Citizen-led, progressive efforts to override the government and fossil fuel industry could be devastating for Big Oil in the state of Colorado after the November 2016 election — by Lauren McCauley, staff writer
The government of Colorado has so far managed to quash efforts to halt the spread of fracking in that state, but come November, residents will finally have the chance to overpower the will of politicians and Big Oil and Gas.
Petitioners on Monday submitted more than 200,000 signatures backing two separate initiatives to amend the Colorado constitution, specifically in regards to the controversial drilling method.
“This is a good day for Colorado, and it’s a good day for democracy,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region director of Food and Water Watch. “These initiatives will give communities political tools to fend off the oil and gas industry’s effort to convert our neighborhoods to industrial sites. This is a significant moment in the national movement to stem the tide of fracking and natural gas.”
Initiative 78 would establish a 2,500-foot buffer zone protecting homes, hospitals and schools, as well as sensitive areas like playgrounds and drinking water sources, from new oil and gas development. This expands the current mandate of a 500-foot setback from homes and, according to Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), is based upon health studies that show increased risks within a half mile of fracked wells and the perimeters of real-life explosion, evacuation, and burn zones.
Colorado regulators say that, if passed, Initiative 78 could effectively halt new oil and gas exploration and production in as much of 90 percent of the state.
Initiative 75 would establish local government control of oil and gas development, authorizing local municipalities “to pass a broad range of more protective regulations, prohibitions, limits or moratoriums on oil and gas development—or not,” according to the grassroots group.
This measure challenges a May ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court which said that state law overrides local fracking bans.
Various moratoriums or anti-fracking measures bans have been passed by the communities of Lafeyette, Boulder, Fort Collins, Broomfield, El Paso County, and Longmont—though many of these efforts were quashed by the Supreme Court ruling. Campaigners are hopeful that the initiatives would lay the foundation for many more.
Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, an infamous proponent of fracking, has voiced his strong disapproval of the ordinances.
The signature deadline was met Monday despite the fact that the citizen volunteers facedharassment and, as Common Dreams previously reported, a massive, industry-funded opposition campaign which included deceptive television ads telling citizens to “decline to sign” the ballot petitions.
Reporting by the Colorado Independent revealed the campaign to be “part of an orchestrated, multi-year effort by both Colorado-based and national energy giants. One of their front groups is Protect Colorado, which funded the petition-gatherer-of-doom TV ad and is actively seeking to thwart citizens from qualifying the two measures for the ballot.”
“Industry has been gearing up for this fight for five years,” Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This was kind of the pre-fight, the undercard…If either of these make it onto the ballot, we’re going to see a cage match — an all-out war.”
And the stakes are high. As the New York Timesput it, should either measure pass, “it would represent the most serious political effort yet” to stop fracking in the U.S..
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office now has 30 days to authenticate the signatures before they make the ballot. The announcement is expected to be made by September 7.
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This afternoon after he really, officially clinched the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump went to the heart of America’s current oil boom to unveil his energy platform. He gave his speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. While he was sure to fit in his usual anti-immigrant rhetoric and pro-Second Amendment rhetoric, Trump did give us a few insights into what his energy policy could look like.
Unsurprisingly, Trump more or less stuck to the trusty GOP energy handbook: denying climate change, calling to abolish crucial public health standards, and promising to undo progress made in the fight against climate change. Here are just a few of his most noteworthy ideas and their consequences:
Cancel the Paris agreement: Unsurprisingly, Trump reiterated his call to withdraw from the Paris Agreement saying, “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” The Paris agreement is a landmark step in the global fight against climate change that was made possible by U.S. leadership. Global coordination, like the kind orchestrated in the Paris agreement, is necessary for the world’s collective goal of addressing climate change and is good for markets and U.S. companies seeking a clear and consistent path forward. Walking away from the agreement would weaken our position in the global community and threaten American lives and livelihoods.
