PolluterWatch Blog

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.

Mercenary Admen: 5 ways one PR group has hijacked politics for corporate gain

Most people have never heard of the DC lobbying and public relations firm DCI Group. When DCI Group does it’s job right, most people never do. That’s because DCI is a prime example what a highly effective, professional, and well-funded Public Relations firm can do. Are you a cigarette company that wants grassroots support for cigarette smoking? DCI can do that. Are you an Indonesian timber conglomerate that wants the “freedom” to sell illegal rainforest pulp? DCI can enlist thousands of liberty-lovin Americans to protect that freedom. Do you want people mobilized, in the streets, demanding that the government relax pollution laws and other regulations on your coal or oil corporation? DCI actually did that. It was called the Tea party.

CASE STUDIES

1 DCI Group and Tobacco

Addictive, deadly, and rich, the tobacco industry is the perfect client for a crack PR team like DCI Group.

During the early days of tobacco regulation in the 1980’s, tobacco corporations were spending millions of dollars to convince Americans that tobacco really wasn’t that bad for them, and regulating tobacco was an infringement on the god given rights of every American.

Masterminding that message was DCI Groups founders, Doug Goodyear and Tom Synhorst, who were two of the tobacco PR men involved in the early days of “tobacco control opposition.”

Using a strategy DCI Group would repeat and hone in the coming decades, PR admen like Goodyear and Synhorst pioneered couching a pro-corporate agenda, in this case tobacco’s, in terms of rights, liberties and freedoms. They started “smokers rights groups,” whose anti-regulatory, pro-business bent is right at home in today’s Tea Party messaging. DCI Group has maintained those close ties through the years, and currently lobby for Altria (Philip Morris).

2 DCI Group and the start of the Tea Party

A recently released academic study has traced the origins of the Tea Party back to its roots. The popular creation myth of the Tea Party, in which a news anchor, fed up with the federal governments creeping socialism demands an uprising - a la Network - is only part of the story. In fact, PR agencies working for tobacco, and oil, and coal corporations had been pushing for a Tea Party for decades, and had even registered the websites and domain names under the name Tea Party, 6 years before president Obama’s election.

From the study:

“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.”

With the help of the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, DCI Group partner Dan Combs built “Citizens for a Sound Economy,”(CSE) during the 1990’s, right as the tobacco industry was busted for lying about the dangers of smoking. CSE’s self-described mission was "to fight for less government, lower taxes, and less regulation," which included opposing tobacco laws and pollution regulation on the oil industry.

3 DCI Group and Americans For Prosperity/ Freedomworks

In 2004, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) split like a procreative amoebae into Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, the two largest and most powerful Tea Party organizations. AfP and Freedomworks employ hundreds of Tea Party organizers all over the country, and pay for rallies, promotional materials, and conventions.

DCI Group, and it’s alias FLS Connect, are currently the highest paid consultants for AFP and Freedomworks. DCI carefully crafts messaging for the Tea Party behemoths, and does extensive polling to make sure their pro-corporate, free-market PR is hitting the mark. Just as they directed anti-tax advocates to do big-tobacco and big-oil’s work through Citizens for a Sound Economy, DCI Group is using the Tea Party in the service of corporate America.

4 DCI Group and Climate Change Denial

DCI Group was a pioneer of brazen denial of scientific evidence while working for tobacco giants. They applied the same technique of creating fake science, misrepresenting impacts, and attacking legitimate scientists to their campaign denying the existence of climate change.

At the behest of major oil corporation and DCI Group client ExxonMobil, DCI became a hotbed of climate change science attacks, training and funding outspoken climate change deniers. DCI Group created and ran Tech Central Station, a platform for climate science denial. Tech Central Station was so egregiously disingenuous about climate science that a Senatorial committee asked ExxonMobil to stop funding it, which Exxon did in 2006.

