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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

1:33 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Flag against a blue sky: Green Port Long Beach

The “Green” Port of Long Beach will now export millions of tons of pollutants per year.

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary.

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing.

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City’s leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

But the Long Beach City Council voted “nay” in unanimous fashion to do the environmental impact study. Earthjustice had argued it was required to do an environmental review under the legal dictates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“It’s disappointing that the City would turn a blind eye to even doing some basic analysis of the impacts of this decision to lock into 15 years of exporting dirty fuels abroad,” said Martinez.

“More than 100 residents showed up at the August 19 hearing to support pausing this deal and are deeply concerned about how climate change and pollution from exporting dirty fuels impacts them and future generations.”

Adding insult to injury, Sierra Club endorsed Vice Mayor and City Council member Suja Lowenthal in her Democratic Party primary race for State Assembly, which she recently lost.

The floodgates have been opened, then, to export massive amounts of coal and petcoke from the self-styled “Green Port.”

It comes at a time when numerous California refineries are retooling themselves to blend more tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), which gets to the Golden State mainly via rail.

Further, it happens at the same time critics say the Obama Administration is exporting climate change by exporting coal abroad — often to countries without any meaningful regulations — even as his administration regulates U.S.-based coal-fired power plants.

Union, Oxbow Representatives Oppose Enviro Review

While the majority of those who testified at the August 19 hearing before the Long Beach City Council voted spoke in favor of doing an environmental impact statement, several industry executives and union workers spoke out against it.

“First and foremost, you should know the facilities on Pier G are world-class operations that set the bar for environmental excellence in our industries. We are very proud of what we do here with the port,” Clayton Headley, Oxbow’s vice president of supply for the Pacific region stated at the hearing.

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Court: Key Environmental Law Doesn’t Apply to Part of Enbridge Keystone XL “Clone”

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

A judge's gavel

A judge just ruled federal law doesn’t apply to this pipeline firm.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that Enbridge’s 600-mile-long Flanagan South Pipeline, a Keystone XL “clone,” is legally cleared to proceed opening for business in October.

Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a controversial regulatory mechanism called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, an Obama-appointed judge, ruled NWP 12 was not a federal government “action.” Thus, Brown posited that Enbridge did not need to use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulatory process and NWP12 was up to snuff.

The case pitted the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) against the Army Corps of Engineers and Enbridge and has lasted for just over a year, with the initial complaint filed on August 13, 2013 (Case #: 1:13-cv-01239-KBJ).

Sierra Club and NWF submitted the recent precedent-setting Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case as supplemental authority for Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the day that decision was handed down.

But Jackson brushed it aside, saying it doesn’t apply to Flanagan South, despite the fact that the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision said that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive NEPA review.

Although Enbridge will operate this project as a single pipeline, Flanagan South was broken up into thousands of “single and complete” projects by the Army Corps of Engineers. This helped Enbridge skirt the requirement of a more comprehensive and public-facing NEPA review, which involves public hearings and a public comment period.

“Here, not only was there no NEPA analysis of this massive project, there was never any public notice or opportunity for involvement before it was constructed across four states,” Sierra Club attorney for the case, Doug Hayes, told DeSmogBlog. “The entire thing was permitted behind closed doors.”

For all intents and purposes, then, Flanagan South is a fait accompli and tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) will begin pumping through it as summer turns to fall.

Private Company, Hands-Off Approach

At 48-pages, Jackson’s ruling centers around a key central argument: Enbridge is a private company and Congress has never given executive agencies the green light to regulate domestic oil pipelines.

“Congress has not authorized the federal government to oversee the construction of private domestic oil pipelines; consequently, Enbridge has undertaken to build the planned [Flanagan South] Pipeline largely on its own, primarily by securing easements from the landowners who own the property over which the pipeline will operate,” wrote Jackson.

Judge Jackson said that a laissez-faire governmental approach to authorizing pipelines is appropriate, according to her reading of the law on the books.

“[T]he gist of the Court’s conclusion is that Plaintiffs are wrong to insist that any federal agency had an obligation under NEPA or any other statute to conduct an environmental review of the impact of the entire [Flanagan South] Pipeline before Enbridge broke ground on the project,” she opined.

