Nel's New Day

April 26, 2018

Zinke Possibly Next for Limelight

Much has been said about the corruption and environmental destruction by EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has flown under the radar. Yet Zinke is bent on razing public land in the United States while illegally using taxpayer monies. He also consistently brags about being a “geologist,” sometimes under oath, to give weight to all his opinions about endangered species, oil drilling, climate change, and anything else he declaims. Zinke’s only background in geology, however, comes from his college major. He attended the University of Oregon on a football scholarship and said he chose his major by “closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog.”

Zinke also failed to disclose information to ethics officials, promoted the birther conspiracy about President Obama, inappropriately reassigned a large number of Native Americans in his agency, frequently decried “diversity,” and inappropriately used taxpayer funds for his unnecessary travel and that of his wife who needed to go to her campaign events. He also reassigned a scientist who revealed the negative impact of climate change on Alaska Native communities. Zinke was also criticized for a 2014 campaign email asking for donations and reporting that he “served as a Team Leader on SEAL Team Six—the team responsible for the mission to get Osama Bin Laden.” Osama bin Laden was killed three years after Zinke retired.

Other Zinke issues:

  • Threatening Alaska’s GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, with penalties for their state if they didn’t vote for a health care plan.
  •  Ignoring the National Park System Advisory Board—refusing to even meet with them—until three-fourths of them quit.
  • Relying on a top energy industry lobbyist for help with a list of regulatory rollbacks.
  • Requiring extra work from his staff for coordinating his wife’s access to high-level politicians and donors to benefit her position chairing the senatorial campaign for GOP Troy Downing who is running against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester.
  • Promising Florida that he wouldn’t drill of its coast after planning coastal oil drilling off the other 13 states despite their governors’ objections. (Zinke said that Florida is “unique”: he might mean that Mar-a-Lago is in Florida and that Gov. Rick Scott is running against Democrat Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate.)
  • Spending $53,000 on three helicopter trips, including one to go horseback riding with VP Mike Pence. (He paid for one of them out of wildfire preparedness funds until someone pointed out that it was inappropriate.)
  • Failing to disclose shares in a gun company that lobbies the government on “defense appropriations and authorizations” and “carbon fiber barrels.” (The company got an $11.4 million contract last year.)
  • Demanding confidential energy data for others’ use.
  • Illegally blocking plans to expand Native American tribes from expanding casino operations in Connecticut which benefitted politically connected MGM Resorts International.
  • Spending almost $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in his office.
  •  Taking a taxpaid security detail on his vacation with his wife to Turkey and Greece.

More Zinke problems:

  • Changed regulations to allow seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Lifted restrictions on new coal leasing on public lands.
  • Proposed the elimination of safety requirements to protect communities from methane pollution by oil and gas drilling on public lands.
  • Renewed mining leases near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
  • Proposed a 90-percent cut to America’s most important conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • Eliminated a policy asking parks to create plans for preserving natural resources and protecting them from threats like climate change.

Zinke has some esoteric positions. When he is in the building, he flies a special Department of Interior flag. A security staff takes the flag up the elevator to the seventh floor and climbs the stairs to the roof where he hoists the flag. At night, he repeats the journey to take down the flag. Zinke’s spokesperson called the flag “a major sign of transparency.” (The only other specialized flying flag in the government is above the State Department, but it’s always there.) Zinke arrived for his first day at work on horseback and kept a glass-case display of hunting knives until he was told to remove them because of security risks. His wood-paneled office walls sport animal heads. In a speech to fossil fuel executives, he complained that 30 percent of his agency are “not loyal to the flag.” (He didn’t say which one.)

Zinke also created a “challenge coin” for the Interior Department with his name emblazoned on the front. These coins began as a military tradition during World War I when Ivy League students slapped their coins on the table. The person without one had to buy a round of drinks for the others.

National Park Service officials have scrubbed every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in connection with sea-level rise and storm surge. Delays in releasing reports have blocked information about hurricane forecasts, safeguarding artifacts, and locating buildings. (Over at the EPA, Scott Pruitt tried to create a better coin with his name but omitting the EPA logo.)

