Jun. 01, 2017 01:33PM EST
Stop The Great Lakes Nuclear Dump
The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.
In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.
Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.
On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.
"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."
Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee—weighed in on the case, urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:
"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."
"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."
Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.
At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.
After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.
Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment and the core values we share about justice, fair play and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we've seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil fuel advocates, billionaires and bankers; a president-elect who says "nobody really knows" what's happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.
This is not normal. It's the most radical approach to American governance we've seen in our lifetime. Whatever we voted on in November, nobody voted for dirty water and air. Nobody voted to walk away from climate leadership and millions of clean energy jobs. And nobody voted to hand over our country to a pollute-ocracy that puts polluter profits first—and puts the rest of us at risk.
The following list addresses some, but not all, programs, policies and initiatives the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have targeted. This could become the worst legislative and executive assault in history against the common sense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. At risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe, our public oceans, coasts and lands and the very approach we've taken for generations in this country to protect our common inheritance.
At the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we will stand up and hold this government to account, by making sure the public understands what's at stake—for our country, our people and the common future we share.
The Clean Power Plan: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the first national standards reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our largest source, fossil fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan provides reasonable state-specific goals for carbon cuts, flexibility for states to meet them and a federal plan that will cut a key driver of climate change 32 percent by 2030 and stimulate growth in clean energy. More here and here.
International Climate Agreement: The Paris climate agreement signed by nearly 200 nations and effective as of Nov. 4, 2016 is a global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to hold global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More here and here.
HFC International Commitments: In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed onto the Kigali Agreement, which calls for phasing down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Industry supports the agreement. More here.
Reducing Methane Pollution and Natural Gas Waste in the Oil and Natural Gas Industry (BLM & EPA): These standards will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions from fracking and other oil and gas operations. Leaks and purposeful venting waste gas that could be sold and used while threatening health and worsening climate change. More here and here.
Restrictions on public financing for overseas coal projects: The Obama administration restricted U.S. funding for overseas coal power plants to limit climate change. This affects the Export Import Bank and other entities. More here.
Assessing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ): The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to federal agencies on analyzing the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed. More here.
Renowned Inuk artist Billy Gauthier has not eaten since Oct. 13. He is on a hunger strike against the proposed flooding of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project reservoir.
The Muskrat Falls project, part of the $8.6 billion Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada, will flood the Lake Melville river valley, which has cultural and spiritual significance for the Innu and Inuit peoples.
Indigenous people have come to this section of the Churchill River, located directly above Muskrat Falls, for thousands of years. Archeological evidence shows it was a common resting spot. When the dam goes online, this area will be flooded. Ossie Michelin
Construction of the Muskrat Falls Generation Facility began in 2013 and sources say flooding will begin in the next 36 hours.
Opposition to this project has been long-standing. Ossie Michelin, a freelance journalist living in Labrador, has been documenting the fight against the dam. He shared how the hydroelectric project "will cut through the unceded territory of the NunatuKavut Inuit, the only group of Inuit in Canada with an outstanding land claim," and "destroy hundreds of kilometers of forest and contaminate fish and seal stocks with methylmercury."
Roberta Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper in Labrador, shared that, "There are many other issues with this project that Grand Riverkeeper Labrador has been vocal about over the years. Right now we are standing with the entire community on the methylmercury issue because that is the issue that has galvanized all of us, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. They absolutely must clear the Reservoir of soil, vegetation and trees before they begin to fill it. Nothing short of the full clearing will satisfy us."
According to Emerald Nash, an activist and acquaintance of Gauthier:
If they flood this reservoir without first clearing vegetation and topsoil, waters downstream will be poisoned with methylmercury. The people living there will not only face serious health risks but will also lose their source of food and a large part of their cultural identity. Contamination will undoubtedly threaten the traditions of the Innu and Inuit communities there. In Labrador hunting and fishing is a way of life, and for many it is a means of survival.
Despite pleas from the Nunatsiavut government and warnings from researchers at Harvard University, provincial energy company, Nalcor, has chosen to move forward with its plans to flood Lake Melville without any effort to remove the materials that will lead to contamination.
