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August 27 2012

19:41

Fuel Economy Standards To Save U.S. Consumers Billions, Create Jobs, Yet Republicans Say Too Expensive

A proposed rule by the Obama Administration to raise fuel economy standards for cars and “light-trucks” is facing mounting attacks by Republican lawmakers. The proposed rule would require all newly manufactured automobiles that fall under the car or light truck category to achieve a minimum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

The crusade against the new CAFE standards is being led by Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa claims that the new standards amount to “coercion” of the auto industry. Rep. Issa has received more than $188,000 from the oil industry during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Issa’s statements show how out of touch he truly is with both economics and business, as the new standards were the result of cooperation between the Obama Administration and the auto industry itself.

The new fuel economy standards have been approved by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo, who together control 90% of the United States’ auto sales market.

U.S. News and World Report details the contention over the standards, as well as the benefits for consumers:
  

Fuel economy standards have become a surprising example of tougher government rules that benefit practically everybody. In 2007, the Bush administration raised the gas mileage requirements automakers had to meet. Then in 2009, the Obama administration raised them further. Those rules, which are about to be finalized in detail, will require each automaker's fleet to average a lofty 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—roughly double the mileage requirement of just five years ago.

The aggressive new standards are controversial, especially among Republicans opposed to activist government. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, for one, characterizes the new rules as just another effort to "insert the federal government into the life of the private sector." He has suggested that if elected, he'll roll back or even seek to eliminate federal mileage standards.

Yet so far, the new mileage rules have generated tangible benefits for consumers, with few of the downsides opponents have predicted. "Without a doubt, the new rules have been a win-win for everybody," says Jesse Toprak, of the car-research site TrueCar.com. "It's a win for consumers, a win for manufacturers, and a win for the environment."

Boosting fuel economy by four or five miles per gallon might not sound earth-shattering—until you bank the savings. A 5 mpg improvement would save about $525 per year for a motorist who drives 15,000 miles annually, if gas were at $3.50 per gallon. With gas at $4 per gallon, the savings would amount to $600 per year.
 

But the benefits of the new standards extend far beyond personal bank accounts. Reports show that the new fuel standards would create an estimated 700,000 new American jobs.

Republicans like Darrell Issa claim that the $192 billion price tag that the standards impose on industry is too lofty to incur right now, but that view is incredibly short-sighted and dishonest.

The new standards will save a projected $1.7 trillion for U.S. consumers by the time of full implementation, meaning that the investment will pay off tenfold. Additionally, by the year 2025, reports show that consumers will be saving an average of $8,000 a year per vehicle.

Issa is not alone in his crusade against the new standards. Joining him in the fight is Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania, who happens to have amassed his $11.9 million personal fortune from the car dealerships that he owns in Pennsylvania. Kelly made the following statement about the new standards: “The new CAFE standards will limit choice, compromise safety, and increase costs to millions of Americans.”

Unfortunately for Kelly, there are no numbers or statistics to back up any of these claims, particularly his statement about compromising the safety of consumers. Safety and fuel economy aren’t two things that are directly related, so it would be interesting to find out where he pulled that from.

Again, all of the major automobile makers have signed onto the new standards, and agree they are necessary to save consumers money, to help their businesses survive in a competitive economy, and to help reduce air pollution emissions.

The only people who stand against the new standards are the politicians beholden to the dirty energy industry.

August 16 2012

19:31

Fracking Industry Paying Off Scientists For "Unbiased" Safety Studies

As a whole, Americans have an unfortunate tendency to distrust scientists. The number of those who distrust science and scientists is skewed heavily by ideology, with self-identified “conservatives” overwhelmingly saying that they don’t trust science. DeSmogBlog’s own Chris Mooney has spent an enormous amount of time and energy devoted to finding out why science has become so controversial, and has compiled a great new book explaining why certain sectors of the U.S. population are more prone to denying many scientific findings.

And while most of the distrust that Americans have for scientists and science in general is completely without warrant, there are times when it is reasonable and often necessary to question the findings of scientists. Especially when the money trail funding certain science leads us right back to the oil and gas industry.

Five years ago, Exxon Mobil began offering large cash incentives to scientists willing to put their conscience aside to undermine studies that were coming out regarding climate change. The dirty energy industry knew that these studies would put their well-being at risk because they were responsible for so much of the global warming emissions, so they had to open their wallets to scientists who were more concerned with their finances than the well being of the planet.

A similar scenario played out in the months following BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. BP arranged meetings with scientists and academics all along the Gulf Coast, offering them $250 an hour to report on the oil spill, as long as the reports weren’t negative. This also would have allowed the oil giant an advantage in future litigation, by creating a conflict of interest for scientists that might otherwise testify against the company.

And then we have the media’s role in all of this, with 'experts for hire' like Pat Michaels allowed to pollute the public conversation with disinformation.

For years, Michaels has taken to the pages of “reputable” papers like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal in an attempt to paint climate change as fraudulent and uncertain, without the public realizing that his primary source of funding was the dirty energy industry and their front groups. One of his most recent crusades has been to convince the American public that fracking is perfectly safe, and we should all be singing the industry’s praises for providing us with cheap natural gas.

But Michaels isn’t the only one trying to convince us that fracking is safe and harmless – The industry itself has decided to jump on the science-buying bandwagon. NewsInferno has the story, based on an initial report by WIRED.com:

As the debate continues and local municipalities look to block fracking expansion in many areas, the energy industries have constantly countered, either mounting their own legal battles or now through influencing researchers to produce studies focusing on fracking’s benefits and safety.

WIRED reports that last week, the provost at University of Texas said it would have to “re-examine” a recent university report from one of its professors that declared fracking was safe on groundwater supplies when it was revealed that professor had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single gas developer in the state.

Nationwide, Americans are being influenced by seemingly unbiased research but not being told who is influencing the authors of these studies. Case in point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also recently published a report, according to WIRED, entitled “Shale Works for US” that was directed at Ohioans caught in the crosshairs of the fracking safety debate.

One of the authors of the study, Robert Chase, has been identified as one person who’s been greatly influenced by the energy industries and was even employed as a consultant for companies like Halliburton and Cabot, leaders in the fracking industry. His influence was likely part of a Penn State University study that also found fracking to be safe and ultimately led state lawmakers there to allow some of the most unchecked fracking drilling in the U.S.
 

Just as the Exxon story made international headlines, so too should this story. Credible, honest studies have already been made public that show that there is nothing safe about the process of unconventional gas development. DeSmogBlog’s “Fracking The Future” report is a great source of information on the dangers that fracking and other risky industry practices pose to the health of human beings as well as the environment.

But this is hardly the first time that the industry has been on the wrong side of science. In May of this year, I reported on how the fracking industry was trying to keep doctors in the dark about the chemicals being injected into the ground, and also attempting to get gag orders on doctors to prevent them from speaking with patients and the public about drilling-related illnesses.

The only thing currently holding back a wave of new fracking wells in America is public opinion and opposition from elected officials. But even with those hurdles in place, the industry continues to operate with almost no oversight, and drilling activities are still expanding. If scientists are willing to tell the American public and our elected leaders that fracking is safe, that could easily be enough to expand this dirty practice to areas that, at least for now, have been off limits to the industry.

August 13 2012

17:04

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline


Ryan’s proposals and voting history are clearly being dictated by the Koch brothers, and the money that their companies continue to throw behind Ryan’s campaigns. But his actions in Congress are almost docile when compared to his activities outside of Washington, D.C.

From Think Progress:
  

In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]

In the same anti-science, anti-scientist December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” Ryan’s line is especially disingenuous because he hasn’t been trying to sell climate action, he’s been spreading disinformation. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
 

But the story of Paul Ryan goes much, much deeper than this. It turns out that Ryan is a huge fracking supporter, and isn’t just to benefit his benefactors. Ryan actually has a financial stake in companies that are currently pillaging the state of Wisconsin. From Badger Democracy:
  

Ryan’s 2011 SEI shows his most significant interests are in four companies, all owned by his father-in-law, Dan Little (according to Oklahoma Secretary of State corporate registration). Little is a prominent oil industry attorney (who refused comment to Badger Democracy). The total value of these interests are $350K – $800K, with annual profit of $40K – $130K:

Ava O Limited Mining Co (8% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $15K – $50K in profit.

Blondie & Brownie, LLC (10% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Little Land Co., LLC – valued at $50K – $100K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Red River Pine Timber (7% interest) – valued at $50K – $100K; no reported profit or interest.

Also owned by Ryan are Mineral Rights in Oklahoma valued at $50K – $100K; and returning $15K – 50K in profit last year.

An examination of Ryan’s 2000 SEI and 2007 SEI show a large increase in the value of these investments. This increase corresponds directly with Ryan’s growing power over the Federal Budget process.
 

No matter how you look at it, Paul Ryan is an environmental disaster. His personal and professional wealth both hinge upon investments in the dirty energy industry, and his track record as a U.S. Representative shows how this will affect his policy decisions.

July 29 2012

20:13

How Do You Spend $375 Million A Day? Ask The Oil Industry

The average U.S. household has seen both their net worth and their average income steadily decline over the last seven years. Unemployment in the United States still remains at uncomfortably high levels, and the poverty rate is about to reach highs that haven’t been seen since the 1960’s. But as average citizens are struggling to provide food for their families and gainful employment, there are a special few in the U.S.A. who have more cash than they know what to do with. Those special few would be the oil industry.

While most of us in the U.S. were cringing every time that ticker on the gas pump climbed higher and higher, executives at the top five oil companies were squealing with delight as their profits climbed even faster and higher than the prices at the pump.

This week, oil companies are sheepishly coming forward with their 2nd quarter earnings statements, likely praying that Americans forget about the fact that gas prices were recently at near-historic highs in areas of the country. From Climate Progress:
  

The top two corporations on the Fortune 500 Global ranking, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, announced their 2012 second-quarter earnings today, bringing the total profits for three Big Oil companies to $44 billion for 2012 or $250,000 every day this year. Exxon profited by $16 billion this quarter, bringing its earnings for 2012 to $25 billion.

The New York Times wrote that Exxon and Shell’s earnings “disappoint,” because energy prices unexpectedly dropped for consumers this summer. Put their profits in the appropriate context, however, and Exxon and Shell still made a combined $160,000 per minute last quarter, even though the top five oil companies benefit from $2.4 billion federal tax breaks every year.
 

That certainly warrants repeating: Exxon and Shell made a combined $160,000 every minute for the last quarter, and still helped themselves to a piece of the $2.4 billion in federal tax breaks and subsidies that flow to the top five oil companies (the grand total for all members of the industry is estimated to be between $4 and $7 billion a year.)

At their current rate of pay by the minute, they are on track to beat their record from last year when the top five oil companies combined earned a total of $261,000 every minute, for a grand total of $375 million a day.

