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Tag: sheldon whitehouse

Exclusive: White House Agrees To Boost Carbon Capture In Budget Bill

By Jarrett Renshaw and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and top Democratic lawmakers have agreed to boost a tax credit for industrial carbon capture projects in a deal that could help solidify support for the budget reconciliation bill at the heart of President Joe Biden's economic agenda, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The agreement worked out by White House officials and lawmakers, including Senators Ron Wyden and Sheldon Whitehouse, and some of their counterparts in the House, would raise the so-called 45-Q tax credit for carbon capture projects in heavy industry, such as cement and steel plants, to $85 per metric ton. It would also waive requirements that plants must capture a certain percentage of carbon to be eligible.

The White House and the senators did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In carbon capture projects, industrial plants add pipes and other heavy equipment to siphon off carbon dioxide emissions for permanent storage underground before they have the chance reach the atmosphere and make climate change worse.

But carbon capture is expensive to build and certify and many projects, such as Petra Nova in Texas, have stopped operations in recent years.

Current 45-Q tax credits allow polluting plants to claim $50 per ton of carbon dioxide they sequester and $35 a ton for projects where carbon is captured and then used to push more crude oil from aging oilfields.

The agreement does not yet cover the power sector, which includes coal and natural gas plants, a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate from large coal producing state West Virginia, has pushed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to allow coal and natural gas burning power plants to get incentives for carbon capture in the reconciliation bill.

Discussions are progressing on boosting the carbon capture credit for power plants, the sources said.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

FBI Director Faces Sharp New Scrutiny Over Kavanaugh Probe

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct by Christine Blasey Ford — a psychology professor at Palo Alto University — in 2018, the FBI conducted an investigation. But Kavanaugh's critics argued that the investigation should have been much more comprehensive in light of the fact that then-President Donald Trump had nominated him for a lifetime appointment on the highest judicial body in the United States. FBI Director Christopher Wray's handling of that investigation, according to Guardian reporter Stephanie Kirchgaessner, continues to be scrutinized three years later.

Kirchgaessner explains, "The FBI director, Chris Wray, is facing new scrutiny of the Bureau's handling of its 2018 background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh, including its claim that the FBI lacked the authority to conduct a further investigation into the then-Supreme Court nominee. At the heart of the new questions that Wray will face later this week, when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a 2010 memorandum of understanding that the FBI has recently said constrained the agency's ability to conduct any further investigations of allegations of misconduct."

In 2018, Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct not only by Ford, but also, by Deborah Ramirez (one of Kavanaugh's classmates at Yale University in the 1980s) and web developer Julie Swetnick (who also knew Kavanaugh during his Yale days). Ford testified during now-Justice Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearings; Ramirez and Swetnick did not. And critics of Kavanaugh believed that Ramirez and Swetnick's allegations should have been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement. Kavanaugh flatly denied their accusations.

"The FBI closed its extended background check of Kavanaugh after four days and did not interview either Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh," Kirchgaessner notes. "The FBI also disclosed to the Senate this June — two years after questions were initially asked — that it had received 4500 tips from the public during the background check and that it had shared all 'relevant tips' with the White House counsel at that time. It is not clear whether those tips were ever investigated."

In a letter sent to two Democratic U.S. senators, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the FBI said that under the 2010 memo of understanding, it didn't have the authority to "unilaterally conduct further investigative activity absent instructions from the requesting entity." Kirchgaessner reports, however, that "an examination by The Guardian of the 2010 MOU, which was signed by the then-Attorney General Eric Holder and then-White House Counsel Robert Bauer, does not make explicitly clear that the FBI was restricted in terms of how it would conduct its investigation."

According to Kirchgaessner, "Wray is likely to face scrutiny on why information that was specific to the allegations of sexual misconduct was not fully explored, including evidence that was reportedly offered to investigators by an alleged witness named Max Stier, an attorney and former classmate of Ramirez, who reportedly notified senators that he had witnessed an event similar to the one recounted by Ramirez. Stier's account was never examined by the FBI."

The FBI declined to be interviewed for Kirchgaessner's article, but Whitehouse agreed to be interviewed.

