Written by Mark Floegel, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
Happy Chernobyl Day. It was 25 years ago today Soviet engineers were conducting a systems test on that nuclear reactor when a sudden power surge led to a series of explosions, a fire and the worst nuclear reactor disaster in history… so far. The ongoing disaster in Fukushima, Japan may be worse by the time that situation is under control.
How are you celebrating Chernobyl Day? The folks in Texas City, Texas are celebrating by staying indoors and sealing their windows and door with duct tape. It’s called “shelter in place” and it’s not really a Chernobyl Day commemoration, it’s the citizens only defense against noxious fumes emanating from three refineries and a vinyl acetate facility that have experienced a power loss. Power loss, the same thing that kicked off the Fukushima disaster.
The three Texas City refineries are owned by Valero, Marathon and BP. The BP refinery is the most famous of the three, due to an explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others. The federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration found BP had ignored safeguards prior to that explosion. BP is trying to sell that refinery. So far, no takers.
According to wire reports, area residents report noxious fumes in the air, making breathing difficult. The refineries’ flares are still burning, so it’s unclear why people are choking. Other gaseous emissions may be occurring. Later reports say the power outage was caused not by the local utility, but by problems inside the industrial facilities.
We at Greenpeace have witnessed many industrial accidents. One sad feature of them all is that the industry in question always gives out incomplete or misleading information on day one. There always seems to be more concern for controlling the PR than for protecting the health of people who live nearby. There are 550,000 people who live in the “vulnerability zone” around the BP refinery. These are the folks who’ve been told to duct tape themselves into their homes.
The weather report says it’s 80 degrees and hazy in Texas City. Of course, you have to shut off your air conditioner when you “shelter in place.” What would you do if you lived there? Tape the windows, swelter, turn on the radio, pray? Or grab the kids and run for the car, risk being overcome by fumes, just try to get out of there? Where would you go? These are not gated communities of McMansions. People who live near refineries don’t have much money.
Dow Chemical owns the vinyl acetate facility. The plant was part of Union Carbide, which Dow purchased in 2001. In 1984, a Union Carbide facility in India leaked methyl isocyanate. The “vulnerability zone” around that plant had a half million poor people living in it, too. Twenty thousand of them died; another 150,000 were severely injured.
According to the material safety data sheet for vinyl acetate, it is immediately threatening to the eyes, skin and lungs and cancer-causing in the longer term.
We at Greenpeace have been working for a nearly a decade – since before the 9/11 attacks – to convert America’s industrial facilities from the use of hazardous feedstocks to available safer alternatives, ones that don’t require huge amounts of poison gasses in the communities where we live and raise out children.
In 2004, then-Congressman Jim Turner (D), who represented a nearby area, called such plants “pre-positioned toxic weapons of mass destruction.” Unfortunately, a decade of efforts by legislators like Mr. Turner has run into a wall of pre-positioned lobbyists from the chemical industry and the politicians whose campaigns they finance.
Our nation was attacked by terrorists and no measures were taken to protect us from distinct hazards nestled among a half million people. Our economy crashed and no effort was made to recoup the thieved billions or regulate our financial markets. Three reactors and four spent fuel pools in Japan have been in crisis for weeks and our government does nothing to examine the 23 similar reactors in this country.
You get what you pay for, except this isn’t the government you paid for. It’s the one the polluters paid for.
The same oil and gas companies that set up a front group to campaign against regulations over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) have spent a combined total of more than $126 million on lobbyists, while pouring money into the campaign coffers of the Hill’s loudest fracking regulation opponents.
DeSmogBlog recently exposed “Energy in Depth” as an oil and gas front group set up to lead the charge against anyone legislating against or even investigating the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas industry practices that pose public health and water contamination threats.
Purportedly set up to represent “small, independent oil and natural gas producers,” instead “Energy in Depth” is funded by some of the largest oil companies on the planet, such as Chevron, BP, Shell and Occidental, along with the American Petroleum Institute and other trade associations.
The “Independent” Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) memo obtained by DeSmogBlog was written in 2009, five days before the introduction of bills aimed at closing loopholes around the chemicals used in fracking.
In 2009, Congressional Democrats introduced two bills proposing to close the current loopholes around the use of chemicals used in fracking– The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (S. 1215), and The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 (H.R. 2766).
Greenpeace (thanks to OpenSecrets.org, DirtyEnergyMoney.com and MapLight.org) looked at the recent lobbying records of the giant oil and gas interests that describe themselves as “small and independent” operators that funded EID. During 2009 and 2010, the EID funders spent a combined $126.8 million on lobbying.
Of course these companies were also lobbying on other issues, but the two fracking bills were key issues listed in their lobby registration documents.
A ProPublica investigation into oil and gas money received by members of the Natural Gas caucus found that they received 19 times more money on average than members of Congress who signed a letter in support of a proposal to require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use when drilling on public lands.
All of the five members of Congress mentioned in the leaked “Energy in Depth” memo testified against the proposed legislation before it was tabled. For their efforts, each have received regular payments from a majority of EID members, including the IPAA itself. (See financial figures, compiled below)
The Congressional battles over regulation continue with Republican Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI) taking up the issue late last year, and another key fracking supporter, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) pressuring Ken Salazar to back off a proposal to introduce new regulations through the Department of Interior if Congress refuses to act.
2010: $5.51 million (some of this was likely spent to deny culpability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster due to their 25% stake in BP's Macondo well)
2009: $2.81 million
Total Anadarko lobbying and political contributions.
Dan Boren (D-OK), chair, House Natural Gas Caucus.
For the 2009-2010 election cycle Dan Boren raked in $216,250 from the oil and gas industry. He is the natural gas transmission and distribution industry’s top recipient, and second highest for the oil and gas industry. Among his funders are Chevron, Occidental, Anakardo, Marathon, and, of course, the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Doc Hastings (R-WA)
At $84,671 in contributions, the oil and gas industry is Hastings' top contributing industry with regular payments from the EID member companies.
Hastings has been fighting any rules or transparency around fracking and its chemicals, writing to Ken Salazar late 2010 arguing that such rules would “ threaten thousands of jobs, deepen the federal deficit through reduced revenues, and harm natural gas development and our nation’s energy security.”
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Lamborn’s second-highest industry favorite was oil and gas, at $31,500, again with EID members prominent in the ranks.
Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Gohmert raked in $48,550 in oil and gas money in the last election cycle. The oil and gas sector was his third highest donor by industry, a contributions from EID members included Chevron, Marathon and Halliburton.
John Fleming (R-LA)
Oil and gas was Fleming's second biggest earner at $123,500, including Chevron, Occidental, Marathon, IPAA, Halliburton.
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
Lummis’s top funders are the oil and gas industry, with $89,550 in 2010 dirty donations.