So the ultimate question is how do they spend all that money? The simplest answer is that they spend most of it in ways that only makes them wealthier. Again from Climate Progress:
  

ExxonMobil:

Exxon spent 42 percent — or $10.7 billion — of its 2012 profits buying back its stock, which enriches executives and largest shareholders.

Exxon has spent $17 million lobbying for the past 18 months, making it the top spender in the oil and gas industry. It has spent more than $52 million lobbying for the first three years of the Obama presidency, 50 percent more than in the Bush administration.

Exxon is sitting on $18 billion in cash reserves.

Exxon sent federal candidates $1.3 million in campaign contributions so far this campaign cycle, sending 91 percent to Republicans.

Exxon paid just 13 percent in federal taxes last year, lower than the average American family. Right after Mitt Romney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the top recipient of Exxon federal contributions.

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson received $24.7 million total compensation.

Royal Dutch Shell:

Shell has spent nearly $22 million on lobbying for the past 18 months, making it the second-biggest spender of the oil and gas industry.

Shell bought back 15 percent of its second-quarter profits, or $900 million.

In its annual report, Shell noted that the number of oil spills increased from 195 in 2010 to 207 during 2011.
 

But Exxon and Shell aren’t the only companies to report massive paydays this week; ConocoPhillips is also apparently rolling in the dough. Here’s how they spent their $2.3 billion in 2nd quarter profits:
  

ConocoPhillips has already spent $1 million lobbying Congress this year. In 2011, ConocoPhillips spent over $20 million on lobbying Congress, making it the top spender of the oil and gas industry.

Conoco has contributed nearly $400,000 to federal campaigns this year, with 90 percent of the contributions going to Republicans.

Conoco is sitting on $1 billion in cash reserves.

The company spent 35 percent more than they earned this quarter — or $3.1 billion — buying back its own stock, which enriches the largest shareholders and executives.
 

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with a company being profitable. The problem is that the oil industry is profitable at the expense of our national economy and our environment. Oil spills in recent years have cost billions of dollars – money that is coming from U.S. taxpayers – and the ridiculous prices at the pump are taking a huge toll on American families.

And again, at the same time these companies are reaping these profits, we’re giving them an extra $7 billion tip every year. And as long as they keep pulling in these massive profits, they’ll have enough money to pay off the right politicians to keep those billions in subsidies in place. Last year, the total amount spent on lobbying topped $30 million by the oil industry in order to preserve their subsidies, which netted them a whopping 42% return on their investment.

March 03 2012

00:50

U.S. Chamber Hits The Road To Promote "Oily" Highway Transportation Bill

A bitter fight has erupted in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks surrounding the fate of a much-needed transportation and infrastructure bill. Congressional Democrats wanted to pass a bill that would fund projects to help rebuild roads and bridges, but Republicans were against the idea.

So, in an attempt to get something more tangible out of the legislation, Congressional Republicans loaded the bill down with dozens of handouts to the oil industry, including immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded access to U.S. lands for oil exploration. The amendments would also take national gas tax money away from public transportation projects, and reduce the amount of federal contributions to public employee pensions – two actions that will have devastating effects on middle class America. And with the fight bringing the discussion on the legislation to a halt, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took it upon themselves to hit the road and sell the bill to the American public.

From the U.S. Chamber:

The business group will be hosting breakfasts, lunches and policy roundtables with local chambers and business associations this week in 12 different cities in Ohio, Idaho, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana.

Janet Kavinoky, the Chamber’s executive director of transportation and infrastructure, will be on the road trip, along with Alex Herrgott, one of the business group’s transportation lobbyists.

“The idea is to get out, give people a good sense what the bill is and get them talking to their members of Congress and have them get the bill done,” Kavinoky said. “We want Congress to feel like it needs to come back to Washington and get the bill done and put it to bed.”

read more

January 24 2012

23:11

Another Industry Talking Point Laid To Rest: Oil Production Soars But Gas Prices Remain High

It is hard to believe that it's been almost four years since Americans were bombarded by the cry of “Drill baby, drill” that echoed throughout the halls of the Republican National Convention in 2008. That slogan became a rallying cry for conservatives who believed that increasing oil drilling – in spite of the environmental costs – would lead to an economic boom in the United States, and would also help ease prices at the pump for American consumers.

So today, nearly four years after those words were uttered to millions of conservatives, we have domestic oil production reaching a 24-year high, according to new reports. By industry and conservative logic, this should also mean that economic productivity has risen while consumer gasoline prices have fallen. But nothing could be further from the truth.

It turns out that increased oil production has nothing to do with the prices Americans pay at the pump. While industry leaders point to increased production in 2008 that was followed by lower prices, experts counter that the drop in price was due to simple market fluctuations: specifically, a drop in demand due to the global recession.

People travelled less and therefore didn’t use as much gasoline, creating a surplus that companies had to expel by lowering prices. These same experts also say that a rise in renewable energy use contributed to lower fossil fuel prices during this time period.


The truth is that the United States just doesn’t have enough fossil fuels to bring down the price of energy for American consumers. Even with our current rise in domestic fossil fuel production, prices continue to rise or remain steady without any signs of falling. The reason for this is because OPEC sets oil prices on the international stage.

When the United States increases their oil production, those figures are sent to OPEC, who then adjust the global price of oil based on our own production. Experts say that opening up all of our available areas to drilling, once factored into OPEC equations, would only reduce gasoline prices by a mere three cents per gallon, and that price drop would only last a few years.

Interestingly enough, industry leaders are still beating the (oil) drum for increased drilling and domestic oil production, even as oilrigs are sprouting up across the country, to almost no one’s benefit except the oil companies. And they are being aided along the way with their allies from conservative think tanks, conservative media, and Republican politicians.

In fact, Republicans in Congress have been so eager to open up new lands for drilling – again, in spite of the fact that drilling is occurring at a record pace – that they held 20 hearings on ways to speed up the permitting and drilling process in the last year. This was during a year where oil drilling had increased a staggering 60% since the previous year. (Think Progress has a chart showing the dirty energy industry campaign donations that went to the politicians holding these meetings.)

Even today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to urge President Obama to "#getserious" about domestic energy production by increasing the lands available for energy industry exploitation.

As mentioned above, there are two factors that have been proven to lower fuel prices – economic recession and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. And both of those factors work the same way, which is to decrease the demand for fossil fuels. Until demand falls, the industry has absolutely no reason to lower prices. In fact, the companies are legally required to do all that they can to protect their profits and the “best interest” of their shareholders, so lowering prices because of increased production is not even an option that is on the table.

It is doubtful that the industry, and those with financial or political ties to the dirty energy industry, will ever concede the fact that increased oil drilling will not lower energy prices. But the facts are not on their side, so no matter how often they repeat those talking points they will never be truthful.

January 08 2012

19:59

Fracking Earthquakes Becoming Serious Cause for Concern

For the fracking industry, 2012 is off to a shaky start…literally. On New Year’s Eve 2011, a 4.0 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Ohio, one of the largest fracking-related quakes to date. According to reports, the quake was felt across hundreds of square miles in the state of Ohio, and scientists suspect it is related to hydraulic fracturing wastewater disposal near Youngstown, Ohio.

The New Year’s Eve quake is just the latest in a growing list of fracking-related earthquakes that have made headlines in the last 12 months. From DeSmogBlog’s Year In Dirty Energy: Fracking report:
  

New reports are surfacing that link fracking to earthquakes that occurred in January in Oklahoma. According to a new study by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [PDF], fracking is linked to 50 mini-earthquakes that occurred on January 18, 2011 in Oklahoma.

The occurrence of so-called “induced seismicity” – seismic activity caused by human actions – in conjunction with fluid injection or extraction operations is a well-documented phenomenon. However, induced earthquakes large enough to be felt at the surface have typically been associated with large scale injection or withdrawal of fluids, such as water injection wells, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas production. It was generally thought that the risk of inducing large earthquakes through hydraulic fracturing was very low, because of the comparatively small volumes of fluid injected and relatively short time-frame over which it occurs. As the controversy over hydraulic fracturing has heated up, however, researchers and the public have become increasingly interested in the potential for fracking to cause large earthquakes.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. Studies show that fracking practices in the 1970s had caused similar seismic activity in Oklahoma, according to E&E News.
 

But the most recent Ohio quake has generated a more-urgent cause for concern than the previous quakes. As The Huffington Post points out:

Earthquakes have a special ability to grab public attention.

That's especially true after Saturday's quake near Youngstown, at magnitude 4.0 strong enough to be felt across hundreds of square miles. Gov. John Kasich, a drilling proponent, has shut down the wastewater well on which the quake has been blamed, along with others in the area, as the seismic activity is reviewed.

Ohio's closure of the well will have little to no impact on drilling, said Travis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group based in Pennsylvania. Four of the five wells that Ohio shut down were not operational, Windle said.

Kasich told reporters over the weekend that he doesn't believe the energy industry should be blamed for issues arising from disposal of their byproducts (fracking). That would be like blaming the auto industry for improper disposal of old tires, the first-term Republican said.

But Kasich’s actions in this matter speak louder than his words. Sure, he claims that we can’t blame the dirty energy industry, but in the same breath he announces that he’s halting fracking activities in the area until further review. These aren’t the actions of a man who believes that the two events aren’t related.

Kasich has been a long-time supporter of fracking, claiming in January of last year that he would be pushing for more hydraulic fracturing in Ohio because he thinks it will create jobs, and that it would be a “great opportunity” for the state. And just 2 months ago, Kasich announced that he would be opening up federal lands in Ohio to natural gas companies to drill. His proposal included allowing fracking to take place in the state’s national parks, something that 70% of his constituents opposed. The United States Forest Service stepped in an removed 3,000 acres of public land from Kasich’s proposal.

As is always the case, you have to follow the money on Kasich’s fracking push. Kasich has received more than $150,000 from the oil and gas industries, as well as an additional $489,000 from the energy industry (not oil and gas-related companies.) Truth-Out provides the following analysis of the gas industry's lobbying efforts in Ohio over the years:

The fracking industry, on the other hand, has spent $747 million dollars in the past decade to lobby Congress and support politicians in states like Ohio, Michigan and New York as part of a campaign to keep fracking unregulated, according to a recent Common Cause report.

Common Cause reports that fracking companies spent $2.8 million in political contributions to Ohio parties and candidates since 2001. Republican Gov. John Kasich tops the list and has received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the industry.

Additional analysis of campaign records by Truthout reveals that wealthy executives of companies connected to the natural gas industry, including billionaires William "Bill" Koch and David Koch of Koch brothers fame, funneled an additional $127,268 in personal donations through a political action committee (PAC) to support Kasich's election in 2010.

Kasich is not the only Ohio politician who has enjoyed support from the industry. Former Democratic governor Ted Strickland received $87,450 since 2001. The state-level Republican campaign committees for the Ohio House and Senate have received a combined total of $210,250. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted received $84,750.

Truthout found that wealthy businessmen connected to the natural gas industry donated thousands of dollars to a PAC organized by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in 2010. The PAC used a majority of the money to pay for attack ads against former governor Strickland, whom Kasich defeated in 2010.
 

