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Thu, 2014-03-27 16:03Steve Horn
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BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billionmodernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That's up from its original 20 percent, says BP's website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP's new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
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A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Mon, 2013-12-09 05:00Steve Horn
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Stink Tanks: Historical Records Reveal State Policy Network Was Created by ALEC

A 1991 report tracked down by DeSmogBlog from the University of California-San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) was created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), raising additional questions over both organizations' Internal Revenue Service (IRS) non-profit tax status. 

Titled “Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks” and published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the report states that State Policy Network's precursor — the Madison Group — was “launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.”

Further, Constance “Connie” Campanella — former ALEC executive director and the first president of the Madison Group — left ALEC in 1988 to create a lobbying firm called Stateside Associates. Stateside uses ALEC meetings (and the meetings of other groups) as lobbying opportunities for its corporate clients

“Stateside Associates is the largest state and local government affairs firm,” according to its website. “Since 1988, the Stateside team has worked across the 50 states and in many local governments on behalf of dozens of companies, trade associations and government and non-profit clients.”

Constance Campanella; Photo Source: Twitter

Named Constance Heckman while heading ALEC, Campenella also formerly served on the Board of Directors of Washington Area State Relations Group, a state-level lobbyist networking group. 

“The Washington Area State Relations Group (WASRG) is one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated exclusively to serving state government relations professionals,” explains its website. “Since the mid-1970s, WASRG has been providing its corporate, trade association and public sector members with a unique and valuable opportunity to interact with their peers, key state officials and public policy experts.”

Thu, 2013-12-05 17:29Steve Horn
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Stink Tanks: State Policy Network Internal Budget Documents Revealed by The Guardian

It's been a rough week for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The “corporate bill mill” group's annual States & Nation meeting was overshadowed by damaging evidence of misconduct revealed by The Guardian. 

And it just got a whole lot rougher with yet another investigative installment in The Guardian series.

This time, instead of focusing on ALEC alone, Guardian reporters Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington took a big swing at what Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now have called the “stink tanks” network run by the right-wing State Policy Network (SPN). Leaked a copy of SPN's tax and budget proposal published in July 2013, the documents offer a rare glimpse inside the SPN machine.

One of the biggest revelations in the energy and environment sphere: SPN Associate Member, the Beacon Hill Institute “requested $38,825…to weaken or roll back a five-year effort by states in the region to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” explained The Guardian. “The institute said it would carry out research into the economic impact of the cap-and-trade system operating in nine states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

BHI appeared to have already arrived at its conclusions in advance, admitting from the outset that the aim of the research was to arm opponents of cap-and-trade with data for their arguments, and to weaken or destroy the initiative.”

Another huge related development came in a piece published concurrently by The Guardian. That piece pointed out that Beacon Hill Institute is in trouble with its host institution Suffolk University for pushing research explicitly funded by SPN to oppose the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with research results already determined before the inquiry began. 

Thu, 2013-10-24 11:51Indra Das
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Koch Brothers' Tar Sands Waste Petcoke Piles Spread to Chicago

Chicago petcoke pile

After using Detroit as a toxic waste dumping ground, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers are now piling their petroleum coke from tar sands oil refineries in Chicago.

Kiley Kroh of ThinkProgress writes that petroleum coke, or petcoke, “is building up along Chicago's Calumet River and alarming residents.” The Chicago petcoke piles are owned by KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon, which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Petcoke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of coking, a refining process that extracts oil from tar sands bitumen crude. The petcoke owned by Charles and David Koch is a byproduct of bitumen crude shipped to US refineries from the Alberta tar sands.

Tue, 2013-09-17 10:53Connor Gibson
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Two Tweets and a Lie! Greenpeace Responds to Heartland Institute

From left: Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, lawyer James Taylor and contracted pseudo-scientist Craig Idso.

From left: Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, lawyer James Taylor and contracted pseudo-scientist Craig Idso. Crossposted from PolluterWatch.org

As we've told the Heartland Institute directly through Twitter, their response to our new report on climate change denial, Dealing in Doubt, contains a series of lies that are tellingly consistent with the lies we document in the report itself. Here are some, but not all, of the silliest claims Heartland made in their response to us:

Thu, 2012-08-09 15:37Steve Horn
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Was Scott Walker Chosen to Headline Heartland Institute Gala Due to His Bradley Foundation Ties?

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker will keynote the Heartland Institute's 28th Anniversary Benefit Dinner this evening at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL

Walker recently won the Kochtopus-funded Americans for Prosperity George Washington Award. Now, two months after his recall election steamrolling of Democrat Tom Barrett, the climate change denying group famous for its Unabomber billboard will embrace Walker with much fanfare

Heartland, whose internal documents were published this past spring by DeSmogBlog, sings praises for Walker's union-busting agenda and his recent recall victory in promoting the event

This year’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is the nation’s most influential and successful governor. Elected in 2010 to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in deficit without raising taxes, he did exactly that, winning the passionate support of taxpayers, business owners, and consumers across the state. After years of economic stagnation caused by high taxes and excessive regulation, Wisconsin is growing again.

To balance the state’s budget, Gov. Walker took on powerful public sector unions, reining in their collective bargaining privileges and requiring that public-sector workers start to contribute toward their retirement and health care benefits. Unions fought back, and after they failed to block legislation implementing Walker’s plan, they tried to recall him in a special election. On June 5, 2012, they failed, as Walker won reelection and a solid mandate to stay his course.

The trove of leaked Heartland documents exposed the Institute's current climate change denying agenda and revealed whose money supports this reality-denying agenda. But DeSmogBlog neglected to talk about the details of “Operation Angry Badger” in the documents, as at the time, we thought it was outside the scope of our mission.

Turns out, we were wrong.

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