Environmental Protection Agency
Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.
The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.
That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.
It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO.
This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.
It's the second study that got him in trouble.
"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."
From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link
The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky.
"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote.
AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky 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."
The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP.
As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.
Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP.
Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources.
It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,
Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.
Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."
"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.
"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study
Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process.
Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."
Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision
Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:
It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.
There's also a tragic human side to this tale.
"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."
You're probably familiar with the old "fox in the hen house" story, but what about when a hen joins the fox den?
This is the case with the recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Washington, DC. Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal that ALEC's anti-environmental jamboree was inundated with coal money and featured an Indiana regulator advising coal utilities on delaying US Environmental Protection Agency rules to control greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollution.
At ALEC's coal-sponsored meeting, where state legislators and corporate representatives meet to create template state laws ranging from attacks on clean energy to privatization of public schools, Indiana's Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management Tom Easterly laid out a plan to stall the US EPA global warming action in a power point clearly addressed to coal industry representatives at ALEC's meeting.
In a USB drive branded with the logo of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a folder labeled "Easterly" contains a presentation titled "Easterly ALEC presentation 11 28 12" explaining current EPA air pollution rules and how Tom Easterly has worked to obstruct them. The power points is branded with the Indiana Department of Environmental Protection seal. In the latter presentation, Easterly ended his briefing to ALEC's dirty energy members with suggestions for delaying EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions at coal plants.
Easterly's presentation, which is posted on his Indiana Dept. of Environmental Mgmt commissioner webpage, even offered a template state resolution that would burden EPA with conducting a number of unnecessary cost benefit analyses (which the federal government has done through the Social Cost of Carbon analysis) in the process of controlling GHG emissions.
The template resolution Easterly presented to ALEC was created by the Environmental Council of States (ECOS), a group of state regulators that create template state resolutions similar to ALEC, often with overlapping agendas that benefit coal companies. ECOS has some questionable template state resolutions for an "Environmental" organization, including a resolution urging EPA not to classify coal ash as "hazardous." Although its less regulated than household trash, coal ash contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements and is stored in dangerous slurry "ponds" that can leak these dangerous toxins into our waterways.
Almost too predictably, ECOS' work is sponsored by the coal fronts like ACCCE and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), both sponsors of the ALEC meeting where Easterly presented the ECOS model resolution. See clean air watchdog Frank O'Donnell's blog on ECOS for more.
Commissioner Tom Easterly's suggestion of burdening EPA with tasks beyond its responsibility is concerning, as is his ongoing campaign to discredit the science of global warming--something he doesn't have the scientific qualifications to do. To this end, the Indiana regulator fits nicely into the coal industry's long history of denying problems they don't want to be held accountable for and delaying solutions to those problems. The same processes applied to acid rain, a problem the coal industry also denied for years--check out Greenpeace's collection of Coal Ads: Decades of Deception.
Climate Science Denial at Indiana's Department of Environmental Management
Even before Indiana's top enforcer of federal and state environmental regulations was advising coal companies on how to continuing polluting our air and water, it appears that denial of basic climate science is the state's official position on global warming--Indiana's 2011 "State of the Environment" report rehashes tired climate denier arguments such as global temperature records having "no appreciable change since about 1998." (see why this is a lie) and referencing the "medieval warm period" as false proof that current temperature anomalies are normal (they aren't, see Skeptical Science for a proper debunking). Similar arguments have apparently been presented by the Indiana government to ALEC since 2008--the ACCCE USB drive contains another Indiana power point created in 2008 full of junk climate "science." This level of scientific illiteracy is concerning, especially for the regulatory body responsible for overseeing pollution controls for the coal industry.
Remember, this isn't the Heartland Institute. It's the State of Indiana....working with the Heartland Institute, a member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force that has been central in coordinating campaigns to deny global warming. See Commissioner Easterly's full presentation to ALEC on climate "science."
ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit 2012: brought to you by King Coal
- American Electric Power (AEP): the second largest coal utility in the U.S. now that Duke Energy and Progress Energy have merged.
- Peabody Energy: the world's largest private-sector coal mining company, known for its legacy of pollution and aggressive finance of climate change denial.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE): a coal public relations front whose members include AEP, Peabody and other ALEC-member coal interests. ACCCE's new president is Mike Duncan, former Republican National Committee chairman and founding chairman of Karl Rove's American Crossroads. ACCCE spent over $12 million on advertising during the 2012 election to promote the fantasy of "clean coal." ACCCE reportedly spent $40 million on TV and radio ads during the 2008 election and over $16 million around the 2010 election. ACCCE was caught up in a scandal when a subcontractor forged letters on behalf of senior and civil rights groups urging members of Congress to oppose national climate legislation. For more, see ACCCE on PolluterWatch.
- Political spending since 2007: ACCCE spent over $22.3 million on federal lobbying, $10 million of which was spent in 2008 alone.
- Edison Electric Institute (EEI): the primary trade association for electric utility companies, whose members include AEP, Duke Energy and numerous other members of ALEC's energy/environment task force.
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): NRECA is the top dirty energy money contributor to federal politicians, above heavyweights like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Composed of over 900 rural coal interests, NRECA is known for its staunch opposition to climate change policy.
$194 million: total federal lobbying expenditures from these groups since 2007
The collective millions spent on federal lobbying and politicians went a long way for these five coal interest groups. Their lobbying goals included weakening 2009 climate legislation and working to interfere with US EPA rules to reduce coal pollution or greenhouse gases.
All five of these groups have recently lobbied to prevent US EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. These five interests only represent a slice of the coal interests spending money in politics, and just a few players among many in the coal, oil, gas and chemical industries that dump millions of dollars into public relations campaigns telling us that climate change is not a problem.
Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:
UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:
As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.
Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.
Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.
Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of
Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:
- Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
- Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
- Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
- Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
- Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.
FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.
“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)
Last week, Greenpeace posted a comparison of Romney’s new “War on Coal” TV ads with coal industry advertising. Our analysis shows that Romney’s ads mirror four decades of coal industry advertising.
It turns out that the coal industry is not only providing Romney with talking points for his TV ads, but also with human props. The Romney “War on Coal” TV ad features the candidate speaking in front of a crowd of coal miners. Murray Energy Company forced these miners to miss a day of work without pay, and told them that attendance was mandatory at the Romney event. On Tuesday, Progress Ohio filed an FEC complaint over the use of coal miners in the Romney TV ad. "Clearly the [Romney] campaign should have thought better of exploiting the forced support of these workers,” said Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director of ProgressOhio.
The TV ad is running in coal states, including Ohio and West Virginia. In the ad, Romney declares “we have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?” Greenpeace analysis revealed that this estimate is frequently used in coal advertising, even though the National Academy of Sciences shows it to be vastly overestimated.
Mitt Romney released new TV ads this week about Obama “ruining” the coal industry, conveniently timed with a sudden House Republican push for the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.”
A Greenpeace investigation released last week highlights the recurring themes of Big Coal advertising, with decades of ads from coal mining companies, coal-burning utilities, and industry front groups. The Big Coal industry advertising machine has been working for decades to “keep America stupid,” as Rolling Stone put it.
This week’s political messaging about a supposed “war on coal” illustrates a troubling trend that the Big Coal public relations machine is co-opting America's elected leaders.
New Romney TV ads on coal mirror the industry’s old and new ads
One of Big Coal’s main advertising themes since the 1970s has been abundance of coal and energy security. Romney's new TV ad highlights this theme, featuring a stump speech clip with Romney declaring “We have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?”
The 250-year coal supply figure is an extreme overestimate, since US coal reserves can only be confirmed to last about 100 years, according to a National Academy of Sciences report five years ago. So, where did Romney get that number?
Maybe Romney got it from this coal industry front group advertisement, claiming that using less coal will make dictators smile. Check out the ad up close.
Or maybe Romney got the 250-year claim out of this internet ad from ACCCE, the coal industry’s public relations association.
Coal industry estimates of incredible abundance are notoriously incorrect. At least Romney’s estimate was slightly more accurate compared to this National Coal Association ad from 1977, claiming coal would last 500 years. In 1976, an American Electric Power ad used the 500-year coal supply along with an estimate that America would run out of oil and natural gas by 1988. People say hindsight is always 20/20.
Not only does the coal industry provide talking points for Romney’s stump speeches and TV ads, but it also provides the human props. The Romney TV ad features shots of the candidate speaking with a crowd of coal miners behind him. Murray Energy Company forced these miners to miss a day of work without pay, and told them that attendance was mandatory at the Romney event.
Obama also influenced by Big Coal advertising
Unfortunately, the Republican candidate is not the only one susceptible to coal industry public relations. The Obama campaign aired radio ads criticizing Romney for saying a dirty coal plant “kills people” when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Obama has made so-called “clean coal” and CCS technology part of his energy platform. As a way to keep their industry alive, Big Coal invests heavily in “clean coal” advertising, even though the touted CCS technology that captures carbon dioxide is unproven at scale and exorbitantly expensive. Check out this nonchalant Peabody Energy ad from 2009.
The clean coal advertising theme existed decades before CCS technology, when simply “washing” coal meant that it was now “clean,” like in this AEP ad from 1979.
Congress is another vehicle for coal industry public relations
The coal industry advertising doesn’t only influence presidential politics. Republicans in the House Friday morning passed the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.” The Act is several coal-friendly bills packaged into one big wish list for the coal industry, including stripping EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, restricting EPA from regulating coal ash and delaying the EPA mercury rule. The bill package will be dead-on-arrival in the Senate.
The Act provided Republicans with the opportunity to lambast the EPA for protecting public health from coal pollution. As two Republicans wrote in a Sept 20th op-ed, “President Obama and his extreme EPA have issued new rules and regulations that are crippling the coal industry” and “this ‘Train Wreck’ of new EPA regulations is already…costing jobs in places where unemployment is staggering.”
Considering that energy experts will tell you that competition from renewable energy and natural gas are actually causing the decline in coal, why are these Republicans so focused on EPA regulations? One could list several political reasons but, coincidentally, blaming the EPA has been a regular theme for Big Coal advertising since Nixon established the EPA in the 1970s.
In this 1974 ad, EPA is blamed for blocking the use of coal which somehow, in a bizarre twist of logic, would result in Middle Eastern oil moguls buying American coal fields from under our noses.
Another 1974 American Electric Power ad criticized EPA for encouraging the use of pollution scrubbers on coal plants. In comparison, the coal industry now celebrates scrubber technology for making coal “clean" while still attacking the EPA for new clean air rules. This ACCCE internet ad claims the EPA will cost 1.65 million jobs.
Coal advertising themes like "coal is abundant," "coal is clean," and "EPA kills jobs" are completely integrated now into Presidential and Congressional debates. After decades of Big Coal advertising efforts, some of our elected officials have mutated into Big Coal spokespeople.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace Blogs
It has become tiresome to rip on President Obama for failing America and the world on climate. We could not help but get excited in November 2008 when we realized Bush II and his oil lackeys were out of office in two months. But one could argue that President Obama led us on by saying things like “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” And, regarding White House leadership, “That will change when I take office.”
