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Coal Funded Congressman Takes Lead In Dismantling Coal Ash Safety Standards

In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash safety standards designed to increase the reliability of coal ash disposal sites. These standards had been years in the making, but stopped short of classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste material, which many advocates had been hoping for.

The new standards enacted by the EPA require stricter structural integrity standards for new coal ash disposal sites, and mandate that the ash ponds not be located near sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands or near fault lines. They also ramped up the inspection and compliance standards for existing disposal sites. The new standards also require coal companies to publicly disclose disposal operations.

While all of these new requirements are fairly common sense steps, coal industry-funded politicians in Washington are not happy, and one month after announcing the new standards, they began launching their attack to undo them.

Leading the charge is Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia. McKinley sponsored legislation earlier this year that would strip the public disclosure portion of the rules and allow states to take over the permitting process for coal ash disposal site construction, effectively pushing the EPA out of the way.

Florida’s Climate Change Gag Order Claims Its First Victim

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott had directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to stop using terms like “climate change” and “global warming” in any official correspondence or during meetings. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), that gag order has now claimed its first victim.

PEER made the following assertions in a press release today:

Barton Bibler is a long-time DEP employee who now serves as Land Management Plan Coordinator in its Division of State Lands. He attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on February 27, 2015 at which climate change and sea-level rise were discussed among a mix of public attendees. Mr. Bibler’s official notes on this meeting reflected all of that discussion. He was directed to remove any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change, and then was given a letter of reprimand for supposedly misrepresenting that the “official meeting agenda included climate change.”

As he was given the reprimand on March 9th, Mr. Bibler was told to not return to work for two days which would be charged against his personal leave time. Two days later he received a “Medical Release Form” requiring that his doctor supply the DEP with an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” issues before being allowed to return to work.

As of today, Bibler has not returned to work, and is uncertain if he will even be able to return. PEER is requesting state officials to open an investigation into the handling of Bibler’s “mandatory leave” directive.

The Keystone XL Distraction: Industry Has Built 11,600 Miles of Oil Pipeline With Little Public Resistance

Every good magician knows that the key to success is misdirecting the audience. You have to draw everyone’s attention away from your ultimate goal in order to perform the trick. Politics is no different, and one of the greatest misdirections in recent memory has been pulled off by the fossil fuel industry.

While most of the environmental movement was (rightfully) focusing attention on stopping the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline from crossing over one of the most vital aquifers in the U.S., the dirty energy industry was quietly building a network of smaller pipelines all over North America.

In recent months, more than 11,600 miles of oil pipelines have been laid in states all over America. Some of these pipelines are located just a few miles away from proposed stretches of the Keystone XL.

The Huffington Post explains the industry’s misdirection technique:

“Clean Coal” Fantasy Finally Losing Federal Support, But Industry Never Took It Seriously Anyway

The phrase “clean coal” has about as much merit as saying “sanitary sewage,” but that hasn’t stopped the industry and pro-coal talking heads from repeating that phrase ad nauseum to the American public.

The Orwellian industry buzzphrase was so successful that the Obama administration, as part of the 2009 stimulus package, pledged more than $1 billion to create the largest carbon-capturing system known as FutureGen 2.0. The total cost of the project was estimated at $1.65 billion, with $116 million already spent by the federal government.

But this week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it is pulling funding from the project, officially killing the FutureGen 2.0 project. The original goal of the project was to retrofit an existing coal-fired plant near Springfield, Illinois with carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions by capturing and storing the CO2 underground.

The FutureGen Alliance – the coalition of companies involved in the project – derided the DOE’s decision, claiming that the federal funding was a “key component” to keeping the project alive.

The official line is that there is “insufficient time” to finish the project before the funding deadline of September 2015. But the government misses deadlines all the time – they impose them upon themselves and then move them as necessary. If the deadline were truly the only issue, they would have simply pushed it back to a more suitable and realistic time frame.

The real reason the carbon capture and storage (CCS) project was scrapped was revealed in a statement by FutureGen supporter and Democratic Senator from Illinois Richard Durbin: “A decade-long bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available for the FutureGen Alliance to engage in a large-scale carbon-capture demonstration project. But, the project has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it.” [emphasis added.]

Durbin’s statement was echoed in a story from RT, which pointed out that the remaining $600 million needed for the project – the portion of funds that were supposed to come from FutureGen Alliance members (the coal industry) – never materialized.

And that’s the part of the story that most of the media is ignoring. The project didn’t die because the DOE pulled taxpayer funding; the project ground to a halt by a lack of interest and investment from the dirty energy industry.

EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants:

Robert Mathis, an M.D. and doctor of environmental medicine in Santa Barbara, California, described how several of the chemical ingredients of the dispersants that are regularly used on oil spills remain unknown because they are “trade secrets,” but that even the known chemicals in the dispersant cocktails are extremely dangerous to humans; they contain an “emulsifier that allows chemicals deeper penetration into tissues and cells.”

“Dispersants disrupt both bacterial and human cell membranes,” Mathis explained. “Damage disrupts cell functions, leading to cell failure, and may cause cancers and death. All living things are damaged, including groundwater.”

The new guidelines proposed by the agency would give the public broader access to the rules that govern the use of dispersants, the available dispersants for the type of spill, and the risks of using each particular dispersant, sometimes including a list of ingredients.

Obama Administration Sued Over Gulf Of Mexico Fracking

At a time when the rest of the world (for a host of reasons) is shying away from the hydraulic fracturing “boom,” the United States appears to be hell-bent on allowing fracking in every available space. The latest target for the industry has been the already imperiled Gulf of Mexico, the same waters that are still reeling from the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

In its haste to allow as much fracking as possible in the Gulf, the Obama administration has repeatedly failed to release information about the dangers of fracking in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as information regarding the total number of permits that have been issued.

But a new lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity seeks to make that information public.

The lawsuit says that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are obligated to release this information to the public. The government has so far failed to respond to the group’s FOIA request to make this information known to the public.

The risks of offshore fracking are well known, and The Center for Biological Diversity has a report that details the dangers that have already been realized off the coast of California, where offshore fracking has been under way for some time.

In that report, the Center uncovered some disturbing trends about the wastewater that is created during fracking:

Contrary To BP PR, Most Oil Spill Claims Are Legit

For more than a year, oil giant BP has waged a massive public relations battle to convince Americans that the company has been bamboozled by the oil spill claims process relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout.

This BP PR campaign has involved full-page newspaper ads paid for by the company suggesting it is being swindled by Gulf Coast residents who were not affected by the oil spill. BP spokesepeople have appeared in the media to argue that the claims process has been “absurd.” And evidence even suggests that the company has employed online “trolls” to attack legitimate victims on social media websites.

BP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this PR blitz, all because they want to avoid paying out any more claims to Gulf Coast residents. But the problem the company is running into now is that independent investigations have shown that the claims process is not rife with fraud, as BP has claimed.

At least 99.5% of the claims that have been filed are legitimate, according to an audit.

Richard Berman, Tobacco To Fossil Fuels

The NYTimes just ran “Hard-Nosed Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’ - Richard Berman Energy Industry Talk Secretly Taped”. Rick Berman has long been the architect of “public charities” for any client willing to pay. Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF, EIN 26-0006579) evolved from his Guest Choice Network,  but much of the tax-exempt “contribution” went to his own corporate PR firm.

Many cogs in the fossil fog machine have been funded by Big Tobacco, as per Fakery 2, Fostering the TEA PartyTobacco operative hired by KochsThink tanks fight for E-cigs.

Berman was paid well by Philip Morris (PM), which stays in business only by addicting people during vulnerable adolescent/young adult brain development, so they can be lifeshort customers. Berman has worked for companies that privatize the profits and socialize the costs. He attacked fine scientists like Steve Schneider (Stanford) and Stan Glantz (UCSF).

Following is a small sample from the instructive Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Philip Morris was quite friendly to Berman, responding quickly with money, at least $600K + ($200K + $200K + $500K) + $350K + $300K = $2.15M $21.5M in 4 years.

Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

Originally published on PolluterWatch

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.

Pennsylvania Prisoners Poisoned By Coal Ash

Life in a prison is probably not the safest environment for a person.  But for prisoners in Pennsylvania, life just got a lot more dangerous.

According to a new report, inmates at State Correctional Institution Fayette in LaBelle, Pennsylvania have been experiencing a significant increase in cancer rates.  The report, which was put together by the Abolitionist Law Center and the Human Rights Coalition, says that the culprit is a nearby coal ash dump.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the details:

11 prisoners died from cancer between January 2010 and December 2013, another six have been diagnosed with cancer and eight more have undiagnosed tumors or lumps.

Also, more than 80 percent of 75 prisoners responding to the investigators experienced respiratory problems, 68 percent said they experienced gastrointestinal problems and half have skin rashes, cysts and abscesses. Twelve percent, nine of the 75, reported being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder at the prison or having their existing thyroid problems get worse. Many of the prisoners have multiple, overlapping symptoms, the report said.

The death rate at the Fayette correctional facility is the third highest in the state.  However, the two prisons with higher mortality rates also house large populations of elderly inmates, making Fayette the highest death rate among preventable causes.

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