Last weekend was a wild one for climate action in our nation’s Capitol, between the protest outside a conference run by Koch Industries front group Americans for Prosperity and Sunday’s large street protest against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that encircled the White House with over 10,000 people.
The two issues came together when I and another Greenpeace activist found oil billionaire and Americans for Prosperity Chairman David Koch inside AFP’s “Defending the American Dream” conference, and questioned Koch about his company’s financial stake in the Keystone XL pipeline and their false statement to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). See for yourself:
Greenpeace presented Mr. Koch with a “Wanted for climate crimes” flyer featuring the faces of himself and brother Charles, and also asked about any changes in his view on climate change after a Koch-funded study appears to agree with what climate scientists have known for decades now—the globe is indeed increasing in average surface temperature. David Koch refused to answer questions, but clearly understood that accountability was expected for the $55 million he and brother Charles Koch have donated to organizations that work to confuse and deny the reality of climate science.
Mr. Koch’s day wasn’t all bad—shortly before the encounter he was lauded by Herman Cain, who declared, “I am the Koch Brothers’ brother from another mother!” The statement lifted David Koch out of his seat for a strange Nixon-style salute to the AFP audience. Chairman Koch also got to hear from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and fellow climate denial financier and AFP director Art Pope. Among numerous other issues, the keynote speakers attacked environmental protections and peddled fossil fuel extraction. Herman Cain stated the need for the US Environmental Protection Agency to undergo an “attitude adjustment,” a popular sentiment among attendees who were also offered a panel dedicated to hating on the EPA.
Echoing Kochs’ efforts to dismantle the EPA
Opening the “Extreme Power Abuses” panel, Koch-backed Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) bragged about his efforts to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, warning observers that EPA is “on the march, they will stop at nothing.”
Following Rep. Pompeo was Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch and Exxon front, among other dirty donors. Hartnett White’s primary focus appears to be criticizing the EPA’s every move. She approved Texas’ first new coal-fired power plant in 20 years when she was chair of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality, and has grossly misrepresented the scientific conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the panel, Hartnett White pushed to continue allowing unchecked mercury emissions from coal plants, which the coal lobby has blocked from regulation since the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. She downplayed the concerns of communities suffering from coal plant pollution with claims like “People do not die of particulate matter levels,” while ignoring clear threats to our health, such as mercury from power plants winding up in the fish we eat. Most indicative of Hartnett White’s do-nothing attitude on pollution: “there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no environmental problems.”
Next up was a career polluter apologist from the American Tradition Institute, Chris Horner. Horner is also an affiliate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Horner’s current work involves harassing climatologist Michael Mann by seeking his emails from the University of Virginia, a favorite cause of climate denier and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was also present at the AFP conference.
The EPA panel was concluded with the angry rants of Ann McElhinney, who has made a name for herself as an anti-environmental documentary filmmaker who circulates her films among various climate denier front groups. McElhinney accused environmentalists in general of being unequivocal liars while throwing some questionable claims* around herself. Claiming that “fracking is an absolute miracle,” McElhinney repeatedly attacked Gasland director Josh Fox for spreading a “message of hate” though his film. Similarly, McElhinney said that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “is just wonderful,” and mocked the idea of an organized protest against Keystone XL two days later.
What McElhinney said that did seem on point was, "at the moment, the story of energy is being told by people that tell lies." That certainly sounds right – if she meant the influence peddlers of the fossil fuel industry. But McElhinney then continued to demonize people with environmental concerns, rather than pointing out how polluters spend millions to influence our government through direct donations, lobbyists, trade associations, and front groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the very panelists McElhinney stood next to.
Americans for Koch’s Prosperity
Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity have become synonymous to the people who pay attention to the billionaire oil baron brothers and their many front groups. AFP itself was spawned from predecessor group, the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (CSE), which split from its sister group to form AFP and Freedomworks. While the Kochs left Freedomworks alone, they continue to fund and govern AFP—David Koch is the chairman of the AFP Foundation and the group has received over $5.6 million from the Koch Brothers’ foundations, according to the most recent five years of their tax filings. Co-sponsors and allies present at the conference have received large checks from the Kochs over the same time frame, such as the Heritage Foundation ($2.2 million), the Institute for Humane Studies ($4.4 million), and the American Legislative Exchange Council ($275,858).
