Environment America Redefines ‘Violations’ to Attack Shale

Environment America, the parent organization of Penn Environment, released a new report today suggesting a massive amount of violations committed by companies operating in the Marcellus Shale.  Not only does the report take information out of context, as has been the case with all of its previous reports, but this time the authors also took it upon themselves to create new definitions of what constitutes a “violation.”

This isn’t the first report on violations the affiliated groups have put out. In February 2012, Penn Environment released a similar report that, as EID pointed out, lumped all violations together, suggesting that a clerical error was equivalent to a major environmental incident.

This time around, Environment America chose not to include administrative violations—sort of—but nonetheless suggested companies were committing major violations left and right:

“Between January 1, 2011, and August 31, 2014, the top 20 offending fracking companies committed an average of 1.5 violations per day.” (pg. 4)

In an effort to defend itself against the obvious criticism, EA claims these are not from “paperwork” or administrative error, but serious incidents. What they don’t state until later in the 45-page report is that they redefined the definition of what constitutes an administrative violation. In fact, the reader doesn’t get to the methodology of their figures until page 25, and only after they rehash their older studies on how fracking supposedly harms the environment and public health.

If the reader is diligent and still following by page 25, the authors describe how they eliminated duplicate violations by using the violation number and only included information for unconventional wells. But then, they reveal their hand:

“In addition to specifying specific violations, the downloaded file also sorted them into categories: ‘administrative’ or ‘environmental health and safety.’ We discarded Pennsylvania’s categorization as inconsistent and inadequate, and instead ourselves divided the violations into two categories: ‘administrative’ or ‘environmental and health,’ based on the definitions listed in Appendix A.

This is followed up with (emphasis added):

“The data presented in this report include only environmental and health violations, not administrative violations. Compliance with administrative rules is very important – failure to comply with administrative rules can conceal other types of violations and deny the public access to critical information about drilling practices in their communities. However, to emphasize the immediate hazards posed by fracking to communities, this report focuses solely on violations with the direct potential to threaten the environment and public health.”

Looking at EA’s violations list, nearly half of the types of violations (42 out of 103) that they classified as “environmental and health” are actually administrative, according to the state. That means EA redefined a huge subset of “violations” so they could classify them as major threats to public health, even though they are not threats.

Here are a few examples of the items that EA classifies as dire health emergencies:

  • E&S Plan not adequate
  • Plan not on site
  • Improper interaction with Pa. DEP employees

There are many others, but these show you the lengths to which EA had to go in order to malign development. For a complete list of the “Environmental and Health” violations the authors used to reach their conclusions, please click here.

On more than one occasion, the authors claim the violations are likely much higher because the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the staff to adequately inspect and they don’t always issue violations when they should. Where do the authors get this notion?

“A 2012 Earthworks report found that Pennsylvania oil and gas regulators conducted fewer than 20 percent of the inspections state rules required. Another Earthworks report two years later revealed that Pennsylvania regulators don’t meet their own standards for inspection frequency.

A 2014 report from the state’s Auditor General said the state DEP was caught unprepared for the sudden increase in fracking activity, and found that, despite adding personnel to the well inspection staff, the DEP was unable to provide regular, consistent monitoring of fracking activity.

The Pennsylvania DEP also has a regular practice of not issuing violation notices if companies voluntarily agree to address problems found by inspectors – including in cases as severe as contaminating drinking water supplies.” (pg. 21, gray box)

Not surprisingly, the 2012 Earthworks report the authors tout to reach these conclusions is nothing more than the typical weakly argued advocacy pieces we’ve come to expect from that group. EID debunked it thoroughly.

The report is also littered with misinformation the group perpetuates time and again to push an agenda they clearly lay out in the Policy Recommendations:

“In states like Pennsylvania where widespread fracking is already under way, a moratorium on all new permits and wells is in order…”

Apparently they are willing to manipulate, distort, and even redefine facts and data to make this occur. But what do you expect from the group that is best known for inserting misleading pictures into their narratives and pretending, for example, that sunken rigs in Pakistan are fair game in attempts to malign the regulatory system in the Untied States?

Follow the Money

So, where did this report even come from? Normally, we try not to spend too much time harping about the sources from which groups like EA extract their funding. Sure, the Park Foundation (for instance) funds the vast majority of anti-shale (and, especially, anti-Marcellus) studies in circulation today, and Park’s president openly admits to using the foundation’s money “to fuel an army” of anti-shale activists. Certainly, that’s relevant – especially when groups and researchers funded by Park money attempt to characterize their work as independent. But if we spent all our time on that, we’d have a lot less of it to address the reports they produce on the actual merits, in a substantive and detailed way.

Having said all that, we do want to take just a moment to highlight the funders of this latest EA report, if only because the group behind it, the Colcom Foundation, is such an interesting case.

The foundation, based in Pittsburgh and with nearly $500 million in total assets, hands-out plenty of money each year to environmental groups – no surprise there. But, if you look through the organization’s public disclosure forms, you can’t help but notice all the money it distributes to outfits like the Center for Immigration Studies, Californians for Population Stabilization, Federation for American Immigration Reform, Migration Dialogue, and Negative Population Growth, just to name a few.

As it turns out, these groups all have the same basic agenda: to prevent people (legal or otherwise) from coming into the United States. What does that have to do with protecting the environment? About a decade ago, the New York Times did a front-page story on the “bitter struggle” that was threatening to tear the Sierra Club apart – between folks on one side who argued the organization should take a strong anti-immigrant stance (more people equals more resource consumption, the thinking went), and others, like then-president Carl Pope, who declared that adopting such a position would be tantamount to getting “in bed with racists.”

Fast-forward a decade, and the Sierra Club (at least officially) now says it supports immigration (the Club’s penchant for changing its principles to suit the current political environment is well-documented, but that’s another story). But where does that leave the Colcom Foundation? Another group to which Colcom gives money each year is called the American Immigration Control Foundation. The group funds what it calls “awareness campaigns” about the so-called threats of “uncontrolled immigration.” Over on its website, visitors can breeze through a section called “a brief history of immigration” that includes nuggets like this:

“[W]e can and must stop any further damage now, lest the United States become ‘balkanized’ torn apart by ethnic conflicts as happened in Yugoslavia. If we don’t take action now, the surging flood of legal and illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America will soon form a majority in California and the Southwest. Some of these Latino militants are already organizing to form those states into a new nation called AZTLAN.”

As it turns out, the American Immigration Control Foundation also used to accept funding from a group called the Pioneer Foundation, which focused on “advanc[ing] the scientific study of heredity and human differences.” In other words: eugenics. Here’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about these guys:

“AICF was long funded by the Pioneer Foundation, the infamous institution that since its founding in 1937 has funded studies of eugenics and the alleged links between race and intelligence. It received more than $190,000 from Pioneer through 1998, according to the Michigan-based Institute for the Study of Academic Racism.”

And who heads up the AICF, you ask? That’d be a fellow by the name of John Vinson, who, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has “a history of extremist ties” and is “a founding member of the League of the South (LOS), a racist neo-Confederate organization.”  More on Mr. Vinson from ADL:

“While with the LOS, Vinson was credited with drafting the ‘Kinism Statement,’ a set of guiding principles for a modern white supremacist interpretation of Christianity called ‘Kinism.’ While accepting many standard Christian beliefs and declaring Jesus as their Savior, Kinists assert that whites have a “God-given right” to preserve their “own kind” and live separately from other races.”

Again, Colcom didn’t just give money to this guy back in 1980s or 1990s: the foundation continues to actively fund this organization to this very day, providing $185,000 of “unrestricted support” to AICF according to the 990 form Colcom issued in 2013, its most recent filing.

So, to recap: a foundation that continues to provide programmatic funding to bigots and xenophobes also sets aside a little each year so that groups like Environment America can issue reports to attack oil and gas development. Is any of that Environment America’s fault? Probably not, and certainly not if they didn’t know. But now they do know. And we can’t wait to find out what they intend to do about it.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    The foundation’s stance on immigration has nothing to do with a report on the dangers of Fracking (which are already well-established). Does the report have flaws? Yes clearly but the environmental degradation of fracking is already documented by much better reports. You want to follow the money in a way that makes sense? Who really supports the work of enviro groups are the people who believe in a voice for clean water, land and air. Who funds and founded Energy in Depth? Oh yeah, the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Stop insulting people’s intelligence please

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Environment America,” such stunts won’t be any surprise. EID has previously documented the group’s propensity to make unfounded, deceptively sourced and objectively false claims […]

  2. […] have been a focus of activist groups throughout the last decade, who have even changed the definitions of violations to fit their anti-fracking agendas. The reality is, though, that the Marcellus industry has taken […]

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