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August 23 2012

10:00

US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”
 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

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.

March 23 2012

19:06

Tracking The Origins Of The "Blame Obama For Gas Prices" Talking Point

Since at least last summer, conservatives have been parroting the oil industry talking point that President Obama is somehow the one responsible for the spike in gasoline and oil prices. As we have pointed out, they base this on their assertion that the President has been “hostile” towards the dirty energy industry by prohibiting drilling and denying the passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. While the Keystone deal is currently on hold (although not even close to being off the table,) the assertion that the president has been hostile to the oil industry is beyond false.

Furthermore, the claim that Obama is responsible for the rise in gasoline prices is untrue on all premises. Just this week, the Associated Press released a report explaining the numerous ways in which gasoline prices are far beyond the control of the President, regardless of his actions or policies that he puts in place regarding oil exploration. Here are some highlights from the new report:
  

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February 08 2012

05:14

China Looks To Stephen Harper For Lessons In Dirty Energy Exploitation

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in China this week to meet with Chinese leaders about how both countries can profit big by exploiting China’s shale gas reserves, as well as by importing Canadian tar sands oil. Harper is scheduled to meet with both Chinese officials, as well as heads of oil and gas companies during his four-day visit to the country.

More on the specifics of who will be attending these meetings, from Reuters Canada:

During his trip Harper will meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao as well as two important regional players - Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai and Wang Yang, the chief of Guangdong province.

The Canadian mission, which will arrive in Beijing on Tuesday, is the largest of its kind since 1998. Guests include top executives from Shell Canada, Enbridge and Canadian Oil Sands as well as uranium producer Cameco Corp and mining firm Teck Resources Ltd.

Other firms include plane and train maker Bombardier Inc, Air Canada, Eldorado Gold Corp, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc, Canfor Corp and West Fraser Timber Co Ltd.

After the United States’ rejection last month of the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian officials are hoping to reap a profit in the world’s largest emerging market. But any energy trade deals would certainly benefit both sides, as just last week PetroChina, parent of China’s largest oil producer, purchased a 20% stake in a Canadian shale gas project being run by Royal Dutch Shell.

Chinese oil companies are hoping that their cooperation with Shell and the Canadian government will help them use these valuable resources to teach officials more about the process of extracting shale gas, mostly through fracking.

Just last year, with some financing through other Chinese oil companies, Shell invested more than $400 million in Chinese shale gas projects, which included the drilling of at least 15 different shale extraction wells.

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Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

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.

November 19 2011

00:08

Another Blow To Dirty Energy: Fracking Nixed In The Delaware River Basin

Last night, 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 Commission is made up of the 4 governors of basin states: New York (Cuomo), New Jersey (Christie), Pennsylvania (Corbett), and Delaware (Markell). The fifth member is from the Army Corps of Engineers, who is there to vote on behalf of the Obama administration.

Earlier in the week, sources indicated that Pennsylvania and New Jersey were set to vote yes, while New York was set to vote no. This left Delaware and the Obama administration up in the air. Advocacy groups and citizens targeted Delaware, knowing that the Obama administration wouldn’t likely leave themselves in the position of tie-breaker.

Knowing of the widespread, devastating health and environmental effects fracking has left in other areas of the nation, many people in the Delaware River Basin are immensely concerned about the prospect of fracking in their watershed. So much so, that when information came out that offices of the members of the Commission were tallying phone calls, people flooded the offices with calls and emails urging each to vote no on allowing fracking into the area, to the point where voicemail boxes were full for days.

After Delaware announced they would vote no at Monday’s meeting, as predicted, the meeting was soon cancelled. Ideally citizens would have liked to see fracking legitimately outlawed, but for now, it’s a temporary victory that will keep gas fracking - which some have dubbed as extreme energy extraction - out of an area that supplies water to millions.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch made the following statement,

This is a victory for the grassroots activists who have passionately rallied to protect our water, communities and health from the potentially devastating effects of this dirty practice. By standing up against big lobbying cash and flashy ads touting the job creating effects of shale gas development, we have won this critical fight.This delay is really a testament to the power of fighting for the what we believe in, not the best we can get. We’ll continue to forge ahead until we have a ban on fracking in the U.S.”

