Primary tabs

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.

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.

An Orchestrated Cover Up Of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline Spill Health Hazards?

Nearly six months have passed since ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured and released as much as 7,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into Mayflower, Arkansas.  And as soon as the company realized that they had a problem, the cover up began.

From the outset, there has been a clear effort on behalf of Exxon to mislead and deceive the public about the effects that the tar sands spill will have on both the environment and public health.  As a result, the population in Mayflower is suffering at an unprecedented rate from mystery illnesses that can be linked back to exposure to tar sands crude.

Just like BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher, Exxon attempted to deceive the public about how much oil had actually been spilled.  The company claimed that the amount was somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 barrels.  But a report by Inside Climate News, based on numbers from the U.S. EPA, said that the actual number was closer to 7,000 barrels.  However, the EPA refused to correct Exxon’s numbers and did not include the agency’s own estimates in their press releases, instead choosing to parrot the bogus numbers asserted by Exxon.

That was just the beginning of Exxon’s plan to mislead both the public and the federal government.  The major problem the company knew it would face would be the health impacts on residents, so Exxon has done everything in its power to prevent the truth from leaking out.  (Those kinds of leaks are easier to prevent.)

Regulatory Negligence Endangers Texas Citizens As Eagle Ford Fracking Impacts Soar

There’s no denying that Texas is the state that dirty energy built.  It remains the single largest source of domestically produced oil in the United States, and currently has more fracking wells than any other state.  With an abundant supply of dirty energy money, the state government of Texas is completely owned by the dirty energy industry.

This trifecta of industry domination is playing itself out in southern Texas, in what has become a no man's land for federal regulators.

According to a new report by Earthworks, energy companies drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale basin are wreaking havoc on both the environment and the people, and federal regulators have essentially abandoned the area.  This exodus of oversight has led to an increase in environmental abuses by the dirty energy industry.

But it wasn’t always this way in Texas.  According to Earthworks, regulators have been present in the area, and even carried out some needed investigations into the damage caused by drillers.  

But what the regulators found was so horrible that they had to evacuate themselves, and that was the last that residents in the area heard from them.

Whether Approved Or Not, Keystone XL Has Been A Victory For Lobbyists

For the past six years, lobbyists in Washington have made a killing shilling either for or against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  And with no clear end in sight, the folks on K Street will continue to see a flurry of cash headed in their direction.

During last year’s heated presidential race, groups spent close to $16 million directly related to the Keystone XL pipeline, with most of that money coming from industry and other proponents of the pipeline.  While opponents of the pipeline spent a few million last year – with at least one million pledged this year to fight against KXL – the lion’s share of the money spent on lobbying comes from the dirty energy industry.

Bloomberg reported the following on how intense the lobbying showdown has been in recent years:

Republican Congressman Says Syrian Conflict A Boon For Keystone XL

Will the turmoil in the Middle East surrounding Syria expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline?  North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven believes it will.

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.

Louisiana Governor Jindal Not Buying BP Spin on Gulf Coast Impacts

Have environmental priorities finally trumped extreme right wing politics in the deep south? 

Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal has heard enough from oil giant BP, taking them to task recently for destroying sensitive coastal areas during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

For those of us who live along the Gulf Coast, it's good to see that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is fed up with BP’s ongoing ad campaign. Designed to greenwash their performance as compassionate and caring, BP's ads instead suggest that the families impacted by the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill are greedy and corrupt - it's the mirror opposite of reality. 

At a recent gathering of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Jindal said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

Mother Jones quotes Jindal to the Council:  “BP needs to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their public relations campaign telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Damage liabilities now.”

Fracking Away Our Water Supply

As many areas of the country experience severe droughts, the fight for clean, fresh water is becoming vital to survival for many American citizens.  The problem has been made worse by the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which gobbles up hundreds of millions (billions, according to some estimates) of gallons of potable water every month.

The state of Texas has become the prime example of what can happen when the natural gas industry is allowed to run roughshod over citizens.  The state is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in modern times, and certain areas have already had to resort to water rationing

But the dwindling supply of fresh water in Texas has barely slowed down the natural gas industry’s fracking activities.  Even as livestock are dying off, crops are withering, and citizens are having to purchase bottled water in order to quench their thirst, fracking companies are sucking fresh water out of the ground in order to satisfy their need to extract every ounce of natural gas from beneath the Texas soil.

The drought and water shortages in Texas have gotten so bad that some residents have said that on some days, they can turn on their faucets and nothing even comes out anymore.

With Congress Back to Work, Republican Attacks On EPA Resume

Fresh off the August recess, the United States Congress got back to business today.  Rather than focusing on pressing issues like a potential war, looming budget deadlines, and the growing problem of student loan debt, some Republican lawmakers thought it was the perfect time to pick up where they left off before their recess – attacking the Environmental Protection Agency.

Texas Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is enraged that the EPA is not “complying” with a subpoena that his committee issued, requiring the agency to hand over all documents and studies relating to standards issued by the EPA

According to Smith, this information is vital for the public, as the safety standards that it spurs cost the public “trillions of dollars,” he wrote in a letter to the EPA.  Smith never specifies how he came up with that figure, and research shows that regulations put in place by the EPA actually save taxpayers much more money than they cost.  Smith’s letter has given the agency until September 16th to hand over the documents.

Pages