The Rhode Island Democrat told the Guardian, "In its years-late response to our questions, the FBI leaned hard on the notion that this MOU limited its authority to be the FBI and investigate wrongdoing. Now that we have the MOU, it's even harder to understand the Bureau's excuses for ignoring credible information it received. Director Wray ought to be ready to answer my questions about this episode — I won't stop asking until he does."

Warren And Whitehouse Demand Probe Of Tax Avoidance By Ultra-Wealthy

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Two prominent members of the Senate Finance Committee are calling for an investigation into tax avoidance by the ultrawealthy, citing ProPublica's "Secret IRS Files" series.

In a letter sent today, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote to the committee's chairman, Ron Wyden (D-OR), that the "bombshell" and "deeply troubling" report requires an investigation into "how the nation's wealthiest individuals are using a series of legal tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of income taxes." The senators also requested that the Senate hold hearings and develop legislation to address the loopholes' "impact on the nation's finances and ability to pay for investments in infrastructure, health care, the economy, and the environment."

Last month ProPublica began publishing a series of stories about tax avoidance among the ultra-wealthy, based on a vast trove of tax data concerning thousands of the wealthiest American taxpayers and covering more than 15 years. ProPublica conducted an unprecedented analysis that compared the ultra-wealthy's taxes to the growth in their fortunes, calculating that the 25 richest Americans pay a "true tax rate" of just 3.4 percent.

The wealthy pay so little in taxes primarily because they keep their incomes low, the article explained, often borrowing against their fortunes to fund their lifestyles. Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Tesla's Elon Musk, Bloomberg L.P.'s Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires have each paid no federal income taxes in one or more recent years. The tax avoidance techniques described in "The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Taxes" are legal, and routine among the ultrawealthy.

In a subsequent article, ProPublica highlighted how some rich people, such as Peter Thiel, have been able to use Roth individual retirement accounts, intended as vehicles to bolster middle-class savings, to create vast untaxed fortunes. A third article showed how billionaires use a provision in the tax code to reduce their taxes after buying sports teams.

Banks and financial institutions are lending more to the rich than ever, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal last week. The senators called for an investigation of banks and wealth management firms to understand the techniques, strategies and products offered to the wealthy that enable them to avoid paying taxes. Morgan Stanley's wealth management clients have $68 billion worth of loans backed by securities and other investments, more than double the amount they had five years ago, and Bank of America has loans worth over $62 billion, the Journal reported.

In March, Warren introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Whitehouse, that would create a tax on the wealth of the richest Americans. Most Republicans and some Democrats oppose such a measure.

Update, July 14, 2021: In a statement, Wyden said that he agreed with the points raised by Warren and Whitehouse. "The country's wealthiest — who profited immensely during the pandemic — have not been paying their fair share," he said. "I've been working on a proposal to fix this broken system since 2019 and continue to work to get the bill ready for release. I'm also going to work with my colleagues on other ways the committee can tackle this issue."

Justice Barrett Ignores Ethical Concerns To Hear Koch Outfit's Lawsuit

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is facing backlash for her refusal to recuse herself from a case involving the Koch billionaires who spent a substantial amount of money on political ads ahead of her confirmation.

According to Law & Crime, on Monday, April 26, the Supreme Court heard verbal arguments for two cases: Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez and Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta. Both cases center on First Amendment opposition to a California law requiring select non-profit groups to disclose donor information to the U.S. Department of Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The top petitioner listed in the case is a non-profit organization spearheaded by billionaires David Koch and Charles Koch. When Barrett was nominated for the nation's highest court by former President Donald Trump, the group shelled out more than $1 million to cover the cost of advertisements to amplify Barrett's image.

During an interview with Forbes, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) expressed concern about the presumed conflict of interest Barrett is treading toward by refusing to recuse herself from the case.

"Justice Barrett is ignoring important ethical standards to rule on a case that could open our democracy to further infiltration by dark-money influence, perhaps permanently," Whitehouse told Forbes. "Her choice to press forward in spite of recusal laws also creates a troubling new precedent, and undermines public confidence in the integrity of the Court."

Whitehouse and other Democratic lawmakers also penned a letter last week to express their concern.

"Statute, constitutional case law, and common sense all would seem to require your recusal from [the case]," Whitehouse, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) wrote. "At a minimum, there should be a public explanation as to why you think recusal is not required under federal law, since your participation in the case on these facts would appear to both conflict with 28 U.S.C. § 455 and effectively overturn [relevant case law]. Understanding this determination will also aid Congress in its ongoing consideration of judicial ethics and transparency rules."

