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Massey Continues Campaign to Dodge Responsibility for Upper Big Branch Disaster

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy


Massey Energy recently released a new report claiming the company’s safety practices were not to blame for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster that killed 29 people. Massey Energy’s chief executive Don Blankenship maintains the explosion was caused by natural occurrences and not from unsafe coal mining and ventilation procedures.  He says the report "illustrates that it's something unusual, that it's more likely than not that it came out of the floor… and not out of the natural mining process,” refuting the widely held theory that the deadly explosion was due to the willful disabling of methane detectors.  

The report, authored by Massey “experts,” is the company’s latest contrivance in their campaign to discredit and obstruct government investigations into the disaster.  Other elements of their strategy have included physically keeping investigators from inspecting machinery at the mine, preventing top safety officials from testifying, and publicly accusing the state and federal governments of lying.  Because of Massey’s repeated attempts to sabotage the investigation, MSHA officials have threatened to seize the mine, an extreme action that illustrates the level of hostility felt by investigators.

Avoiding or reducing their liability is of utmost importance to Massey Energy executives, who have announced they were considering all offers for a buy out.  The company has not hit its production targets since 2004, has suffered multiple deadly disasters related to poor safety practices, and posted a net loss of $41.4 million last quarter. Given the fact that any company that buys Massey would be liable for the damages wrought at UBB, company executives have little chance of pawning their problems off on a buyer if the MSHA finds Massey at fault for the UBB explosion.  This means that Massey execs are frantically trying to limit their responsibility for UBB, or at least prolong the investigation long enough to sell the company before the roof falls in on their heads.   

 

Leveling Appalachia: Excellent Short Documentary on Moutain Top Removal

Photo Credit: Charleston Gazette

Yale Environment 360, MediaStorm and Appalachian Voices have collaborated on a 20-minute documentary titled "Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountain Top Removal Mining."  The cinematography and testimonials are amazing, and the film is an excellent look at how coal companies like Massey Energy have the state of West Virginia at their mercy. 

Accounts from local people who have been affected (poisoned, displaced) depict how communities have increasingly resisted the destruction of their homes and contamination of their air and water.

Exxon Agrees to Pay $25 million for Superfund Cleanup in Newtown Creek

Photo credit: Oils Well in Brooklyn

A three year New York lawsuit against ExxonMobil over the cleanup of Newtown Creek, a heavily polluted section of Brooklyn's Greenpoint area, has resulted in the oil giant's agreement to contribute $25 million to boost remediation of the area, as well as $5 million in penalties and costs.

Newton Creek was finally added to the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priorities List at the end of September, well over a century after heavy industrial activity contaminated the area with millions of gallons of oil, poisonous PCBs, pesticides, and other highly dangerous substances.  Also responsible for major oil spills in the area are supermajors BP and Chevron.

The addition of many Congressional polluter-allies through the midterm elections doesn't bode well for the Superfund program, which went bankrupt in 2003 following a major loss of tax income in 1995.  While the EPA has asked Congress for a renewal of taxation on petrochemical companies in order to fund the cleanup of their ongoing messes, as opposed to using public funds to take responsibility for the pollution.  Industry opposition plays the same scare-cards we see over and over: forced outsourcing, dead jobs, and a loss of international marketplace competiton.

As ExxonMobil barely scrapes by with a 2009 profit of 19.2 billion and Chevron's meager $10.4 billion net revenue, it's understandable why the industry would be concerned.  Exxon's recent $30 million commitment sucks up a staggering 0.002% of their 2009 profit.

This story was picked up from the New York Times.

Massey Officials Plea the Fifth in Upper Big Branch Disaster Investigation

Officials responsible for safety at the Upper Big Branch coal mine during the April 3rd, 2010 disaster have decided to live by the old maxim “better to keep your mouth shut and appear guilty than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

“Approximately 15 Massey upper-management employees have pled their Fifth Amendment right not to provide potentially self-incriminating evidence during the interview process,” according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, the government agency responsible for investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners.

At least six of those who have refused to cooperate with MHSA were high-level safety personnel at Upper Big Branch during the explosion.  Lawyers for the Massey officials issued letters to the state announcing their clients’ refusal to testify in the investigation for fear of incriminating themselves, while maintaining that they “did nothing wrong.”  The refusal of those responsible for safety at UBB to testify is not a surprise, given the numerous allegations that Massey management took major risks with human life rather than threaten profits.

The refusal of top Massey safety officials to cooperate in the investigation is part of a wider campaign orchestrated by the coal company to discredit the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in hopes of influencing public opinion. Though nominally independent, the Massey officials’ lawyers are paid by Massey, and have parroted Massey’s corporate lawyers’ accusations of wrongdoing by government agencies.  Massey Energy’s legal team claims that the investigations were being used more as a means of “generating public bias against Massey Energy and its personnel than they are in respecting the rule of law and fair process.” Following in lockstep, “independent” lawyers representing the Massey officials claim the investigations are “not being conducted properly” by MSHA, who is using its investigation to "divert attention and blame from itself and onto others."  

Massey’s strategy has also included an attack on the independent investigation team appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin, which Massey-affiliated lawyers allege have "bullied and abused" some witnesses.

For the record, these are the names and positions of Massey officials refusing to work with the MSHA investigation that have been released:

    * Jamie Ferguson, vice president of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal;
    * Wayne Persinger, a general manager at Upper Big Branch;
    * Rick Nicolau, a maintenance chief at the mine;
    * Mine foremen Rick Foster and Gary May.
 

From the West Virginia Gazette

DeSmogBlog: Valero's Ties to Tar Sands Fueled Prop 23 Funding

The tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada can be seen from space.  Photo credit.

DeSmogBlog's Emma Pullman recently took a look at how Valero Energy's investments in the devastating tar sands of Alberta, Canada motivated their funding of Proposition 23. 

Tar sands mining has been credited as the largest industrial project on the planet, and comes with extreme costs to the region's people, forests, waterways, animal species, and the broader specter of global warming.  If you missed it, National Geographic published a great piece on the controversies of tar sand operations.

As noted by DeSmog, Valero faces declining oil sources from Mexico and a shifty political scene in Venezuela, turning to the tar sands craze in Canada to secure more access to oil.  The rapid development of tar sands extraction has helped secure Canada as the United States' top supplier of oil--we import almost twice as much oil from Canada as from Saudi Arabia, and half of Canada's oil is sourced from tar sands mining.

As the refining of bitumen from tar sands mines creates particularly dirty fuel, Valero and the other oil companies crawling around northern Alberta aren't happy to see California's Global Warming Solutions Act survive Proposition 23.  Pullman notes:

As tar sands oil has a much larger carbon footprint than conventional oil, climate change legislation targeted by Prop 23 would limit California's imports of high-carbon fuels -- fuels that would likely include toxic tar sands oil from Alberta.  Valero's Texas refineries may be halfway across the United States, but industry worries about the 'domino effect' of climate change legislative efforts and how they may be adopted elsewhere.

While Prop 23 flopped, Proposition 26 did pass, to the delight of some of its most philanthropic financiers.  Chevron spent almost $4 million on the initiative, and ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Shell, and Occidental Petroleum added another $1,125,000.  

All of these giants are involved in tar sands production, and have just as much motivation as Valero to roadblock a low carbon fuel standard.

Be sure to check out Pullman's full article on Valero's mischief.

Servants of Oil Increase Funding and Misinformation in Prop 23 Battle

Following voter opposition to Proposition 23 and the recent surge in funding to counter the oily measure, Texas refiners Valero and Tesoro (who "are not oil companies," by the way)  have respectively added $1 million and $500,000 to the fight.  The dirty energy proposition would victimize clean energy jobs and development, not to mention legislative innovation and an already struggling climate.

There has been a lot of confusion about how Prop 23 relates to jobs, as the oil industry has cultivated fears of job loss through some questionable studies.  The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, which is funded by the likes of Art Pope and the Koch brothers, has crafted a report designed to create hysteria among economically-wary Californians (read: most Californians), claiming formidable implications on jobs and state economic output. 

The funny thing, and by funny I mean dishonest, is that this report conveniently avoids looking at the economic benefits of the climate law that Prop 23 would cripple.  It also fails to mention that by the end of the decade, Proposition 23 will make California electricity cost 33% more.  And it also doesn't note that the report's author has worked for the Cato Institute, which Charles Koch founded and David Koch remains a Board member, and the Manhattan Institute, yet another think tank funded by the likes of Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.  For a deeper look, check out what Rebecca Lefton has to say about the Pacific Research Institute's selective look at California's climate law.

Beyond publishing their own flawed report, the Pacific Research Institute is also promoting another attack-study to help sell Prop 23.  This publication has been heavily scrutinized--to the point of invalidity--by California's Legislative Analyst's Office, the Business Alliance for a Green Economy, and two professors from Standford University and UCLA.

This is not the first time that the Pacific Research Institute has used flawed studies to attack clean energy progress, as they continue to do with the heavily-touted, heavily-debunked "Spanish study."  Pretty typical for one of the Kochtopus' many tentacles.

For an excellent map of the oil money fueling Proposition 23, refer to Dirty Energy Money.

Chevron Relentlessly Punked by the Yes Men

Chevron takes responsibility for its most eggregious externalities? No way.

In coordination with the launch of a new Chevron ad campaign aimed at boosting public approval of their perceived corporate responsibility, the Yes Men, Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch carried out an elaborate public relations jam in which Chevron appeared to be owning up to its environmental and human rights crimes around the world.  Yeah, right.

