EPA

Scott Pruitt Emails: Oil Lobbyists Drafted His Letters as Oklahoma's AG

  • Posted on: 23 February 2017
  • By: Connor Gibson

Scott Pruitt had a bad habit as Oklahoma's attorney general: he liked to have oil lobbyists ghostwrite his official government letters calling for limits to enforcing federal pollution laws.

A lawsuit initiated by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has forced thousands of Scott Pruitt's emails into the daylight, after Pruitt's office delayed CMD's records requests for two years. CMD says it anticipates more documents in the coming weeks, so we're in the middle of an unfolding saga. You may recall this 2014 New York Times article by Eric Lipton, which opened with this juicy hook:

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

Now we know this was not an isolated incident. A new article in today's New York Times notes a similar favor Pruitt conducted at the request of Devon Energy lobbyists who were concerned about U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules that could restrict oil and gas extraction on public lands:

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Pruitt’s office, William Whitsitt, then an executive vice president of Devon, referred to a letter his company had drafted for Mr. Pruitt to deliver, on Oklahoma state stationery, to Obama administration officials. Mr. Pruitt, meeting with White House officials, made the case that the rule, which would rein in planet-warming methane emissions, would be harmful to his state’s economy. His argument was taken directly from Mr. Whitsitt’s draft language.

“To follow up on my conversations with Attorney General Pruitt and you, I believe that a meeting — or perhaps more efficient, a conference call — with OIRA (the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis) on the BLM rule should be requested right away,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote. “The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call.”

The letter referred to the section of the White House Office of Management and Budget that coordinates regulations throughout the government.

Two weeks later Devon's Bill Whitsitt sent a celebratory email to Pruitt's staff, saying, "I just let General Pruitt know that BLM is going to propose a different version of its federal lands hydraulic fracturing rule thanks to input received – thanks for the help on this!" In the most striking new example, CMD revealed that Scott Pruitt's staff accepted draft letters from oil refinery lobbyists who wanted government help to attack renewable fuels and limits to smog pollution:

The oil and gas lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) coordinated opposition in 2013 to both the Renewable Fuel Standard Program and ozone limits with Pruitt’s office. While AFPM was making its own case against the RFS with the American Petroleum Institute, it provided Pruitt with a template language for an Oklahoma petition, noting “this argument is more credible coming from a State.” Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both the RFS and ozone limits.

I recommend this deep dive by DeSmog Blog if you want more specific examples of oil lobbyists running Pruitt's agenda.

The emails are peppered with examples of Pruitt and his staff coordinating with Koch Industries and its political surrogates, including a conference call with a Koch Industries lobbyist. Pruitt frequently worked with some of the most notable Koch-funded climate denier hubs, including Americans for Prosperity, the Federalist Society, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the State Policy Network.

Pruitt was a keynote speaker for another well-known Koch venture in May, 2013, at a reception for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC's event was held at the Oklahoma City Petroleum Club, and Pruitt was told it would be sponsored by Koch Industries, Devon Energy, TransCanada, Continental Resources, and Phillips66. ALEC is the dating service for state legislators and corporate lobbyists, where Scott Pruitt has been a celebrity in recent years for leading other state attorneys general into attacks on the EPA.

The appointment to lead the EPA is a reward for Pruitt, who dutifully acted on behalf of fossil fuel companies as Oklahoma attorney general, and a consequence of the Republican administrations close ties to the oil and coal industries.

At Greenpeace, we invite our supporters to join us and resist this administration's handover of federal agencies to the industries who are supposed to be monitored by them. Scientific fact can't be yelled into submission. We'd rather not have the President learn that lesson by failing to protect Americans from the damage done by an unstable climate.

Just as Scott Pruitt's denial of fracking-related Oklahoma earthquakes did nothing to stop a surge in real earthquakes, putting a climate denier in charge of the EPA is not going to undo the global rise in average surface temperatures that lead to intense drought, flooding, storms, and sea level rise.