In a final push to try and stop the flooding of the river valley until the debris is removed, a blockade has been ongoing since Oct. 15. Land protectors have come out in force to block the gate to the Nalcor facility at Muskrat Falls.
At first, the demonstrators were not allowing anyone into or out of the main gate. Busloads of Laborers were being turned away. At one point, they would not even allow an emergency vehicle to pick up an injured worker. A compromise was made and the Nalcor employee was allowed to be taken to hospital.
On Oct. 16, there were nine arrests. A "Nurse-In" was also held where nursing mothers and babies came out to demonstrate. They held signs that read: "Don't poison our breast milk."
There are currently more than 200 standing guard at the blockade. Approximately 40 people have broken through the main gate and are occupying the work site.
On Sunday, Gauthier, along with fellow hunger strikers Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister, attended the "Make Muskrat Right" demonstration in Ottawa. They called on the government to prevent the leaching of methylmercury into the water source by fully clearing the reservoir before flooding begins. Labradorians are afraid that methylmercury will contaminate fish and game stocks, bringing an end to their traditional lifestyles.
"Nalcor and our own provincial government are ignoring our needs and refusing to protect us," Gauthier said. "I feel we have to go to the federal government and ask for their protection."
According to Gary Wockner, Waterkeeper Alliance board member and international river advocate, "These kinds of fights are escalating across the planet as hydropower is being rammed down the throats of citizens, all under the guise of 'clean energy.' It's not clean energy if it causes methane emissions that make climate change worse, floods and poisons the homelands of local people, and destroys fisheries. We are seeing the same conflicts across the globe in Central America, Latin America, Asia, Europe and here in Canada. Hydropower is dirty energy and dirty business."
"While Secretary Clinton brought up clean energy jobs and climate change during the topic of the economy, Donald Trump choked. Climate change is a major factor when talking about immigration, the economy, foreign hot spots, the national debt, and the Supreme Court. The fact that it received seconds of attention from only one candidate is offensive to the American people, particularly those already dealing with the devastating impacts."
Only two percent of the total time in the three debates was spent on climate and energy policy, due mostly to an audience question in the second debate—not a single moderator asked a climate question.
"Yet, the fact that Hillary Clinton proactively recognized the climate crisis and the need to grow the clean energy economy in each and every debate underlines exactly how clear the choice is this election. Only Hillary Clinton has a plan to tackle the climate crisis and only Hillary Clinton will defend and strengthen our clean air, clean water, and climate safeguards. Meanwhile, we learned that Donald Trump's opinion about the integrity of our elections is the same as his opinion of climate science: he will deny reality, come hell or high water."
For a deeper dive:
Vox, Brad Plumer column; New York Times, Paul Krugman column; Grist, Emma Foehringer Merchant column; Mashable, Andrew Freedman column; Huffington Post, Kate Sheppard column; Guardian, Oliver Milman analysis; New York Times, David Leonhardt column; ThinkProgress, Joe Romm column; Discover, Tom Yulsman column; Fusion, Ari Phillips column; USA Today editorial; Engadget, Mat Smith column; Bustle, Cheyna Roth column
By Steve Horn
After Kenneth Bone asked a question about energy to presidential nominees Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton at the presidential town hall debate on Oct. 9, he quickly became a viral internet sensation.
That evening at Washington University in St. Louis, Bone asked, "What step will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?"
Trump responded by touting "clean coal" and bashing what he described as President Barack Obama's war on energy. Sec. Clinton responded by promoting hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") for oil and gas as a "bridge" to renewable fuels while also citing climate change as a "serious problem" and that she wants "to make sure we don't leave people behind."
A DeSmog investigation has revealed that Bone works for the Prairie State Energy Campus, which is co-owned by a consortium of electric power companies and located about an hour southeast of St. Louis in Lively Grove, Illinois. Adam Siegel, who blogs at the site Get Smart Energy Now, first pointed to the lack of disclosure the day after the debate.
Both a blog post promoting Prairie State employees' community volunteer work and his personal Facebook page confirm that Bone works for Prairie State.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Prairie State opened in late 2012 and is one of the dirtiest U.S. power plants opened in the past quarter century. Previously, it was partially owned by coal giant Peabody Energy until it sold its five percent stake in May.
