Steve Horn

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Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist. He previously was a reporter and researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy. In his free time, Steve is a competitive runner, with a personal best time of 2:43:04 in the 2009 Boston Marathon. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in political science and legal studies, his writing has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The Guardian, Vice News, The Nation, Wisconsin Watch, Truth-Out, AlterNet and elsewhere.

Sand Land: Minnesota Mayor and Fracking Industry Lobbyist Resigns

Usually “revolving door” connotes a transition from a stint as a public official into one as a corporate lobbyist or vice versa.

In the case of Red Wing, MN - a southeastern Minnesota town of 16,459 located along the Mississippi River - its Mayor Dennis Egan actually obtained a gig as head lobbyist for the frac sand industry trade group Minnesota Industrial Sand Council while serving as the city's Mayor. The controversy that unfolded after this was exposed has motivated Egan to resign as Red Wing's Mayor, effective April 1. 

Without the fine-grained silica frac sand found within “Sand Land” (or manufactured ceramnic proppants resembling it), there is no hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for the oil and gas embedded within shale rock deposits. In other words, frac sand mining is the “cradle” while burning gas for home-heating and other purposes is the “grave.” 

Egan is also the former head of Red Wing's Chamber of Commerce and the public relations firm he runs, Egan Public Affairs, is a Chamber member both at the Red Wing- and state-level. One of his other lobbying clients is Altria, which Big Tobacco's Phillip Morris renamed itself in Feb. 2003 during its rebranding process with the help of PR powerhouse, Burson-Marsteller

Reports: Shale Gas Bubble Looms, Aided by Wall Street

Two long-awaited reports were published today at ShaleBubble.org by the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) and the Energy Policy Forum (EPF)

Together, the reports conclude that the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom could lead to a “bubble burst” akin to the housing bubble burst of 2008.

While most media attention towards fracking has focused on the threats to drinking water and health in communities throughout North America and the world, there is an even larger threat looming.  The fracking industry has the ability - paralleling the housing bubble burst that served as a precursor to the 2008 economic crisis - to tank the global economy.

Playing the role of Cassandra, the reports conclude that “the so-called shale revolution is nothing more than a bubble, driven by record levels of drilling, speculative lease & flip practices on the part of shale energy companies, fee-driven promotion by the same investment banks that fomented the housing bubble…” a summary details. “Geological and economic constraints – not to mention the very serious environmental and health impacts of drilling – mean that shale gas and shale oil (tight oil) are far from the solution to our energy woes.”

NY Fracking Decision Delayed by Cuomo Administration, Too Early to Pop Champagne Bottles

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration - led by a potential 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president - has announced it won't achieve the late-Feb. deadline it set on whether or not it would green light shale gas drilling, known by most as “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing).

This announcement fell a day after DeSmogBlog released what “fracktivists” have now dubbed the “New York Fracking Scandal” documents, also housed on NYFrackingScandal.com.

These documents reveal that Cuomo's chief-of-staff, Larry Schwartz, has thousands of dollars in stock portfolio investments in oil and gas corporations with a financial stake in fracking proceeding in New York, a possible violation of the state's conflict-of-interest law and potentially a form of insider trading. The documents also detailed that lobbyists from these very same corporations have also had VIP meetings with Cuomo's top-level aides in the past several months, granted prime access to the Administration to influence-peddle in the run-up to the looming fracking decision. 

Yesterday, citing the necessity to “let the science determine the outcome,” NY Department of Health Commisioner (DOH) Nirav Shah wrote that the DOH “will require additional time to complete based on the complexity of the issues” in a letter to NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Joe Martens. 

Shah closed his letter by stating, “Whatever the ultimate decision on [fracking] going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

Martens offered a brief response, concurring with Shah and writing that “the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.”

Front-line fracktivists see the Administration's reprieve as a positive development - at least for now.

NY Fracking Scandal: Seven Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don't take any crazy twists or turns. 

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Ed Rendell Intervened For Oil Company to Stop EPA Contamination Case Against Range Resources

A breaking investigation by EnergyWire appears to connect the dots between shadowy lobbying efforts by shale gas fracking company Range Resources, and the Obama EPA's decision to shut down its high-profile lawsuit against Range for allegedly contaminating groundwater in Weatherford, TX.

At the center of the scandal sits former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the National Governors' Association.

Just weeks ago, the Associated Press (AP) broke news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shut down the high-profile Texas lawsuit and buried an accompanying scientific report obtained during the lawsuit's discovery phase in March 2012.

That confidential report, contracted out to hydrogeologist Geoffrey Thyne by the Obama EPA, concluded that methane found in the drinking water of a nearby resident could have originated from Range Resources' nearby shale gas fracking operation

Range Resources - which admitted at an industry conference that it utilizes psychological warfare (PSYOPs) tactics on U.S. citizens - launched an aggressive defense against the EPA's allegations that the company might be responsible for contaminating resident Steve Lipsky's groundwater.

Three States Pushing ALEC Bill To Require Teaching Climate Change Denial In Schools

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - known by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” - has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems. 

January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its Environmental Literacy Improvement Act - which mandates a “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year. 

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four statesan undeniable form of “big government” this “free market” organization decries in its own literature.

ALEC's “model bills” are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key - though far from the only - vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda through in the states. 

Congressmen Supporting LNG Exports Received $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives - 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers - is in the best economic interests of the United States.  

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.  

Smoke and Mirrors: Obama DOE Fracked Gas Export Study Contractor's Tobacco Industry Roots

At first, it was kept secret for months, cryptically referred to only as an “unidentified third-party contractor.”

Finally, in November 2012, Reuters revealed the name of the corporate consulting firm the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hired to produce a study on the prospective economic impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominatly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. This “prize” is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market

The firm: National Economic Research Associates (NERA) Economic Consulting, has a long history of pushing for deregulation. Its claim to fame: the deregulation “studies” it publishes on behalf of the nuclear, coal, and oil/gas industry - and as it turns out, Big Tobacco, too.

Keystone XL North: TransCanada's Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President's Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus. 

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

They BuyPartisan: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today - on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that - in a 5-4 decision - deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) - who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system. 

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony. 

A case in point: the Obama Administration's corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report

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