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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CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period.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 →

Overseeing Koch Profits: The Roots of David Vitter’s Green Billionaires Club Report

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Caricatures of the Koch Bros.

A deeper look at the Koch Bros ties to a recent congressional report.

A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Kristina Moore, the Senate staffer listed as the author of U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) “green billionaire’s club” report published by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on July 30, has career roots tracing back to the Koch Brothers’ right-wing machine.

Metadata from Vitter’s green billionaire’s club report shows Moore’s name as the author, though it remains unclear whether or not she authored it alone. Moore did not respond to a question about her authorship sent via email.

During a July 30 presentation of the report given to conservative transparency advocacy group Cause of Action, Vitter thanked Moore and several other staffers for their help putting together the 92-page document.

Moore — EPW’s senior counsel for oversight and investigations — went to law school at George Mason University School of Law, graduating in 2007. David and Charles Koch both serve as major donors to George Mason University and also endow George Mason’s Mercatus Center, where Charles sits on the Board of Directors.

While attending law school, Moore concurrently worked as chief of staff for formerU.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), according to financial disclosure documents obtained by DeSmogBlog.

As a Davis staffer, Kristina Moore (then Kristina Husar), attended two Mercatus Center-sponsored retreats in 2006 and 2007, held in Richmond, Va. and Willamsburg, Va., respectively.

Husar served as the first Mercatus Fellow for Regulatory Studies. In February 2006, she wrote an article in the Small Business Advocate about attending the Mercatus retreat.

Originating as the Austrian Economics Program in the late-1970s and then hubbed at Rutgers University, Mercatus — latin for “markets” — has held annual congressional staff retreats from its inception, according to SourceWatch. The Center for Public Integrity pointed to the retreats as example of potentially illegal unregistered lobbying in a 2006 investigative piece.

The retreats fit under the broader umbrella of Mercatus’ “Capitol Hill Campus” program, which it devoted over $1.6 million to both in 2006 and 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 forms reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

Beyond Moore, a close look into the origins of and people behind the Vitter green billionaire’s club report show Koch brothers ties through and through.

Mercatus-Taught Oversight Techniques

Prior to working for Vitter’s EPW Committee, Moore worked for U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), serving as senior counsel for the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Issa.

The Watchdog Institute revealed in a February 2011 investigation that many of the so-called “oversight” investigations conducted by the Committee benefited corporate campaign contributors.

And many of Issa’s Oversight Committee staffers, including Moore, attended Mercatus Center staff retreats. Mercatus schooled them in oversight tactics and techniques.

“In February 2009…Issa…approved a trip to a Mercatus-funded retreat for his committee staff director, Larry Brady,” wrote The Watchdog Institute. “On his disclosure form, Brady, who did not respond to an interview request, cited the purpose of the trip: ‘Provide in-depth briefings on issues of relevance to oversight investigations.’”

Daniel Epstein’s Koch Connection

Daniel Z. Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action — which did the presser premiering the Vitter green billionaire’s club report to the U.S. public — formerly served as counsel for Issa’s Oversight Committee before launching Cause of Action.

Epstein, who worked alongside Moore for the Oversight Committee’s investigations team, introduced Vitter at the event.

On the day of the release and the day after the release of the report, Cause of Action published four different items on its website promoting it, including issuing a public statement.

According to a 2009 article appearing in The Hill, Epstein served as “an associate in legal reform at the Koch Foundation, working together with Koch Industries Inc.’s assistant general counsel.”

“The job was an interesting mixture of corporate culture with an emphasis on social change — I miss that synergy,” he told The Hill at the time.

On his personal website, Epstein lists that 2008-2009 gig as “Counsel, Legal Reform at CGKF.” CGKF is shorthand for the Charles G. Koch Foundation and an in the Marin Independent Journal confirms Epstein worked there from June 2008 through January 2009.

Beyond Koch ties, Epstein also has personal financial ties that may make him averse to environmental regulations.

financial disclosure form submitted by Epstein when he worked for Issa’s Oversight Committee shows that he had (or still has) personal investments in both Dominion Resources and Duke Energy.

Both of those companies stand to lose from President Barack Obama’s U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coal-fired power plant regulations, as both Dominion and Duke own coal-fired power plant assets.

