It looks like scientists are pushing back against global warming denialists who have hijacked the debate over climate change. This week, Science magazine published a letter signed by 255 scientists that protests what they call "political assaults on scientists and climate scientists in particular." From the letter:
"There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions. But "for a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet."
In addition, Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Select House Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, held a hearing yesterday on climate science, at which he argued that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill proves that the US needs to move beyond a reliance on petroleum. Markey said that a move toward clean energy was the only solution to the undeniable reality of human-caused climate change.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Virginia released a statement opposing the actions of Virginia’s activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli after he launched an investigation into publicly funded work by a climate scientist formerly employed by UVA. The climate scientist, Michael Mann, was at the center of the so-called "Climategate" controversy last year, but has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a review at Pennsylvania State University, where he currently works. In addition, two reports by committees in the United Kingdom have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the scientists involved. However, Cuccinelli still wants UVA to turn over a massive number of documents relating to Mann's research to determine if Mann "defrauded" the state.
Even though we thought it was impossible to top the barrage of troubling news that emerged last week about the oil spill (still going on!) that followed the explosion, fire and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, even more disturbing information has come out since our last blog on the topic.
Hayward also neglected to point out that the chemicals themselves pose a threat to the fragile gulf ecosystem – and according to an expert, may be more toxic than oil. While not all of the compounds in the chemicals are known due to trade secrecy, at least one is associated with "headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses." From ProPublica:
“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t – of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”
The chemicals can also have a worrisome effect on food safety. Studies have shown toxic compounds from the chemicals can accumulate in shellfish, and affect the development of fish. The chemicals will likely negatively affect the Gulf Coast fish industry.
Many troubling details are beginning to come out about the explosion and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, which oil giant BP was leasing from Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor. The platform exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead, and producing one of the largest oil spills in history in U.S. water.
On Tuesday, the London Guardian (UK) reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the US government agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil activities, was expected to launch an investigation into the sinking of Deepwater Horizon.
MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower's claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to "catastrophic operator errors." Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world.
Food, Inc. examines the myriad problems with food integrity in America. The United States agribusiness model reliably generates more food on less land and at a lower cost than that of any other nation.
However, Food, Inc. takes a look at the cost of the many well-known issues that have arisen because of the factory farm model, including animal cruelty, environmental damage, foodborne illness, and health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The documentary also examines several less-known but no less shocking problems with the food industry, including a revolving door of employment that prevents workers from blowing the whistle on food integrity issues and the millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by agribusiness.
Late last week, a worker at the Umatilla Chemical Depot was apparently exposed to mustard agent, causing a blister. It is believed to be the first time that a worker at the plant, against which GAP has been involved in numerous lawsuits, has been exposed to the dangerous chemical agent. (Seattle Times story)
While GAP has not focused on worker safety concerns at the Depot, we do have a history of fighting against the Army and Oregon agencies running the plant, who have decided to utilize the controversial method of incineration to destroy the mustard agent. GAP’s position is that this method of agent destruction is clearly not the “best available technology” for doing so (as state law requires). Rather, a water neutralization method has been used at other chemical depots around the country to glowing praise. This neutralization method would truly minimize any risk of outside contamination – whereas GAP believes the incineration method would release dangerous levels of mercury into the atmosphere.
ProPublica presents a list of involved people who are denying any knowledge of Lehman Brothers controversial usage of an accounting trick that allowed the company to hide its financial troubles before eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2008. Included is Lehman Brothers CEO, who claims that he didn't know about the issue because he doesn't use a computer and couldn't open attachments on his BlackBerry. The article has a nice video explaining the accounting trick.
New court filings in the case of Federal Air Marshal whistleblower and GAP client Robert MacLean argue that MacLean's direct supervisor was engaged in “an illicit affair with a female subordinate, on whom he bestowed numerous professional favors.” However, the supervisor was protected from punishment for this violation of agency rules because he made a dirty deal to carry out the director of the air marshal program's instructions to fire MacLean. GAP legal director Tom Devine is quoted in the article, from the Orange County Register:
MacLean’s attorney, Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, responded to the government’s response: “The development about Mr. Donanti was not offered to impugn his character,” it says. “It demonstrates that he had a conflict of interest, because his professional survival depended on acting as the agency’s hatchet man against a problematic Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association (FLEOA) leader."
The article also discusses the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which would give whistleblowers many more rights and protections. The act was likely to pass the Senate by unanimous consent last year but two Republican senators (Jim Bunning and Kit Bond) put holds on the bill. Bunning has since removed his hold.
In public safety news, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), David Strickland, said yesterday that the proportion of complaints against Toyota vehicles, when compared with other automakers, was “unremarkable.” Strickland also said that until the agency finds a specific cause of vehicle defect, they have little recourse. Strickland will probably face criticism about what the NHTSA should have done about years of complaints about Toyotas, and how it should handle further complaints when he testifies in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today. Strickland’s testimony will mark the fourth congressional hearing about Toyota defects. Former NHTSA head Joan Claybrook, who will also testify today, will argue that more needs to be done to protect drivers.
Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower,reviews the new book by Harry Markpolos, the man who tried to blow the whistle on Bernie Madoff, but failed when the Securities and Exchange Commission refused to listen to him.
In the past few years, many investigative reports have focused on the steady decline of water quality from agricultural runoff. One particular exceptional piece on this topic is Frontline’s Poisoned Waters piece from last year. Part of that series covered the phenomenon of Potomac River wildlife inexplicably changing sex, possible due to chemical exposure/dumping into the river.
This front page piece from the NYTdetails how recent decisions by the Supreme Court have severely damaged efforts to hold corporations accountable for dumping toxic chemicals and other serious pollutants into America’s waterways. As a result of the decisions, major polluters are declaring that the laws no longer apply to them, the EPA has scaled back investigations on a mass scale, and millions of American’s drinking water quality is at risk.
Over the weekend, an anonymous whistleblower told a member of the Vermont Public Oversight Panel that a recent leak of radioactive chemicals from a nuclear power plant in that state is not the first it has experienced. The plant is currently trying to locate the source of the leak, while the whistleblower reported that leaks have occurred previously, and that the power plant attempted to fix them without shutting down or reporting the problem.