As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.
This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.
However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.
The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.
March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.
In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:
"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."
March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled
In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.
"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"
April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.
April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled
At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.
As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:
"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”
If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Chris Stewart, head of congressional commitee on climate change, confronted about his climate science denial
Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) is the chair of the subcommittee on the environment, the congressional group in charge of the EPA, climate change research, and “all activities related to climate.” It is therefore extremely troubling that Stewart denies the basic findings of climate science. Stewart has said that he is “not convinced” that climate change is a threat, despite the fact that the EPA, NOAA, and all of the climate science and scientists that he now oversees, disagree with him. In fact 98% of actual climate scientists disagree with his views on climate science.
At a recent town hall meeting, a group of activists confronted Stewart on his ill-informed views on climate science. The activists, working with the group Forecast the Facts, presented Stewart with a 17,000 signature petition demanding “the Chairman of the Science Committee's Subcommittee on Environment stop using his seat to promote climate denialism.” They also held up banners reading “Believe It Or Not Climate Change Is Not Going Away,” “97% of Say Climate Change is Human Caused. We Trust Them,” and “Stewart Denies While Utah Burns."
The group of activists included high school student Sara Ma. "Many people think climate change is a future problem for my generation to solve later, but it’s not. The data shows that it is here, it's happening and it has a cost," said Ma, a 17-year-old senior at West High School. Utahns are particularly upset by Stewart’s ignorance on climate issues due to the record wildfire season they endured last year. Wildfires did over $50 million dollars in damage to Utah in 2012.
Stewart's climate denial is made more suspicious by his close ties to carbon polluting industries. His brother and campaign manager, Tim Stewart, is a Washington, DC lobbyist for fossil fuel corporations. In addition, he has received more campaign donations from oil and gas companies than any other single source.
See more pictures from the confrontation with climate science denier Chris Stewart
This year, the oil, gas and coal industries combined have spent more than $153 million on ads promoting fossil fuels and attacking renewables, according to the New York Times. That’s almost four times the amount spent on clean energy advertising in the same time frame.
It’s also a third more than was spent by the fossil fuels industries in 2008.
So what message is worth the record amounts of advertising dollars?
Well, as it turns out, the fossil fuel industries really don’t like regulation, the EPA, or president Obama, and they want the voting public behind them.
Though the dirty energy industries’ dislike of Obama seems a bit misplaced, (between allowing widespread fracking and his support of drilling offshore and in the arctic, Obama has given the fossil fuel lobby plenty) it does make sense that they would support Mitt Romney. After all, Romney is not concerned with “healing the planet,” and neither are the oil and coal corporations of America. It’s a natural fit.
However, the majority of the fossil fuel funded commercials are actually repeats of the same messages that the Big Coal and Big Oil have been trumpeting for years.
A recent Greenpeace investigation in to coal advertising over the last 40 years has found that the fear mongering and hysterical accusations made today by coal companies – that regulations kill jobs or coal can be “clean” for instance – are literally decades old.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group, has spent $12 million dollars so far this year on ads that, except for being in color and on youtube, could have been straight from 1970.
“The stakes are high,” said Steve Miller, the recently retired president of ACCCE. Well, hopefully Mr. Miller is high if he thinks people will buy the same tired deceptions that the coal industry has been threatening us with for years.
Tomorrow, the American Legislative Exchange Council--known as ALEC--will host their 2012 Spring Task Force summit in Charlotte, NC. At tomorrow's meeting, the corporate front group will round up its various committees and prepare to peddle new state-level legislation to attack clean energy laws, protect polluting industries, privatize education, and suppress voters, among other big business schemes.
Need a refresher on ALEC? It's the group that brings state legislators to the table with representatives from major corporations in the sectors of energy, healthcare, tobacco, private prisons, and other groups to manipulate state politics to maximize their profits and limit their liabilities. These companies help craft template bills for state legislators to bring home and introduce in their respective statehouses.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause now give us a roster of specific attendees at ALEC's environmental meetings, a consortium of state legislators and a who's who of the most offensive polluting political heavyweights including: Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy and Peabody. Participating legislators know well they're walking into a dirty party, sometimes using state taxpayer money to foot the bill.
The corporations that fund ALEC are well known for their political spending on both sides of the aisle. ALEC funders include Koch Industries, known for its coordinated political spending against President Obama, and Duke Energy, which is laying down a ten million dollar line of credit to host the Democratic National Convention in their hometown of Charlotte, NC. But these polluting companies are co-conspirators under the banner of ALEC, where partisan politics are set aside to focus on the mission of destroying environmental protections, clean energy competition and liability for crimes against both people and the ecosystems sustaining us.
So what exactly are ALEC and these oil, coal, chemical and public relations companies focusing on tomorrow?
