A fracking operation in Colorado[/caption] A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered close ties between a Colorado political couple and at least six oil and gas industry front groups that have been fighting state regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens and the environment. The husband and wife team are ex-state senator and onetime Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Josh Penry and his wife, founder of republican PR and fundraising firm Starboard Group, Kristin Strohm. Colorado has emerged as a key battleground in the national debate over shale drilling and fracking. The state’s oil and gas industry has over 50,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and plans to drill many thousands more every year into the foreseeable future. These wells have caused severe water and air pollution problems, and have sparked a grassroots movement against drilling and fracking across the state. Concern over pollution from fracking culminated in a series of local laws to ban or regulate fracking, efforts that sent shockwaves through the shale industry. To combat the growing threat of local control over drilling practices, the shale industry began funding political strategies to undermine local action against drilling. Enter Penry and Strohm, who who helped develop the shale industry’s sophisticated astroturf campaign strategy that was created in concert with legal strategies to override popularly-supported local drilling restrictions. (Astroturf is a term used to describe fake “grassroots” groups that are conceived and paid for by corporations or public relations firms to advance a business or political interest.)
Josh Penry has strong connections to both Colorado politics and the oil and gas industry. He became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 2006. While a state senator, he sponsored and passed legislation designed to benefit the drilling industry by boosting the use of gas-fired electric power plants. His biggest achievement was HB 1365, a bill designed to help Xcel Energy build gas-fired power plants. The bill was called the ”Clean Air Clean Jobs Bill,” and sold as a boon for the environment because it eased the transition from coal fired power to gas fired power. However, Penry made the intentions behind the legislation clear by promising a 15% increase in gas drilling in the state if the bill was passed. Josh Penry is apparently unconcerned about the enormous contribution that gas extraction and combustion makes to climate change, explaining during a debate that it doesn’t "keep [him] up at night." However, studies of highly fracked areas in Colorado raise alarms for the climate. One recent study of the Front Range drilling area in Colorado found a methane leakage rate of 19.3 tons per hour. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 86 times as powerful as CO2 at disrupting the climate. After surprising his staff and supporters by backing out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009 and serving out his time as State Senator, Penry became Vice President of EIS Solutions, a public relations and political strategy consulting firm that specializes in “grassroots coalition building.” The group has been a key cog in the fracking industry’s pushback against community resistance and the state of Colorado’s gas regulations. EIS advertises their ability to create a “path to advocacy.” In practical terms, this means EIS will create non-profit and fake grassroots groups to give the illusion of widespread public support for oil and gas drilling. EIS has been criticized for repeatedly stepping outside of respectable practices, including one case in 2013 when they were caught faking signatures on an anti-regulation petition. EIS has long standing contracts with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the leading industry lobbying group in the state. A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered the following non-profit front groups tied to EIS solutions: Colorado Liberty Alliance - shares a phone number with EIS phone, and advocates against local control. Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale - shares an address with EIS solutions and promotes drilling. Grow Our Western Economy - has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Justin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling. The groups listed above represents only those created by EIS employees that have registered as non-profits. EIS also creates groups that have not registered as tax-exempt non-profits, thereby avoiding reporting requirements.
Vital for Colorado
One such group is Vital for Colorado, a well-funded and highly active pro-fracking front group. While the Vital for Colorado website makes no direct mention of Penry, he serves as spokesman and strategist for the group, and coordinates messaging with other anti-regulation groups through Vital for Colorado. In September, Penry attended a meeting in Denver where he spoke to an audience of State Policy Network groups from around the country about the industry’s strategy to fight oil and gas drilling restrictions in Colorado. Josh Penry’s ties to Vital for Colorado run deep. Both EIS employee Dan Haley and Penry’s wife Kristin Strohm sit on the Advisory board of Vital for Colorado. Vital for Colorado’s website is registered to Charity Meinhart, a web developer that works for both EIS Solutions and Starboard Group according to her LinkdIn account.
