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Tue, 2014-04-15 13:25Farron Cousins
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Industry Funded Politicians Hope To Thwart Pollution Penalties In North Carolina

On March 6th of this year, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway handed down a ruling that Duke Energy must immediately prevent toxins from their coal ash ponds from leaking into the water supply, and also that the energy giant had to develop a plan to clean up all of the groundwater that they had contaminated in the state.  Ridgeway said that the state and the energy company had been misinterpreting a state law for decades in order to avoid cleaning up their toxic mess.

Judge Ridgeway’s ruling gave the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) the authority to hold Duke accountable for years of pollution.  And just when it looked like Duke Energy might finally have to pay for their environmental crimes, something magical happened for the dirty energy company:  The EMC appealed Ridgeway’s ruling.

Rather than doing the job they were ordered to do by a judge, the state agency sided with Duke Energy in appealing the ruling, claiming that the state’s environmental laws do not give the agency the authority to order a cleanup of contaminated water supplies.

The EMC isn’t reacting this way because they are too busy, or because they don’t have the resources to enforce the cleanup – they joined the appeal because Duke Energy owns the state government in North Carolina.

The EMC claims to operate independently from the influence of state government, but they are directly appointed by the government.  The board consists of 15 members appointed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory (8 appointments to the board), Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger (7 collective appointments to the board.)  The common thread among these politicians is that their campaigns were all funded by Duke Energy and a host of other dirty energy heavyweights.

Wed, 2014-03-19 12:41Farron Cousins
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Coal Exporter United Bulk Sued For Polluting Mississippi River

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week against United Bulk, alleging that the company is responsible for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting the Mississippi River.  United Bulk operates coal export terminals along the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.

The suit alleges — along with plenty of photographic evidence to back up the allegations — that United Bulk has left piles of coal debris and petroleum coke (petcoke) along the banks of the river for the last five years.  These piles are left unattended, unsecured, and uncovered in the elements, allowing wind and rain to easily sweep these pollutants into the Mississippi River and nearby marshes. 

A press release from the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition lays out the basics:

The suit contends that United Bulk has illegally discharged coal and petcoke into the river every day that it has operated for at least five years. It points out that coal and petcoke—an oil-refining byproduct with high levels of arsenic, mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and aquatic life—have been discharged into the river in enough quantities to produce visible spills on a regular basis. The suit also cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that stormwater runoff from coal piles “can flush heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water.”

As mentioned above, the Gulf Restoration Project and the Sierra Club have released photographs of United Bulk’s contamination of the Mississippi River:

 photo UnitedBulk2.jpg

Mon, 2014-03-17 15:00Farron Cousins
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Fracking California's Coast: Billions of Gallons of Fracking Pollution Legalized By Feds

If an energy company accidentally spilled 9 billion gallons of toxic waste into the ocean, the media, the public, and the government would be all over the situation.  But when it isn’t an accident, there is no reason for anyone to pay attention.

Such is the case with the fracking industry operating in California’s Santa Barbara Channel.  Federal regulators have given fracking companies the green light to dump as much as 9 billion gallons of waste into the waterway every single year.  This is in the same body of water that was devastated by millions of gallons of crude oil during a spill in 1969 that occurred as a result of a blowout on an oil rig operating in the area.  This environmental catastrophe led to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Dos Cuadras Offshore Resources (DCOR) has been granted permits for four “mini” fracking exploration projects in the Santa Barbara Channel, all of which have been granted with certain environmental exclusions, as Truthout.org explains:

Mon, 2014-03-10 15:58Farron Cousins
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Environmental Review Thrown Out By House Legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives is serious about job creation.  So serious, in fact, that they are willing to sacrifice a healthy environment just so corporations have the “potential” to create new jobs without having to worry about all of that burdensome red tape that so often comes with environmental safety standards.

In a move last week, the House passed the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID Act – HR 2641), which will put hard deadlines on environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), typically carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Republicans in the House claimed that the bill was aimed at preventing the EPA from stalling projects that could create jobs for American citizens.  They said that environmental reviews, which are required by law, can hold projects up for years, and they believe that this is a cost that the economy simply cannot afford.  If signed into law, the bill will limit environmental reviews to a firm 18 months, with only 36 months to complete an environmental impact statement.

The White House indicated that, if the legislation were to reach the President’s desk, he would most certainly veto it.  The Hill quotes the White House as saying; “H.R. 2641 will increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines.”

The bill passed the House largely on party lines, with all Republican members and only 12 Democratic members voting in favor.  A provision of the bill will allow projects for which an environmental review could not be completed in time to receive automatic approval.  Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee proposed an amendment to strip this provision of the bill, but it failed to pass.

Another amendment, proposed by Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia, specifically prohibits regulatory agencies from considering “social costs of carbon” in their reviews.  This amendment passed and was included in the final bill.

The Republicans are not wrong in claiming that environmental reviews can hold up projects for years, but there are two very good reasons why this happens.

Wed, 2014-03-05 18:00Farron Cousins
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Harvard President Says Fossil Fuel Divestment Unnecessary, "Hypocritical"

A degree from Harvard University was once seen as the pinnacle of achievement in higher education.  Parents would boast proudly that their child was attending one of the most prestigious universities in America, and a diploma from Harvard could almost guarantee you a job in whichever field you chose.

But today, Harvard’s image is being tarnished by fossil fuels.  The university still maintains considerable holdings in fossil fuels in their endowment funds, and according to University President Drew Faust, that isn’t going to change in the near future.

Faust has long been an opponent of fossil fuel divestment, and refuses to take part in the larger movement of universities and other institutions who are pulling their endowment funds out of dirty energy financial holdings.  Harvard currently has an endowment worth over $30 billion, the largest of any other institution in the United States. 

ClimateProgress has been following Faust’s anti-divestment campaign for some time, and has completely debunked all of Faust’s talking points on the issue of divestment.  In 2013, Faust released a letter explaining her reasoning for refusing to divest, which includes: fossil fuel companies won’t notice; divestment would hurt Harvard’s bottom line; the endowment is not a tool for social change; and that divestment is hypocritical.

As ClimateProgress pointed out at the time, all of Faust’s reasoning rests on faulty logic.  First of all, divesting from fossil fuels would send a big message to the dirty energy industry and would easily inspire others to do the same.  Second, as fossil fuel reserves are depleted, the companies' stocks will plummet, which will have a significant impact on Harvard’s bottom line.  And third, on hypocrisy, it is not hypocritical to remove your financial holdings from an industry that is making money at the expense of human and environmental health.

But Faust clearly cannot be swayed by logic, and this week her ignorance was put on full display when a young activist named Alli Welton from Divest Harvard put Faust on the spot and asked her why her university refuses to divest from the dirty energy industry.  ClimateProgress provides the video:

Sun, 2014-03-02 19:45Farron Cousins
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Mardi Gras: Beads, Bands…And BP Oil

More than one million tourists have flocked to the South for Mardi Gras, and hundreds of thousands of those revelers have settled in for a few days along the Gulf Coast.  Those who decided to enjoy the festivities along the Gulf of Mexico might be in for something they didn’t expect: oil tar mats.

On Thursday of last week, workers on Pensacola Beach, Florida spotted and brought to shore a 1,200 pound oil tar mat, which officials say accounted for about 90% of the total size of the mat.  While the bulk of the mat was a mixture of sand and other debris, scientists ran tests and were quickly able to determine that the oil in the mat was a perfect match for the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as the Pensacola News Journal explains:

The weathered oil from the tar mat was confirmed to be MC-252 oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were once scoured regularly for residual oil from the spill, physical searches were phased out as the number of sightings began to dwindle.

In the summer of 2013, BP pulled their cleanup crews from the Gulf Coast, assuring residents and tourists alike that the oil spill was all cleaned up.  A few months later, the U.S. Coast Guard made similar claims to the public.

Furthermore, the public was assured as early as May 2010 — just one month after the oil leak began — that the majority of the oil would simply “dissolve” into the Gulf of Mexico.  This latest tar mat is undeniable evidence that oil from BP’s disaster still remains in the Gulf.

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