The fake webpage and press release that the Yes Men published fooled several media outlets before they realized they were a juxtaposition of Chevron's continued corporate offenses.  Chevron released a reaction to the press, but the Yes Men countered with their own statement on behalf of the oil giant through another fake webpage, causing further confusion.  The fake response drew more attention to Chevron's multi-million dollar advertising budget and the ongoing lawsuit in Ecuador over Chevron's role in cleaning up after Texaco, which it purchased in 2001.  The merger was steered by current Chevron CEO John Watson.

The Yes Men are now calling on the public to continue punking Chevron's ad campaign.  For a more detailed synopsis of how Monday's antics unfolded, check out the Yes Men's press release.

Heritage Foundation Cuts and Pastes to Upend Scientific Report

ExxonMobil has given $630,000 to the Heritage Foundation since 1998, and the Kochtopus has given over $3 million.

[UPDATED BELOW]

This blog was originally posted on October 4, 2010

Last Friday, the Heritage Foundation posted a scandalously selective blurb from a recent Royal Society report on global warming.  Editing out ten pages of the report, Heritage cut and pasted to promote the notion that a large amount of uncertainty still exists about the occurance of climate change. 

For the record: credible scientists actively studying climate patterns have no doubt that global warming is happening and that fossil fuel emissions are public enemy number one.  Had Heritage chosen to leave some of those ten pages they so gracefully skipped, perhaps they would have reached the same conclusion.  Even the summary of the report makes this clear, stating:

"[The report] shows that there is strong evidence that over the last half century, the earth’s warming has been caused largely by human activity."

The Heritage Foundation is no stranger to junk science--they've been paid over $600,000 from Exxon since 1998 (the year global warming "stopped", for those that believe in cherry-picked science, *cough cough* Senator Inhofe), and over $3 million from the Koch brothers since 1997. 

Heritage is also deeply entrenched in the climate denial machine, associated with purchased scientists who have made a living denying climate change, the links between cigarettes and cancer, and other less-than-admirable and less-than-scientific efforts to uphold their industrial clients.  These people may have Ph.D.'s (although usually not even climate-related), but don't actively study climate data in the field or publish material after a peer-review from credible scientists.  Their selective reporting wouldn't hold up through such an integrity check.

Doubt is their product, and business has been good, but you can only keep people from smelling scientific sewage for so long.

For more on Heritage's selective science, check out NRDC's Switchboard

Check these links for more on ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

UPDATE: It turns out the author of the deceptive Heritage blog, Nicholas Loris, is a former "associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation."  Another small bit of evidence contributing to the overwhelming pervasiveness of the Kochtopus...

Study Finds Big Oil Money Controls Federal Research Spending, Influences Academia

Who needs academic freedom when you got money?

Oil companies are dictating future energy options by choosing which academic research projects recieve funding.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress found that over the past decade, five of the world’s top 10 oil companies—ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell Group, and ConocoPhillips Co.—and other large traditional energy companies with a direct commercial stake in future energy markets have forged dozens of multi-year, multi-million-dollar alliances with top U.S. universities and scientists to carry out energy-related research.

The results of the report’s analysis of university-industry contracts raise troubling questions about the ability of U.S. universities to adequately safeguard their core academic and public-interest functions when negotiating research contracts with large corporate funders.

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

These findings are not surprising when the amount of money put down directly by Big Oil is taken in to account.  10 university-industry agreements together totaled $833 million in confirmed corporate funding (over 10 years) for energy research funding on campus.

As large as this figure is, it represents less than half of what Industry actually controls.

Because of the federal government’s growing preference for allocating federal R&D funds through corporate matching grants and other cost-sharing and cooperative-research arrangements, private industry now directly influences anywhere from 20 percent to 25 percent of university research funding overall. In this way, a significant share of U.S. taxpayer funding that starts out as “public” funding is effectively turned “private” by the time it reaches the university investigators in their academic labs.

 

Coal Companies Thwart Safety Measures, Continue to put Lives in Danger

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, attempts by federal regulators to enforce safety laws have been stymied by coal companies.  In the wake of multiple deadly disasters and a general culture of sacrificing safety for profit, mine regulators have been issuing more citations and higher penalties for safety violations.  However, instead of abiding by regulations and prioritizing worker safety, Big Coal has buried the regulators in paperwork by contesting the citations, creating a backlog of cases that could take years to resolve.  See graph of coal companies with the most citations beig contested.

Massey Energy, owner of Upper Big Branch, is at the top among companies contesting safety violations issued by the MSHA. It is fighting 39 percent of the 5,880 citations and 83 percent of the $6.9 million in fines it received from January to July, MSHA records show.

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