Environmental Must-Reads – February 11, 2014

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New hope for fracking victims from EPA’s inspector general?

It’s a question we have been asking urgently at NRDC: Why would the Environmental Protection Agency prematurely shut down its study of the water quality impacts of fracking in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming? Now, there’s a hopeful sign that the agency’s Office of Inspector General will be asking that same question.

That’s an encouraging turn of events in the long and frustrating story of EPA’s crucial national study of fracking. The IG’s memorandum announcing the study was dated February 5, the same day as a Washington press conference on this issue, including citizens from the three states.

Revised fracking-tax bill expands income-tax cut

House Republicans hope to roll out a revised fracking-tax bill this week with a slightly higher rate, a bigger income-tax cut and money directed to areas where shale drilling is most prevalent.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, was discouraged by Gov. John Kasich’s position on his severance-tax bill, which was written with significant industry input. Last month, Kasich said he told House GOP leaders that “puny doesn’t work,” and that he would veto any proposal that doesn’t pass “the smell test in terms of what I think is fair.”

Senate committees kill bill that would have banned fracking in Maryland

Two Senate committees have voted unfavorably on a bill that would have banned hydraulic fracturing in?Maryland, effectively killing the bill and keeping the possibility open that natural gas drilling in Marcellus shale might actually take place in?Maryland after a moratorium to study the issue.

Author says fracking is a human rights issue

Its official name is high-volume, slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Most people skip the mouthful and call it fracking.

Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author, used personal and scientific data to describe the effects of fracking on the environment and human rights during her keynote address at the third annual Women and the Environment Symposium. The event was held Friday at Grand Valley State University.

Committee fights to keep fracking ban on primary ballot

The Athens Bill of Rights Committee is fighting the county prosecutor’s opinion that its fracking ban initiative must be placed on the general election ballot instead of the primary ballot as the group had hoped.

According to a news release from BORC Chairman Dick McGinn on Sunday, County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn informed the committee on Thursday that the initiative petition may not be certified for the May 6 primary election despite having the necessary signatures already validated by the elections board.

Backtracking, Officials Admit Coal Ash Spill Caused Dangerous Arsenic Levels

North Carolina officials admitted on Sunday that estimated levels of arsenic in the Dan River taken two days after a massive coal ash spill at a Duke Energy plant last week were wrong and that the water was in fact highly toxic and unsafe for public exposure.

The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources previously said water tests showed levels of arsenic to be at safe levels. However, the Department now admits those levels were four times higher than safety standards.

Ash decisions: North Carolina helped river-ruining Duke Energy duck pollution complaints

Last year, North Carolina’s top environmental regulators thwarted three separate Clean Water Act lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy, the largest electricity company in the country, to clean up its toxic coal ash pits in the state. That June, the state went even further, saying it would handle environmental enforcement at every one of Duke’s 31 coal ash storage ponds in the state — an act that protected the company from further federal lawsuits. Last week, one of those coal ash storage ponds ruptured, belching more than 80,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Coal Ash Disaster in North Carolina: Lessons Unlearned

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke

This past Sunday, a large storm pipe under an unlined coal ash impoundment at a retired North Carolina power plant broke, releasing up to 82,000 tons of coal ash, and an estimated 27 million gallons of polluted water, into the neighboring river. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time coal ash has caused massive destruction to the environment and neighboring communities. The infamous 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston power plant marked as one of the largest environmental disasters in the U.S., flooding downstream communities and affecting millions of residents.  Both the TVA spill and the recent spill in North Carolina are the result of decades of lax oversight by state and federal regulators over the management and disposal of coal ash.

One Month After West Virginia Chemical Spill Major Data Gaps and Uncertainties Remain

Yesterday marked exactly a month since what is now said to be 10,000 gallons of “crude MCHM”—mixed with what was later found to have included other chemicals—spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, contaminated 1,700 miles of piping in the water distribution system for nine counties, and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of the state’s residents.

