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Mon, 2014-05-05 19:27Graham Readfearn
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Global Fossil Fuel Companies Running Multiple PR Campaigns Targeting Australians

Both online and on television, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers is telling Australians that it cares more about the environment than energy.

How this message might go down with the shareholders of Chevron is anyone’s guess. But then those people are possibly not the target for Chevron’s “We Agree” campaign. 

The targets of this and other campaigns are Australians who might be thinking twice about the social licence to operate that is currently afforded to major fossil fuel companies.

Chevron’s ongoing campaign has been seen on SBS television and on satellite cable channels as well as featured banner ads on popular websites and in print.

The ads ask readers to “agree” to statements like “Value the environment as much as the energy” and “Make Australian Gas Benefit All Australia.” 

Chevron’s multi-billion-dollar gas projects are in the country’s sparsely populated north west where opposition has been weaker than elsewhere.

But the Chevron messaging is just one chunk of a steady barrage of fossil fuel-funded PR flack being fired at Australians by some of the world's biggest mining companies. 

It appears the fossil fuel industry is feeling the pressure from repeated warnings in the scientific literature about the risks of continuing to exploit and burn fossil fuels. 

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. 

Sun, 2014-04-13 08:31Ben Jervey
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Never Again: Don Blankenship-Funded Video Absolves Don Blankenship in Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Deaths

Don Blankenship's hubris is surpassed only by his greed.

The “Dark Lord of Coal Country, as the former CEO of Massey Energy has been called, is using the fourth anniversary of the tragic Upper Big Branch Mine explosion not to honor the lives of the fallen mines, but to absolve himself of any responsibility for the 29 deaths, even having the nerve to point blame at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Blankenship kicked off an egotistical PR blitz by releasing a so-called documentary, titled “Upper Big Branch: Never Again.” The video was funded by Blankenship himself, and proves to be more of a piece of pro-Massey propaganda than a “program that tells the facts about actual people and events,” which is how Merriam-Websters defines documentary.

The video completely dismisses criticism of Massey Energy’s management, despite the fact that multiple investigations have found the company's managers at fault for the preventable explosion and for the 29 lives lost. 

One such report, by the West Virginia Governor's Independent Investigation Panel, clearly debunks the main argument of Never Again, that a sudden and unpredictable release of methane from below the mine caused the blast. From the report (page 108):

Fri, 2014-04-04 12:07Don Lieber
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Spills, Explosions, Earthquakes and War: Welcome to American Energy “Independence”

A well-deserved show of gratitude to the efficient and reliable fossil fuel sources of American energy independence — oil, coal and gas — is in order, following a truly remarkable string of success stories in recent days nationwide.      

On March 25, the BP refinery in Whiting, IN, leaked some 1,600 gallons of crude oil about eight miles upstream from a main drinking water inlet to Chicago. (As of this writing, investigators have not yet determined if the oil is conventional crude or heavy tar sands.)

Three days prior, on March 22, nearly 170,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil spilled into Galveston Bay, TX, from a barge, soiling one of the nation’s busiest export terminals with one of the heaviest, stickiest forms of oil on Earth. As a result, 20 containment vessels were dispatched. 

And five days before that, on March 17, a Sunoco-owned oil pipeline leaked 20,000 gallons into the Oak Glen Nature Preserve in Ohio, some 20 miles from Cincinnati. To be fair, the leak was only ‘discovered’ on March 17. Nobody knows when the leak actually began, and the true amount of oil leaked will be impossible to conclude.   

These impressive gains by the oil industry, however, pale in comparison to the string of breakthroughs achieved in the coal industry in recent days in North Carolina.

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

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:20Ben Jervey
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Italian Judge: Coal Plant Caused Over 400 Deaths, Orders Shutdown

An Italian judge has ordered the shutdown of a coal-fired power plant that has been blamed for at least 442 deaths. Public prosecutors had argued that pollution from the plant in Italy’s Liguria region caused the premature deaths and between 1,700 - 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.

On Tuesday, police followed the judge’s orders and shut down the two 330-Megawatt coal-fired units of the Vado Ligure plant. Francantonio Granero, the chief prosecutor in Savona, the government seat in Liguria, indicated in a February interview with United Press International that he was investigating the plant and its operators, Tirreno Power,  for “causing an environmental disaster and manslaughter.”

The judge, Fiorenza Giorgi, agreed with prosecutors that Tirreno Power hadn’t complied with emissions regulations, citing “negligent behavior” by the company and claiming that Tirreno’s emissions data was “unreliable.”

It is unclear whether Tirreno Power will be allowed to turn back on the coal-fired units if better emissions controls are implemented. The coal plants were built in 1971 and according to Savona prosecutors had emitted enough pollution to cause at least 442 premature deaths from 2000 to 2007. Investigators also found evidence that roughly 450 children were hospitalized with asthma and other respiratory ailments between 2005-2012, with the coal plant emissions to blame.

