Deep Politics Forum

Full Version: USA under presidency of a know-nothing, neo-fascist, racist, sexist, mobbed-up narcissist!!
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Peter Lemkin Wrote:Russ Baker and two other researchers have written a very long and COMPLEX story entitled Why FBI Can't Tell All on Trump, Russia

It is posted on Who.What.Why. here

I just read through it once and will have to read through it a few times - such are the complexities of the characters and their interconnections. At this point, I can't endorse or naysay about the general story or the details. It does seem, as I long suspected, that Trump has for a long time had loans and other business connections with wealthy Russians - some of them criminal oligarchs there. This may well play into his friendliness with Putin and Russia, generally. And while that [friendship with Russia] is NOT a bad thing, some of his business dealings with Russians might well be a 'Watergate' waiting to happen [and perhaps already beginning]. To add another layer of complexity, according to this investigative article, Trump is connected to a man who has long been used by the FBI as an informant on some Russian oligarchs and criminals. They posit that for this reason, and because the FBI doesn't want to expose its program and assets to penetrate these people, it can not do a fair evaluation of whatever nature of connections Trump and his friends have with Russians - or at least they can't reveal all they know. Again, I'm not saying yes or not to this, but it is worth reading and thinking about. I think this 'Russian Connection' to Trump is NOT going to go away and is much more complex than the MSM and the Democrats are trying to 'paint' it. That Trump rubs elbows with corrupt rich people is nothing new - and he is far from the only one within the Beltway guilty of fact, most are. His attributing that he learned most of his business and political savvy from Roy Cohn gave away his penchant for being close to the completely corrupt long ago. All I can say is, if half of what they have so far come up with in this article is true, Trump may have a very hard time completely his term without a Watergate-like scandal and very possibly articles of Impeachment.

The one thing that confuses me about this, on first thought, it why the FBI obviously tried to undermine the campaign of Clinton if they indeed knew that Trump was involved in these kinds of matters - but the FBI itself is corrupt and very political and has never worked in the interest of justice and to uphold the law nor Constitution - let alone democracy.

This Trump-Russia 'thing' only grows more and more complex. I think soon many Republicans too will be wanting some kind of investigation of some of these matters - the problem is the LONG and HORRIBLE history of Congressional 'investigations' that are not investigations, but political efforts at non-investigation, or are so hamstrung they can't do the job they are empowered to do.

While I have little doubt that Trump and his associates [political and business] have some ties to 'criminal' businessmen and oligarchs in Russia, he also has ties to criminal businessmen and oligarchs in the USA and elsewhere. I don't think there is much of a moral distinction between the groups, although the US media, public, and propaganda machinery will make a big distinction, because Russia is always used as the 'evil other' to blame for much of the wrong in the World. It is guilty of wrongs, but then so are the 'Western' countries. So, I think the real problem is not that Trump and friends have dealings/associations with Russian criminals, but that he has such associations with criminals from wherever they have their passports. But on this, Trump is not the first President in such company, but he may be 'up there' in that league.

Me, I'm sitting here scratching my head over some of the connections and will now re-read this article. Russ Baker seems intent on continuing to pursue this matter further. Time will tell if he is on the right track or not. Take a read yourself and see how it strikes you. It certainly is in the 'stranger than we suspected' category, if true.

Quote:Felix Sater fits all of these (criminal) categories. A convicted felon, Sater worked in Trump Tower, made business deals with Donald Trump through Sater's real estate firm, Bayrock, cooperated with the FBI and CIA and was subsequently protected by the DOJ from paying for his crimes. And the Moscow-born immigrant remains deeply linked to Russia and Ukraine

An interesting radio interview with the co-authors of this piece is now posted on Who.What.Why here:

