lawsuit

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

American Youth Sue Politicians To Force Action On Climate Change

Meaningful action to mitigate the impacts of climate change have been slow to materialize in the United States, and that lag in leadership is allowing the threat to grow much worse for future generations of Americans.

But political inaction has led to citizen action, particularly among the generations that will face the consequences of inaction. And they are making the case, literally, that the government needs to take action.

Teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik have filed a lawsuit against Democratic Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and the entire state government of Oregon, alleging that they are not doing enough to address the threats of climate change.

Obama Administration Sued Over Gulf Of Mexico Fracking

At a time when the rest of the world (for a host of reasons) is shying away from the hydraulic fracturing “boom,” the United States appears to be hell-bent on allowing fracking in every available space. The latest target for the industry has been the already imperiled Gulf of Mexico, the same waters that are still reeling from the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

In its haste to allow as much fracking as possible in the Gulf, the Obama administration has repeatedly failed to release information about the dangers of fracking in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as information regarding the total number of permits that have been issued.

But a new lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity seeks to make that information public.

The lawsuit says that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are obligated to release this information to the public. The government has so far failed to respond to the group’s FOIA request to make this information known to the public.

The risks of offshore fracking are well known, and The Center for Biological Diversity has a report that details the dangers that have already been realized off the coast of California, where offshore fracking has been under way for some time.

In that report, the Center uncovered some disturbing trends about the wastewater that is created during fracking:

Contrary To BP PR, Most Oil Spill Claims Are Legit

For more than a year, oil giant BP has waged a massive public relations battle to convince Americans that the company has been bamboozled by the oil spill claims process relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout.

This BP PR campaign has involved full-page newspaper ads paid for by the company suggesting it is being swindled by Gulf Coast residents who were not affected by the oil spill. BP spokesepeople have appeared in the media to argue that the claims process has been “absurd.” And evidence even suggests that the company has employed online “trolls” to attack legitimate victims on social media websites.

BP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this PR blitz, all because they want to avoid paying out any more claims to Gulf Coast residents. But the problem the company is running into now is that independent investigations have shown that the claims process is not rife with fraud, as BP has claimed.

At least 99.5% of the claims that have been filed are legitimate, according to an audit.

Crude Oil Transport Project Halted In California After Environmentalists Sue

Back in August, DeSmog reported on California environmentalists stopping “stealth carbon bombs” in their communities. Now they're celebrating another victory as a dangerous—and illegal—crude oil transport project in Sacramento has been halted as well.

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee last March, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District first caught InterState Oil Company, a fuel distributor, offloading ethanol without a permit in the fall of 2012. Inspectors with the AQMD then caught InterState transloading crude oil from trains to trucks bound for Bay Area refineries in September of last year, again without a permit.

InterState was not fined for these violations and was even allowed by the AQMD to continue importing ethanol and crude oil into California by train while it sought the necessary permits.

InterState received the permit to transload crude from trains to trucks in March of this year. On September 23, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging what it called the AQMD's “furtive approval” of the permit.

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.

Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish Comes One Step Closer to Fracking

St Tammany Parish Fracking

The Department of Louisiana Natural Resources (DNRhas approved a unit permit for Helis Oil & Gas Company for a site in St. Tammany Parish that the company plans to frack. 

The department’s decision came on Friday, August 29, the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

Releasing the news on Friday is typical of Louisiana's government. It is another demonstration of how DNR is an advocate for the oil industry, not the people,” retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, told DeSmogBlog. “They know the majority of the parish do not want fracking and that they are doing something the people don't want. Releasing the news like that is disrespectful.”

In Blow to Oil Industry, New York's Top Court Upholds Local Fracking Bans

New York's highest state court ruled today that local governments have the legal authority to use zoning to bar oil and gas drilling, fracking and other heavy industrial sites within their borders. In a 5-2 decision, affirming the rulings of three lower courts, the justices dismissed challenges to fracking bans created by two towns, Middlefield and Dryden.

The case has been closely watched by the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus region and nationwide. Over 170 towns, villages and cities in New York state have crafted local moratoria or bans on fracking. Dozens more towns are expected to enact moratoria in the wake of this ruling, according to Earthworks, one of the public interest groups whose attorneys worked on the case.

Nationwide, nearly 500 local governments have enacted measures against fracking, according to Food and Water Watch which tracks local control actions, including towns in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California, each of which have been the focus of recent shale rushes.

The oil and gas industry had argued that allowing local control over fracking risked creating a patchwork of rules in different municipalities. Environmental groups countered that the rights of local communities to control development within their borders trumped those concerns, and that local governments had the clear legal authority to decide how development could proceed.

“On the one hand, you're saying yes, we should have a comprehensive strategy to deal with such an important issue to our state – energy,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman explained when the cases were argued before the court on June 3. “And on the other hand, municipalities believe (they can) determine how they're going to live. They want some voice in how they live.”

Today, less than a month later, the court's majority decided in favor of local control. “The towns both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately-cultivated, small-town character of their communities,” the New York Court of Appeals wrote in its majority ruling.

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.

Favorable Court Ruling Lets Americans Breathe Easier

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scored a huge court victory recently, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling that the agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) is within the EPA’s realm of enforcement.

The rule, which was put in place in 2012 and would take effect later this year, would tighten the reins on coal-fired power plant pollution.  The legal challenge was brought by the dirty energy industry along with several states that contended that the new standards would cost the industry too much money.

The three-judge panel found that the rule did not overstep the EPA’s authority, although one of the justices did dissent on part of the ruling.  Judge Brett Kavanaugh said that he believed that the EPA did not consider the overall costs to the industry when they made the rule, even if the agency did conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs (that they allegedly didn’t consider).  

It is worth noting that Kavanaugh was appointed to the bench by former president George W. Bush after helping Bush craft a plan to pack the courts with conservative justices.  Prior to his position within the Bush administration, Kavanaugh worked for the corporate defense firm of Kirkland & Ellis, the firm currently representing BP for their negligence in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. 

The specific language that was targeted was the phrase “appropriate and necessary,” which appears in the Clean Air Act and is the phrase that gives the EPA the authority to enact new standards.  The court found that the industry’s challenge that the rule was neither appropriate nor necessary was flawed.

The real issue in the case is that the industry does not want to pay to clean up their operations.  However, some companies have already installed the necessary equipment to capture mercury and other toxic pollution. 

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