mercury

Exxon- and Koch-funded scientist Willie Soon confronted at University of Wisconsin over discredited climate research

Written by Hannah Noll.

I was just getting out of class last Tuesday when Dan Cannon, Greenpeace Student Network Coordinator, called to inform me that Dr. Willie Soon was coming to University of Wisconsin-Madison the following night to “challenge the Global Warming status quo.” I attend school an hour away, but I just couldn’t allow myself to pass this opportunity up. I had prior knowledge that there are climate deniers that are funded from Big Coal and Big Oil, but what I learned about Willie Soon's funding, motives, works published, and past (and present) controversies shocked me.

“Harvard Astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon,” as listed on the fossil-fuel funded Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow’s event notification, consistently misrepresents himself to seem credible. Dr. Soon is not employed by Harvard University as suggested by CFACT Campus, but he uses the affiliation with the university to his advantage. He works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Though located on Harvard’s campus, the group is not officially associated with the University, and Harvard University has distanced itself from Soon. He is an astrophysicist by training, but has no formal education on climate science.
 
His self-misrepresentation alone wouldn’t be jaw-dropping, but when paired with information about Willie Soon’s funding, it is clear that something fishy is going on here. The last grant he received from a funder with no ties to dirty energy interests was in 2002 (a grant that carried through to 2006). Since then, he has been entirely funded by fossil fuel interests. Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in coal, oil and gas funding for his work, including funding from Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Texaco (now Chevron), and the Koch Brothers. Greenpeace Freedom Of Information Act inquiries to Smithsonian Institute reveal that in 2011 and 2012, Dr. Soon received nearly $115,000 from Donors Trust. He has been caught directly coordinating with lobbyists from ExxonMobil to undermine the United Nation’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report before it was even released. IPCC is the global research authority on climate change. 
 

Recounting the day’s events:

When the time came to leave Milwaukee for CFACT's event in Madison, Lynda Mouledoux and I probably had over 100 different species of butterflies in our stomachs. I’m just a college student, but this was my chance to demand accountability from someone meddling with important science in order to hold the world back from addressing climate change. After his presentation, he held a question and answer session. I came prepared to ask critical questions. During the questioning, something must’ve gotten under his skin and caused an aggressive and defensive posture that launched phrases like “childish,” “extremely rude,” “wrong,” and “if you had a bit of intelligence”  Not once did I use a personal attack on him; I was simply asking him about factual details of his career and those funding it.
 
My ask was "You have received over one million dollars in funds from coal and oil interests. The last grant you received from a funder with no ties to the energy industry was in 2002. That's over a decade ago. So Dr. Soon, why should we trust someone without credentials in climate science whose work is only funded by coal and oil interests?”  Watch the video below to see his reaction to this question.
 
 
Dr. Soon made an interesting claim, emphasis added:
"I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything, but I have enough knowledge about climate science and climate system to be able to write scientific papers and go to meetings and talk about monsoon systems and talk about any other things that you want to discuss about climate science issues. I'm as qualified as anybody that you know on this planet on this topic"
But Soon certainly appears to claim that he’s an expert on things outside of his expertise. His lack of climate science credentials aside, perhaps the $290,000 he has received from coal-burning utility Southern Company explains why he abruptly appeared in a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing mercury pollution from coal plants. The op-ed, titled "The Myth of Killer Mercury," ends with the following description:
Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues.
...except Soon doesn’t work for Harvard and carries no formal expertise on “mercury and public health issues.” Co-authoring that article was Paul Driessen, another known fossil fuel shill from the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)--the parent organization to the campus group hosting Soon’s discussion on climate science.
 
We’re living in a time where corporations and junk science are crippling the effectiveness of our own government to serve us. According to Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, “ExxonMobil made more money each of the last three years than any company in the history of money.” Corporations put profits over people and destroy the earth to please shareholders. I refuse to accept this, so I will continue to perform Non-violent Direct Action in order to do my best to change the status quo.
This blog was written by Hannah Noll. Hannah is a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Campus Coordinator with the Greenpeace Student Network, and a Greenpeace Semester alumna.
 

VIDEO: Coal Polluter Lobbyist Confronted at Energy Event

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:

(Click for transcript of interruption)

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.

greenpeace climate crimes unit jeff holmstead jack gerard wanted

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.

