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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

9:20 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The White House

The White House

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years.

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask.

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions.

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy.

In February 2010, Obama’s CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period. Read the rest of this entry →

Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

10:26 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A caricature of the Charles & David Koch as clowns

“The most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth?”

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter’s chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.”

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company’s most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Not Just Wisconsin Energy

Financial disclosure forms for 2013 obtained by DeSmogBlog show that, beyond We Energies, Vitter also owns stock in other companies with “skin in the game” on fossil fuel investments, such as General ElectricNextEra Energy and Emerson Electric.

Like We Energies, NextEra Energy — which owns Florida Light & Power — said greenhouse gas regulations at either the federal or state level could hurt its corporate bottom line in its most recent SEC Form 10-Q.

“[NextEra] business could be negatively affected by federal or state laws or regulations mandating new or additional limits on the production of greenhouse gas emissions,” reads the Form 10-Q.

“Extensive federal regulation of the operations of [the company] exposes [it] to significant and increasing compliance costs and may also expose them to substantial monetary penalties and other sanctions for compliance failures.”

Vitter also owns stock in oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Vitter owns $250,000-$500,000 in Chevron stock alone, not including ownership in other related holdings, such as the company’s mutual funds. When that is tallied, Vitter owns hundreds of thousands more dollars worth of Chevron holdings.

Spokespeople for U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Sen. Vitter’s office did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmogBlog sent via email.

Transparency is in the Eye of the Beholder

In the opening section of the report, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works wrote that “the Billionaire’s Club is not, and seemingly does not, want to be transparent about the groups they fund and how much they are supporting them.”

Yet the hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments owned by Vitter in companies that stand to lose from the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules go unmentioned anywhere in the report.

Transparency, some would say, is in the eye of the beholder.

Read the rest of this entry →

Documents: Cheniere Fuels ALEC’s New Push for Fracked Gas Exports

7:18 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Two LNG storage tanks, one labelled with Cheniere logo

Cheniere is pushing ALEC to encourage exporting of fracked gas.

Today, legislative and lobbyist members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) voted on model legislation promoting both exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).

Dubbed a “corporate bill mill” by its critics, ALEC is heavily engaged in a state-level effort to attack renewable energy and grease the skids for exports of U.S. oil and gas. Today’s bills up for a vote — as conveyed in an ALEC mailer sent out on June 25 by ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force — are titled “Resolution In Support of Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas Exports“ and “Weights and Measures and Standards for Dispensing CNG and LNG Motor Fuels.”

An exclusive investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog reveals that Cheniere — the first U.S. company to receive a final liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permit by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has acted as the lead corporate backer of the LNG exports model resolution.

Further, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, owned by energy baron T. Boone Pickens, of Pickens Plan fame, and trade associations it is a member of, served as the main pusher of the CNG model resolution.

ALEC has served as a key vehicle through which the fracking industry has curried favor and pushed for policies favorable to their bottom lines in statehouses nationwide. Now ALEC and its corporate backers have upped the ante, pushing policies that will lock in downstream demand for fracked gas for years to come.

With Cheniere becoming an ALEC dues-paying member in May 2013 and with America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the fracking industry’s tour de force — crowned an ALEC member in August 2013, it looks like many more fracking-friendly model bills could arise out of ALEC in the months and years ahead.

According to a document obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, top ALEC 2014 Annual Meeting sponsors in Dallas include ANGA, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Devon Energy, and TransCanada, among others.

LNG exports will serve as the focus for part one of this series, while CNG vehicles will serve as the focus for part two.

“LNG Day”

The genesis of the Cheniere-backed model bill is tied to a March 26 “LNG Day” reception put together in Baton Rouge, La. on March 26 by the influential lobbying firm, The Picard Group.

“LNG Day gives Legislators the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of natural gas,” exclaimed a press release featuring a photo of the event taken by Dawn Cole of The Picard Group. “Attendance was great and the day was successful.”

That release was disseminated by the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, of which Cheniere is a member. Among The Picard Group’s clients: Cheniere, which it is registered to lobby for in Louisiana.

Emails obtained by DeSmogBlog under Louisiana Public Records Act reveal that Laura MacDiarmid, who works as a government and environmental affairs analyst for Cheniere, was copied on email outreach by The Picard Group to Louisiana state representatives inviting them to participate in LNG Day.

Further, “Our Energy Moment“ — the gas industry-funded propaganda campaign promoting LNG exports — put out a release of its own promoting “LNG Day.”

