The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.
America’s best idea is in trouble, and I don’t mean our national parks. Yes, our parks were closed, which was a crushing disappointment for millions of would-be visitors and an economic gut-punch for neighboring communities — to the tune of $76 million dollars a day.
But what’s really under attack is something even older than our national park system: our democracy.
How did we reach a point where one fraction of one party that controls one chamber of Congress would drive our government into the ground if it doesn’t get everything its members want? ‘This shutdown is like a firefighter standing on the hose to stop the rest of the company from putting out a blaze until he gets a million-dollar raise — all while the building burns.
We didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of a systematic attack on basic democratic principles by a handful of people who have no interest in a functioning democracy. While there is no excuse, there is an explanation.
It starts with big money. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for a tidal wave of corrupting corporate money into our system. But where is the money coming from and where is it going?
Huge amounts are from polluter-backed groups, which spent more than $270 million on television ads in just two months of the 2012 election — and that explains why Congress has taken more than 300 votes attacking clean air and water. The same people who are poisoning our democracy are also determined to poison our environment. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of Americans agree that political money is preventing our most important challenges from being addressed.
At the same time, special interest groups are spending millions to keep anyone who disagrees with them away from the polls and out of office. No sooner did the Supreme Court gut a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that state houses with Republican majorities pushed through suppressive legislation to keep young people, seniors, students, and people of color away from the polls. It’s no coincidence that those are the same citizens who have voted against them.
These challenges have led the Sierra Club to team up with the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, and Greenpeace to form the Democracy Initiative. Our goal is to build a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform.
Challenges to our democracy might get even worse. We’re fighting a frightening Supreme Court challenge to campaign finance limits that would allow individuals to write million dollar checks to buy influence, brought to the court by Shaun McCutcheon — a coal company CEO.
Only about 1,200 people came close to reaching the spending limits McCutcheon wants overturned — and a good number of them are oil, gas, and coal executives, from the sectors that directly contributed $40 million in 2012. Give them free rein to write whatever size of a check they want, and we’ll see that number skyrocket.
The faster that money pours in, the quicker the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We can’t let that happen. And we won’t. They may have millions of dollars, but we have millions of people. And, thanks to efforts like the Democracy Initiative, we are organizing and coming together to make sure our voices are heard.
If we want to see more shutdowns and debt crises, then we should maintain the status quo. If we want more attacks on our air, water, and climate, then all we need to do is turn away in disgust at the political posturing. But if we want to restore a democracy that works for Americans and will preserve a healthy planet for future generations, it’s time to stand up and fight back.
Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. SierraClub.org. Image courtesy of Oil Change International. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
— Tom Steyer, NextGenClimate
At his Georgetown University address this June, President Obama laid down a bold marker on the Keystone XL Pipeline: he would only approve the project if it does not significantly increase carbon pollution.
Since then, we’ve learned the following:
- Keystone XL is the only viable way to exploit the Canadian tar sands — alternatives like rail could never fully replace the pipeline’s volume.
- Because of this, Keystone XL’s completion will dramatically speed the extraction of dirty tar sands oil — increasing the rate of production by up to 36%.
- Accordingly, Keystone XL’s carbon impact is massive. The project would add more carbon to our atmosphere over its lifetime than the combined tailpipe emissions of every car in America for one year.
Now, just 6 months after the President’s promise, the conversation shifts back to Georgetown to evaluate these facts.
“Can Keystone Pass the President’s Climate Test?” is a summit co-hosted by NextGen Climate Action and the Center for American Progress Action Fund that will bring together top academic and private sector experts to look at:
- the pipeline’s carbon footprint
- whether that footprint can be meaningfully offset, and
- what impact the pipeline’s carbon pollution will have on climate change.
Tune in for the truth: the Keystone XL Pipeline is not in our national interest.
Dear Governor Brian Sandoval,
Can you please explain why the Nevada Division of Water Resources has denied new water wells to farmers and ranchers due to drought in northern Nevada, yet that same Division has approved permits for oil companies like Noble Energy, a corporation that plans to use millions of gallons of our ground water to hydraulically fracture in a known seismic zone?