According to their newest meeting memorandum, ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is going to discuss some pending model laws that ALEC will likely be approved for state distribution:
- The "Electricity Freedom Act" (really? Electricity Freedom?!) is a new attack on states with plans requiring companies to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This new bill is similar to other legislation ALEC has already peddled in several states and compliments an "email and telephone campaign" against state renewable energy standards, according to the Guardian.
- The "Coal Intrastate and Use Act" serves to prevent EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state.
- The "Resolution on U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Accountability" mandates a report be filed on cities and states that have fallen short of their goals to reduce greenhouse gases through the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has over 1,000 signatories. ALEC's new resolution then demands that any program that hasn't met its goal be canceled out right, voiding the Climate Protection Agreement altogether. Keeping in mind that ALEC's members like Koch and Exxon have fought greenhouse gas programs at every turn for years, it is obvious that this ALEC bill is meant for one thing, attacking programs that address carbon emissions.
- A resolution demanding the passage of the notorious federal REINS Act, which would give Congress the power to block the enforcement of just about any federal protection--clean air and water laws, safeguards for mine workers, prohibiting tobacco sales to kids, protection from discrimination, you name it. It's the ultimate gift from Congress to their corporate fundraisers who would like to avoid responsibility for...everything.
- The exhaustively-titled "Resolution Supporting a Reasonable Compliance Timeline and Economy-wide impact study of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule" has a simple purpose: delay when coal-burning utilities have to reduce mercury pollution and other severely hazardous emissions. For major mercury polluters like Energy Future Holdings, American Electric Power, and Duke Energy, this is likely to be a popular item tomorrow.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause also show us what ALEC's focal points have been for other meetings in the last two years. Here are a few examples:
- A resolution urging Congress and the State Department to push through TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. ALEC recycles a lofty jobs lie in their reasoning for this resolution, ignoring State Department KXL job estimates under 2,000 and a Cornell study warning that "There is evidence to suggest that the effects of KXL construction could very well lead to more jobs being lost than are created." How many jobs does ALEC assume? 120,000 -- see Greenpeace's letter to the SEC to understand how they were calculated by politics rather than reality. Go figure--the American Petroleum Institute and its largest members were in the room when this resolution was forged.
- A deceptive ALEC bill pushed by ExxonMobil that "discloses" chemicals used by the oil industry in fracking operations, but actually inserts loopholes to avoid disclosure of certain fracking chemicals. This bate-and-switch comes at a time when doctors are concerned about signing confidentiality agreements if they ask for disclosure of fracking chemicals when treating people who are exposed to chemicals from gas drilling.
- A resolution that would prevent EPA from recognizing coal ash as a hazardous substance (it contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements). This may well have served as the model for the coal ash amendment that is currently being tacked on to the federal transportation bill by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV). Coal ash was a repeated topic of discussion at ALEC's energy task force meetings over the last two years, according to their meeting documents.
Who exactly attends these events? Beyond ALEC staff and dozens of corporate representatives, industry front groups are also represented. Tomorrow will feature John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute in a presentation on gas prices (spoiler alert: this crowd will probably blame the President). Next up: presentations from representatives of the Edison Electric Institute (utility trade group) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (nuclear industry lobby).
Perhaps most intriguing will be a chat about "The Dirty Truth Behind Reusable Bags" led by Charles Gerba, who will warn attendees that reusable bags will give them "projectile vomiting and diarrhea." Gerba may not mention this dramatic and messy sickness can be avoided by simply washing one's reusable bags, since Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly (a plastic bag company) regularly attends these meetings, and Gerba serves as an advisor to Hilex Poly.
ALEC always gets some of industry's most interesting mouthpieces to set the rhetorical tone for those attending ALEC's anti-environmental jamborees. Looking back to last August at ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture task force meeting in New Orleans, presenters included:
- Robert Bradley of the Institute for Energy Research, which made press recently when its sister group the American Energy Alliance spend $3.6 million on ads blaming the President for high gas prices. IER has a former Koch lobbyist on staff and has received $175,000 from Koch foundations in recent years as part of the climate denial network.
- Gerry Angevene of the Fraser Institute, another longtime player in the Koch- and Exxon-funded climate denial machine
- James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, which has helped champion ALEC efforts to confuse K-12 students about climate science. Heartland is currently in the middle of a crisis as corporate funders are distancing themselves from its comparison of terrorists and serial killers to those who recognize the reality of global warming. Seriously, they put the Unabomber on a billboard saying, "Do you still believe in global warming? I do. www.heartland.org"
- Craig Idso, whose nutjob Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has been paid by the coal industry and the Heartland Institute to tell people that global warming is good for the planet. Craig Idso explained this nonsense to state legislators in August. As is the pattern here, see the Center's history of Koch- and Exxon-funding, as well as Idso's former employment at Peabody and work for the Western Fuels Association.
