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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 08 2012

18:20

Science Denial and Andrea Saul – Romney 2012 Campaign Spokesperson

This is a guest post from Connor Gibson, originally published at PolluterWatch.

 INTRODUCTION

 
Andrea Saul, a prominent Romney 2012 campaign operative and spokesperson, formerly worked for DCI Group, a Washington DC public affairs and lobbying firm. During this period, DCI Group was on contract to ExxonMobil at the height of Exxon’s campaign attacking global warming science and climate change policy. DCI’s efforts included campaigns to undermine climate legislation and to push counter messages and spokespeople to media on the connection between extreme weather and global warming. Saul’s extensive role in these DCI Group climate campaigns can be traced through archived documents and press releases. Her role in shaping Romney’s climate and science policy is not known. 
“Gov. Romney does not think greenhouse gases are pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Air Act, and he does not believe that the EPA should be regulating them,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Humans emit it every time they exhale.”  Politico, July 2011
.
Ms. Saul has also responded to Mitt Romney's contradictory public statements on global warming. NPR reported in October, 2011:
"Romney went from believing that humans contribute to global warming, though he was uncertain how much, to saying he didn't know what contributes to global warming." Andrea Saul denied that Romney had "flip-flopped" on his climate stance, responding:
"This is ridiculous. Governor Romney's view on climate change has not changed. He believes it's occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn't know to what extent. He opposes cap and trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor. Maybe the bigger threat is all the hot air coming from career politicians who are desperate to hold on to power."

ANDREA SAUL AND DCI GROUP

  • Saul was hired March 2011 as a Romney campaign spokesperson. Today, she regularly appears in the media as the main messenger for the campaign.
  • While employed with the PR firm DCI Group as an account executive between 2004-2007, Ms. Saul helped to orchestrate a multi-faceted, covert operation to undermine science, attack scientists and confuse the public and reporters. 
  • DCI was, at that time, contracted as lobbyists by Exxon and many other corporations.  Exxon remains a DCI client today.
From 2004 to 2007, Ms. Saul worked at the DCI Group, a top lobbying and public relations firm that has represented a range of clients including the Burmese junta and has orchestrated front group campaigns for Microsoft, Verizon and ExxonMobil. More on ExxonMobil's role in climate science denial is outlined in Steve Coll's new book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.
 
Two of the DCI Group founders, Tim Hyde and Thomas J. Synhorst, began their careers with the tobacco industry where they worked to undermine the science on the dangers of smoking. For instance, Mr. Synhorst oversaw field operations with the “smokers rights” groups, a phony movement designed to shift the discussion away from the dangers of smoking to the protection of smoking rights.
 
In the early-2000s, DCI picked up ExxonMobil as a client and began operations to create confusion about climate change science. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported on a purportedly homemade YouTube video portraying Al Gore as a sinister figure who blames several problems on global warming. The video’s maker was listed as “Toutsmith” a 29-year-old who identified himself as living in Beverly Hills, California.
 
However, when Journal reporters contacted “Toutsmith” his return emails originated from a computer registered with the DCI Group. A spokesman from Exxon confirmed that the company was a DCI Group client. DCI declined to admit to the Wall Street Journal if they had made the video. 
 
According to the Wall Street Journal
"Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on YouTube.com in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday."
As part of this Exxon funded campaign, Andrea Saul was a point person behind an effort to create confusion and advance contrarian viewpoints and corporate-funded pundits. 
 
This briefing illuminates Ms. Saul’s efforts at DCI

  • PART 1) Ms. Saul advanced the opinions of contrarian scientists and corporate-funded pundits on the Exxon-funded Tech Central Station, a purported news web site;
  • PART 2) Ms. Saul sought to promote contrarian voices into the debate over hurricanes and climate change in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; 
  • PART 3) Ms. Saul promoted the views of a scientist who had no training in climate change to undermine a study on climate change effects on the Antarctic ice sheet; 
  • PART 4) Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to undermine scientific consensus on the science of climate change; 
  • PART 5) Ms. Saul pushed out press releases for a front group linked to Grover Norquist designed to undermine pending climate change legislation.

ADDITIONAL CONTENT:

(click links above to jump down to a section of the briefing)

1. Andrea Saul - Contact on Climate Change for Phony News Site, Tech Central Station

Tech Central Station is a free market news site that was established, owned and published by DCI Group until it was sold in September 2006.  According to a story published in 2003 in the Washington Monthly, Tech Central Station appeared to be less about news than lobbying. The story found:
"Tech Central Station looks less like a think-tank-cum-magazine than a kind of lobbying practice. Which makes sense: Four of the five co-owners of TCS are also the co-owners of the DCI Group, the Washington public affairs firm founded by Republican operative Thomas J. Synhorst. TCS's fifth owner is Charles Francis, who is also a senior lobbyist at DCI and is listed on TCS's phone directory. And as it happens, three of TCS's sponsors—AT&T, General Motors, and PhRMA—have also retained DCI for their lobbying needs. (Both DCI's spokeswoman and TCS's chief executive officer declined to be interviewed for this article. However, after I requested comment, the Web site was changed. Where it formerly stated that 'Tech Central Station is published by Tech Central Station, L.L.C.,' it now reads 'Tech Central Station is published by DCI Group, L.L.C.')
 
