Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gina McCarthy's Debut Speech At Harvard Law School

Jul 30: U.S. EPA's newest Administrator Gina McCarthy delivered her first major speech as Administrator in her home town of Boston at an event hosted by the Harvard Law School. Reporting on the event has been somewhat spotty because a full text transcript was not immediately available. After considerable effort WIMS finally obtained a transcript and has posted the full text on our website (see link below). Additionally, the video of the speech is also available.

    McCarthy began her speech by thanking President Obama for his "willingness to nominate and stand by me." She immediately got into the subject of climate change and said, ". . .the president had the courage and the vision during this whole process to stand up in 100 plus degree weather at Georgetown University to give what is clearly the most important speech on climate change that any American president has ever given in which he called on all of us to take action [See WIMS 6/25/13 & See WIMS 6/26/13]. Most notable he told EPA to work with states, tribes, local governments, utilities, unions, folks in environmental and energy organizations, NGOs, the faith community and others – to move ahead with rules to reduce GHG emissions from new and existing power plants. He challenges us to make sure that this effort continued the development of homegrown energy while steadily and responsibly taking steps to cut carbon pollution. That way we would protect our kids' health and begin to slow the effects of climate change – leaving a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations. And he told all agencies to work with communities to ensure that they are resilient enough to adapt to a changing climate. That speech is what stewardship and leadership is all about. . ."

    In reviewing some of the history of EPA, McCarthy said, "Between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped 68 percent while the U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew 212 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 167 percent, and the U.S. population grew 52 percent. So, the bad things went down while the good things went up. That sounds pretty good so far. Right? In fact, from 1970 through 1990 – programs under the clean air act have helped prevent: -More than 205 thousand premature deaths; - 843 thousand asthma attacks; [and] -18 million child respiratory illnesses.". . . And according to our analysis, benefits of the clean air act in 2020 will outweigh the costs by a ratio of more than 30-to-1. .

    "Since the Brownfields program's inception in 1995 and through June of 2013, EPA has provided tools to communities and tribes to assist them in making more than 41,550 acres ready for reuse. This helped create more than 93,100 jobs for cleanup and redevelopment activities, and leverage more than $20.8 billion in economic development. Based on historical data and grantee reporting, every $1 of the EPA Brownfields funding leverages between $17 and $18 in other public and private funding to advance cleanup and development of these properties."

    ". . .regardless of these proven successes, EPA is facing significant challenges. And we have to be ready not just to tout the successes we have accomplished, but to convince the American public that we are taking advantage of the best thinking, the newest technologies, the most cost-effective, sustainable solutions to meet their needs and our mission moving forward. That means understanding how climate change solutions and other and environmental protections fit as part of a sound national and global environmental and economic agenda. . .

    "For too long we have been focused on a false choice: between the health of our children and the health of our economy and we have endlessly debated that choice even in the face of 43 years of documented history that proved that it just ain't so. Today, the truth we need to embrace is that cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, will grow jobs, and will strengthen the economy. . .

    "As more businesses embrace the 'opportunity' of climate change, I see additional public and private sector investment being leveraged to support infrastructure and clean energy -- and these investments will, in turn, fuel the complementary goals of turning America into a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. You see it too right? Last month when he unveiled his plan, President Obama made the case for urgent efforts to tackle climate change this way - he said and I quote: 'The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind.' . . . Other countries have recognized the potential in clean energy and are making historic investments in their advancements. Last year, China alone invested a record $67.7 billion in clean energy - 20 percent more than they invested in 2011. Can the U.S. afford to not make that same level of commitment?. . .

    "And I know as well as anyone, that when it comes to cutting carbon, there is a lot we can learn from our states. Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based reduction programs. More than 25 have set energy efficiency targets. More than 35 have set renewable energy targets. And over 1,000 mayors across the country have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution in their cities. These local and state officials are the leading edge in this effort, and we at EPA want to build on and compliment these efforts already underway. . .

    "Innovation is exactly what's going to help solve the environmental challenges we face today. EPA will be looking at the challenges ahead with our eyes wide open –relying on smart, strategic, partnerships, collaboration, and ongoing engagement. We will approach each challenge with flexible and sustainable solutions using a pragmatic and common sense compass to guide our way. And I am confident we will succeed. We can and will continue to make a real, positive difference on the ground in communities around the country. That is the true measure of our success. . .

    "Increased drought conditions are already challenging our communities, while more frequent and intense storms are straining our ability to manage stormwater runoff, to deliver safe drinking water and to ensure proper wastewater treatment. Our pipes and water treatment systems were not built to manage the record-breaking storms that are becoming ever-more frequent. But as the President said, working here at home to update our cities and our infrastructure means local jobs. To close, I have little doubt about the continued critical importance of EPA and its mission. If EPA executes its duties and responsibilities effectively, we have a good chance of becoming an integral part of a sound, sustainable economy that will shape our future. And EPA has a good chance to support our nation's ongoing economic recovery by protecting our air, water, and land - for ourselves and our children. . ."

    Access the complete transcript of the McCarthy speech (click here). Access the video of the speech (click here). Access the Harvard Magazine summary of the event (click here). [#All]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Report On Wasteful North Dakota Gas Flaring Issue

Jul 29: A report from the Ceres organization reveals that as a result of the growth of unconventional oil production in North Dakota, large and growing volumes of natural gas and natural gas liquids are being burned off rather than sold, creating significant economic and environmental impacts. The report -- Flaring Up -- analyzes oil and gas production data published by the North Dakota Industrial Commission and calculates that volumes of flared gas more than doubled between May 2011 and May 2013. In 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the loss of approximately $1 billion in fuel and the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of adding nearly one million cars to the road.

    The report projects that, without large-scale mitigation effort on behalf of industry and regulators, flaring will continue to grow over the next several years, despite calls from investors, policymakers and community members to curb the economically inefficient and environmentally harmful practice. Ryan Salmon, the report's lead author and manager of Ceres' oil and gas program said, "The U.S. is now one of the top 10 flaring countries in the world, primarily due to the rapid growth of flaring in North Dakota. Although the state's oil and gas industry is stepping up its efforts to curb flaring, the total volume of flared natural gas continues to grow. Investors are looking for producers and regulators to take more aggressive action to prevent the loss of this valuable fuel."

