An Open Letter to FirstEnergy

Ohio utility FirstEnergy was a major supporter of freezing the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. The company has made more than $600,000 in campaign donations in the past two years to Ohio elected officials. The Checks and Balances Project is concerned that this money is coming from FirstEnergy customers. We want to ensure that ratepayer money isn’t being used by this monopoly to raise FirstEnergy customers’ monthly bills. Below is a copy of a letter sent by the Checks and Balances Project to the FirstEnergy board of directors on behalf of FirstEnergy customers:

FirstEnergy Board of Directors
c/o Vice President and Corporate Secretary
FirstEnergy Corp.
76 South Main Street
Akron, OH 44308-1890

To the FirstEnergy Board of Directors,

I am writing on behalf of your customers regarding concerns that you are using their money to lobby for legislation that will increase customer electricity bills. Specifically, I am referring to your company’s support of recently passed Senate Bill 310. As you know, this legislation freezes the state’s successful and popular renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.

You should also know that last year, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio found that cutting renewable energy and energy efficiency standards could cost Ohio consumers more than $1.1 billion dollars. Furthermore, the same study found that these standards have already lowered electricity bills by 1.4%.

This is no doubt why the standards have been so popular. A majority of Ohioans, major businesses and the state’s leading newspapers supported maintaining the standards in place.

Notably, your company did not. In fact,  FirstEnergy lobbied extensively against the standards. You also put your money where your mouth is to an impressive degree. Financial records show your company and its employees have donated nearly $600,000 to Ohio politicians since July of 2012.

As a regulated monopoly, you have a responsibility to ensure that you charge ratepayers a fair price for electricity because your customers have no choice but to be your customer. Certainly, you have the right to lobby for policies that are in your shareholders interests. But, it is unseemly and unfair to customers to use customer money to lobby for policies that raise their bills. Your actions are more questionable, given your recent decision to end your energy efficiency programs.

I should note as well, this is not the first example of your company potentially using customer resources against their own interests. As reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, your company sent a letter to customers urging them to support the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards freeze.

I urge you to ensure your customers that you are not using their monthly electricity bills to raise their energy bills.

Sincerely,

Scott Peterson, Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Export-Import Bank Bill A Giveaway That Highlights Hypocrisy

Cross-posted from the National Journal’s Energy Insider’s Blog.

by Scott Peterson

Senator Manchin’s legislation is yet another government handout for the coal industry. It is a great example of the way the coal and other fossil fuel industries have used their financial resources to game the system to get favorable legislation. Senator Manchin is a favorite of the fossil fuel industry, having received more than $1.4 million from the sector in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

This legislation also highlights the fossil fuel industry’s double standard when it comes to federal support for energy sources. While the industry and its allies routinely claim that renewable energy should not get government support, they seem to have no problem with taking massive subsidies for themselves.

Take for example the American Coal Council’s criticism of renewable portfolio standards. It says it maintains its support of a ‘diverse energy supply’, premised on ‘free market’ principles. Or, to quote Jason Hayes, Associate Director of the American Coal Council, speaking about the wind production tax credit. “Lets get rid of the subsidies, let the production tax credit expire, and let energy resources compete on a level playing field.”

It is easy to say you want a level playing field when that field is already so tilted in your favor. A recent report by Oil Change International found that government subsidies of the fossil fuel industry totaled more than $21 billion dollars last year just for fuel exploration. When you combine that with the fact that the fossil fuel industry has received subsides for more than a century, it is hard to take the industry’s professed distaste for subsidies seriously.

Perhaps the fossil fuel industry should finally put taxpayer money where the industry’s mouth is. If the fossil fuel industry were being honest in their antipathy toward energy subsidies, they would tell Senator Manchin to support that self-stated commitment for the free market by letting the industry stand up for itself.

New Video Asks Governor Kasich to Answer the FOIA

Today the Checks and Balances Project released a new web video asking Governor John Kasich to answer a records request we made seeking information regarding his decision to freeze the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. This records request was filed two weeks ago. The only response we have received from the Kasich administration was a confirmation of receipt.

We have filed this request in light of the recent significant campaign contributions Governor Kasich has received from the fossil fuel industry, including the maximum allowable donation from David Koch of Koch Industries. Our records request seeks any and all communications Governor Kasich and his senior staff might have had with fossil fuel interests, and the state’s investor-owned utilities, in the run up to his decision to gut clean energy expansion in Ohio by signing Senate Bill 310.

Senate Bill 310 freezes Ohio’s popular renewable energy and energy-efficiency standard. His action puts at risk 25,000 clean energy jobs and more than $1 billion in savings for Ohio consumers. Watch the video below.

Checks and Balances Project Seeks Answers from Governor Kasich

Today the Checks and Balances Project filed a request for information from Ohio Governor John Kasich regarding communications he and his senior staff might have had with fossil fuel interests in the run up to his decision to gut clean energy expansion in his state. In June, the Governor signed SB 310, a bill that put a “freeze” on the state’s popular and successful renewable and energy-efficiency standard.

The Checks and Balances Project is seeking documentation of any and all written and email communication from Governor Kasich and his staff to representatives of Koch Industries, Inc. and the lobbying organizations they are known to financially support, as well as between the Governor, his staff and the state’s investor-owned utilities.

We have made this request in light of a recent $12,155 donation (the maximum allowed donation under Ohio campaign finance law) made by David Koch, of Koch Industries, Inc. to Governor Kasich’ 2014 re-election campaign. Ohioans deserve to know why Governor Kasich decided to sign SB 310, despite the fact that it could cost Ohio consumers $1.1 billion dollars (PDF), put 25,000 Ohio jobs at risk, was overwhelmingly opposed by Ohioans, major editorial pages in the state, and a significant number of major businesses.

This would not be the first time that the fossil fuel industry and the Kasich administration have been closely intertwined. In 2012, it was revealed that the Kasich’s Ohio Department of Natural Resources coordinated with fossil fuel industry players, including Halliburton and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to promote oil and gas drilling in state parks.

Governor Kasich is frequently mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate. With this request, he has an opportunity to explain his administration’s cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry and allay concerns that he is working on his next job at the expense of Ohio jobs. You can download a PDF of our FOIA submission here.

Introducing the Checks and Balances Project’s New Executive Director

Scott Peterson, new Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Scott Peterson, new Checks and Balances Project Executive Director

Hello, I am Scott Peterson, the new Executive Director of the Checks and Balances Project. I want to introduce myself because I know that there’s been a lull in Checks and Balances activities while the Project was between executive directors.

I want to first say that the people who have come before me in this role – Andrew Schenkel, Gabe Elsner and Matt Garrington – did amazing watchdog work. If I can be half as successful as they have been in getting to the bottom of how and why decisions are being made that affect taxpayers and consumers, I’ll be satisfied. I hope to build on their legacy in the months ahead.

I’m drawn to the Checks and Balances Project at a personal level. After years in New York as a spokesman for the financial industry, I now live and work in Virginia full-time. I’ve become increasingly concerned about the global climate crisis, and the efforts by the fossil fuel lobby to block clean energy solutions. As I’ve been more deeply involved in Virginia, I’ve been surprised by just how successful fossil fuel interests have been in blocking progress of clean energy and worse, how few people know about it. In fact, I think that the influence peddling and propaganda by polluting industries is what has contributed significantly to the loss of public faith in government institutions. The Nation says that influence is a $9B a year industry. That’s a staggering figure.

The costs of the influence business to average Americans are real. Look no further than the latest outrage, Ohio Governor John Kasich signing into law a bill “freezing” the growth of clean energy technologies. At the behest of one dirty utility – First Energy – and the Koch Brothers from Kansas, Governor Kasich has put at risk 25,000 clean energy jobs in state that is desperate for economic activity. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that Governor Kasich has frozen has saved Ohioans an estimated $1 billion to date.

That’s just one example. Back in my state of Virginia, we give tens of millions of dollars a year in tax money as a subsidy to the coal industry. It’s interesting to note this is the same industry that funds front groups to yell at the solar and wind industries about being supported by popular, pro-clean energy policies. These technologies should “stand on their own feet,” the coal lobby says. I think we can start by having the coal industry take the first step of getting off subsidies. It’s only been on them for, what, the last 150 years?

Lobbyist influence and what I call the legalized corruption of lobbying money has become some “New Normal” that Americans are supposed to accept. I don’t think we should accept it, and that’s why I’ve committed to build on the Checks and Balances legacy in the months ahead.

New pro-fracking group lacks CRED-ibility

Executives at Anadarko and Noble Energy are the board members and the Western Energy Alliance’s communications manager is the spokesperson for a new natural gas group in Colorado. The Center for Western Priorities takes a look at this group and asks the obvious question – is it willing to break ranks with the oil and gas industry, or is it just another empty mouthpiece.

A new industry-backed oil and gas group has sprung up in Colorado, and it’s calling itself CRED (Coloradoans for Responsible Energy Development). According to profiles in the Denver Business Journal and Greenwire, the group was created by top executives at two of Colorado’s biggest oil and gas players. CRED says its purpose is to correct Coloradans’ misunderstandings about the oil and gas industry. But, clever acronyms aside, the group is going to have to prove its CRED-ibility as an impartial, legitimate information source, before anyone’s going to take it seriously. That means acknowledging facts and taking positions even if they conflict with industry talking points.
– (CWP blog post, 9/10/13)

Read the full post and judge this new group for yourself.

Ken Cuccinelli’s Conflict of Interest Problem: The CONSOL Energy Campaign Contributions Timeline

The unfolding controversy around Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s involvement with CONSOL Energy Inc., a Pittsburgh-based fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) company, has focused on the widely criticized assistance his office provided the company. It also has focused on the total amount of money Cuccinelli has received from CONSOL.

When forced to respond to C&BP recently, Cuccinelli has asserted the company “gave me $100,000 after I opposed them.” A comparison of the timing of contributions and actions that favored CONSOL paint a very different picture.

Ken Cuccinelli and Consol Energy Campaign Contributions

In the first eight years of Mr. Cuccinelli’s political career (state senate), his campaigns received a total of $3,500 from CONSOL. However, once elected to Attorney General, his office began taking actions that favored CONSOL and disadvantaged southwestern Virginia landowners who hadn’t been paid by CONSOL. A comparison of the timelines of actions and money show a pattern of accelerating support as favorable actions increased, bringing a total of $140,000 to Cuccinelli after the actions favorable to CONSOL began.

In June 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli issued an advisory opinion that limited the jurisdiction of the Virginia Gas and Oil Board that forced Virginia landowners to go to court over royalty payments, a move clearly in CONSOL Energy’s favor.

Two months later, in August 2010, his office sided with CONSOL and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties, helping the out-of-state oil company defend against a claim by Virginia landowners.

From August 2010 through April 2012, Cuccinelli’s office (through a Senior Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon) began secretly providing legal research and advice to CONSOL’s attorneys regarding the lawsuit, outside of the scope of the AG office’s official capacity. The Virginia Inspector General is now investigating to determine whether the AG’s office misused taxpayer funds.

Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, helped CONSOL again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that barred local jurisdictions from using zoning laws to establish fracking moratoriums.

Mr. Cuccinelli: Virginians Deserve an Answer

After siding with Consol Energy in a dispute regarding gas royalties for Virginia landowners, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received over $100,000 [1] from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries. Our question for Mr. Cuccinelli is simple – given the conflicts of interest in taking money from a company involved in a lawsuit with landowners, will he give the money back?

The Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) attended a forum yesterday with Mr. Cuccinelli at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus (which is also the home to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center), and which was organized by fossil fuel front group, Consumer Energy Alliance.

After the forum, Mr. Cuccinelli took a few questions from reporters before abruptly walking off after C&BP asked about the more than $100,000 he has received from Consol.

Here’s what happened:

C&BP: “You’ve received over $100,000 from Consol Energy since you sided with them? Will you give that money back?

Mr. Cuccinelli: “I did not receive $100,000 since I sided with them. I received $100,000 in contributions since I opposed them.

Mike Stark (from FossilAgenda.com): Then why did they give you $100,000?