"Like its publishing arm, DCI's business is to influence elite opinion in Washington. But instead of publishing articles, DCI specializes in what's known as 'corporate-financed grass-roots organizing,' such as setting up front groups to agitate for a client's position, placing letters to the editor with key newspapers, and using phone banks to generate calls to politicians. TCS, for its part, includes a disclaimer on its site noting that 'the opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of the writers and not necessarily those of any corporation or other organization.' But it is startling how often the opinions of TCS's writers and sponsors converge."
In 2006, Andrea Saul was listed as the contact person on Tech Central Station’s webpage on climate change. The site hosted opinions written by many prominent climate change science deniers including Patrick Michaels, Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, David Legates, Robert C. Balling, Henry I. Miller, Tim Ball, William Gray, Anthony Lupo, and Roy Spencer
 

2. DCI Tech Central Station - Campaign on Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change

On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, after the worst year of hurricane damage in recent history, including the devastating and deadly hurricane Katrina, DCI was deployed to create a counter narrative on the connection between stronger hurricanes and global warming. It is unknown who the DCI client was requesting this work, or what the deliverables were.
 
As part of the DCI efforts, Tech Central Station produced and distributed a Video News Release (VNR) that called into question the science linking hurricanes with climate change. The VNR along with a known newscast that used the piece, is viewable online, preserved by the Center for Investigative Reporting:
 
 
VNRs are produced videos, contracted generally by corporations, edited as news segments and sent out to news stations in small markets in hopes of filling airtime within the actual newscast. 
 
DCI’s hurricane VNR was distributed to TV stations across the Gulf states and was aired on at least one of them. Materials accompanying the video package listed "TCS Daily Science Roundtable" as the producer. The VNR’s announcers said:
 
"There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes. Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame.
 
"Dr. William Gray and Dr. James O’Brien, two of the nation’s top weather and oceans scientists, point to scientific data for the answer […].
 
"Gray and many of his colleagues believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself."
Growing Body of Scientific Evidence on Hurricanes and Climate Change:
Around the time that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, several papers were published in the scientific literature that found a potential link between hurricanes and climate change.
 
Two months before Katrina hit, Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a 'Perspective' article in Science that examined the published literature for possible evidence linking hurricanes and climate change.  Dr. Trenberth concluded:
"Trends in human-influenced environmental changes are now evident in hurricane regions. These changes are expected to affect hurricane intensity and rainfall, but the effect on hurricane numbers remains unclear. The key scientific question is not whether there is a trend in hurricane numbers and tracks, but rather how hurricanes are changing."
Weeks before Katrina landed, Kerry Emmanuel with the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a study in Nature that reviewed the power of roughly 4,800 hurricanes in the prior few decades. His analysis concluded that hurricanes that occurred over this period were increasing in average intensity. 
"My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century."
Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a 'Viewpoint' in Science which argued that the insurance industry was vulnerable to the negative financial impact of disasters accentuated by climate change. 
 
The month after Hurricane Katrina hit, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a study of tropical cyclones in Science. The data found an increase in the number and proportion of hurricanes reaching the largest categories, which are 4 and 5. 
 
The accumulated evidence of these papers, along with the media reports, had a definitive impact on public opinion. A poll run by Time/ABC News/Stanford University at that time, found that 85 percent of Americans agreed that the Earth was growing warmer. 
 
On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, DCI responded to growing public recognition of global warming. On March 30, 2006, Andrea Saul sent out a press release alerting reporters to “experts” who could discuss the link between hurricanes and climate change. This press release furtively lists Saul as representing “Technology Commerce Society”, the tag line for TCS Daily, Tech Central Station’s daily blog website…it’s either Tech Central Station or the Technology Commerce Society. Saul’s real employer, DCI Group.
 
Ms. Saul wrote in the release: 
“Coming off one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, many are quick to blame the strength and frequency of these storms on global warming. Leading climate scientists, however, say there is no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate.” 
The scientists listed on the press statement included:
  • James J. O’Brien, director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State University – As an expert in oceanography and weather, Dr. O’Brien appeared to have little to no expertise in climate change according to his CV of published studies. 
  • Patrick Michaels, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia – A denier of anthropogenic global warming, Dr. Michaels has maintained strong ties to several denialist and front groups for oil and gas interests including the Cato Institute and the Greening Earth Society
  • George Taylor, Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon – With no training in climate change or hurricanes, Taylor’s job was “to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
  • Anthony R. Lupo, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Missouri – A global warming denier and conservative activist, Lupo has been affiliated with numerous denialist organizations including the Science and Environmental Policy Project, the Heartland Institute, and the Marshall Institute (see also Dr. Lupo's resume).

3. Andrea Saul - Promoting the Views of a Non-expert Expert

In April 2006, Andrea Saul put out a press release to promote the views of weatherman and climate contrarian George Taylor who attempted to rebut a study published in Science which found that the Antarctic ice sheet was melting. Ms. Saul wrote:
"TCSDaily Science Roundtable member and Oregon state climatologist George Taylor, expressed his concern over the legitimacy of recent claims that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting. The Washington Post article titled 'Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Melting Rapidly' (www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/03/02/AR2006030201712.html) looked to Taylor to provide an expert view on the validity of a recent study published in Science magazine on global warming."
George Taylor was the Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon and had no training in climate change or its effects on polar regions of the Earth. According to an article about his retirement in 2008, Taylor’s expertise was “ to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
 

4. Andrea Saul - Led Campaign to Undermine Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Science

In mid 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) sought to draft a consensus statement on the science of climate change. This statement examined the vast body of research on the matter in attempt to better explain the science to both scientists and the American public.
 
In response, several scientists sent a letter to the AMS in an attempt to introduce contrarian views about “natural variability” and “data uncertainty” in the climate.   The lead author of the letter was Joseph D’Aleo a well-known climate change denier who has no training in climate change science. Other signatories include contrarian scientists and corporate funded pundits such as Richard Lindzen, Sallie Baliunas, and Patrick J. Michaels.
 