    The North Dakota Industrial Commission's latest data shows that the State's oil and gas developers flared 29 percent of the natural gas they produced during May 2013. Although the percentage of flared gas has fallen from a peak of 36 percent recorded in September 2011, overall volumes of flared gas continue to rise. During May 2011, for example, 106,000 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas were flared each day, while in May 2013, 266,000 Mcf of natural gas were flared, 2.5 times as much.

    At current market rates, oil is approximately 30 times more valuable than natural gas. As a result, producers have chosen to flare much of the gas they produce, rather than invest in the infrastructure necessary to collect, process and market it. However, state authorities note that Bakken gas contains large quantities of higher-value natural gas liquids, which boost the price and improve the economics of capturing the natural gas in North Dakota. According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, Bakken natural gas contains roughly eight to 12 gallons of high-priced natural gas liquids -- including propane, butane, isobutane, and natural gasoline -- per Mcf of natural gas produced. The Ceres report calculates the value of 10 gallons, the midpoint of that range, for an average mix of natural gas liquids at $10.33. Therefore, if the value of the natural gas liquids is added to the current average $3.20/Mcf market price for natural gas, Bakken natural gas could be worth as much as $13.50 per Mcf.

    Unless the percentage of flared gas falls below 21 percent, Ceres projects that overall volumes of flared gas will continue to rise through 2020 along with rising oil production. North Dakota officials have set a public goal of reducing the amount of flared gas to no more than 10 percent of overall production by an unspecified date. However, even if the state's goal of 10 percent flaring were achieved, Flaring Up projects that the total volume of flared gas in 2020 would still exceed the amount flared in 2010.

    In March 2012, investors representing $500 billion in assets sent a letter to 21 of the industry's largest shale oil producers, urging them to reduce or eliminate flaring. The practice of natural gas flaring has also generated significant public attention after recent NASA satellite images revealed that North Dakota's gas flares can be seen from space, burning nearly as brightly as the city lights of Minneapolis and Chicago.

    Access a release from Ceres and link to the complete report and related information (click here). [#Energy/NatGas, #Climate]

Monday, July 29, 2013

President Speaks Out On Keystone XL Pipeline

Jul 27: In a far-reaching interview with President Obama conducted by Jackie Calmes and Michael D. Shear of The New York Times. The interview was conducted at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., on July 24, 2013. The interview covers a number of key issues facing the country but also touches on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline issue. The following is the excerpt on the pipeline issue:

NYT: A couple other quick subjects that are economic-related. Keystone pipeline -- Republicans especially talk about that as a big job creator. You've said that you would approve it only if you could be assured it would not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon in the atmosphere. Is there anything that Canada could do or the oil companies could do to offset that as a way of helping you to reach that decision?

MR. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Michael, Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that's true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.

NYT: Yet there are a number of unions who want you to approve this.

MR. OBAMA: Well, look, they might like to see 2,000 jobs initially. But that is a blip relative to the need. So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States. In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can't ship some of that oil to world markets.
Now, having said that, there is a potential benefit for us integrating further with a reliable ally to the north our energy supplies. But I meant what I said; I'm going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.
NYT: And if they did, could that offset the concerns about the pipeline itself?
MR. OBAMA: We haven't seen specific ideas or plans. But all of that will go into the mix in terms of John Kerry's decision or recommendation on this issue.   
    Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), author of legislation in the House of Representatives that would approve the Keystone Pipeline, issued a statement in reaction to President Obama's interview with The New York Times saying, "The president conveniently chooses to ignore the construction jobs from steel, fabrication, and the rest of the jobs that would be created by our nation of builders if he would just approve the Keystone Pipeline. He also conveniently chooses to ignore the March draft EIS from his own State Department that said Keystone could create upwards of 42,000 jobs.

    "As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, my committee heard from the Obama Administration's own witness who testified before us that direct foreign investment from companies like TransCanada has dropped sharply in recent years. Down from 45% in 1980s, the world's direct foreign investment in the U.S. is now only 17%. Just like the President is doing to TransCanada and our nation's number one trading partner, he is telling the world that America is closed for business and we don't want your investments in our country or the jobs they would create".

    "With over 1,700 days of delays, the President is insulting Canada by saying that he needs to learn more about the project. What more could he learn after over 15,500 pages of reviews? In my opinion, the President now has zero credibility when he speaks about infrastructure projects creating jobs. What will it take for our president to focus on job creation and not job killing? President Obama needs to spend more time working with Republicans in Congress rather than traveling around the country reciting the environmental left's talking points and giving speeches that don't hire."   

    WIMS previously reported on a study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute entitled, Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL, provides an in-depth look at the numbers and the uncertainty surrounding many of estimates [See WIMS 1/6/12]. The 40-page paper indicates, "The purpose of this briefing paper is to examine claims made by TransCanada Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute that, if constructed, TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline will generate enough employment to kick-start important sections of the US economy through the creation of tens of thousands -- perhaps even hundreds of thousands -- of good, well-paying jobs for American workers." That report indicated, "The project will create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years, according to TransCanada's own data supplied to the State Department."

    The 40-page, detailed analysis also indicated that, "almost half (and perhaps more) of the primary material input for KXL -- steel pipe -- will not even be produced in the United States; [and] based on the experience of Phases 1 and 2, the final processing work for KXL will probably be performed in the US with most of the steel and pipe sourced from outside of the US (notably India and South Korea)." Thee report indicates that the claim of more than 20,000 high-wage manufacturing jobs and construction jobs "is misleading and erroneous on a number of levels."

    Access the complete interview text published in the NYT (click here). Access a release from Rep. Terry (click here). Access the complete Cornell paper (click here). Access the State Department KXL website for more information (click here). [Energy/KXL]

Friday, July 26, 2013

NASA Visualizations Of Two GHG Emissions Scenarios

Jul 25: NASA has recently released animated visualizations of how different greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios are expected to impact the United States. The visualizations were developed to support the forthcoming third US National Climate Assessment and show projections of Earth's temperature and precipitation patterns from today through the year 2100 -- revealing how "low" versus "high" emission scenarios would impact the planet's climate. Allison Leidner, Ph.D., a scientist who coordinates NASA's involvement in the National Climate Assessment said, "These visualizations communicate a picture of the impacts of climate change in a way that words do not. When I look at the scenarios for future temperature and precipitation, I really see how dramatically our Nation's climate could change."

