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Fri, 2013-07-26 11:00Farron Cousins
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Industry Pressure Shuts Down EPA Fracking Investigations, Watch our Ring of Fire interview

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent countless taxpayer dollars and man-hours over the last few years investigating the environmental threats posed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in many regions across the United States.  And when their draft reports showed that the practice was poisoning water supplies, the gas industry stepped in and immediately put a halt to the studies.

According to a new report by ProPublica, the EPA has halted several investigations into the safety of fracking operations in places like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. 

Most recently, the EPA halted a study on the environmental impact of fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming.  The draft report of the study had been finished, but the gas industry intervened and questioned the validity of the study, so the EPA decided to back off and hand over the task of completing the study to the state of Wyoming.  The state will finish the investigation, but the funding will come from the natural gas drilling company EnCana.  Incidentally, EnCana is responsible for the pollution that the EPA was testing.

And it wasn’t that the EPA didn’t find anything that citizens should be concerned about; quite the opposite is true.  In spite of halting the study, the agency still told residents that they should not drink the water coming out of their taps, nor should they use it to bathe because of the chemicals that were found in the tap water. 

Fri, 2013-07-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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Louisiana Sues Oil Companies For Wetlands Damage in Gulf Showdown

After decades of operating with complete disregard for the environment, the dirty energy industry finally has to face the music for destroying the wetlands that form a natural barrier against storm damage in the state of Louisiana.

The suit, filed by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, claims that the oil and gas industry's irresponsible pipeline placement, drilling, and excavation methods have eroded and polluted vital wetlands in Louisiana. 

The New York Times has more:

The board argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage done by cutting thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. It alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water into freshwater areas…

The suit argues that the environmental buffer serves as an essential protection against storms by softening the blow of any incoming hurricane before it gets to the line of levees, flood walls, and gates and pumps maintained and operated by the board. Losing the “natural first line of defense against flooding” means that the levee system is “left bare and ill-suited to safeguard south Louisiana,” the lawsuit says.  The “unnatural threat” caused by exploration, it states, “imperils the region’s ecology and its people’s way of life — in short, its very existence.”

The suit alleges that the wetlands, which took more than 6,000 years to form, provide vital protection for the state from the impacts of severe storms, floods, and hurricanes.  The degradation caused by the dirty energy industry’s activities leaves the state more vulnerable to the effects of severe weather. 

Wed, 2013-07-24 08:27Farron Cousins
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Report Details Coal Industry's Pollution of Waterways, Political System

According to a new report, the coal industry’s pollution is contaminating our water supplies, our regulatory agencies, and even our political process.  The report, a joint project by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that when it comes to spewing toxic chemicals into our waterways, the coal industry is public enemy number one.

The report found that many coal plants across the country are releasing coal ash waste and scrubber waste without any federal oversight, and many are held to standards that are outdated and virtually limitless.  Many of the standards currently in place were written more than 30 years ago, and they do not include any regulations on toxic threats that had not yet been identified at the time the original rules were put in place.

A few highlights of the report, from the Sierra Club:

Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.

A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.

Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

Mon, 2013-07-22 08:10Farron Cousins
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Renewable Energy Sources Gaining Market Share

In a positive sign for United States energy consumption, a new report shows that the market share of renewable energy sources grew at a larger pace than fossil fuels for the year 2012.  Additionally, the first half of this year has seen an enormous surge in renewable energy infrastructure and generating capacity.

For 2012, a decline in the cost of solar and wind infrastructure is partly credited with the surge in use.  The International Energy Agency is now feeling more optimistic that renewable sources of energy could make up as much as 25% of global electricity generation by the year 2018.

And in another positive step for America, consumer energy consumption fell significantly in 2012, although that was in the wake of increased consumption from corporations.

A July Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says that renewable energy provided 25% of new electricity generation for the first six months of 2013.  

The increased use and infrastructure build-out become even more remarkable when you consider the attacks that have been flowing towards renewable energy standards all over the country.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) launched an all-out assault on renewable energy standards last year, managing to get at least 16 different states with imposed Renewable Portfolio Standards (rules that provide a guaranteed commitment to investment in fossil fuels) to consider legislation that would have either scaled these requirements back, or eliminated them altogether. 

Mon, 2013-07-15 15:04Farron Cousins
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What The Dirty Energy Industry Earns From Millions In Lobbying

When you combine the lobbies of electric utilities (representing the coal industry) and the lobbies of oil and gas interests, there is no industry that puts more money into buying politicians and influence from year to year than the fossil fuel industry. So far this year, the utilities and the oil and gas industry combined have already pumped a staggering $75.7 million into lobbying activities, and we still have more than five months left until the end of the year.

But that amount is a mere pittance when compared to the $285 million the two groups spent lobbying during 2012, or the $295 million they spent the year before. Again, when taken together, no industry outspends the dirty energy industry in Washington, D.C.

Like any savvy investor, the industry puts its money wherever they believe they can get the highest return on investment. And nowhere is that return higher than in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Just last month, Republicans in the House, joined by only 16 Democrats, passed a bill that, if signed into law, will force the Obama administration to come up with a five year plan on how best to expand drilling activities in America. The bill would require the President and his administration to vastly increase the amount of offshore areas available for oil drilling, giving the oil industry free rein over our coastal waterways. 

Sat, 2013-07-13 06:00Farron Cousins
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Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

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