Category Archives: Energy

As Predicted—Because ‘Pipelines Are Bound to Spill’—Existing Keystone Gushes 200K Gallons of Oil

‘With their horrible safety record, today’s spill is just the latest tragedy caused by the irresponsible oil company TransCanada.’

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-16-2017

Those who had warned against the pipeline’s approval for precisely these reasons and continue to worked tirelessly to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL (KXL) project, were among the first to respond to Thursday’s spill. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

Some of the worst fears and dire predictions of opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline came true on Thursday when pipeline owner TransCanada announced that more than 200,000 gallons of oil had spilled from the existing portion of the Keystone system in Marshall County, South Dakota.

While the company reported the spill in a public statementBuzzfeed notes there was an approximately four-and-a-half hour gap between when the company said the breach was discovered at 6:00 am and when local officials say they were notified at 10:30 am.  As a South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources told the news outlet, “We’re not quite sure why there was a time gap in there.” Continue reading

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Over 15,000 Scientists Just Issued a ‘Second Notice’ to Humanity. Can We Listen Now?

Reassessing warning issued 25 years ago, the “second notice” to humanity warns of “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss” unless business-as-usual is upended

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-13-2017

“Humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere,” over 15,000 scientists warned in a letter published Monday. (Photo: NASA)

Yikes.

Over 15,000 scientists hailing from more than 180 countries just issued a dire warning to humanity:

“Time is running out” to stop business as usual, as threats from rising greenhouse gases to biodiversity loss are pushing the biosphere to the brink. Continue reading

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Chanting ‘Keep It In the Ground,’ Thousands Descend on German Coalfields

“We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-5-2017

“Germany’s lignite mines are among the biggest coal mines in the world,” Zane Sikulu, a Climate Warrior from Tonga, said in a statement. (Photo: Code Rood/Twitter)

Demanding an end to coal and all forms of dirty energy extraction, over 4,000 activists descended on the Rhineland coalfields in Germany early Sunday in a mass demonstration just a day before COP23 climate talks are set to kick off.

“On the international stage, politicians and corporations present themselves as climate saviors, while a few miles away, the climate is literally being burned,” Janna Aljets, a spokesperson for the environmental alliance Ende Gelände, which helped organize the action, said in a statement. “We do not want to be world champions in extracting and burning lignite anymore. We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.” Continue reading

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‘Can You Say Corruption?’ Puerto Rico Contract for Trump-Connected Raises Concerns

Tiny company financed by a major donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party awarded no-bid contract to rebuild energy grid

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-24-2017

Puerto Rico’s electricity utility, PREPA, offered a $300 million contract to a small private firm to repair its power grid. Whitefish Energy is funded by a major Trump donor. (Photo: Whitefish Energy/Twitter)

Critics raised suspicions on Tuesday over a $300 million no-bid contract that was awarded to a small, two-year-old private energy company to restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. The company is financed by a major donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, and also has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Whitefish Energy, based in Whitefish, Montana, had only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico over a month ago, leaving about 75 percent of the island still without power.

State utilities on the U.S. mainland have helped power authorities like Puerto Rico’s recover quickly from disasters like Maria in the past through mutual aid agreements, leaving many to wonder why Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would rely on a company that has no experience with extensive restoration projects.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why PREPA would go to Whitefish,” said Susan F. Tierney, a former Energy Department official, in an interview with the Washington Post.

As the Daily Beast reported, Federal Election Commission filings show that the founder of the private equity firm that finances Whitefish Energy donated $20,000 to a pro-Trump PAC during the 2016 election as well as more than $30,000 to the Republican National Committee.

The company is also run by a contact of Zinke’s—Andy Techmanski—who once hired the Interior Secretary’s son for a summer job. Zinke is from Whitefish, but his office told the Post that he only knows Techmanski because “everybody knows everybody” in the small town.

Whitefish has hired nearly 300 workers from across the country so far to help repair the infrastructure. According to Aaron C. Davis, investigative reporter for the Post, the company is charging PREPA hundreds of dollars per hour for their subcontractors’ work, far more than average rates.

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Trump’s Mine-Safety Nominee Ran Coal Firm Cited for Illegal Employment Practices

Records show the coal mining company formerly run by David Zatezalo retaliated against a foreman who complained of harassment and unsafe conditions.

Written by  Robert Faturechi and published 10-17-2017 in Pro-Publica.

Fox in the Coal Mine: President Trump nominated David Zatezalo, the former chairman of Rhino Resources, to be an assistant secretary of Labor in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Zatezalo’s company was issued two “pattern of violations” letters from MSHA over safety issues at their mines in 2010 and 2011. Photo credit: OSMRE. Published by WhoWhatWhy.org

The coal mining company run by President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s top mining regulator has already come under criticism for weaknesses in its safety record. It turns out the company was also found by the government to have illegally retaliated against a foreman who complained about sexual and ethnic harassment from supervisors, unsafe conditions and drug use at one of its mines.

The little-noticed case involved a foreman at a mine operated by Rhino Energy WV. At the time, the president of the mine’s parent company, Rhino Resource Partners, was David Zatezalo, who is now Trump’s nominee to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Wednesday.

In the West Virginia case, Michael Jagodzinski, a foreman at the mine located near the town of Bolt, complained in 2011 that he was the target of ethnic and gay slurs. The company illegally retaliated against him, falsely accusing him of sexual harassment, and then fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found. As a result, Rhino Energy WV entered into a five-year consent decree last year, agreeing to pay $62,500 to Jagodzinski and implement reforms, including a policy against harassment and training for all managers and employees on prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation. The company also agreed to report how it handles any internal complaints of discrimination to federal regulators, and post notices about the settlement at all mine sites.

Zatezalo retired from Rhino in 2014. If confirmed to his new post, he would run an agency that is part of the Labor Department. It conducts regular inspections, trains the industry on best practices and levies penalties against mining companies for violations.

Democratic senators have questioned Zatezalo’s record in the industry, citing safety issues at mines he oversaw in West Virginia and Kentucky. One of his mines received two consecutive “pattern of violations” citations from the mining safety agency — a rare sanction used for repeat offenders.

Based on those citations, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who often throws his support behind the mining industry’s priorities, announced he would oppose Zatezalo’s confirmation, saying he is “not convinced” the former coal executive “is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

Zatezalo did not respond to a request for an interview about the harassment case. A spokeswoman for the mine safety administration declined to comment about the allegations.

The problems at the Bolt mine were brought to the attention of federal authorities by Jagodzinski. The EEOC ultimately found that the company engaged in “unlawful employment practices” starting in May 2011.

According to the government’s complaint, Jagodzinski faced a hostile work environment based on his Polish ancestry, including a barrage of insults and false allegations of workplace violations. The company allegedly allowed graffiti on the walls of the mine Jagodzinski supervised, with messages such as “Jag the fag.” Both supervisors and rank-and-file mine employees referred to Jagodzinski using that slur and “stupid Polack,” the EEOC said.

“Supervisory personnel failed to take action to stop the harassment or prevent it from recurring,” the government’s complaint reads. “Instead, supervisors participated in the harassment.”

A poster hung in the workplace likening Jagodzinski to a caveman, with the message: “JAG IS A FAG.” At one point, according to federal authorities, another employee took Jagodzinski’s phone and used it to take a photo of his own testicles.

“The harassment was open and obvious to supervisory personnel,” federal authorities found, “and supervisory personnel participated in the harassment.”

In a sworn deposition, Jagodzinski said managers used drugs on the job. In one case, he said managers tipped off the mine’s employees about an imminent drug test.

Jagodzinski said in an interview with ProPublica that the harassment started because he was trying to enforce workplace safety rules. “I was against them breaking rules and doing drugs and stealing,” Jagodzinski said. “Oxy, nerve pills, synthetic weed, smoking underground, snorting pills underground. This place was the absolute worst place I’d worked in my entire life.”

In a sworn deposition, a company executive said Zatezalo approved the termination, but denied that the company harassed Jagodzinski or fired him as retaliation. The company, he said, had strict policies against drug use.

“These people work in a confined space, underground in a confined space where large equipment moves. Any impairment to judgment is a very, very high risk, so we tolerate — we tolerated zero,” the executive said.

Court filings show Zatezalo was also scheduled to be deposed, but it appears the company agreed to settle with the government before he was interviewed under oath.

The consent decree followed other documented problems at Rhino, which at the end of 2011 operated 11 mines in four states, with a total of more than 1,000 workers. One mine, also near Bolt, was hit in 2010 with a “pattern of violations” letter from the mining agency, a sanction that according to the agency’s website is “reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to the health and safety of miners, particularly those with chronic violation records.”

A few months later, rock from a wall in the same mine pinned and killed a miner. The mine was given a second “pattern of violations” letter, with the safety agency finding that the company had not maintained the safety improvements it made after the first letter.

In another instance, government regulators accused the company of alerting miners underground of an imminent agency inspection, which would have allowed workers to clean up any potential violations.

A review of regulatory filings by The Charleston Gazette-Mail found that during his career Zatezalo was listed as director of mining operations or as mine general manager during accidents that resulted in three mining deaths. He was a top officer at the time of a fourth death.

During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, Zatezalo acknowledged that at times his local managers were “not doing what they should have been doing” and that in those cases, he replaced them. He said that if he was confirmed he wouldn’t weaken mine regulation.

“Inspections in the mines in the United States are a necessity,” he said.

Zatezalo began his mining career as a union laborer, before rising in the ranks to hold top positions at American Electric Power Coal and Rhino. He also helped lead coal advocacy associations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Zatezalo was not widely known nationally before he was nominated. In an interview with his hometown newspaper in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zatezalo said that industry contacts had urged him to come out of retirement and put his name in the running for the post. Among his backers, he said, were Robert Murray, the influential chairman of mining giant Murray Energy.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the industry I don’t know, and people said, ‘You’d be great for that position. I’m going to call Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and tell him he needs to support you for this,’” Zatezalo recalled.

Zatezalo later clarified and said he was not sure if Murray had lobbied on his behalf.

Jagodzinski, the mine foreman at the center of the government’s discrimination suit, said he has been stigmatized after being falsely fired for sexual harassment, and has had difficulty finding steady employment since.

“They ruined me, dude. I’ve lost everything,” he said in an interview. “And now I see Zatezalo’s going to run MSHA. I cannot believe it.”

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Share A-like License.

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Promoting Renewable Future, Solar Companies and Nonprofits Rush to Puerto Rico

Several groups and companies have launched initiatives to aid the storm-ravaged island’s recovery and its long-term resilience

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-13-2017

Tech leaders and solar companies are coming together to promote rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power grid with renewable energy technology. (Photo: SolarCity)

As Congress on Thursday approved a $5 billion loan that will further burden the already bankrupt U.S. territory, various solar companies and nonprofits continued working together to offer aid to the storm-ravaged island while also promoting a more sustainable future and resilient energy system.

On Thursday, the nonprofit Empowered By Light and Sunrun—the nation’s largest residential solar company—partnered with local leaders to install a 4kW solar array with battery storage at the Barrio Obrero fire station in San Juan. A second system will be installed at another fire station on Friday. Continue reading

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In First, Two Major Cities Sue Big Oil for Climate Crimes

San Francisco and Oakland charge that fossil fuel companies “stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook” with misleading campaigns and should pay for damage from rising seas

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-21-2017

The Embarcadero at high tide. Photo: Heidi Nutters/flickr

Environmentalists are celebrating two new lawsuits filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, California, in attempts to hold some of the world’s largest oil companies to account for fueling climate change.

“It’s time to hold these climate deadbeats accountable,” said Greenpeace’s climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages, after the suits were announced this week. Continue reading

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Instead of Protecting the Earth, EPA Agents Now Forced to Serve as Pruitt Bodyguards

Unsurprisingly, the number of environmental crime cases has declined rapidly since Pruitt took charge

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-20-2017

Pruitt’s 24/7, 18-member security detail “demands triple the manpower of his predecessors” and is forcing “officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes,” the Washington Post reported. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Thanks to a hiring freeze, budget cuts, and the exorbitant travel needs of Trump’s cabinet, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agents are being forced to ditch climate crime investigations in order to serve as personal bodyguards for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, resulting in what one critic called an “evaporation of criminal enforcement.”

The EPA head has traditionally had one of the smallest security details among cabinet members,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. But Pruitt’s expansive security team—which cost taxpayers over $830,000 in his first three months as EPA chief—has shattered all precedent. Continue reading

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‘Mind-bogglingly Dangerous’: Trump EPA Rolls Back Water Pollution Limits for Coal Plants

“A bold-faced gift to the coal industry at the expense of the health of families everywhere”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-14-2017

The EPA placed a delay on a rule that would have limited wastewater pollution from coal-fired plants. (Photo: pennjohnson/Flickr/cc)

In a move that critics are calling “deeply disturbing,” the Trump administration announced on Wednesday a two-year delay to an Obama-era rule limiting wastewater pollution at coal plants.

In 2015 the Obama administration developed new limits on metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic in coal-fired plants’ wastewater, set to go into effect in 2018. The pollutants in question “can cause severe health problems, including cancer and lowered I.Q. among children, as well as deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which fought against the rollback of the limits. Continue reading

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Venezuela Is About to Ditch the Dollar in Major Blow to US: Here’s Why It Matters

By Darius Shahtahmasebi. Published 9-8-2017 by The Anti-Media

Photo: YouTube

 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that Venezuela will be looking to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, Reuters reports. According to the outlet, Maduro will look to use the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes (essentially the way Venezuela will manage its currency in relation to other currencies and the foreign exchange market), along with a basket of currencies.

According to Reuters, Maduro was referring to Venezuela’s current official exchange rate, known as DICOM, in which the dollar can be exchanged for 3,345 bolivars. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys only 10 bolivars, which may be one of the reasons why Maduro wants to opt for some of the weaker exchange rates. Continue reading

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