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Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

2012 ALEC Academy attendees. Photo via twitter

Written by Nick Surgey, crossposted with permission from PR Watch.

In October 2012, nine U.S. state legislators went on an industry paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands. Publicly described as an "ALEC Academy," documents obtained by CMD show the legislators were accompanied on a chartered flight by a gaggle of oil-industry lobbyists, were served lunch by Shell Oil, dinner by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and that the expenses of the trip were paid for by TransCanada and other corporations and groups with a direct financial interest in the Alberta tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

Among the nine legislators on the tour was the new ALEC national chairman, Representative John Piscopo from Connecticut, and Senator Jim Smith from Nebraska who has sponsored legislation in his state to speed up the building of the Nebraska segment of KXL. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, legislators were asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists for their generosity in Alberta.

Far better than a mere "thank you," Rep. John Adams from Ohio returned from the trip and sponsored a bill given to him by a TransCanada lobbyist calling for the approval of KXL. As previously reported by CMD, similar legislation, reflecting both an ALEC “model” bill and language taken from a TransCanada set of talking points, has been introduced in seven states in 2013.

The tar sands of Alberta are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet. But the process of turning the tar-like bitumen into a refined product that can be used as fuel is extremely energy intensive and highly polluting. The former NASA scientist James Hansen, warned that the extraction and use of Canadian tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. TransCanada is the operator of the proposed KXL pipeline, which would carry the tar sands to Texas for processing and likely for exports to markets abroad.

In Private Jets and "Petroleum Club" Dinners, U.S Politicians Get the Dirt on Canadian Tar Sands

Officially, ALEC organized the Alberta tour as an "ALEC Academy." In ALEC’s description of corporate sponsorship opportunities, this type of event is described as being "an intensive, two--day program for legislators that focus on a specific area of policy." It comes with an $80,000 fee to sponsor. Unofficially however, and made clear to legislators on the trip in emails from ALEC obtained by CMD, the expenses were paid for by lobbyists from the oil-industry and by the government of Alberta. In an email sent to Ohio representative John Adams ahead of the trip, ALEC staffer Karla Jones reassured participants that all transportation, accommodation costs and meals would be paid for.

According to a copy of the trip itinerary obtained via a public records request, legislators flew into Alberta on Tuesday October 16, 2012, and were met by TransCanada lobbyists who took them on a tour of their facilities in Calgary.

TransCanada, which is a member of ALEC, sponsored ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City in May 2013, alongside other corporations with tar sands interests including BP, Devon Energy and Koch Industries. TransCanada’s Vice President Corey Goulet presented to legislators at the conference during a session called "Embracing American Energy Opportunities."

Dinner on the first night was at the up-market Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Calgary, paid for by American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The dinner included a presentation to the captive audience of lawmakers from AFPM about Low-Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS), a mechanism designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. As CMD has reported recently, LCFS is considered a real threat to the tar sands industry, because it might restrict the U.S. market for fuels derived from the tar sands. AFPM, which has funded one of the other groups on the tour – the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) – to work to oppose LCFS legislation, would successfully sponsor an ALEC "model" bill on this issue just weeks after the trip, called "Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs."

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, legislators were taken to the airport where a private charted plane was waiting to fly them around a number of different tar sands operations. Accompanying the legislators and ALEC staffer Karla Jones, were lobbyists from AFPM, TransCanada, Devon Energy, CEA, Shell Oil, and the Government of Alberta. The flight was chartered by the Alberta Government, at a cost of $22,000, with the costs split evenly between them and another unknown entity.

During the day, legislators toured facilities owned by Shell – which also provided lunch – and Devon Energy, where they viewed the massive "Jackfish" tar sands projects. At these facilities, Devon utilizes Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), an energy intensive process that injects steam into the dirty bitumen to access otherwise inaccessible deposits too deep for mining. This process is expected to open up further areas of Alberta for tar sands extraction, including by Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Exploration Canada which has a pending permit request in Alberta to utilize SAGD.

