Energy

Sun, 2014-01-19 16:34Farron Cousins
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West Virginia Polluter Freedom Industries Files For Bankruptcy To Halt Lawsuits

Freedom Industries, the company that recently leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia, quietly filed for bankruptcy this past Friday to shield themselves from the onslaught of lawsuits filed against the company.

The current owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, took control of the company about a week before the chemical spill occurred, and only a week later filed for bankruptcy.  According to the filing, the company owes more than $3.6 million to creditors (a fact that was known when Forrest bought the company in late December). 

What Forrest couldn’t have known at the time was that he was sitting on a time bomb, and that his newly purchased company had been skirting safety regulations and vital equipment upgrades in an effort to save a few bucks in the short term. 

The company is now facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, in addition to at least 20 separate lawsuits from residents. The number of lawsuits is expected to rise, as the chemicals spill is estimated to have poisoned at least one-sixth of West Virginia’s entire water supply.

But Forrest isn’t the victim in this case. His decision to file for bankruptcy protection had nothing to do with the prior debts that the company owed, and everything to do with preventing the millions of dollars his firm will be forced to pay out in lawsuit settlements. The bankruptcy filing will effectively temporarily “stay” the lawsuits, which prevents any payments from being made.

Forrest knew this, and this is why he had his company file bankruptcy. But this doesn’t mean that the company is no longer in business. To the contrary, Raw Story has revealed that Forrest is also the owner of a brand new firm called Mountaineer Funding LLC, which is funding the company to the tune of $5 million (more than enough to handle their current, non-lawsuit liabilities). So the liabilities of Freedom Industries can be handled by Forrest’s funding firm, as can the daily operations, but the lawsuits are now being held in limbo since Freedom Industries is technically “bankrupt.”

Sat, 2014-01-11 09:57Farron Cousins
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Coal Chemicals Taint Water Supply of 300,000 In West Virginia, Hundreds Sickened

Early Thursday, a chemical spill along West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated the tap water of as many as 300,000 West Virginia residents across nine West Virginia counties. The chemical spill occurred at a storage facility for Freedom Industries less than two miles from a major water treatment plant.

Freedom Industries produces chemicals that are used widely in mining and steel production.

The leaking storage tank contained the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. According to ThinkProgress, the chemical “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the toxic chemical made its way into the water supply. 

Residents in the area were immediately warned to stop using tap water, out of fear that the chemicals could severely harm anyone who consumed them. Chemical levels have fallen in the two days since the spill, but the ban remains in effect as the levels in the water are still far too dangerous for residents.

As of Friday, according to The Guardian, at least 670 people had called into the poison control center with reports of vomiting, nausea, skin irritation, and other symptoms. 

Sun, 2013-08-25 15:00Farron Cousins
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The Deadly Truth About Oil And Gas Industry Safety Standards

A new report delivers a dire warning to employees in the oil and gas industries: Your job could be the death of you.  According to recently released statistics from 2012, on the job deaths in the oil and gas industries spiked by a staggering 23% last year, a larger increase than any other employment sector in the United States.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the amount of deaths within the industry was “unacceptable.”  In 2012, according to labor statistics, there were 138 on the job deaths in the oil and gas industry, which is an increase from the 112 deaths that occurred in the prior year.  This is a stark contrast to all industries, as the total number of worker deaths across the board decreased last year.

The trend in oil and gas industry deaths is nothing new.  Between 2003 and 2010, the industry had the highest death toll in the United States, beating out all other industries for worker deaths.  The majority of these deaths are due to workers being struck by equipment, struck by vehicles, and occasionally a major catastrophic accident, like the BP refinery explosion in Texas in 2005, and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010.

Mon, 2013-08-12 12:18Farron Cousins
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Could Lead Paint Lawsuit Pave Way For Class Action Against Coal Industry?

Coal industry executives ought to pay attention to the lead paint lawsuit currently happening in the California court system.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the makers of lead paint, alleging that the industry knew about the toxicity of their product and yet still promoted it as “safe” to the public.  The industry has faced many lawsuits over their products in the past, most of which were unsuccessful for the victims, due to the fact that the industry was often up front about the dangers of their products, and they funded public studies to determine the health effects.

But things have changed in the American legal system, and attorneys are now taking a page out of the tobacco litigation playbook.  By unearthing documents that detail the lead paint industry’s attempted cover-up of the dangers, they avoid the “buyer beware” caveat that the tobacco industry used for so long. 

And just like the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers were specifically targeting children with their ads.  The California lawsuit is making that a central part of the trial.  Also reminiscent of the tobacco litigation, the suit was filed by cities and municipalities, not individual victims, greatly increasing the chance for success.

The coal industry should be paying very close attention to the progress of this litigation, as their activities could become the next target of skilled attorneys.  For decades, the coal industry has been poisoning American citizens with their coal-mining, -burning and -dumping activities.  Additionally, the dismal working conditions for miners has cost many families an unnecessary loss of life.

Sun, 2013-08-11 14:03Farron Cousins
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Kentucky Lawmakers Still Fighting Nonexistent War On Coal

Even the coal industry itself has conceded that there is no “war on coal”, but lawmakers in the coal-dependent state of Kentucky are still fighting this imaginary battle.

In the wake of President Obama’s speech earlier this summer where he discussed the need to reduce our dependence on coal and work on ways to control coal plant pollution, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Kentucky sent a letter to the president last week, warning him that his “war on coal” would be devastating to their state.

The 50 state legislators who signed onto the letter accuse the president of launching an “unfair attack on coal,” which the lawmakers argue will have a devastating effect on their state economy.

The bi-partisan group told the president that the coal industry is responsible for as much as $10 billion in “yearly” economic activity, although that number only represents the year 2010, and subsequent years have seen a sharp decline in the profitability of the industry’s operations in Kentucky.

Sat, 2013-08-03 08:00David Ravensbergen
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Two Energy Futures: Barriers to Clean Energy Political, Not Technological

two energy futures

For Canadians looking for inspiration in the fight for a cleaner and fairer energy future, there’s a valuable new resource available at Two Energy Futures. Created by the activist group UK Tar Sands Network, the website provides visitors with a detailed infographic that shows the contrast between a fossil-fuelled future and a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

Projecting from our current energy usage, the first future shows that continued reliance on fossil fuels would mean a steady expansion of extreme energy sources, including fracking, deep-sea drilling and the tar sands. The climate impacts of these dirty energy sources will be increasingly severe, and the social implications include intensified global conflicts and the further exploitation of vulnerable populations.

While the parameters of our current trajectory should be familiar, the cleaner, fairer energy future contains a surprise: the world’s energy needs could be met using current levels of technology in wind, solar and other renewables. Coupled with transformations in transportation infrastructure and the elimination of the undue political influence of fossil fuel companies, this future presents an outline for averting the worst effects of climate change and building more just societies.

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. 

Wed, 2013-07-03 11:00Farron Cousins
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Obama's War On Coal Doesn’t Exist…Says Coal Lobby?

During the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran ads and the party adopted as a platform the “war on coal” being waged by President Barack Obama.  While the platform failed when it came to securing votes for the Republican Party, it hasn’t stopped the GOP from re-launching the same talking points in the wake of President Obama’s recent climate change action speech.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was one of the first to voice his concerns for the coal industry, saying that the President’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants would have a devastating impact on employment and the industry itself

Boehner has fallen into the “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it” trap.  As it turns out, the coal industry and their lobbying groups have already admitted that the 2012 “war on coal” talking point was an abject failure.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association recently lamented the following in the industry publication “Coal Age” (courtesy of The Huffington Post):

Anyway, ‘war on coal’ never resonated with much conviction among ordinary Americans. For them, the EPA keeps the air and water clean, their kids safe. The Appalachian permits the EPA held up, the Spruce Mine permit the agency yanked, the regulatory standard it proposed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and stop new coal plant construction – all that flew over the head of most voters who, let’s face it, know far more about the Kardashians than they do about coal.

HuffPost goes on to note that the “war on coal” never really ended for the Republican Party:

Sun, 2013-05-12 12:57Farron Cousins
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Obama, Biden Parroting Bogus Gas Industry Talking Points

For several years, both President Obama and Vice President Biden have been singing the praises of natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, claiming that the upcoming “cheap energy boom” would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to work-hungry Americans.

The claim, which reached the most ears during the President’s 2012 State of the Union Address and was parroted throughout the campaign season, was that the new shale gas bonanza would bring 600,000 new jobs to America over the next decade.  With job creation as a top campaign issue, this talking point resonated well with American voters. 

And while the talking point was blindly reprinted by countless media outlets, the source has been traced back to the dirty energy industry itself.  Specifically, a 2012 shale gas / fracking booster sheet produced by the American Petroleum Institute.

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