“Connected Action” Doctrine

Another key legal precedent discussed in Jackson’s ruling was Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC, covered by DeSmogBlog in June.

She weighed the merits of the “connected action” doctrine as applied to a lack ofNEPA review for Flanagan South, writing it does not apply to the pipeline because the Army Corps of Engineers has no obligation to do a NEPA review in this case.

“In [Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC] the connected actions rule applied because the courts were required to assess whether the agencies had improperly limited the scope of the review of actions within their own jurisdiction—a determination that is fundamentally different from the question Plaintiffs present here, i.e., whether [NEPA] must be expanded to include an environmental review of actions completely outside the agencies’ purview,” Jackson wrote.

Army Corps Abusing NWP 12?

Hayes told DeSmogBlog back in November that the Army Corps of Engineers’ intricate involvement in permitting massive tar sands pipeline projects is at the root of the problem.

“The Corps is abusing the nationwide permit program. Nationwide permits were intended to permit categories of projects with truly minimal impacts, not tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states,” said Hayes. “What the Corps is doing is artificially dividing up these massive pipelines, treating them as thousands of individual projects to avoid NEPA compliance.”

Congress Passed NEPA in 1969

The greatest irony of Jackson’s decision is that Congress passed NEPA — known by legal scholars as the “environmental Magna Carta“ — in 1969, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.

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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 →

Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

1:04 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

TransCanada’s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada‘s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials.

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Proponents and Opponents Respond

Twitter has been abuzz since rumors of the announcement started swirling and many prominent individuals with a stake in the fight have already chimed in.

“Keystone XL delay further proof that State Department has bungled this process and has no business overseeing environmental reviews,” tweeted Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner Ross Hammond.

Bill McKibben — whose organization 350.org led the civil disobedience Tar Sands Action in summer 2011 that put the Keystone XL and tar sands on the map for many — also responded.

It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time–that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it. While we’re at it, the State Department should also request that physics delay heat-trapping operations for a while, and that the El Nino scheduled for later this spring be pushed back to after the midterms. One point is clear: without a broad and brave movement, DC would have permitted this dumb pipeline in 2011. So on we go.

Elijah Zarlin, CREDO’s senior campaign manager, said: “It is deeply disappointing that Secretary Kerry and President Obama can’t yet muster the courage to stand up to the oil industry and reject Keystone XL. Still, this is yet another defeat for TransCanada, tar sands developers like the Koch Brothers, and oil-soaked politicians. No doubt, the nearly 100,000 people who have pledged to risk arrest to stop Keystone XL played a key role in pushing the administration to more accurately consider the full impact of this project – which must clearly result in rejection. No delays will diminish our commitment to stopping Keystone XL.”

On the other side, Fox News referred to the decision as a “Friday News Dump” and the Koch Brothers-funded American Energy Alliance (AEA) tweeted, “Most had never even heard of @justinbieber back when @TransCanada applied for #KeystoneXL permits,” alluding to the fact Keystone XL has now been up for debate for five years.

Industry-funded Energy in Depth spokesman Steve Everly echoed AEA.

“It took the U.S. less than 4 years to win two theaters in World War II,” stated Everly. “It’s been five years and we can’t approve a metal pipe.”

One thing’s for certain: the prospective pipeline will likely become a major politico “hot potato” in the months leading up to the November 2014 elections. Read the rest of this entry →

Citing DeSmogBlog Series, “FrackNation” Screening Cancelled by MN Film Festival

4:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

FrackNation,” the documentary film about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) with close conservative movement ties, recently had its showing cancelled at Winona, Minnesota’s annual Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF).

Citing DeSmogBlog‘s two-part investigative series published in May 2013 on “FrackNation,” FRFF Director Mike Kennedy told the Winona Post his rationale for cancelling the film is that it was, “pretty apparent they were paid to make these movies to counter Gasland [Part II].”

“DeSmogBlog.com appears to be the main source of allegations that ‘FrackNation’ was industry-funded,” wrote the Post. “DeSmogBlog claims connections between [film Co-Director Phelim] McAleer and conservative groups, industry groups help[ing] promote the film after its was made, and the fact that McAleer directed an industry-funded documentary in the past, as proof that ‘FrackNation’ is cut from the same cloth.”

The cancellation has caused a major kerfuffle in conservative media circles, covered by outlets ranging from Fox News, Fox BusinessThe Blaze TVTown Hall, Watchdog.orgHot Air and others.

FrackNation issued a press statement in response to the cancellation, spawning the conservative media backlash. 

“The film festival organizers seem to hate alternative points of view, they seem to want to quash diversity. They seem to be scared of the truth,” McAleer said in the press statement. “Basically the Frozen River Film Festival organizers have given in to bullying and taken the easy way out and censored a film that might offend environmental elites who think they know best.”

But an email exchange** provided by film festival organizers to DeSmogBlog shows, far from a case of censorship, “FrackNation” did not agree to the standard operating procedure for screening the film. In turn, festival organizers decided they wouldn’t screen it.

“FrackNation” Rises to Prominence

Co-Directed by Magdalena Segieda, Ann McElhinney and McAleer, “FrackNation” came out a few months before the release of Josh Fox’s “Gasland: Part II” and around the same time as Gus Van Sant’s Hollywood film critical of fracking, “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon.

Since its release, “FrackNation” has done many screenings nationwide for state-level Americans for Prosperity (AFP) groups. AFP is a front group founded and bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch. It’s also done many screenings for oil and gas industry trade associations.

“FrackNation” also played in front of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in February 2013, which Dave Weigel of Slate reported ”around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress” attended.

In contrast, Josh Fox was arrested at the same Committee’s hearing a month earlier while filming for his then upcoming film for “unlawful entry.”

Missing Context: “FrackNation” Snubs Festival Screening Terms

McAleer’s claim is that “FrackNation” has been bludgeoned into silence by the FRFF organizers.

“What country am I living in?,” he asked rhetorically in an interview with the Winona Post. “I thought that this was America. I thought that people actually appreciated dissent.”

But that’s not the whole story, according to FRFF organizers, who said it’s the festival’s standard operating procedure that film representatives come for post-film discussions and question-and-answer sessions.

“Upon original acceptance we stated that a filmmaker attend with the film and join in a moderated public forum, as engagement is an important part of our mission,” reads a press release they posted on Facebook about canceling the film’s screening. “We offered to pay travel and lodging to anyone from the film who could attend. They declined to send someone, so we will not be screening the film.”

FRFF provided DeSmogBlog the email exchange between Festival Director Crystal Hegge and “FrackNation” co-director Magdalena Segieda outlined in FRFF’s press release.

“Is there anyone associated with the film that could come to the festival?,” Hegge asked in a December 19 email. “If no one from the film can come to the festival I may have to rethink my arrangement because there will be a lot of dead time in this particular theater without a Q&A or panel.”

Segieda responded, but didn’t address the possibility of the “FrackNation” screening being canceled if a film spokesperson couldn’t attend the festival.

“Unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come,” wrote Segieda in a December 20 email. ”Let me know when you set the the time, I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”

FRFF told DeSmogBlog it had a local frac sand industry sponsor give $1,000 to the film festival to support a member of the “FrackNation” team coming to the film festival.

But after Segieda informed Hegge that “FrackNation” couldn’t comply with FRFP’s request that they participate in a post-screening panel and after “FrackNation” asked for $10,000 from the sponsor according to Kennedy, the sponsor pulled out. From there, it was game over for screening the film at FRFF.

Initially, Kennedy envisioned a “Super Bowl” of fracking documentaries to take place at FRFF, with a debate between to ensue between McAleer and Fox. Fox couldn’t make it out.

But in his place, Calvin Tillman — the former Mayor of Dish, Texas featured in the second “Gasland” — will be on-site as a representative and speaker for the film, according to Kennedy. 

Film Fest Organizers Not Backing Down

Despite the backlash by the “FrackNation” team, FRFF organizers say they won’t back down.

They told the Winona Post, “true documentaries are independently funded,” pointing out that its role model film festivals, Telluride Mountain Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival have both also snubbed “FrackNation” and concluded, “there is a growing national consensus that the film does not qualify as a documentary.”

In place of screening “FrackNation,” FRFF is hosting a forum titled “Documentaries Today: My Fact Your Fiction,” which will center around the fine line between factual documentary film and propaganda documentary-style film.

Asked if he thought the post-cancellation was manufactured and deceptive, Kennedy told DeSmogBlog, “let’s just say it was likely well thought out and coordinated and leave it there.”

**Update**: In an email interview with “FrackNation” Co-Director Magdalena Segieda, DeSmogBlog has learned additional emails were exchanged (published here with Segieda’s permission) after December 20 between the film festival coordinators and Segieda.

These emails weren’t included in the initial batch sent to DeSmogBlog by the festival organizers. In a January 7 email, Film Festival Director Crystal Hegge informed Segieda the film screening would be at 10:00 AM on January 26.

“Thanks – do you have a laurel by any chance so I can start promoting the screening on our social media?,” Segieda wrote in response to Hegge’s email.

After Hegge told Segieda all she had was a “generic laurel,” on January 10, a week passed. Then, according to the email exchange provided to DeSmogBlog by Segieda, Hegge emailed Segieda to say they had to cancel the screening a week later on January 17.

“I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival,” Hegge wrote. “Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant. Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”

It didn’t take long for Segieda to respond.

“But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media,” Segieda wrote less than ten minutes later in a response email. “I have also just finished create (sic) a promo poster attached here and was going to push it out over the next couple of days.”

Asked about the discrepency in the story versions between the two camps, Phelim McAleer provided this statement to DeSmogBlog:

It is unfair that the Frozen River Film Festival has cancelled the FrackNation screening and misrepresented the true situation in the media. I think its clear that they have caved to political pressure and as a result there will not be diversity of opinion and ideas at the festival. This is not what a film festival should be about.

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 →

Keystone XL Scandal: Obama Attorney’s Law Firm Represents TransCanada’s Pipeline in Alaska

11:30 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Bob Bauer

Obama Attorney Robert Bauer works for TransCanada’s law firm.

DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel and President Barack Obama’s personal attorney, works at the corporate law firm Perkins Coie LLP, which does legal work for TransCanada’s South Central LNG Project, formerly known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project.

Furthermore, Dan Sullivan, current Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, and former Alaska Attorney General and former Assistant Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, is a former Perkins attorney.

These findings come in the immediate aftermath of a recent investigation revealing the contractor hired by Obama’s U.S. State Department to do the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) - lied on its June 2012 conflict-of interest filing. ERM Group checked the box on the form saying it had no current business ties to TransCanada.

In fact, ERM - a member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since 2008 - does maintain business ties to TransCanada, the investigation revealed. This includes an ongoing consulting relationship with South Central LNG, co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.

Under 18 USC § 1001, making a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation…[to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States” is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

On top of his job at Perkins Coie, Bauer – a well-known architect of bending campaign finance law to allow more corporate money to flood into electoral races – served as general counsel to President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He also serves as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee and did electoral law work for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

His wife, Anita Dunn is the co-owner of SDKnickerbocker, former Obama Communications Director, senior advisor for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and is the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. She’s met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation.

Dunn currently does public relations work on behalf of TransCanada and freight rail industry lobbying group, American Association of Railroads (AAR). The tar sands pipeline boom comes alongside a freight rail boom to carry tar sands crude and fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.

“ERM lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form, and State was either asleep at the wheel or chose to look the other way,” FOE’s Ross Hammond told The Washington Post in a recent piece commenting on ERM’s “Pinocchio moment.”

Given the myriad ties that bind, “looking the other way” appears more plausible.

Perkins Coie’s Legal Bidding for Democrats, TransCanada AK Gas Pipeline Project

Perkins Coie is a global firm with 19 offices worldwide and maintains close ties to the Democratic Party above and beyond Bob Bauer.

Bauer’s colleague Mark Ellis, for example, does legal work on behalf of the “Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Associations and numerous U.S. senators and representatives and their campaigns,” according to his Perkins Coie biography.

The Oil and Gas legal work portion of Perkins’ website highlights its legal work in Alaska.

“In Alaska, our lawyers have long represented leading oil and gas companies on the North Slope and the Cook Inlet…We are extensively involved in efforts to develop the Point Thomson field and commercialize Alaska’s natural gas resources with a pipeline to Lower 48 markets.”