February 21 2011

14:13

Top EIA Energy Trends Watcher Agrees: We Do Not Count Damage to Public Property in Price of Fossil Fuels

Scaling Green recently wrote about the insights shared by energy trends analyst Chris Namovicz of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), who spoke at our “Communicating Energy” lecture series recently, and his comments regarding the lack of a definitive count on fossil fuel subsidies in this country. Today, we return to Namovicz’s lecture, this time to ask him about the economics of fossil fuel companies’ exploitation of resources on public property.

Here’s our question:

Their price drops in part because we’re not charging them to ruin public property. I mean, we basically are letting them contaminate water, we don’t charge them for that, and they don’t have to pay it. Your assumptions don’t include any price we would impose on them for hurting public waterways, is that accurate?

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Now, here’s Namovicz’s response:

I think it’s easier to figure out the costs to mitigate the issue than it is to figure out the value of mitigation…[or of the loss of an asset], right.

This answer highlights a major problem with the way we account for the costs – or, more accurately, fail to do so - of fossil fuel production in this country. Attempts at accounting for these costs have been made, and have given us an idea of the scope of what we’re dealing with. For instance, a new study by Harvard researchers estimates the costs involved in the “life cycle coal production” in the United States. The answer is staggering: “between a third and over half a trillion dollars each year in health, economic, and environmental impacts.” That includes “damages from climate change (like weather events and rising seas, public health damages from toxins released during electricity generation, deaths from rail accidents during coal transport, public health problems in coal-mining regions (in Appalachia, mountaintop removal contaminates surface and groundwater with carcinogens and heavy metals), government subsidies, and lost value of abandoned mine areas.” And that’s just coal. The same type of analysis can and should be done for oil and natural gas, as well, with what you can expect to be similarly eye-popping results.

When the dirty energy lobby makes the Palin-esque claim that it’s not really subsidized, or hardly at all, it’s OK to laugh, or admire them for working so hard to believe their own nonsense. But it’s important to point out that it’s a lie, and a big one at that. The fact is, the direct and indirect underwriting to this industry - including an almost complete failure to account for damages to public land, water, and health – has been wildly underestimated, not overestimated.

In stark contrast, clean energy doesn’t engage in wholesale wreckage of public property. We keep reading about the devastation caused by oil spills, natural gas “fracking,” mountaintop removal coal mining, etc., because we are renting our property to bad renters – people who aren’t charged a market rate, don’t give a security deposit, and who can absolutely counted on to wreck the house. Maybe a deficit-conscious country could do better.

 

 

 

February 15 2011

17:46

Top EIA Energy Trends Watcher: No Definitive Count on Dirty Energy Welfare

The national conversation about wasteful welfare for highly profitable dirty energy corporations has gone from the dramatic statement by the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency that fossil fuel subsidies are one of the biggest impediments to global economic recovery (“the appendicitis of the global energy system which needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future”), to a speech by Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch (in which he called the fossil fuel industry “grotesquely oversubsidized”), to a call by President Obama to cut oil company welfare by $4 billion. Not to be outdone, House Democrats are now calling for a $40 billion cut.

Dirty energy welfare defenders have, predictably, responded with ridiculous, Palin-esque denials of reality, but the voter demands that wasteful spending be cut begs the question: just how much of our tax money is going to ExxonMobil, Massey, etc.? With the new deficit hawks in Congress going after insignificant items like bottled water expenses, you’d think they’d want to know the size of the really wasteful stuff, right?<!--break-->

The problem is, we’ve long suspected that no one really knows how much of our money goes to dirty oil executives like Rex Tillerson and Gregory Boyce. There have been counts, ranging from $10 billion a year by the Environmental Law Institute, to the more comprehensive, $52 billion a years by Doug Koplow of EarthTrack.  But, do taxpayers even have a widely accepted, comprehensive inventory of how of our money is being handed to the dirty energy lobby by politicians?  That includes state-level subsidies, by the way, such as the $45 million that Virginia gives to the coal industry.

