Most of the time, polluter lobbyists manage to operate behind the scenes, pushing their agenda without public scrutiny. But today, newly published internal emails offer a glimpse into how a major tar sands polluter has been using insider access to get special treatement at the State Department. The emails, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Friends of the Earth, reveal improper conduct between State Department officials and Paul Elliott, a lobbyist pushing the tar sands Keystone XL pipeline for Transcanada. As the Washington Post reported this morning, the emails "show how Elliott tried to exploit relationships built in political campaigns, with mixed results. The e-mails are almost all between Elliott and a special assistant to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. All three knew one another from working on Clinton’s presidential campaign."
It's clear that the State Department's determination that the Keystone XL pipeline would have "no significant impact" on the environment is seriously flawed (see It's Easy to Find "No Significant Impact" if You Do No Significant Study...), and these emails provide some clues why. Instead of performing a rigorous environmental impact statement, a senior State Department official was busy helping TransCanada's CEO with "insight on what he'd like to see by way of on the record comment during this public comment period of this Keystone KXL draft environmental impact statement.” according to one email from Elliott. In yet another example of the revolving door between polluting industries and our public officials, that senior State Department official, David Goldwyn, is now himself a polluter lobbyist, and testified before Congress in favor of the tar sands pipeline.
The State Department has clearly heard a lot from polluter lobbyists pushing tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline. Let's make sure they hear from us: join Tar Sands Action on October 7th for a rally at the final hearing for the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington DC. We might not get special "insight" from the State Department about what kind of public comment they'd like to see - but I think we'll have some ideas of our own.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
This morning, CEOs, founders, and other leaders of 68 organizations sent a letter to President Obama, urging that he do what he can to stop the dangerous extraction of shale gas that is occurring across the country without any federal public safeguards. Often called 'fracking,' communities from Pennsylvania to Texas to Minnesota are already suffering from the numerous environmental problems connected with this process to force “natural” gas from shale several thousand feet below ground.
The letter states,
'Fracking involves shooting millions of gallons of water laced with carcinogenic chemicals deep underground to break apart rock to release trapped gas. Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry.
To date, fracking has resulted in over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination across the county, either through the leaking of fracking fluids and methane into groundwater, or by above ground spills of contaminated and often radioactive wastewater from fracking operations. Rivers and lakes are also being contaminated with the release of insufficiently treated waste water recovered from fracking operations. In addition, fracking typically results in the release of significant quantities of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere despite the availability of cost-effective containment measures.'
Fracked gas may be no 'bridge fuel,' and it certainly is not 'clean energy.' Burning natural gas releases about half the greenhouse gas as burning coal, but fracked gas may produce so much more methane during extraction and processing that it could be as bad or worse than coal for the climate.
The oil and gas industry have good lobbyists, and have achieved years ago exemptions under virtually every federal environmental law, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Companies like Conoco Phillips, Chesapeake Energy and Talisman Energy are not even required to disclose the more than 900 different chemicals used in the fracking process, which contaminate aquifers. Talisman has even targeted children in its lobbying, with 'Terry the Fracosaurus' who promotes an industry that is polluting drinking water with toxic chemicals.
Oil and gas companies have spent over three hundred million dollars in the last two years lobbying against federal protections from their pollution, so it is not too surprising that the federal government has decided to 'shoot now, ask questions later.' There are few efforts by Congress and the administration to mitigate the public health impacts of fracking.
In the next week or two we should see some results fom a panel of experts set up by the Department of Energy, which is supposed to reach conclusions on how to frack safely. However, the panel is stocked with only frack-friendly experts. EPA is studying impacts on water quality, but that study will take years to complete and is limited in its scope.
While further knowledge about impacts is a certainly a good thing, in this case 'more research' means political procrastination. EPA found 24 years ago that fracking contaminates water supplies. So far the only legislation to get much traction is the 'FRAC Act,' spearheaded by Democracts from Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado. This bill is an important step to closing one legal loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act, and would require that industry disclose which chemicals they're using.
The Guardian reports Canadian cooperation with oil supermajors BP and Shell in what Friends of the Earth Europe calls an "unprecedented" lobbying effort to peddle the world's dirtiest oil across the Atlantic. The Guardian's Terry Macalister writes:
"The Canadians have managed to delay the EU's original deadline of January 2011 for confirming baseline default values despite new peer-reviewed studies to support the European position."