The “efforts to…commercialize Alaska’s natural gas resources with a pipeline to Lower 48 markets” that Perkins’ website refers to is the South Central LNG Project co-owned by TransCanada.

map on the original Alaska Gas Pipeline Project website depicts the route: 

“The project is designed to connect Alaska’s North Slope natural gas resources to new markets and deliver a reliable and secure source of clean burning energy for decades to come,” explain TransCanada and ExxonMobil on the original Alaska Gas Pipeline Project website. “TransCanada and ExxonMobil have the expertise, experience, and financial capability to develop what would be one of the largest privately funded energy projects in the history of North America.”

Before providing legal aide to South Central LNG, Perkins helped the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) - co-owned by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron and often referred to as the Alyeska Pipeline - get up and running. TAPS takes oil from the Alaska North Slope to the Valdez Marine Terminal, home of the Exxon Valdez spill.

Perkins’ legal aide, in fact, made TAPS a reality according to an interview appearing online with Perkins’ veteran attorney Guy Martin. Martin was instrumental in opening Perkins’ office focusing on Alaska in Washington DC.

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FrackNation Part Two: The Koch Astroturf Ties That Bind

9:12 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Gasland Promo image

Gasland Part 2 is under fire from an competing astro-turf documentary.

Part one of the DeSmogBlog investigation of FrackNation - a film made in response to Gasland 2 – honed in on the past track records and funding streams of co-directors Phelim McAller and Ann McElhinney.

We revealed that Donors Trust/Donors Capital - the “dark money ATM of the right” – partially funded their first two films, Mine Your Own Business and Not Evil, Just Wrong.

We also revealed that Not Evil, a climate change denial documentary, was utilized by a partner of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) to push the Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE) campaign.

That campaign calls for a “balanced” scientific teaching of the climate change “controversy” and parallels ones pushed for via an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, by the Discovery Institute, and by the Heartland Institute.

Yet, what about FrackNation? Who bankrolled it and are the screenings and is the tour really a grassroots endeavor?

It might seem that way based on its marketing, but as Jean de La Fontaine once said, “Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance.”

Grassroots or Astroturf? Follow the Email List

Interested in where FrackNation and its film-making team are getting their funding from, I signed up for its email list. In so doing, I learned that Market Aces LLC runs it.

“From the start, Market Aces had a vision to offer low-cost website development solutions to small businesses and a niche market within the political and non-profit sector – but only those who are dedicated to protecting the American Dream and freedom,” its website reads.

Market Aces LLC shares an office with The Leadership Institute (LI).

According to LI’s website, it “teaches conservative Americans how to influence policy through direct participation, activism, and leadership.” Its website also explains that “since 1979, [it] has trained more than 119,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students.”

Playing by API’s Employee Advocacy Playbook?

Beyond getting email list building help from one of the key “feeder” nodes in the right-wing network, it’s also questionable how many of the funders of FrackNation were of the grassroots variety. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained,

[T]he roster of “executive producers” who have donated at least $1 includes scores of energy industry associates. The filmmakers said Thursday they plan to return any donations given by “senior” workers in the industry, which they define as executives.

Among those who donated money to the KickStarter campaign: ”the director of an Ohio-based oil and gas outreach program and the head of external affairs at Cabot Oil and Gas, the company that’s fought accusations of water contamination in Dimock, Pa., for the past several years,” according to the Post-Gazette.

Within four weeks of the Kickstarter fundraising campaign’s launch, FrackNation had already raised over $150,000, raising over $22,000 in the first two days of fundraising.

Perhaps FrackNation is playing by the American Petroleum Institute‘s employee advocates’ “corporate citizen” playbook.

In a presentation given at an industry PR conference attended by DeSmogBlog in Houston, TX titled, “Educating Employees On Key Issues To Encourage Brand Management Energy Nation: Empowering Employee Advocates,” API’s Director of External Mobilization Tara Anderson explained how – in essence – to create an armada of fracking advocates from within the employee base of oil and gas corporations.

