Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Costs Of Fossil Fuel Dependence

ENERGY
The Costs Of Fossil Fuel Dependence

Reminding us all how dangerous the dependence on fossil fuel can be, yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico -- the "greatest man-made disaster" since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center -- which resulted in the loss of eleven men, crippled the livelihood of Gulf residents, and severely deteriorated the Gulf's fragile ecosystem. A government-backed study found last month that the blowout preventer -- a cutting device that shears and seals the pipe of a leaking well -- failed on the Deepwater Horizon, resulting in the release of nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf. The detrimental effects of the BP disaster -- such as its grave contribution to global warming -- have prompted both retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who oversaw the Obama administration's response to the disaster, to warn that [t]here's no such thing as risk-free drilling," and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to question the safety of deepwater drilling in the Gulf. The month of April provides yet another grim warning of the perils of dirty energy: the one-year anniversary of the Massey coal mine disaster, which tragically claimed the lives of 29 miners. But just yesterday, on the BP disaster anniversary, Pennsylvania got a haunting reminder of the potential dangers of drilling for fossil fuels when a natural gas well blew, causing a major leak of fracking fluid -- a mixture of sand, water, and undisclosed chemicals that pose significant threats to underground water supplies.

A YEAR AFTER THE SPILL: Breaking a one year moratorium on political donations, a campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday details BP's campaign contributions to climate zombies House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the leader of the climate-deniers Fred Upton (R-MI) -- among others. Noticeably, all but one of BP's political contributions were for Republicans. After writing off the losses incurred from the tragedy they created, BP received nearly a $10 billion dollar credit on their 2010 federal tax return -- compare that to the EPA's annual budget of $10.5 billion in 2010. Moreover, the president of BP's Alaska unit asked the state to lower its oil production taxes to boost investment in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. Even worse, despite the country's month-old civil war and confrontation with Western g overnments, BP is still planning to move forward with drilling in Libya. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of BP's $20 billion claims fund for victims of the spill, has faced sharp criticism for the slow pace of payments to Gulf residents, and has been found to be financially tied to BP, as documents show that BP pays Feinberg's law firm $1.25 million a month for his services. Adding insult to injury, the Gulf coast ecosystem is still reeling from the disaster. The National Wildlife Federation reported this month that the BP disaster contaminated 3,000 miles of beach, wetlands, and that new "tar balls" are washing up on the shores every day. Sixty-five dead baby dolphins have been found in the Gulf region -- five times higher than the average -- and the National Audubon Society has warned that the spill continues to threaten many endangered migratory species< in the Gulf. As CAP warned last year , the impact of the spill on the health of Gulf region residents has also been quite noticeable. James Diaz, director of the environmental and occupational health sciences program at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said that [w]e're seeing patients who will come in and say my nose is bleeding all the time, my cough gets worse." Diaz said that he knows "a lot about the acute health effects of the compounds in petroleum because it's a major industry" in the Gulf region, and that he is "seeing a lot of" coughing, watery eyes, itchy eyes, nosebleeds, and sneezing -- all symptoms of exposure to crude oil.

MINING BLACK DEATH: A federal probe concluded in March that a trapped piece of drill pipe stopped a key failsafe device from sealing off the blown oil well, which lead to a methane explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and its collapse into the Gulf of Mexico. With nearly a total of five million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, the BP disaster wreaked havoc on the environment, caused overall tourism and consumer spending to drop 40 percent, and is the world's worst accidental offshore oil spill in history. The mining of coal has also brought devastation. A Mine Safety and Health Administration inve stigation found that the mixture of accumulated, highly explosive coal dust and methane gas set the stage for a blast of astonishing power in Massey's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, which caused the death of 29 coal workers The Massey coal mine accident is the worst mining disaster in the US in the last 4 decades. But the accident came as no surprise, as four of Massey's coal mines in 2009 had injury rates more than double the national average, Massey's Freedom Mine in Kentucky was shut down by federal regulators, and even the Upper Big Branch mine -- the location of the disaster -- had more clos ure orders than any other mine in the nation.

SAFETY SACRIFICED FOR ENERGY: Oil and coal workers continually risk their lives for our dependence on dirty energy. "Coal mining is a dangerous profession," CAP's Daniel J. Weiss and Valeri Vasquez write, and results in "[e]xplosions, fires, and collapsed mine shafts [that] have killed at least 3,827 miners since 1968 — not to mention thousands of others who have suffered from pulmonary diseases and other work-related injuries." Oil workers are not exempt from the danger, as "[t]here have been 77 fatalities and 7,550 injuries at onshore and offshore oil production facilities since 1968," write Weiss and Vaquez. Totaling at 7.5 million barrels of oil, spills related to these accidents have wreaked havoc, causing billions of dollars of environmental and economic damage. Following the BP disaster, 101 oil-spill-related bills were introduced by the 111th Congress, but to date, zero have been enacted. And instead of hitting the brakes after the disastrous spill, House Republicans have accelerated the oil drilling permitting process in Gulf. Citing the resoundingly disproven concept that additional offshore drilling will lower domestic gas prices, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) has brought a bill to the House that " would dramatically accelerate the permitting process in the Gulf of Mexico and require the Secretary of the Interior to open portions of the heretofore untouched outer continental shelf in the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans to more drilling," writes CAP's Michael Conathan. The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), on the other hand, advocates that oil companies use their thousands of existing, undeveloped leases in the western Gulf of Mexico first or lose them. Markey has also called for an immediate inspection of whether blowout preventers -- cutting devices that seal the pipe of a leaking well and failed during the BP spill -- could ever be counted on. And two bills introduced in the House and Senate would establish "legislation mandating 80 percent of BP's Clean Water Act fines that will ultimately come due as a result of this spill—likely to total between $4.3 billion and $16.9 billion—be sent directly to the Gulf Coast to repair the damage done to both the environment and the economy," writes Conathon. But West Virginia hasn't fared any better, as the stat e has failed to pass any mine safety package after the Massey disaster. Finally, as Weiss and Vasquez point out, the US needs to make significant investments in "clean, noncombustible renewable energy sources" -- such as solar panels and wind farms -- citing that they "are much less susceptible to large, catastrophic disasters such as the Massey and BP Deepwater Horizon tragedies."


THINK FAST

Despite running on a message that they would "shake up" Washington, House GOP freshmen are raking in money from PACs , with more than 50 of the 87 members taking in at least $50,000 in PAC money during the first quarter of 2011. Eighteen took in more than $100,000, led by Rep. Steve Stivers' (R-OH) $241,000.



A new poll found that 70 percent of Tea Party supporters oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. While in line with 80 percent of voters who disapprove, "it is something of a surprise for Tea Partiers" who consistently call for the GOP to make much larger cuts in the budget.

Yesterday, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) issued an executive order prohibiting implementation of the federal health care reform law. While vetoing a bill that nullified the law, Otter used "its key provisions" in his order stating, "No executive branch department, agency, institution or employee…shall establish or amend any program or promulgate any rule to implement any provisions" of health care reform.

During a panel last week on the merger between AOL and the Huffington Post, an executive divulged that " AOL is more conservative than HuffPost ." Since the merger, founder Arianna Huffington has repeatedly stressed that she wants her site to move away from its perception as a progressive news outlet, saying, "We don't see ourselves as left."

During his Facebook townhall yesterday, President Obama reiterated his call for expiring the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The President turned to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and said that his budget calls on both of them to pay a little more in taxes. "I'm cool with that," Zuckerberg responded.

A Republican invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress next month "has kicked off a bizarre diplomatic race " to see if the United States or Israel will be the first to propose jump starting peace talks. Some administration officials are pressing President Obama to draft a new proposal, while others are pushing a more cautious approach.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld canceled an appearance at one of Donald Trump's charity events, saying that he is disturbed by Trump's rhetoric about President Obama. Seinfeld will however still make a monetary contribution to the charity, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

Tim Hetherington, an award-winning conflict photographer and director of the Afghan war documentary Restrepo, was one of two journalists killed during fighting in the Libyan town of Misurata yesterday. Chris Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images, was also killed. They were the third and fourth journalists killed during the Libyan civil war.

And finally: While it's no secret that John F. Kennedy was popular with women, Warren G. Harding may be the country's most promiscuous president , according to porn mogul Larry Flynt, who has a new book on the subject of presidential sex lives.