The bar for Obama administration action on climate has become so low that it doesn’t take much to get people excited. For example, the President used the words “climate change” during his recent state of the union address, having failed to mention this existential dilemma last year. Some people read a lot into that.
So, yesterday, it was unsurprising to see an over-excited reaction to a State Department announcement on a new climate initiative. President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called a press conference to announce that the United States and several other countries would start a new, official collaboration to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon and HFCs. However, it’s pretty clear that this is no announcement about US policy to reduce climate pollution. It’s great countries are talking, but also not new. The US contributed $12 million for this collaboration. This is is about what Mitt Romney would have earned after taxes if he paid the same tax rate my mother does. $12 million is lot of money for one person, but for an intergovernmental partnership to tackle global climate disruption, it’s laughable.
The best thing about Secretary Clinton’s announcement yesterday is that the Obama administration publicly professed to being active on climate, and reiterated actions they’ve been taking already to reduce climate pollution. The worst thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it reminded everyone of what the Obama administration has done to increase climate pollution. A large funder of Obama’s campaign in the past, who has contributed $35 million to campaigns and environmental causes, announced her support was gone because of Obama’s failures on climate.
Let’s put this in context.
A lot was achieved up front when the President pushed for passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. The bill included grants and tax incentives for efficiency and renewables production and research, smart grid development, and low-emissions vehicles. The Obama administration has continued to press continuing incentives for renewables and efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet implemented any standards for large stationary sources of climate pollution that have any significant impact, but the new vehicle standards will have an impact. Expectations for EPA, however, remain much higher than for the rest of the Obama administration, and we still hold out hope for climate pollution standards to be strengthened on both vehicles and stationary sources.
So far, we can’t put a number on how much less climate pollution the world will see because of the Obama administration. We can say that the US goal of 17% under 2005 levels by 2020 is so unambitious that it was possibly imminent before the President announced it. We can also say that the Obama administration may be doing as much to increase climate pollution through other measures.
Although the President has continued to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, the reality is that his administration has been a great friend to coal, oil, and gas.
President Obama’s administration has decided to increase coal mining on public lands, for example in Wyoming where federal leases will allow mining of about 758 million tons of coal. Although some of this coal will definitely be burned in the US, the administration intends to use coal mining expansion to help meet its goal of doubling exports by 2014. So, although we will succeed at shutting down old coal-fired power plants in America, US coal can still contribute to as the largest global contributor to climate disruption.
In the first quarter of 2011, US exports of coal rose by 49% compared to the same quarter of 2010, amounting to 26.6 million short tons. This is the highest amount of coal exported since 1992 (when 27 million short tons were exported).
Similarly, if vehicles in America become more efficient, the plan seems to be to make sure the oil is burned anyway. 2011 was the first year in almost two decades when the US became a ‘net exporter of fuel’. In each day of February, the US exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum than it imported. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration now appears bent on drilling in the Arctic which is more accessible to climate polluters because they’ve made the ice melt.
An irony about the State Department initiative to reduce emissions of methane is the Global Shale Gas Initiative, and other efforts by the Obama administration, to push US methane (natural gas) abroad. There is a likelihood using shale gas for electricity leads to emissions as high as with coal, or higher. Shale gas that is liquified, transported, thousands of miles, and re-gasified I argue certainly has a higher carbon footprint than local coal.
It seems the general attitude among climate advocates has gone from glum to numb. To be fair, our despair about climate policy is fueled by the undying Republican platform that environmental ignorance and scorn are praiseworthy. There are also Democrats who have donned ignorant and scornful attitudes about climate disruption, but mostly their problem is letting Republicans spearhead the debate on climate. Climate disruption for the Obama White House seems to be viewed not as a real problem but a political problem.
Rachael Robson was a co-author of this blog.
Updated Nov. 2012
Coal is dirty. Coal companies know this—utilities that burn the fossil fuel are willing to spend millions of dollars each year to undermine laws that cut back on coal pollution and protect public health. Vital in this dirty business are the lobbyists who are willing to ignore the massive external costs of coal and make a career peddling the coal industry’s continued grip on U.S. electricity production. In the recent history of the coal lobby, no single person has bought his clients as much delay on critical pollution controls, such as reducing mercury emissions, as Jeffrey R. Holmstead.
Currently working out of the Washington, DC headquarters of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has jumped in and out of government positions in a continuous effort to block pollution controls at coal-fired power plants. Holmstead’s coal clients have doled out over $10.7 million dollars (UPDATE Nov. 2012: $13.7 million) to his firm since he joined in 2007, and a primary undertaking of Holmstead’s has been to block and weaken laws that cut back on mercury pollution from power plants. Coal and oil-burning power plants, which release tons of mercury pollution each year [PDF] in the U.S., have avoided any federal mercury protections, despite the Clean Air Act 1990 amendments. This is where Holmstead’s dirty legacy begins.
Jeffrey Holmstead’s formative experience manipulating clean air laws began in 1989 as associate counsel to President George H. W. Bush, where he was involved in “the key steps taken to implement” the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, or as Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell puts it, he “tried to ‘interpret’ the rules in ways more favorable to industry.” In spite of Holmstead’s role, changes to the Clean Air Act through the 1990 amendments paved the way for requiring mercury controls at power plants and other facilities, but extensive scientific research and coal filibustering stalled EPA’s official endorsement of a strong utility mercury rule for a decade. By December, 2000, EPA finally ruled that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury from power plants by installing high-standard technology across the board with a utility maximum achievable control technology rule (MACT) approach (What’s the Utility MACT?).
Jeff Holmstead was one of the coal lobby’s voices during the ten year delay leading to EPA’s decision to regulate mercury with a Utility MACT rule. After leaving the Bush Sr. administration in 1993, Holmstead joined Latham & Watkins, a beltway lobby firm. His clients at the time included two utility front groups [PDF]. One of Holmstead’s lobby clients, the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy [PDF] included large coal utilities [PDF] like American Electric Power, Cinergy, Wisconsin Electric and subsidiaries of Dynergy and Dominion. Holmstead remained a lobbyist at Latham & Watkins until 2001.
Fox in the Hen House
Jeffrey Holmstead put aside his official lobbying job for five years in order to take the opportunity of a lifetime for any polluter apologist. A top position within the George W. Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave Holmstead unprecedented power to reward the industry clients he had been representing. Holmstead’s controversial appointment was blocked by Senators until staff from the Environment and Public Works Committee could review documents to investigate conflict of interest concerns. As a former industry lobbyist, his pending EPA appointment threatened to disrupt the development of Clean Air rules, and undermine ongoing efforts begun under the Clinton EPA to hold polluters accountable for their violations of the Clean Air Act. Sure enough, he dismantled those clean air rules, told Congress it wouldn’t affect the lawsuits despite internal warnings, and watched EPA turn its back on 70 suspected violation cases. One of Holmstead’s priority targets for evisceration was the mercury rule.
After years of scientific review, effective and available technology to reduce mercury pollution from power plants, and success in reducing mercury pollution through “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) rules in other industries [PDF], Holmstead took steps to undo this progress. An EPA-sponsored Utility MACT Working Group composed of 29 experts from the utility industry, state and local air quality offices and environmental groups were confident that a Utility MACT rule, mandated under the Clean Air Act due to mercury’s toxicity, would be EPA’s approach to control mercury emissions from power plants. Instead, Holmstead and his adviser Bill Wehrum stopped the Utility MACT rule in its tracks, disbanding the working group suddenly in April, 2003. The Utility MACT Working Group was never reconvened under the Bush EPA. A few months after the working group was disbanded, the New York Times reported that EPA employees in Holmstead’s department were told “either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants,” in order to be consistent with the Bush Administration’s unscientific political positions.
In 2004, Holmstead began shifting away from the legally-mandated Utility MACT rule by proposing less effective options for reducing mercury pollution at U.S. power plants. Drafting the new rules, Holmstead was caught borrowing language provided by his former lobbying firm employer, Latham & Watkins. Holmstead’s clients at Latham included two coal utility front groups, so he recognized that it didn’t look good when “at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from the industry suggestions” and pasted into his regulatory proposals. A few months later, the New York Times uncovered disturbing details of censoring mercury science in Holmstead’s office: “The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the [EPA] say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.” Citing specific quotes of altered language, Jennifer Lee reported, “In some cases, White House staff members suggested phrasing that minimized the links between power plants and elevated levels of mercury in fish, the primary source from which Americans accumulate mercury in their bodies, in a form known as methlymercury.”
Holmstead Abandons the Utility MACT
The utility mercury rule Holmstead favored and admitted to initiating was a less stringent (in fact, illegal) cap and trade method under a different section of the Clean Air Act (subsection 111 instead of 112), which meant downgrading EPA’s opinion of mercury’s danger as a toxin. The cap and trade rule mirrored the Bush Administration’s absurdly-titled “Clear Skies Initiative” in Congress, a legislative assault on clean air laws designed under Holmstead’s lead. Clear Skies was a priority of the Bush Administration, but was picked apart by environmental groups and the National Academy of Sciences for weakening Clean Air Act pollution standards. EPA employees claimed even Holmstead acknowledged the Clear Skies Initiative was inferior compared to stronger legislation in the Senate, wondering out loud, “How do we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?”
Mercury regulation under the Clear Skies Initiative would have been less effective than the technology-based Utility MACT because cap and trade is designed to bring down geographically widespread emissions of a substance. While this approach can be effective for emissions that don’t have a dangerous local impact (such as carbon dioxide), mercury is known to accumulate locally. Under a cap and trade rule, dirtier power plants would buy credits to release more mercury from plants with lower emissions, and communities around the dirtier facilities could face greater health risks. Concern over these mercury “hot spots” was dismissed by Holmstead, but higher mercury concentrations were later confirmed in a study on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Additionally, the Associated Press reported that EPA knew of the existence of hot spots in a censored internal report.
Holmstead’s reputation for repeatedly censoring inconvenient scientific data and watering down regulatory language was again demonstrated in 2005 by multiple offenses. In March 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized EPA’s lack of transparency in creating a new mercury rule, saying Holmstead’s cap and trade method should have been considered a “last-resort option.” The GAO statements followed an EPA Inspector general report concluding that “agency scientists had been pressured to back the approach preferred by industry” in re-creating mercury regulations.
A month later, Holmstead’s office was caught smothering a crucial report commissioned for EPA by the Harvard Center for Risk Assessment as a cost benefit analysis of mercury regulation. The Associated Press revealed how the agency claimed a national benefit of $50 million when the smothered report actually indicated benefits of up to five billion dollars nationwide for larger cuts in emissions, as the Utility MACT rule was poised to do before Holmstead intervened. The Harvard report sat on EPA’s shelf for over a year before AP broke the story.
Ignorance is Bliss
The overwhelming evidence in favor of a strong Utility MACT mercury rule led the Clinton administration EPA to conclude that a cap and trade alternative was not legally supportable. Comparing the favorable and legally-required Utility MACT mercury controls with Holmstead’s cap and trade proposal, the Washington Post’s Eric Pianin explained, “Under the administration’s approach, utilities would have until 2018 to cut [mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide] emissions by 70 percent. By comparison, the EPA working group considered various approaches that would cut mercury pollution by 35 percent to 93 percent within three to four years.” Instead of reducing utility mercury pollution to as low as 5 tons per year in 2008, Holmstead’s plan would only drop emissions to 15 tons annually by 2018. In other words, Holmstead pushed for a ten year delay that ultimately allowed three times the mercury pollution than the Utility MACT he blocked [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.11].