Cuccinelli: I’m the only candidate who’s proposed a solution to the gas. [inaudible]

C&BP: I’ve heard you say that before… but do you…

Cuccinelli: If you don’t have an actual question, thank you very much. [Ends press conference after only five reporters out of approximately 30 had asked questions.]

C&BP attempted to get an answer after the press conference before one of the two state troopers escorting Mr. Cuccinelli stopped C&BP from walking towards the Attorney General to ask the question.

Here’s the audio of C&BP trying to get an answer before being stopped by state troopers (fast forward to :27 for the question and interaction with state troopers):

The Virginia landowners who Mr. Cuccinelli has sided against have already asked him to give the money back and C&BP asked him again yesterday. He reacted by walking away from a press conference. Mr. Cuccinelli should answer the question – and clean up any potential conflicts of interest by returning campaign payments from Consol Energy and its subsidiaries, which are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Virginia landowners.


[1] Mr. Cuccinelli accepted more than $140,000 in Consol contributions after issuing an advisory opinion as Attorney General that limited the jurisdiction of Virginia Gas and Oil Board in June 2010.  That opinion marked the first of several Consol-friendly actions Mr. Cuccinelli has taken as Virginia’s Attorney General. Two months later, in August 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli sided with Consol and against Virginians in a lawsuit to recover improperly withheld royalties. Finally, Mr. Cuccinelli, went to bat for Consol again earlier this year when he issued another advisory opinion that local jurisdictions in Virginia may not use zoning laws to establish a moratorium on fracking until they can be sure their water tables will not be polluted.

Correction: The post originally stated the the forum was hosted by the Mercatus Center. It was hosted by GMU at the Arlington Campus, which is also the home of the Mercatus Center. Regardless, the Koch’s have donated nearly $30 million to GMU and its associated institutes and centers.

C&BP Statement on State Dept. Inspector General Keystone XL Investigation

Today, the State Department Office of Inspector General announced that an investigation into Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) conflicts of interest would not be completed until January 2014. This announcement indicates that the Keystone XL pipeline decision is facing another delay as a result of ERM lying to the State Department about its connections to TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline.

The Checks & Balances Project and 10 other organizations, called on the Inspector General in April to launch an investigation into ERM’s conflicts of interest. In government documents, ERM claimed that it had no relationship with TransCanada or any other entity with a stake in the project “in the past three years” despite working for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Canadian tar sands. Unredacted documents revealed proof that ERM had worked for TransCanada during that three year period and lied to the State Department on conflict of interest disclosure forms.

In late May, after receiving a call from a Special Agent at the Office of Inspector General, The Checks & Balances Project announced that the State Department had launched a probe into conflict of interest allegations.

Gabe Elsner, Director of the Checks & Balances Project, released the following statement following news of the State Department’s inquiry and review of these 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.  Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact. The Inspector General should complete a full investigation into ERM’s misleading statements and the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”

Q&A: ALEC’s new tactics to weaken renewable laws

This Q&A originally appeared in Midwest Energy News. 

By 

ALEC40Though bills meant to revoke or undercut renewable standards in numerous states failed last session, clean energy advocates say the model Market Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act proposed by ALEC’s energy task force during the conference pose a fresh threat.

The Market Power Renewables Act argues for a “voluntary market” that would allow people to invest in renewable energy if they choose without instituting mandates, and it claims that such an approach could lead to more renewable energy development overall.

The Renewable Energy Credit Act would expand the types of energy that would count toward credits. It would also remove caps on the proportion of an RPS that can be met through credits – a provision now enshrined in many states’ laws. And it would also allow the renewable standard’s full term – for example through 2025 – to be met in advance by bulk purchases of credits to meet future requirements.

The ALEC conference also included presentations by the American Petroleum Institute on local hydraulic fracturing bans; offshore energy as “good sense and good cents”; nuclear energy’s role in baseload electricity production; and the U.S. EPA’s “assault on state sovereignty,” hosted by a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Gabriel Elsner, director of the pro-clean energy watchdog Checks and Balances Project, was among the advocates banned from ALEC’s meeting in Oklahoma City in May. Elsner was in Chicago for the recent conference, in an effort to learn more about state legislators’ and corporate executives’ ties with ALEC. The Checks and Balances Project also collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace to publicize ALEC’s confidential agenda and proposed model bills.

Midwest Energy News spoke with Elsner during his visit.

Midwest Energy News: Given that ALEC was unable to pass its bills last year, how serious a threat do these model bills pose to RPS standards and to renewable energy development as a whole?

Elsner: ALEC completely failed in 2013 to weaken or eliminate RPS laws. We’ve seen that because there’s bipartisan support for clean energy. Businesses and communities are seeing local economic development and job creation because of these laws.

ALEC’s new model legislation is a stealth attack on RPS’s. They are framed in a way that makes them seem pro-clean energy, but would open up RPS’s to allow sources of electricity – from large hydropower to landfill gas — to be included in state laws that are supposed to incentivize clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. The net effect would be reduced incentives for local, clean energy development in states that adopted this new bill.

ALEC’s proposed “Market-Power Renewables Act” doesn’t mention hydropower or landfill gas – how do you figure it would allow such energy to be counted toward RPS compliance?

This bill as written would open up the market to the different registries that regulate renewable energy credits. For example, in Kansas, your renewable energy credits are regulated by a different entity than in California. But if Kansas passes this law, they could buy RECs from hydropower plants in California or Oregon to fulfill the entire RPS.

That’s already allowed in some states, how would this law be different?

I looked at the regional registries for RECs listed in the model bill. REC registries define renewable energy differently – some include hydropower plants as large as hundreds of megawatts. Others include landfills gas and biomass projects.

ALEC’s new model bills would create a lowest common denominator that would weaken the traditional RPS’s by allowing out-of-state RECs to fulfill the entire RPS. If building a wind turbine in Kansas cost a dollar and five cents but you could go out and buy an REC for a dollar from a hydropower plant in Maine, the utilities would go out and buy a credit and not build the local clean energy project. It would eliminate the economic benefit and jobs in the state.

Palmer-House-Phillip-CantorWhat exactly is an ALEC model bill and where does it go from here?

The bills were discussed by the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force on Friday and voted on by a combination of corporate representatives like AEP and Exxon Mobil and legislators who sit on the task force. Once it passes the task force, a bill goes to the executive board of ALEC. [If the board approves,] it becomes a model bill and is sent out to ALEC legislators across the country.

Who are ALEC legislators?

ALEC doesn’t publish a list of which legislators are members. The Center for Media and Democracy has compiled a list at ALECExposed.org. Right now, we know that about 25 percent of all state legislators are members of ALEC. Legislators who attacked RPS’s last year were in Chicago for the conference.

At the conference ALEC also discussed a model resolution supporting grid modernization. This would appear to put ALEC on the same page as clean energy groups. Is their support really a way to introduce curbs on improving the grid or promoting renewables on the grid?

It would be great if utilities were for grid modernization because it could lead to more clean energy development, smart meters, net metering. But more likely is that members of the ALEC energy task force are supporting grid modernization to maximize the benefits to the utilities at the expense of ordinary consumers.

It’s also a model resolution – not model legislation – so it lacks any details on what pieces of grid modernization they would actually support. The model resolution supports cost recovery by utilities, but would they support the increased use of smart meters and net metering?

If model bills don’t benefit the utilities and other fossil fuel interests funding ALEC, it’s probably not going to pass the task force.

ALEC calls for the possibility of buying renewable energy credits from businesses and private citizens. Might this in a sense further the goal of distributed energy and create incentives for people or businesses to generate their own renewable energy?

In theory this could lead to increased use of clean energy by opening up a voluntary market for RECs. But it’s more likely that opening the RPS to large existing hydro and other sources of electricity would water down the market and undermine in-state clean energy development.

It’s important to point out that RPS’s are already driving clean energy investment. In Kansas alone, it resulted in $3 billion of private sector investment in clean energy last year. These policies are working – if the members of ALEC really want to support clean energy they should work to increase the RPS standards.

The ALEC energy task force also passed a resolution to oppose a carbon tax. How much political significance does this have, especially given that ALEC works on the state level, and a carbon tax would be federal?

[The resolution] is a problem because it is a message to our national representatives in Congress. If state legislatures start passing resolutions against a carbon tax, it would send a strong message to people in Washington, D.C. that a carbon tax is not politically feasible.

What do groups hope to accomplish by publicizing ALEC’s agenda and model bills?

Transparency is always a good thing. ALEC for far too long has operated behind closed doors – lobbying our state legislators on behalf of their corporate members. The Checks and Balances Project is trying to bring accountability to that process by showing the public that major fossil fuel interests are working to impact our energy policy through ALEC.

Have these efforts had an impact already, such as with the failure of the bills in the past year?

I think that they have certainly mobilized people who are in favor of clean energy. ALEC’s attacks on clean energy mobilized businesses and other allies to defend these important policies. I think these attacks on something as popular as clean energy is also having an impact on ALEC itself, with many corporations deciding to leave ALEC because of the controversy surrounding the organization.

In regards to ALEC’s energy work, it’s no surprise that they are launching the next attack on clean energy policies. ALEC is a front group representing major fossil fuel interests, that see the growth of the clean energy industry as a long-term competitive threat.

Fossil Fuel Interests Continue Attacks on Clean Energy Policies

This response was originally posted at National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog, which asked energy experts this week, “How Bright Is Renewable Energy’s Future?”

The outlook for clean energy remains strong because smart investments like state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are combining with technological innovation to produce tremendous growth for the industry and tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs. These policies have successfully stood up to forceful attacks from entrenched fossil fuel interests in more than a dozen states in the past year. Washington should take note that the public supports and wants more energy from renewable sources.

At the state level, fossil fuel interests have worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to weaken or eliminate RPS, because the clean energy industry poses a competitive threat to their market share. State renewable energy standards are projected to add enough new renewable power capacity by 2025 to power 47 million homes.

So, it’s no surprise that fossil fuel interests like American Electric Power, Peabody Coal, ExxonMobil and others are working to rollback renewable energy laws. These corporations that sell electricity produced from coal and natural gas are in direct competition with electricity generated from clean energy sources. This year, ALEC members and fossil fuel-funded front groups worked to rollback RPS laws in at least 13 states. But, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders, farmers and clean energy advocates stopped them in their tracks. Of all the bills proposed by ALEC members to weaken or eliminate RPS, 0 out of 13 passed, including in key target states like Kansas, Missouri and North Carolina.

Despite failing completely in 2013, ALEC’s energy task force met last week to propose new model bills that would effectively gut RPS laws by allowing large, existing hydro and landfill gas and other electricity sources from out-of-state to count towards the Renewable Portfolio Standards. The Market-Power Renewables Act and the Renewable Energy Credit Act would let utilities meet the clean energy standards by purchasing credits from out-of-state companies instead of generating or buying their own clean energy. In effect, the new model bills would eliminate incentives for in-state clean energy investment that are creating jobs and economic opportunities. Since their inception 10 years ago, RPS laws have leveraged over $100 billion in private sector investment in clean energy in 29 states.

ALEC and fossil fuel-front groups are lobbying our state representatives and spreading disinformation behind closed doors to attack pro-clean energy laws. With energy policy mostly stalled at the federal level, fossil fuel-funded attacks on the state level will continue and likely ramp up in the future, posing a major threat to the clean energy industry and the policies that support its growth.

Hickenlooper’s Fifth Misdeed: Recording a misleading radio ad for oil & gas lobbyists

In 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper recorded a misleading radio ad paid for by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. In the ad, the governor parses his words to make the claim that Colorado has not had a single instance of drilling and fracking contaminating groundwater, since 2008.

“In 2008, Colorado passed tough oil and gas rules. Since then, we have not had once instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” – Gov. John Hickenlooper

The records show that Gov. Hickenlooper’s claim is a nice, industry-friendly talking point. But, it’s entirely misleading when it comes to the facts about spills in the Centennial State.

