New survey proves Westerners want conservation on equal ground with drilling

Today, the Center for American Progress (CAP) announced new public opinion research that illustrates the stark gap between Washington’s public equal ground logoland use priorities – heavily weighted toward pro-development policies – and what Westerners believe is an appropriate balance between oil and gas drilling and protecting treasured landscapes for future generations.

This new research clearly shows a bipartisan majority of Western voters are more interested in preserving land for recreation and the enjoyment of future generations than in using it for oil and gas drilling. From CAP’s press release:

“When it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular (30%); instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreation opportunities (63%) and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations (65%).”

As CAP points out, this research confirms a severe lack of citizen accountability from our government.

  • On one hand, we have the Obama administration, which has leased more than 6.3 million acres of public land to oil and gas companies for drilling –  more than two and a half times as much as it has permanently protected for future generations;
  • And on the other, a Congress that was the first since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as wilderness, national park, monument, or wildlife refuge – despite the opposing sentiments of their own constituents.

Read the full report.

The launch of the “Equal Ground” campaign also makes good sense in that it will push Congress and the Obama Administration to align their priorities for how we use public lands with the obvious expectations of communities across the West that rely on national parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces to attract high-paying businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors to come to enjoy world-class recreation resources just as much as they rely on energy development – done responsibly, in appropriate places.

One way the Obama administration could start achieving the balance Westerners expect from federal policymakers is to implement its own 2010 leasing reform directives, meant to drive our local economies with a real balance between protecting public lands to support and attract high-wage businesses in the West, and using them to produce energy. These reforms give federal officials crucial tools to look at the landscape before the leasing phase, and plan out the right places to drill and the right areas to leave alone because they bring major economic benefits to the community.

But in Colorado, federal bureaucrats have failed to implement these new directives – turning the President’s balanced reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

As John Podesta rightfully said today:

“This is a case where Washington’s policies and rhetoric are still locked in a drilling-first mindset, but Westerners want the protection of public lands to be put on equal ground. Voters do not see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands—including new parks, wilderness, and monuments—as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.”

The Equal Ground campaign is supported by a variety of individuals and organizations, including The Center for American Progress, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, and The Center for Western Priorities.

For House Republicans, the season of oil and gas giveaways has begun

As reported by Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Tuesday, House Republicans will spend the summer trying to breathe new life into tired ideas filled with industry giveaways. It’s no wonder given these politicians receive huge contributions from the oil and gas industry. Ironically, these “conservatives” want more mandates and quotas for oil companies while also cutting common sense protections for our air and water.

What Congress should focus its energy on – and what people in the West support – is balance between conservation and energy development. Instead of handouts to oil companies, our leaders in Washington should promote a diverse and thriving economy that supports main street businesses, farming and ranching, tourism, and outdoor recreation.

GOP House leadership has already said it will move the same failed giveaways it tried to push through last year, and the year before that. The problem they’re already running into is that they’ve already tried – and failed – to dupe Americans into thinking these handouts are anything else. Even a Republican energy adviser quoted in Restuccia’s story said, “It’s probably going to look a lot like it’s looked in the last four or five years.”

Westerners want more out of their elected officials than repeated political plays and messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. They want a real balance between protecting the public lands that support and attract high-wage businesses and using them to produce American-made energy.

Here’s a quick preview of the rhetoric we can expect to hear from House Republicans this summer, and the facts they will ignore:

The economy

numbers_graphicShot: Failure to open more federal lands to drilling will hurt job creation and economic growth in Western communities.

Chaser: Western states have grown out of the boom and bust cycle that comes with relying solely on energy development. Protecting as much public land as we lease will further build out the outdoor recreation industry, which already accounts for $64 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Price at the pump

Shot: These bills are an important step toward bringing down gasoline prices.

Chaser: In 2012, an Associated Press study showed that oil production has no effect on gas prices. Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs analysis found that Wall Street speculation was adding more than $23 to the price of crude, or as much as $0.56 per gallon at the pump.