Jeffrey Holmstead shrugged off the criticism and pushed ahead with his efforts to dismantle effective mercury controls. Holmstead’s office had dragged its feet by vaguely studying both the MACT and cap and trade methods. Lisa Heinzerling explained at the time how EPA “ties itself in knots trying to explain how the law allows it to promulgate either of these diametrically opposed options” [Heinzerling & Steinzor, p.9]. Despite a request from 45 Senators to use the appropriate Utility MACT rule, Holmstead later dropped the method altogether, overstepping EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt. EPA officially issued Holmstead’s mercury rule on March 15, 2005.
At this point, certain states and environmental groups sued EPA to force a return to the legally mandated Utility MACT rule. This was achieved three years later in a 2008 DC Circuit Court ruling supporting the Clinton EPA’s December, 2000 decision to reduce mercury air pollution from coal and oil utilities using a MACT rule. The court’s scathing conclusion cited Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, stating [PDF] that the Bush EPA’s “explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of section 112(c)(9),” the section of the Clean Air Act requiring MACT controls for power plant mercury emissions.
The original Utility MACT rule that Holmstead replaced should have been fully implemented by 2008. As of 2011, EPA expects full implementation by 2016.
Accounting for all the delay, Holmstead’s interference has blocked serious reductions in power plant mercury pollution for eight years, assuming no further delays by the coal industry. Unfortunately, that may not be a safe assumption.
Back in King Coal’s Court
Jeffrey Holmstead spent over four years as EPA’s assistant administrator of Air and Radiation, longer than anyone else in that position to date. In late 2006, after taking a year off, Holmstead joined the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (B&G). B&G has a notably anti-environmental legacy, lobbying for major corporate polluters and defending white-collar criminals in cases of federal enforcement lawsuits. When asked to explain his blatant revolving door career--leaving EPA to lobby for industry clients--Holmstead said, “I, I'm not sure why, uh, people have tried to make something of that. But people have to have jobs. And that's the way it works.”
Since joining Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeff Holmstead has had a total of 16 clients. All but four of those clients were coal utilities, mining companies, or trade associations (and one of those four was CSX, a railroad company that is the largest coal shipper east of the Mississippi). Holmstead’s coal interest clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani over $13.7 million since he joined the firm. In 2011, only one of Holmstead’s ten clients was not a coal company. With the coal industry’s money, Holmstead and other Bracewell lobbyists fought for the industry’s assumed right to unlimited mercury pollution and resisted other rules to protect Americans from coal industry pollution. A recent MJ Bradley report [PDF] found that eleven of the top fifteen U.S. utility companies have long anticipated recent clean air rules and taken steps to prepare. Two of the four laggard companies were Southern Company and Energy Future Holdings, both current Holmstead clients.
Southern Company made two billion dollars last year in profits alone. Southern and other coal utilities invest millions of dollars into subverting regulations. Assistance from Holmstead and other polluter lobbyists at Bracewell & Giuliani costs Southern $120,000 in annual lobbying fees, part of Southern’s $8 million lobbying budget. In addition, Southern is represented by the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coal industry front group run out of Bracewell’s office in Washington, DC. At a November, 2011 meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Holmstead was present with Bracewell lobbyist and ERCC director Scott Segal (who requested the meeting), three representatives of Southern Company, and a lobbyist from Duke Energy. Duke and other major coal utility clients work with Holmstead, his firm and ERCC in the same fashion that Southern Company does.
Many of Jeff Holmstead’s current clients were recently named among the top mercury polluters in the coal utility sector, the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S. Of the 25 companies listed as 2010's biggest mercury polluters (see Environment America report [PDF]), at least 9 are represented by Holmstead. Luminant, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings, and Southern Company rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, releasing over 4,000 pounds of airborn mercury each. Other Holmstead clients on the list are Ameren (#4), GenOn (#7), DTE Energy (#11), Duke Energy (#12), Salt River Project (#20) and Progress Energy (#22). FirstEnergy (ranked #16 in the report), is a suspected member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, or ERCC -- the coal front group managed by coal lobbyists in Bracewell’s DC lobbying office. ERCC itself is a Holmstead lobbying client. Although ERCC refuses to reveal its member companies, several confirmed or suspected members overlap with several of Holmstead clients: Southern Co., Duke Energy, Progress Energy, Energy Future Holdings, and Salt River Project [Drew & Oppel, Jr.].
Doublespeak and Deception
While working full time for polluters at Bracewell & Giuliani, Jeffrey Holmstead’s statements on mercury’s toxic potency directly contradict some of his statements while at EPA. In office, Holmstead at least acknowledged the danger of mercury from power plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council flagged an unbroken quote from May 2002 Congressional testimony, where Holmstead recognized that “mercury is a potent toxin that causes permanent damage to the brain and nervous system,” that “mercury exposure comes through eating contaminated fish,” and that “power generation is now the largest uncontrolled source of mercury emissions.” In stark contrast, Holmstead claimed in a June, 2011 debate, “It is pretty hard to say that [mercury from coal-fired power plants] is a significant public health issue.” Each year, EPA’s mercury rule is expected to prevent 4,200-11,000 premature deaths, along with thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and other health problems [PDF].
