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Fri, 2013-10-04 12:37Farron Cousins
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Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.

Wed, 2013-09-18 13:57Farron Cousins
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Whether Approved Or Not, Keystone XL Has Been A Victory For Lobbyists

For the past six years, lobbyists in Washington have made a killing shilling either for or against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  And with no clear end in sight, the folks on K Street will continue to see a flurry of cash headed in their direction.

During last year’s heated presidential race, groups spent close to $16 million directly related to the Keystone XL pipeline, with most of that money coming from industry and other proponents of the pipeline.  While opponents of the pipeline spent a few million last year – with at least one million pledged this year to fight against KXL – the lion’s share of the money spent on lobbying comes from the dirty energy industry.

Bloomberg reported the following on how intense the lobbying showdown has been in recent years:

Thu, 2013-09-12 15:32Farron Cousins
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Washington Throws Chemical Safety Standards Out the Window, Are Fracking Chemicals Next?

As our elected officials in Washington attempt to sell us on the idea that we need to go to war against anyone who uses chemical weapons, they are working to remove safety standards that protect citizens from corporate America’s ongoing chemical assault.

In recent weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back safety regulations for the chemical industry, while the U.S. House of Representatives has prepared to take aim at the government’s ability to monitor chemicals and other safety hazards posed by fracking.

Bowing to pressure by the chemical industry, the EPA has decided to withdraw a proposal that would have added numerous new substances to their database of hazardous chemicals, which is used to issue public health assessments and warnings.  One of the substances is Bisphenol A, a chemical used in the manufacture of certain plastics that has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and reproductive impacts.

The EPA had previously expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of safety standards in place for toxic chemicals that studies had shown were dangerous to the public, but the pressure coming from the chemical industry was far too great for them to overcome.

The American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group that operates as the political arm of chemical manufacturers, believes that the EPA made a “wise decision” to not go forward with their new proposals.  The group has spent more than $4 million this year alone lobbying the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the EPA.

Rather than compiling their lists now, as their proposed rule allowed, the EPA decided to wait until all chemicals are thoroughly and repeatedly analyzed, a process expected to finish in 2017, unless delayed. Then they will begin the process of drafting new proposals. 

This means that the American public will suffer another four years of inaction and exposure to chemicals that the agency already knows are toxic.

Thu, 2013-09-05 05:00Farron Cousins
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Fracking Away Our Water Supply

As many areas of the country experience severe droughts, the fight for clean, fresh water is becoming vital to survival for many American citizens.  The problem has been made worse by the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which gobbles up hundreds of millions (billions, according to some estimates) of gallons of potable water every month.

The state of Texas has become the prime example of what can happen when the natural gas industry is allowed to run roughshod over citizens.  The state is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in modern times, and certain areas have already had to resort to water rationing

But the dwindling supply of fresh water in Texas has barely slowed down the natural gas industry’s fracking activities.  Even as livestock are dying off, crops are withering, and citizens are having to purchase bottled water in order to quench their thirst, fracking companies are sucking fresh water out of the ground in order to satisfy their need to extract every ounce of natural gas from beneath the Texas soil.

The drought and water shortages in Texas have gotten so bad that some residents have said that on some days, they can turn on their faucets and nothing even comes out anymore.

Wed, 2013-09-04 05:00Farron Cousins
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With Congress Back to Work, Republican Attacks On EPA Resume

Fresh off the August recess, the United States Congress got back to business today.  Rather than focusing on pressing issues like a potential war, looming budget deadlines, and the growing problem of student loan debt, some Republican lawmakers thought it was the perfect time to pick up where they left off before their recess – attacking the Environmental Protection Agency.

Texas Republican Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is enraged that the EPA is not “complying” with a subpoena that his committee issued, requiring the agency to hand over all documents and studies relating to standards issued by the EPA

According to Smith, this information is vital for the public, as the safety standards that it spurs cost the public “trillions of dollars,” he wrote in a letter to the EPA.  Smith never specifies how he came up with that figure, and research shows that regulations put in place by the EPA actually save taxpayers much more money than they cost.  Smith’s letter has given the agency until September 16th to hand over the documents.

Thu, 2013-08-15 07:00Farron Cousins
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Coal Industry Waging War Against EPA

After playing the victims of an allegedly unfair, and completely fabricated, “war on coal,” the coal industry has gone on the offensive by launching their own war on federal regulators.  Specifically, the group has their sights set on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Coal lobbyists, led by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), have been meeting with White House officials to weaken EPA standards on CO2 emissions.  The lobbyists claim that a rule requiring carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at all new coal-burning power plants should be removed because the technology is “not available.” 

Once you move past their talking points, their real agenda is clearly visible.  After claiming that the required technology is not available, the lobbyists then admitted that their goal was to completely exempt the industry from any form of emissions standards put forth by the EPA through the Clean Air Act.

The EPA is currently working on draft proposals that would significantly reduce the amount of allowable carbon pollution from existing power plants, a move that the coal industry views as too costly.  The lobbyists' meeting with White House officials is, according to The Hill, the most recent in a string of meetings between industry and administration officials this summer.

Sun, 2013-08-11 14:03Farron Cousins
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Kentucky Lawmakers Still Fighting Nonexistent War On Coal

Even the coal industry itself has conceded that there is no “war on coal”, but lawmakers in the coal-dependent state of Kentucky are still fighting this imaginary battle.

In the wake of President Obama’s speech earlier this summer where he discussed the need to reduce our dependence on coal and work on ways to control coal plant pollution, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Kentucky sent a letter to the president last week, warning him that his “war on coal” would be devastating to their state.

The 50 state legislators who signed onto the letter accuse the president of launching an “unfair attack on coal,” which the lawmakers argue will have a devastating effect on their state economy.

The bi-partisan group told the president that the coal industry is responsible for as much as $10 billion in “yearly” economic activity, although that number only represents the year 2010, and subsequent years have seen a sharp decline in the profitability of the industry’s operations in Kentucky.

Fri, 2013-07-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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Louisiana Sues Oil Companies For Wetlands Damage in Gulf Showdown

After decades of operating with complete disregard for the environment, the dirty energy industry finally has to face the music for destroying the wetlands that form a natural barrier against storm damage in the state of Louisiana.

The suit, filed by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, claims that the oil and gas industry's irresponsible pipeline placement, drilling, and excavation methods have eroded and polluted vital wetlands in Louisiana. 

The New York Times has more:

The board argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage done by cutting thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. It alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water into freshwater areas…

The suit argues that the environmental buffer serves as an essential protection against storms by softening the blow of any incoming hurricane before it gets to the line of levees, flood walls, and gates and pumps maintained and operated by the board. Losing the “natural first line of defense against flooding” means that the levee system is “left bare and ill-suited to safeguard south Louisiana,” the lawsuit says.  The “unnatural threat” caused by exploration, it states, “imperils the region’s ecology and its people’s way of life — in short, its very existence.”

The suit alleges that the wetlands, which took more than 6,000 years to form, provide vital protection for the state from the impacts of severe storms, floods, and hurricanes.  The degradation caused by the dirty energy industry’s activities leaves the state more vulnerable to the effects of severe weather. 

Mon, 2013-07-15 15:04Farron Cousins
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What The Dirty Energy Industry Earns From Millions In Lobbying

When you combine the lobbies of electric utilities (representing the coal industry) and the lobbies of oil and gas interests, there is no industry that puts more money into buying politicians and influence from year to year than the fossil fuel industry. So far this year, the utilities and the oil and gas industry combined have already pumped a staggering $75.7 million into lobbying activities, and we still have more than five months left until the end of the year.

But that amount is a mere pittance when compared to the $285 million the two groups spent lobbying during 2012, or the $295 million they spent the year before. Again, when taken together, no industry outspends the dirty energy industry in Washington, D.C.

Like any savvy investor, the industry puts its money wherever they believe they can get the highest return on investment. And nowhere is that return higher than in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Just last month, Republicans in the House, joined by only 16 Democrats, passed a bill that, if signed into law, will force the Obama administration to come up with a five year plan on how best to expand drilling activities in America. The bill would require the President and his administration to vastly increase the amount of offshore areas available for oil drilling, giving the oil industry free rein over our coastal waterways. 

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