A review of the Colorado Oil and Gas Information System shows that approximately 20 percent of all spills in 2012 resulted in water contamination; 22 of those spills impacted surface water, while 63 impacted groundwater. Fifty-seven percent of spills during the year occurred within 1,500 feet of surface water, and 28 percent of the spills occurred within 500 feet of surface water. Thirty-seven percent of spills – 147 of 402 – occurred less than 50 feet from the shallowest ground water, eight percent occurred between 50 and 100 feet from groundwater, and 9 percent occurred more than 100 feet from groundwater.

In June of this year, Bruce Finley at the Denver Post reported that, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Commission records, 179 oil and gas industry spills occurred in the state, just during the first half of 2013. In 26 of those spills, groundwater was contaminated, and 15 of them directly polluted ponds and creeks.

In one of the highest profile spills, people living near Parachute Creek learned in March that an ongoing hydrocarbon spill near Williams Midstream’s Parachute Gas Plant dumped more than 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons into the ground.

Today, the Parachute Creek spill has been ongoing for more than six months, and testing in July shows that levels of benzene – a carcinogen – are elevated, again. Parachute Creek is a tributary to the Colorado River, a main water source for the region, and the benzene levels in the creek exceed state water quality standards.

In a second well-known spill that occurred in June, WPX Energy reported the release of 2,100 gallons of water that had been polluted by the drilling and fracking process. The spill occurred two miles south of the Colorado River, and most of the contaminated water was absorbed into the soil.

When Gov. Hickenlooper plays word games, like he did in COGA’s radio ad, he’s following industry’s lead. They like to parse the term fracking and then claim it’s never hurt water supplies. This is the sort of wordplay usually heard from teenagers explaining why they didn’t actually break curfew. The entire drilling and fracking process contaminates water – groundwater and otherwise – removing millions of gallons from the water cycle, in addition to what it pollutes on the surface.

Gov. Hickenlooper is being dangerously dishonest with Coloradoans when he says that fracking has never contaminated groundwater. He needs to stop prioritizing oil and gas companies over the safety of the people who elected him.

This is the fifth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

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.”

Hickenlooper’s Misdeed #4 – Opposing local efforts to protect residents from oil & gas drilling pollution

Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to oppose local efforts to protect residents from oil and gas drilling pollution, going so far as to sue local governments and taxpayers.

In his most recent action, the Hickenlooper-appointed Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission openly joined the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobby-group headed-up by CEO Tisha Schuller, in the administration’s second lawsuit against the city of Longmont.

As drilling operations encroach more and more on suburban and urban residential neighborhoods, Colorado communities have taken steps to protect residents while the Hickenlooper administration has actively opposed stronger health and safety protections.

In a February interview for CBS affiliate 4 News, Gov. Hickenlooper said that he would, “have to” sue every city and county that passes a fracking ban.

However, local elected officials aren’t taking the governor’s attacks lying down. In June, after Gov. Hickenlooper helped kill bills in the legislature to improve drilling and fracking regulations, 100 current and former local electeds signed a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper that read, “We would like to work with you in crafting an improved approach to addressing oil and gas development in Colorado.”

The letter went on to read, “We are concerned that the State’s positions do not adequately address the growing outcry from our citizens who are concerned about the health and safety of their families, the livability of neighborhoods, and the long-term economic vitality of our communities.”

As far as we know, that meeting hasn’t happened. As a former mayor of the City of Denver, one would think Gov. Hickenlooper would support local control and the right of municipalities to protect residents from dangerous oil and gas operations.

Ironically, he recently admitted that “oil and gas is an industrial process that none of us want in our backyard.”

As long as he insists on making oil and gas companies a priority over the health of Colorado families, he should expect local officials and residents to get involved. The least he could do is stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits fighting communities from doing the job he’s failed to do, protect Colorado.

This is the fourth installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds,” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

Industry front group pivots to “If you can’t be right, be loud” strategy

It appears that Colorado oil and gas lobbyists are back to playing their old games of lies and misinformation.

Monday, the industry-sponsored, blatantly anti-science group Energy in Depth (EID) put out new propaganda in an attempt to distract from the truth of how damaging oil and gas operations are to western air quality. In an interesting twist, EID’s Simon Lomax chose to attack Denver Post environmental reporter Bruce Finley as a means of casting doubt on the studies and data Finley references in his stories. Lomox spent a great deal of time and a lot of column inches cherrypicking to try and refute the negative effects of oil and gas drilling pollution on air quality. Our favorite line here at C&BP is when Lomax blames trees for smog.

“…and, not for nothing, those percentages don’t even include the biggest source of smog-forming emissions, which is the “biogenic” category – meaning trees and other vegetation.”
– Simon Lomax, “What Bruce Finley Failed to Mention About Air Quality,” Jan. 29, 2013

EID is a front group that was launched in 2009 by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) – a.k.a the natural gas lobby. It has a team that works in various energy producing states where citizens are rightly concerned about the impacts of oil and gas to clean air, clean water, and property values.

coga_eid_tweet
It was disappointing to see that Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) CEO Tisha Schuller decided to insert her group into the theatrics. It was just over a month ago that Schuller began her “charm offensive,” announcing that she would tour Colorado in an attempt to depolarize the debate around drilling and fracking near communities. One way for her to do that would be to publicly distance herself and her organization from disinformation producers like EID. Instead, COGA retweeted EID’s claims.

Speaking of claims, here are a few other facts regarding fracking and air quality that EID would much rather the public wasn’t aware of.

  • According to the EPA, “Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas…oil and natural gas production and processing accounts for nearly 40% of all U.S. methane emissions, making the industry the nation’s single largest methane source.”
  • According to the EPA, “Some of the largest air emissions in the natural gas industry occur as natural gas wells that have been fractured are being prepared for production.”
  • CU’s Colorado School of Public Health determined that residents living within one half mile of natural gas wells are at greater risk for potential health problems.
  • The EPA has found emissions from drilling, including fracking, and leaks from transmission pipes, totaled 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011, second only to power plants.

Front groups like EID detract from the real conversation around fracking and drilling in the west. Unfortunately, it seems as if industry is turning to them out of fear, as more western communities move to install common sense protections for their residents. If people like COGA’s Tisha Schuller really want to have a depolarized conversation, they need to publicly distance themselves from groups like EID.

Instead, Schuller is doing what every other mouthpiece for Big Oil does, spreading lies and misinformation so that the oil and gas companies she represents can continue to pollute.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 22nd

Here we go again: Tipton, Lamborn offer same oil & gas giveaways

The House Natural Resources Committee met Wednesday to debate a number of bills related to wilderness protection and energy issues. Among these bills were Congressman Doug Lamborn’s H.R. 1965 and Representative Scott Tipton’s H.R. 1394.

Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, working hard for Big Oil

Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, working hard for Big Oil

Rep. Lamborn’s bill mandates leasing quotas for oil and gas companies, encourages speculation, and bars the public, local officials and others from protesting potentially dangerous leasing decisions. It also endangers western water supplies and local economies by encouraging reckless oil shale speculation on public lands. Rep. Tipton’s bill essentially establishes energy development as the primary use of public lands. This would jeopardize the billion-dollar outdoor recreation and tourism industries, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Western jobs they create.

These bills have already faced outcry from Westerners who use these endangered public lands. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development noted that it is senseless to make more land available when the oil and gas industry already has more than 7,000 unused drilling permits.

New spills highlight need for better regulation

It was reported this week that more than 2,000 gallons of benzene contaminated water spilled from a well south of New Castle earlier this month. In another incident, a malfunctioning well sprayed gas and oil nearly 1,000 feet onto a neighboring farmer’s field. These incidents highlight the risks involved in fossil fuel development and demonstrate the need for this development to be properly regulated.

In the last legislative session, Governor Hickenlooper stalled bills that would have increased the number of well inspectors in the state and increased fines for companies who were negligent. This week’s news should raise further questions about who Governor Hickenlooper is working for, Coloradans, or oil and gas companies.

Wilderness report on places too wild to drill

A new report from The Wilderness Society highlights a dozen landmarks that are threatened by the encroachment of oil and gas drilling. These sites include Arches National Park in Utah and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The report calls on the Department of the Interior and Members of Congress to protect these American treasures. Jim Gale, founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands, was quoted in the report saying:

“Our National Parks protect America’s treasures, our natural and cultural  heritage, and we need to insure their protection from the harm that comes from oil and gas drilling. Arches National Park should not be surrounded by drill rigs. It seems obvious but apparently we need to keep reminding the oil and gas industry and the federal government, so Park Rangers for Our Lands will do just that.”

Arches National Park

 

Gas industry blows smoke on proposed BLM fracking rules

The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) released a faulty analysis of the proposed Department of the Interior fracking rule. It overestimates the annual cost of the rule by over $310 million

John Dunham & Associates, the firm that completed the study, claims that the proposed rule would cost companies $345 million annually. But, the firm arrived at this figure by misrepresenting the report in a way that inflates costs nearly ten-fold. The report makes assumptions about a rule that wouldn’t actually apply to gas drilling and uses that misapplication to grossly inflate the costs of the proposed rule.

Wyoming resident express concerns over water quality

The state of Wyoming is in the process of requiring baseline testing of groundwater for areas where drilling of oil and gas would take place. As the state decides how the testing will proceed, landowners want to ensure that there are the proper accountability measures included in these rules so that oil and gas companies who do contaminate ground water are punished for violations.

Hickenlooper’s Third Misdeed: Playing the class card in the energy debate

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top oil and gas regulator, Matt Lepore, disgracefully played the class card and tried to pit the working poor against efforts to protect our air and water from drilling pollution.

At a recent energy summit, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported his comments:

“If you look at the demographics of anti-fracking activists, he said, they are generally affluent enough not to be concerned with the cost of home heating and cooling, he said.

COGCC Director, Matt Lepore

COGCC Director, Matt Lepore

The truth is that low income populations are often the most threatened by pollution from dirty forms of energy. Reasons vary. For example, the working poor are more likely to live next to major sources of pollution and have less access to affordable, quality healthcare.

Oil and gas drilling operations moving further into city limits pose similar problems. If a drill rig shows up next to a school or across from an apartment complex, the working poor have less mobility and can’t pick-up and move their family to a better neighborhood.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that oil and gas drilling pollution releases cancer causing chemicals into the air and dangerous ozone-forming pollutants, which can lead to asthma.

Lepore could also use a lesson in energy economics. Lepore presented a false choice between low energy prices vis-a-vis natural gas and coal. There’s no reason why we can’t clean-up drilling operations, increase our investment in clean energy, and continue to have affordable energy.

Just look at the lessons Colorado has learned over the years. Xcel Energy has said that Colorado’s shift toward renewables, such as wind and solar, will save Coloradans, rich and poor alike, $100 million over 25 years.

Lepore was smart enough to apologize for his comments, but it was too little too late. He was clearly trying to play the class card and play-up a political wedge between Coloradans.

The comments also provide a unique insight into how Gov. Hickenlooper and his administrators view residents who have concerns with oil and gas – with open hostility.

Instead of viewing Coloradans as the enemy, Gov. Hickenlooper and his administration should stop the attacks, have an honest dialogue, and prove how they plan to ensure clean air and clean water for Coloradans, regardless of a family’s class status or wealth.

This is the third installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities.

House Natural Resources Committee takes yet another action promoting same oil and gas giveaways, mandates leasing quotas for oil companies

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee meets on Wednesday to mark up a slew of bills, and sandwiched in among them are a familiar series of giveaways to the multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry. In fact, the legislation would mandate leasing quotas for oil companies and increase speculation on public lands.

“The oil and gas giveaway bills being considered in the House today mandate leasing quotas, a policy that is dramatically out of step with public opinion in the West,” said Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Greg Zimmerman. “Westerners acknowledge there is room for energy development, but polling shows that recreation and conservation are their highest priorities for public lands. Moreover, 90 percent of western voters say protected lands were vital to their local economies.”

