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NY Fracking Scandal: 7 Groups Demand Conflict of Interest Investigation of Cuomo Administration

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

New York could soon become the newest state in the union to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the controversial technique used to enable shale oil and gas extraction. The green light from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could transpire in as little as “a couple of weeks,” according to journalist and author Tom Wilber.  

That timeline, of course, assumes things don’t take any crazy twists or turns.

Enter a press conference today in Albany, where seven groups, including Public Citizen, Food and Water WatchFrack Action, United for ActionCatskill Citizens for Safe Energy, and Capital District Against Fracking, called for an Albany County District Attorney General investigation of the Cuomo Administration.

They are asking “whether Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has a conflict of interest between his stock investments and his involvement in the state’s decision on whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.”

Schwartz – dubbed “the ringleader” of Governor Cuomo’s administration – potentially has what these groups describe as a legal conflict-of-interest. A months-long DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Cuomo’s chief-of-staff actually has a direct financial interest in fracking going forward in New York state, potentially falling under the sphere of insider trading.  

Above and beyond Schwartz’s annual oil and gas industry stock holdings in corporations ranging from Occidental Petroleum, Williams Companies, ExxonMobil/XTO, and General Electric (GE) for the past decade, the Cuomo Administration has also held numerous meetings with lobbyists representing some of these same corporations dating back to when Cuomo assumed office in Jan. 2011, records obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) by DeSmogBlog reveal.

Dirty Details: Oil/Gas Industry Stock Holdings, Meetings with Lobbyists from Same Corporations

The details are dirty, both figuratively and literally.

A September 2012 investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) examined Schwartz’s past three financial disclosure forms. That probe revealed that he had stock holdings of $1,000+ each in Occidental, Williams, Exxon/XTO, and GE in both 2010 and 2011, respectively. All four of these corporations possess a financial stake in Cuomo approving fracking in New York.

2009 saw much of the same, a year in which Schwartz had $1,000+ in his stock portfolio invested in GE, Williams, and Burlington Resources (purchasd as a subsidiary by ConocoPhillips in 2005).

DeSmogBlog followed in the footsteps of the EWG investigation by filing both an Executive Chamber FOIL request, as well a FOIL request to Schwartz’s former employer, the Westchester County Executive Office, asking for his financial disclosure forms dating back to 2002.

That latter request revealed that Schwartz has had stock holdings in the oil and gas industry dating back to 2002. At that time he was working as chief-of-staff to then-Westchester County Executive, Andrew J. Spano.

In 2002 and 2003, Schwartz had over $1,000 in stock holdings in Chevron and GE. Until 2001, Texaco – purchased in 2000 as a subsidiary by Chevron – was headquarted in Westchester. The Westchester County Executive Chamber did not possess Schwartz’s forms for 2004 or 2005.

His 2006 filings reveal $1,000 or more in his stock portfolio invested in Burlington Resources, GE, and Williams Companies.

Records obtained from Cuomo’s Executive Chamber also revealed that lobbyists from the very corporations Schwartz has thousands of dollars of stock holdings in have earned the ear of Cuomo in the form of exclusive meetings with his high-level aides.  

One case in point: Both in April 2012 and in Sept. 2012, Williams Companies lobbyists had meetings with Cuomo aides on the status of its proposed Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture between Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and Williams Companies. That 120-mile long, 30-inch prospective pipeline, if approved, will carry gas produced in NY’s section of the Marcellus Shale to markets throughout the northeastern U.S.

The latter meeting was held between two Williams’ lobbyists – Tonio Burgos and John Charlson – and upper level Cuomo aides.

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Ed Rendell Intervened For Fracking Giant Range Resources to Stop Texas EPA Water Contamination Case

7:06 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Ed Rendell

Ed Rendell

A breaking investigation by EnergyWire appears to connect the dots between shadowy lobbying efforts by shale gas fracking company Range Resources, and the Obama EPA’s decision to shut down its high-profile lawsuit against Range for allegedly contaminating groundwater in Weatherford, TX.

At the center of the scandal sits former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the National Governors’ Association.

Just weeks ago, the Associated Press (AP) broke news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shut down the high-profile Texas lawsuit and buried an accompanying scientific report obtained during the lawsuit’s discovery phase in March 2012.

That confidential report, contracted out to hydrogeologist Geoffrey Thyne by the Obama EPA, concluded that methane found in the drinking water of a nearby resident could have originated from Range Resources’ nearby shale gas fracking operation.

Range Resources – which admitted at an industry conference that it utilizes psychological warfare (PSYOPs) tacticson U.S. citizens – launched an aggressive defense against the EPA’s allegations that the company might be responsible for contaminating resident Steve Lipsky’s groundwater.

AP explained in its investigation that resident Steve Lipsky, who has a wife and three young children, had “reported his family’s drinking water had begun ‘bubbling’ like champagne” and that his “well…contains so much methane that the…water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited.”

In response, the Obama EPA ordered Range to halt fracking. Range was non-cooperative every step of the way, refusing to comply with the legal dictates of the discovery phase and not complying with the censored water sample study implicating the company with groundwater contamination.

The new twist exposed by EnergyWire‘s Mike Soraghan is that Ed Rendell, acting “as a spokesman for Range” Resources, “proposed certain terms” to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Exactly what was said remains unclear, but the EPA ultimately dropped its case against Range.

Over a thousand pages of emails obtained by EnergyWire “offer behind-the-scenes insights in a case that has come to be seen as a major retreat by the agency amid aggressive industry push-back and support for natural gas drilling by President Obama.”

Rendell: Range’s Chosen One or Rogue Lobbyist?

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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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