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Dirty Corporations Pay Big to Host ALEC Legislators in San Diego

  • Posted on: 24 July 2015
  • By: Connor Gibson
-- By Nick Surgey of The Center for Media and Democracy and Connor Gibson of Greenpeace
 
At the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) 2015 annual meeting in San Diego, California, dirty energy companies and their supporters--including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Duke Energy--continue to dominate the funding of activities, according to a list of conference sponsors obtained jointly by the Center for Media and Democracy and Greenpeace.
 
 
At the top of the agenda, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spoke to ALEC delegates over breakfast on Thursday. Walker is now campaigning on a promise to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if elected President in 2016, a plan which was earlier debated by ALEC at its December 2014 conference and is in line with ALEC’s long-term legislative agenda.
 
At ALEC conferences and meetings, rhetoric against the EPA--and in particular the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution--is frequently extreme.
 
ALEC sessions have repeatedly featured overt denial of climate change science. During recent ALEC conferences, legislators have been called upon to engage in “guerrilla warfare” against the EPA and at another session instructed to bring about a “political tsunami” to block pollution controls.
 
After Google chairman Eric Schmidt accused ALEC of "literally lying" about climate change on NPR in September 2014, a fleet of companies ditched ALEC, from oil giants like BP and Occidental Petroleum to software and tech firms like Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, AOL, eBay, and SAP--the company which chaired ALEC's corporate board.
 

Opposing Action on Climate Change

 

On the agenda during the San Diego closed-door meeting of the ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force are numerous new attempts to undermine efforts to tackle climate change.
 
The proposed ALEC model "Environmental Impact Litigation Act," based on a law passed in North Dakota in 2015, would allow coal, oil, and gas companies to pay into a fund for the state to sue against a number of key federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act. This law, if passed, could be used to allow coal companies to fund state lawsuits against the Clean Power Plan.
 
Of the 54 identified corporate sponsors, twenty-two are energy related firms, their front groups, or firms representing energy interests. Most notable among the sponsors is ExxonMobil, which just last week told the Guardian that it isn't sponsoring climate change denial groups, including ALEC specifically. ExxonMobil is among the top sponsors of ALEC's 2015 annual meeting, and Exxon's Cynthia Bergman remains on ALEC's corporate board.
 
Below are financial underwriters of ALEC’s meeting, taking place at one of the largest resorts on the West Coast, along with the rates from another document obtained by CMD, ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.
 
The corporations and amounts listed here are just part of the funding picture for ALEC
 
These amounts do not include other money corporations pay ALEC in membership fees, or additional fees to participate on ALEC task forces, for which lobbyists receive a seat and a vote alongside legislators in setting the ALEC agenda. It also does not include money spent by corporate lobbyists at special parties for lawmakers or state delegations at some of the most expensive restaurants in San Diego, nor money spent by some of the corporations to fund the trips for state lawmakers to San Diego for what ALEC has dubbed “scholarships.”
 
 

ALEC's 2015 Annual Meeting Sponsors

 
Dirty energy interests & front groups in bold
 
*Asterisks indicate membership on ALEC’s corporate board of directors
 
 

President's Level - $100,000

 
Reynolds American Inc (RAI--tobacco company)
 

Chair's Level - $50,000

 
American Electric Power (AEP)
AT&T*
Balanced Energy for Texas
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE)
Cigar Association of America
An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States* (new book by Travis Brown & ALEC board member Stephen Moore, ALEC advisor Art Laffer, and Missouri political financier Rex Sinquefield)
DentaQuest
Luminant (subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings)*
PhRMA*
State Policy Network (SPN)
Citizens for Self-Governance
 

Vice Chair's Level - $20,000

 
Altria (Phillip Morris tobacco parent company)*
American Bail Coalition*
Diageo*
Encore Capital Group (subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings)*
ExxonMobil*
Guarantee Trust Life (GTL)*
Collaborative for Student Success
Texas Automobile Dealers Association (TADA)
Takeda
UPS*
 

Director's Level - $10,000

 
Astellas Pharma
Breitling Energy
CenterPoint Energy
Chevron
Crown Packaging
Duke Energy
Excelsior College
K12*
Oncor (subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings)*
Pfizer
Ryan (tax services company)
Time Warner Cable
 

