Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

Colorado Becomes First State to Regulate Methane Pollution from Fracking

Colorado has become the first U.S. state to pass rules regulating methane air pollution from drilling and fracking operations.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted 8-1 on Sunday, February 23, 2014 to require oil and gas companies operating in the state to start testing their pipelines, drill rigs, storage tanks, compressor stations and other sources of potential methane leakage on a monthly basis using new, more sensitive instruments like infrared cameras.

Companies will also be required to monitor, detect and repair leaks of other types of hydrocarbons, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They must also provide aggressive timelines for the repair of any leaks, and the new rules put stricter limits on emissions from drilling operations located near residential and recreational areas.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment expects the new rules to reduce VOC emissions in Colorado by approximately 92,000 tons a year, about equivalent to the amount emitted by all of the cars in Colorado over one year.

The new rules grew out of a collaboration between a coalition of environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund and three of the largest energy companies operating in the state: Noble Energy, Inc., Encana Corporation and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.  

Some industry groups tried to weaken the rules by arguing they should only apply to more heavily populated areas of the state and not statewide, but the AQCC resisted efforts to water down the new rules and adopted them largely as they were written, citing overwhelming public support for reining in air pollution from the drilling industry.

The new rules may also boost employment in the state. A spokesman who testified before the AQCC on behalf of Noble Energy said it will cost the company $3 million and they will have to hire 16 additional people to comply with the new rules. 

Proposed Colorado Constitutional Amendment Would Let Cities Ban Fracking

Many Coloradans who have battled city-by-city to regulate fracking near their residential areas may get some relief under a proposed constitutional amendment that would give cities and towns the right to regulate business activities within their borders.

In January 2014, the Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN) submitted ballot language to amend Colorado's constitution, which would give municipalities the right to ban or regulate fracking and any other industrial activity — such as factory farming and hazardous waste disposal — within their borders.

The amendment would give local governments the right to enact laws “establishing, defining, altering or eliminating the rights, power and duties of for-profit business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from usurping or otherwise conflicting with the fundamental rights of people, their communities, and natural environment.”

Put concisely: the measure would make the will of cities and towns superior to the will of corporations. It would also permit cities to regulate any business that can put the health, safety and/or welfare of its inhabitants at risk.

The language of the amendment has been approved and it is now ready to go to Colorado's Secretary of State for a title assignment. It would need a minimum of 86,000 valid signatures for a spot on the ballot.

Were it to pass, it would eliminate lawsuits like those currently being brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association against Fort Collins, Broomfield and Lafayette, all of which have voted to ban drilling and fracking within their borders.

The proposal was originally called the “Community Rights Constitutional Amendment,” drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) at the request of the CCRN. Lafayette passed the first so-called “Community Bill of Rights” ordinance in the state in 2013, after citizens voted to amend the city's charter to make fracking illegal. 

Colorado Communities Battle to Ban Fracking

Citizens in cities on Colorado's front range are pushing back against the fracking boom by passing ballot measures to either prohibit the practice or ban it temporarily.

The town of Longmont was the first in Colorado to ban fracking in 2012, when voters changed their city charter to prohibit it. Governor John Hickenlooper's administration then sued Longmont over their ban, claiming only the state has the authority to regulate drilling.

Despite the lawsuit, in 2013 even more Colorado cities passed anti-fracking ballot measures. Fort Collins passed a five year moratorium on fracking within city limits, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued Fort Collins over the measure less than one month after it passed. By a close vote, the city of Broomfield narrowly passed a ballot measure similar to Fort Collins'.

After a recount determined Broomfield's measure had passed by 17 votes out of more than 20,000 cast, COGA sued Broomfield, too, saying only the state can regulate drilling.

Boulder citizens voted 78 percent in favor of extending an existing moratorium on fracking by five more years, and by a margin of 60.1 to 39.9 percent, Lafayette voters amended their city charter to make fracking for energy development out-and-out illegal. COGA sued Lafayette, too, at the same time it sued Fort Collins.

So far, Boulder has escaped a lawsuit since there currently are no active wells there. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), whose district contains all of these embattled cities, defended their efforts to ban fracking within their borders. Polis posted a YouTube video in which he tells COGA to stop their lawsuits, saying it's “unAmerican” for COGA to sue Colorado communities “just because they didn't like the outcome at the ballot box.”

Business Coalition Announces Massive Offensive Against Environmental Protections

As the Obama administration begins to take action to rein in the emissions from the dirty energy industry, big business groups all over the country have announced that they aren’t willing to stop polluting without putting up a very serious fight.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Gas Association, and 74 other big business groups said that they are banding together to fight the administration’s forthcoming power plant standards that will require carbon capture technologies to be in place at all plants.  According to The Hill, the groups said that they are planning “everything from lobbying to litigation” in order to fight the administration’s efforts.