Kristin Strohm is the managing partner at her own pubic relations firm, Starboard Group. Strohm, who is an advisor for Vital for Colorado, has also set up other front groups that work in concert with Vital for Colorado to oppose drilling regulations. The Western Colorado Jobs Alliance and The Common Sense Policy Roundtable Forum were created by Starboard Group to oppose local control over shale drilling and fracking. Both groups also publicly support Vital for Colorado, creating a seemingly independent network of reinforcing voices that oppose fracking regulations, while being centrally coordinated by Strohm and Penry. Strohm worked for Penry in his run for State Senate in 2006. Penry and Strohm married in 2012, shortly after his divorce from his wife, whom he had married in 1999.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Penry and Strohm team both have connections to the national effort to reduce regulation on the oil industry through the creation of front groups, bottom-lined by oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch. Kristin Strohm has successfully solicited major funding from the Kochs. While Strohm was the finance director for Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign, Coffman benefited from ads run by Americans for Prosperity supporting his campaign. Through Strohm, he also received the maximum possible donation allowed by law from David Koch. Starboard Group’s website boasts of working for the Koch Brothers' flagship front group, Americans for Prosperity. Strohm has also hired former Koch Interns to the Starboard Group. A former director of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group created by Strohm, attended the secretive 2010 Koch strategy meeting in Aspen. Penry’s EIS Solutions also has close ties to the Koch network. The director for Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity chapter is a former EIS Solutions employee, Dustin Zvonek. Like the other front groups in Penry’s orbit, Zvonek and AFP have been consistently working against local control of drilling regulations.
This means that Congressman Stewart now has dominion over the EPA, climate change research, and "all activities related to climate." According to the House Science Committees website (of which Stewart's subcommitee is a part), the chair of the Environment subcommittee oversees:
"all matters relating to environmental research; Environmental Protection Agency research and development; environmental standards; climate change research and development; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including all activities related to weather, weather services, climate, the atmosphere, marine fisheries, and oceanic research;…"
Unfortunately for the EPA, NOAA, and anyone worried about climate change, Chris Stewart is a climate science denier. Mr. Stewart believes there is "insufficient science" to determine if climate change is caused by humans. He believes this in spite of the fact that the EPA, NOAA, and all experts in the field (which he now oversees), disagrees with him.
For the record, Chris Stewart has no advanced degrees in science. However, before running for congress he was owner and CEO of Shipley Group, a company that trains government workers on environmental issues. Shipley Group actually runs a training on climate change science, and according to the Shipley Group website "Upon completion of the workshop, participants will be able to understand basic climate change science." Clearly Mr. Stewart has never taken his company's training.
Ties to Fossil Fuels
Though Stewart seems to ignore climate change science (while his company profits by teaching it), he does not ignore the fossil fuel industry. In fact he is quite sympathetic to the plight of oil and gas companies. His campaign website claims:
"I am the CEO of a company that works extensively with independent energy producers. I understand how difficult it is to get a drilling permit on federal lands. It is painfully slow, incoherently arbitrary, and always expensive."
Stewart's "extensive" knowledge of the fossil fuel industry is not a surprise. His brother, Tim Stewart is a lobbyist for American Capitol Group, a washington DC lobbying firm. American capitol Group lobbies for fossil Fuel interests, like the Western Energy Alliance, a group mainly comprised of fracking and oil companies. Tim Stewart also lobbied for EnergyNorthAmerica, a company he cofounded to lobby for the Fossil Fuel Industry. One EnergyNorthAmerica slide presentation reads:
"The fact that fossil energy and mining are viewed by political "elites" with disfavor, a view driven by acolytes of radical environmentalism, has resulted in damaging laws and regulation and general neglect"
Unsurprisingly, the fossil fuel industry does not ignore Chris Stewart either. One of Stewart's books (which were published and praised by Glenn Beck), is recommended reading at Koch Industries. Stewart received the maximum possible campaign contribution from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries during his last campaign. He also received considerable support from several Koch and Exxon funded SuperPACs. All told, he received more funding from dirty energy companies and their superPACs than any other single source.
See Chris Stewart's PolluterWatch profile for more information.
Written by Kert Davies - former Research Director of Greenpeace USA - crossposted with permission from Climate Investigations Center: Five Questions on Climate Change for Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO.