It takes a special talent to lobby against public health in favor of corporate profit. Part of Holmstead’s proficiency in peddling coal’s delay and deny strategy is to avoid an honest discussion of the immense impacts the burning coal has on public health and the environment, and instead focus on misleading cost benefit analyses. This dark talent is likely the reason Holmstead was named as one of several George W. Bush administration officials now advising Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on energy issues. Holmstead also aided Romney during his 2008 campaign.
While the focus of this cautionary tale is how Jeff Holmstead has obstructed effective methods of reducing mercury pollution from coal plants, unlimited mercury pollution is only one dangerous privilege that Holmstead has defended for his coal clients. Holmstead’s full history includes parallel efforts to block or weaken other EPA rules. While at EPA, Holmstead attacked New Source Review rules, which require pollution controls when new industrial facilities are built or old ones are upgraded. And as for reducing industry greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global climate change, EPA air chief Holmstead stated in 2005, “the idea that there would be mandatory, you know, carbon regulation is just something that we don’t support.” In his time as a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, Holmstead was implicated in a 2010 scandal revealing that he and another former Bush EPA official-turned-lobbyist ghostwrote a legislative amendment for Senator Lisa Murkowski (I-AK) that would have undermined the Clean Air Act’s provision to control climate-altering greenhouse gases from major emitters. Sen. Murkowski has received over $380,000 from coal interests from 1999-2011, with $65,000 from Holmstead coal clients in the specific years he has worked for them. In 2011, Sen. Murkowski wrote letters and threatened legislative action to further delay implementation of EPA’s mercury rule.
At present, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates [PDF] that finally completing and implementing a Utility MACT mercury rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths per year, along with other enormous health benefits, by the time the rule is fully implemented.
Jeff Holmstead’s sabotage of the rulemaking process at EPA has caused eight years of delay, delay where Americans have continued to suffer from the impacts of pollution from coal fired power plants. The implications of the amount of lives that could have been saved in this eight-year timeframe is staggering: tens of thousands of people have likely been unnecessarily killed by coal pollution because of the delay. Instead of being held accountable, Holmstead continues to make a killing as the coal industry’s mercury lobbyist.
*What's the Utility MACT? (back up to report)
The Clinton EPA, recognizing the danger of mercury and certain other hazardous air pollutants, chose the “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) method for controlling dangerous pollution at power plants. The Utility MACT requires plant-by-plant controls to greatly reduce air emissions of mercury using attainable but top-notch technology. While utilities still haven’t been made to comply with a MACT rule, similar rules for incinerator industries have shown over 95% reductions in mercury pollution [PDF] over a 15-year period. Without any regulation, coal- and oil-burning utilities managed only 10% voluntary reductions of mercury pollution over the same time. Coal and oil burning electric utilities are the top source of manmade mercury pollution in the United States.
Environmental Law Reporter:
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, “A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration,” part 1 of 2, April, 2004.
Lisa Heinzerling & Rena I. Steinzor, Environmental Law Reporter, News & Analysis, "A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration, Part II" part 2 of 2, June, 2004.
New York Times:
Neela Banerjee, "Files Detail Debate in E.P.A. on Clean Air," New York Times, March 21, 2002.
Katharine Q. Seelye, "White House Rejected a Stronger E.P.A. Alternative to the President's Clear Skies Plan," New York Times, April 28, 2002.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, "Emissions Trading," Letter to the Editor, New York Times, June 7, 2002, obtained through ProQuest.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Committee Approves E.P.A. Nominee, Setting Up Floor Fight," New York Times, October 16, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, “White House Minimized the Risks of Proposed Mercury Rules, Scientists Say,” New York Times, April 7, 2004. (back to text)
Jennifer 8. Lee, "Critics Say E.P.A. Won't Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting with President's Policies," New York Times, July 14, 2003.
Jennifer 8. Lee, "New Policy on Mercury Pollution Was Rejected by Clinton E.P.A." New York Times, December 16, 2003.
Christopher Drew and Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “Air War -- Remaking Energy Policy; How Power Lobby Won Battle Of Pollution Control at E.P.A.” New York Times, March 6, 2004. (back to text)
Michael Janofsky, "Inspector General Says E.P.A. Rule Aids Polluters," New York Times, October 1, 2004.
"Dubious Choices," Editorial, New York Times, April 24, 2006.
Eric Pianin, "EPA Announces 'Cap and Trade' Plan to Cut Mercury Pollution; Agency Bowed to Utility Industry Pressure, Critics Charge," Washington Post, p. A35, December 16, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Withholds Air Pollution Analysis; Senate Plan Found More Effective, Slightly More Costly than Bush Proposal," Washington Post, p. A03, July 1, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest.
Guy Gugliotta & Eric Pianin, "EPA Issues Rosier 'Clear Skies' Analysis, Based on New Model; Agency Denies Hiding Data on Rival Bill," Washington Post, p. A06, July 2, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available on High Beam.
Eric Pianin, "Report Cites 10 States' Mercury Pollution; Envrionmental Advocacy Group Uses EPA Data to Pinpoint 'Hot Spots'," Washington Post, p. A02, December 10, 2003. Obtained through ProQuest, available at Environmental Defense Fund [PDF].
Eric Pianin, "Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark; EPA Language Similar to that in Memos from Law Firm Representing Utilities," Washington Post, p. A04, January 31, 2004.
Juliet Williams, "List of states suing federal government over mercury regulations rises to 10," Associated Press, April 12, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest.
John Heilprin, "Internal EPA study finds higher benefits from curbing mercury pollution," Associated Press, April 29, 2005. Obtained through ProQuest, available through Google News.
Frank O'Donnell, Blog for Clean Air, Clean Air Watch. A site search for "Holmstead" reveals numerous accounts over the years.
