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.

Republican Congressman Says Syrian Conflict A Boon For Keystone XL

Will the turmoil in the Middle East surrounding Syria expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline?  North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven believes it will.

Washington Throws Chemical Safety Standards Out the Window, Are Fracking Chemicals Next?

As our elected officials in Washington attempt to sell us on the idea that we need to go to war against anyone who uses chemical weapons, they are working to remove safety standards that protect citizens from corporate America’s ongoing chemical assault.

In recent weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back safety regulations for the chemical industry, while the U.S. House of Representatives has prepared to take aim at the government’s ability to monitor chemicals and other safety hazards posed by fracking.

Bowing to pressure by the chemical industry, the EPA has decided to withdraw a proposal that would have added numerous new substances to their database of hazardous chemicals, which is used to issue public health assessments and warnings.  One of the substances is Bisphenol A, a chemical used in the manufacture of certain plastics that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and reproductive impacts.

The EPA had previously expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of safety standards in place for toxic chemicals that studies had shown were dangerous to the public, but the pressure coming from the chemical industry was far too great for them to overcome.

The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that operates as the political arm of chemical manufacturers, believes that the EPA made a “wise decision” to not go forward with their new proposals.  The group has spent more than $4 million this year alone lobbying the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the EPA.

Rather than compiling their lists now, as their proposed rule allowed, the EPA decided to wait until all chemicals are thoroughly and repeatedly analyzed, a process expected to finish in 2017, unless delayed. Then they will begin the process of drafting new proposals. 

This means that the American public will suffer another four years of inaction and exposure to chemicals that the agency already knows are toxic.

Louisiana Governor Jindal Not Buying BP Spin on Gulf Coast Impacts

Have environmental priorities finally trumped extreme right wing politics in the deep south? 

Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal has heard enough from oil giant BP, taking them to task recently for destroying sensitive coastal areas during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

For those of us who live along the Gulf Coast, it's good to see that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is fed up with BP’s ongoing ad campaign. Designed to greenwash their performance as compassionate and caring, BP's ads instead suggest that the families impacted by the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill are greedy and corrupt - it's the mirror opposite of reality. 

At a recent gathering of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Jindal said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

Mother Jones quotes Jindal to the Council:  “BP needs to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their public relations campaign telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Damage liabilities now.”

Fracking Away Our Water Supply

As many areas of the country experience severe droughts, the fight for clean, fresh water is becoming vital to survival for many American citizens.  The problem has been made worse by the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which gobbles up hundreds of millions (billions, according to some estimates) of gallons of potable water every month.

The state of Texas has become the prime example of what can happen when the natural gas industry is allowed to run roughshod over citizens.  The state is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in modern times, and certain areas have already had to resort to water rationing

But the dwindling supply of fresh water in Texas has barely slowed down the natural gas industry’s fracking activities.  Even as livestock are dying off, crops are withering, and citizens are having to purchase bottled water in order to quench their thirst, fracking companies are sucking fresh water out of the ground in order to satisfy their need to extract every ounce of natural gas from beneath the Texas soil.

The drought and water shortages in Texas have gotten so bad that some residents have said that on some days, they can turn on their faucets and nothing even comes out anymore.

With Congress Back to Work, Republican Attacks On EPA Resume

Fresh off the August recess, the United States Congress got back to business today.  Rather than focusing on pressing issues like a potential war, looming budget deadlines, and the growing problem of student loan debt, some Republican lawmakers thought it was the perfect time to pick up where they left off before their recess – attacking the Environmental Protection Agency.

Texas Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is enraged that the EPA is not “complying” with a subpoena that his committee issued, requiring the agency to hand over all documents and studies relating to standards issued by the EPA

According to Smith, this information is vital for the public, as the safety standards that it spurs cost the public “trillions of dollars,” he wrote in a letter to the EPA.  Smith never specifies how he came up with that figure, and research shows that regulations put in place by the EPA actually save taxpayers much more money than they cost.  Smith’s letter has given the agency until September 16th to hand over the documents.

BP Launches Massive PR Campaign To Demonize Oil Spill Victims

BP, the oil giant that, along with Halliburton and Transocean, was responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, is crying foul in the claims process of settlements for the victims of the spill.  The company has launched a massive public relations offensive to paint themselves as the victims in this situation.

According to The Hill, BP CEO Bob Dudley said recently that the entire claims process has been “absurd,” and that his company has been more than generous with their payments.  BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell said:  “While we remain committed to paying legitimate claims, we did not agree to pay for fictitious losses, or for claims that are based on fraud or tainted by corruption.”