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I'm Jeff Schechtman.
Churchill said of Russia that it was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Much the same might be said of trying to untangle the relationship between Trump and his associates on the one hand, and Putin and a high power cast of Russian oligarchs and mobsters on the other. There comes a time in every political scandal when it reaches a tipping point. For Iran Contra, it was perhaps the revelation of the weapon sales. For Watergate, perhaps the testimony of Alexander Butterfield about the existence of the White House tapes. For Trump and Russia, it may very well be the revelations from a bombshell story just out from
The story gives us a whole new view of the Trump-Russia connection. One that stretches from Trump Tower to the FBI to the Kremlin. Here to reveal and explain all of this on Radio WhoWhatWhy, I'm joined by Russ Baker: the founder and editor in chief of WhoWhatWhy and Jonathan Larson, a former editor of the Village Voice and now a senior editor and board member of WhoWhatWhy. Russ Baker, Jonathan Larson, thanks so much for being here.
Russ Baker: Thank you.
Jonathan Larson: My pleasure.
Jeff Schechtman: Russ, I want to start with you because at the core of this story is this long running FBI investigation that was taking place that really involved things above and beyond politics. It really involved an international organized crime network. Talk a little about that first.
Russ Baker: I think the takeaway here is that Donald Trump was essentially partnered in business with a man who was connected to Russian organized crime and indirectly, to Vladimir Putin. The FBI knew about that and didn't want any of that to come out, so we don't see how the FBI can properly investigate Trump's relationship to Russia.
Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about what that investigation was all about, Russ.
Russ Baker: This goes back to the 1990s, when the FBI was becoming increasingly concerned about the organized crime from the former Soviet Union. I called it Russian organized crime; it's basically from all of the various republics of the former Soviet Union that they were getting foothold of the United States, they were getting into everything and they were particularly concerned that they were getting into Wall Street, they were getting into the financial system. As they saw more and more examples of this, they were looking to do something about it and they discovered a particular scheme, which was targeting vulnerable people, particularly elderly and unsophisticated investors and they managed to shut it down. In the course of shutting it down, they cut a deal with one of the defendants and he became a very important informant. This man, Felix Sater is essentially the core of our story, along with Trump himself.
Jeff Schechtman: Jonathan, Russ talked about the fact that this started back in the nineties. Talk a little bit about the even earlier aspect of Trump Tower and the Trump Tower as a place with something that the FBI was looking at back as early as 1983.
Jonathan Larson: There were a lot of mobsters that seemed to be in and out of Trump Tower from its earliest days, including associates of the Union Concrete Boss, who actually built Trump Tower. He helped his girlfriend get two floors worth of apartments underneath Trump's triplex. She not only bought those apartments, she ended up getting mob money to help finance them and Trump also arranged for a mortgage for her and the bank that did that didn't ask her for any paperwork; she didn't have to sign anything, which is kind of unusual. There were a lot of strange characters from very early on, including some that had some ties to Russia.
Jeff Schechtman: It was remarkable how many of these strange characters populated Trump Tower. It was almost like if you put it on its side as an oil field, anywhere you would drill, you would run into somebody with a Russian connection. Talk about why that might have been.
Jonathan Larson: In the early days, there were a couple of Russian connections. There was a lot more of Italian organized crime. It's hard to say how that could be. They seem to get the choicest floors, they would buy multiple apartments and this lady friend of the concrete boss actually demanded that she be able to put in a swimming pool, which actually meant they had to redesign the building and put in even more concrete; good for the concrete business. Why this was so, it's very hard to say, but there certainly seem to be too many of them to be just a coincidence.
Russ Baker: One of the things I might add about that is that in terms of mobsters in general, certainly if you talk about the bling factor, I think they like the glitz and glamour associated with the Trump name and the building itself and as far as the people from the former Soviet Union whom we describe in some detail in the article, we only cover some of them who moved into the building and not to just get anybody who's from those areas is necessarily involved in any sort of wrongdoing at all, but the fact of the matter is that when the Soviet Union came apart, all of these newly minted millionaires' and billionaires' questionable, perhaps you could say ill gotten fortunes, they had to get the money out of there and as you probably know Jeff, real estate is a favored method of money laundering.
Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit Russ, about why this investigation was so important to the FBI, this investigation into the Russian mob.
Russ Baker: The Russian mob had practices that you did not see with La Cosa Nostra and particularly at the end of the Soviet Union, it recruited many highly skilled people: computer scientists, mathematicians, financial whizzes and they went right where the money was, which is the financial system and Wall Street and what have you. They got in a big way and I think the FBI was late to realize what was going on and then there was this panic that the whole financial system of the United States and perhaps the world could be destabilized. As they began scrambling and identifying this issue as perhaps their number one problem, they focused on a man who was called the boss of bosses of this former Soviet Union organized crime, a fellow named Mogilevich and they began trying to figure out how to gather information on him and what we know is that this man that they turned, this Felix Sater was involved with Russian organized crime, that the financial wrongdoing that he was involved with, it was not just him but was being orchestrated from some other level. Also, his father allegedly was an associate of Mogilevich. This particular man, for whatever reason and we don't know the details was considered to be an extremely, and I want to emphasize extremely high value asset, tremendously important figure in a tremendously, tremendously important operation.
Jeff Schechtman: Jonathan, talk a little bit more about Mogilevich and why he was so important and why he was considered such a real threat.
Jonathan Larson: Because he had global reach. He was beginning to send emissaries to the United States to set up money laundering operations, stock fraud operations and the Feds were beginning to believe that just one phone call from him could practically bring down the financial system. Felix Sater was part of one of these original groups, as Russ explained and in the indictment that the FBI brought against them, they figured that he was responsible for at least $40 million of fraud against his victims. The fact that they would turn him and make him a cooperating informant was kind of astonishing because they certainly could have put him away in jail and they kept working with him and he ends up in Trump Tower and doing business with Trump. Why was that? That's the great mystery at the heart of this. Were they helping through Trump to find out more about the Russian mob? Was it even conceivable that they were working with Trump directly? These are all things that will need to come out eventually, but that's part of the mystery of this FBI operation at the heart of Trump Tower.
Jeff Schechtman: Russ, talk about how the FBI originally came to Sater.
Russ Baker: They came to him because of this so called pump and dump stock scheme that he was involved with. As I mentioned, this was this thing where they victimized elderly and unsophisticated investors and this was the kind of thing that there was pressure on the bureau to shut them down and they did. One of the perps in there was this Felix Sater and I guess for whatever reason, once they either talked to him or investigated him, they found out what sort of connections he had and they became very, very interested. They became interested in Felix Sater prior to Felix Sater as John said, moved into Trump Tower with this company called Bayrock, which was a real estate development firm. Bayrock and Donald Trump became partners in a number of ventures around the world, most notably the Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominiums that's here in New York. He became very, very important, so important in fact, that according to Sater himself, he and Trump were extremely close and he had an office just on the floor below Trump's and that he would just walk up the stairs and just pop in to hang out with the Donald! Remarkably, he even had business cards of his own: Felix Sater, the Trump Organization. Here you've got a guy who is identified with Russian organized crime, he seems to be tied in with the most powerful gangster in the world and the number one target of the FBI, as we know and there he is, hanging out with the Donald. Obviously, this a very, very interesting relationship and it's a relationship that we'd like to know more about. Now, the problem is we can't know much more about it because the FBI and the US Attorney's Office has worked for years, the Justice Department has worked for years to suppress the details of this thing from coming out.
Jeff Schechtman: I know it's a little complicated to explain, but give it a try Jonathan. Why in fact, the revelation of so much of this, particularly with regard to the relationship between Sater and Trump puts the whole Trump financial empire at risk?
Jonathan Larson: The question is, did Donald Trump know that Felix Sater was a criminal and had this criminal history? If he did and he was in business with him in all of these various ventures as Russ mentioned, then he his liable for hundreds of millions of dollars from the other investors, people who bought condominiums, were co-investors in the hotel, like Trumps SoHo. In terms of Trump SoHo, that was really a Felix Sater operation from the beginning. He kind of thought it up. He got partners from Iceland, a bank called FL which seems to have relations with Putin and so he started bringing in Russian mob money to finance this so called Trump SoHo hotel. So, it was really more of a Sater SoHo than it was Trump SoHo hotel.
Jeff Schechtman: Russ, a lot of this money potentially was coming in at a time when Trump was in financial trouble as a result of some of his other operations.
Russ Baker: Well, that's a key point: that as his fortunes went south with problems with his decisions against the advice of all kinds of people, taking huge risks with all of those casinos in Atlantic City and all kinds of other things went south, yeah he had more and more problems and it is at this period that we see not just Felix Sater and the potential connections to the Mogilevich outfit and to Putin but we see all these other figures and entities tied into Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and so forth, all of these oligarchs again tied back to the approval of the Putin regime and they're basically propping Donald Trump up. The issue becomes, when the FBI is looking at the issue of whether Russia meddled in the election, there's a much larger issue, which is why did they like Donald Trump? What did they expect Donald Trump could or would do for them? To answer that question, you got to go back and look at this whole history of these people and these entities playing a critical role in his financial fortunes and their own relationships back to Putin.
Jeff Schechtman: Why then, now that so much of this is exposed, why does this present a problem for the FBI now in terms of its own priorities and where its investigation is going, Russ?
Russ Baker: We know that the FBI has strived mightily to keep this from coming out. There were some lawyers involved with a suit on behalf of someone who worked for Sater's company who's been trying to get to the bottom of some of this and they have been slammed down very, very hard, extraordinary measures where they've essentially been told, they say that they should not tell any of this to Congress. If the FBI is so concerned that none of this come out for some reason, one wonders how they could do that on one hand and on the other hand, be able to fairly and thoroughly investigate everything that we need to know about Donald Trump and Russia.
Jeff Schechtman: Why was the FBI, in your view and both of you can respond to this, Russ start with you, why was the FBI so concerned about this not coming out?
Russ Baker: We don't know the full why. We can speculate. One of the likely issues here is simply the kind of posterior covering that goes on. The FBI was working with a man who was guilty of extensive crimes and they advocated for him to be let off with a slap on the wrist, if that. They did that because they were using him. This is very, very similar to what happened in the notorious case of the mob leader Whitey Bulger up in Boston. This was a huge problem for the FBI, one of its biggest embarrassments in its history. It was basically protecting this criminal while he was continuing to commit crimes, including murders ostensibly because he was so high value. What Felix Sater was doing, if anything and we don't know. He may have gone straight and done nothing wrong but for some reason, they're very, very concerned that that relationship not be revealed. Of course, it would be very interesting to find out what that is about.
Jonathan Larson: Let me add that this could be embarrassing for the FBI in other ways. One of the FBI agents who was basically handling Felix Sater is now working for President Trump in his private security operation. Two of the prosecutors who helped work out the original deal and then spoke later on behalf of Sater in court proceedings are now working for the law firm that is supposed to be sorting out President Trump's conflicts of interest. There are kind of cross currents here that could be embarrassing, I think to the FBI and to Donald Trump.
Jeff Schechtman: How close did this investigation bring them to being able to do anything with respect to Mogilevich, Russ?
Russ Baker: Well, that's the rub. We don't really know if it was successful or if it was a colossal failure. Obviously, if it was a colossal failure, that's not the kind of thing that they want to come out either, especially why make this sort of a deal if you're not going to succeed. The indications are that they didn't really succeed. We know that Mogilevich was on the FBI's most wanted list and we know that several years ago, they removed him very mysteriously. We don't know why they removed him, there's nothing as far as we know. Reports one sees that world girdling criminal empire is very much still operating all over the place and now in many, many different facets and industries. What that was about, did they succeed, we don't know?
Jeff Schechtman: What do we know about the connection between Mogilevich and Putin?
Jonathan Larson: You can't operate in Russia without getting along with Putin. I think he put him in jail once very briefly to show that he was sort of in control, but let him off soon thereafter. The assumption is that they work pretty close together.
Russ Baker: Yeah, that's right, what John said. Also, in Russia, there is no clear line between the official establishment and, let's say, the unofficial establishment. Most experts believe that the government and the so called legitimate oligarchs and the underworld are intertwined in so many different ways that you can't even sort it out. Experts also say that Putin and Mogilevich are close. I think the most important thing of all is a man named Ivankov who was Mogilevich's lieutenant who came to the United States to run operations for him, who by the way, when the FBI wanted to find him, the first place they found him was living in Trump Tower. Then, they couldn't track him down and then they next found him at Trump's Taj Mahal. I think that's very significant. That man later returned to the Soviet Union and he stated on one occasion that Putin and Mogilevich were very close. Shortly thereafter, he was assassinated by a sniper while walking on the streets of Moscow.
Jeff Schechtman: What is the status of Felix Sater today, Russ?
Russ Baker: We don't know the exact status of Felix Sater, but he is certainly alive and well. This is another fascinating development. As you may know, in January, there was a meeting held at a hotel in New York City and at that meeting were Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney and Felix Sater and they met with a Ukrainian member of Parliament who is pro-Moscow. What we are told from news accounts is that at that meeting, the Ukrainian presented a proposed peace plan for Ukraine, which seemingly had been approved by or perhaps sponsored by Putin himself and there he is, meeting with Felix Sater and Trump's lawyer. According to this parliamentarian, they then agreed and Cohen took that proposal in an envelope and brought it to then national security advisor, General Michael Flynn. There's been some backpedaling on that story but it seems to be true. That's very, very interesting: that this mob person tied into Putin is still so active that he's able to sit down with Trump's personal lawyer and work something like this!
Jonathan Larson: By the way, when he surfaced at that meeting, he seemed to have gone back to his original spelling, which is S-A-T-E-R but the entire time he was being handled by the FBI, he gave his name at S-A-T-T-E-R, which is one reason why people cannot trace his criminal past and why many of his business associates had no idea that he was a convicted felon.
Russ Baker: Russ, I want to come back to this idea of why the FBI is so compromised as a result of this, particularly with respect to any further ongoing investigation with regards to Trump and the Russian connection.
Russ Baker: I think it's because in order to tell the public or Congress or some combination everything that they know about Trump's relationship with Russia and the back history and the origins, they would have to tell this story that we're telling here, but the whole story, all the other details. I think they simply can't do it. It's problematical on a whole host of fronts and it's probably a deep embarrassment as well.
Jonathan Larson: Even if it weren't an embarrassment, they just don't like to tell details of operations they've run because it gives inside into how they work an operation like this and they'd be very reluctant to reveal an operation this extensive.
Jeff Schechtman: What do you expect the reaction to this story to be, Russ?
Russ Baker: It's hard to tell. Of course, there have been so many revelations large and small coming at us, seemingly by the hour that one really can't tell. But, we would hope that this very thorough look at the larger picture behind this sort of more specific focus about hacking and so forth, the effort to get at the bottom of the whole matter to try to understand why Donald Trump seems to be so close with Vladimir Putin, what, if anything, Vladimir Putin or the Russians may have on him, that this would be seen as compelling enough and persuasive enough that the failure of the FBI which we think would be a failure of the FBI to get to the bottom of this could be circumvented through the appointment of an independent prosecutor or some kind of independent body to look into this whole matter.
Jeff Schechtman: It does seem that there are really three specific buckets and areas of investigation in all of this, and that's what makes part of it so complicated. There's the financial side, the criminal side and the political side.
Jonathan Larson: Right, Jeff. I think if this were really opened up, we'd find out just how much of Trump's operation was financed, not just through Russian banks but through Russian mobsters, and money laundering and that could be quite revealing. That's quite different than the rest of this investigation that Comey is conducting.
Jeff Schechtman: Finally, Russ, talk a little bit about the work that you and Jonathan and your associates have done in putting this story together. Give us a little background in how all of this came together over a period of several months.
Russ Baker: This was a team effort. The third member of the team: C. Collins did a tremendous amount of research on this, pouring over a large number of legal documents, extremely complicated technicalities in attempting to figure out what this all means. And then John and I came in to provide additional context, to do additional research and the three of us worked together very closely on this. And now we brought in more of our team, including a lot of editors and fact checkers, lawyers and so forth. It's really a terrific team effort and it has to be with something of this enormity.
Jeff Schechtman: Russ Baker, Jonathan Larson, the story appears at I thank you both for sharing some of this and encourage folks to read the whole story. Thank you both.

