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UK fracking protests cost police £750k

The cost of policing anti-fracking protests at a test drilling site in West Sussex has reached £750,000, the police say. Sussex Police said policing the...

Battle of Balcombe: Opposition to Cuadrilla Resources UK Fracking Plans

The idyllic village of Balcombe, just south of London, is a stronghold of the Conservative party. Just the sort of place that one might...

UK public's support for fracking hits record low, renewables support surges – survey

Public support for fracking has hit a record low among Brits, while support for the...
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Video: Vanessa Vine on How The UK Government Is Redefining Fracking To Suppress Opposition...

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Watch as UK police storm peaceful anti-fracking protest camp

Nine activists who oppose the controversial fracking technique for extracting gas from the ground were arrested by UK police Tuesday. Protestors took control of the...

UK government rips up restrictions on fracking

By Trevor Johnson The UK government decision to allow fracking in and around Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), places designated by law for the protection...

UK Protesters Launch Widespread Actions Against Fracking

Targeting both industry and government, series of direct actions kicks off week-long anti-fracking camp in Blackpool, England Lauren McCauley Targeting everything from government offices and university...

Critic: Censored Report Shows UK Government has ‘Something to Hide’ About Fracking

Department of Environment report on fracking impacts redacted 62 times in just 13 pages Lauren McCauley Critics of fracking in the United Kingdom assailed the British...

UK enslaved to money… and fracking

William Blake was thinking of Jesus when he wrote these seminal words, but many English rural dwellers are thinking of Blake's prose now as...

Fracking support declines in UK and US

The percentage of people who support fracking is now below 50 per cent in both the UK and US and is continuing to decline....

UK to hush fracking victims with $1.35mn as vast new reserves uncovered

The UK government will attempt to buy off communities by increasing compensation for fracking operations after announcing plans to deny them the use of...

Why US Fracking Companies Are Licking Their Lips over Ukraine

The way to beat Vladimir Putin is to flood the European market with fracked-in-the-USA natural gas, or so the industry would have us believe....

Fracking Battle to Burn Hot as UK Goes “All Out for Shale”

Signals that British Prime Minister David Cameron is about to go "all in for for shale" are dovetailing with moves by some of the...

Win: Fracking Company Pulls Out of UK Site

Protesters stage an anti-fracking protest ourside County Hall at Preston in Lancashire, just hours before Cuadrilla's announcement. (screengrab from Lancashire Evening Post video)Anti-fracking campaigners...

The People Take on Fracking Corporation in UK-Wide Actions

Anti-fracking demonstrators locked their arms outside of Cuadrilla's test drilling site Monday. (Photo: @Scriptonight/ Twitter)In a rapid-fire succession of civil disobedience actions across the...

UK anti-fracking protest gains momentum

British anti-fracking protesters have engaged in their biggest yet muscle-flexing over the controversial oil and natural gas extraction method in a bid to end...

UK anti-fracking protest gains momentum

British anti-fracking protesters have engaged in their biggest yet muscle-flexing over the controversial oil and natural gas extraction method in a bid to end...

Villagers and Activists Unite in UK Fight Against Fracking

800 people for supper on Saturday night and a Sunday of marching and direct action planning are all part of the workings at the...

Community Uprising Puts Fracking Company on Its Heels in the UK

Anti-fracking protest in Balcombe, August 14, 2013 (Source: The Independent / Rex) What does it take to drive an unwanted gas drilling operation out...

Revealed: EPA Fracking Study Rebukes Agency's Own Safety Claims

DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of an Obama Administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fracking groundwater contamination PowerPoint presentation describing a then-forthcoming study's findings in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The...

16 UK anti-fracking activists arrested

Sixteen anti-fracking protesters are held at a drilling site in West Sussex.Sixteen anti-fracking activists, including two teenagers, have been arrested by the British police...

UK Government Unveils World's 'Most Generous' Tax Breaks for Fracking

The British government unveiled the world's "most generous" tax breaks for fracking on Friday, hoping it can "be a leader of the shale gas...

Duke Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination as EPA Drops Study on Fracking Water...

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kicked the can down the road on a key study designated to examine the connection between hydraulic...

“Obama’s Department of Fracking and Nukes”

WASHINGTON - March 5 - KARL GROSSMAN, [email]
Author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power, Grossman just wrote the piece “Obama’s Department of Fracking and Nukes,” which states: “With the nomination of Ernest Moniz to be the next U.S. Secretary of Energy, President Barack Obama has selected a man who is not only a booster of nuclear power but a big proponent of fracking, too. …

“Moniz, a physicist and director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which is heavily financed by energy industry giants including BP and Chevron, has long advocated nuclear power. He has continued arguing for it despite the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex, maintaining that the disaster in Japan should not cause a stop in nuclear power development. …

“Obama’s stance as president on nuclear power has been a change from his position as candidate Obama. ‘I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear energy proponent,’ Obama said campaigning in Iowa on 2007. He went on that unless the ‘nuclear industry can show that they can produce clean, safe energy without enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, I don’t think that’s the best option. I am much more interested in solar and wind and bio-diesel and strategies [for] alternative fuels.’ As he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire that year: ‘I don’t think there’s anything that we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up and irradiate us and kill us. That’s the problem.’”

Grossman said today: “It is outrageous that President Obama has selected Moniz — who despite the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters is still zealously promoting nuclear power while pushing the toxic process of fracking as well — as energy secretary. And this a week before the second anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe. What happened to Obama’s call in his recent State of the Union address for ‘clean’ energy?”

See Grossman’s TV program “Chernobyl: A Million Casualties” and his Huffington Post piece, “Fracking and Radium, the Silvery-White Monster,” Grossman is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and the recipient of numerous awards for journalism, including the George Polk Award.

Fracking waste contaminates Penn. watershed with radioactive material

Stream sediments in Pennsylvania downstream from two fracking wastewater treatment facilities were found to contain radioactive...

Pruitt Ignored Cries to Regulate Fracking in Oklahoma. Now Residents Face Big Oil on...

Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, during a confirmation hearing with the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee in Washington, January 18,...

Green charity defiant after fracking firm complains to advertising watchdog

Green charity Friends of the Earth denies it was forced to stop publishing an anti-fracking leaflet after energy giant Cuadrilla complained to the advertising...

Fracking gets go ahead, as govt overrules locals in ‘denial of democracy’

Fracking will go ahead in the UK despite objections after ministers overruled a local government...

US fracked gas blamed for ‘human suffering, environmental destruction’ arrives in UK

Britain’s first imported shipment of US fracked gas has arrived in Scotland despite an increasingly...
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Video: Anti-Fracking Activist Tina Rothery Sued For £55,000 By Cuadrilla..For Protesting!!

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‘Declaration of war’: North Yorkshire fracking approval sparks outrage

Anti-fracking campaigners have lambasted North Yorkshire council for unleashing an assault on citizens’ rights to...

North Dakota contaminated with radioactive materials from fracking – study

A new study has revealed significant contamination of soil and water in North Dakota from radioactive materials, heavy metals and corrosive salts as a...
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Video: ‘Waiting for moratorium on fracking’ – Australian MP who set river on fire...

Fracking should be banned as a “global threat” as it causes methane leaks contaminating water in the communities near gas wells, says Jeremy Buckingham,...

Video: Tina Rothery: “Oklahoma Earthquakes Prove Fracking Should Be Outlawed Immediately!”

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EU Fracking Guidelines Fail to Protect Citizens

EU guidelines on how member states carry out shale gas exploration and production are failing to protect the environment and the health of citizens,...
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Video: Vivienne Westwood drives tank to Cameron’s house, declares war on fracking

Famous fashion designer and British icon Vivienne Westwood drove a tank to British Prime Minister David Cameron's house in Oxfordshire, Friday, to protest ... Via...

Video: Vivienne Westwood drives tank to Cameron’s house, declares war on fracking

Famous fashion designer and British icon Vivienne Westwood drove a tank to British Prime Minister David Cameron's house in Oxfordshire, Friday, to protest ... Via...

Cuadrilla fracking application rejected by Lancashire Council

(RT) - Lancashire County Council has unanimously voted to reject a planning application for fracking in the region. Residents and environmentalists, who have been protesting...

Ukraine’s Creditors Grab for the Biggest Pieces of Its Carcass

Eric Zuesse The lifelong Russia-enemy George Soros, and the Russian Government itself, are now openly fighting over which parts of the Ukrainian Government they’ll be...

US media in propaganda war with global anti-fracking activism

As 2014 comes to a close the American mainstream media has represented the most aggressive attack on global environmental movements that defend peoples’ right...

Ukraine’s Two Big Gas Deals Are Now Both Dry

Eric Zuesse In June, Shell Oil halted its newly dug shale-gas wells at the Yuzivska gas field in southeastern Ukraine, and gave as the reason...

EU Demands Russia Bail Out EU & Ukraine

Eric Zuesse IMF says Ukraine will be bankrupt ‘within weeks’ and needs $15 billion more for war against eastern Ukraine; EU threatens Russia with more...

Fracking a ‘Violation of Our Basic Human Rights’, Argues New Report

RICHARD HEASMAN A hard hitting report commissioned by the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation was delivered this week to David Cameron and called on the...

What’s Behind Lower Gas-Prices and the Bombings of Syria and of Southeastern Ukraine

Obama Represents U.S. & Arabic Aristocracies, Against Those of Russia & Iran. Eric Zuesse   INTRODUCTION: Why is the Ukrainian Government, which the U.S. supports, bombing the pro-Russian...

U.S. V.P. Joe Biden’s Speech Loaded w. Lies About Ukraine

The Ukrainian Portion of V.P. Biden's Harvard Kennedy-School Address, Oct. 3rd Eric Zuesse --- BIDEN’S COMMENTS ABOUT UKRAINE, AT HARVARD: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/03/remarks-vice-president-john-f-kennedy-forum (32:40 on the VIDEO of the speech) Putin...

Frack & ruin: UK farmers fear financial devastation from shale drilling

British farmers fear extreme financial difficulty as a result of government plans to push through shale gas drilling on their land without the promise...

Why Obama Lost His War in Ukraine

Eric Zuesse RINF Alternative News When President Obama took control of Ukraine in February 2014, via a coup d'etat against the democratically elected President, rather than by...

The Big Lie in the ‘News’ ‘Reporting’ About Ukraine and Russia

Eric Zuesse  RINF Alternative News Here it is, in purest form, via a typical 'news' ‘report’ from CNN: "While questions about Russia's tactics remain, its strategy has become...

More than 50,000 U.S.-Backed Troops Are Fighting in Ukraine’s Civil War. Why?

Eric Zuesse  RINF Alternative News The U.S. Government installed in February 2014 the current Ukrainian Government, which started Ukraine's civil war against the residents in Ukraine's southeast, who...

Listen Now: Tony Gosling – Ukraine Psychological Warfare

  BCfm’s weekly politics show presented by Tony Gosling Investigative reports: Ukraine Psychological Warfare latest — solar farms — UK nuclear power latest — fraudulent fracking surveys...

Ukraine’s Conflict: A History and Status-Report, for Ukraine, U.S. and the World

See Barack Obama's Real Achievements in Ukraine, with Your Own Eyes, via Videos: They’re Like George W. Bush’s Real Achievements in Iraq, But Authentically Nuclear Eric...

Obama’s Presidency Hangs by a Thread in Ukraine, Updated to 31 July 2014

Obama's U.S. Presidency Now Is Definitely Crashing and Burning, in Ukraine. Kiev's Government, Which Obama Installed in February Coup, Now Collapses. Eric Zuesse BACKGROUND: In late February 2014,...

Obama’s U.S. Presidency Hangs by a Thread in Ukraine

Is Obama's U.S. Presidency Now Crashing and Burning, in Ukraine? Kiev's Government He Installed in February Seems Now Collapsing Eric Zuesse  RINF Alternative News A news report that...

Will Fracking Cause Our Next Nuclear Disaster?

Dahr Jamail The idea of storing radioactive nuclear waste inside a hollowed-out salt cavern might look good on paper. The concept is to carve out...

Activists Erect Fracking Site at Prime Minister’s Estate

Objecting to newly proposed legislation, campaigners object to David Cameron's push for drilling bonanza with backyard protest As British Prime Minister David Cameron prepared for...

Mexico’s Looming Fracking and Offshore Oil and Gas Bonanza

Steve Horn  RINF Alternative News After generations of state control, Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves will soon open for business to the international market. In December 2013, Mexico’s...

Fracking Chemicals

lenin nightingale RINF Alternative News US Congress legislation in 2005 exempted fracking companies from the regulatory supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its the...

Why the U.S. Plastics Industry Loves the Fracking Boom

Susan Freinkel  RINF Alternative News I used to keep a running list of stupid plastic products and gimmicks I had seen or heard about. Like the gizmo that...

The Folly of Playing High-Stakes Poker with Vladimir Putin: More to Lose than Gain...

Johanna C. Granville RINF Alternative News In the weeks following the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, both the United States and European Union have issued...

Request for Help from Ukraine

Paul Craig Roberts RINF Alternative News We have heard weeks of bullshit propaganda from the Obama regime and its presstitute media, especially the New York Times,...

Deadly Fracking in Sichuan: Is Underground Drilling Suitable for China’s Unique Geology?

Fatima Hansia A deadly explosion in Jiaoshizhen, Sichuan province, has raised concerns about the risks involved in hydraulic fracking in China. The explosion occurred at...

Sanctions on Russia’s Energy Sector: Shale Gas ‘Fracking’ Will Invade Europe?

Timothy Alexander Guzman, Silent Crow News - Fracking will be “good for our country,” was a statement made by British Prime Minister David Cameron at a recent Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague according to the UK based news agency The Guardian.  Cameron believes that the fracking industry will have the public’s support since reliance on Russia’s energy sources will be halted if sanctions are imposed due to the political crisis in the Ukraine.  The Obama administration is also proposing a joint US-EU trade deal with its European partners that would reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy resources.  The Guardian reported Cameron’s statement regarding shale gas fracking in Europe:

The prime minister said that once wells are up and running later this year, there would be more public enthusiasm, and exploiting shale gas reserves could help Europe wean itself off reliance on exports from Russia” and that “The Ukraine crisis has increased the urgency of European efforts to find alternative sources of energy to reduce the leverage Russia’s oil and gas supplies give it across the continent 

Has the Ukraine crisis opened the doors for shale gas fracking in Europe? The United States and the European Union are currently negotiating an agreement since July of 2013. In a recent report titled ‘No Fracking Way: How the EU-US trade agreement risks expanding fracking’ by Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute among others stated what the Transalantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is capable of in terms of the rights of corporations involved in the fracking industry:

The TTIP deal threatens to give more rights to companies through a clause called an ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS). If included in the deal, this would enable corporations to claim damages in secret courts or ‘arbitration panels’ if they deem their profits are adversely affected by changes in a regulation or policy. This threatens democratically agreed laws designed to protect communities and the environment. Companies which claim their investments (including expectations of future profits) are affected by a change in government policies could have the right to seek compensation through private international tribunals. US companies (or any company with a subsidiary in the US) investing in Europe could use these far-reaching investor rights to seek compensation for future bans or other regulation on fracking. These tribunals are not part of the normal judicial system, but are specifically set up for investment cases. Arbitrators have a strong bias towards investors – and no specialised knowledge about our climate or fracking. Companies are already using existing investment agreements to claim damages from governments, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Investor-state dispute settlement is becoming increasingly controversial as mining and energy firms use it to challenge public policies. For example, the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall is seeking more than €3.7 billion from Germany in compensation after the country voted to phase out nuclear power; Pacific Rim, a Canadian-based mining company is demanding US$315 million in compensation from El Salvador after the government refused permission for a potentially devastating gold mining project4; and Lone Pine Resources is suing Canada for Cdn$250 million over a fracking moratorium in the Canadian province of Quebec 

“Claim damages in Secret courts” should be worrisome for communities all across Europe who is in opposition to fracking on their lands. The European Commission’s fact sheet ‘Investment Protection and Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement in EU agreements’ describes one of the provisions within the agreements:

In addition, in EU trade agreements the key investment protection standards are drafted in a detailed and precise manner, in particular making clear that the States’ right to regulate is preserved. 

In this context clarifications to two key provisions are made: 

Firstly, ‘indirect expropriation’ is one of the most controversial provisions in the investment protection system. Indirect expropriation is when government measures, while not directly taking property away, have the effect of doing so (e.g. the removal of a license required to operate a factory). This provision has been used by some investors to challenge public authorities’ bans for health reasons of chemical products or the introduction of new stricter environmental legislation. 

Future EU agreements will provide a detailed set of provisions giving guidance to arbitrators on how to decide whether or not a government measure constitutes indirect expropriation, thus aiming at preventing abuse of the system.  

In particular, when the state is protecting the public interest in a non-discriminatory way, the right of the state to regulate should prevail over the economic impact of those measures on the investor. These much needed clarifications will make sure that companies cannot be compensated just because their profits have been reduced through the effects of regulations enacted for a public policy objective. The Commission has negotiated provisions with Canada and Singapore which makes this clear, and the language will also be included in future agreements

If the European Union and the United States finalize the TTIP agreement then the anti-fracking opposition will grow through a grassroots movement. With Austerity measures being met with protests and violence throughout Europe, fracking would sure add fuel to the fire in an already tense situation. This past week the “March of Dignity” in Spain took place ending in violent clashes between the police and protesters. In the UK, anti-fracking protesters are growing despite PM David Cameron’s recent statement when he said that “I think something positive should come out of [the situation in Ukraine] for Europe which is to take a long hard look at its energy resilience, and its energy independence. And I hope it will lead to some really useful work being done” he continued “Britain is not reliant on Russian gas to any extent, it’s just a few percentage points of our gas intake. But the variety around Europe is very, very wide. Some countries are almost 100% reliant on Russian gas so I think it is something of a wake-up call and I think action will be taken.” New energy sanctions imposed on Russia will affect the European Union economically, environmentally and politically as the realization of the fracking technology breeds grassroots awareness in Europe’s already fragile state.

European leaders are not interested in democracy for the Ukrainian people or in their own countries economic woes; it is interested in profits that would generate jobs and growth. The UK based ‘The Independent’ reported in 2012 what Lord Browne, a former BP chief executive, who is a director of the shale gas “fracking” company Cuadrilla said regarding shale gas fracking “We could potentially double the reserves of gas in the UK, we could add 50,000 jobs maybe, and probably even reduce the price of gas.” In an article released by www.ecowatch.com in 2013, disagrees with the shale gas fracking industry’s assessment on job creation. “Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize or avoid altogether taxation, regulation and even careful examination of shale drilling” said Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York” according to the article:

Shale drilling has created jobs, particularly in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and cushioned some drilling-intensive areas in those states from the worst effects of the Great Recession and the weak recovery. As this report documents, however, the number of shale jobs created is far below industry claims and remains a small share of overall employment

Fracking will be at the expense of local communities throughout Europe that would eventually lead to violent demonstrations against their governments who are interested in corporate profits over the people and the environment. Sanctions on the resource rich Russian Federation will backfire on the citizens of the European Union most of all. The US-EU plan to surround Russia with American and NATO bases over the crisis in the Ukraine is not the only intended goal.  It also supports the idea to force the European community to accept shale gas fracking as an alternative right under their feet without depending on Russia’s natural resources.  How convenient!

Joe Biden Promotes U.S. as Fracking Missionary Force

Steve Horn RINF Alternative News During his two-day visit this week to Kiev, Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden unfurled President Barack Obama’s “U.S. Crisis Support Package for Ukraine.” A...

US Fracking Boom Creating Crisis of Illegal Toxic Dumping

Toxic materials from gas drilling industry creating 'legacy of radioactivity' Jacob Chamberlain RINF Alternative News  Industrial waste from fracking sites is leaving a "legacy of radioactivity" across...

Who Benefits From Ukraine’s Economic Crisis?

Jack Rasmus  RINF Alternative News On March 16, 2014, 83% of the Crimea’s eligible voters have voted by 97% to secede from Ukraine and join Russia....

US Imperialism and the Ukraine Coup

Jeff Mackler  RINF Alternative News The recent Ukrainian Maidan (Independence Square) mobilizations are a grotesque caricature of the mass protests of workers and youth in Egypt...

Fracking Property Group Tramples On Protest Rights

Joana Ramiro Landowners argued yesterday that their property rights should trump the right to protest as they fight fracking activists through the courts. Landholder Peel Group...

Why We Need an Outright Ban on Fracking

Convicted on Monday after supergluing herself to a fellow anti-fracking protester at Balcombe in the UK, activist says more people should stand up against...

Fracking — Suicide Capitalism Poisons The Earth’s Fresh Water Supplies

Dylan Murphy  RINF Alternative News Lena Headley lives in in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. She and her husband bought a small farm for their semi-retirement with the...

The Lotto of a Fukushima-style Nuclear Disaster

It is a scary world and getting scarier every day. I live in the small town of Kennedale, Texas. Population: 7,068. We are just...

Fracking Victim Steve Lipsky’s Flaming Water is No Joke

Steve Lipsky ignites water coming out of his well on Oct. 13, 2013.Weatherford, Texas, homeowner Steve Lipsky has nothing to hide. He is not...

Shale Projects and Gas Fracking in Eastern Europe

“Shale perspectives” in Eastern Europe are challenged by delaying tactics of industry majors. Media coverage of shale gas development is positive but in Lithuania...

MSNBC Promotes Fracking

Three years into its “Lean Forward” re-branding campaign, MSNBC has given new meaning to the catchphrase, leaning forward into running branded content promoting hydraulic...

Could the Entire Pacific Fishery Be Tainted by Fukushima?

80,000 gallons per day of radioactive...

Judge defeats challenge to ‘medical gag order’ on health risks from fracking

Pennsylvania authorities have denied a doctor the right to challenge a so-called “medical gag rule” that prevents him and other physicians from warning the...

Tsunami Hits Fukushima … No Reported Damage: Nuclear Reactors Worldwide Vulnerable to Earthquakes...

Nuclear Reactors Worldwide Vulnerable to Earthquakes and Flooding A 1-foot hightsunami hit the Fukushima coast today after a 7.3 earthquake struck around 200 miles...

Canada Anti-Fracking Protests: First Nations Confront Harper Government

This week's anti-fracking protest has put Canada's First Nations at the forefront of Canada's political life, injecting spirit back into our moribund political scene....

Shut It All Down: Report Calls for Nationwide Ban on Fracking

The explosion of hydraulic fracturing in the last several years, according to a new report, is creating a previously 'unimaginable' situation in which hundreds...

US fracking wells annually produce 280bn gallons of toxic waste water destroying environment —...

As US public policy debates over the dangers and benefits of fracking for shale gas persist, a new report has emerged showing that the...

The Hard Numbers on Fracking: Radiation, Toxic Wastewater and Air Pollution

Researchers have found elevated levels of radioactive material and other pollutants in Pennsylvania's scenic Blacklick Creek, and they say fracking is to blame. Researchers at...

Radioactive Water Streaming Out of Pennsylvania Fracking Waste Site

A Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig explores the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012 (Mladen Antonov AFP/Getty...

Dr. Hansen, We Need You at Fukushima and Diablo Canyon

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/dr_hansen_we_need_you_at_fukushima_and_diablo_canyon_20130826/ Posted on Aug 26, 2013 ...

Fracking — Britain’s Next Revolution

‘Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner At long last Britain is discussing and objecting to fracking...

New Study Finds High Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.

California’s Fracking Regulatory Bill

A year after buying his dream home in Los Angeles, Gary Gless started falling down and breaking bones. Fourteen years and one thousand doctors visits...

Fracking and the Contamination of Groundwater

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that — once again — the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency...

EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

Despite claims made by the EPA, most residents of Dimock, PA refuse to drink their tap water due to toxic contamination by fracking fluids.

Department of Energy study claims fracking is safe, contradicting previous findings

Preliminary results from a study funded by the US Department of Energy demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing has no effect on drinking water — results...

Fracking Water Injection Could Trigger Major Earthquake, Say Scientists

Pumping water underground at geothermal power...

EPA’s Abandoned Fracking Study One Retreat of Many

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/epas_abandoned_fracking_study_one_retreat_of_many_20130707/ Posted on Jul 7, 2013 ...

Obama's Faulty Plan a 'Full-Throttle' Endorsement of Fracking

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced his administration's "Climate Action Plan" for cutting carbon pollution in his second term in the Oval Office at Georgetown University and unfortunately,...

Study links fracking with methane-contaminated drinking water

Household drinking water that comes from wells near known fracking sites contains levels of methane six times greater than what’s common elsewhere, a new...

Obama’s Faulty Plan a ‘Full-Throttle’ Endorsement of Fracking

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced his administration's "Climate Action Plan" for cutting carbon pollution in his second term in the Oval Office at Georgetown University and unfortunately, it's a full-throttle endorsement of every aspect of fracking and the global shale gas market.

