Tue, 2015-03-24 15:58Steve Horn
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Purposeful Distraction? Unpacking the Oil Refiners' "Bomb Trains" Lawsuit vs. Warren Buffett's BNSF

On March 13, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — the oil refiners' trade association — sued oil-by-rail carrying giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for allegedly violating its common carrier obligation under federal law. A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed there may be more to the lawsuit than initially meets the eye.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, AFPM sued BNSF “for violating its common carrier obligation by imposing a financial penalty” for those carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin and other hazardous petroleum products in explosion-prone DOT-111 rail cars.

AFPM's beef centers around the fact that BNSF began imposing a $1,000 surcharge for companies carrying explosive Bakken fracked oil in DOT-111 cars, as opposed to “safer” CPC-1232 cars, at the beginning of 2015.

The Warren Buffett-owned BNSF did so, argues AFPM, illegally and without the authority of the federal government.

“This $1,000 surcharge on certain PHMSA-authorized rail cars breaches BNSF’s common carrier duty to ship hazardous materials under the auspices of PHMSA’s comprehensive regime governing hazardous materials transportation,” wrote AFPM's legal team, featuring a crew of Hogan Lovells attorneys. “Allowing railroads to penalize companies that ship crude oil in federally-authorized rail cars would circumvent PHMSA’s statutory and regulatory process for setting rail car standards for hazardous materials shipments.”

Upon a quick glance, it seems like a fairly straight-forward case of federal law and an intriguing example of an intra-industry dispute. But as recent history has proven, the devil is in the details.

Tue, 2015-03-24 14:57Mike Gaworecki
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“Pipeline Nation” Short Documentary Investigates Lack Of Oversight Of “America’s Broken Industry”

In a new short documentary called “Pipeline Nation: America’s Broken Industry,” Vice News travels to Glendive, Montana, where a pipeline ruptured on January 17 of this year, spilling 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminating the town’s drinking supply.

This was the second oil spill in the area in the past four years. An Exxon pipeline spilled over 60,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana in 2011.

The spill near Glendive involved Bakken crude, which is lighter and more volatile than heavy crude and evaporates more quickly, making it difficult to clean up.

“Our recovery of oil out of the water, it’s just… we’re not really getting much,” Paul Peronard, On-Site Coordinator for the EPA, tells Vice’s Nilo Tabrizy in the film. “Three-hundred-something barrels out of the pipeline in this immediate area, less than a couple barrels actually out of the water. So pretty much what is in the water is there and gone. And we aren’t going to recover it.”

“We never — and I’ll be clear about that — we never recover all the oil. Somebody who tells you that is telling you stories. In good conditions, you get half of the oil that hits the water.”

Tue, 2015-03-24 12:41Guest
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Lawyer Suing Neighbor for Smoking Is Defender Of Corporations Accused Of Toxic Smoke

This is a guest post by David Halperin, originally published at Republic Report.

There’s been recent media coverage of how two Washington DC lawyers named Brendan and Nessa Coppinger have sued and convinced a local judge to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting their neighbor, Edwin Gray, from smoking in his Capitol Hill row house, which adjoins theirs.

Gray has lived in his home for 51 years; the Coppingers moved into theirs last fall. The Coppingers say that cigarette and marijuana smoke is seeping into their bedroom and their child’s bedroom. The Washington Post quoted Nessa Coppinger, 38 and pregnant with the couple’s second child, as saying, “This is a health concern. We don’t smoke. We don’t allow smoking in our home.” They are seeking $500,000 in damages from Gray and his sister, who owns the house.

I don’t begrudge the Coppingers for seeking to be free of harmful smoke. And they say they tried to reach agreement with their neighbor to fix the ventilation situation before filing suit. (Gray’s sister says she didn’t like the terms the Coppingers presented.)

What interested me about the case was that the Post and other media sources described Nessa Coppinger as “an environmental lawyer.” In Washington, that could mean a number of things.  So I looked her up.  For Nessa Coppinger, a principal of the 95-lawyer firm Beveridge & Diamond, it means that some of her accomplishments are explained on the firm’s website like this:

Tue, 2015-03-24 04:58Mike Gaworecki
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Coal Companies Talking Out Both Sides Of Their Mouths When It Comes To Climate Change

Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., deployed one of the lawyers on its payroll to Congress last week to argue against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon rule.

This is so common that it normally wouldn’t rate a mention, but in this case it happened to be Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who now works for Peabody and is critical of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, saying it is tantamount to “Burning the Constitution.”

But then, even that ranks pretty low in terms of newsworthiness given that, as a new analysis by Greenwire E&E reporters Corbin Hiar and Manuel Quiñones puts it, “The highest profile practitioner of targeted climate messaging is Peabody Energy Corp.”


The Greenwire analysis shows that many coal companies are, in fact, frequently talking out both sides of their mouths when it comes to climate change, and uses Peabody in particular as a case study of the legal and shareholder risks involved.

Tue, 2015-03-24 00:47Kyla Mandel
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Leaving the EU Would be a 'Disaster' for UK Climate Change Policy Says Ed Davey

Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if re-elected would be a “disaster for environmental policy” Ed Davey, the secretary of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said last night.

Davey argued that pushing a new referendum bill through Parliament at the same time as the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris would be a “recipe for Britain’s voice on climate change being completely neutered and ignored.”

Speaking at the Greener Britain Hustings, hosted by environmental think tank the Green Alliance, Davey called the potential for a Conservative government after the election a “nightmare scenario” that would distract from “the most important climate negotiations ever”.

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