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“The Wrong Way To Honor Florida’s Rick Scott”: No One In Their Right Mind Would Give Rick Scott An Award For Protecting Wildlife

After five years in office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not made many friends among those concerned with the environment, the climate crisis, or the state’s natural resources.

“By most expert accounts, Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in Tallahassee has been a flat-out catastrophe for the Sunshine State’s already-fragile environment,” the Miami New Times reported this week. “He slashed water management budgets and stacked regulatory boards with developers. He battled tooth-and-nail against new clean water mandates. Even muttering the words ‘climate change’ was banned in state offices.”

With this in mind, the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman found it curious when a Florida group announced that the far-right governor is receiving an award for his work on the environment.

The award, announced via email last week, is being given to Scott later this year by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which functions as a support group for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is run by gubernatorial appointees.

In the announcement, the foundation’s chairman, Miami real estate developer and lobbyist Rodney Barreto, hailed Scott for being “instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoor activities like hunting and especially fishing.”

The Sierra Club’s Frank Jackalone told the Tampa Bay Times, “No one in their right mind would give Rick Scott an award for protecting wildlife.”

Asked for an explanation, Brett Boston, the foundation’s executive director, insisted the group is “very apolitical.” And what about the governor’s critics, who find it ridiculous that Scott would receive an environmental award?

“People complained about Mother Teresa,” Boston said.

I’m going to assume that this is the first – and quite likely the last – time anyone has tried to draw a parallel between Rick Scott and Mother Teresa.

As for the Republican governor’s environmental record, the Tampa Bay Times’ report added:

Scott has cut funding for the state’s water districts, vetoed funding for all the state’s regional planning councils, and eliminated money for a University of Florida lab considered key to stopping invasive species from ruining the state’s agriculture and environment.

In addition, Scott’s Department of Environmental Protection has shifted away from punishing polluters with fines and other penalties to instead assisting polluters with getting back into compliance. Scott praised the DEP last year for cutting the amount of time it takes to get a permit to a mere two days – down from 44 days when Jeb Bush was governor.

Scott’s DEP has also made several controversial moves to alter the award-winning state park system – selling off some land as surplus, for instance, or opening some parks to timber harvesting and cattle grazing or even hunting.

Alan Farago, president of Friends of the Everglades, told the Miami New Times. “In terms of the environment, I think [Scott is] the worst governor in modern Florida history.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 31, 2015

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Environment, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“One Screwup After Another”: Shell’s Arctic Drilling Adventure Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen

This month may mark the end of a decade-long saga that’s highlighted the lengths to which oil companies will go to drill in the Arctic—and the huge risks such endeavors entail.

If everything goes according to plan, Royal Dutch Shell will soon bury its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed since 2012. The exploration project, which began in 2005, has faced numerous setbacks—logistical issues, expensive equipment repairs, regulatory hurdles, environmental challenges. To date, Shell has sunk more than $7 billion into this hunt for oil and natural gas, and even if successful, it won’t see anything resembling financial success for more than a decade. But if it hits the substantial deposit of oil it believes to be under the Chukchi Sea, the payoff could be enormous.

That’s because, in the next few decades, companies expect it will become harder to extract oil and gas from existing wells, and even the fracking boom may begin to deplete. The race is on to find untapped resources, with companies pushing further and further into harder-to-reach areas.

As the warming ocean and atmosphere has melted Arctic ice, companies have particularly eyed the Chukchi sea for its fossil fuels. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the wider region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its oil. Shell purchased its first leases here nearly a decade ago, and it is determined to see a return on its investment.

Shell reached this stage once before, drilling two wells in 2012. But the trip was plagued with problems. At the time, Shell underestimated Arctic dangers and overestimated how much time it had before heavy ice and storms made travel dangerous. The New York Times chronicled the mishaps in a lengthy and dramatic article: One rig, the Noble Discoverer, appeared to ground before reaching the Chukchi that July. Shell’s voluntary spill containment was crushed. A rig caught fire. From there, it got worse: The lines attaching the old rig Shell used, the Kulluk, to towing boats broke, the rig ran aground, and the Coast Guard had to rescue the 18 men trapped aboard it. These setbacks have helped bolster environmentalists’ case that the Arctic is too dangerous to drill.

This time around, Shell has planned to drill two more wells. Two oil rigs, 29 ships and seven aircraft are currently making their way north—an even bigger fleet than the one the company assembled for its previous trip to the Chukchi. Shell says it has never been better prepared, insisting to the Wall Street Journal that the risks today are “negligible.”

Environmentalists certainly don’t feel that way. Before one of the two rigs even left its Seattle port in mid-June, about two-dozen activists took to the water in kayaks, in an attempt to block the rig from leaving port.

There have been other hurdles. Shell’s original plan was to use the two rigs to drill for oil simultaneously, nine miles apart. A backup rig is already required in the aftermath of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and Shell figured it would put it to good multitasking. The rigs would double the efficiency of the drilling operations and meet federal requirements in case of a blowout. In a win for environmentalists, however, federal regulators decided in June against Shell’s plans to speed things along, citing the harm simultaneous drilling could cause walruses.

And then, just last week, Shell found a 39-inch gash in its vessel, called the Fennica, which contains a crucial piece to cap a well in the case of a blowout. Shell has taken it to Portland for repairs, and says there’s no reason it will delay the start date for drilling in late July. “We do not anticipate any impact on our season, as we don’t expect to require the vessel until August,” a spokesperson for Shell told Joel Connelly. Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols disagreed, saying the company can’t possibly begin work on schedule without the essential equipment.

Shell is still waiting for a final permit from the Department of Interior before it can begin drilling. Department spokesperson Jessica Kershaw said they are watching the situation closely. “We continue to review Shell’s proposal for drilling activity in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” Kershaw said. “As we’ve said from day one, Shell will be held to highest safety and environmental standards. This includes having on hand the required emergency response systems necessary for each phase of its drilling program.”

Even as a long-term prospect, Shell is years behind schedule as the problems add up. And it can’t afford another slow season this year. The company faces pressure to prove to investors it can deliver on its $7 billion bet. By 2017, the Times reported, Shell’s first leases will expire if it doesn’t begin producing oil a decade after it first acquired them.

“Everybody’s watching to see if we’re going to fail or succeed out there,” Ann Pickard, Shell’s Executive Vice President running its Arctic division, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we fail for whatever reason … I think the U.S. is another 25 years” away from developing Arctic resources.

So even minor delays this year—like an incident akin to 2012’s—could be devastating to Shell. Above all else, it faces natural challenges. The weather is fickle, sea ice doesn’t always melt on schedule, and there’s a limited window of a few months a year when the Arctic is calm enough to drill. Interior has given Shell a hard stop to drilling in late September.

Environmentalists say that this pressure is exactly what makes Shell prone to risky decisions. “The Fennica could have easily travelled along a much safer route instead of going over a shallow, rocky shoal in an area that to begin with is not well charted,” said Chris Krenz, Arctic campaign manager and senior scientist for Oceana, an ocean advocacy organization campaigning against Shell’s oil development, in a statement.

If Shell continues, environmentalists warn it’s only a matter of time before the next big disaster strikes. “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have a ‘perfect season’ in the Arctic,” Nichols said. “The margin of error is so slim. Things that fly in the Gulf [of Mexico], even though they shouldn’t,” won’t in the Arctic “because conditions are so hard.”


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment, Royal Dutch Shell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Supreme Court; If It’s Worth It For Corporations, Pollution May Be Okay”: EPA Can Only Regulate Pollution When It’s Cost-Effective

While LGBTs and healthcare reformers are still nursing their celebratory hangovers, the final Supreme Court case of the 2014-15 term just junked twenty years of environmental regulations.

The case, Michigan v. EPA, specifically dealt with the EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act—a long, twenty-year process that has been opposed by industry at every turn, even as mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants has ++irreparably poisoned the Great Lakes .

Today, the clock has been set back. In its third 5-4 decision of the day, with Justice Kennedy again providing the swing vote, industry has prevailed. Writing for the court, Justice Scalia held that the EPA had to factor in costs in deciding whether to regulate, not just how to regulate.

If you think about it, this is an impossible task practically and philosophically.

Practically speaking, the regulatory process for mercury has lasted twenty years—in large part because the EPA weighed dozens of options, evaluating the costs and benefits of each. Today’s decision requires the EPA to balance costs and benefits at the very beginning of the process, before either the costs or the benefits are known.

EPA’s position was that, while costs must, of course, be taken into account in deciding how to regulate toxic chemicals like mercury, the initial decision of whether to regulate them should not be dictated by how much it costs to do so. What matters at that point—whether regulation is “appropriate and necessary” under the statute—is only whether public health is at stake.

In policy-speak—as I wrote in a law review article twenty years ago—the difference is between “risk assessment” and “risk management.” Risk assessment is when you notice a leak in your basement, and decide you have to do something about it. Risk management is when you evaluate your options, and decide what to do.

The difference is obvious, and intuitive. But it does mean that the initial decision may not take cost into account.

Thus the EPA argued that the words “appropriate and necessary” do not imply a balancing of costs and benefits, only a determination of public health. Justice Scalia said this was not “reasonable decisionmaking.” As Justice Kagan said in her dissent, the EPA took costs into account later in the regulatory process. But Justice Scalia said that is not enough—the initial decision, too, must include costs.

This is as incoherent philosophically as it is practically. Think about it this way: Who owns the right to your health?

In the EPA’s reasoning, you do. Under the Clean Air Act, if someone else’s activities are going to meaningfully endanger your health, the government is entitled to stop them.

In Justice Scalia’s reasoning, now the law of the land, the toxic chemical emitters do. If it is economically efficient to poison you with mercury—if the costs to them outweigh the benefits to you, calculating an economic value of your health—then they get to do it.

If this seems outrageous, it’s because it is. Justice Scalia had to focus exclusively on the first sliver of the regulatory process in order to make his argument. “EPA’s interpretation precludes the Agency from considering any type of cost,” he writes. But that’s only true at the initial decision of whether to regulate or not (risk assessment). In subsequent decisions of how to regulate (risk management), cost was taken into account many times.

Which is what makes sense philosophically, as well as practically. Deciding whether to regulate a toxic substance should not be an economic decision. Deciding how to do so should be—of course, the government should choose the most efficient method of regulation, and balance costs and benefits appropriately. But the decision of whether a toxic substance is toxic is a matter of science, not money.

Zooming back a bit, Michigan v. US now starts to look a lot like the corporations-are-people cases like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby. In this growing body of cases, corporate interests have been equated with individual ones. Corporations have rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.

Now their right to make money running dirty power plants is equated with the right of human beings to breathe free of mercury pollution. Your rights, their rights—what’s the difference?

Ironically, Justice Scalia’s originalism—which last week had him arguing that if a practice could be banned in 1868, it could be banned in 2015—would have cut the other way here, if he took it seriously. For the first hundred years of US history, there were no corporations as we know them today. Corporate charters were time-bound, limited, and revocable. Only in the Gilded Age did they attain “legal personhood” as we know it today.

This is the point conservatives often miss in decrying the growth of government and regulation. Yes, government has grown well beyond anything the Founders could have imagined. But the Founders could not have imagined today’s mega-corporations either.

Peabody Energy, one of the primary backers of the current lawsuit, has an annual revenue of $6.79 billion. In 1812, the largest non-banking corporation in America, the American Fur Company, was worth about $1 million—about $17.2 million in 2015 dollars.

In other words, just one of the corporations fighting the EPA’s mercury regulations is worth 394 times the largest US corporation in existence two centuries ago. While the growth in governmental power since then, represented by regulations like the Clean Air Act, has indeed been significant, it is dwarfed by the growth in corporate power.

Michigan v. US now stands for the principle that corporate interests are equal in kind to human interests. Whether the EPA should regulate mercury depends on whether it’s cost-effective to do so, treating the costs to industry and the benefits to health equally.

Because corporations are people, right?


By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, June 29, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Clean Air Act, Environment, Michigan v EPA | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Glorious To See, Yet Also Deceiving”: Today, Gulf Looks Fine, But Wait Until The Next One Hits

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up, the Chandeleur Islands look alive off the coast of Louisiana.

The beaches are sugary white and unstained by oil. The water is green and full of fish. Birds are everywhere — laughing gulls, willets, terns, skimmers, egrets, oyster catchers, and herons.

A rookery that some feared would be annihilated by the spill is thriving, the mangroves bobbing with hundreds of pelicans, old and young.

It’s glorious to see, yet also deceiving. For 87 straight days in 2010, crude oil gushed nearby from a broken well in the Gulf of Mexico — 172 million gallons, according to the U.S. government, though nobody really knows how much.

And nobody can say how much of it remains in the water. Most of the oil has likely dissolved or evaporated, but panels of scientists assert that millions of gloppy gallons still spatter the sea floor.

The Chandeleurs, a crescent barrier chain that’s part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, were among the first to get oiled after the BP blowout. It was also the first place where dying sea birds were found.

A six-foot sand berm was hastily constructed to contain the oil at the northernmost Chandeleurs. Whether it was because of that, the tides or favorable winds, the islands were not hit as brutally as some coastal areas.

Seeing all this life on the water at sunrise, one can’t be blamed for thinking everything’s fine, pretty much back to normal. That’s what you hear from BP, too, but it’s not entirely true.

Since the spill, bottle-nosed dolphins have been dying at about three times the normal rate in the northern Gulf. Deep-water corals have shown lasting damage. Oil traced to the BP blowout has been found in the livers of red snapper and tilefish. Unexplained lesions and tumors have been observed in bottom-dwelling fish.

BP says the seafood taken from the Gulf is safe to eat, and tests much lower for oil residues than is required by the Food and Drug Administration.

The oil giant has spent a fortune cleaning up its image and the mess in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, including $13.7 billion in claims and settlements. The company says its drilling operations are much safer now.

Because the whole world got to watch the Deepwater Horizon disaster live — literally streaming — politicians who favored more offshore exploration retreated temporarily. They were counting on Americans to have a short memory.

Then, in January, the Obama administration proposed a plan that would open offshore oil leases in the Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Georgia. Ten new leases would also be granted in the Gulf of Mexico; one is in the eastern zone near Florida, where opposition to coastal drilling traditionally has been fierce.

Yet, except for criticism from environmental groups, there hasn’t been a loud public outcry over Obama’s plan in Florida, or in any of the states with tourist economies that depend on clean, untarred beaches.

Virginia’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, praised the president’s drilling program, saying it “should result in the safe, responsible development of energy resources.”

Because big oil companies never screw up, right?

Apparently, five years is the political probation period after a man-made catastrophe. Obama has moved to allow seismic testing for possible offshore oil and gas reserves all the way from Delaware to Cape Canaveral.

The process involves the staccato firing of big compressed air guns deep in the ocean over periods of weeks. Prominent scientists from Duke, Cornell and other institutions say the method poses a “significant threat to marine life.”

In a rare display of attentiveness, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection last month wrote to the feds, seeking postponement of seismic permits until more is known about how the blasting air guns affect whales, fish and sea turtles. (Negatively would be a good guess).

On a boat in the Chandeleurs, under a sky filled with birds, it’s tempting to marvel at nature’s rebound and push aside the dreadful images from the spring of five years ago.

There are no obvious signs of the BP spill here. Even the protective berm is gone, obliterated by Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

Yet the truth is that terrible damage was done by that 87-day flood of oil into the Gulf, and many communities suffered immensely. Since then, numerous spills have occurred both on land and in water in this country, none of them on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon but still a signal for extreme caution.

Nobody knows when the next big ocean blowout will happen.

Everything out there looks just fine.

Until one day it isn’t.


By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 5, 2015

May 9, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, Environment | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Keystone Isn’t A Futile Fight”: The Owners Of The Keystone Pipeline Just Canceled A Project In Canada

TransCanada on Thursday announced a two-year delay to its plans to move the Canadian tar sands. The company is cancelling its plans to build a controversial export terminal in Quebec, citing environmental concern over the endangered beluga whale. This means a delay to plans for finishing the Energy East pipeline, now set for 2020. In the meantime, TransCanada will search for a new location for its port.

For once, then, Canadian oil news isn’t about the TransCanada-owned Keystone XL, which has faced a six-year delay as the Obama administration sits on a decision to issue a permit. At least not directly, anyway. Energy East, once completed, would be even bigger than Keystone XL, delivering 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day, compared to Keystone’s 800,000 barrels. As its name implies, the pipeline would run from the Alberta tar sands eastward to the shipping lanes of the Atlantic coast.

Not only are Keystone and Energy East similar battles, but proponents (and opponents) often tie the two pipelines’ fates together. Keystone opponents say building that pipeline would ensure tar sands extraction continues at a rapid pace, setting the world on track for severe climate change. Proponents argue that Keystone doesn’t matter either way, because other pipelines like Energy East make tar sands development inevitable. If the United States doesn’t build its pipeline, they say, Americans will miss out on the economic benefits. “We don’t think there’s any way that the oil will stay in the ground,” Matt Letourneau, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said last year. “Certainly the market will find a way.”

But so long as there are delays, tar sands development isn’t inevitable because Energy East’s future, like Keystone’s, is far from settled. Oil companies are still in the middle of working out how to get the landlocked tar sands to the coasts for refining and shipment, and during their delays on multiple fronts, Keystone isn’t a futile fight.

The delay could provide a boost to organizers trying to delay other tar sands projects. Each of these pipelines face a similar environmental playbook: Delay as long as possible in the hopes that it becomes unprofitable or impossible for companies to pursue their plans. Keystone has faced years of delay, and now Energy East faces its own uncertain future. Environmentalists weren’t the only reason for TransCanada’s change of plans. Because oil prices are low right now, companies have little incentive to pursue their plans to extract costly tar sands for little profit.

TransCanada still has a strong incentive to find a new port and finish construction. Oil prices surely will rebound eventually, making the tar sands profitable once again.

“I don’t think you can look at this as a major impediment to the future of oil sands development but it certainly speaks to the opposition to pipelines, the anxiety about shipments of oil and, of course, to the increasing importance of environmental protection to the public,” Andrew Leach, an economist with the University of Alberta, said. “The beluga is an iconic species, so I think the writing was on the wall for this once the risk to habitat was made clear, in particular in Quebec.”

In the short-term, however, this is a win for environmentalists. And it may even help them in their fight against Keystone.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, April 2, 2015

April 4, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment, Keystone XL | , , , , | Leave a comment


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