Obama’s Love Affair With Fracking

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced his administration’s “Climate Action Plan” for cutting carbon pollution in his second term in the Oval Office at Georgetown University and unfortunately, it’s a full-throttle endorsement of every aspect of fracking and the global shale gas market.

Study: Drinking Water Contamination Linked to Fracking, Horizontal Drilling

Photo: William Avery Hudson/cc/flickrA new study is shedding more light on the environmental costs of shale gas extraction.Led by Robert B. Jackson of Duke...

‘Dash for gas’: Fracking flares to light up the British countryside

The beauty of the British countryside could soon take a backseat to burning flames. That’s according to the head of Britain’s largest fracking company,...

Energy Nominee Ernest Moniz Criticized for Backing Fracking and Nuclear Power; Ties to BP,...

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President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next secretary of energy is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before a key natural gas "fracking" study was released. Reaction to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against Moniz’s nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power. We speak to Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative and ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott, who have both authored investigations into Moniz’s ties to industry.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next energy secretary is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industry. Obama nominated MIT Professor Ernest Moniz last month to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I could not be more grateful to Steve for the incredible contribution that he’s made to this country. And now that he’s decided to leave Washington for sunny California, I’m proud to nominate another brilliant scientist to take his place, Mr. Ernie Moniz. So, there’s Ernie right there.

Now, the good news is that Ernie already knows his way around the Department of Energy. He is a physicist by training, but he also served as undersecretary of energy under President Clinton. Since then, he has directed MIT’s Energy Initiative, which brings together prominent thinkers and energy companies to develop the technologies that can lead us to more energy independence and also to new jobs. Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Ernest Moniz’s nomination as energy secretary on April 9th. Reactions to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against his nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power.

Much of the criticism of Moniz centers on his extensive ties to industry. He has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before the study was released.

We’re joined now by two guests. In New York, Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica, he recently wrote a piece called "Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group which recently published a report called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We invited MIT to join us on the show or send a comment to read on air, but we did not receive a response.

Kevin Connor, Justin Elliott, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Justin, let’s begin with you. Talk about Ernest Moniz’ record.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, well, I mean, and to some extent, this is kind of the classic revolving door situation. As President Obama mentioned when he nominated him to be energy secretary earlier this month, Moniz was an undersecretary in the department in President Clinton’s second term. After, he went back to MIT, but he also took a number of positions on boards of large energy companies or advisory councils, as you mentioned, that includes BP. It included a uranium enrichment company called USEC.

And I think there’s sort of two reasons why this is important. One is, some of these companies do business with the Energy Department and seek contracts and loan guarantees from the department. The other is, people in the environmental community think that this may inform how Ernest Moniz sets research priorities, so people are concerned that he’s—that he’s going to call for research on fossil fuels to the detriment of research on renewables, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: BP. Talk about his relationship with BP.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, there’s kind of two prongs on that front. One is, personally, Moniz did a six-year stint—paid, although BP won’t tell me how much—on BP’s science advisory council. It’s not really clear what he did. They don’t—BP doesn’t have to reveal much about it in their public SEC filings. At the same time, BP is one of the main funders of the MIT Energy Initiative. I think they have given—given or pledged a total of $50 million over the past few years. So he’s clearly—he’s clearly close to that company.

AMY GOODMAN: And how typical is this for a university professor?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, I think, in the science—in sciences and, in particular, in sort of the energy secretary, it’s increasingly—it’s increasingly common. I mean, Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, who’s also an academic, actually also had close ties to BP. BP had given a bunch of money to Steven Chu’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and Chu picked a BP executive to be one of his undersecretaries. And Chu was later involved in the government’s response to the Gulf oil spill. So, I mean, I think this is—this is certainly common if you’re going to be picking an academic who’s involved in energy, and particularly fossil fuel research.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to comments of the executive director the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC. Earlier this month, Peter Lehner posted on the NRDC blog a "To-Do List for the New Energy Secretary." In it, he wrote, quote, "As a scientist, Moniz is obviously a firm believer in the power of clean energy technology. [MIT’s Energy Initiative] projects under his tenure included windows that generate electricity, batteries built by viruses, and a biofuel made from yeast. But he also believes that technology must be complemented by policy in order to effect real change. As he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2006, in order to address global warming, we must 'have the will to take more than baby steps.'" NRDC is supporting Moniz’s nomination.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, Amy, and it’s completely true. Moniz has spoken in favor of renewable energy. I mean, I think the best way to sort of interpret his nomination is that he fits in with what Obama has called his "all-of-the-above" energy policy, which is to embrace things like fracking, continued use of oil, nuclear energy, but also develop wind and solar. And I think that that’s where Ernest Moniz is on energy policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to our guest in Los Angeles, Kevin Connor, and what you found in your report. Talk about the report that you did that looks at—well, the title of the report is "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders."

KEVIN CONNOR: Sure. Moniz’s nomination prompted us at the Public Accountability Initiative to take a closer look at an influential study that MIT did on "The Future of Natural Gas," as it was called, in 2011. It was issued by the Energy Initiative, which Moniz was the director of. And it gave a very pro-gas—put a very pro-gas spin on fracking and shale gas extraction, said that natural gas was a bridge or will be a bridge to a low-carbon future, said that the environmental impacts related to fracking are challenging but manageable, and also endorsed natural gas exports, which is a very industry-friendly position to take.

It immediately, you know, prompted some criticism from people who pointed to the fact that the report was actually industry-funded, much like the initiative itself. But it was extremely influential. It was designed to influence policymakers. Moniz testified before Congress on the report. It had immediate impact, as well. And it came at a critical time for the industry, which was facing significant questions about the safety of fracking, the relative environmental impacts of fracking. And we took a closer look at the study and found that beyond just the industry funding of the study, there were significant conflicts of interest that went undisclosed in the report itself and in presentations of the report, and those involved Moniz and several other key authors of the study. So, as it turns out, it was not only just funded by industry, it was also authored by industry representatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to turn to a 2011 press conference at the MIT Energy Initiative, where Ernest Moniz introduced the study now under contention, "The Future of Natural Gas." In his opening remarks, Professor Moniz emphasized the report’s independent of its sponsors and advisers.

ERNEST MONIZ: I do want to emphasize a disclaimer, if you like, that while their advice was absolutely critical, they are not responsible for the recommendations and the findings. We have not asked for endorsement. We asked for their advice; we received it. But the results, then, are our responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the presentation, co-chair Anthony Meggs introduces the MIT report’s findings, saying environmental impacts associated with fracking are, quote, "challenging but manageable." However, Meggs failed to disclose he had joined the gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study.

ANTHONY MEGGS: ... messages are very simple. First of all, there’s a lot of gas in the world, at very modest cost. As you will see, gas is still, globally speaking, a very young industry with a bright future ahead of it. Secondly, and perhaps obviously at this stage, although not so obvious when we started three years ago, shale gas is transformative for the economy of the United States, North America, for the gas industry, in particular, and potentially on a global scale. Thirdly, the environmental impacts of shale development, widely discussed and hotly debated, are—and we use these words carefully—challenging but manageable.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?

KEVIN CONNOR: It’s absolutely outrageous for the Energy Initiative, for Moniz and MIT to pretend this is independent of industry, well, first of all, given the fact that the sponsors of the report are all, you know, industry organizations and companies like Chesapeake Energy. Moniz was attempting to say that it was somehow insulated from the influence of these gas companies, when in fact authors of the study, such as Moniz and Meggs, were—had industry positions at the time.

Meggs’s quote there is particularly insidious, the fact that he is saying that fracking is safe for the environment, when he had actually joined Talisman Energy, a gas company, one of the most active frackers in the Marcellus Shale, a month before the study was released. So he is speaking to a roomful of journalists there, presenting a report designed to influence policy, and not disclosing that he is on the industry payroll. That is perhaps the last person in that room who should be presenting that finding or having anything to do with authoring that kind of report. And yet MIT and Moniz thought it was appropriate to put that spokesperson forward. So, it just goes to the fact that MIT was really sort of presenting an industry brochure here with a lot of pro-gas, industry advocacy talking points, and not revealing that there were significant conflicts of interest here.

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Elliott, would you like to weigh in?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, one thing to note is, Ernest Moniz is getting a confirmation hearing next month, and as part of that, he has to release a personal financial disclosure, and also, at some point later, he’ll have to—an ethics agreement will become public. So we should actually learn more about his current and recent involvement in these companies and possibly also stock holdings and that sort of thing, so it should be interesting. I think this story isn’t over yet.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. Our guests are Justin Elliott—he’s a reporter with ProPublica—and Kevin Connor, who has put out a report on—from the Public Accountability Project called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: In October of 2009, Obama’s energy secretary nominee, Ernest Moniz, introduced Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, before he delivered a speech at the MIT Energy Initiative. This took place six months before the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

ERNEST MONIZ: Tony, I think it’s fair to say, without getting into great details, faced a significant number of challenges at that time of transition and is, these days, getting quite good press, I might say, in terms of having the company operating well, producing and maintaining, I think, its stance, taken quite early, in terms of recognizing the need and acting on the need to address climate risk mitigation, for example, with its diversified portfolio. We are very pleased to have BP here as a member of the Energy Initiative—in fact, the founding—founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative. And in fact, as President Hockfield said just a few minutes ago to Tony, that that confidence shown in where we were going here at MIT, in terms of our focus on energy and environment, was very, very important, and we really appreciate that early support and the continuing relationship. In fact, many of you may know that besides the Energy Initiative, BP has a major presence in terms of a Projects Academy and Operations Academy with the Sloan School of Engineering. And in fact, I just heard, again, in the discussion a few moments ago, that 300 of BP’s 500 senior executives have, one way or another, interacted with MIT, so it’s really quite a substantial relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz speaking in October 2009, praising BP CEO Tony Hayward six months before the BP oil spill. Justin Elliott of ProPublica?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: I mean, one of the things that surprised me, actually, as I was researching this story, is the extent to which the MIT Energy Initiative is working with industry. I mean, it’s well known that they and other energy research projects get industry funding. But if you look at their annual reports and even their website, they say, if you give us money as a company, we will help you achieve specific business goals. So, I mean, in a lot of the coverage of Moniz, he has been presented as an academic, which he is, but in some ways I think the traditional categories are sort of failing us—sort of academic versus business executive. I mean, this really is a part of—I mean, it’s not formally part of BP, but they’re working as essentially a subcontractor for BP. So I think that’s really—and again, I mean, President Obama specifically praised Ernest Moniz’s ties with business when he introduced him. So, I mean, it’s up for interpretation whether or not these ties are a good thing, but I think that’s really the proper way to see his background and who he is.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to ask you about the broader issue of what some call
"frackademia," gas-industry-funded academic research. In February of 2012, a year ago, University of Texas Professor Charles Groat published a study that suggested fracking did not lead to groundwater contamination. However, the study did not disclose Groat’s seat on the board of major Texas fracker Plains Exploration and Production Company, for which he was reportedly given $400,000 in 2011. That’s more than double his university salary. I want to go to a clip of Professor Groat explaining his study’s finding.

CHARLES GROAT: The immediate concern with shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing was that fracturing at several thousand feet below the surface would put chemicals into groundwater that people drank that would be very bad for your health, and so people were very much opposed to hydraulic fracturing from that point of view. So, an important part of our study was to determine whether or not there is any direct, verified evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself was producing contaminated waters that ended up in that process in groundwater. Our preliminary finding is we have found no demonstrated evidence that that—demonstration that that has happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?

KEVIN CONNOR: Well, as you noted, Groat, when he was saying this, had a serious stake in a gas company called PXP, $1.6 million stake, made several hundred thousand dollars a year, over $400,000 a year in 2011, and was going before the public and saying fracking is safe, without disclosing any of these related interests. I mean, there’s some question as to whether someone with that sort of stake in the industry should be working on this at all, but at the very least it should be disclosed to the public, to journalists.

And because Groat didn’t disclose it, it resulted in a lot of blowback in Texas. The journalists were very concerned that Groat had not highlighted this for them when the report was released, and it resulted in quite a bit of media coverage. The University of Texas ended up commissioning an external review of the study, which concluded that the study should actually be retracted and noted that Groat’s conflict of interest was quite serious and should have been disclosed. So, the sorts of transgressions that we see at MIT have actually resulted in real accountability at other universities. Groat actually retired as a result of this episode. And the director of the Energy Institute at Texas, which is sort of an analog to MIT’s Energy Initiative—the director actually resigned in the wake of this external review. So there have been real consequences. There has been real pushback against this trend at other universities. And there’s some question as to whether that will happen with MIT.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, going back to Moniz, because you’re talking about Groat here, not to be confused with the energy secretary nominee of President Obama, talk about what he makes at MIT, both as a university professor but also his outside funding.

KEVIN CONNOR: I’m actually not sure of his salary at MIT. I don’t believe it’s publicly disclosed there, though it will be released in his financial disclosures. But as a board member at ICF International, which is an oil and gas—well, it’s a consulting firm with a significant energy practice and significant oil and gas ties—he’s made over $300,000 in the past two years since joining the board. This is a position where he attends several meetings a year. It’s certainly not a full-time position, and yet he’s making over $150,000 a year in stock and cash compensation. So these are not insignificant financial ties he has.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Justin Elliott, Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Can you talk about the significance of that for energy policy, if he were to become the next energy secretary?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. I mean, actually, the Department of Energy, the majority of its budget goes to maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and also they’re in charge of cleanup of old nuclear waste. He’s been a strong and public supporter of nuclear power. And that’s actually the area where some of these business ties get into areas of potential conflicts. As I mentioned earlier, he was previously on an advisory council of a uranium enrichment company called USEC, one of the—one of the largest, and they’ve been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department to build a centrifuge plant in Ohio. That’s been on hold for a few years while they look into it further. So, it will be interesting to see whether Moniz has to recuse himself from that or whether it gets mentioned in any of the congressional hearings, but that’s certainly one of the big areas the Energy Department is active in.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Moniz wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2011, "It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits." He wrote, "Electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide in the United States than does transportation or industry, and nuclear power is the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the country."

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And again, I mean, I think this is in keeping with President Obama’s, quote, "all-of-the-above," unquote, energy policy. I mean, this is—this is Obama nominating someone as energy secretary who is in keeping with the administration’s stated policy.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has long been pro-nuclear power—in fact, is the one who is restarting nuclear power plants after, what, some 40 years of the last one being built.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And I think the only reason that effort has stalled is the price of natural gas, because of fracking, going down so low that nuclear power plants have become less economically feasible than they were five years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Kevin Connor, as you release your report, director of Public Accountability Initiative, the report that you did called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?" has MIT responded? And were you able to speak with Professor Moniz?

KEVIN CONNOR: I did call the Energy Initiative but was not able to speak with Dr. Moniz. And the Energy Initiative did actually respond, through a spokesperson, with a statement that didn’t really speak to questions I had raised about how the conflicts of interest surrounding the report were managed and disclosed. One critical conflict of interest I didn’t note earlier was that one of the study authors, John Deutch, was on the board of Cheniere Energy, a liquefied natural gas company, LNG export company. That wasn’t disclosed in the study. The study actually endorsed natural gas exports. He has a $1.6 million stake in that company. MIT Energy Initiative—

AMY GOODMAN: Central Intelligence Agency?

KEVIN CONNOR: —basically had no response, just said that the authors aren’t biased, which is hard to believe, given these connections.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, John Deutch, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency?

KEVIN CONNOR: Exactly. Former director of the CIA was actually a study author here and is on the board of the only company in the U.S. to receive permits to export LNG from the lower 48 states. And again, this study endorsed LNG exports on fairly—a fairly thin basis of evidence and didn’t disclose this connection, which is really, again, quite outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to leave it there; of course, we’ll continue to follow the nominee. The confirmation hearings will take place on April 9th. Justin Elliott, ProPublica reporter, and Kevin Connor, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Justin wrote "Drilling Deeper," looking at "The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And Kevin Connor wrote the study, "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We will link to it at democracynow.org.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. And when we come back, we’ll be joined by a well-known anchor here in New York, Cheryl Wills, who in this month of Women’s History Month—and we’ve just come out of African-American History Month—we’ll talk about what she found about her family. She wrote the book, Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. Stay with us.

New ‘Voluntary Standards’ Don’t Make Fracking Safe

In the debate over our energy future, I keep coming back to the question of whether or not fracking can be done safely. There is no question that once out of the ground, natural gas burns cleaner than coal but the actual process of fracking to date has documented evidence of water contamination, increased risk of earthquakes in areas not prone to earthquakes, and mysterious health problems in fracking communities. Adding to this, fracking results in significant methane release and because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, there is no net climate benefit to using natural gas that is extracted by fracking.

But, could fracking be regulated and made safe? A new collaboration between environmentalists and oil and gas companies is attempting to set higher performance standards for fracking in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development lists Chevron, Shell, and the Environmental Defense Fund among the 11 partners that have been brought together. So far, the group has released an initial set of 15 performance standards that reduce gas well flaring, develop groundwater protection plans, implement no-leak valves and piping, and recycles 90 percent of the wastewater. There are also some disclosure requirements for the fracking fluids, but still allows for a “trade secret” exclusion that only requires the relevant chemical family name be disclosed.

These standards go beyond what is currently required, but that says more about the lack of adequate regulations than the work of the Center. The Center will certify companies meet their performance standards but there is no requirement that a fracking company must be certified before it can operate in a state. Environmental and community groups have criticized the collaboration because ultimately, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and continued reliance on it will do nothing to stop the climate crisis. In addition, Sandy Buchanan, the director of Ohio Citizen Action said, "This deal in no way represents the interests or agreement of the people being harmed by fracking in Ohio."

While the Center’s efforts are better than nothing, they don’t really change whether fracking can be done safely. What happens to fracking operators that aren’t certified or who violate a performance standard? They would possibly get rebuked by the Center, which has no legal or regulatory enforcement power. This is, in fact, the definition of greenwashing. Oil and gas companies can claim to abide by these higher standards but there is no guarantee or repercussions if they don’t comply.

The Center’s new standards are not a game changer. They do not change the fact that natural gas is a finite resource. They do not make fracking safer because they are not enforceable. If anything, they provide cover for oil and gas interests that want to derail the transition to a clean economy powered by renewable energy.

The fact remains that we will have to transition to a renewable energy economy and the longer we wait, the harder and more expensive it will be. Instead of putting all these focus and energy into a dead-end fossil fuel, we should be investing that focus and energy into building out a renewable energy economy.

UK Budget Protects Corrupt Energy Corps

Surprise surprise, as the mainstream media subserviently celebrates the announcement that a pint of beer will now be 1p cheaper, what is seemingly an act of misdirection, George Osborne has gotten away with it again.

Fracking our Future: the Corrosive Influence of Extreme Energy

fracking

by Frack Off

Following in the wake of shale gas and coal-bed methane (CBM) extraction is the spectre of underground coal gasification (UCG). But if we adopt these wholesale we could close off any hope of stepping back from the climate change brink, says campaign group Frack Off

The earthquakes caused by the first attempt to frack a shale gas well in the UK, almost two years ago, were a wake up call that has implications far beyond the damage caused to Cuadrilla’s well-bore. When your plan for getting gas is fracturing rock two miles under the Lancashire countryside, you know the cheap and easy energy is long gone.

The signs have been there for many years, from oil rigs pushing out into deeper and deeper water to the vast tar sands mining operations in Alberta, getting energy is taking increasing amounts of effort. People have been slow to connect the dots but now with the exploitation of unconventional gas threatening to spread thousands of wells, pipelines and other industrial infrastructure across the country, the issue of this relentless rise in energy extraction effort is finally beginning to get the attention that it deserves.


Like yeast growing in a vat, the fundamental question has always been whether industrial society will be poisoned by it’s own waste (alcohol in the case of yeast) before it runs out of resources (sugar). While significant attention has been paid to the relentless build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, worrying about running out fossil fuels has been very much a fringe activity.

The answer to this question has now become somewhat clearer, though it is much more nuanced than most people would expect. Rather than destruction by environmental crisis (“climate change”) or economic crisis (“peak oil”) we face an intricately linked combination of the two (“extreme energy”). This is not to deny the importance of either climate change or peak oil, but they not only have the same cause but are happening in the context of each other, so neither can be viewed in isolation.

Unsustainable energy

As our society’s unsustainable consumption of energy depletes easier to extract resources, it is driving the exploitation of evermore extreme and damaging energy sources. From fracking to the push to build a string of new biomass power stations which will devour the world’s remaining forests and the plans for a wave of new, more dangerous, nuclear power stations, energy extraction is becoming much more destructive.

In the past the dominant environmental impact of exploiting fossil fuels was the impact of the carbon emissions associated with burning them but as the effort required for energy extraction has grown, so have the environmental consequences of the extraction processes themselves. The poster child for this effect are the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, but across the globe, from the Arctic Ocean to the rainforests of Borneo, energy extraction is driving increasing environmental destruction.

A common propaganda tool is to portray such concerns as a stark choice between economic growth and environmental preservation, but in reality extreme energy is as damaging to people’s economic well-being as it is to the environment.

As extraction effort grows, a greater fraction of economic activity must be allocated to the energy sector. In a market economy the mechanism by which this is achieved is, of course, rising energy prices, which will have the effect of diverting resources away from other activities.

In the last decade the fraction of the global economy devoted to energy extraction has almost tripled, to over 10 percent of GDP. If the use of more extreme extraction methods increases then an even greater proportion of the worlds resources must be sacrificed to these efforts.

This path leads to a world where energy extraction dominates the economy, and the majority of the population lives in its shadow. Look at the Niger Delta to see what such a world looks like.

The greatest threat

In the UK unconventional gas is by far the greatest threat. Despite the North Sea in terminal decline and increasing pressure on imports there is an insidious push to increase our dependence on gas. Fracking is seen as the way to achieve this but even if is feasible, it would require drilling of tens of thousands of wells and the devastation of the huge swathes of countryside. This will result in toxic and radioactive water contamination, air pollution, severe health effects in human and animals and increased greenhouse gas emissions all for a very short term hit of extremely expensive gas.

Following in the wake of shale gas and coal-bed methane (CBM) is the even more dire spectre of underground coal gasification (UCG) which involves partially burning coal underground and bringing the resulting gases to the surface. UCG has an even worse record of environmental contamination and could potentially emit enough carbon to raise global temperatures by up to 10 degrees Celsius.

A wholesale adoption of fracking and associated methods would close off perhaps our last chance to step back from the brink. Extreme energy requires a dedication to energy production to the exclusion of all else, which would radically alter the structure of our society.

Increasingly, more expensive energy infrastructure must be built, which will divert huge amounts resources away from worthwhile activities. It will quickly become the case that the largest single consumer of the energy produced will be energy extraction processes themselves. We will end up on a treadmill running faster and faster just to stand still as everything falls apart around us.

The decision we face is between prioritising abstract notions of profit and growth or the real well-being of communities and ecosystems. The two can no longer pretend to coexist.

Useful Links

Frack Off: www.frack-off.org.uk

‘Forward’ on Fracking? Obama Scientist Makes Industry-Friendly Push for Gas Drilling Bonanza

One of Obama's top scientific advisers has signaled that the White House is poised to make a major push for the controversial practice of known as fracking--which environmental campaigners say is a betrayal of a truly clean energy agenda and evidence that the administration still misunderstands the severity of the climate dangers associated with all forms of fossil fuels.

Green groups, progressives, and environmentalists, though not unaware of Obama's long held "all of the above" approach to US energy may still be shocked to hear the degree to which the administration is gearing up for a push of the practice that studies show have dramatic negative impacts on the environment and communities close to drilling operations.(Photo: Star Tribune) The signals by Prof. William Press, an astrophysicist who heads the government-funded American Association for the Advancement of Science, were made at both an industry conference this week and in an interview with the Observer in the UK.

"The gas industry is straining to develop underground natural gas reserves across the nation and would love to know the exact rules and constraints by which it can carry out fracking in different states," Press told the Observer's Robin McKie. "Once they know that, they can get on with it."

Press then indicated that Obama "could use executive orders to outline those rules in the very near future and so initiate widespread gas fracking in the US."

Green groups, progressives, and environmentalists—though not unaware of Obama's long held "all of the above" approach to US energy—may still be shocked to hear the degree to which the administration is gearing up for a push of the practice that studies show have dramatic negative impacts on the environment and communities close to drilling operations.

As economist Robert Pollin said in response to Obama's State of the Union earlier this week, the good news was the president's commitment to a clean energy future. The bad news? His continued commitment to a dirty energy future.

"Let’s get serious here: Natural gas is not a clean fuel," Pollin said.

"Yes, emissions are only half as bad as with coal, and it is also modestly cleaner than oil. But that isn’t good enough. If we allow our natural gas production to expand significantly—or even to stay where it is today—there is no way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by anything close by the 40 percent that is necessary by 2030, and by 80 percent as of 2050."

