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Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fight Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

8:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

oil train

Big Rail done little to halt the very terrorism threats it claims a desire to stop

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain.

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies.

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh — director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern — goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on “Bomb Trains.”

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda.

“The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied images…in order to construct an explosive device,” reads Carbaugh’s affidavit.

“Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms ‘Dakota’ and ‘Train crude oil.’”

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

“Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in ‘tipping’ or ‘toppling’ trains — that is causing their derailment,” Carbaugh wrote.

Jay Apperson, director of communications for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), told DeSmogBlog that no hearing date has been set yet for Norfolk Southern’s legal complaint nor the companion complaint filed by CSXCorporation.

In its lawsuit filed against the Maryland environment department, CSX deployed similar arguments.

Apperson says both lawsuits were redundant because “we reiterated [to both companies] that we would not release the documents under state open records law until the court challenge is resolved.”

MDE filed a response arguing such in July 25 legal motions issued to CSX and Norfolk Southern.

CSX, according to its website, does not even have any oil-by-rail lines running through Maryland.

Like Old Dominion, Like Garden State

Big Rail has used a similar approach in New Jersey, another state that has not yet publicly-disclosed oil-by-rail route information.

Lee Moore, a New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety spokesman, explained why to The Record.

“Releasing all of the records, which include the rail lines on which Bakken crude oil is being transported, would pose a homeland security risk,” said Moore.

“Clocks and Windows”

William Larkin Jr., a Republican member of the New York Senate, believes the argument put forward in both Maryland and New Jersey is flawed on its face.

“I feel that both the U.S. Department of Transportation and a number of critics seemed to have missed the point, at least the larger point,” Larkin Jr. told the Poughkeepsie Journal on July 20. “[People] already know which rail lines oil companies are utilizing. Clocks and windows provide this information.”

As reported on DeSmogBlog, Big Rail has historically shored up exemptions from “right to know” laws and they have pushed hard to keep it that way.

Security Concerns: Holes in the Story

If the rail companies have serious concerns about terrorism threats to Bakken oil trains, their recent actions call such concerns into question.

Prior to the release of the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations, Big Rail lobbied against any regulations requiring the trains to be attended at all times. And they were successful, as this is not included in the proposed regulations.

Further, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) — owned by Warren Buffet, a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama — is currently in the midst of a stand-off against organized labor. The battle centers around BNSF’s push for single person train operation, trains driven by a one-man ‘crew’ rather than the traditional two member crews.

Other ways experts have suggested to reduce risks of oil trains include lowering speed limits and stripping volatility of the oil prior to shipping via a process called stabilization.

However, prior to the release of the new proposed DOT regulations, the American Association of Railroads and the American Petroleum Institute both said two things should be off the table: train speeds and mandatory stabilization.

“Citizens for Rail Security”

Despite holes in its narrative about national security risks associated with disclosure of oil-by-rail routes, one measure some companies have taken is to create citizen volunteer security groups.

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Oil-By-Rail: A Battle Between “Right to Know” & “Need to Know”

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

BNSF Oil Train preparing to head north.

BNSF claims their oil train routes are secrets protected by law.

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they’ve learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It’s also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn’t know about it.

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren’t aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment.

Oil and rail companies know well that they can proceed with their planned expansions more easily if communities remain unaware of their plans.

And now that some states — including North Dakota — have defied their efforts to keep the public in the dark about the crude-carrying trains, the public will have a much clearer idea of what’s going on.

A case in point, DeSmogBlog recently revealed crude-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) moves up to 45 trains a week in some North Dakota counties and up to three dozen in others.

Big Rail’s Big Bluff

The rail industry has enjoyed a long history of legal protections, allowing it to operate in secrecy with regards to carrying hazardous materials. Indeed, Big Rail pushed hard to fight the release of information to the public on the transportation of Bakken crude oil.

This time around, the rail industry said that information it was compelled to give the federal government on its Bakken oil shipments under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) May 7 Emergency Order could not be released to the public under state-level open records laws.

Why? Because it fell under the category of “sensitive security information.”

In boilerplate letters and contract proposals sent to heads of State Emergency Response Commissions — one of which was obtained via Idaho’s Public Records Act by DeSmogBlog — BNSF deployed this argument.

