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Judge Throws Out Texas Family's Fracking Pollution Case

Dismissal is in contrast to a case in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by fracking's emissions.

Aug 15, 2014

A Texas judge has dismissed a million dollar lawsuit filed by a Karnes County, Texas, family who say their lives have been ruined by noxious emissions from oil and gas facilities near their home.

District Judge Stella Saxon apparently accepted the argument made by Marathon Oil Corp. and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) that Mike and Myra Cerny didn't have enough medical and scientific evidence to prove to a jury that they have been sickened by oil field emissions.

Marathon applauded the ruling, while the Cernys' attorney said he'll file an appeal. Legal experts say the dismissal could have a chilling effect on others who may be considering legal action against the oil and gas industry.

The dismissal in Karnes County stands in stark contrast to a case in Dallas County earlier this year in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by emissions. That two similar cases could have such different outcomes highlights vagaries of both the justice and regulatory system in Texas, where the oil and gas industry is widely praised and supported.

Alaska's Financial Future at Center of Battle Over Oil Tax

Grassroots groups fight to reverse an oil industry tax benefit worth $1 billion to $2 billion a year and to return the money to state coffers.

Aug 15, 2014

After decades of relative harmony between citizens and fossil fuel companies in Alaska, tensions are ratcheting up in advance of an Aug. 19 referendum on the state's oil taxes.

Voters will decide whether to repeal Alaska's year-old oil tax system, which cuts taxes on the fossil fuel industry by $1 billion to $2 billion a year. If Alaskans approve the ballot proposal, the state will reverse the tax reductions now enjoyed by ConocoPhillips, Exxon and BP and revert to a previous system that helped the state bank a $17 billion surplus.

At the heart of the fight is concern over Alaska's financial future.

A coalition of grassroots activists argues that the tax cuts introduced in 2013 would devastate the state's budget. With no income or sales tax, Alaska gets 90 percent of its revenue from the oil industry. But the financially and politically powerful fossil fuel industry says the previous, higher taxes choked its ability to invest in new oil fields and increase production.

Christie Vetoes Popular Fracking Waste Ban, Saying It's Unconstitutional

Christie's national ambitions seen by critics as a factor in fracking greenlight.

Aug 14, 2014

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's recent veto of a bill that would have banned the treatment, storage and disposal of fracking waste in the state thrusts the Republican presidential contender and head of the Republican Governors Association into the national debate over fracking, the controversial practice that blasts chemicals, sand and water into a well to crack open bedrock and extract fossil fuels. Christie said the bill was unconstitutional. 

The anti-fracking bill had passed New Jersey's Senate and Assembly with more than 80 percent support in the spring. It's unclear if legislators will take the rare step of overriding the veto—a move supported by green groups that say this isn't the first time the governor has favored the oil and gas industry over the environment.

Fracking Companies Fight Texas Families' Air Pollution Suits, Fearing Precedent

If two Texas couples win their cases, it could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry, legal expert says.

Aug 13, 2014

Two major oil companies have asked a Texas judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit that could draw new attention to the toxic air emissions from oil and gas production.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Mike and Myra Cerny, who say they can't enjoy the use of their home because of the benzene, toluene and other toxic chemicals released from nearby facilities owned by Marathon and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP). The Cernys are using the same argument that helped another Texas family, Bob and and Lisa Parr, win a groundbreaking, $2.9 million judgment against Aruba Petroleum last April: That the emissions created a nuisance that made their lives unbearable.

Air emissions are increasingly recognized as a problem in drilling areas throughout United States, with residents complaining of coughing, headaches, nosebleeds, rashes and dizziness. But lawsuits linking gas and oil production to health problems have been considered almost unwinnable, because few scientific studies have been done on how the industry’s emissions might affect human health.

Jane Barrett, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic, said that if the Parrs and Cerneys succeed, their cases could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry.

Barrett compared the two Texas cases with early lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry, which was once seen as immune to charges that it was responsible for the harmful effects of cigarettes.   

10 Years Into the Fracking Boom, Wildlife Effects Still Unknown

New paper finds that the crucial studies on the biological effects of shale production have not yet been done. 'The basic data is missing.'

Aug 12, 2014

A decade into America's oil and gas boom, and scientists still know very little about how hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and shale development affect wildlife, according to a recent scientific study.

The knowledge gap is particularly glaring when it comes to the ecosystem impacts of fracking fluid and wastewater spills.