    The NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) developed the animations in collaboration with NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites – North Carolina.

    To develop these complex animations, a team of scientists used results from 15 global climate models, combined with data on monthly temperature and precipitation in the United States, to generate maps of projected conditions through the year 2100. The visualizations present projections of temperature and precipitation changes from 2000 to 2100 - compared to the historical average from 1970-1999 -- under two different scenarios of future CO2 emissions. The "higher emissions" scenario represents a fossil-fuel-intensive future in which concentrations of atmospheric CO2 exceed 800 ppm by the year 2100. The "lower emissions" scenario represents a less fossil-fuel-intensive future in which atmospheric CO2 concentrations level off at around 550 ppm by 2100. Today, atmospheric CO2 concentrations stand at around 400 ppm.

    While NASA's visualizations show significant warming in both scenarios, the projected average temperature change over the contiguous United States in the higher emissions scenario is nearly twice what is projected in the lower emissions scenario -- at 8°F (versus just 4.5°F). Dr. Kenneth E. Kunkel, Lead Scientist for Assessments at NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites explained, "Looking at these visualizations, you see that reducing emissions does in fact have a big impact on the amount of warming by the end of the century."

    Dr. Kunkel indicated that another notable characteristic of the visualizations is that projected warming is generally greater over the North American continent, compared to the surrounding oceans. It takes longer for the oceans to warm up because the excess energy that is deposited in the oceans can be mixed over a fairly large depth. He also points out that the magnitude of temperature increase during the summer is much higher over the contiguous U.S. than in Canada and Alaska. This may be partially a result of decreasing soil moisture relating to increased evaporation, which increases as temperature rises.

    Nationwide, changes in precipitation are expected to occur under both scenarios, but be more dramatic in the higher emissions scenario—with many dry areas getting dryer, while wet areas get wetter. Dr. Leidner said. "The visualizations really bring home how regional variations tie back together. Words describe this, but when you see it, you get it." For instance, the visualizations show that New England precipitation projected to increase, while some areas of the Southwest can expect to see a 10% decrease in annual precipitation in the higher emission scenario.

    Access a announcement and link to the visualizations and related information (click here). [#Climate]


Thursday, July 25, 2013

House Hearing On EPA's Study Of Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts

Jul 24: The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Energy and Environment Subcommittees held a joint hearing to examine the EPA's scientific processes and how the agency conducts its investigation into the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from the: U.S. EPA; EPA Science Advisory Board, Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel; Utah Department of Natural Resources; and New York State Water Resources Institute, Cornell University.

    In its FY2010 Appropriations Committee Conference Report, Congress requested that the EPA study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, and to use the best available science and independent sources of information. The EPA is undertaking the study using a transparent, peer-reviewed process. The Agency has engaged experts in developing an approach and continues to consult with experts and stakeholders throughout the study. In 2011, EPA began research under its Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. The scope of the proposed research includes the full hydraulic fracturing water cycle, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and injection of fluids, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal. In December, 2012, the EPA released the Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources: Progress Report to provide the public with the latest information on the work being undertaken as part of the research study [See WIMS 12/21/12, WIMS 7/12/12]. On April 30, 2013, EPA announced in the Federal Register [78 FR 25267-25268] that it was extending the deadline for the public to submit data and scientific literature to inform the Agency's research from April 30, 2013, until November 15, 2013. EPA said it is extending the deadline in order to provide the public with more of an opportunity to provide feedback [See WIMS 4/30/13]. The draft EPA report that synthesizes the results of these studies is expected to be released for peer review and public comment in late 2014.

    Full Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said, "It seems that each week there is more good news about the incredible benefits of the fracking energy revolution that is underway across America. However, some choose to ignore these benefits and instead focus on finding ways to restrain, if not stifle, the new development. The EPA has too often been complicit in this effort.  They have attempted to link fracking to water contamination in at least three cases, only to be forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny proved them to be unfounded."

    Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) said, "Given EPA's rush to judgment in Wyoming, Texas, and Pennsylvania, we should question whether the agency's ongoing study is a genuine, fact-finding, scientific exercise, or a witch-hunt to find a pretext to regulate. EPA's recent announcement that it is walking away from its attempt to link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater issues in Pavillion, Wyoming [See WIMS 6/21/13] is the most recent example of the agency employing a 'shoot first, ask questions later' policy toward unconventional oil and gas production.  This marks the third case in which EPA has made sweeping allegations of fracking-caused contamination, only to have to recant these claims later due to errors, omissions and breaches of protocol. At a time when so many Americans are learning to distrust our federal government, this is another blow for the credibility of our federal agencies."

    Energy Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said, "In this manner, the agency appears headed toward developing conclusions completely divorced from any useful context. It is akin to a weatherman warning citizens to take shelter based on the possibility that a storm will occur, without including any indication of when the storm might occur, where it might hit and how likely it is to actually take place.  I am not alone in this concern, as several of the panelists on the EPA's Science Advisory Board's Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory have similarly expressed apprehension over the lack of context the agency is providing and its neglect of risk assessment."

    Full Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening remarks, "Concerns about contamination of groundwater and drinking water have troubled us since the shale gas boom started over a decade ago. We must be careful not to sacrifice the quality of our natural water resources for the sake of cheaper gas.  We need clean water as much as we need affordable energy options.  Our water resources are already stretched to support our industrial and agricultural sectors, and residential and commercial development. We cannot afford to contaminate the limited drinking water supplies that we have.  It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry, to resolve questions surrounding the fracking water cycle and the impact to groundwater and drinking water. Americans have a right to clean water and a healthier environment. The gas will be there, and it is up to the industry to make sure it can be produced in an environmentally sound manner."

    Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said, "Our surface and groundwater resources are under tremendous strain throughout the country. Population expansion, residential and industrial development, droughts, and limited precipitation not seen before in some areas of the country have all contributed to this strain.  These circumstances make access to clean water and the EPA's study even more important.  If we want to enjoy the advantages and economic benefits of shale gas development, we must do so with the highest regard for safety and the protection of our precious water resources. State, federal, and tribal leaders, in addition to Americans all over the country are alarmed about whether their drinking water is at risk, and they deserve answers to their questions." 

