1. OVERSEEING NATIONAL ENERGY PLANNING
As Rick Piltz repeated in hundreds of telecasts, “the fossil fuel industry has no expectation of being phased out, and in fact is seeking to bring about the development of a new era of expanded extraction, domestic consumption, and export.” Moreover, it appears abundantly evident that the White House and federal agencies are not seriously incorporating the threat of global climate disruption into decision-making on such developments. Science-based climate policy development will be opposed at every step by powerful economic interests and anti-regulation ideologues. GAP’s CSW program was founded on action to counter such efforts, whether they come from inside government or from external pressure. We will continue to work with allies to expose and counter the global warming denial and disinformation campaigns. As Rick set forth to GAP before his passing in the fall of 2014, the central focus of his expanded vision in CSPW is to hold the current and future administrations accountable for reconciling stated goals with policies that can effectively accomplish those goals. This effort therefore includes but is not limited to our overseeing of the following critical policy initiatives:
- The 2014 National Climate Assessment: A hallmark CSW issue, Rick regarded the jettisoning of the 2000 Assessment, and of the communication process it had initiated, as the central climate science scandal of the George W. Bush Administration. The 2000 Assessment, like the current 2014 Assessment, was a threat to the global warming denial machine because it took projected global warming seriously and focused on the implications of climatic disruption, region by region and across socioeconomic and natural resource sectors. CSPW will be conducting a thorough review of the initial Assessment undertaken during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration’s “deep-sixing” of the 2000 Assessment, the largely ignored 2009 Assessment (due to what Rick called the “climate silence” enveloping the White House at the time), and the merits and shortcomings of the 2014 Assessment – providing a substantive analysis of what needs to be in the report and how climate change will indeed actually affect real people in real places. We will also push the administration to make significant enough progress in implementing the Assessment’s findings before the Obama presidency ends and a new, and potentially hostile, administration can roll back the progress made in this centrally important effort.
- Quadrennial Energy Review (QER): We will also be critiquing the QER – a major strategic planning exercise to develop government policy for the next generation of energy infrastructure. We are currently analyzing the QER and will be strategically exposing the inconsistency between the report’s stated goals through 2030 and the President’s commitment to reduce US emissions by more than 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. While the U.S. commitment to natural gas may help achieve near-term targets like the one set forth by the QER in 2030, the expanded use of natural gas will only undermine emission reduction efforts in the long-term. For example, the administration has fully supported a massive expansion of shale gas fracking, with some studies – as recent as July 7, 2015 – estimating large fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas system “potentially offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas” with potential estimates of the greenhouse gas having “a global warming potential over a 100-year time frame as high as 34 times that of carbon dioxide.” The only way we can meet or exceed the President’s 2050 goal is by rapidly ramping down fossil fuel use. Therefore, we will draw attention to the tremendous cost to the environment and waste of investing in a natural gas infrastructure through 2030 – which will then only be abandoned in the subsequent two decades if the 2050 goal is to be made. We will be engaging a strategic blogging campaign exposing these issues, culminating in a White Paper to be released in late 2015 which will serve as CSPW’s clarion call for the national need to hold the administration accountable for reconciling stated goals with policies that can effectively accomplish those goals.