Five questions reporters might ask Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO on climate change and energy:
1. YOUR PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE SCIENCE?
Lisa Nelson, you stated recently that you “don’t know” the science of climate change.
Q: What is your plan to further inform yourself on climate change?
Q: What sources of information will you be seeking and what questions about the science of climate change are you seeking to answer first?
Note: Nelson answered to National Journal “I don't know the science on that" when asked specifically whether human emissions are the primary driver of climate change.”
2. ALEC’s POSITION ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
Q: Will you be seeking advise and counsel from ALEC’s Board of Directors, Private Enterprise Advisory Council, Board of Scholars or Private Sector Members to clarify ALEC’s position on climate change in the wake of Google and other recent corporate departures?
Notes: ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling was recently quoted saying ALEC doesn't have a position on climate science anymore than a policy “jelly beans”, a strange analogy for a crucial issue of our times.
Lisa Nelson said on Diane Rehm: “To be clear: ALEC has no policy on climate change, and does not take positions without underlying model policy. " Yet the organization's September 24th letter to Google stated ALEC “Recognizes that climate change is an important issue...” However, the ALEC website is more direct yet equivocal on the scientific basis: “Global Climate Change is Inevitable. Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”
Which is it?
3. ALEC SPONSORS CONTROL OF MEETING AGENDA?
There are many events (luncheons, workshops, etc.) held during ALEC conferences.
Q: How much control do sponsors have over session topics and speaker selection? Have the Heartland Institute or CFACT indeed paid ALEC to hold sessions about climate change during your meetings? Or did ALEC request that they hold these briefings?
4. BALANCED “EXCHANGE” ON CLIMATE SCIENCE?
ALEC stated in its September 24th Letter to Google that it “just hosted a roundtable conversation for a variety of companies—including Google—on this very issue.”
Q: Will you provide evidence of this “roundtable” and what companies were present?
Note: There was a Google presentation within the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force session of the July annual meeting, but specifically on the subject of Google's renewable energy goals, not climate change.
5. ALEC OPPOSITION TO SUBSIDIES FOR FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR ENERGY?
ALEC maintains positions against government mandates and subsidies which backstop the organizations opposition to renewable energy targets.
Q: Given ALEC’s emphasis on free markets and subsidies, does the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force plan to pass model legislation limiting fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies and corporate welfare?
Lisa Nelson, the new CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, doesn't know her organization's position on climate change.
Funny enough, just a week before, ALEC posted its "Position Statement on Renewables and Climate Change," in response to heightened attention to its role in denying climate change.
The surge of attention is due to recent and very public departures by Google, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo and even Occidental Petroleum, specifically citing ALEC's backwards work on climate change.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said people working for ALEC are "literally lying" about global warming, announcing that Google's staff didn't wish to continue supporting such work (after Google's failed attempts to get ALEC to support clean energy).
ALEC's history of climate change denial runs deep. In addition to blocking policy solutions to global warming, ALEC helps to smother competition of clean energy industries for its fossil fuel company members, specifically working to repeal state clean energy standards and impose fees on "freerider" homeowners who feed excess energy back into the electrical grid from their solar panels. Most recently, ALEC has called for "guerrilla warfare" against the Environmental Protection Agency's first rule to limit carbon pollution from U.S. power plants.
ALEC is a dating service for lobbyists and state legislators. It helps corporations write model bills that its legislator members then introduce in states around the U.S., tax free for its corporations. Its operations are kept secret from the public.
As Greenpeace has documented, ALEC has no bills to remove handouts or subsidies for fossil fuel companies, and plenty of bills promoting oil, gas and coal projects. Meanwhile, ALEC has no bills promoting renewable energy projects and plenty of bills attacking incentives for clean energy.
Confronted on this contradiction, ALEC stays mum, consistent with its pattern of avoiding public accountability.
Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.
In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, "alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed "multiple conflicts of interest." Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):
"Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible." [...] "By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.