Drilling on private lands

Shot: Increased pressure to develop on private lands is just one result of the slowdown of public lands energy development by this administration .

Chaser: The latest oil boom in the lower 48 states is due largely to an unconventional resource known as “shale oil,” (oil trapped within shale rock). The vast majority of both “shale oil” and “shale gas” (natural gas trapped within shale rock) is found under private, not public, lands. The location of these resources – not safeguards to protect air quality and water supplies – explain the shift in drilling from public to private lands.
shale_locationAdam Sieminski, U.S. House, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2 August 2012

Permitting delays

Shot: Regulatory hurdles, long delays, and policies that keep federal lands under lock-and-key have become all too common.

Chaser: Industry is responsible for the majority of permitting delays. Last year, BLM announced it is moving to an online permitting system that will hopefully help companies cut down the time it takes them to properly file permit applications.
permit_timingBLM Table of Average Application for Permit to Drill (APD) Approval Timeframes: FY2005 – FY2012

Permits

Shot: The Obama administration is playing fast and loose with drilling permit pledges.

Chaser: Industry does not use the drilling permits that have already been issued for oil and gas development. In fact, there are nearly 7,000 unused drilling permits that industry could develop on federal public lands.
unused_permitsBLM Approve Permits – Not Drilled table

Idle lands

Shot: President Obama and his Administration have actively blocked, hindered and delayed American energy production.

Chaser: According to the Department of Interior’s Oil and Gas Lease Utilization, Onshore and Offshore report, issued May 2012, “As of March 31, 2012, approximately 56 percent (20.8 million acres) of total onshore acres under lease on public lands in the Lower 48 States were conducting neither production nor exploration activities.
leased_productionDOI Oil and Gas Lease Utilization Report

The facts are not on House Republicans’ side, and neither is public opinion. A recent poll shows 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy. Seventy-four percent believe they help attract high quality employers and good jobs to western states.

It’s time we put conserving our treasured public lands back on equal ground with leasing them for oil and gas drilling. If oil- and gas-funded politicians continue to try and resurrect these industry giveaways, they’re just showing where their priorities lie – with the companies that fund them rather than the people they represent.

State Department Inspector General Probing Keystone XL Contractor’s Conflicts of Interest

In yet another investigation into the Obama Administration’s activities, the State Department Inspector General is probing the conflicts of interest surrounding the contractor that performed the Keystone XL review,.

ERMProposalThe American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a fossil fuel contractor, hid its ties from the State Department so they could green light the project on behalf of its oil company clients.

Hiring an oil company contractor to review an oil pipeline that its clients have a financial interest in should be illegal – and it is. The Federal Government has strict laws to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent the hiring of contractors who cannot provide unbiased services.

Unredacted documents from the contractor’s proposal (revealed by Mother Jones) show that the company had worked for TransCanada, ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Canadian Tar Sands.

But, ERM misled the State Department at least twice in its proposal (see C&BP’s original post on ERM’s conflicts of interest)– which may have led to its selection by the State Department to review the Keystone XL pipeline.

OCI Question 6

First, ERM answered “No” to the question “Within the past three years, have you (or your organization) had a direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work?“ ERM appears to have added to the Yes/No questionnaire that, “ERM has no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.” Regardless of the addendum, the oil company contractor misled the State Department by checking “No” to the specific question above. Despite the fact that unredacted documents show that ERM worked for TransCanada and other fossil fuel companies with a stake in Keystone XL pipeline in the three years prior to its proposal.

Second, ERM claimed it was not an energy interest. The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development. Yet, ERM has worked for all of the top five oil companies and dozens of other fossil fuel companies. In other words, ERM is clearly an energy interest.

How can we trust ERM to perform an honest review of the Keystone XL pipeline, if it can’t answer a yes/no question honestly?

These misleading statements should have been flagged by the State Department and the contractor should not have been able to perform the review because of these seeming conflicts of interest.