This legal designation means BNSF and other companies could withhold information regarding the movements of Bakken crude from the public — by exempting it from state-level open records laws — and would only have to release it to the emergency response commissions.

“It is important to note that this information is subject to several restrictions on its release and exemptions from both state and federal applicable Freedom of Information laws and should only be provided to persons meeting with the appropriate need-to-knows discussed below,” BNSF wrote in its boilerplate letter.

BNSF considers this information commercial confidential and business confidential information and Security Sensitive Information pursuant to Federal law, and the documents have been marked accordingly.

But despite BNSF’s legal claims, some states have released this information in response to open records requests. And the federal government has also leaned toward advocating for greater transparency.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed by e-mail to the Sacramento Bee that the administration did not consider this information “security sensitive,” stating, “TSA has not made a finding as to whether or not information concerning the volume of crude oil train traffic or the routes used by these trains is considered security-sensitive information.

The Federal Railroad Administration also concluded information about Bakken crude was not considered sensitive security information.

Community’s Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website contains a section on right to know laws. That section opens by stating, “Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living.”

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Lee Camp Features Gen. Petraeus Oil Wars Video on “Redacted Tonight”

5:20 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Comedian Lee Camp premiered a never-before-televised video of former CIA Director General David Petraeus  — who now serves as Chairman of the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR)’s Global Institute  —  introduced in front of the North Dakota National Guard by Treasurer Kelly Schmidt at an April 29 event in Bismarck, North Dakota.

In the original video I initially obtained via Freedom of Information Act and published on YouTube, Schmidt thanked the troops at the National Guard event for fighting wars for oil “over there” so that we can all have a dependent flow of oil over here. The back-drop of Petraeus being in town was a field trip to the Bakken Shale oil fracking fields, which according to Schmidt’s short introduction, has helped make oil wars less necessary.

Televised on the second episode of his new show, “ Redacted Tonight,” Camp introduced the video, showed a small portion of it (the whole thing is close to an hour and 14 minutes) and produced a four and a half minute segment, which packs a punch, provides some good laughs and covers a lot of ground.

The oil wars video was obtained and published in part two of an ongoing investigative series published on DeSmogBlog.com about the Petraeus fracking field trip. Part three is currently being worked on and will be published soon.

For now, sit back, watch the video and stay tuned for part three of the series on DeSmogBlog.com. And if you like the video or any of the articles, please share them with your friends, family and colleagues!

US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

It’s like deja-vu, all over again.

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

A story covered only by McClatchy News‘ Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge’s Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.

That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois – located in the north central part of the state – down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama’s approval.

Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn’t require the State Department or Obama’s approval. If Keystone XL’s northern half’s permit is denied, Flanagan South – along with Enbridge’s proposal to expand itsAlberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama’s State Department during Congress’ recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline’s capacity and then some.

At issue in the District Court was the legality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 to shove through the Flanagan South (much like the Appeals Court case covered here on DeSmogBlog just weeks ago with Transcanada’s Keystone XL’s southern half, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by Transcanada).

Sierra Club and NWF argued for an injunction – or halt – in constructing and pumping tar sands through Flanagan South until the legality of issuing a Nationwide Permit 12 is decided, an issue still awaiting the decision of Judge Jackson. Like the Keystone XL southern half case, Nationwide Permit 12 was used instead of going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA – unlike the fast-track Nationwide Permit 12 - requires the EPA to issue a full draft Environmental Impact Statement and final Environmental Impact Statement, with 1-2 month public commenting periods following each Statement. EPA must take public comments into account when making its final judgments on pipeline projects.

Use of Nationwide Permit 12 has quickly become a “new normal” for fast-track approval of tar sands pipelines and other controversial domestic energy infrastructure projects.

Corporate Profits vs. Environmental Harms

Judge Jackson - an Obama appointee with a legal background predominantly in corporate law - boiled down the competing parties’ arguments into a “harms” balancing test: Enbridge’s corporate profits vs. irreparable environmental and ecological harms Enbridge’s Flanagan South may cause.

She wasted little time getting to the point, issuing her judgment denying Sierra Club’s and NWF’s injunction request by the second paragraph on the second page of the ruling. She then spent the next 58 pages giving in-depth legal justifications as to why.