There’s big money for Kasich if he allows the dirty energy industry to frack the state into oblivion, but for now, the governor has made the right call. The likelihood of the fracking moratorium to last is small, but the earthquakes being felt are growing larger and more needs to be done to prevent the threat of property damage and risks to public health.

January 04 2012

01:59

What We Didn’t Learn From The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Almost 20 months have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And to this day, the lessons we should have learned from that disaster remain completely ignored.

In spite of an intense battle involving a moratorium on deep water oil drilling after the explosion, the Obama administration was out-maneuvered on the issue by the powerful oil industry, losing court battles as well as facing three separate bills in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to overturn the drilling moratorium. (An interesting side-note about the court battle is that the judge who overturned the ban, Martin Feldman, actually owned stock in Transocean at the time of his decision.)

With oil still washing ashore at the time of the first proposed moratorium, right wing bloggers helped muddy the waters by claiming that the moratorium was devastating Gulf economies. The conservative website Free Republic even posted a video and story about the “Victims of the Obama Drilling Moratorium,” that turned oil companies into the victims as local fishermen and tourist-centered businesses were struggling to make ends meet. Their analysis of the real “victims” was based on “investigations” by oil-funded groups like The Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research. A commenter on that video had the audacity to claim, “Obama just killed Louisiana more than Katrina.”

But the right wing attacks on the moratorium paid off, and today the deepwater offshore oil industry is once again thriving in the Gulf of Mexico.


From The Associated Press, via Huffington Post:

Across the Gulf, energy companies are probing dozens of new deepwater fields thanks to high oil prices and technological advances that finally make it possible to tap them.

The newfound oil will not do much to lower global oil prices. But together with increased production from onshore U.S. fields and slowing domestic demand for gasoline, it could help reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half over the next decade.

Eighteen months ago, such a flurry of activity in the Gulf seemed unlikely. The Obama administration halted drilling and stopped issuing new permits after the explosion of a BP well killed 11 workers and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

But the drilling moratorium was eventually lifted and the Obama administration issued the first new drilling permit in March. Now the Gulf is humming again and oil executives describe it as the world's best place to drill.

And the number of oil rigs is only expected to climb in the next few months, even though the oil that is recovered is doing next to nothing to lower energy prices:

By early 2012, there will be 40 deepwater rigs in the Gulf, up from 37 before the BP spill, according to Cinnamon Odell of ODS-Petrodata. BP received its first permit to drill in late October.

The Gulf produces an average of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, according to Wood Mackenzie. That's 27 percent of U.S. output and 8 percent of U.S. demand.

As the BP disaster made clear, drilling in deep water presents difficulties and dangers. Last month a Chevron well in the deep waters off of Brazil ruptured and spilled 2,400 barrels of oil into the Atlantic after Chevron underestimated the pressure of the oil field it was tapping.

So we’ve established that deepwater offshore drilling is dirty, dangerous, and does little to help meet oil demand. But the dirty energy industry has money – lots of it – and they don’t mind throwing their weight around in American politics to achieve their goals.

But there is a small glimmer of hope to kick off the new year: The federal government is finally gearing up to file criminal charges against BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Agence France-Presse by way of RawStory laid it out as follows:

US prosecutors are readying criminal charges against British oil giant BP employees over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident that led to the catastrophic Gulf oil spill, The Wall Street Journal reported online.

The charges if brought and prosecuted by the US Justice Department would be the first criminal charges over the disaster.

Citing sources close to the matter, the Journal said the prosecutors are focusing on US-based BP engineers and at least one supervisor who they say may have provided false information to regulators on the risks of deep water drilling in the Gulf.

Felony charges for providing false information in federal documents may be made public early next year, said the Journal.

We have documented in the past the ways in which federal regulators allowed the oil companies to run roughshod over laws, and these potential federal charges are a bit of fresh air for those of us who live on the coast.

While the criminal charges are needed, it is unlikely that they will hinder the expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. As long as the oil industry’s tentacles reach through the corridors of Washington, they will be able to make their own rules when it comes to drilling.

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December 31 2011

21:21

The Year In Dirty Energy: Fracking

The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has taken center stage this year as one of the most important environmental threats facing North America (and increasingly in other parts of the world). Thanks to inadequate state oversight and Dick Cheney's hamstringing of EPA oversight with the Halliburton Loophole, fracking has expanded through the United States incredibly rapidly over the past few years. In 2011, fracking faced much closer scrutiny as scientists, researchers and affected communities continue studying water, air and property impacts reported in areas where the controversial unconventional energy drilling is taking place.

Fracking awareness received a huge boost this year with “Gasland,” a documentary film which earned director Josh Fox an Academy Award nomination. Featuring interviews with landowners and families affected by fracking, the film is helping to bring the issue to the mainstream.

DeSmogBlog has published dozens of posts detailing the latest information available on fracking over the several years. 

In May 2010, DeSmogBlog released an extensive report, Fracking The Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate, delving into many of the health, environmental and climate threats posed by the fracking boom.  


Here is a small sample of important fracking coverage this year from DeSmog and other outlets:

An excerpt from Fracking The Future:

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

ProPublica reported on the link between fracking and infamous “flammable drinking water”:

A new peer-reviewed study from Duke University shows that drinking water in areas within a half-mile of fracking wells can become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane - enough to catch on fire if lit. The report says that the levels of methane in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York are so great that they pose a significant fire and explosion hazard.

Fracking linked to groundwater contamination:

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

More on groundwater contamination:

The tables turned on the gas industry today with the release of a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) connecting the dots between fracking and groundwater contamination in the state of Wyoming, located in the heart of the Niobrara Shale basin.

The report is sure to leave many saying, "Well, duh!" and also asking, "What took them so long?" The perils of fracking for gas in the Niobrara Shale were made famous long ago by Debra Anderson's documenary "Split Estate."

The Wyoming report comes on the heels of a large citizen action involving a water delivery to 12 Dimock, Pennsylvania families, led by "Gasland" Director Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo. The action centered around another case of water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot was delivering clean drinking water since 2008 to the families after it contaminated their water, but recently, the Pennsylvania DEP ordered that Cabot was no longer responsible for transporting water to these families.

Fracking has even been linked to earthquakes in the U.S. and the U.K.:

New reports are surfacing that link fracking to earthquakes that occurred in January in Oklahoma. According to a new study by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [PDF], fracking is linked to 50 mini-earthquakes that occurred on January 18, 2011 in Oklahoma.

The occurrence of so-called “induced seismicity” – seismic activity caused by human actions – in conjunction with fluid injection or extraction operations is a well-documented phenomenon. However, induced earthquakes large enough to be felt at the surface have typically been associated with large scale injection or withdrawal of fluids, such as water injection wells, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas production. It was generally thought that the risk of inducing large earthquakes through hydraulic fracturing was very low, because of the comparatively small volumes of fluid injected and relatively short time-frame over which it occurs. As the controversy over hydraulic fracturing has heated up, however, researchers and the public have become increasingly interested in the potential for fracking to cause large earthquakes.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. Studies show that fracking practices in the 1970s had caused similar seismic activity in Oklahoma, according to E&E News.

So, with all of the health, environmental, climate and even seismic threats posed by fracking, why hasn't the federal government stepped in with a national moratorium until these impacts can be assessed by scientists?

The answer is simple: Dirty Money. DeSmogBlog has followed the industry money trail all year, and here is what we’ve found:

Pennsylvania, a hotbed for fracking activities, has been flooded with dirty energy industry money:

The gas industry spent $3.5 million last year attempting to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers of the benefits of drilling the state’s deposits of unconventional gas. According to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Department of State, the lobbying blitz to influence public policy was orchestrated by a collection of 22 companies, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA).

The increasing lobbying activity in Pennsylvania demonstrates the industry’s continued efforts to expand unconventional drilling, despite growing public concern over the inherent risks of dirty fracked gas. The oil and gas industry is focusing its efforts primarily on confusing the public and influencing politicians, not on making their operations safe for public health and the environment.

New York State was also under attack from a barrage of corporate polluter cash:

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year.

State governments weren’t the only to be influenced by fracking cash – the federal government, all the way up to the top of the Executive Branch, found that companies with a financial interest in fracking can be quite generous:

In an under-reported move on May 5th, the Obama administration announced the members of a government panel created to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health. Unfortunately, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the administration stacked the panel with oil and gas industry insiders.

And:

The panel, handpicked by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, is directed to investigate the safety of shale gas development and to make recommendations for both improvements to the process as well as ‘best practice’ strategies that can act as recommendations to relevant agencies.

Scientists from 22 universities in 13 states voiced their concerns over the partiality of the panel, which they claim is “performing advocacy-based science.” As the letter outlines, 6 of the 7 panel members still have strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry, like the panel chairman John Deutch, who received more than $1.4 million from two leading gas companies, Chinere and Slumberger between 2006 and 2009 alone. Deutch currently sits on the board of directors at Chinere.

As such, the group worries that the panel will in fact “serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice.”

Alternet’s Scott Thill has laid out the financial issues, as well:

Thanks to the United States' morally bankrupt political system and its Supreme Court's reality-defying ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the fracking lobby's power of the purse is greater than it has ever been.

That power was depressingly dissected in Common Cause's recent report, Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets, which explained that earnings junkies like Exxon, Koch and more have paid House and Senate politicians on select energy and commerce committees nearly $750 million over the last decade to smother regulatory oversight of the expanding fracking practice, whose complete chemical components still remain a relative mystery. It was evidently money well spent. During that lobbying stretch, the Environmental Protection Agency scientifically linked fracking with water poisoning in Wyoming, and probably isn't far from siding with the increasing ranks of those who blame fracking for earthquakes from Oklahoma to Ohio to England. And yet beyond manageable fines and stock devaluations, no one from the industry has yet to seriously face the music for groundwater contamination and worse.

For that, you can thank the industry's "Halliburton loophole," so named for former Vice-President Dick Cheney's insistence that his former company's fracking be stripped of EPA regulation. Years and billions later, money still talks and safety still walks in our peak oil century tapping, like veins, what fossil fuel deposits we have left, from natural gas to tar sands. And they do so in a decidedly nonpartisan fashion.

Buying political favors is just what the public knows about – stuff that the industry isn’t trying to hide. It’s the tactics that the public didn’t necessarily know about that really make you cringe.

Excerpt from Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities:

At the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston, Matt Pitzarella, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Range Resources, revealed in his presentation that Range has hired Army and Marine veterans with combat experience in psychological warfare to influence communities in which Range drills for gas.

At that same conference, Matt Carmichael, External Affairs Manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested three things to attendees during his presentation:

“If you are a PR representative in this industry in this room today, I recommend you do three things. These are three things that I’ve read recently that are pretty interesting.

“(1) Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual [audible gasps from the audience], because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.


The Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual [PDF] devotes an entire chapter to PSYOPs, confirming its utility as a major element of a counterinsurgency campaign. The COIN manual is the current U.S. military doctrine in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

PSYOPs is the military short-hand for “psychological operations,” used extensively in U.S. wars abroad, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this work is carried out by Army reserve personnel, who travel from village to village dropping leaflets and offering financial incentives in an attempt to convince residents not to support the insurgency. This often entails using psychological tactics to "win hearts and minds."

Read that full story: Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities

In addition to reporting on the disturbing use of psy-ops by the fracking industry, Brendan DeMelle helped expose the lies of fracking proponents by dissecting the industry talking points on fracking.

There were a few positive stories this year with regards to fracking:

Big news erupted across the Northeast with an announcement that fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a pristine watershed that supplies water to over 15 million people, would be suspended. The Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote on whether or not to permit 20,000 fracking wells in the area on Monday, November 15th. However after enormous citizen backlash, the DRBC realized they did not have the votes to push the practice through.
The U.S. EPA is poised to enact the first ever rules on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a proposal that would allow the agency to regulate the practice under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air route was chosen by the agency, as the U.S. Congress prohibited their attempts to regulate the practice of fracking under the Clean Water Act in 2005.

Once the EPA sets a date for implementation, the gas industry will have 60 days to submit any complaints or input on the new rules. While the date is not currently set, the American Petroleum Institute has already asked the EPA to delay implementation until at least August 2012.

For more on the villains and heroes in this year’s fracking bonanza, check out this report from Food and Water Watch.

The battle to protect our environment and personal health from the harmful impacts of fracking is just beginning. But as long as public awareness continues to grow and communities continue speaking out against dirty reckless fuels, perhaps common sense will prevail and we can turn our sights toward developing a clean energy future.

December 30 2011

21:49

The Year In Dirty Energy: Keystone XL

This year, a deal between TransCanada and the U.S. government almost allowed one of the most disastrous plans in energy history to win aproval. The deal would have allowed TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S. border to carry an exceptionally dirty form of oil from Alberta's tar sands through several U.S. states to refineries along the Texas gulf coast.

But thanks to some bizarre GOP politicking in the year-end fight over payroll tax cut legislation, the table is set for President Obama to reject this fossil folly. The likely demise of one giant ill-advised pipeline is no small feat, but it doesn't mean the world can forget about the tar sands, by a long shot. The world is still addicted to oil, and Canada's fossil-friendly leaders will continue their quest to sell the tar sands bitumen on the global market.

Ever since our founding in 2006, DeSmogBlog has helped spread the word about the dangerous health and climate impacts that the tar sands pose to the environment and the global climate. Over the past year, we focused our research particularly on the dirty tricks employed by the oil industry in an effort to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved.

After Friends of the Earth exposed the fact that TransCanada's Keystone XL lobbyist Paul Elliott had worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and enjoyed special access with former colleagues, DeSmogBlog revealed further ties between TransCanada lobbyists and the U.S. government. For example:

On the web of lobbyists with connections to Hillary Clinton:

However, the tar sands industry’s use of former Clinton associates to lobby on the controversial project extends beyond Mr. Elliott. DeSmogBlog has uncovered seven other influencers or lobbyists with ties to Clinton and Obama who have lobbied on behalf of tar sands interests for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

McKenna Long & Aldridge is one of the key outside firms registered to lobby for TransCanada Pipelines, which paid the McKenna firm at least $190,000 over the last 5 years to lobby on their pipeline issues, including $40,000 in the first half of 2011. McKenna employees donated $41,650 in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For the full report, see Hillary Clinton's Keystone XL Crony Lobbyists Problem.


We also helped make public the financial interests that members of Congress had in the approval of the pipeline:
  

"Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, reported in his 2010 financial disclosure form—the most recent available, filed on May 15, 2011—that he owned Transcanada stock worth between $115,002 and $300,000 (financial disclosure forms ask members to report their assets within broad ranges)."

"Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., reported owning between $15,001 and $51,000 in TransCanada stock in his 2010 financial disclosure; according to his office, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee sold his stock on January 5, 2011."

"Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., has held Trans Canada stock since 2004; her most recent disclsosure shows she owns a stake in the company worth between $1,001 and $15,000."

"Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.…reported a $798 interest in Trans Canada."

"U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice filed that she owned between $250,001 and $500,000 of TransCanada stock."

But the money didn’t end there:

TransCanada Corp, the company hoping to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, spent $540,000 on lobbying in the third quarter of 2011, according to lobbying disclosure records released this week.

In addition to $390,000 reported by Paul Elliott, TransCanada Pipelines, Ltd's infamous in-house lobbyist, two outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote the Keystone XL pipeline: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $120,000 in earnings from TransCanda in quarter three; and McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $30,000 by TransCanada in the same period.

The industry ties became such a problem for the project that the U.S. inspector general’s office announced an investigation into the matter. And for good reason – the State Department’s ties to TransCanada helped the company escape a more thorough review of the project:

EPA identified a laundry list of omissions in the State Department’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), ranging from lack of adequate consideration for oil spills and impacts on low income and First Nations communities, to lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on water and wildlife. They also provided a list of critical areas that need expansion in the Final EIS.

The EPA’s analysis raises considerable concerns about the proposed project that would carry 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and across numerous water bodies including the Yellowstone, Missouri, Neches and Red Rivers, as well as the Ogallala aquifer.

On another front, Rep. Henry Waxman urged Congress to investigate the financial ties to Keystone of the Koch brothers:

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) renewed his request to Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) that the House Committee on Energy and Commerce investigate Koch Industries' interest in the Keystone XL pipeline. Rep. Waxman's letter cites the recent revelations in InsideClimate News that Koch subsidiary Flint Hills Resources Canada LP claimed "a direct and substantial interest" in the Keystone XL in front of Canadian regulators, while the Kochtopus continues to deny any interest publicly.

Koch representatives previously told Rep. Waxman that Keystone XL has "nothing to do with any of our businesses" and that Koch has "no financial interest" in the pipeline.

And there was good reason to believe that the Kochs were among those behind the push to fast-track the pipeline project:

What’s been left out of the fierce debate over the pipeline, according to SolveClimate News, is the prospect that if president Obama okayed the Keystone XL pipeline, he would be handing a major victory and great financial opportunity to Charles and David Koch, his staunchest political enemies and the most powerful opponents of his clean economy agenda.

SolveClimate’s analysis shows that Koch Industries is already responsible for close to 25 percent of the tar sands crude that is imported into the United States, and is well-positioned to cash in big from increased Canadian tar sands imports.

The major talking point behind the push for the pipeline was that it would create much-needed jobs for American workers. But as we and many others pointed out extensively, the job creation claims were completely bogus:

According to The Washington Post, the prospect of job creation – the reason so many people in America support the pipeline – isn’t as rosy as TransCanada would have us believe. In fact, their numbers don’t add up at all.

TransCanada threw out a figure of 20,000 jobs (13,000 construction, 7,000 for suppliers) that would be created directly and indirectly through the pipeline construction process. This is the figure that politicians have used to sell the pipeline to their constituents. But as The Washington Post points out, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling admits the 20,000 figure is far from honest

And more:

In reality, according to the exhaustively researched Cornell report, even the earliest, most modest claims seem unrealistic.

In fact, in Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL, the institute says more jobs could actually be destroyed than created by the pipeline.

As if the industry lobbyist ties and the lies about job creation weren’t enough, there is the glaring observation that the pipeline is just not safe for water supplies and public health:

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club jointly published a new report [pdf] which details the likelihood that there will be leaks and major oil spills into waterways along the pipeline’s path.

The report explicitly states how tar sands oil is more corrosive than conventional oil and therefore is a much higher risk to pipeline systems. The report notes that it is:

…More acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil…contains fifteen to twenty times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur as conventional crudes. It is up to seventy times more viscous than conventional crudes. The additional sulfur can lead to the weakening or embrittlement of pipelines.

Because of its damaging effects to pipeline systems, tar sands oil spills will be more frequent than with conventional oil and as such, more devastating to the health and livelihoods of residents, farms and communities

And who can forget the impact that thousands of protesters rallying in front of the White House had:

The DC police force must have recently put in a big order for plasti-cuffs. The commencement of the Keystone XL pipeline protest, which kicked off this past weekend, saw over 100 arrested in the first two days. But there won’t be time for a donut break yet, as the action is set to continue over the next two weeks with over 2,000 people signed up to get arrested in protest of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would carry the world’s filthiest oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast if approved by the Obama administration.

With people coming in from all around the nation, protesters hope to pressure President Obama to deny the permit needed to build the proposed 1700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast. Reports about the supposed safety of the pipeline have proven less than stellar, and TransCanada pipelines have already had 12 spills this year. The administration must make a decision about the pipeline by November 1st, and there is pressure coming from cheerleaders of pollution such as the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, to name a few, for the pipeline to go through.

The Keystone XL pipeline is a perfect example of how direct action and independent media can help expose dirty politics and bring some accountability to those making important decisions about our energy future. Hopefully, more and more issues will meet the same resistance from citizens, causing government officials to rethink their disastrous plans to continue down the dirty energy path.

December 29 2011

21:36

The Year In Dirty Energy: Coal

Most children already have a fear of coal – after all, they are threatened during childhood that if they misbehave, Santa Claus will leave them nothing but a lump of coal in their stocking. The older members of society, too, have plenty of reasons to fear coal as an energy source. Burning it pollutes our air and water and threatens our health. Mining it can be deadly for workers. And the entire life cycle of coal threatens the global climate.

When it comes to coal, two major issues dominated the environmental news front this year in particular: Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) and coal ash. While MTR has become an issue that most people are familiar with, the threats posed by coal ash remain largely under-reported (stay tuned for more on that in 2012).

As for MTR, here is a brief rundown of what’s happening:

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) entails blowing the tops off of entire mountains in order to extract the coal seems within. The method became popular when coal companies realized that they could produce two and a half times as much coal per worker hour by removing the tops of mountains, rather than traditional coal mining methods. As a result, some states have reduced the number of coal workers by as much as 60%, while output and profits have remained steady.

In addition to the obvious loss of mountains, the practice is riddled with environmental dangers. In order to extract the coal, the areas around the mountain are clear-cut, destroying wildlife habitat and leading to soil erosion. The waste products from the coal extraction also leak into water supplies, contaminating them with mercury, lead, sulfur, and other dangers chemicals. It is estimated that by the end of 2012, a staggering 2,200 square miles of the Appalachian Mountains will have been destroyed thanks to mountaintop removal mining.

One of the biggest stories on MTR that erupted this year was a documentary film called “The Last Mountain,” featuring environmental attorney and co-host of the Ring of Fire Radio show Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (full disclosure: Brendan and I both work on Ring of Fire as well).

From the press notes on The Last Mountain film:

In the valleys of Appalachia, a battle is being fought over a mountain. It is a battle with severe consequences that affect every American, regardless of their social status, economic background or where they live. It is a battle that has taken many lives and continues to do so the longer it is waged. It is a battle over protecting our health and environment from the destructive power of Big Coal.

