INFOGRAPHIC: The Koch Bros, Getting Richer While the World Burns

Authored by David Halperin of Republic Report & designed by Wake Coulter

Koch-Bros-Climate

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.

Oil & gas public lands management 101: How to put our farms, water, and national parks at risk

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Colorado State Director Helen Hankins has developed a pattern of offering controversial drilling plans, which when met with widespread public outcry are temporarily halted, only to be re-offered after the furor has died down.

Colorado BLM Drilling 101

In 2011 Dir. Hankins proposed oil and gas leasing in Park County at South Park, home to several large reservoirs for metro Denver, Colorado’s drinking water, serving over two million people.

When the City of Aurora raised serious concerns about the sale, including a lease parcel located within ¼ mile of the high water mark of a city reservoir, Hankins temporarily halted the lease plan. Unfortunately, in 2012, Hankins revived plans to lease South Park for oil and gas drilling. True to form, Hankins temporarily halted the oil and gas lease plans again after local elected officials, sportsmen and others raised significant concerns about the plans, including impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat and tourism.

In early 2012, Colorado BLM proposed drilling next to vineyards, orchards, organic farms and a dairy in the North Fork Valley. When local farmers, ranchers, businesses and residents overwhelmingly opposed the plan, Hankins, again, temporarily halted BLM’s plans to lease the area for oil and gas drilling.

Fast forward to the end of 2012, and Hankins – predictably – offered a similar plan that still threatened the Valley’s local economy and water supplies, and even included leasing land for oil and gas drilling near a public school. Residents, local business owners and others once again opposed the controversial plan, and widely criticized Hankins for basing her plan on outdated analysis and failing to pursue a balanced approach to energy development.  In early February 2013, Hankins again temporarily halted drilling plans in North Fork Valley.

Name this tune: In late 2012, Colorado BLM announced plans to lease land for oil and gas drilling next to Dinosaur National Monument’s visitor center and along its southern entrance, as well as near Mesa Verde National Park. BLM’s proposal would mean that visitors could see drill rigs along with 149 million year old fossils, and create more air quality problems for Mesa Verde National Park – which is already beset with pollution problems. This time, the former Superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, National Parks Service, and La Plata County joined the chorus of locals who raised serious concerns the drilling proposals. And, once again, Hankins halted the lease plans.

Unfortunately, since then, statements from Dir. Hankins’ staff indicate that this stoppage is temporary. In March, the local Colorado BLM assistant field manager said that the drilling leases near Mesa Verde National Park could be back on the auction block as early as this summer.

Dir. Hankins needs to end this contentious cycle of offering controversial oil and gas drilling leases, deferring them when locals rise up, and then trying to drive them back through later when protests have died down.

Dir. Hankins needs to adopt a new curriculum. She needs a smart-from-the-start approach that addresses the concerns of local residents, business owners, and the many industries that drive Colorado’s economy. She needs to adopt a balanced approach that protects the state’s drinking water, farms and national parks.

C&BP Calls for State Dept. Investigation into Keystone XL Consultant’s Conflicts of Interest

ERMLetter

Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and State Dept. Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel

Yesterday, Checks & Balances Project and 11 environmental, faith-based and public interest organizations called on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel to investigate whether Environmental Resources Management (ERM) hid conflicts of interest which might have excluded it from performing the Keystone XL environmental assessment and how State Department officials failed to flag inconsistencies in ERM’s proposal. Tom Zeller, Senior Writer at The Huffington Post, wrote an article highlighting the letter callings for an investigation.

Early last month, the State Department released a 2,000 page environmental impact study for the Keystone XL pipeline claiming that the pipeline would not have major impact on the environment. But, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consulting firm hired to perform the “draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS),” has ties to fossil fuel companies with major stakes in the Alberta Tar Sands. This conflict of interest was not accurately disclosed  in ERM’s answers on a State Department questionnaire. Checks & Balances Project considers ERM’s responses in its proposal to be intentionally misleading statements.

Unredacted Documents Uncover Conflicts of Interest
Last week, Mother Jones released unredacted versions of the ERM proposal, showing that three experts “had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone’s approval.”

The unredacted biographies show that ERM’s employees have an existing relationship with ExxonMobil and worked for TransCanada within the last three years among other companies involved in the Canadian tar sands.

Here’s more from Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll:

“ERM’s second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.

Another ERM employee who contributed to State’s Keystone report — and whose prior work history was also redacted — previously worked for Shell Oil; a third worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Shell and Koch have a significant financial interest in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERM itself has worked for Chevron, which has invested in Canadian tar-sands extraction, according to its website.”