While the overall PR war may appear to be aimed at the victims along the Gulf Coast, the real targets of BP’s campaign are trial lawyers.  They have even enlisted the help of the largest business lobby and strongest advocates for “tort reform”, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill reports that a recent ad placed by BP in The Washington Post quoted National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, saying, “Too often these days, the tort system is nothing more than a trial-lawyer bonanza, and that’s not fair to individuals seeking redress and no way to encourage investment in manufacturing to create tomorrow’s high-paying jobs.”

The reason that the company is trying to paint the claims process as plagued with fraud is that they had underestimated the amount of claims that they would have to pay out, and their settlement fund is quickly running dry.  This means that subsequent payments will have to come directly out of the company’s profits, a move that is not sitting well with shareholders who were promised that the price tag would not exceed $8 billion

The Deadly Truth About Oil And Gas Industry Safety Standards

A new report delivers a dire warning to employees in the oil and gas industries: Your job could be the death of you.  According to recently released statistics from 2012, on the job deaths in the oil and gas industries spiked by a staggering 23% last year, a larger increase than any other employment sector in the United States.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the amount of deaths within the industry was “unacceptable.”  In 2012, according to labor statistics, there were 138 on the job deaths in the oil and gas industry, which is an increase from the 112 deaths that occurred in the prior year.  This is a stark contrast to all industries, as the total number of worker deaths across the board decreased last year.

The trend in oil and gas industry deaths is nothing new.  Between 2003 and 2010, the industry had the highest death toll in the United States, beating out all other industries for worker deaths.  The majority of these deaths are due to workers being struck by equipment, struck by vehicles, and occasionally a major catastrophic accident, like the BP refinery explosion in Texas in 2005, and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010.

Coal Industry Waging War Against EPA

After playing the victims of an allegedly unfair, and completely fabricated, “war on coal,” the coal industry has gone on the offensive by launching their own war on federal regulators.  Specifically, the group has their sights set on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coal lobbyists, led by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), have been meeting with White House officials to weaken EPA standards on CO2 emissions.  The lobbyists claim that a rule requiring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at all new coal-burning power plants should be removed because the technology is “not available.” 

Once you move past their talking points, their real agenda is clearly visible.  After claiming that the required technology is not available, the lobbyists then admitted that their goal was to completely exempt the industry from any form of emissions standards put forth by the EPA through the Clean Air Act.

The EPA is currently working on draft proposals that would significantly reduce the amount of allowable carbon pollution from existing power plants, a move that the coal industry views as too costly.  The lobbyists' meeting with White House officials is, according to The Hill, the most recent in a string of meetings between industry and administration officials this summer.

Could Lead Paint Lawsuit Pave Way For Class Action Against Coal Industry?

Coal industry executives ought to pay attention to the lead paint lawsuit currently happening in the California court system.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against the makers of lead paint, alleging that the industry knew about the toxicity of their product and yet still promoted it as “safe” to the public.  The industry has faced many lawsuits over their products in the past, most of which were unsuccessful for the victims, due to the fact that the industry was often up front about the dangers of their products, and they funded public studies to determine the health effects.

But things have changed in the American legal system, and attorneys are now taking a page out of the tobacco litigation playbook.  By unearthing documents that detail the lead paint industry’s attempted cover-up of the dangers, they avoid the “buyer beware” caveat that the tobacco industry used for so long. 

And just like the tobacco industry, lead paint manufacturers were specifically targeting children with their ads.  The California lawsuit is making that a central part of the trial.  Also reminiscent of the tobacco litigation, the suit was filed by cities and municipalities, not individual victims, greatly increasing the chance for success.

The coal industry should be paying very close attention to the progress of this litigation, as their activities could become the next target of skilled attorneys.  For decades, the coal industry has been poisoning American citizens with their coal-mining, -burning and -dumping activities.  Additionally, the dismal working conditions for miners has cost many families an unnecessary loss of life.

Kentucky Lawmakers Still Fighting Nonexistent War On Coal

Even the coal industry itself has conceded that there is no “war on coal”, but lawmakers in the coal-dependent state of Kentucky are still fighting this imaginary battle.

In the wake of President Obama’s speech earlier this summer where he discussed the need to reduce our dependence on coal and work on ways to control coal plant pollution, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Kentucky sent a letter to the president last week, warning him that his “war on coal” would be devastating to their state.

The 50 state legislators who signed onto the letter accuse the president of launching an “unfair attack on coal,” which the lawmakers argue will have a devastating effect on their state economy.

The bi-partisan group told the president that the coal industry is responsible for as much as $10 billion in “yearly” economic activity, although that number only represents the year 2010, and subsequent years have seen a sharp decline in the profitability of the industry’s operations in Kentucky.

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