Energy trends analyst Chris Namovicz of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) was the latest speaker in our “Communicating Energy” lecture series. We took the opportunity to ask one of the top, neutral energy trends analysts in the country the question, “Do you know if someone has actually done a credible, comprehensive, definitive count of how much taxpayers underwrite fossil fuels in this country?” We added the thought that “there's no one really widely available number where average citizens can say, yeah, this much of my money goes to pay ExxonMobil.

According to Namovicz, there really isn’t such a widely available, definitive, comprehensive number.

Right…we're not accounting for the nuclear insurance subsidy, we're not accounting for military oil shipping, we're not even accounting for the tax depreciation benefits that some resources get over others...

 

The fact is, there is a wide array of government subsidies, both implicit and explicit, that are doled out every year to fossil fuel companies. One estimate, by the Environmental Law Institute, finds that dirty energy companies in the United States alone have run up a $72 billion tab at the taxpayer’s bar from 2002 to 2008. Worldwide, it’s far worse; as this study by the OECD explains:

The [International Energy Agency] estimates that direct subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by artificially lowering end-user prices for fossil fuels amounted to $312 billion in 2009. In addition, a number of mechanisms can be identified, also in advanced economies, which effectively support fossil-fuel production or consumption, such as tax expenditures, under-priced access to scarce resources under government control (e.g., land) and the transfer of risks to governments (e.g., via concessional loans or guarantees). These subsidies are more difficult to identify and estimate compared with direct consumer subsidies.

As I pointed out in a recent post, these subsidies aren’t just reckless and stupid, they aren’t even what people want. In fact, only 8 percent of Americans prefer their tax money be given to highly profitable, mature industries such as ExxonMobil and Massey Energy.

Shouldn’t there be a definitive count of energy subsidies? As we’re looking at cutting waste from our federal (and states’) budgets, shouldn’t there be a credible accounting of all the ways we pay to grease the way for these mature, highly profitable industries? We’re not talking about one done by dirty energy lobbyists or their hired “experts,” by the way, but a real inventory done by those who wouldn’t profit by a lower or incomplete count. Such an accounting should include:

  • Tax breaks
  • Dirty subsidies
  • The costs of government agencies that are set up to perform functions that these industries should pay full cost for doing – such as figuring out how to stuff their pollution underground instead of wasting it on exorbitant, fantasy projects like “FutureGen.”
  • Military expenditures to protect oil shipping lanes.
  • Pollution forgiveness or remediation
  • Rock-bottom priced access to public property – mountains, subsurface property, aquifers, ocean waters -- which fossil energy companies routinely wreck and pay comparatively little to fix.

We need to force politicians to be aggressively honest about how much of our money is going to TillersonBoyceBlankenshipO’ReillyLesar, etc. Until they do, the anti-clean energy bigmouths in Congress who are bashing clean energy policy support need to back way off. And, the dirty energy lobby mouthpieces who propagandize how “cheap” dirty energy is, should do the same. Directly or indirectly, we’re paying their salaries.

January 20 2011

16:31

Is The Energy Industry Writing Policy Again?

Politico is reporting that Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and other members of his staff recently met in a closed door meeting with lobbyists from the dirty energy industry. As reported earlier, Upton is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and has taken an adversarial stand against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Also attending the meeting was Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and perhaps the most well-known and loudest global warming deniers in Congress.

According to the report from Politico:

“The roster of those attending the invitation-only gathering is being kept under lock and key, though it is believed to include the American Petroleum Institute, National Mining Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others.”
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At the start of this year, the EPA began regulating carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, a move that has industry leaders worried that they might have to fork over profits in order to meet new industry standards. The Hill reported yesterday that Upton is looking to introduce a bill within the next week to strip the EPA of their new powers.