This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability. An anonymous source "familiar" with this case, likely one of Holmstead's colleagues at Bracewell & Guiliani, has been attempting to spin this embarrassing dismissal to reporters at Bloomberg and E&E Publishing. Ameren claims the judge has no proof that Holmstead would use privileged information, ignoring the judge's reference that Holmstead himself said he would use information from "internal meetings" during his time at EPA.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Guiliani who represents coal mining and utility clients like Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Southern Company, spent four years as EPA's assistant administrator for Air and Radiation under President George W. Bush. His career is a dirty legacy of work against the public interest.
Holmstead's tenure at EPA was controversial all the way from his appointment, protested by U.S. Senators for his previous lobbying for coal companies, until his departure. He was caught censoring science within his office and single-handedly derailed a mercury pollution regulation that would have prevented thousands of premature deaths every year. Holmstead's interference blocked mercury pollution controls at U.S. coal plants for eight full years, as Greenpeace has documented, and confronted Holmstead directly for explanation.
While Ameren from his former government employer, Jeff Holmstead has been working to undermine the nation's first ever attempt to limit carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, misleading the public with fears that these rules will increase their utility bills. Holmstead has been repeatedly fact-checked on his conflation of electricity rates with people's bills, ignoring how energy efficiency measures are expected to lower bills over the long term, and also ignoring the immense costs of coal pollution to the public. Holmstead's office runs a front group called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC) to advocate for these polluters against climate and clean air rules, and representing ERCC, he has personally accompanied an Arch Coal lobbyist to the White House to undermine climate regulations.
Again, Greenpeace has directly sought answers from Mr. Holmstead on why he has dedicated his life to protecting companies that not only undermine science, but quite literally kill people as a regular part of their business operations:
It's nice to see a judge finally toss the fox out of the hen house. Jeff Holmstead says what he's paid to, and his clients make that money by polluting for free.
Click here to add your voice: tell Dominion to Dump ALEC!
- Bill Euille - Mayor of Alexandria VA
- Joe Romm - Physicist and Founder of Climate Progress
- Jonathan Lykes - Co- Chair Black Youth Project 100, D.C. Chapter
- Jorge Aguilar - Southern Region Director at Food & Water Watch
- Priscilla Lin - Recent graduate of William and Marry College and Volunteer with Oceana
- Ivy Main - Chair Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and member of Virginia Governor’s Climate Commission
- Seth Heald - Vice Chair, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Building Pressure on Dominion to Dump ALEC:
@PolluterWatch Live Tweets from the Protest:
.@climateprogress Joe Romm: @domvapower support for @ALEC_states is "immoral." 'Corps dont need livable #climate, people do.' #alecexposed — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Romm: Thomas Jefferson wouldnt support ALEC disregard 4 sustainability, #climate policy interference. #alecexposed pic.twitter.com/jdMJTBuIJw — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
.@sierraclub's ishmael buckner moderates ALEC protest calling on @domvapower to #DumpALEC! #alecexposed pic.twitter.com/tWztkOwP1s — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Creative paraphrasing of @jonathanlykes: @Domvapower - dont #StandYourGround on bad ALEC anti-person policies! pic.twitter.com/mGmOfs6k2W — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Protest wrapping up - time for @domvapower to #ActOnClimate and dump @alec_states! #alecexposed #standuptoalec pic.twitter.com/bREoWKSfiE — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
If you're John Stossel and you want to host a segment to rail against the US Environmental Protection Agency, who ought you call?
It turns out, a man who was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for defrauding the EPA!
Stossel's guest last night, Jay Lehr, was sentenced to six months--serving three--in a minimum security federal prison back in 1991, and his organization at the time was fined $200,000. So Jay Lehr knows about EPA corruption better than anyone: he was the guy caught "falsifying employee time sheets on a government contract" for EPA, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ironically, Lehr told Stossel that EPA is "fraudulent" in estimates of amounts of pollution that pose hazards to people's health, such as particulate matter in coal pollution, estimated to prematurely kill 13,000 Americans every year, according to the American Lung Association.
John Stossel did not mention Lehr's fraud conviction. Perhaps he didn't know his guest defrauded US taxpayers, but Stossel and Lehr share a flair for denial of global warming for polluting corporations like Koch Industries, which has financial ties to both men. Heartland is part of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network--the massive apparatus of state-based and national front groups that push political agendas that are favorable to billionaire executives like Charles Koch. Heartland itself has received money from Koch foundations.
