL could fall victim to a terrorist attack, the odds of that happening in the near future are low relative to potential targets and past years’ activity.”

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Liberal Billionaire To Flood Washington, Florida With Green Campaign Cash

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Posted by Michael Bastasch on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014, 2:58 PM PERMALINK

Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer is already targeting states for his $100 million spending spree to make global warming a top issue in the November elections. Democrats in Florida and Washington are likely to see a huge funding boost from Steyer and his climate activist groups.

Florida Is Drowning In Campaign Cash

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned eco-activist, is gearing up to take on Florida’s multi-millionaire Republican Gov. Rick Scott in his bid for reelection this fall.

Expecting a costly race in the Sunshine State, Steyer has set up a Florida headquarters for his activist group NextGen Climate Action and given it $750,000 in seed funding to lay the groundwork for his anti-Scott campaign this fall. The Miami Herald reports that Democrats are “buzzing” that Steyer could dump $10 million into Florida this fall.

Steyer plans to make sea level rises a key component of his plan to defeat Gov. Scott on the issue of global warming. Environmentalists and scientists argue that as the Earth warms, sea levels will rise, submerging many coastal regions.

“It’s hard to look at the map of the United States and not understand that not only is Florida ground zero for climate [change], it’s the third most-populous state,” Steyer told the Miami Herald.

“When you think about why this is an important state to be in, it’s because it’s actually a linchpin,” said Steyer.

But Rick Scott has his own strategy for fighting off Steyer’s attacks: spend $1 billion on environmental conservation. His plan would fund things like land and water conservation and protecting the Everglades. Scott would also spend $50 million a year on “alternative water-supply projects and another $50 million a year for natural springs restoration” as well as increasing fines for polluters, reports the Daily Commercial.

Scott’s plan has won the approval of some local environmental groups who want to see the state’s water resources receive more funding. Democrats have called the effort a phony attempt to please environmentally conscious voters.

“We agree with Governor Scott that we need to invest in protecting Florida’s water quality, the Everglades, and our treasured natural areas,” Will Abberger, campaign manager for the Florida Water and Land Legacy — a group backed by major environmental organizations.

But environmentalists say that while they agree with Scott’s efforts, they believe a pending state constitutional amendment would go farther in protecting Florida’s water resources.

Steyer’s group NextGen Climate has already conducted polling and plans big ad buys across a wide variety of mediums to defeat Scott. NexGen will also funnel lots of money to field groups that can motivate voters to get to the polls.

The Miami Herald, however, notes that Florida is the most expensive state to campaign in given its status as a swing state. In fact, in the 2010 election cycle Scott spent $75.1 million of his own money to get elected. This election cycle, he has already spent more than $20 million on TV ads, while his opponent Charlie Crist and his fellow Democrats have only spent $5 million.

Inslee, Steyer Bet On Oysters For Victory This Year

Across the country, Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is using the plight of oyster farmers as his rallying cry for action on global warming. Inslee is betting that oyster farmers and millions of dollars from Steyer will be his ticket to becoming the most climate-conscious U.S. governor.

Inslee hopes to use Steyer’s millions to defeat sitting Republican lawmakers opposing his plans for a cap-and-trade in Washington state. Past efforts to pass cap-and-trade through the state legislature have failed, forcing Inslee to take a cue from President Obama and use executive orders to impose climate policies.

In April, Inslee issued an executive order to create a state cap-and-trade program after signing an executive agreement with other Democratic West Coast governors to unilaterally impose global warming policies.

Inslee’s plan would create a state cap-and-trade regime, phase out coal power and increase funding to green energy projects. The move was highly controversial, but Inslee swore it was needed for the state to meet its 2020 environmental goals.

Now the Democratic governor hopes to fund the campaigns of sympathetic lawmakers to get legislative backing behind his global warming agenda.

“Having a change in the State Senate would be a quantum shift in our ability to move forward,” Inslee said.

Steyer has yet to name which state Senate candidates his activists will target, but The New York Times reports his strategists are “eyeing about half a dozen key seats that could tip the majority of the State Senate in favor of Mr. Inslee’s agenda.”