Abolish the Clean Power Plan: When he referred to the Clean Power Plan in his speech today Trump said, “How stupid is that?” And as part of his big promise to “free up the coal,” he vowed to get rid of all regulations on the coal industry. Not only is the Clean Power Plan key to ensuring the U.S. meets its goal under the Paris agreement, it is also crucial for the public health and economic security of our country. For every $1 invested in the Clean Power Plan, Americans will see $7 in health benefits. And the plan is expected to prevent thousands of premature deaths.
Protect Welfare for Oil Companies: Like the Republican establishment, Trump said “under my plan we’re lowering taxes very substantially, as you know, for businesses…” Oil and gas companies already get nearly $4 billion in tax breaks annually. Meanwhile, a GOP led Congress phased out tax incentives for clean energy. At the same time, Mr. Trump declared that government should not pick winners or losers when it comes to energy. But billions in tax breaks does exactly that.
BOTTOM LINE: Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree on the science behind human-caused climate change. The Pentagon called it an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” Donald Trump called it a Chinese hoax. In today’s speech, Trump repeated the same old, tired GOP energy policies that would endanger public health and undo meaningful progress in the global fight against climate change.
The investment tax credit, or ITC, and production tax credit, or PTC, for clean energy have played an essential role in expediting the deployment of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy in the United States. In December 2015, the U.S. Congress voted to extend the PTC and ITC. As part of the agreement, however, Congress decided to phase out these tax credits over time. This raises an important question, one asked by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in February: If policymakers phase out tax credits for clean energy, shouldn’t they do the same for the billions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry?
This fact sheet highlights nine tax breaks that should be phased out. They subsidize the oil and gas industry’s operations from beginning to end—from acquisition of the resource to extraction.
Deductions for the costs of drilling wells
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 263(c)
Amount saved by repealing: $13.1 billion between 2016 and 2026
As a general practice, businesses deduct business costs from their income. But for large capital projects, they do so over the lifetime of the asset or project, not during the period in which the cost was incurred. Oil and gas companies, however, can deduct intangible drilling costs—nearly all of the expenditures a company makes to prepare a well for production—upfront, which can lower their taxable income significantly. Independent oil and gas producers can deduct 100 percent of their intangible drilling costs in the first year. Integrated oil companies can deduct 70 percent of these costs in the first year and then amortize the remaining 30 percent over five years.
Domestic manufacturing deduction for oil and gas production
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 199
Amount saved by repealing: $10.9 billion between 2016 and 2026
In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act, which included a tax deduction designed to incentivize domestic manufacturing in the United States and keep certain industries from moving abroad. Oil and gas producers can deduct 6 percent of taxable income derived from qualified domestic production activities. This tax break is a handout to the industry as domestic oil and gas production—by definition—cannot move abroad.
Deductions for the depletion of oil and gas deposits
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 613A(c)(1)
Amount saved by repealing: $12.1 billion between 2016 and 2026
The tax code also allows certain oil and gas companies to recover costs associated with the depletion of the natural resource—the oil or gas deposit. The depletion allowance permits royalty owners and independent oil and gas producers to deduct 15 percent of the gross income from oil and gas produced from a well each year, rather than a deduction based on the actual exhaustion of the resource each year. Operators of low-producing marginal wells are permitted to deduct more than 15 percent—based on a statutory formula linked to the price of crude—and to deduct more than their net income from the property. These producers may be able to continue claiming the depletion deduction even after they have recovered the costs of acquiring and developing the property. This means that other taxpayers are effectively subsidizing their income.
Deductions for the depletion of oil shale deposits
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 613(b)(2)(B)
Amount saved by repealing: The U.S. Treasury would save $840 million between 2016 and 2026 by repealing the depletion deduction for all hard mineral fossil fuels, of which oil shale is one. The amount applying to oil shale alone is unknown.
Oil shale—located primarily in Utah and Colorado—is expensive to extract and process, is particularly harmful to the environment, and has yet to reach commercial scale in the United States. Despite these drawbacks, companies engaged in oil shale exploration and development can claim a 15 percent depletion allowance on income generated from these activities. Consequently, taxpayers are subsidizing environmentally harmful projects that are not needed, given high-levels of oil production elsewhere in the United States.
Deductions for the costs of oil shale exploration and development
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 617
Amount saved by repealing: The U.S. Treasury would save $768 million between 2016 and 2026 by repealing this tax preference for certain mining exploration expenditures, including expenditures for oil shale. The amount applying to oil shale alone is unknown.
This tax preference allows oil and gas companies to deduct the costs of exploring and developing new domestic oil shale fields in the same tax year that the costs were incurred, rather than when those expenditures actually generate income. This means that companies engaged in oil shale production can incur costs exploring for deposits and deduct those costs from other income, whether or not they ever generate income on the property. This transfers the risk from the company to the taxpayer.
Amortization of geological and geophysical expenditures
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 167(h)
Amount saved: $1.3 billion between 2016 and 2026
Oil and gas companies use geological and geophysical surveys in order to locate and assess potential mineral deposits. Rather than amortizing these expenses over the lifetime of the project, independent oil and gas producers are allowed to write off these expenses over two years, and large integrated oil and gas companies can use seven years. This lowers the companies’ taxable income.
Deductions for tertiary injectants
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 193
Amount saved by repealing: $100 million between 2016 and 2026
This tax deduction allows oil and gas companies to deduct the costs of using tertiary recovery methods, processes in which companies inject fluids and gases into older wells in order to recover additional oil. Companies can deduct the costs in the year they are incurred rather than when the expenditures generate income, thereby lowering their taxable income.
Exception to passive loss limitation for working interests in oil and natural gas properties
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 469(c)(3)
Amount saved by repealing: $310 million between 2016 and 2026
The passive loss limitation allows taxpayers to deduct losses from passive activities—business activities in which a taxpayer has an economic interest but does not materially participate—against income from those activities. If the deductions exceed the passive income, the taxpayer must carry the remaining loss over to the next tax year. This rule is intended to prevent investors from using investments as tax shelters. Certain oil and gas interests, however, are exempt from this limitation and can use passive losses to reduce taxes on other business income.
Marginal wells tax credit
Location in tax code: 26 U.S.C. § 45I
Amount saved by repealing: $0, unless oil and natural gas prices fall below a certain threshold
Marginal wells are those that produce a relatively small amount of oil and natural gas; as a result, they are among the least cost-effective wells to operate. This tax credit allows oil and gas companies to claim a tax credit for low-producing wells when the prices for oil or natural gas dip below a threshold. Since this credit’s enactment in 2004, prices have not been low enough to trigger this tax credit. Given consistently low natural gas prices in recent years, some industry observers speculate that oil and gas companies may be able to claim this credit for the first time in 2016.
Repealing these nine tax breaks would, at minimum, save the U.S. Treasury $37.7 billion over 10 years.
— by Jenny Roland & Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributors at ThinkProgress
The political network of the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has signaled that it is expanding its financial and organizational support for a coalition of anti-government activists and militants who are working to seize and sell America’s national forests, monuments, and other public lands.
The disclosure, made through emails sent by the American Lands Council and Koch-backed group Federalism in Action to their members, comes as the 40-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is winding to an end.
The occupation came to a head, with the FBI moving in on the four remaining militants at the refuge and arresting scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy at the Portland airport under charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers. Occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were previously arrested under the same charge on January 26. The Bundys and their group of militants want the federal government to cede national public lands to state and private control.
Though ClimateProgress has previously uncovered and reported on the dark money that the Kochs have provided for political efforts to seize and sell public lands, recent organizational changes reveal that the Koch network is providing direct support to the ringleader of the land grab movement, Utah state representative Ken Ivory, and has forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share extreme anti-government ideologies.
The expanded window into the Koch network’s support for the land transfer movement opened on February 3, 2016, when the American Lands Council (ALC) (a group whose goal is to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over publicly owned national forests and other public lands) announced that Ivory would be stepping down as its president to join a South Carolina-based group called Federalism in Action (FIA).
