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Thu, 2013-01-31 15:26Farron Cousins
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Record Fines For BP In Gulf Disaster Deal

After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.  The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.

The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions more in financial penalties for the company.

Wed, 2012-12-12 12:05Farron Cousins
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Internal BP Emails Could Expose Extent Of Corporate Cover-Up Of Gulf Oil Disaster

Attorneys for Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, claim that a spate of previously unreleased emails will “exonerate” their client in the current criminal case being pursued against Mix. Mix is the first person in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak to be brought up on criminal charges for his role in the cover-up of the extent of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice formally charged Mix with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence, specifically text messages, relating to how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead in the Gulf.  The amount of oil flowing into the Gulf waters determined the size of the fines that BP would face from the federal government, so the company could have benefited substantially from under-reporting the true volume of the flow rate.

The new emails that will be released during Mix’s criminal trial allegedly show that Mix repeatedly warned his superiors at BP that they were under-reporting the true scope of the spill to the government and the media, undermining the federal government’s case against Mix.  While these emails could show that Mix did the right thing in one arena, it is unlikely that it will “exonerate” him, as his attorneys claim.  After all, the charges against Mix are for deleting text messages related to the disaster, which were evidence.

The one thing that is almost guaranteed from these emails, assuming they exist in the form that Mix's attorneys are claiming, is that they could expose the cover-up by BP executives, and tell the story of how they intentionally misled everyone about the nature of their oil geyser. And given what we already know, it seems incredibly likely that the oil giant's leadership knew from the start how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead.

Fri, 2012-10-05 06:00Farron Cousins
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BP Settlement Deal Could Put Taxpayers On The Hook For Spill Costs

A proposed settlement deal between the federal government and BP over their involvement in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil leak could shift the burden of cleanup costs away from the oil giant and onto U.S. taxpayers.

The current settlement option is just one of several being negotiated between the federal government and BP.  But this settlement option would route fine and settlement money through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), rather than fining the company directly via the Clean Water Act.

Not only could this reduce the total amount of money that the company pays in fines, but it would shift the burden of cost onto U.S. taxpayers.  While the company would still be paying out of pocket, the NRDA allows the company to write off their fines and deduct that from their yearly taxes.  Paying through the Clean Water Act would not allow the costs to be tax deductible. 

But the cost shift is just one of the problems with the proposed deal.  The provision that has residents of the Gulf Coast up in arms is the fact that the NRDA would route the money through the U.S. Treasury, instead of directly sending it to local and state governments.  This means that the Treasury, not the affected areas, would be in charge of determining how the money is spent.

Tue, 2012-09-11 10:37Farron Cousins
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As BP Tar Balls Litter Gulf Coast, Oil Giant Sells Off Gulf Of Mexico Assets

It’s been a little over two weeks since Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast, leaving flooding and wind damage in its wake. But one of the side effects of the storm that has gone largely under-reported are the tar balls that are now littering beaches all along the Gulf Coast.

Beaches from Louisiana to Florida have seen the toxic, sticky tar balls rolling in with the surf, and while some have questioned whether the tar balls are actually from BP’s Macondo well blowout, Auburn University researchers have confirmed today that they are a match.

The tar balls began washing up only days after the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo blaming BP’s gross negligence for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and subsequently caused close to 5 million gallons of oil to leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the wake of the DOJ’s accusations, and the continuous presence of tar balls that are linked directly back to BP’s negligence, it comes as no surprise that the oil giant has decided to sell off billions of dollars worth of their assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sat, 2012-07-07 08:00Farron Cousins
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What To Expect When You’re Electing: President Barack Obama

Part 3 in a series, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Perhaps more than any other sitting U.S. President, Barack Obama has been Commander in Chief through some of the most obvious examples of what climate change will do to America. The last few weeks alone have given us severe droughts in some areas of the country while others have seen unprecedented flooding; The state of Colorado is battling some of the worst wildfires in their history; and massive heat waves are engulfing large swaths of America. And let’s not forget the massive snowstorms in the winter of 2010 – 2011.

Then there were the manmade environmental atrocities like the BP oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico, the deadly Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill, fracking-induced earthquakes in Ohio, water contamination from unconventional oil and gas drilling – the list could go on and on.

So in the face of these disasters, how has President Obama fared on environmental issues? Let’s take a look.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama told supporters that if elected, he would set a goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050. He acknowledged that man-made climate change was a real threat to America, and signaled a change in policy from the previous administration. Voters, especially environmentally conscious voters, were relieved to finally hear a candidate expressing such bold goals for the country.
  

Fri, 2012-07-06 17:11Farron Cousins
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FreedomWorks Fails Basic Math And Economics To Smear Renewable Energy Investments

The corporate funded, Libertarian/Conservative “think tank” FreedomWorks is doing their best to convince Americans that taxpayer-funded energy subsidies and loans are a waste of our resources. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the massive giveaways to the dirty energy industry, only to the federal loan programs established to invest in cleaner, renewable energy companies.

