Read today’s news from around the state and country. Each day in the Roundup we cover politics, always with a side of bold humor. We think politics should be fun, informative and encourage us all to take action.

Friday, Feb. 22nd

Our farmers and ranchers leading the fight against the KXL aren’t the only ones across the nation fighting for land and water protection. That’s because tar sands aren’t the only threat. The quest for natural gas is also causing very real water safety issues, and landowners in regions being “fracked” are seeing the consequences of this extraction method. There are already hundreds of thousands of wells and waste injection sites across the nation that are home to fracking chemicals like benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. These chemicals are known to cause health problems such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, birth defects, and immune system disorders. And it’s likely these chemicals have already made their way through the food chain, considering farm animals are the most exposed. Ecowatch has published the stories of several farmers who have shared their experiences and who joined us in the Forward on Climate Rally. Read here

Another Republican governor and staunch opponent of Obamacare announced this week that his state would enact the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion. Governor Rick Scott of Florida announced Wednesday that “No mother or father should despair over whether they have access to high-quality health care for their sick child,” adding “I cannot in good conscience deny Floridians that needed access to health care.” Scott joins former opponents of the Medicaid expansion Jan Brewer (AZ), Rick Snyder (MI), and John Kasich (OH) in his embrace of expanding health coverage to those whom could not otherwise afford it. We are still waiting on Governor Heineman to be the 8th Republican governor to recognize that “This country is the greatest in the world, and it’s the greatest largely because of how we value the weakest among us.” Read here


Thursday, Feb. 21st

Today’s Roundup is written by our new Roundup Contributor, Carolyn Nolte

Go Boldly in the Footsteps of Thomas Paine: “Promises of action from both political parties have been replaced by a conspiracy of silence, ” stated Senator John Kerry in his article, “The time to address climate change is now.”  After quoting Thomas Paine in the same article, Kerry further insisted that: “…when it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today’s naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system (Fall River Herald News, July 6, 2012). In his first address on climate change as Secretary of State, Kerry talked the talk, but will he act? In the article “Kerry sidesteps Keystone pipeline issue,” The Canadian Press reports that Kerry proposes to not support “an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly super storms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of dramatically changing climate,” but did not directly discuss the Keystone XL pipeline. His silence is disconcerting. With his role in making the final decision, let’s hope Secretary of State Kerry can connect the dots between the pipeline and its contributions to dramatic changes to climate and environment. Perhaps Kerry will rediscover his role as a bold, non-complacent member of the political system.  Read here

Department of Energy Nominee Understated?: Physicist Ernest Moniz, a member of the MIT committee and likely nominee to lead the Department of Energy, has environmentalist watch groups concerned. The Food and Water Watch believe that “His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years.” According to InsideClimate News, however, Moniz’ message is subtle. “When it comes to carbon, [natural] gas is part of our solution at least for some time… we should take advantage of the time to innovate and bring down the cost of renewables,” said Moniz. He sees shale gas production as “a game changer,” which is an unfortunate truth, as shale has created jobs and has decreased energy cost. Moniz and a colleague in a 2012 letter write about energy innovation driven by partnerships:  “we remain convinced that this is the pathway to maximum impact for advancing MIT’s research…meeting companies’ science, technology, and human-capacity strategic objectives, and for influencing the energy future.” Read here

Cutting Corners: As part of the new health care law, private health plans should cover preventative care at no additional cost to patients. Sounds simple and clear, but some insurance providers have tried to get around the rule by playing a semantics game: changing “preventative test” to “diagnostic procedure.” and, bingo, insurance companies avoid the new law’s preventative health regulations. But the game is up. The Obama administration clarified what free coverage meant on Wednesday, explaining that polyp removals are covered as are multiple forms of birth control – not just the pill. But because these clarifications do not carry the force of law, patients, watchdog groups, and patient advocates will need to be on their toes to proactively help the government enforce its new health care initiatives. Read here

Wednesday, Feb. 20th

TransCanada’s Next Big Lie: TransCanada is changing their messaging strategy a bit. After having seen over 35,000 people march against the KXL in D.C. and hearing President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry vowing to take on climate change, TransCanada is trying to sweep the KXL’s contribution to climate change under the rug. In a forum organized by the National Association of Manufacturers, TransCanada’s Alex Pourbaix flat out denied any connection the tar sands has with climate change. It’s too bad though that tar sands is inherently more carbon intensive than other forms of oil, and the mining and refining processes alone use up way more energy than traditional fuels. Once you take into account tar sands’ byproduct of PetCoke and the fact that one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, Alberta’s Boreal Forest, is being systematically clear cut in order to produce tar sands oil, then we’d say TransCanada has their work cut out for them. They got caught moving the Sand Hills—they should know better than to take on climate change. Read here 

Successors: It looks like President Obama has made his pick for who he will nominate to step in and take up the posts abandoned by Lisa Jackson and Steven Chu: heads of the EPA and DOE. To take the helm of the EPA would be Gina McCarthy. She has led the clean air division of the EPA for the last four years, overseeing such major initiatives as the higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and the mercury pollution limits on coal fired power plants. While it is anticipated that she will face some opposition from Republicans, she is seen as someone who can help President Obama take on climate change—namely through a carbon tax and trade system. The new DOE head would be Ernest Moniz, who has held the post of undersecretary of the DOE since 2001. Moniz does seem to be pro-industry, which could be concerning. We need to do more research on these two candidates in order to discover where they stand on our interests. Read here