    Subcommittee on Energy Ranking Member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) stated, "We have to be careful that we extract this resource safely, without unintended, serious consequences to either our health or the environment. It would be very short-sighted to produce energy via fracking only to find out later that it caused damage. There is simply no place for politics when it comes to making sure that the water that our families rely on is safe, and the homes that we live in are not at risk of a man-made disaster."

    EPA testified that its "integrated approach of openness and scientific rigor is ensuring that the EPA study will provide the full range of policymakers with high quality, policy-relevant science that will inform their decision making. . . the President believes the prudent development of our oil and natural gas resources can make a critical contribution to meeting our nation's energy needs. . . We are pursuing this work with the best available science and the highest level of transparency. This study will continue to be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process in consultation with other federal agencies, appropriate State and inter-state regulatory agencies, and with input from industry, non-governmental organizations, tribal governments, and other stakeholders. As you have heard today, we will continue to collaborate with our federal partners and work with our stakeholders to address the highest priority challenges to safely and prudently develop unconventional gas and oil resources.

    Access the Republican hearing website for testimony, statements and video (click here). Access the Democratic hearing website for testimony, statements and video (click here). Access the complete FR announcement (click here). Access EPA's Progress Report (click here). Access EPA's docket for more information and to submit and review comments (click here). Access more information on the SAB panel (click here). Access more information on the EPA hydraulic fracturing study (click here). [#Energy/Frack, #Drink]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

House Hearing On DOE Management Problems & Structure

Jul 24: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, Chaired by Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), held a hearing entitled, Department of Energy Oversight: What is Necessary to Improve Project Management and Mission Performance? Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from the: U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); DOE Inspector General; and Government Accountability Office.
    In an opening statement, Full Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) said, "Today we take a look at plans for a new management structure and other changes at the Department of Energy announced last week by Secretary Moniz. Our question is, will these reforms help transform DOE for the innovation era? DOE has recently experienced a number of management challenges, particularly with regard to its stewardship of the nuclear weapons programs and nuclear cleanup. These challenges -- and the tremendous risks to the public from failure to address them -- are not new. . . The big lesson is that the agency's safety, security, and contract management problems span administrations and Congresses. From my experience, and as our witnesses will explain, improving DOE's performance requires long, sustained attention to ensure lasting improvement in agency
performance. . .
    "We need to start discussing whether the agency is structured and able to adapt to the realities of this nation's very bright energy picture. DOE has significant responsibilities that will not and should not go away; the agency must be poised to take on new responsibilities that best serve the energy, environmental, and security needs of the nation. But we also must acknowledge that if we were to start from a clean slate, there is no question an Energy Department for this new era of abundance would hardly resemble the Department of today."
     Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) also issued an opening statement indicating, "The energy subject at the top of my priority list is climate change. Secretary Moniz understands the challenges posed by rising levels of carbon pollution. He will play a key role in the implementation of the President's National Climate Action Plan. His efforts to identify the threats our energy sector faces due to climate change and to improve energy efficiency are important. I am also impressed at the quick action he has taken to address the subject of this hearing: long-standing DOE problems with cost management, environmental compliance, and physical security at the nation's nuclear complex. . .
    "As one of his first acts, Secretary Moniz announced a reorganization that will create a new Under Secretary for Management and Performance. The President has nominated Beth Robinson, currently NASA's Chief Financial Officer, to fill the position. This restructuring will put one official in charge of strengthening environmental cleanup, contracting oversight, human capital, and other important functions. . . Most recently, we held a hearing in March on the alarming incident involving an 83-year-old breaking into the highly secure DOE Y-12 facility in Tennessee. . . We know that the long-standing problems at DOE will not be easy to solve. But the Department of Energy's vital missions to develop new clean energy technologies and protect our nuclear stockpile are too important to the nation for us to ignore. . ."
    DOE's testimony focused on the July 12, Secretary-approved top-level reorganization of the Department that reallocates the responsibilities of the Department's three Offices of Under Secretary. This reorganization has three primary objectives: (1) To improve integration of the science and applied energy R&D programs of the Department by establishing an Under Secretary for Science and Energy; (2) To improve project management and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our mission support functions across the Department by establishing an Under Secretary for Management and Performance; and (3) To establish an enterprise-wide vision and coordination of major cross-cutting programs.
    Access the GOP hearing website for links to testimony, statements and video (click here). Access the Dems hearing website for links to testimony, statements and video (click here). [#Energy]

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

GOP Leaders Threaten To Cut Funding For CFATS Program

Jul 22: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Carter (R-TX) wrote to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano regarding the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. The House Republican leaders expressed "serious reservations" about extending funding for the program unless significant progress is made. The committee leaders are requesting a series of reports from the Department of Homeland Security to assist with oversight, specifically examining how the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD) plans to improve implementation of the program.

    They wrote, "The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General, and the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection itself have all recognized that, over the past five years, DHS's ineffectual management and implementation of the CFATS program has frustrated the Department's critical mission to secure America's facilities containing chemicals of interest. As the authorizers and appropriators of this program, we write to you to express serious reservations about continuing to extend CFATS funding without evidence of substantial programmatic improvement. The basic programmatic building blocks of CFATS are missing, and we are running short on both patience and confidence with regard to the Department's ability to correct its deficiencies."

    The lawmakers pointed to flaws in the program's risk evaluation system, compliance hurdles, implementation delays, and the failure of the program to identify vulnerable facilities as highlighted by the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. The letter continued, "Unfortunately, problems with the Department's efforts to implement these programs are not limited to those discussed here. As the Chairmen responsible for authorizing and funding CFATS, we are convinced the program should not continue in its present condition. While the need to secure American facilities with chemicals of concern is a critical one, the CFATS program is simply not getting the job done. … Over the course of this fiscal year, the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Homeland Security Committee will continue the rigorous oversight and strict guidance needed to get CFATS on track. We intend to identify specific milestones the program must achieve in order to establish its viability. Ultimately, we would like to consider a multi-year reauthorization of CFATS -- but only if it is the right program for the job."