To advance these views, Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to “influence the deciding committee on the final statement.” 
 

5. Andrea Saul - Work with Grover Norquist Front Group, United For Jobs

When Congress was considering a tax on oil companies in the mid 2000’s, Andrea Saul leaped to Big Oil’s defense as part of United For Jobs, front group. In a press release by Saul, she wrote:
"Today United for Jobs (UFJ) warned that federal legislation to impose a so-called "windfall profits tax" on U.S. oil companies would have a severe economic impact on public employee trust funds. The Missouri Highway Patrol Retirement System, the Public School Employees' Retirement System of Missouri, the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System, and other public retirement funds could lose as much as $325 million per year in foregone gains, according to a recent study by the Investors Action Foundation (http://www.windfallprofitstax.org/)."
United for Jobs had already led the campaign to kill the McCain-Lieberman climate legislation on a rolling basis beginning in 2004. In 2005, the latest McCain-Lieberman climate bill was gaining slow momentum and Senator McCain pushed for more votes. McCain staff told to us at the time that United for Jobs was the most formidable opponent, with their appearance as a multi-denominational coalition of "labor", black business (National Black Chamber of Commerce), and seniors groups (60 Plus Association). United for Jobs attacked numerous other proposals for greenhouse gas regulations, including a counter offense against Senator Jeff Binghaman’s carbon dioxide regulatory efforts in 2005
 
United for Jobs no longer exists, but an archived website finds that their office was located at 1920 L Street, NW Suite 200 Washington, DC 20036. At the time, this was the exact same address for Americans for Tax Reform, a corporate front group managed by Grover Norquist, an associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff
 
DCI Group served as the contact and distribution node for United for Jobs reports and press releases.
 

Leaked Document: DCI, Heartland Institute and Exxon plan attacks on Clean Air Act

An anonymous source sent Greenpeace a copy of an invitation, agenda and attendees list for a May 2006 meeting organized by the Heartland Institute and hosted at the DCI Group offices “to discuss public policy challenges related to the Clean Air Act.” The only corporation represented at the meeting was ExxonMobil. Exxon representatives gave two presentations over the course of the full day meeting. Six ExxonMobil staff are listed as invited guests. Two DCI – Tech Central Station representatives are named on the invitees list, along with a note “plus DCI field officers and staff”. It is unknown whether Andrea Saul attended this meeting.
 
 
 
 
Organizations invited to this session included:
{cke_protected}

DCI Group former staff within Romney 2012 campaign:

(Quotations sourced from Democracy in Action)
 
Matt Rhoades, Campaign Manager:
“(announced Feb. 15, 2010) A vice president with DCI Group, May 2007-Feb. 2010. Communications director on Romney's presidential campaign, Jan. 2007-March 2008. A deputy communications director in charge of research for the RNC during the 2006 election cycle. Research director for the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. Deputy research director at the RNC, 2003-04. White House Liaison at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the Bush Administration, and earlier an Associate Director in the White House Presidential Personnel Office. B.A. from Syracuse University, 1997; and an M.A. from The George Washington University, 1999.”
Andrea Saul, Press Secretary:
“announced March 3, 2011 as communications advisor to Free and Strong America PAC) Press Secretary for Carly Fiorina’s U.S. Senate race in California. Communications director for Gov. Charlie Crist during his recent U.S. Senate run but resigned in April 2010 upon his decision to switch party affiliation. Press secretary to U.S Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) during much of 2009. Director of media affairs for McCain-Palin, responsible for organizing all television, radio and surrogate activity. Director of media affairs at the Republican National Committee, 2007-08. Associate account executive at DCI Group, 2005-07. Graduate of Vanderbilt University, 2004. twitter
Evan Yost, Deputy Communications Director and Research Director:
“(June 2011) M.B.A. in finance, accounting from Rice University, 2011. A director at DCI Group, 2007-09. Deputy director of research on John McCain 2008 in 2007. Special assistant for strategic initiatives in the Office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, 2005-06. B.A. in English literature from The Johns Hopkins University, 2000.”
 

 

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 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.

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01bp-ads

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.

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?

August 30 2011

13:15

Death Of A Talking Point? Regulations Actually Create Jobs

For years, the Republican Party in America has been on a crusade against what they call “job killing regulations.” A quick Google search for the phrase “job killing regulations” returns 368,000 results – many from official Republican Party sources and some others attempting to debunk this talking point.

The phrase “Job killing regulations” has been a consistent battle cry for GOP Congressmembers in their war against workplace safety and environmental protections. True to form, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) echoed this sentiment on Monday with his reference to “job-destroying regulations” in a memo about the Republican plan to further gut the Environmental Protection Agency.

While this talking point is used to berate a lot of different government protections, from checks and balances applied to Wall Street, to product safety laws, to measures safeguarding consumers from dangerous chemicals in food and pharmaceuticals, and so forth.

But most often, the perjorative “job-killing regulations” talking point is used to describe the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) And it has resonated extremely well among an American public that is currently suffering from a severe lack of jobs. As of July 2011, we have an unemployment rate of 9.1%, resulting in almost 14 million Americans looking, but unable to find, a job. For a populace that desperately wants to work but is unable to do so, scapegoating “regulations” has been a very powerful and effective narrative.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, these “job killing regulations” are a myth. There is no empirical data to back up their claims, but there is a wealth of information available showing that regulations – all regulations – actually promote job growth and put Americans back to work. A new report by Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) delivers the latest blow to this popular talking point, demonstrating a direct correlation between environmental regulations and job growth. NESCAUM looked at the Northeast and found that by enacting stricter fuel economy standards and pursuing cleaner forms of energy, more Americans would be put back to work.

From the NESCAUM study:

Employment increases by 9,490 to 50,700 jobs.

Gross regional product, a measure of the states’ economic output, increases by 2.1 billion to 4.9 billion.

Household disposable income increases by 1 billion to 3.3 billion.

Gasoline and diesel demand drops 12 to 29 percent.

Carbon pollution from transportation is cut by 5 to 9 percent.

And this is just for eleven states in the Northeast. A similar trend has been verified in California, where the standards set forth by NESCAUM are already in place.

But in the “Republicans Against Science” age, one study is certainly not enough to undo the damage that this “job killing regulation” GOP talking point has done to America, even when there are numerous other studies to back it up. Increased fuel economy standards already led to the creation of more than 155,000 U.S. jobs, according to the United Auto Workers union.

Last year, while Senate Democrats worked to pass sweeping environmental protection legislation, reports showed that the proposed efforts to protect the environment and invest in green technologies would have provided a boost to the economy by creating several hundred thousand much-needed jobs for out of work Americans.

But even though some of this information has been available to the public for years, many people still believe that any form of environmental protection will come at the expense of American jobs. The reason behind this mass ignorance once again lies with the GOP, which has deployed one of the most powerful echo chambers on the planet, consistently repeating the lie about “job killing regulations” over and over again. Unchallenged in their Fox News and right wing radio echo chambers, Republicans work to convince Americans that they have to choose between protecting the environment or the economy. They are aided by a network of industry front groups funded by polluting companies like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

During a recent GOP presidential debate, candidate Michelle Bachmann expressed her disdain for the EPA:

“I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

See how she used the “job killing” catchphrase? That was not an accident. Frank Luntz would be proud of the message discipline.

Another GOP presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, has said that he would completely do away with the EPA, a sentiment echoed by numerous GOP elected officials. The New York Times recently ran a headline declaring that bashing the EPA was the new “theme” of the 2012 GOP presidential race.

But it isn’t just elected GOP officials and big corporations repeating the talking point. So-called “independent” bloggers and reporters have taken up the mantle of attacking environmental protection as well. A recent piece cross-posted on BigHealthReport.com read: “Obama’s EPA Is Killing More Jobs than Economy Can Create.”

Here are a few comments from that article showing that this talking point is resonating quite well with some Americans:

Rudloph
August 27, 2011 at 5:14 pm
The ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION AGENCY is useless, it just makes our economy worse. Their whole existence depends on pollution and bad mouthing it.

Carolyn Kane
August 27, 2011 at 10:45 am
I am always amazed at how much power the E.P.A. has gained in the U.S.A. none of these people were ever voted in yet they control every part of our lives. I think it is time for people to start looking at everything that they do and if it is even legal.

Gary
August 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm
No surprise here. Does anybody really believe that Obama is serious on creating jobs. He is intent on destroying everything possible. Part of the Muslim plan.

Higgs
August 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm
Uh, the EPA and their regulations didn’t clean up the enviroment, advances in technology caused the decrease of pollutants released into our air and water. Now, the EPA is becoming to the “regulation world” as what unions have become to the working world. Both were needed in the beginning, but now they both are one part of the “big government” ideal of the socialists in Washington.

The list could go on and on. But not only were these commenters going after the EPA, they also re-hashed numerous other GOP talking points from the last few years. You’ll notice that they discuss the “Socialists in Washington” and one even makes the claim that Obama is a Muslim.

This shows just how powerful the GOP’s echo chamber is in American politics, and how selective people are when it comes to picking news sources. After all, there is plenty of credible, easily-accessible information to debunk “job killing regulations” and other talking points.

But if people don’t actively search out the facts after watching Fox or listening to Americans For Prosperity, the echo chamber has done its job misleading the American people. It’s immoral and unethical behavior, and that’s the only job we ought to be killing off.

July 22 2011

12:15

Koch Brothers And ExxonMobil Join Forces To Fight RGGI With Copy-Paste State Legislation

As we’ve reported over and over again, the popular and successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and other regional climate agreements are under attack from polluters. Today, a bombshell report by Bloomberg News makes it undeniably clear who is leading the attack, and paints an ugly picture of collusion, influence, and state legislators deep in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. 

The report shines a light on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which serves as a drafting board for industry-friendly state legislation and then subsequently as a sort of mixer for corporations and state politicians who are willing to accept financial favors to bring these copy-and-paste laws back to their home states.

Bloomberg reporter Alison Fitzpatrick 
writes:
The opportunity for corporations to become co-authors of state laws legally through ALEC covers a wide range of issues from energy to taxes to agriculture. The price for participation is an ALEC membership fee of as much as $25,000 -- and the few extra thousands to join one of the group’s legislative-writing task forces. Once the “model legislation” is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to shepherd it into law.
Fitzpatrick calls out Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries as two companies whose handwriting (forget fingerprints) are all over the template legislation that forces states out of their regional climate agreements.
The process seems to work, at least to some degree. Within the past year, legistators in at least eight states have introduced provisions to leave their respective emissions reduction pacts. David Anderson, who writes the New Hampshire Primary 2012: Green blog about climate change and the 2012 election, first spotted the template. After doing some heroic digging, he found that in at least six of these states, the legislation introduced was literally copied-and-pasted from the template provided by ALEC. These states are Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington (all PDFs), and New Hampshire.