The Name of the Game is Sequester: You may be hearing a lot about the impending “sequester”, yet another crisis manufactured by Congress. In 2011 Congress came to a deal to raise the debt ceiling that included automatic spending cuts to both defense and domestic programs, which will take place March 1 unless Congress takes action. It’s yet another situation in which inaction will hurt the economy, but Republicans are sticking to their guns because it prevents the President from making progress on his agenda. It also does nothing to help solve the problems facing our nation or addressing the needs of the future. While addressing fiscal issues such as the solvency of Medicare or reassessing various outdated and inefficient programs (both domestic and defense) is undoubtedly needed, it does not make sense to do so in a draconian way that forces hasty, arbitrary decisions to be made—like the decision that led us to this most recent “fiscal crisis”. Read more details on the sequester and what programs will be facing cuts here and here


Tuesday, Feb. 19th

Find the Fallacies: Bob Deans of the NRDC and Scott Segal of Bracewell and Guiliani, the firm representing energy companies pushing the KXL  debated the merits of TransCanada’s project on PBS yesterday. Deans was spot on in his response to Guiliani’s categorization of pipeline opponents as “a few elite environmental organizations” when he said that “people from all over the country, all walks of life—farmers, students, businessmen—are saying we need to turn away from the fossil fuels of the past.” 35,000 people showed up on Sunday, and across the U.S. Americans held solidarity rallies because they couldn’t make the trip to D.C. and there are undoubtedly many more supporters who couldn’t rally at all, but who have spent time writing letters, calling their representatives, and informing others about the reasons we need to say #nokxl. In addition to Guiliani’s sad misrepresentation of pipeline opponents, he was wrong in his statement that “Canadians have said they are in favor of a pipeline.” We know that is not true and that one of the primary reasons TransCanada is trying to push the pipeline through the Heartland is because of opposition in Canada. Watch the debate and pick out the other incorrect statements made by Guiliani (there’s many more to spot) 

Killed Bill: After it became clear to Gov. Heineman that his tax reform plan was going to meet a swift death in committee, he asked for his bills to be killed and for a study to take place instead. Sen. Schumacher of Columbus in turn introduced legislation today authorizing such a study of the state tax code, including “property taxes, income taxes, the sales tax base and economic development incentives.” We’ll be interested to see what proposals come out as a result of the study and will keep an eye on developments. For the moment, we will note the political defeat this represents for the Governor, who couldn’t even get support from his usual allies for his proposal. Read here

Environmental Issues in Alberta Remain Unresolved…We Remain Unsurprised: A year ago Canada promised to get serious about monitoring the environmental impacts of tar sands development—but there are “no formal results” to be had. The promise was made in an effort to “shore up environmental credentials” considering the Canadian national government criticized Alberta on the environmental issues surrounding tar sands and President Obama has made it clear he wants to take action on climate change. Data was supposed to be made publicly available before the end of 2012, but delays have prevented that from happening. One of the reasons is Alberta’s resistance to federal involvement in the development of the provinces tar sands. But the recent publication of a memo received by Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver raises to even more importance the necessity for this information to be made public. The new research validates long standing knowledge that tailings ponds from tar sands development seriously contaminates groundwater. Even the industry said this is “no surprise” (which we think should be part of their next PR campaign). Environment Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, said this of groundwater contamination: “groundwater contamination as a serious problem since aquifers can remain contaminated for decades or centuries, leaking into lakes, rivers or streams, while potentially creating costly water supply problems.” This is exactly why we are so concerned about a toxic export pipeline running through the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of our state. Read here and here  


Monday, Feb. 18th

Johanns Retiring: Today Senator Johanns announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate—he will not be seeking a second term. That means 2014 will bring about an open race for Governor (which Sen. Charlie Janssen has announced his candidacy for) and U.S. Senate. Congressman Fortenberry and Gov. Heineman have already expressed interest in the seat. Urge Senator Johanns to continue his service to Nebraskans in this last year he is in office by attending his “Congress Coffees” this week to urge him to ask the State Department to conduct an independent, comprehensive analysis of the threat the KXL will pose to Nebraska’s water. Read here 

Wrong on Many Levels: An article appeared today in the Columbus Telegram about NPPD being unable to meet the end of 2014 deadline that TransCanada has set for them to build new transmission lines for the KXL pump stations. The article also notes the support that NPPD has given for the pipeline, and NDEQ’s favorable report on the route. Everything about this article needs pushback—down to the last sentence where NDEQ’s Josh Bender said that Nebraskans were heard throughout the NDEQ process and that the hearing attended by 800 people “had a major impact on what was finally proposed.” Maybe the first two hours of testimony given by TransCanada and AFP were heard, but the concerns expressed by the Nebraskans at that hearing were not. At NPPD’s Board of Directors meeting last week Bender simply served as a mouthpiece for TransCanada, touting the “economic benefits” of the pipeline (though we aren’t sure if his numbers are for the whole length of the pipeline or just the Nebraska portion), that a spill would be “localized,” and repeating Transcanada’s promises that they will cover all clean-up costs. Lastly, why is NPPD already preparing transmission lines for a project whose approval is up in the air? Read here

Health Insurance Exchanges: Friday was the last day for states to tell the federal government whether or not they wanted any help in running their health insurance exchanges—26 of them opted for a federally operated program. Interestingly, the political leaning of the states choosing for a federally operated system are predominately red states, the states where people were saying “keep the government out of my Medicare” when the vote on Obamacare was being heavily debated. Some people in states with officials hostile to the health care law “sometimes expressed relief” because they didn’t want the “fox running the hen house.” We were disappointed when Nebraska chose to go with a federally operated exchange because we agree with Senator Jeremy Nordquist’s assessment that we passed up a real opportunity to create a system “for Nebraskans, by Nebraskans.” Senator Nordquist introduced legislation to create such as a state based health insurance exchange. Read here