    Also in their letter the GOP members point out that despite the "flawed risk methodology, thousands of facilities across the country have attempted to comply with CFATS requirements by submitting their initial risk assessment information (the top screen), and have been assigned a final tier. These facilities have invested time and resources into the development of their site security plans. Yet, GAO estimates it could take up to nine years for the Department to review these plans and certify each facility's security. Within that time, technology changes, plans become outdated, and facilities remain vulnerable to attack. The scope and pace of this backlog is simply unacceptable. Perhaps the most basic step toward achieving the security of facilities with chemicals of concern is identifying those facilities that are at risk. Yet, even here, the Department has failed to implement an effective process. As the tragic explosion of the West Fertilizer Plant in April brought to light, DHS is unaware of the existence of thousands of small facilities across the country that are potentially covered under the statute. The identification of facilities at risk of terrorist infiltration is the very foundation of the CFATS program."

    Concern about the program extends across party lines. In March at an Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee hearing to provide and update on CFATS, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) said in an opening statement, "Since 2001, federal officials, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and outside experts have warned that the nation's drinking water utilities and chemical facilities remain vulnerable to terrorist attack.

    "Unfortunately, the CFATS program is a grave disappointment. At the end of 2011, we learned the program was in disarray. No facilities had approved site security plans. Homeland Security officials felt their enforcement authority was insufficient and ineffective. There were no procedures in place to document important programmatic decisions. No one on staff was even qualified to conduct a compliance inspection. . ."

    Rep. Waxman said, "CFATS was created in the sloppiest legislative fashion possible. It was established in 2006 by a provision tucked into an appropriations bill without the benefit of hearings or markups by the Committee." But, he continued, "The problems with the program are not all Congress' fault. Both the current and previous administrations have failed to implement the program effectively. The Department issued an interim final rule within six months of the law's passage. This rule determined what chemicals might be targets, how risk would be assessed, and what security standards would be applied. Given the quick action and limited statutory guidance, the rule was flawed. But now – six years later – it still hasn't been updated and improved." 

    Access a release from the Republican leaders and link to the complete letter (click here). Access DHS CFATS website for more information including facilities covered and a list of chemicals of interest (click here). Access a March 14 GOP E&C hearing on CFATS Update with video and links to testimony (click here). Access a March 14 Democrats E&C hearing on CFATS Update with video and links to testimony (click here). [#Toxics, #Haz]

Monday, July 22, 2013

DOI Announces Virginia OCS Wind Energy Lease Sale

Jul 22: Department of  Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy Beaudreau announced that BOEM will hold its second competitive lease sale for renewable energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The auction, scheduled to take place on September 4, will offer nearly 112,800 acres offshore Virginia for commercial wind energy leasing. In June, Secretary Jewell and Director Beaudreau announced the nation's first wind energy lease sale for an area offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which will be held on July 31. 

    Secretary Jewell said, "The competitive lease sale offshore Virginia will mark an important transition from planning to action when it comes to capturing the enormous clean energy potential offered by Atlantic wind. Responsible commercial wind energy development has the potential to create jobs, increase our energy security, and strengthen our nation's competitiveness."

    Under the terms of the Final Sale Notice, the wind energy area offshore Virginia will be auctioned as a single lease. The area is located 23.5 nautical miles from the Virginia Beach coastline and has the potential to support more than 2,000 megawatts of wind generation -- enough electricity to power approximately 700,000 homes. A release from DOI indicates that as part of President Obama's comprehensive Climate Action Plan [
See WIMS 6/25/13 & See WIMS 6/26/13], he challenged DOI to re-double efforts on the renewable energy program by approving an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands and waters by 2020.

    The area, composed of 19 full OCS blocks and 13 sub-blocks, was selected after intensive work with the Commonwealth and stakeholders to avoid existing uses of the OCS offshore Virginia, including sensitive ecological habitat and shoals along the coast north of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, military training areas, marine vessel traffic, a dredge disposal site, and areas of concern specified by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility. The area available for auction is identical to the one announced in the Proposed Sale Notice that was published in the Federal Register on December 3, 2012, for a 60-day public comment period. BOEM carefully considered public comments before developing the Final Sale Notice. The Final Sale Notice will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow (July 23).
    The following companies are eligible to participate: Apex Virginia Offshore Wind, LLC; Virginia Electric and Power Company (Dominion Virginia Power); Energy Management, Inc.; EDF Renewable Development, Inc.; Fisherman's Energy, LLC; IBERDROLA RENEWABLES, Inc.; Sea Breeze Energy, LLC; and Orisol Energy U.S., Inc. Beaudreau said, "After careful review, BOEM has determined that these companies are legally, technically and financially qualified to participate in the upcoming lease sale. We applaud their leadership and look forward to overseeing a fair and competitive leasing process."
    U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee responded indicating that "Interior has already granted one other lease, without competitive bidding. As the Administration moves forward with more offshore wind energy off the east coast, the ban on oil and gas leasing, which started when President Obama took office, continues in the same region." He said, "Energy sources that can work to be sustainable and affordable are something we can all support, but the Administration has a bad habit of picking energy industry winners and losers. According to the Interior's own analysis, the government assistance the wind industry receives in leasing and special tax credits exceeds the money they can generate for the Treasury in offshore production. Alternative energy has potential for our 'all of the above' energy future, but the Administration needs to quit ignoring the economic benefits of traditional energy."
    Senator Vitter indicated in a release that in November 2012, Senators Vitter and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) wrote a letter to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, noting that the agency will not allow offshore oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and requested data on the economics of the wind lease sale to compare with "the value of a similar lease for oil and gas on equivalent acreage." Seven months later on June 5, 2013, the Senators finally received a response from Interior which they indicate "provides limited analysis that further undermines justification for offshore wind." Sen. Vitter indicated, "As part of Interior's response, they explain that a minimum bid for oil and gas offshore lease sales are $100 per acre for deepwater leases, compared to $1 or $2 per acre for the upcoming wind lease sales. In addition, there is strong indication that the royalty rate is a fraction of the tax credit, thus meaning federal subsidies more than cover what these projects are expected to pay in royalties."
    Access a lengthy release from DOI with additional details and links to more information (click here). Access a map of the Virginia wind energy area (click here). Access the Proposed Sale Notice, public comments and responses on BOEM's website (click here). Access a release from Sen. Vitter with links to the letter, response and analysis by the Heritage Foundation (click here). [#Energy/Wind]

Friday, July 19, 2013

Next EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Confirmed 59-40

Jul 18: Four Republicans, joined 53 Democrats and 2 Independents to confirm Regina (Gina) McCarthy, of Massachusetts, to be the next Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The four Republicans were Ayotte (R-NH), Corker (R-TN), Flake (R-AZ), and McCain (R-AZ). One lone Democrat, Manchin (D-WV), voted with 39 Republicans against the nomination.