"Resolved: EPA's Utility MACT is the right tool at the right time," filmed debate, Environmental Law Institute, June 7, 2011.
Meg Kinnard, "EPA's Holmstead: Emissions Trading Program Works," Insider Interview, National Journal, February 5, 2003.
Last weekend was a wild one for climate action in our nation’s Capitol, between the protest outside a conference run by Koch Industries front group Americans for Prosperity and Sunday’s large street protest against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that encircled the White House with over 10,000 people.
The two issues came together when I and another Greenpeace activist found oil billionaire and Americans for Prosperity Chairman David Koch inside AFP’s “Defending the American Dream” conference, and questioned Koch about his company’s financial stake in the Keystone XL pipeline and their false statement to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). See for yourself:
Greenpeace presented Mr. Koch with a “Wanted for climate crimes” flyer featuring the faces of himself and brother Charles, and also asked about any changes in his view on climate change after a Koch-funded study appears to agree with what climate scientists have known for decades now—the globe is indeed increasing in average surface temperature. David Koch refused to answer questions, but clearly understood that accountability was expected for the $55 million he and brother Charles Koch have donated to organizations that work to confuse and deny the reality of climate science.
Mr. Koch’s day wasn’t all bad—shortly before the encounter he was lauded by Herman Cain, who declared, “I am the Koch Brothers’ brother from another mother!” The statement lifted David Koch out of his seat for a strange Nixon-style salute to the AFP audience. Chairman Koch also got to hear from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and fellow climate denial financier and AFP director Art Pope. Among numerous other issues, the keynote speakers attacked environmental protections and peddled fossil fuel extraction. Herman Cain stated the need for the US Environmental Protection Agency to undergo an “attitude adjustment,” a popular sentiment among attendees who were also offered a panel dedicated to hating on the EPA.
Echoing Kochs’ efforts to dismantle the EPA
Opening the “Extreme Power Abuses” panel, Koch-backed Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) bragged about his efforts to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming, warning observers that EPA is “on the march, they will stop at nothing.”
Following Rep. Pompeo was Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch and Exxon front, among other dirty donors. Hartnett White’s primary focus appears to be criticizing the EPA’s every move. She approved Texas’ first new coal-fired power plant in 20 years when she was chair of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality, and has grossly misrepresented the scientific conclusions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. During the panel, Hartnett White pushed to continue allowing unchecked mercury emissions from coal plants, which the coal lobby has blocked from regulation since the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. She downplayed the concerns of communities suffering from coal plant pollution with claims like “People do not die of particulate matter levels,” while ignoring clear threats to our health, such as mercury from power plants winding up in the fish we eat. Most indicative of Hartnett White’s do-nothing attitude on pollution: “there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no environmental problems.”
Next up was a career polluter apologist from the American Tradition Institute, Chris Horner. Horner is also an affiliate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Horner’s current work involves harassing climatologist Michael Mann by seeking his emails from the University of Virginia, a favorite cause of climate denier and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was also present at the AFP conference.
The EPA panel was concluded with the angry rants of Ann McElhinney, who has made a name for herself as an anti-environmental documentary filmmaker who circulates her films among various climate denier front groups. McElhinney accused environmentalists in general of being unequivocal liars while throwing some questionable claims* around herself. Claiming that “fracking is an absolute miracle,” McElhinney repeatedly attacked Gasland director Josh Fox for spreading a “message of hate” though his film. Similarly, McElhinney said that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline “is just wonderful,” and mocked the idea of an organized protest against Keystone XL two days later.
What McElhinney said that did seem on point was, "at the moment, the story of energy is being told by people that tell lies." That certainly sounds right – if she meant the influence peddlers of the fossil fuel industry. But McElhinney then continued to demonize people with environmental concerns, rather than pointing out how polluters spend millions to influence our government through direct donations, lobbyists, trade associations, and front groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the very panelists McElhinney stood next to.
Americans for Koch’s Prosperity
Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity have become synonymous to the people who pay attention to the billionaire oil baron brothers and their many front groups. AFP itself was spawned from predecessor group, the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation (CSE), which split from its sister group to form AFP and Freedomworks. While the Kochs left Freedomworks alone, they continue to fund and govern AFP—David Koch is the chairman of the AFP Foundation and the group has received over $5.6 million from the Koch Brothers’ foundations, according to the most recent five years of their tax filings. Co-sponsors and allies present at the conference have received large checks from the Kochs over the same time frame, such as the Heritage Foundation ($2.2 million), the Institute for Humane Studies ($4.4 million), and the American Legislative Exchange Council ($275,858).
Other known financiers of AFP and other corporate front groups, which often don’t have to report their donors, are the usual cadre of ideologically-driven conservative foundations backed by corporate interests who bankroll efforts to roll back environmental protections, attack health care reforms, increase corporate rights while decreasing corporate tax rates…check out the Lewis Powell memo for more history on how companies have seized our democracy.
Standing out most among Ann McElhinney’s misleading statements were two in particular. First, she claimed that the gas industry website FracFocus contains full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—it doesn’t. Second, she led the audience to believe that health concerns over tar sands water pollution [PDF] in Alberta, Canada were unsubstantiated. Specifically, McElhinney attacked Dr. John O'Connor, who discovered and was persecuted by industry (and industry-tainted government) for years for linking tar sands operations to unusually high cancer rates. This was formerly confirmed by the Alberta Cancer Board in May 2008, vindicating Dr. O'Connor. The cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area are 30% higher than expected rates. Most notably, McElhinney accused Dr. O’Connor of fabricating the death of a 33-year old in Fort Chipewyan, a community heavily polluted by chemical byproducts flowing up the Athabasca River. Read more about this specific industry/Alberta government attack on Dr. O'Connor in Andrew Nikiforuk's "Tar Sands," pp. 96-101.
Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
This morning, CEOs, founders, and other leaders of 68 organizations sent a letter to President Obama, urging that he do what he can to stop the dangerous extraction of shale gas that is occurring across the country without any federal public safeguards. Often called 'fracking,' communities from Pennsylvania to Texas to Minnesota are already suffering from the numerous environmental problems connected with this process to force “natural” gas from shale several thousand feet below ground.
The letter states,
'Fracking involves shooting millions of gallons of water laced with carcinogenic chemicals deep underground to break apart rock to release trapped gas. Despite its obvious hazards, regulation necessary to ensure that fracking does not endanger our nation’s water supply has not kept pace with its rapid and increasing use by the oil and gas industry.
To date, fracking has resulted in over 1,000 documented cases of groundwater contamination across the county, either through the leaking of fracking fluids and methane into groundwater, or by above ground spills of contaminated and often radioactive wastewater from fracking operations. Rivers and lakes are also being contaminated with the release of insufficiently treated waste water recovered from fracking operations. In addition, fracking typically results in the release of significant quantities of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere despite the availability of cost-effective containment measures.'
Fracked gas may be no 'bridge fuel,' and it certainly is not 'clean energy.' Burning natural gas releases about half the greenhouse gas as burning coal, but fracked gas may produce so much more methane during extraction and processing that it could be as bad or worse than coal for the climate.
The oil and gas industry have good lobbyists, and have achieved years ago exemptions under virtually every federal environmental law, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Companies like Conoco Phillips, Chesapeake Energy and Talisman Energy are not even required to disclose the more than 900 different chemicals used in the fracking process, which contaminate aquifers. Talisman has even targeted children in its lobbying, with 'Terry the Fracosaurus' who promotes an industry that is polluting drinking water with toxic chemicals.
Oil and gas companies have spent over three hundred million dollars in the last two years lobbying against federal protections from their pollution, so it is not too surprising that the federal government has decided to 'shoot now, ask questions later.' There are few efforts by Congress and the administration to mitigate the public health impacts of fracking.
In the next week or two we should see some results fom a panel of experts set up by the Department of Energy, which is supposed to reach conclusions on how to frack safely. However, the panel is stocked with only frack-friendly experts. EPA is studying impacts on water quality, but that study will take years to complete and is limited in its scope.
While further knowledge about impacts is a certainly a good thing, in this case 'more research' means political procrastination. EPA found 24 years ago that fracking contaminates water supplies. So far the only legislation to get much traction is the 'FRAC Act,' spearheaded by Democracts from Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado. This bill is an important step to closing one legal loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act, and would require that industry disclose which chemicals they're using.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
In the midst of attacks from Congress on virtually all things environmental, EPA has announced a rule to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution. The two-decade history of this long-developing rule is a frustrating anecdote of the success of the anti-public health coal lobby.
Coal industry has contributed heavily to the campaign coffers of our lawmakers. Senator Inhofe (R-OK), America's most iconic politician against environmental logic, introduced the speciously entitled CARE Act. When it comes to public health, the bill is better called the 'Don't Give a Damn Act.' CARE would strip EPA's ability to protect people against airborne toxics. American Electric Power is clearly supportive of Inhofe's stalling bill. Other companies willing to pay evil lobbyists, but not to pay to invest in pro-public pollution technology, include Southern Energy and Duke Energy.
To their disappointment, this rule requires polluters reduce emissions of heavy metals, toxic gases, and other dangerous pollutants. Let's be clear, these companies have a choice.
'Mad hatter's disease,' named after a symptom of mercury exposure, wreaks havoc on the central nervous system and eventually the entire body. Also called Minimata disease, named after the river and community who suffered from wanton mercury pollution by industry in Japan, chronic mercury poisoning has been studied for several decades now.
Mercury contributes to thousands of deaths annually and may adversely affect the development of over 400,000 babies per year. Mercury exposure is serious problem for the lungs, brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, and the immune system. About 90% of human exposure is through the diet. Because of 'bioaccumulation' (mercury collects over time in organisms' bodies, including human bodies) and 'biomagnification' (concentration increases as animals eat other animals) we are most exposed through eating animal products. Newborn babies are most vulnerable, since they act as a mercury filter in the womb, and are exposed again through their mother's milk. Umbilical cord blood is a filter for a number of hazardous pollutants that include mercury. The only safe level of mercury exposure is zero.
Polluters have been spreading mercury around the country. Taller smokestacks never help. Much airborne mercury often falls back to the ground and waterways within only 100 or so miles, but since it doesn't breakdown it is re-emitted into the air, floats down streams, or is carried around by animals who ingest it. In 2008 about half the area of all rivers and lakes were under water contamination advisories, 80% of which was due to mercury pollution.
Most coal-fired power plant owners have not yet opted to install easily available technology that could reduce up to 90% of their mercury emissions. The majority of mercury poisoning is linked to burning coal. Some of this is transboundary pollution from burning coal in other countries. Fortunately, the US administration is constructively engaged in international discussions to reduce transboundary airborne mercury pollution. A positive outcome at the next international meetings surely depends on a strong rule. This rule is supposed to be finalized by November, whereas the next round of international mercury talks is the first week of the same month.
This new EPA rule would reduce our exposure to many of the most toxic substances humans have ever encountered (and created). Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous. Notwithstanding Frank Capra's masterpiece adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, we cannot blame widespread arsenic contamination on Cary Grant's well-meaning aunts. The main culprit is coal, always dirty and filthy.