DCI Group's Andrea Saul

However, a slap from the Senate did not stop DCI Group from continuing to specialize in anti-climate science messaging. DCI Group continues to hire and train professional climate change deniers. One such DCI Group alumnus, Andrea Saul, became candidate Mitt Romney’s press secretary during the 2012 presidential election, and helped push Romney’s anti-climate science positions. While at DCI, she wrote and distributed pres releases attacking legitimate climate science. Another DCI Group alumnus, Bob Paduchik, is now a Vice President of the coal front group called Americans for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

5 DCI Group and Foreign Criminal Entities

DCI specializes in manipulating America’s white, conservative class, using loaded buzzwords like “freedom,” and “liberty,” and couching a corporate agenda of reduced regulation as “small government.” As it turns out, this type of manipulation is an old shtick, predating the Tea Party.

And DCI Group does this for many clients, including an Indonesian timber company responsible for illegal deforestation of rainforests in southeast Asia. DCI helped create a front group for Asia Pulp and Paper, which has destroyed millions of miles of endangered rainforest in Indonesia. They found a self described “tea party patriot” to lead the effort, who made tea party themed speeches that advocated for the Indonesian paper corporation, APP.

Chart Source: New York Times

REVEALED: Donors Trust is the secret ATM machine for climate deniers

A new Greenpeace analysis released today shows that Donors Trust, a shadowy funding vehicle, has laundered $146 million in climate denial funding from 2002 to 2011. Yesterday’s article in the Guardian referenced part of the Greenpeace analysis. Today’s report is now up to date with the latest available funding from 2011.

In addition, a Center for Public Integrity report released yesterday illustrates the efforts of Donors Trust to set up conservative media megaphones in state capitals. Today, the Guardian reported that these ideological media outlets have been instrumental in anti-climate fights at the state level. These include state and regional attacks against wind power, solar power, and carbon pollution reduction programs.

As climate denial funding from traceable Big Oil sources like Exxon and the Koch brothers is declining, the anonymous money funneled through Donors Trust is skyrocketing.

 

This interesting coincidence is illustrated in a graph from the Greenpeace report:

 

The key findings of the Greenpeace analysis on Donors Trust:

  • Donors Trust and its associated organization, Donors Capital Fund, have funded 102 climate-denial organizations since 2002.
  • From 2002 to 2011, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have provided $146 million to climate denial groups.
  • In 2010, a dozen climate denial groups received between 30% to 70% of their funding from Donors Trust, including the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, as well as Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)
  • Additional climate denial organizations that have received major funding in recent years by Donors Trust include the Heartland Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute and the James Partnership (Cornwall Alliance).

Wait, so what is Donors Trust, exactly? It’s a shadowy funding operation for anti-government extremists and climate deniers. The mission of Donors Trust is to provide ultra-conservative funders a way to support their controversial pet-causes without leaving fingerprints on the grants.

 

But don’t take our word for it – here’s an excerpt from the Donors Trust FAQ webpage:

 

Who is behind this untraceable money? It’s impossible to track all of the big-pockets hiding behind Donors Trust. One notable individual is Charles Koch, the secretive oil billionaire who was discovered to have funneled $8 million through Donors Trust from two of his foundations. And that’s only the amount that we can track – we don’t know the full extent of the Koch’s account with Donors Trust.

As posted yesterday on our blog and detailed in another great Guardian article, several climate denial organizations rely on Donors Trust for a large share of their budgets. The Heartland Institute, creator of the famously reviled “Unabomber billboard” and coordinators of the annual Denial-palooza conference, relies heavily on a single anonymous donor that sends money through Donors Trust. According to internal Heartland plans leaked to the public, this Anonymous Donor has been responsible for up to 60% of the organization’s annual revenue, with the majority of fund earmarked to “global warming programs.” Even though the leaked documents prove this money is specific for climate projects, the Donors Trust tax forms only disclose the funding’s purpose as “general operations.”

The deep dependence on Donors Trust by climate deniers goes far beyond the Heartland Institute. Marc Morano’s organization, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, has received between 40% and 46% of its budget through Donors Trust in recent years. Morano was named 2012 “Climate Misinformer of the Year,” often found as a talking head on Fox News or CNN denying that human activity is affecting the climate. In response to the President’s 2013 State of the Union address, Morano published a point by point rebuttal to the section on climate change.