Stossel hosts "Stossel in the Classroom," a product of the Koch-funded Center for Independent Thought. When Stossel ran a TV segment in 2009 that was intended to mislead students about the scientific reality of climate change, Koch's Claude Lambe Foundation gave CIT $35,000. The Center for Independent Thought has continued to receive money from Koch foundations every year since, according to IRS tax filings.
According to a Heartland Institute email advertising Lehr's attendance on Stossel's show, Mr. Lehr's relevance in attacking the EPA comes from a Heartland report he wrote urging the agency to be "systematically dismantled." This coming from a group soliciting money from coal company Murray Energy, former ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol and the Charles Koch Foundation.
This all fits into the framework that is becoming nauseatingly familiar to American voters: billionaires pull the strings, and our voices don't matter. Stossel is just one of many Koch-funded or Koch friendly media personalities that wrap Charles Koch's values in patriotic rhetoric and un-factual packaging. Meanwhile, people like Jay Lehr at groups like Heartland continue to carry Koch's water into the policy arena, influencing politicians to do things like undermine enforcement of laws to reduce air and water pollution or mitigate dangerous climate change.
USA V. LEHR, ET AL, Case Number: 2:91-CR-00068, Charges Filed 04/26/1991, U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio.
Crossposted from DeSmog Canada, written by Carol Linnitt: PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking
Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.
Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.
DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.
Forest removal for exploratory well pad. Shell Jackpine mining site, North of Fort McMurray, Canada.*
Beds leading up to tailing pond.
DeSmog Canada: What was it like photographing the oilsands? Was it different from photographing other large-scale human spaces like highways or beaches?
Alex MacLean: The oilsands covered a vast area of which I was only able to photograph part of. It was not only different from highways, beaches, etc., in that those are linear formations, but the scale of the oilsands area and the devastation to the landscape was overwhelming. I felt a relation between highways and the mines in that open pit mines and seismic exploration lines fragment the boreal forest just as highways do through urban areas.
Steam and smoke rise from the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining facility.
Patches of boreal forest intertwined with snow-covered muskeg, near McLelland Lake, Alberta, Canada.
Clearing, dewatering, and seismic grid over the once boreal forest. Syncrude mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. View south to upgrading facility with rising plumes of steam and smoke. Alberta, Canada.
Suncor Oil Sands Project. Piles of uncovered petrolum coke, a byproduct of upgrading tar sands oil to synthetic crude. "Petcoke" is between 30-80 per cent more carbon intense than coal per unit of weight.
DsC: What led to your interest in the Alberta oilsands?
AM: I have been photographing around the issues of climate change since early on, and actually put out a book looking at land use patterns as they relate to energy and consumption in 2008 called “OVER: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point.” I was drawn to photographing the pipeline because I feel as though there is little public awareness that, if built, the Keystone XL will make avoiding catastrophic climate change much harder. The pipeline is an important link in a fossil-fuel production machine, stocked with bitumen deposits at one end and refineries at the other. The public is unaware that this oil production machine is poorly regulated, though it will cause serious environmental and health effects on local, regional and planetary scales.
Mining operations at the North Steepbank Extension. Suncor mine, Alberta, Canada.
Checkerboard clearing of the overburden at Syncrude Aurora North mine site. Alberta, Canada.
Seismic lines and well pad for exploratory drilling through the boreal forest at the Suncor Firebag Oil Sands Project. Alberta, Canada.
Smoke, steam, and gas flares rise from the Suncor upgrading facility. Reclamation efforts seen to the right, on what was once a tailing pond. Suncor has reclaimed only 7 per cent of their total land disturbance.
DsC: What is it like taking a bird's eye view of humanity? Do you sometimes have great insights looking at civilization from such a removed, abstracted position?
