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.

American Lung Association Releases 2012 State of the Air Report

The American Lung Association (ALA) released their annual State of the Air report today, followed by a live discussion on Twitter where the organization answered questions. While the report offers some positive news for American citizens, it also shows us that the Clean Air Act is under attack from the dirty energy industry.

Here are the highlights from this year’s report:
  

More than 4 in 10 people (41 %) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Over 127.2 million Americans live in the 235 counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles.

Over 5.7 million people (1.9%) in the United States live in six counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution.

The strongest improvement came in reducing ozone smog levels across the nation. More than half of the country’s most-smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Twenty two of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report. More than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Still, nearly four in ten people in the U.S. (37.8%) live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone pollution.
 

The ALA also lists the health effects of this year’s two biggest pollutants – ozone and particle pollution:

Dirty Energy Industry Front Groups Launch Misleading PR Blitz Against President Obama

The American Energy Alliance (AEA) isn’t pulling any punches with their new advertising campaign, spending millions of dollars to air 45 million ad spots on Pandora Radio. They are attempting to hang the high cost of gasoline around the neck of President Obama, using a series of arguments that actually have nothing to do with how much Americans are paying for gasoline.

Here is the YouTube version of their ad, titled “$9 Dollar Gas”:



Before dissecting their arguments, it’s important to remember that the American Energy Alliance is a non-profit organization established by the oil industry to carry out lobbying activities. As such, their donors are kept secret. However, AEA president Thomas Pyle is also the leader of a related organization called the Institute for Energy Research, which has received funding from the usual suspects – Exxon and Koch Industries. In fact, Pyle formerly served as a Koch Industries lobbyist.

Justice Department Files First Criminal Charges In BP Oil Disaster Probe

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed its first criminal charges into their investigation into the cover up of BP’s oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico. The charges have been filed against Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, for allegedly destroying evidence related to the oil flow estimates from BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

The investigation has been ongoing since August 2011, when the Justice Department announced that they would be looking into the series of abnormalities related to BP’s estimates of exactly how much oil was flowing from their broken well head on the bottom of the Gulf floor. Official estimates say that close to 5 million gallons of oil were released as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Mix is accused of deleting messages that federal officials had requested during their investigation. Mix was a member of the team working on the official flow estimates at BP, meaning he had access to all of the information regarding the spill as it was occurring. BP officials claim that they told Mix to retain all his messages, but he deleted them anyway in October 2010. From CNN.com:

The State Of The Gulf Two Years After Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 rig workers and subsequently caused an oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico that leaked hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the water. The mainstream press will provide coverage over the next few days, reminding the world that the Gulf Coast is still reeling from the effects of the disaster. But for those of us that call the coast home, we’re reminded of what’s happened everyday.

A lot has happened in the two years since the rig explosion – federal inquiries, scientific testing, corporate investigations. These actions have told us two very important things: The first being that the explosion and oil leak could have easily been prevented had the companies involved not cut corners. The second is that the oil is proving to be much more harmful to the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico than most people realize.

The most recent developments in the ongoing saga include rig owner Transocean once again attempted to thwart a thorough investigation into their role in the disaster.

Institute for Energy Research Launches “Save Oil Tax Breaks” Offensive

In late March, Senate Republicans torpedoed an effort by Democrats to repeal the $4 billion a year that is flowing to the oil companies in the form of subsidies. The Obama Administration had proposed ending the subsidies so that this unnecessary money for the oil industry could instead be directed towards renewable energy projects and emission reduction in the United States. But in Washington, big oil has paid off the right people and organizations to make sure that their subsidies and tax breaks never disappear.

One organization that is flush with cash from the oil industry is the Institute for Energy Research (IER.) While their name might have you believe otherwise, the group is little more than an industry-funded propaganda machine, hell-bent on insuring that the desires of the dirty energy industry continue to be fulfilled within the halls of Congress. “Energy research” has almost nothing to do with the group’s activities.

