Farron Cousins

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his writings have appeared in publications such as California's Information Press and Pensacola's Independent Weekly.  He has also worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mike Papantonio since August 2004, and is currently the producer of the program, in charge of guest booking, research, and scripting the week's show.  Farron also runs Mike Papantonio's publishing company - Seville Publishing. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

Poll Shows Strong Bipartisan Support For Healthy Environmental Choices From Congress

While politicians in America have been slow to react to both the threat of climate change and the need for expanded renewable energy resources, the American public has made their priorities clear:  Give us clean energy that protects our health, our environment, and our resources.

According to a new poll conducted by ORC International for The Civil Society Institute and the Environmental Working Group, strong majorities of Americans from both ends of the political spectrum believe that Congress should take public health and safety measures into consideration before giving a blank check for production to the dirty energy industry.

Among the major findings of the survey:

RFK, Jr. & Bill McKibben: Time To Act On Climate Change

Originally published on Ring of Fire

New reports have come out this week showing us that 2012 was officially the hottest year on record.  North America alone was plagued with hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, blizzards, and numerous other forms of weather that have almost all been linked back to anthropogenic climate change. 

Earlier this week, Ring of Fire Radio’s Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke with 350.org founder Bill McKibben about the threat of climate change and what President Obama needs to do during his second term to address the problem.  The transcript of that conversation follows, and the interview will run this weekend on the Ring of Fire radio program:

Dirty Energy Lobby Optimistic About Obama’s Second Term

Despite the years that they have spent attacking President Obama, the dirty energy industry is incredibly optimistic that the White House is going to give the oil and gas industry everything they want in Obama's second term.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), said that his group is confident that the Obama administration’s second term will turn into a boom for the natural gas industry.  As we’ve pointed out in the past, Gerard’s vision for America is to have a dirty energy lobbyist strategically placed in every district in the country.

The Hill has the latest from Gerard:

Citizens Take Action Against Coal Company For Clean Water Act Violations

A citizens group in Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Emerald Coal Resources LP (ECR) for polluting waterways in their state.  ECR operates a coalfield in Waynesburg, which is the focus of the suit.

The suit is being handled by The Center For Coalfield Justice, and alleges that ECR committed numerous violations of the Clean Water Act over the last five years, with those violations greatly intensifying in the last 12 months.

Huffington Post has the specifics on the suit:

The lawsuit contends Emerald Coal has violated pollution levels for iron, manganese, aluminum and other pollutants more than 120 times in the past 12 months and more than 400 times in the past five years. The group is basing those claims on violations the company has been self-reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Emerald's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit as part of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Center for Coalfield Justice said that they had attempted to reach an amicable resolution to the violations with ECR, but that the company was less than willing to cooperate.  As such, the group felt that a lawsuit would be the only way to force the company to comply with federal laws.

The Clean Water Act allows for citizens to sue when corporations have violated the law, provided they give the federal government 60 days notice. The Center for Coalfield Justice has followed that protocol

Shell’s Kulluk Rig Grounding Proves Folly of Arctic Oil Drilling, Again

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell spent a good portion of 2012 defending allegations that the company wasn’t “arctic ready.”  The disaster that occurred with their offshore drilling rig Kulluk on New Year’s Eve only served to prove that the company is not to be trusted.

Tug crews towing the floating Kulluk rig in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska lost connection with the vessel during a storm on December 31. Kulluk subsequently washed ashore with the waves. The U.S. Coast Guard says that the Shell vessel currently does not appear to be leaking, but it is estimated to have about 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard.

In response to Shell’s failures to safely operate this vessel, as well as their countless failures in recent history, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement

In just one year, Shell has proven over and over again that they are completely incapable of safely drilling in the Arctic. Their ships have caught fire and lost control, they’ve damaged their own spill containment equipment, and they’ve been caught entirely unprepared for the challenges of the Arctic…This is the last straw.  We should judge Shell not by their assurances or their PR tactics, but by their record – and Shell’s record clearly demonstrates that letting them operate in the Arctic is an invitation for disaster.

The Sierra Club is calling on the Obama administration to immediately revoke Shell’s Arctic drilling permits. NRDC, the Wilderness Society and other groups are expected to issue similar requests this week. 

Wind Tax Credit Avoids The Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

The U.S. government has managed to postpone financial calamity for a few months with the passage of a so-called “fiscal cliff” deal.  While the deal is hardly anything to celebrate in the larger scheme of things, it did provide a one-year extension for a critical clean energy mechanism – the wind energy production tax credit.