Other known financiers of AFP and other corporate front groups, which often don’t have to report their donors, are the usual cadre of ideologically-driven conservative foundations backed by corporate interests who bankroll efforts to roll back environmental protections, attack health care reforms, increase corporate rights while decreasing corporate tax rates…check out the Lewis Powell memo for more history on how companies have seized our democracy.
Standing out most among Ann McElhinney’s misleading statements were two in particular. First, she claimed that the gas industry website FracFocus contains full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—it doesn’t. Second, she led the audience to believe that health concerns over tar sands water pollution [PDF] in Alberta, Canada were unsubstantiated. Specifically, McElhinney attacked Dr. John O'Connor, who discovered and was persecuted by industry (and industry-tainted government) for years for linking tar sands operations to unusually high cancer rates. This was formerly confirmed by the Alberta Cancer Board in May 2008, vindicating Dr. O'Connor. The cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area are 30% higher than expected rates. Most notably, McElhinney accused Dr. O’Connor of fabricating the death of a 33-year old in Fort Chipewyan, a community heavily polluted by chemical byproducts flowing up the Athabasca River. Read more about this specific industry/Alberta government attack on Dr. O'Connor in Andrew Nikiforuk's "Tar Sands," pp. 96-101.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
This morning, CEOs, founders, and other leaders of 68 organizations sent a letter to President Obama, urging that he do what he can to stop the dangerous extraction of shale gas that is occurring across the country without any federal public safeguards. Often called 'fracking,' communities from Pennsylvania to Texas to Minnesota are already suffering from the numerous environmental problems connected with this process to force “natural” gas from shale several thousand feet below ground.
The letter states,
'Fracking involves shooting millions of gallons of water laced with carcinogenic chemicals deep underground to break apart rock to release trapped gas. Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry.
To date, fracking has resulted in over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination across the county, either through the leaking of fracking fluids and methane into groundwater, or by above ground spills of contaminated and often radioactive wastewater from fracking operations. Rivers and lakes are also being contaminated with the release of insufficiently treated waste water recovered from fracking operations. In addition, fracking typically results in the release of significant quantities of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere despite the availability of cost-effective containment measures.'
Fracked gas may be no 'bridge fuel,' and it certainly is not 'clean energy.' Burning natural gas releases about half the greenhouse gas as burning coal, but fracked gas may produce so much more methane during extraction and processing that it could be as bad or worse than coal for the climate.
The oil and gas industry have good lobbyists, and have achieved years ago exemptions under virtually every federal environmental law, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Companies like Conoco Phillips, Chesapeake Energy and Talisman Energy are not even required to disclose the more than 900 different chemicals used in the fracking process, which contaminate aquifers. Talisman has even targeted children in its lobbying, with 'Terry the Fracosaurus' who promotes an industry that is polluting drinking water with toxic chemicals.
Oil and gas companies have spent over three hundred million dollars in the last two years lobbying against federal protections from their pollution, so it is not too surprising that the federal government has decided to 'shoot now, ask questions later.' There are few efforts by Congress and the administration to mitigate the public health impacts of fracking.
In the next week or two we should see some results fom a panel of experts set up by the Department of Energy, which is supposed to reach conclusions on how to frack safely. However, the panel is stocked with only frack-friendly experts. EPA is studying impacts on water quality, but that study will take years to complete and is limited in its scope.
While further knowledge about impacts is a certainly a good thing, in this case 'more research' means political procrastination. EPA found 24 years ago that fracking contaminates water supplies. So far the only legislation to get much traction is the 'FRAC Act,' spearheaded by Democracts from Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado. This bill is an important step to closing one legal loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act, and would require that industry disclose which chemicals they're using.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
As revealed by The Nation and hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy’s new ALEC Exposed website, today marks a breakthrough in democratic transparency with the release of over 800 internal documents created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Who is ALEC?
Greenpeace has tracked the American Legislative Exchange Council and its role in the climate denial machine, along with the money it receives from polluters including Koch Industries and ExxonMobil to peddle doubt over established conclusions of climate scientists. Check out some of ALEC’s climate denier deeds at ExxonSecrets.
ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America's largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization. ALEC creates a cover for state legislators who ultimately benefit from ALEC’s corporate supporters without having to disclose who pays for the corporate-handout policies they push in state houses across the country.
The Nation's John Nichols explains the ALEC agenda:
"ALEC's model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC's priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums."
ALEC's Dirty Assault on Environmental Causes
ALEC has long served corporate polluters in attacking or preempting environmental protections through state laws. A revealing article in Grist linked legislative repeals from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to ALEC's draft legislation, offering polluters like Koch Industries another avenue of attack to bolster the work of other front groups, including Americans for Prosperity's pressure on states participating in RGGI. Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves and The Nation have more details on the connection between Koch Industries and ALEC.
The over 800 internal documents revealed at ALEC Exposed brings other laws drafted by and for corporate polluters to light. Examples include:
The range of ALEC's model legislation provides a historical record of the most aggressive efforts to combat environmental protection. A resolution from 1998 getting states to oppose the Kyoto protocol [PDF] apparently passed in ten states and was introduced or passed by one legislative chamber in another ten states, according to an ALEC speech transcript. A resolution from 2002 shows ALEC’s role in early efforts to hijack chemical security legislation. After the U.S. Senate adopted a bill (S.1602) in July, 2002 that would have conditionally required the use of safer processes at high risk chemical plants, ALEC fought back, approving a Resolution in Opposition to S. 1602 [PDF] a month later. That fall, the chemical security bill fell on its face.
More to Come...
Greenpeace is continuing to research the contents of ALEC's documents. ALEC's template environmental bills repeatedly attack clean energy, push the most dangerous and dirty fossil fuel developments and try to roll back safeguards that reduce pollution. We will continue to update you on what we find.
In the wake of a New York Times series that revealed a serious lack of oversight of the gas industry by state regulators, the Governor of Pennsylvania has taken decisive action. He ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection not to report violations by gas companies without approval from his hand picked environmental chief. That’s right - Tom Corbett, the republican governor of Pennsylvania, ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to stop issuing violations against drillers without prior approval from DEP Secretary Micheal Krancer, who he personally selected as chief of the agency.
John Hines, the DEP executive deputy secretary, sent an e-mail March 23 to other senior staff, including four regional directors and the head of the department's oil and gas division.
"Effective immediately," it said, all violations must first be sent to him and another DEP deputy secretary in Harrisburg - with "final clearance" from Michael Krancer, DEP secretary.
"Any waiver from this directive will not be acceptable," Hines wrote. Regional directors reinforced the stern message in their own e-mails to staff.
Considering that notices of violation are the inspectors' main tool for enforcing compliance with environmental rules, Governor Corbett has basically kneecapped the DEP’s ability to control wayward hydrofrackers. The new policy has been met with disbelief and anger by people familiar with regulating the industry.
"They are putting us on a leash," said the one inspector, who spoke to the Enquirer on condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation.
Even John Hanger, ex DEP chief and good friend of fracking was against the directive. In an interview with the Enquirer, he said:
"I could not believe it. It's extraordinarily unwise. It's going to cause the public in droves to lose confidence in the inspection process." According to Hanger, there has never been a similar directive in DEP.
Hanger said the "extraordinary" policy was akin to forcing a highway trooper to get approval from the head of the state police before writing a ticket.
"It is a complete intrusion into the independence of the inspection process," he said.
Why would Corbett pander so brazenly to the Natural Gas industry? The Enquirer points out that Corbett received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions from drilling interests last year. A good investment for the fracking industry, considering that since taking office in January, Corbett's administration has overturned a moratorium on drilling in state forests and has refused to consider any extraction tax on drillers. Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state without such a tax.
A hydrofracking well pad in Pennsylvania. Image source
ExxonMobil, proud owner of the gas company XTO (bought in 2010 for $31B), attempted to parry criticism of the gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing in a recent letter to the editor featured in the New York Times. The letter, written by Vice President Ken Cohen, contained all of the untruths and PR manipulations one would expect from the anti-climate, anti-environment, oil and gas supermajor ExxonMobil.