"Each year, it will churn more than 13 million tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, an amount equivalent to adding 2 million cars to the nation's highways," wrote the Chicago Tribune. "Most U.S. power plants emitting that much climate-change pollution date to the 1960s and '70s."
Prairie State has also been marred by cost overruns, with the plant racking up far higher building costs than originally stated. These cost overruns have led to lawsuits filed against the company by townships such as Hermann, Missouri and Batavia, Illinois.
The company has attempted to dodge compliance with President Obama's proposed Clean Power Plan, which would force coal-fired power plants to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Clean Air Act for carbon emissions. The company wrote a letter to the EPA in May 2015 expressing its concerns about the proposed rule and also is a petitioner in the energy industry and states' lawsuit against the EPA, a case which will soon be decided upon by the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.
Despite this track record, Bone told The Washington Post, "We're one of the most environmentally-friendly coal power plants in the world. We're very recently built."
The case study of Bone and Prairie State Energy Campus, then, raises another question: How are those who ask questions in the audiences vetted to avoid potential non-disclosure of industry ties and conflicts of interest?
Lack of Disclosure
In introducing Bone, co-moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN did not disclose what he did for a profession, but that was standard procedure for all audience members who asked a question. In doing post-debate media interviews, Bone has said he works for a coal-fired power plant company, but media outlets apparently have not asked him about which company he works for.
The Gallup Organization teamed up with the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to choose debate attendees from St. Louis-area residents. CPD is the nonprofit organization founded by Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee leaders, but ahead of the debate, the Los Angeles Times reported that it remained "unclear how members of the audience will be selected to ask questions."
"The Commission on Presidential Debates worked with Gallup, a research and polling company, to randomly select uncommitted registered voters from the area around St. Louis, where the debate is being held," reported the Times. "Uncommitted voters include people who have not made up their minds or are leaning toward one nominee but could still be persuaded to vote for the other."
In a videotaped interview with the Belleville News-Democrat, Bone said he was randomly selected to attend the debate by Gallup based on the randomized phone survey the organization conducted for undecided voters, saying he was surprised it did not turn out to be a "dog and pony show" in terms of who gets to ask questions and what he or she gets to ask.
He also went on Anderson Cooper's CNN show the day after the debate, but the interview focused on his wardrobe, not what he does for a living. On his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bone did say he worked for the coal electricity industry and expressed worry about some of Clinton's proposed energy policies, while also pointing to his fear of Donald Trump's stances on bread-and-butter civil rights issues like gay marriage. He expressed similar sentiments to The Washington Post.
Bone told DeSmog he went to the debate on his own volition and told The New York Times, "I'm just glad I was able to spark the energy debate a little bit. It was kind of getting overlooked."
"I got no funding of any kind. I work in coal and I care deeply about the environment," he told DeSmog. "No one knew my question in advance except the moderators and my wife."
Bone's employer also said that he was there on his own, not as a representative for the company.
"Ken attended the event as an individual and not on Prairie State's behalf," Alyssa Harre, manager of public relations and government affairs for Prairie State, told DeSmog. "Ken developed the question on his own."
While it doesn't appear to be the case this time, in the past the coal industry has used what's called third party technique, in which the industry deploys regular-seeming people to speak positively on its behalf.
For example, the industry did so during the 2012 election cycle when Murray Energy had Ohio mine workers appear at a "mandatory" rally (without pay) for Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney.
A senior CPD official said it relies on Gallup do a "process and screen, the details of which [the CPD] does not get into—a similar process for which we've been using for many cycles—to identify individuals that are non-committed." The official also said identifying the line of work for the person who stands up and asks a question at town hall debates is not something the CPD has ever done.
Memoranda of Understanding
Leaked Memoranda of Understanding from previous presidential debates offer some clues as to how questioners are selected. The Memoranda are the agreements designed by the two major party campaigns each election season which govern the format and rules of the debates. While typically not released to the public, they were leaked to the press in both 2004 and 2012.
