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Report: Obama Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

3:40 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large.

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean’s Magazine and Bloomberg BNA.

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama’s Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Dirty Details

Some of the numbers crunched by Greenpeace USA make the jaw drop.

For example, one chart shows the amount of coal leased by the BLM during Obama’s time in the White House. During that time, the BLM has leased off billions of tons of coal from Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone.

As Greenpeace points out, “This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 825 million passenger vehicles, and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012.”

Further, in crunching the numbers on the social cost of carbon metrics, Greenpeace estimates producing all of this BLM-leased coal will cause between $52-$530 billion in damages.

recent major, precedent-setting federal court decision chided BLM for not taking the social cost of carbon into account in leasing out a plot of land for coal production. It remains unclear whether or not this will impact BLM’s future coal leasing activities, however.

Germany’s “Clean Break” or Greenwashing?

Interestingly and perhaps shockingly to many, much of this coal is being exported to Germany, home of what some have hailed the epicenter of the global green energy revolution. Though German coal mining is going by the wayside, imports are rising.

“German coal mining has been a dying tradition. The government will end subsidies in 2018, effectively killing it,” explained the Associated Press story.

“However, Germany is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power. Five German coal plants have been built since 2008, and more are coming…The result: In 2013, Germany’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 1.2 percent.”

Dirk Jansen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth-Germany, called the situation at-large tantamount to “greenwashing” in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn’t help the global climate at all if Obama’s carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany.”

Beyond Obama, though, it raises equally troubling questions about just how “clean” Germany’s clean break will be when all is said and done.

DeSmogBlog First to Publish North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes

9:40 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A BNSF train engine heading north

Warren Buffett’s BNSF is a leader in moving fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields.

For the first time, DeSmogBlog has published dozens of documents obtained from the North Dakota government revealing routes and chemical composition data for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale.

The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the legal dictates of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need-to-know” and not the public at-large.

North Dakota’s Department of Emergency Services, working in consultation with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, made the documents public a couple weeks after DeSmogBlog filed a June 13 North Dakota Public Records Statute request.

“There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point,” North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said during the June 25 Department of Emergency Service’s quarterly meeting, which DeSmogBlog attended via phone. “It doesn’t meet any criteria for our state law to protect this.”

Initially, oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and other rail companies sent boilerplate letters — one copy of which has been obtained by DeSmogBlog from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security through the state’s Public Records Act — to several State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), arguing train routes should be kept confidential.

BNSF also sent several SERCs a boilerplate contract proposal, requesting that they exempt the information rail companies were compelled to submit to the SERCs under the DOT Emergency Order from release under Freedom of Information Act. A snippet of the proposed contract can be seen below:

Dan Wilz, homeland security division director and state security advisor of the Department of Emergency Services, said the claims did not hold legal water.

“Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week’s period,” Wilz said at the quarterly meeting. “They watch the trains go through their community each and every day.”

BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) and Northern Plains Railroad all submitted information to the Department of Emergency Services.

CP Rail: 7 Trains/Week, “Highly Flammable”

In its submission to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, CP Rail revealed it sent seven oil-by-rail trains through 13 counties in North Dakota the week of June 9-15. CP Rail also estimated it generally sends 2-5 trains through those same counties during an average week.

Some oil-by-rail trains, dubbed “bomb trains” by some due to their propensity to explode, carry over 2,677,500 gallons of fracked oil. The trains are often over a mile in length and contain over 100 cars.

The company also released information on the chemical composition of the Bakken oil it sends on its rail cars, conceding that Bakken oil is “highly flammable” and “easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames.”

Further, CP Rail admitted that Bakken oil has “a very low flash point” and that “water spray when fighting [its] fire may be inefficient.”

BNSF: Bakken Oil-By-Rail King

BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett — a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012 and one of the richest men on the planet — is widely considered the king of oil-by-rail in the U.S. The documents BNSF released to the Department of Emergency Services back up the notion.

One document shows BNSF sent 31 oil-by-rail trains through Cass County, North Dakota during the week of May 29 – June 4, also saying it sends between 30-45 trains per week on average through the County. That same week, 30 BNSF trains zoomed through Barnes County, North Dakota.