“Plaintiffs have significantly overstated the breadth of federal involvement in the pipeline project and have failed to establish sufficiently that applicable federal statutes and regulations would require the extensive environmental review process that Plaintiffs seek,” Jackson wrote. “Moreover, Plaintiffs have fallen short of demonstrating that irreparable harm will result if the current construction proceeds during the pendency of this litigation, and the Court is not convinced that the balance of harms and public interest factors weigh in Plaintiffs’ favor.”

Flanagan Shrouded in Secrecy

One of the major grievances of Sierra Club and NWF had – like Sierra Club had with the Army Corps of Engineers permitting for Keystone XL’s southern half – is that Nationwide Permit 12 generally deals with small projects deemed “single and complete,” usually half an acre in size or less. Read the rest of this entry →

Friends of the Earth Sues State Department on Keystone XL FOIA Delay, DeSmog Requests White House Financial Disclosure Forms

11:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Anita Dunn

Anita Dunn – Obama advisor and TransCanada PR flack

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for failing to expedite its April 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking communications between TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline’s influence peddlers and the agency tasked to make the final decision on KXL’s northern half.

FOE’s request seeks records of communications between State – which FOE has yet to hear back from since the April expedition request denial – and a cadre of powerful lobbyists.

The most well-connected of the group is Anita Dunn, a principal at SDKnickberbocker, a senior advisor to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn – who had over 100 private meetings with the Obama Admininistration between 2009 and 2012 according to a New York Times investigation – now does public relations on behalf of TransCanada at SDKnickberbocker.

Dunn’s husband Robert “Bob” Bauer - President Obama’s personal attorney, former White House Counsel for Obama, Counsel for the Democratic National Committee and election law attorney for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign – works at a law firm that does legal work on behalf of another TransCanada-owned pipeline, Alaska’s South Central LNG.

DeSmogBlog submitted a FOIA request to the White House for the financial disclosure forms of Dunn and Bauer on July 5.

FOE’s FOIA also requested communication records between State and other lobbyists with career ties to President Obama, John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some highlights:

1.) Paul Elliott, chief lobbyist for TransCanada, a top Hillary Clinton adviser in her 2008 presidential campaign

2.) David Castagnetti of Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti, who was director of Congressional relations for Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and Brandon Pollak of Bryan Cave LLP, who also worked on Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign

3.) Gordon Giffin of Long & Albridge, a top fundraiser in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and Jim Blanchard of DLA Piper, also a top Clinton 2008 fundraiser

Making the Legal Case

FOE argues that because the decision for Keystone XL’s northern half could happen within weeks or months, an expedited request should be granted. Normally, federal-level FOIA requests can take upwards of 2-3 years, by which time President Obama will have decided the fate of Keystone XL.

“The requested information is critical because a number of the lobbyists presently advocating for the project formerly worked for Secretary of State John Kerry, or for former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton,” says the lawsuit complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal on behalf of Friends of the Earth. “In light of these relationships, the requested records would allow FoE to inform the public about the nature of the State Department’s decision-making, and the role any of these lobbyists may be playing in that process.”

In nullifying FOE’s April request for expedited FOIA filing, the State Dept. argued the request doesn’t “meet any of the established criteria” for expedition.

What though, fits the “imminent danger” concept better than a pipeline that will hasten climate disruption and cause ecological harm? With regards to “physical safety,” climate change is impacting individuals around the world right now and will only worsen as tar sands are extracted from Alberta and shipped to the export market at increasing rates.

And if anything is a plausible “substantial humanitarian” issue, climate change fits the bill.

FOE’s Hurdle: Obama’s Not-So-Hot FOIA Record

To say FOE has a major legal hurdle to clear on this lawsuit is an understatement. Though candidate Obama campaigned in 2008 to “usher in a new era of open government,” his talk has proven cheap.

“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” Daniel Metcalfe – Director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981-2007 - told Bloomberg in a Sept. 2012 article investigating Obama’s FOIA track-record.

Bloomberg further concluded the Obama Administration had “flunked the disclosure test” in his first term.

“I and many other journalists have observed that this administration, despite its public rhetoric, has repeatedly and continually been very difficult to deal with. I rate them worse than the Bush administration,” David Kay Johnston, the head of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) said on a recent episode of Democracy Now! ”They’re behaving much more like a corporation than like the people’s government.”

Tough words from Johnston, and a tough road ahead for the FOIA legal battle royale for FOE in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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State Department Admits It Doesn’t Know Keystone XL’s Exact Route

4:44 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

The generic pipeline map

The State Department’s decision to hand over control to the oil industry to evaluate its own environmental performance on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has led to a colossal oversight.

Neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor President Barack Obama could tell you the exact route that the pipeline would travel through countless neighborhoods, farms, waterways and scenic areas between Alberta’s tar sands and oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A letter from the State Department denying an information request to a California man confirms that the exact route of the Keystone XL export pipeline remains a mystery, as DeSmog recently revealed.

Generic maps exist on both the State Department and TransCanada websites, but maps with precise GIS data remain the proprietary information of TransCanada and its chosen oil industry contractors.

Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco-based photographer, author, and web developer discovered this the hard way. A year and a half after he first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the GIS data for his Keystone Mapping Project, Mr. Bachand received a troubling response from the State Department denying his request.

In the letter, the State Department admits that it doesn’t have any idea about the exact pipeline route – and that it never asked for the basic mapping data to evaluate the potential impacts of the pipeline.

Where will KXL intersect rivers or cross ponds that provide drinking water? What prized hunting grounds and fishing holes might be ruined by a spill? How can communities prepare for possible incidents?

The U.S. State Department seems confident in letting the tar sands industry – led in this instance by TransCanada, whose notorious track record with Keystone 1 includes more than a dozen spills in its first year of operation - place its pipeline wherever it wishes.

“[State] does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government,” reads the State Department’s letter denying Bachand’s information request.

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

As Mr. Bachand pointed out in a July 3 blog post: ”Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.”

When Mr. Bachand asked TransCanada for GIS data, the company said it couldn’t supply it due to “national security” concerns.

Mr. Bachand’s failed attempt to obtain basic information on the pipeline route exemplifies the recurring problems with the Obama State Department’s botched review of the environmental and climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline: huge information gaps, conflicts of interest, industry lobbying muscle and bureaucratic bungling of the process.

As it turns out, TransCanada and its contractors have complete control over critical aspects of the review process, calling into question what else we don’t know thanks to the Obama administration’s poor handling of the most controversial pipeline decision in recent history.

API Dues-Paying Member Did Latest SEIS

The State Department handed over responsibility for preparing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to an American Petroleum Institute (API) dues-paying member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) – a firm with historic ties to Big Tobacco, as well as two other Big Oil-tied contractors.

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Smoke and Mirrors: Obama DOE Fracked Gas Export Study Contractor’s Tobacco Industry Roots

4:19 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

At first, it was kept secret for months, cryptically referred to only as an “unidentified third-party contractor.”

Finally, in November 2012, Reuters revealed the name of the corporate consulting firm the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hired to produce a study on the prospective economic impacts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained – predominatly in today’s context – via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. This “prize” is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The firm: National Economic Research Associates (NERA) Economic Consulting, has a long history of pushing for deregulation. Its claim to fame: the deregulation “studies” it publishes on behalf of the nuclear, coal, and oil/gas industry – and as it turns out, Big Tobacco, too.

Alfred E. Kahn, the late “Father of Deregulation,” founded NERA in 1961 along with Irwin Stelzer, now a senior fellow and director of the right-wing Hudson Institute’s Center for Economic Policy. 

The NERA/Obama DOE LNG export economic impact study, released in early-December 2012, concluded that exporting the U.S. shale gas bounty is in the best economic interest of the country. 

This conclusion drew metaphorical hisses from many analysts, including prominent shale gas market economist and former Wall Street investor Deborah Rogers, who now maintains the blog Energy Policy Forum. Her critique cut straight to the very foundation of the study itself, stating that “economic model[s] are only as good as their inputs.”

She proceeded to explain,

In fact, it is neither difficult nor unusual for models to be designed to favor one outcome over another. In other words, models can be essentially reverse engineered. This is especially true when the models have been commissioned by industries that stand to gain significantly in monetary terms. Or government agencies which are perhaps pushing a political agenda.

Beyond its history working as a hired gun for the fossil fuel industry, NERA also has deeper historical roots producing “smoke and mirrors” studies on behalf of the tobacco industry. The long view of the firm’s past is something NERA would likely rather see “go up in smoke,” forever buried in the historical annals. But that would be a disservice to U.S. taxpayers since NERA continues to receive government contracts to produce tobacco-era disinformation to this day. 

NERA and the “Tobacco Playbook”

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