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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship indicted for coal mine disaster that killed 29



Ex-Massey CEO Don Blankenship indicted for coal mine disaster that killed 29
By Gail Sullivan November 14

Don Blankenship testifying on Capitol Hill in 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

When mine safety inspectors arrived at Upper Big Branch, a guard at the front gate would radio the mine office to raise the red flag. “We’ve got a man on the property,” he would say. The message was then passed in code to supervisors using a telephone system that connected underground, where they instructed miners to get rid of accumulated coal dust and throw up missing roof supports and ventilation equipment.

“We just got things legal,” Mike Shull, a former miner at Upper Big Branch told NPR in 2010, the year an explosion at the mine killed 29 men. “You probably had an hour and 15 minutes to get ready.”

The tip-off scheme is described in detail in the 43-page indictment handed down Thursday by a federal grand jury against Don Blankenship, the former chief executive officer of Massey Energy.

“Blankenship knew that [Upper Big Branch] was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations,” the indictment alleges. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.”

Blankenship was cited 835 times in the 28 months leading up to the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years, in which a combustible mixture of coal dust and methane ignited, killing 29 men working 1,200 feet below ground. The explosion was a direct result of safety violations at the mine, according to a 2011 report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Its findings were corroborated by two independent investigations.

“The carnage that was a recurring nightmare at Massey mines during Blankenship’s tenure at the head of that company was unmatched,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts told the New York Times.

In 2008, Upper Big Branch was ranked as one of the w

Friday, November 14, 2014

Three things Big Oil wants to buy with its new Congress

Three things Big Oil wants to buy with its new Congress Blog ShareThis Three things Big Oil wants to buy with its new Congress Posted Nov. 14, 2014 / Posted by: Lukas Ross Last Tuesday was the most expensive midterm in U.S. history, with an estimated price tag of nearly $4 billion. Exactly who spent what is still a little unclear. What is known is that in the final weeks an infusion of cash was dropped into tight Senate races, specifically timed with filing deadlines to obscure where the money came from until after the election. And of course dark money groups, empowered to spend unlimited funds by Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United, are under no obligation to disclose their donors. But even without the final numbers, one thing is clear: Big Oil spent big. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, contributions from the oil and gas industry totaled $50 million for the 2014 cycle—and that number could easily rise as filing data continues to trickle in. Although long time industry champions like Mary Landrieu (D-LA) got their fair share, the biggest recipients were influential GOP members like noted climate skeptic John Cornyn (R-TX) and competitors in tight Senate races like Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In other words, the oil and gas industry just made a big investment to flip the Senate to GOP control. And like all good businesses, they are going to expect this investment to bring in solid returns. Here are three ways the new Senate could possibly return the favor: Keystone XL. One of the earliest takeaways after election night was that there would soon be a filibuster-proof Senate majority in favor of Keystone XL. While some Keystone opponents like Senator Mark Udall (D-Co) were defeated, most of the vanquished D’s actually backed the project. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Begich (D-AL) both supported the pipeline to try to prolong their stays in the Senate. Even Mark Udall tried to snuggle up to the fossil fuels industry by supporting the export of Liquified Natural Gas—all to no avail. In a lesson democrats may want to remember, one of the only incumbents in a remotely close race to win was pipeline opponent Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). As part of a last ditch effort to help Mary Landrieu win the Louisiana run-off, the Senate is expected to vote on a pipeline approval bill this coming Tuesday. This may be the first opportunity to President Obama to exercise his veto, although he hasn’t been exactly clear that this is what he plans to do. Tax Reform. Both President Obama and Senator McConnell claim to want tax reform, and both claim that a simpler tax code, with fewer loopholes and lower overall rates, is the way to go. Pundits are skeptical of anything happening before 2016, but if a bargain does move forward Big Oil has a lot to lose—starting with about $50 billion in special interest tax breaks over the next decade. Protecting these loopholes from a bipartisan budget deal is going to be a major priority for the industry and its champions in Congress. The good news is that when tax reform does happen, either before 2016 or after, they may be in for a fight. Solid majorities of voters from across the political spectrum want to see these giveaways repealed, and in the last cycle supporting fossil fuel subsidies became fodder for negative campaign ads. Export Reform. Fracking is already a bad bet for our air, our water, and the climate. The last thing we need is another source of demand to justify even more drilling. Unfortunately, the new Congress plans to put the fracking boom on steroids by allowing domestic supplies even easier access to global markets. This is going to happen through a legislative fix that forces federal regulators to expedite the approval of new natural gas export facilities, effectively running roughshod over their ability to raise environmental and public health concerns. This is terrible news for the climate, since natural gas can only be exported after it has been super-cooled into a liquid, a process so energy-intensive that the fuel becomes worse for the climate than coal. This is also terrible news for the frontline communities fighting fracking, since more exports almost certainly means more drilling. In fact, this is really only good news for exporters, who will have an easier time cashing in on overseas markets like Japan and South Korea where prices are much higher. The problem isn’t that anything on this list is inevitable. The problem is that everything on this list is possible. Eager to accomplish something in his last two years, President Obama may decide that giving ground on energy issues is the best way to secure a deal on taxes, spending, or immigration reform. But the climate is not a bargaining chip. A majority of Americans still support action on carbon emissions. Now may be a good time for them to weigh in and remind the president that the surest way to an environmental legacy is through his veto pen. - See more at: http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2014-11-three-thing-big-oil-wants-to-buy-with-its-new-congre#sthash.onx66zFI.dpuf

EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives | Environmental Working Group

EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives | Environmental Working Group > EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives Wednesday, November 12, 2014 Food should be good for you. But some isn’t. More than 10,000 additives* are allowed in food. Some are direct additives that are deliberately formulated into processed food. Others are indirect additives that get into food during processing, storage and packaging. How do you know which ones to avoid because they raise concerns and have been linked to serious health problems, including endocrine disruption and cancer? EWG’s “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives” helps you figure it all out by highlighting some of the worst failures of the regulatory system. The guide covers ingredients associated with serious health concerns, additives banned or restricted in other countries and other substances that shouldn’t be in food. And it underscores the need for better government oversight of our food system. Here’s a list of 12 additives that EWG calls the “Dirty Dozen.” We’ll tell you why, which foods contain them and what you can do to avoid them. (A good place to start is by looking up your food in EWG’s Food Scores database).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

United Nations News Centre - UN convention agrees to double biodiversity funding, accelerate preservation measures

United Nations News Centre - UN convention agrees to double biodiversity funding, accelerate preservation measures A United Nations conference in Republic of Korea wrapped up today with governments agreeing to double biodiversity-related international financial aid to developing countries, including small islands and transition economics, by 2015 and through the next five years. The decision was made at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP-12) in Pyeongchang. Delegations attending the meeting, which opened 6 October in Republic of Korea’s key mountain and forest region, agreed on the so-called “Pyeongchang Road Map,” and “Gangwon Declaration”, both of which outline conservation initiatives and global sustainable development goals and initiatives. “Parties have listened to the evidence, and have responded by committing,” said UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the CBD, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. The funding decision was originally made at the last CBD meeting in Hyderabad, India, in 2012, but there had been disagreement on how to implement it. This time, the participants decided to use average annual biodiversity funding for the years 2006-2010 as a baseline. The targets, in particular, are the least developed countries and the small island developing States, as well as countries with economies in transition. Key decisions taken in Pyongchang, including those on resource mobilization, capacity building, scientific and technical cooperation linking biodiversity and poverty eradication, and on monitoring of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, form the Roadmap and will, according to the CBD, strengthen capacity and increase support for countries and stakeholders to implement their national biodiversity strategies and action plans. The decisions were bolstered by the call in the Gangwon Declaration, the result of two days of ministerial-level talks, to link the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda to other relevant processes such as the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process and the national biodiversity strategies and action plans. Governments also agreed to increase domestic financing for biodiversity and boost funding from other resources. “Their commitments show the world that biodiversity is a solution to the challenges of sustainable development and will be a central part of any discussions for the post-2015 development agenda and its sustainable development goals,” Mr. Dias noted in reference to the agenda succeeding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The opening of the meeting coincided with the release of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 report which tracked progress on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and drew attention to the implications on broader sustainable development this century. The report cautioned that the world was not on track to meet the 20 targets, which include halving habitat loss, and reducing pollution and overfishing. “The cost of inaction to halt biodiversity decline would give rise to increasing and cumulative economic annual losses to the value of around $14 trillion by 2050,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner. “The decisions made at COP 12 here in Pyeongchang will leapfrog efforts to achieve the Aichi targets and put biodiversity on a stronger footing for decades to come,” he added. Among other decisions, participants agreed to address key threats to marine biodiversity, namely anthropogenic underwater noise and ocean acidification. They also agreed to reduce land based pollution, promote sustainable fisheries and improve the design of marine protected area networks for coral reefs, in line with Aichi Biodiversity Target 10 for coral reefs and closely associated ecosystems. While in Pyeongchang, participants also held the first Meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol (COP MOP-1), which entered into force on 12 October after ratification by the 51st Government. As of today, 54 countries have ratified it. The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing from the Utilization of Genetic Resources establishes clear rules for accessing, trading, sharing and monitoring the use of the world’s genetic resources that can be used for pharmaceutical, agricultural and cosmetic purposes. Among the decisions agreed to in that meeting were measures to assist institutional capacities in developing countries, and a strategy to raise awareness of the international instrument. “We need to see how the provisions of the Protocol are taken up at the national level,” Mr. Dias said, “and how this facilitates access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits with those stakeholders and indigenous peoples and local communities who conserve and sustainably use those resources.” In addition, countries agreed on procedures to establish a committee to promote compliance with the Protocol and address cases of non-compliance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives | Environmental Working Group

EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives | Environmental Working Group Wednesday, November 12, 2014 Food should be good for you. But some isn’t. More than 10,000 additives* are allowed in food. Some are direct additives that are deliberately formulated into processed food. Others are indirect additives that get into food during processing, storage and packaging. How do you know which ones to avoid because they raise concerns and have been linked to serious health problems, including endocrine disruption and cancer? EWG’s “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives” helps you figure it all out by highlighting some of the worst failures of the regulatory system. The guide covers ingredients associated with serious health concerns, additives banned or restricted in other countries and other substances that shouldn’t be in food. And it underscores the need for better government oversight of our food system. Here’s a list of 12 additives that EWG calls the “Dirty Dozen.” We’ll tell you why, which foods contain them and what you can do to avoid them. (A good place to start is by looking up your food in EWG’s Food Scores database).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Conservation Groups File Lawsuit to Protect Struggling Walruses from Arctic Drilling | Earthjustice

Conservation Groups File Lawsuit to Protect Struggling Walruses from Arctic Drilling | Earthjustice Anchorage, AK — A coalition of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today, challenging a rule that permits oil companies, like Shell Oil, to harm Pacific walruses during Arctic Ocean oil drilling beginning as early as next year in key walrus feeding areas. Approximately 35,000 walruses gather on the northwest coast of Alaska, near Point Lay, on Sept. 27, 2014. Approximately 35,000 walruses gather on the northwest coast of Alaska, near Point Lay, on Sept. 27, 2014. Corey Accardo / NOAA The Arctic Ocean’s sea ice is rapidly melting due to climate change, creating dire consequences for Chukchi Sea walruses which depend on the ice for resting, raising their young, feeding, and avoiding predators. As a result of this melting, the walruses have been forced ashore in recent years. This year it happened again as 35,000 walruses crowded together on the Alaskan Arctic coast just a few weeks ago. Walruses must swim distances up to 100 miles from these coastal haulout areas to reach Chukchi feeding grounds to find the clams and other bottom species they need to survive. They are vulnerable to stampedes and trampling when forced to use coastal resting areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule puts these already at risk mammals directly in harm’s way by allowing risky oil company operations in key walrus foraging areas in the Chukchi Sea. This rule is being challenged by Earthjustice on behalf of Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club and by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Fish and Wildlife Service adopted this regulation, which allows for “the incidental take of walruses in connection with oil and gas activities,” even though the agency acknowledged that walruses could be affected adversely in large numbers in crucial habitat areas like the Hanna Shoal. Shell Oil intends to drill under this government rule as early as 2015. The company was investigated and fined after multiple missteps and close calls during its efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2012, only to call its work in the region a success. Oil operations have the potential to chase walruses away from food-rich foraging areas, trigger stampedes, and harm the animals with deafeningly loud seismic blasts. Drilling risks catastrophic oil spills that could not be cleaned up in Arctic conditions. The September minimum sea-ice extent reached a new record low in 2012, encompassing only about half the area it covered on average from 1981–2010. In 2014, the sea ice shrank to 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles), the sixth-lowest extent of the satellite record. “The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do a much better job of protecting walrus mothers and calves struggling to survive in the dramatically changing Chukchi Sea,” said Earthjustice Attorney Erik Grafe. “Today’s challenge seeks to protect walruses from suffering potential serious harm and harassment at the hands of companies like Shell Oil, which crashed and burned during its Arctic Ocean drilling efforts in 2012. Walruses are already under tremendous stress from climate change—their sea ice home is literally melting away. Without adequate analysis, the challenged rules would add to walruses’ woes by allowing drilling and risking oil spills in the areas most important for food and resting. What’s more, drilling would accelerate the climate change already causing so much trouble for walruses.” “Walruses are the Arctic’s canary in a coal mine,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director for Alaska Wilderness League. “We can’t ignore the signs and impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The Interior Department must better protect walruses and the fragile Arctic Ocean with its disappearing shoreline from harm by big oil companies, like Shell. Adding drilling into this already dangerous mix is reckless and irresponsible.” “The last thing Arctic walruses need is dirty drilling in the middle of their most important habitat. It’s time for oil companies to stop sticking their drills where they don’t belong, and it’s up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lay down the law,” said Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Shell is putting the Arctic walrus in double jeopardy. Their world is melting because of oil companies’ greedy thirst for more fossil fuels, and now their home will could be under imminent threat from a Shell spill. The Obama administration needs to put sane regulations in place that protect this sensitive species,” said Greenpeace Arctic Campaign Specialist John Deans. “The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to decide first, think later,” said Michael Jasny, director of Marine Mammal Protection at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Before it has all the facts, the agency is casting its lot with a few big oil corporations—instead of the tens of thousands of mother walruses who must swim massive distances before hauling up to rest and feed their young.” “Walruses already are under great stress from climate change. This rule would allow oil drillers to risk further harm to the species without proper analysis and mitigation. The risks are too great—if drilling resulted in an oil spill, there would be no way to clean or contain it, and the consequences could be catastrophic,” said Robert Thompson of REDOIL. "The danger to walrus is one more in a long list of serious risks posed by drilling in the Arctic Ocean," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "We should not sacrifice the Arctic's amazing wildlife, the subsistence culture that depends on it, or our climate to dirty drilling. The effects on walrus and other wildlife will only worsen if we don't begin keeping dirty fuels in the ground." Read the case complaint.