Trustee's Level - $5,000

 
Association of Bermuda Insurers & Reinsurers (ABIR)
Capelo Law Firm
Devon Energy
FedEx
The Graydon Group LLC
Bright House Media Strategies
Piedmont Natural Gas
Renovate America
Sunovion Pharmaceuticals
Tenaska Capital Management
Texas Alliance of Energy Producers
Texas Cable Association
Texas Medical Association
Texas Association of Builders
Texas Business Roundtable
Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA)
Texans for Lawsuit Reform
The Schlueter Group
Texas Strategy Group
Texas Star Alliance Energy Solutions
 
For the full page of corporate logos sponsoring the ALEC conference see here.
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The Koch Primary (and What It Means for Climate)

  • Posted on: 3 February 2015
  • By: Connor Gibson

Greenpeace's airship flying over a Koch brothers donor summit in January, 2011 near Palm Springs, California.

Written by Rachel Rye Butler, crossposted from Greenpeace.

News leaked this week that the Koch brothers’ billionaire network plans to spend nearly $900 million in fossil fuel and other corporate money to try to get their way in the 2016 election-- in other words, the Kochs and their cronies are planning to spend astronomically to prevent action on climate (as well as income inequality, voting rights, affordable healthcare, and many other issues of importance to the 99%).

The $889 million the Kochs plan to spend is more than the 2012 campaign budget for either the Democratic or the Republican party, and more than the Obama campaign spent in 2008, marking a shift in US politics that’s been underway since Citizens United.

Welcome to the Koch Primary

Candidates who want access to this giant hoard of campaign cash have to line up to protect the Kochs’ fossil fuel interests and prevent action on climate change. Some are calling this the Koch Primary, where candidates compete to show that the interests of the fossil fuel billionaires are at the top of their agenda.

Last weekend, the Kochs hosted the first of their twice-yearly secretive meetings for their corporate billionaire friends, during which they shared their $889 million election plans. A number of Republican presidential hopefuls-- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker-- attended the conference.

Hedging their bets against action on climate

So why would the Kochs and their network be motivated to spend so heavily in 2016?

Despite the fact that the Kochs are certainly a key piece of the Republican machine, helping the party elect candidates across the country, the Kochs aren't actually motivated by the interests of the Republican Party or any party. They are motivated by protecting their oil and chemical empire from regulation, no matter what.

When a supermajority of the public wants action on climate, it’s worth it for the Kochs to buy the allegiance of candidates who will walk the climate denial line, work to protect fossil fuel subsidies, and rubber stamp pet fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In outspending the party machinery, the Koch network is hedging their bets against the fact that the public wants action on climate while providing a major incentive to candidates and congressional allies to not only hold the line on climate denial but hamper any actions or proposals coming out of the EPA or the White House.

Meanwhile, the Republican party and fossil-backed Democrats will struggle to both please their super-rich donors and appeal to voters who aren’t buying the “I’m not a scientist” climate denial dodge.

The Koch strategy to destroy democracy

Looking beyond the headlines, the Koch Primary and their $889 million campaign budget is the result of the Koch strategy at work.

To protect their fossil fuel interests, which are at odds with the public’s desire for a safe climate, clean water, and healthy air to breathe, the Kochs have spent the last several decades radically changing the face of American democracy, and investing major amounts of money in think tanks and other outlets involved in climate denial.

They’ve also worked long and hard to tear down laws and protections that limit corporate control of our elected officials, dumping ever more money in politics, along with campaigns and strategic litigation designed to suppress or disenfranchise key groups of voters, especially low-income and people of color. The goal is a world where candidates serve the interests of oily billionaires and their super-rich friends rather than those of the people.

In the Koch strategy to protect their fossil fuel interests, democracy has to go, and what’s at stake is our climate, and our very ability to survive on this planet.

We the People

The people, however, know what’s going on. They know that Koch and other fossil fuel money are behind Congress’s votes to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and protect tax breaks for polluters. They can hear the “ch-ching!” of fossil fuel cash every time a candidate says the words, “I’m not a scientist,” or “Climate change is a hoax.”

The Kochs are hoping that the people won’t believe that it’s possible to take back our democracy from the super-rich and will simply give up. They’re hoping that the people won’t turn out to vote while at the same time they’re working to make it harder to do so (check out voter ID laws and other dirty tricks.)

They’re hoping that people will just accept this brave new world-- and this is where they’re wrong. Literally millions of people across the US are fed up with corporate control and are calling for our democracy to be returned to the people. Four hundred thousand marched at at the People’s Climate March in September 2014. Five million plus have called for Citizens United to be overturned. Organizations representing millions of members from environmental, civil rights, labor, and other organizations are banding together in a new coalition to take back our democracy. And we also know that to take back our democracy, we need all of us. (One way to start is to add your name to the 5 million calling for an overturn of Citizens United.

What if

The overwhelmingly majority of Americans don't accept the Koch takeover of democracy. The Kochs have a lot to lose, or they wouldn’t be spending so much to keep their candidates in line. Because for the Kochs, what would happen if millions of people got together to ask the question, “Who do you really represent?”

We might get the democracy-- and the climate action-- we deserve.

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Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

  • Posted on: 11 September 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

Jeff Holmstead, confronted for interfering with climate change solutions, while trying to catch a cab.

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, "alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed "multiple conflicts of interest." Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

"Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible." [...] "By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability. An anonymous source "familiar" with this case, likely one of Holmstead's colleagues at Bracewell & Guiliani, has been attempting to spin this embarrassing dismissal to reporters at Bloomberg and E&E Publishing. Ameren claims the judge has no proof that Holmstead would use privileged information, ignoring the judge's reference that Holmstead himself said he would use information from "internal meetings" during his time at EPA.

Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Guiliani who represents coal mining and utility clients like Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Southern Company, spent four years as EPA's assistant administrator for Air and Radiation under President George W. Bush. His career is a dirty legacy of work against the public interest.

Holmstead's tenure at EPA was controversial all the way from his appointment, protested by U.S. Senators for his previous lobbying for coal companies, until his departure. He was caught censoring science within his office and single-handedly derailed a mercury pollution regulation that would have prevented thousands of premature deaths every year. Holmstead's interference blocked mercury pollution controls at U.S. coal plants for eight full years, as Greenpeace has documented, and confronted Holmstead directly for explanation.

While Ameren from his former government employer, Jeff Holmstead has been working to undermine the nation's first ever attempt to limit carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, misleading the public with fears that these rules will increase their utility bills. Holmstead has been repeatedly fact-checked on his conflation of electricity rates with people's bills, ignoring how energy efficiency measures are expected to lower bills over the long term, and also ignoring the immense costs of coal pollution to the public. Holmstead's office runs a front group called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC) to advocate for these polluters against climate and clean air rules, and representing ERCC, he has personally accompanied an Arch Coal lobbyist to the White House to undermine climate regulations.

Again, Greenpeace has directly sought answers from Mr. Holmstead on why he has dedicated his life to protecting companies that not only undermine science, but quite literally kill people as a regular part of their business operations:

It's nice to see a judge finally toss the fox out of the hen house. Jeff Holmstead says what he's paid to, and his clients make that money by polluting for free.

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Man Who Defrauded EPA calls EPA "Fraudulent" on FOX

  • Posted on: 29 August 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

If you're John Stossel and you want to host a segment to rail against the US Environmental Protection Agency, who ought you call?

It turns out, a man who was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for defrauding the EPA!

Stossel's guest last night, Jay Lehr, was sentenced to six months--serving three--in a minimum security federal prison back in 1991, and his organization at the time was fined $200,000. So Jay Lehr knows about EPA corruption better than anyone: he was the guy caught "falsifying employee time sheets on a government contract" for EPA, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Ironically, Lehr told Stossel that EPA is "fraudulent" in estimates of amounts of pollution that pose hazards to people's health, such as particulate matter in coal pollution, estimated to prematurely kill 13,000 Americans every year, according to the American Lung Association.

