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If you can figure out where the Kochs’ campaign millions are going, let us know


Mother Jones took on a hell of a challenge: trying to figure out how much money the fossil-fuel billionaire Koch brothers have spent on this election, and where.

In total, Koch Industries and its affiliates Georgia-Pacific and Flint Hills Resources have given more than $2.2 million to candidates and parties during this election cycle. Koch Industries recently asserted that its support for candidates "is not based on party affiliation, and we support both Republicans and Democrats who support market-based policies and solutions." Yet 95 percent of its corporate donations in 2011 and 2012 have gone to Republicans.

If $2.2 million doesn't sound like a lot (you know, relatively), there's a reason why.

Those figures establish the Kochs and their companies as significant, but not extraordinary, conservative donors. That's where the accounting of their actual influence becomes tricky. As mentioned above, the Kochs have committed to raising millions to defeat Obama. However, most (if not all) of that money is going to outside-spending groups that don't have to disclose their donors.


The media talked about climate change, for a bit

A famous reporter.

Last week, we noted that the media seemed to be willing to talk climate change for once. And they were: BuzzFeed looks at how mentions of climate change in the media increased after Sandy.

A search of Nexis's news database -- including newspaper articles, online articles, and TV news transcripts -- shows that before Sandy hit, climate change was rarely mentioned in reference to either President Obama or Mitt Romney. It received an average of 27 mentions [a day] before Oct. 29.

When Chuck Todd, anchor of MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown," said on his show on Oct. 31 that Sandy was caused in part by climate change -- "It's called climate change, folks," he said -- reporters and pundits quickly picked up on the environmental issue as an election story.

By the time Mayor Bloomberg endorsed Obama on Nov. 1 as a "vote for a president to lead on climate change," climate change reached 113 mentions in the news. The next day, it reached its peak -- 169 mentions across print, web, and television.


How rain on Election Day helps Republicans

mind on fire
People wait to vote in a (very) light rain, 2008.

With basically a billion reports of long lines at polling places today, many of them outside, it's natural to wonder how weather affects voter turnout. Would you like to stand in the rain two hours to vote for Mitt Romney? No, you would probably not.

Via the Guardian, we learn from the University of Oklahoma exactly how much inclement weather affects voting. Namely:

[E]ach inch of rain experienced on election day drove down voter turnout by an average of just under 1%, while each inch of snow knocked 0.5% off turnout. Though the effect of snow is less on a “per inch” basis, since multiple-inch snowfall totals are far more common than multiple-inch rainfall events, we can conclude that snow is likely to have a bigger negative impact on voter turnout.

Furthermore, Gomez et al. noted that when bad weather did suppress voter turnout, it tended to do so in favor of the republican candidate, to the tune of around 2.5% for each inch of rainfall above normal. In fact, when they simulated the 14 presidential elections between 1948 and 2000 with sunny conditions nationwide, they found two instances in which bad weather likely changed the electoral college outcome – once in North Carolina in 1992, and once in Florida in 2000. The latter change is particularly notable, as it would have resulted in Al Gore rather than George Bush winning the presidential election that year.

Thanks, rain!


ExxonMobil contributes to Hurricane Sandy

Let me start by acknowledging that there is enormous need in the wake of hurristorm Sandy. Staten Island, New Jersey, Long Island, the Rockaways. There is a lot to do, a ton to clean up, thousands displaced and struggling.

That said: Ugh.


ExxonMobil continues to work to support distribution of gasoline and fuel throughout the area affected by Hurricane Sandy and is donating $1 million to the American Red Cross for disaster relief assistance in New York, New Jersey and the Caribbean.

“Hurricane Sandy has had a devastating impact on people and communities along the east coast and in the Caribbean,” said Andrew W. Madden, vice president of supply and transportation, ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company. “It’s our hope that ExxonMobil’s donation to the Red Cross will help provide comfort to those affected and help people rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.”

This is from a public relations statement from (obviously) ExxonMobil. It starts by assuring everyone that it is still selling gasoline so don't worry about that, oh, and also it is donating to the Red Cross. $1 million -- or 0.01 percent of its after-tax profits from 2011. Which, to put it in perspective, would be like someone who made $50,000 after taxes giving $5. Or, to more accurately put it in perspective, it would be like someone who makes $50,000 after taxes giving $5 after spending decades causing pollution that almost certainly made the storm far, far worse than it otherwise would have been. "Yeah, that's not my fault, but here's $5. Oh, and, also? If you want to pollute more, we're selling the stuff that lets you do that."


Attention: There is a presidential election today

It seems like you should know that, and here at Gristmill, we cover the news that you should know. As befits our motto: Gristmill. The News that You Should Know.™

There are two people running for president. One of them is currently the president; his last name is Obama. The other one was president of the Olympics at one point; his last name is Romney.

President Obama and Mitt Romney in the first of three presidential debates.
The aforementioned gentlemen. "Obama" is at right.

If you would like more information on either candidate, you can use Google, a web search engine, to learn more.