That release featured a quote from Jason French, listed only as a “spokesperson for the Our Energy Moment coalition” in the release. In reality, French serves as director of government and public affairs for Cheniere.

French wrote an article published in the July/August 2013 edition of “Inside ALEC” titled, “LNG Exports – A Story of American Innovation and Economic Opportunity” and also gave a presentation on LNG exports at ALEC’s 2013 Annual Meeting held in Chicago, Ill.

Via email, French confirmed with DeSmogBlog that he will also be giving a presentation at this year’s ALEC meeting in Dallas on LNG exports immediately before the model resolution promoting them receives a vote by ALEC member legislators and corporate lobbyists.

LNG Day, though, was more than a gas industry-manufactured media event. Out of it arose House Concurrent Resolution 29, co-sponsored by Speaker of The House, Rep. Chuck Kleckley and Sen. John A. Alario, Jr. (an ALEC member).

Alario, Jr. has taken significant campaign money from LNG exporters, such as ExxonMobil, Energy Transfer Partners and Sempra.

After HCR 29 passed the House under suspended rules, it also passed unanimously in a 36-0 vote in the Senate on March 25. The next evening after the lights went off on the day-time LNG Day festivities, lobbyists and legislators convened for a corporate-sponsored reception at the Jimmie Davis House.

Among the sponsors — a copy of the invitation obtained via Louisiana Public Records Act shows — were those set to benefit most from a policy of plentiful LNG exports: the frackers and the LNG exporters, such as Chesapeake Energy, ANGA, Our Energy Moment, Cheniere, Trunkline LNG, Magnolia LNG and Sempra LNG and others.

Guessing at Numbers and Figures

The language found within HCR 29 mirrors that found within the ALEC model resolution.

Read the rest of this entry →

Report: Obama Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

3:40 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large.

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean’s Magazine and Bloomberg BNA.

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama’s Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Dirty Details

Some of the numbers crunched by Greenpeace USA make the jaw drop.

For example, one chart shows the amount of coal leased by the BLM during Obama’s time in the White House. During that time, the BLM has leased off billions of tons of coal from Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone.

As Greenpeace points out, “This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 825 million passenger vehicles, and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012.”

Further, in crunching the numbers on the social cost of carbon metrics, Greenpeace estimates producing all of this BLM-leased coal will cause between $52-$530 billion in damages.

recent major, precedent-setting federal court decision chided BLM for not taking the social cost of carbon into account in leasing out a plot of land for coal production. It remains unclear whether or not this will impact BLM’s future coal leasing activities, however.

Germany’s “Clean Break” or Greenwashing?

Interestingly and perhaps shockingly to many, much of this coal is being exported to Germany, home of what some have hailed the epicenter of the global green energy revolution. Though German coal mining is going by the wayside, imports are rising.

“German coal mining has been a dying tradition. The government will end subsidies in 2018, effectively killing it,” explained the Associated Press story.

“However, Germany is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power. Five German coal plants have been built since 2008, and more are coming…The result: In 2013, Germany’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 1.2 percent.”

Dirk Jansen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth-Germany, called the situation at-large tantamount to “greenwashing” in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn’t help the global climate at all if Obama’s carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany.”

Beyond Obama, though, it raises equally troubling questions about just how “clean” Germany’s clean break will be when all is said and done.

Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf Acres for Offshore Drilling

9:39 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Deepwater Horizon

Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama’s Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves.

It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the [Mercedes-Benz] Superdome.

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  announced the lease in the name of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, BOEM…today announced that the bureau will offer more than 21 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale that will include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area,” proclaimed a July 17 BOEM press release.

The release says this equates to upwards of 116-200 million barrels of oil and 538-938 billion cubic feet of natural gas and falls under the banner of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement.

That Agreement was signed into law on December 26, 2013. It served as a precursor to the recently-passed Mexican oil and gas industry privatization reforms, which have opened the floodgates to international oil and gas companies to come into Mexico for onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

Tourist Hot Spots Port Isabel, South Padre Island for Sale

According to BOEM’s Proposed Notice of Sale Package, dozens of blocks sitting in close proximity to both Port Isabel and South Padre Island will be auctioned off during the August 20 lease. Both Port Isabel and South Padre Island are vacation and tourist hot spots, which were visited during a recent vacation by this writer.

(click to embiggen)

In total, an enormous 4,057 blocks of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas reserves are up for lease on August 20 in the Superdome.

