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Tue, 2014-05-06 07:00Farron Cousins
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American Minimum Wage Earners Held Hostage Over Keystone XL

One of the biggest political issues facing the United States right now is economic inequality and the fight for a fairer minimum wage.  Unfortunately for American workers, that fight is being held up by another political fight that isn’t quite as large in scale, but it has some powerful proponents in the dirty energy industry. That project, of course, is the northern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama announced an extended review period for the pipeline, which would allow him to make a decision after this year’s high-stakes midterm elections.  That announcement was not joyful news to proponents of the pipeline, and they’ve now decided to tie the project into an issue that is very dear to many Americans — raising the minimum wage.

Last week, Tom Cole, a Republican representative from Oklahoma, told MSNBC that he would consider voting in favor of raising the federal minimum wage if Democrats in the House would approve the Keystone XL pipeline (video here).  Rep. Cole’s top donor industry over the course of his decade-long career in the U.S. House of Representatives has been the oil and gas industry. 

Cole says that “there’s always a potential for compromise” with his Democratic colleagues in the House, and approving something the Republicans want in exchange for something the Democrats want is how the game is played in Washington, D.C. 

But Cole’s comments go beyond the typical tit-for-tat deals that take place inside the beltway, and he is entering extortion territory by making these claims in the media, rather than to his colleagues on the House floor.

Cole’s contention is that the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs, while raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs, so overall, it’s a wash in his mind.  Both of those assertions have been thoroughly debunked.

Sat, 2014-04-26 08:00Farron Cousins
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Favorable Court Ruling Lets Americans Breathe Easier

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scored a huge court victory recently, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling that the agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) is within the EPA’s realm of enforcement.

The rule, which was put in place in 2012 and would take effect later this year, would tighten the reins on coal-fired power plant pollution.  The legal challenge was brought by the dirty energy industry along with several states that contended that the new standards would cost the industry too much money.

The three-judge panel found that the rule did not overstep the EPA’s authority, although one of the justices did dissent on part of the ruling.  Judge Brett Kavanaugh said that he believed that the EPA did not consider the overall costs to the industry when they made the rule, even if the agency did conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs (that they allegedly didn’t consider).  

It is worth noting that Kavanaugh was appointed to the bench by former president George W. Bush after helping Bush craft a plan to pack the courts with conservative justices.  Prior to his position within the Bush administration, Kavanaugh worked for the corporate defense firm of Kirkland & Ellis, the firm currently representing BP for their negligence in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. 

The specific language that was targeted was the phrase “appropriate and necessary,” which appears in the Clean Air Act and is the phrase that gives the EPA the authority to enact new standards.  The court found that the industry’s challenge that the rule was neither appropriate nor necessary was flawed.

The real issue in the case is that the industry does not want to pay to clean up their operations.  However, some companies have already installed the necessary equipment to capture mercury and other toxic pollution. 

Thu, 2014-04-24 11:16Farron Cousins
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Report: Arctic Oil Spill Readiness Virtually Nonexistent

Sea ice in the Arctic Circle is currently melting at a pace far greater than scientists had originally projected.  While this is bad news for the planet — sea ice helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the arctic cooler — it has created new paths for the oil industry to exploit the resources hidden deep under the icy water.

Drilling activities in the Arctic have currently stalled, but this stall isn’t going to last forever.  The Arctic is estimated to hold about 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and at least one-third of the total oil within U.S. territory.  This means that the oil companies don’t need to worry with drilling on foreign lands or about the prospect of not hitting a massive payday.  They will return.

That’s the problem – they will return.  According to a new report by the National Research Council, that is a very scary scenario for both the climate and the environment.  The report says that increased drilling and the placement of oil pipelines make oil spills a question of “when,” not “if.”

The report lays out two very specific themes with regards to Arctic drilling. The first is that there is no discernable oil spill response plan, and the second is that the history of oil companies tells us with great certainty that there will be a massive spill as a result of the increased activity in the region.