The mining and burning of coal is at the epicenter of America’s struggle to balance its energy needs with environmental concerns. Nowhere is that concern greater than in Coal River Valley, West Virginia, where a small but passionate group of ordinary citizens are trying to stop Big Coal corporations, like Massey Energy, from continuing the devastating practice of Mountain Top Removal.

David, himself, never faced a Goliath like Big Coal.

The citizens argue the practice of dynamiting the mountain’s top off to mine the coal within pollutes the air and water, is responsible for the deaths of their neighbors and spreads pollution to other states. Yet, regardless of evidence supporting these claims, Big Coal corporations repeat the process daily in the name of profit. Massive profit allows Big Coal to wield incredible financial influence over lobbyists and government officials in both parties, rewrite environmental protection laws, avoid lawsuits and eliminate more than 40,000 mining jobs, all while claiming to be a miner’s best friend. As our energy needs increase, so does Big Coal’s control over our future. This fact and a belief that America was founded on the democratic principal that no individual or corporation owns the air and water and we all share the responsibility of protecting it, drives these patriotic citizens and their supporters from outside of Appalachia, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to keep fighting.

The film focuses on one of the major players in MTR – Massey Energy. (Note: A few days after the film was released, Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy.) But as we’ve pointed out this year, Massey is not the only villain in the mountaintop mining story:

As media reports have focused on the deeds of Massey, the other mountaintop removal mining companies have been let off the hook, operating under the radar of most activists and the media. Here are a few of the other companies that are destroying Appalachia and other parts of America with MTR:

1. Arch Coal – Boasting that they supply more than 15% of America’s coal, Arch sold 2.1 million tons worth of MTR coal last year. Arch’s annual revenues top $1 billion, making them the nation’s second largest coal producer.

2. CONSOL Energy – Recently forced to pay $5.5 million in damages in West Virginia for their mountaintop mining activities, and to spend another $200 million on pollution control. Actively working with the U.S. Department of Energy on coal technologies, including coal-to-liquid technologies.

3. International Coal Group – Currently battling a lawsuit from the Sierra Club for selenium pollution in Kentucky that is a direct result of their mountaintop removal mining activities.

4. James River Coal CompanyForced to pay tens of thousands of dollars for damages to homes and a Church from their mountaintop mining activities.

5. Patriot Coal – Operates 14 different mountaintop removal sites throughout Appalachia and Illinois.

And there’s a good reason to know who the culprits are: MTR is destroying communities across America. From an earlier DeSmogBlog report this year:

A new study from the Journal of Community Health concludes that cancer rates in areas of Appalachia where mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is taking place are more than twice as high as areas that are not near MTR sites. According to the study, as many as 60,000 individual cancer cases can be linked directly to exposure from MTR debris.

The findings of this new study are especially alarming when paired with a recent study about the increasing number of birth defects in MTR areas. The birth defect study, conducted by researchers at Washington State University and West Virginia University, found that birth defects were 26% more likely to be seen in children that had been exposed to MTR wastes while in the womb.

Along with this environmental devastation, the authors confirm major impacts on human health in the Appalachian region, including “elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer, and chronic heart, lung and kidney disease in coal producing communities” according to the study.

Duke University also took the time this year to compile a great report detailing the cumulative impacts of MTR:

Increased salinity and concentrations of trace elements in one West Virginia watershed have been tied directly to multiple surface coal mines upstream by a detailed new survey of stream chemistry. The Duke University team that conducted the study said it provides new evidence of the cumulative effects multiple mountaintop mining permits can have in a river network.

Our analysis of water samples from 23 sites along West Virginia's Upper Mud River and its tributaries shows that salinity and trace element concentrations, including selenium, increased at a rate directly proportional to the cumulative amount of surface mining in the watershed," said Duke researcher Ty Lindberg. "We found a strong linear correlation."

And the major problems with coal don’t end with the extraction, or even with the burning of coal. The industry has found a way to continue making a profit, and polluting our planet, even after coal is burned. The product that allows them to do this is called coal ash (sometimes fly ash or bottom ash.) This “ash” is actually coal cinders that are captured during the burning process, and used for an array of products including bricks, concrete, back-fill dirt, and they’ve even started using it to de-ice highways in the winter.

Here’s one of many reasons why coal ash is cause for concern:

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released a startling report showing that coal ash dumps near coal-burning power plants are leaching arsenic and other toxic chemicals into water supplies. The new report identifies 20 new sites in 10 different states where coal ash is contaminating water supplies. These sites are in addition to the 33 coal ash disposal sites that EIP identified earlier this year that are contaminating water supplies.

EIP has identified a total of 20 additional coal ash dump sites causing groundwater and soil contamination in 10 states – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. These include 19 sites where coal ash appears to have contaminated groundwater with arsenic or other pollutants at levels above Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL). All but two have also measured concentrations of other pollutants – such as boron, molybdenum, and manganese – above EPA-recommended Health Advisories for children or adults. In addition, our report includes new information about 7 previously recognized damage cases, including stunning evidence of groundwater more toxic than hazardous waste leachate.

So, given the dangers of coal ash, you’d expect the EPA to be all over the issue, working to ban it as soon as possible, right? Wrong. Not only has the EPA decided to not make a ruling on whether or not they will regulate coal ash this year, the EPA under George W. Bush actually had a hand in promoting the use of coal ash:

A new report by the Inspector General claims that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promoted the use of coal ash without properly analyzing the risks. Coal ash is the byproduct produced when coal is burned, also referred to as “fly ash” or “bottom ash.”

The EPA began promoting the “recycling” of coal ash waste during the Bush administration, when energy companies and federal officials worked out a deal where the EPA would allow companies to sell their waste without federal oversight. The EPA held numerous town hall meetings last year to get citizens’ input on the matter before they issue a ruling on whether or not the coal ash waste should be considered “hazardous.”

DeSmogBlog and Polluter Watch published a report last year that details the lobbying blitz launched by coal producers to fend off EPA oversight of hazardous coal ash, including the suspiciously cozy relationship between the coal industry and the Bush EPA. The new Inspector General report confirms that the Bush EPA erred in its review of the safety of the widespread re-use of coal ash in many products and other applications.

To make matters worse, the coal industry has plenty of friends in Congress:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted this week to allow a new bill on the regulation of coal ash to be considered for a full House vote. The bill, known as The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, would prevent the E.P.A. from classifying coal ash (or fly ash) as a toxic substance, and instead would allow individual states to make their own rules regarding the storage and re-use of coal ash waste.

And no Congressman has done more to help the coal industry than Republican Representative David McKinley:

Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia has proposed a bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating toxic coal ash. The EPA has not yet made a decision on whether or not to classify coal ash as toxic, but reports show that the substance poses significant risks to human health.

But after looking into McKinley’s campaign coffers, it is no surprise that he is fighting tooth and nail to prevent coal ash from being labeled as toxic. He has received more than $83,000 from the mining industry – the single largest industry to donate to his campaign. But it isn’t just the mining industry that has put money behind McKinley – big oil got in on the game as well. Exxon Mobil put $8,000 in his pockets, and the Koch brothers threw in another $10,000. An interesting note about this freshman Congressman – 66% of his campaign contributions came from out of state. Not bad for a man who had never held a federal office before.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the coal industry continues trying to teach your children that coal is great:

In May, Scholastic Inc. cancelled the distribution of a fourth-grade educational package entitled “United States of Energy” that was contracted by the American Coal Foundation. They ended up dropping the client because of outrage from the community over one-sided learning materials that conveniently left out the negative impacts that coal has on the environment and human health.

Also in May, a group released a parody website, Coal Cares, that satirized coal pollution’s link to childhood asthma. The website offered novelty inhalers to children within 200 miles of a coal plant. But fiction turned out to be not far from the truth.

It turns out that the coal industry has been creating children’s material for years, even some eerily similar to the farcical Coal Cares website. For example, the pro-coal group, Friends of Coal, put out a “Let’s Learn About Coal” coloring book two years ago.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity put out a website cartoon with singing lumps of coal for Christmas a couple years ago. The outrageous part is that if the coal industry were to do something like market a “coal ash sandbox” as a new environmental initiative to “recycle” the toxic byproducts of coal combustion, the public has been so desensitized to these type of tactics that it’s probably not out of the realm of possibility.

Until North America gets serious about transitioning to renewable clean energy sources, and getting corporate money out of politics, the coal industry and its many impacts on our lives and climate are here to stay. But luckily, so are we and countless other groups working to end our dirty energy addiction.

December 28 2011

05:14

The Year In Dirty Energy: Money, Corruption, And Misinformation

It is said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That statement has proven itself true time after time in both politics and business, but I would like to amend that statement slightly: Power corrupts, but money and power corrupt absolutely. This year has been no different. We’ve seen unprecedented amounts of money flowing from the dirty energy industry into the hands of politicians in order to achieve everything on their corporate wish lists.

From near constant hammering of the Environmental Protection Agency, to getting approval for dirty energy projects, corporate money has corrupted every level of politics this year.

I already covered the extensive efforts of the Koch brothers in a previous post, but they are hardly the only culprits who are attempting to undermine democracy and decency by pouring money into politics. Here are a few other stories of interest that DeSmogBlog has covered over the last 12 months:

The biggest “non-event” for climate denier dollars this year was the Heartland Institute’s “Denial-a-palooza” conference:

The Heartland Institute gathered a who’s-who of the global warming denial network together in Chicago in May for the fourth International Conference on Climate Change.

As in years past, the event is expected to receive very little mainstream media coverage. The deniers like to think the reason is some liberal media conspiracy. In reality, the lack of interest stems chiefly from the fact that this denial-a-palooza fest is dripping with oil money and represents a blatant industry effort to greenwash oil and coal while simultaneously attacking the credibility of climate scientists.

Despite the lack of press interest, the show must go on. After all, the Chicago meet-up provided deniers and industry front groups a chance to coordinate their ongoing efforts to smear the reputation of the IPCC, and they can reminisce about the Climategate non-scandal like boys in the schoolyard kicking around a rusty old can.

For insight into the underlying aim of the Chicago denier conference, let us take a look at the funding sources for the sponsoring organizations.

19 of the 65 sponsors (including Heartland itself) have received a total of over $40 million in funding since 1985 from ExxonMobil (funded 13 orgs), and/or Koch Industries family foundations (funded 10 orgs) and/or the Scaife family foundations (funded 10 orgs).