- The President’s Climate Action Plan & National Preparedness: Ever since its creation in 2005, CSW has been ahead of the curve in championing climate change “preparedness.” We believe that CSW’s efforts and the work of our allies played a significant role in the concept of “climate preparedness” rising to the level of public discussion it required. The long virtual ‘climate silence’ in the White House that we argued against between 2009 and 2013 was finally broken, and a Climate Action Plan containing first steps was finally issued. A presidential Executive Order was issued in November 2013 as part of implementing the Climate Action Plan (CPA), establishing adaptive preparedness and resilience to disruptive climate change impacts as an essential national priority. Thus, the “National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative (NCCPI)” that we proposed in 2008 and have advocated for since then has become part of mainstream policymaking. Consistent with our recommendations, the plan identified a set of preparedness initiatives aimed at building stronger and safer communities and infrastructure, protecting the economy and natural resources, and using science to manage climate impacts. However, the Plan specifies 52 action items and has many moving parts – spanning a wide range of federal agencies, jurisdictions, budgets, missions, issues and decisions. There is also no specification of how progress will be documented and reported, whether those actions will be transparent, how the results will be communicated, and if this will be done in a way which will allow independent assessment. Furthermore, there are other issues which must be addressed. For example, while the Plan addresses the problem of coal-fired power plants by pledging to develop rules to regulate emissions, it fails to address the problems of coal leasing, mining, and export. We will therefore be working with allies, inside sources and experts to call strategic attention to these problem areas in the Plan. We will be promoting our findings and analysis through a strategic blogging campaign culminating in a White Paper on the Climate Action Plan with a projected public distribution of late 2015.
2. PROMOTING NATIONAL COORDINATED PREPAREDNESS IN THE LONG-TERM
Ever since its creation in 2005, CSW has been ahead of the curve in championing climate change “preparedness.” We believe that CSW’s efforts and the work of our allies played a significant role in the concept of “climate preparedness” rising to the level of public discussion it required. The long virtual ‘climate silence’ in the White House that we argued against between 2009 and 2013 was finally broken, and a Climate Action Plan containing first steps was finally issued. A presidential Executive Order was issued in November 2013 as part of implementing the Climate Action Plan (CPA), establishing adaptive preparedness and resilience to disruptive climate change impacts as an essential national priority. Thus, the “National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative (NCCPI)” that we proposed in 2008 and have advocated for since then has become part of mainstream policymaking.
Consistent with our recommendations, the plan identified a set of preparedness initiatives aimed at building stronger and safer local communities and infrastructure, protecting the economy and natural resources, and using science to manage climate impacts. However, the Plan specifies 52 action items and has many moving parts – spanning a wide range of federal agencies, jurisdictions, budgets, missions, issues and decisions. There is no specification of how progress will be documented and reported, whether those actions will be transparent, how the results will be publicly communicated, and if this will be done in a way which will allow independent assessment. Furthermore, there are other issues which must be addressed. For example, while the Plan addresses the problem of coal-fired power plants by pledging to develop rules to regulate emissions, it fails to address the problems of coal leasing, mining, and export. In addition to these obstacles, the need for a central, coordinating body within the federal government to address serious emissions reductions and a capacity to handle the growing threats of climate instability is as strong as ever. We quickly learned through our efforts to promote this coordinated national mechanism that push-back from deeply entrenched fossil-fuel interests is formidable and must be countered directly.
We will therefore be working with allies, inside sources and experts to track key actions, call for transparency and accountability in reporting, and call strategic attention to these problem areas in the Plan. We will be promoting our findings and analysis through a strategic blogging campaign culminating in a White Paper on the Climate Action Plan with a projected public distribution of late 2015. We will do so while simultaneously applying the historical lessons learned from our NCCPI and taking advantage of the successful integration of our recommendations in the Plan by identifying statutory, regulatory and policy barriers to these critical national needs; and, we will seek to work with local NGO’s, leading coalition members and local communities and expect to be able to supply them vetted, insider information focused on our own and their advocacy efforts related to resilience and preparedness across the nation for the development of a new, national grassroots-led coordinated initiative. The long-term, integrated strategy for this coordinated proposed initiative will also be strategically promoted through a coordinated blogging campaign on our CSPW website, ultimately taking the form of a White Paper in 2016.
3. WATCHDOGGING LEGISLATION: CSPW LEGISLATIVE WATCH
A decade ago Rick Piltz blew the whistle and joined the ranks of official federal whistleblowers by seeking the help of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and sending a trove of damning material to New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. Revkin’s scathing June 2005 article pointed the finger at a high-level political appointee in the George W. Bush White House, Phil Cooney, who had been abusing his position at the Council on Environmental Quality to tamper with federal scientific reports in order to cast false doubt on the climate change threat. Cooney, formerly of the American Petroleum Institute, quickly resigned and shortly thereafter took a job at Exxon Mobil. Rick quit his job in protest and in a 14-page resignation memo asserted the Bush administration “does not want and has acted to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implications for society.” GAP’s Climate Science Watch (CSW) program was born out of this brave act, and was initially envisioned by Rick to keep a (clearly much-needed) watchful eye on the White House and the rest of the Executive Branch of government, no matter who happened to be the sitting president.
Soon after, Rick turned his attention to the US Congress as well, keenly aware of the potential of our elected officials to similarly infringe upon the rights of scientists studying our disrupted climate system by tampering with or even censoring the results of their work as they had intended it for policy-makers. Political interference in climate scientists’ witness testimony was already being documented, and Rick produced exclusive news reports of politicized testimony by publishing the leaked, unredacted versions on behalf of the author witnesses. Scientific integrity in the halls of Congress is surely as important as in the White House, as enacted laws can long outlive presidents and administrations. GAP intends to honor the legacy of Rick Piltz by carrying forward what he had envisioned just before his passing in fall 2014. As he wished, Climate Science Watch will continue to serve its established watchdog role in accordance with the expanded vision Rick set forth to GAP before he passed. Among the other pillars outlined throughout this section, the next phase of GAP’s Climate Science Watch program – now renamed: Climate Science & Policy Watch (CSPW) includes the establishing of a robust “Legislative Watch” function that will supplement and enhance the other core CSPW initiatives Rick outlined.
By monitoring and reporting on key developments in Congressional Committees and in the chambers of the House and Senate, CSPW will keep its readers informed and better armed to exercise their power and influence as citizens at the grassroots level and beyond. We will keep a watchful eye on those we elected to govern and, ostensibly, make sound decisions on our behalf as global temperatures rise and the panoply of impacts long predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) are increasingly felt in communities across the nation and the world. As we launch CSPW, prolonged drought, devastating wildfires, extreme weather events, and other threats to our lives and livelihoods remind us daily of the disconnect between the actual level of danger on the ground and the response in government, too often marked by delay and outright denial. There are indeed a few champions of sensible climate policy, but they are too few and too drowned out by the din of fossil fuel combustion apologists. We will point out instances of ill-advised Congressional actions as well as instances in which a strong moral and even fiscal obligation to act is simply ignored. So far, we see even less good governance and even more politically motivated, Koch brother-influenced misbehavior than was taking place under Rick’s watchful eye. We are deeply concerned that, through what can be legitimately characterized as gross negligence, members of the US Congress are collectively putting the nation in harm’s way, thus compromising “homeland security” in the purest sense of the term.
CSPW Legislative Watch will report on hearings, committee markups, provisions in bills passing key hurdles towards enactment, noteworthy statements and utterings of our elected officials. CSPW will also, on occasion – and with your help – make our voices heard in Congress. Where it makes sense for us to do so, we will reach out to like-minded organizations and groups to create synergies of democracy. Rick Piltz had been working on a book he had planned to title “Breaking the Silence.” While sadly the book never made it to publication, CSPW Legislative Watch will be breaking the silence on a regular basis, carrying on the heart and soul of the admirable effort put forth by our dear friend. So… stay tuned as the dialogue Rick started continues.
4. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS & PUBLIC INTEREST INVESTIGATIONS
Over the years, the Government Accountability Program (GAP) has successfully employed our Know Your Rights Campaign (KRYC) methodology across GAP’s program areas in order to inform individuals about the rights available to them to safely blow the whistle. Most recently, these efforts have included GAP’s BP/Gulf Coast KYRC which resulted in over 30 whistleblowers disclosing significant environmental and public health threats.
Insiders within core aspects of the fossil extraction industry know why certain practices are perilous for the environment in ways that must be exposed and brought to public attention. We must reach them and inform them about their rights to safely blow the whistle. We will be seeking to launch public education investigations and campaigns on critical national issues Rick Piltz identified, each with their own set of consequences, which highlight how we must phase-out fossil energy sources as Rick warned. Utilizing decades of experience, the interrelated KYRC initiatives below are strategically designed to spread transparency throughout the extraction industry from the bottom-up. In coordination with Rick’s top-down policy approach as exemplified in the Overseeing National Energy Planning pillar of CSPW’s plan of action, we are now poised to take maximum advantage of our history and reputation and have a significant impact on challenging the fossil industry – both at its roots at the policy level and on the ground where those policies meet reality and “affect real people in real places,” as Rick would often say.
Our CSPW KYRCs will be targeted at federal, state and corporate employees who know about wrongdoing associated with climate change concerns related to the issues below and regarding regulatory policy development and implementation, research, or energy industry practices. For each of these campaigns we will be engaging in strategic public education blogging campaigns and seeking to coordinate with leading coalitions on the ground across the nation where available to reach and inform affected individuals about their rights. Areas of focus for CSPW Know Your Rights Campaigns which will carry on Rick’s strategy of featuring our investigation and public education of administration support for increased fossil fuel extraction include but are not limited to the following
(i.) Fracking: Dramatically increasing U.S. natural gas production, in particular through hydrofracking, is an essential component of the administration’s climate and energy policy. However, this is not a viable approach for an effective climate strategy in the long term. Natural gas has roughly half the emissions per unit of energy as coal – assuming a very low level of methane leakage, an assumption that some current research calls into question. The administration has fully supported a massive expansion of shale gas fracking, with no EPA environmental regulation in place or any agency decision on whether to regulate, and with some studies – as recent as July 7, 2015 – estimating large fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas system “potentially offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas” with potential estimates of the greenhouse gas having “a global warming potential over a 100-year time frame as high as 34 times that of carbon dioxide.” With the administration’s policy of strong support for increasing domestic production, as well as promoting natural gas export and the development of a global market and infrastructure for natural gas power plants and vehicles, those emissions will go up, and natural gas infrastructure will be locked in for decades. Natural gas must also be phased down to a much lower level in order to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.
Moreover, the process of fracking itself is laden with additional environmental risks. Fracking fluid contains hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, methanol, mercury, and hundreds of other contaminants. At least eight states have reported “surface, ground and drinking water contamination” due to the practice. Habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling to environmentally sensitive areas also yield untold further damage to the environment. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in late April 2015, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released a map of earthquakes “thought to be triggered by human activity in the eastern and central United States” – coinciding with the emerging view of officials “that wastewater disposal following oil and gas extraction is causing more earthquakes.” All of the areas highlighted on the map “are located near deep fluid injection wells or other industrial activities capable of inducing earthquakes.” The Chief of the USGS’ National Seismic Hazard Project stated in the article that the pattern of increased earthquakes is “troubling”… and that “[t]hese earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before.”
Despite the mounting body of evidence of these dangers, on May 18, stating that Texas needs to avoid a “patchwork of local regulations,” Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill “which prohibits cities and towns from banning [fracking]… giving the state sole authority over oil and gas regulation.” Unsurprisingly earning the support of energy companies and industry groups, the act “expressly pre-empts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities and other political subdivisions.” A plan of action for a Fracking KYRC is currently under development to address these issues through strategic blog posts and public education and investigation. We will seek to inform workers in affected areas who may be able to expose these environmental dangers while drawing necessary attention to the Obama administration’s reliance on the procuring of natural gas as a flawed central aspect of its climate and energy policy.
(ii.) Off-Shore Drilling: As raised above, in the wake of the 2010 Gulf Coast oil catastrophe GAP launched a Gulf Coast/BP KYRC to let employees know of their rights to blow the whistle and undertook a public interest investigation resulting now in over 30 whistleblowers disclosing significant environmental and public health threats. Having garnered significant media coverage and released a White Paper on our findings, we seek to shed new light on this disaster and its cover-up, influence responsible regulations of dispersant use and create an accurate public record of the subsequent environmental and public health impact.
Not having learned the lessons of Deepwater Horizon, the Obama administration continues its efforts to open up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling (see our Fracking KYRC above). For example, on May 11, the Obama administration first gave conditional approval to allow Shell Oil to start drilling for oil in the Arctic off the Alaskan coast this summer. Then, on August 17, the administration gave Shell final approval to do so. As reported in The New York Times, “[t]he area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deepwater ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach in case of an accident”…[t]he closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is over 1,000 miles away.” In addition to raising awareness around these issues via strategic blog posts and other public education efforts, we will be investigating leads and seeking to employ the same successful BP/Gulf Coast methodology in the context of this site as well as other at-risk off-shore drilling sites in order to educate workers about their rights in advance in the hopes that we may be able to prevent another potential Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
(iii.) Pipelines: On August 29, 2011, Rick Piltz joined former GAP client and renowned climate scientist James Hansen and 141 other individuals in getting arrested at a sit-in demonstration at the White House, calling on President Obama to block construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. As anyone who knew Rick was well aware, he was strongly opposed to the pipeline’s construction and spearheaded long-standing and active opposition in the form of articles, communications to the government, posting of communications from the science community, and direct action (see here, here, and here). The very prospect of Keystone XL’s construction and the potential environmental devastation which could result from its rupture has made national attention and brought piping technology itself under fierce scrutiny. If the pipeline eventually survives the President’s veto during the next administration, before it is even built Keystone XL will already be predisposed to a heightened risk of rupture due to the corrosive nature of tar-sands oil. If the pipe were to burst, it could hopelessly pollute thousands of acres of farmland in the Great Plains as well as one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world.
There is good reason to be concerned. Oil and gas pipelines crisscross the country in staggering numbers and the current state of piping technology is extremely suspect. For example, five pipelines ruptured for unknown reasons in January 2015 alone, and, even as recently as May 19, an 11-mile-long pipeline ruptured – spilling what was estimated at the time to be up to 101,000 gallons of oil along California’s Santa Barbara County coastline spanning over nine miles. Since then, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, Plains All American Pipeline — the company responsible for the disaster — disclosed in its quarterly earnings in early August 2015 that the spill “may have been bigger and costlier than originally expected” and that “as many as 143,000 gallons of crude [oil] may have been spilled when the line ruptured.” These issues are quite possibly systemic and must be investigated, given they happen indiscriminately across the country with older and newer pipes, and regardless of whether the piping is transporting oil or gas. We intend to conduct this KYRC along the routes of the ruptured pipelines in the areas most directly affected and the routes of potentially compromised pipelines across the nation based on intelligence we receive, engage local communities where workers live and provide them information on their rights to blow the whistle.
(iv.) Railways: Crude-by-rail shipments have increased nationwide from an average of 55,000 barrels per day in 2010 to more than 1 million barrels per day in 2014. Given the recent massive expansion of fossil-fuels by rail, the nationwide transport of oil is also of paramount concern. A Railways KYRC effort is particularly necessary in the wake of significantly increased derailments. A U.S. Department of Transportation report last July predicted “that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades” and that the derailments “could cause more than $4 billion in damage and possibly kill hundreds of people if a serious accident were to happen in a densely populated part of the U.S.” Local communities across the country are thus becoming increasingly alarmed about the movement of fossil-fuels by trains.
The uncomfortable truth is that the American public is extremely vulnerable as a result of crumbling rail infrastructure. The Federal Railway Act has the most successful track record in practice of any law that GAP has helped pass. Yet, few if any employees are aware of their rights. In spring 2015 our KYRC materials were provided at an influential rail safety conference in Olympia, WA. Washington State is a hub of oil-by-rail activity coming through the Pacific Northwest; oil trains have increased in number from 9,500 in 2008 to over 400,000 in 2014, with even further significant projected increases slated for 2020 and 2025. We have attracted several rail whistleblowers and are formulating a strategy so that we will have the capacity to respond to them and take action.