Anderson first spotted the language in the “findings” section of the New Hampshire bill. As he told Living on Earth: “It says ‘whereas there has been no credible economic analysis of the increasing cost of doing business in the state of,’ and then there’s a blank, so, in this case, they inserted the words, New Hampshire.”

When the bill was discussed in committee, Anderson reported this incredible exchange:

The bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Richard Barry (R), looked a bit like a dog caught with the family cat in its mouth when he was asked to explain the language at a public hearing; he nervously said that none of the bill’s sponsors had written this particular section, but stopped short of revealing ALEC as the source of the text. That didn’t sit well with Rep. James Garrity (R), chair of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, who later explained, “Our committee does not feel that editorials belong in laws.” The matter was resolved by dropping the ALEC text, and the amended bill went on to pass the House.

The language Anderson found in the New Hampshire bill is the same that Fitzpatrick identified (PDF) as the “eight-paragraph resolution,” that reads, in part, “there has been no credible economic analysis of the costs associated with carbon reduction mandates” and “a tremendous amount of economic growth would be sacrificed for a reduction in carbon emissions that would have no appreciable impact on global concentrations of carbon dioxide.”

Fitzpatrick reports that ALEC’s “model bills, which now total almost 1,000, are listed on its website, although their full texts can be called up only by members.” But the Center for Media and Democracy actually acquired the full texts of over 800 of the bills earlier this month, and posted them at ALECexposed.org.

ALEC has received at least $124,000 from the Exxon Mobil Foundation in dues and sponsorships, but that figure doesn’t include direct grants or gifts from the corporation itself. Greenpeace reveals that the Council has also received at least $408,000 from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation since 1997.

This isn’t, of course, the first time we’ve seen Koch money directly influencing regional climate pacts.

Last month, 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.
So far, none of the legislative or alternative efforts to pull out of regional commitments have had great traction. New Jersey’s case was unique, as Christie was able to use a controversial executive order, but there's still a lengthy regulatory process to fully extricate the state from the pact, and Democratic leaders in the state senate and assembly are introducing new legislation to strip the governor of his authority over RGGI.

Despite
widespread public support in the Garden State, Christie, who doesn’t deny that humans are causing global warming, claimed that RGGI was "a failure and an ineffective approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” This claim has been widely and summarily dismissed by scores of economists, environmentalists, and five governors who remain fully committed to RGGI. "Governor Christie is simply wrong when he claims that these efforts are a failure," said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

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!

The New Jersey chapter of AFP spent roughly $200,000 in the state on advertisements and other public efforts to fight RGGI, and plenty of analysts assume that Christie’s announcement was made to appease the notorious Tea Party funders as he sets his sights on a prospective White House run in 2012.

But while the New Jersey campaign was done in broad daylight, this Bloomberg News bombshell makes clear that Koch-funded organizations are still spearheading shadowy attempts to help states cut and run from their regional climate commitments.

With the prospects for nationwide carbon pricing at a ten-year low, regional agreements like RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative, and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord seem to hold the best hope for creating a carbon market and generating revenue to fund clean energy and energy efficiency projects. For this reason, no doubt, polluting interests like Koch Industries are sharpening their swords, and their legislation drafting pencils.

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 08 2011

19:28

Musings of a Malcontent: EXXON ROCKS!


Exxon Rocks! Maybe the recent spill into the Yellowstone River was the river's fault anyway...“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

Yes, I am going out on a limb and making sure I REPRESENT. (Sorry – channeling the hood there for a second)

As you all likely know by this point, on Friday July 1st an Exxon pipeline running under the Yellowstone River in Montana burst, causing a huge swath of oil to float down the river. By Sunday it had sent a plume 25 miles downriver. Since there has been record flooding in the area, there have been delays in getting to the pipe or starting any kind of real clean up.

Awesome.

The best part of the AP news report I read showed how the numbers can be spun regarding the amount that was spilled. Pam Malek, an Exxon spokesperson, said 750 to 1,000 barrels. Other Exxon officials estimated it at 42,000 gallons.

1,000 or 42,000? I’m keeping that spokesperson around the next time I cause an environmental disaster. She can low-ball my destruction of the planet anytime. Just make sure to use the measuring system that sounds the least damaging.

A barrel is about 42 gallons, but who’s counting. Already Exxon is downplaying it, saying that the situation is not all that bad. Like we’re going to believe them. Large organizations and truth – not a great track record.There is even blame being put on the river. Yes, my friends – the Yellowstone River is the true villain in this story. I know – I could not believe it myself. In a ploy to destroy the natural environment, the river over the last several days has conspired to flood its banks. In a statement, the Yellowstone River claimed it was the sky’s fault for sending so much rain – but we know better. The water levels rose, likely “exposing” the pipe to debris, which split the pipe. In typical river fashion the Yellowstone refused to bend to criticism.

Jokes, satire, and puns – I use them all.