According to polls, one of them will win tonight's election.

Read more: Politics


Solar: The best of times, the worst of times

Lauren Sommer at KQED reports on the state of solar power in the U.S.:

Talk to anyone in the solar industry and they’ll tell you: it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Solar installations are booming, but there’s also a looming trade war with China.

Let's look the booming: Employment in the U.S. solar industry is up more than 13 percent over last year, as we reported last week. And Danny Kennedy, president of Sungevity, makes the point that the solar industry is a much more robust job generator than its fossil-fueled competitors: "The coal industry has been around for over a century and provides more than a third of our power supply but employs just some 1.5 times as many people as solar companies. The solar industry currently provides about 0.5% of our power supply and already employs 119,000 Americans."


Over the coming year, growth in the U.S. solar sector is expected to continue, though not as rapidly. As Shayle Kann, vice president for research at GTM Research, told KQED, "We're looking at what we expect to be about 71 percent growth in solar installations in 2012 over 2011. So that's a strong growth rate, but it is slower than we've seen. In 2010 and 2011, the market more than doubled. So it's slowing down a bit, but solar is still growing fast throughout the US."

Solar production is also up in Germany, by about 50 percent over last year. But the U.S. and Germany seem to be bucking worldwide trends. Says Kann:

Globally, it's a tough year in solar. We have massive oversupply of solar panels, so it's been a really hard time for solar manufacturers. And demand on a global level is growing, but relatively slowly this year as compared to the past couple of years, where we've seen really massive growth. The big reason for that is that Europe has slowed down as incentives have been pulled back from European governments.

And that brings us to the looming trade war.


Pennsylvania agency didn’t mention water pollution near fracking site because no one asked

Tests performed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found no copper, zinc, nickel, or titanium in water samples taken near a fracking wastewater site.

Well, actually, that's not true. The Pennsylvania DEP didn't report finding any of those metals, because the department's oil and gas division didn't ask for data on them. But the DEP found the metals. From the New York Times:

So remember: You have to ask if the water is flammable to get an answer.

Pennsylvania officials reported incomplete test results that omitted data on some toxic metals that were found in drinking water taken from a private well near a natural gas drilling site, according to legal documents released this week.

The documents were part of a lawsuit claiming that natural gas extraction through a method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and storage of the resulting wastewater at a site in southwestern Pennsylvania has contaminated drinking water and sickened seven plaintiffs who live nearby. ...

Taru Upadhyay, the technical director of the department’s Bureau of Laboratories, said the metals found in the water sample but not reported to either the oil and gas division or to the homeowner who requested the tests, included copper, nickel, zinc and titanium, all of which may damage the health of people exposed to them, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Ms. Upadhyay said that the bureau did not arbitrarily decide to withhold those results. “It was not requested by our client for that particular test, so we did -- it is not on our final report,” she said in a deposition on Sept. 26.


As support for California GMO labeling wanes, campaign grows desperate

I know you mean well, Proposition 37 campaign. I know things have been hard lately. I know some days you don't even want to get out of bed in the morning because god it's just so hard out there. I get it.

But what the hell is this?

This is, in fact, a Prop 37 campaign image that's currently circulating on Facebook and in advertising to push for a yes vote on the GMO labeling measure tomorrow. From the caption:

Does your ham contain human genes? You wouldn’t know unless it’s labeled ... Pigs with human growth genes are among the creatures that food scientists have invented. Experimental life forms are sold today as “all natural” food. Does that sound natural to you?

Read more: Food, Politics


Wind energy: Getting cheaper, still about to tank

Wind farms are now far cheaper to operate than they were four years ago. From Bloomberg:

The cost of running and maintaining wind farms has fallen 38 percent in four years as competition among contractors increased and turbine performance improved, bringing closer the day that the technology matches fossil fuel.

The average price of operation and maintenance contracts for onshore farms this year slid to 19,200 euros [$24,600] a megawatt from 30,900 euros [$39,500] in 2008, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said today.

Great news. But it's not much consolation in the United States, where the sector is withering while Congress fails to extend a production tax credit for wind power, a key tool allowing wind to compete with entrenched fossil fuel generators.


What could the presidential race mean for cities?

We know Mitt Romney is itching to roll back environmental regulations, but what would he do about cities? You know, where the rich people live in the tall shiny buildings and the rest of the rabble live in the tall not-shiny ones.

Holly Bailey
Mitt Romney's preferred form of transportation: not so public.

The Atlantic Cities brings us an only slightly scaremongering roundup of Romney's positions on cities and transportation.

The issue pages on Romney's website make no mention of transportation, public transit, poverty programs, smart growth or climate change ...

Romney has left literally no trail -- in opposition or support -- on the individual federal programs, such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants, that have been designed over the last four years to help local communities creatively tackle the intertwined challenges of housing, transportation and the environment. Mitt Romney the Management Consultant could very well find something to love in such silo-busting, locally nimble initiatives. Sprawl is, after all, the very definition of inefficiency.

Read more: Cities, Politics