State level fights against fracking are ongoing in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvanian, New York, and elsewhere as local communities fight back against gas giants trying to cash in on the fracking boom.

But Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, says the practice should be stopped in its tracks, not expanded. "Any position short of a ban on fracking is hurting the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions in the long term," she said, "saddling us with 50 years of infrastructure to continue fracking for gas that will be exported around the world."

As McKie reports, the claim that natural gas is actually cleaner or less carbon intensive than coal or oil is disputed by environmentalists and scientific study:

Greenpeace says no proper analysis has been done on gas leakage from fracking sites. In particular, there is a fear that methane – which is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – may be escaping from wells and adding to the warming of the atmosphere. Campaigners also claim that there have been more than 1,000 cases of groundwater contamination in the US because of fracking and have urged a moratorium on underground drilling.

And as Common Dreams reported last month:

New research on "alarmingly high methane emissions" brings further environmental scrutiny to natural gas extraction including fracking, and illustrates how the boom in the industry may well be a plan for climate disaster.

The findings, led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, the journal Nature reports, and reiterated data the team first noted in February of 2012 that 4% of the methane produced at a field near Denver was escaping into the atmosphere. The team also presented preliminary findings from a Utah study that suggested an even higher rate of methane emissions—9% of the total production.

NOAA describes methane as 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2.

"We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see," says Colm Sweeney, who led the aerial component of the study as head of the aircraft program at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.

All of this happens amidst a growing climate movement in the US that is putting laser-like focus on the Obama administration to match presidential rhetoric with meaningful executive action. This is best highlighted by the ongoing fight around the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, against which campaigners say they will determine if Obama is willing to show courage by defying the fossil fuel industry's demand for building the pipeline.

On Sunday, over 200 organizations—led by 350.org, Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus—are holding a rally in history in Washington, DC to apply public pressure on the president to oppose—"once and for all"—the Keystone XL project.

But the larger focus of the rally, called Forward on Climate, is to demand that Obama and his colleagues in Congress take notice of the changing political tide across the country in addition to the changing climate.

"We’re having the largest rally in U.S. history on climate change in the National Mall this Sunday," said Sierra Club president Michael Brune. "And it’s coming at a time where there are several important decisions that the president will make: about mountain top removal, about fracking across the country, about drilling in the arctic, whether or not to build a deadly and destructive pipeline."

"What we’re seeing is a resurgence of committed, passionate Americans who are willing to advocate and fight for clean energy," Brune said.

So the voices are loud and clear. The questions remain: Will Obama listen to those leading the climate fight? And will he follow?

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Stopping The Corporate Plunder Of The TTIP/TAFTA By Campaigning For An Alternative Trade Mandate

Global Research and Countercurrents 2/4/2014

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP – previously known as TAFTA, Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) is a trade agreement that is presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.


There is growing concern that the negotiations could result in the opening of the floodgates for genetically modified organisms and shale gas (fracking) in Europe, the threatening of digital and labour rights and the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regulations which they dislike. The negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and, while striving to give the appearance of somehow being democratic, effectively constitute part of the ongoing corporate hijack of democracy and the further restructuring of economies in favour of elite interests (1,2,3,4,5,6).


A European alliance of over 50 civil society organizations (7) are in the process of launching the ‘Alternative Mandate’ pledge campaign (8), calling on European Parliament election candidates to make EU trade and investment policy serve people and the planet, not just the profit of a few large corporations.


Lyda Fernanda Forero of the Transnational Institute, a member of the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance says:


“The EU’s current trade and investment policy is a recipe for disaster for people around the world. The EU is leading an aggressive agenda to open markets for global agri-business. This is wiping out small farmers and is a major cause of hunger. Excessive investor rights take away much needed policy space. We need to break away from this corporate driven agenda.”

The online pledge campaign will run in six EU languages (EN, FR, ES, DE, GR, HU) and will enable activists and citizens to ask candidates to pledge in support of a paradigm shift in EU trade and investment policy. The website will monitor which candidates have supported different parts of the pledge.


MEP candidates will be asked to support measures that enable people to control their own local food systems as well as core labour standards and human rights’ assessments of EU trade and investment policy. Candidates will also be asked to oppose the controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism and to call on the European Commission to immediately publish all texts from trade and investment negotiations with third countries such as, for example, the United States.


Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, a member of the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance:


“EU trade deals are negotiated behind closed doors in the interests of a few rich corporations. People who are affected by these deals, both in the EU and abroad, are not consulted. We need MEPs to stand up for an open and democratic EU trade policy-making process which is controlled by the people of Europe and their elected representatives, rather than being driven by unelected technocrats and corporate lobby groups.”

The pledge campaign is the result of a four-year process of public workshops held all over Europe during which the Alternative Trade Mandate was developed; it is a 20-page civil society proposal to democratise EU trade and investment policy and put environmental protection as well as human and labour rights at its heart (9). Some MEPs have already supported the proposal via video messages (10).


Amélie Canonne, co-ordinator of the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance:


 “At a time of multiple global crises, the European Parliament needs MEPs who will support trade rules that work for people and the planet. We need MEPs who will bring trade deals out of the shadows and into the light. We call on MEP candidates to stand up for democratic trade and investment rules that serve people, the economy and the environment at large – not just the profit interests of a few.”

Notes:

7) Current members of the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance are: Afrika Kontakt (Denmark), Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (Germany), AITEC (France), Alternative Trade Network (Greece), Attac Austria, Attac France, Attac Germany, Attac Hungary, Attac Spain, Bothends (Netherlands), CAWN, CNCD (Belgium), Colibri (Germany), Comhlamh (Ireland), Commission of Filipino migrant workers (Netherlands), Corporate Europe Observatory (Belgium), Ecologistas en Accion (Spain), European Milkboard, Fair Trade Advocacy Office (Belgium), Fairwatch (Italy), FDCL (Germany), FIAN Germany, Food & Water Europe, Germanwatch (Germany), GMB (UK), Misereor (Germany), No Patents on Life! (Germany), Oxfam Germany, Philippinenbuero (Germany), Platform Aarde Boer Consument (Earth, Farmer, Consumer – Netherlands), Platform of Filipino Migrant Organisations in Europe, PowerShift (Germany), Seattle to Brussels Network, SOMO (Netherlands), Terra Nuova (Italy), Trade Justice Movement (UK), Transnational Institute (Netherlands), Trocaire (Ireland), Vedegylet (Hungary), War on Want (UK), WEED (Germany), World Development Movement (UK), Za Zemiata (Bulgaria), 11.11.11. (Belgium)

Supporter organisations: ActionAid Netherlands, Africa Roots Movement (Netherlands), Afrikagrupperna (Sweden), Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), Afrikagrupperna (Sweden), ASEED Europe, Attac Denmark, CEE Bankwatch Network (headquatered in the Czech Republic), Clean Clothes Campaign Netherlands, Confédération paysanne (France), Dutch section of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF – Netherlands), European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), FAIR TRADE HELLA (Greece), FIOM-CGIL (Metalworkers Federation – Italy), FIAN Netherlands, FNV Netherlands, France Amérique Latine (France), Friends of the Earth Europe, Glopolis (Czech Republic), Hegoa (Spain), Indian Committee of the Netherlands, Milieu Defensie (Netherlands), National Peace and Justice Network (UK), OIKOS (Netherlands), Philippinenbüro (Germany), Platform Aarde Boer Consumer (Netherlands), Platform for an economy based on sustainability and solidarity (Netherlands), Respect Network in Europe, STRO (Netherlands), Supermacht (Netherlands), Traidcraft (UK), Transnational Migrant Platform (TMP), TRUSTED Migrants (Netherlands), La Via Campesina Europe, Wemos (Netherlands), XminY (Netherlands)

8) Visit the pledge campaign website at: www.alternativetrademandate.org

10) Why support the Alternative Trade Mandate? Responses from trade justice activists, http://www.alternativetrademandate.org/why-supporting-the-alternative-trade-mandate-some-responses-in-video/




Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement Consultation: A smokescreen For A Corporate Agenda


Global Research and Countercurrents 28/3/2014

The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the US and EU aims to ‘protect’ investment and remove ‘unnecessary regulatory barriers’. Corporate interests are driving the agenda, the public have been sidelined and unaccountable, pro-free-trade bureaucrats are facilitating the strategy (1). 


There is growing concern that the negotiations could result in the opening of the floodgates for GMOs and shale gas (fracking) in Europe, the threatening of digital and labour rights and the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regulations which they dislike.


One of the key aspects of the negotiations is that both the EU and US should recognise their respective rules and regulations, which in practice could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The official language talks of ‘mutual recognition’ of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers. For the EU, that could mean accepting US standards in many areas, including food and agriculture, which are lower than the EU’s.


Even the leaders of the US Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.


Food lobby group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies (Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, etc.), has welcomed the negotiations, with one of their key demands being the facilitation of the low level presence of unapproved GM crops.


The TAFTA negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and are closed to proper public scrutiny (2,3,4). They amount to little more than grubby back room deals, while striving to give the appearance of somehow being democratic, and effectively constitute part of the ongoing corporate hijack of democracy and the further restructuring of economies in favour of elite interests (5,6,7).


However, despite claims by the European Commission that there is no secrecy (8), the notes of European Commission meetings with business lobbyists released to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) under the EU’s freedom of information law were heavily censored. The documents showed that the EC invited industry to submit wish lists for ‘regulatory barriers’ they would like removed during the negotiations. There is no way for the public to know how the EU has incorporated this into its negotiating position as all references have been removed (4). The documents show clearly that removing differences in EU and US regulations is the key issue in the talks: in other words, a race to the bottom in setting the lowest barriers possible.


A leaked EU document (9) from the winter of 2013 shows the Commission proposing an EU-US Regulatory Cooperation Council, a permanent structure to be created as part of the TAFTA deal. Existing and future EU regulation will then have to go through a series of investigations, dialogues and negotiations in this Council. This would move decisions on regulations into a technocratic sphere, away from democratic scrutiny. Also, there would be compulsory impact assessments for proposed regulation, which will be checked for their potential impact on trade. This would be ideal for big business lobbies: creating a firm brake on any new progressive regulation in the very first stage of decision-making.


As if all of this isn’t bad enough, there is also the highly contentious trade-investor dispute settlement provision in TAFTA. It would enable UScompanies investing in Europe to bypass European courts and challenge EU governments at international tribunals whenever they find that laws in the area of public health, environmental or social protection interfere with their profits. EU companies investing abroad would have the same privilege in the US.


This constitutes a charter for the systematic destruction and dismantling of legislation that exists to protect the hard-won rights of workers and ordinary people.


Across the world, big business has already used such investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade and investment agreements to claim massive sums in compensation.  Tribunals, consisting of ad hoc three-member panels hired from a small club of private lawyers riddled with conflicts of interest, have granted billions of euros to companies, courtesy of taxpayers (10).


EU and US companies have used these lawsuits to destroy any competition or threats to their profits by for example challenging green energy and medicine policies, anti-smoking legislation, bans on harmful chemicals, environmental restrictions on mining, health insurance policies and measures to improve the economic situation of minorities.


If governments and parliaments fail to act to protect the public's interests, powerful corporations will acquire carte blanche to rein in democracy and curb policies devised for the public good.


Despite such major concerns, campaigners from the Seattleto Brussels Network(11) have criticised the European Commission’s recently implemented consultation on the investor rights in the EU-US trade deal as a mock consultation aimed at selling its pro-industry agenda, rather than an honest attempt to have a much-needed open debate on the issue.


Roos van Os of the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), a member of the Seattleto Brussels Network, has said:


“Those who reject the undemocratic and dangerous investor-state dispute settlement system will have no opportunity in this consultation to voice their opposition because the Commission’s biased questions provide no option for that. The Commission should make itself available for a real debate, not a cowardly advertising campaign for its corporate agenda.”

In meetings with the Commission, members of its civil society advisory group on the EU-US trade deal had stressed the need for the consultation to be intelligible for non-experts and for there to be balanced questions. But the Commission’s consultation questionnaire only contains questions about its agenda for minor reforms to salvage the controversial investor-state dispute settlement system, in a 40-page legalistic text which will be difficult for members of the public to understand.


Marc Maes of the Belgian development organisation and also a member of the Seattleto Brussels Network:


 “The Commission’s so-called reform agenda does nothing to address the basic flaws of the investor-state dispute settlement system. Therefore foreign companies will continue to have greater rights than domestic firms and citizens. And international tribunals consisting of three for-profit lawyers will continue to decide over what policies are right or wrong, disregarding domestic laws, courts and democracy.”

Analyses of leaked investment texts from the EU-Canada trade negotiations indicate that the EU’s approach to investment protection does very little to protect the right to regulate (in fact it sometimes does the exact opposite) and it will establish an arbitration system that is far inferior to domestic legal systems in the EU and North America (12).


Pia Eberhardt, trade campaigner with CEO, another member of the Seattleto Brussels Network, said:


“The investor-state arbitration system cannot be tamed. Profit-greedy law firms and their corporate clients will always find a way to attack countries for actions that threaten their profits. The corporate super-rights should be abolished – and people in Europe should not miss this crucial opportunity to tell the Commission to do so.”


To enhance public scrutiny and democratic debate about the controversial investor rights in EU trade agreements, members of the Seattleto Brussels Network have set up a website to publish leaked negotiating texts and critical analyses of these texts: http://eu-secretdeals.info/


The network is also inviting civil society organisations and members of the public to participate in ongoing online actions against the dangerous corporate rights in EU trade deals.


Be informed and take action:



Corporate EuropeObservatory: http://corporateeurope.org/tags/ttip



Notes


11) The Seattleto Brussels Network (S2B) includes development, environmental, human rights, women’s and farmers’ organisations, trade unions and social movements working together for a truly sustainable, just and democratic trade policy in Europewww.s2bnetwork.org

12) See, for example: IISD (2014): A Response to the European Commission’s December 2013 Document “Investment Provisions in the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CETA)”, http://www.iisd.org/pdf/2014/reponse_eu_ceta.pdf; Seattle to Brussel Network (2014): Investment in CETA – A response to a lobby document by DG Trade, http://eu-secretdeals.info/upload/2014/03/S2B-Marc-Maes-CETA-Investment_Response-to-DG-Trade-claims-March-7-2014_v2.pdf.



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Timothy Alexander Guzman, Silent Crow News – A major economic crisis is looming in the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico, a US Commonwealth will be the center of attention in the world of finance in the coming months ahead.  Puerto Rico’s economy has been in a recession since 2006 and its bonds are close to junk status.  Puerto Rico is facing an alarming economic downturn that is clearly unsustainable.  The economy is headed for a major collapse, one not seen since the great depression, this time it could be far worse.  Puerto Rico has $70 billion in debt and an underfunded government pension system that will be eventually face cuts which only adds to more economic uncertainties for the population.  Unemployment levels are at 14.7 percent and a mass migration of the Puerto Rican people to the United States in search of better opportunities has taking hold.  Puerto Rico’s economy is dependent upon the United States government and its corporations, which many are pharmaceutical conglomerates.  It is politically and socially a “Colonial Possession” of the United States since the Spanish-American war of 1898.  However, Puerto Rico is not alone.  The United States has other colonial possessions namely Guam, American Samoa in the Pacific and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  France and Great Britain also has “Colonial Possessions” or “Overseas Territories” in a number of regions throughout the world.  Puerto Rico is no exception to the rule; it is a colony that has been exploited politically and economically for more than a century under US rule.

Puerto Rico’s economy is in a dire situation. As of October 2013, the official number of people who are unemployed is at 14.7 percent, perhaps a lot higher if you count those that have dropped out of the labor force because they are no longer looking for employment opportunities.  The Public debt is currently at $70 Billion and increasing daily. Early this month an article written by Justin Velez-Hagan who is executive director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce for Forbes magazine titled ‘Default: Puerto Rico’s Inevitable Option’ describes what lead to Puerto Rico’s debt crises:

With triple tax exemption (federal, state, and local), combined with higher-than-average yields, Puerto Rican bonds became so popular in recent years that it was able to rack up $70 billion of debt now held by institutional investors and mutual funds alike. The debt-to-GDP ratio is now nearly 70% and growing, not including pension obligations, which raises the ratio to over 90%. With a per capita debt load of $19,000 and growing, Puerto Ricans shoulder almost 4 times the burden of U.S. leader Massachusetts which carries a deficit of $5,077 per citizen

Puerto Rico’s debt is 4 times larger than Massachusetts who Velez-Hagan acknowledges as the most indebted state per citizen with $19,000. The Washington Post also sounded alarm bells concerning Puerto Rico’s economic crises. In ‘Puerto Rico, with at least $70 billion in debt, confronts a rising economic misery’ Michael A. Fletcher describes what the commonwealth faces with cuts to pensions and government jobs and a rise in taxes all across the board including small and big businesses causing a migration of Puerto Ricans to major US cities:

The economy here has been in recession for nearly eight years, crimping tax revenue and pushing the jobless rate to nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, the government is burdened by staggering debt, spawning comparisons to bankrupt Detroit and forcing lawmakers to severely slash pensions, cut government jobs and raise taxes in a furious effort to avert default.

The implications are serious for Americans outside Puerto Rico both because a taxpayer bailout would be expensive and a default would be far more disruptive than Detroit’s record bankruptcy filing in July. Officials in San Juan and Washington are adamant that a federal bailout is not on the table, but the situation is being closely monitored by the White House, which recently named an advisory team to help Puerto Rican officials navigate the crisis.

The island’s problems have ignited an exodus not seen here since the 1950s, when 500,000 people left for jobs on the mainland. Now Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are again leaving in droves.  They are choosing the uncertainty of the job market in Orlando or New York City or Philadelphia over what they view as the certainty that their dreams would be crushed by the U.S. territory’s grinding economic problems.

Bloomberg Businessweek also published an article with concerns affecting the “Muni-Bond Market” that can rattle Wall Street’s Mutual Fund companies. ‘Puerto Rico’s Borrowing Binge Could Rock the Muni-Bond Market’ stated the facts:

The island’s plight affects almost anyone with a mutual fund invested in the municipal-bond market. Exempt from local, state, and federal taxes in the U.S., Puerto Rican bonds are held by 77 percent of muni funds, according to research firm Morningstar (MORN). About 180 funds, including ones run by OppenheimerFunds, Franklin Templeton Investments (BEN), and Dreyfus (BK), have 5 percent of their assets or more in Puerto Rican bonds.

General-obligation bonds, or GOs, which account for about 15 percent of the commonwealth’s public debt, carry the lowest investment-grade rating from Moody’s Investors Service (MCO) and S&P. A downgrade could force many mutual funds to sell part of their Puerto Rican holdings, flooding the market. “Puerto Rico could represent a systemic issue for the municipal-bond market,” says Carlos Colón de Armas, an economist and former official of the Government Development Bank, which conducts the island’s capital-markets transactions. “We are now in a situation where the bonds are trading like junk. I think the ratings agencies have been careful not to lower the GOs further, to avoid creating havoc in the muni-bond market.”

The Obama administration is sending a team of economic advisors according to Bloomberg News last month “With a $70 billion debt load and a substantially underfunded government pension system, the island has fueled market speculation it may need a bailout from Washington.” The report also stated what was on the agenda:

Most of the group’s work will focus on improving Puerto Rico’s management of federal funds to ensure officials are getting the amounts they are entitled to and putting them to effective use, according to the officials.  “There is less here than some people think,” said Jeffrey Farrow, who served as the Clinton White House’s liaison on Puerto Rican affairs. “This is pretty straightforward and an extension of what they have been doing in the past, but more intense, formalized and public.”

The first team of officials was scheduled to be from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health, Education and Housing and Urban Development departments, officials said.  Puerto Rico’s education, health and housing departments are among of the biggest recipients of federal funding and have also been responsible for past Puerto Rico budget shortfalls.

The EPA’s intervention may stem from concerns regarding the ability of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to comply with new federal air quality regulations that take effect in 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the agencies participating under Washington’s request. Washington has required that the Puerto Rico government and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) comply with new federal air quality regulations by 2015. The online news source Caribbean Business reported back on July 11th, 2013 ‘PREPA falling behind on 2015 EPA Deadline’ that Puerto Rico is in a race to meet Washington’s air-quality standards by 2015:

A high-ranking regulatory official is concerned that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) isn’t moving fast enough to comply with strict federal air-quality standards taking effect in two years, as industry sources told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that key decisions on the compliance process won’t be taken until next spring.  Prepa plans to either close or convert most of its oil-firing units to natural gas to comply with the new air-quality standards, but it won’t select a liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplier and decide on a method to deliver the gas to north-coast plants until March 2014, according to industry sources. That means the final contracts would probably not be enacted and finalized until the fourth quarter of 2014, they added.

Meanwhile, Prepa has an agreement with Texas-based Excelerate Energy to construct an offshore LNG terminal to feed the massive Aguirre powerplant in Guayama. A formal application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was filed in April and the project remains in the permitting phase. Excelerate officials have said they expect the facility to be in service in early 2015, but that outlook depends on getting timely federal approval on its environmental impact statement and several permits.

Puerto Rico’s plan to convert most of its oil-firing units to natural gas will have an impact on its economy. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) does not have the economic capacity to invest in the construction of new plants that would supply natural gas. “While the cash-strapped public utility can’t afford to build its own plants, there is interest from large energy companies to construct new generation units through public-private partnerships (P3s)” the report stated. “That is especially the case because the move to natural gas isn’t just about compliance, but about bringing down power costs.” Caribbean Business said that Edgardo Fábregas, a former member of PREPA’s board confirmed that the public utility is considering a plan to construct a gas-fired plant “The former Prepa board member said the public utility was considering a longer-term plan to construct, through a P3 initiative, a massive natural gas-fired plant, probably on the site of Arecibo’s Cambalache plant, which is rarely used.” The report also said that Fábregas admitted to the costs associated with the project:

To do a project right, building a plant that could “flex up or down” rapidly and would have the capacity to power the entire north coast, would cost $7 billion, and take six years to build. The project would allow for the elimination of the Palo Seco and San Juan plants, Fábregas said. “We have to move to natural gas as soon as we can, but at the end of the day, you have to renew your system. I understand the cost and time implications involved, but if we don’t start, we will never finish,” he added.

According to Robert Bryce, a senior fellow with the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in New York City produced a report called ‘The High Cost of Renewable-Electricity Mandates’. He wrote about the effects of Washington’s new air-quality proposal:

Motivated by a desire to reduce carbon emissions, and in the absence of federal action to do so, 29 states (and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have required utility companies to deliver specified minimum amounts of electricity from “renewable” sources, including wind and solar power. California recently adopted the most stringent of these so-called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), requiring 33 percent of its electricity to be renewable by 2020.  Proponents of the RPS plans say that the mandated restrictions will reduce harmful emissions and spur job growth, by stimulating investment in green technologies.

But this patchwork of state rules—which now affects the electricity bills of about two-thirds of the U.S. population as well as countless businesses and industrial users—has sprung up in recent years without the benefit of the states fully calculating their costs.  There is growing evidence that the costs may be too high—that the price tag for purchasing renewable energy, and for building new transmission lines to deliver it, may not only outweigh any environmental benefits but may also be detrimental to the economy, costing jobs rather than adding them.  The mandates amount to a “back-end way to put a price on carbon,” says one former federal regulator. Put another way, the higher cost of electricity is essentially a de facto carbon-reduction tax, one that is putting a strain on a struggling economy and is falling most heavily, in the way that regressive taxes do, on the least well-off among residential users.

To be sure, the mandates aren’t the only reason that electricity costs are rising—increased regulation of coal-fired power plants is also a major factor—and it is difficult to isolate the cost of the renewable mandates without rigorous cost-benefit analysis by the states.

The new mandate is called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that automatically “require electricity providers to supply a specified minimum amount of power to their customers from sources that qualify as “renewable,” a category that includes wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal.” The report clarified what the results of the new energy plan would bring:

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is similarly bullish on the state programs. The RPS rules are designed “to stimulate market and technology development,” the agency says, “so that, ultimately renewable energy will be economically competitive with conventional forms of electric power. States create RPS programs because of the energy, environmental, and economic benefits of renewable energy.”[4]

Although supporters of renewable energy claim that the RPS mandates will bring benefits, their contribution to the economy is problematic because they also impose costs that must be incorporated into the utility bills paid by homeowners, commercial businesses, and industrial users. And those costs are or will be substantial. Electricity generated from renewable sources generally costs more—often much more—than that produced by conventional fuels such as coal and natural gas. In addition, large-scale renewable energy projects often require the construction of many miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The cost of those lines must also be incorporated into the bills paid by consumers.