But other Republican members want to go even further than Upton. Rep. John Barrasso (R-WY) plans on introducing a bill that would prohibit any federal agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions unless Congress specifically passes a bill that gives these agencies the authority to do so. Given the assault on the environment that is already taking place among the new Republican majority in the House, passing a bill that allows tougher environmental regulations seems like a long shot.

While the details of the secret industry meeting are being kept secret, there should be little doubt that the energy industry is once again going to be playing a major role in crafting legislation that will affect their industry.

The secrecy surrounding these GOP meetings with dirty energy interests harkens back to the closed door meetings that former vice president Dick Cheney held with energy industry officials in the spring and summer of 2001 before pushing Congress to ease rules and regulations that he believed were strangling the industry.

December 07 2010

20:18

Dirty Energy Is Playing Full Contact So Is Cleantech Ready To Do The Same?

This is a guest post by Mike Casey, president of TigerComm, cross-posted from ScalingGreen.com.

Cancun - When I started working on solar energy issues several years ago, I heard it repeatedly: “Everyone loves solar.” Back then, many people in solar and other cleantech sectors saw long-term meritocracy in the energy business. Public demand, technological advances and aninevitable price on carbon were going to drive cleantech to dominance over time. “Renewable energy,” it was often said, “will soon become just plain ‘energy’.”

From the gridlocked global warming treaty negotiations here in Cancun, however, the picture seems starkly different. The Congressional climate bill fight ended in disaster, the recession tightened credit markets, and the coal and oil industries bought themselves a new Congress last month. And that global carbon market many were counting on? The most optimistic note Thursday night from a top U.S. treaty negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, was “maybe next year.”<!--break-->

Still, cleantech possesses a great combination of assets that many industries spend considerable time and money trying to generate. These include:

Policy momentum: California’s anti-cleantech Proposition 23 lost by a huge margin last month; and the offshore wind industry has been greenlighted by the Obama Administration.

Business success: Solar is now the fastest growing energy sector, creating jobs in all 50 states.

Wide and deep public support: Over 90% of Americans support solar energy, while 87% believe we should build more wind farms, and all over the country, people from different walks of life actually volunteer their time to move the nation from fossil fuels to clean energy.

However, that asset combination has also moved solar, wind, battery storage, and energy efficiency technologies from being cute niceties to potentially serious market disruptors for traditional, dirty energy players.

The dirty energy guys know that, and they are acting accordingly. Cleantech investors, executives and leaders have a lot at stake, and they should pay attention to dirty energy’s increasingly aggressive attacks:

Virtually all of these attacks push three, interlocking memes about cleantech: 1) It’s “not ready;” 2) It’s “too expensive;” and 3) It’s “unreliable.” And the message discipline and sheer number of these attacks make it very likely they are being underwritten and coordinated by people with a vested interest in making them happen.

But if you invest or work in cleantech, should you really care? After all, customers and project financers make rational decisions, immune from a technology’s market position… don’t they?

Not according to a panel of cleantech communicators we convened during the recent Solar Power International (SPI) trade show. There, RenewableEnergyWorld.com founder and publisher Oliver Strube; pollster Jeff Levine of Gotham Research Group;Kimberly Kupiecki of Edelman; and Greentech Media editor-in-chief Michael Kanellosjoined us to discuss two new polls and steps cleantech should take in the face of dirty energy attacks on cleantech.

These experts agreed:

  • Cleantech is now in a full-contact game with dirty energy, which is playing accordingly.
  • The attacks by dirty energy are serious, coordinated, and are beginning to get traction in public opinion research.
  • And, the attacks matter. By generating, stimulating, or exacerbating customer concerns about readiness, cost and reliability, they are affecting the marketing and sales environment for large and small companies.
  • More than probably any other industry, cleantech has a strong interest in collective brand defense.
  • Individual cleantech businesses and investors can’t rely solely on their trade associations, much less on environmental groups or on simple public goodwill, for their advocacy. It’s in each cleantech player’s financial interest to help to mount a more concerted effort to push back against detractors.