Though he will continue to serve as an unpaid member of the American Lands Council executive committee, Ivory is joining the FIA’s “Free the Lands” project, a joint initiative between Federalism in Action and The American Lands Council Foundation.
This new “Free the Lands” project sits at the confluence of Koch funding, anti-government ideology, and land seizure activists and militants. The graphic below illustrates this web of funding, resources, and staff.
Federalism in Action was launched a few years ago by two groups: State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions (SBS). Because FIA is a new organization, its funding sources are not yet public. However, according to IRS filings, State Budget Solutions received money through the Donors Capital Fund, an organization known for cloaking the sources of funding which it distributes, and is sometimes referred to as a Koch “ATM”. The SBS leadership recently joined ALEC and Ken Ivory is listed as one of SBS’s senior policy fellows. The group “works to make its vision … a reality … through the project Federalism In Action.”
Federalism in Action is also a member of the State Policy Network, which is the Koch-fundednetwork of more than 50 right-wing think tanks in states across the country.
Also supporting the Free the Lands Project: the American Lands Council Foundation, the tax-exempt non-profit arm of the American Lands Council. Upon announcing the departure of Ken Ivory from ALC’s presidency, the group named Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder as its CEO. Fielder is Montana’s leading figure in the land seizure movement and has proposed legislation that would require the federal government to cede ownership of all national forests and public lands in Montana to the state. The bill was unpopular and and swiftly vetoed by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
Fielder’s selection as ALC’s CEO suggests that the group is tightening its ties with the violent anti-government elements of the land seizure movement that is represented by Cliven Bundy and his sons. Fielder’s land seizure efforts and campaign for Montana State Senate, for example, werevocally supported by a Militia of Montana organization that is run by white supremacist John Trochmann. In a recent blog post Fielder also expressed her support for the Bundys and the Oregon militants by referring to them fondly as “cowboys” and “protesters” performing “an act of civil disobedience” and bringing “new light to the widespread problems of a distant federal bureaucracy in control of local land management decisions.”
It remains to be seen whether the Koch network will be able to lift the failing efforts of the Bundys, Ken Ivory, and Jennifer Fielder to seize and sell public lands. If nothing else, expanded Koch backing may help the land seizure movement attract the endorsement of more national politicians who are competing for the Koch brothers’ endorsement and contributions. Last week, for example, Texas Senator Ted Cruz promised to be “vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanly possible back to the states”.
Still, the Bundy brothers and their political allies face long odds in their quest. Proposals to transfer national public lands to state control have been shown to be unconstitutional, costly to states, and deeply unpopular with western voters. And while a wholesale privatization of public lands may benefit the Koch brothers and other oil, gas, and coal interests, new research shows that protecting national public lands has actually resulted in big economic gains for many rural economies.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland. Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.
On Monday, Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced his highly aggressive energy plan to forcefully deal with climate change. You can read his published plan here.
“The debate is over. The vast majority of the scientific community has spoken. Climate change is real,” said Sanders. “We will act boldly to move our energy system away from fossil fuels, toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal because we have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and habitable.”
To do all that, Sanders’ plan would outright ban offshore drilling, ban Arctic drilling, block natural gas exports, stop attempts to lift a decades-old ban on crude oil exports, support states trying to ban natural gas fracking, and ban mountaintop removal coal mining. That’s a whole lot of current private sector jobs he’d be killing to bring his plan to fruition. But it does appear that he intends to create 10 million public-sector(?) clean energy jobs that would replace them. Many however, may not possess the requisite skills to fill those clean energy jobs, so I hope he’s planning to provide re-skilling education programs as part of his overall plan he’s going to impact the overall economy with a gigantic thud.
The major points of his plans are as follows:
Ban fossil fuels lobbyists from working in the White House.(That’s nice, what about all the lobbyists who take precedence over actual constituents over in the House and the Senate?)
End the huge subsidies that benefit fossil fuel companies.(First, he’s going to need someone in the House and the Senate to propose that, then he’s going to need to get that out of committee and on the floor of each house for a vote, AND, he’s going to need 60 votes in the Senate or it’s going absolutely nowhere, because he cannot do that via executive order or fiat.)
Create a national environmental and climate justice plan that recognizes the heightened public health risks faced by low-income and minority communities. (A plan that recognizes that? How about some constructive action to correct not just the risks, but the actual health conditions resulting from continual exposure?)
Bring climate deniers to justice so we can aggressively tackle climate change. (Would that be his fellow Senators and Representatives from the House … or the corporations that are their financial backers?)
Fight to overturn Citizens United.(Ok? Not sure why that one is in his “Energy/Climate Change” proposal. Seems like that should be in an “Election Reform” proposal. At best it’s just going to show us which energy companies are buying whom.)
Embrace a science-based standard for carbon pollution emissions reductions.(and decrease our carbon pollution emissions by at least 8o% from 1990s levels by 2050? Does he fully comprehend how much pass-down costs are going to cripple our economy? He’s already indicated he has plans to increase even middle class taxes. Now he wants to dramatically increase the cost of absolutely anything and everything we buy as those costs to comply are passed down and marked up on every single commodity.)
Put a price on carbon. (Well, that’s the only good thing in the plan so far given that we own 9kw worth of solar on the roof. If he sets up a credit system, maybe there’s something in it for the investment we made.)
Work toward a 100 percent clean energy system and create millions of jobs. (Would those be private or public sector jobs? It’s already being intimated that Sanders is proposing the creation of 10 million “federal” jobs. I can already hear right-wing heads exploding over the idea of a socialized energy workforce and the demise of the for profit energy industry.)
Invest in clean, sustainable energy sources powered by the sun, wind and Earth’s heat. (I really do believe that truly is something our federal tax dollars should be used for instead of bankrolling BigOil profit margins, but it won’t go over well. Didn’t Obama try that and get crucified by the GOP? I can already hear and see in my mind’s eye, one commercial after another ad nauseum, raving about the failed Solyndra Solar development and how the Bernie wants to waste even more of our precious tax dollars on such frivilous endeavors.)
Invest in advanced renewable fuels and keep our energy dollars at home.(I do believe we’re already doing that. Net imports accounted for 27% of the petroleum consumed in the United States, the lowest annual average since 1985.)
Invest in solar energy and put money back in the pockets of consumers. (Well I’m all for his support for net metering, but clearly he hasn’t been watching with the good Republicans of Nevada and other states around the nation have been doing to charge net-metered accounts higher “minimum cost to serve” bills and introducing schemes to credit net-metered accounts with only one-half a KW for every full KW taken by the utility. Will he be putting an end to those predatory schemes?)
Invest in making all American homes more energy efficient.(I’m sorry, but isn’t it the responsibility of home owners to invest in the maintenance and update of their homes? I can see maybe making that process more affordable via reduced rate energy improvement loans and assistance programs. But, we can’t do everything for everybody.)
Build electric vehicle charging stations.(Wait a minute? The Federal Government is going to do that? We’re going to take that out of the hands of the private sector? Is he also going to require all vehicles that burn fossil fuels to be off the road by some magic date? That might work fine in urban centers, but it’s 2.5 hours at 75mph for us to be able to get to the nearest significant “urban center” and a single charge just isn’t gonna get us there without a significant stop for a serious re-charge … and then there’s the cost of that new electric car to add into the mix of things to come.)
Build high-speed passenger and cargo rail. (Amtrack serves a limited number of cities across our nation, and the small rural town in which I reside does happen to be one of them, but many other small rural towns along its path are not so lucky. It seems to me that while this proposal may help those along the eastern and western seaboards and maybe some of the bigger urban centers across the nation, it will be at the expense of rural Americans for the benefit of big urban centers.)
Convene a climate summit with the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities in his first 100 days.(Really? Didn’t we just have one of those and didn’t leaders from around the globe just agree on some serious curtailment goals …. is didn’t the Republican Congress just tell President Obama to go take a flying leap? )
Lead countries in cutting climate change.(I think before we start telling everybody else what they should be doing, we better get our act together here at home! When we have leaders in both houses of Congress not just denying climate change, but science altogether and claiming that Noah carried two of each type of Dinosaur and woolly mammoths on the ark along with two of every animal known to mankind today … maybe we need to concentrate on building a consensus at home.)
Plan for peace to avoid international climate-fueled conflict. (What exactly does that mean? Do we all need to start watching “prepper” videos on YouTube and stalking our pantries?)
That definitely sets him apart from Hillary Clinton and assuredly proposes to take on BIG oil, but at what cost?
His staff did go all out to detail how his plan would work, complete with an interactive US map that pops out a target clean energy breakdown for each state. Here’s an animation of the pop-out for Nevada, as an example:
The 2050 Energy Costs slide claiming folks will save on average $98/person is a bit odd. Really? Folks are going to have to buy solar, trash their current car and buy a new car (or give up your car altogether to use a bicycle or walk), all to achieve $98/person … in 2050(?). Maybe I’m missing something here, but that’s a seriously steep selling curve even to the most avid climate change fanatics amongst us. And the “Money in your Pocket” for “Annual energy, health and climate cost savings/person” (again in 2050) section also makes no sense to me whatsoever. I don’t come close to spending that much per year on energy, health or climate now and I’m reaching those elder years where one expects to start having to pay a bunch on health care issues.
Take some time and see if you can make some sense of where he wants to take our nation, how drastically quick he wants to get there and whether you think his approach is even do-able given our currently ideologically split nation. If Bernie’s our party’s nominee, we’re all signing on “revolutionary” ideas to remake our nation.
America’s best idea is in trouble, and I don’t mean our national parks. Yes, our parks were closed, which was a crushing disappointment for millions of would-be visitors and an economic gut-punch for neighboring communities — to the tune of $76 million dollars a day.
But what’s really under attack is something even older than our national park system: our democracy.
How did we reach a point where one fraction of one party that controls one chamber of Congress would drive our government into the ground if it doesn’t get everything its members want? ‘This shutdown is like a firefighter standing on the hose to stop the rest of the company from putting out a blaze until he gets a million-dollar raise — all while the building burns.
We didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of a systematic attack on basic democratic principles by a handful of people who have no interest in a functioning democracy. While there is no excuse, there is an explanation.
It starts with big money. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for a tidal wave of corrupting corporate money into our system. But where is the money coming from and where is it going?
Huge amounts are from polluter-backed groups, which spent more than $270 million on television ads in just two months of the 2012 election — and that explains why Congress has taken more than 300 votes attacking clean air and water. The same people who are poisoning our democracy are also determined to poison our environment. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of Americans agree that political money is preventing our most important challenges from being addressed.
At the same time, special interest groups are spending millions to keep anyone who disagrees with them away from the polls and out of office. No sooner did the Supreme Court gut a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that state houses with Republican majorities pushed through suppressive legislation to keep young people, seniors, students, and people of color away from the polls. It’s no coincidence that those are the same citizens who have voted against them.
These challenges have led the Sierra Club to team up with the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, and Greenpeace to form the Democracy Initiative. Our goal is to build a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform.
Only about 1,200 people came close to reaching the spending limits McCutcheon wants overturned — and a good number of them are oil, gas, and coal executives, from the sectors that directly contributed $40 million in 2012. Give them free rein to write whatever size of a check they want, and we’ll see that number skyrocket.
The faster that money pours in, the quicker the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We can’t let that happen. And we won’t. They may have millions of dollars, but we have millions of people. And, thanks to efforts like the Democracy Initiative, we are organizing and coming together to make sure our voices are heard.