This gathering was just the beginning of the massive astroturf campaigns that the dirty energy industry worked on this year:

The oil industry has put their astroturf and lobbying efforts into overdrive over the last few months, preparing for a bitter fight in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. In addition to their usual work of pushing for increased domestic oil production and the opening of federal lands for oil drilling, the industry is working around the clock to convince lawmakers to sign off on the Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport crude tar sand oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

ThinkProgress reporter Lee Fang has helped uncover some of the oil industry’s recent astroturf tactics at townhall meetings across the country. But the oil industry isn’t just limiting themselves to townhall meetings – they have also embraced social media as a means to manipulate public opinion. Rainforest Action Network blog The Understory and Mother Jones are reporting that oil industry insiders are creating fake Twitter accounts to tout the need for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Chris Mooney offered a great analysis of why these astroturf groups have become so important to the industry, and how effective it can be:

One obvious goal of astroturfing is to shape public policy, and public opinion, in a manner congenial to corporate interests. And indeed, the outrage over astroturfing in a sense presumes that this activity actually works (or else, why oppose it).

Yet there have been few scientific tests of whether the strategy does indeed move people—in part, presumably, because doing a controlled experiment might be hard to pull off. That’s why I was so intrigued by a new study in the Journal of Business Ethics, which attempts to do just that.

Charles H. Cho of the ESSEC Business School in France, and his colleagues, set up a study in which they created (ironically) fake Astroturf websites related to global warming—as well as fake grassroots websites on the same issue—and tested over 200 college undergraduates on their responses to them. To ensure a strong experimental design, only a few things were varied about these websites—what they claimed about the science, and what they disclosed about their funding sources.

Interestingly, when the results were gathered, it turned out that information about the site’s funding source didn’t have any significant effect on the study participants’ views. However, readers of the astroturf sites were much more likely to feel that the science of global warming is uncertain, and to question the phenomenon’s human causation.

One finding was particularly disturbing: People found the Astroturf messages less trustworthy overall, and yet were still influenced by them. The most influenced were those study participants who were the least engaged in the climate issue—and thus, presumably, the most vulnerable to astroturf misinformation.

In cases where astroturfing isn’t effective enough at confusing the public, dirty energy companies like Exxon have attempted to just pay scientists to deny global climate change:

The Carbon Brief (TCB) has a nice analysis on the not-very-startling coincidence that at least nine of the top 10 “skeptical” “scientists” who are publishing on climate change have direct links to Exxon.

This is interesting, as well, in that it doesn’t account for the increasing amounts of money being invested invested by funders (such as the Koch brothers) who have been taking a less transparent approach than Exxon in acknowledging their links.

In a second instalment, TCB also took a closer look at both the quality and content of the purported “900+” science papers identified by the Global Warming Policy Foundation as somehow skeptical of the science of climate change. The news, for the skeptics as for the climate, turns out to be all bad.

Only a small number of the papers actually appeared in reputable publications (eg., 34 in Nature, 33 in Science), and many of those either don’t address the climate question directly or do NOT come to the conclusion that the GWPF attributes.

The industry has even tried to push their agenda in our school systems:

Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

Even with the propaganda taken from the schools, the dirty energy industry has found another way to covertly push their misinformation onto the public:

There appears to be an increasingly sophisticated and planned effort by conservatives and polluter front groups to use “persona management” software to pollute social media outlets and website comment forums with auto-generated sockpuppet swarms designed to mislead and misrepresent real people.

Leaked emails from Aaron Barr, CEO of a federal subsidiary for HB Gary, disclose the latest efforts and technology used underhandedly for “ganging up on bloggers, commenters and otherwise ‘real’ people to smear enemies and distort the truth.”

This phenomenon was first reported by Happy Rockefeller over at Daily Kos.

ClimateProgress is following this issue, particularly when it comes to the online discussion about climate change, noting that readers joke about pre-programmed ‘denier-bots’ and “how the same arguments and phrasings keep cropping up in the comments’ section of the many unmoderated news sites on the web.”

Public opinion is one thing, but political positions are another. That’s why American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard made the following admission this year:

Oil industry lobbyist and president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Jack Gerard made his industry’s goal clear in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine. Mr. Gerard said he hopes that in the near future there will be an oil lobbyist on the ground in every U.S. Congressional district in order to help his industry flourish, “so when a policy proposal hits the industry’s bottom line, lawmakers from Seattle to Savannah will hear complaints about it from voters back home.”

And on the big issues of the year, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, the industry sent their dollars directly to the source:

After applauding the House’s vote to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America is run out of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber’s main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it’s also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company’s project.

And more:

TransCanada Corp, the company hoping to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, spent $540,000 on lobbying in the third quarter of 2011, according to lobbying disclosure records released this week.

In addition to $390,000 reported by Paul Elliott, TransCanada Pipelines, Ltd's infamous in-house lobbyist, two outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote the Keystone XL pipeline: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $120,000 in earnings from TransCanda in quarter three; and McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $30,000 by TransCanada in the same period.

And when they feared that their generous tax breaks could be repealed, the dirty energy industry sent their best lobbyists to the members of the “super committee”:

As the so-called “Super Committee” works to figure out how to trim $1.2 trillion from the U.S. government’s federal deficit, the dirty energy industry has their lobbyists working overtime to make sure that their billions of dollars in annual subsidies aren’t among the items on the chopping block.

Not being ones to miss an opportunity, members on the committee have scheduled dozens of personal fundraisers for their campaigns before that deadline hits. And many of the companies who fear that their subsidies could be cut will be in attendance. After all, the lobbyist blitz contains more than 180 former staffers of members of the Super Committee, so access is not an issue, and no introductions will be necessary.

But money doesn’t always come from lobbyists or special interests; sometimes it comes from the most obvious source: The banks. Alternet has put together a fantastic piece detailing the top 20 banks that have helped fund anti-environmental efforts this year:

A new study by Urgewald, a German environmental organization, establishes a strong link between large multinational banks and the coal industry, one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

The study (.pdf), "Bankrolling Climate Change," identifies the top 20 "climate killer" banks by the amount of financial support they give the coal industry. Number one is JP Morgan Chase, followed by Citi and Bank of America. That's despite lofty rhetoric from these companies about their work to address climate change.

Building a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant - a typical size - is going to cost over $2 billion. That's not money that utilities usually have just lying around in the corner. Bank financing pays an important role, either through direct lending or banks organizing capital for utilities to pursue these projects. The two most important roles of banks are as providers of corporate loans for the coal industry and as providers of investment banking services, meaning helping the company to sell shares or bonds. In terms of our calculations of the amounts of money in the "climate killer bank" rankings, we didn't differentiate between these roles. We figured it's secondary whether a bank directly gives its own money or plays an organizing role: This is support the banks give to the coal industry.

So whether the money comes from banks, corporations, or lobbyists, the impact that big money has on politicians and policy is undeniable. Until the funds dry up, we’ll never be in short supply of politicians willing to do the dirty work of the dirty energy industry.

December 27 2011

19:08

The Year In Dirty Energy: The Koch Brothers

Over the last 12 months, DeSmogBlog contributors have helped spread the word about some of the most dastardly deeds of Charles and David Koch. Here are some of the biggest stories we covered this year on the issue of corruption and dirty energy money.

It is impossible to talk about dirty energy money and corruption without mentioning the Koch brothers. Before 2011, two of the wealthiest men in America were able to operate in almost complete secrecy while they spread misinformation about climate change and attempted to dismantle environmental protections:

The money in politics database Open Secrets, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, has a lengthy list of specific legislation that Koch Industries has lobbied for and against. On the "against" list, you’ll find legislation such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 – a bill that would have put Americans to work building a green energy infrastructure; the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act – again, a bill that would have created green energy jobs and infrastructure; and the Clean Air Protection Act – a bill that would limit the amount of acceptable emissions into our atmosphere.

The Koch brothers, through their PACs and other organizations, have funded numerous efforts to defeat legislation aimed at reducing pollution or protecting the environment. After all, their companies don't pay the real cost for the pollution they release.

And then there was their misinformation bus tour:

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is taking their misinformation machine on the road in an attempt to convince American consumers that President Obama is causing the spike in gasoline prices. AFP is claiming that the president is intentionally keeping gas prices high because he refuses to allow oil companies to drill for oil in protected areas of the United States.

AFP conveniently ignores the fact that gas prices were north of $4 a gallon during the Bush administration, when they peaked at $4.12, as pointed out by protesters who showed up at one of AFP’s early gas tour events in Nebraska. But in the alternate reality that AFP is creating to enable Koch’s further oil profits, it’s somehow all Obama’s fault.

The Koch brothers were also behind the efforts to dismantle the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), by way of their astroturf organizations and ties to prominent politicians:

Governor Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of RGGI, stripping the ten state agreement of one of its key cornerstone partners. Next door in New York, Americans for Prosperity, a group whose ties to the Koch brothers are well established, sued the state for its continued commitment to RGGI.

Americans for Prosperity celebrated Christie’s decision, even taking direct credit for it in a public press release: Americans for Prosperity Declares Victory over RGGI Cap & Trade!

And you can’t forget about now-disgraced GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain sucking up to the Koch brothers this year:

At the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity event today, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain told it like it is. “I am the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother.” He added, “And proud of it.”

The Koch brothers were hoping that Herman Cain would be their mouthpiece in the 2012 election. But even with Cain now out of the race, they still have a backup plan: teaching their employees how to vote for environment-destroying candidates:

The Nation magazine has revealed that Koch Industries sent a letter to most of its 50,000 employees before the U.S. midterm elections in November 2010 advising them on whom to vote for. In “Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch,” Mark Ames and Mike Elk expose the urgent “election packet” [PDF] sent to tens of thousands of Koch employees complete with ample libertarian reading materials instructions and a list of eligible vote-worthy (conservative) candidates.

As if this isn’t disturbing enough, the letter warns employees them of the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

Most of this information could have remained a secret from the public, had it not been for the hard work of organizations like The Center for Public Integrity and Greenpeace:

The Center for Public Integrity has an in-depth look at Koch Industries’ “Web of Influence” in Washington, revealing the immense growth in Koch’s spending on lobbyists and influence peddling over the last few years. As the CPI investigation notes, the Kochtopus’s lobbying army has its tentacles wrapped around all kinds of issues, not just its core oil business, but its wide-ranging stakes in everything from Canadian tar sands to ethanol to toxic chemicals to financial regulation (or preserving the lack thereof).

The CPI report lifts the veil on a few individual Koch lobbyists, notably Gregory Zerzan, a name that nobody outside Washington would recognize, yet who has had tremendous impact on the Hill as a Koch toady.

Greenpeace took to the air to raise awareness about the Koch’s deeds:

A Greenpeace airship flew over the secretive Rancho Mirage polluter strategy meeting hosted by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. Wealthy elite interests and oil tycoons arriving at the posh resort to plot their anti-democracy agenda were greeted with the aerial message “Koch Brothers: Dirty Money.”

Greenpeace also released information collected from tax records confirming that the Koch Family Foundations continue to fund climate denial organizations. The most recent records available document that the Kochtopus dished out $6.4 million in 2009 to front groups and think tanks that spread inaccurate and misleading information about climate science and clean energy policies. That brings the Kochtopus’s confirmed Dirty Money total to $54.9 million since 1997, with the majority, $31.3 million, spent since 2005.