Climate Action Plan?

The Obama Administration will auction off the thousands of blocks of Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases in the midst of rolling out its Climate Action Plan, best known to some simply as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rule for coal-fired power plants.

Ruled out of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, however, is any second-guessing of his “all of the above” energy policy.

While critics of the climate plan have noted the carbon rule is a full-fledged embrace of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for onshore oil and gas, another undeniable truism has arisen: it’s also a full-fledged embrace of offshore drilling for oil and gas both in the Gulf — and perhaps soon in the Atlantic. Read the rest of this entry →

Exxon Awarded Gulf of Mexico Oil Leases Days Before Obama Announced CO2 Rule

5:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Exxon Logo

Steve Horn uncovers “last minute” energy deals at Exxon.

On Friday May 30, just a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced details of its carbon rule proposal, the Obama Administration awarded offshore oil leases to ExxonMobil in an area of the Gulf of Mexico potentially containing over 172 million barrels of oil.

The U.S. Department of Interior‘s (DOI) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proclaimed in a May 30 press release that the ExxonMobil offshore oil lease is part of “President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production.”

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formerly worked as a petroleum engineer for Mobil, purchased as a wholly-owned subsidiary by Exxon in 1998.

Dubbed a “Private Empire” by investigative reporter Steve Coll, ExxonMobil will now have access to oil and gas in the Alaminos Canyon Area, located 170 miles east of Port Isabel, Texas. Port Isabel borders spring break and tourist hot spotSouth Padre Island.

ExxonMobil originally won the three leases at the Western Planning Area Sale 233, held on March 19. BOEM records show ExxonMobil was the only company to participate in the bid and paid over $21.3 million.

Transboundary Agreement Opens Floodgates

The U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement signed into law by President Obama on December 23, 2013 — a key precursor to the ongoing debate over Mexico’s oil and gas industry reforms — served as the legal backdrop for BOEM awarding ExxonMobil with the lease.

“With the Agreement now in full force, we can make additional oil and gas along the resource-rich boundary between the United States and Mexico available and we have a clear process by which both governments can provide the necessary oversight to ensure exploration and development activities are conducted safely and responsibly,” Secretary Jewell said in a press release.

“These leases represent a significant step forward in U.S.-Mexico cooperation in energy production and pave the way for future energy and environmental collaboration.”

Over 1.5 million offshore acres opened for business as a result of the Transboundary Agreement.

Through the Agreement, U.S. companies agreed to develop the area jointly with Mexican state-owned company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Mexico’s legislature is now debating the details of secondary legislation, coming after the country signed constitutional amendments in December 2013. The constitutional amendments-secondary legislation one-two punch will open up the rest of Mexico’s onshore and offshore oil and gas reserves to international oil and gas companies, working in partnership with Pemex.

According to a May 6 article appearing in Upstream Online, the legislature will open up an “extraordinary session” to debate the secondary legislation sometime this month.

Five Year Program

Beyond the Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, in February the Obama Administration announced it would be opening up over 40 million acres of offshore land for oil and gas development, also doing so under the “all-of-the-above” banner.

Read the rest of this entry →

MSNBC “Leans Forward” Into Covert Fracking Ads

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MSNBC Logo

Will MSNBC publish covert fracking adverts disguised as content?

Three years into its “Lean Forward” re-branding campaign, MSNBC has given new meaning to the catchphrase, leaning forward into running branded content promoting hydraulic fracturing (“fracking).

Looking to beef up its web presence, MSNBC has brought “Lean Forward” online with a new and improved website, calling it a “Platform for the Lean Forward, progressive community.” A key part of funding that platform: running “native advertisements” for America’s Natural Gas Alliance and General Electric.

“General Electric and America’s Natural Gas Alliance are the site’s launch partners,” explained an October 30 MediaPost article.

GE, the first native ad partner for msnbc.com, will collaborate with MSNBC to deliver a content series that highlights how the ‘Industrial Internet’ and ‘Brilliant Machines Innovation’ are reshaping our world. America’s Natural Gas Alliance will be featured in sponsored polls in the ‘Speak Out’ section of the site centered on natural gas facts.

GE, former owner of NBC, of which MSNBC is one of its many tentacles, is fully invested in the fossil fuel industry, with assets in frackingcoaloffshore drillingtar sands, and more. ANGA is the shale gas industry’s lobbying tour de force, both at the federal and state level.