“Employees are the best brand ambassador you can come by…The most important principle to remember is to create a culture of advocacy,” she said in Houston. “This is really a community that regularly communicates and engages in the political process. It gives them all the necessary tools and empowers them to get involved and make a difference.”

This may explain why the film not only raised money with such rapidity, but also has full industry backing for its nationwide tour

FrackNation Tour’s Americans for Prosperity Pitstops

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Keystone XL Scandal: Obama State Dept. Hid Contractor’s TransCanada Ties

3:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

No KXL sign in front of cops

Protester at Valero HQ in DC. Activists committed acts of civil disobedience at the White House and other Tar Sands-related sites on March 21, 2013.

Mother Jones has a breaking investigation out on another scandal pertaining to the Obama State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

The skinny: the firm that DeSmogBlog revealed has historical ties to Big Tobacco and currently has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips and BP, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group, also has a direct connection to TransCanada itself. ERM Group -DeSmog revealed - also rubber-stamped the controversial and environmentally hazardous Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline in 2003, which carries oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia and eventually makes its way to Ceyhan, Turkey.

Andy Kroll summed it up, writing,

ERM’s second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.

Embarassed by this act of blatant corruption, the State Department redacted the “biographies” portion of its EIS, an overt attempted cover-up. Mother Jones  tracked down a non-redacted version, revealing the ties that bind the study to the corporation the EIS is technically supposed to stand independent of.

Bielakowski’s ties, coming full circle, are a logical next step in the story.

Brad Johnson, writing for Grist, revealed that the State Department actually allowed TransCanada to hire a contractor on its behalf. TransCanda, of course, went to a go-to-guy who can “deliver the goods.”

“Delivering the goods,” of course, has little to do with delivering good science and is yet another act of deploying the Tobacco Playbook: make a one-sided scientific debate a farcical two-sided one.

Last time around the block, the State Department pulled the same trick, contracting the EIS out to Cardno Entrix, a contractor which lists TransCanada as one of its clients. Flying in the face of reality, a State Department Inspector General report concluded there was no evidence of conflict of interest or bias in the State Department’s review.

The Keystone XL will carry tar sands crude – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” – from the Alberta tar sands project down to refineries in Port Arthur, TX. From there, it will be shipped to the global market. The export pipeline facts on the ground fly in the face of Big Oil’s often-deployed “gaining energy independence” charm offensive.

A final decision by President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry is expected on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the next few months.

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Three States Pushing ALEC Bill To Require Teaching Climate Change Denial In Schools

7:23 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - known by its critics as a “corporate bill mill” – has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing “models bills” mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.

January hasn’t even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its ”Environmental Literacy Improvement Act“ - which mandates a “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year.

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act“ in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states, an undeniable form of “big government” this “free market” organization decries in its own literature.

ALEC’s ”model bills” are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key - though far from the only - vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda through in the states.

A Frankenstein Co-Created with Heartland Institute

DeSmogBlog investigation last year found that the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act’s origins date back to 2000.

The Act’s creation is directly connected to the ongoing efforts of another corporate-funded group, the Heartland Institute – of “Heartland Institute Exposed” fame – a group well plugged into the climate change denial machine.

ALEC’s Natural Resources Task Force, now known as its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, adopted this model at a time when the Task Force was headed by Sandy Liddy Bourne. Bourne, who served in this capacity from 1999-2004, would eventually ascend to the role of Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC in 2004.

Upon leaving ALEC in 2006, Bourne become Heartland’s Vice President for Policy Strategy. Today she serves as Executive Director of the American Energy Freedom Center, an outfit she co-heads with Arthur G. Randol. Randol is a longtime lobbyist and PR flack for ExxonMobil, a corporation which endowed the climate change denial machine for years.

Heartland’s website still lists Bourne as one of its “experts,” stating that ”Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent.”

Importantly, Heartland is still a member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force that originally passed the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.

According to internal documents leaked to and published by DeSmogBlog in Feb. 2012, Heartland obtained funding for a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms” project beginning in 2012. This curriculum aims to teach that there “is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather.”

If this sounds similar to ALEC’s model bill, it should, given the fact that the two outfits share funding from the same honey pot. In fact, Heartland actively promotes the ALEC model on its website.

Model Bill Introduced in OK, CO, and AZ
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