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.

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.”

ALEC Plans Massive Environmental Attack For 2014

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a big year ahead of them, as they attempt to dismantle a slew of environmental protections from state to state.  More specifically, the corporate front group is hoping to pass dirty energy friendly legislation to ease the rules for electric utilities.

From state to state, ALEC is drafting legislation that would cut renewable energy, increase dependence on coal and dismantle energy efficiency standards.

ALEC specializes in crafting legislation at the state level and pushing it through legislatures that are often under much less scrutiny than the federal government.  This is what has made the group so successful in the past.

Utility Drive has outlined ALEC’s 2014 agenda:

First On 2014 Congressional Agenda: Dismantle EPA Protections That Save Lives

After nearly a month off, U.S. elected officials returned to Washington, D.C. this week.  And just as they so often do after returning from vacation, one of their first legislative actions was to dismantle portions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a legislative packet that will greatly reduce the EPA’s ability to monitor environmental and health violations, leaving that responsibility to the states, many of which are constrained in their ability by tight budgets. 

The package, known as the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, is a compilation of three separate bills, each attacking a different area of the EPA.

One of the biggest changes stemming from the legislation is a requirement that EPA update its rules for solid waste disposal every three years, and the agency will no longer be able to impose any regulations on solid waste disposal that interfere or attempt to supersede state laws. 

Other parts of the legislative package compel the EPA to consult with states before imposing rules on the cleanup of Superfund sites, in addition to language that requires the President to consult with state leadership before enforcing environmental laws.

The three separate pieces of legislation included in the packet were proposed by Republican representatives Cory Gardner of Colorado and Bob Latta and Bill Johnson of Ohio.  Altogether, the three Republicans have received more than $1,190,000 from the dirty energy industry.

Coal Chemicals Taint Water Supply of 300,000 In West Virginia, Hundreds Sickened

Early Thursday, a chemical spill along West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated the tap water of as many as 300,000 West Virginia residents across nine West Virginia counties. The chemical spill occurred at a storage facility for Freedom Industries less than two miles from a major water treatment plant.

Freedom Industries produces chemicals that are used widely in mining and steel production.

The leaking storage tank contained the chemical 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. According to ThinkProgress, the chemical “severe burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons of the toxic chemical made its way into the water supply. 

Residents in the area were immediately warned to stop using tap water, out of fear that the chemicals could severely harm anyone who consumed them. Chemical levels have fallen in the two days since the spill, but the ban remains in effect as the levels in the water are still far too dangerous for residents.

As of Friday, according to The Guardian, at least 670 people had called into the poison control center with reports of vomiting, nausea, skin irritation, and other symptoms. 

BP Attempts To Misdirect Public With Claims Of Fraud

Oil giant BP is again attempting to convince the public that the oil spill settlement process for their destruction of the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak, is completely riddled with fraud.

The company filed a fraud lawsuit earlier this week to stop payments on the claim process while investigators look into the fraud allegations. According to BP, one of the law firms representing oil spill victims has been submitting and receiving payment for claimants who don’t actually exist. 

The specific payments that BP is hoping to stop come from the Seafood Compensation Fund, a fund that was set up to pay fishermen and others who rely on the seafood industry as their source of income. The company says that Louisiana attorney Mikal Watts has filed 648 claims on behalf of seafood industry workers, and that 8 of those have been verified as accurate with 17 more still pending approval. 

Watts’ attorney has fired back at BP, saying that Watts did nothing illegal during the spill process, and submitted the appropriate documentation for every spill claim that he has filed. BP insists that at least half of Watts’ clients don’t exist.