    President Obama issued a statement saying, "I am pleased that today the Senate took bipartisan action to confirm Gina McCarthy as the next Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.  With years of experience at the state and local level, Gina is a proven leader who knows how to build bipartisan support for commonsense environmental solutions that protect the health and safety of our kids while promoting economic growth. Over the past four years, I have valued Gina's counsel and I look forward to having her in my Cabinet as we work to slow the effects of climate change and leave a cleaner environment for future generations."

    Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said, "We are very gratified the Senate has finally voted to confirm Gina McCarthy as America's new EPA Administrator. McCarthy has always been an ideal candidate for this crucially important job. She has exceptional qualifications and experience, and she has a well-earned reputation for bipartisanship. She has a history of working with both environmental advocates and industry stakeholders, and for pursuing a regulatory approach that is flexible, cost-effective and environmentally effective. It's time to put politics behind us and get to work on the many important issues facing EPA, including implementing key parts of the President's Climate Action Plan. I look forward to working with Gina McCarthy and her staff at EPA to ensure that Americans have a cleaner, healthier environment."

    The American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued a statement saying, "We commend the Senate for confirming Gina McCarthy to head EPA. ACC and its members look forward to working with her to ensure that regulations protect health and the environment while at the same time encouraging innovation, competitiveness and job creation. Stakeholder engagement and reliance on sound science will be essential to the development of balanced environmental rules that, combined with sensible energy policies, will ensure the United States remains an attractive place for manufacturers to invest."

    U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works (EPW), delivered a highly critical speech on the Senate Floor during the debate on the nomination and urged his colleagues to vote no on the confirmation of Gina McCarthy.

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the EPW Committee issued a statement saying, "I am so pleased that the full Senate has confirmed Gina McCarthy to be EPA Administrator, because she is the right person for the job. With more than three decades of public service experience, Gina has a deep understanding that public health and a growing economy depend on clean air and clean water. Gina McCarthy has worked for five Republican Governors and a Democratic President, and she will lead EPA in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people."

    Access the roll call vote on the confirmation (click here). Access a statement from the President (click here). Access the statement from EDF (click here). Access the statement from ACC (click here). Access a video of the Senator Vitter Floor statement (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). [#All]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hearing: "Climate Change: It's Happening Now"

Jul 18: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works (EPW) Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), with Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA), held a hearing entitled, "Climate Change: It's Happening Now."
    The hearing included testimony from number of climate experts including: Dr. Heidi Cullen, Chief Climatologist Climate Central; Mr. Frank Nutter, President, Reinsurance Association of America; Mr. KC Golden, Policy Director, Climate Solutions; Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; Dr. Robert P. Murphy, Senior Economist, Institute for Energy Research; Dr. Jennifer Francis, Research Professor, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University; Dr. Scott Doney, Director, Ocean and Climate Change Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Dr. Margaret Leinin, Executive Director, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University; Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., Professor, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist IV, University of Alabama, Huntsville. Senator Boxer opened the hearing stating:
"Today's hearing will focus on climate change and the serious threat it poses to our nation. The body of evidence is overwhelming, the world's leading scientists agree, and predictions of the impact of climate change are coming true before our eyes. This issue has been a priority for me since I became Chairman of this Committee, because climate change puts our environment and public health at great risk. Scientists and other experts have testified before this Committee in the past, and they spoke many times about the severe impact of climate change. Let me share just a few of these experts' predictions with you:
      • "It is very likely that hot extremes [and] heat waves . . . will continue to become more frequent." (Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth in 2008)
      • "It is likely that tropical storms and hurricanes will become more intense and with much heavier rainfalls, and thus risk of flooding." (Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth in 2008)
      • "With climate change, an increase in the severity, duration, and frequency of extreme heat waves is expected in the United States." (Dr. Howard Frumkin in 2009)
      • "On the most basic level, climate change has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale and at a frequency far beyond those we see today." (Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn in 2009)

"In 2012, Superstorm Sandy resulted in the loss of life, wiped out entire communities, and caused approximately $65 billion of damage. And the impacts of climate change are being felt throughout our nation. The Arctic has lost more than a third of total sea ice volume over the last decade -- making Alaskan native villages increasingly vulnerable to erosion and storms. We have seen large wildfires break out earlier in the season in California, and recently 19 brave firefighters in Arizona tragically lost their lives. In 2012, New Mexico experienced the largest wildfire in state history, Colorado suffered the second largest wildfire in state history, and Oregon had its largest wildfire since the 1860s. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over the past two years there have been 25 weather and climate disasters - each one costing more than $1 billion. Climate change is real, human activities are the primary cause, and the warming planet poses a significant risk to people and the environment. . ."

    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the outspoken critic of climate change science, said in a statement that he was disappointed that because he was looking forward to hearing from Administration officials about the President's global warming proposal. He said, "Around the same time the President gave his speech on global warming last month [See WIMS 6/25/13 & See WIMS 6/26/13], his campaign team developed a secret talking points memo that was crafted to provide alarmists around the country with specific instructions about how they should talk about global warming."

    Senator Inhofe said, "Most meteorologists agree.  A recent study by George Mason University reported that 63% of weathercasters believe that any global warming that occurs is the result of 'natural variation' and not 'human activities.'  That is a significant two-to-one majority. . . And just this past week, Harvard and the Forest Service came out with a study that shows trees are growing faster and using less water with higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2.  This is the opposite of what scientists expected before, but the alarmists can't talk about it because they've received their instructions from the President.