Farmers and ranchers actually return something of value to humanity. Frackers, on the other hand, infuse our limited water resources with hundreds of nasty chemicals, including known carcinogens like benzene and glycol-ethers (precursors to plastics). In that process, the water consumed by frackers is rendered unusable, except for more fracking.
Governor, you are allowing state agencies, that are supposed to protect our citizenry and natural resources, to disregard measures that ensure the public’s safety. SB390, as passed, makes it such that companies like Noble Energy can literally frack Nevadans, without any fear of recourse for any misdeeds or damage the create environmentally or ecologically.
The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is being paid by Noble Energy to do studies on the areas that are going to be fracked. And, according to the Nevada Division of Minerals, the results of DRI’s study can be kept confidential at the request of Noble Energy for potentially, an undisclosed amount of time. Studies are NOT being done independently of Noble Energy, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection won’t be required until 2015 to come out with its own study of fracking’s impact. How is this not a conflict of interest? Something that puts people’s livelihoods on the line? The people of rural Nevada don’t have the luxury of LakeTahoe or LakeMead. Northern Nevadans have water wells that could easily be poisoned through fracking processes.
On March 13th 2013, KNPR’s State of Nevada had Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, as a guest. She misled KNPR’s listeners as to the safety of fracking. Ms. Dougher failed to mention that the process is exempt from seven major federal regulations:
- the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, due to the “Halliburton loophole” pushed through by former Vice-President/former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, exempting corporations from revealing the chemicals used in fracking fluid;
- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which exempts fracking from federal regulations pertaining to hazardous waste;
- the Superfund law, which requires that polluters remediate for carcinogens like benzene released into the environment, except if they come from oil or gas;
- the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act;
- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act;
- the National Environmental Policy Act; and
- the Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Really? Please explain how SB390 which you signed into law will protect our municipal water supplies. I’d love to hear or read that explanation.
Another fact, which was taken offline by Nevada Public Radio (@KNPR), is that a man by the name of David Focardi commented about the interview. Mr. Focardi commented that he had worked on oil rigs in Nevada and that there was fresh water up to 14,000 feet deep. I reached out to Mr. Focardi, but he has yet to answer any of my correspondence.
According to Mr. Lowell Price of the Nevada Division of Minerals, fracking would take place in the 7000 to 9000 foot depth range. And while our ground water aquifers may be at depths of say 14,000 feet, our “ground” is riddled with fault lines. Those fault lines mean that there may not be an impervious layer of rock between where hydraulic fracturing is proposed to take place and the actual aquifer feeding our communities with drinking water. Those fault lines may also provide connections between subterraneous channels and the different aquifers of water supporting our communities. Once that water is contaminated, what happens to our communities. The only good that may come from fracking, if you really can call that “good” — is that I guess that would mean you won’t be grabbing any of that water from contaminated northern Nevada aquifers for use in Las Vegas and its suburbs. But then, that’s a whole different letter for another day.
Fracking processes require thousands of gallons of water-laden frack fluid PER MINUTE pumped under high pressures into deep horizontally drilled oil/gas wells. Frack fluid could be released through a fault line or a fracture created by fracking into municipal ground water. When I spoke to someone at the Desert Research Institute they said that a geological study is being done and any “study” would remain the proprietary information of Noble Energy. So, even if Noble Energy or the Desert Research Institute found fault lines they won’t be required to tell anyone about it. Reliance on secret and proprietary studies conducted by organizations that would have significant incentive to conceal any information that might have an adverse effect on approval, is tantamount to malfeasance in governance on your part.
I realize that if Noble Energy had to release information as to where the oil is, that could allow other oil companies to come in and undercut Noble Energy. But there needs to be a work-around to ensure our water resources are not placed at risk. The risk to human health and life should matter more than any sum of profit for a single corporation.