A document filed the next week, covering June 5 – June 11, shows 45 trains passed through Cass County that week. Another 37 passed through Ward County, North Dakota and another 33 through McHenryPierce and Mountrail counties.

Northern Plains: Chemical Composition Revealed

In its DOT submission, Northern Plains included an expansive Bakken crude oil sample chemical composition test submitted by Musket Corporation, which has a terminal and transload site in North Dakota.

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Revealed: Heather Zichal Met with Cheniere Executives as Obama Energy Aide Before Board Nomination

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Portrait of Heather Zichal

Zichal through the revolving door?

Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant for energy and climate change to President Barack Obama and nominee to sit on the board of directors of LNG export company Cheniere Energy Inc., held two meetings with Cheniere executives while working for the White House.

White House meeting logs show Zichal attended the meetings with three executives from Cheniere, owner of the Sabine Pass LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility, the first terminal to receive a final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The meetings appear to have taken place just over two weeks apart from one another, according to the meeting logs. The first meeting was on January 14, 2013, and the second on January 29, 2013. Just over eight months later, Zichal resigned from her White House job, with Reuters citing “plans to move to a non-government job.”

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki — who is facing a major ongoing class-action lawsuit— sat in on both of those meetings. He was joined by Cheniere executives Patricia Outtrim, vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs, and Ankit Desai, vice president of government relations.

Desai, a Cheniere lobbyist, formerly worked with Zichal on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, serving as his budget director. Desai also formerly served as political director for then-U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden.

Zichal served as Kerry’s energy and environment policy adviser for the 2004 campaign and in 2006, became his legislative director, a job she held until becoming policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“Ms. Zichal served as the top energy advisor to the President of the United States at a time when Cheniere was beginning construction on [Sabine Pass LNG],” Katie Pipkin, Cheniere’s senior vice president of business development and communications told DeSmogBlog. “The meeting was simply to inform and update the administration on that project.”

Pipkin also denied that two separate meetings took place in January 2013 between Cheniere and Zichal, telling DeSmogBlog, “Our records indicate only one meeting with Zichal on the 29th.” She did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on that claim.

While at the White House, Zichal earned a salary of $140,000 per year. If elected to the Cheniere board, she will make $180,000 per year, plus own 6,000 shares of Cheniere stock.

White House Open Door for Cheniere

According to a DeSmogBlog review of White House meeting logs, between 2009 and 2013, the Obama White House held 32 meetings with Cheniere board members and lobbyists, including the two attended by Souki, Desai and Outtrim.

Together, Souki and Outtrim attended four other meetings with White House officials and eight more each, either on their own or as part of other meeting blocs.

The Obama White House door has remained open to Outtrim even though she donated $10,000 to Republicans running in the the 2014 mid-term elections, according to OpenSecrets.org. Outtrim has also co-hosted a fundraiser for U.S.Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

Just 10 days after Cheniere landed its final approval from FERC to export LNG from Sabine Pass on April 16, 2012, the White House hosted a meeting with Outtrim and fellow board member R. (Robert) Keith Teague.

Majida Mourad, vice president of government relations for Cheniere, also met five times with the White House.

Two of those meetings were held directly with President Barack Obama himself, one on December 4, 2011, and another on January 18, 2013. First Lady Michelle Obama also attended the second meeting.

Prior to becoming a lobbyist for Cheniere, Mourad served as a senior aide for Spencer Abraham, former secretary of energy during the first term of the Bush Administration.

“Not Uncommon”

Some wonder whether Zichal will provide Cheniere even further top-level access to the Obama Administration if elected to the company’s board.

“Heather Zichal taking a position on Cheniere’s board of directors would be another example of the revolving door between those who set energy policies and the corporations that reap financial benefits from those policies,” Emily Wurth, water program director at Food & Water Watch, told DeSmogBlog.

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Recent Federal Court Decision Could Muddy Waters for Keystone XL South, Flanagan South

2:20 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The case depicts a collision between long-standing principles of environmental law and President Barack Obama’s March 2012 Executive Order expediting pipeline reviews — an order issued six days after delivering a speech in front of the pipe segments that would two years later be pieced together as Keystone XL South, now open for business.