- Stephen Miller of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which spends big on national advertisements promoting the idea that perhaps coal isn't inherently dirty, dangerous and deadly (it is). Miller, who is resigning from ACCCE this year after serving as a dilligent coal apologist for the last decade, came under Congressional fire in 2009 when it was revealed that ACCCE contractors forged letters on behalf of groups "representing senior citizens, minorities and veterans," including the NAACP.
Likely due to the publicity of ALEC Exposed and the recent mass migration of 16 companies and 34 state politicians away from ALEC (in response to controversial bills on voter suppression and Stand Your Ground laws that protected Trayvon Martin's killer), ALEC no longer includes the specific members of its task forces in the documents it mails to participants beforehand. ALEC's Energy task force as of June, 2011 shows the nefarious people who run this dirty operation, by name. People representing the following groups have been consistently present at recent ALEC meetings over the last couple years:
Oil and gas industry:
- Shell Oil
- American Petroleum Institute
- Occidental Petroleum
- Marathon Oil
- Continental Resources
- American Gas Association (trade association)
- Peabody Energy
- Cloud Peak Energy
- Duke Energy & Progress Energy (which are merging into the nation's largest utility company)
- Energy Future Holdings
- American Electric Power
- PacifiCorp (a MidAmerican subsidiary, owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway)
- Alliant Energy
- Pinnacle West
- MDU Resources
- NV Energy
- Edison Electric Institute (trade association, membership includes all utilities above)
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (membership includes AEP, Peabody, and Energy Future Holdings subsidiary Luminant)
- Salt River Project
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (an aggressive lobbying group for electrical utility cooperatives and top political donor in the energy sector)
- Nuclear Energy Institute (trade association)
- Duke, Progress, AEP, and Pinnacle West all have notable nuclear generation capacity
Other major polluters:
- Dow Agrosciences
- International Paper
- American Chemistry Council (top trade association for chemical companies)
- Bayer Healthcare (Bayer is the country's top air polluter according the Political Economy Research Institute at U-Mass, Amherst)
- Honeywell (#31 on PERI's toxic air polluters list)
- General Motors (GM has a history of climate denial, although GM Foundation just dumped the Heartland Institute)
- LyondellBasell Industries (third largest chemical company in the world)
Front groups, all involved in climate science denial (Koch funding since 2005):
- Americans for Prosperity ($5,760,781)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation ($152,600)
- Commonwealth Foundation ($84,532)
- Goldwater Institute ($70,427)
- John Locke Foundation ($47,472)
- Heartland Institute ($25,000)
Public Relations Firms
Dezenhall Resources, which Businessweek calls the "Pit Bull of Public Relations." Dezenhall Resources is currently included in a Greenpeace lawsuit due to its role in hiring spies on behalf of chemical companies to track Greenpeace's internal campaign plans.
The fossil fuel industry knows that its time is running out. While their influence and profits are still enormous, we can see from increasing shifts to unconventional extraction methods--hydraulic fracturing, deepwater drilling, tar sands mining, and other examples--that easily accessible fossil fuels are dwindling. That's a pretty clear indicator that they will not last indefinitely, before even considering how burning dirty fuel to the last particle will cook the Earth, not to mention the casualties along the way. You know, like the Gulf of Mexico, or the people of the Athabasca watershed, or those whose wells are now full of poisoned [PDF] or flammable water.
Unfortunately, for people who care about the future of humanity and the vast variety of species were are dragging to extinction [PDF] through the climate crisis, profit is the key factor for fossil fuel barons and their influence peddlers. With time running out and industry insiders well aware of it, Big Fossil is focusing on how to preserve itself for as long as possible. Creating a public relations war over the seriousness of global climate disruption has been the keystone tactic in this process.
Companies recognize the benefits of investing in public doubt, and unfathomable sums have been dumped into this effort across the board, whether through the grossly unapologetic Koch Industries or ExxonMobil, or more slyly by the likes of Chevron or Duke Energy. Industry misinformation is then pushed to the public through astroturf front groups (like the Koch-funded and -founded Americans for Prosperity), through advertising campaigns (like those run by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity), and by hiring "scientists" or "experts" with that special lack of integrity and credibility that allows a person to earn money at the expense of a far, far broader population. As this happens, Congress and federal offices are constantly being filled with polluter servants instead of public servants, taking massive campaign donations or cutting career deals in order to further enrich Polluters, Inc.
As if the battle wasn't uphill enough, we now have witnessed the first round of elections post-Citizens United, in which powerhouses like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raised tens of millions of dollars from the corporate titans it serves and funneled the money into attack ads, sending a warning message to politicians who aren't bending over backwards for big business, if not delivering a crippling blow to their election campaigns.
Now wouldn't be a bad time to look up the definition of "democracy." Google it now, before net neutrality is a thing of the past.