So I ask you Governor why frack with us or allow others to do so? There is already oil drilling in Nevada done without Fracking. Why must we frack? I say bring oil jobs to Nevada if you must, but don’t frack! Now the reason I post this is because of what you promote, Governor Sandoval. You keep saying it’s about jobs and that Hydraulic Fracturing would bring jobs to Nevada. The truth is, these jobs won’t be widespread nor will they sustainable lest there are thousands of oil/frack wells, like there are in Texas or North Dakota. But, Mr. Governor, we do NOT have the water resources to make that happen. And what water we do have, won’t be usable for human consumption once Frackers are done with it. So. Mr. Governor, when all is said and done, what jobs you create would be for naught, as without drinkable water, Nevadans will no longer be able to live anywhere near the wastelands created by the Frackers.
— by David Turnbull, Oil Change International
Our public lands are our lands, held and maintained by the Government in trust for the public at large, not the goliath corporations. And in support of that premise, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen some AMAZING response to our petitions to protect our public lands to prevent corporations from fracking our public natural resources. Over a million people from around the country came together to push for protecting our public lands from fracking. Oil Change International, along with our partners in the American’s Against Fracking Coalition, delivered comments from citizens all across our country directly to the White House and Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C.
Here’s one of my favorite pictures from the event, showing the power of this coalition coming together:
This campaign was a landmark moment in the fight to protect our communities from the dangers of fracking and is already having an impact. The coalition started with a goal of gathering 200,000 comments and ended up with over a million, including over 600,000 calling for an outright ban of fracking on public lands. This is the largest number of comments calling for a fracking ban ever submitted to the Obama Administration.
It’s actions like this – and people like you – that will help us reclaim our democracy from the grip of the fossil fuel industry. So, we simply wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you for standing up, for raising your voices with us, and for demanding better from our leaders.
Together we’re pushing back against corporate influence and making sure our elected leaders know who they’re accountable to: the people they represent, not rich polluters. We’ll be watching the Bureau of Land management closely to make sure our public lands (and all lands) are protected from fracking and other fossil fuels.
Rest assured there will be more fights against dirty fossil fuels, but thanks to your recent efforts, we’ve now got an even stronger foundation.
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Oil Change International campaigns to expose the true costs of fossil fuels and facilitate the coming transition towards clean energy. We are dedicated to identifying and overcoming barriers to that transition.
We are a 501c3 organization and all donations are fully tax deductible.
Just for reference sake, Humboldt County, NV is currently classified as ‘D3 Drought – Extreme’ and the USDA has designated Elko County as a primary natural disaster area due to damages and losses caused by drought, yet Governor Sandoval is considering green-lighting fracking operations between Elko and Wells. We don’t have enough water, and they want to divert what supplies we have to potentially contaminate what remains … and then they want to contaminate the air we breathe as well. Here’s a graphic video from BakkenWatch.org about what’s happening in North Dakota which, if you’re an animal lover, will bring tears to your eyes
— BY JOE ROMM ON AUGUST 5, 2013
The bad news is that the terrible drought in New Mexico has led some farmers to sell their water to the oil and gas industry. The worse news is that many of them are actually pumping the water out of the aquifer to do so.
The worst news of all is that once the frackers get through tainting it with their witches’ brew of chemicals, that water often becomes unrecoverable — and then we have the possibility the used fracking water will end up contaminating even more of the groundwater.
The Albuquerque Journal reports:
With a scant agriculture water supply due to the prolonged drought, some farmers in Eddy County with supplemental wells are keeping bill collectors at bay by selling their water to the booming oil and gas industry.
The industry needs the water for hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, the drilling technique that has been used for decades to blast huge volumes of water, fine sands and chemicals into the ground to crack open valuable shale formations.
You may wonder why farmers would sell water to frackers when some 95% of the state has been under severe drought conditions for the entire year. The short answer is it pays the bills. Here’s the longer answer:
In recent months, more legal notices have been appearing in the Current-Argus informing the public that a water-right holder with a supplemental well has submitted an application to the state engineer’s office seeking to change the purpose of use from agriculture to commercial, or transferring the right from one location to another.
