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Fri, 2014-09-12 14:00Connor Gibson
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Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

Originally published on PolluterWatch

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.

Thu, 2014-09-11 17:36Farron Cousins
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Pennsylvania Prisoners Poisoned By Coal Ash

Life in a prison is probably not the safest environment for a person.  But for prisoners in Pennsylvania, life just got a lot more dangerous.

According to a new report, inmates at State Correctional Institution Fayette in LaBelle, Pennsylvania have been experiencing a significant increase in cancer rates.  The report, which was put together by the Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition, says that the culprit is a nearby coal ash dump.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details:

11 prisoners died from cancer between January 2010 and December 2013, another six have been diagnosed with cancer and eight more have undiagnosed tumors or lumps.

Also, more than 80 percent of 75 prisoners responding to the investigators experienced respiratory problems, 68 percent said they experienced gastrointestinal problems and half have skin rashes, cysts and abscesses. Twelve percent, nine of the 75, reported being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder at the prison or having their existing thyroid problems get worse. Many of the prisoners have multiple, overlapping symptoms, the report said.

The death rate at the Fayette correctional facility is the third highest in the state.  However, the two prisons with higher mortality rates also house large populations of elderly inmates, making Fayette the highest death rate among preventable causes.

Mon, 2014-07-28 16:00Farron Cousins
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Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?

There are enough articles on the “myth of peak oil” floating around the Internet to fill a book; and there are enough books on the subject to fill a small library.  One of the common threads throughout these publications is their lack of credible sources, because not only is peak oil real, but we’re rapidly approaching that threshold. 

An example that is smacking the United States and the oil industry in the face right now is floating in the Gulf of Mexico. 

According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels. 

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear.  Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration.

Contrary to what some of the peak oil deniers want the public to believe, peak oil does not mean that we’re about to run out of oil. What it means is that the United States is running out of easily accessible, financially viable oil. As that easy to retrieve oil disappears, companies have to drill deeper and deeper or in otherwise inaccessible places in order to get their oil. 

This makes the process much more expensive and drives costs up to the point that profits are hard to come by. And this is what we’re beginning to see in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thu, 2014-07-03 05:00Anne Landman
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Rejection of Colorado Coal Mine on Global Warming Grounds Could Be Game-Changer

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 27 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service both wrongly approved expansion of the West Elk coal mine in Somerset, Colo., because they failed to take into account the economic impacts greenhouse gas emissions from the mining would have.
 
The federal agencies said it was impossible to quantify such impacts, but the court pointed out a tool is available to quantify the effects of emissions and the agencies chose to ignore it. The tool, the “social cost of carbon protocol,” puts a price on the damanges from drought, flood, storm, fire and disease caused by global warming. 
 
“It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project's upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project's costs,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled.
 
Arch Coal, Inc. planned to bulldoze vegetation to build about six miles of roads and drill up to 48 exploratory holes in the scenic backcountry of western Colorado's North Fork Valley to vent methane and determine whether a coal seam actually lies beneath the area.
 
The federal agencies' final report on the West Elk Mine expansion listed the economic benefits of modifying public lands leases to allow the project, but failed to quantify the social or economic costs of carbon emissions from the project.  
 
The ruling could be game-changing because if the judge's reasoning holds up in other challenges to federal agency decisions, it could change the calculus on dozens of other major projects, such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Tue, 2014-06-24 11:10Anne Landman
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Frackquakes in Colorado? Scientists Probe Fracking Wastewater Link to CO Earthquakes

At 9:35 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, Greeley, Colorado was struck by a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. Earthquakes are highly unusual in eastern Colorado, raising speculation that it was a “frackquake” — a man-made earthquake stimulated by the disposal of contaminated drilling water in deep injection wells. This disposal technique forces wastewater generated from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) deep into underground rock formations, lubricating layers of rock that would not ordinarily be subject to movement.

Earthquakes are so rare in eastern Colorado that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has labeled the area “aseismic.” The Greeley Tribune reported that the May 30 quake's epicenter was roughly two miles away from two deep oil and gas wastewater injection sites that have not been inspected for two years.

Scientists placed seismometers around the area to try to gather more detailed information on what may have generated the quake and its aftershocks. Colorado currently has very few seismometers in place because earthquakes are so rare in the state.

Wed, 2014-06-18 15:28Anne Landman
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Colorado Citizens Launch Class Action Lawsuit to Protect Lafayette's Fracking Ban

Citizens of Lafayette, Colo., have filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and Governor John Hickenlooper requesting immediate enforcement of Lafayette's Community Rights Charter Amendment to ban fracking. 
 
In November 2013, 60 percent of Lafayette voters approved the Community Rights Amendment, which allows citizens to prohibit harmful activities, such as fracking. Following the passage of the Lafayette Community Rights Amendment, COGA sued the City of Lafayette, claiming that the state's Oil and Gas Act trumps the people’s right to protect themselves from oil and gas activities.
 
