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.

Coal Ash Ponds Contaminating Groundwater In Tennessee

TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill credit-Greenpeace

The Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released a new report showing that coal ash holding sites at several TVA-owned coal-fired power plants has managed to contaminate groundwater. The report says that chemical concentrations are so high in certain areas that they could pose a serious health risk to residents. Among the chemicals that the Inspector General’s report lists as being found in the water supply were arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, selenium, and vanadium.

While the chemicals found in the water supply show that there is a serious threat to local communities coming from the coal ash repositories, that isn’t the most disturbing part of the report. The real problem is that the TVA knew about the chemicals being leaked into the water supply for at least a decade, and did nothing. The report says that the TVA had found chemicals indicating coal ash leaks in areas in and around Memphis, as well as other sites across Tennessee.

GOP Coal Ash Bill May Be Hazardous To Your Health

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted this week to allow a new bill on the regulation of coal ash to be considered for a full House vote. The bill, known as The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, would prevent the E.P.A. from classifying coal ash (or fly ash) as a toxic substance, and instead would allow individual states to make their own rules regarding the storage and re-use of coal ash waste.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 35 – 12, with all Committee Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The E.P.A. ruled in 2000 that coal ash was not a hazardous substance, but proposed a rule last summer that would change the classification to “hazardous.” The agency is still debating which rule will stand, and announced recently that the decision will not be made this year.

The bill was put forward by freshman Republican David McKinley from West Virginia. West Virginia is one of the country’s leading producers of both coal and coal waste. Under the guise of “saving jobs,” McKinley introduced the bill earlier this year. But a look beyond the surface reveals McKinley’s true intentions for putting forth the legislation.

During the course of his short career, McKinley has already received more than $205,000 from the mining industry, which includes donations from some of the largest coal companies in West Virginia – Alpha Natural Resources (a leading company in mountaintop removal mining,) International Coal Group, and Patriot Coal. The following chart is from OpenSecrets, showing McKinley’s top donors:

ALEC Exposed: Center For Media and Democracy Details ALEC's Industry-Friendly Legislation Machine

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has launched a new website, ALECExposed.org, to help consumers understand more about the secretive business group that is helping craft industry-friendly legislation. CMD has obtained more than 800 model bills that were crafted by ALEC for state governments across the country. From a CMD press release:

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their “task force” co-chairs – all Republican state legislators – to approve “model” legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at ALEC Exposed.

BP Urges Government To Halt Gulf Oil Disaster Relief Payments For Future Losses

Oil giant BP is urging the federal government to stop making payments to Gulf Coast residents affected by last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil geyser. BP claims that the improving economic conditions among areas hit the hardest by the oil provide enough evidence to show that they no longer need to be compensated for future losses from the environmental disaster.

To date, roughly $4.5 billion worth of claims have been paid out of the $20 billion fund established by the government and funded by BP to pay victims of the oil catastrophe. Claims continue to be filed with the government seeking compensation for their losses.

Expert Warns That TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline Assessments Are Misleading

An independent analysis performed by University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury, an environmental engineer, claims that TransCanada’s safety assessments for their proposed Keystone XL pipeline are misleading and based on faulty information. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas, crossing numerous states in the U.S.

TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline, was required under the Clean Water Act to conduct a complete review and present their data on worst-case-scenario oil spills from their proposed pipeline. According to his new report titled “Keystone XL Worst-Case Spills Study,” Dr. Stansbury’s analysis of TransCanada’s government reports found that their methodology for determining the safety of their pipeline was inherently flawed because the company deliberately relied on information that was known to be false.

American Petroleum Institute Dreams Of Placing Lobbyists In Every District

Oil industry lobbyist and president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Jack Gerard made his industry’s goal clear in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine. Mr. Gerard said he hopes that in the near future there will be an oil lobbyist on the ground in every U.S. Congressional district in order to help his industry flourish, “so when a policy proposal hits the industry’s bottom line, lawmakers from Seattle to Savannah will hear complaints about it from voters back home.”

As API president, Mr. Gerard is the leading representative for more than 400 different oil and gas companies. Gerard took the helm of API in November 2008, leaving a lucrative post as the head of the American Chemistry Council. In the short time that Gerard has led the API, he has instituted numerous reforms to help the oil industry focus its messaging to change public attitudes towards the industry’s behavior.

One of the major tools that Gerard brings to the API is the use of astroturf “grassroots” operations, something that the oil industry had not yet capitalized on.

Coal Ash Disposal Sites Contaminating Ground Water In 19 States

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released a new report showing that coal ash disposal sites are threatening water supplies at 33 sites located in 19 different states across the U.S. The EIP says that the levels of heavy metals like arsenic in these locations are dangerously higher than federally accepted levels, which the group says could mean that legal action could be taken against the companies involved in the coal ash dumping.

From an EIP press release:

Transocean Report Blames BP For Gulf Oil Disaster

Offshore oil drilling giant Transocean released the results of an internal investigation this week on the causes of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. The investigation concluded that well owner BP was to blame for the explosion and the resulting 3-month oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean claims that BP’s actions led to the blowout, as they were in charge of most of the decision-making on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Transocean says that BP’s poor decisions caused a succession of problems ranging from the well design itself to the construction process of the Macondo rig. Transocean officials also fault BP for causing a breakdown in communication during construction, which they claim led to many of the failures aboard the oil rig. Here are a few highlights from their report:

Mountaintop Removal Mining Linked To Birth Defects

Researchers at Washington State University and West Virginia University have released a new report that links an increase in birth defects in Appalachia to the practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR or MTM). The study shows that communities exposed to the wastes created by blowing up mountains to extract coal experience significantly higher instances of birth defects.

A press release on the new report summarized the findings as follows:

The study was based on analysis of over 1.8 million birth records between 1996 and 2003 in central Appalachia. Prevalence rates were higher in mountaintop mining areas compared to non-mining areas for circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital, and ‘other’ types of defects. Spatial correlation between mountaintop mining and birth defects was also present, indicating that MTM activity in one county may have increased birth defect prevalence rates in surrounding counties.

Heritage Foundation Wastes No Time Spinning Court Ruling On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against plaintiffs yesterday in a lawsuit (American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut) brought by six states against several utility companies and the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority. The states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) were attempting to force the utility companies to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the grounds that the emissions were a “public nuisance.” The Court unanimously declared that the judiciary should stay out of the matter because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already has the authority to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act.

President Obama previously stated that he stood with the utility companies in this suit, as well as in a similar suit being decided in a lower court. The utility companies in the suit included Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Southern Co, Excel Energy, and the aforementioned Tennessee Valley Authority.

The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation wasted no time yesterday in claiming that the Court’s ruling was a major blow to environmentalists, and managed to take a cheap shot at some of the liberal members of the court:

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