“A lot of folks are doing that,” said New Mexico Interstate Stream Commissioner Jim Wilcox, an Otis resident and president of the Otis Mutual Domestic Water Association. “I can’t blame them. The Carlsbad Irrigation District doesn’t have the water the farmers need, and our farmers have to have some income coming in.”
Wilcox said farmers in the Carlsbad Irrigation District can’t sell their primary water source they receive via the irrigation system because the CID is a government project. However, if they have a supplemental well, they can apply for a change of use permit that gives them the right to sell their well water for commercial use.
Yes, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commissioner can’t blame farmers for an ultimately self-destructive practice that can’t possibly be sustained. Perhaps he should read Thomas Jefferson’s “brilliant statement of intergenerational equity principles.”
Wilcox fully understands what it means to pump an unreplenishing aquifer during a drought:
“Farmers right now are having to pump their supplemental wells, and we understand that. It’s their livelihood,” he said. “But the supplemental wells are drawing from the same water table we provide potable water to our customers (from).”
“The oil and gas industry is requiring a lot of water and our concern is the effect it’s having on our aquifer,” he added. “We are concerned about losing water that can’t be recovered. Hopefully, we will get through this drought and everyone will be intact.”
While this drought will likely end at some point, climate change means droughts in the southwest are going to get longer, drier, and hotter. If we don’t reverse emissions trends very soon, the entire region is headed towards permanent Dust Bowl conditions.
The oil and gas industry apparently doesn’t care whether it helps destroy the entire water supply of New Mexico — as long as the groundwater supply lasts until they finish fracking the state. You’d think state officials would see the value for farmers and residents in sustainable water consumption given where the climate is headed.
Tragically, fracked water can be worse than unrecoverable. It can poison groundwater when reinjection wells fail, which they are prone to do as Propublica explained in their exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?” As that article pointed out:
“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
The Albuquerque Journal quotes one local man, Jim Davis:
“In some areas, we are over-appropriating. We are in a drought and the water table has dropped drastically and there is no recharge,” he said. “There are some people who have legal water rights and they are over-pumping. The public doesn’t know about it. As private individuals, we have to raise Cain about it.
… “Black River is at its lowest level ever. It’s lower than it was in the 1950s when we had a long drought. I make my living from selling water, but at the same time, I think it is important to protect our precious water supply.”
Davis has been “selling water commercially from his wells in Black River for about seven years”! But now things have gone too far even for him.
After Cain murdered Abel, God asked him where his brother was. Cain famously replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As Answers.com puts it, “Cain’s words have come to symbolize people’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for the welfare of their fellows — their ‘brothers’ in the extended sense of the term. The tradition of Judaism and Christianity is that people do have this responsibility.” Seriously.
This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.
TO: NEVADA’S GOVERNOR, NEVADA BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, AND NEVADA DIVISION OF MINERALS
Pass Legislation in the state of Nevada banning the practice of hydraulic fracturing in the extraction of natural gas and oil, and/or convince the administrators within The Nevada Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Division of Minerals with the power to stop the gas and oil companies from fracking Nevada and deny further permits to Noble Energy and others whom seek permits for similar purposes. But Don’t just wait for the Petition, give the powers that be a piece of your mind.
- Call Governor Brian Sandoval at (702) 486-2500 and Phone: (775) 684-5670
- Call The Nevada Division of Minerals Mr. Lowell Price or Alan Coyner (775) 684-7040
- The Desert Research Institute (775) 673-7300
- The Nevada Department Of Environmental Protection Mr. Alan Tinney (775) 687-9433
Why is this important?
Hydraulic Fracturing is the process by which thousands of gallons of water per minute and various chemicals including known carcinogens are injected underground at high pressures to break up rock to release natural gas and oil for extraction. This process is not the only way the gas and oil companies drill for gas and oil. It is just that this process releases more oil and natural gas in theory. The EPA website explains the process and has a subsequent link to an interactive presentation explaining the process in detail presented by National Geographic.
