After Fossil Fuel Front Group Attacks on Clean Energy Fail, New Model Bill Emerges to Weaken RPS Laws

ALECFossilFuelFundersMembers of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), including fossil fuel corporations and front groups, will meet in Chicago this week to discuss their next round of attacks on clean energy policies. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), The Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) and Greenpeace released ALEC’s confidential model bills and agenda ahead of their Annual Meeting taking place in Chicago, that include a new anti-clean energy model bill, “The Market-Power Renewables Act.”

 “A little sunlight is a powerful force for good. ALEC is trying every trick in the book to keep the agenda of their upcoming meetings secret,” said Nick Surgey of The Center for Media and Democracy. “They are even claiming every state’s public record laws don’t apply to them. This is preposterous. The ALEC documents that CMD obtained show that ALEC is continuing to scheme on behalf of fossil fuel corporations, working together to undermine state’s efforts to promote renewable energy production.”

 “The Market-Power Renewables Act” will likely serve as the model for another round of attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2014 following ALEC’s failure to weaken or eliminate clean energy policies this year. The new bill would significantly weaken state clean energy laws by broadening the eligible electricity sources to include existing, large hydroelectric power plants, biomass, biogas and other sources of electricity.

 “Fossil fuel-backed efforts to rollback clean energy laws in states across the country have failed, including in at least three critical battleground states,” said Gabe Elsner, Director of C&BP. “It’s no surprise that ALEC is pushing a new model bill that would eliminate incentives for in-state investments in clean energy. These policies are boosting investment in the clean energy industry and creating jobs, which poses a major threat to fossil fuel interests.”

Despite a robust lobbying effort from fossil fuel corporations and fossil fuel-funded front groups, ALEC and its allies lost in the critical battleground states of Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri. Bipartisan majorities defeated ALEC’s model legislation this year, after ALEC legislators in at least 13 states sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to weaken or eliminate RPS laws.

But despite complete failure in 2013, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director Todd Wynn indicated that attacks on clean energy laws would resume in 2014.

 “Fossil fuel-funded front groups connected to the Koch-funded State Policy Network and ALEC advocated to repeal or weaken RPS laws in at least 14 states,” said Connor Gibson of Greenpeace. “Many of these front groups published flawed economicreports written by the fossil fuel-funded Beacon Hill Institute to inflate the cost of RPS and ignore the economic benefits of the pro-clean energy laws.”

Eyes on Enefit: Oil shale extraction an environmental threat

Eyes On Enefit Logo

Contaminated groundwater, 600-foot high piles of oil shale waste that spontaneously ignite, and the emission of “lots of carbon dioxide”; all of this comes from a company that claims to be “highly dedicated to lessening the environmental impact of our production processes.” A look at the facts reveals that, despite its claims, Estonian oil shale company Eesti Energia’s operations have been anything but environmentally friendly.

For several decades Eesti Energia, an Estonian government-owned corporation, has been extracting oil shale, and using it to generate Estonian electricity at a stunning environmental cost. In the United States, Eesti Energia is known as Enefit. In 2011, Enefit bought the largest privately held oil shale reserve in Utah, and since then it has been experimenting with oil shale found on that land.

Since Eesti Energia has brought its oil shale technology to our shores through Enefit’s Utah project, we think a quick review of the company’s environmental record is in order. That way, Utahns can see what could be in store for them.

A polluted lake near an “ash” mountain in NE Estonia. Source: EcoCrete Project

First off, let’s see what the Estonians think of oil shale. A member of the Estonian Parliament described oil shale waste as a problem “for which there is no solution at present.” Researchers at Estonia’s Tallinn University of Technology and the Estonian Fund for Nature describe the oil shale industry’s environmental impacts as “huge.”

Scientists at Tartu University and the Institute of Ecology even wrote a paper in which they explain how Estonian oil shale’s waste is hazardous.

“[The] Processes of oil shale mining, combustion in power plants, and thermal processing in chemical plants generate a huge amount of solid waste…Semi-coke dumps surrounding the plants of oil shale thermal processing. Semi-coke is a residue classified as environmentally harmful due to its components like sulphides, volatile phenols, benzo(a)pyrene, etc.”

– “Artificial Mountains in North-East Estonia: Monumental Dumps of Ash and Semi-Coke.” Tartu University and the Department of North-East Estonia. 2005.