Dinner on Wednesday night was served at the Petroleum Club, sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. On the Thursday morning, just before their return flight, legislators did have a brief meeting with a representative from the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental group that calls for responsible exploitation of the tar sands. According to the ALEC trip itinerary, this was to "provide the opposing point of view."

Although Pembina does represent a different view from those that want completely unrestrained extraction of the tar sands, the group is not representative of those that oppose tar sands extraction. There are plenty of organizations that could have provided alternative viewpoints, particularly first nation tribes who are campaigning vigorously on this issue, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were not included. Even Pembina’s - somewhat limited - opposing voice was not wanted during the tour of the oil sands facilities, and they were not invited to the lobbyist-sponsored dinners.

ALEC as Emily Post

A month after the trip, the Director of International and Federal Relations at ALEC, Karla Jones, sent participants an email helpfully reminding them of what each industry lobbyist had paid for on the tour. CMD obtained a copy of that communication via a public records request, which included a spreadsheet containing the names, telephone numbers and mailing addresses of each of the lobbyists on the trip. The ALEC email also prompted legislators to send each of the sponsoring corporations a "thank you note."

The phenomenon of ALEC legislators sending such letters to lobbyists is something CMD has previously reported on. Ohio Rep. Adams, for example, sent at least a dozen letters to corporate lobbyists in 2010, thanking them for writing checks to the ALEC scholarship fund, which paid his and his colleagues way to an ALEC conference.

"Because of your help and others like you, the trip to ALEC was made possible for our legislators," Adams wrote to AT&T lobbyist Bob Blazer.

“Rather than sending thank you notes to their corporate lobbyist sponsors, these legislators should instead consider an apology to their constituents,” Stephen Spaulding, Staff Counsel for the good government group Common Cause told CMD. "I doubt lobbyists want thank you notes in return for bankrolling legislators' international vacations – they would rather a bright, shiny souvenir in the form of corporate-drafted legislation."

Better Than a Thank You Note, Payback in Ohio

After the trip to Alberta, Rep. Adams, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Ohio ALEC state chair, led the calls in Ohio for the approval of the KXL pipeline, sponsoring a bill (HCR 9) and talking publicly about the proposed pipeline. "It is of the upmost importance that we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the necessary steps towards operation of the Keystone Pipeline," Adams wrote in March 2013 while promoting his bill. Rep. Rosenberger, the other Ohio legislator on the ALEC trip to Alberta, accordingly co-sponsored the Adams bill.

According to documents CMD obtained from public record requests in Ohio, a draft bill was sent to Adams on January 23, from Steve Dimon of 21 Consulting LLC, who represents TransCanada. The bill was sent as an attachment to the Dimon email.

The email message itself simply read, "Thank you so much!"

Dimon stayed in touch with Adams' office over the proceeding months, providing his staff with further materials about Keystone XL, including a set of talking points stamped with the TransCanada logo.

By February 14, Adams had an updated draft that had been reviewed by the Ohio legislative service commission, the non-partisan body that assists legislators with drafting legislation. Adams staffer Ryan Crawford sent this language to Rob Eshenbaugh, a lobbyist with Ohio Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance," Crawford wrote to the lobbyist. Eshenbaugh responded with some requested changes, which Crawford then incorporated into the bill.

All this occurred prior to Adams sharing the bill with his fellow legislators, which didn't happen until February 20. Adams finally introduced his bill in the Ohio Assembly on March 9, without any public statement about his involvement with the ALEC Academy or that the source of the bill was a tar sands lobbyist.

The route of the proposed KXL pipeline takes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is a long way from Ohio, but the debate over the KXL project has become a national issue. The ALEC Academy, and subsequent lobbying from the oil-industry, demonstrates that TransCanada sees value in developing a list of states supportive of the project to influence the federal debate over KXL approval.

The precise details of the ALEC tour, including the trip being part-sponsored by TransCanada, are not mentioned in Adams’ financial disclosures, which only reports his expenses as being from ALEC and the Alberta Government. Adams is not breaking the law here. This is because of the way ALEC works to fund legislator travel. Its scholarship system allows corporations to “sponsor” legislator’s expenses, which are then simply disclosed as being a payment from "ALEC" and not from the sponsoring corporations or groups. CMD documented the ALEC scholarship fund in a 2012 report released jointly with Common Cause: "How the American Legislative Exchange Council Uses Corporate-Funded “Scholarships” to Send Lawmakers on Trips with Corporate Lobbyists."

Graduates of the Keystone Academy appear to be learning a lot about how ALEC works behind the scenes to promote special interest legislation while keeping the public entirely in the dark.

Tea Party ties to Koch Brothers Ignored by Media in IRS Scandal

10 out of 11 Tea Party spokespeople quoted in major news outlets regarding the IRS scandal have ties to the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity.

The Internal Revenue Service, not the most popular government agency to begin with, has been in the midst of a scatological squall for the past 3 weeks over their treatment of tea party groups. According to an agency spokesperson, organizations garnered additional scrutiny of their applications for non-profit status for having “Tea Party, Patriot, or 9/12” in the application materials. Non-profit status is granted by the IRS for “social welfare organizations” and federal law puts legal limits to the amount of overtly political things you can do if you are applying to be a non-profit, and thus tax-exempt.

In the coverage of this story, now a scandal, there are a couple of important facts that some of the reporting has missed.

First is the fact that the tea party is a creation of enterprising political and public relations professionals, constructed to accomplish a political purpose. A study published in the Tobacco Control Journal actually traced the origins of the tea party to “free-market” groups founded by tobacco corporations and the oil industry billionaires David and Charles Koch.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="738"]http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2013/02/20/tobaccocontrol-2012-050815/F1.large.jpg This map, created by researchers at UC San Francisco, shows the historical links between tobacco corporations, moneyed interests like the Koch brothers, and the modern tea party.[/caption]

According to researchers at UC San Francisco:

“Rather than being a grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party organizations have had connections to the tobacco companies since the 1980s. The cigarette companies funded and worked through Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), the predecessor of Tea Party organizations, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda.”

Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), was founded in 1984 by the Koch brothers.

There is even a tea party website registered to a Koch group in 2005, long before the conservative outcry we now know as the tea party began.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the tea party is still controlled by enterprising political and public relations professionals, funded by the David and Charles Koch. In coverage of the IRS scandal, there were 11 people who were involved in tea party groups quoted about IRS scrutiny. Of those 11, 10 have substantial ties to Americans for Prosperity (AFP). As you can see from the chart above, AFP (also founded and funded by the Kochs), is the direct descendent of CSE - one of the groups who registered a tea party site in 2005. Of those 10 with ties to AFP, 2 actually work for the organization currently. All 10 have received aid from AFP which included help with messaging and communication.

The tea party groups that were scrutinized by the IRS are not just separate grassroots citizen groups unfairly accused of political shenanigans, as the Koch associated spokespeople in the media would have you believe. They are one part of a wider political strategy, funded and managed by a very wealthy few. they have uniform and coordinated messages, such as attacking climate science and opposing environmental regulations.

As this IRS scandal progresses, it is important to keep in mind that many of the tea party groups in question deserve to have their non-profit, tax-exempt status questioned. The New York Times has already found that several tea party groups investigated by the IRS were engaged in activities that are illegal for tax exempt groups.

For the record, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network experienced expensive and debilitating audits by the IRS during George W Bush’s presidency. Those audits were most likely at the behest of an Exxon funded front group.

