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Sun, 2012-10-14 09:06Steve Horn
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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo's President's Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).

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.

Fri, 2012-07-27 03:30Steve Horn
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Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Commonwealth Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court** ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional.*** The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”

Act 13 – pejoratively referred to as “the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway“ by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld – would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. “It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Wed, 2012-02-08 12:28Farron Cousins
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The Business of Risk – Insuring Against Climate Change

When it comes to assessing risk, the insurance industry is one of the leaders in the field. Whether it is health insurance, car insurance, or homeowner’s insurance, the industry is forced to analyze every possible scenario for a given person or structure, and impose a fee based on the likelihood of events for the situation. So when an entire industry that bases their profitability on reducing risk starts factoring climate change into their equations, it's probably a good idea to pay attention.

Earlier this month, insurance commissioners in three separate U.S. states began mandating that insurance providers include the risk of climate change disasters in their risk equations, and develop and disclose their plans to deal with climate-related catastrophes. These plans will be laid out in surveys that insurance companies will provide to insurance commissioners in their respective states.

The three states that have made these new rules are California, New York, and Washington State. Previously, many states had only required the largest insurance companies to have climate plans, but the new rules, which could spread across the United States to climate change-vulnerable places like Florida and Texas, require all insurers to adjust for climate change disasters.

The New York Times lays out why the industry is taking on climate change issues:

Fri, 2011-12-09 16:07Steve Horn
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Congressmembers Implicated in Insider Stock Trading on TransCanada, Keystone XL Pipeline

When it comes to TransCanada Corporation's Keystone XL pipeline approval process, corruption has been rampant, as well covered by DeSmogBlog as it unfolded. The Keystone XL pipeline, currently in limbo, would carry tar sands crude – a thick and dirty fossil fuel called bitumen – from the Alberta tar sands through the heartland region and eventually down to Port Arthur, Texas, to be refined and placed on the global export market.

This week, a new layer of corruption was revealed by Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, this one involving insider trading of TransCanada's stocks by four members of Congress, as well as by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

The politicians implicated and amount of money they invested in stock are as follows, according to Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group:

  • Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, reported in his 2010 financial disclosure form–the most recent available, filed on May 15, 2011–that he owned Transcanada stock worth between $115,002 and $300,000 (financial disclosure forms ask members to report their assets within broad ranges).”
  • Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., reported owning between $15,001 and $51,000 in TransCanada stock in his 2010 financial disclosure; according to his office, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee sold his stock on January 5, 2011.”
  • Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., has held Trans Canada stock since 2004; her most recent disclsosure shows she owns a stake in the company worth between $1,001 and $15,000.”
  • Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.…reported a $798 interest in Trans Canada.”
  • U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice filed that she owned between $250,001 and $500,000 of TransCanada stock.”
Fri, 2011-12-09 10:34Steve Horn
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Another LNG Deal Inked, Fracking Export Bonanza Continues

On December 7, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC) granted a 30-year license to Jordan Cove LNG (liquefied natural gas), located in Coos Bay, Oregon, to transform its existing import terminal license into an export terminal license. It would be the first LNG export terminal on the west coast of the U.S., with multiple LNG export terminals also in the negotiation phase, set to be located on the west coast in Kitimat, British Columbia.

KMTR-TV explains where the unconventional gas, procured via the toxic fracking process explained thoroughly in DeSmogBlog's “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate,” will come from for Jordan Cove:

Construction of the Ruby Pipeline has brought gas from Wyoming to Southern Oregon, where it is sent to California. Construction of a new pipeline would link Ruby with Jordan Cove.

El Paso Natural Gas, a subsidiary of El Paso Corporation, owns the Ruby Pipeline. “Ruby is a 680-mile, 42-inch interstate natural gas pipeline,” according to its website.

The pipeline that KMTR-TV is referring to, which would link Ruby with Jordan Cove, is called the Pacific Connector Pipeline, and is proposed to be a “234-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline,” according to its website

Wyoming is home to the Niobrara Shale basin, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed as a site of groundwater contamination linked to the fracking process.

