People Power, the Solution to Climate Inaction

Op-Ed by Rob McCreath,  a farmer in Queensland, Australia.

Nothing is more important to farmers like me than the weather. It affects the growth and quality of our crops and livestock, and has a major impact on global food supply.

The world’s weather is being messed up by global warming, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Every national science organisation in the developed world agrees that global warming is real and caused by human activities. That’s good enough for me.

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century – rendering large parts of it uninhabitable, including many currently densely populated areas, which will be under water due to melting glaciers and ice caps.

The impacts on farming in Australia (and everywhere else) of such a rise in temperature would be very severe indeed.

To avoid such a bleak future, we simply must stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If our politicians had any common sense, they would change quickly to renewable energy, but sadly they are captives of the fossil fuel industry that funds their re-election campaigns.

Just look at the Nationals, who in spite of claiming to represent farmers, this month declared donations of 30,000 dollars from oil & gas company Santos, 25,000 from coal miner Peabody, and 50,000 dollars from prominent climate change denier and coal & oil company director Ian Plimer.

So, for the sake of future generations, we have to make this change happen ourselves, and the best way to do this is to disrupt the business model of companies trying to make money from fossil fuels by pulling the financial rug out from underneath them.

It’s called divestment, which is simply the opposite of investment. Here’s how it works. If you’ve got shares in fossil fuel companies, then sell them and invest in something that won’t wreck the planet.

If your super fund invests in fossil fuels, then transfer your money to a fund that doesn’t. If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum, and the more people that take part, the better it works. Share prices (just like wheat and cattle prices) are set by supply and demand, so as more people sell, the price falls.

When a company’s share price falls far enough, it finds it more difficult to borrow money, with which to fund its next coal mine. Take oil and gas company Santos, for example. Due mainly to the recent plunge in oil prices, in the past six months its share price has dropped by almost 50 percent.

As a result, the company has announced plans to cut back on expenditure and reduce its operations.

On the flip side, the more money that flows into companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green technology, the faster they will grow and the sooner we can put a lid on runaway climate change.

A brave new world awaits. Let’s divest together and change the future!

Global Divestment Day will be taking place on Feb. 13-14. Hundreds of events spanning six continents will be taking place. Join an event near you. For more information visit: gofossilfree.org

Fracking Chemicals Cause Sterility & Birth Defects

Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with highly toxic chemicals, in order to release more natural gas or oil from underground rock. The process requires vast amounts of water that become contaminated with the chemicals and which are then pumped underground where groundwater can be contaminated. The contamination of ground and surface water can also occur during the fracking operations. Fracking releases huge amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change and global warming.

Recent discussions have centered on potential air and water pollution from chemicals used in these processes and how it affects the more than 15 million Americans living within one mile of UOG operations. Now, Susan C. Nagel, a researcher with the University of Missouri, and national colleagues have conducted the largest review to date of research centered on fracking byproducts and their effects on human reproductive and developmental health. They determined that exposure to chemicals released in fracturing may be harmful to human health in men, women and children and recommend further scientific study.

“We examined more than 150 peer-reviewed studies reporting on the effects of chemicals used in UOG operations and found evidence to suggest there is cause for concern for human health,” said Nagel. “Further, we found that previous studies suggest that adult and early life exposure to chemicals associated with UOG operations can result in adverse reproductive health and developmental defects in humans.”

The “weight of evidence” review of scientific literature and peer-reviewed publications, where studies are examined thoroughly for patterns and links, included international studies that focused on UOG chemicals. Reviewers say these chemicals have been measured in air and water near UOG operations, and have been associated with harmful effects in both animals and humans.

The reviewers concluded that exposure to air and water pollution caused by UOG operations may be linked to health concerns including infertility, miscarriage, impaired fetal growth, birth defects and reduced semen quality.

“There are far fewer human studies than animal studies; however, taken together, the studies did show that humans can be harmed by these chemicals released from fracking,” Nagel said. “There is strong evidence of decreased semen quality in men, higher miscarriages in women and increased risk of birth defects in children. There is a striking need for continued research on UOG processes and chemicals and the health outcomes in people.”

Nagel, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health in the School of Medicine, and adjunct associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts and Science at MU, conducted the review with colleagues from the University of Missouri as well as researchers at the Institute for Health and the Environment and the Center for Environmental Health.

The review, “Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Chemicals Associated with Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Operations,” was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health.

Green Energy Now Scotlands Main Source

Renewable energy has become Scotland’s main source of power, new independent figures have revealed.

Records from the first half of 2014, the most recent period for which data is available, show renewables generated 32% more electricity than any other single source of power in Scotland.

In total, the renewables sector generated a record 10.3TWh (terawatt-hours)1, compared to 7.8TWh2 from nuclear generation – previously Scotland’s main source of electricity. The figures also show that coal and gas-fired electricity generation produced 5.6TWh and 1.4TWh respectively2 over the same six-month period.

Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “The announcement that renewables have become Scotland’s main source of electricity is historic news for our country, and shows the investment made in the sector is helping to deliver more power than ever before to our homes and businesses.

“This important milestone is good news for anyone who cares about Scotland’s economy, our energy security and our efforts to tackle climate change.

“Every unit of power generated from renewables means less carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, decreases our reliance on imported energy and supports jobs and investment in communities across Scotland.

“The renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time, but there is still plenty of potential for further growth.

“Offshore wind and marine energy are still in the early stages of development but could make a big contribution to our future energy needs if they get the right support from government. That support includes the delivery of grid connections to the islands, home to the UK’s very best wind, wave and tidal sites.”

Hyundai-Kia to Pay $100M for Climate Violations

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a historic settlement with the automakers Hyundai and Kia that will resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations based on their sale of close to 1.2 million vehicles that will emit approximately 4.75 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in excess of what the automakers certified to EPA.

The automakers will pay a $100 million civil penalty, the largest in Clean Air Act history, to resolve violations concerning the testing and certification of vehicles sold in America and spend approximately $50 million on measures to prevent any future violations.  Hyundai and Kia will also forfeit 4.75 million greenhouse gas emission credits that the companies previously claimed, which are estimated to be worth over $200 million.  Automakers earn greenhouse gas emissions credits for building vehicles with lower emissions than required by law.  These credits can be used to offset emissions from less fuel efficient vehicle models or sold or traded to other automakers for the same purpose.  The greenhouse gas emissions that the forfeited credits would have allowed are equal to the emissions from powering more than 433,000 homes for a year.

“This unprecedented resolution with Hyundai and Kia underscores the Justice Department’s firm commitment to safeguarding American consumers, ensuring fairness in every  marketplace, protecting the environment, and relentlessly pursuing companies that make misrepresentations and violate the law,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “This type of conduct quite simply will not be tolerated.  And the Justice Department will never rest or waver in our determination to take action against any company that engages in such activities – whenever and wherever they are uncovered.”

“Greenhouse gas emission laws protect the public from the dangers of climate change, and today’s action reinforces EPA’s commitment to see those laws through,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.  “Businesses that play by the rules shouldn’t have to compete with those breaking the law.  This settlement upholds the integrity of the nation’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas programs and supports all Americans who want to save fuel costs and reduce their environmental impact.”

The complaint was filed today jointly by the United States and the California Air Resources Board in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  It alleges that the car companies sold close to 1.2 million cars and SUVs from model years 2012 and 2013 whose design specifications did not conform to the specifications the companies certified to EPA, which led to the misstatements of greenhouse gas emissions.  These allegations concern the Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Veloster and Santa Fe vehicles and the Kia Rio and Soul vehicles.

Additionally Hyundai and Kia gave consumers inaccurate information about the real-world fuel economy performance of many of these vehicles.  Hyundai and Kia overstated the fuel economy by one to six miles per gallon, depending on the vehicle.  Similarly, they understated the emissions of greenhouse gases by their fleets by approximately 4.75 million metric tons over the estimated lifetime of the vehicles.

In order to reduce the likelihood of future vehicle greenhouse gas emission miscalculations, Hyundai and Kia have agreed to reorganize their emissions certification group, revise test protocols, improve management of test data and enhance employee training before they conduct emissions testing to certify their model year 2017 vehicles.  In the meantime, Hyundai and Kia must audit their fleets for model years 2015 and 2016 to ensure that vehicles sold to the public conform to the description and data provided to EPA.

EPA discovered these violations in 2012 during audit testing.  Subsequent investigation revealed that Hyundai’s and Kia’s testing protocol included numerous elements that led to inaccurately higher fuel economy ratings.  In processing test data, Hyundai and Kia allegedly chose favorable results rather than average results from a large number of tests.

In November 2012, Hyundai and Kia responded to the EPA’s findings by correcting the fuel economy ratings for many of their 2011, 2012 and 2013 model year vehicles and establishing a reimbursement program to compensate owners for increased fuel costs due to overstated fuel economy.

This case involves five different entities: Hyundai Motor Company, Hyundai Motor America, Kia Motors Corporation, Kia Motors America and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc.

The California Air Resources Board joined the United States as a co-plaintiff in this settlement, and will receive $6,343,400 of the $100 million civil penalty.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval.  A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

For more information http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/hyundai-and-kia-clean-air-act-settlement

Oil Palm Waste Gas for Heat and Power

The process of burning fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal and natural gas releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The effect of this carbon dioxide emission into our atmosphere is causes global warming. It is crucial to develop alternative renewable fuel sources which are sustainable, cost effective and environmental friendly. These elements would increase fuel sustainability, security and reduce the adverse effects related to fuel combustion. Biomass based fuels is gaining popularity as alternative to fossil fuels, but many are not really green and can actually be worse then fossil fuels.

A research team led by Professor Mohamad Asadullah has embarked on a project related to gasification of biomass to produce clean producer gas. This gas mixture can be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines, turbine and fuel cell for power generation.

Currently available gasification technologies and processes produce gas with unusually high concentration of impurities such as tar, dust and acidic gases which render it difficult to be used widely.

The novelty of this technology is that, it can simultaneously remove all these impurities and can produce clean gas for heat and power generation. The technology developed in this project utilizes waste biomass as a feedstock, especially oil palm biomass, and produces value added products such as fuels and chemicals.

There is a huge commercial potential for this technology to be utilized in Malaysia and other countries that produce large amounts of biomass especially oil palm biomass which is suitable to be used in renewable energy production.

This project creates the opportunity and technology to produce high quality gas from waste biomass.

 

New Technique to Convert Landfill Methane into Hydrogen

A new technique that transforms stinky air-polluting landfill gas could produce the sweet smell of success as it leads to development of a fuel cell generating clean electricity for homes, offices and hospitals, researchers say. The advance would convert methane gas into hydrogen, an efficient, clean form of energy.

The researcher’s report is part of the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features nearly 12,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics.

Recently, hydrogen has received much attention as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — when burned. Hydrogen, however, only emits water vapor when it is burned. For this reason, some companies are developing hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles and homes.

One way to do this is to convert methane, another greenhouse gas, to hydrogen by reacting it with carbon dioxide. And smelly landfills are excellent sources of these gases — microbes living in the waste produce large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide as by-products.

But researchers have faced challenges bringing this idea to reality. For example, finding a proper catalyst has been a major hurdle, says Fabio B. Noronha, Ph.D., who is with the National Institute of Technology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A catalyst is a substance that speeds up processes that otherwise would occur slowly. In this case, researchers are using catalysts to help turn methane and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The problem is that carbon, which forms as a contaminant during the process, deposits onto the catalyst.

“The heart of the process for the production of hydrogen from landfill gas is the catalyst, and this can be disrupted by the presence of carbon,” Noronha explains. “Because of carbon deposition, the catalyst loses the capacity to convert the landfill gases into hydrogen.”

He says that to solve this problem, Noronha’s team developed a new catalyst material that removes the carbon as soon as it is formed. This approach is based on the automotive catalysts developed in the past to control car and truck emissions, he adds. The material is a perovskite-type oxide supported on ceria, which is a component of ceramics.

Right now, the researchers are working on the reaction in the laboratory, but the new, highly stable catalyst should be ideal for commercialization. As a step in that direction, the team plans to test it on a larger scale using material from a local landfill, says Noronha.

 

Methane Hydrates – Climate Tipping Point?

