Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Big polluters freed from environmental oversight (NEPA exclusions exemptions) by stimulus. BP, Westar, DuPont, Duke Energy, Didion among companies exempt from environmental law

Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus

BP, Westar, DuPont among companies exempt from environmental law

by Kristen Lombardi and John Solomon, Center for Public Integrity, Tucson Sentinel, November 29, 2010
[Dear Readers, If this is all true, it is pretty shocking, and ultimately demoralizing.]
In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.
The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.
Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.
Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.
The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.
Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPA exemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.
Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.
This approach to stimulus projects has left the Obama administration at odds with its usual allies in the green movement. Some environmental advocates told the Center the goals of creating a clean energy economy and more jobs don’t outweigh the risks of giving money to and foregoing supervision of repeat violators of anti-pollution laws.
“Why bring somebody who was a known bad actor and give them government money and a categorical exclusion for their project?” asked David Pettit, a Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer who has litigated cases under NEPA.
Top-level administration officials and career employees who granted the so-called categorical exclusions under NEPA defend their decisions. They argue that these exemptions were essential to accelerate more than $30 billion in stimulus-funded clean energy projects, allocated by the Energy Department, which they say have already created 35,000 jobs. They note that the department frequently grants NEPA exemptions to projects of all kinds. And in the long run, they say, the exempted stimulus activities will serve to boost energy efficiency and curb pollution.
Go to this link to

No comments: