Steve Horn

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Steve Horn is a former Research Fellow and writer for DeSmog and a freelance investigative journalist based in San Diego, CA. He currently works as an investigative journalist for the online publications and magazines, Criminal Legal News and Prison Legal News.

California Is Fighting Trump's Offshore Drilling Plan but Exxon, Koch Already Drill There.

Read time: 4 mins
Offshore oil platform

Public officials throughout the state of California have made headlines for loudly opposing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke's decision to approve offshore drilling in California and throughout the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf region. 

This move is part of the Trump administration's broader plans to lease record amounts of offshore areas in the Gulf of Mexico and open up the Atlantic Ocean for drilling. Many city governments, county governments, the California AssemblyCalifornia Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Governor Jerry Brown have all come out against Zinke's plan. Less discussed, though, is the fact that companies are already drilling offshore in southern California, an area perhaps better known for its popular beaches and oceanside resort cities.

Emails Reveal Trump Admin Mulling Big Oil Plan to Transfer Public Land to States

Read time: 8 mins
Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada

During its first year under Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Interior has coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry to accomplish its priorities on the nation's expansive federal lands. Among them: considering a plan to transfer control of oil and gas development on public lands to the states. This revelation comes from emails and documents obtained by the Western Values Project through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The key coordinator of this plan has been Timothy Williams, who has served as the go-between for the oil and gas industry and Interior Department. Williams, deputy director of the agency's Office of External Affairs, formerly served as the field director of the Nevada state branch of Americans for Prosperity, a front group founded and funded by Koch Industries.

Why the Koch Network Took Credit for Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and REINS Act

Read time: 6 mins
Koch brothers

A leaked memorandum published by The Intercept and Documented Investigations shows that a Koch Industries' donors network, known as the Seminar Network, has taken credit for Donald Trump approving the permits for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines during the first months of his presidency. The memo also applauded efforts by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter in Wisconsin to pass a deregulatory measure there known as the REINS Act. The Seminar Network, which meets secretly twice a year, is made up of donors who give at least $100,000 toward Koch-led political and philanthropic efforts.

Koch Industries has a business interest in both pipelines, though their approval has not been something its funded network has widely discussed. Quietly, though, Koch has advocated for the pair of pipelines in regulatory hearings in both Iowa for Dakota Access — as previously reported by DeSmog — as well as in Canada, as reported in 2012 by InsideClimate News.

Inside the Trump Admin's Fight to Keep the Keystone XL Approval Process Secret

Read time: 6 mins
Donald Trump signing presidential order to expedite the permit review of the Keystone XL pipeline

At a February 21 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Trump administration must either fork over documents showing how the U.S. Department of State reversed an earlier decision and ultimately came to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or else provide a substantial legal reason for continuing to withhold them. The federal government has an order to deliver the goods, one way or the other, by March 21.

DeSmog has reviewed the court evidence from the environmental groups bringing the case, records which help illuminate their argument that the government is, in fact, withholding such documents. The judge will decide if those documents, legally, should be made public.

Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests

Read time: 12 mins
A Lakota man locked himself to construction equipment building the Dakota Access pipeline

On the heels of Iowa and Ohio, Wyoming has become the third state to introduce a bill criminalizing the type of activities undertaken by past oil and gas pipeline protesters. 

One of the Wyoming bill's co-sponsors even says it was inspired by the protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access pipeline, and a sheriff involved in policing those protests testified in support of the bill at a recent hearing. Wyoming's bill is essentially a copy-paste version of template legislation produced by the conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

West Virginia Candidate Ousted From Hearing for Reading Industry Donors. But Bill She Opposed Just Passed in House.

Read time: 4 mins
Lissa Lucas being removed from the West Virginia Senate hearing on HB 4268

On Friday, February 9, Lissa Lucas — a Democratic Party candidate for West Virginia's House of Delegates — was forcibly removed from a Senate hearing for calling out how many thousands of dollars legislators backing a pro-oil and gas industry bill have received from that very industry.