Jay Lehr is now the "science director" at a climate chance science denying organization called The Heartland Institute, which has received money from coal mining company Murray Energy.

John Stossel did not mention Lehr's fraud conviction. Perhaps he didn't know his guest defrauded US taxpayers, but Stossel and Lehr share a flair for denial of global warming for polluting corporations like Koch Industries, which has financial ties to both men. Heartland is part of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network--the massive apparatus of state-based and national front groups that push political agendas that are favorable to billionaire executives like Charles Koch. Heartland itself has received money from Koch foundations.

Stossel hosts "Stossel in the Classroom," a product of the Koch-funded Center for Independent Thought. When Stossel ran a TV segment in 2009 that was intended to mislead students about the scientific reality of climate change, Koch's Claude Lambe Foundation gave CIT $35,000. The Center for Independent Thought has continued to receive money from Koch foundations every year since, according to IRS tax filings.

According to a Heartland Institute email advertising Lehr's attendance on Stossel's show, Mr. Lehr's relevance in attacking the EPA comes from a Heartland report he wrote urging the agency to be "systematically dismantled." This coming from a group soliciting money from coal company Murray Energy, former ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol and the Charles Koch Foundation.

This all fits into the framework that is becoming nauseatingly familiar to American voters: billionaires pull the strings, and our voices don't matter. Stossel is just one of many Koch-funded or Koch friendly media personalities that wrap Charles Koch's values in patriotic rhetoric and un-factual packaging. Meanwhile, people like Jay Lehr at groups like Heartland continue to carry Koch's water into the policy arena, influencing politicians to do things like undermine enforcement of laws to reduce air and water pollution or mitigate dangerous climate change.

SourceDavid Lore, "Minimum Security, Maximum Cost: State Spends $53,000 Per Prison Bed to House Mostly Nonviolent Criminals," Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) September 6, 1992.

USA V. LEHR, ET AL, Case Number: 2:91-CR-00068, Charges Filed 04/26/1991, U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio.

Hat tip to Deep ClimateRussel Seitz and Thomas Miles for leading to primary sources on Jay Lehr's conviction.

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Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Confronted for Blocking Global Warming Solutions (VIDEO)

  • Posted on: 18 June 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

Bracewell & Giuliani's Jeff Holmstead, hailing the escape cab that never showed up.

Bracewell & Giuliani Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead vs. The Climate

If you're a coal lobbyist like Jeff Holmstead, getting stuck in an elevator with Greenpeace activists is an inconvenient occupational hazard, especially if you then can't find a cab and cars are honking at your during an uncomfortable conversation about your work to attack pollution laws. See this K Street confrontation for yourself.

If you've followed the news around EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule, which aims to reduce the U.S. power sector's large contributions to global warming, you've probably seen Jeffrey Holmstead in the news. Usually, Holmstead is presented as a "partner" at Bracewell & Giuliani, and as a former EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation under George W. Bush.

This descriptor fails to present Holmstead's current and past work as a registered lobbyist for coal companies, and leaves out the destructive decisions that Holmstead made in his stint at EPA, which directly contributed to the premature death of tens of thousands of people in this country. It leaves out the $17.5 million that coal industry clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani for its lobbying services, where Mr. Holmstead is a prized hired gun against the EPA.

This is why I began our tense conversation with a simple question: why doesn't Jeff Holmstead use his skills, qualifications and experience to find real solutions to global warming?

Every time Mr. Holmstead has appeared in the news to discuss the EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, he doesn't have much good to say. "As someone who believes in the rule of law, I think this clearly goes beyond what EPA is allowed to do under the Clean Air Act,” Holmstead said at an event yesterday at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where I asked if his naysaying is simply to help Arch coal sell coal. Notice that Holmstead doesn't respond:  see minute 7:30 in bottom video posted by BPC.

Mr. Holmstead's criticisms aren't surprising for a coal lobbyist, but Holmstead rarely acknowledges his coal clients and instead uses his former EPA credentials and his legal expertise to help steer Washington DC politicians, lawyers and journalists toward the coal industry's interpretations of proposed environmental regulations.