Fri, 2011-05-13 13:09Laurel Whitney
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California Town’s School Board Wants Politically “Balanced” Curriculum On Climate Change

And the headdesk moment of the week goes to Los Alamitos Unified School District, who recently decided that teachers in the school district would have to prove that their curricula have political balance when teaching controversial subjects, including global warming. Reminiscent of the creation of the universe debacles, teachers will now be required to teach “opposing views” because conservative board members are “concerned that ‘liberal’ faculty members could skew lessons on global warming”, according to local news coverage.

This could potentially become a dangerous trend, considering that several other districts, including the Texas board of education and South Dakota public schools, have taken similar views as well. It might be okay to teach climate skepticism if it indeed was taught and identified as climate misinformation that industries deliberately use to confuse the public, not as just a “dissenting opinion”. However this doesn’t appear to be the case here. Just listen to what one of the school board members has to say:

Tue, 2011-01-25 12:54Farron Cousins
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Right Wing Billionaire Koch Brothers Summit To Be Met With Protests

This weekend the Koch brothers will host a gaggle of extreme right wing billionaires and millionaires at a posh summit in Rancho Mirage, California. This Palm Springs meeting is not open to the public, it’s a private invitation-only gathering of the wealthy elite who share the Koch’s democracy-destroying goals for America. But on Sunday, January 30th, the final day of the secret summit, a coalition of consumer and labor groups, environmentalists, civil liberties and faith groups will assemble in Rancho Mirage to protest the Kochtopus’s stranglehold on American progress. 

The New York Times first reported on the gathering back in October, before these high-power industry leaders bought the midterm elections for the Republicans. As reported by Peter Dreier on The Huffington Post, those in attendance at the upcoming 3-day summit are responsible for the creation of the Tea Party, financially supporting climate change-denying organizations like the Cato Institute, and pouring millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of Republican lawmakers.

The Koch brothers have returned to a more high profile political life after remaining mostly in the shadows during the Bush administration. They resurfaced earlier this year when they dumped more than a million dollars into a failed effort to pass Proposition 23 in California, which would have scaled back the state’s progressive action on climate change in the name of “creating jobs.” In reality, there was no evidence to prove that California’s environmental laws had ever caused businesses to cut jobs, but there is ample evidence that these initiatives are on track to create lots of clean energy jobs. Charles Koch was even challenged to a debate by a former Marine named Joel Francis asking the billionaire to explain why he supported Prop 23, but he refused to participate.

Common Cause, who last week filed a complaint with the Department of Justice claiming that Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the Citizens’ United case, will be organizing most of the protesters for the event. Bus loads of folks from all over California will be carrying passengers to the protest, and a full schedule can be found at Common Cause’s “Uncloaking the Kochs” page.

Tue, 2010-10-26 15:09Brendan DeMelle
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Elusive Charles Koch Deploys Security To Block Joel Francis’ Visit to Koch Industries HQ to Invite Debate on Prop 23

Joel Francis, the Cal State-Los Angeles senior and Marine Corps veteran, today followed through on his promise to visit Koch Industries headquarters in Wichita, Kansas to formally deliver his letter challenging CEO Charles Koch to a public debate about his funding of Prop 23, an attack on California’s clean energy investments and job creation efforts.  

After receiving no response from Koch following the video posting of his challenge last week, Joel traveled all the way from Los Angeles with a group of fellow college students and Gabe Elsner, campaign director of Powervote CA and the California Student Sustainability Coalition.  

The goal was simple and the approach polite – Joel simply hoped to meet with Charles Koch to invite him to a public debate “anytime, anywhere in the state of California” between now and election day about why Koch would attack the fastest growing sector in California’s struggling economy – clean energy jobs, which are growing 10 times faster than other sectors.

But as the students arrived, it was clear that Koch wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for Joel.  

Pairs of security guards were stationed prominently outside each entrance to the Koch corporate campus.  Marked and unmarked Koch security vehicles trailed several cars after they dropped the students off on the front lawn of Koch HQ. (The vehicle I arrived in along with PowerVote’s Gabe Elsner was also trailed as it left the scene.)

Larry Moorman, Koch’s Director of Corporate Security, immediately approached Elsner and wrongly claimed that we were on private property.  Elsner responded that county records indicated the first 18 feet of lawn adjacent to the curb was public property, which sent Mr. Moorman on his way back to guard the front door from the apparent ‘threat’ of an articulate college senior challenging the company’s secretive CEO to talk to him.  

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