Thu, 2014-02-20 15:22Mike G
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Peabody Energy Faces Popular Revolt at Illinois EPA Coal Hearing

Last night, at an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a water quality permit for the expansion of a Peabody Energy strip mine in Rocky Branch, IL, local residents made it clear that they've had enough of the coal industry's destructive presence in their community.

According to writer Jeff Biggers, residents outnumbered Peabody supporters four-to-one among those willing to make public comments, and they had one overriding message: “We the people of Rocky Branch,” one resident, Jennifer Dumberis, said, “we will decide what happens to us and our civil rights—not Peabody.”

This is not the first time Illinois residents have taken their concerns directly to Peabody and the regulatory bodies who are failing to protect Illinois communities from the impacts of the company's mining operations. Residents have presented ample evidence of what has been done to Cottage Grove township, which is adjacent to the strip mine Peabody is seeking to expand: blasting that is like “small earthquakes”toxic coal dust that seeps through cracks in their homes caused by the blasts, and polluted waterways that some residents fear will eventually make their homes uninhabitable altogether.

Peabody had already started clearcutting the area intended to become its Rocky Branch Mine, just south of the Cottage Grove strip mine, but federal regulators stepped in and ordered Peadody to stop logging immedately because it was being done in violation of the law.

It's unclear what, if any, benefits Peabody can offer the residents of Rocky Branch should its strip mine be allowed to expand. No jobs are expected to be created, and the state already loses an estimated $20 million annually to support the coal industry.

Citizen action to hold coal companies and regulators accountable is more important than ever in Illinois, as the coal industry does not seem to be waning in the state. Even while coal is losing market share across the country and renewable energies like wind power are rapidly achieving cost parity (in fact, wind is already cheaper than coal in Iowa, Illinois' neighbor), Illinois just received a $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue the controversial “clean coal” project FutureGen.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40Sharon Kelly
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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

Thu, 2014-02-13 10:56Ben Jervey
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St. Louis Judge Cites Citizens United to Protect Tax Breaks for Peabody Energy

With the quick stroke of a pen, a circuit court judge in St. Louis has singlehandedly silenced more than 22,000 city residents, who had sought to bring a ballot initiative to end tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to a citywide vote in April.

Last summer, volunteers with the Take Back St. Louis coalition gathered over 22,000 signatures to put onto the ballot a measure that would amend the city’s charter to include a “Sustainable Energy Policy” and end taxpayer-funded support of fossil fuel companies.

According to Take Back St. Louis, the “proposed charter amendment would end public financial incentives, such as tax abatements, to fossil fuel mining companies and those doing $1 million of business with them per year, and requires the city to create a sustainable energy plan for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives on city-owned vacant land.”

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Dierker sided with Peabody Energy (in a decision you can read here) to grant a temporary restraining order that would, in essence, keep the initiative off the April 8th ballot.

First declaring the initiative “facially unconstitutional,” Judge Dierker proceeded to cite the Citizens United decision in explaining why the policy would represent a “patent denial of equal protection” to fossil fuel energy companies.  Specifically, Judge Dierker wrote:

business entities (which, after all, are a species of associations of citizens coming together in the exercise of economic freedom) are entitled to constitutional protection as citizens and may not arbitrarily be denied basic legal rights. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

The proposed initiative and judge’s decision have implications far beyond the city of St. Louis. Peabody Energy, the largest privately-owned coal mining company in the world, is headquartered in St. Louis, and received tax breaks of over $61 million from the city in 2010. The Take Back St. Louis coalition was hoping to target future giveaways, arguing that the public funds would be much better spent on underfunded local services like schools.

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:21Ben Jervey
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GAO Hiding Crucial Documents From The Public While Calling for More Transparency in BLM Coal Leases

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office released a much-anticipated report about the Bureau of Land Management's coal leasing program, revealing it has stiffed taxpayers over $200 million.

The GAO blames a lack of competition in the bidding process, reliance on outdated and incomplete methods to determine “fair market value” of the coal reserves, a disregard of coal exports and their impact on fair valuation, and a blatant lack of transparency in the leasing program.  

Senator Edward Markey, who had requested the GAO investigation in 2012 while he still served in the House, responded immediately to the report's findings. The GAO didn't address specifics on how much public revenue might have been lost by mismanaged leases and auctions.

Senator Markey explained that based on an examination of the report and other coal leasing documents that were not made public, his staff figured that the the BLM could have earned at least $200 million more for the American public if managed properly. 

Unfortunately, the coal leasing documents investigated by Markey's staff aren't available to the public, which the GAO claims is because of the inclusion of private business information. According to Ned Griffith of the GAO, the information in the report was labeled “sensitive but unclassified” by the Interior Department.

In other words, even though one of the major findings of the GAO report was a troubling lack of transparency, the office itself is shielding from public view these detailed documents about coal leases on public lands. 

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