In fact, these waste products are so unstable, they have been known to spontaneously combust and contaminate groundwater and soil. As of 2005, 27 percent of oil shale landfills in Estonia had self-ignited.

“Observation of groundwater and soil illustrate that the environment close to burning landfills is contaminated with molybdenum, copper, sulphate, arsenic, oil products, and PAHs…”

– “Life Cycle Analysis of the Estonian Oil Shale Industry.” Estonian Fund for Nature and Tallinn University of Technology. 2005.

In spring 2012, The Baltic Course magazine reported that one of these massive oil shale waste piles caught fire during the winter, and still continued to burn. The magazine also noted there is, “no universal solution to extinguish such a fire.”

In addition to water and ground pollution, Eesti Energia’s CEO, Sandor Liive admitted producing energy from oil shale creates significant global warming pollution, or “lots of carbon dioxide,” as he puts it.

“The risk concerning the price of carbon dioxide is relatively high for Eesti Energia because our production involves the emission of lots of carbon dioxide.”

–  Sandor Liive, CEO Eesti Energia. Interview with Eesti Paevaleht. BBC Monitoring Europe. 04 July 2011.

Arial photo of a pile of oil shale ‘ash’ in Estonia. Source: EcoCrete Project.

Eesti Energia isn’t the only company experimenting with the rock that admits oil shale has negative environmental impacts. In 2012, Anton Dammer, a former Senior VP at oil shale company Red Leaf Resources, testified to Congress:

“I worked in Estonia for several years…The old antiquated surface retorts that [Eesti Energia] use are pretty nasty business…They produce a lot of semicoke. You know, they call them the Estonian Alps…I can’t tell you exactly all the technical details of it, but it’s – it’s much improved, but you would never want the retorts that are operating – operating in Estonia to come to the United States.”

– Anton Dammer, Senior Vice President of Red Leaf [Resources]. CQ Transcript, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. 10 May 2012.

Eesti Energia’s environmental track record shows its claims of environmental friendliness ring hollow. Oil shale production’s health and environmental risks present a clear case against allowing oil shale companies increased access to public lands. Until they can prove they have a commercially viable technology that won’t pollute our communities’ air and water supplies with harmful waste, they shouldn’t receive more handouts.

This blog is part of a series about Enefit, known at home in Estonia as Eesti Energia, covering the company’s financial outlook, background and status of its Utah project.

Checks and Balances Project launches Western Lands and Energy Dashboard

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

January 27, 2012

Checks and Balances Project launches
Western Lands and Energy Dashboard

In wake of State of the Union energy debate, watchdog group works to counter claims
by API, Western Energy Alliance

Denver – Today, the Checks and Balances Project launched its Western Lands and Energy Dashboard examining oil and gas development and public lands access in the West.

The dashboard is an impartial counter to the rhetoric of industry lobby groups such as American Petroleum Institute and Western Energy Alliance as well as politicians with deep industry ties as a result of oil and gas campaign contributions.

The dashboard presents the facts and figures of the oil and gas industry and public lands development in a simple and clear way, with links to original sources.

“After the State of the Union address, we saw a pile-on by industry lobbyists and Big Oil politicians to spread misinformation about the health of America’s oil and gas industry,” said Matt Garrington, Denver-based co-director of The Checks and Balances Project. “Our research demonstrates that business is booming for the oil and gas industry, and that those companies continue to underutilize existing access to public land while demanding taxpayer handouts.”

“Last year, under the Obama administration, oil companies reported $104 billion in profits and enjoyed the highest level of drilling activity since the Reagan era. This is the sort of information the oil and gas industry and their supporters in Congress neglect to mention. We want to set the record straight,” continued Garrington.

The dashboard contains a series of slides that focus on specific areas of interest. Every fact in the slides is cited to original sources, including government agencies, industry data, and nonpartisan think tanks.

“The Checks and Balances Project is committed to providing accurate data regarding our nation’s energy production and land use,” said Garrington. “This is why we created the Project, to counter industry spin with cold, hard facts.”

The organization plans to add new research over time and update existing slides as new data becomes available.

Among the key findings are:

  • Drilling activity is at its highest level in 25 years.
  • The oil and gas industry saw windfall profits of $104 billion in the first three quarters of last year, due primarily to a dramatic rise in the price at the pump.
  • The oil and gas industry receives $9.4 billion every year in special tax breaks and subsidies.
  • Over 20 million acres of public lands leased for energy development remain idle.
  • The oil and gas industry has failed to develop 6,500 drilling permits issued by the BLM.
  • The oil and gas drilling industry employed 615,900 people in 2010, adding over 40,000 jobs during President Obama’s first two years in office.
  • The U.S. is now a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

The dashboard can be found at: www.checksandbalancesproject.org/dashboard

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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.