If we want to see more shutdowns and debt crises, then we should maintain the status quo. If we want more attacks on our air, water, and climate, then all we need to do is turn away in disgust at the political posturing. But if we want to restore a democracy that works for Americans and will preserve a healthy planet for future generations, it’s time to stand up and fight back.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. SierraClub.org. Image courtesy of Oil Change International. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
Jacki Schilke was suffering from symptoms ranging from rashes, pain, and lightheadedness to dental problems and urinating blood. The formerly healthy, 53-year-old cattle rancher’s body was under assault from a list of toxic chemicals as long as your arm.
But Schilke’s lucky — so far — compared to five of her cows. They died.
The rancher’s problems might become worse in time, since the chemicals causing her acute problems are also linked to chronic, deadly diseases like cancer.
What’s afflicting Schilke and her cows? The oil and gas drilling craze known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As The Nation magazine and the Great Plains Examiner reported last year, Oasis Petroleum started fracking on land three miles from her ranch in 2010. Oasis got money, the world got more energy from the gas they drilled, and Schilke got sick. Now, she won’t even eat her own beef.
If the results of fracking were virtually unknown a decade ago, before it became a common practice in states like Pennsylvania and Schilke’s home of North Dakota, there’s no mystery remaining now.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when you pump a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground to dislodge fossil fuels, there’s a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the ground. And some of those toxins don’t stay put. Those toxic chemicals make their way into the water, the soil, and the air, and they’re EXEMPT from regulation under the Clean Water Act. You can thank Dick Cheney for that reckless action.
And the toxins flow from there — into the living things that rely on the water: the soil, the air, plants, animals, and us. We’re fracking our food.
Yet President Barack Obama is a big fracking supporter. He called natural gas a form of “clean energy” in the big address on global warming he delivered in June, touting the nation’s production of more natural gas “than any other country on Earth.” Then he said, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
Right. Compared to other forms of dirty energy, natural gas might reduce our carbon emissions. But at what cost?
If our only energy options were oil, coal, and natural gas, we’d be in a rotten Catch-22. Luckily, we have more choices than that. There are growing solar, wind, and geothermal options. Perhaps the most overlooked alternative is increasing efficiency.
I visited the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, two years ago. The school had made a big effort to reduce its energy use. In one building, I saw a hallway that used to have its lights turned on all the time. The builders had never even installed switches to turn them off.
Decades ago, energy was “too cheap to meter.” It seemed cheaper to just leave the lights on all the time than to wire them to be turned off. That’s changed. After some retrofitting, the lights can be turned off.
How many other buildings and homes have no light switches, insufficient insulation, or old, power-guzzling appliances? How many are still being built without taking advantage of the most up-to-date methods that curb energy use?
Obama proudly spoke of doubling America’s use of solar and wind power in the last four years, with plans to double them yet again. He’s right. We increased wind and solar energy from less than 1 percent of our energy in 2007 to less than 2 percent in 2011. (Meanwhile, our reliance on natural gas crept up from 28 percent to 30 percent of total energy consumption, and our total use of energy overall rose in those four years by 9.4 percent — with most of the increase coming from dirty sources.)
Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful. Emissions during the fracking process outweigh any benefits of reduced emissions when the fuel obtained is burned. Besides, how does fracking American land make sense if it’s poisoning our food and water supply with chemicals that give us cancer?
Let’s solve our energy problems by increasing efficiency and by turning to truly clean sources of energy: renewable options like solar, wind, and geothermal power.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org. Photo Credit: Oly-Pentax/Flickr
It’s one thing for Big Oil to bust into our communities, groundwater, and economic well-being with the hydraulic fracturing natural gas boom. Now, in addition to poisoning the environment, this fracking fad is busting the free speech rights of locals who dare to speak out against it.
Welcome to Sanford, New York. It’s a pleasant place of 2,800 citizens on the New York-Pennsylvania border. Unfortunately, the pleasantness has been interrupted by a major squabble over whether or not to allow big companies to extract natural gas by fracturing the huge Marcellus Shale formation that underlies the region.
Fracking is already rampant in Pennsylvania, but New York imposed a moratorium on the dangerous practice to assess the health and safety issues involved.
