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Thu, 2014-06-26 14:22Farron Cousins
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Obama Administration Secretly Weakening EPA Rules

One of highest hopes that environmentally-minded Americans had for President Obama when he first entered office was that he would finally put an end to the secrecy that marred the former Bush administration when it came to environmental policy. 

The image of then-Vice President Dick Cheney meeting in secret with dirty energy industry leaders was still fresh in our heads as we went to the polls in 2008, and we were all but certain that the country chose a leader that would leave those dark days in the past.

Sadly, those hopes for a policy change were dashed before the end of Obama’s first year.  He talked a big game on the campaign trail, but when it came to acting on those promises, that rhetoric proved to be just as hollow as his predecessor’s. 

Obama doubled down on coal, oil, and fracking, while allowing renewable energy investments to fall.  But the most disturbing part of the story is that Obama and his officials have been working in secret to weaken environmental standards that his administration has been patting themselves on the back for in public.

Recently, a federal judge expanded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was filed against the Small Business Administration (SBA), which claims that officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been working to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power plant pollution standards.  The administration has been dragging its feet in providing the information requested, even after the court ruling, which has led environmental groups to file a complaint against the White House.

At issue is the EPA’s failure to update standards for existing power plants as required by the Clean Air Act — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously said was required of the agency.  The current rules have not been updated since 1982, and environmental groups say that the lack of updating is due to influence from the White House itself.

Wed, 2014-02-19 10:27Steve Horn
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ALEC's Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

The American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature. 

ALEC's model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas' legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in an April 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida's proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House's Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC's ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There's a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself — FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School studySecond kicker: ALEC's model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary. 

Wed, 2013-04-03 05:00Steve Horn
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State Dept. Keystone XL Contractor ERM Also Green-Lighted Explosive, Faulty Peruvian Pipeline Project

Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the State Department consulting firm that claims TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal is safe and sound, previously provided a similarly rosy approval for the expansion of a Peruvian natural gas project that has since racked up a disastrous track record. 

On March 1, the U.S. State Department declared KXL's proposed northern half environmentally safe and sound in its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), part of TransCanada's Presidential Permit application for the proposed tar sands pipeline. 

KXL is a 1,179-mile tube set to blast 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta down to Port Arthur, TX. After it reaches Port Arthur, the crude will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market. “XL” is shorthand for “expansion line,” named such because it would expand the marketability of tar sands crude to foreign buyers.

Because the Obama State Dept. has the final say on the project due to its crossing the Canada-U.S. border, clearing State's EIS hurdle was crucial for TransCanada. Just days later, though, watchdogs revealed that State had outsourced the EIS out to oil and gas industry-tied consulting firms hand-picked by TransCanada itself

One of those firms - Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - has historical ties to Big Tobacco; published a study declaring “safe” a Caspian Sea pipeline that ended up spilling 70,000 barrels of oil; and has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhilips and ExxonMobil - corporations all with skin in the tar sands game. ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline recently spilled 189,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood. 

An examination into the historical annals shows that ERM Group also green-lighted a major pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion project akin to KXL in Peru. The project in a nutshell: a 253-mile-long, 34-inch pipeline carries gas obtained from Peru's Camisea field - located partly in the Amazon rainforest with the pipeline snaking through the Andes Mountains - to Peru's west coast. From there, it's exported primarily to the U.S. and Mexico.

Camisea - described by Amazon Watch as the “most damaging project in the Amazon Basin“ - has created a whole host of problems. These include displacing indigenous people, clear-cutting forests that serve as a key global carbon sink to make way for the project, and major pipeline spills, to name a few.

Sat, 2012-11-17 12:21Steve Horn
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Former Clinton and Bush Cabinet Members, Now Oil and Gas Lobbyists, Expect Keystone XL Green Light

The Tar Sands Blockade of TransCanada Corporation's “Keystone XL South” continues in Texas, but former members of the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets believe the northern half will soon be green-lighted by President Barack Obama. 

In a Nov. 13 conference call led by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an oil and gas industry front group, CEA Counsel John Northington said he believes a “Keystone XL North” rubber stamp is in the works by the Obama Administration. 

I think the Keystone will be approved in fairly short order by the administration,” Northington said on the call.

Northington has worn many hats during his long career:

[He] served in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with energy policy responsibility for the former Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington began his government service at the Department of Energy, where he served as White House Liaison, Chief of Staff for the Office of Fossil Energy and Senior Advisor for Oil and Natural Gas Policy.

After his tenure working for the Clinton Administration, he walked through the revolving door and became a lobbyist, representing many clients over the past decade, including the oil and gas industry. Northington has represented ExxonMobil, Devon Energy, CONSOL Energy, and Statoil. ExxonMobil, Devon and Statoil all have a major stake in the tar sands. 

Fri, 2012-10-26 08:00Steve Horn
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Tar Sands South: First US Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada - but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQBapproved the first ever tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it's name. 

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there's no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.  