Currently, the Washington state Senate has 24 Republicans and 25 Democrats, two of whom actually caucus with Republicans. This has put a damper on Inslee’s global warming efforts. Steyer’s money could help tip the balance of power back to the Democrats.

“Mr. Steyer has not said what he will spend in the districts, but his previous pattern indicates it will be hundreds of thousands of dollars for each candidate — a huge amount for a Washington State race,” The NY Times reports.

Republicans, however, have been quick to point to the fact that Democratic efforts are being pushed by a wealthy out-of-state donor, something which rubs many Washingtonians the wrong way.

“It’s ridiculous that money coming from outside the state is trying to influence our votes,” Rick Tjoelker, a mechanic in Lynden, Washington, told the Times.

But Inslee hopes that his support from Washington oyster farmers will give credence to his cause. Oyster farmers are being told by scientists and eco-activists that global warming will increase ocean acidity and harm their oyster crops.

“We can attribute the problems in the oyster hatcheries to the increased carbon in the ocean,” Terrie Klinger, a professor of marine affairs at the University of Washington, told the Times.

“We have a nursery where we’ve set oysters continuously, but now they can’t develop a healthy shell,” Paul Taylor, a five generation oyster farmer, told the Times. “Right now, it’s just hurting the babies, and in a controlled environment, we can manipulate the chemicals to get those through. But I don’t know at what levels of acidification the adults won’t grow. That unknown is very scary.”

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Report: EPA Could Garnish Wages Over Minor Paperwork Infractions

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Posted by Michael Bastasch on Thursday, July 31st, 2014, 11:51 AM PERMALINK

Make sure you correctly fill out all your forms when dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency, as people could see their wages garnished – meaning confiscated, with legal sanction — over paperwork infractions, according to a new report.

Facing public backlash, the EPA withdrew a rule giving them the power to garnish up to 15 percent of people’s wages for delinquent payments. But the threat of having your paycheck raided by environmental regulators is not gone, merely sidelined for now.

In light of this news, the American Action Forum (AAF) examined past EPA fines to gauge the potential impact to people’s paychecks if the agency’s wage garnishment rule is finalized. AAF found that the EPA has forced individuals and businesses $2.3 billion in fines for infractions that have nothing to do with “large facilities emitting tons of toxic pollutants annually.”

One of the most important findings in the AAF report is that individuals tended to pay their fines to the EPA on time — casting doubt on the need for a wage garnishment rule in the first place.

“In cases involving individuals, EPA primarily issues fines for violation of paperwork or legal disclosure requirements rather than significant environmental contamination,” the AAF report found. “Moreover, those fines are generally paid on time. EPA’s proposal to grant itself wage garnishment authority more closely resembles a power grab than an appropriate administrative step to rectify an observed issue in their fine repayment process.”

AAF found that at least 41 people have been forced to pay thousands of dollars for “relatively minor paperwork violations.” Fines for these seemingly innocuous crimes averaged “$12,300 or approximately 14 weeks of earnings for the typical American,” according to AAF.

“A review of EPA’s database reveals that the majority of fines for individuals involve paperwork infractions – not environmental contamination,” AAF reported.

“It is not just individuals that EPA recently fined,” as AAF “also found that the agency cited several churches, medical centers, elementary schools, small businesses, and daycares to the tune of $445,000 during the last six years.”

A major source of EPA fines is paperwork violations involving lead paint. AAF found that over the past six years, the EPA logged at least 35 lead paint paperwork violations, levying an average fine of $12,490 to the owners of large and small rental properties.

One person from Connecticut “omitted routine disclosure forms on the possibility of lead-based paint in his rental property.” The EPA fined him $11,000 per violation for 18 initial infractions, and $16,000 for the last violation on not providing information on lead paint. He was fined a total of $159,000 for paperwork violations, but was able to pay the EPA on time.

A couple from North Carolina was hit with $12,000 in EPA fines for leaving out an “EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet.” As part of their settlement, the couple had to pay the U.S. Treasury $1,517 every 90 days.


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