When asked about who at the State Department decided to redact ERM’s biographies, a State Department spokesperson said “ERM proposed redactions of some information in the administrative documents that they considered business confidential.” Disclosing past clients may be business confidential information, but from what the biographies show, ERM may have recommended the redactions to hide conflicts of interest from public disclosure.

Problem with ERM Answers on Conflict of Interest Questionnaire 

ERMProposal

ERM’s Proposal to the State Department

The biographies on ERM’s proposal show that the company has had direct relationships with multiple business entities that could be affected by the proposed work in the past three years.

In the “Organizational Conflict of Interest Questionnaire,” the State Department asks (page 42), “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’s Project Manager, Steve Koster, checked “No” but appears to have added to the Yes/No questionnaire that, “ERM has no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.”

Regardless of the addendum Koster added, he still submitted an incomplete statement when checking “No” to the specific question above. Simply put, the information provided by Mr. Koster was an incomplete statement if one simply reviews the biographies of ERM’s employees for the project.

The State Department Contracting Officer should have flagged this inconsistency when reviewing the staff biographies.  ERM’s answers did not properly reveal in the Yes/No questionnaire that ERM did have a current “direct relationship” with a business enetity that could be affected by the proposed work and a relationship in the past three years with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

Koster’s incomplete statement on direct business relationships is not the only odd statement in ERM’s proposal. ERM also answered “No” to the question, “Are you (or your organization) an ‘energy concern?’” which the State Department defines (in part) as: “Any person — (1) significantly engaged in the business of conducting research…related to an activity described in paragraphs (i) through (v).” Paragraph (i) states: “Any person significantly engaged in the business of developing, extracting, producing, refining, transporting by pipeline, converting into synthetic fuel, distributing, or selling minerals for use as an energy source…” ERM as a research firm working for fossil fuel companies is, unequivocally, an energy interest.

So the question must be asked: If ERM is unable to accurately fill out a simple questionnaire regarding conflicts of interest, how can we trust the company to perform an unbiased environmental assessment of a 1,179 mile-long pipeline cutting through the American heartland? And, why did the State Department’s Contracting Officer not flag the inconsistencies in ERM’s Conflict of Interest Questionnaire when reviewing the proposals?

Intentions of State Department and ERM in Question

The Federal Government has strict ethics rules to prevent Organizational Conflicts of Interest (OCIs) from impacting the impartiality of government contracts and to prevent hiring contractors who cannot provide independent and unbiased services to the government.

According to a white paper from the Congressional Research Service, before the State Department could choose ERM as the contractor, the “Contracting Officer” had to make an “affirmative determination of responsibility.” All government contractors (including ERM) must be deemed responsible, in part by meeting strict ethics guidelines, known as “collateral requirements.”

According to current collateral requirements, contractors must be found “nonresponsible” when there are unavoidable and unmitigated OCIs. Checks & Balances Project believes that the Contracting Officer should have deemed ERM “nonresponsible” because the company serves as a contractor for major fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Keystone XL pipeline. If ERM were “nonresponsible”, the company would have been ineligible to perform the environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

These potential material incomplete statements on a Federal Government proposal calls into question the integrity of ERM and threatens millions in government contracts.

If ERM were determined to be “nonresponsible” or “excluded” because of these incomplete statements, it could jeopardize ERM’s ability to perform any work for the Federal Government. Again, according to the Congressional Research Service:

“Decisions to exclude are made by agency heads or their designees (above the contracting officer’s level) based upon evidence that contractors have committed certain integrity offenses, including any “offenses indicating a lack of business integrity or honesty that seriously affect the present responsibility of a contractor.””

Certainly these incomplete statements call into question both the independence of ERM and the judgement of the Contracting Officer in making the “affirmative determination of responsibility.” This proposal process should be investigated by the State Department Inspector General to determine if ERM’s statements are cause for exclusion.

Groups Calling for Inspector General Investigation

We believe ERM used multiple material incomplete statements and had clear conflicts of interest as shown in the unredacted documents. So, why was ERM hired by the State Department?

Checks & Balances Project asked a State Department spokesperson about the conflicts of interest and the spokesperson said: “Based on a thorough consideration of all of the information presented, including the work histories of team members, the Department concluded that ERM has no financial or other interest in the outcome of the project that would constitute a conflict of interest.” Perhaps the State Department’s Contracting Offier made the decision to hire ERM because of the company’s incomplete statements on the conflict of interest questionnaire.