The problem is that this water after having been infused with the chemicals often gets into the water table and poisons the water. Furthermore hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and any oversight from government agencies because The 2005 Energy Act and the Halliburton Loophole.
(ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 2005. Go to Page 102, Section 322. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING. SEC. 322. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING. Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h(d)) is amended to read as follows:
(1) UNDERGROUND INJECTION. The term underground injection
(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by well injection; and
(i) the underground injection of natural gas for purposes of storage; and
(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.)
In England hydraulic fracturing has been linked to causing earth quakes by changing underground topography and resulting subterranean settling. In Oklahoma the state is investigating the link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes.
The problem has gotten so bad, that in some areas that get their water from wells, the wells themselves end up venting natural gas resulting in flammable water well heads and flammable gas build up in plumbing systems. In Wyoming hydraulic fracturing has poisoned ranchers water to the point to which one can fill up a trough and take a blow torch to the surface of it and form plastics from all the chemicals infused with the water.
Water is the most precious resource in the desert! The gas and oil companies plan on starting hydraulic fracturing in the state of Nevada. Proposed counties include Southern Clark, Nye, and Elko.
This could cripple our tourism industry too. There are assertions we lost a lot of visitors just with the talk of possible ground water contamination from the Yucca mountain project, so can you imagine what this could do to our state? Not to mention what could happen to the ranchers in northern Nevada, their waters, and industries. We need help getting the campaign off the ground. We need volunteers to collect signatures. We need to spread the word about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. And we need to ban hydraulic fracturing in Nevada!
The surge in fracked gas is headed for export and won’t boost the nation’s energy independence.
— by Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s frackers are wrapping their shameless profiteering in our flag.
In shale fields across the country, you’ll see fracking rigs festooned with Old Glory, and they even paint some of their rigs red, white, and blue.
This ostentatious patriotic pose is part of the industry’s cynical PR campaign to convince you and me that its assault on our health, water, air, and economic future should be mindlessly saluted, rather than questioned.
“Energy Independence! ” is their deafening cry. The so-called shale gas boom, they proclaim, will free America from dependence on foreign producers.
This Fourth of July, can you sing “Oh say can you see through the frackers’ big lie”?
Joel Dyer, editor of the Boulder, Colorado Weekly, has peeked behind their-star spangled curtain. The investigative digger uncovered what he called “one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on America.”
Far from independence, we’re going to get the pollution — while foreigners take the energy. The gas extracted from our fractured land is destined for export. How do we know that?
First, because the industry and its government enablers admit it in their internal communications. Second, guess who’s paying for the fracking of America?
Dyer cites reports by Bloomberg news that China has pumped $5.5 billion into the U.S. drilling boom — not only so it can export the energy back to their people, but especially so the Chinese can “redeploy the best U.S. practices and technologies” back to China.
Other foreign investors fracking us hail from Japan ($5 billion invested so far), India ($3.5 billion), France ($4.5 billion), as well as South Korea, the UK, and Norway.
Norway? Come on, America — don’t let the profiteers wrap you up in our own flag. It’s the Fourth of July — let’s rebel!
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org. Photo Credit: www.citizenscampaign.org
Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful.
— by Jill Richardson
Jacki Schilke was suffering from symptoms ranging from rashes, pain, and lightheadedness to dental problems and urinating blood. The formerly healthy, 53-year-old cattle rancher’s body was under assault from a list of toxic chemicals as long as your arm.
But Schilke’s lucky — so far — compared to five of her cows. They died.
The rancher’s problems might become worse in time, since the chemicals causing her acute problems are also linked to chronic, deadly diseases like cancer.
What’s afflicting Schilke and her cows? The oil and gas drilling craze known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As The Nation magazine and the Great Plains Examiner reported last year, Oasis Petroleum started fracking on land three miles from her ranch in 2010. Oasis got money, the world got more energy from the gas they drilled, and Schilke got sick. Now, she won’t even eat her own beef.