Touting the superiority of the so-called “free market” over the actions of the government, a recent report titled “Free Markets, or Government Knows Best?” by Wesley Coopersmith broke down the amount of money that the federal government has allocated to renewable energy projects, per the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and compared the amount of money given to the number of permanent jobs created by each company. Here’s what Coopersmith had to say:
  

Under the 1705 loan program, taking up half of the funding form the Loan Guarantee Program, 2,378 permanent jobs were claimed to be created. If you do the math right, this works out to costing the taxpayer $6.7 million per job created. I don’t know about you, but if it takes the government $6.7 million to create one permanent job, something is wrong.

The combined amount of money given to alternative energy companies, through the 1705 and 1703 Loan Programs, totals around $19.2 billion. According to the US DOE, 3,498 jobs have been or will be created because of these loans. This comes out to almost $5.5 million in cost per one permanent job created.

Unfortunately, these projected permanent jobs created are an overestimation, if you take away the jobs lost due to six of these companies going bankrupt. Solar Millennium Inc., LSP Energy LP, Ener1 Inc., Beacon Power Corp, Abound Solar, and Solyndra LLC combined have received over $3.5 billion from the Logan Program yet have produced zero jobs and hurt the fragile U.S. economy.
 

Coopersmith also provided a helpful chart that shows exactly how much money each (of a select few) company received and how many permanent jobs were created. For credibility purposes, Coopersmith even linked back to the U.S. government’s official website and used their own numbers on permanent jobs per company, as well as how much each received.

The problem with Coopersmith’s analysis is that he omitted several important numbers in his calculations. For example, he only lists the permanent jobs created by each company, failing to add in the number of construction jobs that would be created by each project. He also used the total amount of money that had been allocated to each company, not the amount that had actually been paid.
  

Fri, 2012-06-08 12:25Farron Cousins
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Is BP's Attempted Climategate Strategy To Attack Scientists Ethical?

In late 2009, climate change deniers thought they had found the Holy Grail in terms of climate denial – a collection of more than 3,000 hacked emails that they took out of context to “prove” that scientists were lying about human-driven climate change. This so-called scandal became known as “Climategate.” And even though the full context of the emails revealed that the scientists involved undoubtedly agreed that climate change was real and that the science proved so, climate deniers today still use those false, cherry-picked emails to sell their conspiracy theory to the American public. Reputations were destroyed, the truth was kept hidden, and the public was left confused and annoyed as a result of the entire fiasco.

With Climategate still weighing heavily on the minds of climate scientists and the entire scientific community, it's no surprise that these professionals would want their private communications to remain exactly that, for fear that anything they’ve said could be taken grossly out of context, or completely re-worded to fit a biased agenda. If information is pertinent and relevant to public discourse, they have been more than happy to oblige requests, but anything beyond that is clearly a violation of their privacy.

So why then is BP trying to obtain every piece of email correspondence from scientists who researched the Gulf of Mexico oil geyser?

That’s a question that numerous scientists have tried to figure out in recent weeks. The oil giant has subpoenaed emails from scientists who studied the oil and its impact on coastal and marine environments to use in the numerous civil and federal lawsuits against the company.

What makes this a problem is that scientists have already turned over the relevant data to the company and the federal government, but BP wants access to the private correspondence between the scientists as well, hoping for another “Climategate”-type email chain that can be used to discredit the scientists.

Fri, 2012-05-11 11:12Farron Cousins
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Greenpeace Uncovers Shocking Photos Of Gulf Of Mexico Oil Disaster

More than two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and BP's well spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Greenpeace has finally been granted access to pictures that show the real impact of the oil on marine life. The pictures were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) and show a very different side of the Gulf than what the media, BP, and the federal government have portrayed.

These images are among those obtained by Greenpeace:

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Fri, 2012-04-20 05:45Farron Cousins
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The State Of The Gulf Two Years After Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 rig workers and subsequently caused an oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico that leaked hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the water. The mainstream press will provide coverage over the next few days, reminding the world that the Gulf Coast is still reeling from the effects of the disaster. But for those of us that call the coast home, we’re reminded of what’s happened everyday.

A lot has happened in the two years since the rig explosion – federal inquiries, scientific testing, corporate investigations. These actions have told us two very important things: The first being that the explosion and oil leak could have easily been prevented had the companies involved not cut corners. The second is that the oil is proving to be much more harmful to the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico than most people realize.

The most recent developments in the ongoing saga include rig owner Transocean once again attempted to thwart a thorough investigation into their role in the disaster.

Fri, 2012-03-30 08:45Farron Cousins
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Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:
  

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.
 

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

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