Greenpeace also helped spread the word about the Koch’s dealings with Iran:

Greenpeace USA has called for a full Congressional investigation of Koch Industries and the illegal practices detailed in the Bloomberg Markets Magazine piece, "Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales."

The Bloomberg coverage reveals multiple allegations of Koch Industries bribing government officials around the world and doing business with Iran. In a Huffington Post blog announcing the call for Congress to investigate Koch, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford writes, "this new [Bloomberg] investigation reveals a blatant disregard for our laws, so today Greenpeace has called for a full Congressional investigation of Koch Industries and the illegal practices detailed in the Bloomberg report."

Greenpeace has extensively documented the Koch brothers' key role in backing the climate denial machine and other nefarious Koch Industries behavior. Now the Bloomberg revelations raise the heat even further on the $50-billionaire-brothers David and Charles Koch.

There’s no question that the Kochs will put their money to work during next year's presidential election. At least now, with their operations exposed, you can rest assured that their every move will be detailed by the independent media.

November 29 2011

23:06

To Understand What's Happening with Fracking Decisions in New York, Follow the Money

In a November 25 article titled, "Millions Spent in Albany Fight to Drill for Gas," The New York Times reported:

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year, according to a coming analysis of campaign finance records by Common Cause.

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Back in June, I wrote,

Despite the copiously-documented ecological danger inherent in the unconventional drilling process and in the…gas emissions process, as well as the visible anti-fracking sentiment of the people living in the Marcellus Shale region, Cuomo has decided it's 'go time.' Other than in New York City's watershed, inside a watershed used in the city of Syracuse, in underground water sources deemed important in cities and towns, as well on state lands, spanning from parks and wildlife preserves, 85% of the state's lands are now fair game for fracking, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

It is clear that Cuomo did not have science on the top of his priority list when making his decision to lift the moratorium. 

But as any good reporter knows, possibly one of the most crucial tenets of good jouranlism is to follow the money, which is just what the Times and Common Cause did. 

What we are seeing is the concerted application of really a substantial amount of money to try to move public policy into a pro-fracking stance. It is a tremendous amount of pressure on our state government," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, to The New York Times.

Common Cause and The New York Times, then, have shed more light as to why Cuomo decided to make this decision and the light is colored green, the color of money

November 24 2011

20:35

Congress Says No To Free Climate Service

This week, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives sent a strong message to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – they’re not concerned about climate change. The NOAA had asked Congress for permission to create a new National Climate Service within the NOAA’s own offices, but Congress decided that the agency was just fine the way it is.

At a time when Congress is fiercely debating federal spending, it would seemingly make financial sense to deny additional funding to NOAA to create their new branch. But, in a rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, the new agency wouldn’t have cost anything, and NOAA didn’t ask for a single dime to fund their new venture, completely nullifying any financial argument against this common sense proposal.

The need for such an agency is completely justified, as The Washington Post points out:

Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.

Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.

So if it wasn’t about money, then what would stop congressional Republicans from giving the OK to the organization? To put it bluntly, they don’t want scientists 'scaring' people with their creepy climate change mumbo jumbo.

Again from The Washington Post:

“Our hesitation,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Lubchenco at a hearing in June, “is that the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source.”

At the same hearing, a key opponent to the service, Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), said he recognized that “certain climate services can provide value.” But he fretted that the reorganization would “severely harm vital research at NOAA.”

In September, Hall’s tone turned decidedly less friendly. As chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, he launched an investigation of NOAA. Hall claimed the agency was operating “a shadow climate service operation” without congressional approval.

These statements should come as no surprise. Looking at the money that got these two men elected, the Center for Responsive Politics database says that Rep. Hall has received $648,645 from electric utilities and another $571,334 from oil and gas industries over the course of his career, while Rep. Harris has been the recipient of more than $62,000 from the oil and gas industries during his short, 3-year stint as a federally-elected politician. The Washington Post did not comment on the two men’s dirty energy industry campaign money.

What is ironic about the agency’s request, and the Republican disapproval, is that the idea was originally floated many years ago by former President George W. Bush, a man who was no stranger to the oil business. It begs the question as to why an oil-friendly Republican idea was voted down by oil-friendly Republicans this week.

NOAA will continue to compile climate data, but will be forced to spread the data out among its various branches, without a clear and concise methodology for interested parties to seek out this information.

September 08 2011

20:02

Meet Marlo Lewis: The Dirty Energy Industry’s Best Friend

When polluters needs someone to write an industry-friendly article, or make an appearance in the media to argue against the science of climate change, they often turn to a man named Marlo Lewis. A senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), Marlo has been on the front lines of the energy industry’s war on science, as well as the fight against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the battle over the Keystone XL tar sans pipeline.

What makes Marlo a valuable asset is that he actually has a great resume. He received a Ph.D. in government from Harvard – a daunting and admirable task that commands respect. He’s also served in various governmental positions, including a brief stint in the Reagan administration, bolstering his credentials among elected officials in Washington, D.C. His position at the CEI also allows him a great deal of influence over our elected officials (it also happens to pay him a $100,000 a year salary for his work.) These credentials allowed him access to Congress a few years ago, when he was permitted to give a rebuttal to Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” to the assembly. Marlo was also allowed to tout the “dangers” of the Kyoto Protocol to Congress in 1998.

But Marlo’s resume does not qualify him as an expert on anything climate or science related. In fact, if you look just below the surface, it becomes starkly apparent that he is just another energy industry crony who is paid to deny that fossil fuel pollution causes problems.

Let’s start with his position at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The CEI has received funding from all sorts of energy industry interests, including the Koch family foundations, ExxonMobil, Texaco, Arch Coal, and the American Petroleum Institute. Because of their funding from the energy industry, CEI has been one of the loudest voices claiming that anthropogenic climate change is a myth, and that the government does not need to limit any global warming pollution.

CEI has even gone as far as running television ads touting the benefit of excessive C02 emissions into the atmosphere. CEI has also staunchly defended mountaintop removal mining, claiming that limiting the practice would destroy jobs and therefore the economy of Appalachian towns.

Marlo Lewis’s work with the CEI eventually earned him a spot as the chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a climate-change denial group representing members of the energy industry and various conservative think tanks. The group makes the following claim in an archived version of their website from 2004: “The risks of global warming are speculative; the risks of global warming policies are all too real.”

The group’s main project is their website – GlobalWarming.org – designed to spread misinformation about climate change.

While his affiliations – and their corporate backing – are bad enough, to really get a sense of how dangerous he is, you have to look at his work. Here are a few choice pieces that Marlo has written in the last few months:

- A short blog post touting the economic benefits of coal.

- An article claiming that cap-and-trade is an unfair tax on coal companies.

- A call to action to stop the EPA from “destroying democracy.”

- A story about environmentalists “institutionalizing” the Department of Defense.

- Claiming environmental policies are hindering economic growth.

- Questioning the legality of President Obama’s fuel economy standards.

As absurd as some of these stories may be, they pale in comparison to his undying support for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Marlo Lewis has posted several stories proclaiming the “benefits” of Keystone XL and the tar sands, and even made a trip to Canada to view the existing Keystone pipeline. (You can find some amusing photos of Marlo posing with the pipe here.) The headline of his enthusiastic story was “My Excellent Journey to Canada’s Oil Sands.”

In another recent story, he made a list of the reasons why we should all “love” the Keystone XL pipeline. Here are a few of Marlo's colorful reasons:

A win for Keystone XL is a defeat for the global warming movement. Green groups view Keystone as an opportunity to regain momentum and offset their losses after the death of cap-and-trade. If friends of affordable energy win this fight, which seems likely, the greenhouse lobby will take another hit to its prestige, morale, and influence.

Keystone XL strains relations between Obama and his environmentalist base. If Obama approves the pipeline, greenies will be less motivated to work for his re-election. If he disapproves, Republicans and moderate Democrats will hammer him for killing job creation and increasing pain at the pump. Either way, the prospects for new anti-energy legislation should be dimmer.

Keystone XL is bringing aging, New Lefties out of the woodwork, where they can misbehave and get themselves arrested.


Marlo Lewis, a man with a Ph.D. from one of the most distinguished universities on the planet, honestly wants the Keystone XL Pipeline built for little more than his personal pleasure so he can give the finger to people who care about the environment. Well, at least he’s being mature about it all.

The point is this – Marlo Lewis is someone whom both the press and the government have previously handed a megaphone to. But given his documented misinformation work for fossil fuel interests, and his chief role working to confuse the public about climate change and the threats posed by reckless dirty energy projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, why does anyone take him seriously?

July 15 2011

17:21

GOP Coal Ash Bill May Be Hazardous To Your Health

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted this week to allow a new bill on the regulation of coal ash to be considered for a full House vote. The bill, known as The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, would prevent the E.P.A. from classifying coal ash (or fly ash) as a toxic substance, and instead would allow individual states to make their own rules regarding the storage and re-use of coal ash waste.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 35 – 12, with all Committee Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The E.P.A. ruled in 2000 that coal ash was not a hazardous substance, but proposed a rule last summer that would change the classification to “hazardous.” The agency is still debating which rule will stand, and announced recently that the decision will not be made this year.

The bill was put forward by freshman Republican David McKinley from West Virginia. West Virginia is one of the country’s leading producers of both coal and coal waste. Under the guise of “saving jobs,” McKinley introduced the bill earlier this year. But a look beyond the surface reveals McKinley’s true intentions for putting forth the legislation.

During the course of his short career, McKinley has already received more than $205,000 from the mining industry, which includes donations from some of the largest coal companies in West Virginia – Alpha Natural Resources (a leading company in mountaintop removal mining,) International Coal Group, and Patriot Coal. The following chart is from OpenSecrets, showing McKinley’s top donors:
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McKinley promotes his bill as a “jobs saver” in order to sell it to the public. Indeed, the GOP-controlled Energy and Commerce Committee’s website ran the following headline after the committee vote: “Committee Approves Job-Saving Coal Ash Legislation.” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R – MI) said the following about McKinley: “I want to recognize the author of this legislation, Mr. McKinley. He came to Congress as a champion for his constituents and the industry that employs so many of them, and I commend him for his leadership in finding a common-sense solution that protects jobs, our environment, and energy affordability.”

With millions of Americans currently out of work, the “job saving” talking point is very effective. And while the Republicans have yet to offer any proof of how the “hazardous” designation would kill jobs, the notion that the bill is a “job saver” has resonated with people working for the coal industry.

However, the attention being placed on jobs is taking the attention away from the health impacts of coal ash waste. Coal ash is known to contain harmful compounds such as arsenic, selenium, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Additionally, studies have shown that coal ash waste is more radioactive than nuclear waste, and has been linked to increases in cancer rates in areas where coal ash waste is stored. Even if the new bill put forward by McKinley were able to save jobs somehow the question for the residents of towns that have coal ash storage facilities remains – Is it worth the risk to public health and water quality?