While this is only the beginning of an investigation. and this investigation focuses on Trump-Russian connections, the 'take-away' I come out with is not that Trump has 'ties' to Russians because they are Russian, but rather that Trump has many ties to criminals and mobsters and oligarchs - and is an agnostic on what country they hail from - as long as they have lots of money and his kind of business 'ethics'...... Of course, due to the 1917 Revolution and the Cold War, Russia has a special place in the minds of many Americans; while they give a 'pass' to very similar types of Italian, Central American, European, African, U.S. and other mob-type people. [i.e. Trump is as ecumenical with corrupt rich people worldwide, as he is with attractive young women; one set he grabs in the wallet - the others he grabs elsewhere.]
President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to dismantle a slew of climate rules established by President Obama. If carried out, the executive order will virtually guarantee that the United States will fail to meet its 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to reduce emissions in order to curb the effects of climate change. The executive order marks the first step to undo Obama's Clean Power Plan to limit emissions and replace coal-fired power plants with new solar and wind farms. Trump signed the executive order at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency while being surrounded by a group of coal miners, as well as EPA head Scott Pruitt, who himself denies the human impact on climate change.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today I'm taking bold action to follow through on that promise. My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. Gonna have clean coal, really clean coal. With today's executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.
AMY GOODMAN: The executive order also ends President Obama's 2013 Climate Action Plan, which outlined the federal government's approach to curbing climate change. Trump never mentioned climate change or global warming during his remarks, even though 2016 was the warmest year on record, breaking the record set in 2015. He also only mentioned the EPA's mission to protect the environment once.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to continue to expand energy production, and we will also create more jobs in infrastructure, trucking and manufacturing. This will allow the EPA to focus on its primary mission of protecting our air and protecting our water. Together, we are going to start a new energy revolution, one that celebrates American production on American soil.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we're joined by Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, joining us from New Orleans.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jacqueline. Talk about the effect of this executive order, its significance.
JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Yes, it is so significant. Thanks for having me. So, there are so many far-reaching implications for this rule, if the actions go forward as presented. Certainlycertainly, fortunately, labor experts and market experts say that regardless of this rule, which seeks to release the restriction on leasing of federal lands for coal, they're saying that it's not necessarily going to bring back the coal industry. But if it did, the coal industry is so harmful not only to the communities that are host to coal-fired power plants, but also to the very workers whose jobs that President Trump purports to save, including the fact that 76,000 coal miners have died of black lung disease since 1968, while the industry has fought against the regulations to protect them from coal mine dust. So we have those implications. We have implications like the communities that are host to coal-fired power plants are choking down sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, arsenic, lead, not to mention that coal is the numbercoal-based energy production is the number one contributor to greenhouseto carbon dioxide emissions, which is the number one greenhouse gas emission that drives climate change. So, those implications are significant.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about how, in particular, it will affect communities of color?
JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Yeah, so, for example, African American68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. And we know that with the emissions, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, they're known to have a link to exacerbating respiratory conditions such as asthma. We also know that African Americans71 percent of African Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards. And we know that the African-American children are three to five times more likely to enter into the hospital from asthma attacks and two to three times more likely to die of asthma attacks. When we connect the dots in terms of exposure and in terms of the health conditions of African-American children and people, we start to see the ties in terms of the impact, the disproportionate impact, of the coal industry, in particular, on communities of color. We know that African-American adults are more likely to die from lung disease, but far less likely to smoke.
When we put out our report, "Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People," back in 2012, we went around, and we visited with communities that were host to coal-fired power plants. And we heard time and time again from folks who hadhalf the kids in their school were on inhalers. Half the people in their church were on respirators. I spoke to a fellow in Indiana whose wife had died of lung disease. They lived within seeing distance of a coal-fired power plant. She had never smoked a day in her life. I spoke to a woman whose father worked in a coal plant and who died of lung cancer, but had never smoked a day in his life. So we see these storieswe hear these stories, and we see the statistics. And the disproportionate exposure and the differential impact are clear.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Earthjustice Policy Vice President Martin Hayden, who questioned whether President Trump's executive order will have a significant effect on the coal industry.
MARTIN HAYDEN: [We] are a net exporter of coal, by a long shot. So, producing more coal isn't going to make us more energy independent. And the other piece of producing more coaland you saw many of the coal company executives say this last nightthat while it may raise coal production some, it's not going to create many more jobs, because they are more automated today, that thethat the trend has been fewer and fewer jobs in the coal fields, irrespective of how much coal is mined, because they're using more mechanized approaches and less people approaches.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that issue, Jacqueline Patterson, of what the president keeps pushing, the issue of coal jobs?
JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Yes, soyes, so, as I was saying at the very beginning, both the labor industry and the market say that it's not necessarily going to bring back coal. I was saying what the implications would be if it did, in any way, increaseincrease coal productioncoal-based energy production in the United States.
But then there's the other side of the fact, that even if we're exporting coal, and other countries are using coal, as we know, any use of coal burning to produce energy affects climate change overall. And we know that communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to feel the impacts from climate change. And so, whether it's communities that have poor housing stock, communities that are underinsured, communities that arewhose homes are located in the floodplains, we see that these communities are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change and more likely to be impacted by climate change. We know that these communities are often the ones that aredon't have access to healthy and nutritious foods. They have food insecurity. And we know that shifts in agricultural yields is another impact of climate change and thatand that this might make food insecurity even greater in these communities. So the far-reaching implications of any type of increase in coal-based energy production are felt no matter where it happens, are felt globally, and particularly in vulnerable communities and vulnerable countries.
AMY GOODMAN: We've been talking about coal plants, but let's talk about coal-fired plants. Jacqueline, talk by your own growing up in Chicago.
JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Yeah, so I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where there were three coal-fired power plants within a 15-mile radius of where I lived, the Fisk and Crawford plants on the South Side of Chicago and the State Line plant on the northwest side of Indiana. So, unbeknownst to me, really, because, you know, these things are there, and you often just don't know the impacts of theseof these facilities in your community, I was living in this toxic corridor.
And fast-forward to today, when I was doing the work on the "Coal Blooded" report, I visited with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, PERRO and others in Chicago who were doing work on the Fisk and Crawford plants. And they had done a partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health. And through the community-campus partnership, they found that 40 asthma deaths and a thousand hospitalizations were attributed to the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, which gave them what thethe fuel that they needed to be able to inform the community, which eventually resulted in the City Council passing an ordinance around clean air and Mayor Rahm Emanuel giving a ultimatum to either clean these coal plants up or shut them down, which eventually did happen.
And so, again, I was growing up in harm's way. My fathermy father passed away a few years ago of lung disease. And his doctor specifically cited that it was due to environmental exposures. And now I wonder what the cumulative impact might have been of living on the South Side of Chicago in that toxic corridor with those three coal plants and other toxins in the air.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jacqueline Patterson, just the overall broader issue of cuts to the EPA and the whole direction the Trump administration is going? And, I mean, he signed this executive order at the Environmental Protection Agency, which he said he is going to slash by almost a third. This is with the acquiescence of the head of the EPAright?the former Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times before he's now become its head.
JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Mm-hmm, yes. And unfortunately, not onlyif it was just slashed off of the EPA budget in general, that would be bad enough. But the fact that it's targeted slashing of environment justice programs, that are meant to protect communities like Mossville, Louisiana, which is in this petrochemical corridor, which is a cancer cluster, which has already these existing impacts for their community, communities like Uniontown, Alabama, which, again, has multiple assaults in terms of its environmental exposures, the communities across the nation that are, again, disproportionately communities of color, disproportionately indigenous communities and low-income communities, communities in Appalachia, who are suffering under the impacts of mountaintop removal and so forth and so on. And so, the Environmental Protection Agency, as weas per its name, it is there to ensure that we have the monitoring and the enforcement of safeguards for our health and well-being. So I shudder to think what the impacts will be if that agency does not serve that function.
By a vote of 215 to 205, the House passed a bill to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's landmark broadband privacy rules established under the Obama administration. The vote will give companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T more power to collect people's sensitive data, including your internet browsing history, as well as to sell that information. Last week, the Senate also approved the measure in a vote largely split across party lines. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.
For more, we go to Washington to speak with Laura Moy, deputy director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center. Her new piece for The Daily Dot is titled "Think you can protect your privacy from internet providers without FCC rules? Good luck."
Laura Moy, welcome to Democracy Now!
LAURA MOY: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of the House vote yesterday.
LAURA MOY: Right. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me on.
Right. I mean, strange days in Washington. At a time when Americans overwhelmingly want more privacy protection, yesterday the House of Representatives, as you said, voted 215 to 205 to eliminate these really important privacy rules that would protect the information that Americans have no choice but to share with their internet service providers from being sold or shared without their permission. So, you know, essentially, when you go online, you have to tell your internet provider what website you want to visit, what app you want to use, so that it knows where to route the traffic online, knows which information to send you and where to send the information that you're communicating. Americans pay for that service. They don't expect that information to be shared or used for other purposes or sold without their permission. But repealing the rules that were put in place last October will do just that, will allow internet providers, as you said, like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, to share or sell that information without permission.
AMY GOODMAN: So give us a concrete example of how this would work, something you looked up, and how that's going to make its way to some company.
LAURA MOY: Right. So, let's say that you are browsing the web, and you are visiting a gun auction site or a healthcare site, perhaps a site that expresses your political viewpoints. Because you're visiting those sites, your internet provider gets to see that you are traveling to those sites on the web. If you're going to to look up a health condition, your internet provider sees that information. And now, with repeal of the rules, it is possible that internet providers will see this as a green light to go ahead and sell that information about you to entities that might want to use it, for example, to track you or monitor you or just to market you related goods to the things that you're interested in.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you're looking up something on addiction, and then they start to target you as perhaps someone who is addicted, or you're afraid to start looking things up and getting vital information, because of that very tactic.
LAURA MOY: Right. Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean, Americans absolutely need internet connectivity in today's modern era. You need to go online to search for a job. You need to go online to complete your education. You need to go online often to communicate with your healthcare provider or conduct your banking. And we want people to use the internet, to view it as a safe space to communicate with others, to express their political viewpoints, to carry out these vitally important everyday activities, and to do so without fear that the information that they share with their internet service provider will be used to harm them in some way.
LAURA MOY: Andsorry, go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Republicans argued that the FCC overstepped its mandate, and it's the job of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate privacy. This is Republican Congressmember Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Having two privacy cops on the beat will create confusion within the internet ecosystem and will end up harming consumers. Third, the FCC already has authority to enforce privacy obligations of broadband service providers on a case-by-case basis. These broadband privacy rules are unnecessary and are just another example of big government overreach.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Republican Congressmember Marsha Blackburn, who, according to Vocativ, has received over half a million dollars in campaign donations [from] internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. If you could respond to what she's sayingthis should be the FTC's areaand also the fact that the Republicans have pushed this when President Trump is fighting against surveillance himself
AMY GOODMAN: or of himself?
LAURA MOY: That's right, yeah. So, as Representative Blackburn stated, the Federal Trade Commission has done a lot of work on privacy over the past couple decades. Unfortunately for us, the Federal Trade Commission does not have any authority to regulate internet service providers. So, a couple years ago, internet service was classified as a telecommunications service, because over 4 million Americans wanted it to be regulated as a common carrier service. And as a result, the Federal Trade Commission does not have the authority to protect the privacy of Americans from uses by internet providers. So, she is right that the Federal Trade Commission has done a lot of good work on privacy, but it is not true that the Federal Trade Commission can protect us here.
And then, you mentioned, of course, that President Trump has spoken out about surveillance or suspected surveillance of himself. This is a little bit ridiculous, because President Trump and the Trump White House has spoken out in support of the repeal of the privacy rule. Repeal of the privacy rule will, in addition to giving internet providers the green light to share and sell information without consumers' consent, might help expand mass surveillance programs, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way? We have 10 seconds.
LAURA MOY: So, because of the way that internet providers are required to protect information and not share it without a lawful order with the government, if it's classified as protected information under this rule, with repeal of the rule, that could lead to the expansion of some of these surveillance programs.
Central to the Trump narrative is his withdrawal from foreign adventurism and devoting time and energy to putting America back to work. The narrative seems to be falling apart already. Ann Wright from Consortium News thinks Trump is continuing on with the post 9/11 trajectory my constant war.