Wednesday’s hearing continues the determination by House Republicans, over the last five years, to put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of conservation and the future of America’s public lands. This, despite the fact that a majority of Westerners in oil and gas producing states want to see a balance struck between energy development and protection of public lands.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

About H.R. 1965 – Sponsor Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) 

  • The Lamborn bill blocks the public from participating in leasing decisions by creating “entrance fees” of up to $5,000 to join the conversation. It also mandates leasing quotas for oil and gas companies, encourages speculation, and bars the public, local officials and others from protesting potentially dangerous leasing decisions.
  • The Lamborn bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from protecting water, air and land from the impacts of drilling. It also rolls back the Obama Administration’s common sense approach to the failed “rock that burns,” oil shale, and in doing so endangers western water supplies and local economies.
  • The Lamborn bill continues to promote oil shale speculation despite the fact a Congressional Budget Office analysis of his proposal during the previous Congress found that opening up public lands to oil shale speculation would have zero effect on revenue.

About H.R. 1394 – Sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.)

Attitudes of Westerns about energy development and conservation (Hart Research)

  • About two in three (65%) voters say that permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally, and another 63% say that ensuring access to public lands for recreation activities is personally important to them (as indicated by a rating of “9” or “10” on a zero-to-10 scale). By comparison, only half as many voters (30%) say the same about making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development.
  • Voters reject the idea that there must be a single-minded, “either/or” approach to public lands. When explicitly given the opportunity to choose a third option, a majority (55%) instead say the government should put conservation on equal ground with drilling for oil and gas. This is the case among independents (59%), Republicans (64%), hunters and anglers (57%), and even among people who rate oil and gas as very important to them personally (57%). Democrats, in contrast, are divided between putting drilling and conservation on equal ground (44%) and focusing more on conservation and protection (47%).

# # #

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 15th

1. Parachute Creek toxic spill worsens

Six months after a Williams Co. spill that contaminated Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with cancer-causing benzene, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) data showed that benzene levels jumped more than 65 percent and exceeded both federal drinking water standards and state standards designed to protect aquatic wildlife. Nearby groundwater levels remain much higher. According to The Denver Post, tons of soil contaminated by the spill are being shipped to Utah

2. If oil and gas regulators represent industry, who represents citizens?

COGCC Director, Matt Lepore

COGCC Director, Matt Lepore

In comments eerily represent of former Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll’s, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore dismissed residents concerned about increasing health problems and plummeting home values due to fracking chemical contamination as “affluent” and thus out of touch. Lepore made the comments at an energy industry summit.

Last year, Doll said Wyoming residents were motivated by “greed and desire for compensation” not concern about Pavilion-area groundwater contamination from fracking. Doll resigned after a public outcry and Governor Matt Mead distanced himself from the controversial comments. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has consistently stood as a friend and ally of the oil and gas industry. It’s time that Governor Hickenlooper an advocate for the people who elected him by denouncing Lepore’s comments.

3. BLM says its New Mexico leasing sale plan “insufficient,” sells land anyway

Despite offering oil and gas leases under a 30-year old plan that does not address oil and gas development, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold 1,166 acres on five parcels of land in New Mexico’s Otero County. [ed. note - linked article is behind a paywall] In May, groups such as the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society protested the sale because BLM was relying on analysis from 1986 when the oil and gas industry had less interest. BLM said it knew its 1986 analysis was “insufficient for the management of the resource” and added a 2004 amendment that was later struck down by a federal court for failing to consider environmental impacts, especially to the Salt Basin aquifer. BLM said: “a careful vetting process … found no resource conflicts” to prohibit the sales.

4. “Four Stops, One Destination” Tour demonstrates need to put national parks on equal ground with energy development

Continuing its “Four Stops, One Destination” tour to encourage more Latinos to visit and protect national parks, Hispanic Access Foundation President Maite Arce and her family visited Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. The family’s video blog features beautiful views from a guided river tour the family joined. After the trip, Maite’s son Luke discussed with Arce the need to preserve and protect parks and rivers from oil rigs and development. Telemundo featured the family’s tour this week.

5. Jewell’s defends need for strong fracking rule, oversight of oil and gas comapnies

Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who marks her 100th day in office tomorrow, defended proposed fracking regulations against fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and industry groups at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing. Pointing to varying levels of standards among the states, Jewell said minimum standards are needed on federal and Indian lands but said federal regulators would defer to states and tribes if they have strong oversight.

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

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

Koch-Bros-Climate

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 5th

1. HAF-time at National Parks.
Hispanic Access Foundation President Maite Arce and her family are embarking on a 950-mile tour of four national parks threatened by drilling and fracking, to encourage Latinos to take an active role in protecting these natural wonders for future generations. Arce notes that increased use of these national treasures by Latinos will add a strong voice to protect these areas from the threat of reckless oil and gas development.

The Arce family will share stories from their journey through a video blog and social media. The 10-day trip starts in Denver and will end in Gallup, NM with stops at four national parks: Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Park.

You can follow Matie’s efforts on Twitter at @HispanicAccess and @maitearcedc.

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2. Hickenlooper Delays Game on Oil & Gas Safety
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to fight against communities on behalf of his campaign donors in the oil and gas industry. County and municipal local elected officials from across the state are butting heads with Gov. Hickenlooper over the need to protect local communities from the dangers of drilling and fracking pollution. Just yesterday, Gov. Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission announced that it was joining the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit against Longmont citizens for enacting a fracking ban after Gov. Hickenlooper’s track record of ignoring local communities and failing to provide strong health and safety protections. The commission was already suing the City of Longmont for passing strong public health protections.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

Gov. Hickenlooper’s second misdeed
We posted the second blog in our “Governor Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” blog series highlighting how he blocked funding for 30 additional state oil and gas inspectors. To put his actions in perspective, a report found that 28 oil and gas lobbyists are supporting the Gov.’s oil and gas industry agenda while the state had only 17 inspectors in FY13 to cover 52,000 oil and gas wells across the state. This lack of enforcement and inspection helps to contribute to the likelihood of spills, like the one at Parachute Creek where, this week, OSHA handed down fines. On the other hand, Gov. Hickenlooper has yet to hold polluters accountable for the spill and issue a fine.

3.     CDPHE Huddles on Pollution Rules as Citizens Worry About Health
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment this week announced it would consider new rules designed to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations. These operations now account for the largest source of organic compound pollution in Colorado.

The Department is considering tougher rules at a time when the number oil and gas wells are expanding rapidly, leaving Coloradans concerned about the air they breathe. Citizen groups have asked that strong safety rules be put into place before more drilling is allowed.

4.     Sen. Bennett Touches Down in Dinosaur National Monument
Senator Bennett took a two-day rafting tour of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, the site of “the legendary launch of modern environmentalism.” He met with a range of stakeholders to discuss the state’s natural resources and how best to preserve them. Earlier this year, the Colorado BLM office tried to lease land next to the park’s visitor center to oil and gas companies. The leases were deferred in response to outcry from Park Rangers, conservation and community groups.

5.     Public Lands Program Scores for Veterans
Veterans have been speaking out about the importance of public lands and the need to put conservation and energy development on equal ground.  Also this week, the Laramie Boomerang reported on the Montana Conservation Corps’ Veterans Program. The program gives veterans an opportunity for job training and experience that helps them make the transition from service to civilian life.

Update: Keystone XL Contractor Conflicts of Interest Coverage

Yesterday, Gabe Elsner, Director of The Checks & Balances Project and Ross Hammond, Senior Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, held a press briefing to discuss a new scandal that could delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. New evidence uncovered by the two groups show that Environmental Resources Management, the contractor in charge of the environmental review of Keystone XL, lied to the State Department on conflict of interest disclosure forms – and had worked for TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline. See the coverage below for more on this important, breaking story.

Bloomberg-business-week

Secrets, Lies, and Missing Data: New Twists in the Keystone XL Pipeline

By Brad Wieners

Even if you haven’t been following the saga of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and haven’t decided if it’s a fast track to U.S. energy independence (those in favor) or “game over” for human civilization (those opposed, because of its role in climate change), yesterday’s developments are too rich to ignore. In fact, it may be game over for the Keystone XL—at least until 2016—thanks, once again, to U.S. State Department oversight.

First, a refresher: Because the proposed line crosses the Canada-U.S. border, TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that wants to build and operate the pipeline, needs President Obama’s approval. The president, in turn, is relying on State to assess the viability and safety of the plan, as he indicated in a speech a little over a week ago. “The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal,” Obama said, sweating profusely at Georgetown University. ”That’s how it’s always been done.”

Three years ago, the Keystone XL was a lot closer to being OK’d than it is today. As Paul Tullis noted in his 2011 feature, “the XL’s predecessor, which runs from Canada to Oklahoma and branches into Illinois, breezed through the permit process during the Bush Administration with barely a whiff of concern from the public.” By the time the XL came along, however, things had changed. In June 2011, after former NASA climate scientist James Hansen condemned the pipeline, Vermont professor Bill McKibben and a troop of college students answered Hansen’s call, surrounding the White House as part of a committed #NOKXL campaign. A strange-bedfellows coalition of ranchers and environmentalists rose up to protest property easements and to protect the aquifers of the Great Plains. And on July 10, 2011, the Los Angeles Timesreported on correspondence released by WikiLeaks revealing that David Goldwyn, an aide to Hillary Clinton, was something of a mole for TransCanada, coaching the company’s executives on how to win favor at State with “better messaging.” After leaving the State Department, Goldwyn testified before Congress in favor of Keystone XL.

Then the real bomb dropped: Cardno Entrix, the Houston (Tex.) company State had contracted with to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) on Keystone—the substance of the evaluation Obama referred to—turned out to be a preexisting client of TransCanada and, as such, had a blatant conflict of interest. So in November of 2011, the inspector general was brought in to establish new conflict of interest rules, and a new EIS was ordered up, this time from a U.K. multinational called ERM.

Well, it happened again. Two environmental groups, Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project, have revealed that ERM lied about its own ties to TransCanada.

Washington Post

Battle rages over Obama’s climate standards for Keystone XL pipeline

By Steve Mufson

Two weeks after President Obama said he would support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline only if it “does not significantly exacerbate” greenhouse-gas emissions, the political battle over how to define that is still raging.

This week, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled a new eight-state ad campaign backing the project, environmental groups renewed conflict of interest charges against a State Department contractor, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote a 20-page letter to the State Department arguing that the pipeline does not meet the president’s climate test.

The State Department — which has permitting authority because the Keystone XL pipeline crosses an international border — issued a preliminary environmental impact statement in March, arguing that approving the pipeline would have no climate impact because bitumen from Canadian province Alberta’s oil sands could reach markets via railroads even without a pipeline route.

Waxman and Whitehouse said Wednesday that the State Department’s analysis was “fundamentally flawed” and that transportation constraints were already increasing costs and driving down prices paid to oil sands producers, discouraging oil sands expansion plans. Some producers report discounting oil sands crude by $50 or more a barrel to compensate for high rates charged by rail operators.

The two lawmakers also argued that recent opposition in Canada had cast doubt on the viability of alternative pipeline routes within the country.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project on Wednesday renewed allegations that the firm the State Department hired to help write its report on the pipeline failed to disclose conflicts of interest around its past work for a different pipeline project involving TransCanada, the Keystone owner and major oil companies with interest in the Alberta oil sands.

 By William Marsden, Postmedia News

Conflict of interest: State Department contractor on Keystone XL study lied about ties to TransCanada & oil industry

ERM employee tried to cover up deceit online

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The company hired by the State Department to review the environmental impact of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form about its work for pipeline builder TransCanada and other oil companies, according to research released today by Friends of the Earth and The Checks & Balances Project.

Friends of the Earth’s investigation of the business connections of Environmental Resources  Management — the London-based international consulting firm that conducted a study for the State Department claiming the pipeline will not cause significant environmental harm — uncovered an extensive dossier of publicly available documents that show:

  • On its conflict of interest disclosure forms, ERM lied to the State Department about not working with TransCanada. In fact, ERM and TransCanada have worked together at least since 2011 on another pipeline project in Alaska.
  • ERM lied again when it said it had no relationship with any business that would be affected by construction of the Keystone XL, which would carry tar sands oil from northern Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. In fact, ERM’s own publicly available documents show that the firm has business with over a dozen companies with operating stakes in the Alberta tar sands.
  • In recent weeks, as calls grew louder for an investigation of the numerous conflicts of interest tainting the State Department’s handling of the Keystone proposal, an ERM employee tried to cover up his work for the Alaska Pipeline Project, a partnership between ExxonMobil and TransCanada.