AM: One of the interesting things about aerial photography is how so much of what you see about humanity is devoid of people. What I see is tracks and markings that are telling about our culture and values. When you see the destruction of landscapes, in this case of the boreal forest, with the obvious contamination of the environment via water and air pollution, you can’t help but feel that there is very short-sighted exploitation of natural resources that will have long-lasting environmental impacts.
Hot waste filling tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Earthen wall to tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.
Growing pyramids of sulfur, a byproduct of upgrading bitumen. Mildred Lake, Alberta, Canada.
DsC: You've been photographing 'human' spaces for a long time. Have you noticed a change over the last few decades in your perspective as society has grown more aware of the ecological crisis and the scale of our impact?
AM: You can’t help but notice the growth that has taken place in the last thirty years, and the build-out of what was once natural spaces. I would say in the last 15 years, at an escalating rate, you begin to see more sustainable sources of energy through wind and solar farms, and reconfiguring of urban spaces to make them more walkable.
Overview of tailing pond at Suncor mining site.
Surface oil on tailing pond. Suncor mine near Fort McMurray.
Open box cars carrying sulfur byproduct. Edmonton, Canada.
* All captions provided by Alex MacLean.
Image Credit: All photos copyright Alex MacLean. Used with permission.
If you're a coal lobbyist like Jeff Holmstead, getting stuck in an elevator with Greenpeace activists is an inconvenient occupational hazard, especially if you then can't find a cab and cars are honking at your during an uncomfortable conversation about your work to attack pollution laws. See this K Street confrontation for yourself.
If you've followed the news around EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule, which aims to reduce the U.S. power sector's large contributions to global warming, you've probably seen Jeffrey Holmstead in the news. Usually, Holmstead is presented as a "partner" at Bracewell & Giuliani, and as a former EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation under George W. Bush.
This descriptor fails to present Holmstead's current and past work as a registered lobbyist for coal companies, and leaves out the destructive decisions that Holmstead made in his stint at EPA, which directly contributed to the premature death of tens of thousands of people in this country. It leaves out the $17.5 million that coal industry clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani for its lobbying services, where Mr. Holmstead is a prized hired gun against the EPA.
This is why I began our tense conversation with a simple question: why doesn't Jeff Holmstead use his skills, qualifications and experience to find real solutions to global warming?
Every time Mr. Holmstead has appeared in the news to discuss the EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, he doesn't have much good to say. "As someone who believes in the rule of law, I think this clearly goes beyond what EPA is allowed to do under the Clean Air Act,” Holmstead said at an event yesterday at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where I asked if his naysaying is simply to help Arch coal sell coal. Notice that Holmstead doesn't respond: see minute 7:30 in bottom video posted by BPC.
Mr. Holmstead's criticisms aren't surprising for a coal lobbyist, but Holmstead rarely acknowledges his coal clients and instead uses his former EPA credentials and his legal expertise to help steer Washington DC politicians, lawyers and journalists toward the coal industry's interpretations of proposed environmental regulations.
Holmstead likes to conflate rising electricity rates with the average consumer's utility bill, ignoring the proposed rule's well-known intent to reduce consumer bills through energy efficiency targets. This deceptive talking point was called out by Susan Tierney of the Analysis Group at yesterday's event at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Holmstead knows this isn't honest--he was previously called out by NRDC's Frances Beineke during a segment on The Diane Rehm Show.
He talks about how reducing U.S. emissions won't make a dent in reducing global emissions, thanks to rising coal use in coutries like China and India, as if the U.S. first real national attempt to reduce emissions won't give us legitimacy in global climate negotiations. When I used this as an example of one of Mr. Holmstead's obstruction tactics.
With the science understood, with the financial stakes so high and with shocking estimates of the current human death toll from global warming, why does Jeffrey Holmstead make a career working for an industry that is killing people?
I don't have an answer, but I have sought one. For "someone who believes in the rule of law," Mr. Holmstead has found a lot of ways to protect coal company executives at the expense of other people, within the boundaries of law or outside of the boundaries of enforcement. Avoiding personal responsibility is nothing new for Mr. Holmstead. In 2011, I confronted him for his decisions to delaying mercury regulations at U.S. power plants for eight full years, a decision he made as head of the George W. Bush EPA's air and radiation office. That decision allowed tens of thousands of people to prematurely die from mercury's toxic effects, according to EPA estimates of the rule's health benefits.