Sun, 2014-04-20 13:01Farron Cousins
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Deepwater Horizon: BP’s Toxic Legacy

It has now been four years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and leaking an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The media attention has disappeared, but the oil that continues to wash up along the Gulf Coast is a constant reminder to those who call this area home of BP’s toxic legacy.

In spite of the massive evidence of fraud and malfeasance on behalf of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, only one set of criminal charges was filed in the four years since the disaster.  Those charges were filed against BP engineer Kurt Mix, who has since been found guilty of obstruction of justice for deleting text messages about the true size of the oil leak.  However, Mix has yet to be sentenced, and the judge is currently weighing a defense motion to dismiss the charges altogether. 

The three companies involved — BP, Transocean, and Halliburton — have paid criminal fines for their actions, money that is supposed to go to states and individuals for the damage they suffered as a result of the spill.  But thanks to the dirty tricks employed by BP, those payments have slowed to a trickle.

Late last year, as their fines and legal payments began to exceed their original expectations, BP launched a massive PR blitz to demonize “greedy” oil spill victims who were seeking compensation.  The oil giant took out full-page ads in major newspapers like the Washington Post claiming that the spill claims process was riddled with fraud, and that the company was being raked over the coals by fraudulent payments.  The company successfully managed to stall payments for a while, with a judge recently ordering the company to continue making payments.

But for all of their crying over allegedly unfair payments, BP has made out like a bandit in the years since the company destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.  For starters, they avoided charges of manslaughter for criminal negligence that led to the death of the 11 rig workers.  Since the spill, the company has pulled in a net income of $38 billion over the last three years, and was recently granted the ability to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  For BP, everything has returned to normal.

Tue, 2014-04-15 13:25Farron Cousins
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Industry Funded Politicians Hope To Thwart Pollution Penalties In North Carolina

On March 6th of this year, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway handed down a ruling that Duke Energy must immediately prevent toxins from their coal ash ponds from leaking into the water supply, and also that the energy giant had to develop a plan to clean up all of the groundwater that they had contaminated in the state.  Ridgeway said that the state and the energy company had been misinterpreting a state law for decades in order to avoid cleaning up their toxic mess.

Judge Ridgeway’s ruling gave the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) the authority to hold Duke accountable for years of pollution.  And just when it looked like Duke Energy might finally have to pay for their environmental crimes, something magical happened for the dirty energy company:  The EMC appealed Ridgeway’s ruling.

Rather than doing the job they were ordered to do by a judge, the state agency sided with Duke Energy in appealing the ruling, claiming that the state’s environmental laws do not give the agency the authority to order a cleanup of contaminated water supplies.

The EMC isn’t reacting this way because they are too busy, or because they don’t have the resources to enforce the cleanup – they joined the appeal because Duke Energy owns the state government in North Carolina.

The EMC claims to operate independently from the influence of state government, but they are directly appointed by the government.  The board consists of 15 members appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory (8 appointments to the board), Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger (7 collective appointments to the board.)  The common thread among these politicians is that their campaigns were all funded by Duke Energy and a host of other dirty energy heavyweights.

Wed, 2014-03-19 12:41Farron Cousins
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Coal Exporter United Bulk Sued For Polluting Mississippi River

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week against United Bulk, alleging that the company is responsible for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting the Mississippi River.  United Bulk operates coal export terminals along the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.

The suit alleges — along with plenty of photographic evidence to back up the allegations — that United Bulk has left piles of coal debris and petroleum coke (petcoke) along the banks of the river for the last five years.  These piles are left unattended, unsecured, and uncovered in the elements, allowing wind and rain to easily sweep these pollutants into the Mississippi River and nearby marshes. 

A press release from the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition lays out the basics:

The suit contends that United Bulk has illegally discharged coal and petcoke into the river every day that it has operated for at least five years. It points out that coal and petcoke—an oil-refining byproduct with high levels of arsenic, mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and aquatic life—have been discharged into the river in enough quantities to produce visible spills on a regular basis. The suit also cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that stormwater runoff from coal piles “can flush heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water.”

As mentioned above, the Gulf Restoration Project and the Sierra Club have released photographs of United Bulk’s contamination of the Mississippi River:

 photo UnitedBulk2.jpg

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