What Edgardo Fábregas forgets to mention is that Bryce’s analysis on the price of producing electricity through renewable energy sources can be astronomical. It is an amazing prediction given by the EPA under the Obama administration’s directives. It is important to note that the major players in the RPS programs are connected to Wall Street and major banks that includes Goldman Sachs who is one of President Obama’s major campaign contributors. Author and journalist Matt Taibbi wrote an article on the history of Goldman Sachs and the US government’s relationship for Rolling Stone magazine called ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’. Taibbi explains how Goldman Sachs would benefit from Washington’s air-quality mandates:

The new carbon credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that’s been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won’t even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Here’s how it works: If the bill passes, there will be limits for coal plants, utilities, natural-gas distributors and numerous other industries on the amount of carbon emissions (a.k.a. greenhouse gases) they can produce per year. If the companies go over their allotment, they will be able to buy “allocations” or credits from other companies that have managed to produce fewer emissions. President Obama conservatively estimates that about $646 billion worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years; one of his top economic aides speculates that the real number might be twice or even three times that amount.

The feature of this plan that has special appeal to speculators is that the “cap” on carbon will be continually lowered by the government, which means that carbon credits will become more and more scarce with each passing year. Which means that this is a brand new commodities market where the main commodity to be traded is guaranteed to rise in price over time. The volume of this new market will be upwards of a trillion dollars annually; for comparison’s sake, the annual combined revenues of all electricity suppliers in the U.S. total $320 billion.

One other important factor to consider regarding Puerto Rico’s energy demands in the future is the supply of natural gas. Puerto Rico is hoping to secure a steady supply of natural gas from the United States for the next 100 years. “A key part of the plan is to secure a long-term LNG contract with the U.S., which has the most economical prices in the world, the result of a boon in U.S. natural gas exploration, which has unearthed a supply that experts say will last a century” according to the Caribbean Business report.  In the 2012 State of the Union Address, US President Barack Obama said “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.” F. William Endahl, a research associate at Global Research wrote a ground breaking report, ‘The Fracked-up USA Shale Gas Bubble’ wrote that the 100 year supply of natural gas is in fact an inaccurate prediction:

In a sobering report, Arthur Berman, a veteran petroleum geologist specialized in well assessment, using existing well extraction data for major shale gas regions in the US since the boom started, reached sobering conclusions. His findings point to a new Ponzi scheme which well might play out in a colossal gas bust over the next months or at best, the next two or three years. Shale gas is anything but the “energy revolution” that will give US consumers or the world gas for 100 years as President Obama was told.

Berman wrote already in 2011, “Facts indicate that most wells are not commercial at current gas prices and require prices at least in the range of $8.00 to $9.00/mcf to break even on full-cycle prices, and $5.00 to $6.00/mcf on point-forward prices. Our price forecasts ($4.00-4.55/mcf average through 2012) are below $8.00/mcf for the next 18 months. It is, therefore, possible that some producers will be unable to maintain present drilling levels from cash flow, joint ventures, asset sales and stock offerings.” [16]

Berman continued, “Decline rates indicate that a decrease in drilling by any of the major producers in the shale gas plays would reveal the insecurity of supply. This is especially true in the case of the Haynesville Shale play where initial rates are about three times higher than in the Barnett or Fayetteville. Already, rig rates are dropping in the Haynesville as operators shift emphasis to more liquid-prone objectives that have even lower gas rates. This might create doubt about the paradigm of cheap and abundant shale gas supply and have a cascading effect on confidence and capital availability.” [17]

What Berman and others have also concluded is that the gas industry key players and their Wall Street bankers backing the shale boom have grossly inflated the volumes of recoverable shale gas reserves and hence its expected supply duration. He notes, “Reserves and economics depend on estimated ultimate recoveries (EUR) based on hyperbolic, or increasingly flattening, decline profiles that predict decades of commercial production. With only a few years of production history in most of these plays, this model has not been shown to be correct, and may be overly optimistic….Our analysis of shale gas well decline trends indicates that the Estimated Ultimate Recovery per well is approximately one-half the values commonly presented by operators.” [18] In brief, the gas producers have built the illusion that their unconventional and increasingly costly shale gas will last for decades.

However, Caribbean Business says that “Prepa has invited several suppliers to bid on a project to supply the north-coast plants with natural gas. It is spelling out its gas needs at its Palo Seco and San Juan plants, letting the energy companies decide the best way to supply the natural gas” and that “Prepa has made some progress on its natural gas conversion plan, which energy experts say is the only way to bring down the high cost of electricity.” Allowing energy companies decide how to supply gas would add to the price in the long run. Russia Today recently reported that “fracking technology” is causing major environmental problems within the United States. Since 2008, the state of Texas has been experiencing more earthquakes than ever before:

Between 1970 and 2007, the area around the Texas town of Azle (pop. 10,000) experienced just two earthquakes. The peace and quiet began to change, however, at the start of 2008, when 74 minor quakes were reported in the region. Now an increasing number of people, including scientists, are speculating that natural gas production by fracking – a process that forces high pressure water and chemicals into rock in order to extract natural gas reserves – is the culprit. The problem, however, is proving the claims.

Cliff Frolich, earthquake researcher at the University of Texas, said waste water injection wells from fracking could be responsible for the recent spate of earthquake activity. “I’d say it certainly looks very possible that the earthquakes are related to injection wells,” he said in an interview with KHOU television.

Frolich left room for doubt when he said thousands of such wells have operated in Texas for decades with no quakes anywhere near them. Frolich co-authored a 2009 study on earthquake activity near Cleburne, just south of Azle, which concluded: “The possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection.” A recent government study lent credence to Frolich’s findings.

There have been Anti-fracking protests around the world. Fracking or “hydraulic fracturing” is a water-intensive process where millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals combined are injected underground with intensive pressure to fracture rocks that surround an oil or gas well. This process then releases extra oil and gas from the rock which flows into the well. “Fracking Technology” is proving to be environmentally dangerous for the health and safety of communities located in close proximity to these well sites. It causes many problems for the air we breathe and long-term environmental damage. For example, water can become contaminated from the toxins fracking has caused. It is an environmental hazard.

EPA rules and regulations also have the potential to impose a “carbon tax option” for states according to The Hill, A Washington D.C. based daily newspaper reported last month that Brookings Institution economist Adele Morris said that a carbon excise tax can be imposed on states:

Morris, a carbon tax supporter, argues that a carbon excise tax could be part of the “menu of specific approaches” that the agency gives states that will craft plans to meet the federal guidelines. Morris suggests that the EPA could “allow states to adopt a specific state-level excise tax or fee on the carbon content of fuels combusted by the power plants regulated under this rule.”

In other words, an excise tax associated with renewable energy supplies can be added only leading to higher energy costs for households, businesses and major industries. It would also allow Puerto Rico to contribute to the environmental degradation because of its future demands of natural gas which has no guarantee of supplies for the next 100 years. It is a recipe for disaster for both the economy and the environment.

 Will new EPA rules bankrupt farmers?

It is estimated that Puerto Rico imports at least 85% of the food supply from the United States according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. ‘Puerto Rico Imports 85 Percent of Its Food’ stated that “Puerto Rico imports 85 percent of the food its residents consume due to the lack of competitiveness among companies in this U.S. commonwealth, Agriculture Secretary Javier Rivera told Efe.” Agriculture Secretary Rivera admits that the majority of food is imported from the United States even though Puerto Rico has the capability to produce its own food, but cannot compete with US food suppliers. Rivera continued “Although we have the technical capacity, we’re not able to produce competitively” Why? “The secretary attributed the drop in production to the high operating costs of growing food on the island, which are, in turn, a result of high labor costs, as well as rising energy and fertilizer prices. Rivera acknowledged that therefore many farmers – of which there are fewer than 2,000 on the island, according to recent statistics – have come to depend on government subsidies to stay in business.” With new EPA regulations, remaining farmers will bear higher-energy costs because of the EPA’s new federal air quality regulations that will start in 2015. Agriculture on the island would be affected and farmers would be economically bankrupt when energy prices begin to rise.

From the 1929 Great Depression to the Recession of 2014

Looking back to the 1930’s, Puerto Rico was in economic despair due to the effects of the Great Depression. In 1940, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) under the leadership of Washington’s puppet governor Luis Munoz Marin came to power with 37.9% of the vote compared to 39.2% of the Republican-Socialist coalition. The PPD also won the 1944 elections with 64.8% of the vote. The PPD was determined to transform Puerto Rico’s economy from an Agricultural farm-based to an export-driven modern industrial economy.

The US and Puerto Rico governments wanted to fast track the urbanization in many areas from a rural society to a modern, industrial urban center that would resemble New York City’s economy. For a short period of time, the project did increase living wages, improved housing conditions, health care and education. It also led to equitable land reforms,. At the same time the plan increased unemployment rates because many Puerto Ricans were unqualified for the types of jobs the new Industrial economy provided. It increased the migration levels to the United States, namely New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Puerto Rico became more dependent on U.S. markets and created more public and private debts. The most important aspect of US economic and political control of Puerto Rico was the cultural transformation of the population. It became what sociologist call “Americanization”. They were subjected to American culture, media, laws, and even its foods under Washington’s economic and social plan. In ‘Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development’ by James L. Dietz, professor of economics and Latin American studies at California State University wrote:

Industrialization and the accompanying decline of agriculture after the late 1940s did nothing to expand and make permanent the relative autonomy of the early 1940s. Instead, the PPD program had just the opposite result: it laid the foundation for increased dominance by U.S. capital from the 1950s to the present. The PPD’s goal of eventual political independence, after the attainment of social justice and a solution to the island’s economic problems, faded further into the future and eventually disappeared altogether. It may be that Munoz and the PPD never really were committed to independence, as many have suggested, but it is more likely that, as the PPD’s redirection of the economy under Munoz’s leadership tied its destiny ever closer to that of the United States, what they had became what they wanted as what they had wanted slipped further and further from their grasp

In ‘How an Economy Grows and why it Crashes’ author and economist Peter Schiff stated that “The evidence supporting these claims is largely emotional. What is far more certain is that the government’s monopoly control of public projects and services almost always leads to inefficiency, corruption, graft, and decay.” Puerto Rico’s economy was under US control then as it is now. Dietz says that “From 1941 to 1949, the government followed a program of land reform, control over and development of infrastructure and institutions, administrative organization, and limited industrialization through factories owned and operated by the government.” Comparing to what Peter Schiff said the Puerto Rican government’s control of certain economic sectors led to numerous “inefficiencies” and “Decay.” The bleak economic growth of Puerto Rico did not improve through a program called ‘Operacion Manos a la Obra’ or ‘Operation Bootstrap’ in English. It was known as “Industrialization by Invitation” to attract foreign investment. It failed in the long-run. Dietz further wrote:

“Yet Operation Bootstrap made it difficult for Puerto Ricans to improve their standard of living through their own efforts, since it put control over that process in the hands of U.S. firms, whose interests did not necessarily coincide with those of the majority on the island. It is likely that no one consciously intended such results from a development program that seemed so promising, but Puerto Rico’s colonial relation with the United States prevented, or at a minimum made more difficult, a more independent existence for the economy and society”

Puerto Rico’s dependence on the US mainland became evident as the years went by, but right from the beginning of World War II, Puerto Rico’s economy suffered.  “The war shut Puerto Rico off from its primary export market and source of imported goods, and meanwhile, there were no war industries to absorb surplus labor; consequently, unemployment increased” according to Dietz.  Today, Puerto Rico is suffering from a recession that started in 2006. In another report by Caribbean Business ‘PR reverses growth forecast, now predicts another year of recession’ and stated the dire predictions by the government of Puerto Rico, “The Puerto Rico government has dropped expectations for economic growth this fiscal year as the island struggles to pull out of a marathon downturn dating back to 2006. The Planning Board said Friday it is now projecting that the economy will shrink by 0.8 percent in fiscal 2014, dropping its previous forecast for razor-thin growth of 0.2 percent.” Puerto Rico’s economy will continue to decline as the US economy continues with its own economic problems. It will become more difficult as time progresses for Puerto Rico.

The Collapsing US Dollar and the Fall of Rome   

The US Dollar as a the world’s reserve currency is in its last stages because the US owes trillions of dollars in household, corporate and financial debt and future underfunded welfare liabilities.  The demand for U.S. dollars kept prices and interest rates low. It allowed the U.S. government to acquire the economic power it needed to dominate the world economically. It allowed the Federal Reserve Bank to print dollars unconditionally. Although the US dollar is still dominate with more the 50% of foreign currency reserves in the world, a gradual transition for other currencies is coming in the near future. The dollar will eventually lose its value. Interest rates on every loan and credit card will rise.

This is a recipe for disaster, because if a country such as Puerto Rico cannot produce its own food and is dependent on a foreign source that is the most indebted nation in world history with more than $17 trillion dollars in debt which continues to increase each passing day is a serious problem for Puerto Rico’s future. Tyler Durden of zerohedge.com provided a chart in 2012 to show the fiscal danger the United States faces in the near future. Durden explains:

We present the following chart showing total US Federal debt/GDP as well as Deficit/(Surplus)/GDP since inception, or in this case as close as feasible, or 1792, which appears to be the first recorded year of historical fiscal data. We can see why readers have been so eager to see the “real big picture” – the chart is nothing short of stunning.

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RINFORMATION

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George Osborne’s Trade Agreements With China: The Details

As the Chancellor's trip to China comes to an end, full details of the deals he struck with the Chinese government can now be revealed:

China gets:

To run our nuclear power plants

To run our free schools

Fracking rights

Boris Johnson

Royal Mail shares

All our badgers

10,000 copies of Morrissey’s autobiography

Katie Hopkins

The UK gets:

All-you-can-eat Chinese buffet for life

10,000 boxes of Lucky Cats to sell on the next series of 'The Apprentice'

The rights to produce the opera 'Osborne In China'

A new panda to replace Tian Tian


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U.S. Nuclear Closures Could Raise Emissions

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/us_nuclear_closures_could_raise_emissions_20131017/ Posted on Oct 17, 2013 ...

U.S. Nuclear Closures Could Raise Emissions

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/us_nuclear_closures_could_raise_emissions_20131017/

Posted on Oct 17, 2013

By Paul Brown, Climate News Network

This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

LONDON—Nuclear power is fighting for its life in the US because the price of natural gas has plunged so low that it is struggling to compete.

This bleak assessment appears in the magazine Nuclear Energy Insider at a time when gas industry experts say that the price of gas may fall even lower in the US as more efficient ways to extract it from shale come on stream.

Although the Nuclear Energy Insider is supportive of the nuclear industry, the magazine says: “Nuclear is seen as yesterday’s power source, while natural gas is the energy of the here and now due to its low cost and domestic extraction.”

This is because it is cheaper to produce power from natural gas than nuclear even with a carbon tax, according to a recent study – although it points out that, in the long term, the price of gas may change.

Safety concerns

The magazine describes how some nuclear plants have managed to reduce running costs, and therefore the price of electricity, by refueling more often and increasing efficiency. However, as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident that followed the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, there is limited scope for cutting costs because of safety and regulatory concerns.

Other ways of cutting costs include integrating nuclear stations with other power plants, and so sharing IT and management functions.

However, David Hess, director of capacity optimisation at the World Nuclear Association, says that while there is always scope for some improvements, “the fact is that US plants are very efficient now”.

In some US markets, which are highly regulated, nuclear power is protected, and the extra cost of producing electricity is passed on to consumers in their bills. In other states, where there are unregulated markets and where generators compete merely on price, “operators may be massively exposed”, the magazine says.

The US has the largest number of nuclear reactors of any country in the world, with 104 operating in the 65 commercial nuclear power plants in 31 states. They produce around 20% of American electricity, so the future role of nuclear will make a significant difference to US greenhouse gas emissions.

Recently, US emissions have gone down because many electricity producers have switched from coal power plants to cheaper gas. Using gas reduces by about a third the amount of carbon dioxide produced for the same amount of electric power.

However, turning off nuclear stations because they are no longer economic would have the opposite effect, and would cause a massive and politically embarrassing rise in US emissions. Some nuclear plants will certainly be unable to compete if gas prices continue to fall.

Steven Mueller, president and chief executive officer of Southwestern Energy, predicting that gas prices would continue to go down, said the cost of a well to produce gas by fracking has dropped by 14% in the last five years.

National treasure

Speaking to the Oil & Gas Journal, Mueller said industry was still in the early stages of learning the best and cheapest way to exploit this resource. With unconventional gas the US “has a national treasure with long-term, low-price implications.” He did not believe that gas would be a short-term energy resource to be replaced by renewables.

The boom in American gas supplies is changing the world’s energy markets. Cheap coal no longer needed for America’s own electricity production is now exported to European power stations, and tanker supplies of Middle East gas once destined for the US have been diverted to Europe.

Whatever happens, the long hoped-for nuclear revival in the US now looks a remote possibility. If old nuclear power stations whose capital cost has long been written off cannot compete with gas, then new nuclear build has no chance.

The last holdouts for new nuclear stations still seem to be countries in other parts of the world with high energy prices and a reliance on imported fuel. Most of Europe has plumped for renewables as a better long-term bet, but the UK is still hoping to do a deal with French, Chinese and Japanese companies to build new nuclear stations.

The British Government has been in negotiation for more than a year with the French giant EDF to build two reactors, costing £14 billion, at Hinkley Point in Somerset. EDF, owned by the French Government, is demanding guaranteed electricity price subsidies for 35 years in order to take the risk on new build.

The price EDF is demanding would be double the existing price of electricity in the UK, and might not go down well with consumers who will have to foot the bill.  Another stumbling block is that the subsidies will breach EU rules on competition and will be resisted by environment groups, and possibly by countries such as Germany that are phasing out nuclear in favour of renewables. An announcement on a deal is expected within days.

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Fossil Fuel Euphoria

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/fossil_fuel_euphoria_20131017/

Posted on Oct 17, 2013

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

For years, energy analysts had been anticipating an imminent decline in global oil supplies.  Suddenly, they’re singing a new song: Fossil fuels growing scarce?  Don’t even think about it!  The news couldn’t be better: fossil fuels will become ever more abundant.  And all that talk about climate change?  Don’t worry about it, they chant.  Go out and enjoy the benefits of cheap and plentiful energy forever.

This movement from gloom about our energy future to what can only be called fossil-fuel euphoria may prove to be the hallmark of our peculiar moment.  In a speech this September, for instance, Barry Smitherman,  chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission (that state’s energy regulatory agency), claimed that the Earth possesses a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and natural gas.  Not only that—and you can practically hear the chorus of cheering in Houston and other oil centers—but many of the most exploitable new deposits are located in the U.S. and Canada.  As a result—add a roll of drums and a blaring of trumpets—the expected boost in energy is predicted to provide the United States with a cornucopia of economic and political rewards, including industrial expansion at home and enhanced geopolitical clout abroad.  The country, exulted Karen Moreau of the New York State Petroleum Council, another industry cheerleader, is now in a position “to become a global superpower on energy.”

There are good reasons to be deeply skeptical of such claims, but that hardly matters when they are gaining traction in Washington and on Wall Street.  What we’re seeing is a sea change in elite thinking on the future availability and attractiveness of fossil fuels.  Senior government officials, including President Obama, have already become infected with this euphoria, as have top Wall Street investors—which means it will have a powerful and longlasting, though largely pernicious, effect on the country’s energy policy, industrial development, and foreign relations.

The speed and magnitude of this shift in thinking has been little short of astonishing.  Just a few years ago, we were girding for the imminent prospect of “peak oil,” the point at which daily worldwide output would reach its maximum and begin an irreversible decline.  This, experts assumed, would result in a global energy crisis, sky-high oil prices, and severe disruptions to the world economy.

Today, peak oil seems a distant will-o’-the-wisp.  Experts at the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) confidently project that global oil output will reach 115 million barrels per day by 2040—a stunning 34% increase above the current level of 86 million barrels.  Natural gas production is expected to soar as well, leaping from 113 trillion cubic feet in 2010 to a projected 185 trillion in 2040.

These rosy assessments rest to a surprising extent on a single key assumption: that the United States, until recently a declining energy producer, will experience a sharp increase in output through the exploitation of shale oil and natural gas reserves through hydro-fracking and other technological innovations.  “In a matter of a few years, the trends have reversed,” Moreau declared last February.  “There is a new energy reality of vast domestic resources of oil and natural gas brought about by advancing technology… For the first time in generations, we are able to see that our energy supply is no longer limited, foreign, and finite; it is American and abundant.”

The boost in domestic oil and gas output, it is further claimed, will fuel an industrial renaissance in the United States—with new plants and factories being built to take advantage of abundant local low-cost energy supplies.  “The economic consequences of this supply-and-demand revolution are potentially extraordinary,” asserted Ed Morse, the head of global commodities research at Citigroup in New York.  America’s gross domestic product, he claimed, will grow by 2% to 3% over the next seven years as a result of the energy revolution alone, adding as much as $624 billion to the national economy.  Even greater gains can be made, Morse and others claim, if the U.S. becomes a significant exporter of fossil fuels, particularly in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Not only will these developments result in added jobs—as many as three million, claims energy analyst Daniel Yergin—but they will also enhance America’s economic status vis-à-vis its competitors.  “U.S. natural gas is abundant and prices are low—a third of their level in Europe and a quarter of that in Japan,” Yergin wrote recently.  “This is boosting energy-intensive manufacturing in the U.S., much to the dismay of competitors in both Europe and Asia.”

This fossil fuel euphoria has even surfaced in statements by President Obama.  For all his talk of climate change perils and the need to invest in renewables, he has also gloated over the jump in domestic energy production and promised to facilitate further increases.  “Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003,” he affirmed in March 2011.  “And for the first time in more than a decade, oil we imported accounted for less than half of the liquid fuel we consumed.  So that was a good trend.  To keep reducing that reliance on imports, my administration is encouraging offshore oil exploration and production.”

Money Pouring into Fossil Fuels

This burst of euphoria about fossil fuels and America’s energy future is guaranteed to have a disastrous impact on the planet.  In the long term, it will make Earth a hotter, far more extreme place to live by vastly increasing carbon emissions and diverting investment funds from renewables and green energy to new fossil fuel projects.  For all the excitement these endeavors may be generating, it hardly takes a genius to see that they mean ever more carbon dioxide heading into the atmosphere and an ever less hospitable planet.

The preference for fossil fuel investments is easy to spot in the industry’s trade journals, as well as in recent statistical data and anecdotal reports of all sorts.  According to the reliable International Energy Agency (IEA), private and public investment in fossil fuel projects over the next quarter century will outpace investment in renewable energy by a ratio of three to one.  In other words, for every dollar spent on new wind farms, solar arrays, and tidal power research, three dollars will go into the development of new oil fields, shale gas operations, and coal mines.

From industry sources it’s clear that big-money investors are rushing to take advantage of the current boom in unconventional energy output in the U.S.—the climate be damned.  “The dollars needed [to develop such projects] have never been larger,” commented Maynard Holt, co-president of Houston-based investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Company.  “But the money is truly out there.  The global energy capital river is flowing our way.”

In the either/or equation that seems to be our energy future, the capital river is rushing into the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, while it’s slowing to a trickle in the world of the true unconventionals—the energy sources that don’t add carbon to the atmosphere. This, indeed, was the conclusion reached by the IEA, which in 2012 warned that the seemingly inexorable growth in greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide is likely to eliminate all prospect of averting the worst effects of climate change.

Petro Machismo

The new energy euphoria is also fueling a growing sense that the American superpower, whose influence has recently seemed to be on the wane, may soon acquire fresh geopolitical clout through its mastery of the latest energy technologies.  “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength,” crowed National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in an April address at Columbia University.  Increased domestic energy output, he explained, will help reduce U.S. vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price hikes.  “It also affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”

A new elite consensus is forming around the strategic advantages of expanded oil and gas production.  In particular, this outlook holds that the U.S. is benefiting from substantially reduced oil imports from the Middle East by eliminating a dependency that has led to several disastrous interventions in that region and exposed the country to periodic disruptions in oil deliveries, starting with the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74.  “The shift in oil sources means the global supply system will become more resilient, our energy supplies will become more secure, and the nation will have more flexibility in dealing with crises,” Yergin wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

This turnaround, he and other experts claim, is what allowed Washington to adopt a tougher stance with Tehran in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.  With the U.S. less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, so goes the argument, American leaders need not fear Iranian threats to disrupt the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf to international markets.  “The substantial increase in oil production in the United States,” Donilon declared in April, is what allowed Washington to impose tough sanctions on Iranian oil “while minimizing the burdens on the rest of the world.” 

A stance of what could be called petro machismo is growing in Washington, underlying such initiatives as the president’s widely ballyhooed policy announcement of a “pivot” from the Middle East to Asia (still largely words backed by only the most modest of actions) and efforts to constrain Russia’s international influence. 

Ever since Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency of that country, Moscow has sought to sway the behavior of its former Warsaw Pact allies and the former republics of the Soviet Union by exploiting its dominant energy role in the region.  It offered cheap natural gas to governments willing to follow its policy dictates, while threatening to cut off supplies to those that weren’t.  Now, some American strategists hope to reduce Russia’s clout by helping friendly nations like Poland and the Baltic states develop their own shale gas reserves and build LNG terminals.  These would allow them to import gas from “friendly” states, including the U.S. (once its LNG export capacities are expanded).  “If we can export some natural gas to Europe and to Japan and other Asian nations,” Karen Moreau suggested in February, “we strengthen our relationships and influence in those places—and perhaps reduce the influence of other producers such as Russia.”

The crucial issue is this: if American elites continue to believe that increased oil and gas production will provide the U.S. with a strategic advantage, Washington will be tempted to exercise a “stronger hand” when pursuing its “international security goals.”  The result will undoubtedly be heightened international friction and discord.

Is the Euphoria Justified?

There is no doubt that the present fossil fuel euphoria will lead in troubling directions, even if the rosy predictions of rising energy output are, in the long run, likely to prove both unreliable and unrealistic.  The petro machismo types make several interconnected claims:

* The world’s fossil fuel reserves are vast, especially when “unconventional” sources of fuel—Canadian tar sands, shale gas, and the like—are included.

* The utilization of advanced technologies, especially fracking, will permit the effective exploitation of a significant share of these untapped reserves (assuming that governments don’t restrict fracking and other controversial drilling activities).

* Fossil fuels will continue to supply an enormous share of global energy requirements for the foreseeable future, even given rising world temperatures, growing public opposition, and other challenges.

Each of these assertions is packed with unacknowledged questions and improbabilities that are impossible to explore thoroughly in an article of this length.  But here are some major areas of doubt. 

To begin with, those virtually “boundless” untapped oil reserves have yet to be systematically explored, meaning that it’s impossible to know if they do, in fact, contain commercially significant reserves of oil and gas.  To offer an apt example, the U.S. Geological Survey, in one of the most widely cited estimates of untapped energy reserves, has reported that approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% percent of its natural gas lie above the Arctic Circle.  But this assessment is based on geological analyses of rock samples, not exploratory drilling.  Whether the area actually holds such large reserves will not be known until widespread drilling has occurred.  So far, initial Arctic drilling operations, like those off Greenland, have generally proved disappointing.

Similarly, the Energy Information Administration has reported that China possesses vast shale formations that could harbor substantial reserves of oil and gas.  According to a 2013 EIA survey, that country’s technically recoverable shale gas reserves are estimated at 1,275 trillion cubic feet, more than twice the figure for the United States.  Once again, however, the real extent of those reserves won’t be known without extensive drilling, which is only in its beginning stages.

To say, then, that global reserves are “boundless” is to disguise all the hypotheticals lurking within that description.  Reality may fall far short of industry claims.

The effectiveness of new technologies in exploiting such problematic reserves is also open to question.  True, fracking and other unconventional technologies have already substantially increased the production of hard-to-exploit fuels, including tar sands, shale gas, and deep-sea reserves.  Many experts predict that such gains are likely to be repeated in the future.  The EIA, for example, suggests that U.S. output of shale oil via fracking will jump by 221% over the next 15 years, and natural gas by 164%.  The big question, however, is whether these projected increases will actually come to fruition.  While early gains are likely, the odds are that future growth will come at a far slower pace.

As a start, the most lucrative U.S. shale formations in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Texas have already experienced substantial exploration and many of the most attractive drilling sites (or “plays”) are now fully developed.  More fracking, no doubt, will release additional oil and gas, but the record shows that fossil-fuel output tends to decline once the earliest, most promising reservoirs are exploited.  In fact, notes energy analyst Art Berman, “several of the more mature shale gas plays are either in decline or appear to be approaching peak production.”

Doubts are also multiplying over the potential for exploiting shale reserves in other parts of the world.  Preliminary drilling suggests that many of the shale formations in Europe and China possess fewer hydrocarbons and will be harder to develop than those now being exploited in this country. In Poland, for example, efforts to extract domestic shale reserves have been stymied by disappointing drilling efforts and the subsequent departure of major foreign firms, including Exxon Mobil and Marathon Oil.

Finally, there is a crucial but difficult to assess factor in the future energy equation: the degree to which energy companies and energy states will run into resistance when exploiting ever more remote (and environmentally sensitive) resource zones.  No one yet knows how much energy industry efforts may be constrained by the growing opposition of local residents, scientists, environmentalists, and others who worry about the environmental degradation caused by unconventional energy extraction and the climate consequences of rising fossil fuel combustion.  Despite industry claims that fracking, tar sands production, and Arctic drilling can be performed without endangering local residents, harming the environment, or wrecking the planet, ever more people are coming to the opposite conclusion—and beginning to take steps to protect their perceived interests.

In New York State, for example, a fervent anti-fracking oppositional movement has prevented government officials from allowing such activities to begin in the rich Marcellus shale formation, one of the largest in the world.  Although Albany may, in time, allow limited fracking operations there, it is unlikely to permit large-scale drilling throughout the state.  Similarly, an impressive opposition in British Columbia to the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, especially by the native peoples of the region, has put that project on indefinite hold.  And growing popular opposition to fracking in Europe is making itself felt across the region.  The European Parliament, for example, recently imposed tough environmental constraints on the practice.

As heat waves and extreme storm activity increase, so will concern over climate change and opposition to wholesale fossil fuel extraction.  The IEA warned of this possibility in the 2012 edition of its World Energy Outlook.  Shale gas and other unconventional forms of natural gas are predicted to provide nearly half the net gain in world gas output over the next 25 years, the report noted.  “There are,” it added, “also concerns about the environmental impact of producing unconventional gas that, if not properly addressed, could halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks.”

Reaction to that IEA report last November was revealing.  Its release prompted a mini-wave of ecstatic commentary in the American media about its prediction that, thanks to the explosion in unconventional energy output, this country would soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer.  In fact, the fossil fuel craze can be said to have started with this claim.  None of the hundreds of articles and editorials written on the subject, however, bothered to discuss the caveats the report offered or its warnings of planetary catastrophe. 

As is so often the case with mass delusions, those caught up in fossil fuel mania have not bothered to think through the grim realities involved.  While industry bigwigs may continue to remain on an energy high, the rest of us will not be so lucky.  The accelerated production and combustion of fossil fuels can have only one outcome: a severely imperiled planet.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left (Picador).  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Michael T. Klare

FeatheredTar (CC BY 2.0)

Symphony of Failure

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Fossil Fuel Euphoria: Hallelujah, Oil and Gas Forever!

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Global Research and Countercurrents 14/10/2013 and Morning Star 17/10/2013

The EU is currently negotiating a far-reaching free trade agreement with the USthe Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are plans to enshrine extra powers for corporations in the deal as a result of a strong and persistent campaign by industry lobby groups and unscrupulous law firms to allow powerful corporations to challenge regulations both at home and abroad if they affect profits. The watchdog organization Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) states that EU member states could find domestic laws to protect the public interest quite useless as they become challenged in secretive, offshore tribunals where national laws have no weight and politicians no powers to intervene.

It would enable US companies investing in Europe to bypass European courts and challenge EU governments at international tribunals whenever they find that laws in the area of public health, environmental or social protection interfere with their profits. EU companies investing abroad would have the same privilege in the US. This proposed agreement (and others like it around the world) is essentially a charter for the systematic destruction and dismantling of legislation that exists to protect the hard won rights of workers and ordinary people. 

Across the world, big business has already used such investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade and investment agreements to claim massive sums in compensation. It is often the case that the mere threat of a claim or its submission is enough for legislation to be shelved or diluted. In fact, tribunals, consisting of ad hoc three-member panels hired from a small club of private lawyers riddled with conflicts of interest, have granted billions of Euros to companies, courtesy of taxpayers.

With India and the EU, among others, also currently negotiating a free trade agreement, it all adds up to big companies trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Kavaljit Singh of the Madhyam research institute in India argues that we could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments. It constitutes little more than an old-fashioned recipe for imperialist plunder by Western interests (1).

Singh’s concerns should be dismissed at our peril because CEO provides many examples of where and when the by-passing of national legislation has already happened. Through bilateral investment treaties, US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia over their anti-smoking laws. The company argues that warning labels on cigarette packs and plain packaging prevent it from effectively displaying its trademark, causing a substantial loss of market share.

And then there is the case of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, which launched an investor-state lawsuit against Germany, seeking €3.7 billion in compensation for lost profits related to two of its nuclear power plants. The case followed the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

When Argentina froze utility rates (energy, water, etc.) and devalued its currency in response to its 2001-2002 financial crisis, it was hit by over 40 lawsuits from companies like CMS Energy (US) and Suez and Vivendi (France). By the end of 2008, awards against the country had totalled US$1.15 billion.

On the basis of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico, US company Lone Pine Resources Inc. is demanding US$250 million in compensation from Canada. The ‘crime’: The Canadian province of Quebec had put a moratorium on ‘fracking’, addressing concerns about the environmental risks of this new technology to extract oil and gas from rocks.

At the end of 2012, Dutch insurer Achmea (formerly Eureko) was awarded €22 million in compensation from Slovakia. In 2006, the Slovak government had reversed the health privatisation policies of the previous administration and required health insurers to operate on a not-for-profit basis.

It is also interesting to note that Chevron initiated arbitration to avoid paying US$18 billion to clean up oil-drilling-related contamination in the Amazonian rainforest, as ordered by Ecuadorian courts. The case has been lambasted as egregious misuse of investment arbitration to evade justice. 

EU and US companies have used these lawsuits to destroy any competition or threats to their profits by challenging green energy and medicine policies, anti-smoking legislation, bans on harmful chemicals, environmental restrictions on mining, health insurance policies, measures to improve the economic situation of minorities and many more.  

Various corporate lobby heavyweights all advocate the inclusion of investor-state arbitration in the EU-US free trade agreement. This is also part of a hope that an EU-US deal would set a global ‘gold standard’, a model for investment protection for other agreements around the world. 

If governments and parliaments fail to act to protect the public’s interests, powerful corporations will acquire carte blanche to rein in democracy and curb policies devised for the public good. Before long, countries across the globe could see the opening of the floodgates for GMOs and shale gas, the threatening of digital and labour rights and the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of necessary and decent regulations which they dislike and label as ‘barriers to trade’.

This represents a clear attack on national sovereignty and democracy and is a damning indictment of the cosy and often ‘revolving-door’ nature of relationships between corporate officials/lobbyists and bureaucrats/government officials. If successful, such free trade agreements would cement corporate ability to raid taxpayers’ coffers even further or to wholly dictate national policies and legislation. 

Are we to see the concept of democracy being totally abandoned in favour of blatant corporate plunder under the guise of 'free trade' but which is anything but!?


Notes

Much of the material for this article was sourced from the website of Corporate Europe Observatory. The only way to roll back the power of corporations and their strategies outlined in the article is by being informed and actively resisting. Visit CEO at:  http://corporateeurope.org/get-involved





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Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement: A Corporate Power Grab

Countercurrents and Global Research 4/10/2013

The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the US and EU intends to create the world's largest free trade area, 'protect' investment and remove ‘unnecessary regulatory barriers’. Corporate interests are driving the agenda, with the public having been sidelined. Unaccountable, pro-free-trade bureaucrats from both sides of the Atlantic are facilitating the strategy (1) 

In addition to the biotech sector and Big Pharma, groups lobbying for the deal have included Toyota, General Motors, IBM and the powerful lobby group the Chamber of Commerce of the US. Business Europe, the main organisation representing employers in Europe, launched its own strategy on an EU-US economic and trade partnership in early 2012. Its suggestions were widely included in the draft EU mandate.


An increasing number of politicians and citizens groups have criticised the secretive negotiations and are demanding that they be conducted in an open way. This is growing concern that the negotiations could result in the opening of the floodgates for GMOs and shale gas (fracking) in Europe, the threatening of digital and labour rights or the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regulations which they dislike.


One of the key aspects of the negotiations is that both the EU and US should recognise their respective rules and regulations, which in practice could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The official language talks of ‘mutual recognition’ of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers. For the EU, that could mean accepting US standards in many areas, including food and agriculture, which are lower than the EU's.


The US wants all so-called barriers to trade, including controversial regulations such as those protecting agriculture, food or data privacy, to be removed. Even the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.


The public in Europe does not want such things. People want powerful corporations to be held to account and their pratices regulated by elected representatives who they trust to protect their interests, the public good. However, the TAFTA seems an ideal opportunity for corporations to force wholly unpopular and dangerous policies through via secretive, undemocratic means. They have been unable to do this in a democratic and transparent manner, so secret back room deals represent a different option.


Corporate demands include an “ambitious liberalisation of agricultural trade barriers with as few exceptions as possible.” Food lobby group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies (Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, etc.), has welcomed the negotiations, with one of their key demands being the facilitation of the low level presence of unapproved genetically modified crops. This is a long-standing industry agenda also supported by feed and grain trading giants, including Cargill, Bunge, ADM and the big farmers' lobby COPA-COGECA. Meanwhile, the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic is offering its “support and assistance as the EU and the US government look to enhance their trade relationship.”


New Report


If the pro-free-market bureaucrats and corporations get their way and successfully bar the public from any kind of meaningful information input into the world’s biggest trade deal ever to be negotiated, Europeans could end up becoming the victims of one of the biggest corporate stitch ups ever. Left unchallenged, it will allow huge private interests to dig their profiteering snouts into the trough of corporate greed at the expense of ordinary people.


And that’s not hyperbole. Such a view is confirmed by the release of a new report on the eve of the second round of negotiations that are due to begin in Brussels next week.


The report, published by the Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) (2), reveals the true human and environmental costs of the proposed TAFTA. ‘A Brave New Transatlantic Partnership highlights how the European Commission’s promises of up to 1% GDP growth and massive job creation through the EU-US trade deal are not supported even by its own studies, which predict a growth rate of just 0.01% GDP over the next ten years and the potential loss of jobs in several economic sectors, including agriculture.


The report also explains how corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards as well as undermine digital rights. Attempts to strengthen banking regulation in the face of the financial crisis could also be jeopardised as the financial lobby uses the secretive trade negotiations to undo financial reforms, such as restrictions on the total value of financial transactions or the legal form of its operations.


Kim Bizzarri, the author of the report:

“Big business lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic view the secretive trade negotiations as a weapon for getting rid of policies aimed at protecting European and US consumers, workers and our planet. If their corporate wish-list is implemented, it will concentrate even more economic and political power within the hands of a small elite, leaving all of us without protection from corporate wrongdoings.”

The report also warns that the agreement could open the floodgate to multi-million Euro lawsuits from corporations who can challenge democratic policies at international tribunals if they interfere with their profits.

Pia Eberhardt, trade campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory and author of ‘A transatlantic corporate bill of rights’:

“The proposed investor rights in the transatlantic trade deal show what it is really about: It’s a power grab from corporations to rein in democracy and handcuff governments that seek to regulate in the public interest. It’s only a matter of time before European citizens start paying the price in higher taxes and diminished social protection.”

Consumer watchdogs, digital rights and trade activists, environmentalists and trade unions are preparing to fight the corporate dystopia put forward in the EU-US trade deal.


Luis Rico of Ecologistas en Acción, a member of the Seattle to Brussels network:

“We hope that the disturbing evidence we provide will show why all concerned citizens and parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic need to urgently mobilise against the proposed EU-US trade deal. We have to derail this corporate power grab that threatens to worsen the livelihood of the millions of people already seriously affected by the financial crisis and by the crippling consequences of Europe's austerity reforms.”


Do we want increasingly bad and unhealthy food, our rights at work being further eroded, the environment being damaged in the chase for profit, ever greater reckless gambling in the financial sector or our elected representatives being by-passed via international tribunals? Of course we don’t. 


Where is the democracy surrounding this proposed TAFTA? Where is ordinary people’s  protection from the ‘free’ market corporate-financial cabals that ultimately drive global economic policy and geo-political strategies? By translating corporate power into political influence at the G8, G20, WTO, NATO or elsewhere, whether it is by war, threats, debts or coercion, secretive and undemocratic free trade agreements are but one tool that very powerful corporations use in an attempt to cast the world in their own image (3,4).


The TAFTA is little more than an attempt at a corporate power grab masquerading as something that promotes growth, freedom, harmony and job creation. Those claims are bogus. It must be stopped



Notes



2)  The Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) includes development, environmental, human rights, women and farmers organisations, trade unions and social movements working together for a truly sustainable, just and democratic trade policy in Europe. Corporate Europe Observatory is one of its members.




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On 24 and 25 June, I participated in the first meeting of the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights’ (SIGTUR) Futures Commission. The meeting was hosted by Eddie Webster in the Chris Hani Institute in Johannesburg/South Africa and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. A group of left-wing intellectuals and trade union representatives was entrusted with the task to undertake the first steps towards developing concrete alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation. In this post, I will reflect on some of the key discussions during the two days.


Colonialism and the question of capitalism

It became clear early on that the location of the workshop and the background of the participants mattered. SIGTUR is an initiative of trade unions in the Global South including Australian, South Korean, Indian, Brazilian and Argentinian trade unions in addition to COSATU from South Africa. One of the key aspects they have in common, with the exception of Australian unions, is their joint history of colonialism and liberation struggles. Unsurprisingly, neo-liberal globalisation is not simply regarded as the latest epoch of capitalism. It is viewed as a continuation of colonial policies, characterised by the extraction of minerals and agricultural goods for the industries of developed countries as well as the destruction of home grown industries. These policies continued in the 1950s and 1960s as part of national development projects, devised by the core for countries in the periphery of the global economy, and have been further intensified since the 1970s with the onset of globalisation and the related general deregulation and liberalisation of national policy space. Inevitably, in contrast to similar workshops organised in industrialised countries, frequent demands were made for proposals, which do not only reform capitalism, but provide a transformative path towards socialism in the 21st century.

Photo by Egui_
Second, the fact that the workshop took place in South Africa influenced the debates. Almost twenty years after the first democratic elections in post-Apartheid South Africa, the country is characterised by high level unemployment and enormous economic inequality between the rich and poor. These tensions exploded in the so-called Marikana massacre, when policy killed 34 striking miners within three minutes on 16 August 2012 (see  The Marikana Massacre and The South African State's Low Intensity War Against The People; and The Dance of the Undead - Not only at Marikana, Not only in South Africa ...). In order to overcome South Africa’s triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, Zwlinizima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, demanded at the workshop a second phase of transformation in South Africa. With the political transformation accomplished since 1994, it was now time to tackle rising economic inequality. Counter neo-liberal policies were to include a shift towards state ownership and nationalisation of some parts of the economy, the stop of South African capital exports through capital controls and the punishment of capital speculation, as well as the provision of comprehensive welfare services. What South Africa needed, he concluded, was its own Lula moment, a reference to Brazil’s former President, who had presided over policies of wealth re-distribution towards the poor.

Of course, Marikana is a key example of how the capitalist crisis also fragments workers and induces disunity within the labour movement. While Marikana is specific to South Africa, similar tensions can be noted elsewhere and mass mobilisation against neo-liberal economics was identified as the only possible way forward towards overcoming economic and social inequality as well as fragmentation.


Collective bargaining as a way of transformation?

Collective bargaining is currently under attack in Europe (see How European pressure is destroying national collective bargaining systems). Unsurprisingly, when European trade unionists and labour academics discuss collective bargaining, it is a defensive move. Generally, I am sceptical about this as it fails to recognise that collective bargaining is covering fewer and fewer workers and has already become less relevant as a result. More importantly, in Europe too we should focus on how to organise the increasing informal sector of the economy.

The Global South including South Africa has always been characterised by a large informal sector. Hence my surprise, when Neil Coleman from COSATU introduced a revived system of sectoral collective bargaining as a transformative way forward. He outlined the Brazilian experience, where the state had been successful at boosting domestic demand levels through an emphasis on collective bargaining combined with a national minimum wage policy. Undoubtedly, millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty as a result of state policies. Whether these policies including collective bargaining are, however, transformative or simply reform based was left open. In my view, it is difficult to see how collective bargaining would improve the livelihood of mostly black people living in the sprawling townships around Johannesburg and working in the informal economy.

Photo by RachelIF2SEA


‘Embedded free trade’ or ‘fair trade’?

Against the background of capitalism’s uneven and combined development, it is not surprising that there are tensions over ‘free trade’ policy in the international labour movement. While unions in the North often support free trade agreements (FTAs), as they consider them to secure the jobs of their members, labour movements in the Global South are critical as it leads to deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs (see Trade unions, free trade and the problem of transnational solidarity).

An interesting discussion ensued over how to label an alternative trade regime. While I argued in favour of ‘embedded free trade’ in order to facilitate an engagement with Northern trade unions, which generally view ‘free trade’ positively, colleagues from Southern trade unions opted for ‘fair trade’ in order to indicate a more radical break from current trade policies.

Photo by Alejandra H. Covarrubias
The re-establishment of national policy space is clearly an essential element of an alternative trade regime. It would allow governments to protect infant industries until they are competitive, provide space for capital controls and the regulation of transnational corporations, as well as provide the possibility to emphasise food sovereignty over free trade by agribusinesses. And yet, it is also clear that while this would help to reform the current ‘disembedded free trade’ regime, where the WTO not only furthers the trade in goods, but also pushes trade in services and agriculture, as well as expands regulations into investment rules and intellectual property rights, it would not be enough to move beyond capitalism towards socialism. Ultimately, capitalist exploitation is rooted in the way production is organised around wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production and, as a result, capital maximises profits in the exploitation of workers. Only if the way of how production is organised is changed, can there be a transformation of the current system.


Climate Change and the future of Green Capitalism

Jacklyn Cock from the SWOP Institute made clear that the current focus by capital on the green economy was ‘the wolf in sheep clothing’. The trading in carbon emissions will simply lead to a financialisation and further commodification of the environment. The expansion of the market into all aspects of nature would not protect, but further destroy the environment. On the other hand, the change to a low carbon economy could be change towards a real alternative to neo-liberalism. Here, the immediate task would be the formation of alliances with other movements including especially environmental groups. The immediate request should be for food and energy sovereignty, linking justice to sustainability by empowering people to decide for themselves what to grow and what type of energy to use.

Photo by GovernmentZA
Dinga Sikwebu from the South African metalworkers’ union Numsaoutlined how capital was increasingly focusing on extreme energy generation including fracking, tar sands and further extensive use of coal. Renewable energy was clearly the way forward from a labour perspective. In contrast to Northern campaigns around jobs related to the green economy, however, he pointed out there are actually not that many jobs, which will be created as a result of a shift towards renewable energy. Hence, other arguments for an alternative energy policy, which resonate with workers, are needed. Considering that in South Africa many manufacturing workers still owned a piece of land, which they cultivate when not at work, a possible way forward would be to point out that all citizens will be negatively affected by climate change. In their role as farmers, manufacturing workers too notice the changing climate with different rain seasons than in the past. Unsurprisingly, Numsa, together with the agricultural workers’ trade union, is currently involved in a campaign for land reform linking up different trade unions and social movements. Nevertheless, Dinga Sikwebu also made clear that a shift to renewable energy in itself was not enough. For a real shift towards eco-socialism, it was necessary to move away from market-based incentives towards social ownership and democratic control of all types of energy generation, echoing Jacklyn Cock’s request for food and energy sovereignty.

The key challenge of moving into this direction was, according to Rob Lambert, the co-ordinator of SIGTUR, to find a solution to the question of how to connect trade unions in the workplace with movements of the dispossessed. He identified the limits to liberal representative democracy and demanded that trade unions urgently needed to restructure themselves from hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations into agents, which welcome diversity, direct democracy and independent initiatives by its members. If this is combined with a focus on issues beyond the workplace, as in the case of Numsa and its participation in a campaign for land reform, then the kind of forces may be available, which are needed to push successfully for transformation.


The development of alternatives through experiments in concrete struggles

Clearly, conceptual and strategic discussions are necessary in the search for alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation; alternatives, which are focused on human well-being and development in contrast to capital’s maximisation of profits. Nonetheless, concrete alternatives to capitalist social relations of production can only be developed on the ground in concrete struggles and the interplay between ideas and action. Moreover, alternatives which work in one part of the world may be unsuitable for other parts. No blueprint can be prescribed.

Hence, perhaps the next step in the search for alternatives could be a focus on concrete experiments of establishing a non-capitalist economy? In the area of ‘free trade’, for example, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) is already one practical example in this respect. At its beginning in 2004 was a treaty between Venezuela and Cuba with the former providing petroleum to the latter at very favourable prices in exchange for doctors and teachers from Cuba, working in some of Venezuela’s poorest states. Direct negotiations between the two countries had replaced a reliance on prices set by the market. A more in-depth analysis of this and other alternative economy examples may be the way forward in the search for alternatives by the Futures Commission. 



Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

2 July 2013

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This week marks the tenth anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” US invasion of Iraq.

The ravages of that invasion continue at home and in Iraq, the US is still at war in Afghanistan (troops and contractors remain in Iraq) and unofficially waging war on countries like Pakistan and Yemen, is aggravating aggression with North Korea as part of an Asian pivot encircling China, is putting more military into Africa and Obama is in Israel where he sings a duet for war with Netanyahu against Syria and Iran. Meanwhile, poverty, unemployment and homelessness continue to grow in the US with threats of austerity for everything except the national security state.

When we occupied Freedom Plaza in October, 2011, we made the connection between US Empire and the corporate control of our political process, between unlimited military spending and cuts to necessary domestic programs. We understood the misreporting in the corporate media about the Iraq War. Kathy Kelly from Voices for Creative Nonviolence was in Baghdad during Shock and Awe. On this tenth anniversary, she reminds us of the horrible price of war and warns of never ending war as the US seems to edge toward more war in the region. The need to understand those connections grows more important each day as we see the costs of war affecting people on every level.

And this report details the tremendous costs in loss of life, the US legacy of cancer in Iraq from poisons we brought there, the number of refugees, orphans, widows and people now living in poverty. Violence continues in Iraq including a series of attacks on the tenth anniversary that left 98 people dead and 240 wounded.

Iraq War veteran Tomas Young is bringing increased attention to the human costs at home as he prepares to die from his wounds. Over 130,000 Iraq vets have been diagnosed with PTSD. Over 250,000 are suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The ongoing costs of caring for veterans is expected to bring the total cost of the Iraq invasion alone to $6 trillion. And, vets fight homelessness, sometimes with the aid of Occupy activists who protest to save the homes of vets.  Veterans are also experiencing unemployment and medical debt.

These are some of the costs of war, not to mention that the US Military is the greatest polluter on the planet.

As we join the national week of actions in solidarity with the Strike Debt Rolling Jubileeand the coast-to-coast actions in support of the Tar Sands Blockade, let us remember that all of these issues are connected. As our allies at Veterans For Peace have been saying lately it is time to Stop the War on Mother Earth. VFP has been joining with groups like Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival and the Tar Sands Blockade to protect the planet.

The breadth of opposition to the extraction economy that undermines the ecology of the planet is shown by the people involved in the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and the “Sacred Journey for Future Generations,” a march across Canada by hundreds in support of the Idle No More Movement. The fracking movement has also shown the kind of culture of resistance needed to stop hyrdo-fracking as we saw in Watkins Glen, NYthis week.

Let us remember that there is strength in solidarity and all these issues are connected by policies that put corporate greed before human needs and protection of the Earth.

Solidarity has produced some real successes recently. In the UK, 21 climate activists were being sued by the energy giant EDF for shutting down an energy plant for 8 days. But when 64,000 customers signed a petition in support for the “No Dash for Gas” activists; EDF dropped its civil suit. Criminal charges remain, so solidarity with the activists continues to be important. And in Cyprus, the EU tried to impose a tax on the population in exchange for assistance with their debt. Massive protests resulted in the Cypriot Parliament saying no to the tax.

The plague of Wall Street banking affects people across the globe. Wall Street was a key focus of Occupy. This week, activists in Philadelphia explained their protest against Wells Fargo which led to their arrest and acquittal, indeed being thanked by the judge for their actions.  This was one of five recent court victories for Occupy. Now, people are standing up in New York with a class action lawsuit against the abusive stop and frisk searches which had beenprotested by occupiers and others.

Single payer groups are joining with Strike Debt to fight medical debt and our debt-based society. Chicago Teachers invited Occupy Wall Street to teach them protest skills. And, the Imokalee workers are walking across Florida to protest low wages. In Maryland, Fund Our Communities is holding a day long“Prosperity Not Austerity” Bus Tour that links issues such as health care, education and food security with the cost of war. The Strike Debt Resistor’s Manual provides a guide for communities to learn more about ways that debt affects them and what they can do about it.Perhaps you see opportunities for making connections around issues where you are?

It is through these connections that we can grow stronger and become more effective. And it is through these connections that we can have real conversations about the root causes of our shared situations, about the real needs that we have and how we can meet them together and build a unified movement that can say “No” to war at home and abroad. Let us not be afraid to talk about US imperialism and the effects of capitalism and a debt-based world. Let us look for the truth and not be lied into another war in Syria, Iran or North Korea. And let us all join together in the urgent need for climate justice.

We can succeed too. As we make connections and build solidarity, we are preparing for the day when we will shift power to the people. An important issue that needs your attention, particularly next week, is the hunger strike in Guantanamo. Don’t let these prisoners die in vain. Witness Against Torture is calling for a week of national solidarity actions starting March 24th. Join them.

This article is based on our weekly newsletter from October2011.org/OccupyWashington DC which covers protest and resistance movements.To sign up for this free newsletter, click here.

Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and were organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.

5 Ways Privatization Is Poisoning America

We all live better lives when the common good is not for sale.

March 10, 2013  |  

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It gets more maddening every day. Essential human needs are being packaged into products to be bought and sold. The right to food and water, education, health care, public spaces, and unrestricted speech shouldn't be based on who can pay the most, or on who can generate profits with the slickest marketing pitch.

The free-market capitalism that drives our economy is a doctrine of individuals pursuing profit. Nothing else matters. An executive for Roche, a healthcare company, said "We are not in the business to save lives, but to make money."

With privatization of the common good we risk losing both our heritage and our humanness.

1. The Taking of Public Land

Attempts to privatize federal land were made by the  Reagan administration in the 1980s and the Republican-controlled  Congress in the 1990s. In 2006, President Bush proposed  auctioning off 300,000 acres of national forest in 41 states.

The assault on our common areas continues with even greater ferocity today, as the euphemistic  Path to Prosperity has proposed to sell millions of acres of "unneeded federal land," and  libertarian groups like the  Cato Institute demand that our property be "allocated to the highest-value use." Mitt Romney admitted that he didn't know "what the purpose is" of public lands.

Examples of the takeaway are shocking.  Peabody Coal is strip-mining public lands in Wyoming and Montana and making a 10,000% profit on the meager amounts they pay for the privilege.  Sealaska is snatching up timberland in Alaska. The  Central Rockies Land Exchange would allow Bill Koch to pick up choice Colorado properties from the Bureau of Land Management, while neighboring Utah Governor Gary Herbert sees  land privatization as a way to reduce the deficit. Representative Cliff Stearns recommended that we  "sell off some of our national parks." One gold mining company even  invoked an 1872 law to grab mineral-rich Nevada land for which it stands to make a  million-percent profit.

The National Resources Defense Council just reported that oil and gas companies hold drilling and fracking rights on U.S. land equivalent to the size of California and Florida combined. Much of this land is "split estate," which means the company can drill under an American citizen's property without consent. Unrestrained by government regulations, TransCanada was able to use  eminent domain in Texas to lay its pipeline on private property and then have the owner arrested for trespassing on her own land, and  Chesapeake Energy Corporation overturned a 93-year-old law to frack a Texas residence without paying a penny to the homeowners. Most recently, the  oil frenzy in North Dakota has cheated Native Americans out of a billion dollars worth of revenue from drilling leases.

Away from the mountains and the plains, back in the cities of  Chicago and Indianapolis and L.A. and San Diego, our streets and parking spaces have been surrendered to corporations until the time of our great-grandchildren, with some of the  highest profit margins in the corporate world.

2. Water for Sale

The corporate invasion of the water market is well underway. In May 2000  Fortune Magazine called water "one of the world's great business opportunities..[It] promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th." Citigroup is on board, viewing water as a prime  investment, and perhaps the "single most important physical-commodity based asset class."

The vital human resource of water is being privatized and marketed  all over the country. In Pennsylvania and  California, the American Water Company took over towns and raised rates by 70% or more. In  Atlanta, United Water Services demanded more money from the city while prompting federal complaints about water quality. Shell owns  groundwater rights in Colorado, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is  buying up the water in drought-stricken Texas, and water in  Alaska is being pumped into tankers and sold in the Middle East.

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch  found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abusesor failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Of course, water monopolization is a global concern, and a life-threatening issue in undeveloped countries, where  884 million people are without safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people lack the means for basic sanitation. Whether in the U.S. or in the world's poorest nation, the folly of privatizing water is made clear by the  profit-seeking motives of business:

(1) Water corporations are primarily accountable to their stockholders, not to the people they serve.
(2) They will avoid serving low-income communities where bill collection might be an issue.
(3) Because of the risk to profits, there is less incentive to maintain infrastructure.

3. Owning Human Life

Monsanto and their agro-chemical partners call themselves the "life industry."

In 1980 a General Electric geneticist  engineered an oil-eating bacterium, effective against oil spills, and in the first case of its kind the Supreme Court ruled that "a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter." Fifteen years later a  World Trade Organization decision allowed plants, genes, and microorganisms to be owned as  intellectual property.

The results, not surprisingly, have been disastrous. One-fifth of the  human genome is privately owned through patents. Strains of influenza and hepatitis have been  claimed by corporate and university labs, and because of this researchers can't use the patented life forms to perform cancer research. Thus the cost of life-preserving tests often depends on the whim (and the market analysis) of the organization claiming ownership of the biological entity.

The results have also been otherworldly. In 1996 the U.S. National Institutes of Health attempted to  patent the blood cells of the primitive Hagahai tribesman of New Guinea. U.S. companies AgriDyne and W.R. Grace tried to gain  ownership of the neem plant, used for centuries in India for the making of medicines and natural pesticides. Other examples of  'biopiracy': The University of Cincinnati holds a patent on Brazil's guarana seed; the University of Mississippi holds a patent on the Asian spice turmeric.

Most tragically, tens of thousands of  Indian farmers, charged for seeds that they used to develop on their own, and forced to repurchase them every year, have been driven to suicide after experiencing crop failures and ruinous debt.

Monsanto is at the forefront of GMO seeds and litigation against vulnerable farmers. To date the company has won over half of its  patent infringement lawsuits. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the arguments in  Bowman vs. Monsanto, which asks if a company can have a claim on a farmer whose crops were derived from a seed already paid for. More significantly, the question is whether a company can claim the rights to a form of life that has been nurtured by communities of farmers for centuries.

4. Owning the Air

In polluted Beijing, wealthy entrepreneur  Chen Guangbiao is selling "fresh air" in a soft drink can for about 80 cents.

While Americans are not yet dependent on (real or imagined) breathing supplements, we have relinquished public access to the air in another important way: the  1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to a giveaway of the transmission airwaves to the broadcast media. Through an effective lobbying campaign the communications industry gained all the benefits of a lucrative public space without even a licensing fee. Objected  former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, "The airwaves are a natural resource. They do not belong to the broadcasters, phone companies or any other industry. They belong to the American people."

Closely related is our right to freedom of expression on the Internet, which has been repeatedly threatened, despite the presence of existing copyright laws, by aggressive proposals like the  Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Privacy is at risk with the  Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), passed in the House despite objections by Ron Paul and others who recognize the "Big Brother" implications of government monitoring of Google and Facebook accounts. The  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has facilitated the monitoring of foreign communications in the name of anti-terrorism.

A 2011  UNESCO report offered this worrisome insight: "..the control of information on the Internet and Web is certainly feasible, and technological advances do not therefore guarantee greater freedom of speech."

5. Children as Products

Leading capitalists like Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who together have a  few months teaching experience, have decided that the business model can pump out improved assembly line versions of our children.

Charter schools simply don't work as well as the profitseekers would have us believe. The recently updated  CREDO study at Stanford concluded again that "CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning." Approximately the same percentages of charters and non-charters are showing improvement (or lack of improvement) in reading and math. In addition, poorly performing charters tend not to improve over time.

Nevertheless, charters remain appealing to poorly informed parents. The schools like to represent themselves as equal opportunity educational options, but the facts state the opposite, as many of them have  strict application standards that ensure access to the most qualified students. Funding for such schools drains money out of the public system.

Children are viewed as products in another way -- on the  school-to-prison pipeline. Many school districts employ "school resource officers" to patrol their hallways, and to ticket or arrest kids who disrupt the academic routine, no matter the age of the offender or the nature of the "offense":

-- A twelve-year-old was  arrested for wearing too much perfume.
-- A five-year-old was  handcuffed for committing "battery" on a police officer.
-- A six-year-old was called a  "terrorist threat" for talking about shooting bubbles at a classmate.

Along with these bizarre instances is the frightening precedent set by a private prison, Corrections Corporation of America, which despite having no law enforcement authority was allowed to  participate in a drug sweep at a high school in Arizona.

An Antidote?

A successful society doesn't derive from a few Ayn-Rand-type individuals. It's the other way around, as philosopher  John Dewey reasoned in the 1930s. It's easy to forget that our country's greatest success was due to a collaborative effort in the years during and after World War 2, when advances in manufacturing and technology made us the strongest economy the world had ever seen. It was a shared success. The common good was not for sale.

America – Polluted with Corruption

In the United States everything is polluted.Democracy is polluted with special interests and corrupt politicians. Accountability is polluted with executive branch exemptions from law and the Constitution.

23 Policies That Would Make It Easier To Save The World

It's been said that the wealthy win because they can always hire half the poor to shoot the other half. Rarely is there a sadder case of this than when it comes to trying to protect the planet that feeds us, clothes us, and generates the only pocket of breathable atmosphere in our solar system.

Baby Weddell seal, by Samuel BlancBecause look, say you're a committed environmentalist, your beloved spouse has treatable cancer, and the only way to save his or her life is to take a job clubbing the last baby seal on the beach. That seal is toast. And so is anything or anyone else that stands between your partner and their chemo.

Don't think the greedy jerks who own everything don't know it; they downright count on it to get their way.

Driving down wages, increasing animosity among the lower classes by scapegoating various segments of also-poor people, decreasing the health and safety of working conditions -- these aren't unfortunate side effects of our current economic incentive structures. They are the point, fueling a vicious cycle where more profits flow to the top while workers are too desperate to do anything about it. The effect, as it was recently said, is this:

The great problem we have today in improving our society, in fixing our economy, is that so many people don't want to give up what they have. . . . [W]hat the past 40 years have proven is this: if you lose your job, you're on your own. If you're in your 40s and 50s and you lose a good job, you'll probably never, ever, have a good job ever again. . . .

People know, they know and they are right, that economic change, in our society, could cost them everything. Their job and any prospect of a good job. Their house. Their marriage. Their health care and even their life.

So they grasp tightly to what they have, and everyone fights to make sure that nothing really changes. Each person, with their little or big piece of the pie, fights viciously to keep it whether it's good for society or not. They are right to do so.

The biggest enemy of our environment, therefore, is mass desperation wielded like a billy club in the hands of the extremely wealthy. The following are some ideas on how to both disarm them and take the next steps towards creating a more awesome society to live in.

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1. Increase the minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1970s. It's not a family wage, even though it's all some families can get. Yet the whole time it's been declining, productivity and profits have gone up, but a fair share of the increase hasn't been passed on to workers. Raising the minimum wage would put upward pressure on the share of business profits that go to workers, making life less precarious for millions of people.

2. Shorten the work week and increase paid time off. It's hard to have an engaged citizenry when work demands so much of people's time that they can barely unwind, let alone follow the news. A full-time work week barely leaves time to be a good parent, a good friend, or even a good housekeeper; forget hitting the mark on all three. The idea that a 40 hour work week, plus the 10-20 hours of preparation and commute time involved, is a reasonable base amount of time to demand of someone is premised on the social expectations of a bygone era where a full-time worker had a full-time caregiver at home. Lowering the full-time work week to even 35 hours would not only create more job openings, it would likely boost per hour productivity, as it has done in some European nations.

3. Cut higher education and worker retraining costs to students. In the era of the GI Bill, not only was it free for returning veterans to go to college, it was affordable for almost anyone who could spring a part-time summer job. But federal funding cuts have piled on top of state funding cuts, and tuition is now ridiculous at most public colleges. It's patently ridiculous to saddle new college graduates with a mortgage-worth of debt when they graduate and set out on their own. Particularly when the value of a college education has decreased for so many, but is nonetheless necessary because it's barely possible anymore to find family-wage blue collar employment. And when people lose their jobs, they should be able to retrain, if possible, if they can't find work in their original field.

4. Restore federal funding for university research programs. Research departments have had to increasingly rely on industry funding, a type of ballyhooed public-private partnership, which has reduced the independence and objectivity of the nation's research institutions to everyone's detriment. There are many cases, but you have to look no further than the way the fossil fuel industry has corrupted university research on fracking, such that very little information at all is available about the risks of hydraulic fracturing recovery of natural gas, and the public must mainly rely on anecdotes and independent filmmakers to hear anything negative about its consequences.

5. Expand unemployment insurance. Want workers not to fear the loss of outdated, polluting industries? Make sure they know they won't be out on the street if they have to look for work for a while, and that they don't have to take the first crappy job that comes their way. It would go a long way towards preventing rank-and-file workers from fighting to the death to defend industries that are long past their sell-by date.

6. Break up the big banks. The financial sector has grown significantly in terms of their share of GDP and has been the biggest accelerant of income inequality in the country. Add to that the longstanding investment policies of these very large banks to either refuse loan capital to, or downgrade the ratings of, businesses who refuse to move production overseas, bust unions, liquidate pensions or drive down wages, and they have overweening power to make life miserable for the average worker. They can no longer be trusted in any respect to be good stewards of the capital they've extracted from the rest of us and their power must be dismantled.

7. Financial transaction tax. Rapid-fire speculation, computerized trading, reckless short-term investing, all add to financial insecurity and promote a casino atmosphere in stock exchanges. It doesn't create a good economy for the average person, though, and these tax-free transactions privilege investors over every other sector of society that has to pay taxes when money changes hands. And there's no one it's more fair to ask to pony up for the public good than the people who've been busily dismantling democracy all these years.

8. Tax capital gains as income. Since capital gains are taxed at very low rates, the wealthy have been incentivized to collect more and more of their household income as some form of investment payout, and disincentivized to reinvest in the productive economy. It's just another way to encourage the wealthy to uselessly hoard cash and is grossly unjust. Tax it fairly and spend it on building a better world.

9. Crack down on overseas tax evasion. With feeling, the wealthy must stop unproductively hoarding cash and starving the public of the funds to run a civil society. This must become unacceptable in every country.

10. Move your money. While large, unaccountable international financial institutions have an incentive to starve their native economies and follow the global race to the bottom wherever it may lead, they're not the only banks. The prosperity of independent credit unions and community banks is much more directly tied to the prosperity of their local economies and the well-being of their customers. These institutions can't afford to recklessly gamble with their financial reserves and are among the most responsible actors in the financial sector. If you can take your business to one of them, please do.

11. Uncap Social Security taxes. If FICA taxes were collected on all income, not just that below the inflation-adjusted, currently ~$110,000 threshold, it would make the program solvent for the foreseeable future. Taking Social Security's solvency off the table for the next few decades would remove a significant wedge issue used by the financial elite to distract the public by leaving us terrified that we're going to wind up homeless when we're too old to work anymore.

12. Lower the retirement age. Increases in the retirement age in the last few years have been a significant cause in the higher rates of disability claims. I mean, duh. When people get older, we tend to get sicker and less able to work. You don't need a PhD to know it. And recent life expectancy gains have mostly gone to the wealthy, not the sort of folks who'd be lucky to find a diner or a paper route to work at when they're 67. Our current national retirement programs have decreased elder poverty by ridiculous amounts. We should look at ways to decrease it further.

13. Open Medicare to everyone. Small businesses would on better footing when competing for talent if they didn't have to worry about covering insurance, and would-be entrepreneurs wouldn't have to be afraid to strike out on their own. Medicare's program costs would go down because of the large influx of healthier people and there'd be a much larger constituency for improving the quality of coverage. Baby seal; saved.

14. End crop exclusions. Currently, if a farmer wants to participate in the federal farm subsidy program, which comes with a host of benefits such as ready access to crop insurance and disaster aid, they can only grow what are known as program commodity crops. A program crop is one of a set number of cereal grains (wheat, corn, etc.), oilseeds (like canola) and legumes (usually soy.) A requirement for participation is that no other type of crop be grown on the land, no fruit, vegetables, etc. This severely limits the ability of farmers to use beneficial intercropping and crop rotation techniques. It would bar a farmer from using, for example, the venerable Native Central and North American Three Sisters intercrop, of corn, beans and squash, because squash isn't a program crop. This restricts farmers' freedom to try new techniques, pursue emerging market opportunities and diversify their businesses. And don't get me started on what a disaster it is for soil carbon sequestration.

15. Break up slaughterhouse consolidation. The biggest obstacle to getting rid of CAFOs is that the slaughterhouse industry has been consolidated under the ownership of the meat packing and distribution industry, with independent slaughterhouses closed down and small, on-farm operations mostly regulated out of existence at the behest of industry lobbyists. In a given geographic area, there's often only one slaughterhouse within a reasonable distance, and you can't use it unless you're contracted with the packer who owns it, for a price they can arbitrarily set and change at whim. There is no other single factor more responsible for the fact that animal production is dangerously concentrated on relatively small, virulently unhealthy feedlots, and why it rarely makes economic sense to farm animals any other way. It's also hard to emphasize enough what an incredible disaster this has been for small livestock producers, who've gone out of business in droves, driving up unemployment in rural communities. In addition to making farming a more economically stable enterprise, reversing livestock consolidation shifts animal waste from being an expensive environmental toxin and back towards being a useful, cost-saving soil supplement.

16. Immigration reform. When you have a large, very desperate population of workers who are afraid to go to the police if they're abused or witness a crime, report wage theft, or organize for safer workplaces, it drags down wages, community safety and working standards for everyone. Give immigrant workers a pathway to citizenship and the security to bargain for better working conditions, it raises the bar for everyone, instead.

17. Marriage equality. It's a joke in liberal circles when fundamentalist preachers blame natural disasters on the gays and other hapless scapegoats, but for a lot of desperate people looking for comfort and perhaps not knowing anyone who's out, it redirects their anger away from the rich jerks who are really fleecing them. Functionally, it's a use of religion to preserve the economic power structure. If marriage equality is a reality everywhere though, everyone will eventually get over it and we can do more productive things with our time than argue about who we let in the clubhouse.

18. Gender equality. When women do better, families do better, children are healthier and intimate violence starts trending downwards. The public health and workforce productivity benefits are immense. Women who are in control of their reproductive options, which is to say that they have access and means to prevent pregnancy or freely choose to carry to term and care for a child, make good decisions about how large a family they can reasonably support. But when they're expected to provide vast amounts of free labor, when they're scapegoated for all of society's ills, and when their sociopolitical capital is tied to some impossible standard of virtue, they too often end up in desperate circumstances. A necessitous woman is not a free woman. A society that can put women's considerable talents towards solving more interesting problems than surviving on the raggedy edge, that's a society that can solve a lot more problems.

19. Paid family leave. There need to be government supports for new parents of both genders to take time off work for the birth or adoption of a new child, or for the acute care of sick family members. It's inherently unfair for women to do all of this type of work at significant economic penalty, or to throw up barriers to men who want to be more involved with their families but feel that they have no choice but to put their shoulder to the grindstone at work. The strain on a family's time and resources that result from having no paid leave to care for the very young or the unwell leaves many people in dire straits, and contributes to the birth of a child being a leading cause of a fall into poverty.

20. Expand public sector employment. There are jobs that need to be done that will never be profitable if done well, but that society needs done and can well afford. Teaching young children is a prime example, as the direct recipients of the service have no purchasing power and society as a whole is poorer if children are only taught on the premise that their parents can afford to pay for it. Having a literate workforce is a pearl beyond price, as it were. There are many more cases to be made for expansive public safety and sanitation services, for public transportation, roads and infrastructure maintenance. A society that provides these services is more attractive to commerce, has more good paying public sector jobs, and inherently reduces desperation.

21. Incentivize local production of everything. I don't know the precise policy mechanism that would be best, but one way or another, cheap, long-distance transportation is going to become more scarce and it's already imposing significant costs in terms of environmental devastation. Further, the trend for ever fewer businesses to consolidate supply chains across the globe starves many local economies of employment opportunities, and many individuals of work they'd find meaningful and enjoyable. It might be more 'inefficient' in terms of consolidation of profit, but the consolidation of profit is a big problem in its own right, as discussed.

22. Make it easier to form a union. If it was as easy to call an election for a union as getting a majority of employees to sign a card saying they wanted one, unionization rates would go way up. This would drive up the share of profits that go to workers, boost workplace safety, decrease economic gender and ethnic discrimination, and generally push working conditions upwards for everyone as non-unions workplaces had to compete for workers with more desirable places of employment.

23. Protect the right to vote. A great deal of progress has been made in terms of dismantling the formal structures of white privilege in America and conferring the full benefits of citizenship on communities of color. We're by no means there yet, but current efforts to restrict voting rights and make our electoral system even less representative of a one-person, one-vote ideal, have the potential to significantly delay progress by putting in power reactionaries who'll continue acting to divide working families against each other and further the desperation of historically disadvantaged populations. And people struggling to have their basic rights, dignity and humanity recognized are often a bit hard pressed to lend a hand to save the oceans. Further, the politicians working to preserve as much racial inequality as possible are usually the same politicians working hardest to burn the world to a cinder for cash. Save democracy, save the planet, I say.

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Humanity has been mired for so long in fighting over whether or not there's enough to eat that we almost didn't notice that we'd finally achieved a world in which there's enough for everyone … and we're catching up with the plot of the story just in time to watch that world get wrecked before we can figure out how to share amongst ourselves a little better. But it doesn't have to get wrecked.

Even better, we're wealthy enough that if we'd stop trying to starve each other, we could move on to more interesting questions, like, why can't we mine the asteroids? How healthy *could* everyone be? Would it be possible to achieve a 95 percent global literacy rate? When can we get fusion power? Can we halt species extinction? Where's my goddam flying car? You know, fun stuff. We have the technology, we just need the will.

I should admit that I'm not actually aiming to save the world. I'm hoping we can make it awesome. But I'm pretty sure than can only happen if we also commit to saving each other.

Image credit: Samuel Blanc

Five Executive Actions Against Climate Chaos: What the President Should Announce in State of...

WASHINGTON - February 11 - Four weeks after federal scientists reported that climate change is raising extreme weather risk and could warm America by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, President Barack Obama is being challenged to lay out a bold plan to fight climate chaos in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech to Congress. Citing the draft National Climate Assessment, the Center for Biological Diversity urged the president to announce five executive actions to cut greenhouse gas pollution to avert the scientific report’s prediction of catastrophic climate change.

“President Obama needs to grab the steering wheel before we drive off the climate cliff,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel. “Starting tomorrow, the president can regulate carbon pollution from power plants and airplanes, ban fracking on public lands and set a national cap on greenhouse gases. Bold and immediate action is the only way to avoid the terrifyingly hot future predicted by climate scientists.”

Here are five executive actions President Obama should use to fight climate change:

1. Set a national carbon pollution cap: The president should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act already requires the EPA to set a cap for widespread and damaging "criteria pollutants." The agency has done so for six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and lead. Between 1980 and 2010, emissions of these six pollutants fell by 63 percent while the gross domestic product grew by 128 percent. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions, which were unregulated, went up by 21 percent, contributing to climate change and ocean acidification. The president should also order the EPA to immediately regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution, and from airplanes, the fastest-growing transportation source of greenhouse gases.

2. Ban fracking and end fossil fuel development on public lands: The president should direct the Department of the Interior to stop leasing out millions of acres of publicly owned lands for extreme and polluting forms of fossil fuel development. Fracking, a particularly dangerous extraction practice, poisons our air and water and releases large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As a first step, the president should direct the Interior department to prohibit fracking on federal lands. Ending all fossil fuel development on public lands will allow these precious areas to be used for wildlife habitat and recreation in a warming world.

3. Don't approve the Keystone XL pipeline: The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 35 million gallons of oil a day from Canada's tar sands — one of the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy sources in the world — to the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, has called the Keystone pipeline "game over" for the climate. The Keystone pipeline cannot go forward without State Department approval, and the president should stop the project permanently.

4. Protect the Arctic from offshore drilling: The president should prohibit offshore fossil fuel development in the Arctic’s delicate ecosystem. As melting sea ice hits record lows, oil companies have rushed to exploit the Arctic’s fossil fuel spoils. We should not invest in a new carbon-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure at the top of the world, where cleaning up spilled oil would be impossible and where multiple accidents this year demonstrated that the oil industry cannot operate safely. An oil spill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas would devastate one of the most pristine ecosystems on the planet, killing polar bears, ice seals and other imperiled wildlife.

5. Join the world in seeking a fair and ambitious climate treaty: It’s time for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to seek a successful global climate treaty. In 1992 the first President Bush signed, and the Senate ratified, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which America agreed to take action to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet the U.S. negotiating team refuses to agree to the cuts necessary to avert climate disruption. The president should direct his State Department negotiating team to commit our country to fair, ambitious and binding greenhouse gas reductions.

“If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that climate change is setting in and Americans are feeling the pain, whether it’s Superstorm Sandy, record hot temperatures, widespread drought or massive wildfires,” Snape said. “It’s imperative that the president take the reins and finally do what’s needed to begin addressing this crisis before it’s too late.”

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

The Global Water Grab: Meet the “New Water Barons”

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Writing in National Geographic in December 2012 about “small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment” that “are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty” water expert Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project cautioned against reckless land and water-related investments in Africa. “[U]nless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.”

That same month, the online publication Market Oracle reported that “[t]he new ‘water barons’—the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires—are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.” The report reveals two phenomena that have been gathering speed, and that could potentially lead to profit accumulation at the cost of communities and commons —the expansion of market instruments beyond the water supply and sanitation to other areas of water governance, and the increasingly prominent role of financial institutions.

In several instances this has meant that the government itself has set up public corporations that run like a business, contracting out water supply and sanitation operations to those with expertise, or entering into public–private–partnerships, often with water multinationals. This happened recently in Nagpur and New Delhi, India. In most rural areas, ensuring a clean drinking water supply and sanitation continues to be a challenge. For-profit companies such as Sarvajal have begun setting up pre-paid water kiosks (or water ATMs) that would dispense units of water upon the insertion of a pre-paid card. It is no surprise that these are popular among people who otherwise have no access to clean drinking water.

With climate change, however, the water crisis is no longer perceived as confined to developing countries or even primarily a concern related to water supply and sanitation. Fresh water commons are becoming degraded and depleted in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, diversion of water for expanded commodity crop production, biofuels and gas hydro-fracking is compounding the crisis in rural areas. In areas ranging from the Ogallala aquifer to the Great Lakes in North America, water has been referred to as liquid gold. Billionaires such as T. Boone Pickens have been buying up land overlying the Ogallala aquifer, acquiring water rights; companies such as Dow Chemicals, with a long history of water pollution, are investing in the business of water purification, making pollution itself a cash-cow.

But chemical companies are not alone: GE and its competitor Siemens have extensive portfolios that include an array of water technologies to serve the needs of industrial customers, municipal water suppliers or governments. (In the last year and a half two Minnesota based companies have become large players in this business—Ecolab, by acquiring Nalco and Pentair by merging with Tyco‘s Flow Control unit—both now belonging to S&P’s 500.)

The financial industry has also zeroed in on water. In the summer of 2011, Citigroup issued a report on water investments. The much quoted statement by Willem Buiter (chief economist at Citigroup) gives an inkling of Citigroup’s conclusion: “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Once again, several others had already seen water as an important investment opportunity, including GE’s Energy Financial ServicesGoldman Sachs and several asset management firms that are involved investing in farmland in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

Given these recent trends, initiatives that track the water use of companies or map information regarding water related risks could be double edged. Some examples include the ‘water disclosure project’ and the ‘water-mapping project’. Both are initiated by non-profits/ think-tanks, the former by UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project and the latter by the US-based World Resources Institute. While distinct, they are linked by their shared constituency: global investors concerned about water-related risks. These initiatives could help companies identify and reduce their water footprint, or could lead to company investments that follow water and grab it.

The Carbon Disclosure Project’s water disclosure project seeks to help businesses and institutional investors understand the risks and opportunities associated with water scarcity and other water-related issues. According to its most recent report, issued on behalf of 470 investors with assets of $50 trillion USD, over half the respondents to their survey have experienced water-related challenges in the preceding five years, translating into disruptions in operations, increases in expenses and other detrimental impacts.

Aqueduct Alliance and its water mapping project, which aims to provide companies with an unprecedented level of detail on global water risks, seems at one level a direct response to the findings of the global water disclosure reports by CDP. General Electric, Goldman Sachs and the Washington-based think tank World Resources Institute are the founding members of the Aqueduct Alliance. All of them identify water-related risks as detrimental to profitability, continued economic growth and environmental sustainability. The water maps, with their unprecedented level of detail and resolution, seek to combine advanced hydrological data with geographically specific indicators that capture social, economic, and governance factors. But this initiative has given rise to concerns that such information gives companies and investors unprecedented details of water-related information in some of the world’s largest river basins.

Many of these investors, described as the “new water barons” in Jo-Shing Yang’s article ”Profiting from Your Thirst as Global Elite Rush to Control Water Worldwide,” are the same ones who have profited from speculating on agricultural contracts and contributing to the food crisis of the past few years. The food crisis and recent droughts have confirmed that controlling the source of food—the land and the water that flows under or by it—are equally or even more important.

closer look at the land-related investments in Africa, for example, show that land grabbing is not simply an investment, but also an attempt to capture the water underneath. At the recent annual Global AgInvesting Conference (with well over 370 participants), the asset management groups and global farm businesses showcased their plans, including purchases of vast tracts of lands in varying locations around the globe. With tools such as water maps, such investors are further advantaged. The global rush for land grabbing, as well as the resistance to it, shows that all stake-holders—pension funds, Wall Street or nation-states on the one hand or the people who currently use these lands and waters, and their advocates on the other—are well aware of the life-and-death nature of land (and water) grabbing, especially in the case of developing countries.

National and international regulatory mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that basic resources such as land, water and the means for accessing fresh water do not become merely the means for profit accumulation for the wealthy, but are governed in a way that ensures the basic livelihood of those most dependent on it. The last session of the Committee on World Food Security  (a United Nations mechanism set up to address the food crisis) was a good starting point, and has set in motion a series of consultations on principles for agricultural investments. Civil Society Organizations are tracking the various ways in which regulations may develop in national contexts: simply facilitate land grabbing, mitigate negative impacts and maximize opportunities or block (or roll-back) land grabbing altogether. Ultimately, any policy approaches must prioritize local communities’ access to food and water: Any water-related investments needs to be about allaying their livelihood risks and enhancing their ability to realize their rights, whether it is in developing countries or developed countries.

Harnessing Rebel Energy: Making Green a Threat Again

“The climate movement needs to have one hell of a comeback.”

–Naomi Klein

The energy was there. It was an overcast spring morning in April 2011 in the nation’s capita1. Thousands had shown up to take action on climate change. The earlier march led us to the Chamber of Commerce, BP’s Washington D.C. offices, the American Petroleum Institute and other office buildings associated with oil spills, coal mining, carbon emissions and more. We heard speakers. We saw street theater. It was all very tame and managed. It lacked confrontation.

It was almost a year to the day after the Gulf oil spill, yet offshore drilling continued as usual with little consequence for oil giant British Petroleum. Out west, the Obama administration had just opened up thousands of acres for coal mining in the Powder River Basin. Appalachia’s mountains were still under attack by the coal industry. Natural gas extraction, also known as “fracking,” was spreading like an epidemic through the countryside.

Over 15,000 youth, students and climate activists had gathered at Powershift for weekend of education, networking and keynote speakers. There were keynote speeches by Al Gore and Bill McKibben, yet little was offered in the way of taking action against Big Oil and Big Coal. We are faced with the greatest crisis in the history of the world, so we were told, yet the Beltway green groups had only produced failure in Copenhagen and Washington.

Globally, we had watched the Arab Spring throw out dictators; anti-austerity movements in Iceland and Greece rise up against corrupted regimes and massive protests in the Wisconsin state house fighting for labor rights. We were only a few months away from Occupy Wall Street.

Needless to say, the North American climate movements wanted in on the action.

As the morning march ended that day at Lafayette Park, the unofficial march, spearheaded by Rising Tide North America, formed and headed into the streets of Washington D.C. Tim DeChristopher of Salt Lake City, who had become something of a folk hero to climate activists after derailing a federal land auction and protecting thousands of acres of southern Utah wilderness, announced on the microphone that it was time for more drastic action. Anyone that wanted to take that step should join the Rising Tide march that was heading down 17th St NW to the Dept. of Interior.

The crowd quickly swelled to over a thousand, both singing “We Shall Overcome” and chanting “Keep It in the Ground” and “Our Climate is Under Attack, What’ll We Do? Act Up, Fight Back!”

As we approached the Dept. of Interior, the small group of twenty that had been pre-organized to occupy the lobby began to more towards the doors. Then to much our surprise and shock, a crowd of over 300 stormed in after them and joined the sit-in. As they sat in, they chanted “We’ve got power! We’ve got power!” It was scary. It was exhilarating. It was powerful.

Direct action is supposed to push a person’s comfort zone, but even veteran direct action organizers felt their comfort zones pushed when many in the march joined the occupation.

In the end, 21 were arrested as part of the sit-in. The Dept. of Interior action began a shift for the youth and grassroots activists with the North American climate movements. Soon, they would become a force to be reckoned with.

Corporations and Politicians Stall, Nature Doesn’t

The clock is ticking and the science is not just a theory, its science. Yet, corporate and political decision-makers continue to ignore these warnings for short term profit.

A new scientific report put out by the United Nations on the second day of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP18) in Doha this week reports that thawing of the Arctic permafrost will “significantly amplify global warming.” Permafrost emission spurred by rising global temperature will contribute up to 39% of global emissions. On the third day of COP18 negotiations, the World Meteorological Organization warned the delegates that the Arctic ice melt had reached an alarming rate and that “far-reaching changes” would from climate change would impact the Earth.

Despite these dire warnings from the scientific community, wealthy industrialized nations continue to stall any sort of climate progress in Doha. The top topic at COP18 has been an extension of the Kyoto Protocol –up for renewal this year—to 2020. The Associated Press reports, a number of wealthy nations including Japan, Russia and Canada have joined the ranks of the U.S. and “refused to endorse the extension.” The U.S. has never endorsed Kyoto and continues to block any progress on agreements to reduce global emissions or pass legislation to regulate its own emissions.

Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel holds a chokehold on the American political system. In 2012, oil and gas industries combined with Big Coal to spend over $150 million elections to both parties.

U.S. deputy climate envoy Jonathan Pershing told the media in Doha that the Obama administration plans to stick to its 2009 goal of reducing emissions by 17% by 2020. Pershing went on to say that U.S. efforts to curb emissions are “enormous.”

Yet, Obama recently signed into law a bipartisan bill to shield the U.S. airline industry from a European Union carbon tax. Furthermore, Obama’s top candidate to replace Hillary Clinton at the State Dept., UN Ambassador Susan Rice, has been revealed to be a major investor in companies developing Canadian tar sands and building the Keystone XL pipeline.

While the politicians in Doha and Washington stall, Mother Nature has thoughts of her own. Global warming is no longer an abstract notion. Rising temperatures and extreme weather are spreading at unprecedented levels. 11 of the past 12 years are among the hottest since 1850. This summer in Colorado, wildfires brought on by scorching heat, high winds and drought conditions killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes.

In late Oct., Hurricane Sandy battered the Atlantic seaboard from the Caribbean to New England. It took over 100 lives and cost tens of billions of dollars in damage. Millions were displaced while politicians scrambled for photo ops and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s finance network declared “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Harnessing Rebel Energy

Presented with these stark facts, it begs the question: Why haven’t governments and corporations been forced to act on climate change?

To begin with, the mainstream strategy, which controls large portions of resources to fight climate change, is too rooted in working within the existing political and economic system. In 2009, the environmental establishment comprised of small grouping of donors and environmental non-profits primarily based in Washington D.C. (aka the Beltway Greens) placed its faith in the Obama administration. They hoped that his ability to regulate emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency, combined with lobbing Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation in 2010 and pressuring world governments to secure a unilateral agreement on climate at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP15) in Copenhagen would turn the tide on global emissions. These strategies are fraught with compromise on a global crisis that pays no heed to politics as usual.

Second, the environmental establishment was completely unprepared for the power that Corporate America, particularly Big Oil and Big Coal, wielded in Washington D.C. In 2009, oil and gas companies spent $121 million to dispatch 745 lobbyists to Congress in 2009 to influence the climate bill. Before the 2010 election, Big Oil put $19,588,091 into the U.S. election cycle. Big Coal put in $10,423,347. The Beltway Greens were outgunned, outspent and outmatched.

Finally, turning the tide on the most powerful industry in history requires more than lobbyists and policy people. It requires rebel energy fueling people power and non-violent direct action. In the 1970’s when activists were doing battle to end the war in Vietnam and stop the proliferation of nuclear power, author and activist George Lakey wrote in the pamphlet “The Sword that Heals:”

“You can’t pull off powerful nonviolent direct action without rebel energy. You’ve run this campaign as a conventional lobbying operation and you can’t — at the last minute — switch gears and become a nonviolent protest movement!”

Political parties and non-profits did not drive the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia or Iceland; it was People Power that had been organized for decades. In Egypt, the established opposition groups only joined in after the masses took over the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez calling for President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In North America, Corporate America, the political establishment and the media has convinced us that national politicians and well paid non-profit staff are the change agents we’ve been waiting for. Thus far, they’ve only delivered epic failures in Copenhagen and Washington D.C. We mustn’t let the priorities of big well-resourced institutions trump planetary or community survival.

The momentum to stop climate change is going to come from the rebel energy that challenges not only the established order, but the established opposition as well.

Know Your History

As daunting as it sounds, climate rebels wouldn’t be re-inventing the environmental movement’s wheel in building a grassroots mass climate movement. Far from it, in fact, greens have threatened corporate power with non-violent direct action and people power for decades.

During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, emerging from the anti-war and burgeoning environmental movement, the anti-nuclear, or “No Nukes,” movement rose up to challenge the Nixon administration’s plant to build 100 new nuclear power plants by the year 2000. In 1976 and 1977, thousands with the Clamshell Alliance used non-violent direct action to occupy the site of a proposed nuclear plant in Seabook, NH. Similar mass actions followed Seabrook. The Three Mile Island disaster was a watershed event that by the early 1980’s put millions into the streets against U.S. nuclear power. While Seabrook and few other plants were built, the vast majority of plants proposed remain halted.

Similarly, in the early 1980’s, a group of disgruntled redneck tree-huggers fed up with constant compromise on wilderness protection in western states by the Beltway Greens formed the radical ecological movement known as “Earth First!” Their politics of “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth” manifested into the direct action tactics of road blockades and tree-sits that strengthened and emboldened the environmental movement. Their campaigns and tactics targeted corporate logging and development companies, but also created much needed political space for grassroots activists on environmental issues

Former Sierra Club director and Friends of the Earth founder David Brower remarked “I thank God for the arrival of Earth First!, they make me look moderate.”

A third movement that challenged corporate power for the betterment of the environment was the global justice movement. This grassroots street wing of anti-austerity, human rights and environmental movements emerged from the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in 1999. Rooted in direct action, direct democracy and anti-capitalism of movements both in the U.S. and abroad, the global justice movement undermined global trade talks set to privatize labor, environmental and human rights protections across the globe.

In the laboratory of resistance we call “social change,” the “No Nukes” movement, Earth First! and the global justice movement all had at least one strategy that set them apart from the establishment: they did their most important work out of Washington D.C. The anti-nuclear movement didn’t organize their massive rallies in Washington until they had built power on the highways and byways of the country. Likewise Earth First! and the organizers coming out of the WTO protests rejected Beltway politics as usual to build and embolden their own anti-establishment movements.

Hope & Climate Change

Fortunately, the rebel energy is alive and well in today’s climate movement. Outside of Washington D.C., grassroots activists, direct action organizers, smaller environmental, faith-based and student groups, rank and file Sierra Club members and environmental and climate justice groups have mobilized a very different climate movement from the air conditioned offices of the Beltway Greens.

Climate activists, the youth climate movement in particular, are fed up and hungry to make some real change and take real action. Just this summer, numerous actions from a mass civil disobedience in West Virginia at the Hobet Mine to a week of civil disobediences opposing the western coal exports in the Montana state capitol to community-led direct actions against fracking in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania have created space for groups to make meaningful progress both on their issues and internally within the movement. While this work has been complimentary and cumulative, it’s not always necessarily collaborative, nor should it be.

The fight over tar sands development and the Keystone XL pipeline has galvanized climate activists of all ages. Over the past year, we have witnessed people from the Lakota nation in South Dakota and from Moscow, Idaho putting their bodies in roads and highways blocking large transport trucks carrying oil refining equipment to develop further tar sands extraction.

In Texas a young marine veteran named Ben Kessler returned from the war in Afghanistan to witness oil and gas companies ravaging North and East Texas with fracking and the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. He got involved in environmental and climate organizing, and with friends, formed a student environmental group at the University of North Texas. In April 2011, some of them attended Powershift in Washington D.C. At the Dept. of Interior, Kessler took his first civil disobedience arrest. But more importantly the group went back to Denton, TX and transformed their group into an anchor for a grassroots direct action campaign called the Tar Sands Blockade. The Tar Sands Blockade joined with Texas landowners to form the Tar Sands Blockade which has organized dozens of actions and a two month old tree blockade to stop the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

People are hungry for climate action that does more than asks you to send emails to your climate denying congressperson or update your Facebook status with some clever message about fossil fuels. Now, a new anti-establishment movement has broken with Washington’s embedded elites and has energized a new generation to stand in front of the bulldozers and coal trucks and, in the words of Naomi Klein to make “one hell of a comeback.”

Three States Pushing ALEC Bill To Require Teaching Climate Change Denial In Schools

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - known by its critics as a "corporate bill mill" - has hit the ground running in 2013, pushing "models bills" mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems. 

January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" - which mandates a "balanced" teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year. 

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states, an undeniable form of "big government" this "free market" organization decries in its own literature.

ALEC's "model bills" are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key - though far from the only - vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda through in the states. 

A Frankenstein Co-Created with Heartland Institute

A DeSmogBlog investigation last year found that the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act's orgins date back to 2000.

The Act's creation is directly connected to the ongoing efforts of another corporate-funded group, the Heartland Institute - of "Heartland Institute Exposed" fame - a group well plugged into the climate change denial machine. 

ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, now known as its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, adopted this model at a time when the Task Force was headed by Sandy Liddy Bourne. Bourne, who served in this capacity from 1999-2004, would eventually ascend to the role of Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC in 2004. 

Upon leaving ALEC in 2006, Bourne become Heartland's Vice President for Policy Strategy. Today she serves as Exectutive Director of the American Energy Freedom Center, an outfit she co-heads withArthur G. Randol. Randol is a longtime lobbyist and PR flack for ExxonMobil, a corporation which endowed the climate change denial machine for years.

Heartland's website still lists Bourne as one of its "experts," stating that "Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent." 

Importantly, Heartland is still a member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force that originally passed the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.

According to internal documents leaked to and published by DeSmogBlog in Feb. 2012, Heartland obtained funding for a "Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms" project beginning in 2012. This cirruculum aims to teach that there "is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather."

If this sounds similar to ALEC's model bill, it should, given the fact that the two outfits share funding from the same honey pot. In fact, Heartland actively promotes the ALEC model on its website. 

Model Bill Introduced in OK, CO, and AZ

Oklahoma and Colorado came first and within just over a week, Arizona followed suit in proposing the ALEC climate science "mis-education" bill.

Oklahoma: Sooner Rather than Later

On Jan. 18, the Sooner State's legislature took the lead for 2013 in pushing the ALEC climate change education model in the form of HB 1674, the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act." 

HB 1674 calls for the teaching of "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories," including of global warming, saying it's a theory steeped in "controversy" - not that the actual scientific record thinks so.

This is necessary, the bill states, "to help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens," going on to explain that it's important to explore "differences of opinion on scientific issues." 

The ALEC model similarly calls for the teaching of "critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific...controversies." The model also mandates creation of "an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas" in the scientific sphere. 

The OK bill is sponsored by Rep. Gus Blackwell (R-61), unsurprisngly a dues-paying member of ALEC. According to a Dec. 2012 report published by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) titled, "Buying Influence," Blackwell has paid for his attendance at least one ALEC meeting with taxpayer money.

National Institute on Money in State Politics' data demonstrates that Blackwell's largest pool of campaign funding for his 2012 electoral victory came from the oil and gas industry, which gave him $28,800. This includes taking $7,500 from shale gas industry giant Chesapeake Energy, $2,350 from ConocoPhillips, and $1,000 each from Koch Industries and coal industry giant Duke Energy, among others. All of thesecorporations also fund ALEC.

Colorado's Same Day Affair

One sure sign of a coordinated, ALEC-lead effort is the fact that Colorado's state legislature introduced the ALEC model on the same day as did Oklahoma's. The two states, it's worth noting, share a border on Oklahoma's panhandle. 

On Jan. 18, 2013, eight representatives and four senators introduced HB 13-1089, coining the bills the "Academic Freedom Acts."

Paralleling the language in the ALEC model and the Oklahoma bill, the HB 13-1089 aims to "Inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills," also recognizing that the teaching of the concept global warming "can cause controversy."

One of the senators co-sponsoring the bill, Rep. Scott Renfroe (R-13) is an ALEC dues-paying member. He's also attended at least one ALEC meeting paid for by Colorado taxpayers, according to the CMD's "Buying Influence" report

Of the $91,000 dollars he raised for the 2012 election, over $5,000 of it came from the oil, gas and electric utilities industry, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. This includes taking money from Chesapeake Energy, Anadarko Petroleum, Williams Companies, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The Arizona (Sun) Devils are in the Details 

Eight days later, ALEC's model bill made its way to Arizona, a state sharing a "corner border" with Colorado. 

Arizona's SB 1213 was introduced on Jan. 26, 2013 by six senators that, as it turns out, are all dues-paying ALEC members. Five of the six have attended conferences totally on the taxpayer dime,according to CMD's report.

SB 1213 incorporates the "critical thinking skills" operative language, the "scientific controversies" operative language and the  "teaching...global warming" can "cause controversy" operative language.

In short, SB 1213 is the same exact copycat ALEC model bill that's been proposed in both Oklahoma and Colorado.  

ALEC Celebrates Groundhog Day 2013

Groundhog Day is on Feb. 2 and fittingly, ALEC and its corporate patrons continue to sing the same tune, simultaneously promoting frackingblockading a transition to renewable energy and pushing bills mandating teaching climate change denial on par with actual science.

"It's the same old schtick every year, the guy comes out with a big old stick, raps on the door," actor Bill Murray said in the classic film "Groundhog Day." "They pull the little rat out, they talk to him, the rat talks back, then they tell us what's gonna happen."

Replace "guy" with "corporate lobbyist" and "legislators" with "rats" and that's ALEC in a nutshell, serving as a mere microcosm of the current American political system at-large.

US shale revolution seen from space

AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov

AFP Photo / Mladen Antonov

Productions at US major shale formations flare off so much gas it can be clearly seen from space.

­The lights of the flares burning in North Dakota's Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford shale fields can clearly be seen in night-time satellite photography, Financial Times reported Monday.

Oil companies working there waste enough gas to power all the homes in Chicago and Washngton combined, the newsoutlet reports, what fuels growing concerns about damage to environment and waste of resources.

North Dakota alone, leading state in recent shale boom, flared off 50% more of unwanted gas last year comparing to previous years, while figures from Texas formations went up more than six times from 2010 to 2012, Financial Times reported Monday. Total amount of gas flared in the United States has tripled in five years and makes the country fifth highest n the world behind Russia, Nigeria and Iran and Iraq, the news outlet reported, citing World Bank figures.

Flaring is the safest way to dispose of relatively cheap natural gas, that being released by oil productions in North America. It has been attracting attention of environmental campaigners because of the waste of gas and its consequences for greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. Investors involved in the production are concerned no less and have warned the leading US oil companies to cut excessive flaring.

The North Dakota legislature is considering a bill to encourage flaring reduction through tax breaks. The state is also pushing producers to use gas to power drilling rigs.

The shale revolution is believed to help the United States become a net fuel exporter by 2030 and achieve energy independence by 2035, the IEA said in November 2012. However hydraulic fracturing process, one of the key components of developing shale resources, causes heated debates. Environmentalists  say the process is too costly and ecologically unfriendly, while advocates insists bigger energy production from shale is a way to energy independence and lower imports.

The Hidden War on Nature

world

Western governments are blind to the campaign they should be waging, that of climate change, the degradation of the environment and the destruction of the natural world upon which all humanity depends.

We have been told for years about the catastrophic felling of the rain forests; the reduction of tiger, gorilla, whale or bluefin tuna populations; the extinction of countless species of small insects, reptiles, birds and plants; and the loss of biodiversity and habitats in far-off lands.  But closer to home and far more subtle is the gentle, almost invisible eating away of the environment and its protections by governments, even while they prate about destruction elsewhere.  It is happening in all those countries whose governments are in thrall and tied to big business and making money regardless of tomorrow.  It is happening near you.  And it is accompanied by a lot of cynical promises, pledges and ‘public consultations’ that the genuine public never seem to be involved in.

Politicians kowtow to voters’ concerns by parading their ‘green’ credentials, but statements are cheap.  So are new logos.  Back in 2006 the Conservatives, recognising that many voters were tired of the lack of environmental action by the Labour government, produced the new Tory logo , a scribbled tree.  Meant to show off new green credentials, what it really suggests is that all things green can be rubbed out and redrawn to suit the Tory agenda.  At the same time David Cameron demonstrated just how green he was by flying up to the Arctic Circle for a photo-shoot with huskies.  Bearing in mind that the Tories are the party of the ‘landed gentry’ who own an awful lot of Britain (only 0.6 per cent of the UK’s population owns 50 per cent of our rural land), how green have they proved to be?

When Cameron became Prime Minister he said he was going to head the ‘greenest government ever’. They showed their true colours when they announced the sell-off of publicly-owned forests to private buyers.  Such was the outcry from people waking up to the realisation that ‘their’ woods meant a lot to them, that a U turn was taken and the policy finally scrapped.  But it was clear that the only value our beloved countryside had for the Tories was monetary.

Having to manage a large national debt, they announced massive cuts in the budgets of various ministries.  Fair enough – but look at this:  Defra (Department for Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs) was asked to cut its small annual budget of £2.9bn by 25%.  Yet the £46.1bn budget of the Ministry of Defence was only cut by 8%, demonstrating all too clearly where the government’s priorities lie.  Within Defra is the Environment Agency.  A major part of the EA’s role is flood defence work.  Last summer Britain suffered exceptionally wet weather with thousands of homes flooded – not helped by the fact that flood defence schemes had not been built because of the cuts.

In their drive for cuts they have axed, among other bodies, the Renewables Advisory Board, Advisory Committee on Organic Standards, the Commons Commissioners, Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.  Natural England, whose remit is to conserve the natural environment, was threatened, as were Wildlife Trusts across the country.  No change there then.  Back in 1995 a former Conservative government cut the budget of Scottish Natural Heritage, apparently in retaliation for its support of the campaign against the proposed super quarry on the Isle of Harris.

The Tories do not like wildlife.  The Chancellor, George Osborne, accused  the habitats directive, aimed at safeguarding wildlife and biodiversity, of “placing ridiculous costs on British businesses”.  After this country finally banned the hunting of animals (mainly foxes, deer and hares) by dogs in 2004, Tory MPs mutter about repealing the law so they can get back to killing for fun.  And the Heythrop Hunt, which Cameron himself follows, was convicted  last December of illegally hunting foxes.

All birds of prey, protected by law, are seen as enemies of the rich who own large estates and love shooting pheasant and grouse.  Such a man is Owen Paterson, appointed by Cameron to be the Environment Secretary, an appointment that provoked outrage among environmentalists.  His department, Defra, came up with a scheme to deal with the awful threat to young pheasants.  As the RSPB’s conservation director Martin Harper said, “We are shocked by Defra’s plans to destroy buzzard nests and to take buzzards into captivity to protect a non-native game bird released in its millions”.  Pheasants are bred almost entirely for the idle rich to shoot.  And Defra admitted no studies had been done to find out whether buzzards really are a threat.  Another public outcry and a retreat into ‘consultations and studies’.

For many of these people our ‘green and pleasant land’ is not there to be cherished and protected, but simply a place to enjoy yourself in, (the Labour party, urban-oriented as they are, also have little interest in the countryside other than as a place for entertainment).  But even when farming, truly the one essential ‘industry’ as it provides our food, is considered, more killing is proposed.  This time badgers, also protected by law, were the target.  They were to be culled because they are carriers of bovine TB and some of our milk herds are infected.  In vain did people point out that killing the badgers made the survivors move into other TB-free areas.  In vain did people call for cattle or badgers to be vaccinated.  In vain did the government’s chief scientist advise against it.  The killing would go ahead.  Luckily for the badgers, Defra got its figures, timing and finance wrong and the cull has been delayed.  For now.

But the war against the environment is relentless.  If we are down to just one breeding pair of hen harriers, we may also lose that iconic animal of the Highlands, the wildcat.  One of our few remaining predators, the wildcat is about to become extinct in the wild.  But the people who protect these endangered species are also in danger of becoming extinct.  The National Wildlife Crime Unit, a strategic police unit, will probably lose its funding – hardly a great saving: 10 people and a budget of £136,000.  I was told the other day that my county police force has already lost its wildlife officer.  But these are the people who go after and successfully prosecute those who kill our birds of prey.  Funny, that.

Despite pleas the government refused to prevent the import of ash trees until too late and the ash dieback disease is now established in our woodlands.  It refuses to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that studies say are damaging bees.  As usual it wants even more ‘proof’.  Even where the voters are concerned, its green policies are worthless.  The ‘green deal’, providing subsidies to help people insulate Britain’s cold and draughty homes was introduced in 2012.  It could have made a major contribution in cutting our carbon emissions.  But it then decided to restrict the deal to the very poor (who can’t take up the offer because they don’t own their own homes) with the result that only a tiny percentage of the homes will be insulated.

Last year the GM companies started to promote GM crops again on the premise again that many of the world’s people were starving.  They were backed up by an endless parade of government spokesmen including Owen Paterson insisting that GM food will sort our problems – no worries.  Their campaign was spoilt early this year by a report stating that almost 50% of the world’s food is wasted.  The hunger is a result of how we manage the world, not the earth’s inability to feed us.  But politicians in favour of genetically modified food do gloriously get it wrong at times in their eagerness to earn their biotech wages.

Of course, governments aren’t alone in trying to present themselves as ‘green’.  In 2000 British Petroleum launched a new logo telling us how they were working towards a green sustainable future.  They weren’t the only energy company to take that line, but their corporate-speak doesn’t mention that now.  They’re too busy rushing after Arctic drilling, tar sands or shale gas.  They will have a champion in Paterson who is really enthusiastic about fracking.

Britain isn’t alone in this – far from it.  Wherever you live you will find politicians chipping away at our precious environment on behalf of big business and the rich.  But if they won’t protect the small things, there’s no hope they will take action on the huge issue of climate change.  They are now admitting that the likely global temperature rise will be between 4-6 degrees C by the end of this century, but still pretending this is ‘manageable’.

Life does not depend on money, on economic growth, national interests or politicians.  It depends on the rocks and the soil, the water and the air, the miracle of seeds sprouting and animals giving birth.

Footnote:  just occasionally nature succeeds in getting in the way of ‘progress’.  Great Crested Newts, another protected species, held up the proposed development of the St. Athan Military Academy in Wales.  They’ve done it again!

Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, Texas Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

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 forInterralogic 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."

Energy Corporations Must Change, Die, or (at the Very Least) Get Out of the...

“The truth is that we have a planetary emergency.” – NASA climatologist James Hansen (October 2012)

North Carolina has a unique opportunity and duty to help avert runaway climate change and repair our wounded democracy.

Most Americans realize global warming is serious but aren’t clear about the urgency. Hansen and others say if global emissions continue rising for even a few more years, carbon and warming already “in the pipeline” will push this crisis past a point of no return, toward a hellish reality for us all.

We don’t have to entirely solve the emergency by 2015, but we must begin to dramatically reduce emissions. Because the world’s second-largest electricity generator, Duke Energy, is headquartered here, North Carolina can make a huge difference – one that also makes economic sense.

For several years, NC WARN and allies have been urging Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers to use his clout to become a climate game-changer. We want Duke to join the clean energy revolution by phasing out fossil-fueled electricity while ramping up energy-saving programs, solar and wind – proven technologies that are abundant and cheaper than nuclear power.

Because of Duke’s size, the mere announcement of such a shift could impact energy markets, attitudes and regulations worldwide and become a positive tipping point toward climate stabilization.

This isn’t pie in the sky.

Duke has invested $2.5 billion in solar and wind out West. In the monopoly-captive Southeast, however, Duke is actually suppressing renewables while holding out hopes of building $20 billion nuclear plants – by forcing customers to pay for them years in advance.

But potholes are filling that road. The corporations building two new U.S. nuclear plants are already countersuing each other over massive cost overruns and delays; both projects could collapse before foundations are poured.

Also, Duke has South Carolina pump-hydro facilities that store energy equal to two nuclear plants, energy that’s readily dispatched to smooth the variability of widespread solar and wind generation.

Duke claims natural gas-fired plants emit less carbon. But Cornell researchers found that methane leakage during the fracking process makes global warming worse – plus, it pollutes our water.

Duke’s plans to build giant, unneeded plants would double our power bills through a long series of rate hikes. This would further reduce demand and increase criticism as ratepayers watch other states develop clean-energy solutions that are cheaper, cleaner and better job-creators.

Rogers is clearly torn between Duke employees and customers wanting to advance clean energy and an old guard whose careers were built on coal and nuclear power.

Duke is hampering the transition by using ratepayer money to buy pervasive financial influence over our governmental and civic leaders. Such undemocratic influence is a factor in NC WARN’s lawsuit against the N.C. Utilities Commission over the Duke-Progress merger.

During the merger proceedings, Duke withheld information regarding five different billion-dollar boondoggles that will drive rates even higher.

Not only did regulators not require Duke to explain those problems once we exposed them, they cut a closed-door settlement that resumed Duke’s march toward serial rate hikes for families and businesses.

We’re urging the N.C. Court of Appeals to revoke or modify the merger because Duke’s management and stockholders – not its customers – should bear the costs of its corporate mistakes and secret deal-making.

Another obstacle is the sweeping societal denial about climate change. I’m not talking about the “climate deniers,” but the public majority who realize chaotic weather is already devastating millions of people – and wildlife – and hammering our economy, but can’t bear to talk about it.

Climate change is terrifying. Ferocious storms, repeated droughts and bizarre temperature patterns are rapidly changing North Carolina. Arctic sea ice – Earth’s air conditioner – has lost 75 percent of its summer volume since 1980, driving up sea levels and storm surges that are swallowing our beautiful beaches.

Yes, it’s hard to know how to help, beyond reducing energy usage and hoping our dysfunctional government will somehow solve this crisis. We’re eager to work with Duke to help avert cascading collapses of climate and social systems.

Meanwhile, we’ll vigorously work to weaken Duke’s monopoly control over society’s most vital decisions and to change its business plan that is so disastrous for our climate, our economy and our democracy.

Whether Duke leads or impedes, the climate challenge requires much greater civic engagement – promoting solutions, cleaning up politics and demanding that leaders serve the public.

North Carolina can be a climate game-changer. Now’s the time.

© 2012 News & Observer

Jim Warren

Jim Warren is executive director of NC WARN, a Durham-based nonprofit working for a clean-energy revolution.


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/12/2600096/how-duke-energy-can-change-the.html#storylink=cpy

The Heat is on as the NYT Closes Its Environment Desk

Late last week, the New York Times made news – when it broke that the paper has shuttered its environment desk. The change isn't supposed to result in any layoffs, and the managing editor for news operations, Dean Baquet, told the news site Inside Climate that it – they haven't lost interest in covering environmental issues. The reporters will just be doing it from other formal desks.The New York Times shut down its environment desk earlier this month, after the hottest year on record. (Photograph: Richard Drew/AP)

The change is still disheartening, to put it mildly. Compelling, well-reported environmental stories are only becoming more important, and the Times has, without a doubt, been a leader of that coverage – especially since it launched the environment desk in 2009.

Take just one example of environmental coverage: climate change. Even as the issue gets more imperative, the science more complicated, and the implications more apparent, climate coverage has dropped around the world last year, according to a study by the Daily Climate. The Times was notable in that it led the five largest daily papers in the US in coverage of the issue, and actually increased the number of stories on it last year.

I couldn't agree more with Baquet's argument that environment stories are never really just about the environment: they're "partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects". But these stories are also always united by the fact that they are about the environment in some way. They're about how we affect the environment or how it affects us: they're complex and multilayered, and reporting on the subject requires the story to have some degree of scientific context, a way of telling the story across those themes. And it requires something more from the reporter – a solid background in the subject matter, a reasonable understanding of the science and issues at play, and the ability to explain complex subjects in a way that will make sense to readers.

It's true that "environment" stories are about a lot more than just that, but that very fact requires reporters dedicated to connecting those dots, as well as editors who can guide that coverage. That's why having a team of reporters and an editor committed to that beat is essential.

That's not to say that the other beats – business, health, politics – should not also be involved. But that can and should be done in addition to a dedicated team of reporters on the beat. Many of the reporters who cover this beat bring an educational background in the subject, or at least, have had years of covering it to develop an expertise. There is a skill set that needs to be developed in order to tell these stories well.

I also agree with the sentiment that the Times' move will help shift environmental stories out of what has been called the "green ghetto". It does often seem like many outlets marginalize environmental stories by putting them on a specific blog or webpage, rather than integrating them in the publication at large. Elsewhere, this practice tends to exacerbate the idea that the environment is some sort of niche or special interest.

I've never felt like that was true at the Times, where environmental stories regularly get prominent placement. If anything, it seemed that they were able to write stories worthy of front-page coverage specifically because they had a team dedicated to producing them.

I also get that environmental stories aren't that sexy. (Trust me, I write them!) But they are important, and sometimes, as journalists, we cover things that are necessary, but not shiny. I think Glenn Kramon, the paper's assistant managing editor, described it best as to why they've committed resources to covering the issue, in the recent Daily Climate piece:

"I ask myself, 'In 20 years, what will we be proudest that we addressed, and where will we scratch our head and say why didn't we focus more on that?'"

I asked Beth Parke, the executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), about the Times' decision. SEJ is membership group dedicated to supporting, training, and elevating environmental reporting and reporters, and I'm a proud member that has benefited from its mentorship and opportunities. Park noted – and I agree – that journalism organizations should be widening the net on environmental stories:

"I don't think excellence in coverage necessarily has to be either team/unit or individual assignment based. The best outfits do both. Any news organization that aspires to excellence in public service must cover environmental issues or they are failing.

"They need to do it, consistently, via dedicated reporter(s), dedicated team(s), and through the lens of varied beats. Environment is a big story and only getting bigger."

It's good to hear that, at this point, the paper isn't planning to cut any of those reporters; they're just shifting them around. Should they expand the issues and skill sets of this beat to other desks? Of course. My concern is that there will simply be less environmental coverage, or at least, less prominent environmental coverage.

It's hard not to think of some of the recent outlets that have cut their environment desks, making similar promises that this would not deflate their coverage of the issue. CNN reduced their environment team four years ago, stating at the time that the plan was "to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit". I think most CNN viewers would agree that the network's environmental coverage has been lacking since then. NBC also slashed its environmental reporters in 2008 – in the middle of "Green Week", an irony it failed to note.

I can only hope that the New York Times doesn't follow that trend.

The Heat is on as the NYT Closes Its Environment Desk

Late last week, the New York Times made news – when it broke that the paper has shuttered its environment desk. The change isn't supposed to result in any layoffs, and the managing editor for news operations, Dean Baquet, told the news site Inside Climate that it – they haven't lost interest in covering environmental issues. The reporters will just be doing it from other formal desks.The New York Times shut down its environment desk earlier this month, after the hottest year on record. (Photograph: Richard Drew/AP)

The change is still disheartening, to put it mildly. Compelling, well-reported environmental stories are only becoming more important, and the Times has, without a doubt, been a leader of that coverage – especially since it launched the environment desk in 2009.

Take just one example of environmental coverage: climate change. Even as the issue gets more imperative, the science more complicated, and the implications more apparent, climate coverage has dropped around the world last year, according to a study by the Daily Climate. The Times was notable in that it led the five largest daily papers in the US in coverage of the issue, and actually increased the number of stories on it last year.

I couldn't agree more with Baquet's argument that environment stories are never really just about the environment: they're "partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects". But these stories are also always united by the fact that they are about the environment in some way. They're about how we affect the environment or how it affects us: they're complex and multilayered, and reporting on the subject requires the story to have some degree of scientific context, a way of telling the story across those themes. And it requires something more from the reporter – a solid background in the subject matter, a reasonable understanding of the science and issues at play, and the ability to explain complex subjects in a way that will make sense to readers.

It's true that "environment" stories are about a lot more than just that, but that very fact requires reporters dedicated to connecting those dots, as well as editors who can guide that coverage. That's why having a team of reporters and an editor committed to that beat is essential.

That's not to say that the other beats – business, health, politics – should not also be involved. But that can and should be done in addition to a dedicated team of reporters on the beat. Many of the reporters who cover this beat bring an educational background in the subject, or at least, have had years of covering it to develop an expertise. There is a skill set that needs to be developed in order to tell these stories well.

I also agree with the sentiment that the Times' move will help shift environmental stories out of what has been called the "green ghetto". It does often seem like many outlets marginalize environmental stories by putting them on a specific blog or webpage, rather than integrating them in the publication at large. Elsewhere, this practice tends to exacerbate the idea that the environment is some sort of niche or special interest.

I've never felt like that was true at the Times, where environmental stories regularly get prominent placement. If anything, it seemed that they were able to write stories worthy of front-page coverage specifically because they had a team dedicated to producing them.

I also get that environmental stories aren't that sexy. (Trust me, I write them!) But they are important, and sometimes, as journalists, we cover things that are necessary, but not shiny. I think Glenn Kramon, the paper's assistant managing editor, described it best as to why they've committed resources to covering the issue, in the recent Daily Climate piece:

"I ask myself, 'In 20 years, what will we be proudest that we addressed, and where will we scratch our head and say why didn't we focus more on that?'"

I asked Beth Parke, the executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), about the Times' decision. SEJ is membership group dedicated to supporting, training, and elevating environmental reporting and reporters, and I'm a proud member that has benefited from its mentorship and opportunities. Park noted – and I agree – that journalism organizations should be widening the net on environmental stories:

"I don't think excellence in coverage necessarily has to be either team/unit or individual assignment based. The best outfits do both. Any news organization that aspires to excellence in public service must cover environmental issues or they are failing.

"They need to do it, consistently, via dedicated reporter(s), dedicated team(s), and through the lens of varied beats. Environment is a big story and only getting bigger."

It's good to hear that, at this point, the paper isn't planning to cut any of those reporters; they're just shifting them around. Should they expand the issues and skill sets of this beat to other desks? Of course. My concern is that there will simply be less environmental coverage, or at least, less prominent environmental coverage.

It's hard not to think of some of the recent outlets that have cut their environment desks, making similar promises that this would not deflate their coverage of the issue. CNN reduced their environment team four years ago, stating at the time that the plan was "to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit". I think most CNN viewers would agree that the network's environmental coverage has been lacking since then. NBC also slashed its environmental reporters in 2008 – in the middle of "Green Week", an irony it failed to note.

I can only hope that the New York Times doesn't follow that trend.

Shale to drive oil production in US to new high by 2014

Roughnecks wrestle pipe on a True Company oil drilling rig outside Watford, North Dakota (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Roughnecks wrestle pipe on a True Company oil drilling rig outside Watford, North Dakota (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Underpinned by the shale revolution, daily oil production in the US is set to fly sky high in 2014, marking the highest level since 1988, according to US government.

Domestic crude oil production should continue to rise to 7.3mn bbl/d in 2013, after it increased 0.8mn bbl/d to 6.4mn bbl/d during 2012, according to estimations by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is to be followed by a further increase to 7.9mn bbl/d in 2014, which will bring growth to 23% in the next 2 years.

The daily production rate will jump 900,000 barrels between 2012 and 2013, a record for growth in a single year, as media quotes the agency's administrator, Adam Sieminski, talking in a conference call to reporters.

"That is the largest single-year growth in U.S. production all the way back to the Drake oil well in Titusville, Pa., in 1859," Sieminski said – referring to the beginnings of US oil production. "That is pretty impressive."

In November 2012 the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said that shale would largely help the United States become a net fuel exporter by 2030 and achieve energy independence by 2035. But one of the key components of developing shale resources – hydraulic fracturing process – remains a key issue for the real developments and a point of heated debate.

Protesters say the process is too costly and ecologically unfriendly, while advocates insists bigger energy production from shale is a way to energy independence and lower imports.

Any regulatory changes that affect the production of oil and gas from shale could change the rosy outlook pretty quickly, Sieminski warned.

"If there were to be changes associated with hydraulic fracturing, which is the basis for the growth in natural gas and oil, that would raise costs in that area that could have some impact," Sieminski said.

Hydraulic fracturing is a major concern for environmentalists across the globe. It is a controversial technique in which high-pressurized water and chemicals are pumped into rock formations deep below the earth's surface to produce gas and oil, carrying a risk of earthquakes and water pollution.

Most recently, in early December 2012 people in the UK protested against a possible lift of the temporary ban on the method. Activists sent a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron stating that ‘fracking’ is a “an unpredictable, unregulatable process" that is damaging to the environment. The advocates, in turn, say that the method is set to increase UK’s energy supply and cut the country’s energy imports.

British resistance cranks up a gear on 1st Dec

Schnews | British resistance to fracking is cranking it up a gear. Community groups across the country are organising for a day of action on...