Zinke’s 15-member “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee is composed of representatives from fishing, shooting sports, motorized vehicles, hospitality, and national park concessions interests, three of them having conflicts of interests. Missing are any nominees recommended by the Outdoor Industry Association advocating outdoor sports. Most members on the Royalty Policy Committee come from fossil fuel and mining industries. His new International Wildlife Conservation Council is mainly comprised of trophy hunters and individuals with ties to President Trump’s oldest son, who is an avid hunter. Member Peter Horn owns a hunting preserve in conjunction with Eric and Don Jr. Trump.

Zinke has made BLM staff in Western states propaganda tools by requiring them to wear “vision” cards with illustrations of an oil rig and cows grazing. The cards reference “customers” instead of “public” and list the purpose as improving “the health and productivity of the land.” Because BLM has no director, Zinke has taken that role, moving forward with plundering the lands resources. A key phrase in supporting the America First Energy Plan is “to serve industry.”

Zinke’s BIA Director Bryan Rice, appointed only six months ago, has resigned. As of this writing, nobody is talking about the reason.

Although only Florida is exempted from offshore oil drilling, Zinke is cooling off about drilling in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic off Maine. He told the Senate Energy Committee that these places had little recoverable oil and gas. In another loss, he has backed down from a monstrous increase in park entrance fees of $45 to an extra $5, thanks to the vociferous public protest. He also postponed selling over 4,000 acres of leases near the sacred tribal site of Chaco Canyon after protests from indigenous people and withdrew 17,300 acres from a fossil fuel lease auction in Montana.  A big political loss was the election of Democrat Conor Lamb to be the representative after a special election in Pennsylvania despite Zinke’s show of presenting a check for a coal mine reclamation with GOP candidate Rick Saccone in attendance. Once again Republicans have gotten away with violated the Hatch Act.

Despite criticism, Zinke continues his destruction of public land. In his testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he repeated his plans to cover the National Park Service maintenance backlog with revenue from mining and drilling. Republicans in both congressional chambers already have bills in accord with Zinke’s desires. If they get their way, they will sell off sensitive wildlife habitat such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies too build park bathrooms. Other national monuments would be opened to mining and drilling. The plan will likely fail because it requires an oil price that are double the current level.

Zinke is unhappy about being questioned for his profligate spending, and he’s sure to hate this hilarious—and accurate—segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight which includes the Interior Secretary throwing the “Second Lady,” Karen Pence, around like a “sack of unbleached flour.”  Zinke banned a reporter from Outside from his presence for pointing out that Zinke had rigged his fly rod backward. That’s considered bad form in Montana.

Recently dark money is paying for ads, and Zinke is meeting with deep-pocketed donors. A polling firm has called Iowa GOP voters, testing Zinke’s name recognition for a 2024 presidential run. With all his problems, he may need to wait before he measures for drapes in the Oval Office. He might first run for Montana governor because he exempted Montana from moving public lands to the private sector.

During Zinke’s confirmation hearings, he promised that he would follow Teddy Roosevelt in being a steward of the lands with his concern about global warming. Once confirmed, he started selling off national monuments to the highest bidder and dropping regulations to satisfy business interests. Sen. Ron Wyden said it best when he stated that voting for Zinke was “one of the biggest regrets of my time in public service.”

August 24, 2013

The Keystone XL Pipeline Needs to be Stopped

Good news came yesterday when the State Department announced that its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline may be postponed until next year because of allegations that the department hired a reviewer of the project who has a conflict of interest. Keystone needs a cross-border permit to finish the northern part of its pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Resources Management, hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review did extensive work for TransCanada and the many oil companies that stand to benefit if the pipeline is built. In addition, the company lied on its federal conflict of interest disclosure forms by declaring that it no such ties.

The tar sands of Alberta, containing an estimated 169.3 billion barrels of oil, are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet, behind only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and are also the most polluting source of energy on earth. If the pipeline is approved, it will transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil every day and emit 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Building the pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 37.7 million new cars on the road every day and firing up 51 new coal power plants. Substituting tar sands oil for conventional oil increases global warming emissions by 20 percent.

randy thompsonPeople are becoming more cautious about transporting the oil across the United States. Randy Thompson, a rancher in Martell (NE) is one person fighting the pipeline because it goes through the Ogallala Aquifer which lies under the eight states that the pipeline would cross.