Native advertising – also referred to as “branded content” or “native content” – is quickly replacing banner ads and pop-up ads as the go-to channel of reaching consumers for advertising executives.

“Native content is a digital advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience, matching both the form and function of the environment in which it is placed,” explained a recent MarketingWeek article.

If banner ads and pop-up ads are “overt ads,” then native ads are best described as “covert ads,” akin to the controversial “video news releases” for TV news.

“The tricky bit is to not get too focused on traditional marketing and advertising, to integrate the story so that it feels seamless. There has to be a narrative. It can’t just be putting advertising into the editorial mix because then it feels incongruous,” Matt Elek, Managing Director for VICE Magazine said in a recent interview with MarketingWeek.

The point of native advertising is that it has to be content because if you end up in someone’s newsfeed and you’re advertising, then it can have the reverse effect of what’s intended, they’ll feel tricked into having blatant advertising messages merged in.

Federal Trade Commission Hearing on Native Ads

It’s the “feels seamless” part of the native ads experience that has garnered the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“[T]he blurring line between editorial and advertising — native ads’ secret sauce — has raised concerns that consumers are being duped. That in turn has caught the eye of the U.S. government,” wrote Ad Age.

On December 4, the FTC will host its first ever workshop on native ads.

“Increasingly, advertisements that more closely resemble the content in which they are embedded are replacing banner advertisements – graphical images that typically are rectangular in shape – on publishers’ websites and mobile applications,” says an FTC press release announcing the workshop.

The workshop will bring together publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and government regulators to explore changes in how paid messages are presented to consumers and consumers’ recognition and understanding of these messages.

Advertising industry executives have already expressed concerns that egulations could be in the works.

“Part of the fear is that the regulators may ultimately decide that all sponsored content should be labeled because that’s an easy black and white line,” Linda Goldstein, partner and chairwoman for the advertising, marketing and media division at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips said in a recent interview with The New York Times.

Fusing Advertising with Editorial Content

MSNBC is far from a lonely native advertising bystander, joined in the hustle by the likes of The Huffington PostBuzzFeedThe New York TimesAssociated Press and others.

A case in point: On September 10, Huffington Post Green ran a native ad article titled, “8 Cities Embracing Natural Gas” sponsored by ANGA.

“Natural gas fuels cleaner, more efficient power plants, along with fleet vehicles and cars,” the native ad reads. “At the same time, it feeds the growth of our economy by supporting manufacturing and creating jobs. More and more of our nation’s leaders are turning to this domestic energy source to cut pollution and increase efficiency.”

ANGA’s ads, as seen in the HuffPost example, will not address any of the myriad ecological harms acccompanying fracking.

BuzzFeed Founder and CEO Jonah Peretti - also a co-founder of The Huffington Post - said native ads will be the fuel that runs the machine at BuzzFeed for months and years to come in a memo to his staff posted on LinkedIn:

Part of being a great business, is being a ‘must buy’ for advertisers who have many options. This means giving advertisers the full advantage of our scale, our data, our creative team, our social and mobile reach, and our technology platform. As we do bigger partnerships, it is clear that we can offer brands programs that nobody else can match…And thanks to the amazing efforts of…our talented sales team, we have worked with 50 of the top 100 brands.

In the coming years we will expand BuzzFeed University to train brands and agencies in the ‘BuzzFeed way,’ we will launch a branded video studio in LA to compliment our creative team in NYC, we will grow our partnerships with Facebook and Twitter to expand buys beyond BuzzFeed, and we will develop our social homepages product to power social advertising across the web.

Critics believe the shift toward native ads blurs the line between news and advertising, public relations and propaganda, akin to what the Center for Media and Democracy calls “fake TV news” as applied to video news releases.

“In my mind, this is a perilously close line to blur between the previously sacrosanct distance between editorial and commercial interests,” MarketingWeek opinion writer Ronan Shields wrote in a recent article. “Plus the potential damage such a practice can inflict upon the editorial integrity (in marketing speak that’s brand equity)…is quite worrying.”

Coal Baron and Major Ken Cuccinelli Campaign Donor Sues Blogger for Defamation, Invasion of Privacy

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Robert Murray, owner of the Ohio-based coal giant, Murray Energy Corporationfiled a defamation lawsuit against a prominent liberal blogger and The Huffington Post.

Filed on September 25 in Belmont County’s Court of Common Pleas, Murray’s complaint accuses Mike Stark, creator of FossilAgenda.com and Stark Reports, and The Huffington Post of defamation and invasion of privacy stemming from Mr. Stark’s September 20 article, “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign.”

