John Nichols on attorneys general against Citizens United, Adam Federman on hazards of natural gas drilling and Jennifer O’Mahoney on attempts to rollback California’s regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.


ATTORNEYS UNITED: With 2010 campaign spending predicted to top $5 billion—almost twice what was spent in 2006—it’s clear the Supreme Court’s decision to remove restraints on corporate spending has created a scenario where “big money” is moving to monopolize the democratic discourse. The need for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC could not be more urgent. But is it practical? A bipartisan group that includes a half-dozen former state attorneys general and dozens of the nation’s leading legal scholars says yes.

A letter by the group to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs argues that “the Supreme Court’s creation of corporate ‘speech’ rights on which the Citizens United decision rests is contrary to the First Amendment as we understand it.” Former Massachusetts Attorneys General Frank Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and other former state and federal prosecutors (including author Scott Turow) are joining Derrick Bell, Charles Ogletree and other academics to declare that Citizens United “was not only wrongly decided but presents a serious danger to effective self-government of, for and by the American people, a danger which must be addressed.”

The letter, which was organized by Free Speech for People and People for the American Way, concludes that Congress must “explore all potential remedies, including proposals for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to protect our democracy and self-government of the people.” This represents the loudest call yet from the legal community for consideration of a constitutional amendment to prevent corporate cash from stifling democracy.   JOHN NICHOLS

BRIDGE FUEL TO NOWHERE: Until recently the debate surrounding the surge in natural gas drilling has focused almost entirely on the hazards of hydraulic fracturing. But it’s not only fracking we should be worried about; it’s the whole process. The latest case in point is the September 9 explosion of a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline in San Bruno, California, which killed eight people and destroyed more than thirty homes.

Like the BP oil spill, the PG&E explosion has revealed a longstanding pattern of industry negligence and impunity, along with profound lapses in federal and state oversight. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, since 1986 PG&E has had 132 “significant incidents” with its natural gas pipelines, resulting in eighteen deaths, sixty-four injuries and $41 million in property damage. Over the past five years alone, pipeline mishaps in the United States have killed sixty and injured 230.

In the wake of the explosion, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have set out to rein in at least one aspect of the fast-growing industry. On September 22 the two introduced legislation that would tighten pipeline safety standards, double the number of federal inspectors and increase penalties for safety violations.

Meanwhile, the EPA is conducting a review of hydraulic fracturing, due out in 2012, that will assess the risks of deep shale drilling on water supplies and public health. And the FRAC Act, introduced in the Senate by Robert Casey and now in committee, would repeal the industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack wells. Natural gas has been billed as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil, the bridge fuel to the future. Increasingly, however, it is looking like a lot of other big promises—namely, a bridge fuel to nowhere.   ADAM FEDERMAN

CALI REFORM ROLLBACK: In 2006 the California legislature passed the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, which mandated that emissions of greenhouse gases in the state must fall to 1990 levels by 2020. Many liberals hoped the Golden State’s proactive approach would spill over into federal law, but as the economy falters, the reforms may be undone.

The reason is predictable: the billionaires of the fossil fuel industry are seeking to amend the act in November with an initiative known as Proposition 23. In a cynical move to try to pacify the middle ground, Prop 23 would suspend the act only during periods when state unemployment remains above 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters (this has happened just twice since 1990). This allows the companies behind it—Valero Energy, Tesoro and Occidental Petroleum— to claim they are just doing what is best for the California economy.

Thomas Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management, personally donated $5 million to the movement to defeat the initiative. “I lost my temper and got involved,” he said. “I can’t conceive of it passing. We’d lose our jobs, our edge, and it would blunt any momentum for national energy legislation.” The specter of the Koch brothers looms over Prop 23, with $1 million from a subsidiary of Koch Industries already donated to its proponents. “I think they’ve made a grave error, and I would invite them to withdraw,” said Steyer.   JENNIFER O’MAHONY

AZ GOP TO KIDS: DROP DEAD: In an effort to galvanize the GOP’s already fuming base for the upcoming elections, conservatives have placed a slew of anti-tax and antispending initiatives on state ballots around the country. These measures, according to a new report issued by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, “play on the public’s fears, disguising an assault on key public services as an attempt to restore health to the economy.”

There’s no starker example of the callous lengths to which conservatives will go than in Arizona, where the state legislature referred to the November ballot a proposition that would eliminate the state’s early childcare program. “The government…has been doing things that people used to do for themselves,” Rick Murphy, a Republican member of the Arizona House, said in March. Never mind that the program has provided at-risk preschoolers with care and nourishment at critical developmental stages. “The lasting effects of this can be negative, and they can be negative for a lifetime,” Carol Stambaugh of the National Association of Social Workers Arizona chapter told the Public News Service.

If Arizona Republicans get their way, the most vulnerable in that state will no longer have access to early literacy programs, oral health treatments for infants and toddlers, or programs to prevent childhood obesity. Whatever happened to compassionate conservatives?   MICHAEL C. TRACEY

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