A newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells. The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time — 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado. Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers’ residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents. Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production. The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.
Thinking of getting solar panels installed on your house or office? Great! Just don’t let your solar company rush you into a deal, and make sure they calculate the size of your system based on the correct power consumption data from your building. Any error will cost you for decades.
That’s our advice after having had a bad experience dealing with Grand Junction’s High Noon Solar. In their zeal to rush us into a soon-to-expire lease deal, High Noon miscalculated the size of power system we’d need. Now we’re stuck with a system that’s too small to offset our power bills to the extent that High Noon promised.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill that pushes “Stand Your Ground” laws like the Florida law that led to the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, is now working to gut state laws that require electric companies use more energy from renewable sources. ALEC is also pushing laws to discourage people from putting solar panels on their own homes. “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) are laws that require power companies to derive a specific portion of their power from solar, wind or other renewable sources by a certain future date. So far 30 states have enacted RPS laws. In 2012, though, ALEC started pushing “model legislation” calling for the out-and-out repeal of RPS laws. Confidential ALEC strategy documents obtained by the UK Guardian newspaper reveal that ALEC calls such legislation the “Electricity Freedom Act.” So far, ALEC has engineered the introduction of such measures in about 15 states.
The Grand Junction chamber tries to put on a green face but it is one of the biggest political boosters in the state when it comes to promoting development of oil shale and tar sands — two of the most environmentally destructive and economically impractical mining practices in the world today.
Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but contamination that has worked its way into the skin appears as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation
Newsweek magazine published a scathing expose’ this week about BP’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit what the public saw and understood about the company’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill. BP assured thousands of fishermen, on-shore residents and workers they hired to help with spill cleanup operations that the proprietary oil dispersant they used called “Corexit” was as safe as dish soap, but people exposed to the Corexit/oil mixture subsequently fell ill with a range symptoms that mimic Gulf War Syndrome, including muscle spasms that rendered their hands unusable, neurological problems like short term memory loss, painful skin inflammation and breathing problems. A Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigation done after the fact found BP purposely withheld manufacturer’s safety manuals for Corexit from the fishermen and other workers. In interviews after the disaster, cleanup workers said BP had threatened to fire any workers who complained about the lack of protective clothing and respirators. Airplanes spraying Corexit also indiscriminately sprayed the substance over the fishing boats BP hired to help contain the spill, exposing the fishermen to multiple doses of the chemicals. Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Pollution published a study that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when mixed with Corexit than it would otherwise be if left alone. GAP representatives asked BP to pay for the medical treatment of victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning but BP has refused. BP’s cover up demonstrates the huge amount of power corporations wield and the inability or unwillingness of governments to restrict that power. Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but no one has yet faced any criminal charges. What’s worse, the BP spill and its after-effects haven’t prompted any changes in public policy towards big corporations and their activities. It’s as though the U.S. government has gleaned no wisdom at all from the disaster and BP’s subsequent actions.
A group called Forecast the Facts is leading a campaign to peel away corporate funders who give money the Heartland Institute, a prominent think tank that has been a leader in the effort to deny climate science. Heartland is known for its harsh and divisive anti-climate change PR tactics, like running cringe-inducing billboards along major highways that liken people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like Charles Manson and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczyinski. The Heartland Institute has flourished through funding from large corporations and industries that have a stake in climate change denial, including ExxonMobil, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Murray Energy Corporation, Altria/Philip Morris, Microsoft, General Motors and biotech companies like Amgen and Bayer. Forecast the Facts’ grassroots effort to peel away funders looks like it’s paying off, too. The group calculated Heartland’s corporate and trade association funding for 2012 based on the amounts Heartland projected they would take in in their 2012 fundraising plan. Of $2.3 million in projected funding, Forecast the Facts has succeeded in getting corporations to withdraw $1.3 million, leaving about $990,000 remaining. More than 150,000 people have weighed in with various corporations through the project and urged them to pull their funding from Heartland. On its website, Forecast the Facts lists Heartland’s remaining corporate funders, the approximate amount the companies donate to the think tank, and phone numbers at each corporation that people can call to ask the company to stop funding Heartland.
The spectre of fuel- and pollution-free air travel drew closer this month as the first airplane powered completely by solar energy completed its first intercontinental flight. The Solar Impulse left Madrid, Spain in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 5 and flew across the Strait of Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, where it made a spectacular landing 19 hours later. The plane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, but weighs only as much as a medium-size car. In 2010, the Solar Impulse earned a place in history after it became the first airplane to fly for more than 24 hours straight using only solar energy. The aircraft stayed aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, and also set a record for altitude, having flown at an elevation of 30,298 feet. Technology now allows the solar-powered plane to fly both day and night. The landing in Morocco’s capitol of Rabat was also symbolic for another reason: that country’s progress toward development of viable amounts of renewable, non-polluting energy. This year Morocco will award a contract to build a power facility that will generate 160 megawatts of solar power — the first step in an ambitious and progressive national plan to generate 38 percent of the country’s electricity from solar power by 2020. The goal of the Solar Impulse Project is to prove that progress is possible using clean forms of energy, and that it is possible to eventually free societies from dependence on fossil fuels. You can follow the Solar Impulse’s progress at the project’s website, SolarImpulse.com.
The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
The Republican front group Compass Colorado is running billboards across the state that link President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The boards show a photo of President Obama alongside photos of Ahmadinejad and, varyingly, three lesser-known Colorado Democratic Congressional candidates: Representatives Joe Mikloski, Sal Pace and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Above the photos, text says “Higher gas prices YES! U.S. Energy Independence NO!” The boards fail to mention that the U.S. does not buy any oil from Iran. By using their photos and names next to that of President Obama, Compass Colorado is unwittingly giving the three lesser-known candidates a free boost to their name recognition. Compass Colorado is run by Tyler Q. Houlton, who worked as communications director for former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo gained fame for his February 4, 2010 speech at the National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said Barack Obama became president because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” Tancredo then proposed making people take “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting. Houlton also worked for Rep. Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. McInnis’ campaign tanked after journalists revealed McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 to the organization that paid him. Compass Colorado does not reveal its funders.
A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”
The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.
New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote. “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state. At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.
Chevron Vice President R. Hewitt Pate got a 75 percent pay raise in 2011
Gasbuddy.com, the website that logs gas prices across the U.S., has a big blue banner ad at the top of its pages that says “Where’s your gasoline dollar go? Click here to find out.” Clicking on the ad takes you to a page, GasPricesExplained.org, that says “Why are Gas Prices Rising?” GasPricesExplained.org points to unrest in the middle east and north Africa, declines in surplus production, weather events and exchange rates, to name a few reasons why gas prices are skyrocketing, but it doesn’t directly address the sizeable contribution speculation makes to inflated gas prices. A section titled “Where Does My Money Go?” claims that “Most of what Americans pay at the pump for gasoline is the cost of the crude oil used to make it, which is why global demand and geopolitical factors are so important.” But the site fails to mention that sky-high gas prices are also funding huge pay hikes for energy industry CEOs. Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive, Rex Tillerson, for example, got a 21 percent raise in pay in 2011. He now makes about $35 million in total compensation. Tillerson is expected to get an additional 8 percent raise in 2012. John Watson, Chair and CEO of Chevron, saw his pay increase a whopping 51 percent, just since just 2010.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) failed to hold proper public hearings before licensing a private energy company to build the first uranium mill in the country in decades. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) held public meetings, rather than public hearings before licensing the mill, the latter being a formal legal proceeding that involves testimony under oath and cross-examination. Energy Fuels Resources Corporation asked the state to build the Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill in the Paradox Valley near Nucla in western Colorado to supply nuclear power plants and other technological users of radioactive material, but residents of western Colorado are wary. Past uranium mines have left an expensive, long-lasting and toxic legacy of contamination that cost taxpayers over a billion dollars to clean up. Western Colorado has been particularly hard-hit by these environmental disasters. Energy Fuels is enticing local residents to support the new mine by promising it
Map of U.S. uranium mines, showing high concentration in western Colorado
will supply high-paying jobs with health benefits. The Nucla area has fallen on economic hard times in recent years, so some residents are clamoring for the mine to be built to help turn the community around, but others who remember the past aren’t taking the bait. The state ordered Energy Fuels to pay $12 million in surety funds to pay for cleanup in case the mill contaminates water, soil or air, but opponents argue that amount is nowhere near enough, and they’re right. In 2010, the Denver Post found the cost of cleaning up environmental contamination caused by uranium mills in Colorado has ranged from $50 million to $504 per mill.