In January 2013, Pennsylvania's auditor general announced that he would conduct an investigation into whether state regulators were effectively overseeing the impacts from the shale gas drilling rush.
A year and a half later, the results are in: the state's environmental regulators are failing badly in at least eight major areas, at times declining to cite drillers who broke the law. In a damning 158-page report, the state's auditor general highlighted the agency's wide-ranging failures. The report detailed the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) use of a legal “loop hole” to avoid inspecting wells and described the agnecy's failure to fulfill its duty to track the industry's toxic waste. The report also faulted the agency for a reliance on voluntary measures in policing the industry.
The federal government has largely taken a hands-off approach to policing the drilling boom. What federal rules do exist have various broad exemptions exemptions for the oil and gas industry. Pennsylvania, which features a large swath of the Marcellus shale, is widely viewed as ground zero for the current fracking boom. In the unusually candid report released this week, state auditors have concluded that the state is overwhelmed by the industry and is providing insufficient oversight.
“It is DEP’s responsibility to protect the environment from these environmental risks and to ensure that laws and regulations which govern potential impacts to water quality are enforced,” Pennsylvania's auditors wrote. “Unfortunately, DEP was unprepared to meet these challenges because the rapid expansion of shale gas development has strained DEP, and the agency has failed to keep up with the workload demands placed upon it.”
Auditors described state environmental regulators as woefully outgunned and unprepared for the sudden arrival of the shale gas drilling frenzy.
After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history. The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.
As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.
The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions more in financial penalties for the company.
A citizens group in Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Emerald Coal Resources LP (ECR) for polluting waterways in their state. ECR operates a coalfield in Waynesburg, which is the focus of the suit.
The suit is being handled by The Center For Coalfield Justice, and alleges that ECR committed numerous violations of the Clean Water Act over the last five years, with those violations greatly intensifying in the last 12 months.
The lawsuit contends Emerald Coal has violated pollution levels for iron, manganese, aluminum and other pollutants more than 120 times in the past 12 months and more than 400 times in the past five years. The group is basing those claims on violations the company has been self-reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Emerald's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit as part of the federal Clean Water Act.
To date, Patriot Coal is the only major coal company in America to pledge to stop mountaintop removal mining. On the surface, it might appear that the company has had a genuine change of heart, but the reality is that this decision was more out of economic necessity than concern for the environment and human health.
Several conservation groups, led by the Sierra Club, have pressured the company to end their destructive MTR practices for years, which resulted in numerous lawsuits filed against the company for environmental abuses. Those lawsuits have led to millions of dollars worth of fines and verdicts against the coal giant, which in turn gave us its new, anti-MTR platform.
A proposed settlement deal between the federal government and BP over their involvement in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil leak could shift the burden of cleanup costs away from the oil giant and onto U.S. taxpayers.
Not only could this reduce the total amount of money that the company pays in fines, but it would shift the burden of cost onto U.S. taxpayers. While the company would still be paying out of pocket, the NRDA allows the company to write off their fines and deduct that from their yearly taxes. Paying through the Clean Water Act would not allow the costs to be tax deductible.
But the cost shift is just one of the problems with the proposed deal. The provision that has residents of the Gulf Coast up in arms is the fact that the NRDA would route the money through the U.S. Treasury, instead of directly sending it to local and state governments. This means that the Treasury, not the affected areas, would be in charge of determining how the money is spent.
In what could possibly be a new low for one of the most anti-environment, pro-dirty energy industryCongresses in history, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are attempting to gut funding for measures that would reduce the occurrence of black lung in mine workers. The funding cut was inserted into the 2013 appropriations bill that provides funding to the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
SEC. 118. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners' Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation (Regulatory Identification Number 1219-AB64) being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee inserted the language into the bill. The Appropriations Committee is currently led by Republican Chairman Harold 'Hal' Rogers from Kentucky and, not surprisingly, his largest campaign financier during his 20+ years in office has been the mining industry. That industry has pumped more than $379,000 into his campaigns over the years, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. DirtyEnergyMoney.org shows Rep. Rogers receiving over $430,000 in polluter contributions since 1999, well above the average for members of Congress. The majority of the dirty money has come from the coal industry.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.