Farron Cousins's blog

Court Lifts Gag Order On Coal Baron Don Blankenship in Criminal Trial

The media will finally get a glimpse into the criminal activity of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, as a federal appeals court has decided to lift a gag order that had been in place on the court proceedings that began with a criminal indictment against Blankenship in November 2014.

The gag order prevented the court proceedings from being made public, and barred the participants in the suit from speaking to the media. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the order could not be sustained any longer, following a lawsuit by media outlets in the U.S.

Blankenship was indicted in November of last year on a host of charges, including conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the SEC, and securities fraud. These activities that Blankenship allegedly participated in are what led to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Blankenship retired from Massey eight months after the explosion.

The Brad Blog has more:

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

“Clean Coal” Fantasy Finally Losing Federal Support, But Industry Never Took It Seriously Anyway

The phrase “clean coal” has about as much merit as saying “sanitary sewage,” but that hasn’t stopped the industry and pro-coal talking heads from repeating that phrase ad nauseum to the American public.

The Orwellian industry buzzphrase was so successful that the Obama administration, as part of the 2009 stimulus package, pledged more than $1 billion to create the largest carbon-capturing system known as FutureGen 2.0. The total cost of the project was estimated at $1.65 billion, with $116 million already spent by the federal government.

But this week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it is pulling funding from the project, officially killing the FutureGen 2.0 project. The original goal of the project was to retrofit an existing coal-fired plant near Springfield, Illinois with carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions by capturing and storing the CO2 underground.

The FutureGen Alliance – the coalition of companies involved in the project – derided the DOE’s decision, claiming that the federal funding was a “key component” to keeping the project alive.

The official line is that there is “insufficient time” to finish the project before the funding deadline of September 2015. But the government misses deadlines all the time – they impose them upon themselves and then move them as necessary. If the deadline were truly the only issue, they would have simply pushed it back to a more suitable and realistic time frame.

The real reason the carbon capture and storage (CCS) project was scrapped was revealed in a statement by FutureGen supporter and Democratic Senator from Illinois Richard Durbin: “A decade-long bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available for the FutureGen Alliance to engage in a large-scale carbon-capture demonstration project. But, the project has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it.” [emphasis added.]

Durbin’s statement was echoed in a story from RT, which pointed out that the remaining $600 million needed for the project – the portion of funds that were supposed to come from FutureGen Alliance members (the coal industry) – never materialized.

And that’s the part of the story that most of the media is ignoring. The project didn’t die because the DOE pulled taxpayer funding; the project ground to a halt by a lack of interest and investment from the dirty energy industry.

The Coal Industry Owns The Courts (VIDEO)

In early February 2014, Duke Energy reported that a coal ash storage site along the Dan River had crumbled, releasing more than 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the waterway. This was not the first time that Duke had been responsible for a massive coal ash spill, and most likely not the last.

In public, the company claimed that it is making all the necessary moves to clean up the mess and prevent future disasters. But behind closed doors, the company was hard at work making sure that its negligence would never hinder its profits. Duke Energy had been paying off the right people to prevent any meaningful form of punishment.

The post-Citizens United world has led to an enormous increase in the amount of money flowing to judicial elections, which was previously an area that very few corporations gave a second look. But with a green light to throw cash around now, they’ve realized that owning the Judicial Branch of American government is just as lucrative as owning a politician.

During the 2014 midterm elections, the state of North Carolina — Duke Energy’s base of operations — became a hotbed for judicial campaign spending. In total, an unprecedented $800,000 was spent on judicial elections by a group called Justice For All NC, with more than $300,000 of that total coming solely from Duke Energy.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows that elected judges are far more likely to vote in favor of corporations (those who funded their elections) than non-elected judges, explaining Duke Energy’s desire to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into this campaign.

American Youth Sue Politicians To Force Action On Climate Change

Meaningful action to mitigate the impacts of climate change have been slow to materialize in the United States, and that lag in leadership is allowing the threat to grow much worse for future generations of Americans.

But political inaction has led to citizen action, particularly among the generations that will face the consequences of inaction. And they are making the case, literally, that the government needs to take action.

Teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik have filed a lawsuit against Democratic Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and the entire state government of Oregon, alleging that they are not doing enough to address the threats of climate change.

EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants:

Robert Mathis, an M.D. and doctor of environmental medicine in Santa Barbara, California, described how several of the chemical ingredients of the dispersants that are regularly used on oil spills remain unknown because they are “trade secrets,” but that even the known chemicals in the dispersant cocktails are extremely dangerous to humans; they contain an “emulsifier that allows chemicals deeper penetration into tissues and cells.”

“Dispersants disrupt both bacterial and human cell membranes,” Mathis explained. “Damage disrupts cell functions, leading to cell failure, and may cause cancers and death. All living things are damaged, including groundwater.”

The new guidelines proposed by the agency would give the public broader access to the rules that govern the use of dispersants, the available dispersants for the type of spill, and the risks of using each particular dispersant, sometimes including a list of ingredients.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Farron Cousins's blog