ERMLetterBecause of the issues above, Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and 11 environmental, faith-based and public interest organizations sent a letter  [.PDF] on April 8, 2013, calling on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel to investigate two things: first, whether ERM hid conflicts of interest which might have excluded it from performing the Keystone XL environmental assessment and second, how State Department officials failed to flag inconsistencies in ERM’s proposal.

A few weeks later, C&BP received a voicemail from a Special Agent at the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG):

Hello Mr. Elsner, my name is Special Agent Pedro Colon from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.  I’m calling to inform you that we have received your request and are reviewing the matter.  If you have any questions please contact me at 703-284-2688.

On May 7, 2013, I called Special Agent Colon but he was unable to speak at the time. I followed up the next day and spoke with the Special Agent via phone regarding the request for an investigation. I asked a few basic questions about the status of the complaint and asked specifically if C&BP would be informed should the complaint be fully investigated by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Special Agent Colon informed me that he could not speak to any of the questions and referred us to other staff in the OIG.

On May 9, 2013, I received an email from the OIG General Counsel saying, “that the complaint was being processed per the OIG hotline procedures and is under review.” (See the entire email correspondence here [.PDF])

I then asked the OIG General Counsel the same question he asked Mr. Colon:

If the hotline is moved out of the review process and onto the next step (an investigation?), will I be notified?

The OIG  replied via email saying that the OIG Office of Investigations will not comment if it is engaged in an investigation.

The correspondence between C&BP and the OIG indicates that there is a probe into the Keystone XL review conflicts of interest.

The public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, ERM, an oil company contractor, misled the State Department, in what appears to be an attempt to green light the project on behalf of oil industry clients.

The American Public needs a full investigation into the conflicts of interest and misleading statements of the Keystone XL review contractor, Environmental Resources Management.

Secretary Kerry needs to stop the Keystone XL process until the Inspector General completes a full investigation of these conflicts of interest and the State Department has an unbiased review of Keystone XL’s impact.

Same story, different day: Lamborn, Tipton offer-up tired package of oil and gas company giveaways

House Republicans paraded out their latest series of giveaways to the billion-dollar oil and gas industry today in a subcommittee chaired by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO). The bills would increase corporate welfare and a total disregard for western families and the economic health of local communities.

These reckless proposals put forth by Reps. Lamborn, Scott Tipton (R-CO), and Doc Hastings (R-WA) have failed over and over again in Congress because Americans want more out of their representatives than messaging bills for the oil and gas industry. At a time when oil and gas companies are already getting fat on the taxpayers’ dime, it’s appalling that politicians are dishing up yet another industry smorgasbord with zero regard for Western families’ safety and security.

Westerners want a real balance between protecting public lands and energy development. That balance is critical for attracting high-wage businesses and maintaining the billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy in the West.

The three tired bills paraded out yet again today include extreme measures that create quotas and mandates on behalf of oil and gas companies, and encourage risky speculation on publicly owned lands. These reckless proposals would sacrifice our drinking water, air quality, and public lands just to create more handouts that would do nothing to address our energy concerns.

These reckless measures run counter to western values and what’s best for local economies. Recent polling found that 9 out of 10 Westerners agree that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of the economy, while 74% believe that national parks, forests, and monuments, help to attract high quality employers and good jobs to their state.

The outdoor recreation industry alone accounts for $646 billion in annual spending, 6 million jobs and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Yet, House Republicans continue to push these same reckless proposals, regardless of the potentially devastating impacts to western families and economies – in order to provide more handouts to the billion dollar oil and gas industry which is already hoarding millions of acres of public lands, billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and is focused on drilling on non-federal lands, where the best and most profitable oil resources are located.

Reps Lamborn, Tipton and Hastings, need to be held accountable for blatant disregard of taxpayer money and their continued attempts to increase corporate welfare for oil and gas companies.

Key provisions from the legislation considered today:

Rep. Lamborn’s bill (HR 1965) would:

  • Block the public from participating in oil and gas leasing decisions by creating “entrance fees” of up to $5,000 to join the conversation.
  • Mandate leasing and encourage costly oil shale speculation that has a century-long track record of failure despite billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies.
  • Roll back the Obama Administration’s common sense approach to the failed “rock that burns,” oil shale, which would put already scarce western water at risk.