Quote:By Ann Wright

Fourteen years ago on March 19, 2003, I resigned from the U.S. government in opposition to President George W. Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq, an oil-rich Arab/Muslim country that had nothing to do with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the Bush Administration knew did not have weapons of mass destruction.

In my letter of resignation, I wrote of my deep concerns about Bush's decision to attack Iraq and the predictable large number of civilian casualties from that military attack. But I also detailed my concerns on other issues: the lack of U.S. effort on resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. failure to engage North Korea to curb nuclear and missile development, and the curtailment of civil liberties in the United States through the Patriot Act.

Now, three Presidents into the Iraq War and other unsettled conflicts, the problems that I was concerned about in 2003 are even more dangerous a decade and a half later.

As a U.S. diplomat, I was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. Sixteen years later, the U.S. is still battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes more and more territory, in America's longest war, while the graft and corruption within the Afghan government due to the mammoth U.S.-funded contracts for support of the U.S. military machine continues to provide the Taliban with new recruits.

The U.S. is now fighting against ISIS, a brutal group that emerged because of the U.S. war in Iraq, but has spread from Iraq into Syria, as the U.S. policy of regime change has resulted in arming international as well as domestic Syrian groups to fight not only ISIS, but the Syrian government. The deaths of civilians in Iraq and Syria continue to rise with the acknowledgement this week by the U.S. military that it is "likely" that a U.S. bombing mission killed over 200 civilians in one building in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Slaughtering Palestinians

With U.S. government acquiescence, if not complicity, the Israeli military has attacked Gaza three times in the past eight years. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed, tens of thousands have been wounded and the homes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been destroyed.

Over 800,000 Israelis now live in illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Israeli government has built hundreds of miles of separation/apartheid walls on Palestinian land which separate Palestinians from their farms, schools and employment. Brutal, humiliating checkpoints purposely attempt to degrade the spirit of Palestinians. Israeli only highways have been built on Palestinian lands. The theft of Palestinian resources has ignited a worldwide, citizen-led boycott, divestment and sanctions program.

Imprisonment of Palestinian children for throwing rocks at Israeli occupation military forces has reached crisis levels. Evidence of the Israeli government's inhumane treatment of Palestinians has now been formally called "apartheid" in a United Nations report that resulted in massive Israeli and U.S. pressure on the U.N to withdraw the report and force the Under Secretary of the U.N. who commissioned the report to resign.

The North Korean government continues to call for negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea for a peace treaty to end the Korean War. But the U.S. government has responded with a rejection of any discussions with North Korea until North Korea ends its nuclear program. The U.S. also has increased U.S.-South Korean military drills, the last one named "Decapitation," moves that have resulted in the North Korean government continuing its nuclear testing and missile projects.

The war on civil liberties of U.S. citizens under the Patriot Act resulted in unprecedented surveillance through cellphones, computers and other electronic devices, massive illegal data collection and indefinite, perpetual storage of private information of not only U.S. citizens, but all inhabitants of this planet.

The Obama war on whistleblowers who have exposed various aspects of the illegal data collection has inflicted severe punishments on people accused of sharing truthful information with the public, including: bankruptcy for National Security Agency official Tom Drake in successfully defending against espionage charges; Pvt. Chelsea Manning's long prison sentence for exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan; forced exile for NSA contractor Edward Snowden for revealing U.S. government lies about the NSA's bulk collection; Julian Assange's virtual imprisonment in London's Ecuadorian Embassy for fear of retaliation against WikiLeaks' disclosures of U.S. government secrets.

Trump's Complaint

In the latest bizarre twist, President Donald Trump has accused President Barack Obama of "wiretapping" the Trump Tower in New York City during the Presidential campaign but then amid widespread denials refused to provide any evidence, although it's true that virtually all citizens have become targets of electronic surveillance.

The past 14 years have been difficult for the world due to U.S. wars of choice and the growth of the surveillance state. And, the next four years do not appear likely to bring any relief to the citizens of planet earth.

The election of Donald Trump, the first U.S. President who has never served in any level of government nor in the U.S. military, has led to in a little more than two months an unprecedented number of domestic and international crises, many self-inflicted:

The Trump administration has attempted to ban persons from seven mostly Muslim countries (later reduced to six);
The Trump administration has appointed to Cabinet positions members of the billionaire class from Wall Street and Big Oil, people who have the intention of destroying the agencies they are to lead.
The Trump administration has proposed a budget that will increase the U.S. military war budget by 10 percent, but slash the budgets of other agencies to render them ineffective.
The Department of State and International Affairs budget for conflict resolution by words not bullets will be slashed by 37 percent.
The Trump Administration has appointed a person to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has declared the worsening climate chaos a hoax.