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but “were not permitted to provide input,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune

Tue, 2012-04-24 15:52Steve Horn
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ALEC Launches Assault on Renewable Energy Industry

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as covered previously by DeSmogBlog, is the “Trojan Horse” behind mandating that climate change denial (“skepticism,” or “balance,” in its words) be taught in K-12 classrooms.

Well, ALEC is at it again, it appears. Facing an IRS complaint filed by Common Cause, one of the leading advocacy groups working to expose the corporate-funded bill mill, ALEC has also launched an assault on renewable energy legislation, according to a well-documented report written by Bloomberg News.

The two developments are worth unpacking.

Common Cause IRS Complaint

The Washington Post reported that on April 23, Common Cause “had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity…while doing widespread lobbying.” 

ALEC is trying to brush aside this complaint, but Common Cause presents a compelling case.

It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. “ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer.”

Common Cause wants the IRS to complete a no-holds-barred audit of ALEC’s work and to examine whether it violated IRS laws. 

Sat, 2011-12-17 14:27Farron Cousins
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Report Partially Blames Federal Government For Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion

Perhaps one of the most honest assessments of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion reveals the numerous failures of both industry and the federal government in the worst marine oil disaster in U.S. history.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sanctioned the report, compiled by more than a dozen experts operating with the temporary group called the Committee for Analysis of Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future (The Committee). And while the experts on The Committee identified failures we’ve documented in the past - particularly the shoddy design of the well’s blowout preventer - the committee highlighted plenty of new information as well.

Noting again that it was sanctioned by the federal government, it's interesting that this was one of the first reports to explicitly implicate the federal government’s irresponsible actions as a cause of the massive oil disaster that followed the explosion:

The regulatory regime was ineffective in addressing the risks of the Macondo well. The actions of the regulators did not display an awareness of the risks or the very narrow margins of safety.

As DeSmog has reported in the past, the federal government’s role in the disaster can be traced all the way back to 2001, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was holding his secret Energy Task Force meetings with oil industry executives. During those meetings, the industry insiders in attendance helped the Vice President draft legislation that would eviscerate basic health and safety standards that protected workers and the public from the oil industry's reckless practices.

Tue, 2011-12-06 12:58Farron Cousins
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BP Accuses Halliburton Of Destroying Evidence In Gulf Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Just months before trials are set to begin, BP is accusing Halliburton of destroying evidence related to their shoddy cement work that helped cause last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. According to Reuters, BP has officially filed their allegations with the courts, hoping to get the ball rolling on an investigation prior to trial.

Halliburton was responsible for supplying the cement on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig’s well, which was found to be substandard in investigations. According to Reuters, via Raw Story:

Citing recent depositions and Halliburton’s own documents, BP said Halliburton “intentionally” destroyed the results of slurry testing for the well, in part to “eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial.”

The oil company also said Halliburton appeared to have lost computer evidence showing how the cement performed, with Halliburton maintaining that the information is simply “gone.”

BP asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, who oversees spill litigation, to sanction Halliburton by ruling that Halliburton’s slurry design was “unstable,” a finding of fact that could be used at trial.

If Halliburton did destroy evidence, this could significantly shift the blame for the oil well, showing that Halliburton had something to hide. This would then take a lot of pressure off of BP and Transocean.

Mon, 2011-05-23 17:54TJ Scolnick
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Former Bush EPA Official Confirms 2004 EPA Fracking Study Was Misused

Ben Grumbles, former assistant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and head of the agency’s Office of Water, revealed last week that the conclusions from a 2004 EPA report [pdf] discussing the safety of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) have been exaggerated for years.

Mon, 2011-03-21 13:30Carol Linnitt
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Gas Industry Working Overtime to Smother Revived FRAC Act Efforts To Rein In Hydraulic Fracturing

Last week, US Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation to the Senate that would close the oversight gap that the gas industry has taken full advantage of since 2005. The “Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,” commonly known as the FRAC Act, would close the Halliburton Loophole in Dick Cheney’s infamous 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted hydraulic fracturing from the auspices of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Hydraulic fracturing is used in 90% of all unconventional natural gas wells in the U.S. and involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and dangerous chemicals into the ground. The bill would also require that the natural gas industry publicly disclose the chemicals they use to drill for unconventional gas. These chemicals, including potent cancer-causing agents, are protected as industry trade secrets.

The FRAC Act was originally introduced as a set of twin bills to the House and Senate in 2009 but died in the last session of Congress. According to new supporter Senator Frank Lautenberg, the FRAC Act will give the EPA the necessary backing to, at the very least, properly investigate and assess the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

The industry’s aggressive lobbying campaign against the FRAC Act is part of a larger agenda to limit federal oversight of gas drilling. The legal void created by the Energy Policy Act in 2005 essentially crippled the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to properly monitor the boom in gas fracking activity, especially the potentially serious threat to drinking water supplies. A long history of industry pressure on EPA scientists is also present on this issue, leading to the narrowing of scope in the EPA’s investigations and the elimination of critical findings when it comes to certain fracking threats.

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