Methane hydrates are fragile and it doesn’t take much for them to convert from a solid to a gas and release methane to the ocean’s surface. At the sea floor the ice-like solid fuel composed of water and methane is only stable at high pressure and low temperature. In some areas, for instance in the North Atlantic off the coast of Svalbard, scientists have detected gas flares regularly. The reasons for their occurrence were still unclear but one hypothesis was that warmer water might cause the dissolution of gas hydrates. Over the past years, comprehensive investigations by an international team of researchers led by scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel have now shown that it may be likely that the gas flares are caused by natural processes.

“In 2008, when we observed the outgassing of methane for the first time, we were alarmed”, reports Professor Christian Berndt, lead author of the study from GEOMAR. “The gas originates from depths where the hydrates should normally be stable. But we knew that a relatively small warming might melt the hydrates”, Berndt explains. Thus, the key question was to find out what causes the outgassing. Step by step, several expeditions that took place in the following years helped to solve the mystery.

One of the most obvious assumptions was that the increasing global warming has already extended into these regions of the North Atlantic. However, the investigations partly carried out with the German research submersible JAGO, pointed clearly to natural causes. “On one hand, we have found that the seasonal variations in temperature in this region are sufficient to push the stability zone of gas hydrates more than a kilometre up and down the slope,” Professor Berndt explains. “Additionally, we discovered carbonate structures in the vicinity of methane seeps at the seafloor”, Dr. Tom Feseker from MARUM adds. “These are clear indicators that the outgassing likely takes place over very long time periods, presumably for several thousand years”, Feseker continues.

Does this mean that global warming has no impact on potential methane release from the seafloor off Svalbard? Certainly not, because over long periods of time the deep ocean will also warm up and in particular the polar regions are affected. Here, enormous amounts of methane hydrate are stored in the ocean floor. “As a powerful greenhouse gas methane represents a particular risk for our climate. A release of large amounts of the gas would further accelerate global warming,” says Prof. Berndt. “Therefore, it is necessary to continue long-term monitoring, particularly in such critical regions as off Svalbard”, the Geophysicist concludes.

Should We Expect a 20 Meter Ocean Rise?

As Earth’s temperatures continue to climb, ice in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland are melting and ocean levels are rising. What we all need to know if how much ocean levels will rise and when.

By studying the past we can get an idea of what to expect in the future.

Temperatures and CO2 levels similar to today were present during the Pliocene epoch of 5.33–2.58 million years ago according to research published in “Nature Geoscience”.

Dr Tina Van De Flierdt, co-author from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says: “The Pliocene Epoch had temperatures that were two or three degrees higher than today and similar atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to today. Our study underlines that these conditions have led to a large loss of ice and significant rises in global sea level in the past. Scientists predict that global temperatures of a similar level may be reached by the end of this century, so it is very important for us to understand what the possible consequences might be.”

The East Antarctic ice sheet is the largest ice mass on Earth, roughly the size of Australia. The ice sheet has fluctuated in size since its formation 34 million years ago, but scientists have previously assumed that it had stabilised around 14 million years ago.

 The team in today’s study were able to determine that the ice sheet had partially melted during this “stable” period by analysing the chemical content of mud in sediments. These were drilled from depths of more than three kilometres below sea level off the coast of Antarctica.

Analysing the mud revealed a chemical fingerprint that enabled the team to trace where it came from on the continent. They discovered that the mud originated from rocks that are currently hidden under the ice sheet. The only way that significant amounts of this mud could have been deposited as sediment in the sea would be if the ice sheet had retreated inland and eroded these rocks, say the team.

The academics suggest that the melting of the ice sheet may have been caused in part by the fact that some of it rests in basins below sea level. This puts the ice in direct contact with seawater and when the ocean warms, as it did during the Pliocene, the ice sheet becomes vulnerable to melting.

Carys Cook, co-author and research postgraduate from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial, adds: “Scientists previously considered the East Antarctic ice sheet to be more stable than the much smaller ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland, even though very few studies of East Antarctic ice sheet have been carried out. Our work now shows that the East Antarctic ice sheet has been much more sensitive to climate change in the past than previously realised. This finding is important for our understanding of what may happen to the Earth if we do not tackle the effects of climate change.”