If the results of fracking were virtually unknown a decade ago, before it became a common practice in states like Pennsylvania and Schilke’s home of North Dakota, there’s no mystery remaining now.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, when you pump a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground to dislodge fossil fuels, there’s a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the ground. And some of those toxins don’t stay put. Those toxic chemicals make their way into the water, the soil, and the air, and they’re EXEMPT from regulation under the Clean Water Act. You can thank Dick Cheney for that reckless action.
And the toxins flow from there — into the living things that rely on the water: the soil, the air, plants, animals, and us. We’re fracking our food.
Yet President Barack Obama is a big fracking supporter. He called natural gas a form of “clean energy” in the big address on global warming he delivered in June, touting the nation’s production of more natural gas “than any other country on Earth.” Then he said, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
Right. Compared to other forms of dirty energy, natural gas might reduce our carbon emissions. But at what cost?
If our only energy options were oil, coal, and natural gas, we’d be in a rotten Catch-22. Luckily, we have more choices than that. There are growing solar, wind, and geothermal options. Perhaps the most overlooked alternative is increasing efficiency.
I visited the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, two years ago. The school had made a big effort to reduce its energy use. In one building, I saw a hallway that used to have its lights turned on all the time. The builders had never even installed switches to turn them off.
Decades ago, energy was “too cheap to meter.” It seemed cheaper to just leave the lights on all the time than to wire them to be turned off. That’s changed. After some retrofitting, the lights can be turned off.
How many other buildings and homes have no light switches, insufficient insulation, or old, power-guzzling appliances? How many are still being built without taking advantage of the most up-to-date methods that curb energy use?
Obama proudly spoke of doubling America’s use of solar and wind power in the last four years, with plans to double them yet again. He’s right. We increased wind and solar energy from less than 1 percent of our energy in 2007 to less than 2 percent in 2011. (Meanwhile, our reliance on natural gas crept up from 28 percent to 30 percent of total energy consumption, and our total use of energy overall rose in those four years by 9.4 percent — with most of the increase coming from dirty sources.)
Fracking might be profitable, but whether it’s good for anything else is doubtful. Emissions during the fracking process outweigh any benefits of reduced emissions when the fuel obtained is burned. Besides, how does fracking American land make sense if it’s poisoning our food and water supply with chemicals that give us cancer?
Let’s solve our energy problems by increasing efficiency and by turning to truly clean sources of energy: renewable options like solar, wind, and geothermal power.
columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org. Photo Credit: Oly-Pentax/Flickr
"Sweeping" subpoena violates rights of those who spoke out against oil giant’s devastating actions in Ecuador
- Lauren McCauley, staff writer
Following their guilty sentence for the dumping of 18.5bn gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron is amassing the personal information of the environmentalists and attorneys who fought against them in an effort to prove ‘conspiracy.’ The US government is not the only entity who, with judicial approval, is amassing massive amounts of personal information against their so-called enemies.
A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.
The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.
The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
"Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron," said Marcia Hofmann, Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who—along with environmental rights group EarthRights International (ERI)—had filed a motion last fall to "quash" the subpoenas.
"These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador," she added at the time.
According to ERI, the subpoena demands the personal information about each account holder as well as the IP addresses associated with every login to each account over a nine-year period. "This could allow Chevron to determine the countries, states, cities or even buildings where the account-holders were checking their email," they write, "so as to ‘infer the movements of the users over the relevant period and might permit Chevron to makes inferences about some of the user’s professional and personal relationships.’"
In their statement about the ruling, ERI notes that the argument given by presiding US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan—who was previously accused of prejudice against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers—was as "breathtaking as the subpoena itself." They continue:
According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”
Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?
This work was published on Thursday, July 11, 2013 by Common Dreams and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License (Photo: Rainforest Action Network/ cc/ Flickr)