Holmstead likes to conflate rising electricity rates with the average consumer's utility bill, ignoring the proposed rule's well-known intent to reduce consumer bills through energy efficiency targets. This deceptive talking point was called out by Susan Tierney of the Analysis Group at yesterday's event at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Holmstead knows this isn't honest--he was previously called out by NRDC's Frances Beineke during a segment on The Diane Rehm Show.

He talks about how reducing U.S. emissions won't make a dent in reducing global emissions, thanks to rising coal use in coutries like China and India, as if the U.S. first real national attempt to reduce emissions won't give us legitimacy in global climate negotiations. When I used this as an example of one of Mr. Holmstead's obstruction tactics.

With the science understood, with the financial stakes so high and with shocking estimates of the current human death toll from global warming, why does Jeffrey Holmstead make a career working for an industry that is killing people?

I don't have an answer, but I have sought one. For "someone who believes in the rule of law," Mr. Holmstead has found a lot of ways to protect coal company executives at the expense of other people, within the boundaries of law or outside of the boundaries of enforcement. Avoiding personal responsibility is nothing new for Mr. Holmstead. In 2011, I confronted him for his decisions to delaying mercury regulations at U.S. power plants for eight full years, a decision he made as head of the George W. Bush EPA's air and radiation office. That decision allowed tens of thousands of people to prematurely die from mercury's toxic effects, according to EPA estimates of the rule's health benefits.

After I was booted out, Gabe Elsner of the Energy and Policy Institute asked Mr. Holmstead about his role in delaying mercury regulations. The interaction says a lot about Holmstead's aversion to recognizing the indirect role he has played in hurting people:

For someone whose decisions have had a terrible impact on the American public, Jeff Holmstead has faced little accountability for his sooty legacy. PolluterWatch will continue to monitor and expose the coal industry's work to undermine public health and public policies designed to solve problems their business creates.

SourceWatch: Jeffrey R. Holmstead

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NC to Duke Energy: Have You Dumped ALEC Yet?

  • Posted on: 10 December 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Amid a dump of leaked American Legislative Exchange Council documents published by The Guardian last week, North Carolina is asking Duke Energy: Have you finally dumped ALEC?

NC WARN and ProgressNC have both raised the question, based on Duke Energy's inclusion in a list of "Lapsed" private sector ALEC members featured in The Guardian and an article in the Raleigh News & Observer.

ALEC's notes for Duke Energy's lapsed membership, as of April 22, 2013, only say "Merged with Progress Energy, new contacts," indicating that Duke's absence was only temporary as new personnel were assigned to participate in ALEC's work. Duke and Progress merged into the largest U.S. utility company last year.

Duke Energy, North Carolina's monopoly utility company, has long been a member of ALEC. Last year, Duke Energy refused to leave ALEC even after being petitioned, emailed and called by over 150,000 people to defect. ALEC's controversial legacy includes blocking climate change policies as part of Big Oil's 1998 master plan, the NRA's Stand Your Ground laws, which increase homicide rates, and "Voter ID" bills that suppress legitimate American voters, especially students, the elderly and people with brown skin.

While Duke Energy has resisted calls to dump ALEC, it has responded to the pressure by distancing itself from several items on ALEC's dirty lobbying laundry list:

  • Duke has repeatedly pushed back on any association with ALEC's Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws.
  • Duke's call for action to address global warming clash with ALEC's legacy of climate change denial, including new draft policies to interfere with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas rules, and a bill that forces teachers to misrepresent climate change science to their students, now law in at least four states, thanks to state legislators implementing ALEC's model bills.
  • Duke has explicitly denounced ALEC's attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards-laws to increase utility electricity generation from cleaner sources. Duke takes credit for helping create North Carolina's RPS.

So why has Duke Energy resisted popular pressure to leave ALEC, including from its own ratepayers? If Duke doesn't like ALEC's history shilling for climate change deniers, nor the National Rifle Association, nor the Republican party's voter disenfranchisement strategies, what is making Duke stay?

