What Is the EPA Hiding About Its Relationships with Fracking Opponents?

EPA Hiding Stuff - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

 

The EPA has become increasingly ideological and political, having sold its soul to environmental special interests.  It is also trying hard to hide the relationships with those special interests, just like the DRBC.

Followers of this blog and Energy In Depth may recall a story on the latter revealing the role Josh Fox in getting the EPA to investigate Dimock when it already knew there was no issue to be investigate, which, of course, it confirmed when it went ahead. Although the scientists involved ultimately came to the same opinion as Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, the whole thing was another shameful episode in the EPA’s continuing saga of political mistakes as it has repeatedly bowed to environmental special interests and ended up embarrassing itself. Why does this keep happening?

Well, some folks at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity want to know why and have been struggling to find out by researching the EPA’s contacts with the usual suspects behind so much of the fracking opposition; folks such as the Park Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and their various allies.  Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 5.24.02 AMLike the Northern Wayne Property Owners Association (NWPOA), which is fighting a similar battle against the Delaware River Basin Commission and investigating the latter’s relationship with the William Penn Foundation and Delaware Riverkeeper, the Franklin Center is determined to get to the bottom of how these blue blood special interests influence public policy when it comes to fracking.

Fortunately, both the Franklin Center and NWPOA are very persistent people, because the EPA and DRBC are doing everything possible to resist giving up their relationships with fracking opponents.  The NWPOA story is told here, here and here and our friend Kevin Mooney has outlined the struggle with the EPA in a detailed post at his site, KevinMooney.net.

The bottom line is this; the EPA has stonewalled for several months now but has finally relented on fees and has promised to start delivering documents “shortly.” Good for them (the Franklin Center, that is).  The EPA, like so many agencies, has only contempt for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It didn’t even condescend to respond to some of Energy In Depth’s FOIA requests, so getting anything out them is a success.

Here are excerpts from Kevin’s report, but be sure to read the whole thing, using the above link:

…the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the parent organization of Watchdog.org, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Environmental Protection Agency in January.  Specifically, we asked the agency to provide us with copies of correspondence it had with green groups going back to August 2012. This would include email, snail mail and other written reports.

…In our FOIA, we asked the agency to provide us with “any discussion and correspondence with outside groups that concerns potential regulatory action that would impact the fracking process.”

We narrowed our request to include correspondence that would impact the Marcellus Shale, which cuts across [the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

We also limited the FOIA to the green groups most active in the Marcellus Shale. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Union of Concerned Scientists, EarthJustice, EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund and Earthworks are among the environmental groups named in the request. We also asked for communication between agency and the Park Foundation, based in Ithaca, N.Y., which is largely responsible for funding green activism in the region.

Franklin has yet to receive the information it requested. In a phone message to Watchdog earlier this month, an EPA representative said we could expect a response “shortly.” In February, the agency sent a letter to Franklin asking us to address six different factors, which are used to determine whether a fee waiver will be granted. After addressing those six factors the EPA still denied Franklin’s fee-waiver request and our request for expedited processing.

…The Franklin Center joined with CEI to file an additional FOIA asking for original copies of “initial determinations” made in granting or denying fee-waiver requests since January 2012. The public records released in response to these requests show that the EPA granted fee-waiver requests to green groups 92 percent of the time, while denying fee waiver requests to conservative and free-market critics 93 percent of the time. For example, green groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and EarthJustice, had fees waived in 75 out of 82 cases.

…In a letter dated Feb. 14, our fee-waiver request was denied and we immediately filed an appeal. In its rejection letter, the EPA claimed “You have not expressed a specific intent to disseminate the information to the general public.”

But our original FOIA request in fact states: “By reporting on, and informing our readers of the potential regulatory climate, we would be performing a valuable public service.”

In our response…we mentioned our readership in Pennsylvania several times since any federal intervention into fracking would disrupt a regulatory process at the state level that has allowed for robust natural gas development, in contrast to New York.

On May 23, the EPA finally relented and granted the Franklin Center the fee-waiver request it sought back in January. However, the agency once again turned down our request for expedited processing… [so] Franklin is still waiting on the information sought in the appeal [but promised “shortly”].

