Farron Cousins

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. 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.

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Mitt Romney’s Energy Advisors

In the last few months, the press has been drawing a lot of parallels between presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Republican President George W. Bush. And they have plenty of reasons for doing so. Romney has already tapped many of the same Bush economic and foreign policy advisers, and rumors were swirling earlier this year that Romney would tap Bush’s energy advisers as well.

As it turns out, those rumors are true.

Climate Progress has compiled a list of people who have been tapped, or will likely be tapped, by Romney for his energy team. The roster is a virtual “Dream Team” of dirty energy industry representatives from the coal industry, the shale gas industry, the oil industry, mountaintop removal mining companies, and lobbyists - all of whom were close advisers and friends of George W. Bush.

The most terrifying name on the list is American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard. Climate Progress points out that Gerard has been a longtime supporter of Romney, and that Romney considers Gerard a close, personal friend. Gerard’s stated goals, goals that we have to assume he’ll pressure Romney to fulfill, include placing an oil lobbyist in every district in America, opening up all federal lands for oil drilling, and removing many existing safety regulations.

How Do You Spend $375 Million A Day? Ask The Oil Industry

The average U.S. household has seen both their net worth and their average income steadily decline over the last seven years. Unemployment in the United States still remains at uncomfortably high levels, and the poverty rate is about to reach highs that haven’t been seen since the 1960’s. But as average citizens are struggling to provide food for their families and gainful employment, there are a special few in the U.S.A. who have more cash than they know what to do with. Those special few would be the oil industry.

While most of us in the U.S. were cringing every time that ticker on the gas pump climbed higher and higher, executives at the top five oil companies were squealing with delight as their profits climbed even faster and higher than the prices at the pump.

This week, oil companies are sheepishly coming forward with their 2nd quarter earnings statements, likely praying that Americans forget about the fact that gas prices were recently at near-historic highs in areas of the country. From Climate Progress:

The top two corporations on the Fortune 500 Global ranking, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, announced their 2012 second-quarter earnings today, bringing the total profits for three Big Oil companies to $44 billion for 2012 or $250,000 every day this year. Exxon profited by $16 billion this quarter, bringing its earnings for 2012 to $25 billion.

The New York Times wrote that Exxon and Shell’s earnings “disappoint,” because energy prices unexpectedly dropped for consumers this summer. Put their profits in the appropriate context, however, and Exxon and Shell still made a combined $160,000 per minute last quarter, even though the top five oil companies benefit from $2.4 billion federal tax breaks every year.

White House Wants Industry Help To Choose Which Regulations To Kill

When the Obama White House begins adopting the same talking points as the dirty energy industry, something has gone horribly wrong with our government. But that is exactly what is happening today, with the White House apparently buying into the repeatedly debunked industry talking point that claims that government regulations are killing jobs.

The White House has created a new page on their website – whitehouse.gov/advise – where they are asking businesses to tell the government which regulations are burdening their business so that the government can decide whether or not to kill that regulation.

Featured on the website is a video by Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he tells businesses that the White House will do what is necessary to do away with burdensome regulations in order to spur job growth.

Here’s the video:

Texas Refineries And Chemical Plants Releasing Tens Of Thousands Of Tons Of Pollution

A damning new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) reveals some startling information regarding pollution in the state of Texas. According to the report, oil refineries and chemical plants in the state are releasing tens of thousands of tons of pollution every year, without as much as a peep from state regulators or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

Most of these emissions are the result of industrial accidents and other “equipment malfunctions” taking place at processing plants across the state. Among the more dangerous chemicals being released into the atmosphere and surrounding environment are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which are major contributors to ozone depletion.

A few highlights from the new report:

Every year, refineries, chemical plants, and natural gas facilities release thousands of tons of air pollution when production units break down, or are shut off, restarted or repaired. Most of these “emission events” release pollution through flares, leaking pipelines, tanks, or other production equipment. Information obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the last three years shows just how significant that pollution can be.

Between 2009 and 2011, emission events at chemical plants, refineries, and natural gas operations released a combined total of more than 42,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and just over 50,000 tons of smog- forming Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), according to industry reports filed with TCEQ. See Table 1. These releases are in addition to the amounts released year-round during so-called “normal operations,” and are usually not included in the data the government uses to establish and enforce regulations, or to estimate their health impacts. Natural gas operations — which include, well heads, pipelines, compressors, boosters, and storage systems — accounted for more than 85% of total sulfur dioxide and nearly 80% of the VOCs released during these episodes. Both pollutants are linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, and can form fine particles that contribute to premature death from heart disease.

Upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems. The working class and minority populations typical of neighborhoods near refineries and chemical plants bear the brunt of this pollution.

House Republicans Attempt To Block Black Lung Protection Funding

In what could possibly be a new low for one of the most anti-environment, pro-dirty energy industry Congresses in history, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are attempting to gut funding for measures that would reduce the occurrence of black lung in mine workers. The funding cut was inserted into the 2013 appropriations bill that provides funding to the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The language inserted into the appropriations bill reads:

SEC. 118. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to continue the development of or to promulgate, administer, enforce, or otherwise implement the Lowering Miners' Exposure to Coal Mine Dust, Including 20 Continuous Personal Dust Monitors regulation (Regulatory Identification Number 1219-AB64) being developed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee inserted the language into the bill. The Appropriations Committee is currently led by Republican Chairman Harold 'Hal' Rogers from Kentucky and, not surprisingly, his largest campaign financier during his 20+ years in office has been the mining industry. That industry has pumped more than $379,000 into his campaigns over the years, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. DirtyEnergyMoney.org shows Rep. Rogers receiving over $430,000 in polluter contributions since 1999, well above the average for members of Congress. The majority of the dirty money has come from the coal industry.

Romney, Obama Surrogates Spar Over Energy Policy

On Wednesday of this week, representatives from both the Obama and Romney campaigns debated issues of energy and environment, where the two campaigns’ differences on issues ranging from renewable energy subsidies to approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline were on full display.

Speaking for the Obama campaign, spokesperson Dan Reicher told us that the President believes that U.S. tax dollars can be used effectively to bolster development and investment into renewable energy technologies.

Linda Stuntz, Romney’s spokesperson who currently sits on the board of Shell Oil, said that her candidate is not completely against supporting renewable energy, but that the “free market” should really be the entity to make those decisions, not the government. Stuntz did tell us that Romney planned to end a production tax credit for wind energy that has helped keep that industry growing for more than 20 years.

Before getting into the other arguments discussed in the debate, it is important to let that previous paragraph sink in. Romney’s energy and environmental surrogate, a member of his campaign giving him advice on energy issues and acting as his spokesperson in that arena, is a board member of one of the largest oil companies in the world. This fact can't be ignored, and it indicates where Romney’s allegiance will lie when it comes to energy issues. Stuntz also served as a deputy energy secretary under President George H.W. Bush, and we know well how that administration buddied up to Big Oil.

One of the big issues, and a major talking point for industry-friendly politicians and lobbyists, was the Keystone XL Pipeline. From the Houston Chronicle:

Republican Senator Scott Brown Suffering From "Subsidy Amnesia"

With a straight face, Republican Senator Scott Brown told a crowd in Massachusetts this week that “oil companies don’t get subsidies” from the federal government. Brown tells us that, just like other companies, they are able to “take deductions,” but nothing more.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) was quick to jump on the story, compiling an astounding array of information that proves that Scott Brown is either the most misinformed member of Congress when it comes to subsidies, or that he’s a plain old liar. From an LCV press release:

Experts say oil company tax credits are essentially the same as direct spending subsidies. In a May 5, 2011 article, the Center for American Progress noted: “[T]he tax code is stuffed with a host of subsidies for oil and gas. These subsidies are delivered through the tax code but they are essentially no different from government spending programs that provide money directly.” Additionally, citing nonpartisan organizations including the Tax Policy Center and Pew Charitable Trusts, Media Matters for America documented in an April 10 article that “experts say that [oil industry tax] incentives – legally categorized as tax expenditures – have effects similar to more direct cash transfers from the government.” The Tax Policy Center stated that “Tax expenditures operate essentially like direct expenditures, even though they appear as tax breaks.” Pew’s SubsidyScope.org website stated: “Tax expenditures have a similar effect on the federal deficit as government spending. They can also have effects on recipients that are similar to grants or other types of subsidies.” [Center for American Progress, 5/5/11; Media Matters for America, 4/10/12].

Prominent members of Scott Brown’s own party recognize that tax expenditures are subsidies. In a March 28 article, Think Progress documented that “Numerous Republican leaders have noted that a tax break is the same as a direct government [payment] or subsidy, in a different form. This includes President Ronald Reagan’s chief economic advisor, Martin Feldstein, former Senate Budget Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM), House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-MI), and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).” Think Progress included quotes for each of these Republicans in the article. [Think Progress, 3/28/12].