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERRUPTION:

“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)

What's on ALEC's polluter agenda tomorrow?

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.

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
  • 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:

  • ExxonMobil
  • Shell Oil
  • BP
  • Chevron
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • Occidental Petroleum
  • Marathon Oil
  • Continental Resources
  • American Gas Association (trade association)

Coal mining

Coal-burning utilities:

  • 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
  • NiSource
  • 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 Industry:

  • EnergySolutions
  • Nuclear Energy Institute (trade association)
  • Duke, Progress, AEP, and Pinnacle West all have notable nuclear generation capacity

Other major polluters:

Front groups, all involved in climate science denial (Koch funding since 2005):

 

 

 

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.

Jeffrey Holmstead: the Coal Industry's Mercury Lobbyist (REPORT)

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.

Unclean Habits

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.

Lethal Lies

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.

References:

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.

Washington Post:

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.

Eric Pianin, "EPA Led Mercury Policy Shift: Agency Scuttled Task Force That Advised Tough Approach," Washington Post, p. A17, December 30, 2003. Obtained through LexisNexis.

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.

Associated Press:

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.

Other references:

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.

Numerous articles cited in the text were written by Darren Samuelsohn for E&E News (subscription required). Samuelsohn now writes for Politico Pro.

"Polluting Democracy" Released

Written by Kyle Ash, Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

 

Today Greenpeace released a report, “Polluting Democracy,” featuring 15 members of the Dirty Money Team - Members of Congress who often work for polluters with money instead of their voters.

 

We live in a representative democracy. Every citizen should not need knowledge and influence with every important decision made by the government. Our representatives are supposed to learn how best to represent our interests, and it's their job to try to make the case for a vote we don't currently support. The fifteen members of Congress in "Polluting Democracy" consistently vote against cleaning up coal pollution so we can breathe clean air.

 

Representative Upton (R-MI) voted to restrict pollution from coal in 2009. Even if the majority of his voters were against the idea (they are not) representing their well-being means it's his job to make the case again. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are like Upton today, and appear to represent polluters that pay for campaign ads or have money to retain mercenary lawyers to lobby Capitol Hill.

 

Sometimes paying polluters are not even from the recipient Representative's district. As shown in "Polluting Democracy," Mike Rogers (R-MI) has no large coal plants in his district, but takes coal company cash and votes against pollution controls on coal plants in neighboring districts that kill about 454 people every year, very likely including people in his district. Other Representatives guilty of this type of fatality-friendly politics include Fred Upton (R-MI), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and Doc Hastings (R-WA).

 

Politicians like to talk about creating jobs and slashing wasteful spending, but many of them forget their party's talking points when they are introducing bills and voting. The wind and solar industries have created far more growth than the coal industry in the last several years, and this is expected to continue. The growth potential by 2020 of renewable energy jobs is twice that of fossil fuels.

 

In the states for 14 of the 15 districts covered in “Polluting Democracy” there are more jobs in wind and solar than in coal-fired power. Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Mark Critz (D-PA) might consider joining the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus (SEEC) since in Pennsylvania there are twice as many people employed in wind and solar than in coal-fired electricity.

 

Like Altmire and Critz, Jerry Costello (D-IL) is a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus. Meanwhile, Illinois employs triple the number of people in wind and solar power compared with coal-fired power plants. In Missouri, there are about as many jobs in coal-fired power as in wind and solar. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has just as many coal-fired power plants in his district as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Carnahan is a member of SEEC, while Emerson is in the coal caucus.

 

Wind and solar energy don't release toxic mercury like burning coal does, while mercury is among the many pollutants causing a variety of costs on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Coal costs just from mercury pollution, due to cardiovascular disease, mental retardation and lost productivity, are as high as $29,312,500,000 per year.

 

The coal industry in the United States has unjustified pull on the levers of democracy. It is nothing new that polluters choose to invest in stopping public health policy instead of investing in pollution controls. But every year a new group of at least 34,000 people die and hundreds of thousands of other people get sick from pollution caused by burning coal in America.

 

Peabody Punked, Still "Proud" of Dirty Electricity

Photo Credit: Business Insider

A website campaign known as "Coal Cares" was launched on behalf of Peabody Energy today, offering to distribute free flashy inhalers to children living within 200 miles of a U.S. coal plant.

According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."

Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.


While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.

More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.

Coal Lobby Loves Mercury

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.

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