Government

Thu, 2014-05-22 08:42Farron Cousins
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New Report Exposes Fossil Fuel Front Groups Behind Attacks on Renewables

Fossil fuel exploitation in the United States has reached a fevered pitch.  Oil production is at a near-record high, and fracking activities have made the U.S. the number one producer of natural gas.  All of this comes at a cost.  In 2013, the oil industry averaged 20 oil spills per day, destroying countless swaths of the environment and leaving toxic chemicals for nearby residents to deal with.  Meanwhile, oil and gas train derailments have totaled at least 11 in the last 11 months. 

During this period of dirty energy dominance, investments in renewable energy continued to fall by 14% in 2013.  The United States is averaging 20 oil spills per day, 1 dirty energy transport train derailment and explosion per month, and yet we’re still doubling down on fossil fuels. 

This all seems fairly shocking, until you peel back the curtain on who is behind the efforts to keep renewable energy solutions out of the picture, which is exactly what a new report has done.  The Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) has released a report detailing not only the fossil fuel front groups behind the attacks on clean energy, but also how they are able to use their money and political muscle to prevent a viable market for clean energy, limiting energy choices for consumers.

From the report, Attacks on Renewable Energy Standards and Net Metering Policies By Fossil Fuel Interests & Front Groups 2013-2014:

The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to achieve their goals. Self-identified “free market think tanks” are among the most effective advocates for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for policy changes. Dozens of these so-called free market organizations, a majority of which are members of the State Policy Network (SPN), worked to influence state level energy policies and attack the clean energy industry…

Fossil fuel-funded front groups operate in multiple areas to influence the policy-making process in their attempts to eliminate clean energy policies. First, groups like the Beacon Hill Institute provide flawed reports or analysis claiming clean energy policies have negative impacts. Next, allied front groups or “think tanks” use the flawed data in testimony, opinion columns, and in the media. Then, front groups, like Americans for Prosperity, spread disinformation through their grassroots networks, in postcards mailed to the public, and in television ads attacking the clean energy policy. Finally, lobbyists from front groups, utilities, and other fossil fuel companies use their influence from campaign contributions and meetings with decision makers to push for anti-clean energy efforts.

In addition to listing the individual groups that are fighting against clean energy, EPI also provides a chart showing which groups are most active in energy-producing states, and how their attacks on renewable energy have derailed (or inspired) legislation in each state.  Proposals have ranged from charging citizens an extra $50 - $100 a month if they install solar panels, to smear campaigns geared towards convincing the public that installing clean energy technology in their homes is an investment that will never pay off for consumers.

The report lists the usual suspects as the main culprits:  Heartland Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the State Policy Network.  The money behind these groups is from sources like the Koch brothers, Exxon, and many other dirty energy heavy hitters.

Tue, 2014-04-01 11:57Carol Linnitt
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All the Positive and Helpful Things in the IPCC Report No One Will Talk About

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If you’ve come across any of the recent headlines on the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, you’re probably feeling pretty low. The doom and gloom levels were off the charts. And understandably so. Major nations across the globe – especially Canada – are dragging their heels when it comes to climate change action. Canada, sadly, doesn’t have any climate legislation.

But maybe that’s because Canada was waiting for a group of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists to come up with a report for policy makers — you know, something to outline useful guidelines to keep in mind when looking to get your country out of the climate doghouse.

Well, Canada, you’re in luck. Here are some of the IPCC report’s most useful guidelines for responding to the multiple and growing threats of climate change:

Mon, 2014-03-31 20:31Carol Linnitt
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New IPCC Report: Climate Hazards a “Threat Multiplier” and the World is Not Ready

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Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” IPCC WGII AR5

Every five years or so thousands of scientists from around the world release a major report on the state of climate science. These reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are the most definitive source of information for understanding not only the planet’s geologic and climatic history, but how humans are now influencing earth’s systems, most notably by altering the composition of the atmosphere.

The second part of the most recent report, released today in Yokohama, Japan, focuses on the impacts of climate change and how well governments are adapting to those impacts. This newly-released portion of the report, from the IPCC’s Working Group II, does not bode well for the future of people on this planet. The report predicts massively negative effects on crops, extinction of species, devastating heat waves, acid oceans and geopolitical conflict.

And that’s being called a “conservative” outlook.

Thu, 2013-10-24 05:00Farron Cousins
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US Chamber President Tom Donohue Pushes Deceitful Dirty Energy Talking Points

Tom Donohue, the president of the massive business lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is once again doing the bidding of the dirty energy industry by claiming that America is on the verge of complete “energy security.”

On the pages of the U.S. Chamber’s Free Enterprise website, Donohue claimed that America has become an “energy rich” nation, no longer susceptible to problems like the gas shortage of the 1970’s.  In Donohue’s own words:

We’re sitting on a 200-year supply of oil and have enough natural gas to last us 115 years. And we’re discovering more resources every day. Thanks to new technology, entrepreneurship, and access to private lands, we’re able to develop more of it than ever—particularly the unconventional oil and gas, which was previously too costly to reach…

…Our national energy policy is still based on the false assumption that we are an energy-poor nation. The federal government continues to keep 87% of federal lands off limits for energy development. Our affordable and abundant coal resources are under constant regulatory threat by EPA. The administration is proposing new regulations on shale energy development, even though it is already stringently regulated at the state level. And some in the government still want to pick winners and losers among energy industries.

Donohue would have us believe that the United States is sitting on vast energy reserves that would quench our dirty energy addiction for centuries, but the pesky federal government is trying to keep those honest energy companies down. 

This is the same government that, a few paragraphs earlier Donohue inadvertently admitted, had allowed increased oil and gas drilling in the United States and reduced our need for imports:

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, 2013-10-02 12:13Farron Cousins
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What The Government Shutdown Means For The Environment

The U.S. government was officially shut down yesterday, and those responsible for the shutdown are already singing its praises.  Among other things, they were finally able to achieve their years-long goal of shutting down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even if only temporarily.

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee led the victory lap, tweeting out “There is some good news out of the shutdown, the EPA can't issue new regulations.”  Blackburn has received more than $282,000 from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions during her years in Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

The crusade to destroy the EPA is one that the Republican Party has been carrying out for several years, as they erroneously view the standards set forth by the agency as “burdensome” and as “job killers.”  Had they bothered to look beyond their own sound bites, they would have learned that the regulations put forth by the agency actually create jobs rather than destroy them.

Sadly, there is some truth to Blackburn’s comment, and it isn’t anything that American citizens should be celebrating. While the agency isn’t entirely crippled at the moment, until the government resumes its operations it will not be able to do all of the jobs necessary to protect Americans.

While the government remains shut down, less than 1,100 of the EPA’s 16,205 employees will remain on the job, which means that less than 7% of the agency will be functioning as normal.  While officials claim that law enforcement, public health, and property protection employees will still be working, if the agency runs out of contingency money, those employees too could soon be off the clock.

Wed, 2013-07-24 08:27Farron Cousins
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Report Details Coal Industry's Pollution of Waterways, Political System

According to a new report, the coal industry’s pollution is contaminating our water supplies, our regulatory agencies, and even our political process.  The report, a joint project by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that when it comes to spewing toxic chemicals into our waterways, the coal industry is public enemy number one.

The report found that many coal plants across the country are releasing coal ash waste and scrubber waste without any federal oversight, and many are held to standards that are outdated and virtually limitless.  Many of the standards currently in place were written more than 30 years ago, and they do not include any regulations on toxic threats that had not yet been identified at the time the original rules were put in place.

A few highlights of the report, from the Sierra Club:

Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.

A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.

Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

Sat, 2013-05-25 14:00Farron Cousins
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Gas Industry Successfully Overturns Colorado Fracking Ban

The townspeople in Fort Collins were greeted with some unfortunate news earlier this week, as their city council decided to overturn a ban on hydraulic fracturing that had been in place for only a few short months. The decision to overturn the ban was based solely on the threat of a lawsuit from the oil and gas industry.

The mere threat of a lawsuit from the only fracking company in town – Prospect Energy – was enough to send the city council cowering in submission, placing the entire town at risk of the negative health impacts associated with fracking.

The gas industry was aided in their efforts by Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who warned the town of Fort Collins that if the ban were to remain in place, they could face legal intervention from the state itself.

Hickenlooper’s announcement is less than surprising. He has received more than $45,000 from the energy industry during his campaigns, along with another $104,000 from the real estate industry (a sector that stands to gain a lot with the leasing of property to fracking.)

Prospect Energy was aided in their efforts by the industry front group Energy in Depth. After the ban was lifted, EID issued a press release saying the following:

Mon, 2012-09-17 12:06Farron Cousins
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U.S. Government Significantly Underestimating Costs Of Climate Change And Dirty Energy

A new study released today shows that the U.S. government is using faulty calculations and outdated information to determine the costs of energy and climate change in America. The study was written by Chris Hope from the University of Cambridge and Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Current government models would have us believe that fossil fuels provide the cheapest sources of electricity for the United States, but the new study says that the numbers being used are misleading, as they do not take into account all of the costs, specifically those related to climate change, that these sources of energy carry.

From NRDC:

Sat, 2011-12-17 14:27Farron Cousins
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Report Partially Blames Federal Government For Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion

Perhaps one of the most honest assessments of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion reveals the numerous failures of both industry and the federal government in the worst marine oil disaster in U.S. history.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sanctioned the report, compiled by more than a dozen experts operating with the temporary group called the Committee for Analysis of Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future (The Committee). And while the experts on The Committee identified failures we’ve documented in the past - particularly the shoddy design of the well’s blowout preventer - the committee highlighted plenty of new information as well.

Noting again that it was sanctioned by the federal government, it's interesting that this was one of the first reports to explicitly implicate the federal government’s irresponsible actions as a cause of the massive oil disaster that followed the explosion:

The regulatory regime was ineffective in addressing the risks of the Macondo well. The actions of the regulators did not display an awareness of the risks or the very narrow margins of safety.

As DeSmog has reported in the past, the federal government’s role in the disaster can be traced all the way back to 2001, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was holding his secret Energy Task Force meetings with oil industry executives. During those meetings, the industry insiders in attendance helped the Vice President draft legislation that would eviscerate basic health and safety standards that protected workers and the public from the oil industry's reckless practices.

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