Not only does the oil industry receive subsidies from the federal government, but as the LCV points out, earlier this year, Scott Brown actually voted against repealing the subsidies for the oil industry, that are currently costing U.S. taxpayers as much as $7 billion a year.

What To Expect When You’re Electing: President Barack Obama

Part 3 in a series, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Perhaps more than any other sitting U.S. President, Barack Obama has been Commander in Chief through some of the most obvious examples of what climate change will do to America. The last few weeks alone have given us severe droughts in some areas of the country while others have seen unprecedented flooding; The state of Colorado is battling some of the worst wildfires in their history; and massive heat waves are engulfing large swaths of America. And let’s not forget the massive snowstorms in the winter of 2010 – 2011.

Then there were the manmade environmental atrocities like the BP oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico, the deadly Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill, fracking-induced earthquakes in Ohio, water contamination from unconventional oil and gas drilling – the list could go on and on.

So in the face of these disasters, how has President Obama fared on environmental issues? Let’s take a look.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama told supporters that if elected, he would set a goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050. He acknowledged that man-made climate change was a real threat to America, and signaled a change in policy from the previous administration. Voters, especially environmentally conscious voters, were relieved to finally hear a candidate expressing such bold goals for the country.

Hot Enough For Ya? Extreme Weather Events Consistent With Climate Change Science

Large portions of the U.S. are on fire. Record droughts currently encompass massive swaths of America. The areas not experiencing droughts have been inundated with flooding. Winter weather in many areas was almost non-existent. A few years ago, an Academy Award-winning film called “An Inconvenient Truth” warned wary Americans that all of these events would become the new normal due to climate change. But these are no longer warnings – this is the reality that we’re living in now.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore the evidence of extreme weather that surrounds all of us. And it isn’t just the United States. Every corner of the globe is experiencing the direct effects of climate change in some form or fashion. And again, we were warned that all of this was going to happen.

My hometown of Gulf Breeze, Florida feels like it's been a petri dish for climate change disaster stories. In the past month, we’ve had two separate droughts that were both ended by flash flooding. In between these events, we avoided a hit from pre-season tropical storm Debby, which turned eastward and drenched central Florida with torrential rains. Last weekend we had a heat index of 112 degrees, and I awoke this morning (again, after weeks of drought) to find half of my yard underwater due to coastal flooding.

In the U.S., the reality of climate change has certainly been an eye opener for many Americans.

FreedomWorks Fails Basic Math And Economics To Smear Renewable Energy Investments

The corporate funded, Libertarian/Conservative “think tank” FreedomWorks is doing their best to convince Americans that taxpayer-funded energy subsidies and loans are a waste of our resources. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the massive giveaways to the dirty energy industry, only to the federal loan programs established to invest in cleaner, renewable energy companies.

Touting the superiority of the so-called “free market” over the actions of the government, a recent report titled “Free Markets, or Government Knows Best?” by Wesley Coopersmith broke down the amount of money that the federal government has allocated to renewable energy projects, per the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and compared the amount of money given to the number of permanent jobs created by each company. Here’s what Coopersmith had to say:

Under the 1705 loan program, taking up half of the funding form the Loan Guarantee Program, 2,378 permanent jobs were claimed to be created. If you do the math right, this works out to costing the taxpayer $6.7 million per job created. I don’t know about you, but if it takes the government $6.7 million to create one permanent job, something is wrong.

The combined amount of money given to alternative energy companies, through the 1705 and 1703 Loan Programs, totals around $19.2 billion. According to the US DOE, 3,498 jobs have been or will be created because of these loans. This comes out to almost $5.5 million in cost per one permanent job created.

Unfortunately, these projected permanent jobs created are an overestimation, if you take away the jobs lost due to six of these companies going bankrupt. Solar Millennium Inc., LSP Energy LP, Ener1 Inc., Beacon Power Corp, Abound Solar, and Solyndra LLC combined have received over $3.5 billion from the Logan Program yet have produced zero jobs and hurt the fragile U.S. economy.

Coopersmith also provided a helpful chart that shows exactly how much money each (of a select few) company received and how many permanent jobs were created. For credibility purposes, Coopersmith even linked back to the U.S. government’s official website and used their own numbers on permanent jobs per company, as well as how much each received.

The problem with Coopersmith’s analysis is that he omitted several important numbers in his calculations. For example, he only lists the permanent jobs created by each company, failing to add in the number of construction jobs that would be created by each project. He also used the total amount of money that had been allocated to each company, not the amount that had actually been paid.