CFACT is among over a dozen organizations that get 30% to 70% of their total budgets from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. Other noteworthy groups include Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Cornwall Alliance (James Partnership), and the State Policy Network.

Study: Koch and Tobacco behind Birth of Tea Party

Americans for Prosperity is the Koch-controlled half of what formerly was known as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

A new report in the peer-reviewed academic journal Tobacco Control offers a deeper look at the history of the Tea Party. Commonly thought to be a grassroots uprising spurred by a TV rant in 2009, the report documents how tobacco companies and a front group established by Charles and David Koch were attempting to begin the revolt years earlier.

The study, titled "‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party," shows that the Koch front, Citizens for a Sound Economy, set up a website in 2002 for the "U.S. Tea Party." Here is an archived image from that website, which is now owned by FreedomWorks.

As previously reported by DeSmogBlog's Brendan DeMelle on Huffington Post:

The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now "supporting the tobacco companies' political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws." Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.

The ties between the Koch brothers' Citizens for a Sound Economy and tobacco are extensive, with Charles Koch's right hand man, Richard Fink, getting direct praise from the Tobacco Institute for his leadership in urging the U.S. Surgeon General to avoid foreign trade restrictions on tobacco products. The Checks and Balances Project has a report on Koch Industries executive Richard Fink and tobacco:

In 1988, Fink wrote to the Surgeon General to express concern about the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health’s inquiries into the subject of tobacco and U.S. trade policy. He warned that it would be unwise to suggest any foreign trade barriers, ending, “we hope that you will keep these thoughts in mind as your department discusses U.S. trade policy toward tobacco.” This letter was tracked down by the Checks & Balances Project in the Tobacco Archives, with an addendum from Samuel Chilcote – President of The Tobacco Institute – urging others to follow Fink’s lead and support.

For Fink’s efforts, Chilcote thanked Fink in a hand-signed letter on behalf of the tobacco industry, writing, “When an advisory body such as the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health ventures into the field of U.S. trade policy, it is vitally important that the public record be balanced by the sound economic views and sensible business judgments that you provided.”

In summarizing the significance of the Koch-Tobacco-Tea Party insight from the report, DeSmogBlog's DeMelle hits the nail on the head:

Finally, this report might serve as a wake-up call to some people in the Tea Party itself, who would find it a little disturbing that the "grassroots" movement they are so emotionally attached to, is in fact a pawn created by billionaires and large corporations with little interest in fighting for the rights of the common person, but instead using the common person to fight for their own unfettered profits.

Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks have been successful in co-opting the Tea Party, directing millions in corporate and wealthy donor funding to steer the "grassroots" agenda of Tea Party activists.

Grassroots? Try astroturf.

Duke Energy Ties to Gov. McCrory Increase Concerns over SB10 Proposal to Fire NC Utilities Commission

This guess post was written by Sue Sturgis for the Institute for Southern Studies' online magazine, Facing South.

This is a critical moment for North Carolina's energy future, as a packed public hearing held in Raleigh this week showed -- and there are growing concerns that the politician who might get to make key decisions about it has significant conflicts of interest.

On Monday, Feb. 11, about 180 people attended a N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing on Duke Energy's plan for meeting its customers' power needs over the next two decades. Dozens of citizens testified against Duke's proposed Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for generating most of its energy from polluting sources: dirty coal plants (24 percent), natural gas plants (29 percent), and risky nuclear plants (29 percent). Efficiency would account for only 4.5 percent of Duke's generation mix, while wind and solar would make up only 2.25 percent. The plan would cost Duke's customers dearly, as the company -- which supplies electricity to over 95 percent of North Carolina customers since its merger with Progress Energy -- would quadruple rates within a decade.

Speaker after speaker called on commissioners to require Duke to increase its generation from renewable sources such as solar and to encourage greater efficiency. Many of those who testified cited the urgency of acting now, pointing to mounting signs that the climate has already been dangerously disrupted by unchecked greenhouse gas pollution.