Connecting the dots between gas industry tycoons and the NAT GAS Act requires ink by the barrel load.

A recent investigation by DeSmogBlog and PRWatch exposes just who stands to benefit from the NAT GAS Act and the expensive tactics being used to ensure it flies through congress. The most recent tactic is a public relations campaign by Chesapeake Energy, which included the gas giant’s “Declaration of Energy Independence.”

Chesapeake Energy’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is joined by T. Boone Pickens, when it comes to who will benefit from NAT GAS Act. The legislation calls for the government to cut checks to any company that transfers its fleet of vehicles to methane gas and to have citizens shell out their taxes so that methane gas fueling stations can be constructed throughout the country.

According to the DeSmog report, Chesapeake, “will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF’s Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company’s March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

The timing of Chesapeake’s launch of the “Declaration of Energy Dependence” is no coincidence. The NAT GAS Act is at a critical stage. It currently has 183 co-sponsors, but it is also being considered at a time when the United States is trying to reduce handouts from America’s taxpayers. But with the help a public relations army that even includes a methane gas funded television network, McClendon and Pickens are betting they can buy another handout for the fossil fuel industry.

Safety in pipelines: The fracking truth

“People die from these things and the people who run the infrastructure for these cities know it they are scared of these systems.” — Dr. Robert Howarth, Cornell University speaking about the pipeline system that carries oil and gas around the United States.

As clean up efforts following the Yellowstone River Oil Spill continue, Congress is preparing to take a closer look at pipeline safety across the United States.

Pipelines, as the Checks and Balances Project pointed out in a recent report, criss-cross most of the United States. And while the Yellowstone River spill in Montana gushed thousands of barrels of oil downstream, many pipelines carry an equally dangerous material: natural gas. And as companies like ExxonMobil, which is responsible for the oil spill in Montana, continue to push for more natural gas production by using hydraulic fracturing, the pipeline issue isn’t going to vanish.

A recent interview, Cornell University professor Robert Howarth underscored the seriousness of America’s pipeline situation.  “People die from these things and the people who run the infrastructure for these cities know it. They are scared of these systems,” said Howarth. The Cornell University researcher is most well known as of late for penning a report that said there needs to be more study on the emissions of natural gas because of leakages in pipelines. This report led to a smear campaign against Howarth from the natural gas industry. Still, in the wake of another pipeline disaster, the professor refuses to be silenced because, as he put it, no one is talking about the pipeline situation.

“So is nobody looking at this?” asked Checks and Balances Project Director Andrew Schenkel.

“No, there is distressingly little attention given to this issue,” replied Howarth.

Below is an excerpt from the Howarth interview about pipelines and fracking:

Given the growing list of oil and gas pipeline mishaps, which over the last 18 months includes 18 deaths, 13 injuries and 85 destroyed homes, the question is how many natural gas pipelines are there in the United States?

Natural Gas Pipeline and Facilities By the Numbers:

  • There are more than 210 natural gas pipeline systems.
  • More than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure on the natural gas pipeline network and assure continuous forward movement of supplies. (Compressor Map)
  • More than 11,000 delivery points, 5,000 receipt points, and 1,400 interconnection points that provide for the transfer of natural gas throughout the United States.
  • 24 hubs or market centers that provide additional interconnections (see map).
  • 400 underground natural gas storage facilities (see map).
  • 49 locations where natural gas can be imported/exported via pipelines (see map).
  • 8 LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities and 100 LNG peaking facilities (see map).

Polls show overwhelming support for environmental protection in the West

Despite what Big Oil and their allies in Congress would have you believe, westerners support protecting our environment. In fact, a Colorado College poll recently presented to members of Congress in June shows that two-thirds of westerners believe that protections for our land, air, and water should be strengthened or that environment laws should be better enforced.

The poll also shows that 77 percent of westerners believe that we can have a strong economy and protect our environment at the same time.

David Metz of FM3 explains how westerners overwhelmingly support conservation. Metz says the noise opposing conservation is loud, but small:

Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies, the nation’s largest Republican polling firm, explains this majority of voters in the West say they favor protecting the environment: