Safety

Fri, 2014-05-30 15:35Farron Cousins
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Life Saving Regulations Stalled In Bureaucratic Abyss

There is an unspoken rule in American politics: when you have bad news to deliver, do it on a Friday afternoon.  This helps to ensure that fewer people will see it, fewer will have time to analyze it, and the media will forget all about it over the weekend.  If you really want the issue to die, release it on a Friday before a holiday weekend, and that’s exactly what the Obama administration did last week when they released their bi-annual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda reads like a laundry list of proposed safety regulations from nearly all the major regulatory agencies.  Digging into the Department of the Interior section of that list, you will find countless stalled regulations pertaining to the dirty energy industry, some of which have been in limbo since the days of the former Bush administration

Ben Geman at National Journal explains:

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:13Indra Das
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Details of TransCanada Pipeline Safety Whistleblower Scandal Emerge Amid Keystone XL Delay

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Former TransCanada employee and engineer Evan Vokes, who released thousands of pages of records after he was dismissed by the corporation in 2012, believes that a newly acquired internal email shows his managers tried to discredit him for raising the alarm on their safety practices.

Vokes obtained the email in Feburary 2014 through access to information legislation, reports Mike De Souza for InsideClimate News. Most of the message was censored by TransCanada before release, but the first line clearly mentions “managing the EV [Evan Vokes] credibility issue.”

“My understanding is that we have been reasonably successful at influencing authorities [redacted] and pointing out EV is disgruntled, and actually had the responsibility to correct these same matters and did not,” reads the email, dated July 26, 2013.

Mon, 2014-02-10 11:41Farron Cousins
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Business Coalition Announces Massive Offensive Against Environmental Protections

As the Obama administration begins to take action to rein in the emissions from the dirty energy industry, big business groups all over the country have announced that they aren’t willing to stop polluting without putting up a very serious fight.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Gas Association, and 74 other big business groups said that they are banding together to fight the administration’s forthcoming power plant standards that will require carbon capture technologies to be in place at all plants.  According to The Hill, the groups said that they are planning “everything from lobbying to litigation” in order to fight the administration’s efforts.

These business groups say that they have seen “what Obama has done” to the coal industry, and fear that their industries could be targeted next.  They are also fearful that too much emphasis is being put on developing renewable energy, as The Hill points out:

American Gas Association President Dave McCurdy, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, said the coalition would need to protect a single-minded push toward renewable energy production.

As expected, politicians in Washington saw that the industry was pushing back, so they have jumped on the bandwagon. 

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.

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.

Mon, 2013-04-08 11:37Farron Cousins
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As Their Oil Floods Arkansas Neighborhoods, Exxon Wins National Safety Award

Isn't this the definition of ironyThe National Safety Council (NSC) honored Exxon Mobil with an award for “comprehensive commitment to safety excellence” at the same time that Exxon's Pegasus pipeline spewed an estimated 84,000 gallons of tar sands crude through the yards of residents in Mayflower, Arkansas. 

From The Huffington Post:

“It is evident that ExxonMobil is committed to excellence in safety, security, health and environmental performance,” said NSC president Janet Froetscher, who presented the award to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. “The Council is honored to recognize ExxonMobil with the Green Cross for Safety medal. This organization is a wonderful example of the role corporations can play in preventing injuries and saving lives.”

Not only should the recent spill have caused the NSC to hesitate about giving the company an award for outstanding commitment to safety, but the company’s resolve to clean up their disaster has also been called into question.

Fri, 2013-03-08 05:00Ben Jervey
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Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths

Just under three years ago, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia stole the lives of 29 miners. Many were quick to condemn Massey Energy – the coal giant that operated the mine – for their long record of lax safety oversight, and to bemoan the preventability of the disaster.

Blame was directed straight to the top of the company, to then-CEO Don Blankenship, “the dark lord of coal country” himself, who had grown a vile reputation in the field for systematically putting production and profit over worker safety.

Late last week, in a surprise twist during a routine plea hearing in a federal court, all that blame was seemingly justified as Blankenship was directly implicated in conspiring to skirt safety regulations. A former Massey Energy official called our his boss, Blankenship himself, for conspiring and plotting to hide safety violations from federal safety inspectors.

Wed, 2013-02-06 11:31Carol Linnitt
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Is TransCanada Laying Defective Keystone XL Pipe in Texas?

TransCanada, the company currently constructing the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, claims to use “top quality steel and welding techniques” throughout its pipeline network. 

Last week, however, activists fighting the construction of the pipeline released images of what they claim are improperly welded pipeline seams. The photos were released by Keystone XL blockader Ramsey Sprague at the Pipe Tech Americas 2013 conference in Texas and were taken by blockader Isabel Brooks.

Brooks took the photographs from inside a pipe segment on December 3, 2012 to document what they say was daylight pouring through weld seams between segments. “All of us looked at it,” Brooks told DeSmog, speaking of the defective seam, “and it was clear light was coming in from the outside…It was definitely clear what it was.”

An hour after the protesters were extracted from the pipe segment, says Brooks, it was in the ground. “[Other protestors] told me that it was in the ground that day and buried. So they didn't test it again,” she said. “I know exactly the piece of pipe that it's at, so if we were to dig it up I know it would be right there and as clear as that day.”

These two images from inside the pipe were released by Sprague last week:

Fri, 2013-01-11 13:00Farron Cousins
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Poll Shows Strong Bipartisan Support For Healthy Environmental Choices From Congress

While politicians in America have been slow to react to both the threat of climate change and the need for expanded renewable energy resources, the American public has made their priorities clear:  Give us clean energy that protects our health, our environment, and our resources.

According to a new poll conducted by ORC International for The Civil Society Institute and the Environmental Working Group, strong majorities of Americans from both ends of the political spectrum believe that Congress should take public health and safety measures into consideration before giving a blank check for production to the dirty energy industry.

Among the major findings of the survey:

Thu, 2013-01-03 13:21Farron Cousins
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Shell’s Kulluk Rig Grounding Proves Folly of Arctic Oil Drilling, Again

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell spent a good portion of 2012 defending allegations that the company wasn’t “arctic ready.”  The disaster that occurred with their offshore drilling rig Kulluk on New Year’s Eve only served to prove that the company is not to be trusted.

Tug crews towing the floating Kulluk rig in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska lost connection with the vessel during a storm on December 31. Kulluk subsequently washed ashore with the waves. The U.S. Coast Guard says that the Shell vessel currently does not appear to be leaking, but it is estimated to have about 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard.

In response to Shell’s failures to safely operate this vessel, as well as their countless failures in recent history, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement

In just one year, Shell has proven over and over again that they are completely incapable of safely drilling in the Arctic. Their ships have caught fire and lost control, they’ve damaged their own spill containment equipment, and they’ve been caught entirely unprepared for the challenges of the Arctic…This is the last straw.  We should judge Shell not by their assurances or their PR tactics, but by their record – and Shell’s record clearly demonstrates that letting them operate in the Arctic is an invitation for disaster.

The Sierra Club is calling on the Obama administration to immediately revoke Shell’s Arctic drilling permits. NRDC, the Wilderness Society and other groups are expected to issue similar requests this week. 

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