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.

Mardi Gras: Beads, Bands…And BP Oil

More than one million tourists have flocked to the South for Mardi Gras, and hundreds of thousands of those revelers have settled in for a few days along the Gulf Coast.  Those who decided to enjoy the festivities along the Gulf of Mexico might be in for something they didn’t expect: oil tar mats.

On Thursday of last week, workers on Pensacola Beach, Florida spotted and brought to shore a 1,200 pound oil tar mat, which officials say accounted for about 90% of the total size of the mat.  While the bulk of the mat was a mixture of sand and other debris, scientists ran tests and were quickly able to determine that the oil in the mat was a perfect match for the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as the Pensacola News Journal explains:

The weathered oil from the tar mat was confirmed to be MC-252 oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were once scoured regularly for residual oil from the spill, physical searches were phased out as the number of sightings began to dwindle.

In the summer of 2013, BP pulled their cleanup crews from the Gulf Coast, assuring residents and tourists alike that the oil spill was all cleaned up.  A few months later, the U.S. Coast Guard made similar claims to the public.

Furthermore, the public was assured as early as May 2010 — just one month after the oil leak began — that the majority of the oil would simply “dissolve” into the Gulf of Mexico.  This latest tar mat is undeniable evidence that oil from BP’s disaster still remains in the Gulf.

Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

Oil Industry Profited Off Polluting Oil Spills, Fraud Investigation Underway

When an oil company’s negligence leads to an oil spill, the financial costs incurred by the company can be crippling.  They have to pay clean up costs, federal fines, and, in many cases, settlements to victims who have been affected by the spill.  Since these costs can be such a burden to the multi-billion dollar industry, they’ve figured out a way to recoup some of their losses by deceiving all the players involved.

Of course, these aren’t the massive oil spills that we’ve seen from Exxon and BP; these are the smaller ones that most people don’t hear about that typically occur when storage containers leak.  That’s where the industry has learned that oil spills can actually be good for their bottom line.

The scheme is known as “double dipping,” and it involves oil companies receiving both insurance funds for spill cleanup along with state funds to clean up oil leaks from underground tankers.  This allows the company to use funds for cleanup, and usually have a little left over to put in their pockets.

A new report by Reuters succinctly captures the essence of what’s happening in a single quote:  “When I first saw these cases, I thought this is kind of incredible,” said New Mexico assistant attorney general Seth Cohen, who handled the lawsuit for the state. “The oil companies have, in effect, profited off polluting.”

Business Coalition Announces Massive Offensive Against Environmental Protections

As the Obama administration begins to take action to rein in the emissions from the dirty energy industry, big business groups all over the country have announced that they aren’t willing to stop polluting without putting up a very serious fight.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Gas Association, and 74 other big business groups said that they are banding together to fight the administration’s forthcoming power plant standards that will require carbon capture technologies to be in place at all plants.  According to The Hill, the groups said that they are planning “everything from lobbying to litigation” in order to fight the administration’s efforts.

These business groups say that they have seen “what Obama has done” to the coal industry, and fear that their industries could be targeted next.  They are also fearful that too much emphasis is being put on developing renewable energy, as The Hill points out:

American Gas Association President Dave McCurdy, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, said the coalition would need to protect a single-minded push toward renewable energy production.

As expected, politicians in Washington saw that the industry was pushing back, so they have jumped on the bandwagon. 

Duke Energy Spills Thousands Of Tons Of Coal Ash Into North Carolina River

Residents in the city of Eden, North Carolina are currently in danger of having their drinking water destroyed thanks to Duke Energy.  The coal giant has reported a coal ash spill in the Dan River with as much as 82,000 tons of the toxic pollutant released into the waterway.

According to EcoWatch, it took an astounding 24 hours after the accident occurred for Duke to issue a press release to inform the public about the chemicals that were very quickly making their way down river.  It is currently estimated that 22 million gallons of coal ash are now flowing along the river.  The spill has already been declared the third largest in U.S. history.

This was not an unavoidable catastrophe.

Duke was warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September 2009 that the coal ash storage site was falling apart, and the EPA even noted several instances of coal ash sludge already leaking from corroded pipes.  The EPA report also noted that portions of the dam that were supposed to be keeping the coal ash in its retention pond were crumbling.

The coal ash spill is the second major environmental chemical spill in less than a month, following the West Virginia chemical spill in early January.

Senate’s “Dirty Duo” Ready To Lift Oil Export Ban

The two ranking members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee signaled they are prepared to introduce legislation to lift the ban on U.S. oil exports.  Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that they would consider introducing legislation if President Obama does not otherwise lift the export ban. 

Landrieu will take over as head of the Energy Committee soon, as current Chairman, Senator Ron Wyden, will be taking over a different committee.

Landrieu and Murkowski’s rhetoric is eerily similar to the case that the oil industry made for itself back in December, when ExxonMobil called on the government to lift the export ban so they could sell American crude for a higher profit overseas.