In retrospect, I am glad I resigned from the U.S. government when I did. My decision to resign has allowed me to speak publicly in the United States and around the world on issues that jeopardize international security from the perspective of a former U.S. government employee with 29 years of experience in the U.S. Army and 16 years in the U.S. diplomatic corps.

I am glad that I could join the millions of citizens around the world who are challenging their governments when the governments violate legal standards, kill innocent civilians and wreck havoc on the planet.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She served as a U.S. diplomat for sixteen years before her resignation in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.

Flynn discussing immunity for testimony on Russia

158COMMENTSPRINT[Image: 58448a34e3184d40a7f5e8a75082281d-58448a3...281d-0.jpg]
Former national security adviser Mike Flynn in February.
By Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima THE WASHINGTON POST MARCH 30, 2017
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has offered to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution, a suggestion that has been met with initial skepticism, according to people familiar with the matter.
"General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,'' Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, said in a statement Thursday evening. Out of respect for the committees, we will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate intelligence committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it is important to acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring.''
The committees are both looking into whether any associates of Donald Trump may have coordinated with agents of the Russian government seeking to meddle in last year's presidential election. The FBI is also investigating. The Trump administration has denied any such coordination.
The offer by Flynn's lawyer was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Flynn's overture seemed to have been aimed principally at the Senate committee, as Democrats on the House committee said they had not received word of an offer of testimony for immunity.

Officials said the idea of immunity for Flynn - who is considered a central figure in the probes because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States - was a non-starter,'' particularly at such an early stage of the investigations. A wide-ranging grant of immunity could protect Flynn from potential future charges from the Justice Department, but Congress has the power to grant only limited testimonial'' immunity, which means prosecutors cannot use witnesses' testimony against them in any prosecution. Ultimately, it is Justice's decision whether to grant immunity from prosecution for any underlying conduct that is discussed, or other matters that don't come up in testimony.
[URL=""] View Story

[/URL] It is not unheard of for potential congressional witnesses to seek immunity in exchange for testimony. During the Obama administration, former IRS official Lois Lerner sought immunity for her testimony to Congress, which was investigating how she and other officials scrutinized conservative groups. The FBI was also investigating the matter at the time. The committee declined to grant her immunity, and she was still called to testify at a hearing, in which she repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right to protect herself against self-incrimination.
Flynn's attorney said his client, a decorated former general, was now the subject of unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo.''
The lawyer added: No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.''
Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor and an assistant special counsel in the prosecution of I. Lewis Scooter'' Libby, said that the Senate committee apparently did not want to screw up a possible prosecution.''
But, he added, there may be things more important than getting a prosecution of Flynn.'' Such as learning the extent of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. That is a compelling and urgent need. A prosecution of Flynn could take several years. I wouldn't want them to wait that long to find out what Flynn knows.''

I, for one, would welcome a 'Russia-Ukraine' peace plan. That said, everything related to Russia and Trump Administration is getting more and more cloudy and complex at the moment. While it IS illegal to act as one would when President BEFORE on IS President [and thus do things behind the back of the sitting Administration], no one did anything to those responsible for the October Surprise on Carter - to name just one such event meant to subvert a sitting President for political [and financial] gain. My own feeling about Trumpf and Co. is that they are motivated by making money for themselves and their pals - not by anything resembling normal geopolitical considerations.

Quote:Trump's lawyer has told 4 different stories about the Russia-Ukraine 'peace plan' debacle

[Image: natasha-bertrand.jpg]

  • Feb. 21, 2017, 11:17 AM

[Image: ap16351601934760.jpg]Michael Cohen, an attorney for Donald Trump, arrives in Trump Tower on December 16. Richard Drew/AP
President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was at the center of a bombshellNew York Times reportpublished Sunday that said he hand-delivered a "peace plan for Russia and Ukraine" to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn before Flynn was asked to resign.
The plan which The Times said was pushed by Cohen, businessman Felix Sater, and Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko involved lifting sanctions on Russia in return for Moscow withdrawing its support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to the report. It would also allow Russia to maintain control over Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Hours after the Times story was published, however, Cohen told The Washington Post that he hadn't delivered the peace plan to Flynn nor discussed it with anyone in the White House.
In an interview with The Post, Cohen corroborated The Times' reporting that he had met with Sater and Artemenko in a hotel lobby on Park Avenue in Manhattan in late January to discuss the proposal. He said that the meeting lasted less than 15 minutes and that he left with the plan in hand.
However, he "emphatically" denied "discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn," adding that he told Artemenko that he could "send the proposal to Flynn by writing him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.," The Post reported.
Cohen shifted his story again on Monday, telling Business Insider in a series of text messages that he denies "even knowing what the plan is." But he said in a later message that he met with Artemenko in New York for "under 10 minutes" to discuss a proposal that Artemenko said "was acknowledged by Russian authorities that would create world peace."
"My response was, 'Who doesn't want world peace?'" Cohen said.
One of the Times reporters who broke the peace-plan story, Scott Shane, pointed Business Insider to a statement the newspaper's deputy managing editor gave on Sunday: "Mr. Cohen told The Times in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn's office at the White House. Mr. Sater told the Times that Mr. Cohen had told him the same thing."
Cohen then appeared to alter his story again, telling NBC News that even if he had taken an envelope with a peace plan to the White House, "So what? What's wrong with that?"
[Image: 58925a996e09a8c1078b45a9-2400]Stephanie Keith/Reuters
Sater, a businessman of Russian descent who has boasted of his relationship with President Donald Trump, told The Post in May that he "handled all of the negotiations" for the Trump Organization's dealings in Russia in the mid-2000s. Trump has distanced himself from Sater, saying in sworn testimony as part of a 2013 lawsuit that "if he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn't know what he looked like."
Sater told The Post that he thought Cohen was going to deliver the plan to Flynn but that Cohen had to wait because Flynn was in the middle of a Russia-related firestorm.
Cohen was named as a "liaison" between Trump and the Kremlin in the explosive, unsubstantiated dossier that surfaced last month, a summary of which had been presented by top US intelligence officials to Trump.
Sater was "not practicing diplomacy" in pushing the plan, which he entertained only because he "wanted to promote peace," he told Fox Newson Monday. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Artemenko, who met with Trump's campaign during the election, was also involved in drafting the proposal. Artemenko told The Times he had evidence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's corruption that could lead to his ouster.
Poroshenko has been locked in a war with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine since he took power in 2014. He is considered friendlier to the West than his ousted predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych's political rise was heavily aided by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who worked as an adviser on Yanukovych's presidential campaign.
Cohen called the reporting surrounding the meeting "#fakenews." He said he stands by his story that he didn't do anything with the plan.
"Change your fake story or lose my number," Cohen said. "I have no time for Trump haters."

March 30, 2017 | WhoWhatWhy Staff

Mobbed Up: Is Trump as Clean as He Claims?

[Image: 1-11-700x470.jpg] Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from The White House / Wikimedia, Juan Ramos / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) and 591J / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
WhoWhatWhy's story on President Donald Trump, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Russian mob and Vladimir Putin has sparked enormous interest. Due to the complexity of the issues we presented and the wide-ranging cast of characters involved, the following video is definitely worth watching.
It will provide a glimpse at Trump's mob ties and introduces Felix Sater, who plays a key role in our story as well. And you will hear the president in his own words claiming that he hardly knew Sater, even though the pair was involved in multiple business deals.

All of the connections mentioned in the BBC film below were mentioned during the campaign - if generally ignored.

March 27, 2017 | WhoWhatWhy Staff

Keystone XL Is a Dirty Deal for America

[Image: image01-10-700x470.jpg] Photo credit: shannonpatrick17 / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0) and Meclee / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
President Donald Trump's announcement that he approved the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was welcome news for a Canadian company, foreign steel manufacturers, some rich guys, anybody who thinks the planet should be warmer and 35 ordinary Americans. It's not a good deal for the rest of the country.
"This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families and very significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America," Trump said Friday.
What the president did not say is that the vast majority of the jobs created by the construction of the pipeline will be temporary. A 2014 State Department study indicated that Keystone XL would create only 35 permanent jobs.
As WhoWhatWhy has shown, that is not the only issue with the pipeline. We thought that Trump's announcement provided a good opportunity to revisit our previous coverage, which identified many of the problems that make the construction of Keystone XL a terrible decision on many levels.
This is Part 1 of a 2-part Series
(See Part 2 here: A Cautionary TaleTar Sands Oil and Health)
Debate continues to rage over whether the Obama administration should approve TransCanada Corporation's contentious Keystone XL pipeline.
Meanwhile, little attention has focused on the impact of tar sands oil spills in far-flung states. Two accidents, in Arkansas and Michigan, raise largely unaddressed questions about the true cost to human health and the environment and the high cost and difficulty of cleanup. But there are other issues as well, ranging from the political and economic impact to the behavior of the corporations involved to the very nature of the substance itself.
[Image: mayflower_tar_sands_oil_spill_EPA-300x225.jpg]Pipe Dreams or Nightmares?
The more recent of these disasters came on March 29, when a 22-foot gash opened in ExxonMobil's 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline. It dumped some 210,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the streets of Mayflower, Arkansas, and into nearby Lake Conway.
More than six months after that lake of viscous tar sands crude engulfed a subdivision, many homes both within the core spill area and at the periphery stand deserted.
Among the few inhabitants who remain are those too old or too poor to leave, while many others simply have no place else to go. The streets are dotted with For Sale signs that beckon no buyers. Many people are ill, suffering from respiratory problems, chronic headaches, debilitating fatigue and other complaints.
Environmental scientist Wilma Subra says the symptoms are consistent with known effects from exposure to petroleum products and to the volatile chemicals used to dilute the gummy Canadian oil so it can flow through a pipeline.
While cleanup continues, the legal battles have just begun. Among them are class action and civil suits, plus a lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department and the state of Arkansas for alleged violations of state and federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
ExxonMobil Lied About What Spilled
For weeks after the spill ExxonMobil withheld crucial information about the nature of their product from state and local officials. The oil giant insisted it was conventional crude which is cheaper and easier to clean up while downplaying the amount and extent of contamination. Early on, company officials claimed that nearby Lake Conway was oil-free though internal emails showed that they knew otherwise.
[Image: Capture.jpg][Image: capture1.jpg]The March 2013 Exxon Tar Sands Spill in Mayflower, Arkansas

A Billion Dollar Spill?
Far to the north, 40 miles of Michigan's Kalamazoo River shimmer with a slick rainbow sheen. It's the toxic legacy of the largest, most expensive onshore oil spill in US history.
On July 26[SUP]th[/SUP], 2010, Enbridge Energy's "Line B" pipeline ruptured, belching over a million gallons of tar sands oil into a field near Marshall, Michigan. Some of that flowed into nearby Talmadge Creek and on into the Kalamazoosites of previous industrial dumping and heroic cleanup efforts.
Three years later, so much heavy Canadian crude still coats parts of the river bottom that last March, the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Enbridge to resume dredging the river.
The agency estimates that perhaps 180,000 gallons remain submerged, "plus or minus 100,000 gallons." Federal fines of $3.7 million pale beside actual cleanup costs, which now exceed a billion dollars.
Enbridge contends it spilled a mere 843,000 gallons although EPA evidence shows far more. The company waited a week to disclose that the spill was not ordinary oil, but instead thick tar sands oil. Some 320 people have reported health problems, and litigation is ongoing in a host of lawsuits.
[Image: Capture2.jpg]Oil and Water…
Even these accidents, however awful the consequences for local residents, fail to paint a picture of the potential for catastrophe in the Keystone XL Pipeline project.
If completed, this pipeline would funnel nearly 35 million gallons of Canadian tar sands oil a day from Alberta to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. Along that 1,179-mile route, the line would cross six states in America's heartland, and traverse the Ogallala Aquifer that provides drinking water for two million people.
Though the location of oil and gas pipelines is public information, neither TransCanada nor the State Department has revealed Keystone XL's exact route. But the general path is clear. Keystone will cross a remarkable 1,748 bodies of water in all, including the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.
In an accident, numerous toxic chemicals would be released, including benzene, a known human carcinogen. One at-risk ecosystem, Nebraska's fragile Sandhills region, lies along the Keystone route, with ancient dunes so permeable that nearly 100 percent of rainfall enters the shallow Ogallala Aquifer. This means that a relatively minor spill can have major consequences.
While spills are the most immediate threat posed by the pipeline, much of the Keystone debate has focused on climate change. NASA climatologist James Hansen has called Canadian oil sands crude "one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet."
How bad? It emits 14 to 20 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional crude, according to a congressional report. But the environmental group Rainforest Action Network (RAN) says it's much, much worse:
Tar sands oil is the worst type of oil for the climate, producing three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil because of the energy required to extract and process tar sands oil. . . increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands development is the main reason Canada will not meet its Kyoto reduction commitments.
[Image: TarSands-300x200.jpg]Oil or "Molasses"
Tar sands oil should not be confused with conventional crude. Alberta's oil is a gelatinous mix of tarry petroleum and sand, known as diluted bitumen or "dilbit." It's often likened to asphalt: it is so thick and gooey that it won't flow through a pipeline on its own. For transport, it's thinned with liquefied natural gas and a range of chemicals, some of which are extremely toxic.
It's far stickier than other petroleum products and it sinks in water, which is why oil sands spills are extremely difficult to clean up, said Stephen K. Hamilton, a Michigan State University aquatic ecology professor who's advising the state and the EPA on the cleanup in Marshall. "The bitumen reverts to its molasses-like nature once the diluent evaporates, and is nearly impossible to remove from surfaces…and river banks," he said. "The EPA estimates that a significant fraction of the spilled oil remains in the sediments even after all the time and money invested in cleanup, and I am sure we will never get it all out."
[Image: pegasus-oil-spill-arkansas-exxon-300x203.jpg]Dirty Oil, Dirty Politics
Legally, bitumen is not even considered oil. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that "the term crude oil' does not include "synthetic petroleum." That distinction exempts Enbridge, ExxonMobil, TransCanada and other companies that transport tar sands crude from paying the 8-cents-per-barrel petroleum excise tax. Thus, the companies shipping a substance that's more toxic and harder to clean up than standard petroleum products do not even have to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which was created by Congress in 1986 and enacted four years later in response to the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Cleanup of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a host of smaller accidents drained the fund to risky levels, according to a Government Accountability Office report. As of March 2011, the fund had shelled out $629.5 million for Deepwater. Liability for oil companies caps at $350 million; the fund covers the rest, up to a billion dollars per incident.
But tar sands oil gets a free ride, with transport companies putting nothing aside to help pay for pipeline breaks or other accidents.
The House Natural Resources Committee criticized the exemption, noting that "it is important that all oil companies be held responsible for the disasters associated with the products they sell and the taxpayers not be forced to pay the bills of cash rich oil companies."
Indeed, keeping the exemption in place through 2017 would mean $409 million in lost revenue. With skyrocketing dilbit imports from Canada, it's no small concern. The 220,000 barrels (42 gallons each) imported per day in 2000 jumped to over 650,000 barrels in 2011. Producers hope to top 1.5 million barrels in the next six years, according to Canada's National Energy Board. A series of major spills could bankrupt the fundleaving taxpayers with a massive cleanup bill.
TransCanada's environmental assessment estimated that Keystone XL will discharge 11 "significant" spills of 2,100 gallons or more in the US over its 50-year lifespan. An independent analysis by Dr. John Stansbury, an engineer and professor at the University of Nebraska, presents a far more alarming scenario: up to 91 serious spills over that same period. His study includes key data omitted by TransCanada.
[Image: large-300x187.jpg]A Hazard to "Life, Liberty, and the Environment"
Pipelines break for many reasons, from advancing age and weak welds to natural disasters and construction accidents. But transporting heavy, toxic dilbit further increases stress on pipelines, according to a recent Cornell University study.
It's 15 to 20 times more acidic than conventional heavy crude, with five to 10 times more sulfur. Because it's so thick, it's often pumped at higher temperatures and pressures than other petroleum products. Its varying composition and consistency bring large, frequent swings in pressure that can create new cracks or widen existing onesa factor that may have played a role in ExxonMobil's Arkansas break.
And that was no isolated case. From 2007 to 2010, dilbit pipelines in the northern Midwest dumped three times more oil per mile than the national average for conventional crude. Since the Keystone's Phase 1 pipeline opened in June 2010, there have been at least 35 incidents. It pumps dilbit from Alberta to refineries in Illinois, a line that breezed through the permitting process during the Bush Administration, with little public awareness.
The string of accidents prompted pipeline safety regulators to subsequently deem Keystone 1 a hazard to "life, property, and the environment" and issue a "Corrective Action Order" to address multiple problems.
[Image: oilincreek-300x233.jpg] "A Complete Breakdown of Safety"
Regulators realized in the late 1990s that pipeline operators were losing control of their systems, says Richard Kuprewicz, president of the engineering consulting company Accufacts, Inc. and adviser to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Minimum safety guidelines were updated back then, but now, he says, "we're seeing a rash of ruptures.There's no doubt that there's something wrong with current pipeline safety regulations."
In a recent speech to oil and gas pipeline compliance officers, PHMSA associate administrator Jeffrey Wiese admitted that the regulatory process he oversees is "kind of dying" and that his office has "very few tools to work with" in enforcing safety rules. "Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.
Before they failed, both the Mayflower and Marshall lines were known to have developed cracks. The defect that caused the six-and-a-half-foot hole in Enbridge's Line 6B was noticed at least three times, but both regulators and the company ignored it. Likewise, ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. inspected the section of Pegasus that later burst in 2010 and again in early 2013. But again, nothing was done.
At a hearing on the Michigan spill in 2012, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman stated, "This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge," and likened employees' poor handling of the rupture to "Keystone Kops."
Despite numerous alarms it took operators in Michigan nearly 12 hours to shut down the 30-inch wide pipeline. Another six hours passed before they located the spill site.
The transportation safety board also cited weak federal regulation and oversight of emergency procedures, and poor assessment and repairs of pipeline health.
[Image: Capture3-300x215.jpg]Fast-Tracking the Pipelines
While TransCanada awaits a decision on Keystone XL, it's unclear whether Exxon's 858-mile Pegasus pipeline will reopen. The company hasn't made public its plans for the line, which will require written permission from PHMSA to restart. Analysts conjecture that Pegasus may be in such poor shape that it will need significant repair or that Exxon may be weighing construction of a new, larger replacement.
But other lines will soon be shipping tar sands products to the Gulf for refining and export. Enbridge plans to expand its Alberta Clipper pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin, which would carry up to 880,000 barrels a day, more than Keystone's planned 830,000-barrel capacity.
The company's 774-mile Trunkline is scheduled to go into operation in 2015, using converted gas lines that run from Patoka, IL, to St. James, LA. There is concern that these lines, which have been in the ground for years, were not built to current standards and may not be able to withstand the heavier load of tar sands oil. But these conversions are subject to fewer regulations and generally win swift approval.
The safety issue clearly gets short shrift. PHMSA, the entity charged with oversight, has been understaffed by an average of 24 employees each year between 2001 and 2009. And last year, it had funding for just 137 inspectors in total. That's nowhere near enough to police the industry.
As a result, regulators are forced to essentially leave safety evaluations up to the companies even allowing them to plan their own future pipeline routes. The two assessments submitted for Keystone XL were prepared with blatant conflicts of interest: one by a former client of TransCanada, and the second by a member of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's largest U.S trade association. The EPA commented that the documents lacked needed information on water protection and an improved emergency response plan.
[Image: pipeline-safety-300x208.jpg]Americans Don't Even Gain
Americans risk environmental catastrophe while gaining…next to nothing.
As the Rainforest Action Network notes:
Keystone XL is an export pipeline. In presentations to their investors, Gulf Coast refiners have revealed plans to refine Keystone's Canadian crude into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline's heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers' tanks."
(More on this point from the environmental advocacy group Oil Change International, here.)
With Liberty and Justice for…Oil
The pressure from industry has been considerable. With well-funded publicity campaigns promoting "energy independence," it's not so surprising that in March 2012, President Obama signed an executive order expediting infrastructure permits that will fast-track oil and gas pipeline projects.
One of the loudest arguments for Keystone XL approval is job creation a projected 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs, according to TransCanada. But the Cornell Global Labor Institute examined their data and came up with a far lower estimate: somewhere between 2,500 and 4,650 temporary, direct jobs would come from pipeline construction over a two-year period.
In fact, the U.S. State Department estimates that the six states along the pipeline route will gain a total of just 20 permanent pipeline operation jobs. Meanwhile, with 571,000 agricultural workers employed in those states, a spill that poisons farmland and ground water could mean a significant economic hit, not to mention the potential harm to the region's substantial tourism industry (which in South Dakota alone brings in $865 million a year).
If Obama is under pressure to hand the industry another fortune, imagine the pressure the Canadian leadership faces. Evidence of this was on display during a late September visit to New York City by Canada's Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. In an unusually pugilistic stance for a Canadian, Harper declared that he "won't take no for an answer" from his much larger neighbor to the south.
"The logic behind this project is simply overwhelming," he said. And he added (apparently drawing another bloated figure out of the north-of-the-border air), it "will create 40,000 jobs in the U.S." His incentive to sell the project is clear enough: Canada's share of U.S. crude oil imports rose to 38.7 percent in February, the highest in at least two decades, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
[Image: PipelineSpillAftermathinArkansas060513-300x180.jpg]As Kuprewicz, the engineering consultant, notes: "We're not going to get rid of oil and gas pipelines, so we need to operate them safely." But the question remains: Is shipping more tar sands oil into the US the wisest choice?
(Next: Part 2A Cautionary Tale: Tar Sands Oil and Health)
[Image: image00.png]The question of whether tar sands are hazardous to our health is growing stickier.
A final decision from the Obama administration on the Phase 4 construction of the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline remains on hold, stalled by legal challenges to its planned route through the state of Nebraska.
But other questions have been raised in Congress about the possible health effects that may result from pumping 35 million gallons a day of diluted bitumen tar sands oil through a pipeline every day from Alberta, Canada, through the heart of America to refineries on the Gulf Coast. And there are questions that are barely being asked or answered. Here, we take a look at some of them.
It has now been over a year since ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured, immersing the Northwoods subdivision in Mayflower, Arkansas, and nearby Lake Conway in 210,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude. Many residents are still suffering from serious health problems they blame on that spill.
A far larger spill in July 2010 dumped more than a million gallons of tar sands oil from an Enbridge Energy pipeline into yards, fields, and the Kalamazoo River in Marshall, Michigan. Citizens are still waiting for information on chemical exposure and health risks from the Michigan Department of Community Health information that's now three years overdue, according to Marshall resident Susan Connolly, a paralegal who testified at a Congressional hearing on the spill.
[Image: 2-300x1681.png]Dead fish in Lake Conway. By Genieve Long.