The next step will see the team analysing sediment samples to determine how quickly the East Antarctic ice sheet melted during the Pliocene. This information could be useful in the future for predicting how quickly the ice sheet could melt as a result of global warming.

Corrupt Judge Terrorizes Chevron Victims in Ecuador

Just when you thought Judge Lewis A. Kaplan’s maneuverings in favor of Chevron in the Ecuador case could not get any worse, they just did.

The controversial judge, who was unanimously reversed by an appellate court in an earlier phase of the case when he tried to impose an illegal injunction blocking the Ecuador judgment, now appears to be openly running a “pay-to-play” courtroom right in the heart of Manhattan.

The latest evidence: Judge Kaplan has socked impoverished indigenous groups in Ecuador with the exorbitant and secret bills of two “Special Masters” he appointed to oversee depositions in the case.  The Special Masters, Max Gitter and Theodore Katz, are longtime friends and professional colleagues of Kaplan.  Gitter was his former law partner and Katz served for many years as the chief magistrate judge on the court where Kaplan sits before opening a lucrative private mediation practice.

Hang on to your seats for this one.

When Judge Kaplan floated the idea several months ago of appointing Gitter and Katz at Chevron’s request, the Ecuadorians and their longtime U.S. lawyer, Steven Donziger, objected strenuously.  See this letter from famed trial lawyer John Keker for details.  Not only did Gitter have a track record of blatant bias against Donziger, the fees were way beyond what the Ecuadorians – two rainforest residents named Hugo Camacho and Javier Piaguaje — could afford.  Further, there was obviously no need for the Special Masters other than to assist Chevron in gaming the depositions and further sapping the limited resources of the defendants.

True to form, Judge Kaplan appointed Gitter and Katz anyway.  He then ordered Donziger and the Ecuadorians to split the fees of these high-end lawyers with Chevron.  Chevron grossed $247 billion last year; company CEO John Watson received about $30 million in compensation.  Mr. Donziger is a human rights lawyer who works out of his small apartment in Manhattan; the Ecuadorians live in the rainforest and in a good year might make $1,000 in income.

That should give you a good feel for Judge Kaplan’s personal notion of fairness:  a canoe operator in the Amazon rainforest (one of the Ecuadorian defendants) and the nation’s third largest corporation should split the fees of high-priced U.S. Special Masters evenly.

Things then went from the bizarre to the surreal.  Gitter informed the parties that he would bring along his young associate from Cleary Gottlieb to all of the depositions and bill him out at a “discounted” rate of  $630 per hour.  The associate, Justin Ormand, recently was spotted sipping drinks with Katz in the first class cabin on a flight from Newark to Peru after Judge Kaplan ordered Ecuadorian witnesses to be deposed in the U.S. embassy in Lima.

(Judge Kaplan’s decision to force Ecuadorians to travel to Peru to be deposed because of fake “security” concerns is yet another illustration of his xenophobia and disdain for the country of Ecuador.  See here for details.)

Later, something very curious happened.  Both Gitter and Katz refused to send the bills for their time and expenses to the Ecuadorians and Donziger.  Instead, without disclosing the amount of their bills, they asked Judge Kaplan for “guidance” about what they should do in light of the defendants stated refusal to not be able to pay.  See this letter.

Julio Gomez, a solo practitioner from New Jersey who now represents Messrs. Camacho and Piaguaje after their previous counsel withdrew in May, asked the Special Masters for a copy of their invoices so he could respond to the letter to the court.  Ormand, no doubt billing at his “discounted” rate of $630 per hour, wrote back a cryptic email asserting that the Special Masters were refusing to turn over the bills to Donziger and the Ecuadorians.  See that email exchange here.

Gomez and Donziger then filed a complaint with Judge Kaplan about how the entire situation seemed at least a tad bit improper.  No, make that dreadfully improper if not downright unethical.  This is where it really gets interesting.

Rather than order Gitter and Katz to disclose their secret bills to the defendants, Judge Kaplan concocted a plan to get them paid in full while at the same time allowing Chevron to exert added leverage over the Ecuadorians and Donziger in the underlying case.  This plan is so dazzling that only a judge as smart as Kaplan could possibly come up with it.