Tea Party Spokespeople with ties to Americans For Prosperity (AFP)

Tom Zawistowski: quoted in the Wall Street Journal and other sources

Margie Dresher: Quoted by ABC news

  • Currently works for AFP

Toby Marie Walker: Quoted by Business Insider

  • earned the "Watchdog of the Month" award in March and the “Tea Party Leader of the Year -2010” from Americans for Prosperity

Jennifer Stefano: Quoted by ABC news

Carol Waddell: Quoted by ABC news

Tim Savaglio: Quoted by the Associated Press

Jaime Radtke: Quoted in ABQ Journal, Newsday

Larry Norvig: Quoted by CNN

  • Norvig's tea party group is part of AFP campaigns
  • Norvig's tea party group in Virginia runs AFP funded campaigns and displays AFP messaging prominently on their website

Tim Curtis: Quoted by CNN

Susan McLaughlin: Quoted in Reuters

  • AFP ran tactics and messaging strategy training for Mclaughlin's group in Liberty Township, Ohio.
  • McLaughlin served on the Romney campaign's Conservative Leadership Coalition with representatives from AFP

Jay Devereaux: Quoted by Fox News

  • The only tea party spokesman quoted in the media with no obvious ties to AFP

 

 

New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

The cove of Lake Conway which Exxon claimed was "oil-free"

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines.  Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.

Dead fish in Palarm creek, which Lake Conway drains into. Palarm creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River.

According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.

Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Institute for Southern Studies: How renewable energy won in North Carolina

(Photo from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

This article by Sue Sturgis was crossposted from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

A bill that would have ended North Carolina's renewable energy program was voted down this week by a state House committee in a bipartisan vote by a surprisingly wide margin.

House Bill 298 was backed by more than a dozen conservative advocacy groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the John Locke Foundation -- organizations that have considerable influence in North Carolina's Republican supermajority-controlled legislature.

So how did the measure lose?

In a word: jobs.

From the moment talk of repealing the state's renewable energy standard began intensifying following last year's election among conservative groups that have long denied the reality of global warming, the state's sustainable energy industry and environmental advocates pushed back by focusing on the law's track record of creating jobs and other economic benefits.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, an industry lobby group, commissioned an economic analysis of the law, which passed in 2007 by a wide bipartisan margin and was the first of its kind in the Southeast. Released in February, the study conducted by RTI International and La Capra Associates found that North Carolina's law has been a driver of clean energy development, which in turn as been an important job creator for the state.

The researchers found that while the state's economy lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2007 to 2012, clean energy development led to a net gain in employment of 21,162 "job years" (one job that lasts one year) over the same period. It also found that tax credits used by renewable energy projects were important revenue generators for state and local governments, and that the bill would save ratepayers millions of dollars over the long term by avoiding construction of costly new power plants.

In all, the study found that North Carolina has reaped $1.7 billion in total economic benefits from the law over the past six years.

When the repeal bill came up for its first public hearing earlier this month in a House Commerce subcommittee, the only people who spoke in favor of it were from Americans for Prosperity and the Civitas Institute, another conservative advocacy group. The overwhelming majority of speakers praised the renewable energy law's positive economic impact. Besides owners of clean energy companies, they included farmers who have begun investing in systems to generate power from livestock waste methane, which counts as a renewable under North Carolina's law. They were also joined by rural economic development advocates who spoke about how clean energy generation has created jobs and expanded the tax base in struggling rural communities.

It proved a convincing message in a state with the nation's fifth-highest unemployment rate and entrenched poverty in rural areas, where many of the state's renewable energy projects are located.

Though the repeal bill squeaked by in its first subcommittee vote by 11-10, two key Republicans voted against it. State Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer and House majority whip who was one of the bill's four primary sponsors and its most outspoken proponent, saw that his proposal was in trouble. He has made several revisions to the measure in an effort to win support.

This week the proposal was scheduled to be heard in the House Environment Committee chaired by Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte -- one of the Republicans who voted against the measure in the Commerce subcommittee. But on Monday, the measure was re-referred to the House Public Utilities Committee, which is chaired by Hager himself, for an April 24 hearing.