Our panelists recommended at least three steps for cleantech to take.

1. Clean energy needs to capture peoples’ imaginations, not just their intellects

While clean energy has the facts on its side, it hasn’t been using its very strong connection with Americans who might invest in it, purchase it, or support it just on the grounds of national economic interests. Instead, there’s far too much engineer-speak, facts, figures, watts, and jargon dominating cleantech communications. That’s a mistake, according to Renewable Energy World’s Oliver Strube, who said, “As an industry it really is important to us to change that language.”

Emory University psychologist Dr. Drew Westen conducted groundbreaking research in 2004, finding that people make decisions first and foremost at the emotional level, and only then do they begin rational consideration. In fact, Westen found, humans are incapable of doing otherwise. The cleantech community should assume there’s a reason why deep-pocketed Chevron and the coal front group, America’s Power Army, have spent huge sums on advertising and marketing materials with a certain feel to them.

2. Individual companies should advocate for the cleantech industry – it’s in their individual interests

Cleantech companies have strong individual interests in collective brand defense.Michael Kanellos of Greentech Media made the point best: “…the onslaught of information that’s coming to people has allowed them to solidify an opinion.” And that opinion forms the landscape on which cleantech is trying to sell products, draw investors and scale.

If cleantech companies don’t help with their own advocacy, who will? No cleantech sector is old enough to have a trade association or echo chamber it can rely on to do all its public communicating. Their trade associations need individual companies to tell their customers’ success stories and celebrate milestones in a much more public and constant way.

A great recent example of a cleantech executive doing his company a service through collective brand defense was SPG Solar CEO Tom Rooney’s piece making the case why political conservatives should support clean energy. Mr. Rooney is busy running a company, but he took time to do a thoughtful, spot-on piece that generated a lot of traffic, comments and conversation. It also raised SPG Solar’s visibility and thought leadership, at very low cost.

We need more of that type of effort across the board. A lot more, in fact. At our panel, Edelman’s Kimberly Kupecki said, “One of the biggest challenges is helping solar companies talk about the context – why they matter and how they’re affecting their industry in the broader picture. It’s another way we can simply and cheaply be our own advocates.”

3. Welcome a conversation about cost

Cleantech voices need to frame the cost argument properly by relentlessly pointing out that fossil fuels’ supposed cheapness is underwritten by massive taxpayers subsidies.

The dirty energy lobby has proven highly sensitive to this counter-argument. On October 12, 2010, Solar Energy Industry Association CEO and President Rhone Resch called for cutting the “grotesque” subsidies to fossil industries. “Every year, the toxic fossil industries receive $550 billion in subsidies worldwide,” he said.

Just two weeks later, ExxonMobil ran a remarkably defensive ad in the form of an obfuscating quiz on subsidies (see below) at the bottom of the front page of the New York Times.

This ad was followed with a laughable blog post from Vice President Ken Coheninsisting that “open-ended subsidies for existing energy technologies simply shift the costs to taxpayers without making the technologies more competitive or sustainable.”  Mr. Cohen’s multi-billion profit company is uncomfortably familiar with open-ended subsidies and their impact on consumers. So, he should know that if you’re given $550 billion a year to be “inexpensive,” you shouldn’t run your mouth about the cost of clean energy technologies.

Our panelists were in full agreement that it’s time for the solar industry to wade into the cost conversation. If we aggressively frame that conversation accurately, we’ll win.

Bottom line: Cleantech managers and investors are busy trying to build successful companies, but their growing successes have drawn the opposition of status quo players who don’t want them to succeed. That’s why the dirty energy industries are now spending significant resources to harden the marketing and sales environment against cleantech’s success. All the facts, figures and solid product offerings in the world won’t overcome that problem if this emerging threat isn’t faced.

Dirty energy is playing full contact. Are we ready to do the same?