Rep. Tipton’s bill (HR 1394) would:

  • Establish energy development – especially fossil fuels – as the primary use of public lands, jeopardizing the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries and the thousands of western jobs that they create.
  • Require the Department of Interior to prioritize oil, gas and coal over renewable energy development.

Rep. Hastings bill (HR 1964) would:

  • Fast track approval of drilling permits, roads and pipelines in the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) in Alaska, regardless of potential environmental impacts.
  • Eliminate the “integrated activity plan” for NPR-A that balances energy development with protection of wildlife habitat and other critical areas.

Gov. Hickenlooper’s ‘order’ to oil and gas commission to review fines an empty gesture

Recently, Gov. Hickenlooper put on a masterful show of playing a politician who cares about Coloradans. Unfortunately, it was just an act to distract from the fact that Gov. Hickenlooper successfully killed efforts to set mandatory minimum fines and increase caps on fines for oil and gas companies that pollute.  

After killing these measures, aimed at holding polluters accountable, Gov. Hickenlooper put out a press release ordering his oil and gas commission to ‘review enforcement, fines.’ In other words, he directed his commission to take a look into their abysmal record and get back to him. That’s not leadership, it was an empty gesture to cover his tracks.

Gov. Hickenlooper’s press release doesn’t do anything to strengthen Colorado’s woefully outdated laws, which include the lowest fines in the nation for polluters.  And it’s doubtful that the governor’s oil and gas commission, which includes oil and gas industry employees, will suddenly become competent at holding oil and gas polluters accountable.  An analysis by the Denver Post found that Colorado rarely fines oil and gas companies who pollute. According to the Coloradoan, less than 7 percent of industry violations since 1996 have resulted in fines.

Site of Parachute spill Source: ecoflight

Site of Parachute spill
Source: ecoflight

Last year, the industry reported 402 spills, of which 20 percent contaminated water. Six companies alone accounted for 85 percent of all the spills that contaminated groundwater – Anadarko, Noble Energy, Encana, PDC Energy, WPX Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources.

Not only are polluters not held accountable, but Gov. Hickenlooper has routinely rewarded some of the biggest oil and gas polluters in the state. In 2010 and 2011, Noble Energy caused more spills than any other operator in Colorado – 126.  Yet, Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission gave Noble an ‘Outstanding Operator’ award.

Gov. Hickenlooper also gave Anadarko an ‘Outstanding Operator’ award in 2011, while last year, Anadarko subsidy Kerr-McGee was linked to 70 spills – more than any other operator – of which, 38 percent resulted in water contamination. With these awards, Gov. Hickenlooper has once again made it clear that he isn’t that interested in holding oil and gas companies accountable when they pollute.

Gov. Hickenlooper used the power of his office to kill stronger standards that would have held the oil and gas industry accountable when they pollute. He chose to put the interests of the industry ahead of what’s best for Colorado families and that’s a shame. Now, Gov. Hickenlooper is insulting Coloradans by acting as the concerned politician.

ALEC’s Most Wanted: Exposing a front group for fossil fuel interests (and other corporations)

ALEC Most WantedThe Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) Brendan Fischer and Nick Surgey uncovered an internal document from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the controversial organization’s meeting last week in Oklahoma City. The document entitled “OKC anti-ALEC photos” featured the headshots of eight reporters and public interest advocates that have written about ALEC or been critical of ALEC’s activities (as a front group working on behalf of its corporate membership).

CMD’s Surgey attempted to attend the keynote address by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, which was billed as open to the press. After registering for press credentials at the ALEC registration desk, Mr. Surgey ascended the escalator towards the keynote speech, but was confronted by ALEC staff members and then approached by a uniformed Oklahoma City police officer.

Mr. Fischer and Surgey recount the exchange in which Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting.  From PR Watch:

“I need those credentials,” the officer said.

“I registered,” Surgey replied.