"What are we waiting for, the next tragic super storm to strike?" asked Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for clean air in western North Carolina. "What is it going to take for you to act in the public interest?"

But there are mounting concerns that the public interest will get even less consideration if North Carolina's legislature gets its way and gives Gov. Pat McCrory (R) sole control over the commission's membership.

A controversial bill recently introduced in the General Assembly would sweep out the current members of key state regulatory commissions including the NCUC and replace them with members appointed by the governor and/or the legislature. In the case of the NCUC, Senate Bill 10 specifies that the new appointments would be made by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. It would also downsize the commission from seven members to five. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now advancing through the House, both of which are controlled by veto-proof Republican super-majorities.

State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-New Hanover), one of the bill's primary sponsors along with Sens. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe) and Neal Hunt (R-Wake), told the Senate Rules Committee that the bill streamlines state government and allows key boards to be run by appointees who "are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration," as The News & Observer reported.

However, some watchdogs are protesting what they call "an unprecedented conflict of interest" created by the legislation because of McCrory's unusually close ties to Duke Energy.

In addition to having received generous campaign contributions from Duke Energy (the company, its political action committee, employees, and their families donated over $240,000 to McCrory's 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns and to the state Republican Party since he became the party's nominee, according to a recent report by the liberal advocacy group Progress NC), McCrory worked for the company for 28 years, starting out digging ditches and eventually making his way to a position as senior adviser with Duke's Business and Economic Development Group before retiring in 2007 to run for governor.

Because of that employment history, the clean-energy advocacy group NC WARN last month joined with the state AARP to ask the governor to recuse himself from making appointments to the commission and from appointing a new Public Staff director to represent consumers in utility cases because of his longtime association with Duke. This week NC WARN sent a letter to McCrory raising concerns about the commission overhaul proposal.

"If the bill passes, you would be required to appoint all the members of the Utilities Commission," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren wrote in the Feb. 11 letter. "The public perception would be inescapable that Duke Energy had captured its regulator, and had done so with the Governor's assistance."

But the governor's financial ties to the utility giant are not merely historic: Though he's no longer employed by Duke Energy, McCrory continues to hold a significant financial stake in the company. His latest statement of economic interest filed with the N.C. Ethics Commission and posted to the Indyweek.com website discloses that he holds stock in Duke valued at a minimum of $10,000. North Carolina ethics rules do not require reporting the exact value of the investment.

Notified of the holdings, Warren said they are "just more evidence that the governor has an unprecedented conflict of interest."

McCrory's history of conflicts

This is not the first time concerns have arisen over potential conflicts of interest related to McCrory's close ties to Duke Energy, as Facing South reported back in 2008.

In 1994, while working for Duke and serving as an at-large city councilman and mayor pro tem in the company's hometown of Charlotte, McCrory chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter that directly affected Duke's finances. City of Charlotte v. Cook involved Charlotte's efforts to condemn private farmland to build an underground water pipe for a project that would enable the city to purchase power from Duke instead of the electric membership corporation that was the authorized provider for that location.

The case eventually ended up in state Supreme Court. Though the court majority ultimately ruled there was no wrongdoing by the city, a dissenting opinion by Justice Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican, pointed to a conflict of interest on McCrory's part:

The record evidences multiple Duke Power internal e-mail messages and memoranda reflecting that Duke Power and the City collaborated to have the City acquire a fee simple title to the property in order that Duke Power could provide the power to the plant. These e-mail messages indicate that the mayor pro tempore of the City, an employee of Duke Power, as well as the project director had contact with Duke Power officials and discussed condemning a fee simple interest for the project. The mayor pro tempore chaired the 12 September 1994 City Council meeting where the subject of condemning a fee simple was discussed, and he voted in favor of a fee simple condemnation.

McCrory filed an affidavit saying he would not have participated in the meeting if he had known Duke was involved. However, the court pointed to evidence that McCrory did in fact know Duke was involved -- though it ruled that "an ethical problem involving the Council has to rise to a much higher level than this one for us to upset a decision by the Council."

