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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:

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.

Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

Originally published on PolluterWatch

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.

BP Wins Big In Offshore Oil Drilling Lease Auction

For all of his administration’s tough talk on protecting our environment, President Obama doesn’t seem to have any problem increasing the nation’s dependence on dirty energy.  Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced plans to open up an astounding 112 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration, setting a bidding war in motion for some of the worst environmental offenders in America.

It should come as no surprise then to find out that the big winner in the lease auction earlier this month was BP, the main culprit behind the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put 21.6 million acres up for auction, with area blocks ranging everywhere from 9 miles offshore, to 250 miles offshore.  Overall, the auction brought in close to $110 million, with as much as 90 million acres still waiting to be auctioned off.

BP bid on a total of 31 lots, and was successful in winning 27 of those lots, more than any other energy company.  The company had previously been barred from bidding on new oil and gas exploration leases following the 2010 Macondo well blowout, but that ban was lifted in March of this year.

Many of the areas that the company won are for deepwater exploration, an unpleasant scenario for areas of the Gulf Coast still reeling from the company’s 2010 disaster.

But the British oil giant BP plc has very little to fear with their new leases, even if another blowout were to occur, and that’s the part of the story that has been routinely missed by the media. 

Record Fines For BP In Gulf Disaster Deal

After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.  The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.

The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions more in financial penalties for the company.

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