The video of Lucas's public comment and removal has gone viral and served as a launching pad for her campaign, which has raised more than $46,000 since the incident. Previously, she had raised just over $4,000. Coincidentally, Lucas supports a publicly funded campaign finance system. 

The bill (HB 4268) she opposed, however, has passed in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

That law, “forced pooling” legislation which makes it easier for the oil and gas industry to obtain mineral rights from private landowners as a precursor to drilling, has the support of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. It enables oil and gas companies to perform more hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on private land in the state by mandating that, rather than securing land lease contracts from all landowners, companies only need 75 percent of those living in an area to sign leases and are granted the remaining 25 percent by default.

China Is Financing a Petrochemical Hub in Appalachia. Meet its Powerful Backers.

Read time: 16 mins
U.S. President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and West Virginia Commerce Sec. Thrasher join in the Great Hall in Beijing for MOU signing for the Appalachian Development Hub  in November 2017

Over the past year, oil and gas industry plans to build a petrochemical refining and storage hub along the Ohio River have steadily gained traction. Proponents hope this potential hub, which would straddle Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, could someday rival the industrial corridor found along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Those plans center around creating what is known as the Appalachian Storage Hub, which received a major boost on November 9 during a trade mission to China attended by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. At that trade mission, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the China Energy Investment Corp. announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub over 20 years. For comparison, West Virginia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 was $72.9 billion.

Though called the Appalachian Storage Hub as a broad-sweeping term, in practice the hub could encompass natural gas liquids storage, a market trading index center, a key pipeline feeding epicenter, and a petrochemical refinery row. Its prospective development has been spurred by the current construction of a $6 billion petrochemical refining facility in Pennsylvania owned by Shell Oil.

Obama Alums Are Pushing Fracked Gas Exports. That’s Exactly What Trump Wants.

Read time: 12 mins
Obama speaking in front of pipeline parts in Cushing, Oklahoma

During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump exclaimed that the “war on American Energy” had ended and that “we are now an exporter of energy to the world.”

What Trump did not say, though, is that several former senior energy officials from the Obama administration — the one Trump said had declared a “war on American Energy” — now either lobby or work as executives for companies making his “energy dominance” agenda possible. At least five of these Obama officials now work for natural gas export companies, four of them for Cheniere and another for Tellurian.

As Trump Unfurls Infrastructure Plan, Iowa Bill Seeks to Criminalize Pipeline Protests

Read time: 4 mins
People rally at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access pipeline in December 2016

The Iowa Senate has advanced a bill which critics say could lead to the criminalization of pipeline protests, which are being cast as “terrorist activities.” Dakota Access pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners and other companies have lobbied for the bill, Senate Study Bill 3062, which opens up the possibility of prison time and a hefty fine for those who commit “sabotage” of critical infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines.

This bill, carrying a criminal punishment of up to 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines, resembles the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, a “model” bill recently passed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That ALEC bill, intended as a template for state and federal legislation, was based on Oklahoma's HB 1123, which calls for citizens to receive a felony sentencing, $100,000 fine, and/or 10 years in prison if their actions “willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility.”

According to disclosure records, corporations lobbying for the Iowa bill include not only Energy Transfer Partners, but also Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, Valero Energy, Magellan Midstream, and others. The Iowa State Police Association has also come out in support of the bill, while the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa is against it. The bill has passed out of subcommittee and next goes in front of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Congressional Committee Members Pushing LNG Exports Bills Have Deep Financial, Revolving Door Ties

Read time: 8 mins
Revolving doors

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce held a subcommittee hearing on two bills to expedite permitting for exports of natural gas. Domestic production of this fossil fuel has been booming in recent years, mainly thanks to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) opening up vast reserves in shale formations.

Several former and present committee staffers have either taken oil and gas industry-sponsored trips as staffers or spun through the government-industry revolving door between Congress and the lobbying sector. And all of the politicians backing the two bills under consideration have taken tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil and gas industry for their 2018 mid-term election campaigns.

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