Ogallala

He wrote that TransCanada said that people could use bottled water if the pipeline gets breaks, releasing oil into the water source. As Thompson said:

 “Now that’s a bunch of bunk. To get up in the morning and shower with a bottle of water? These guys have got to be kidding.  As far as I’m concerned, TransCanada and their Keystone XL pipeline can go to hell. I don’t want any part of them, not in my land and not in Nebraska.”

The existing parts of the Keystone Pipeline have shown serious flaws, including dents and welds that forced the company to dig up and rebuild dozens of sections in the southern section. TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest had 12 spills in its first year starting in June 2010, the highest spill rate of any oil pipeline in U.S. history. The company had promised that there would be no more than one during that first year.

Whistleblower Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada employee, testified to a Canadian Senate committee this summer about the company’s “culture of noncompliance” and “coercion” with “deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes” and carries “significant public safety risks.” He said that he has seen the same “breaches of construction quality” in parts of TransCanada’s Keystone XL already laid in Texas.

“There’s thousands of cracks in the system — it’s just which ones will become the problem? It’s low probability, high consequence,” Vokes said.

Also in early summer, President Obama said that the pipeline would not be a major job creator and could actually raise gasoline prices. He added that his decision of whether to approve the pipeline would be connected to climate change, that it would receive the necessary federal permit only if the “net” effects of the pipeline did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. In his statements, the president also said that Canada could “potentially be doing more” to curb emissions from the oil sands.

Gasoline prices would rise because multinational companies investing in tar sands oil would ship more of the product pouring through the Keystone from Gulf Coast refineries to overseas countries which has a high demand for diesel and gasoline. Even the Canadian crude currently sent from Canada into the Midwest could easily be diverted into the Keystone to satisfy overseas demand.

At this time, the tar sands extraction site at Cold Lake, Alberta is suffering from a giant oil leak that, thus far, can’t be contained. Oil companies pressurize the oil bed to force bitumen to the surface; the resulting blowout has caused the bitumen to seep out of control, poisoning the environment. The company can’t find the location of the leak that’s been going on for at least three months.

Ordinary oil floats on top of water when it spills; tar sands oil sinks to the bottom of water or soil, thus creating far more disaster to its surroundings. The same thing happens with the hundreds of ruptures in the pipelines that have spilled more than one million gallons of tar sands oil in rivers, wetlands, and drinking water reservoirs.

The wastewater also destroys the environment. When 9.5 million liters of salt and heavy-metal-laced wastewater leaked into wetlands that the First Nation tribes used for hunting and trapping, every plant and tree died. Before that leak, other major spills included over 4 million liters of oil and water from pipelines run by two different companies.

As more people look into pipeline ruptures, the news gets worse and worse. The Apache Corporation claimed that their leak came from aging infrastructure, but the pipeline, designed to last 30 years, was only five years old. Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes hid a pipeline safety report pending the Keystone decision in the U.S. after a spill that leached 475,000 liters of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source. Over the past 37 years, Alberta’s pipeline network has had 28,666 crude oil spills plus another 31,453 spills of other liquids used in oil and gas production  from salt water to liquid petroleum. That’s an average of two crude oil spills a day—every day.

TransCanada’s proposed internal spill-detection systems for the Keystone XL in the U.S. would permit spillage of more than 12,000 barrels every day, 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity before any warning occurred.

British Columbia is smart enough to reject the Northern Gateway, a pipeline across their land from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. According to Environment Minister Terry Lake, Enbridge had not satisfactorily answered the BC government’s questions during the hearings. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has the ultimate authority over the pipeline decision, but the BC ruling may affect its ruling.

british columbia

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-controlled organization that writes conservative bills for states, has taken an interest in the Keystone. An oil-industry lobby group has provided them a model bill to limit states’ abilities to negotiate “low-carbon fuel standards” to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The purpose of the ALEC bill is intended to block environmental agreements.

Inaccurate” is one way that the U.S. Department of the Interior described the State Department’s conclusions that the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on wildlife would be temporary, saying that the impact could have long-term, adversarial—possibly permanent–effects. A 12-page letter from the Interior Department lists a number of serious issues from constructing both the pipeline and the related infrastructures that the State Department had ignored.

We can only hope that a U.S. permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is looking more and more unlikely.

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