January 18, 2018

Time to Wake Up: The Murray Plan

Mr. President, now, for the 193rd time, I will give my “Time to Wake Up” speech, and as I do so, we are coming up on President Trump’s anniversary in office.

Unfortunately, this occasion does not offer the American people much to celebrate. Behind the persistent tweets and the dog whistles, the Trump Presidency has been a spectacle of special interests and self-dealing. Billionaire donors have endless access installing their operatives and pursuing their special interest goals throughout the executive branch. They are literally writing the rules in an unambiguous effort to enrich themselves evermore at the expense of everyone else.

Fossil fuel barons are the new American dark money emperors. Carl Icahn, early on, got himself installed as a special adviser to the President on regulatory reform and began pushing for a change to the renewable fuel standard that would net one of his companies, CVR Energy, hundreds of millions of dollars. Icahn’s insider campaign came to an end in August of last year right around the time a New Yorker article outlined the potential legal claims that could arise from his murky status and self-dealing. Federal investigators have since opened a probe into Icahn’s time at the White House.

Then came Murray Energy Corporation CEO and big Trump donor Bob Murray with his policy wish list for Trump officials. He called it his action plan. Murray had donated $300,000 to the President’s inauguration, and he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political action committees affiliated with the EPA Administrator and fossil fuel operative, Scott Pruitt. In a “Frontline” documentary, Bob Murray bragged about giving the administration this action plan and that the first page was already done.

Well, I was curious to see the Bob Murray action plan for the Trump administration, so I joined Senator Carper, our ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and asked the White House for a copy of the Bob Murray action plan. The White House ignored our request and to this date has never responded.

I guess the White House was busy organizing Trump’s nominee for second in command at the EPA: a lobbyist for, guess who–Bob Murray and Murray Energy. During the Murray Energy lobbyist’s EPA confirmation hearing, he claimed he did not have the Bob Murray action plan. He admitted he had seen the Bob Murray action plan at a meeting between Bob Murray and Energy Secretary Rick Perry last March, but he could not recall details of what was in the action plan or what was discussed in the meeting. Lobbyists for energy companies who get one-on-one meetings with the Secretary of Energy often little note nor long remember what went on at the meeting.

Anyway, I asked the Department of Energy whether they had a copy of the elusive Bob Murray action plan. Shortly after my request, and before we heard anything from the Department of Energy, the magazine In These Times released photos of that March meeting that the Murray lobbyist had mentioned between Secretary Perry and Bob Murray.

This photo shows Bob Murray and Secretary Perry. It looks like Bob Murray received a pretty cozy reception from the Energy Secretary. This gentleman, I believe, is another lobbyist for Bob Murray and Murray Energy.

After they got through the hugging, they got down to business. There is the Secretary, there is the CEO Bob Murray, there is his other lobbyist, and this is the Bob Murray lobbyist who is now teed up to be the No. 2 at EPA. Right there in the picture is the Bob Murray action plan.

This is a close-up of it, and the Presiding Officer can’t see from there and nobody on the camera can see, but if you look right here, it talks about power grid reliability in the cover letter signed by Bob Murray, which may have cooked up, since this was a meeting with Secretary Perry, Secretary Perry’s power grid reliability proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which included huge subsidies to coal plants.

So we have a coal company CEO bringing his action plan in to Secretary Perry on whose cover letter it talks about power grid reliability, and before you know it, Secretary Perry is proposing a power grid reliability project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that just happens to give the coal industry enormous subsidies. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, with this photographic evidence in hand, I renewed my request that the Energy Department produce this Bob Murray action plan. They were no longer able to pretend they didn’t have it because they had a picture of it, with the Secretary, on his desk. They nevertheless continued to stonewall me, saying they would provide me the document after responding to FOIA requests from the public.

So, memo to my Senate colleagues, when in the exercise of your oversight authority and the oversight authority of Congress and the Senate you request documents from the Trump administration, you might want to consider putting in a parallel FOIA request as that may be the only way you get a response.

Despite the administration’s best efforts to stonewall the Bob Murray action plan, however, my office was able to obtain a copy from an independent source. This version is addressed to Vice President Pence.

The New York Times has now published the Bob Murray action plan. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the article they wrote, “How a Coal Baron’s Wish List Became President Trump’s To-Do List,” and the Bob Murray action plan that was the subject of that story at the conclusion of my remarks.

The article details demands made by Murray that have already been hecked off by the President and the administration, including the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the installation of mining industry operatives at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and even, believe it or not, the appointment of a fossil fuel-friendly U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Several more of Bob Murray’s action plan requests are underway. At the Mine Safety and Health Administration, now led by a former coal mine executive, Murray Energy and trade associations are working to undo Obama-era rules to protect miners. The 2010 coal mine dust rule is also on the chopping block. Over at EPA, Bob Murray’s political money beneficiary, Scott Pruitt, has begun a review of the Agency’s 2015 ozone standards.

Let me just drop in, as a Senator from Rhode Island, we have had days when you drive into work and the skies are clear and the weather is nice and the radio says: Little children, infants and elderly folks and people who have a breathing difficulty should stay indoors in the air-conditioning. They should not go outdoors and enjoy the beautiful day. Why? Because of ozone which is being bombarded in on Rhode Island from–guess what–coal plants in the Midwest. We are in the downstream receiving end of ozone, which is the product of those coal plant emissions. So, obviously, loosening the ozone standards is good for coal companies.

On a new topic, EPA continues to cut and to drive away its staff–all items on Bob Murray’s action plan.

Since it appears that Bob Murray has tailored his action plan for individual agencies, I have sent additional requests last week to the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, all of which are named in the Bob Murray action plan to see what specific action plans they have from Bob Murray.

The fossil fuel industry may be able to boss Cabinet Secretaries around and may be able to bring the majority party in Congress smartly to heel, but, fortunately, there are still some venues where their demands run smack up against the rule of law. In our courts and in administrative proceedings, decisions must have substantial support in the evidence, and lying and misleading can be exposed and even punished–unlike in Congress, where lying and misleading have been sickeningly successful fossil fuel tactics for decades.

Last week, the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission–even one stuffed with Trump appointees–rejected Secretary Perry’s proposed power grid reliability rule to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. The FERC Commissioners found that the proposal failed to meet “clear and fundamental” legal requirements, like that the result will be “just and reasonable” under the Federal Power Act.

As an aside here, the theory of the coal industry was that their units provide more reliability than renewables. Well, tell that to Iowa’s electric grid operators, which have baked Iowa’s abundant wind energy not just into their flow but into their reliability modeling. Tell that to New England’s ISO, which has allowed renewables into its capacity auctions to be paid, for meeting baseload capacity requirements. And, of course, tell that to anyone who has had to deal with scheduled and unscheduled outages at coal plants.

When I went on one of my climate visits to, in this case, Tennessee, I heard about a coal plant that had to be shut down because climate change had warmed the river and shrunk the flow so that the river used to cool the plant was no longer adequate to cool the plant, and they had to go into an unscheduled outage. Wind and solar are very reliable, and the ISOs have baked the algorithms that quantify their reliability into their grid reliability planning.

The “coal is reliable and renewables aren’t” argument may pass muster on talk shows, but in the real world of grid operators, it is nonsense. FERC, as a rule-of-law agency, is required to face that fact.

America’s courts also stand in the way of the Bob Murray action plan agenda. Murray, for instance, has demanded that the EPA overturn its 2009 endangerment finding–the administrative finding that greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane and so forth, threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. That is their finding, that those greenhouse gas emissions threaten the health and welfare of current and future generations. That is why it is called an endangerment finding, because of the danger to the public. Well, good luck challenging that determination in a court of law. In fact, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has already upheld the endangerment finding back in 2012.

Even the fossil fuel flunky running the EPA now knows better than to challenge that endangerment finding. If he thought he could, he would in a heartbeat, but he is clever enough to know that an avalanche of climate evidence would fall in on his head if he tried. Witnesses from virtually every leading State university in the industry, from Alaska to Oklahoma to Georgia to Maine; expert scientists from our National Laboratories, from Idaho to Tennessee; our national security agencies and our military; America’s government watchdog agencies, like the GAO and the GSA; and even the Trump administration’s own recent climate report, all, would pile on the conclusive evidence of climate change. And on the other side would be what? Pathetic Kathleen Hartnett White, who gave one of the worst performances in Senate history at her confirmation hearings? The secretly fossil-fuel-funded Willie Soon? Some coal company lobbyist? Or perhaps the Heartland Institute, with its proud history of comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber?

It would be a rout. It would be a rout, and even Pruitt knows it. The reason it would be a rout is because of the rule of law–the rule of law requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act, the rule of law specter of judicial review, and the rule of law sanctions that courts impose for false evidence.

Certainly, Bob Murray and his surrounding crowd of bad-acting fossil fuel billionaires know how to throw their political weight around. We see everywhere the phony science denial apparatus they have created. We see their false and toxic messages even in outlets like the Wall Street Journal editorial page. We see their lobbying front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, continuing adamantly to oppose any serious climate legislation despite the contrary position of companies on their board of directors. American elections stink with their dark money and promises and threats. Their flunkies have now been moved into positions of authority in government, and the Trump’s administration eagerness to carry out industry marching orders is humiliatingly servile.

Ultimately, the polluters’ drive to put profit first above the health and safety of Americans will face strict scrutiny in the truth-based arena of Federal courts. Ultimately, it will also face the harsh test of time, as the fact that they knew and the fact that they lied becomes ever more obvious and ever more odious. Ultimately, the American voter will have her say about whether this great Republic should be under the dominion and control of the fossil fuel industry or free to address the problem of climate change as a rational world leader must.

With that, I yield the floor.