 

June 22 2010

01:34

Stanford Study Exposes Lack of Credibility and Expertise Among Climate Skeptics

A study by Stanford University researchers examining expert credibility in climate change has confirmed that climate skeptics and contrarians within the scientific community comprise at best 3% of the field, and are “vastly overshadowed” in expertise by their colleagues who agree that manmade climate change is real. 

As readers of DeSmogBlog know well, the credibility of climate science and scientists has come under attack in recent months.  In the wake of the Climategate episode –portrayed in the right wing media as a scandalous cover-up while independent investigations found no evidence calling into question the integrity of climate science – skeptics have loudly argued that the public shouldn’t trust the overwhelming consensus among scientists that man-made climate change is real.

Flipping that faulty assertion on its head, this new Stanford study, published today in the highly-regarded journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides even more reason for the public to scrutinize the credibility of the skeptics and contrarians themselves, showing them to possess less direct expertise and far fewer published works in the climate science literature than colleagues who agree with the consensus view.
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Examining a group of 1,372 climate researchers, their publications and the number of times their work is cited by peers in related studies, the Stanford researchers found that:

1) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of [man-made climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and 2) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [man-made climate change] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

The authors found that:

“the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of [anthropogenic climate change] vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians.”

Reviews of the scientific literature and surveys of climate scientists “indicate striking agreement with the primary conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” according to the study.

But you would hardly know that from watching Fox News or reading mainstream media coverage of climate change lately. 

Using Climategate and the juvenile theatrics of a handful of Republican politicians as fuel, climate deniers have waged a fierce media campaign to confuse the public in recent months, an effort that poll results in the U.S. indicate had a negative impact on public understanding of climate change and recognition of the urgent need to address it. 

While skeptics have been given plenty of oxygen on talk radio and TV lately, they remain remarkably quiet in the annals of peer-reviewed literature.  Reams of data and papers have been published in the best scientific journals documenting and supporting the consensus view that humans have altered the climate in potentially catastrophic ways. 

In contrast, evidence to support the views of contrarians and skeptics remains mostly unrecognized and unpublished in scientific journals.  That is not an indication that the peer-review process is somehow corrupt, as some skeptics contend, but rather a clear sign that skeptics have failed to present to their peers any credible evidence to support their contrary opinions.

It is interesting to note that the study, which was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Stanford University, did not look at the issue of industry funding or conflicts of interest among the skeptics identified in the report.  Even without taking those important factors into account, the Stanford researchers demonstrate a clear lack of credibility among skeptics who doubt man-made climate change. The vast majority of skeptics who signed onto joint statements denying man-made climate change “have not published extensively in the peer-reviewed climate literature,” the study found.

This study from Stanford has documented yet again the total lack of credibility and expertise among climate skeptics, yet as long as Fox News and talk radio exist, the public will continue to be duped into the false assumption that there is doubt among the scientific community on this issue. 

While President Obama has pledged to craft policy based on the best science available and to consult with the most credible experts, climate skeptics have used biased media outlets and a bullhorn to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change.  That dangerous distraction enables lawmakers to avoid making science-based policy decisions, delaying action on climate change and fostering continued dependence on dirty energy sources.

For the full details, read the attached study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

AttachmentSize PNAS-2010-Anderegg-1003187107.pdf107.54 KB

March 11 2010

22:20

Senators Meet With Polluter Lobbyists To Discuss 'Green Economy’ Bill

Senators working to craft legislation to transition the U.S. economy to cleaner energy and provide green jobs for Americans have a critical task ahead of them.  The U.S. economy is lagging due to an addiction to foreign sources of dirty energy, among other reasons.  Leaders from government, the private sector and even the Pentagon acknowledge the need to move rapidly towards a clean energy future that provides good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. 

Which begs the question: Why are the Senators working on this critical legislative effort spending so much time and energy negotiating with lobbyists for the dirty energy industry – the very sector that is largely responsible for our addiction to foreign oil and filthy coal and outsourced jobs?

Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman – who are spearheading the new green economy legislation – met today with a gaggle of lobbyists and front groups representing the carbon club.