On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down a ruling that will serve as important precedent for the ongoing federal legal battles over the Keystone XL and Flanagan South tar sands pipelines.

In the Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case, judges ruled that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. This is what Kinder Morgan proposed and did for its Northeast Upgrade Project.

As reported on DeSmogBlog, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the same thing to streamline permitting for both the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL and Enbridge’s Flanagan South. Sierra Club and co-plaintiffs were denied injunctions for both pipelines in October and November 2013, respectively.

Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC dealt with breaking up a new 40-mile long pipeline upgrade into four segments. For the other two cases, the Army Corps of Engineers shape-shifted the two projects — both hundreds of miles long each — into thousands of “single and complete” projects for permitting purposes.

On the day of the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision, Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes submitted the case as supplemental authority for the ongoing Flanagan South case.

On May 5, Hayes also submitted paperwork to appeal the Keystone XL Southdecision in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which was docketed by the clerk of Ccurt the next day.

Hayes told DeSmogBlog his side will file an opening brief for the appeal on July 30. It seems likely Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC will be a key part of that appeal.

In a sign of the importance of the outcome for the oil and gas industry, theAmerican Petroleum Institute (API) entered the Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers case on Keystone XL as an intervenor on May 16, represented by corporate law firm Hunton & Williams.

At the federal level, Hunton & Williams lobbies on behalf of Koch Industries, a company with a major stake in tar sands leases and refining.

“No Uncertain Terms”

Hayes told DeSmogBlog that Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC could prove a game-changer for the Keystone XL southern leg (now dubbed the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) appeal, the Flanagan South decision and far beyond.

“Delaware Riverkeeper is important in many respects,” Hayes said. “In general, the D.C. Circuit is considered the second most powerful court in the country and here it held, in no uncertain terms, that agencies must analyze all parts of these interrelated projects under NEPA to get the full picture of the environmental impacts.”

The case depicts a collision between long-standing principles of environmental law and President Barack Obama’s March 2012 Executive Order expediting pipeline reviews — an order issued six days after delivering a speech in front of the pipe segments that would two years later be pieced together as Keystone XL South, now open for business.

Executive Order 13604

Executive Order 13604, signed on March 28, 2012, said “agencies shall…coordinate and expedite their reviews…as necessary to expedite decisions related to domestic pipeline infrastructure projects that would contribute to a more efficient domestic pipeline system for the transportation of crude oil.”

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Former Obama Energy Aide Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Face photo of Heather Zichal

Revolving door: An Obama energy aide may join a fracking giant.

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board.

The announcement, made through Cheniere’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company’s stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders’ vote and the company’s by-laws.

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman‘s book The Frackers — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere’s audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit dommittee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company’s annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere’s audit committee charter further explains.

Cheniere (stock symbol LNG, shorthand for “liquefied natural gas”) is currently awaiting a final decision on Corpus Christi LNG, its proposed LNG exports facility. That terminal would send gas obtained predominantly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the global market.

The company already received the first ever final approval to export fracked gas from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in April 2012 for itsSabine Pass LNG export terminal, which is scheduled to be operational by late-2015.

The nature of what role Zichal will play on the board and audit committee of the first company to make a major bet on LNG exports remains unclear. But one thing remains clear: she joins a politically well-connected cadre of Cheniere board members.

Other prominent Cheniere board members include John Deutch, former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Vicky Bailey, a FERC commissioner, both of whom worked for the Clinton administration.

And given Zichal’s former role as liaison between the oil and gas industry at the White House and her track record serving in that role, it raises the question: was she working for the industry all along?

Zichal Oil and Gas Services

Zichal was best known to many as the main mediator between the oil and gas industry and the White House during her time working for the Obama administration. In fact, Cheniere cites that experience as the rationale for nominating her to serve on the board.

“Zichal has extensive knowledge of the domestic and global energy markets as well as the U.S. regulatory environment,” reads the “skills and qualifications” portion of her nomination announcement on Cheniere’s Schedule 14A. “She brings a diversified perspective about the energy industry to our board having served in significant government positions during her career.” 

As Obama’s “climate czar,” Zichal headed up the effort — mandated via an April 13, 2012 Obama Executive Order — to streamline regulatory oversight of the gas industry in the U.S.

Titled, “Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources,” the Executive Order signed in the form of a “Friday news dump” created “a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate…domestic natural gas development” overseen by Zichal.

Obama signed the Executive Order after meeting with Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute (API), and other industry leaders. According to EnergyWire, API requested the creation of that working group.

“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress,” Gerard told the Associated Press in response to a question about the order.

A month later on May 15, Zichal spoke to API about her efforts and those of the Obama administration on fracking.

“It’s hard to overstate how natural gas — and our ability to access more of it than ever — has become a game-changer and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy,” she told API.

Just think about it: a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that the United States would need to build more terminals to import natural gas overseas. And today, America is the world’s leading producer of natural gas and we’re actually exploring opportunities for exports.

As a May 2012 Bloomberg article explained, among Zichal’s tasks was wooing API head Jack Gerard, which she appears to have succeeded at.

Similar to the interagency working group created by the April 13, 2012, Executive Order, Zichal also oversaw the Bakken Federal Executives Group, which was created through the signing of Executive Order 13604 on March 22, 2012. That order was part of the same package that called for expedited building of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Executive Order 13604 created an interagency steering committee with a goal “to significantly reduce the aggregate time required to make federal permitting and review decisions on infrastructure projects while improving outcomes for communities and the environment.”

Zichal was also instrumental in legalizing the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s (ALEC) approach for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands, overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

“Zichal met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” reported EnergyWire. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

Beyond overseeing streamlined permitting for fracking sites on both public and private lands, Zichal also oversaw the White House file for the Pavillion, Wyo., fracking groundwater contamination study.

Conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many believe the White House — counseled by Zichal — made a political calculus to cancel the ongoing investigation, the first of three major major studies on the subject shutdown by the EPA.

“Deeply Embedded”

The Zichal nomination is taking place alongside the deployment of the Obama Administration regulating coal-fired power plants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule is a de facto endorsement of fracking and gas-fired power plants as part of the “all of the above” energy policy.

As the Zichal case makes clear with regards to climate change-causing fracked gas, LNG exports flow through the revolving door in Washington, DC, and beyond.

“The fact that one of Obama’s top climate advisors is now helping expand fossil fuel use raises questions about how deeply embedded oil and gas industry interests are in the administration,” Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace USA told DeSmogBlog.

Silent Coup: How Enbridge is Quietly Cloning the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

10:48 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A Canadian flag dripping with oil

Despite activist opposition, “pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada.”

While the debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has raged on for over half a decade, pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada.

It comes in the form of the combination of Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines.

The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.

Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion

Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like KeystoneXL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.

Initially slated to carry 450,000 barrels per day of dilbit to market, Enbridge now seeks an expansion permit from the State Department to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day, with a designed capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It has dubbed the expansion Line 67.

As reported on previously by DeSmogBlog, Line 67 is the key connecter pipeline to Line 6A, which feeds into the BP Whiting refinery located near Chicago, Ill., in Whiting, Ind. BP Whiting — the largest in-land refinery in the U.S. — was recently retooled to refine larger amounts of tar sands under the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. 

Line 67 also connects to Line 61 via a fork in the road of sorts in Wisconsin. From there, it heads to Flanagan, Ill., the namesake of the start of Enbridge’s Flanagan South pipeline.

Like Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 67 expansion project has faced unexpected delays in its State Department and Obama Administration review process.

Flanagan South also shares a key legal commonality with TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system.

That is, like Phase II and Phase III of that system — best known to the general public as Keystone XL’s southern leg and to TransCanada as the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project — it was permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers using the controversial Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) process.

As documented here on DeSmogBlog, the southern leg of Keystone XL and Flanagan South both played a central role in separate but related precedent-setting federal-level court cases.

In reviewing the legality of approval via NWP 12 through the lens of “harms,” the courts ruled in both cases that the harms of losing corporate profits for both Enbridge and TransCanada trump the potential harms of ecological damage the pipelines could cause in the future. Climate change went undiscussed in both rulings.