Ken writes in retaliation to a New York Times Business Day article by largely pro-gas and pro-industry “journalist” Christopher Swann, in which Swann refers to ExxonMobil’s strategy of forming a “united front against regulation" as “myopic.” Ken tacitly denies opposing regulation, saying “Along with other companies, ExxonMobil works with state regulatory authorities to develop sound, science-based regulations for oil and gas drilling.” If the implication of this statement is that Exxon supports legitimate fracking regulation, then this is a lie. Exxon opposes any attempt at regulation of their business reflexively and has opposed all attempts at regulation on fracking specifically.
Ken goes on to parrot the industry mantra of how vital “clean-burning” gas is for “national energy security” and “well-paying jobs.” No mention of how fracking poisons drinking water with radiation and toxic sludge. When weighing the importance of fresh water versus the “billions of dollars” that stand to be made by energy profiteers, Ken has definitely picked a side. Ken’s letter also spouts the common industry-created rhetoric that fracking has been used safely since 1940. The truth is that the type of fracking practiced currently is significantly different than the processes used since the 40’s, and none of these processes should be labeled 100% safe. Just ask the residents of Wiliamsport, Pennsylvania, where Exxon and XTO spewed 13,000 gallons of toxic sludge into waterways used for drinking water. So much for the “responsible development” touted by Ken Cohen and ExxonMobil.
In another explosive exposition of the natural gas industry, Ian Urbina of the New York Times documents how industry and elected officials kept EPA findings on the dangers of fracking from becoming public. One EPA scientist said "The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”
In a ground breaking expose of the natural gas industry, Ian Urbina of the New York Times chronicles the dumping of radioactive watewater into the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania, among other abuses. The article describes how natural gas companies have taken advantage of lax regulation and unprepared regulators to thwart what few environmental safeguards exist to control gas extraction. Natural gas is extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short. This process uses millions of gallons of water, which becomes contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive elements, and other toxins. This wastewater must then be disposed of. In Pennsylvania the waste has been dumped into waterways, upstream of freshwater intake for cities and towns.
Here is a video describing the fracking process. Keep in mind it was made by Chesapeake Energy, a company heavily invested in hydrofracking, so there is no mention of what happens to the toxic wastewater.
Natural gas has long courted a "green" image because gas is less carbon intense than coal and some other fossil fuels. Gas companies have even gone as far as calling the burning of gas an inexpensive form of clean energy. However, the cost of natural gas is enormous: polluted water, the release methane (a powerful green house gas), exploding houses and water wells, cancer, and waste of money and capital that should be going to real clean energy (i.e. solar and wind).
The same oil and gas companies that set up a front group to campaign against regulations over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) have spent a combined total of more than $126 million on lobbyists, while pouring money into the campaign coffers of the Hill’s loudest fracking regulation opponents.
DeSmogBlog recently exposed “Energy in Depth” as an oil and gas front group set up to lead the charge against anyone legislating against or even investigating the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas industry practices that pose public health and water contamination threats.
Purportedly set up to represent “small, independent oil and natural gas producers,” instead “Energy in Depth” is funded by some of the largest oil companies on the planet, such as Chevron, BP, Shell and Occidental, along with the American Petroleum Institute and other trade associations.
The “Independent” Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) memo obtained by DeSmogBlog was written in 2009, five days before the introduction of bills aimed at closing loopholes around the chemicals used in fracking.
In 2009, Congressional Democrats introduced two bills proposing to close the current loopholes around the use of chemicals used in fracking– The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (S. 1215), and The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 (H.R. 2766).
Greenpeace (thanks to OpenSecrets.org, DirtyEnergyMoney.com and MapLight.org) looked at the recent lobbying records of the giant oil and gas interests that describe themselves as “small and independent” operators that funded EID. During 2009 and 2010, the EID funders spent a combined $126.8 million on lobbying.
Of course these companies were also lobbying on other issues, but the two fracking bills were key issues listed in their lobby registration documents.
A ProPublica investigation into oil and gas money received by members of the Natural Gas caucus found that they received 19 times more money on average than members of Congress who signed a letter in support of a proposal to require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use when drilling on public lands.