In another action that raised conflict of interest concerns, McCrory went to Washington, D.C. in 1997 to testify as Charlotte mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer Duke Energy an estimated $600 million. As a local paper reported at the time:

When asked about a possible conflict of interest arising from his appearance on Capitol Hill as Charlotte's mayor to testify about a matter that would directly affect his employer, Duke Power (where he serves as manager of business relations), McCrory replied, "No, in fact it's quite beneficial because I'm very knowledgeable on the subject."

In the letter it sent to McCrory this week about the latest conflict of interest concern, NC WARN asked the governor to oppose the NCUC provision in the commission overhaul bill and to call for it to be removed from the House version of the legislation. It also asked McCrory to state that, should the section pass in spite of his opposition, he would appoint an independent panel to recommend candidates for the NCUC and abide by its recommendations.

If he fails to do so, NC WARN's Warren wrote, McCrory risks further alienating the people from the government that's supposed to serve them:

The Utilities Commission provisions of the bill would set the precedent that whenever legislative leadership and the governor changes party, the seated commissioners would be thrown out and replaced. It would do away with the Commission's institutional legitimacy as well as its knowledge base and continuity gained by handling its highly complex legal, technical, and policy issues. The public, already skeptical that utility regulation is in the public's interest, would see the Commission as just a rubber stamp wielded by politicians and their utility industry backers. Instead of bolstering faith in the integrity and effectiveness of state government, the bill would take cynicism to a new level.

DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat

Dubious LNG exports study was conducted in secret by contractor with ties to coal and oil industries

A study on the economic effects of exporting gas fracked in the US has opened the door for what Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) have called “a transfer of wealth from consumers to oil and gas companies.”

The study was conducted in secret by NERA, a consulting company that has a history of producing industry funded studies that obscured the health effects of tobacco and coal.

This particular study, which focuses on the economic impacts of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), was commissioned by the US Department of Energy, and will heavily influence the DOE’s decisions on the permitting of 15 proposed LNG export facilities.

Because of the way that exports of natural gas are regulated, the oil industry must convince the US Department of Energy that exporting America’s fracked gas is in the best interest of the country, in order for the DOE to approve any LNG export projects.

Alarmingly, the DOE kept the identity of NERA a secret from the public, and refused to answer Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Greenpeace, as well as requests from senators’ offices.  The DOE’s excuse? According the DOE FOIA officer I spoke with, they didn’t want outside groups to “influence” the study.

It was Reuters that eventually revealed the identity of NERA, weeks before the DOE publicly released the the details of the contract.  Reuter’s credited “industry sources” for the information.

So to recap, the DOE refused to tell the public the identity of group conducting an extremely important study on natural gas exports, citing a desire to protect the contractor from “influence,” a tacit admission that these studies are somehow corruptible. Then we find out that the notoriously unscrupulous gas industry knew the identity of the contractor before the DOE announced it publicly - the same gas industry willing to use psychological warfare techniques on rural Pennsylvanians - and it was the industry that leaked the contractor’s identity to the press.

Now the study has come out, and surprise, surprise, it says everything the gas industry wanted to hear.  The NERA study supports the unlimited export of natural gas, which opens the door for the gas industry to sell fracked gas in foreign markets. Not only will that lead to higher gas prices here in the US, making fracking more profitable and therefore assuring the drilling of many more wells, but it also means more natural gas infrastructure, more methane leaks, and another blow to our already fragile climate. All the while increasing the profits of oil and gas corporations, like ExxonMobil.

According to NERA’s study:

"Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports. Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net economic benefits increased as the level of LNG exports increased. In particular, scenarios with unlimited exports always had higher net economic benefits than corresponding cases with limited exports."

Considering the DOE considers NERA to be vulnerable to outside influence, and we know the gas industry knew of NERA’s study before the public did, the NERA study and its results must be questioned.