According to a May 2014 company newsletter, Enbridge is “on schedule to put [Flanagan South] in operation later this year.”

“After eight months of construction, we are now in the home stretch for the nearly 600-mile pipeline project,” touts the newsletter. “At the peak of construction, between October 2013 and January 2014, there were on average 3,650 construction workers over the entire route — about 1,600 of those workers from communities located along the pipeline route.”

Seaway Pipeline

In a June 16 article titled, “Blame Canada,” Reuters pointed to two new “pipes set to hit U.S. Gulf with heavy crude,” which — as it pertains to Canada — is industry vernacular for tar sands.

Flanagan South was one of the pipelines pointed to in the Reuters piece.

The other is Enbridge’s Seaway Twin pipeline, co-owned on a 50/50 joint venture basis with Enterprise Products Partners. Seaway Twin, like Keystone XL’s southern leg, runs from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas.

Enbridge scheduled Line 67 to go on-line in mid-2014 and reach full-capacity by mid-2015.

But, because of backlash against the proposal from environmentalists and citizens who live along the pipeline expansion’s route, the company does not expect to receive a State Department expansion permit until mid-2015.

Flanagan South Pipeline

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White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against “Bomb Train” Regulations It Publicly Touts

10:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The rail industry offers up claims about how much it cares about safety when speaking to the public. But behind closed doors, the public relations pitch goes by the wayside in favor of hard-nosed lobbying muscle to avoid accountability.

The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of its meetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.

But OIRA meeting logs reviewed by DeSmogBlog reveal that on June 10, theAmerican Association of Railroads (AAR) and many of its dues-paying members also had a chance to convene with OIRA.

Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.

At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.

“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.

“The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.

Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.

Massive War Room

Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union PacificBurlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX CorporationNorfolk Southern and the DOT.

Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.

Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOT; Orest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSF; Robert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.

“19th Century Technology”

The heading on the first slide of CSX’s presentation for OIRA stated, “ECP brakes are expensive and do not offer material safety advantages.”

ECP is industry shorthand for Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes, currently considered the best available brakes in the business.

At a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in April, Richard Connor, safety specialist for DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), gave a presentation comparing the conventional air brake system used on most freight trains to the ECP brakes passed over by CSX.

“I’m not sure with the audience if you all understand how the current air brake systems on our freight trains out there operate today, but it’s basically 19th century technology,” said Connor.

Connor also described the performance of the brakes in an emergency situation as “painfully slow” in comparing ECP’s response time to that of the conventional braking system.

“One of the biggest advantages of ECP is that signal to apply your brakes…is going at the speed of light…it’s a much quicker signal,” he said.

Connor also discussed how ECP would “offer material safety advantages” over current technology in an oil train accident, even if expensive.

“For the purpose of why we would want ECP on, say, a unit train like these oil trains, [it’s] to reduce the impact of a derailment or reduce the damages caused by a derailment of these types of trains,” explained Connor.

“[The purpose] is you get a much quicker application, you reduce that kinetic energy involved with that train.”

Speed-Racing

BNSF serves as the Queen Bee in the oil-by-rail world.

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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 →

Obama’s Former PR Flack Anita Dunn Pitches “Ethical Oil” Keystone XL Ad

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Anita Dunn

Anita Dunn – Obama advisor and TransCanada PR flack

Ezra Levant is the man behind an attempt to re-frame the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” “Ethical” – Levant’s deceptive public relations campaign argues of the tar sands “carbon bomb” - because it doesn’t come from the war-ridden and human rights-abusing Middle East.

Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.

SKDK – as covered here on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog - does PR for Transcanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. Transcanada has paid SKDK – and by extension, Dunn – to place ads in strategic television and radio markets in the Washington, D.C. area.

“America imports millions of barrels of oil from the Middle East every week,” anarrator says in an ominous tone in the most recent ad, as images of violent protests in the Middle East blare across the screen. “But we don’t have to.”

The TV ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.

The radio ad - also singing the “ethical oil” tune – claims that building the northern half of the Keystone XL will create “over 40,000 good American jobs.” Independent studies point to it creating 35 full-time jobs and 3,950 temporary construction jobs.