The credit has been in jeopardy since it was first introduced, with Republicans in Washington threatening to kill the tax credit, citing its estimated cost of $12.1 billion over the next decade as too costly.  However, the credit breaks down to a mere 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of wind energy produced in America, making it one of the cheapest subsidies approved for energy projects.

The extension of the credit comes at the perfect time, as the United Nations recently released a report detailing the ways in which climate change could cause financial disasters across the globe.

Among the more dire warnings in the U.N. report is the threat of water scarcity, which could devastate commodity markets, as agriculture would take a massive hit and crops would be decimated.  So while the United States might have postponed the drop over the fiscal cliff, the threat of the environmental and climate change cliff is very real, and very much in need of addressing. 

The wind production credit extension will keep the tax credit alive for the year 2013, which wil help wind energy companies to resume growing and to hire back workers laid off in the past year. Its fate after that remains unclear.

Group Sues Obama Administration Over Offshore Oil And Gas Leasing Program

A lawsuit has been filed against the Obama administration over the economic claims that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) made in their 5-year plan to open up new areas around the United States to offshore oil and gas leasing.  The suit, filed by the Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE), says that the administration not only grossly exaggerated the economic benefits of increased energy exploration, but also that they failed to take all costs into account.

BOEM’s plan would lease a total of 15 new areas for exploration, including areas within the Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet, Alaskan waters, and the Beaufort Sea.  But rather than focusing strictly on the environmental impact of the projects, CSE took an approach that tends to have better results in Washington – Economics.

The economic argument is very powerful, as CSE explains that the increased oil and gas exploration will cost the United States more than it will gain.  And according to federal laws (specifically Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act), in order to grant permission for projects such as the leasing program, there must be a net public gain. 

For example, the best estimates for the amount of money to be made from oil and gas in these areas ranges from $1 to $2 billion per year.  However, these areas currently provide an economic boost of as much as $70 billion a year from fishing, tourism, and other activities, all of which could be decimated in the event of an oil spill.

Republican Groups Tell Obama To Back Off Fracking Rules

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) along with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGAsent a letter to President Obama today [PDF], telling him that the federal government should abandon a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to create more transparency for natural gas fracking operations.

The proposal that the RGA and RAGA are referring to was first pitched earlier this year, and would require fracking companies who operate on federal or Native American lands to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process.  A loophole in the proposal allows companies to disclose after the fracking process has already begun, meaning that there are no requirements for disclosure prior to drilling. 

But even such lax standards are too much for the dirty energy industry’s friends, and they believe that the federal government is overstepping its bounds on the matter.  From their letter:

Senator Boxer Creates First U.S. Climate Change Caucus

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced earlier this week that she would be taking the initiative to form the first Climate Change Caucus in the U.S. Senate.  Boxer, long considered a champion of environmental causes, said that she decided to form the committee to address growing public concerns over the inaction of the federal government to address the threat of climate change.

The Hill quotes Senator Boxer talking about the new committee, “It is going to work with all the committees and all the committee chairmen to make sure we can move forward legislation that reduces carbon pollution and also works on mitigation and all of the other elements.

To date, the United States has not passed a single law or resolution addressing the threat of climate change, although several have been introduced.  The majority of these bills died in committee, while one, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, passed the House of Representatives but failed to get enough votes to pass in the Senate. 

Boxer says that some Democrats have expressed interest in the committee, and that she hopes she can get broad bipartisan support and membership for the new committee.

Internal BP Emails Could Expose Extent Of Corporate Cover-Up Of Gulf Oil Disaster

Attorneys for Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, claim that a spate of previously unreleased emails will “exonerate” their client in the current criminal case being pursued against Mix. Mix is the first person in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak to be brought up on criminal charges for his role in the cover-up of the extent of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice formally charged Mix with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence, specifically text messages, relating to how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead in the Gulf.  The amount of oil flowing into the Gulf waters determined the size of the fines that BP would face from the federal government, so the company could have benefited substantially from under-reporting the true volume of the flow rate.

The new emails that will be released during Mix’s criminal trial allegedly show that Mix repeatedly warned his superiors at BP that they were under-reporting the true scope of the spill to the government and the media, undermining the federal government’s case against Mix.  While these emails could show that Mix did the right thing in one arena, it is unlikely that it will “exonerate” him, as his attorneys claim.  After all, the charges against Mix are for deleting text messages related to the disaster, which were evidence.

The one thing that is almost guaranteed from these emails, assuming they exist in the form that Mix's attorneys are claiming, is that they could expose the cover-up by BP executives, and tell the story of how they intentionally misled everyone about the nature of their oil geyser. And given what we already know, it seems incredibly likely that the oil giant's leadership knew from the start how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead.

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