More details are available here, but it’s increasingly clear there is a deliberate effort on the part of both the DRBC and EPA to hide their collaboration with environmental special interests and the wealthy insiders who fund them.  We’ve seen this sort of thing in other places as well, as both state and federal agencies have essentially cooperated with the “sue and settle” strategies of these groups. It’s a travesty, but the good news is that groups such as the Franklin Center and NWPOA are slowly beginning to uncover the relationships.  May they persevere!

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4 thoughts on “What Is the EPA Hiding About Its Relationships with Fracking Opponents?

  1. Tom: GREAT article!! Kudos to the groups pursuing the EPA. I’m certain that when the digging is over, it will be found that the super rich in NYC and the Catskills will be found to be funding all these anti groups. Citizen Action of NY as well as NYPIRG are tied into this as well. I went to the CANY website and was astounded to find out how much influence the unions have with it. Keep up the great work!

    • ?? I presume your post is to contradict Tom’s assertion that the EPA is being led around by the nose by anti drilling wackos?

  2. http://news.yahoo.com/epa-proposes-reducing-biofuel-mandate-190143849–finance.html

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Friday proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply for the first time, acknowledging that the biofuel law championed by both parties in 2007 is not working as well as expected.

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    While the proposal highlights the government’s struggle to ramp up production of homegrown biofuels that are cleaner-burning than gasoline, it is unlikely to mean much for consumers at the pump.

    The change would reduce by almost 3 billion gallons the amounts of ethanol and other biofuels blended into gasoline in 2014 than the law requires.

    The 2007 law tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and prop up the rural economy by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their gasoline each year. But politicians who wrote the law didn’t anticipate fuel economy to improve as much as it has in recent years, which reduced demand for gasoline.

    Meanwhile, next-generation biofuels, made from agricultural waste such as wood chips and corncobs, have not taken off as quickly as Congress required and the administration expected.

    President Barack Obama has championed biofuels since his days representing Illinois in the Senate, and his administration has resisted previous calls to lower biofuel volumes or repeal the law.

    EPA officials said they were still committed to alternative fuels as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. If the EPA stuck to the volumes mandated by law, the amount of biofuel required would generate more ethanol than many engines can safely handle, officials said.

    “We have made great progress in recent years, and EPA continues to support the RFS goal of increasing biofuel production and use,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, referring to the 2007 law called the Renewable Fuel Standard.

    Biofuel supporters, however, said the proposal marked a departure for the Obama administration.

    “This is the first time that the Obama administration has shown any sign of wavering,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council.

    Bob Dinneen, the head of the Renewable Fuels Association, the Washington group that lobbies on behalf of the ethanol industry, said the announcement is ill-timed as the country is currently harvesting a record corn crop. He said the industry may sue if the proposal is not altered.

    “This is exactly the wrong time to be reducing the required volumes of renewable fuels,” Dinneen said.

    The ethanol mandate created an unusual alliance between oil companies, which have seen ethanol cut into their share of the gasoline market, and environmental groups that oppose planting more corn for fuel. A recent AP investigation found that corn-based ethanol’s effect on the environment is far worse than the government predicted or admits.

    The oil industry lobbied hard for a reduction and is pleading with Congress to completely repeal the law.

    Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said the EPA’s move is a step in the right direction, but “ultimately, Congress must protect consumers by repealing this outdated and unworkable program once and for all.”

    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said his panel is working on “comprehensive reforms” to the law.

    “The status quo is no longer workable,” Upton said.

    Also in the proposal, the requirement for the amount of next-generation biofuels from nonfood plant sources, called cellulosic fuels, has been reduced for the fifth time in five years. The original law required 1.75 billion gallons of this fuel, which offers huge reductions in greenhouse gases compared with oil. For 2014, refiners would be required to blend 17 million gallons.

    That’s because companies have not yet been able to generate these fuels, which are far more complicated to produce than conventional biofuels, at high volumes. The target for next year does represent an increase from last year’s 6 million gallons, though, and cellulosic fuels are the only category of biofuel to increase under the 2014 proposal. Two new cellulosic biofuel refineries are expected to begin producing fuel early next year.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Jonathan Fahey contributed to this report from New York

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