Harold Geisel, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. State Department

Checks & Balances Project along with 11 other groups (Better Future Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, DeSmogBlog, Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, NC WARN, Oil Change International, Public Citizen’s Energy Program and Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel calling for an investigation into the matter. These incomplete statements and the determination by the Contracting Officer that ERM did not have any conflicts of interest, despite clear evidence to the contrary, are grounds for further investigation.

#NYFrackingScandal Hits Cuomo Administration: Newly Disclosed Documents Show Conflicts of Interest

Photo from NYPost.com

With only two days before the expected release of New York’s Environmental Impact Assessment on fracking (also known by the industry term hydraulic fracturing), Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is at the center of a new conflict of interest scandal regarding two of his top aides.  Today, seven groups requested the Albany County District Attorney General David Soares investigate the Cuomo Administration’s conflicts of interest surrounding two staffers that hold “key positions in New York’s decision over whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing.”

There are looming questions on the impartiality of Lawrence Schwartz and Robert Hallman, two top Cuomo Administration officials, who have significant influence on the Governor’s fracking decision. New documents obtained by DeSmogBlog through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) show that Mr. Schwartz has significant stock holdings in companies that stand to benefit from fracking in New York state, and that Mr. Hallman failed to make specific financial disclosures, raising questions about his objectivity on the issue.

The two top aides, Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Robert Hallman, Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment, have significant oversight within the Cuomo Administration on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. According to the groups’ letter, Mr. Schwartz supervises all state deputies and commissioners, including Mr. Hallman and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – the agency that is tasked with studying high-volume hydraulic fracturing and developing the state’s policy regarding this extraction technique. Mr. Hallman is the state’s highest gubernatorial staff member who has oversight over the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to financial disclosure documents, Schwartz has substantial holdings in companies engaged in shale gas development, including ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil alone holds 43,000 acres of leases for fracking in New York under its subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. Schwartz also identified “Williams Co.,” apparently a reference to “The Williams Companies Inc.,” a pipeline company that plans to build a $750 million pipeline through the southern portion of New York.

Mr. Hallman failed to specify his stock holdings in his financial disclosure forms, which seems to violate (at the very least) the spirit of N.Y. Pub. Off. § 73-a. The law states that “Public officials are required to list “EACH SOURCE” of income greater than $1,000 and “the type and market value of securities… from each issuing entity” greater than $1,000,” according to the letter from seven groups to District Attorney General Soares. Instead of disclosing each source, Mr. Hallman listed “various common stock” and “various corporate bonds.” His lack of disclosure should serve as a red flag and calls into question his impartiality on the state’s fracking decision.

Furthermore, records obtained via the FOIL request indicate that fracking companies have recently worked directly with Cuomo Administration officials.  XTO Energy Inc, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, wrote to Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman requesting changes to the state’s draft regulations on fracking in August 2012. And, The Williams Companies communicated with Mr. Hallman regarding natural gas pipelines twice in the summer of 2012.

New York state law states that public officials should avoid personal investments that could “create substantial conflict between his duty in the public interest and his private interest.” Both Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Hallman may have conflicts of interest that violate this standard.

Today during a press conference in Albany, Alex Beauchamp, Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director, said, “We are outraged to discover that Governor Cuomo’s top aide is so heavily invested in oil and gas companies. And further, that he made these investments during the very timeframe this administration has been considering whether to allow fracking in New York. Clearly, this administration must not allow fracking to move forward under this cloud of scandal.”

Learn more at NYFrackingScandal.com.

THE BALANCE SHEET for Oct 4, 2011

Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

FUNNY NUMBERS FROM WESTERN ENERGY ALLIANCE

The Western Energy Alliance chose to ignore market forces in its analysis of public lands leasing data. According to the EIA, the wellhead price of natural gas has been fluctuating wildly. Maybe that’s why there are tens of million of acres leased in the West to oil and gas companies that have not yet been developed.

The industry trade group pointed to low leasing numbers in states such as Colorado. However, they neglected to mention that the Colorado BLM is set to auction 54 parcels covering more than 41,700 acres this November. And in FY2010, for every three drilling permits issued for public lands in Colorado, industry started only one new drilling well. The only thing dictating drilling rates in the West is supply and demand.