I imagine that the Exxon spin team is already hard at work with the “upsides” to the spill, so that by next week we will all be convinced it was a good thing this happened. A few that popped into my head:

  • More Omega 3 – The fish of the Yellowstone will benefit from the new oil enriched water of the river. It will totally boost their Omega 3 content! So for all you health conscious folks out there, make sure to stock up on genuine Yellowstone River oil fed trout this summer. GOOD EATS!
  • Watery Water – Scientists from Exxon, along with experts from the EPA, determine that the water of the Yellowstone River before the spill was too “watery”. “Too much water type substance in that water. It needed more character”, stated a lead spokesperson. “Thanks to Exxon, the river’s content is more diverse. Oil adds just the right qualities to make the river’s ecosystem really shine. Literally.” As a result, the EPA is giving Exxon a “Best Water Enrichment” award for their innovation and moxie.
  • Fireworks Display the Best Ever – Thanks to all the oil fumes in the air from the Yellowstone River spill, the fireworks this year in nearby Laurel, Montana were amazing. The fumes, which ignited when the fireworks exploded, flashed magnificently in the July sky. Although a relatively small town of 6,500 residents, Laurel hosts a huge 4th of July fireworks display. It is not uncommon for 50,000 or more area residents to attend. “It was incredible this year!” said one resident, “the flames arching across the sky were just the right touch. Thank you Exxon!”

Laugh now, but just wait.

 

Comments? Suggestions for articles? Let me know!

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July 04 2011

05:08

Creator of the Valdez Catastrophe, ExxonMobil, Tries to Downplay Yellowstone Spill

The ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana ruptured late Friday night, leaking 1,000 barrels of oil into the river. ExxonMobil estimates that approximately 160,000 litres of oil seeped into the river, one of the principal tributaries of the upper Missouri River. 

The spill has forced hudreds of evacuations, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that only a small fraction of the spilled oil is likely to be recovered. Its unclear how far the damage will extend along the river, but fishing and farming are likely to be impacted. 

Record rainfall in the last month has caused widespread flooding, and compromised spill cleanup efforts. While residents wait impatiently for the arrival of Exxon cleanup crews (who are only now arriving on site), Exxon is engaging in image control by trying to convince people that the spill is not as bad as it seems.

An Exxon Mobil executive said shoreline damage was limited to the Yellowstone between Laurel and Billings. President Gary Pruessing said company observers had seen "very little soiling" beyond Billings, and that the oil appeared to be evaporating and dissipating into the river. Exxon claims the bulk of the damage is contained within 16 kilometres of the spill, but EPA spokeswoman Sonya Pennock confirms oil has been seen 65 kilometres away, with some reports confirming as many as 160 kilometres.

Exxon also claims that no injured wildlife has been found, which is not as of yet verified. 

Exxon's safety record on their Silvertip pipeline has already been questioned. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a warning letter to Exxon, citing seven safety violations along the ruptured line. Two of the related to emergency response and pipeline corrosion training.

It has also been revealed that in May, the pipeline was temporarily shut down due to concerns over the rising waters of the Yellowstone. The company decided to restart the line the following day, deciding the risk was low. More like they wanted to keep their profits soaring. 

Up to 100 emergency response workers from Exxon Mobil are expected are expected to arrive late today. 

Head over to CBS to read their coverage, and check back for more on this story.

Photograph: Matthew Brown, Associated Press

June 02 2011

05:44

ExxonMobil Drilling Plan Threatens Drinking Water In Delaware River Basin

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) held a public hearing today to review a proposal from ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy to remove massive amounts of water from the Delaware River Basin for unconventional gas exploration.

The dirty energy giant is hoping to withdraw up to 250,000 gallons per day of surface water from Oquaga Creek near the Farnham Road bridge crossing on Route 41 in Sanford, New York. Roughly 300 residents showed up to comment on the proposal, which has stirred public anger and concern over the potential impacts on the local environment and water supplies.
 
The Exxon subsidiary’s draft docket stipulates that the surface water will be used for unconventional gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). XTO says the clean water will be used to mix cement and create a “drilling mud/fluid” cocktail. No waste problem, of course.

Beneath the Exxon PR spin, the true costs of withdrawing a quarter million gallons of water per day are estimated at around $17,700 - just for a tiny patch of land.

Consider the fact that the fracking rush is exacting these very same direct costs on many North Americans. <!--break-->

Recently, ExxonMobil has continued with its misleading media blitz to pacify the public’s real concerns around the dangers of unconventional gas exploration. Exxon’s misdirection appeared this month on TV and in full-page ads [pdf] in The New York Times and Washington Post. The ads falsely presented fracking for unconventional gas as a time-tested way to unlock “cleaner-burning” fuel from shale rock. The problem with Exxon’s efforts to greenwash unconventional gas is that according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [pdf] as well as a recent Cornell study, unlocking this dirty energy is perhaps just as polluting if not moreso than coal. Unconventional gas, despite what Exxon would have us believe, is just another polluting fossil fuel.

Access and review the Draft Docket, XTO Energy Surface Water Withdrawal for Natural Gas Exploration and Development Projects Oquaga Creek Withdrawal Site Town of Sanford, Broome County, New York [pdf].

Information on XTO Energy's Surface Water Withdrawal Application.

May 26 2011

16:27

April 30 2011

20:12

Business Groups Lobby EPA to Drop Gas Emission Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only been regulating greenhouse gas emissions for four months, but business groups are already tired of the increased oversight. According to new reports, some of the largest business groups in America are fighting back, urging the President and Congress to strip the EPA of its new authority.

The powerful business group known as the Business Roundtable is trying to convince the White House that the EPA does not need to be involved with the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, at least not right now. The Roundtable insists that imposing new standards for emissions will hurt their industries and impose what they consider unfair costs on member corporations. In addition, the Roundtable claims that these new standards would plunge our economy back into another recession and cause massive job losses, as corporations attempt to recoup their expenses of “going green” by firing employees.

The Business Roundtable’s sentiments on the new EPA standards have been echoed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as Congressional members from both major political parties.

