Primary tabs

Documents Reveal USDA Risking Lawsuits by Ignoring Own Staff On Fracking Mortgages Review

A major storm is brewing over the USDA’s sudden about-face on fracking and environmental laws. On Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled a 180-degree U-turn and decided to reverse the call made by his staff specialists, who advised that the agency immediately stop giving special exemptions from environmental laws to people applying for federal mortgages on properties with oil and gas leases.

Now, environmentalists, members of Congress, and transparency groups are saying that something seems amiss and they are looking for answers.

It all started on Monday when The New York Times ran a story with emails showing that the USDA planned to tell its $165 billion dollar mortgage program to stop financing properties with drilling leases until an environmental review of the impact of drilling and fracking on homes backed by the agency could be completed.

The proposal by the Agriculture Department, which has signaled its intention in e-mails to Congress and landowners, reflects a growing concern that lending to owners of properties with drilling leases might violate the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires environmental reviews before federal money is spent. Because that law covers all federal agencies, the department’s move raises questions about litigation risks for other agencies, legal experts said,” the Times story explained.

DeSmogBlog has obtained many of the emails and they make very clear that the staff specialists, whose job it is to interpret laws like NEPA, believe that environmental reviews are legally required and that the agency is vulnerable to litigation if it gives these mortgages a pass, called a “categorical exclusion.”

Ethical Oil: The Puppet Rap

It's time for Friday funnies, and the top hit today is Ethical Oil: the Puppet Rap, which first popped up over at The Tyee.

It's a foul-mouthed, satirical music video remix of Kathryn Marshall's ridiculous PR gymnastics to avoid answering a basic question from CBC's Evan Solomon whether Enbridge funds the Ethical Oil Institute. The second half features “Easy-E” Ezra Levant, the founder of the Ethical Oil Institute and creator of the 'ethical oil' talking point.

Check it out:


  

Republic Report Slams Media Obsession With Shiny Penny In Heartland DenialGate Coverage

Lee Fang at the Republic Report has a great post noting the media's obsession with the shiny penny of the who/how story surrounding the leaked documents chronicling the Heartland Institute's planned attacks on science and democracy.  

While groups like Greenpeace, The Climate Reality Project and Forecast the Facts are focused on exposing the real scandals uncovered in Denialgate, most mainstream media outlets are mesmerized with the Peter Gleick saga rather than reporting on the revelations within the documents.

The debate about what Gleick did to acquire the internal documents from Heartland will surely rage on. It will make good fodder for university students in ethics and journalism classes for years to come.

But as Republic Report points out, it is hardly the most vital aspect of the story for mainstream media outlets to prioritize coverage on right now. That is, if the mainstream media are truly reporting what's in the public interest, rather than chasing advertising revenue through scandal-mongering.

Fang writes: 

While bending this story away from a focus on Heartland’s M.O. and onto Gleick’s methods might seem like an impossible task, it seems as [if] the media is taking the hook firmly in its mouth.  

The real question the media should be considering is not how Gleick got his hands on a few documents, but how to cover Heartland — both how it has covered it in the past and how it will in the future.

Head over to Republic Report to read the rest, it's spot on in my opinion. And bookmark RepublicReport.org, a must-read new site launched in recent months to expose the corporate cash corrupting democracy. It's a rockstar team of investigators surely worth following closely. 

Congressman Calls For Hearing Into Heartland Institute Payments to Federal Employee Indur Goklany

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva today called for a full Natural Resources Committee hearing to probe whether Indur Goklany, a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Interior Department, improperly received payments from the Heartland Institute while collecting a paycheck from U.S. taxpayers.

Rep. Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, urged his fellow Congressmen to hold a hearing as early as next week to determine whether Goklany “received money he was promised by the Heartland Institute for writing a chapter in a book focused on climate policy in apparent violation of federal rules, among other issues.”

This is just the first of what should and will likely be many hearings into the facts revealed in the 'Denialgate' leaked Heartland Institute documents.

Heartland’s leaked 2012 Proposed Budget document indicates that it plans to pay Goklany $1,000 per month this year to write a chapter on “Economics and Policy” for a report by the Heartland-funded NIPCC.  Greenpeace notes in its letter to DOI Secretary Ken Salazar today that federal employees are warned not to take payments from outside organizations, particularly for “teaching, speaking and writing that relates to [their] official duties.”

Heartland Institute Exposed: Internal Documents Unmask Heart of Climate Denial Machine

Internal Heartland Institute strategy and funding documents obtained by DeSmogBlog expose the heart of the climate denial machine – its current plans, many of its funders, and details that confirm what DeSmogBlog and others have reported for years. The heart of the climate denial machine relies on huge corporate and foundation funding from U.S. businesses including Microsoft, Koch Industries, Altria (parent company of Philip Morris) RJR Tobacco and more.

We are releasing the entire trove of documents now to allow crowd-sourcing of the material. Here are a few quick highlights, stay tuned for much more.


-Confirmation that Charles G. Koch Foundation is again funding Heartland Institute’s global warming disinformation campaign. [Update: Apparently even the Koch brothers think the Heartland Institute's climate denial program is too toxic to fund. On Wednesday, Koch confirmed that it did not cut a check for the $200K mentioned in the strategy memo after all. A statement released on KochFacts.com and the charleskochfoundationfacts.org states that “…the Charles Koch Foundation provided $25,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2011 for research in healthcare, not climate change, and this was the first and only donation the Foundation made to the institute in more than a decade. The Foundation has made no further commitments of funding to Heartland.”]

Greenpeace’s Koch reports show the last time Heartland received Koch funding was in 1999

The **January 2012 Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy** states:

We will also pursue additional support from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. They returned as a Heartland donor in 2011 with a contribution of $200,000. We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

-Heartland Institute’s global warming denial machine is chiefly – and perhaps entirely – funded by one Anonymous donor:

Our climate work is attractive to funders, especially our key Anonymous Donor (whose contribution dropped from $1,664,150 in 2010 to $979,000 in 2011 - about 20% of our total 2011 revenue). He has promised an increase in 2012…”

-Confirmation of exact amounts flowing to certain key climate contrarians. 

funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message. At the moment, this funding goes primarily to Craig Idso ($11,600 per month), Fred Singer ($5,000 per month, plus expenses), Robert Carter ($1,667 per month), and a number of other individuals, but we will consider expanding it, if funding can be found.”

Accountability Moment: Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce Squirms And Evades Question on Fossil Fuel Funding

Robert Bryce from the fossil fuel industry-funded Manhattan Institute just can't bring himself to answer a simple question about the fossil fuel industry funding flowing into his group. Readers of DeSmogBlog may recall our previous coverage about Bryce's anti-clean energy attacks in the New York Times op-ed pages and elsewhere.

Citing the prime example of Robert Bryce's conflict of interest, I asked the Public Editor at the New York Times last year why the paper doesn't require its op-ed contributors to disclose their funding sources so that readers can make up their own minds about the potential bias of these contributors.

Since Bryce is typically only listed as a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, that doesn't let the reader know that his organization has received a significant amount of money from dirty energy interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. That's an important factor in evaluating the rationale behind Mr. Bryce's bias against clean energy.

Watch below as Gabe Elsner, my friend at the Checks and Balances Project, asks Bryce the simple question about his funding from fossil fuel interests. 

Gabe explains: 

I asked Bryce if he had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry after his debate appearance before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference on Monday. Not only did Bryce refuse to answer the question, he also launched into an angry, finger-pointing tirade saying that I’d “made up” the amount of fossil fuel support documented by Manhattan Institute records.

Watch the clip with Gabe's analysis embedded:

Video of Josh Fox Being Arrested At House Energy Hearing, First Amendment Rights Ignored

Here is video footage of Gasland director Josh Fox being arrested by Capitol police earlier today. Josh Fox will be on the Ed Schultz show tonight on MSNBC at 8:45pm EST to talk about his arrest today. 

Fox released a statement about his arrest, which we reprint below (H/T Grist):

Jim Hoggan Op-Ed in Vancouver Sun: Who Gets A Say In Our Democracy?

Photo by 1971yes | Shutterstock

Jim Hoggan, DeSmogBlog co-founder and president, has an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today discussing the “ethical oil” crowd's attacks on democracy in the Enbridge Northern Gateway public hearings. Head over to the Vancouver Sun to read it: “Who gets a say in our democracy?

Here is an excerpt from the ending:

If [Joe Oliver or Stephen Harper] is concerned that over the years the California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has given $1.3 million to the Pem-bina Foundation for Environmental Research and Education, then they should be even more troubled that, during the same period, the Hewletts gave $40 million to the government's own International Development Research Centre. Apparently, Oliver's “radicals” fuelled by “foreign special interests” are as close as the nearest mirror.

If Enbridge or its political boosters wants to pipe unrefined Canadian bitumen directly to the most treacherous waters in the north Pacific - and then, by supertanker, into the hands of the Chinese - they should make their case. Attacking the rights of others to have input is a dodge unworthy of a democracy as advanced and robust as ours.

Read more at the Vancouver Sun.

Greenpeace Calls On SEC To Investigate TransCanada’s Inflated Jobs Claims

Greenpeace USA President Phil Radford sent a formal complaint this week to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling for an investigation into TransCanada’s use of wildly inflated jobs figures in promoting its application to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The letter asks the SEC to review the false and misleading claims made by TransCanada on a number of matters related to the pipeline. Greenpeace recieved confirmation from the SEC that the complaint had been referred to its Division of Enforcement.

Although President Obama rejected the company’s first proposal to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, industry-friendly Republicans continue to push for its construction, often citing vastly inflated jobs figures. The Perryman Report commissioned by TransCanada is the source of much of the bogus pipeline jobs information. 

Despite the fact that the State Department and independent reviews definitively debunked the claims to “20,000 jobs” and even “hundreds of thousands of jobs” tied to the Keystone XL project, the lie lives on like a zombie, parroted by the echo chamber led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, API’s Jack Gerard, and of course Mitt Romney and the GOP.

This lie must be stopped or it will continue to contaminate the public discourse.


The Greenpeace SEC letter [PDF] states:

Will The Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Seed Funder Be Revealed?

Who is funding the shadowy front groups that represent the interests of polluters by sowing doubt about climate change? One of the most aggressive climate denial “think” tanks spreading misinformation in Europe is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), founded in 2009 by former British Conservative politician Lord Nigel Lawson, who chairs the organization.

British investigative journalist Brendan Montague argued today in a tribunal that the UK's Charity Commission should release documents regarding the GWPF’s early funding. Specifically, Montague seeks to persuade a judge to compel the release of a bank statement provided to the commission by Lord Lawson that would reveal the name of the “well known” secretive donor who furnished Lawson with the initial £50,000 seed donation to launch the GWPF.

In his appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal to fulfill his Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the financial document, Montague argued that the public has a right to know who has bankrolled the GWPF to assess possible conflict of interest. The GWPF has promoted doubt about manmade climate change ever since its founding in 2009. It is essential to the public interest because it will help to understand the foundation’s motivations for continuously promoting political inaction on climate change, Montague argues. He seeks to confirm whether this wealthy donor is connected to the oil or coal industry.

Pages