Known for crippling our global climate, the tar sands also have a notably destructive impact on the indigenous community inhabiting the area that is now Northen Alberta, poisoning food and water sources while ignoring their calls for help from the government, which at the provincial and national level has repeatedly favored Big Oil. This excellent photo essay documents how destructive tar sands development has impacted the life of Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace Canada's Climate and Energy Campaigner and member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation community:
Here in the United States, corporate titans like ExxonMobil ignore these fatal consequences as they push pro-tar sands advertisements onto consumers. As the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline rages on, the US Chamber of Commerce is running a dirty lobbying campaign to support the project while the American Petroleum Institute has actually used recent oil pipeline spills as their nonsensical justification for the pipeline's construction. Check out PolluterWatch's profiles for each of these climate villians for documentation of their role in perpetuating global warming denial and inaction.
In spite of the continued and predictable madness demonstrated by Big Oil and its widespread apologists over the Keystone XL issue, activists are organizing a full two weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience outside of the White House to ensure the Keystone XL project is not actualized. More information can be found on the Tar Sands Action website.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA
Just over a year ago, oil billionaire David Koch used to joke that the company he owns with his brother Charles, Koch Industries, was “the biggest company you’ve never heard of.”
Then Greenpeace released our March, 2010 report, “Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine,” that documented the Kochs’ systematic funding of the political system in order to stop action on climate change, including funding campaigns on climate denial. We have now updated this report; Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial.
Over the last year, the publicity-averse brothers have found themselves and their company, Koch Industries, under increased scrutiny from the public and the press. But the Koch Brothers continue to use their oil wealth to fund campaigns, front groups, think tanks, and politicians to sabotage climate and clean energy policies.
Greenpeace’s new research throws a focus on some of the information that has come to light over the last year, not least the Kochs’ previously-secret twice-annual gatherings of their rich and powerful allies to plot their strategy. In one of our three new case studies, we present a dossier showing that the media magnates invited to their summer 2010 meeting in Colorado have provided a convenient echo chamber for the Kochs' media network, thrown into overdrive as more people become aware of the Koch Brothers and how they use their oil money.
Our next two case studies demonstrate how Koch’s network of climate denier front groups have attacked state policies that were developed to curb climate change. One of these new case studies documents how the Kochtopus is currently attacking the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state effort in the Northeast to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Ironically, Koch Supply and Trading, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, has participated in RGGI carbon trading even as Americans for Prosperity has campaigned to get states to pull out of RGGI.
Our third new case study offers a full overview of a similar multi-pronged attack on California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which took place during the 2010 election cycle when Koch financed ballot Proposition 23. This effort was supported by Koch funded groups Americans for Prosperity and the Pacific Research Institute.
The Kochs’ funding of the climate denial machine continued apace in 2009 (the most recent year that Koch foundation tax forms are available), when they contributed over $6.4 million dollars to some 40 organizations that continue to deny the scientific consensus on global warming while attempting to slow or block policies to solve the climate crisis.
The Kochs have now given a total of $55.2 million to these groups since 1997, $31.6 million of which they spent between 2005 and 2009. Favorite Koch Foundation organizations like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies continued to be top beneficiaries. Americans for Prosperity, a front group founded by David Koch, has now received over $5.6 million in documented donations from the Koch foundations.
It doesn’t stop there. Where our 2010 report found that Koch Industries lobbying expenditures totaled $37.9 million dollars since 2006, that figure has now risen to over $49.5 million, an increase of $11.6 million over the last year. In 2010, Koch Industries was the largest political spender of the entire energy sector, dumping $2,645,589 in campaign contributions from their political action committee. Koch currently outspends heavyweights ExxonMobil, Southern Company, American Electric Power and Chevron. In addition, the Koch Brothers and their spouses directly contributed over $360,000 to federal politicians in 2010.
There’s more. Plenty more. Visit our updated Koch Industries web page for the full deal.
The research team here at Greenpeace USA does some really great stuff. Uncloaking the Koch brothers, figuring out the truth about fracking, and pressuring polluters who are trying to influence our elected leaders.
But they can only do so much. In July 2010 the team began submitting Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the federal government about the BP oil disaster. They began to trickle back, slowly, and we stayed on top of it. But just like the gusher in the Gulf the trickle became a flood, and now we have around 30,000 pages of memos, reports and even flight records about the worst oil spill in American history.
While some of the agencies have simply ignored our requests, others have gotten back with some interesting documents. The problem is we simply don’t have time to go through them all. The Guardian ran a series of stories about them last week but no one has the manpower to read the fine print. Plus, we’re getting more through the letterbox almost every day.
This is where you come in. We’ve created a new site which allows anyone to view, download and comment on these documents. We’re updating it with new stuff and categorizing it to make your life easier. Always imagined yourself winning a Pulitzer? Still mad at BP and want to find out what really happened out there? Searching for evidence for a compensation claim? Now’s your chance to dig up some gems.
Log on to www.polluterwatch.org/research and help us sift through the mountain of data. Get in touch if you find something interesting and we’ll try to get the news out.
You’re all part of the research team now.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA with minor discrepancies (video added, link to NY Times photos).