"The American people are alarmed about the seemingly dominant influence of special interests on our politics and government," the trio of Democrats continued. "And the [Koch-funded] operation's 'full scale campaign' for your confirmation makes plain that our judiciary is a target of this massive influence apparatus. Now, in AFPF, the Court takes up an important case that squarely implicates the power of big special interests to exercise their influence from behind veils of secrecy."

"We hope you will consider seriously and address publicly the question of recusal in this case," that letter concluded.

Sen. Whitehouse Says FBI Background Check On Brett Kavanaugh Was ‘Fake’

The FBI is facing allegations that the background check on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 was “politically-constrained and perhaps fake.” The 2018 background check was conducted after a woman accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, outlined his concerns on Monday in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. He argued that there’s reason to believe the FBI did not properly manage its investigation and overlooked several potential witnesses. “If standard procedures were violated, and...

At Hearing, Sen. Whitehouse Blasts Barrett Nomination As Dark-Money Maneuver To Rig Courts

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

During her Senate confirmation hearings this week, Judge Amy Coney Barrett — President Donald Trump's far-right nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court — has been questioned by Democratic senators who include Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Whitehouse, during his questioning, focused heavily on some of the conservative groups and judicial activists that are pushing aggressively for Barrett's confirmation — and Whitehouse laid out, in detail, the right-wing scheme to "rig" the federal courts.

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Energy Department Threatens Whistleblower Who Exposed Secret Coal Scheming

A whistleblower leaked a photograph of a private meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a coal baron who’s also a major Republican donor. Now he’s being threatened.

 Photographer Simon Edelman used to work for the Department of Energy, headed by former Texas governor and failed presidential candidate Rick Perry.

But then Edelman leaked photographs of a secret meeting between Perry and Robert E. Murray, the owner of a major coal mining operation, and a longtime Republican donor and supporter of Donald Trump. The pictures show Perry and Murray embracing and exchanging an “action plan” drafted by Murray — essentially, a list Murray’s list of demands for changes to policy and regulations he wanted that would benefit the coal industry.

After those photos surfaced, Edelman was let go. The Department of Energy seized his personal laptop and escorted him out of his office in the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. His employment agreement was terminated, even though he was supposed to be employedfor two more years.

Then, according to a complaint filed with the inspector general of the Department of Energy, the threats started.

In one phone call that was recorded, an official at the Energy Department pushed for him to turn over the drive and said, “I would suggest that doing it sooner rather than later would probably be a good thing for you.”

Photos taken by government employees as part of their official duties are in fact in the public domain, and do not belong to any specific agency, the head of the agency, or the president and his administration.

Whistleblower Edelman alerted Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) about the department’s actions, and now they’re pushing for the department, and Perry, to come clean about why the photographer was really fired.

It’s not difficult to understand why such a meeting would be a huge embarrassment for the Perry, the Energy Department, and the Trump administration.

Murray contributed $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration and personally held a fundraiser for him during the campaign. Before that, he also financially supported Perry’s political career.

After the Sago Mine disaster in 2006 where 12 miners were killed and only one survived, Murray lobbied against the push in West Virginia to pass safety legislation.

His company, Murray Energy, operated the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah that collapsed in 2007, trapping six miners. Before the collapse, the mine had received 64 violations and racked up $12,000 in fines.

After President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, Murray laid off 156 workers and alleged that the Obama administration was engaged in a “war on coal.”

Murray sued John Oliver and HBO over an episode of the program Last Week Tonight that exposed his shoddy safety record and habit of suing journalists who write about his business.

He has also has long been a fixture on right-wing outlets like Fox News.

It is the troubling track record of someone involved in the mining business, let alone exerting an undue influence on the entire Department of Energy, the presidency, and the government. Murray is not someone who should have that kind of influence over the lives of mine workers, who have already gotten a raw deal from Trump after a campaign of absurd promises.

The Trump administration is in bed with the worst of the worst of corporate America. Trump and his team have shown time and again that they will not hesitate to cover up and hide massive corruption. In this case, it seems the Energy Department is willing to go so far as to threaten a whistleblower who dared to tell the truth about it.