Both documents describe a nearly identical selection process.
Gallup is first tasked with finding a "nationally demographically representative group of voters" using a methodology which must be approved by both campaigns. Once selected, audience members then submit their written questions to the moderator, who makes sure the questions are roughly divided between foreign policy and national security on the one hand, and domestic and economic policy on the other. The moderator is also tasked with removing any questions they find "inappropriate."
Finally, the moderator must then come up with a process fulfilling the paradoxical task of both randomly selecting questions and making sure they cover "a wide range of issues of major public interest." The candidates must approve this process as well.
While it's not clear if the candidates did or did not sign a written agreement this year, the two campaigns did negotiate the debate rules and it would not be surprising if they followed a similar process in earlier debates. Janet Brown, executive director of the CPD, told CNN that the moderators would select around eight audience members from a crowd of 40 to ask questions "with the goal of maximizing the number of topics covered," suggesting the process is little changed from previous years.
ABC News—whose reporter Martha Raddatz co-moderated the debate alongside Anderson Cooper—deferred a query about how those who ask questions at debates are vetted to the Commissions on President Debates and Gallup. CNN did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Branko Marcetic. Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
People in California's Central Valley could be drinking water tainted by cancer-causing chemicals used in oilfields, and current water-testing procedures would not detect these substances, according to a scientific report released Tuesday by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California and the University of the Pacific.
More than 100 farms in the Central Valley use oil wastewater for irrigation.
The report identified dozens of hazardous chemicals used in oilfields that supply waste fluid used to irrigate food crops and recharge underground water supplies in California. Researchers note that produced fluid from these oilfields is recharging regional aquifers used for agriculture that "can also be used for domestic water supply (including drinking water)."
"Many of the chemicals used on oil fields do not have standard analytical protocols for their detection in water, so current water quality monitoring programs are mainly focused on naturally occurring contaminants," the report noted.
"Given these shocking findings, California regulators should immediately halt the use of oil-waste fluid in any procedure that could contaminate the water we drink or the food we eat," said John Fleming, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity and member of the Protect California Food coalition and Californians Against Fracking. "It's absolutely unacceptable that people in the Central Valley could be drinking dangerous oil-industry chemicals right now without even knowing it."
Oilfield wastewater has been used to irrigate food crops in the Cawelo Water District since the mid-1990s, the report noted. The practice recently spread to the North Kern Water Storage District, and state officials have said they hope to further expand it. But there has been little evaluation of risks posed by the threat of chemicals in such fluid.
Researchers noted that many chemicals used in these oilfields cannot be evaluated for hazards because oil companies have withheld key information. But more than 40 percent of those substances that can be identified can be classified as potential threats to human health or the environment.
"This report shines an important light on a troubling reality—the state of California is allowing the oil industry to experiment on consumers of our food products and the agricultural workers that grow them," said Madeline Stano, a staff attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "The report demonstrates that the use of oil wastewater adds serious risks to both consumers and agricultural workers' health and safety. The state should stop this practice immediately."
Ten of the oilfield chemicals evaluated by this research team have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as either carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic in humans.
More than 100 farms in the Central Valley use oil wastewater for irrigation. Some of the U.S. most popular brands grow food in the Cawelo and North Kern water districts, including Trinchero Family Estates (makers of Sutter Home wines) and Halos Mandarins (formerly known as Cuties).
Roll Back Environmental Regulations, Bolster Coal Industry and 'Cancel' the Paris Agreement
Quoting data from pro-fossil fuel groups, Trump accused President Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of killing jobs and suppressing economic growth.
In an accompanying press release, the Trump campaign also promised to rescind Obama's climate policies and to "cancel" the Paris agreement. Two former Republican Environmental Protection Agency administrators endorsed Clinton today, citing her environmental record while criticizing Trump for his "profound ignorance of science," particularly relating to climate change.
Commentary: Washington Post, Chris Mooney column, New York Times editorial, Baltimore Sun editorial; CNBC, Tom DiChristopher column; Washington Post, Philip Bump, Amber Phillips & Callum Borchers column; New York Times, Neil Irwin & Alan Rappeport column