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Meeting Logs: Obama Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

8:53 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The exploding CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia owned by Plains All American was on its way to the Yorktown facility. Yorktown has been marked a potential export terminal if the ban on exporting U.S. oil is lifted.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations.

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House.

A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRAhas held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.

“Cost-Benefit”: A Brief History

OIRA was created in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan with the goal of getting rid of “intrusive” regulations.

“By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency…a virtual choke point for federal regulation,” explains theCenter for Progressive Reform, a think-tank critical of OIRA and its cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis was put on the map by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, “regulatory czar” and head of OIRA for President Barack Obama before Shelanski. Read the rest of this entry →

Report Shows Fracking in PA Poisoning Communities as Floodgates Open for Drilling on Campuses, Public Parks

6:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

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(Photo: Marcellus Protest/flickr)

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Pennsylvania recently passed Act 147 – also known as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act - opening up the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on the campuses of its public universities. As noted in a recent post by DeSmog, the shale gas industry hasn’t limited Version 2.0 of “frackademics” to PA’s campuses, but is also fracking close to hundreds of K-12 schools across the country, as well.

We noted the devastating health consequences of fracking close to a middle school/high school in Le Roy, New York, where at least 18 cases of Tourette Syndrome-like outbreaks have been reported by its students. This has moved Erin Brockovich‘s law firm to investigate the case, telling USA Today, “We don’t have all the answers, but we are suspicious. The community asked us to help and this is what we do.”

Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability‘s just-published report, “Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania, makes the case that the decision to allow fracking on PA’s campuses has opened up a Pandora’s Box stuffed with a looming health quagmire of epic proportions.

The health survey and environmental testing conducted by Earthworks took place between Aug. 2011 and July 2012 and the report opens by stating, “Where oil and gas development goes, health problems often follow.” The summary report explains, “Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before—indicating the strong possibility that they are occurring because of gas development.”

Surveying 108 residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties, the report found ”that those living closer to gas facilities reported higher rates of symptoms of impaired health.”

Earthworks reports,

[W]hen facilities were 1500-4000 feet away, 27 percent of participants reported throat irritation; this increased to 63 percent at 501-1500 feet and to 74 percent at less than 500 feet. At the farther distance, 37 percent reported sinus problems; this increased to 53 percent at the middle distance and 70 percent at the shortest distance. For severe headaches, 30 percent reported them at the farther distance, but about 60 percent at the middle and short distances.

And how about the health impacts of fracking for young people, who will be attending the K-12 schools and universities set to be situated right next to where drilling is set to occur?

“Surveyed children averaged 19 health symptoms, including some that seem atypical in the young, such as severe headaches, joint pain, and forgetfulness,” wrote Earthworks. ”Among all the survey respondents, it was children living within 1500 feet of facilities who had the highest occurrence of frequent nosebleeds (56%),” also noting severe throat irritation as a reported ailment by 69-percent of people younger than the age of 16.

Schools and campuses, of course, require fresh running water to drink and use for other purposes such as showers for lockers rooms, as well as water for students to wash their hands with in the bathroom. Fresh air to breath in, as opposed to the alternative, is also always a plus.

That being the case, the water and air tests conducted by Earthworks demonstrate that students, teachers, professors, faculty and staff should be on high alert, to say the least.

“More than half of the water well samples had elevated levels of methane and some had iron, manganese, arsenic, and lead at levels higher than the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) set by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP),” the report stated. “All of the air samples were taken in rural and residential areas; in several, higher levels of the BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, which are known carcinogens) were detected, as compared to samples taken by the DEP in 2010.”

Pennsylvania For Sale, Open for Bidding To the Oil and Gas Industry

It’s a dim outlook in PA to put it mildly, with a recent cherry on the top: Anadarko Petroluem Corporation is in the midst of “talks” with PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about fracking in the Rock Run area, site of a state-owned park. Republican Governor Tom Corbett recently fired the Director of its state parks system, John Norbeck, who was diametrically opposed to fracking in PA’s parks.

“Pennsylvania…[is] forging ahead with oil and gas development without considering the public interest,” said Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus Shale Organizer for Earthworks, in a press release. “That needs to change. And they can start by refusing to permit new drilling until regulators can assure the public that they’ve taken all necessary to steps to prevent risks to their health.”

It’s a nice thought in theory.

But the current reality in Pennsylvania under the Corbett Administration is far darker, with whatever’s left of the state’s public assets currently being auctioned off for fracking - in what author and activist Naomi Klein described as “shock doctrine” fashion - to the oil and gas industry’s highest bidders.

Photo CreditGlynnis Jones | Shutterstock