No one knows exactly which chemicals were in the oil that inundated these communities nor do doctors, researchers or regulators know just how harmful they might be.
As we explained in Part 1 of this series, published in 2013, tar sands oil is not conventional crude. It's a viscous mix of sand and tarry petroleum known as bitumen that is so thick that it must be diluted with liquefied natural gas and various chemicals so it can flow through a pipeline. Any of 1,000 chemicals may be used to make diluted bitumen, or "dilbit" and companies are permitted by the government to conceal those formulas as trade secrets.
These unknowns prompted the U.S. Senate Environment Committee to request a "comprehensive study on the human health impacts of tar sands oil and the proposed pipeline." In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in February, senators called the health information in the most recent State Department environmental review "woefully inadequate." In April, a State Department official confirmed that they "will address health impacts" but did not talk about plans to start a broad independent health study.
Acute Exposure
On March 29, 2013, oil streamed from the ruptured pipeline and fumes enveloped Mayflower in a caustic petrochemical plume, sickening hundreds of people in this small working class community of 2,200 people. It smelled like asphalt, but worse, says Genieve Long, a mother of four who lives beside the lake. "The air was so thick it burned your lungs. It burned your eyes," Long told WhoWhatWhy.
Crude oil contaminated 22 properties in the Northwoods subdivision; those families were evacuated, but neighbors who lived just a few hundred yards away or along oil-slicked Lake Conway were not. Many, including Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, later questioned why everyone living in close proximity had not been removed.
Intense exposure sparked acute symptoms that for many, persisted for three to four months: Residents dry heaved or vomited for days on end; they suffered from bowel issues, endless migraines, nosebleeds, exhaustion, dizzy spells and confusion; their skin was covered in rashes that resembled chemical burns and they gasped for breath.
It was a mirror image of what had happened to the citizens of Marshall, Michigan, after the Enbridge spill three years before. A state report found that nearly 60 percent of those living in the vicinity experienced the same health problems.
"These are classic symptoms of acute exposure to both airborne petrochemicals and to the chemicals used to liquefy the thick Canadian tar sands oil," says Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist who works with communities impacted by oil spills. "There's an entire population that's been made very, very sick by the emissions."
Limited Information
Because ExxonMobil barred news reporters from the area after the Arkansas spill, little information was available in the early days, said Ann Jarrell, who lived 300 yards from the site. Those who contacted police, the health department, or the company, she said, were repeatedly assured there was no danger.
The overpowering stench in their oil-soaked neighborhood prompted her daughter, Jennifer, to call the Mayflower police department: She was worried about her four-month-old infant. When she asked if they should evacuate, she was told that if there was no oil on their property, they should be finebut both Ann and Jennifer were nauseous and coughed constantly, their heads pounding.
No government agency stepped forward to educate the public about health risks, and state officials told residents that contaminants in the air were "below levels likely to cause health effects for the general population" in an online press release. So even though they were sick, most people stayed in their homes, either because they'd been told to, couldn't afford to leave, or simply had nowhere else to go.
In the event of an oil spill, there is little guidance from the federal government: There are no federal guidelines on when or if the public should be evacuated, nor protocols for evaluating public health after exposure. At a press conference, Attorney General McDaniel expressed concern about "the short- and long-term effects of carcinogens released into the air which are still detectable in the living rooms of people in that area."
Five months after the spill, the state finally offered Mayflower residents free health assessments. For many, their problems had been compounded by the fact that most doctors have little training or experience diagnosing or treating chemical exposures. And though citizens pushed Exxon and the health department to establish a centrally located clinic and bring in specialists versed in occupational and environmental medicine, it never happened.
[Image: 3-300x3001.png]Lake Conway, slicked in oil. By Genieve Long