E&E News reports that:
A cross section of industry power players met this afternoon in the Capitol with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. Groups represented at the meeting included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, Edison Electric Institute, Nuclear Energy Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, Farm Bureau, American Forest and Paper Association, American Railroads, National Electric Manufacturers Association and Portland Cement Association.
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What could these lobbyists and Astroturfers for dirty energy corporations that deny the threat of climate change possibly have to offer in this conversation about how to move towards a clean energy future that will provide millions of jobs and secure our economy? 

The Wonk Room reports:

half of the lobbyist groups mentioned are legally challenging the threat of manmade climate change, with court petitions against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas endangerment finding:

– The Portland Cement Association, which has filed suit despite supposedly recognizing the need to reduce global warming pollution

– The American Petroleum Institute, which intends to blame climate policy for higher gas prices at every gas station in America

– The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has repeatedly questioned climate science

– The National Association of Manufacturers, which claims climate legislation is “anti-jobs, anti-energy

– The American Farm Bureau Federation, which argues there is global cooling

One has to wonder how productive it can be to negotiate with polluters who deny the scientific reality of global warming.

Yes, one has to wonder.  Particularly ‘ones’ named Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Too late.  The dirty industry lobbyists thought the talks were “extraordinarily productive” and “encouraging.”

John Shaw, the senior vice president of the Portland Cement Association, said:

    "It was an extraordinarily productive meeting. I think it was unprecedented for three senators, arguably each from a different political background, if you will, to sit down at a table and invite leaders from all different sectors, to try to create another level of dialogue. They want to start delving into the details, and creating those details with greater industry input than we’ve seen in the past."

“Greater industry input” than in the past?  Did Mr. Shaw’s invitation to participate in the Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force get lost in the mail?  Where has he been the past decade when the Bush White House essentially had oil and coal executives on speed dial?

Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute (EEI), told reporters:

    "It was a positive, encouraging discussion. I think they want to try and find ways to make things work from the standpoint of all the participants in that room, from the standpoint of the industrials and the oil companies."

Yes, the oil companies sure have had it tough these days, what with Exxon Mobil’s slump, merely posting profits of $19 Billion last year after its record-obliterating $45.2 Billion profit in 2008. 

‘One’ can imagine what kind of ‘green economy’ bill will emerge from negotiations with this crew.  Perhaps some more ‘green’ corporate welfare subsidies and tax cuts for oil companies?

Sorry if I sound cynical today.  I must be a “hydrocarbon denier” too.

February 10 2010

18:55

PolluterHarmony: A Match Made In Washington

Congressmembers, are you too busy being indentured servants to corporations to find love?

Lobbyists, did that pickup line about healthcare flop with your beloved Senator?  Well, have you heard the one about “clean coal” yet?

Polluters, are you too shy to admit the things you’d like to do to Rep. Joe Barton

Well, you are all in luck.  Today marks the launch of PolluterHarmony.com, a new online matchmaking service designed to help dirty polluters and their lobbyists find that perfect politician to live forever in holy mmm…
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Forget Citizens United, PolluterHarmony knows all about uniting citizens, like the match made in heaven between Koch Industries and Sen. James Inhofe.

Speaking of below the Beltway… PolluterHarmony knows that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Rrrow!-AK) likes it dirty, as dirty as it gets in fact.  She’s on the receiving end of $111,296 in contributions from coal interests in the 111th Congress. 

Kert Davies, director of PolluterWatch.org, the masterminds behind PolluterHarmony, notes in his blog on Huffington Post that PolluterHarmony.com is “a dating service dedicated to helping polluter industry lobbyists, CEO's and propagandists match up with willing public officials, making it even easier to buy and sell influence, sabotage global warming solutions and derail our clean energy future.”

Wow, I never imagined that such connections could be made any easier than they already are. 

PolluterHarmony proves that anything is possible! 

So, all you D.C. polluticians, why wait for all that snow to melt?  “Start your long-term collusion today!”

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