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.

Science Is Clear: Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Save Lives

While governments all over the globe continue to squabble about how to address greenhouse gas pollution – or, in some instances, whether or not to even address the issue – a new report delivers some much needed good news: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will save lives.

The report, titled Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants, breaks the regulatory debate being waged in the United States in its simplest form. Researchers from Harvard University, Boston University, and Syracuse University state in the report that the Environmental Protection Agency’s stricter standards for existing power plants will save an estimated 9 American lives per day.

As the report lays out, the EPA’s emission reduction standards – the first effort ever by the agency to reduce power plant emissions – would reduce the amount of emissions by 30% below 2005 standards by the year 2030. These power plants account for nearly 40% of the total carbon emissions for the United States.

The 30% drop in emissions will save an estimated 3,500 American lives every year. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the report. An additional 1,000 hospital stays could also be avoided, along with reduced levels of sulfur dioxide, toxic mercury, and fine particulates in the air that we breathe.

West Virginia Officials Worried Freedom Industries Skimping On Chemical Spill Cleanup

In early January of this year, a chemical storage facility run by Freedom Industries ruptured and leaked thousands of gallons of chemicals into West Virginia’s Elk River. The leak occurred less than 2 miles from a water treatment plant that serves as many as 300,000 nearby residents. 

Almost 9 months after the spill occurred, West Virginia officials are concerned that Freedom Industries is dragging their feet on the cleanup.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the company needs to be focused on actually cleaning up the spill instead of focusing on entering a “voluntary” remediation program.

The comments came a few days after Freedom Industries submitted an updated remediation proposal to the DEP outlining their plan to start digging and testing soil and water samples in the future. To date, the company has not even finished demolishing their outdated and dangerous storage tanks that caused the spill in the first place. 

Senate Republicans Go All In On Keystone XL

Six years have passed since TransCanada originally sought a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Republicans in Washington have not given up fighting for the project. In spite of the fact that the pipeline will create fewer than 40 permanent jobs; would pose serious risks to potable water supplies; and would potentially raise energy prices for American consumers, some of our elected officials still believe that the pipeline would be a boon for the United States.

In the last week, the Republican-led efforts to force President Obama to approve the disaster of a plan have reached a fevered pitch. To begin with, to mark the 6th anniversary of the original permit application, every single Republican in the U.S. Senate signed a letter to President Obama demanding that he take action and approve the pipeline.

In the letter, Republican Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) played on the fears of American citizens while trying to force an approval. Hoeven wrote“After more than six years of study, five favorable environmental reviews, numerous polls showing the support of the American people, ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East, it is way past time we take off the blinders and do what is in the best interest of the United States: approve the Keystone XL pipeline.”   

Not to be outdone, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an appeal to the American public (and the dirty energy industry) by making the bold claim that, if Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, the Keystone XL pipeline will be one of their top priorities. McConnell claimed, “If we have a new majority next year, and a new majority leader, the Keystone pipeline will be voted on on the floor of the Senate, something the current majority has been avoiding for literally years.”

Even before the anniversary of the application, Senate Republicans were hard at work trying to force the project’s approval. A few days before they sent a letter to the President, Senate Republicans (and a West Virginia Democrat) introduced a bill that would strip the President of his authority to approve pipeline projects, and would limit the review period by the State Department down to 120 days. According to The Hill, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill back in June.

Republican Senators Push Manhattan Institute's Dirty Energy Propaganda Paper

Two Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be releasing a white paper later this week that will allegedly make the case that “regulations” and legislation that “raises energy costs” is damaging America’s underclass. 

Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Tim Scott (SC) have teamed up with the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research to once again push the bogus theory that government regulations and environmental safeguards are costing American consumers too much money and destroying jobs. The paper will officially be released at a Manhattan Institute event on September 18.

According to The Hill, a representative from Murkowski’s office said that the Senators will be speaking about “the economic, political, and social consequences of allowing energy insecurity to rise in America.”

Both Murkowski and Scott have been notorious opponents of many of the Obama administration’s environmental protection initiatives and have also been on the receiving end of the dirty energy industry’s largesse. Murkowski’s two largest donor industries are electric utilities and the oil and gas industries, receiving a combined $1,490,257 over the course of her career in the Senate.  Scott, a freshman Senator, has received $411,701 from the two industries during his short time in office.

Pennsylvania Prisoners Poisoned By Coal Ash

Life in a prison is probably not the safest environment for a person.  But for prisoners in Pennsylvania, life just got a lot more dangerous.

According to a new report, inmates at State Correctional Institution Fayette in LaBelle, Pennsylvania have been experiencing a significant increase in cancer rates.  The report, which was put together by the Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition, says that the culprit is a nearby coal ash dump.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details:

11 prisoners died from cancer between January 2010 and December 2013, another six have been diagnosed with cancer and eight more have undiagnosed tumors or lumps.

Also, more than 80 percent of 75 prisoners responding to the investigators experienced respiratory problems, 68 percent said they experienced gastrointestinal problems and half have skin rashes, cysts and abscesses. Twelve percent, nine of the 75, reported being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder at the prison or having their existing thyroid problems get worse. Many of the prisoners have multiple, overlapping symptoms, the report said.

The death rate at the Fayette correctional facility is the third highest in the state.  However, the two prisons with higher mortality rates also house large populations of elderly inmates, making Fayette the highest death rate among preventable causes.

Swapping Farmland For Coal Trains: Union Pacific’s Texas Land Grab

Railroad giant Union Pacific has some big plans for a tiny Texas community.  According to locals in the Brazos River Valley, the railroad company is hoping to turn some of the most fertile farmland in Texas into a massive, 72-line rail yard.

Union Pacific’s plan would consume as much as 1,800 acres of farmland in the region, effectively putting numerous family-owned farming operations out of business.  The toxic loads that Union Pacific’s trains would be hauling in and out of the area on a daily basis would then threaten the remaining farms in the region.

The Brazos River Valley, named after the Brazos River, is considered some of the richest farmland in the state, thanks to the city’s namesake river feeding fresh water and nutrients to the area.  Taking this land out of the hands of farmers — many of whom are the descendants of early generation of farm settlers in the area — would not only have devastating effects on the local economy, but they could also put a huge hole in the nation’s food supply.

But Union Pacific is not concerned with the well being of the Brazos Valley community or their environment, and they are hoping to move forward with their plan.  And the land grab only represents half of the danger. 

According to a letter from the Brazos River Bottom Alliance that was sent to state and federal representatives, there will be no environmental review of the project:

Florida Governor Rick Scott Meets With Climate Scientists, Learns Nothing

Republican Florida governor Rick Scott has always had a huge problem when it comes to the environment.  To begin with, he has repeatedly made it clear that he does not believe in climate change, and certainly not the role that human beings play in exacerbating the problem. 

But, facing a fierce opponent with a stellar environmental record in this year’s gubernatorial race, Scott has had to swallow his pride and open up to the idea that he is wrong on climate change.

Governor Scott recently met with prominent climate scientists from universities with the expressed goal of learning all that he could about climate change.  The truth, however, is that the entire experience was more of a publicity stunt than a science lesson.

According to the scientists, at least half of the thirty-minute meeting was spent with Scott asking questions about the scientists’ education, classes they teach, and various other “small talk” questions.  This left them only 15 minutes to explain the science behind anthropogenic climate change to the inattentive governor.

Think Progress, via Reader Supported News, has more:

Ben Kirtman professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t honestly believe the governor is climate literate, and I don’t think he is particularly interested in becoming climate literate.”

David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, told ThinkProgress that he thought the governor’s decision to take up “almost half” the meeting with small talk showed that he wasn’t truly interested in the meeting.

If we were talking about things that he was sincerely interested in, that small talk would have been very short,” he said.

They also note that during the entire meeting, Scott did not ask a single climate change-related question.

BP Wins Big In Offshore Oil Drilling Lease Auction

For all of his administration’s tough talk on protecting our environment, President Obama doesn’t seem to have any problem increasing the nation’s dependence on dirty energy.  Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced plans to open up an astounding 112 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration, setting a bidding war in motion for some of the worst environmental offenders in America.

It should come as no surprise then to find out that the big winner in the lease auction earlier this month was BP, the main culprit behind the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put 21.6 million acres up for auction, with area blocks ranging everywhere from 9 miles offshore, to 250 miles offshore.  Overall, the auction brought in close to $110 million, with as much as 90 million acres still waiting to be auctioned off.

BP bid on a total of 31 lots, and was successful in winning 27 of those lots, more than any other energy company.  The company had previously been barred from bidding on new oil and gas exploration leases following the 2010 Macondo well blowout, but that ban was lifted in March of this year.

Many of the areas that the company won are for deepwater exploration, an unpleasant scenario for areas of the Gulf Coast still reeling from the company’s 2010 disaster.

But the British oil giant BP plc has very little to fear with their new leases, even if another blowout were to occur, and that’s the part of the story that has been routinely missed by the media. 

NRDC Action Fund Working To Hold Climate Change Deniers Accountable

Before members of Congress departed Washington, D.C. for their month-long August recess, senators attempted one final vote on a resolution that did nothing more than state that the Senate accepts the science on climate change.  Noted science-denying Republican James Inhofe blocked the resolution, which required a unanimous vote by Senators in order to pass.

Thus, the resolution failed, but not before Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse issued a stirring rebuttal to Inhofe’s claims of climate change being a hoax:

While a few people like Senator Whitehouse are fighting the good fight from inside the system itself, they still need help from the outside in order to hold climate change deniers and environmental polluters accountable.  The NRDC Action Fund has stepped in to back them up this summer.

While members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are out campaigning during their recess, the NRDC Action Fund has launched a “Dirty Denier$” campaign that will feature a different member of Congress every day. 

Coal Company, West Virginia Attorney General Blame Lifesaving EPA Rules For Layoffs

Alpha Natural Resources, one of the leaders in the practice of mountain removal mining, has made it clear that they aren’t happy with the new EPA rules that will require a 30% reduction in power plant emissions by the year 2030. 

In a notice to about 1,100 employees last week, Alpha informed the workers that they could be laid off due to a mix of “weak market conditions and government regulations…” 

According to The Hill, Alpha released a statement to the press with the following anti-EPA claims:

EPA regulations are at least partly responsible for more than 360 coal-fired electric generating units in the U.S. closing or switching to natural gas. Nearly one of every five existing coal-fired power plants is closing or converting to other fuel sources, and Central Appalachian coal has been the biggest loser from EPA's actions.”

Alpha is being helped along in their attack by the attorney general of West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, who announced on Friday a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over their power plant standards.  In announcing the lawsuit, Morrisey specifically mentioned Alpha’s plightOur Office will use every legal tool available to protect coal miners and their families from the Obama Administration and its overreach. We can't afford to see more announcements like we saw with Alpha Natural Resources yesterday.

Not a bad return on investment for Alpha, considering the fact that they only invested $2,000 in Morrisey when he was running for attorney general in 2012. 

The language used by Alpha and the attorney general is incredibly important.

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