A COZY RELATIONSHIP WITH KEYSTONE

New information revealed that lobbyists for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline acted inappropriately while trying to gain support for the project. Recent reports show that a chief lobbyist for TransCanada tried to influence American energy policy without filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The reports also show a “cozy” relationship between Hillary Clinton’s State Department and TransCanada, as well as direct contact between the unregistered lobbyists and several members of congress.

MONEY TRUMPS CITIZENS IN PIPELINE DEBATE

TckTckTck and TarSandsAction released an info-graphic illustrating the disproportionately large amount of opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline compared to the support for it. The graphic shows that there are literally seven major supporters for the pipeline. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of individuals, elected officials, spiritual leaders and non-governmental organizations who are on the record opposing the plan.

DID YOU KNOW?

LOOKING AT BIG OIL’S BOOKS

The Center for American Progress (CAP) took a closer look at the top five oil-and-gas companies’ financial shape. Here are a few highlights from what they discovered:

  • BP and Shell, the two largest foreign oil companies that operate in the United States, had combined cash reserves of nearly $32 billion at the end of last year (the latest data available). Added together, these five companies are sitting on cash resources of $59 billion, which is 30 times more than the estimated $2 billion in annual tax breaks that these companies receive.
  • [Big Oil] companies made more than $900 billion in profit from 2001 to 2010.
  • ExxonMobil had a lower effective tax rate than the typical middle-class family.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Tuesday, October 4th, 10am:  SENR To receive testimony on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s Shale Gas Production Subcommittee’s 90-day report.

CONTACT

Twitter: @CandBP | Email: tips@checksandbalances.org

Advisory: Udall and Grijalva Ask for a Price Check on Behalf of American Families

Update: Read Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Udall’s letter to the Comptroller General.

Rep. Raùl Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall are announcing proactive steps they’ve taken to determine if American families are receiving what they deserve from the oil and gas companies that lease public lands. Grijalva and Udall have officially requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an, “investigation of corporate profits and public financial benefits from mineral and oil extraction on federal lands.”

At a time when the five largest oil and gas companies are reporting $67 billion in profits over six months, while collecting $15 billion per year in government handouts, it’s fair to ask whether or not the industry owes their landlords – the American people – a little more rent.

“A GAO report is a great step in finding out how much the American public is losing in fair returns on the lands they’ve lent to oil and gas and mining companies,” said Checks and Balances Project Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “Americans are already paying oil companies near-record high prices at the pump, and then paying again through billions in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. I commend Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Raùl Grijalva for working to protect the American taxpayer by making sure some of the wealthiest corporations are paying their fair share.”

Thursday morning, Grijalva and Udall will hold a press conference to publicly release their request and explain why they’re concerned that Americans aren’t being fairly compensated for the billions in resources that oil and gas companies pull out of publicly owned land.

The Checks and Balances Project will continue to cover this story. For now, here’s the press conference information:

Grijalva Press Conference Details

Where: 1629 Longworth House Office Building

When: Thursday, Sept. 22, 9:00 a.m.

What: Public release of Grijalva/Udall GAO study request letter and media Q & A

Click to read Rep. Grijalva’s media advisory.

Tip Sheet: Industry and House members push for drilling shortcuts despite legacy of pollution

**BREAKING NEWS** While testifying at Rep. Lamborn’s hearing BLM deputy director Mike Poole announces a rulemaking plan to, “set guidelines for use of categorical exclusions from detailed National Environmental Policy Act analysis for drilling certain wells.” Ben Geman at The Hill has the story  **BREAKING NEWS**

Industry groups and Washington politicians including Western Energy Alliance, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chairman of the House Energy & Minerals Subcommittee, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) are trying to use obscure, bureaucratic tools known as “categorical exclusions” to weaken air and water protections in an effort to hand over more public lands to oil and gas company CEOs. Earlier this year, Sen. Barrasso introduced legislation to eliminate May 2010 leasing reforms, and last month Western Energy Alliance was able to put the reform on hold when they won an initial lower federal court ruling. Today, Rep. Lamborn’s subcommittee will hold a politically charged hearing on the subject.

“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Doug Lamborn is using his power as chairman of the Energy & Minerals Subcommittee to create political theater on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “We saw what happens under a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to energy development when these same sort of shortcuts led to the BP Gulf oil spill disaster.”

The use of “categorical exclusions” – which exempt drilling permits from scientific review – has a legacy of pollution that includes the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, air pollution levels in the Rocky Mountains that rival Los Angeles and huge declines in western wildlife populations.

Oil and gas companies already receive more than $15 billion each year in special tax breaks. These efforts to rollback protections are about more taxpayer-owned public land giveaways to oil and gas company CEOs, who use the lands to drive up share prices and get bigger bonuses.

Background

Five years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law. This sweeping legislation systematically removed a number of air, water, resource and wildlife protections for oil and gas development on public lands. Specifically, Section 390 of that bill expanded the use of “categorical exclusions” allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to avoid scientific review when granting drilling permits to oil and gas companies.

Here are some findings in a 2009 study by the bipartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO):

  • The Bush administration applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency, using them in 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted from 2006 to 2008.
  • In 85 percent of the cases sampled, these shortcuts were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued.

This “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to public lands management led to unchecked pollution and development. Here are a few examples:

In May 2010, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar began cleaning up the mess by issuing a series of leasing reforms that included curtailing the abuse of “categorical exclusions” in the permitting process. The reforms have been a huge success. Drilling permits that have been subject to proper scientific review are expected to increase 40 percent this year. The Interior Department is on the right track and should stand strong in the face of Lamborn and Barrasso’s purely political attacks.

 

SUPPORT FOR REFORMS

The reforms to “categorical exclusions” and oil and gas leasing reforms that were announced in May 2010 were met with sweeping support from sportsmen, conservation groups, and several editorial boards, including the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, the Grand Junction Sentinel and the Salt Lake Tribune. And just last month, former agency officials including U.S. Forest Service Chief and BLM Acting Director Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and BLM Director Jim Baca sent a letter of support to President Obama.

 

INDUSTRY ACCESS TO PUBLIC LANDS FOR DRILLING

The oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres. If Rep. Lamborn and Sen. Barrasso really cared about developing American energy, they would support “Use it or lose it” legislation to encourage development of drilling leases already issued to oil and gas companies.

TIMELINE

August 2005 President George Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, weakening air, water, and wildlife protections from drilling, and expanding the use of “categorical exclusions.” These would later be illegally used under his administration to allow industry to avoid scientific review of drilling permits.
May 2010 Secretary Ken Salazar issues two critical oil and gas leasing reforms, including:

October 2010 The Government Accountability Office issues a scathing, 72-page report outlining the Bush administration’s illegal use of “categorical exclusions.”
March 2011 The Interior Department releases a report showing industry has failed to develop or even conduct exploration on 57 percent of existing onshore leases covering 21.6 million acres.
May 2011 Sen. Barrasso introduces S.1027, The American Energy and Western Jobs Act, which is intended to rescind the Salazar leasing reforms.
July 2011 Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and other Republican legislators launcha partisan attack on the “Master Leasing Plans” oil and gas leasing reform in a letter to Sec. Salazar, despite the fact that the policy will reduce conflicts on public lands and pave the way for future energy development.BLM data is released showing the industry has failed to develop over 6,500 onshore drilling permits, primarily in western states.
August 2011 The oil and gas industry wins a lower court ruling to block implementation of IM 2010-118, the “categorical exclusion” drilling reform.

Public health voice absent from fracking study

Shutting out public health perspectives is becoming common place, this time its being done by the federal government

On Monday the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee issued several recommendations to, “improve environmental safety and performance from extracting natural gas from shale formations.”

Initial reaction to the report is mixed and that’s no accident considering the split membership of the subcommittee. The seven-member committee is made up of scientists, researchers and experts who have ties to both the fossil fuel industry and the environmental community. But absent from the committee’s membership was someone from the public health community. This exclusion has become commonplace as communities from coast to coast try to get to the bottom of hydrofracking.

Click here to see those on the subcommittee.

This latest omission was pointed out during public conference call shortly after the report was issued.

“I find it very interesting that this report contained absolutely no input from medical professionals. But on page eight of your report it outlines that public health is one of the four areas that you are trying to address,” said one of the first callers on Monday.

Between other prepared statements from callers on both the pro-fracking and anti-fracking sides another citizen pointed to the absence of a focus on public health.

“We are concerned and I am concerned, as a health care professional, about the health impacts of this practice. Why would you let a practice like this continue without knowing what the chemicals can do once they are placed underground,” said Ernie Hernandez of West Virginia.

It seems public health is where the line is drawn when it comes to studying fracking. Earlier this year, Garfield County, Colorado, wrestled with this very same issue after elected officials refused to recognize a health impact study that the county directed $250,000 of taxpayer money towards.  The three members of the Garfield County Commissioners, who are heavily funded by the gas industry, unanimously pulled the plug on the report. The report’s findings were believed to be damning to the industry. The second draft of the executive summary stated, “The principal findings of the HIA are that health of Battlement Mesa residents will most likely be affected by chemical exposures, accidents/emergencies resulting from industry operations, and stress-related community changes.”