Scientists cannot yet begin to draw simple conclusions about drilling's effects on animals, plants and habitats because "basic data is missing" on issues such as fracking fluid chemistry, and because of limited access to well sites, said Sara Souther, the study's lead author.

"We're creating this ecological experiment from shale development—but we're not taking the data."

Souther was a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's botany department when she published the study with seven other conservation biologists in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. They were sponsored by the David H. Smith Fellowship program, which supports future leaders in conservation biology. Souther will join West Virginia Wesleyan College as a professor in September.

Climate Contrarians Overrepresented in Media Coverage, New Survey Finds

Scientific survey finds media may be skewing its coverage of climate science by seeking out views of a small minority who questions man-made warming.

Aug 11, 2014

There is an overwhelming consensus among expert scientists studying climate change that man-made pollution is the main cause of global warming. But the media may be skewing its coverage of the issue by persistently seeking out the views of a contrarian minority, according to a new study.

In an opinion survey of nearly 1,900 scientists, 90 percent of the respondents with more than 10 peer-reviewed articles to their name "explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases being the dominant driver of recent global warming," the study found.

It was written by scientists in the Netherlands and Australia, and published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Keystone Could Add 400% More CO2 Than State Dept Estimated

'Our simple model shows that...the pipeline's effect on oil prices could substantially increase its total GHG impact,' finds a peer-reviewed study.

Aug 11, 2014

Building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in the United States could add more than 100 million additional metric tons of carbon dioxide to world emissions—four times more than the maximum estimated in the State Department's study of the project's environmental impact, according to a new study.

The reason, said two researchers from the Stockholm Environmental Institute in the journal Nature Climate Change, is that extra oil flowing onto world markets through TransCanada's pipeline would lower world market prices enough to stimulate extra consumption of oil.

Refining and consuming that extra oil would, in turn, increase greenhouse gas emissions.

This was a factor that the State Department never considered in its voluminous study of the Keystone XL, they said.

Obama Action Group Joins Fight Against Christie's Climate Pact Exit

OFA's involvement in the campaign to get New Jersey Gov. Christie to rejoin a regional carbon trading scheme sends several political signals.

Aug 9, 2014

Environmental activists who have been campaigning for three years to get New Jersey to rejoin a regional cap-and-trade system have a potent new ally: Organizing for Action, President Obama’s grassroots lobbying operation.

OFA's role in the New Jersey fight showed up as the state held a hearing on Friday on its controversial exit three years ago from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, a carbon trading pact. The hearing was called after a state judge ruled earlier this year that Gov. Chris Christie’s unilateral withdrawal had violated the rules of due process.

Colorado's Frack-Free Movement Sacrificed for Democrats Facing Re-election

Political compromise delivers a sudden slap in the face for green groups behind two ballot initiatives, now derailed.

Aug 8, 2014

8/11/2014: The story has been updated with comment from the campaign director of Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy.

Backed by a wall of suited supporters, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper proudly announced Monday that it was game-over for two popular anti-fracking state ballot initiatives.

Among the supporters was Pete Maysmith, executive director of the green group Conservation Colorado. But notably absent from the Denver press conference, however, was the rest of the green scene—members of the state's dozens of environmental grassroots groups. Many had helped collect far more than the 86,105 signatures required to get the two fracking measures on the ballot by the Aug. 4 deadline. On Monday, they waited in their homes and offices to hear the good news—that the signatures numbering more than 250,000 combined–had officially been submitted.

Instead, they heard that their long fight was suddenly over. 

De Blasio's Neglect of Climate Policy Thwarts Continued Progress on Bloomberg Legacy

New York's mayor has yet to appoint a director to the city's top climate agency, and has remained largely mum on the issue.

Aug 6, 2014

Eight months into his tenure as mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio still has no one at the helm of the city's office for fighting climate change.

The mayor has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the seven-year-old department created under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that's charged with directing, planning and coordinating the city's ambitious climate action agenda. Under Bloomberg, the office helped transform the city by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent, retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, and cleaning up the air, water and land.   

Experts warn that with no one steering the office, the progress that New York City has made on climate change could be stalled, and its reputation as a global leader on climate action damaged.

"It is urgent that a director be implemented soon," said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, director of Urban Conservation Policy at the Nature Conservancy, a 63-year-old global conservation organization based in Arlington, Virginia. "The clock is ticking on climate change and the city needs a strong, visionary leader...or it risks losing valuable momentum."