It was there that the repeal bill appears to have been defeated with the help of a half-dozen of Hager's fellow Republicans, including three GOP leaders. After a relatively brief half-hour debate in which lawmakers noted that the policy has brought investments and jobs to their districts, the committee voted 18-13 to kill the bill. The wide margin surprised many observers, who thought it would likely go either way by a single vote.

"This vote to defeat the REPS repeal bill was not just a good outcome, it was the right outcome," said Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. "North Carolina businesses, ratepayers, workers, and state and local economies all had a stake in this outcome, and they all won a victory today."

While the bill appears dead for now, the possibility remains that it could come back in a revised form. Hager told the Associated Press after the vote that the sponsors are "going to try and patch it up."

In the meantime, Dallas Woodhouse, director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told The News & Observer of Raleigh that Republicans who voted against the repeal "need to be held accountable." AFP and allied opponents of North Carolina's renewable energy law portrayed it as a burdensome tax on consumers. Duke Energy's residential customers pay 22 cents a month and Progress Energy's 42 cents to subsidize renewables under the law.

AFP had joined with the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that has been a leading voice of climate science denial and an opponent of renewable energy initiatives, to launch a StopGreenEnergyTax.com website to promote the repeal bill. Following the bill's defeat, the Locke Foundation posted a statement saying the committee voted to continue a "raw deal for tax payers and rate payers."

The effort to repeal North Carolina's renewable energy law is part of a broader conservative attack against such laws in a number of states including Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Many of the groups involved in the repeal effort, including AFP, have financial ties to fossil-fuel interests.

Four Oil Spills in One Week: Exxon's Arkansas Tar Sands spill one of many

As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.

Smoke pours from an Exxon Oil Refinery after an explosion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1989

This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Exxon's tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas

However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.

The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.

March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.

aerial view of the Alberta Tar Sands

In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:

"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."

March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled

In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.

"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"

Mcdaniels said.

Arkansas Pipeline Spill
Exxon's tar sands oil spills into a cove of Lake Conway, Arkansas

April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.

 

April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled

At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.

As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:

"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”

If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Is Exxon trying to hide the effects from their tar sands pipeline spill?

 

Greenpeace photo of Exxon's Tar Sands oil spill, before the No-Fly zone was established

Sure seems like it. According to reports from the ground, Exxon is in full control of the response to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that began spilling from Exxon's ruptured pipeline in Arkansas last weekend. The skies above the spill has been deemed a no-fly zone, and all requests for aerial photos must be approved by Exxon’s own “aviation advisor” Tom Suhrhoff.

In addition, the entire area has been cordoned off and news media have been prevented from inspecting the spill zone.

Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department.

A dead American Coot covered in oil from Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline

The spill, which leaked heavy, viscous tar sands oil, emanates from the Pegasus Pipeline, which was built in the 1940’s. The pipeline pumps diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, just like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. However, the Pegasus is much smaller, carrying 90,000 barrels per day (BPD), while the Keystone would carry 800,000 BPD. Tar Sands oil is shipped through pipelines in the form of Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), which must be heated and forced through the pipeline at high pressure. Due to the corrosive nature of the tar sands oil, which contains sand, plus the high temperature and high pressure needed to pump it through the  pipes, tar sands oil pipelines are particularly dangerous.

Exxon’s control of the oil spill response is reminiscent of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the polluter, BP, effectively controlled the response and cleanup.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sMQCj9UHCpM

Center for Media and Democracy releases a Reporter's Guide to the "State Policy Network"

The Center for Media and Democracy has released a new report on the State Policy Network, a web of interconnected groups that attack climate change science and oppose support for renewable energy.  The new guide details the $80 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year to fuel Tracie Sharp's State Policy Network (SPN) and its 59 state "think tank" members.

The guide, a product of a three month investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, has found previously unreported funding for SPN flowing directly from Koch Industries, in addition to the known contributions from the Koch family foundations. CMD also tracks SPN's connections to the Koch funded Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, known as the "Dark Money ATM" for attacks on climate science.

 State Policy Network’s connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are also explored in the report. According to the guide:

 "Through ALEC, SPN helps draft templates to change state laws; then ALEC's public sector and private sector members vote in secret for those bills; and then SPN supports the introduction or adoption of those bills as law, sometimes with help from David Koch's [Americans for Prosperity] AFP echo chamber in a state.”

Called the Reporters Guide to the State Policy Network, CMD’s report details how SPN works, who funds it, what the network's groups do, and looks at some of their legislative goals, including undermining workers' rights and weakening unions as well as undoing renewable energy laws and expanding ways in which tax dollars are redirected to the private sector, for example through funding so-called "virtual schools." Key resources include:

  • Documentation that exposes the close funding connections between SPN, its members, and the controversial ALEC.
  • Highlights of the significant and previously unknown Koch brothers' funding for SPN groups, demonstrating that prior estimates of Koch funding have been understated. (These materials were discovered by CMD and researchers in materials filed with the IRS by two of the SPN groups.)
  • Entries about every SPN member think tank on CMD's SourceWatch.org.

Read CMD’s Reporter’s Guide to the “State Policy Network” here.

ExxonMobil, other pipeline operators don't have to pay into oil spill fund when it's tar sands oil?!

Photos courtesy of Lady with a Camera.

Written by Carol Linnitt, crossposted from DeSmog Canada.

As Think Progress has just reported, a bizarre technicality allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleanup after the company's Pegasus pipeline released 12,000 barrels of tar sands oil and water into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport the corrosive substance across the US - with proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL - are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

News that Exxon was spared from contributing the 8-cents-per-barrel fee to the clean-up fund added insult to injury this week as cleanup crews discovered oil-soaked ducks covered in "low-quality Wabasca Heavy Crude from Alberta." Yesterday officials said 10 live ducks were found covered in oil, as well as a number of oiled ducks already deceased.

Photographer Eilish Palmer, known as Lady with a Camera, has been working with HAWK (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters), a wildlife rehabilitation centre, to locate and help ducks and other animals affected by the spill.

We I connected with Eilish on the phone she was in the rain, searching for more oil-covered animals: "I'm actually out in the woods right now looking for animals. We just found two dead ducks and one live one…We actually saw a dead wood duck and we saw its mate, it couldn't fly away, only walk. It was pretty saturated." 

Eilish said HAWK was the first responder for affected wildlife in the area but has since seen Exxon establish a local mobile unit to treat animals on site. "As the number of animals increased Exxon brought in their own rehabilitation centre because we were taking that animals to a centre about an hour away. HAWK doesn't have a mobile unit."

In addition to ducks, the team working with HAWK also found this oil-laden male muskrat, suggesting a number of species may be affected.

Faulkner Country Judge Allen Dodson said "I'm an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are. We don't like to see that. No one does."

He added, "Crude oil is crude oil. None of it is real good to touch."

The Exxon spill leaked 80,000 gallons of oil into an Arkansas residential area, causing the evacuation of 40 homes. This weekend Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. president Gary Pruessing told displaced homeowners, "If you have been harmed by this spill then we're going to look at how to make that right." 

According to InsideClimate News, Exxon is currently preventing the media from accessing the spill scene. Today the Arkansas Attourney General announced an investigation is being launched into the cause of the 60-year old pipeline's rupture. 

The Pegasus pipeline was originally built in the 1940s and was recently dormant for four years before its flow was reversed to carry Alberta diluted bitumen from Illinois to the Gulf Coast. In 2006 Exxon called the line's reversal a win-win for the people of the Gulf Coast and Canada.

The revelation that companies transporting diluted bitumen in the US have some concerned about pre-existing pipelines, as well as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that will transport the tar sands-derived oil across a number of ecologically sensitive areas. 