East Boulder County United, the organization that wrote and successfully campaigned for Lafayette's Community Rights Charter Amendment, attempted to join the class action suit, but the court refused to let them participate, saying the group’s arguments about people’s fundamental rights to protect their communities would “expand the scope” of the case.
Wed, 2014-06-04 14:44Farron Cousins
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US Chamber Predicts Economic Apocalypse From New Carbon Rules Despite Opposite Reality

It has been less than a week since the EPA announced new rules for carbon emissions — rules that are being heralded as the most comprehensive effort to tackle climate change by any sitting U.S. president — but big business groups have been spreading misinformation about these new rules for weeks.

Leading the charge against the administration’s proposals is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business interest group in the country, and arguably the most well-funded. 

Just days before the new rules that will limit the amount of carbon that existing power plants can release were made public, the Chamber released a report predicting that any form of carbon regulation would result in economic chaos for the United States.  And this all happened before the Chamber even know what the rules would actually say.

The Chamber’s report issued these dire warnings to Americans, summarized by Think Progress:

Their study determined that it would cost American industry $28.1 billion annually to comply with EPA’s new regulations, that as many as 224,000 jobs would be lost between now and 2030, that the economy would average $50.2 billion lower a year, that Americans would cumulatively pay $289 billion more for electricity over that period, and that they’d lose $586 billion in disposable income.

The U.S. Chamber is attempting to strike at the heart of American fears that it will cost them dearly.  Whether it is their job or their hard-earned money, the Chamber wants Americans to be afraid of losing everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve in life.

Back in the land of reality, the Chamber’s claims are easily debunked.  To start with, as we’ve previously discussed here on DeSmogBlog, safety regulations create jobs rather than destroy them.  Even energy industry CEOs have been willing to admit that this is true in recent years.  The EPA’s estimates show that the new standards will create tens of thousands of new jobs, and the administration’s commitment to invest more in renewable energy will add hundreds of thousands of jobs, thus resulting in a net gain of U.S. jobs.

Sat, 2014-05-31 07:00Anne Landman
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Permanent Protest Set Up at US Oil Sands Project in Utah

The first tar sands strip mining project in the U.S. is gearing up to start operation in Utah, but not without resistance from a group that announced on May 29 that it is setting up a permanent protest vigil at the site.

The Canadian company US Oil Sands Inc. (USOS) leased over 32,000 acres in the Bookcliffs range in eastern Utah near the PR Spring campground for what it calls the first bitumen mining operation in the U.S. Bitumen is the sticky black substance also known as asphalt, with a viscosity similar to cold molasses.

US Oil Sands plans to dig up huge amounts of sand containing the bitumen and then heat the sand to release the bitumen, separate out the sand, and then use solvents to thin the gooey substance enough so it will flow through pipes and into trucks. USOS got the green light to go ahead with the pilot project from the Utah Water Quality Board in 2012, and then solicited investors to fund the project. 

In mid-May, USOS announced (pdf) that its tar sands pilot project was fully funded, and they are purchasing equipment and moving into the operational phase.

Fri, 2014-05-30 15:35Farron Cousins
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Life Saving Regulations Stalled In Bureaucratic Abyss

There is an unspoken rule in American politics: when you have bad news to deliver, do it on a Friday afternoon.  This helps to ensure that fewer people will see it, fewer will have time to analyze it, and the media will forget all about it over the weekend.  If you really want the issue to die, release it on a Friday before a holiday weekend, and that’s exactly what the Obama administration did last week when they released their bi-annual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda reads like a laundry list of proposed safety regulations from nearly all the major regulatory agencies.  Digging into the Department of the Interior section of that list, you will find countless stalled regulations pertaining to the dirty energy industry, some of which have been in limbo since the days of the former Bush administration

Ben Geman at National Journal explains:

Fri, 2014-05-30 13:02Anne Landman
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Groups Say CO Governor Hickenlooper Evading Public Input on Fracking Policy

Eleven grassroots citizens groups are demanding that Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper allow them access to meetings he is holding about a proposed special legislative session to address fracking. 
 
Gov. Hickenlooper and the drilling industry have been trying to strike a “grand bargain”-style, watered-down bill to circumvent a slew of powerful anti-fracking initiatives currently working their way towards the state ballot. Colorado's regular legislative session ended early in May, and the governor wants to call a special session to pass his compromise bill.
 
The groups protesting their exclusion from the governor's meetings are the same ones that led successful efforts to pass anti-fracking ballot initiatives in six front-range communities, and which continue to represent communities impacted by fracking.
 
Colorado newspapers like the Denver Post and Denver Business Journal have widely reported that oil and gas industry executives and other “stakeholders” have been attending discussions with the governor to craft new state legislation pertaining to drilling and fracking.

But none of the citizen and environmental groups that moved the moratoria and bans forward in the last 18 months in the six cities representing over 400,000 citizens, including Fort Collins, Loveland (pending), Longmont, Boulder, Broomfield, and Lafayette, have been informed about the meetings or invited to attend.  

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