“From the beginning, the State Department’s review of Keystone has been plagued by influence peddling and conflicts of interest,” said Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “This is more serious: If ERM lied about its relationship with TransCanada, how can Secretary Kerry, President Obama or the American people believe anything the company says about the pipeline’s environmental impact?”

Hammond said ERM’s lies call into question the entire Keystone XL environmental review process. Friends of the Earth and The Checks & Balances Project have called for an investigation by the State Department’s Inspector General into how ERM was hired given these conflicts of interest. In the wake of the new evidence that ERM lied on State Department disclosure forms, the groups are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to throw out the ERM study and not allow it to determine the Obama Administration’s decision on whether to issue a pipeline permit.

In papers filed with the State Department in June 2012, ERM certified that it had “no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada” for at least three years. But public records show that TransCanada, ERM and an ERM subsidiary, Oasis Environmental, have worked together at least since 2011 on the Alaska pipeline project.

On its conflict of interest form, ERM also certified that it had no “direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” But ERM’s own publicly available documents show that in the period 2009-2012 the firm was working for over a dozen of the largest energy companies involved in the Canadian tar sands which stand to benefit if Keystone is built, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

More recently, on May 14 the LinkedIn profile for Mark Jennings listed him as Socioeconomic Advisor for ERM. Among his roles for the company were since 2011, “Consultant to ExxonMobil Development Company for the Alaska Pipeline Project,” for which Exxon and TransCanada are partners. But less than a month later, his LinkedIn profile made no mention of his work for ERM.

The State Department’s review of Keystone XL has been sharply criticized by the EPA and the scientific community for failing to consider the climate and other impacts of the pipeline. The Checks and Balances Project and Friends of the Earth said it is impossible for the State Department to fairly evaluate whether the pipeline is in the national interest when its environmental review was conducted by a company with deep ties to the oil industry.

“Secretary Kerry must halt this flawed review process and direct the State Department to conduct a full, unbiased review of the Keystone XL pipeline’s impact,” said Gabe Elsner, director of the Checks and Balances Project. “In addition, the State Department Inspector General should pursue a full investigation into how a contractor with clear conflicts of interest was allowed to write the U.S. government’s assessment of Keystone XL and why the State Department failed to bring those conflicts of interest to light. Finally, the State Department should determine appropriate disciplinary actions for ERM to discourage contractors from lying to the federal government in the future.”

Hickenlooper’s Misdeed #2 – Opposing more boots-on-the-ground to inspect oil and gas well sites

This year, Gov. John Hickenlooper worked to derail funding that would have added about 30 new oil and gas inspectors in the state.

In fact, Gov. Hickenlooper has a strong track record of siding with industry over the health of Coloradans. Right after the legislative session, an article in the Denver Post described how a “wave of bills in the Colorado legislature to increase oversight of the state’s oil and gas operations has hit a nearly immovable dike in Hickenlooper administration officials and industry lobbyists.”

But that’s not surprising in a state that has more oil and gas industry lobbyists than on-the-ground inspectors. A recent report found that in FY13 there were 28 lobbyist aiding Hickenlooper’s pro-industry agenda and only 17 inspectors that have to cover 52,000 oil and gas wells across the state.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

Parachute spill, March 2013. Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.

It’s no wonder that spills are out of control in Colorado without inspectors to ensure companies are doing things right. Take a look at the spill by Williams energy companies which dumped toxic chemicals into Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River. It took Williams two weeks to discover the spill and more than two months to report the spill to state authorities.

Despite all that, Gov. Hickenlooper’s administration has yet to issue a fine six months later. It took President Obama’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step-in and fine Williams before any sort of accountability took place.

More boots-on-the-ground could help prevent accidents before they happen such as the Williams spill at Parachute Creek. Unfortunately, the legislature was only able to add a handful of more inspectors to cover the tens of thousands of wells across the state thanks to opposition by Gov. Hickenlooper’s administration.

Coloradans deserve better. It’s time for Gov. Hickenlooper to put the health of Colorado families on equal ground with the oil and gas industry.

This is the second installment in our blog series “Hickenlooper’s Misdeeds” which shines a spotlight on how Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has put the interests of oil and gas companies ahead of the health of Colorado families and local communities. 

Media shines a light on Colorado BLM leasing plans

News stories last week show that BLM Colorado State Director Helen Hankins is up to her old tricks. According to stories in E&E News’ Energywire, the Durango Herald, and the Denver Business Journal, Dir. Hankins is following her consistent pattern of offering to auction off controversial land for oil and gas, even after major public outcry. This time, Dir. Hankins’ plans to offer more than 10,000 acres near Mesa Verde National Park – worsening air pollution problems the park is already experiencing from existing nearby drilling operations and coal-fired power plants.

It’s worth noting that bringing these oil and gas proposals back puts Dir. Hankins in direct conflict with the balanced approach to public land use that Interior Sec. Sally Jewell spent her weekend endorsing to Western governors.

You may remember that in early 2013, Dir. Hankins deferred the Mesa Verde parcels after the National Park Service, landowners, and community groups protested the threat posed to the park from drilling pollution. Her reversal demonstrates why Sec. Jewell should rein in the Colorado BLM office and ensure that Dir. Hankins is using innovative 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms such as “Master Leasing Plans” which allow a more balanced approach to energy development and look at on-the-ground impacts, including threats to air quality and tourism and recreation. Instead, Dir. Hankins continues ignore the balanced approach Westerners want and plays her part as the oil and gas industry’s real estate agent.

In the Durango Herald, Emery Cowan reported that the La Plata County Commissioners sent a letter to Dir. Hankins asking her to implement the Obama administration’s oil and gas leasing reforms.

County asks for delay in gas and oil lease

“However, by making the decision to lease (the La Plata County parcels in November), the BLM appears to be shutting the door on a (master plan) and a smart approach to protect the treasures that are so important to our local community and economy,” the letter said.

Scott Streater, writing for E&E News, noted that former park rangers weighed in on the original lease sale with concerns of how oil and gas leasing would affect one of the nation’s most iconic parks, Mesa Verde National Park.

BLM to put deferred parcels near Colo. national park back on the block

Among those that protested against leasing the parcels was the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which wrote a letter in February to Salazar complaining that development of the eight parcels “could further impair the already degraded air quality at Mesa Verde, harm important scenic values within the surrounding landscape and negatively affect the local economy, which depends greatly on the national park’s protected status.”

Writing in the Denver Business Journal, Cathy Proctor noted that Mesa Verde attracts more than half a million visitors annually.

Denver Business Journal: Feds to re-offer oil and gas leases near Mesa Verde National Park

The federal Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a controversial plan to offer about 12,000 acres of mineral rights in southwest Colorado for oil and gas drilling at its November auction — including parcels near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

As public outcry continues to grow, we’ll be watching to see if Dir. Hankins is allowed to continue making the Administration’s reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

Hickenlooper’s Misdeed #1 – the Anadarko-Noble Loophole

Governor John Hickenlooper complained about critics saying he is too close to the drilling industry in Colorado. “I am constantly attacked now for being in the pocket of oil and gas, or somehow subservient to their philosophy or their wish,” he said at a lecture last month.

The Governor shouldn’t be surprised about his well-earned reputation. He has shamelessly worked on behalf of oil and gas companies at the expense of the health and wellbeing of Colorado families.

Wattenberg map

Map of the Greater Wattenberg area where oil and gas companies are subject to less strict water quality testing rules

When Colorado approved new groundwater rules in January, critics called it the weakest program in the nation for granting a massive exemption in the Greater Wattenberg area of Northern Colorado. Known as the Anadarko-Noble Loophole, this exemption covered 25 percent of all active oil and gas wells in Colorado and a whopping two-thirds of all new drilling permits. In fact, Gov. Hickenlooper’s commission provided the weakest water testing standards and groundwater protections for people living in the most heavily populated part of the state where shale oil fracking and drilling is happening.

But, you don’t have to take our word for it that the Governor is the drilling industry’s best pal. In January, a lobbyist for Chesapeake Energy accidentally emailed a strategy memo that revealed their admiration of the Governor: “His relationship to the oil & gas industry is strong and he has been a national leader speaking out against the anti-fracturing forces that have invaded Colorado.”

Colorado families deserve a governor who puts their health and safety above his favorite drilling industry donors.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of June 24th

1. La Plata Co. Commissioners call for Colorado BLM to adopt smart approach to oil & gas development

La Plata County Commissioners sent a letter to Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins, urging that her office engage in better land use planning, before offering leases to oil and gas companies. They did so out of concern for the damage irresponsible oil and gas leasing could do to landowners, water resources, and Mesa Verde National Park. Drilling could exacerbate air pollution at Mesa Verde. This would harm tourism opportunities, and threats to water supplies could negatively affect landowners in the western part of the county.

2. Spills are contaminating Colorado groundwater – Will Hickenlooper act?

A Denver Post review of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data found that the Centennial State has been hit with 179 spills so far this year. And, despite what Gov. Hickenlooper likes to claim, a quarter of these spills have led to groundwater contamination. The State of Colorado is charged with holding oil and gas companies responsible for these spills and should levy appropriate fines. So it’s puzzling why Governor Hickenlooper recently gutted legislation that would have set mandatory minimum penalties and increased fines for the companies responsible for the spills.

3. New bill would protect 750,000 acres in Western Colorado

The previous Congress was the first since the 1960s to protect no additional acres of public land. In an effort to not duplicate that distinction, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced legislation that designates three quarters of a million acres of backcountry land as wilderness in areas such as Browns Canyon, Dolores River Canyon, and the Flat Tops addition.

4. Park ranger calls on balanced approach to drilling on public lands

Park Rangers for Our Lands founder and former National Park Ranger Ellis Richard penned a guest blog for Huffington Post Green to talk about the briefing he delivered alongside NPCA’s Dr. James Nation, last week. A standing-room-only crowd listened and asked questions to learn about the threat that encroaching drilling and fracking operations pose to national parks, from a man who spent nearly 30 years protecting them.

5. Why America’s shale oil boom could end sooner than you think

Forbes took a look at the forces driving oil and gas drilling in America, and sure enough they’re economic in nature, not regulatory. As oil and gas executives and their allies in Congress continue to try and push more government handouts to billion-dollar companies, too much production could put oil right where natural gas is – in the red.

A Balanced Approach to Drilling on Public Lands

**Cross-posted from The Huffington Post**

By Ellis Richard

As a life-long Westerner, and former National Park Service ranger, I’ve spent a lot of time in and around some of America’s most treasured places. I dedicated my career to protecting these parks.

The future of our national parks, and all of the great open spaces of the west is important to me. These powerful American landscapes helped shape our national character, and defined a way of life, and a life style so many of us value. In many ways, these places define America and give meaning and vision to our lives.

With those concerns in mind, this week I took our cause of balanced oil and gas leasing to the Hill and joined the National Parks Conservation Association to brief Congressional offices about our work and the threat fracking and drilling poses to America’s national parks.

I was heartened by what I saw. Staff from more than 30 offices attended to learn about the need to place oil and gas drilling on equal ground with the future of our parks. In fact, it was standing-room-only. This kind of dialogue and interest is progress.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to work and live in communities across the West, from the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. It was good to share some of those experiences and see folks paying attention to the need for smarter approach to energy development.

I told those in attendance that we can do this by allowing responsible drilling in the appropriate places, while protecting those treasured landscapes that are part of the American heritage, and an important driver in so many of our local economies.

Energy development and conservation on our public lands is not a zero sum game. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. We can achieve balance. For instance, past administrations have protected an acre of public lands for every land leased to oil and gas development. We can achieve that kind of balance if we put our minds to it.

