Tag Archives: integrity

Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

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Texas Poised to Let An Unfairly Prosecuted Person Walk, For Once

Mother Jones

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The number of criminal charges against Rick Perry has been cut in half, thanks to a Texas court. On Friday, reports the Houston Chronicle, the 3rd Court of Appeals tossed out the charge that the former Texas governor and GOP hopeful had coerced a public official. In effect, the court said Perry was free to trash-talk Texas officials as much as he pleased, even if it meant encouraging one of those officials—the Travis County District Attorney—to leave office.

Perry’s legal troubles date back to a line-item veto he signed in 2013, erasing $7.5 million that had been designated for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office—a small group tasked with investigating corruption in the state’s political class. At the time, Perry claimed the Integrity Unit could no longer be trusted to fulfill those duties after the district attorney had remained in office following her arrest for drunk driving. (She had also been caught on camera trying to exploit her office to get out of the arrest.) Perry has been accused of overstepping his authority as governor by explicitly tying that veto to his desire to see the district attorney—a locally elected official—removed from office.

His use of the line-item veto is still under review. While the court sided with Perry on one count, it wasn’t ready to dismiss the entire case. Perry still faces one felony indictment for abusing his powers as governor by zeroing out the budget for the state’s corruption watchdog.

Read more about the history of the charges against Perry here.

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Texas Poised to Let An Unfairly Prosecuted Person Walk, For Once

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Some Fracking Companies Illegally Use Diesel Fuel, In Violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act

Mother Jones

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This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

A new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The report, published this week by the Environmental Integrity Project, found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit. The Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington, DC, said it used the industry-backed database, FracFocus, to identify violations and to determine the records had been retroactively amended by the companies to erase the evidence.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires drilling companies to obtain permits when they intend to use diesel fuel in their fracking operations. As well, the companies are obligated to notify nearby landowners of their activity, report the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluids used, conduct water quality tests before and after drilling, and test the integrity of well structures to ensure they can withstand high injection pressures. Diesel fuel contains a high concentration of carcinogenic chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, and they disperse easily in groundwater.

FracFocus is an online registry that allows companies to list the chemicals they use during fracking. At least 10 states, including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, mandate the use of the website for such disclosures.

The report asserts that the industry data shows that the companies admitted using diesel without the proper permits. The Integrity Project’s analysis, the report said, then showed that in some 30 percent of those cases, the companies later removed the information about their diesel use from the database.

“What’s problematic is that this is an industry that is self-reporting and self-policing,” said Mary Greene, senior managing attorney for the environmental organization. “There’s no federal or state oversight of filings with FracFocus.”

The FracFocus website currently has no way to track changes to disclosures. The Integrity Project noticed the changes when it compared newer disclosures to those in older FracFocus data purchased from PIVOT Upstream Group, a consulting firm in Houston.

Energy In Depth, the communications and research arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, published a lengthy response to the Integrity Project’s report and criticized it for including diesel use that occurred prior to a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency rule clarifying the types of chemicals considered “diesel fuels.”

Energy In Depth said the Integrity Project was “retroactively changing the definition of diesel fuel in order to malign more operations for engaging in an activity (a “diesel frack”) that did not occur.”

The EPA first listed kerosene as a type of diesel fuel in May 2012 when it released a draft version of the rule finalized this year. Kerosene is also listed as a type of diesel fuel in the definition of the Toxic Substance Control Act, which controls the production, use and disposal of chemicals.

In its response, Energy In Depth also pointed out that in some cases companies may have provided incorrect data to the FracFocus website and were seeking to correct it, not skirt the law.

“We no longer use the contract completions crews that used very small trace amounts of kerosene and a hydrocarbon distillate on five wells more than three years ago,” said John Christiansen, director of external communications at Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the companies listed in the report. “Since 2011, there has been no re-occurrence, and we remain in compliance with EPA regulations,” he said in an email to ProPublica.

The report found that six companies had changed disclosures for wells; Pioneer Natural Resources accounted for 62 of the changes. Tadd Owens, vice president of governmental affairs at Pioneer said most of these changes were made because of “coding errors” while submitting data to FracFocus.

“We did use trace amounts of kerosene in 2011 prior to when the EPA issued guidance. The rest of the wells on the list are coding errors and we have an ongoing internal quality control process to identify them,” he said.

For many years fracking industry groups insisted their member companies never used diesel fuels in their operations. Then, in 2011, a congressional investigation found that in fact between 2005 and 2009, 12 companies had injected 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or fracking fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.

The industry groups then shifted their argument, declaring that they could not be in violation of federal regulations in their use of diesel fuels because the EPA had never adequately spelled out exactly what exact kinds of fuels were barred.

Indeed, in a 2011 email to ProPublica, Halliburton, a company listed in the congressional investigation as having used 7.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, said it had not violated any laws “because there are currently no requirements in the federal environmental regulations that require a company to obtain a federal permit prior to undertaking a hydraulic fracturing project using diesel.”

The EPA then acted to make its enforcement authority explicit, and earlier this year finalized more detailed regulations governing the use of diesel fuels in fracking operations.

In February 2014, after the EPA released its rule, Lee Fuller, the vice president of government affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, stated that the rule was “a solution in search of a problem.”

“Based on actual industry practices, diesel fuel use has already been effectively phased out of hydraulic fracturing operations,” Fuller said.

Yet energy companies have continued to produce fracking fluids containing diesel fuels. The Environmental Integrity Project’s report identified 14 well fracturing products—commercially called emulsifiers, dispersants, additives and solvents—sold by Halliburton that contain diesel fuels. Halliburton’s own safety data sheets for these products list diesel as a chemical in these products.

“Halliburton is working with state regulators and customers to be sure all FracFocus reports are accurate,” said Emily Mir, a spokeswoman for the company. Mir would not comment on whether Halliburton informs drillers that purchase its products that they are required to obtain a permit before diesel fuel can be used for fracking.

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Some Fracking Companies Illegally Use Diesel Fuel, In Violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act

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Someone Just Spent $1.5 Million on a GOP Senate Candidate. We’ll Probably Never Know Who.

Mother Jones

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Arkansas is witnessing what may be the most expensive political ad campaign in state history: $1.5 million-worth of glowing TV spots hailing Tom Cotton, a Republican congressman who’s running against Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor.

The race could decide which party controls the Senate. But no one knows who’s paying for this giant ad buy—and that’s partly because the group behind those ads may have flaunted IRS law in order to conceal the identities of its donors.

A super PAC called the Government Integrity Fund Action Network is footing the bill for the six-week ad campaign, which is airing in three different television markets. But that group has reported only one source of funds in 2014—$1 million that a separate organization, the Government Integrity Fund, donated to it in mid-April. The Government Integrity Fund is based in Ohio and is registered with the IRS as a social welfare group, also known as a 501(c)(4). Its purpose, according to papers it filed with the Ohio secretary of state in 2011, is to “promote the social welfare of the citizens of Ohio.”

Political groups frequently organize as 501(c)(4)s because this type of tax-exempt organization is not required to disclose its donors. So no one in the public knows who gave the $1 million to the Government Integrity Fund that it passed to the Government Integrity Fund Action Network to underwrite these pro-Cotton ads.

If this seems complicated, it’s supposed to be. Political operatives on both sides raise and spend money through 501(c)(4)s and other tax-exempt groups with vague-sounding names to avoid disclosure. Watchdog groups maintain that this is a violation of IRS law. And the Government Integrity Fund already has a spotty record.

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Someone Just Spent $1.5 Million on a GOP Senate Candidate. We’ll Probably Never Know Who.

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Blistering exposé prompts Hopkins to suspend black-lung screenings

Blistering exposé prompts Hopkins to suspend black-lung screenings

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The coal industry has a decades-old friendship with Johns Hopkins University, but now that cozy relationship is being torn apart by the scrutiny of investigative journalists.

When employees filed for black-lung-related benefits, coal companies paid the Baltimore-based university handsome sums to screen the claimants for the disease. After reviewing chest X-rays, the university’s scientists almost always concluded that the scans did not show black lung — a conclusion which often overwhelmed any other medical opinion in the case.

(Black lung disease, or coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, kills an estimated 1,500 former coal miners every year. It is a painful and preventable ailment contracted by inhaling coal dust.)

The racket was exposed by the ABC, working in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity:

For 40 years, these doctors have been perhaps the most sought-after and prolific readers of chest films on behalf of coal companies seeking to defeat miners’ claims. Their fees flow directly to the university, which supports their work, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News has found. According to the university, none of the money goes directly to the doctors.

Their reports — seemingly ubiquitous and almost unwaveringly negative for black lung — have appeared in the cases of thousands of miners, and the doctors’ credentials, combined with the prestigious Johns Hopkins imprimatur, carry great weight. Their opinions often negate or outweigh whatever positive interpretations a miner can produce.

For the credibility that comes with these readings, which the doctors perform as part of their official duties at Johns Hopkins, coal companies are willing to pay a premium. For an X-ray reading, the university charges up to 10 times the rate miners typically pay their physicians. …

In the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which [senior university scientist Paul] Wheeler read at least one X-ray, he never once found the severe form of the disease, complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Other doctors looking at the same X-rays found this advanced stage of the disease in 390 of these cases.

After the results of the investigation were broadcast late last week, the university announced on its website that it was suspending the screening program:

Following the news report we are initiating a review of the pneumoconiosis B-reader service. Until the review is completed, we are suspending the program.

United Mine Workers called on the federal government to take action following the revelations.

“Whatever penalties or punitive actions that can be taken with respect to Dr. Wheeler should be,” union spokesman Phil Smith said. “But whatever they are, they will pale in comparison to the pain and suffering he has caused thousands of afflicted miners. There is no penalty which will make up for that.”


Source
Johns Hopkins medical unit rarely finds black lung, helping coal industry defeat miners’ claims, Center for Public Integrity
Johns Hopkins suspends black lung program after Center-ABC investigation, Center for Public Integrity
Statement from Johns Hopkins Medicine Regarding ABC News Report About Our B-Reads for Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung), Johns Hopkins University

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Blistering exposé prompts Hopkins to suspend black-lung screenings

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