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Wed, 2013-12-04 13:32Steve Horn
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Documents Reveal ALEC's Looming Attacks on Clean Energy, Fracking Laws, Greenhouse Gas Regulations

The Guardian has released another must-read piece about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), this time laying bare its anti-environmental agenda for 2014. 

The paper obtained ALEC's 2013 Annual Meeting Policy Report, which revealed that ALECdubbed a “corporate bill mill” for the statehouses by the Center for Media and Democracy — plans more attacks on clean energy laws, an onslaught of regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and waging war against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations.

“Over the coming year, [ALEC] will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama's main channel for climate action,” explained The Guardian. “Details of ALEC's strategy to block clean energy development at every stage, from the individual rooftop to the White House, are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.”

The documents also reveal ALEC's boasting of introducing myriad “model resolutions” nationwide in support of fast-tracking approval for the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline, along with another “model bill” — the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” already introduced in Utah — set to expropriate federally-owned public lands to oil, gas and coal companies. 

Fri, 2013-11-22 12:37Steve Horn
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US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

Flanagan south, keystone xl pipeline

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It's like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

A story covered only by McClatchy News' Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge's Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois - located in the north central part of the state - down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama's approval. 

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn't require the State Department or Obama's approval. If Keystone XL's northern half's permit is denied, Flanagan South - along with Enbridge's proposal to expand its Alberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama's State Department during Congress' recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline's capacity and then some. 

Fri, 2013-10-25 10:00Farron Cousins
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Climate Policy Already Headlining 2014 Midterm Elections

The U.S. may still be more than a year out from the 2014 midterm elections, but Republicans in Congress are already making the Obama administration’s climate policies a key issue for voters.

Republican Representative Ed Whitfield from Kentucky announced this week that he intends to make the President’s climate change policies, specifically stricter standards on coal-fired power plants, a top talking point during the coming campaign season.  Whitfield also announced that he would introduce legislation to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal plant emissions.

The Hill quotes Whitfield as saying, “We are going to mark this legislation up, we are going to get it to the floor, we want to get it over to the Senate, and we want those senators running next year to have to have a discussion with whoever their opponent may be about the future of fossil fuel in America.”

Whitfield wants to force the issue of “restrictive” climate policy onto Democrats who are running in conservative areas of the country, with an emphasis on those running in areas that are entrenched with the dirty energy industry, like his home state of Kentucky, along with West Virginia and the Carolinas.

Representative Whitfield has long been a mouthpiece for the dirty energy industry during his tenure as the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power; a position that has earned him more than $900,000 in campaign donations from the oil, coal, and gas industries.

Thu, 2013-10-24 05:00Farron Cousins
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US Chamber President Tom Donohue Pushes Deceitful Dirty Energy Talking Points

Tom Donohue, the president of the massive business lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is once again doing the bidding of the dirty energy industry by claiming that America is on the verge of complete “energy security.”

On the pages of the U.S. Chamber’s Free Enterprise website, Donohue claimed that America has become an “energy rich” nation, no longer susceptible to problems like the gas shortage of the 1970’s.  In Donohue’s own words:

We’re sitting on a 200-year supply of oil and have enough natural gas to last us 115 years. And we’re discovering more resources every day. Thanks to new technology, entrepreneurship, and access to private lands, we’re able to develop more of it than ever—particularly the unconventional oil and gas, which was previously too costly to reach…

…Our national energy policy is still based on the false assumption that we are an energy-poor nation. The federal government continues to keep 87% of federal lands off limits for energy development. Our affordable and abundant coal resources are under constant regulatory threat by EPA. The administration is proposing new regulations on shale energy development, even though it is already stringently regulated at the state level. And some in the government still want to pick winners and losers among energy industries.

Donohue would have us believe that the United States is sitting on vast energy reserves that would quench our dirty energy addiction for centuries, but the pesky federal government is trying to keep those honest energy companies down. 

This is the same government that, a few paragraphs earlier Donohue inadvertently admitted, had allowed increased oil and gas drilling in the United States and reduced our need for imports:

Fri, 2013-10-18 07:41Sharon Kelly
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Fracking Coming to Washington D.C.'s Drinking Water?