The Obama administration should be planning ahead to allow for drilling in places where it won’t threaten our cultural and natural treasures. But instead, drilling is encroaching on national parks and monuments, including, near Mesa Verde National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, and Pinnacles National Park. This past spring, federal officials in the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management wanted to allow drilling rigs right next the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument.

Just this week, a new poll showed a bipartisan majority of Western voters are more interested in preserving land for recreation and the enjoyment of future generations than in using them for oil and gas drilling. It’s clear from this poll that people living in the west believe that oil and gas production can be done on public lands while also preserving the values of those iconic landscapes we’ve put aside as national parks.

What tourists want to see a drilling rig or take a whiff of gas in the air when they bring their families on vacation? National Parks drive local economies across the United States, especially in the West. National Parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity each year. Visitors support local hotels, restaurants, stores and outfitters. Our great outdoors in the West also offer an unparalleled quality of life, which is why manufacturing and technological companies relocate there, providing job opportunities.

It’s a simple fact: our communities rely on national parks, and other open spaces to attract high-paying businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors to come to enjoy our world-class recreation resources just as much as we rely on energy development — done responsibly, in appropriate places. There are some places too special to drill.

Energy development on our public lands also provides economic benefits to our Western communities by creating jobs and providing American energy. I believe we can extract oil and gas responsibly from public lands and also provide the protection national parks need and deserve with a balanced approach to leasing.

My fellow rangers and I at Park Rangers for Our Lands believe we need to “look before we lease” our public lands to oil and gas development. If we take the time and do the work to plan ahead, we can stop problems before they start and protect the future of our parks.

We know some of these solutions will be hard to find, but that doesn’t mean we can just give up. We need the BLM and the National Park Service to work together to do the responsible planning needed to preserve the landscapes that can affect the values of the parks we have worked hard to set aside. If they will do the landscape level planning, we can safeguard those sensitive lands around the national park. It’s a balanced and reasonable alternative that extends protection to our parks while developing the energy resources our country needs.

 

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of June 17th

Here are the top five energy stories the Checks and Balances Project was tracking for the week of June 17th. Stories included a new campaign to put conservation on equal ground with oil and gas drilling; our blog on the oil and gas industry’s new PR campaign; an effort by sportsmen to protect backcountry lands in Colorado’s White River region; a briefing on the Hill about fracking and threats to our national parks; and a breaking report showing how states are losing hundreds of millions of dollars due to bargain-basement royalty rates for oil and gas drilling on taxpayer-owned public lands.

1. Westerners value conservation more than drilling on public lands by 2-1 margin. Campaign for Equal Ground launched. 

The Center for American Progress (CAP) released new polling data by Hart Research which found that “[a]bout two in three (65%) voters say that permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally”, while only 30 percent of Westerners state that oil and gas drilling is an important priority on public lands. The poll represents the stark contrast between efforts in Congress to open more lands for drilling and the wishes of Westerners who want these areas protected. In conjunction with the poll release, CAP was joined by The Wilderness Society and others to launch the “Equal Ground” campaign which seeks to put conservation on a level playing field with oil and gas drilling on our public lands.

2. Industry’s new charm offensive. 

In the face of growing public opposition to the oil and gas fracking operations in the West, industry lobby groups launched a new effort to spin the public relations mess they’ve created for themselves. But, true to form, they’re still relying on the same rhetoric and false claims.

3. Sportsmen ad campaign to protect backcountry in Colorado’s White River region. 

Several major sportsmen groups, including Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership joined together to run ads in Colorado newspapers calling for the protection of sportsmen opportunities and wildlife habitat by balancing energy development and protection of Colorado’s backcountry in the White River region. The ads ran in the Denver Post, Rio Blanco Herald Times, Craig Daily Press, Steamboat Springs Pilot & Today, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Boulder Daily Camera, Loveland Reporter Herald, Longmont Times Call, and Canon City Daily Record.

 

 

 

 

4. National parks advocates brief Congressional staff on threats to national parks and monuments. 

A joint briefing by the National Parks Conservation Association and Park Rangers for our Lands alerted Congressional staff to the threats faced by national parks and monuments from irresponsible drilling. These parks and monuments are key parts of the Western economy. The presenters urged the federal government to adopt smart land use planning tools to avoid damaging these important economic and cultural resources.

5. States losing $400-$600 million in revenue each year due to bargain-basement onshore oil and gas royalty rates. 

Oil and gas companies continue to rip-off taxpayers by developing resources on taxpayer-owned public lands under incredibly low royalty rates. According to a new report by the Center for Western Priorities, the federal government has set a royalty rate of just 12.5 percent while conservative states such as North Dakota and Texas have set 16.67-18.75 percent and 25 percent respectively. This indirect subsidy costs the federal government and Western states hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Industry’s new leaf?

Maybe the oil and gas lobby’s latest efforts should strike hope in the hearts of Coloradans. Are they turning over a new leaf and willing to balance energy development with conservation interests? Maybe … maybe not.

From Colorado Oil and Gas Association Director Tisha Schuller’scharm offensive” to Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigely’spoll for the people,” oil and gas lobbyists are in high gear trying to stop a public relations mess that industry themselves created.

Clearly the effort is garnering them good press like Schuller reinventing herself as the environmentalist or Mr. Wigley taking a tired poll they rehash nearly every year and parading it as proof they want to know what Coloradans think.

Mr. Wigley makes broad claims about the support for energy development using his national poll, but he fails to take a look at what people believe in his own backyard. If industry really wants to know what Coloradans think, they don’t have too far to go far to find out. They want the health of their communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

A recent poll of westerners by Hart Research Associates found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65 percent) believe that “permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally” while less than a third (30 percent) feel that “making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development” is important.

Just this week, a delegation from the North Fork Valley traveled to Washington, DC calling for balance. The group included a winery owner, local official, and agricultural representative. After officials like Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins and industry failed to listen to the community, they took matters into their own hand and drafted a citizen proposal which allows for responsible energy development while protecting the booming agri-tourism economy of the North Fork.

This isn’t the first time that there have been questions about Dir. Hankins continually listening to the oil and gas industry instead of local communities and conservation interests. Industry proposals to drill near Mesa Verde National Park and place a drill rig near the visitor center of Dinosaur National Monument have faced severe backlash.

Yesterday, Boulder County Councilors decided to put a three-year oil and gas fracking ban on the ballot to give its residents an opportunity to speak and industry to listen. It’s no wonder so many local communities along the Front Range are proposing hard-lines like that after industry failed to “listen” to Coloradans and instead sided with Gov. John Hickenlooper to kill numerous bills which would have protected our water, our air, and our health.

Ms. Schuller and Mr. Wigley have one thing right. A rational conversation about oil and gas drilling is long overdue. We must put our communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

It’s time for the oil and gas lobby to turn over that leaf.

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.

Updated: Sec. Jewell brings home a trophy from Senate committee hearing

One of the oil industry’s best friends in Congress imploded a standard GOP/industry talking point yesterday when, in the face of Sec. Sally Jewell’s facts, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) admitted that oil production is up on public lands. Watch the exchange!

# # #

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell showed up at today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing loaded for bear, and she bagged an Alaskan grizzly.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski started her time by regurgitating often-repeated – and totally flawed – oil and gas industry talking points about oil and gas production on public lands. Sec. Jewell fired back, using actual statistics to point out the truth: onshore oil production on federal lands is at its highest level in more than a decade.

And when Sen. Murkowski, a true politician, tried to change the topic to offshore production, her colleague Sen. Al Franken, and Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hays pointed out that offshore numbers had (appropriately) dipped in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf – but that offshore oil production, and offshore drilling and exploratory activity are now back at pre-spill levels and growing.

Unable to dispute cold, hard facts, Sen. Murkowski was forced to acknowledge the truth. And her admission that oil production is up on federal lands demonstrates the need for a more balanced approach between energy development and conservation.

With onshore oil production at its highest level in 10 years, the Obama Administration should adopt an equal ground policy – conserving an acre of land for every acre they lease, consistent with the balanced approach achieved by Presidents such as Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Sec. Jewell pointed out in her testimony that in 2011, recreational visits contributed an estimated $49 billion in economic benefits to local communities. Balancing appropriate energy production with protecting our treasured lands also attracts high-wage businesses and entrepreneurs to Western states – strengthening our economy for future generations.

As oil- and gas-funded politicians in the House and Senate get ready for yet another summer of pushing the same failed giveaways to oil and gas companies they’ve tried before, they’re going to have to deal with the same facts that stopped Sen. Murkowski in her tracks today. It’s tough to lose a top talking point.

A few other facts from Sec. Jewell’s testimony:

  • The amount of producing acreage continues to increase, and was up by about 200,000 acres between 2011-2012.
  • The 2010 onshore leasing reforms resulted in the lowest number of protests in 10 years – fewer than 18 percent of parcels offered in FY 2012 were protested.
  • BLM field offices’ processing and approval time for drilling applications fell by 40 percent between FY 2006 and FY 2012.
  • The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released in December 2012, estimates the number of people that rely on water from the Colorado River Basin could double to nearly 76 million people by 2060.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE EXCHANGE

Sen. Murkowski, opening statement:  “A related concern is the rate of falling production on federal lands. It’s true that our nation is in the midst of an historic oil and gas boom, but it’s also true that production on federal lands is in trouble. Contrary to some of the statements of the rhetoric we’ve heard, oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% last year after falling by even more than that in 2011. Natural gas production from the same federal areas meanwhile is in virtual free fall, down 8% last year and down 23% since 2009. The fact of the matter is that America’s energy boom is happening in spite of federal policies that stymie our production. We should be opening new lands to development, making sure the permits are approved on time, and preventing regulation and litigation from locking down our lands, and if anyone’s looking for a place to start, I’ll invite you to look to Alaska.”

Sec. Sally Jewel, responding in her testimony and opening statement said: “I want to start with energy, energy onshore. Onshore oil production on federal lands is actually at its highest level in over a decade, the amount of producing acreage continues to increase and I’m very happy, Ranking Member Murkowski, to provide you with some statistics that are a little different than the comments that you just referenced in terms of oil production. I have looked at the leasing reforms that the BLM have put in place, they changed them in 2010. They’ve actually had the lowest number of protests on lease sales in ten years, so we are making progress there, and I know the team is working hard on the time for permitting approval of new projects. That will be facilitated by automation. Sequestration has impacted that a bit but we’re still committed to getting that done….and now there are more deepwater rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico than there were prior to the deepwater horizon spill.”

Sen. Murkowski, following Wyden’s first round of questions: “but I did just want to put a statement on the record, that, you had noted in your opening statement that oil production from federal onshore lands is at its highest level in over a decade, you had noted that perhaps our commentaries differed, I had noted that oil production from the federal estate actually fell 5% and the reference there, and I think it is important to just give some of the numbers here very briefly because I think it can be confusing. Federal onshore production was at 89.5 million barrels back in 2003, its gone up to 108.7 million in 2012, so you do have a substantial increase there, but it’s not the full picture, and that was my point. Because on federal offshore production we’ve seen that fall from 532.7 million barrels in ’03, to 438.6 million barrels in 2012, so what we’ve got is federal onshore production which rose by about 20 million barrels, and federal offshore production fell by 100 million barrels, more than five times the onshore increase. So I think that it’s important that when we’re talking about this we look at the full picture so if your numbers are different than mine, I’d be happy to share them.”

Sen. Franken, rebuttal: “Can I ask, did the moratorium after the BP oil spill… isn’t that really what caused that dip? I mean, (with laughter) we had a huge thing happen, and so there was a moratorium after that. Is that ok if I ask that of Mr. Hays?”

Deputy Sec. Hays: “Yes, Senator. It is true that oil production in the Gulf did decline because of the safety issues that arose and the need to upgrade our safety standards. The good news is that EIA recently reported a very strong upward trend now, in the Gulf. The Secretary mentioned a major discovery, there have been ten major new discoveries. There are now more than fifty rigs drilling in the offshore, lease sales are very strong that we’ve had and are having in the central Gulf and the western Gulf, so we expect to be back to where we were and further, but there certainly was a time that we did a pause, and increase the safety standard and change the way we did business and that did effect we believe temporarily in the offshore.