The Business Roundtable is made up of business leaders from all types of corporations doing business in America. Members include Exxon, General Electric, Southern Company, and various other energy, manufacturing, defense, banking, and pharmaceutical companies. According to investigative journalist David DeGraw, the Business Roundtable is the most powerful business lobby in America, and has their hand in almost every piece of legislation that effects a member of the Roundtable:

The Business Roundtable is the most powerful activist organization in the United States. Their leaders regularly lobby members of Congress behind closed doors and often meet privately with the President and his administration. Any legislation that affects Roundtable members has almost zero possibility of passing without their support.

For three major examples, look at healthcare and financial reform, along with the military budget. The healthcare reform bill devolved into what amounts to an insurance industry bailout and was drastically altered by Roundtable lobbyists representing interests like WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson…Almost every aspect of financial reform has been D.O.A. thanks to Roundtable lobbyists representing the interests of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, Master Card and American Express…The drastic rise in military spending is also a result of Roundtable lobbyists pushing the interests of large military companies like Boeing and Bechtel, along with the largest oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, Hess and Chevron.

So what do these companies do in order to ensure that they receive special favors from their friends in Washington? Again from DeGraw:

On financial reform alone, those representing Wall Street firms gave “$42 million to lawmakers, mostly to members of the House and Senate banking committees and House and Senate leaders.” During the 2008 election cycle, they gave $155 million: $88 million to Democrats and $67 million to Republicans. Keep in mind, this is the spending on just their financial reform initiative. When it came to health reform, they gave even more.

To be sure, these business interests are not used to being told “no.” So why is the Roundtable so upset about the EPA’s new standards? After all, they not only acknowledge the fact that global climate change is real and poses a significant threat, but they also give the appearance that they are working to help solve the problem. Their objection stems from the fact that it will cost them money to meet the new EPA guidelines, and this group doesn’t like spending money, unless it is to purchase a politician.

The EPA says that meeting the new guidelines will cost the industries represented by the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a combined $90 billion over the next ten years, a hefty price tag no matter how you slice it.

But what about the flip side? What happens if these industries continue with business as usual?

While that $90 billion ten-year price tag seems lofty, it pales in comparison to the $1.9 trillion that experts predict it will cost us if we do nothing to control emissions by the year 2100. In the interim, the U.S. will end up spending $3.8 trillion over the next several decades just to combat the damage that has already been done. Having at least a moderate understanding of mathematics, it is clear that $90 billion is significantly less than $3.8 trillion.

But for American businesses, it is all about what’s happening today – the future be damned. And Congress doesn’t appear to be helping. Last year, a climate bill that would have reduced emissions failed to pass the Democrat-controlled Congress, and the new Republican-controlled Congress recently defeated another attempt to reduce emissions.

President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any bill that comes across his desk attempting to curtail the EPA’s new authority, but seeing as how the Business Roundtable is actually considered one of his closest allies, and given his penchant for compromise, EPA's mandate to protect the public from global warming pollution might well get scuttled this year.

Let's hope President Obama remembers the message he got first hand from youth climate activists he met with at the White House during PowerShift 2011 earlier this month. Otherwise, we're in for an expensive future.

January 19 2011

13:13

Idaho Approves Giant Refinery Shipments

The state's transportation department said it would grant two permits to ConocoPhillips to begin moving giant loads of oil equipment along a disputed route.

October 20 2010

19:04

Big Oil Goes to College: Report Explores the Corporate Control of University Energy Research

The Center for American Progress released a comprehensive analysis and independent expert review examining the implications of the confirmed $833 million in corporate funding from Big Oil to energy research at universities over the last decade. The report examines 10 recent university-industry agreements involving as many as 43 companies, 13 leading universities, and two federal research labs. 

B
ig Oil Goes to College: An Analysis of 10 Research Collaboration Contracts between Leading Energy Companies and Major U.S. Universities explores the growing phenomenon of academic-corporate partnerships at universities, and the findings demonstrate why everyone ought to be concerned. As these partnerships are only likely to proliferate and expand, how universities manage knowledge for the public good - particularly research that has considerable ramifications for how we deal with the climate crisis - must be addressed.

Before Congress releases billions of dollars in federal funding for R&D of alternative and renewable energy and energy efficiency through these public-private partnerships, it should take a good look at the CAP report's findings and recommendations.  

<!--break-->

CAP's report is the first independent analysis into industry-university partnership agreements in the energy R&D sector.  University research has traditionally been disinterested and designed to serve the public good, but the growth in these industry partnerships calls into question whose interests (or bottom line) this scientific research really serves.

The report poses some very important questions that have yet to be raised about the nature of university-industry energy research agreements. Why are already highly profitable oil companies and corporations  turning to U.S. universities to perform their commercial research and development (R&D) instead of conducting the work themselves? And why, in turn, are U.S. universities opening their doors to Big Oil? What does it mean when research funding dollars come from Big Oil? Does the science suffer as a result of corporate influence and control?

Jennifer Washburn, the report's author, is deeply concerned about the ability of U.S. universities to safeguard their academic and public-interest functions when negotiating research contracts with Big Oil. Many of the contracts leave the door open to serious limitations on academic freedom and research independence, and give Big Oil too much control.  And that control is only getting larger. 

Though only 6 percent of university research overall is funded by industry, corporatization of campuses is on the rise.  The U.S. government has a growing preference for allocating federal R&D funds through corporate matching grants and other cost-sharing and cooperative research arrangements, and this means that private industry now directly influences anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of university research funding. 

So much for the idea of the ivory towers of the academe - it now seems more apt to refer to its corporate towers. 

The report demonstrates that:

1. In nine of 10 energy research agreements, university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of 10 gave the industry sponsors full governance control.

2. Eight of the 10 agreements permitted the corporate sponsor(s) to fully control the evaluation and selection of faculty research proposals in each new grant cycle.

3. None of the 10 agreements required faculty research proposals to be evaluated and awarded funding based on independent expert peer review, the traditional (and standard) method for awarding scientific research grants fairly and impartially.

4. Nine of the 10 agreements made no protections against financial conflicts of interest related to the alliance and its research functions. None of these agreements specified that committee members charged with evaluating and selecting faculty research proposals must be impartial, and could not award corporate funding to themselves.

A Troubling Climate

Big Oil and their lobbyist army are engaged in a multi-million dollar battle to suggest that climate legislation will be damaging to the American people (not to mention Big Oil's bottom line).  Whenever comprehensive climate and energy legislation is finally implemented, however, a significant portion of the funds generated will likely be targeted toward efficiency and clean-energy R&D performed by academic experts at U.S. universities. And Big Oil will have a stake in it.  If that's not a conflict of interest, I'm not sure what is. 

We might also ask why Big Oil is even interested in alternative energy. Certainly clean energy research enables energy companies to project a more pro-environmental public image.  These university partnerships give credence to Big Oil because they get to ride in on the coattails of the prestige and trust that we bestow on academic institutions. 

Even if it's nothing more than greenwash, the redirection of industry R&D dollars to U.S. universities is significant. They are completing research within academic institutions where the work is received with more credibility. The vast majority of the corporate academic funding is now being directed to “alternative energy research” (especially biofuels), and this shift in the allocation of industry resources has the potential to significantly influence the academic research culture in this new energy arena.

More Cause for Concern

CAP's report asks whether these university-industry partnership agreements adequately distinguish "academic research” from “corporate research for hire". Troublingly, in eight of ten agreements, it is the industry sponsor and not the academic institution that sets the research agenda. By defining what research questions will be asked, nearly every sponsor exerts some degree of influence over the academic research enterprise. More troubling still, in nearly half of the agreements, the industry sponsors get to fully set the agenda in each new grant cycle, and therefore control and manage the very scope and bounds of the research.

Though the report found that the university's fundamental right to publish was protected, in a number of the agreements there were lengthy corporate delays that could delay the publication of scientific findings. Typical practice recommends no more than a 60-day delay on publication of findings. In three of the agreements there is a 210-day delay (Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels); a one-year delay (an agreement with Chevron; and no maximum delay in publication, leaving the door open for infinite delay on the publication of pivotal research (Stanford).

The independent legal examiners found that most of the agreements gave too much corporate control over commercial rights to the research, giving industry sponsors monopoly commercial control over the alliances' sponsored research results. The report also found weak protections for academic use and sharing, and found that 9 of 10 agreements failed to discuss the management of financial conflicts of interest. 

The boundary between academic research and commercial interest has been blurred, and it is worthwhile to explore what the ramifications of this are in greater detail, particularly when the stakes are so high. As the report notes, "Independent academics and experts are urgently needed to measure and interpret today’s complex global-warming problems, uncover path-breaking new technologies, and provide impartial advice and expertise to the public and government agencies regarding effective public policy."

As the trend of energy industry influence in university research is likely to continue, there is a need to assess the ability of universities to continue producing credible, independent research in these critical fields. We saw what happened when Big Tobacco began buying science and scientific expertise, and energy research may turn out to be no different.

July 07 2010

15:59

On Our Radar: A Warming Antarctic

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming at five times the global average, according to a new study in the journal Science.

June 14 2010

15:33

June 04 2010

17:45

Christopher Monckton Brings His Brand of Crazy To Bonn Climate Talks

Climate deniers often like to talk about “global warming profiteers,” some mysterious breed led by Al Gore who, so the story goes, are out to make the big bucks off scaring people about climate change.  But if there’s anyone making money off lying about global warming these days, it is “Lord” Christopher Monckton, who continues his globetrotting tour to hawk confusion and misinformation at the Bonn climate talks this month. 

Monckton is leading a “delegation” (nice attempt to sound official) from the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (C-FACT), a conservative think tank that has received money from Exxon, Chevron, and the Scaife and Carthage foundations.

Monckton and the C-FACT gang are holding a “seminar” in Bonn “on the use of the internet to provide ordinary people with fact and opinions that have received scant attention by much of the mainstream media.”
<!--break-->
The C-FACT “seminar” is destined to be quite long on opinions, that much is certain.  But there won’t be many facts bandied about, certainly not any based on science, given Monckton’s lack of any scientific credentials (he’s a journalist by training but says he makes his living on real estate and, of course, his extensive list of paid speaking gigs around the world.)

In its post alerting the world to the Monckton seminars, C-FACT notes that Monckton was “recently dubbed a ‘famous contrarian’ in Esquire Magazine,” as if the outlet had honored him.

On the contrary, the Esquire piece painted Monckton in quite unflattering terms:

“[Climate denier Marc] Morano spots Lord Christopher Monckton, another famous contrarian. He has googly eyes like Marty Feldman and a plummy English accent straight out of Monty Python.”

Monckton will have his work cut out for him to top the performance he delivered at the Americans for Prosperity event in Copenhagen last year, where he called American college students advocating for clean energy the “Hitler youth.” 

He should probably leave the Nazi analogies alone this time ‘round, given the location of the talks is Bonn, Germany.  But this is Christopher Monckton we’re talking about, so logic and reason are out the window.  Look for him to say something outrageous, or at least something stupid enough to get somebody to write about it.  (Yeah, that’ll probably be me.)

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