Checks and Balances Project Re-files Records Request to Combat Kasich’s Evasion

Checks and Balances Project Re-files Records Request to Combat Kasich’s EvasionToday the Checks and Balances Project filed a second request for records for information into the reasons behind Governor Kasich’s decision to freeze clean energy jobs in the state. This request comes after the Kasich administration’s legal team ducked the clear questions asked in our first request.

Our new request asks for:

“any and all public records of conversations and/or emails pertaining to Senate Bill 310 and/or mention the word “energy” between Governor Kasich, his staff and representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity between January 1, 2014 and the present.”

and:

“public records of conversations and/or emails pertaining to Senate Bill 310 between Governor Kasich, his staff and employees or lobbyists employed by Ohio investor-owned utilities: AES, American Electric Power, Duke Energy and First Energy. This request is effective for the dates between January 1, 2014 and the present.”

We have made this request in light of significant lobbying spending by Ohio utilities and by the Koch Brothers. FirstEnergy alone has donated more than $800,000 to the Governor and legislature during this legislative session. We are also curious about a $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 Ohio businesses.

You can read a full copy of the request here.

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.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 29th

COGA CEO Tisha Schuller supports front group claim that trees cause smog

Colorado Oil and Gastrees cause smog copy Association CEO Tisha Schuller said she wanted to depolarize the debate around fracking and drilling, and even said she’d be touring Colorado communities to do just that. So it was disappointing, if not surprising, when her group helped publicize industry front group Energy In Depth’s (EID) attacks on Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley. Finley came under fire from EID for his story on new requirements for companies surveying for oil and gas on residents’ land and for shining a light on industry propaganda. The EID piece went so far as to contend that trees cause smog. Rather than seize the opportunity to help set the record straight about the negative effects of oil and gas, Schuller’s group tweeted her support of EID’s lies. If Schuller truly wants to help depolarize the debate, she’ll distance herself from EID.

Group tours Dinosaur National Park to discuss proposed drilling

As concerned parties wait to learn whether or not Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins will again try to lease land next to Dinosaur National Park’s visitor center for oil and gas drilling, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet brought together industry, politicians experts, including Park Ranger Jim Gale, to discuss the project on a two-day river trip through Dinosaur National Park. Others on the trip included: Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz and a representative from the water commission. Gale blogged on the impact their surroundings’ beauty had on the entire group. But, questions remain about the fate of the park and whether the Colorado BLM is up to the task of balancing protecting the park with oil and gas development.

Water shortages among top concerns in Colorado

This week The Coloradoan asked five people—experts, an activist, and politicians—their views on the greatest environmental threats tCache La Poudre River copyo the state. Climate change, water shortages, air and water quality and the expansion of oil and gas were top environmental concerns.

Despite the group’s concerns, surprisingly most believed there were steps Coloradoans and the state could take to lessen the effect of environmental threats. Solutions ranged from greater protection of rivers, Coloradoans making their views known during elections, water conservation, and better oil and gas regulation.

Oil and gas royalty rates from the 1920s shortchange taxpayers

In a recent The Hill op-ed, Jim Baca, highlighted the up to hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers are losing out on due to oil and gas onshowoodrow wilson copyre royalty rates that have not been updated since the 1920s when Woodrow Wilson was president. Citing data from the Center for Western Priorities’ (CWP) recent report, “A Fair Share: The Case for Updating Federal Royalties,” Baca writes that the federal government is required to evenly split royalty revenue with states where oil is produced. Yet, the federal government charges oil and gas companies only 12.5 percent, lower than the 16.67 percent to 25 percent charged by the energy-rich states Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. These states are losing out on an estimated $400-$600 million dollars in revenue as a result of the government’s undercharging, the report says.

According to President Obama’s estimates, over the next 10 years updating the onshore royalty rate would generate $2.5 billion in net profit for the U.S. Treasury.

And, the good news is the Department of the Interior has the authority to raise the onshore rate to one that’s fair to taxpayers. It wouldn’t be the first time the agency raised rates, having previously raised the offshore rate from 12.75 percent to 18.75 percent under the Bush Administration.

With the President estimating an economic boost in the billions and the Department of the Interior having the power to do so, it’s time to charge a rate that’s fair to states and to taxpayers.

Cornell Professor and oil and gas engineer: gas is not “clean”

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea  discussed the negative impact of gas-produced methane on our air and water and says that if we really want to address climate change, as outlined in President Obama’s recent speech, we’ll support the scaling of renewables such as solar. However, he adds that support for renewables needs to be coupled with policies that recognize the threat from oil and gas leaks and emissions.

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.

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.

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

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.

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