This “dirty duo” of Senators is clearly acting on purely selfish motivations.  To begin with, both represent states that stand to benefit greatly from an increase in exports, as both Alaska and Louisiana are coastal states with deepwater ports.  Furthermore, they have both received millions of dollars from the dirty energy industry over the course of their careers: Landrieu has received more than $2.3 million while Murkowski has pulled in $1.8 million

Lifting the ban would greatly benefit the industry that helped put the dirty duo in office.

Misinformation Is Winning – Doubt In Climate Change Climbing

Climate change-related disasters have been rising for decades; yearly temperatures are rising in a nearly consistent pattern; extreme weather events are costing economies across the globe hundreds of billions of dollars.  Despite the mounting evidence that climate change is both real and a major threat to our security, more people are buying into the idea that climate change is a myth.

A new poll from Yale University and George Mason shows that the percentage of Americans who don’t believe in climate change rose 7% in 2013 to 23% of the entire population.  While 63% of the general public believes that climate change is occurring, only 47% believe that human activities are to blame.  The poll also revealed that less than 50% of Americans believe that climate change will affect their lives, but 65% say that it could harm future generations. 

This shift in public opinion in 2013 happened during another record-breaking temperature year, with 2013 being the seventh warmest year on record. 

All of the evidence points to the fact that climate change is real and that human beings are making it worse.  Scientists agree that it is happening, and the physical evidence is all around us, so the big question is: why is the number of climate change deniers increasing?

The answer is that the misinformation machine has kicked into high gear, and 2013 saw a massive increase in the amount of climate change denial being given a microphone throughout various forms of media.

House Energy Committee Votes Down Climate Reality

The House Energy and Commerce Committee had the opportunity earlier this week to pass an amendment making it clear that the House accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is real. But it seems that once again dirty energy industry money was enough to convince the Republicans on the committee that science doesn’t matter.

Twenty-four House Republicans voted against the amendment. Introduced by Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky, the amendment stated that the House of Representatives accepts that climate change is happening and that it is the result of rising greenhouse gas emissions. The failed amendment was tacked onto the Electricity Security and Affordability Act which will prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enacting emissions standards on electricity plants until carbon capture technology is more “commercially viable,” which is industry slang for “cheap.”

ThinkProgress has the details on the committee’s decision to deny reality:

Dirty Energy Job Numbers Don't Add Up

A foolproof way to sell an idea to the American public is to link that idea to jobs. If you are able to convince them that your proposal will either preserve jobs already in place, or even better, create new jobs, it makes it much more difficult to ignore. 

This is why the promise of jobs has been used to sell the Keystone XL pipeline to the public, and the concept of preserving jobs has been used to fight the tightening of safety standards for the coal industry.

In both of those examples, the dirty energy industry has grossly inflated the net economic benefit of their activities, but that hasn’t stopped politicians and pundits from parroting those same “job creation” talking points to the national media.

The “job creator” talking points have proven to be so successful for the dirty energy industry that they have begun using them to defend everything from their $4 billion a year in federal tax subsidies, to their $1 trillion in net profits over the last decade.  They can’t be the bad guys because they employ millions of hard-working Americans, so their story goes.

But when you stop to analyze the industry’s numbers, numbers that they’ve sworn are accurate in front of Congress, the math simply doesn’t add up.

West Virginia Polluter Freedom Industries Files For Bankruptcy To Halt Lawsuits

Freedom Industries, the company that recently leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia, quietly filed for bankruptcy this past Friday to shield themselves from the onslaught of lawsuits filed against the company.

The current owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, took control of the company about a week before the chemical spill occurred, and only a week later filed for bankruptcy.  According to the filing, the company owes more than $3.6 million to creditors (a fact that was known when Forrest bought the company in late December). 

What Forrest couldn’t have known at the time was that he was sitting on a time bomb, and that his newly purchased company had been skirting safety regulations and vital equipment upgrades in an effort to save a few bucks in the short term. 

The company is now facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, in addition to at least 20 separate lawsuits from residents. The number of lawsuits is expected to rise, as the chemicals spill is estimated to have poisoned at least one-sixth of West Virginia’s entire water supply.

But Forrest isn’t the victim in this case. His decision to file for bankruptcy protection had nothing to do with the prior debts that the company owed, and everything to do with preventing the millions of dollars his firm will be forced to pay out in lawsuit settlements. The bankruptcy filing will effectively temporarily “stay” the lawsuits, which prevents any payments from being made.

Forrest knew this, and this is why he had his company file bankruptcy. But this doesn’t mean that the company is no longer in business. To the contrary, Raw Story has revealed that Forrest is also the owner of a brand new firm called Mountaineer Funding LLC, which is funding the company to the tune of $5 million (more than enough to handle their current, non-lawsuit liabilities). So the liabilities of Freedom Industries can be handled by Forrest’s funding firm, as can the daily operations, but the lawsuits are now being held in limbo since Freedom Industries is technically “bankrupt.”

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