In the wake of a New York Times series that revealed a serious lack of oversight of the gas industry by state regulators, the Governor of Pennsylvania has taken decisive action. He ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection not to report violations by gas companies without approval from his hand picked environmental chief. That’s right - Tom Corbett, the republican governor of Pennsylvania, ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to stop issuing violations against drillers without prior approval from DEP Secretary Micheal Krancer, who he personally selected as chief of the agency.
John Hines, the DEP executive deputy secretary, sent an e-mail March 23 to other senior staff, including four regional directors and the head of the department's oil and gas division.
"Effective immediately," it said, all violations must first be sent to him and another DEP deputy secretary in Harrisburg - with "final clearance" from Michael Krancer, DEP secretary.
"Any waiver from this directive will not be acceptable," Hines wrote. Regional directors reinforced the stern message in their own e-mails to staff.
Considering that notices of violation are the inspectors' main tool for enforcing compliance with environmental rules, Governor Corbett has basically kneecapped the DEP’s ability to control wayward hydrofrackers. The new policy has been met with disbelief and anger by people familiar with regulating the industry.
"They are putting us on a leash," said the one inspector, who spoke to the Enquirer on condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation.
Even John Hanger, ex DEP chief and good friend of fracking was against the directive. In an interview with the Enquirer, he said:
"I could not believe it. It's extraordinarily unwise. It's going to cause the public in droves to lose confidence in the inspection process." According to Hanger, there has never been a similar directive in DEP.
Hanger said the "extraordinary" policy was akin to forcing a highway trooper to get approval from the head of the state police before writing a ticket.
"It is a complete intrusion into the independence of the inspection process," he said.
Why would Corbett pander so brazenly to the Natural Gas industry? The Enquirer points out that Corbett received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions from drilling interests last year. A good investment for the fracking industry, considering that since taking office in January, Corbett's administration has overturned a moratorium on drilling in state forests and has refused to consider any extraction tax on drillers. Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state without such a tax.
A hydrofracking well pad in Pennsylvania. Image source
Less than a year since BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded into flame, killed eleven rig employees and initiated an uncontrolled oil gusher that blasted over four million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the London-based oil giant is asking for more.
The Gulf ecosystem is still reeling from the dramatic oil and gas pollution that created underwater plumes that spanned for miles and effectively turned the ocean floor into a “graveyard.” While former BP CEO Tony Hayward promised his company would “make this right,” 300,000 Gulf residents still await their share of the $20 billion BP set aside for compensation.
Residents continue to worry about the quality of Gulf seafood and their own health:
As put by Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies in an interview with ABC (above), "This is not even a year since the worst environmental disaster this country has ever seen and the culprit is being led right back to the scene of the crime and being given the keys."
Meanwhile, the offshore drilling contractor that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean, is now apologizing for handing out absurd bonuses to executives for safety in 2010, including a $200,000 salary increase to CEO Steven L. Newman. Newman made $5,374,687 in 2009.
The Department of the Interior has challenged Transocean's safety claims, and has stressed that no agreement to resume drilling has been made with BP, although the company continued other operations throughout 2010 and into 2011, as had Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Royal Dutch Shell recently obtained permission for a new drilling project off the coast of Louisiana.
Photo Credit: the Guardian
ExxonMobil, proud owner of the gas company XTO (bought in 2010 for $31B), attempted to parry criticism of the gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing in a recent letter to the editor featured in the New York Times. The letter, written by Vice President Ken Cohen, contained all of the untruths and PR manipulations one would expect from the anti-climate, anti-environment, oil and gas supermajor ExxonMobil.
Ken writes in retaliation to a New York Times Business Day article by largely pro-gas and pro-industry “journalist” Christopher Swann, in which Swann refers to ExxonMobil’s strategy of forming a “united front against regulation" as “myopic.” Ken tacitly denies opposing regulation, saying “Along with other companies, ExxonMobil works with state regulatory authorities to develop sound, science-based regulations for oil and gas drilling.” If the implication of this statement is that Exxon supports legitimate fracking regulation, then this is a lie. Exxon opposes any attempt at regulation of their business reflexively and has opposed all attempts at regulation on fracking specifically.
Ken goes on to parrot the industry mantra of how vital “clean-burning” gas is for “national energy security” and “well-paying jobs.” No mention of how fracking poisons drinking water with radiation and toxic sludge. When weighing the importance of fresh water versus the “billions of dollars” that stand to be made by energy profiteers, Ken has definitely picked a side. Ken’s letter also spouts the common industry-created rhetoric that fracking has been used safely since 1940. The truth is that the type of fracking practiced currently is significantly different than the processes used since the 40’s, and none of these processes should be labeled 100% safe. Just ask the residents of Wiliamsport, Pennsylvania, where Exxon and XTO spewed 13,000 gallons of toxic sludge into waterways used for drinking water. So much for the “responsible development” touted by Ken Cohen and ExxonMobil.
Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has profiled some of Chevron's most offensive operatives as part of their campaign to make the oil giant take responsibility for massive pollution in Ecuador. After almost three decades of drilling activity that ended in 1990, over 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste was knowingly and haphazardly abandoned by Texaco, which was purchased by Chevron in 2001.
Despite documented human rights abuses worldwide, Chevron has insisted it is not guilty of poisoning Ecuadorian people (and the soil and waterways that sustain them). Chevron has crafted its case through aggressive denial, distracting advertising, staggering amounts of money, and "Human Rights Hitmen" willing to dodge and lie at the expense of people and ecosystems, intentionally boxed out of sight and mind.
RAN profiled the following Chevron Human Rights Hitmen:
- R. Hewitt Pate: Chevron vice president and general counsel. Pate was a Justice Department lawyer during the Bush Administration, branded by RAN as "Chevron's Karl Rove" for his distraction tactics, fabricating small-scale scandals on part of Ecuadorians and their allies in order to ignore Chevron's large-scale guilt.
- Diego Borja: Chevron's self-described "dirty tricks operative." Beyond linking Chevron to an "independent" U.S. lab testing samples from contaminated waste sites, Borja videotaped an Ecuadorian judge presiding over the lawsuit against Chevron and released footage edited to imply that the judge had accepted a bribe (he had not). The judge was dismissed from the case.
- Andrea E. Neuman and Randy M. Mastro. Both Neuman and Mastro are veteran corporate influence peddlers with DC law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, drawing attention away from the suffering of plaintiffs against Chevron by conjuring pointed personal attacks and claims of bias by the Ecuardorian legal system. Neuman specializes in stomping wronged citizens at the behest of major polluters like Dole Foods and Lockheed Martin.
- Sam Anson: Working for Kroll, one of several PR companies hired by Chevron, Anson was caught attempting to hire a journalist to spy on Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron. The journalist turned down the $20,000 offer and made the scandal public.
More on the campaign to hold Chevron responsible for its crimes in Equador can be found at Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, among others documenting the true cost of Chevron's toxic legacy [PDF]. More on Chevron can be found in our Polluter Watch profile.
In a move that exposes the repeated and predictable habit of Congressional polluter allies, House Republicans have ignored a $53 billion handout over the next 25 years to oil companies that are not required to pay royalties when obtaining leases for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. This year alone, according to House Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), $1.5 billion in absent lease royalties will benefit oil companies seeking to expand offshore drilling.
The leases, which give oil giants access to public property for their own profit, is another slap in the face to taxpayers who have already watched their land (and for many, their fragile livelihoods) become poisoned by industry abuse and maintained by federal incompetence. As fiscal conservatives in the U.S. House selectively look for government spending to trim, the main targets seem to be social programs instead of unncecessary billions doled out to the world's largest oil companies. As Congress scratches the back of Big Oil, fresh reports emerge of continued devestation on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a direct result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Noting the twisted irony, Rep. Markey stated, "Republicans once again sided with BP, Exxon and the oil companies, not with the American taxpayer and the poorest Americans most in need of help. This legislation focuses on just the kind of special interest loophole that should be closed before we open attacks on programs for the poorest Americans.”
This failure to save wasted taxpayer money is but a small portion of the sickening annual handouts to the oil industry through subsidies. Oil Change International explains, "Estimates of the value of US federal subsidies to the domestic oil and gas industry alone (not coal) range from 'only' $4 billion a year, to an amazing $52 billion annually. Coal subsidies are roughly another 10 billion annually."
Through its DirtyEnergyMoney tabulation website, Oil Change International reports that the 111th House of Representatives has some powerful allies to the oil industry across party lines. From 2009-2010, thirteen House members were each awarded over $100,000 by oil companies alone:
- Roy Blunt (R-MO) -- $269,400
- Dan Boren (D-OK) -- $205,750
- Chet Edwards (D-TX) -- $176,130
- Joe Barton (R-TX) -- $150,870
- Mike Ross (D-AR) -- $135,350
- K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) -- $132,600
- John Sullivan (R-OK) -- $125,800
- John Fleming (R-LA) -- $123,550
- John Boehner (R-OH) -- $119,400
- Jerry Moran (R-KS) -- $113,600
- Eric Cantor (R-VA) -- $110,600
- Charles Boustany (R-LA) -- $109,000
- Harry Teague (D-NM) --$100,300
More information on all of these companies can be found on our PolluterWatch profiles for each company, as well as in-depth looks at their Congressional funding through DirtyEnergyMoney.com