Over the past several years, the battle over fracking has brought Congressional hearings, protests and huge industry money to Washington DC. But in recent months the topic has taken on a new, more local turn in the nation's capital as oil and gas companies push to drill in a national forest near in the city's backyard and an unusual cast of charaters are lining up to oppose it.

The fight is over access to drill for shale gas in the George Washington National Forest and officials from the Environmental Protect Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service have come out in opposition, even though some of these same federal agencies have in other contexts helped to promote expanded shale gas drilling.

The forest is one of the East Coast’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of its last old growth forests.

Horizontal drilling, key to shale gas extraction, has never before been permitted in the George Washington National Forest. But as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service prepares a new 15-year plan, drillers are pushing hard for the ban to be lifted despite the industry’s long record of spills, air pollution and water contamination on public lands.

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Fri, 2013-10-04 12:37Farron Cousins
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Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.

Wed, 2013-10-02 12:13Farron Cousins
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What The Government Shutdown Means For The Environment

The U.S. government was officially shut down yesterday, and those responsible for the shutdown are already singing its praises.  Among other things, they were finally able to achieve their years-long goal of shutting down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even if only temporarily.

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee led the victory lap, tweeting out “There is some good news out of the shutdown, the EPA can't issue new regulations.”  Blackburn has received more than $282,000 from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions during her years in Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

The crusade to destroy the EPA is one that the Republican Party has been carrying out for several years, as they erroneously view the standards set forth by the agency as “burdensome” and as “job killers.”  Had they bothered to look beyond their own sound bites, they would have learned that the regulations put forth by the agency actually create jobs rather than destroy them.

Sadly, there is some truth to Blackburn’s comment, and it isn’t anything that American citizens should be celebrating. While the agency isn’t entirely crippled at the moment, until the government resumes its operations it will not be able to do all of the jobs necessary to protect Americans.

While the government remains shut down, less than 1,100 of the EPA’s 16,205 employees will remain on the job, which means that less than 7% of the agency will be functioning as normal.  While officials claim that law enforcement, public health, and property protection employees will still be working, if the agency runs out of contingency money, those employees too could soon be off the clock.

Fri, 2013-09-13 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Never-Released Energy Department Report Predicts Increasing Domestic Conflicts over Water, Energy

Last summer, the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

At the same time, the country was experiencing one of the biggest onshore drilling booms in history, powered by one of the most water-intensive extraction technologies ever invented: hydraulic fracking.

The tension between these two realities could not be clearer.

This year, as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources.

Even the Atlantic coast's mighty Susquehanna River faced record lows last year, leading regulators to suspend dozens of withdrawal permits – the majority of which were for fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

Researchers for the Federal Department of Energy saw problems like this coming, according to thousands of pages of documents about the topic provided to DeSmog, but their recommendations and warnings were consistently edited and downplayed and the final version of their report has yet to be released.

Thu, 2013-09-12 15:32Farron Cousins
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Washington Throws Chemical Safety Standards Out the Window, Are Fracking Chemicals Next?

As our elected officials in Washington attempt to sell us on the idea that we need to go to war against anyone who uses chemical weapons, they are working to remove safety standards that protect citizens from corporate America’s ongoing chemical assault.

In recent weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back safety regulations for the chemical industry, while the U.S. House of Representatives has prepared to take aim at the government’s ability to monitor chemicals and other safety hazards posed by fracking.

Bowing to pressure by the chemical industry, the EPA has decided to withdraw a proposal that would have added numerous new substances to their database of hazardous chemicals, which is used to issue public health assessments and warnings.  One of the substances is Bisphenol A, a chemical used in the manufacture of certain plastics that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and reproductive impacts.

The EPA had previously expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of safety standards in place for toxic chemicals that studies had shown were dangerous to the public, but the pressure coming from the chemical industry was far too great for them to overcome.

The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that operates as the political arm of chemical manufacturers, believes that the EPA made a “wise decision” to not go forward with their new proposals.  The group has spent more than $4 million this year alone lobbying the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the EPA.

Rather than compiling their lists now, as their proposed rule allowed, the EPA decided to wait until all chemicals are thoroughly and repeatedly analyzed, a process expected to finish in 2017, unless delayed. Then they will begin the process of drafting new proposals. 

This means that the American public will suffer another four years of inaction and exposure to chemicals that the agency already knows are toxic.

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