    Senator Inhofe cited Richard Lindzen, "the world renowned atmospheric physicist at MIT" who said that regulating carbon is a "bureaucrat's dream," because "if you control carbon, you control life."  Sen. Inhofe said, "When you zoom out and consider this from a distance, it is the core tenant of liberalism and the President political philosophy.  He believes that government can make better decisions than the people, and regulating carbon dioxide will give him all he needs to make nearly every decision for the American people."
    Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University said, "As the oceans continue to absorb additional heat trapped by ever-accumulating greenhouse gases, as sea ice continues to disappear, and as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, we can only expect to see more weather-related adverse impacts. The details of those impacts are still emerging from ongoing research, but the overall picture of the future is clear."
    Dr. Scott Doney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said, "Over the past two centuries, human activities have resulted in dramatic and well documented increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and acidification of the upper ocean. Today the surface ocean is almost 30% more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times, and over the next few decades, the level of acidity of the surface ocean will continue to rise without deliberate action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Increasingly this will cause major problems for many marine organisms like shellfish and corals."
    Dr. Heidi Cullen of the University of Pennsylvania said, "Climate change was for a long time thought to be an issue for the distant future. But I am here today to testify that it has, in many respects, moved into the present. The impacts of human -- caused climate change are being observed right here and right now in our own backyards and neighborhoods."
    Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado provided a counter point of view and said, "It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases." He said, "Globally, weather-related losses ($) have not increased since 1990 as a proportion of GDP. . . Hurricanes have not increased in the US in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900. . . Floods have not increased in the US in frequency or intensity since at least 1950. . . Tornadoes have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950. . .some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research. . ."
--- Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama also offered a counter point of view saying, "My overall view of the influence of humans on climate is that we probably are having some influence, but it is impossible to know with any level of certainty how much influence. The difficulty in determining the human influence on climate arises from several sources: (1) weather and climate vary naturally, and by amounts that are not currently being exceeded; (2) global warming theory is just that -- based upon theory; and (3) there is no unique fingerprint of human caused global warming. . ."
    Access the hearing website for links to all testimony and a video (click here). Access the opening statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access the complete statement from Sen. Inhofe (click here). [#Climate]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

12 GOP AGs File Lawsuit Related To "Sue & Settle"

Jul 16: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, joined by 11 other attorneys general from AL, AZ, GA, KS, MI, NE, ND, SC, UT, WY, TX, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Federal court requesting access to documents related to the U.S. EPA's so-called "sue and settle" strategy with environmental groups. Pruitt said, "The EPA is picking winners and losers, exhibiting favoritism, at the expense of due process and transparency. They are manipulating our legal system to achieve what they cannot through our representative democracy. The outcomes of their actions affect every one of us by sticking states with the bill and unnecessarily raising utility rates by as much as 20 percent."

    The lawsuit, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma and comes after the states filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking documents related to the "sue and settle" strategy. According to a release from AG Pruitt, the agency employs the tactic as a way to settle lawsuits with environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, without allowing state involvement. In some instances, the EPA entered a consent decree the same day a lawsuit was filed by the special interest group, suggesting prior knowledge. The agreements between the EPA and environmental groups have led to new rules and regulations for states without allowing attorneys general to enter the process to defend the interest of states, businesses and consumers. 

     Pruitt said, "This appears to be a blatant strategy by the EPA to go around the process and bend the rules to create environmental regulations that have failed in Congress. As part of our investigation into the pervasiveness of this tactic, we requested documents that the EPA has refused to produce. If the EPA is making backdoor deals with environmental groups to push their agenda on the American people while bypassing the states and Congress, we need to know." According to the release, out of the 45 settlements made public, the EPA has paid nearly $1 million in attorneys' fees to the environmental groups, while also committing to develop sweeping new regulations. One EPA consent decree led to the EPA's costliest regulation ever -- the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

    The 12 states led by Oklahoma, filed a FOIA request in February, seeking communications between EPA officials and specific special interest groups concerning consent decrees that dictate how EPA is to implement the Clean Air Act's Regional Haze program in various states. Under the Clean Air Act, the states -- not the EPA -- design and implement plans for compliance with the Regional Haze program. States' also requested a fee waiver. According to the complaint, "Ninety-two percent of the time EPA grants fee waiver requests from noncommercial requesters who are supportive of EPA's policies and agendas, but denies a majority of fee waiver requests from noncommercial requesters who are critical of EPA." States properly asked for specific records ... (and) EPA violated FOIA's mandate."

    The release indicates that once the documents are received, the requesting states will analyze the data and evaluate the prevalence of EPA's "sue and settle" strategy to determine further action. A report on the states' findings will be disseminated to each state as well as to the news media and Congress as a component of the AGs' active involvement in state efforts to address environmental issues.
    U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, commended the 12 Attorneys General (AG) lawsuit saying, "Looking at FOIA fee waivers, it's clear that EPA favors far-left environmentalist groups over conservative think tanks, but today's lawsuit is just another example demonstrating EPA's discrimination extends toward States, as well. We recently got the EPA to agree to completely retrain their staff on FOIA practices and issue new agency-wide guidance on FOIA practices following completion of the Inspector General investigation. However, their obstructionist tactics while trying to bend FOIA laws remains a problem, especially when they seek to block Attorneys General who clearly are acting to advance the public interest."
    On May 22, in a lengthy blog posting [See WIMS 5/22/13] the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provided a detailed response to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report entitled, Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors [See WIMS 5/21/13] and various Republican charges. In general sue & settle agreements (i.e. settlements) result when environmental and citizen groups exercise the citizen suit provisions in various environmental laws passed by Congress to force EPA to meet "not discretionary" deadlines or set new deadlines when the Agency has already missed a deadline.
    In a July 16, article EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told The Hill publication that, "EPA has no input or control over what parties sue the agency or what issues they focus on. Furthermore, an outside entity cannot compel EPA to take an action that it was not already required to take by law."
    Access a release from the OK AG (click here). Access the FOIA legal complaint (click here). Access the FOIA request (click here). Access a release from Sen. Vitter (click here). Access the NRDC blog posting with multiple links to referenced information (click here). Access The Hill article (click here).  [#All, #MIAll]

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Friends Of The Earth Sues State Department Re: KXL Conflicts

Jul 16: Friends of the Earth (FoE) sued the State Department in Federal court for failure to turn over records detailing the contacts between lobbyists for the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline and the Obama administration. On April 15, Friends of the Earth filed an extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding the expedited release of all communications since October 2011 between the State Department and numerous lobbyists and lobbying firms for TransCanada and the Province of Alberta. The State Department (DOS) denied the group's request for a speedy release of the records, and three months later has yet to release any records or say when they will be released. FoE says the matter is urgent because DOS is in the final stages of an environmental review that is key to whether it recommends that the President approve or reject a permit for the pipeline.

