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.

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

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

Koch-Bros-Climate

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

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

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

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

“I need those credentials,” the officer said.

“I registered,” Surgey replied.

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

“I did, downstairs,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“Erm, why?” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Fracking New York with Another Conflict of Interest: Ecology and Environment’s Frackonomics

A major player in New York’s fracking debate has been exposed as a member of one of the largest oil and gas lobby groups in New York. Ecology and Environment Inc. was hired as an “independent consultant” by the Cuomo Administration to assess the economic impacts of fracking in New York.

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On Earth Day 2013, a letter revealed Ecology and Environment to be a member of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, a pro-fracking lobbying group. This conflict of interest calls into question the integrity of the economic assessment completed for the state in 2011.

The Cuomo Administration hired Ecology and Environment Inc. to perform an economic analysis as part of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). According to the Democrat and Chronicle, “The DEC at the time said it had not done enough to study the economic impacts of fracking and said it had decided to engage ‘independent consultants to thoroughly research these types of effects.’”

As it turns out, Ecology and Environment Inc. was anything but “independent.” The company’s 2011 assessment raised eyebrows due to its surprisingly sunny economic outlook for fracking. Anti-fracking groups criticized the results because the assessment didn’t include local economic costs on roads or hospitals. DEC commissioner Joe Martens responded, saying he would ask Ecology and Environment to expand the study – but that work was never publicly completed

IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill wrote in the letter to Cuomo, “The public can be assured that exploration for natural gas in New York is—and has been—safe, good for our environment and for our economy. Our New ‘New’ York must now join the nation and embrace the expansion of responsible natural gas development. We need your help.”

At the time the SGEIS was released, many were concerned that Ecology and Environment’s ties to the energy industry might have influenced their assessment. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said “This is not an objective analysis done in the public interest. They went to someone with whom they have a work relationship and that also does work for energy interests.”

This letter proves the worries were not unfounded.

As a member of an active pro-fracking lobby organization, Ecology and Environment does not have an objective view towards fracking and should never have been hired to contribute to the SGEIS.

New Yorkers Against Fracking is calling for Governor Cuomo to throw out the SGEIS, due to this and other conflicts of interest. They are asking for a “new, truly independent study that regains the public’s trust and ensures science and facts drive your decision.”

Getty Images / Kris Radder

Getty Images / Kris Radder

Colorado oil production up nearly 50 percent since 2010

According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) oil production exceeded 48 million barrels in 2012, a 49 percent increase over 2010 levels.

The 2012 oil production levels are the highest since 1961 and are in increase of 24 percent over 2011 levels.

cogcc_oil_production_graph

According to COGCC gas production reached its highest level since 1952.

cogcc_gas_production_graph

Reality check on gas prices, public lands

Rhetoric in the public debate on gas prices is heating up from politicians this week. Unfortunately, oil and gas apologists continue to push misinformation on the American public.

Instead of exporting American resources so that oil companies get richer, let’s use our oil at home to the benefit of all Americans.

There is another simple step we can take to help American families whose pocketbooks are hurting because of high prices at the pump. We should end the billions in special tax breaks to Big Oil and reinvest those funds in transportation solutions, high tech vehicles, and the next generation of renewable fuels.

Here are some facts to consider about gas prices and energy development.

Oil and gas drilling
Oil and gas drilling in America is its highest level since Ronald Reagan was in office. Over the last four years, there appears to be a direct correlation between gas prices and drilling activity. Higher prices means more drilling, but more drilling has failed to lower gas prices.


Domestic oil production
Earlier this year, the Associated Press found that there is no correlation between how much oil is produced and the price of gas. In fact, domestic crude oil production is at its highest level since the late 1990’s.

Over the last four years, oil production has increased right alongside the price of gas. Clearly, we need an all-of-the-above energy policy that goes beyond oil.

Public lands
The Congressional Research Service found that oil production on federal lands is higher in 2011 as compared to 2007.

Oil and gas companies have also failed to develop more than 20 million of acres of public lands that are already leased for oil and natural gas. According to a May 2012 Interior Department report, the oil and gas industry had conducted production or exploration activities on just 56% of public lands leased in the U.S.

The Five Rules for Natural Gas

Hal Harvey, founder of ClimateWorks, has a sharp piece on natural gas in today’s Los Angeles Times. Hal served  on the first President Bush’s Energy Task Force of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, and later on the Energy Panel of President Clinton’s President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In this op-ed, Hal provides a thoughtful and critical look at making sure natural gas development is done right for our climate, our water, and our great outdoors.