According to the NRDC, in 2011 a number of pipelines carried Alberta bitumen in the US:

Although the spread of oil refineries across the US receiving bitumen suggests the network of tar sands oil transport is much more widely spread across the States:

The network potentially connecting bitumen-carrying pipelines with other pipelines is quite extensive across the US:

Last week a coalition of environmental groups, communities and inviduals petitioned the US EPA and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Association (PHMSA) to place a moratorium on pending tar sands pipelines, including the Keystone XL pipeline, until new safety rules are established. 

"Simply put, diluted bitumen and conventional crude oil are not the same substance," the petitioners wrote. "There is increasing evidence that the transport of diluted bitumen is putting America's public safety at risk. Current regulations fail to protect the public against those risks. Instead, regulations ... treat diluted bitumen and conventional crude the same."

Image Credit: Refinery map by ForestEthics. Wildlife photos courtesy of Eilish Palmer, Lady with a Camera, used with permission.

 

ALEC Energy Director Misleads the Wall Street Journal

Todd Wynn: director of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, formerly of Cascade Policy Institute. Cascade and ALEC are two of the many front groups coordinated under the umbrella of the State Policy Network.

Written by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project. Crossposted with permission from Huffington Post: ALEC Energy Director Misleads the Wall Street Journal

In Friday's Wall Street Journal story, "States Cooling to Renewable Energy," American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn claimed, "I have not received one dime to work directly on renewable-energy mandates." Wynn may not have received a check where the memo read: "For your efforts to attack clean energy policies" but his ALEC paycheck certainly comes (in part) from fossil fuel interests.

ALEC received approximately 98 percent of its budget from corporations, trade associations and corporate foundations, according to IRS 990 tax forms from the organization in 2009.

The members (as of June 2011) of Mr. Wynn's task force include at least 23 fossil fuel companies and utilities, like ExxonMobil, Continental Resources, Peabody Energy and Duke Energy, that have a direct financial interest in slowing the growth of clean energy. Task force members fund almost all of ALEC's operations.

ALEC corporate members each pay between $7,000 and $25,000 or more to be members. The corporate task force members also pay fees to have a vote on what pieces of "sample legislation" should be sent to state legislators. And, last fall, the energy task force members voted to push the "Electricity Freedom Act," which repeals state clean energy standards, through state legislatures across the country.

So it's no surprise these bills are showing up and being pushed by fossil fuel interests and front groups in states across the country. Wynn probably received at least a few dimes to coordinate this effort to attack clean energy policies. If ALEC wants to provide some transparency on its budget, Checks and Balances Project would be happy to take a second look.

Follow Gabe Elsner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GabeElsner

Peabody Energy dumps retirees in to company "created to fail," then cuts their pensions and benifits

Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the US and one of the largest in the world, is once again embroiled in controversy over shady treatment of employees. In 2007, Peabody Energy created Patriot Coal, a spin-off company comprised of Peabody’s eastern US mines. According to lawsuits involving the United Mine Workers (UMW), Patriot was formed as a place to stash union mines in West Virginia and the Midwest, along with the significant pension and health-care obligations that these eastern mines held. According to UMW, Patriot was essentially a "company created to fail," to give Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (another major US coal company who sold union mines to Patriot) an easy way to avoid paying union pensions and health-care benefits, while continuing to profit from their giant, nonunion surface mines in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.

Once Patriot declared bankruptcy, which it did last July, all of the pensions and medical benefits Peabody was obligated to pay their workers were put on the chopping block, just as Peabody had hoped. If Peabody succeeds, 10,000 retirees and another 10,000 dependents will lose the benefits promised them. Now, retired mine workers who labored for Peabody under the promise that they would receive health care and pensions, are outraged. Protests have forced Peabody to move its annual meeting to Wyoming, to avoid the civil disobedience by coal miners in the east. This is just the latest chapter in a long history of deceptive and exploitative practices by Peabody Energy and the coal industry in general. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group funded by Peabody claims “Coal = Jobs.” But Peabody’s callous treatment of pensioners exposes what math the coal industry really cares about.

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