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Obama EPA Shut Down Texas Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

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.”

Read the rest of this entry →

North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license

Corporate Interests Influencing State Legislators via National Conference of State Legislatures

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Fracking sign

Cross-Posted from Checks and Balances Project

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) describes itself as “a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s 50 states, its commonwealths and territories.  NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.”

Affiliated with NCSL, is the NCSL Foundation which was created by NCSL as a  “nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation that offers opportunities for businesses, national associations, nonprofit organizations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.”

While the descriptions sound benign, the access to legislators NCSL and the NCSL Foundation provide to fossil fuel interests and other corporate “sponsors” sounds a lot like lobbying. Sourcewatch defines lobbyists as those who do “work on the behalf of their clients or the groups they’re representing to convince the government or others involved in public policy development to make a decision that is beneficial to them.”

Nowhere in the descriptions of NCSL or the NCSL Foundation is the unique access to state legislators granted to corporate funders characterized as lobbying.

In fact, William Pound, NCSL’s Executive Director, said in an interview with Checks & Balances Project at NCSL’s 2012 Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., that legislators are being educated, not lobbied.

However, this access has been called “stealth lobbying” by Steve Horn and Sarah Blaskey in a recent Truthout piece.

According to the NCSL Foundation website, there are many ways for fossil fuel interests to “educate” state legislators. They include:

  • Opportunity to participate in the annual standing committee new officer orientation session
  • Regular forums with NCSL officers and NCSL standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to suggest topics to standing committee officers
  • Opportunity to attend NCSL Executive Committee subcommittee meetings
  • Invitations to attend receptions and dinners with legislative leaders at yearly NCSL leadership meetings

In addition, with legislators from 40 out of the 50 states earning an average of $35,326 for their work and an average staff of 3.1 per member (or 1.2 staff in some states),[1] it raises questions of how much time and resources they have to research issues versus relying on positions posted by corporate sponsors or NCSL papers which corporate sponsors have had input on, according to Pound.

Given the role of Michael Behm as the Vice President of the NCSL Foundation and a Senior Vice President for Stateside Associates, a lobbying firm focused on lobbying state-centric groups like NCSL and the Council of State Governments (CSG), the partnerships being enabled by NCSL between legislators and fossil fuel interests should not be surprising.[2] This is especially true, given that many of Stateside Associates’ clients are also NCSL Foundations sponsors.

According to the current list of sponsors on the NCSL Foundation website (dated 1/31/12), fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil and America’s Natural Gas Alliance contributed $142,500, an increase from FY 2011 (July 2010-June 2011) when fossil fuel companies donated $100,000[3].

Perhaps the increase in contributions from fossil fuel interests, coupled with their ability to  “review” NCSL policy papers, explains the change in positions on hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) between 2010 and 2012. A 2010 policy paper provided a relatively balanced look at the costs, financial and environmental, associated with fracking. However, a June 2012 paper raises and dismisses the potentially devastating costs that fracking poses to states and the environment.

NCSL’s activities sound suspiciously like those of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is now facing a lawsuit under the Tax Whistleblower Act with the Internal Revenue Service. Common Cause filed the lawsuitafter accusing ALEC, legally a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, of “massive[ly] underreporting” the amount of lobbying it was undertaking.

While 501(c)(3)’s can engage in some lobbying, it cannot be the majority of its activity. According to Mother Jones, “The suit alleges that ALEC exists primarily to give corporate members the ability to ‘lobby state legislators and to deduct the costs of such efforts as charitable contributions.’ “

Checks and Balances will continue monitoring NCSL and other like-minded organizations that interact with legislators for purported “educational” purposes that could possibly be masking stealth lobbying activities.


[2] Horn and Blaskey write in their Truthout piece about how Behm and his other Stateside Associates colleagues take over organizations such as NCSL to influence state legislators on behalf of corporate interests.

[3] No figures were listed in the FY 2011 annual report. Therefore current sponsorship level amounts were applied to derive the $117,500 number.

Image by Bosc D’Anjou under Creative Commons License.