However, as OnEarth magazine reports, Sanford’s town board is eager to allow oil and gas outfits to frack away. The board even leased land to one corporation that wants to drill inside the town. Last fall, Sanford officials went further, imperiously imposing a gag order on their own citizens. It seems that opponents of the profiteering frack rush were using the board’s public comment session to…well, to comment publicly.
Irritated, the board decreed that any topic could be discussed at its meetings — except fracking.
The town leveled this autocratic restriction on people’s democratic rights by saying that the ongoing discussion on fracking got in the way of other board business. But, gosh, that’s the way it is in a democracy. The people themselves can dare to set the agenda by insisting that our local leaders discuss the big issues that matter most to our families and communities.
The gagged townspeople have now sued the Sanford board for fracking their free speech rights and making a mockery of democracy. For more information, contact Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy: www.catskillcitizens.org.
The natural gas industry, and it’s supporting case of puppet politicians, continue to claim that fracking has no negative impact on the environment or local drinking water supplies. There are many incidents of flammable water and poisoned streams that refute these claims, of course, but neither the industry or the government agencies that should be regulating them seem to care.
In big fracking states, many members of the public are alarmed that natural gas companies are blasting thousands of gallons of chemically-enhanced water into the ground just to get at natural gas deposits. Not only does the injection of these chemicals pose serious health risk, but then there’s the frightening question of what happens to the wastewater when frackers are done with it.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the five most common disposal options for fracking wastewater currently in use are: recycling for additional fracking, treatment and discharge to surface waters, underground injection, storage in open air pits, and spreading on roads for ice or dust control. “All of these options present significant risks of harm to public health or the environment. And there are not sufficient rules in place to ensure any of them will not harm people or ecosystems,” explains the NRDC in a recent report.
West Virginia and Pennsylvania are big fracking states, but they happily ship most of their wastewater for disposal in Ohio injection wells. Only recently did West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection take samples of the brine to find out exactly what they were burying in Ohioans’ back yards. The results were shocking (or not):
The lab results indicate high levels of alpha particles, arsenic, barium and toluene, among other contaminants, and are cause for the brine to be classified as “hazardous,” according to Ben Stout, professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University who interpreted the results. Stout labeled the results as “eerily similar” to brine samples taken by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection. He describes heavy metals found in the sample as “grossly above standard,” citing skyrocketing arsenic and barium levels that exceed the primary standard for acceptable drinking water concentrations by 370 and 145 times, respectively.
The fact that environmental protection agencies at the state and federal level are allowing these substances to be dumped in areas where they can then seep into water supplies is outrageous. These agencies have a simple job: to protect the environment and human’s health above all else. Yet they would rather play the “wait and see” game instead of confronting these companies and holding them accountable for their actions.
Last night, Jon Ralston reported that unelected Senator Dean Heller mislead Nevadans when he said last week on Face to Face that he only voted against taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil because Democrats “always wanted to use them for more stimulus and more government.” The problem with Heller’s answer – it isn’t true. Ralston reports that Heller has voted against repealing oil subsidies at least nine times, including voting against them when the resulting savings would have been redirected to reducing the deficit.
From the Flash:
When my producer, Dana Gentry, interviewed Sen. Dean Heller on “Face to Face” on Friday, I thought it was odd that he was so dismissive of her when she questioned his record on oil subsidies. Heller claimed he was always for closing oil company loopholes but had opposed cutting them in the past because “they’ve always wanted to use them for more stimulus and more big government.”
But that’s just not so.
Heller, like many Republicans, has opposed repealing oil subsides in the past, no matter what they were going to be used for. At least nine times I see, including this one for deficit reduction.
You can argue that these subsidies account for a minuscule percentage of federal spending. Fine. But Heller, until this year’s Senate race, has opposed them, when they were targted for paying for college student help or energy development or a raft of other issues that have nothing to do with stimulus or big government.
But it’s a good sound bite.
By the way, when Gentry challenged him, he accused her – as he does me all the time – of regurgitating “DNC talking points.” Actually, she was presenting what are known as facts. [Ralston Flash, 4/9/12]