Last week, after the Senate’s vote to block the subsidy repeal, IER compiled a report attempting to dissect and disprove the Administration’s proposal, point by point. But like most information put out by these corporate-funded think tanks, IER’s analysis is riddled with falsehoods and inaccurate information.

Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS Doubles Down On Gas Price Talking Points

The Karl Rove-helmed lobbying group Crossroads GPS (in conjunction with their parent group American Crossroads) has decided to double down on the debunked talking point that President Obama is to blame for the spike in gas prices. Their latest ad, titled “Too Much,” specifically takes aim at the President’s claim (based on facts) that domestic energy production is at a record high.

Take a look:



It is interesting to note that in this ad, when they attempt to “debunk” Obama’s claim about domestic oil production, the source they cite as evidence is actually talking about only the oil production, a fact that they actually left in the ad yet conveniently ignored:

Survey Says...Fracking IS Causing Earthquakes

A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that the increased seismic activity taking place in certain areas of the United States is almost certainly the result of oil and gas drilling activities. The group has been studying dozens of earthquakes across America for the last 8 months and determined that the man-made quakes were taking place in areas where fracking or deep waste water injection had recently occurred.

Here is a brief snippet from the report's abstract:
  

A remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent. The average number of M >= 3 earthquakes/year increased starting in 2001, culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2011. Is this increase natural or manmade? To address this question, we take a regional approach to explore changes in the rate of earthquake occurrence in the midcontinent (defined here as 85° to 108° West, 25° to 50° North) using the USGS Preliminary Determination of Epicenters and National Seismic Hazard Map catalogs…

The modest increase that began in 2001 is due to increased seismicity in the coal bed methane field of the Raton Basin along the Colorado-New Mexico border west of Trinidad, CO. The acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma. Horton, et al. (2012) provided strong evidence linking the Guy, AR activity to deep waste water injection wells. In Oklahoma, the rate of M >= 3 events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year. This rate increase is exclusive of the November 2011 M 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks. A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.


What’s interesting is that the USGS points out the obvious fact that has been ignored by the industry – these earthquakes are occurring in areas where earthquakes shouldn’t be happening. Still, that hasn’t stopped the dirty energy industry from denying that there is a correlation between fracking and earthquakes.

Who Is Monitoring Fracking Wells And Pipelines? Nobody

As we here at DeSmogBlog have been covering in exhaustive detail for quite some time now, there is virtually no safe way to perform hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional oil and gas.

Fracking has been linked to numerous problems, including the release of radioactive molecules that cause an array of health problems, earthquakes, and groundwater contamination. Cancer, pollution, environmental destruction – all of these things have been linked to the practice of fracking in recent years.

So with all of the dangerous side effects, you’d expect the practice to at least be heavily monitored by some sort of official watchdog group.

You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. According to new studies, there is a dangerous lapse in oversight for fracking wells and the pipelines being used to transport gas from these wells. From News Inferno:

Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:
  

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.
 

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

Beginning of The End for Big Oil’s Billion Dollar Subsidies?

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to kill, once and for all, the billions of dollars worth of subsidies that are flowing from the federal government to the oil industry.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the $4 billion annual corporate welfare handed out to oil companies would instead be used to pay down the federal deficit and be re-invested into renewable energy technology.

Given the Republicans’ history of fighting for the oil industry and their subsidies, you would expect this bill to be dead on arrival. However, in an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance, Senate Republicans actually sided with Democrats in a vote to move the bill onto the floor for debate.

Republicans currently believe that any issue involving gas and oil is a home run for their party, so they’re banking on the issue actually helping them out, politically. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement about the issue:
  

“We’re going to use this opportunity to explain how out of touch Democrats are on high gas prices, and put a spotlight on the common-sense ideas Republicans have been urging for years – ideas that reflect our genuine commitment to the kind of all-of-the-above approach the President claims to support but doesn’t.”
 

McConnell’s comment demonstrates both the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party on the issue of gas prices.

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