Sen. Franken: “I just wanted to clarify that.”

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.

The team of oil & gas lobbyists behind Gov. Hickenlooper’s agenda

http://shareasimage.com/service/quotes/pro/05-30-13/his-relationship-to-the-oil-gas-industry-is-strong-3.pngIt should come as no surprise that in the 2013 legislative session alone, the oil and gas industry spent $1.06 million defending Gov. Hickenlooper’s pro-Big Oil agenda.

As a Chesapeake lobbyist wrote in a January 2013 memo that the lobby firm accidentally emailed to state legislators, “[Gov. Hickenlooper’s] relationship to the oil & gas industry is strong and he has been a national leader speaking out against the anti-fracturing forces that have invaded Colorado.”

Gov. Hickenlooper has had a team of oil and gas lobbyists supporting his administration’s work to gut or kill legislation at the state capitol. In fact, a Colorado Ethics Watch report released this week found that oil and gas lobbyists outnumbered oil and gas inspectors by a 28-to-17 margin during Fiscal Year 2012-2013.

That investment has paid off big for Gov. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry during the 2013 legislative session.

Gov. Hickenlooper gutted a bill that would have set mandatory minimum fines for oil and gas companies that pollute rivers and water. After the bill died, his administration announced it would not fine Williams Company for polluting Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with cancer-causing benzene so long as it adhered to a consent order.

His administration actually opposed an effort to add more oil and gas inspectors out in the field and opposed a bill which would have brought more balance to the commission that oversees oil and gas drilling and fracking operations in the state.

With huge sums of lobbying cash behind him, it is no wonder that Gov. Hickenlooper has been able to keep Colorado weak on polluter crime when it comes to oil and gas.

o&g lobby v. inspectorsThe report released this week by Colorado Ethics Watch found that the oil and gas industry has spent a whopping $4.7 million on lobbyists from Fiscal Years 2008-09 through 2011-12 – more than any other industry in Colorado except the health care industry.

For those tracking Chesapeake closely, the company spent $130k on lobbying efforts over the last four years. Other top oil and gas lobbying spenders since 2009 include Pioneer Natural Resources at $640k, Shell at $571k, Encana at $415k, Bill Barrett Corporation at $376k, Marathon at $293k, Williams Energy at $285k, ExxonMobil at $272k, Anadarko at $260k, Black Hills at $224k, and, of course, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association at $402k.

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.

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

Originally posted on April 9, 2013. 

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.

Gov. Hickenlooper a bad example on oil-and-gas issues

The cozy relationship between politicians and big business has been a fact of life in America since the days of the robber barons. Today, this affiliation is especially strong between certain governors and the oil and gas industry. And, the consequences could include drastic impacts on the health and safety of their constituents. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Colorado’s Gov.  John Hickenlooper.

Given that Colorado is the epicenter of both the gas boom and the controversy over its impacts, the governor has become a leading national figure on oil and gas. Earlier this year, Hickenlooper appeared in front of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing and stated that he drank fracking fluid, implying that it’s safe. Shortly after, he was forced to clarify that what he drank isn’t actually used commercially, stating that: “I don’t think there’s any frack fluid right now that I’m aware of that people are using commercially that you want to drink.”

It turns out that this wasn’t the last time that the governor would go to bat for the oil-and-gas industry. In fact, Hickenlooper has mastered the rhetoric of a concerned elected official, while at the same time working to help his billion-dollar oil-and-gas industry boosters cheat the rules that protect public health and water.

While Hickenlooper has claimed he would increase fines and hold industry polluters accountable, behind closed doors he helped weaken and kill legislation aimed at doing just that.

Case in point: the governor recently announced, with great pomp and circumstance, an initiative to make Colorado the “the healthiest state,” and created a safe drinking water week. Days later, and with far less fanfare, he successfully gutted legislation to hold oil-and-gas companies accountable when they pollute Colorado communities and water.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In January, Hickenlooper’s oil-and-gas commission put forth water testing rules criticized as weakest in the nation, which included the Anadarko-Noble loophole, a huge carve-out for two of the biggest oil-and-gas operators in Colorado.

The Anadarko-Noble loophole makes it easier for  billion-dollar oil-and-gas companies to pollute water in northern Colorado, an  area that’s home to some of the state’s most intense drilling and more than 25  percent of Colorado’s oil-and-gas wells. It’s also home to more than half of the most recent reported spills.

Hickenlooper’s lobbyists also worked to weaken fines for oil-and-gas companies guilty of polluting. They did this, despite the fact that Colorado already has lowest-in-the-nation fines and a well-documented problem with spills and water contamination.

In 2012, industry reported 402 spills in Colorado, 20 percent of which resulted in water contamination. Just six companies were responsible for more than 85 percent of all spills that contaminated water. Now, thanks to Hickenlooper’s efforts, these companies have even less incentive to stop polluting Colorado communities and water.

Hickenlooper has also rejected funding to increase the number of state oil-and-gas well inspectors. His Department of Natural Resources agency joined with the oil-and-gas industry to oppose additional resources to increase the number of inspectors – from 16 to 24 – for the state’s more than 52,000 wells.

The Hickenlooper administration also opposed reform efforts to increase transparency on the Colorado oil-and-gas commission. Oil-and-gas companies currently serve on the commission, which regulates their activities, posing serious concerns about conflicts of interest.

Finally, the Hickenlooper administration worked to block a public health study to see if fracking is making Coloradoans sick. Hickenlooper’s chief of public health and the environment, Dr. Chris Urbina, testified against the need for the study – which was supported by local residents and medical professionals.

Hickenlooper is, unfortunately, only one example of a state chief executive who seems to value his oil-and-gas donors over all others. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett and Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert have all displayed similar tendencies. These elected officials need to be held accountable for their actions; they need to put the health and safety of their constituents ahead of the profits of the billion-dollar oil-and-gas industry.

**Cross-posted from The Hill**

Analysis: Colorado BLM failing to enact Obama energy reforms – creating red tape, uncertainty

A stunning new analysis shows striking inefficiencies at work in Colorado that should infuriate anyone looking for a smarter approach to federal oil and gas leasing – including both conservationists and energy companies.

In Colorado, leases sold by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have attracted nearly three times the number of costly, time-consuming lawsuits (known as protests) than we’ve seen in the rest of the Rockies. Our new analysis found that 76 percent of leases in Colorado were protested, as opposed to 27 percent in surrounding states, on average.

The analysis is based on BLM data recently released for the first time regarding the number of protests in each state filed by citizens and stakeholders on tracts of lands (known as parcels) available for oil and gas leasing. Protests are one of the key measurements for how controversial a particular decision to lease land for oil and gas development.

WEP Rocky Mountain Map

The reason for this massive discrepancy is clear:

Helen Hankins, the BLM’s top bureaucrat in Colorado, has failed to implement President Obama’s common-sense leasing reforms – designed to streamline the leasing process and reduce conflict dramatically by requiring research and analysis be completed prior to leasing.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress pointed out that:

Those reforms called for a better balance between developing oil and gas resources and the protection of other public lands resources, including nearby parks and refuges, wildlife, and historic and archaeological sites. “There is no presumed preference for oil and gas development over other uses,” states the reform document.

In other words, the reforms were meant to drive our local economies with a real balance between protecting public lands to support and attract high-wage businesses to the West, and using them to produce American-made energy – which together support 100,000s of jobs.

In states like Utah and New Mexico – where the BLM offices are implementing the reforms – protests are down, and energy is being produced. That approach is working for industry and conservation interests – and most importantly our communities and our families.

But in Colorado, Hankins has turned the President’s balanced reforms into a broken promise for our communities. Instead of helping oil and gas companies responsibly develop oil and gas resources in the right places, while protecting those lands that drive the economy and attract new business, Hankins continues to rely on decades-old plans and analyses – proposing to allow oil and gas drilling near places like Mesa Verde National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument.

By miring all sides in expensive red tape, Hankins has failed Westerners who are doing everything they can to get back to work and support their families. They expect their government to champion the Western way of life, including use of public lands in a balanced way to support sustainable economic growth.

The Obama administration must correct this failure by taking action to follow the directives in the 2010 leasing reforms now.

BLM Colorado: Public Has No Need to Know About Public Lands, Public Monies, Public Employees

Cross-posted from ColoradoPols

In a show of arrogance that has become too typical of the Colorado State Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency is ignoring a Federal judge, media requests, stakeholders, and the public in denying public information about public activities on the public lands, according to the Durango Herald:

“This isn’t a widespread issue of public concern. It is primarily press that are concerned about oil and gas leasing and activists that are opposed to oil and gas leasing.”

The state ‘Communications Director’, one might assume, has the job as a public employee working on public lands issues and spending public monies, of informing the public and managing media relations.  The ‘press’ and public are–this common-sense assumption goes–the PRIMARY purpose of his receiving a Federal salary as a taxpayer-funded public employee.

But apparently not for BLM Colorado–where public information is no such thing, and the public and media are merely distractions from what ever other self-determined more important things, like defending illegal agency actions perhaps, or intentionally seeking to divide communities.

Colorado’s North Fork Standing Up

This particular matter has its roots in the BLM Colorado State Office’s reckless oil and gas leasing policy that willfully ignores local communities, other federal agencies, state wildlife officials, local businesses and the public, to lease whatever public lands secret industry representatives nominate.  This is despite Colorado having the oldest land use plans in the Mountain West, many dating back to the 1980s–like that that governs the public lands in the North Fork–most of which fail completely to properly account for, describe, consider or protect the resources and uses that exist or depend upon these lands today.

Citizens for a Healthy Community–a Delta County based conservation group–partnered with the Western Environmental Law Center to file lawsuit seeking the names of the nominators who put forward the contentious leases in that valley.  They won that suit.

Here is what the judge wrote:

“Competition in bidding advances the purpose of getting a fair price for a lease of publicly owned minerals,” Matsch wrote. “Moreover, the identity of the submitter may be relevant to the plaintiff and others who may raise concerns about the stewardship records of that potential owner, a factor relevant to the environmental impact of the proposed sale.”

So, a Federal judge acknowledges that sharing information on public lands and public minerals is in the public interest and orders the public employees at a public agency to release that (public) information.

And the senior staff at BLM Colorado Office responds, to paraphrase: Make us (again).

Following the judge’s decision and the BLM Colorado’s clear loss in court, others–including the Durango Herald–have now sought identical information regarding contentious leases in their communities.  Such as those surrounding Mesa Verde National Park opposed by the BLM’s own sister agency in the Department of Interior, the National Park Service.

Now, the Colorado State Office of the BLM, our public employees spending our public monies to manage our public lands and minerals, is refusing to release that information. Again.  Because, apparently its Communications Director has better things to do than communicate.

Maybe like spending more time in court defending the indefensible, losing more lawsuits, and greasing the skids for oil and gas in violation of what the Federal courts have found to be in the public’s interest.

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.

Welcome to Frackademia 101

This month, the Western Congressional Caucus held their first “class” for their sham oil and gas PR effort dubbed the ‘Western Caucus University.’ The amount of oil and gas contributions to caucus members is stunning. No wonder this “Frackademia” appears to have curriculum based on industry talking points.

Below were some of the lowlights and our grades for their content.

This is the first in a series of report cards we’ll be doing on “Frackademia.” It’s a shame taxpayer dollars are being used to push blatant industry talking points.

Western Caucus University   Academic Credibility Report Card

  WCU Claim  Accuracy    Grade   Fact
“Federal lands contain 46% of the proved crude reserves in the United States.”

F

Currently, 93% of all shale oil and mixed plays – which are the most viable and actively sought resources by industry – are located on non-federal lands. Even in the Rocky Mountain West, where more federal land is located, there are just 11% of all shale oil and mixed oil and gas plays on federal lands.
“The amount of time it takes to process a permit to drill on federal lands increased from 212 days to 228 days between 2008-2012.”

