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D.C. Court Rules Against Environmental Transparency, Threatening Public Health and Democracy

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. The case revolved around a classified document related to an FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that contained information about environmental and public health and safety concerns.

The suit was filed by EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with CIEL President Carroll Muffett issuing the following statement after the ruling:  “It is with great irony that at a time when reports about government intrusion into individual privacy are escalating by the day, the U.S. government would go to such lengths to protect the confidentiality of its trade negotiations—the terms of which will have real impacts on its citizens. By denying the public access to these negotiations, the US has created a fundamental barrier to the development of democracy. Most troubling, we have already seen the US aggressively pushing information in a similar black box in other trade negotiations, like the recently announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

EarthJustice has more:

Legal Headaches Begin For Exxon Over Pegasus Pipeline Rupture

Residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of the recent Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture, have filed suit against pipeline operator Exxon for health issues and property damage that have arisen since the spill.

Those affected by the pipeline’s spill have complained of numerous, though mild, health problems including headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties.  While these symptoms are relatively mild, it should be noted that it has only been a month since the spill, and more severe problems are likely to creep up in the coming months.

The main concern is that the neurotoxins and carcinogens within the tar sands, particularly those contained in the diluted bitumen (dilbit), will plague the residents for years to come.

Gas Industry Successfully Overturns Colorado Fracking Ban

The townspeople in Fort Collins were greeted with some unfortunate news earlier this week, as their city council decided to overturn a ban on hydraulic fracturing that had been in place for only a few short months. The decision to overturn the ban was based solely on the threat of a lawsuit from the oil and gas industry.

The mere threat of a lawsuit from the only fracking company in town – Prospect Energy – was enough to send the city council cowering in submission, placing the entire town at risk of the negative health impacts associated with fracking.

The gas industry was aided in their efforts by Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who warned the town of Fort Collins that if the ban were to remain in place, they could face legal intervention from the state itself.

Hickenlooper’s announcement is less than surprising. He has received more than $45,000 from the energy industry during his campaigns, along with another $104,000 from the real estate industry (a sector that stands to gain a lot with the leasing of property to fracking.)

Prospect Energy was aided in their efforts by the industry front group Energy in Depth. After the ban was lifted, EID issued a press release saying the following:

Could NAFTA Force Keystone XL On United States?

As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)

Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.

Obama, Biden Parroting Bogus Gas Industry Talking Points

For several years, both President Obama and Vice President Biden have been singing the praises of natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, claiming that the upcoming “cheap energy boom” would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to work-hungry Americans.

The claim, which reached the most ears during the President’s 2012 State of the Union Address and was parroted throughout the campaign season, was that the new shale gas bonanza would bring 600,000 new jobs to America over the next decade.  With job creation as a top campaign issue, this talking point resonated well with American voters. 

And while the talking point was blindly reprinted by countless media outlets, the source has been traced back to the dirty energy industry itself.  Specifically, a 2012 shale gas / fracking booster sheet produced by the American Petroleum Institute.

As Their Oil Floods Arkansas Neighborhoods, Exxon Wins National Safety Award

Isn't this the definition of ironyThe National Safety Council (NSC) honored Exxon Mobil with an award for “comprehensive commitment to safety excellence” at the same time that Exxon's Pegasus pipeline spewed an estimated 84,000 gallons of tar sands crude through the yards of residents in Mayflower, Arkansas. 

From The Huffington Post:

“It is evident that ExxonMobil is committed to excellence in safety, security, health and environmental performance,” said NSC president Janet Froetscher, who presented the award to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. “The Council is honored to recognize ExxonMobil with the Green Cross for Safety medal. This organization is a wonderful example of the role corporations can play in preventing injuries and saving lives.”

Not only should the recent spill have caused the NSC to hesitate about giving the company an award for outstanding commitment to safety, but the company’s resolve to clean up their disaster has also been called into question.

Dirty Energy Lobby Looking To NRA For Guidance

The Wall Street Journal recently opened up their editorial pages for noted climate change denier David Deming, allowing him to publish a “call to action” for the dirty energy industry.

In his op-ed, Deming says that the fossil fuel industry could learn a thing or two from the NRA about how to become an effective, powerful lobbying force.  Deming believes that the effectiveness of the NRA is due to their ability to stand in solidarity with one another, whereas the fossil fuel industry is operating under a “every man for himself” mentality.

It is worth noting that the Wall Street Journal did not disclose the fact that Deming is a member of conservative think tanks that receive significant funding from the dirty energy industry, including Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil. 

From Deming’s op-ed:

Fossil-energy companies could learn a thing or two from the gun lobby. The gun industry is tiny compared with theirs, yet it is among the most respected and powerful groups that lobby Congress.

After the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, didn't budge an inch. He never agreed to the premise that firearms were inherently evil. Instead, he went on television and suggested that putting armed guards in schools might be an effective way of stopping evil. In other words, he refused to cede the moral high ground.

Deming, who in the past has claimed that the science behind climate change is “pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo,” has presented an argument that is a clear fallacy.  Not only is he misrepresenting the facts, but he has made conclusions that cannot be proven.

Pot Meet Kettle: Oil Executive Says “Misinformation And Fear” Hurting Fracking Efforts

Ryan Lance, CEO of oil giant ConocoPhillips, issued a dire warning to colleagues at an energy conference earlier this month.  According to Lance, “misinformation and fear” could easily derail the current financial boom that is taking place within the shale gas industry.

According to The Hill, Lance told those gathered at the conference that they need to actively engage with government officials to fix the problem.  From The Hill’s report:

Industry groups contend that concerns about fracking have been badly overstated and say the method is safe.

Lance accused critics of “creating fear” and touted steps he said the industry is taking on water conservation, disclosure of chemicals and other areas.

To address Lance’s first claim (fear and misinformation), the only misinformation being pushed out related to the safety of fracking is coming from the industry.  The best available research tells us that natural gas fracking activities have been linked to increased seismic activity, groundwater pollution, and abnormally higher concentrations of air pollution near fracking well sites.  The full list of dangers from fracking can be found in DeSmogBlog’s “Fracking The Future” report. 

But focusing on Lance’s claim that “misinformation and fear” are thwarting fracking operations misses another important statement from the CEO.  He also said that he and his colleagues in the industry are taking the initiative in being more transparent in disclosing the chemical cocktails being injected into the ground, as well as improvements in “other areas.”

Lance’s claim is at odds with the truth.  In fact, his company, ConocoPhillips, has helped lead the charge to prevent any form of disclosure.   While they have complied with state regulations that are beginning to require disclosure from shale gas companies, they have done only the bare minimum of reporting, and the majority of wells operated by both Conoco and the rest of the industry continue to skirt disclosure requirements

Kochtopus Tentacles Reaching For Media Outlets

Rumors are swirling around the Internet that Koch Industries is hoping to acquire a powerful new asset:  The Tribune Company.  The Tribune Company owns a large swath of newspapers across America, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Times, two papers with an extraordinary reach.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Koch Industries is considering purchasing Tribune because they are intensely interested in the clout that could be gained through the editorial pages of their papers.  However, Think Progress notes that a spokesperson for the company refused to confirm or deny the rumors, stating that they cannot comment on “deals or rumors of deals,” so there is no official word on a buyout at this time.

The decision to purchase a large media outlet like The Tribune Company would be a logical one for the Koch Empire.  They would be following in the footsteps of oil giants Chevron, Exxon, and Halliburton, who have all at some point sat on the boards of major media outlets. 

A media buyout for Koch would allow them to control the message machine, which could be a disaster for America.  In the past, corporate-controlled media outlets have been forced to shelve or otherwise censor stories that could damage the reputation of prominent board members and advertisers, thereby withholding valuable, pertinent information from the American electorate.  Owning their own media outlets would effectively silence any critical voice against the Koch brothers in those markets.

To make matters worse for Americans, court rulings have told us that media outlets can legally distort or censor news stories at their whim, as FCC guidelines for honest reporting are not actually laws.  In short, the media is legally allowed to lie and hide the truth from American citizens, even when their personal health and safety is at stake. 

Ryan Budget Includes Mandatory Approval Of Keystone XL, Other Dirty Energy Giveaways

In what is becoming an annual tradition, Republican Representative Paul Ryan has put forth his budget plan for the coming fiscal year.  Ryan’s previous budget proposals were approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but rejected along party lines in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. 

Not unlike his previous budget plans, the new Ryan budget would be a disaster for the environment.  In addition to cuts to crucial environmental and health programs, the budget would mandate immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Like other proponents of the pipeline, Ryan cites the “large” numbers of American jobs that would be created by the construction and maintenance of Keystone XL.  However, the massive job boon from Keystone is an industry myth, as reports – even those from TransCanada – show that the pipeline would only create a few thousand permanent jobs, so few that it would have almost zero impact on the unemployment rate in America.  Ryan claims that the pipeline will bring at least 20,000 new jobs to America, and an additional 118,000 in indirect jobs.  The State Department says that, in the end, only 35 new jobs would be created from the pipeline. 

As Ben Geman at The Hill points out, the inclusion of Keystone XL shows how entrenched the modern Republican Party has become with the oil industry, and how essential the pipeline is in the Party’s negotiations with Democrats.

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