All of the five members of Congress mentioned in the leaked “Energy in Depth” memo testified against the proposed legislation before it was tabled. For their efforts, each have received regular payments from a majority of EID members, including the IPAA itself. (See financial figures, compiled below)
The Congressional battles over regulation continue with Republican Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Fred Upton (R-MI) taking up the issue late last year, and another key fracking supporter, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) pressuring Ken Salazar to back off a proposal to introduce new regulations through the Department of Interior if Congress refuses to act.
2010: $5.51 million (some of this was likely spent to deny culpability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster due to their 25% stake in BP's Macondo well)
2009: $2.81 million
Total Anadarko lobbying and political contributions.
Dan Boren (D-OK), chair, House Natural Gas Caucus.
For the 2009-2010 election cycle Dan Boren raked in $216,250 from the oil and gas industry. He is the natural gas transmission and distribution industry’s top recipient, and second highest for the oil and gas industry. Among his funders are Chevron, Occidental, Anakardo, Marathon, and, of course, the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Doc Hastings (R-WA)
At $84,671 in contributions, the oil and gas industry is Hastings' top contributing industry with regular payments from the EID member companies.
Hastings has been fighting any rules or transparency around fracking and its chemicals, writing to Ken Salazar late 2010 arguing that such rules would “ threaten thousands of jobs, deepen the federal deficit through reduced revenues, and harm natural gas development and our nation’s energy security.”
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Lamborn’s second-highest industry favorite was oil and gas, at $31,500, again with EID members prominent in the ranks.
Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Gohmert raked in $48,550 in oil and gas money in the last election cycle. The oil and gas sector was his third highest donor by industry, a contributions from EID members included Chevron, Marathon and Halliburton.
John Fleming (R-LA)
Oil and gas was Fleming's second biggest earner at $123,500, including Chevron, Occidental, Marathon, IPAA, Halliburton.
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
Lummis’s top funders are the oil and gas industry, with $89,550 in 2010 dirty donations.
XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, is under investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a 13,000 gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid spill at XTO Energy's natural gas drilling site in Penn Township, Lycoming County, PA.
The spill was first discovered last week by a DEP inspector who found a valve had been left open on a 21,000-gallon fracking fluid tank, discharging fluid off the well pad into local waterways, threatening a nearby cattle herd that had to be fenced off from the contaminated pasture. Exxon/XTO has not provided an explanation on why the valve was left open.
“This spill was initially estimated at more than 13,000 gallons by the company and has polluted an unnamed tributary to Sugar Run and a spring,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Nels Taber. “There are also two private drinking water wells in the vicinity that will be sampled for possible impacts.”
DEP's sampling confirmed elevated levels of conductivity and salinity in the spring and unnamed tributary, clear indications that the fracking fluid was present in the waterways.
Exxon paid $30 billion in its June 2010 merger with Texas-based XTO Energy, making Exxon/XTO the largest natural gas producer in the United States, with extensive holdings of "unconventional resources" throughout the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere.
Concerns over natural gas fracking are widespread through the Marcellus Shale region and in several Western U.S. states where a boom in natural gas development is underway thanks to the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique. Residents living near fracking operations are on the front lines as their drinking water supplies and health are threatened by the fracking process, which involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and undisclosed toxic chemicals into the shale rock to free up the trapped gas.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to fracking disasters, notably the high-profile contamination in the town of Dimock, where resident Norma Fiorentino's water well famously blew up on New Year's Day 2009, and at least 15 families have had their drinking water ruined by fracking, leading to illness, livestock deaths and other maladies.
Last week, the Pittsburgh City Council banned natural gas fracking within city limits due to concerns over the threat of water contamination and public health risks.
But Pennsylvania is hardly alone in the fracking fight. Fracking operations have contaminated water supplies across America from New York, to Wyoming, to New Mexico, to Ohio, to Virginia, to Arkansas, to Colorado and beyond.
The Environmental Protection Agency currently has no power to regulate hydraulic fracturing thanks to the Halliburton Loophole inserted into the 2005 enegy bill at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney, the former head of Halliburton.
Mounting evidence of the fracking threat nationwide has yet to convince lawmakers to close the loophole and hold the natural gas industry accountable for its fracking messes. As the New York Times asked in a November 2009 editorial, "if hydraulic fracturing is as safe as the industry says it is, why should it fear regulation?"