“No, you didn’t,” said a female ALEC staffer, who was accompanying the officer.

“I did, downstairs,” he said.

“It was… you shouldn’t have been able to.”

The reason Surgey shouldn’t have been allowed to register, according to the ALEC staffer: “Because we know who you are.

Surgey asked the ALEC staffer for her name as she asserted that he had to leave:

Can I ask your name?” Surgey asked the ALEC staffer who challenged his press credentials.

“Erm, why?” she replied.

“Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to tell me your name?”

“Yeah, because I know who you are,” she said.

The staffer — whose organization had developed talking points claiming to support the First Amendment, which protects a free and vibrant press — added: “Because you’re going to write an article about it.”

Less than 10 minutes after registering as press, Surgey had his credentials revoked and was ejected from the ALEC meeting by a police officer. As he was escorted away, the ALEC staffer repeated: “We know exactly who you are.”

As Director of the Checks & Balances Project, I was one of the eight people featured on the “ALEC Most Wanted” document alongside other reporters and public interest advocates who have criticized ALEC’s efforts to influence state legislators on behalf of special interests.  Fischer and Surgey write:

The page featured pictures and names of eight people, four of whom work with CMD, including Surgey, CMD’s general counsel Brendan Fischer and its Executive Director Lisa Graves, as well as CMD contributor Beau Hodai.

It is not known whether the photo array of people who have reported on or criticized ALEC was distributed to ALEC members or shared with Oklahoma City law enforcement.

Other targets on the document included The Nation‘s Lee Fang, who has written articles critical of ALEC, and Sabrina Stevens, an education activist who spoke out in an ALEC task force meeting last November. Also featured were Calvin Sloan of People for the American Way and Gabe Elsner of Checks and Balances Project, both of whom are ALEC detractors.

The name of ALEC Events Director Sarah McManamon was in the top corner, indicating the document was printed from her Google account.

ALEC's_Most_Wanted OriginalAs Fischer and Surgey point out, ALEC claims to support the freedom of the press. But in practice, the organization seems reluctant to provide transparency and access required for a free press to be functional.   Instead, “ALEC assembled a dossier of disfavored reporters and activists,” and “kicked reporters out of its conference who might write unfavorable stories…”

ALEC’s sensitivity to transparency shows that the accountability work by C&BP, CMD, People for the American Way and others is working. A free society can’t work unless there is some check on the concentration of power. Now, more than ever, society needs more of the most powerful check on concentrations of power – public scrutiny. Most recently, C&BP has worked to expose ALEC’s efforts to eliminate clean energy laws in states across the country and bring to light that these attacks are being driven by powerful special interests.

ALEC exemplifies how fossil fuel corporations and other special interests have an oversized influence in our public process. And, C&BP is proud to be part of the effort to expose ALEC, fossil fuel-funded front groups and other fossil fuel interests using their power and resources to attack clean energy policies — even if it lands us on ALEC’s Most Wanted list.

The Maine Players Attacking Renewable Energy: The Koch Brothers

In a new report, the Maine Conservation Alliance asks: are we debating renewable energy, or the Koch brothers’ profits?”

Maine RPS StudyMaine’s renewable energy standards have been the prime target of the Koch Machine – front groups, think tanks, and legislators with financial ties to Koch Industries and its two billionaire owners: the Koch brothers.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to provide 30% of their energy through renewable sources, has led to $2 billion in investment and over 2500 local jobs. It has proven to be great for Maine’s economy – but it threatens the profit margins of fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries, which pumps 300 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.

To dismantle the RPS, the Koch brothers have been extending influence through a legislative front group – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). ALEC has contributed over $750,000 to political action committees, candidates, and parties in Maine. Senator Mike Thibodeau, one of the anti-RPS bill’s co-sponsors, has received over $15,000 from ALEC-affiliated organizations.

It is the civic duty of Mainers to decide for themselves what is best for the state’s environment and economy, not an out-of-state corporate interest. The Maine Conservation Alliance affirms that the economy is not for sale.