ALEC's new attacks on rooftop solar electricity producer are right in line with Duke Energy's attempt to pay back 29% less to homeowners whose solar panels feed extra electricity back into the grid, despite the fact that these homeowners fronted the costs of installing and maintaining solar panels themselves.

Duke is terrified of the prospect of rooftop solar energy, which threatens its century-old monopoly business model. Duke is used to being the dominant company providing power to North Carolina residents, and they can basically charge customers as much as they want. More customers are choosing to install their own solar panels as the technology rapidly becomes cheaper, keeping money in the pockets of ratepayers rather than Duke's executives.

ALEC's Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution, discussed last week at its States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington, DC, would complement dirty utilities like Duke Energy that are working to make it more costly for people to feed their own solar power into the electrical grid. See here for ALEC's new anti-environmental resolutions.

Which Utilities will be Using ALEC's State Lawmakers to Attack Solar Energy?

ALEC's utility member companies The new ALEC resolution was crafted with help from lobbyists at Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade association for Duke and most other large U.S. utility companies.

EEI's roster also includes Arizona Public Service (APS), the utility that tried to force Arizona's residential solar electricity producers to pay $50 per month for feeding unused electricity back into the grid. In the end, the monthly fee was reduced to $5 per month, which still serves as a disincentive for homeowners to install their own solar panels.

As it sought to make net metering more expensive for small-scale solar producers, APS lied to the public, denying its funding of anti-solar TV advertisements run by Koch brothers front groups.

APS recently rejoined ALEC after disassociating for a short year. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force includes APS and presumably Duke Energy, among other dirty energy giants. The EEA task force is governed by American Electric Power's Paul Loeffelman and Wyoming state Representative Thomas Lockhart, friend of the coal industry.

Duke Can Still Do the Right Thing

Duke Energy needs to make its intentions clear.

The company can go with the Koch brothers, ALEC, and companies like APS, and financially punish North Carolinians who choose to produce their own electricity. Or, it can finally dump ALEC, its bad policies and anti-democratic processes and shift to a business model that embraces the power of the sun. It can continue to plan around a cost on carbon emissions and phase out dirty coal that aggravates everything from climate change to water pollution to asthma.

We hope to get the right answer from Duke Energy soon.

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WATCH: Rachel Maddow on Climate Denial & Tin Foil Hats

  • Posted on: 26 September 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Last week, six Greenpeace activists attended a U.S. House Energy & Power Subcommittee hearing on President Obama's climate change action plan. We stood out--we wore tin foil hats to highlight the insanity of denying global warming, as some members of Congress continue to do here in 2013.

Last night, Rachel Maddow asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the tin hats and the significance of policymakers that deny a top priority problem for the EPA:

Here's the teaser that led into that clip:

The U.S. public is increasingly wising up to the reality of global warming. We're being hit by more and more multi-billion dollar climate & weather disasters like hurricane Sandy, the recent Great Plains heat waves and (most likely) ongoing "unprecedented" flooding in Colorado--disasters pushed beyond their natural variability by the changing conditions of our new climate. The latest science tells us to expect more of this, and to expect things to get worse.

The people who are paid to professionally deny climate change need to be continually exposed. The politicians who prioritize their fossil fuel donors over their constitutents need to be exposed.

The tin foil hats were one portion of Greenpeace's ongoing effort to hold climate deniers accountable for their wildly irresponsible behavior. Stay tuned for more.

More coverage of the tinfoil hat hearing can be found on MSNBC's The Ed Show, the National Journal, the Atlantic Wire, Climate Progress and Buzzfeed.

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DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

  • Posted on: 17 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat

VIDEO: Coal Polluter Lobbyist Confronted at Energy Event

  • Posted on: 15 November 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:

(Click for transcript of interruption)

UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:

As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.

greenpeace climate crimes unit jeff holmstead jack gerard wanted

Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.

Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.

Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of

Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:

  • Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
  • Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
  • Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
  • Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
  • Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.

[

FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERRUPTION:

“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)

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