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"Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's split of
the Minerals Management Service (MMS) will only work if the agency also
addresses its deep cultural problems," said Project On Government
Oversight (POGO) Executive Director Danielle Brian.
Ms. Brian, in testimony
submitted to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources,
warned that the well-intentioned structural reforms to remove the
conflict of mission plaguing MMS will only succeed if Congress stops
the revolving door problem and reduces the agency's dependence on
industry. This is the first congressional hearing to focus on the
proposal to restructure MMS.
She cited the example of the National Ocean Industries Association's
current and past presidents being former MMS Directors as a disturbing
indicator of the cultural problems at the agency that fed into its
"When the former Director of MMS joins a trade association whose
explicit mission was to secure a 'favorable regulatory and economic
environment,'" said Brian, "taxpayers have to question whose interests
were actually being served when he was at MMS. It's unclear whether he
was always ideologically opposed to the agency's mission."
President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that the problems at MMS
ran much deeper than Secretary Salazar realized. In the testimony, POGO
called for Interior to look beyond the usual suspects in industry and
in MMS to head up the proposed new bureaus. The recent appointment of a
former Inspector General, Michael R. Bromwich, fits the mold of POGO's
recommendation and could provide the kind of critical outside
perspective this agency needs. Bromwich's reputation as a tough
investigator with experience cleaning up troubled organizations bodes
well for his potential to reform the agency--and his lack of ties to the
oil and gas industry could be a tremendous asset in changing the
culture of coziness with industry.
The hearing on the reorganization should provide him with a roadmap for implementing much-needed reforms.
"This agency has broken the public's trust, and must increase
transparency to restore it," said Brian. "Interior's willingness to
increase its openness in the wake of the Gulf disaster should be
considered a real acid test as to how committed the Administration is
to the kind of transparency measures that will help citizens hold the
federal government and industry accountable."
"After covering MMS for more than 15 years, I can tell you from experience that these reforms are long overdue," Brian added.
Brian's testimony calls for a number of specific legislative
revolving door reforms, including creating a publicly accessible
revolving door database; reconsidering the pay and GS scale of
inspectors to attract people with more expertise; and passing the
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, H.R. 1507.
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian testifies before the
House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Thursday, June
17. The hearing begins at 10 am, and will also feature testimony from
BP whistleblower Ken Abbott.
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open and honest federal government.
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," said one campaigner.
More than 150 climate and other advocacy groups on Tuesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to block authorization of all new carbon dioxide pipelines—which experts say increase emissions while posing serious safety risks due largely to underregulation—until adequate safety rules are enacted.
"We call on you to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on all federal permits for CO2 pipelines and related infrastructure, and urging states to do the same until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalizes robust new safety regulations that protect communities and the environment," the coalition wrote in a letter to the president.
"PHMSA is planning to propose revised regulations in the fall of 2024, in response to a rupture of a pipeline transporting CO2 in Satartia, Mississippi that hospitalized residents and posed significant challenges for first responders who were ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency," the signers wrote. "However, we are facing a massive build-out of CO2 pipelines now; in the absence of updated federal regulations, our communities face the risk of much larger and more devastating ruptures."
\u201cWe were proud to join over 150 other groups last week on a letter calling for a moratorium on CO2 pipelines. \n\nVia @foodandwater: https://t.co/e3Xs7LB6sf\u201d— Imagine Water Works (@Imagine Water Works) 1685475572
CO2 pipelines are used for carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in terms of scalability that coalition member Food & Water Watch has called a "false climate solution" and a "lifeline for the fossil fuel industry."
Experts say that, in addition to emitting harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, CCS actually contributes to a net increase in emissions.
Carbon dioxide pipelines are also prone to ductile fractures from which massive amounts of CO2—a heavier-than-air asphyxiant that can travel long distances at lethal concentrations—can escape. The 2020 Satartia rupture sent nearly 50 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
\u201cEver wondered why we say that carbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam, even though it sounds like a good thing? Now you can learn more about why carbon capture is another lie from the fossil fuel industry!\n\nExplore our new info hub on our website. \u2b07\ufe0f https://t.co/4toQ2CxxSm\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1685386904
Despite this, the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced new fossil fuel power plant rules that rely heavily on CCS and include plans to build thousands of miles of new CO2 pipelines. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both include billions of dollars for CCS expansion.
"We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests' rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2," Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said in a statement. "This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit-driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles."
\u201cCarbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam that isn\u2019t proven to work at scale \u2013 period. That\u2019s why we need to tell Congress to invest in renewables instead. Will you join us? https://t.co/pdjL7jbwfK\nhttps://t.co/QnyjaS18t6\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1684796470
"Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policymakers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money-maker for dirty energy producers," Walsh added.
Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said that "the Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place."
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," Coulter added.
"The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy," said one advocate.
While welcoming the Labour Party's vow to block new offshore oil and gas drilling if it wins control of the United Kingdom Parliament, climate justice campaigners on Tuesday implored the party to ensure that a shift to clean power is fair to displaced workers.
"The science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground," Freya Aitchison, oil and gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said in a statement. "The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy."
On Sunday, an unnamed Labour Party source toldThe Times, "We are against the granting of new licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea." Alluding to a 2022 admission from John Gummer, a Conservative Party MP and chair of the U.K.'s independent Committee on Climate Change, the source said that such licenses "will do nothing to cut bills as the Tories have acknowledged."
"They undermine our energy security and would drive a coach and horses through our climate targets," said the source, who added that "Labour would continue to use existing oil and gas wells over the coming decades and manage them sustainably as we transform the U.K. into a clean energy superpower."
Labour Leader Keir Starmer is expected to formally announce the party's promise in Scotland next month when he unveils a net-zero energy policy blueprint. The Guardian reported Sunday that it "will involve not just a ban on new North Sea oil and gas licenses, but a pledge that any borrowing for investment should be limited to green schemes."
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition."
Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, confirmed the party's plan. Speaking with Trevor Phillips of Sky News on Sunday, Ashworth said that "what we'll be doing in the coming weeks is outlining how we want to invest in the green jobs of the future to bring bills down, to create a more sustainable energy supply."
"We know we've got to move to more renewable sources of energy," said Ashworth. "It's important for our climate change commitments, but it's also the way in which we can bring energy bills down for consumers."
"This isn't about shutting down what's going on at the moment, we will manage those sustainably," the lawmaker continued.
Although Labour doesn't intend to halt already-approved offshore extraction in most cases, two key exceptions are drilling schemes in the Cambo and Rosebank oil fields, both of which the party vowed to block after Tories greenlighted them, The Guardian noted. The North Sea Transition Authority held another licensing round for fossil fuel exploration projects in January, receiving more than 100 bids and granting new licenses for Cambo as well as the Jackdaw gas field.
"If you stop all new exploration, you are going to have to fill the gap from somewhere and it won't all come from wind," said Ashworth. "We know that but the sums have been done."
"We do need to invest in wind. We need to invest in tidal, we need to invest in nuclear," he added. "We need more sustainable sources of energy supply in order to bring bills down for consumers and actually create jobs in this green transition."
According to Ashworth, "There are hundreds of thousands of jobs that will come online from the transition."
\u201cThe science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. \n\nThis must come with the right investment to ensure a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates decent green jobs.\n\nhttps://t.co/Cvnr8pUsPt\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1685371397
In Aitchison's words, "Starmer rightly recognizes that extracting new oil and gas in the U.K. will not bring down our skyrocketing energy bills—rather, it will cost the U.K. public money through huge loopholes in the windfall tax which incentivize companies to drill for more fossil fuels."
Last August, the U.K. Treasury estimated that the nation's energy firms were on track to enjoy up to £170 billion ($211 billion) in excess profits—defined as the gap between money made now and what would have been expected based on price forecasts prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine—over the next two years.
A 25% windfall tax on oil and gas producers approved last July is expected to raise £5 billion ($6.2 billion) in its first year. However, the existing surtax on excess fossil fuel profits, which lasts through 2025, includes loopholes enabling companies to significantly reduce their tax bill by investing more in oil and gas extraction, something the industry has claimed will increase supply.
But as Aitchison noted, "The majority of oil from U.K. fields is exported and sold to the highest bidder, so increasing our domestic production only benefits the oil companies that are already making record profits."
Aitchison called it "vital" for Labour's announcement to be accompanied by "plans to support workers in the oil and gas industry to transition to jobs in the renewables industry."
In March, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform, a London-based social and environmental justice group, publishedOur Power, a report that provides a roadmap for a just energy transition in the North Sea. The plan, backed by a coalition of offshore oil and gas workers, trade unions, and climate groups, is based on surveys of more than 1,000 workers who developed 10 demands to guide a rapid and equitable shift to renewables.
\u201c\ud83d\udc77\ud83d\udc77\u200d\u2640\ufe0fOffshore oil & gas workers have a plan to lead the energy transition. \n\nThey have created 10 demands that will protect jobs, communities and the climate. \n\nWatch and share. \n\nhttps://t.co/xVRgxXtU7N\n#OurPower #JustTransition\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1678088728
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition," Aitchison said Tuesday. "It will provide certainty for the sector, making it clear that investing in renewables is the only choice for our energy future, and enabling workforce planning."