    The lawsuit, filed today in U.S District Court for the District of Columbia by DC law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal says, "The requested information is critical because a number of the lobbyists presently advocating for the project formerly worked for Secretary of State John Kerry, or for former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. In light of these relationships, the requested records would allow FoE to inform the public about the nature of the State Department's decision-making, and the role any of these lobbyists may be playing in that process."

    After similar FOIA requests by FoE in 2010 and 2011 uncovered records that showed how cozy relationships between State Department officials and Keystone lobbyists tainted the first environmental review of the pipeline, DOS promised to tighten its lobbying rules to assure objectivity in the current round. But FoE's latest FOIA request said it is clear that the permit process remains compromised by conflicts of interest, secrecy and deceit. It identified more than two dozen Washington lobbyists, lawyers and consultants helping to push for pipeline approval who have close ties to Obama, Kerry, Clinton or other elected officials with a stake in the outcome.

    Heading the list is Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director and senior advisor to the President's re-election campaign and the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn is now a principal with the lobbying firm SDKnickerbocker, which represents TransCanada. According to The New York Times, Dunn has met with top White House officials more than 100 times since leaving the Administration in 2009.

    FoE also says that, "The new environmental review for Keystone XL is being conducted by a contractor with deep financial ties to TransCanada and oil companies who would benefit from the pipeline -- connections the State Department tried to cover up. Last week, FoE released evidence that the contractor, Environmental Resources Management [ERM], lied on its federal conflict-of-interest disclosure form when it said it had not worked for TransCanada or other companies with an interest in the pipeline. ERM's draft of the environmental review contends that the pipeline will cause little environmental harm and absurdly suggests that the pipeline will not spur development of the climate-wrecking tar sands in northern Alberta. Scientists and the EPA alike contend that without the pipeline, tar sands development would be constrained and would therefore produce less climate destroying carbon."

    Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for FoE said, "From the beginning the State Department's handling of the environmental review of the Keystone pipeline has been hopelessly compromised by TransCanada, the Province of Alberta and their army of lobbyists. The Department's refusal to release records of the lobbying effort makes you wonder what they're hiding now." FoE's investigation has yielded a dossier of Keystone lobbyists and their connections to Obama, Kerry and Clinton. Besides Dunn, the list includes:

  • Paul Elliott, chief lobbyist for TransCanada, a top Clinton operative in her 2008 presidential campaign and a key figure in the 2011 conflict of interest scandal over the earlier environmental review.
  • David Castagnetti of Mehlman, Vogel & Castagnetti, who was director of Congressional relations for Kerry's 2004 campaign for president; and Brandon Pollak of Bryan Cave LLP, who also worked on Kerry's campaign.
  • Three former U.S. ambassadors to Canada: David Wilkins of Nelson, Mullins et al, which has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Province of Alberta; Gordon Giffin of Long & Albridge, a top fundraiser in Clinton's presidential campaign; and Jim Blanchard of DLA Piper, also a top Clinton fundraiser.

    Damon Moglen, senior strategic advisor for FoE's climate and energy program said, "Release of these records will shed more light on lobbyists' influence on the State Department's Keystone review, but it is already clear that State can not be trusted to manage the review process objectively. It is clear that Secretary Kerry inherited a flawed review process in which TransCanada and Alberta continue to call the shots. The current draft analysis is fundamentally flawed and invalidated by ERM's clear conflict of interest. Secretary Kerry needs to convene both an investigation by his Inspector General into undue influence and conflict of interest, and order a new, independent analysis of the pipeline."

    Access a release from FoE with links to the legal complaint, the FOIA request, the dossier of Keystone lobbyists and other referenced information (click here). [#Energy/KXL]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Senate Showdown Over Rules & Presidential Nominees

Jul 15: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are leading their members into battle this evening at 6:00 PM at a joint-special caucus for all Senators. The subject will be a proposal by Senate Reid to require a simple majority vote, up or down, for the approval of a Presidential nominee. Currently, Senate rules provide for a filibuster and cloture vote procedure requiring 60 votes for approval. Senator McConnell said the proposal was "one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of our nation."

    In a  fact sheet, Senator Reid points out that, "At the current rate, President Obama will face more filibusters on Executive Branch nominees than every other American president combined. Before President Obama took office, there had been a total of 20 filibusters on executive nominations in the entire history of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush. Since President Obama took office, there have been 16 filibusters. At this rate, there will be nearly 30 by the end of his second term. Executive nominees who are ready to be confirmed by the Senate have been pending an average of 260 days – more than 8 months – since they were first nominated."

    Senator Reid said, "For centuries, a President's nominees received simple up-or-down votes in the Senate, except in extraordinary circumstances. The change contemplated by Senate Democrats would simply restore the Senate's long tradition of delivering simple up-or-down votes for Executive nominees. Senators would still be free to debate and vote against nominations they oppose." Senator Reid said his proposal only applies to Presidential nominees, not legislation or other matters.
    Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor last Friday that Democrats were  "concocting a phony crisis over three unlawfully appointed nominees to alter the rules of the Senate."  He said, "Senate Democrats are gearing up today to make one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of our nation. And I guarantee you, it is a decision that, if they actually go through with it, they will live to regret. It's an open secret at this point that Big Labor and others on the Left are putting a lot of pressure on Senate Democrats to change the rules of the Senate -- and to do so by breaking the rules. That would violate every protection of minority rights that have defined the United States Senate for as long as anyone can remember.

    "Let me assure you: this Pandora's Box, once opened, will be utilized again and again by future majorities -- and it will make the meaningful consensus-building that has served our nation so well a relic of the past. The short-term issue that's triggered this dangerous and far-reaching proposal is simple enough: the Hard-Left is so convinced that every one of the President's nominees should just sail through the confirmation process, that they're willing to do permanent, irreversible damage to this institution in order to get their way. And they've apparently convinced the Majority Leader to do their bidding as they hijack the Senate. . ."

    Access the fact sheet from Senator Reid (click here). Access Senator McConnell's complete floor statement (click here). [#All]