“God bless the Koch brothers”

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Documents: MD County Housing First East Coast LNG Export Facility Signs Non-Disclosure Deal

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD. The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland’s Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

“We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion’s interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

Details of the Non-Disclosure Agreement

The six-page non-disclosure agreement explains Calvert County “desires to participate in discussions regarding Calvert County property tax credits. During these discussions, [Dominion] may share certain proprietary information with the [county].”

What’s confidential? According to the non-disclosure agreement,

… any data or information…not generally known to the public, whether in tangible or intangible form, and meeting the requirements for mandatory denial of inspections pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act…whenever and however disclosed, including, but not limited to: (i) marketing strategies, plans, financial information, or projections, operations, sales estimates, business plans and performance results relating to the past, present or future business activities of such party, its affiliates, subsidiaries and affiliated companies; (ii) plans for products or services, and customer supplier lists; (iii) any scientific or technical information, invention, design, process, procedure, formula, improvement, technology or method; (iv) any concepts, reports, data, know-how, works-in-progress, designs, development tools, specifications, computer software, source code, object code, flow charts, databases, inventions, information and trade secrets; and (v) any other information that should reasonably be recognized as confidential information of [DCP].

In a statement provided to DeSmogBlog, Calvert County Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt, Jr. said it would be the “height of naiveté” to think a government would not sign a non-disclosure agreement in this type of situation, given the stakes involved.

“When businesses have contractual concerns, and meet with elected officials in a lawful duly authorized executive session to discuss expansion of a business, I honor my responsibility to not convey what was discussed in such a session,” he said. “Citizens expect no less of that from us.”

Non-Disclosure Agreements “Normal Part of Negotiations”

The use of non-disclosure agreements by local governments is not unprecedented. Some cases in point:

Queried about Dominion’s non-disclosure agreement with Calvert County, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle told DeSmogBlog such agreements are “a routine, normal part of negotiations involving multi-billion dollar economic development projects.”

“Companies and counties often use non-disclosure agreements because they each need to share business-sensitive, confidential information that cannot be shared with other businesses or counties for competitive reasons,” Norvelle said. “The result this time around is certainty for both Dominion and the county.”

U.S. Congressmembers Decline Comment

Asked for comment on the agreement on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog, Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) declined to comment, as did U.S. Rep. and Democratic Party Whip Steny Hoyer.

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Congressmen Supporting Fracked Gas Exports Took $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

south texas oil

South Texas Oil Refinery

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy’s (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers – is in the best economic interests of the United States.

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories’ coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occurring.

Exhibit A: Human Geography of Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United

Energy issues are almost always questions of infrastructure, geography, and geopolitics. So too is the case of LNG exports, with this letter serving as Exhibit A of the new human geography of campaign finance in the post-Citizens United world.

Texas

The expression always seems to ring true: everything is bigger in Texas.

This letter is no different, as 19 of the 110 signatories represent congressional districts in The Lone Star State, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. Texas is home to both the Eagle Ford Shale basin and the Barnett Shale basin, as well as prospective LNG export terminals in Sabine Pass (co-owned by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum), Freeport (partially owned by ConocoPhillips) and Corpus Christi (owned by LNG export giant, Cheniere).

The “Texas 19″ alone raked in $2.5 million from Big Oil and electric utilities. 

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX8), a recipient of $166,000 from Big Oil and another $23,000 from the electric utilities industry, oversees a congressional district in part based in Houston, the corporate epicenter for the oil and gas industry and home to the innovative leader in the sphere of LNG exports, Cheniere Energy. ExxonMobil and Chesapeake Energy, the number one and two producers of unconventional gas in the U.S., each gave Brady $10,000 before his 2012 electoral victory. Anadarko, Marathon and Valero also followed suit with $10,000 contributions and ConocoPhillips chipped in an extra $7,500.

Brady’s Texas colleague Joe Barton (R-TX6), whose congressional district in large part overlaps the Barnett Shale basin, took $162,150 from Big Oil and another $124,950 from the electric utilities industry. He received $13,000 from utilities giant Exelon Corporation, $12,500 from ExxonMobil, $10,000 from Koch Industries, $7,000 from Chevron and $5,000 from Chesapeake Energy. Koch Industries’ Koch Pipeline runs from the Eagle Ford Shale basin to Corpus Christi.

The Dirty, Dirty South

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