This was hardly the first time a professional assessment of the public health concerns associated with hydrofracking had come back to reflect poorly on the gas industry. Just before the Garfield County health scandal, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, well-known author and Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College, reported that chemicals used in hydrofracking could be an “enormous” risk that could cause complications with pregnancies.

“Do we want introduce into the environment more chemicals for which we have demonstrable evidence can harm pregnancies. They are reproductive toxins,” said Steingraber in an interview with the Checks and Balances Project in May.

Despite these well-documented findings and reports, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s Natural Gas Subcommittee contained no voices from the public health community. This isn’t to say the board’s recommendations were entirely beneficial to the gas industry. The board’s call for the industry to disclose the toxic chemicals it injects into the ground was received well by those in the environmental community. On Monday’s call the chairman of the Natural Gas Subcommittee John Duetch said, “while our recommendations were all unanimous, I think each member of the committee would have done it very differently it were up to the individual.” Even if there were true, it’s hard to imagine public health getting more attention considering the lack of representation.

Barrasso and Hastings turn energy discussion into a pro-industry spin zone

The energy debate continued to get more contentious when wildly illogical arguments were tossed out during roundtable discussion hosted by Politico.

The voices, from all sides of the energy debate, included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), former head of the EPA Carol Browner and Doug Holtz-Eakin formerly of John McCain’s presidential campaign.

While DeGette and Browner pushed back on pro-industry, energy policies, Barrasso and Hastings mostly defended the dirty energy sources that fund their campaigns. Not surprisingly, the discussion took a heated turn when both were asked to vote against energy subsidies.

A time to kill subsidies?

Carol Browner wasn’t going to let Hastings and Barrasso get away with flip-flopping on their feelings over government handouts. Barrasso, who earlier in the debate made the claim that green job created in America come at the expense of two non-green jobs, got oddly squeamish when Browner asked him why he wouldn’t eliminate the subsidies to the oil industry. Barrasso who has been pushing pro-industry legislation over the past six months said Congress needed to revisit the whole tax code before focusing on just a portion of it.

The hypocrisy was immediately pointed out: “So your okay with focusing on just ethanol subsidies, but when it comes to oil subsidies you simply say you want to deal with the entire tax code? If that’s your argument, I happy to have it with the American people,” said Browner.

Hastings got dizzy on his own spin when he tried to address the issue. “Subsidies should be eliminated over time. The question is when is that time? When the market plays its role,” said Hastings to a surprised audience. If Hastings is willing to let the market decide then the record profits posted by Big Oil in the first quarter should be a clear indicator to get rid of oil and gas subsidies.

Spinning the high gas prices

While the subsidies debate was a ‘he said, she said,’ the panel appeared to run amok with solutions to high gas prices. It was even suggested that the United States should drill its way out of the problem. “It is short sided to ignore the abundance of oil in the Western lands,” he the industry-backed Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Since assuming the role (and collecting nearly $100 thousand in oil and gas campaign contributions during the 2010 cycle) has tried several times to open up land for drilling. It would also be short sided for the oil and gas industry to continue to let the 21 million leased acres go undeveloped.

Hastings’ solution was undercut by Holz-Eakin, who acknowledged that gas prices are set on a global market and that getting more fuel into the market won’t have any affect on prices in the short term. Holz-Eakin used this logic to lampoon President Obama’s deployment of the strategic oil reserve, but drifted away from the idea when compromised on Hastings spin.

Fuzzy economic memory

During a brief question and answer session from the audience Brooks Yeager of the Clean Air Cool Planet pressed Holtz-Eakin why he was not focused on reducing demand when America produces five percent of the oil and uses 25 percent of the global supply. Holtz-Eakin simply replied that he wants to get more energy out there but added no analysis to Yeager’s economic inquiry.

“He seemed to forget about economics all of a sudden, funny how that works,” said Yeager when asked by The Checks and Balances Project if he was satisfied with Holtz-Eakin’s answer.

 

A job over clean air

Among the most unsatisfying answers was Barrasso’s job attack against climate change policies. “I’d rather have a job than clean air,” he said when discussing the economics of cleaning up the atmosphere. Still no clarity on how that supports the clean energy debate. One thing is clear: During the 2012 election the GOP’s stance is to push jobs at the cost of everything else.