The New York Times explained that Transcanada paid Dunn and SKDK to place the “ethical oil“-style ad “to reach power players in Washington’s media market.”

Dunn’s husband is Robert “Bob” Bauer, President Obama’s personal attorney since he arrived in Washington, D.C. as a U.S. Senator in 2005; Obama’s election law attorney for his 2008 and 2012 electoral campaigns; former Obama White House Counsel during his first term in office and former Counsel for the Democratic National Committee.

A decision on the northern half of the pipeline is not expected for months, yet one thing remains certain: the deceptive “ethical oil” meme and theme will pollute the airwaves throughout that time period, and it just found a new promoter in Anita Dunn.

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BuyPartisan Consensus: ExxonMobil Donates $260,000 to Obama Inauguration

7:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

"Why do Big Oil, Gas and Coal have so much support on both sides of the aisle? Because they BuyPartisan."

The Other 98% and Oil Change International consider the inauguration.

President Barack Obama will be publicly sworn in today – on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – to serve his second term as the 44th President of the United States.

Today is also the three-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that – in a 5-4 decision – deemed that corporations are “people” under the law. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) – who now runs Progressives United (a rhetorical spin-off of Citizens United) - said in Feb. 2012 that the decision “opened floodgates of corruption” in the U.S. political system.

Unlike for his first Inauguration, Obama has chosen to allow unlimited corporate contributions to fill the fund-raising coffers of the entity legally known as the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Last time around the block, Obama refused corporate contributions for the Inauguration Ceremony as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.”

But not this time. With a fundraising goal of $50 million in its sights, the Obama Administration has “opened floodgates” itself for corporate influence-peddling at the 57th Inaugural Ceremony.

A case in point: the Obama Administration’s corporate backers for the Inaurguation have spent over $283 million on lobbying since 2009, the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent report.

This has perturbed some.

“It’s a deeply disturbing move, and a reversal from the positive steps they took in 2009,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen told Roll Call. “Corporations make donations to events like the inaugural festivities because they get something back in return.”

One of the biggest givers so far is none other than what Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Steve Coll calls a “Private Empire” – ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil: Over $260,000 to Obama’s Inauguration Committee

According to a scoop by The Hill, ExxonMobil contributed $250,000 to the Inaugural Committee. Additionally, ExxonMobil attorney Judith Batty has given the Committee $10,750, according to the Center for Responsive Politics‘ OpenSecrets.org. Thus, ExxonMobil has given the Committee a grand total of over $260,000.

ExxonMobil earned a profit of $41.1 billion in 2011 and in the first three quarters of 2012 earned a profit of $34.92 billion, well on pace to surpass its 2011 profit margin.

Some mathematical context is warranted. This means ExxonMobil earned $9,935 per minute in the first three quarters of 2012, $596,107 per hour and $14.3 million per day in profits.

Despite these oligarchic-type bottom lines, ExxonMobil doesn’t even pay its fair share in taxes, as ThinkProgress explained in a March 2012 article:

Citizens for Tax Justice reported Exxon paid only 17.6 percent taxes in 2010, lower than the average American, and a Reuters analysis using the same criteria estimates that Exxon will pay only 13 percent in effective taxes for 2011. Exxon paid zero taxes to the federal government in 2009.

In practice, this means that ExxonMobil actually pays less in taxes by percentage than an average Middle Class American family.

For a corporation with financial wealth of this magitude and one that, to boot, evades paying taxes, $260,000 is truly a “drop in the bucket.” And yet in a political system favoring those who can “pay to play,” it’s a true game-changer in terms of gaining direct access to the Administration.

Obama Administration Responds…Sort Of

Critics say it’s more of the same out of an Obama Administration that in the first term had a cozy relationship with corporate patrons.

“It fits into a pattern of not treating this campaign-finance issue with concern when in fact it is of great concern to the integrity of the political process and our democratic system,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told The Hill.

The Obama team’s response? According to them, they are champions of campaign-finance reform and anti-corruption measures.

“This president has done more to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington than any administration in history,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told The Hill.

It looks as if Oil Change International has hit the nail on the head in framing this one, asking and answering the following question with an accompanying graphic co-created with The Other 98%.