Despite declining levels of the chemical in the water being fed into the distribution system, late this past week five area schools were closed due to detection of the distinctive licorice-like odor of MCHM and multiple reports of symptoms such as eye irritation, nausea and dizziness among students and staff.

State of the Gulf: BP Oil Spill Daily Beach Pollution Report for Monday, February 10, 2014

The following is a summary of the daily beach oiling report issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). I will endeavour to publish this summary each day the FDEP issues such a report. While the media and public believe that the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout and Oil Spill have been largely eradicated, this data suggests otherwise.

It is important to note that these reports of daily oil discoveries come at a time when BP is attempting to renege on its oft-stated “Commitment to the Gulf.” The company is repudiating the Contract it made with area businesses and individuals that compensates them for economic and environmental losses associated with BP’s spill.

Exxon oil spill town ‘deserted land’, residents still getting sick, forced to abandon homes

Almost one year after ExxonMobil’s pipeline burst and caused a major oil spill near Mayflower, Arkansas, officials say the area is safe to live in. But locals are still suffering from dizziness, headaches, and nausea – prompting many to move away.

On March 29, 2013, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil in a suburban area near the town of Mayflower, sparking strong opposition to oil sands exploitation and the Keystone XL project. If approved, the Keystone pipeline would carry tar sand oil from Alberta, Canada through the US to Texas refineries.

Is Shipping Oil By Rail As Dangerous as the Keystone Pipeline?

When the State Department issued its long-awaited environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL project earlier this month, one of its key findings was that if the controversial pipeline wasn’t built, oil-laden rail cars would pick up the slack. “Rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not constructed,” it argued. As we noted recently, that rail transit is already underway. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), crude oil traveling by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. Recently, an ExxonMobil official said the company had already begun to use trains to haul oil out of the Canadian tar sands, and the company plans to move up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day from a new terminal by 2015. In other words, tar sands will be developed one way or another, according to the State Department, with or without the $5.4 pipeline that would eventually link Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

Keystone consultant disclosed ‘conflict of interest’ to feds

The consulting firm that wrote a largely favorable environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline disclosed to the State Department work it did that led to allegations of a conflict of interest after it won the contract, according to newly released documents.

The firm, Environmental Resources Management, part of London-based ERM Group Inc., has come under fire from environmental groups led by Friends of the Earth for not disclosing the work that one of its subsidiaries did on a project jointly owned by TransCanada Corp., the company that is seeking permission to build Keystone.

6 Ways Ted Cruz Wants To Increase Carbon Pollution, All In One Bill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced Monday that he plans to introduce an omnibus energy bill that will focus on scaling down regulation and scaling up production in the oil and gas industry.

Cruz, speaking at the Heritage Action for America’s Conservative Policy Summit in D.C., said he was introducing the American Energy Renaissance Act to stop the federal government from preventing America’s “energy renaissance” — the ability to access underground natural gas and oil stores that Cruz said is “providential blessing” for the country. The announcement heralds a change of focus for Cruz, who has devoted much of his attention over the last few months to Obamacare and gun rights.

State Lawmakers Scramble for Railroad Oil Spill Safety Plans

In the aftermath of several deadly railroad oil train accidents state governments are hiring rail inspectors and oil-spill experts and preparing emergency plans. The railroad accidents have become more frequent as oil shipments by train have grown 400 percent since 2005. Recently the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations as part of a probe into the Lac-Megantic derailment, which sent a fireball through the center of the town and turned a crowded pub into a deadly inferno.

Shell recommends science for Arctic headaches

Extreme cold.

Ice-clogged seas eight to 10 months every year.

An ancient, indigenous people living on Alaska’s North Slope who hunt local Bowhead whale.

Marine mammals, deep-sea coral and Greenpeace.

The Arctic waters have proven a formidable foe for Royal Dutch Shell, and its efforts to extract oil there require continuing scientific research, says Michael Macrander, Shell’s chief scientist in Alaska.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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