Judge Kaplan’s extraordinary order, which can be read here, requires Chevron to pay 100% of the fees of the Special Masters.  It refuses to order Gitter and Katz to disclose their secret bills.  And, amazingly, it invites Chevron to sue the Ecuadorians and Donziger so he can enter a judgment for the oil giant for 50% of the amount of the bills that are supposedly their responsibility.

In other words, Judge Kaplan’s scheme guarantees his friends will get paid what are surely exorbitant bills.  And it cleverly leaves Chevron the option of not suing Donziger and the Ecuadorians if it concludes it would be too embarrassing for Judge Kaplan, the Special Masters, or the oil company for the amounts of the bills to be disclosed.  This is one way that pay-to-play justice goes down in Judge Kaplan’s courtroom.

There is precedent for how fancy Manhattan lawyers can exploit the plight of the Ecuadorian rainforest villagers to generate enormous billings for their law firms. It has been reported that Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is using at least 114 lawyers and billing Chevron an estimated $400 million annually to help the company evade the $19 billion judgment in Ecuador.  This has caused all sorts of problems for Chevron shareholders, who have asked the SEC to investigate company management for failing to properly disclose the risk related to the Ecuador liability.  It also has put intense pressure on CEO Watson, who recently was forced to testify under oath about the litigation and answer questions from Donziger.

As for Gitter and his secret bills, we have seen the same script before.

In 2011, Judge Kaplan appointed Gitter as Special Master to oversee depositions in several discovery actions initiated by Chevron related to the Ecuador case, including that of Donziger.   Gitter mistreated Donziger to such an extent that he forced him to testify for 16 days – a likely record for an active lawyer on a case – and often tag-teamed with Chevron’s lawyers when posing hostile questions.  Donziger said at times it felt like being a defendant in the Salem witch trials.

During the marathon 16-day deposition spanning 2011 and 2012, Judge Kaplan ordered Donziger to pay one-third of the fees of Gitter and Ormand.   (Given Gitter’s hostile behavior, that’s like ordering someone to pay for the bullet of his executioner.) Yet Gitter never sent Donziger a bill for his “services”.  Why wouldn’t a high-end corporate lawyer like Gitter try his best to get paid?

We suspect it’s the same reason Gitter won’t disclose his bills to the defendants now.  He likely was embarrassed for the world to know how much he was making from Chevron to help crush impoverished rainforest residents under the guise of being a neutral “Special Master”.   We suppose Gitter did send out his earlier bill to Chevron and the company paid it.  It is indisputable he never copied Donziger nor asked that he pay his portion as ordered by Judge Kaplan.

A few weeks ago Donziger’s counsel asked Gitter for a copy of that old bill.  The idea was to use it as possible evidence to argue Gitter should not be appointed because of his liberal billing habits, lack of transparency, and obvious sympathies for Chevron.  Gitter never provided the bill to Donziger, which remains secret to this day.

The sordid story of the billings of Gitter and Katz and the behind-the-scenes puppeteer role of Judge Kaplan is part of a larger and disturbing pattern.  Judge Kaplan is trying to rig Chevron’s retaliatory “fraud” case such that the truth cannot come out and Chevron will cruise to victory in a show trial.  Chevron hopes to use any judgment to try to block lawsuits targeting its assets that are pending in countries around the world.

We have reported for weeks how Judge Kaplan is encouraging Chevron to use its overwhelming resources to win by might what it cannot win through merit.   See this powerful letter exposing Judge Kaplan’s efforts sent by Craig Smyser, a prominent Houston lawyer who formerly represented the Ecuadorians.  The oil giant has used at least 60 law firms, 2,000 legal personnel, and 180 investigators to help it evade the Ecuador judgment.

We now understand better why over the course of weeks of depositions in May and June Gitter and Katz often delighted in making rulings limiting questioning of Chevron witnesses so as to hide the company’s attempts to corrupt the Ecuador trial and spy on adversary counsel.  See these complaints filed by Donziger for details.