Report Highlights Failure of Media to Disclose Fossil Fuel Interests

Freshly released today: a report by the Checks & Balances Project examining how often top U.S. newspapers fail to attribute fossil fuel ties to organizations or people that appear news articles to promote fossil fuels, demonize clean energy or promote delay of climate change solutions. Tracking ten of the top fossil fuel front groups in 58 leading U.S. newspapers, the new report finds over 1,000 instances where ties to or funding from coal, oil and gas interests was not disclosed when including a shill group or quoting one of its "experts."

Only 6% of the time were fossil fuel ties disclosed when these top 58 newspapers reported on the ten fossil fuel front groups examined in the study. These groups wind up in the paper, on average, at least once every other day. In the five-year window the report uses, the ten front groups got at least $16 million from coal, oil and gas interests.

According to Checks & Balances:

These groups, and their proponents, have been quoted on average every other day for the past five years in 60 of the largest mainstream newspapers and publications. Despite having received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, these groups’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are rarely mentioned.

Deniers are already taking notice--see Steven Milloy's complaints here. Steve Milloy has been a central climate denier, who was paid to shill for tobacco company Phillip Morris and oil giant Exxon before work for the Cato Institute (see below) and starting the climate denial website "JunkScience."

The ten groups that Checks & Balances examined are well-established fossil fuel apologists. Here is a roundup of watchdog sites with more information on each of these organizations' historic funding from and work for fossil fuel interests like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries (2006-2010 funding figures compiled in the Checks & Balances Project report):

American Enterprise Institute (AEI): $1.675 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): $88,279 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Cato Institute: $1.385 million from Koch/Exxon (2006-2010)

George C. Marshall Institute: $675,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Heartland Institute: $115,000 from Exxon (2006-2010, see also $25,000 grant from Charles Koch in 2011)

Heritage Foundation: $2.523 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Hudson Institute: $75,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Institute for Energy Research (IER): $310,000 from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Manhattan Institute: $1.38 million from fossil fuel interests (2006-2010)

Mercatus Center: $8.06 million from fossil fuel interest (2006-2010)

Jim DeMint and Heritage Foundation Awash in Koch Brother Money

Senator Jim DeMint will lead the Heritage Foundation. Photo: Washington Post

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has announced his departure from the U.S. Senate in order to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank with notable support from fossil fuel interests like the Koch brothers ($2.73 million, 2005-2010) and ExxonMobil ($250,000, 2005-2010).

Both Exxon and the Kochs are known for their heavy financial support to organizations that promote doubt over climate science, peddle fossil fuel use and attack clean energy on precedent. The Heritage Foundation has played a consistent role in promoting the oil ideology--see DeSmog, Greenpeace, ExxonSecrets and SourceWatch for documentation.

Senator DeMint, commonly associated with the tea party, has been a particular favorite of the Charles Koch and David Koch. In the 2010 election, David, Charles and Elizabeth Koch (married to Charles) funneled a collective $12,000 to Senator DeMint's election campaign committee, on top of a $10,000 contribution from Koch Industries. Only a handful of politicians were handpicked by the Kochs in the 2010 election for direct contributions--see p.22 of Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial).

Here is a breakdown of total donations from the Koch family members and Koch Industries to Sen. DeMint and his associated leadership PACs (the Senate Conservatives Fund and MINT PAC) during DeMint's Senate career. Each donation was the maximum legal contribution limit.

Total Koch money to Senator Jim DeMint, 2004-2012: $86,000

 

2011-2012: Sen. DeMint departs from the U.S. Senate after 2012

  • $15,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund (OpenSecrets)

2009-2010: Jim DeMint was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010

  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's campaign (OpenSecrets)
  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's MINT PAC
  • $5,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund

2007-2008: Sen. DeMint was not up for election

2005-2006: Sen. DeMint first term began in January, 2005

2003-2004: Jim DeMint was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004

  • $10,000 from Koch PAC to DeMint's campaign (OpenSecrets)
  • $2,000 from David Koch to DeMint's campaign
  • $2,000 from Julia Koch to DeMint's campaign

ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design 

"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."

For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes

"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.

Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry

The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video

The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."

"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.

"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy. 

Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.

Image Credit: ShutterStockbillyhoiler

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