D

What the Western Congressional Caucus fails to mention is that oil and gas companies are the hold up on drill permits. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, it took industry an average of 236 days to process an application to drill permit on federal lands, while it took the Bureau of Land Management just 71 days.  
“Local governments in the West miss out on substantial tax revenues from potential energy extraction, mining, timber harvesting and other forms of economic development.”

F

A recent economic study found that western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of their land in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments and wilderness increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years. By comparison, similar counties with no protected federal public lands increased employment by only 83 percent. In 2010, per capita income in western non-metropolitan counties with 100,000 acres of protected public lands was on average $4,360 higher than per-capita income in similar counties with no protected public lands.In 2012, the outdoor recreation industry alone accounted for $646 billion in annual spending and nearly $80 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues in the United States

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.

Group’s new oil shale report contains wildly inaccurate claims

The Institute for Energy Research (IER), recently posted a blog about oil shale that doesn’t have its facts straight.

The IER blog falsely claims that the federal government put oil shale resources ‘under lock and key’. Oil shale companies have been awarded billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and received research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) leases on publicly owned lands that don’t require the payment of bonuses, rents, or royalties.

Despite more than a century of failed oil shale projects and billions of dollars risked, taxpayers are still subsidizing oil shale research and development. Currently, there are seven such RD&D leases being pursued in Colorado and Utah.  The companies include: Shell, American Shale Oil (AMSO), Enefit, ExxonMobil, and Natural Soda Holdings.

Chevron also had an RD&D holding, but abandoned it last February in order to focus on viable energy sources – hardly the first oil shale experiment to go bust. On Black Sunday, Exxon closed its Colony oil shale project, which put more than 2,000 out of work and devastated the economy of Colorado’s western slope for years.

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

In their blog, IER also highlights Estonia, considered the world leader in oil shale, as the prime example of successful oil shale development – but that’s not factual either. Oil shale isn’t economically viable in Estonia, has caused significant water, air and land pollution, and is highly controversial.

The head of Estonia’s biggest oil shale company, Eestia Energia – known as Enefit in the U.S. – has admitted that oil shale is not profitable without large taxpayer subsidies. Underscoring this point was Moody’s recent move downgrading Enefit’s credit rating to negative, over concerns that they can’t make oil shale profitable.

In addition, oil shale is a dirty, polluting fossil fuel that’s responsible for 80 percent of all of Estonia’s pollution.  Enefit’s track record includes contaminated groundwater, creating 600-foot high mountains of oil shale waste that spontaneously ignite, and causing the emission of “lots of carbon dioxide.”

IER’s blog also boasts that there are huge oil shale deposits in the U.S. But these projections are irrelevant because oil shale isn’t a viable energy source and fails the basic economic test. In other words, the return on oil shale doesn’t outweigh the investment. The amount of energy and water that it takes to superheat, mine and process oil shale – which is actually fossilized algae – is more than the energy that oil shale provides. If you need more evidence just look to the billion dollar oil and gas industry, which has almost limitless resources, and has 100 plus years of failed oil shale experiments to show for their efforts.

The IER can spin oil shale all day, but it won’t change the cold hard fact that oil shale isn’t ready for prime time.

Five things Gov. Hickenlooper did to put oil & gas industry ahead of Colorado’s health and water

John-HickenlooperGovernor Hickenlooper likes to paint himself as an outsider, unfamiliar with the political process. But his recent actions to undermine public health, water safety – and basic common sense – have proven that Gov. Hickenlooper has become the ultimate insider – adept at helping his billion dollar oil and gas industry boosters cheat the rules, while playing the role of concerned official.

While Governor Hickenlooper has said the he’ll increase fines and hold polluters accountable, behind closed doors he’s actually been working hard to kill or weaken legislation aimed at doing just that.

Case in point: Governor Hickenlooper announces both his campaign for Colorado to be the healthiest state and safe drinking water week, then days later he successfully killed legislation to help protect water from toxic oil and gas spills.

Here’s are the FIVE THINGS Gov. Hickenlooper did to put the public health and water of Coloradans at risk and to make it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute.

  1. Issued the weakest water testing rules for oil and gas operations in the nation…with huge carve out for Anadarko and Noble.
    In January, Governor Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission put forth weakest in the nation water testing rules –which included the Anadarko-Noble loophole for two of the biggest oil and gas operators in Colorado and Weld County – and two of the state’s biggest oil and gas polluters.
    The Anadarko-Noble loophole makes it easier for billion dollar oil and gas companies to pollute water in an area in Northern Colorado that’s home to more than 25 percent of  Colorado’s oil and gas wells and more than half of the most recent spills reported.
    The result is that it’ll be harder to detect water contamination and to figure out which well(s) are the source of contamination in the region that needs these public safety standards the most. In 2012, industry reported 402 spills in state, of which 20 percent resulted in water contamination, and just last month, a huge spill near Parachute creek contaminated nearby soil and water with cancer causing benzene.
  2. Lobbied against efforts to hold oil and gas companies responsible when they pollute Colorado communities and water with toxins, waste.
    Governor Hickenlooper sent his lobbyists to the Capitol to weaken fines for oil and gas companies who pollute, despite the fact that Colorado has the lowest in the nation fines and a well-documented problem of spills and water contamination.  In 2012, 20 percent of all reported oil and gas spills resulted in water contamination and just six companies were responsible for more than 85 percent of all spills. And the Parachute spill – which has contaminated nearby water and soil with cancer causing benzene is now being investigated by the EPA’s criminal investigations division.
  3. Turned down money to increase the number of state oil and gas inspectors.
    Governor Hickenlooper’s Department of Natural Resources agency joined up with the oil and gas industry in opposition to additional resources to help making oil and gas drilling safer by turning down money to increase the number of inspectors, from sixteen to twenty-four, for the state’s more than 52,000 wells. That’s despite the state already being short-staffed on inspectors.
  4. Successfully blocked reform efforts to make the actions of the Colorado oil and gas commission more transparent.
    Governor Hickenlooper, along with the oil and gas industry, opposed legislation that would have made important systemic changes to Colorado’s oil and gas commission – the Natural Resources Department testified against the bill. Oil and gas companies currently serve on the commission, which regulates their activities, a direct conflict of interest.
  5. Worked to defeat public health study to see if fracking is making Coloradans sick.
    Governor Hickenlooper’s chief of public health and the environment, Dr. Chris Urbina, testified against a health study – supported by local residents and medical professionals – that would help figure out if Coloradans who live near fracking are getting sicker than those who don’t live near fracking.

Western Energy Alliance wants taxpayers to front $44 billion in handouts to most profitable companies in the U.S. – billion dollar oil and gas industry

The Western Energy Alliance has once again proved that they’ll go to any length to increase the profit margins of the billion-dollar oil & gas industry. Now they’re lobbying for $44 billion dollars in taxpayer-funded handouts over the next 10 years, despite the fact that the oil and gas companies are some of the most profitable in the U.S.

ExxonMobil and Chevron topped the Fortune’s rankings of the world’s most profitable companies in 2012. In fact, four of the top ten companies on the Fortune 500 list were oil and gas companies. And the big five oil companies, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell, made a combined profit of $118 billion dollars last year and $137 billion in 2011. 

The oil and gas industry has more than proven that they don’t need these excessive, wasteful subsidies – they’re making billion dollar profits while American taxpayers are paying more at the pump.  

Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of Western Energy Alliance putting profit margins of a billion dollar industry ahead of what’s best for Westerners.

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.

Gov. Hickenlooper working overtime to bring toxic waste and pollution to your neighborhood!

A lot’s changed since 1955 when a gallon of gas was about 29 cents. One thing that hasn’t changed are Colorado’s fines for oil and gas drilling violations – despite a huge drilling boom and large increase in spills over the past several years. Under current law, most violations can’t be fined more than a $1,000 per day, with an overall cap of $10,000.

And it turns out that the state rarely enforces these laws. Analyses by the Denver Post and Fort Collins Coloradoan found that that state regulators rarely fine violators who pollute, and less than 7 percent of industry violations since 1996 have resulted in fines.

The Parachute Creek spill, caused by Williams, has polluted soil and water with cancer causing benzene and yet 56 days later, Williams has yet to be fined for polluting and risking public health.

Despite all of this, not only has Governor Hickenlooper failed to stand up for Colorado families and protect public health, but he’s actually working overtime to help make it easier for the oil and gas industry to pollute your water and communities.

According to a new report from the Center for Western Priorities, six oil and gas companies were responsible for 85 percent of all the spills that resulted in water contamination last year. Turns out that Governor Hickenlooper’s ‘besties’ Anadarko Petroleum subsidiary and Noble Energy, Inc. (of the Anadarko-Noble loophole) were two of the six big polluters.

Earlier this week, Fox 31 Denver reported that Gov. Hickenlooper watered down legislation to protect public health and water by strengthening oil and gas drilling violation fines.

Apparently, these laws just aren’t lax enough for Governor Hickenlooper and his oil and gas industry boosters. According to the Fox 31’s news coverage:

“Andy White, the governor’s [Hickenlooper] lobbyist on all oil and gas-related legislation…sided Friday with Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and stripped those provisions — the minimum daily fine and the removal of an overall cap on fees — from the bill before sending it to the Senate floor.”

Now the question is: Will the state legislature do the right thing – protect public health and water- by holding the oil and gas companies responsible when they pollute or will Gov. Hickenpuppet continue doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry to the detriment to Colorado families and communities?

Western Energy Alliance brazenly flubs facts in new poll

Western Energy Alliance is hard at work spinning their new survey, which underscores the lengths to which they’ll go to increase the profit margins of the billion dollar oil and gas industry – even when that means putting water, public health, and local communities at risk.

WEA announced their new poll a month ago, but just released the results today. Was it because they needed all that time to figure out how to spin the poll?

Unfortunately for WEA, since they included so many factually incorrect statements in the poll, they won’t be able to use their results for much other than spin sessions. And, this isn’t the first time that WEA and their vice president for government affairs, Kathleen Sgamma, haven’t been able to keep their facts straight or master basic grade school multiplication skills.

While WEA’s poll also spins that the public supports hydraulic fracturing, there are already 351 towns and cities across the U.S. that have taken action to limit or ban fracking within their borders.

Here’s a look at some of the most glaring factual errors from the WEA poll materials:

WEaccordingto-the-us-energy-information-administration-production-of-crude-oil-3A claim #1: “The government has prevented oil and natural gas development on federal lands, even though less than one-tenth of 1% of public lands is being used for oil and natural gas today.”

Facts: Both the federal government and industry has aggressively pushed to increase drilling activity on public lands. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, production of crude oil is at its highest level since 2002, and data from the Department of Interior show that oil production on federal lands was up 7 percent in 2012. This is despite the fact that nearly 21 million of the almost 39 million acres of public lands leased to the oil and gas industry sit idle.

WEA claim #2: The oil and gas industry do such a great job cleaning up lands where they’ve drilled that they’re considered wilderness, or pristine areas, post-clean up.

Drilling infrastructure in Wyoming. Source: EcoFlight.

Drilling infrastructure in Wyoming. Source: EcoFlight

Facts: Reports on reclamation efforts in Utah, Wyoming and New York have shown that:

  • restoration attempts often fail and create long-lasting problems that threaten western wildlife;
  • companies fail to provide adequately funded bonding, leaving behind billions in clean-up costs for states such as Wyoming; and
  • the oil and gas industry often fails to plug depleted wells – industry neglected to plug 89 percent of wells in New York.

In fact, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis pointed to a highly inadequate system for funding clean-up of oil and gas wells on public lands.

WEA claim #3: “Increased energy production of American energy from public lands will lead to lower energy costs for consumers.”

Fact: Unfortunately for WEA’s spin team, experts agree – from BusinessWeek to the Energy Security Leadership Council – that the global market actually drives consumer oil prices, not U.S. production levels, so increased U.S. drilling doesn’t lead to lower energy prices.

Polls are only worth the paper they’re printed on if they fail to relay facts in a straightforward and honest way. Clearly, Western Energy Alliance and the companies they represent such as Anadarko and Noble care more about spin than they do about facts.

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