"The coming decade," she added, "must see concerted government intervention and investment to ensure a fast and fair phaseout of fossil fuels and a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates plentiful decent green jobs."
As The Guardian reported:
The proposal is the latest in a series of Labour pledges over a move towards a greener economy, much of it pushed by Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary.
In 2021, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, announced the party would invest £28 billion [$34.7 billion] a year in climate crisis-related measures, covering not just green energy but also areas such as home insulation, active travel, and flood defenses.
At last year's Labour conference, Starmer said Labour would set up a publicly owned energy company run on clean U.K. power, to be known as Great British Energy.
The next U.K. general election is scheduled to be held no later than January 28, 2025.
"This is the problem with 'bringing everyone to the table,'" said one critic. "Don't invite the wolf to dinner."
Calls for United Nations officials to name a new president of the annual global climate summit intensified on Tuesday as new reporting showed that people allied with Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, president of this year's Conference of the Parties, submitted edits to his Wikipedia page in an effort to disguise his fossil fuel interests and make him appear committed to meeting the Paris climate agreement's goals.
The Guardian and the Center for Climate Reporting (CCR)reported that a number of users, including some who were paid by energy companies linked to al-Jaber, have recently edited his page of the online encyclopedia amid mounting criticism of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) CEO's appointment to lead the summit (COP28).
One anonymous user disclosed that they were being paid by ADNOC as they suggested Wikipedia editors remove a reference to a $4 billion oil pipeline deal al-Jaber signed in 2019 with investment firms BlackRock and KKR, saying the agreement was one of several "unnecessary details" included in al-Jaber's page.
The same user asked editors to replace a paragraph addressing al-Jaber's work with ADNOC—the world's 12th-largest oil company by production—and its juxtaposition with his role as the United Arab Emirates' climate envoy with a reference to ADNOC's investment in "carbon capture and green fuel technologies."
The head of marketing for COP28, Ramzi Haddad, was identified by CCR as the owner of a Wikipedia user account called Junktuner, which edited al-Jaber's page to include a quote from a Bloomberg editorial that said the ADNOC executive "is precisely the kind of ally the climate movement needs."
\u201cThe President of the COP28 conference is an Oil CEO. And now, the head of marketing for COP28 has been editing the COP28 Wikipedia articles to greenwash his reputation.\n\nDoes anyone else see the huge conflict of interests here?\u201d— Greenpeace UK (@Greenpeace UK) 1685464017
Haddad's edit prompted a reprimand from a Wikipedia administrator, who wrote, "The nature of your edits, such as the one you made to 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, gives the impression you have an undisclosed financial stake in promoting a topic."
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who co-organized a letter signed by more than 130 U.S. and European Union lawmakers last week demanding al-Jaber be removed from his position as COP28 president, said Tuesday that the new reporting is the latest indication that the U.N. should "rethink how to run these very important forums."
"It's not surprising that COP28 is trying to burnish al-Jaber's green credentials, but the fact remains that as an oil executive he is also overseeing a lot of damage to the planet," Whitehouse told CCR.
Masdar, a UAE government-owned clean energy company where al-Jaber is chairman of the board and a former CEO, also paid a user who promoted the COP28 president's work at the firm. Those edits were submitted a day after al-Jaber's appointment was made public in January.
Caroline Lucas, a member of British Parliament who represents the Green Party, told CCR the revelations show "oil companies and their CEOs are taking greenwash to a whole new level," by not only "seizing control" of the global summit but also attempting to control narratives about al-Jaber, whose current company is expanding its fossil fuel production.
"It shows the brutal clampdown on the freedom of expression is in full swing months before the conference has even begun," Lucas said.
COP28 is scheduled for November. Al-Jaber was named president of the meeting weeks before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on the climate crisis, promoting calls to phase out coal production by 2030 in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, ensure net-zero emissions from electricity generation by 2035 for wealthy countries, and cease all funding and licensing of new oil and gas development.
Filmmaker Charles Kriel said the greenwashing of public information regarding al-Jaber by his associates shows "the problem with 'bringing everyone to the table'" at a meeting about the climate emergency.
\u201cThis is the problem with \u201cbringing everyone to the table\u201d. Big Oil and authoritarians play the long game, and will operate an agenda of mission creep. Rather, ID the bad guys and put them out of business. Don\u2019t invite the wolf to dinner. Same for tech. https://t.co/qV4af3TBC8\u201d— Dr Charles Kriel (@Dr Charles Kriel) 1685431256
Julia Steinberger, a professor of societal challenges of climate change at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said the latest news must push other climate envoys, including John Kerry in the U.S., to demand that al-Jaber step down.
"Sultan al-Jaber," she said, "is being exposed so clearly as an agent of the fossil fuel industry, whose main purpose is to prevent effective climate action."