Long-term Effects
It's hard to know what, if anything, to do about tar sands oil, since there are no data on the long-term health effects of exposure to it. And there are few efforts to correct that knowledge gap so it's difficult to assess what safety regulations are needed to properly protect the public.
Susan Connolly advocated for an ongoing epidemiological study of those who were affected in Marshall, but was repeatedly rebuffed. April Lane, an expert on the health effects of fossil fuels, also wanted to collect health data in Mayflower, but her request for federal funding was turned down. Without such studies, it is impossible to track the incidence of chronic illnesses or cancers that may result from living amidst an oil spill. Subra notes that these people are continually re-exposed.
For some Mayflower residents, pre-existing conditions have worsened. Others now suffer from chronic health issues that have appeared in the months since the spill. Among the more serious cases are people hospitalized with kidney infections or "chemical pneumonitis," a type of pneumonia. "It's not a one size fits all,'" says Lane. "Each person reacts differently to toxins."
Severe respiratory problems have repeatedly landed Jennifer Jarrell's son, Logan, in the emergency room over the past year and he now uses a steroid inhaler twice daily to breathe. His grandmother Ann, lost her voice, her thyroid levels skyrocketed, and her headaches grew so intense that her doctor suspected a brain tumor and sent her for an MRI.
Genieve Long, who lives on Lake Conway, stayed because it was impossible to uproot four kids without any assistance. Six months post-spill, she mysteriously developed gallstones and kidney stones that weren't there nine months earlier when she'd had diagnostic scans for something else. She was told that it should take years, not months, to develop stones as large as hers. Her question now: "What's going to happen to me or my kids in 20 years?"
Though they no longer smell oil every day, whenever boaters disturb Lake Conway's shallow waters, or windy, rainy weather stirs up the water, tar balls rise and petroleum rainbows slick the lake's surface. The family's early, acute symptoms return along with a metallic, chemical taste in their mouths. They start wheezing, they can't think straight, and they're again plagued by headaches. Long's two youngest children have been left with poorly functioning lungs, she says, and struggle to breathe every day.
Residual dilbit is a big problem, especially around waterways. Unlike normal oil, heavy tar sands oil sinks. Once the diluting chemicals evaporate, it reverts to its original viscous state and is almost impossible to remove.
ExxonMobil's remediation work in Lake Conway is still under way. And in Michigan, Enbridge's cleanup efforts continue as the company struggles to remove the estimated 180,000 gallons of dilbit that remains submerged in the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries, which has already cost over a billion dollars, with a minimum of $22 million in fines still looming for Clean Water Act violations.
With Petrochemicals, How Little is Too Much?
Aaron Stryk, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil, told WhoWhatWhy that contractors hired by the company conducted "exhaustive" air sampling and continuous air quality tests in Mayflower. They tested for three substances: benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also sampled air and monitored air quality, but only released data on total VOCs.
These grouped VOC readings don't identify what chemicals are actually present in the air, nor their concentrations, says fossil fuels expert Lane. She explains that without identifying which chemicals are present and in what amounts it's impossible to accurately gauge health risks.
Much of the focus was on benzene. It's toxic in miniscule doses, and is known to cause leukemia and neurological problems and to lower immunity. In Mayflower, airborne benzene levels at the spill site averaged 0.6 parts per million, sometimes spiking to 2.2 parts per million.
There are dozens of government guidelines for benzene exposure. For example, Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSD) standards estimate that people can breathe air containing 9 parts-per-billion (ppb) for up to two weeks or 6 ppb for up to a year without adverse health effects. However, these guidelines did not include cancer risk even though benzene is a known carcinogen.
Moreover, public health decisions become the domain of county or state officials after an oil spill though such decisions often fall well outside their experience or expertise. The variations are staggering. In Arkansas, the Department of Health established the benzene exposure threshold at more than five times ATSD standards: 50 parts per billion for up to a six-month period. Lori Simmons, who runs the agency's environmental epidemiology department, said that residents could be exposed to these levels without long-lasting health problems.
[Image: 42-300x2241.png]Lake Conway, mired in oil. By Genieve Long

Health experts, including Wilma Subra, April Lane and others, are concerned that the state's "safe" levels were set too high to protect the public and that the health department failed to issue special warnings for those who are the most vulnerable to chemical exposures: pregnant women, the elderly and young children.
Communities get sick even when the concentrations are well below the more stringent federal "acceptable standards," says Subra, and monitoring protocols are frequently insufficient. State and federal agencies may rely on equipment that monitors only in the parts-per-million range, which for some substances is not sensitive enough.
A growing body of research shows that infinitesimal doses of some chemicals can have serious effects. Over the last few decades, scientists have discovered that low-dose toxins may disrupt endocrine functions that orchestrate everything from growth, development, reproduction, immunity and cognition to memory and metabolism. The unborn are particularly at risk: Exposure in-utero can interfere with the gene-controlled signaling systems that influence every aspect of fetal development.
Effects of early exposure may not appear until later in life, and damaging genetic changes can be inherited by future generations. Health problems caused by these "endocrine disruptors" is a problem of such growing global concern that it prompted research on the state of the science by the World Health Organization in 2012.
But most chemicals have never been safety-tested. When the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was introduced, it grandfathered in some 60,000-plus existing chemicals, assuming they were safe until proven otherwise. Since then, the EPA has required testing of about 200 of them and has partially regulated just five.
Manufacturers have provided little if any information to the agency on the safety of 22,000 chemicals created since then. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, TSCA makes it "nearly impossible for the EPA to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects."
For a decade prior to his death last year, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), fought to overhaul chemical safety laws. But the Chemicals in Commerce Act that was introduced in the House in February has drawn fire, with critics arguing that the proposed legislation would weaken current regulations by pre-empting state standards and allowing companies to conceal the chemicals used in their products.
In both Marshall and Mayflower another knowledge gap became glaringly obvious: There has been virtually no testing of either the cumulative effects of various chemicals or their combined, synergistic effects on the human body.
Trade Secrets May Endanger Public Health
It's all a little like KFC and their secret recipe. Companies can legally withhold their "proprietary" dilbit formulas from regulators, including the EPA. Even the State Department's 2013 Keystone XL environmental impact study lacked specific information on diluents: "The exact composition of the dilbit is not publicly available because the particular type of bitumen and diluents blend produced is variable and is typically a trade secret."
That leaves the overseers in the dark. Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, says that though regulators have some knowledge of what's being used to thin heavy crude, they don't know the contents of any particular batch. Over 1,000 chemicals may be present in dilbit, depending on what's cheapest at the time. Many are hazardous to humans.
Independent air samples taken by Lane and analyzed by Subra on the first four days following the Mayflower accident were found to contain 30 chemicals.
"Each of the 30 hydrocarbons measured in the Mayflower release is a toxic chemical on its own and may pose a threat to human health depending on exposure and individual factors," said Neil Carman, a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality inspector who now is a Clean Air Program director with the Sierra Club.
What else citizens were breathing may be anyone's guess because of the limited testing done on the air samples, Lane says. Her monitoring charted high levels of benzene, potentially dangerous concentrations of n-hexane, octane, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which naturally occur in oil and tar deposits. Lower levels of butane, toluene, and other chemicals were also detected. Some of these are among the most toxic airborne chemicals regulated under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
Heavy Metals in the Heavy Crude
Alberta's tar sands oil also carries heavy metals in significantly larger concentrations than those in conventional oil: mercury, manganese, nickel and chromium, which are toxic at high doses, as well as arsenic and lead, which damage the nervous system at relatively low doses. The list of potential maladies from these chemicals and heavy metals is long and frightening.
In 2009, the Alberta Research Council, a government-funded research and development corporation focusing on energy, reported that the region's bitumen had 10 times the chromium and 38 times the manganese as Canada's standard crude oil.
Without testing, it's unclear whether these metals and other chemicals in bitumen are seeping into dwellings, gardens, the water table, or are present in dust and soil and if so, at what levels.
Water testing in an oil-soaked area of Lake Conway known as "the Cove" has repeatedly measured manganese in amounts exceeding EPA safety standards for drinking water. In some cases, it has tested at 30 times acceptable levels.
Rising Imports, Rising Risks?
Concerns about tar sands extend beyond just the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Tar sands oil imports from Canada have tripled over the past decade, jumping from 9.2 million gallons per day in 2000 to more than 27.3 million gallons in 2011. Producers hope to double that in the next five years, according to Canada's National Energy Board.
To transport Canada's heavy crude from Alberta's landlocked tar sands to American refineries, the U.S. is constructing, or repurposing, a plethora of existing oil and gas pipelines, some of which have been in use for decades and were constructed for much lighter loads. So no one knows how well those pipes will handle the tar sands oil.
In part because of the controversy and delays over the pipeline, Exxon is already making other plans: Starting in 2015, it will ship Canadian oil by train out of a newly built terminal, up to 4.2 million gallons a day. Rail transport poses its own risks. The last three years have seen seven out of the nation's worst 10 railroad oil spills dumping 1.2 million gallons in 2013 alone.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works recently raised the larger issue about bringing greater quantities of diluted bitumen into the U.S., though they were specifically questioning Keystone XL.
"We believe that putting more Americans at risk for asthma, cancer, and other serious health impacts is not in our national interest," the senators wrote.
Residents of Mayflower understand the risks firsthand. "There's no fence that stops toxins," says Genieve Long. "We're the collateral damage."
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking Senate vote Thursday on a bill that will allow states to cut off federal funding to women's health clinics that provide abortions. All but two RepublicansSusan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaskavoted in favor of the measure, but few Republicans joined Senate debate Thursday. This is Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington.
Sen. Patty Murray: "The deafening silence from the group of almost entirely male Republican senators who are voting today to make it harder for women to get the healthcare they neednot one spoke today to justify this vote. Where are those Republican senators, Mr. President? Why did they feel so entitled not just to interfere with women's healthcare decisions, but to do so without explaining themselves?"