It is well-documented that Kaplan has made what appear to be xenophobic comments while presiding over the case. He has called the Ecuadorians the “so-called plaintiffs” who are “said to reside” in the rainforest.  He also famously said the Ecuador case was not “bona fide” litigation and was part of a “giant game” designed to by U.S. lawyers to rectify the balance of payments deficit.  All in all, these comments do not reflect the kind of temperament that Americans expect from their judges.

We also reported how Judge Kaplan has jumped through hoops to block the Ecuadorians from being able to mount a meaningful defense.  He ruled that they cannot mention the overwhelming scientific evidence used to find Chevron liable for massive contamination.  He also ruled that Chevron’s illegal spying operation that has targeted Donziger and his family is off limits, as are company videos that show Chevron scientists laughing at the pollution left in the rainforest and discussing ways to hide it from the court.  Kaplan also has allowed Chevron to bury embarrassing documents by designating them “confidential” — including emails outlining a long-term strategy to “demonize” Donziger and to bribe Ecuador’s government to illegally quash the environmental case.

Donziger has protested repeatedly and asked Judge Kaplan for all sorts of procedural protections, but to no avail.

Donziger also accused Chevron of  interfering with his right to counsel by suing numerous lawyers for the Ecuadorians and one of their funders for “fraud” so as to discourage lawyers from entering the case.  Judge Kaplan did nothing to allow Donziger the necessary time to secure new counsel after Keker’s withdrawal in May.  Judge Kaplan also has refused to allow Donziger to proceed with counterclaims against Chevron that outline a chilling picture of the oil giant’s illicit dumping in Ecuador, obstruction of justice, attempts to bribe the government, commit fraud on the court, and lie about the context of video outtakes.  See here for a copy of the counterclaims.

“Judge Kaplan has made it abundantly clear that he will not allow me nor my Ecuadorian colleagues a fair trial in his courtroom,” Donziger said in a statement in early May.

Well said and abundantly true.  The way Judge Kaplan has been using the Special Masters is just one more damning piece of evidence to support Donziger’s view.

Canada Expands Tar Sands Insanity

Canada’s oil-soaked government has approved further expansion of the tar sands project into environmentally irreplaceable areas.

After holding the legally required public meetings, at which opposition to the expansion was overwhelming, a Joint Review Panel of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has determined that the short-term profits of foreign oil companies is vastly more important than life on Earth. Apparently, the employees of the Canadian government don’t plan to live much longer on Earth and don’t care what kind of future they are condemning their children to. But then, the government of Canada does not represent the interests of the public but was bought and paid for by oil companies and other criminal corporations. It is a government by the corporations and for the corporations with higher quarterly profits for its masters as its only mandate.

The Canadian government knows very well that its northern forests are the only nesting grounds for half of the migratory birds in North America and that it is causing the extinction of countless species. Water fowl who return to their ancestral summer homes and land on the toxic sludge ponds die slow painful deaths and have been dying by the tens of thousands. Birds who nest in trees and find their nesting grounds replaced by black ponds of death are often unable to find new nesting areas in time to build a nest and lay their eggs. Birds who are able to nest often die from the pollution in the area.

Canada is also is very well aware that atop of the tar sands is the water shed for the Arctic and the sludge ponds that remain after all of the tar is converted to oil and shipped off to refineries is highly toxic and is leaking into rivers and lakes and contaminating vast areas.  The government’s own studies have shown “striking” increases in contaminants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at the bottom of six lakes up to 90 kilometers from the tar sands operations and that the pollution is poisoning the lakes. Independent studies have shown that the contamination is far worse and spreading rapidly. The oil company’s vast propaganda machine says that the contamination is normal and was there before the oil extraction.

PAHs are a group of over 100 different chemicals formed during the processing of the tar sands and are one of the top 10 hazardous substances on the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. In addition to killing off wildlife that comes into contact with them, they cause birth defects, cancer and organ failure in humans who drink or bath in the contaminated water. The PAH’s are also in the air and have been detected in snow more than 50kms from the tar sands operations.

Claiming that the tar sands can be anything but an environmental disaster is criminal insanity and should be treated as such.

The ruling will allow Shell Oil to triple production from 15,900 cubic metres per day to 47,700 cubic meters per day.  Shell’s revenue in 2012 was $467.2 billion with profits of $26.8 billion, after purchasing various governments and politicians and mass media.