July 13 2011

19:09

ALEC Exposed: Center For Media and Democracy Details ALEC's Industry-Friendly Legislation Machine

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has launched a new website, ALECExposed.org, to help consumers understand more about the secretive business group that is helping craft industry-friendly legislation. CMD has obtained more than 800 model bills that were crafted by ALEC for state governments across the country. From a CMD press release:

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve “model” legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at ALEC Exposed.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of ALEC, it’s important to understand where they came from. ALEC was founded by conservative operative Paul Weyrich. After receiving a healthy dose of cash from conservative Joseph Coors to create the Heritage Foundation, Weyrich decided that a normal think tank like Heritage wasn’t enough to turn congress into a pro-business, anti-consumer organization. Heritage served as Weyrich’s machine to help develop and pass out talking points, but Heritage could only provide words – words that could easily be ignored. Weyrich knew that in order to make these words become actions, he would need the money to be able to convince Congress to vote how he and his corporate allies wanted them to. To do this, he would have to merge business and politics, literally. This merging gave birth to ALEC.

Through his connections at the Heritage Foundation, and the burgeoning “Moral Majority” he was in the process of creating, Weyrich pulled together politicians from around the country along with some of the wealthiest businessmen in America to form ALEC. Their purpose was simple – promote their view of what a “free market” should look like, while at the same time diminishing the role of government in corporate America’s business. To give his new organization an air of exclusivity, he decided that it should be a “members only” club, where those who wanted to be a part of the group would have to pay a nominal fee. Businesses have to pay a minimum of $5,000, but elected officials are able to buy themselves a two year membership for no more than $50. In addition to a few handfuls of state legislators, ALEC immediately attracted the attention of all sorts of businesses, and quickly added to its member roster Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, VISA, Exxon, Texaco, Coors, and the American Petroleum Institute.

A report by People for The American Way exposed some of ALEC’s main funders:

“ALEC’s major funders include Exxon Mobil, the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation). These organizations consistently finance right-wing think tanks and political groups.

Members of ALEC’s board represent major corporations such as Altria, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft, PhRMA, Wal-Mart, Peabody Energy, and State Farm. Such corporations represent just a fraction of ALEC’s approximately three hundred corporate partners. According to the American Association for Justice, over eighty percent of ALEC’s finances come from corporate contributions.”

They were now armed with money, members, and talking points. ALEC was ready to make its voice heard.

And when ALEC speaks, Congress listens. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) has compiled a great report on how ALEC has succeeded in helping corporate America fulfill their laundry list of requests from the federal government for their members. To assist their members in the oil industry, ALEC has successfully fought to role back environmental protections. For the pharmaceutical industry, they successfully fought to ban the importation of drugs from other countries. And they’ve helped push broad deregulation, which has benefited every one of their members.

But the AAJ report says that the activities of ALEC go far beyond lobbying – they say that the group is essentially ghost writing favorable laws for corporate America. For example, on behalf of Exxon, ALEC has written legislation that would prevent schools from teaching children about what they deem “non-verified” science theories. Thanks to groups like Weyrich’s own Heritage Foundation, the Right has successfully managed to convince Americans that the science on climate change is still in question, which would mean that schools will no longer be able to teach students about the impacts, or even the causes, of climate change.  

CMD’s new site, ALECExposed.org, has gone far beyond what other reports have detailed in the past, and actually provides copies of the legislation, along with summaries, that ALEC has helped draft.

A major ALEC project over the years has been their assault on the environment. ALECExposed.org lays out the numerous ways in which ALEC has worked to undo environmental progress as follows:

Limiting the ability of people to use their local governmental power to protect their towns and neighborhoods from pollution and other hazards.

Undermining environmental regulations through novel, aggressive legal theories that claim regulations limiting pollution, for example, constitute a "taking" of the right to pollute and thus require compensation under the Constitution.

Protecting polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability by making a company’s internal audit or assessments of its pollution "privileged" and thus inadmissible in legal proceedings.

Hindering state-level regulation of groundwater contaminants by establishing EPA standards as a ceiling, rather than a floor, giving an agribusiness-dominated agency a regulatory veto, and adding other burdens.

Giving states the power to appropriate national parks and other federal public land, possibly to allow greater oil, gas, and coal extraction.

Additionally, the "Limited Immunity for Persons Responding to Oil Spills Act" is available through the Heartland Institute website; it would free corporations from liability when they cause injury using toxic chemical dispersants to clean oil spills (as happened with the BP-funded cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon spill).

This assault on the environment comes as no surprise when you take a look at the organization’s funders mentioned above. But it is the Koch brothers who have received the lion’s share of benefits from ALEC’s anti-environment efforts. From Lisa Graves, CMD's Executive Director, writing in The Nation:

The Kochs have a penchant for paying their way out of serious violations and coming out ahead. Helped by Koch Industries’ lobbying efforts, one of the first measures George W. Bush signed into law as governor of Texas was an ALEC model bill giving corporations immunity from penalties if they tell regulators about their own violation of environmental rules. Dozens of other ALEC bills would limit environmental regulations or litigation in ways that would benefit Koch.

ALEC has managed to operate for decades in the dark. It wasn’t until this year that news stories about the group began making headlines, and groups like PFAW and the AAJ began looking into their activities. The resources that CMD's ALECExposed.org provides are among the most extensive and valuable of any information that has come out about the group. With a fierce 2012 presidential election battle looming in the United States, stories about ALEC and their activities are going to become more important as voters prepare to vote in 15 months.

July 06 2011

20:38

American Petroleum Institute Dreams Of Placing Lobbyists In Every District

Oil industry lobbyist and president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Jack Gerard made his industry's goal clear in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine. Mr. Gerard said he hopes that in the near future there will be an oil lobbyist on the ground in every U.S. Congressional district in order to help his industry flourish, "so when a policy proposal hits the industry's bottom line, lawmakers from Seattle to Savannah will hear complaints about it from voters back home.”

As API president, Mr. Gerard is the leading representative for more than 400 different oil and gas companies. Gerard took the helm of API in November 2008, leaving a lucrative post as the head of the American Chemistry Council. In the short time that Gerard has led the API, he has instituted numerous reforms to help the oil industry focus its messaging to change public attitudes towards the industry’s behavior.

One of the major tools that Gerard brings to the API is the use of astroturf “grassroots” operations, something that the oil industry had not yet capitalized on.

In a series of town hall events last summer, Gerard used his astroturf activists to help spread misinformation about a Democratic-sponsored bill in Congress that would have placed stricter standards on offshore oil rigs in order to prevent disasters like the BP Deepwater Horizon. The bill would have also removed liability caps for companies who spill oil, something the oil industry was vehemently opposed to.

Thanks to Gerard’s astroturf efforts, public opposition to the bill appeared to originate from the bottom up, and the bill was defeated in Congress. Fortune described one of Gerard’s less-than-honest tactics during that process: 

“Last summer, after the House passed a tough bill to boost safety standards for offshore drilling and remove a liability cap for oil spills, Gerard mounted a round of rallies in regions far from the oilfields. At one, in suburban Chicago, more than 500 union workers assembled for a slick corporate production stage-managed to look like a working-class event.”

Gerard has also helped streamline his organization, laying off 20% of the API staff, and whittling dozens of priorities down to about six.

One of the most significant areas that he cut is the API’s modest research into renewable energy sources. His main focus has been to recruit Democrats to the side of big oil, in order change the perception that only Republicans support the fossil fuel energy industry. Again, from Fortune:

“He has set about trying to change the perception that Big Oil and Republican politics are inextricably bound, a pursuit that gained urgency when Obama moved into the White House. Gerard acted quickly, hiring Marty Durbin, nephew of the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, to head up API's lobbying team and start opening Democratic doors on the Hill. He organized fly-in lobbying visits by African-American, Hispanic, and female oil workers. And he formed a partnership with the building and construction trades department of the AFL-CIO to tout the job-creating potential of new drilling projects. Informal talks with social-media experts from the Obama campaign prompted Gerard to poach Nature Conservancy's Deryck Spooner to help build a grass-roots army that now claims more than 500,000 members.”

Gerard’s efforts appear to have paid off, as his industry was able to keep their multi-billion dollar subsidies and tax breaks in the midst of a nasty budget fight in Washington. And with the success of last summer’s astroturf campaign to defeat oil drilling safety measures, Gerard has announced that he is planning to do the same thing in the next few months to combat the negative attention that currently surrounds the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

With plenty of oil and gas money backing him, Jack Gerard seems unstoppable. And thanks to Citizens United, he might very well be unstoppable. According to independent analysis, candidates who receive and spend the most money during a campaign win their election in more than 90% of races – from local to federal offices.

If Mr. Gerard is successful in placing lobbyists and oil representatives in every district in America, Big Oil could truly determine the outcome of nearly every political race from now on.

June 20 2011

16:57

Paul Ryan Lies About Ending Oil Subsidies To Protect His Family’s Cash Bonanza

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been all over the place when it comes to ending the multi-billion dollar subsidies that the oil industry receives every year. While he has publicly admitted that he is in favor of ending this “corporate welfare,” and his staff has claimed that his budget plan actually calls for an end to oil subsidies, the truth is that Rep. Ryan would never end oil subsidies because he makes a lot of money keeping the welfare spigot open.

The oil industry currently receives $4 billion in subsidies from the federal government, and receives more than $4.4 billion in tax breaks every year, bringing their total government handouts to more than $8 billion every year. Some estimates actually put the total number closer to $35 billion a year.

According to a new report by Joe Romm at Climate Progress, Paul Ryan and his family have a financial stake in some of the companies that receive these oil subsidies.

From Romm:

“What we have only just learned from Ryan’s financial disclosure forms for Congress that were made public this week is “he and his wife, Janna, own stakes in four family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the very energy companies that benefit from the tax subsidies in Ryan’s budget plan.”

You can view Ryan’s financial disclosure forms here.

The Daily Beast has more:

Ryan's father-in-law, Daniel Little, who runs the companies, told Newsweek and The Daily Beast that the family companies are currently leasing the land for mining and drilling to energy giants such as Chesapeake Energy, Devon, and XTO Energy, a recently acquired subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

Some of these firms would be eligible for portions of the $45 billion in energy tax breaks and subsidies over 10 years protected in the Wisconsin lawmaker’s proposed budget. “Those [energy developing companies] benefit a lot from these subsidies,” explained Russ Harding, an energy policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, when presented with the situation, without reference to Ryan. “Without those, they’re going to be less profitable.”

To ethics watchdogs, Ryan’s effort to extend the tax breaks creates the potential appearance of a conflict of interest.

Over the course of his career, Ryan has raked in more than a quarter million dollars from polluters in the oil and gas industries and the coal industry. As a whole, the oil and gas industry has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying and political donations since 1998.

Even if his family wealth wasn’t directly tied to dirty energy welfare, his campaign cash from polluters ensures that fossil fuel interests can count on Ryan to protect their subsidies through his power position as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

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