Stark, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and David Halperin, former Executive Director of the Center for American Progress’ Campus Progress (now Generation Progress), pushed back this week, issuing a motion to dismiss charges to the judge-of-record for the case.

Published in the midst of the heated Virginia gubernatorial race between Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe – one of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign chairmen – Stark’s piece struck a nerve with Murray, one of Cuccinelli’s key campaign contributors.

In the piece published on The Huffington Post, Stark points to the $30,000 that Murray Energy has given Cuccinelli, as well as Robert Murray’s campaign work on behalf of 2012 Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Stark also covers Murray’s call for the impeachment of President Obama at a recent speaking engagement, along with his firing of 150 workers after Obama’s 2012 victory over Mitt Romney and the prayer he offered the U.S. public after Obama’s 2012 victory.

The rationale behind the defamation suit for Murray boils down to Stark and The HuffPost referring to Murray as an “extremist” and pointing to the firing of the 150 Murray Energy workers as a potential “fulfillment of a promise” after the 2012 presidential election.

“The Defamatory Statements…were published with malice…[and] were understood and interpreted by readers of The Huffington Post to be assertions of fact, not opinion,” says Murray’s complaint. “These false and defamatory statements have severely harmed the reputation of the Murray plaintiffs [and have] caused great mental anguish and emotional distress for Plaintiff Robert E. Murray and his family members.”

Even though defamation charges generally apply exclusively to people with a prominent public profile, like Murray, his attorneys have also doled out false light invasion of privacy charges to Stark and HuffPost, as well, implying Murray is not a public figure at all.

“Murray is neither a public figure not a limited public figure in that he has neither voluntarily sought public or media attention, nor has he achieved such a status by reason of the notoriety of his achievements,” reads the complaint.

Plaintiffs: Lost Profits, Tarnished Reputation

Of the 39 paragraphs in Murray’s defamation charge count, nine of them argue Stark and The Huffington Post have damaged Murray personally and professionally and will end up hurting his company’s profit margins.

“Publication of the Defamatory Statements has caused and will continue to cause Murray and members of [his] family to suffer great mental anguish and emotional distress,” the complaint reads. “Murray Energy’s standing in the business community as a respected corporate citizen has been damaged by the publication of the Defamatory Statements.”

For Murray, it all boils down to the possibility of the loss of cold, hard cash.

“Publication of the Defamatory Statements will cause lenders to be less willing to engage in financing transactions with the Murray Plaintiffs, thereby preventing them from gainging access to capital needed to operate their businesses or making it more difficult and expensive for them to obtain such capital,” reads the complaint. ”Publication of the Defamatory Statements will cause the Murray Plaintiffs to suffer a loss of business opportunities and loss of potential and/or existing customers for their businesses.”

In all, Murray has asked Stark and HuffPost for over $75,000 in damages, plus paying the court fees and costs of Murray’s attorneys.

Murray is represented by Kevin Anderson of Fabian & Clendenin, who sits on the Utah Mining Association’s Executive Committee, as well as by two attorneys from Murray’s in-house counsel and Mark Stemm of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur.

Stark’s Attorneys Issue Motion to Dismiss

On November 1, attorneys representing Mike Stark hit back. (The HuffPost has its own set of attorneys working on its behalf who will respond soon.)

They have requested that the judge of record for the case issue a motion to dismiss the case on its face, and offer space for a date in court to hear out an oral argument between Stark and the Murray Plaintiffs.

Stark’s motion to dismiss was brought to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, where the case has moved to from the Belmont County Court of Common Pleas. ACLU of Ohio and Halperin open up the motion to dismiss with a bang.

“Stark’s article contains no false statements of fact, nor is it misleading, nor does it place Murray in a false light,” they wrote. “More importantly, for purposes of this Motion to Dismiss, the statements in the article about which Plaintiffs complain are not assertions of fact. Rather, the Complaint takes issue only with opinions offered by Stark in the article.”

The rest of the argument tackles the distinction between a straightforward news piece and the opinion-based nature of blogs published in The Huffington Post.

Citing a litany of cases, Stark’s attorneys point to a simple fact: opinion pieces both in the state of Ohio and as enshrined by the U.S. Supreme Court are essentially legally immune from defamation suits.

“Stark is a persistent, aggressive critic of the coal industry, political conservatives, and others, and an advocate for policy reforms. Thus, the immediate context factor strongly favors viewing Stark’s statements in the article as opinion, not fact,” the attorneys argue in the motion to dismiss. “The Court may take judicial notice that the Huffington Post blog is a well-known forum for people to write opinion articles – the online equivalent of a newspaper editorial page.”

The defense also fends off Murray’s attorneys bringing a defamation suit while at the same time saying he’s not a famous individual.

“[This lacks both] factual support and it is directly contradicted by the Complaint as a whole,” argued the defense. “Murray is the well-known head of one of the country’s largest corporations, and he has, by his own admission, deliberately asserted himself into public controversies about public policy, politics, and elections.”

In order for Murray’s complaint to prevail, he must prove “actual malice” on Stark’s part, the defense argues. They don’t think Murray’s attorneys complaint passes that legal bar and therefore the case should be dismissed out of hand.

“Even if the Complaint were interpreted to allege false statements of fact, this Court should dismiss for the additional reason that Complaint does not allege any facts to support the assertion that Stark acted with actual malice, that is, with knowledge that a statement was false or with reckless disregard for whether a statement was false – the legal threshold for a defamation claim brought by a public figure,” reads the motion to dismiss.

Defamation Lawsuits as SLAPP Lawsuits

This isn’t Murray’s first time bringing a defamation lawsuit against a journalist.

Rather, it’s the continuation of a trend of using suits of this sort as a bludgeon to intimidate journalists from writing stories shedding his actions both as an individual and owner of a major coal corporation in a negative light.

TransCanada – owner of the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - has used similar legal tactics, utilizing the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) in its attempt to halt Tar Sands Blockade activists from committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience in Oklahoma and Texas in its attempt to fend off construction of Keystone XL’s southern half.

“[Murray] likely realizes that a lawsuit like this has the effect of diverting resources that a writer or activist like Mike Stark might otherwise use to expose and question the actions of Murray, Murray Energy, and the coal industry,” explained the defense. “This kind of lawsuit could also deter others from engaging in commentary and criticism about Murray and these issues.”

It’s a classic case of the “chilling effect,” with the defense noting Murray has at least two other defamation lawsuits pending in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, also filing suit in 2012 and eventually settling with prominent Charleston Gazette‎ reporter and author of the “Coal Tattoo” blogKen Ward, Jr.

“To the extent that this lawsuit may have the purpose or the effect of chilling free speech on matters of public concern, it is precisely the kind of situation the courts have sought to address,” the defense wrote in its conclusion.

Under the federal court rules, a response to a motion is due 14 days after the motion is filed, meaning Murray’s attorneys have until November 15 to rebut the defense’s motion to dismiss.

Obama Patron Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

President Obama bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett — the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 – may soon get a whole lot richer.

That’s because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making.

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett’s no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest.

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It’s through Berkshire that he’s making a killing – while simultaneously killing the ecosystem – through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett’s BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

“BNSF is the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That’s enough to light up 10 percent of the nation’s homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy,” Dickinson explained.

Beyond MidAmerican Energy, Buffett also owns the coal-burning PacifiCorp and his BNSF freight trains are largely responsible for the coal export boom unfolding in the northwest corridor of the United States.

“PacifiCorp…owns the most coal plants in the West and recently unveiled a long-term energy plan that did not include a single wind project over the next ten years,” explained a recent blog post written by the Sierra Club. “And Warren Buffett is still involved with one of the biggest coal-burning schemes of all — ongoing plans to export coal…to…Asia.”

“Buffett’s BNSF Railway would be the primary transporter of that coal, and the company has tried to get the coal export terminals approved over the objections of thousands of activists across the Pacific Northwest.”

And as his slam dunk, Buffett also has plans to convert BNSF’s freight trains to utilize fracked shale gas. He then plans to use those same shale gas-powered trains to transport fracked shale oil from North Dakota (5-percent of BNSF’s total shipments and 190,000 cars/week), a win-win for Buffett and a lose-lose for the ecosystem and the climate.

“We have a couple locomotives we’re experimenting with this year on it. The railroads are definitely experimenting with converting to natural gas,” he told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a March 2013 interview. “[Y]ou’ve got to look at converting any kind of an engine to natural gas.”

‘Tis quite the list of “dirty deeds” by the man coined the “Oracle of Omaha.” And relative to his uber-wealth – to cue up the AC/DC – they’re “done dirt cheap.” 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