After I was booted out, Gabe Elsner of the Energy and Policy Institute asked Mr. Holmstead about his role in delaying mercury regulations. The interaction says a lot about Holmstead's aversion to recognizing the indirect role he has played in hurting people:
For someone whose decisions have had a terrible impact on the American public, Jeff Holmstead has faced little accountability for his sooty legacy. PolluterWatch will continue to monitor and expose the coal industry's work to undermine public health and public policies designed to solve problems their business creates.
SourceWatch: Jeffrey R. Holmstead
SHOWTIME's Years of Living Dangerously series just aired a segment featuring James Taylor, a lawyer who has been paid to confuse the public over the reality of climate change, its causes, and its impact on humanity. The Heartland Institute, where James Taylor works, is know for alienating its corporate supporters by comparing people like you and me--assuming you recognize the reality of climate change--to the Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Osama bin Laden.
I wish I was joking, but I'm not.
The joke was on James Taylor, last night. Taylor made an easily disprovable boast to America Ferrera, claiming, "I'm a scientist by training as well," apparently in addition to his law degree. See a teaser of that interaction here:
When pushed for an explanation--since Taylor holds no degree in science--he misrepresents himself:
"I successfully completed Ivy League atmospheric science courses, so I'm a scientist by training."
Who'd would've thought? Apparently if we all want to be scientists, we just need to take a course or two in science!
That means there must be thousands, perhaps millions of people in this country who qualify as scientists in James Taylor's world. Unless, of course, you have to take your science classes at the Ivy Leagues--I'll follow up with Taylor about that and let you know what he thinks.
After trying to spin his lack of expertise as full credentials, Taylor invokes the long-debunked "Oregon Petition" as supposed proof against climate change, despite the petition's inception as a tactic of the fossil fuel industry, its lack of climate experts as signatories, and its inclusion of fictitious characters like the Spice Girls.
As Lisa Graves at the Center for Media and Democracy explains in the Years of Living Dangerously segment,
"The scientific evidence is really against them, but they say things so boldly and stridently that it makes some people believe that they must be telling the truth."
She's right. It has to take a lot effort, creativity and sheer willpower to make a career pretending the obvious does not exist.
Imagine if The Heartland Institute's staff spent their time and money working on real solutions to these problems. Imagine if people like Koch and Murray felt the inevitable need for a shift, and put their skills as businesspeople into solutions-based entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, these fossil fuel executives would rather fight against inevitable future trends, just like the Tobacco industry fought tooth and nail against scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking. In fact, The Heartland Institute continues to wage Big Tobacco's campaign. Check out this recent video of Heartland's president, Joe Bast, caught in an embarrassing contradiction of his own claims denying the health impacts of smoking:
The Heartland Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity and other fossil fuel industry front groups have united to kill incentives for wind energy in Kansas. Affiliated under the banner of the State Policy Network, these groups have also coordinated against clean energy in states like North Carolina and Ohio, where dirty energy giants may score a victory against renewable industry jobs.
So far, most of the State Policy Network attacks on clean energy have failed. As Years of Living Dangerously examines in Kansas, leasing land for wind farms has benefited farmers like Pete Ferrell, who faced impossible economic conditions from recent extreme droughts, made worse by climate change, leasing land to the wind industry has provided crucial income.
Because of farmers like Pete, and blue-collar wind workers and other citizens who are pleased with getting energy from sources that doesn't poison their air, water or climate, Kansas politicians have now defeated attacks on renewable energy incentives three times in the last two years. More are likely to come, as companies like Duke Energy and Peabody coal don't want clean energy competitors, while executives at Koch Industries and Murray Energy Corporation still combat the science of climate change with the finance of misinformation.
That means we will continue to see people like James Taylor, popping up on our TV sets and our state legislatures, lying about whatever he's paid to lie about. Keep your eyes peeled.
Heartland Institute lawyer James Taylor, as illustrated in Greenpeace's report on climate change deniers: "Dealing in Doubt"