These business groups say that they have seen “what Obama has done” to the coal industry, and fear that their industries could be targeted next.  They are also fearful that too much emphasis is being put on developing renewable energy, as The Hill points out:

American Gas Association President Dave McCurdy, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, said the coalition would need to protect a single-minded push toward renewable energy production.

As expected, politicians in Washington saw that the industry was pushing back, so they have jumped on the bandwagon. 

Senate’s “Dirty Duo” Ready To Lift Oil Export Ban

The two ranking members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee signaled they are prepared to introduce legislation to lift the ban on U.S. oil exports.  Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that they would consider introducing legislation if President Obama does not otherwise lift the export ban. 

Landrieu will take over as head of the Energy Committee soon, as current Chairman, Senator Ron Wyden, will be taking over a different committee.

Landrieu and Murkowski’s rhetoric is eerily similar to the case that the oil industry made for itself back in December, when ExxonMobil called on the government to lift the export ban so they could sell American crude for a higher profit overseas.

This “dirty duo” of Senators is clearly acting on purely selfish motivations.  To begin with, both represent states that stand to benefit greatly from an increase in exports, as both Alaska and Louisiana are coastal states with deepwater ports.  Furthermore, they have both received millions of dollars from the dirty energy industry over the course of their careers: Landrieu has received more than $2.3 million while Murkowski has pulled in $1.8 million

Lifting the ban would greatly benefit the industry that helped put the dirty duo in office.

Exxon Pressures Government To Lift Oil Export Restrictions

It wasn’t long ago that the dirty energy industry and their friends in Congress and the media were screaming that we needed to open up every corner of America to oil and gas drilling in order to lower energy costs and help protect our country from oil-rich countries who don’t like the United States. 

We were promised that increased domestic production would lower our fuel costs, strengthen our national security, and help ensure our economic prosperity.  And even after the Obama Administration agreed to open up even more federal lands to drilling, the American public has yet to see any of these benefits materialize. 

But the oil industry isn’t complaining.  They’ve been given everything that they asked for over the last few years, and while we’re still paying, on average, $3.22 a gallon at the pump, the industry is pulling in profits of $375 million a day between the top 5 companies.

You would think that Big Oil would have little to complain about at this point, but you’d be wrong.  Apparently, they feel like their record profits should be even higher, so they’ve now decided that it's time to ease restrictions on oil exports so they can go take advantage of more lucrative overseas markets. Here at home, however, expect your pain at the pump to continue. You're not their priority, despite the fancy advertising.

ExxonMobil, the most profitable oil company in America, has called on the federal government to ease the rules regarding how much domestically-produced oil can be shipped out of the United States.  They are backed in this call by their friends in the conservative media, including the Wall Street Journal

To reiterate, they want to take the oil that we finally agreed to let them “drill, baby drill” out of our national parks and public lands – the oil that was supposed to lower our prices to take the burden off of U.S. families, but never did – and ship it to markets that are paying more for oil. Why? So they can make profits that make $375 million per day look like minimum wage by comparison.

Science On Trial In America As Courts and Congress Grapple with Industry Pollution

Both the science behind climate change and the efficacy of life-saving safety standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a trying week in Washington, D.C., as industry-backed lawsuits and politicians attempted to undermine the entire scientific community.

The EPA is currently battling two major legal obstacles in the courts over the agency's authority to enact and enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act.  This is a power that the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled was not only within the agency’s jurisdiction, but a duty that it had to perform for the American public.

One of the legal battles took place at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the EPA defended its work to limit the amount of mercury and arsenic that energy companies are allowed to release into the air.  According to NRDC, these health standards that are under attack from the dirty energy industry have the potential to save as many as 45,000 lives a year.

Based on the D.C. Circuit’s previous rulings regarding the Clean Air Act, it is likely that the EPA will be the victor in this case. 

Climate Policy Already Headlining 2014 Midterm Elections

The U.S. may still be more than a year out from the 2014 midterm elections, but Republicans in Congress are already making the Obama administration’s climate policies a key issue for voters.

Republican Representative Ed Whitfield from Kentucky announced this week that he intends to make the President’s climate change policies, specifically stricter standards on coal-fired power plants, a top talking point during the coming campaign season.  Whitfield also announced that he would introduce legislation to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal plant emissions.

The Hill quotes Whitfield as saying, “We are going to mark this legislation up, we are going to get it to the floor, we want to get it over to the Senate, and we want those senators running next year to have to have a discussion with whoever their opponent may be about the future of fossil fuel in America.”

Whitfield wants to force the issue of “restrictive” climate policy onto Democrats who are running in conservative areas of the country, with an emphasis on those running in areas that are entrenched with the dirty energy industry, like his home state of Kentucky, along with West Virginia and the Carolinas.

Representative Whitfield has long been a mouthpiece for the dirty energy industry during his tenure as the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power; a position that has earned him more than $900,000 in campaign donations from the oil, coal, and gas industries.

Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.


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