Click to read it on the LA Times website.

Natural gas: Cheap, clean and risky

Natural gas has a key role in our energy future, but it must be handled with care.

By Hal Harvey

January 3, 2012

Political leaders from both parties argue that natural gas could save our economy, the environment and promote our national security. Is this so? Or is it just a dream?

It turns out that the way one develops natural gas will determine whether it is a serious help to our energy and climate problems, or a dangerous extension of bad habits.

On the face of it, natural gas looks terrific. The United States — and many other countries — have abundant domestic supplies. The cost, per delivered unit of energy, is about a third of that of oil. It is cheap and fast to build power plants fueled by natural gas. And when burned, it emits only half as much carbon as coal. So what’s not to like?

Well, things are not so simple. Under the best conditions, we may enjoy those benefits, but under more adverse conditions, gas can be a worse generator of greenhouse gas than coal, can wreak massive local environmental destruction and can undermine energy efficiency and renewable energy. And without a strong set of policies to guide natural gas development, the worst case is far more likely.

Start with climate change: Generating a kilowatt-hour’s worth of electricity with a natural gas turbine emits only about half as much CO2 as generating the same electricity at a coal plant. Half-off is pretty good. But unburned natural gas turns out to be a very powerful greenhouse gas: One molecule of leaked gas contributes as much to global warming as 25 molecules of burned gas. That means that if the system for the exploration, extraction, compression, piping and burning of natural gas leaks by even 2.5%, it is as bad as coal.

So, how much does the gas system leak? No one knows: Estimates range from 1.5% to as high as 8%. Even near the low end of that range, gas can be as bad as coal. And whatever the leaks in the U.S. system, it is likely to be far worse in, say, Russia.

This gives us Rule One for smart natural gas development: No leaks in the system. We have to know, for certain, that the whole process is tight, and stays that way.

There’s more we need to ensure, because of the economics of energy systems, and how that drives the choice of options in the electricity system. It starts with a basic economic truth: Once a coal-fired plant is built, it is incredibly cheap to run. Once built, our coal plants run forever. The median age of a coal plant in the United States is 44 years, and fully a third of them were built during or before the Eisenhower administration.

What this means is that when we add new natural gas power plants to the electricity system, it does not, through pure market forces displace coal. Instead, it displaces other new alternatives, which generally means new renewable energy. If half-CO2 gas is displacing zero-CO2 renewables, well, that’s hardly a victory. So, Rule Two: Use gas to shut down old coal. Make this an explicit condition.

The final three rules have to do with local environmental conditions. We have all seen the films of people’s tap water catching fire after a nearby gas well was put in. That’s because of lousy construction quality: Bad well casings allow gas to leak into the aquifer. They can also allow in fluids from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) when that method is used to tap a new gas well. Rule Three: Strong standards for wells, with effective monitoring and enforcement.

Then there is the damage that wells can do to the gas site. Many wells extract brackish water and other nasty byproducts, like benzene and toluene from deep underground, and spill the mixture onto nearby farmlands — literally salting the earth. The water is a large-scale byproduct of the gas extraction, and, at the request of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, it is exempted from any regulations under the Clean Water Act. Rule Four: Don’t allow these toxic streams to poison the land.

Finally, choosing where and how to drill is important. Many of the new natural gas technologies entail massive surface disturbance. Roads, drilling rigs, compressors, pipelines, drainage ponds and large amounts of heavy equipment are required for each well. And wells are densely placed, sometimes one for every 10 acres. This means that many natural gas fields are industrial wastelands. After drilling, cattle ranches in the West have been left unsuitable even for cows, never mind wildlife.

We need to zone the natural gas development so that it is kept out of ecologically important areas, and we need strong drilling, operating and reclamation standards so that gas doesn’t become a scorched-earth energy strategy.

Gas can do a great deal for our energy future. But if it is mishandled, it can instead serve up great problems — in land destruction, water quality and climate change. Five rules get it right: Don’t allow leaky systems; use gas to phase out coal; have sound well drilling and casing standards; don’t pollute the landscape with brackish water; and drill only where it is sensible. Let’s do this right.

Hal Harvey is the founder of the ClimateWorks Foundation. He has served on presidential commissions under the first President Bush and President Clinton, and he serves on an advisory board for the Department of Energy.

Public health voice absent from fracking study

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

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

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

Click here to see those on the subcommittee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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