Category Archives: Uncategorized

New investigation reveals corporate capture of air regulator in L.A. County gas leak

After a long delay, things are moving quickly with the environmentally catastrophic methane leak at the Aliso Canyon gas facility in Los Angeles, first noticed in October 2015. After leaking about 94,000 metric tons of methane into the air—far and away the state’s biggest single contributor to global warming at the moment—11 different local, state, and federal agencies are now suing or investigating criminal charges for the company responsible, Southern California Gas (SoCalGas), including misdemeanor charges filed by L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The California Senate also passed a moratorium that, if signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, would prevent SoCalGas from injecting gas into the leaking well as well as 18 gas storage wells at Aliso Canyon that are as old and potentially just as decrepit (there are 115 wells in total).

With so many moving parts, it could be easy to overlook the role of the Southern Coast Air Quality Management District board, the regional regulator in Southern California that has broad authority to enforce air quality standards mandated by federal and state law. However, the SCAQMD is the only government agency with direct authority to abate the air nuisance in the area surrounding the leak, which has forced thousands to leave their homes in recent months.

In January, the SCAQMD received complaints from over one hundred angry Porter Ranch residents, many of whom demanded that the entire Aliso Canyon facility, all 115 wells, be shut down. To their disappointment, the SCAQMD approved an order of abatement on January 23 that leaves the Aliso Canyon facility largely unchanged, save a mandate to enhance leak monitoring and fund an independent health study. The order also provided SoCalGas a bit of wiggle room to continue injecting and withdrawing gas from the problematic well if the California Public Utilities Commission deemed it necessary to maintain regional gas supplies. And, while the SCAQMD also filed a lawsuit against SoCalGas, it may only net the public $25 million from the company—well below the $1 billion that SoCalGas is insured for damages it has caused.

A LittleSis investigation into the SCAQMD governing board members’ financial and professional connections to Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCalGas, could explain the relative tepidness of its abatement order and lawsuit. In particular, we found:

  • Five of thirteen SCAQMD governing board members, including its chairman, were either appointed by folks who have taken significant contributions from Sempra or have taken contributions from Sempra themselves.
  • Two governing board members have family with ties to Sempra, including chairman William Burke, whose daughter, Assemblymember Autumn Burke, received more campaign contributions from Sempra in 2014 than any other candidate running for local or state office except Governor Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.
  • One member of the governing board, Joseph Lyou, is the President and CEO of California’s Coalition for Clean Air, which takes an unknown amount of charitable contributions from SoCalGas. Additionally, the Coalition’s Treasurer, Hal Snyder, is a vice president at SoCalGas.

The SCAQMD’s ties to Sempra Energy can be seen in the map below. Click through for a larger version here.

Continue reading New investigation reveals corporate capture of air regulator in L.A. County gas leak

Behind the scenes: The push to repeal the ban on oil exports

Since the oil exports ban was repealed on December 18th, 2015, there has been a slow trickle of news detailing the oil industry’s behind-the-scenes campaign to shape this critical policy decision. The most recent piece, from Paul Blumenthal, detailed large, direct corporate donations from oil and gas companies to the Senate Leadership Fund in the last half of 2015 when debate around the repeal was heating up.

The Senate Leadership Fund is a PAC with the mission of maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate and has ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell through its founder, Steven Law. Law is a long-time ally of McConnells and previously served as his Chief of Staff.

The newly minted Senate Majority Leader became a powerful ally in the industry campaign, calling the export ban a “relic of the 70s.”

Blumenthal’s exposé is the latest to reveal the oil industry’s multi-pronged effort to secure massive profits with the export ban repeal.

The below map (click through for a larger version) illustrates aspects of this effort:

Continue reading Behind the scenes: The push to repeal the ban on oil exports

Power networks behind the Department of Homeland Security’s expanding biometrics division

2016 is a big year for the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to collect, store, analyze, and share biometric information from non-citizens (and “citizens of interest”) at border crossings and airports. We took a look at the power networks behind the companies unrolling iris and facial scanning technology on the California-Mexico border and JFK airport in New York City, and discovered some interesting connections. With $282 million allotted for biometrics expansion, this is an issue we’ll continue watching as the year progresses.

Click “next” on the story map below to cycle through a closer look at these networks.

Continue reading Power networks behind the Department of Homeland Security’s expanding biometrics division

Ed Rendell again fails to disclose oil and gas ties, this time in boosting Philly Energy Hub

Media outlets should use extra caution when publishing op-eds by former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

On at least two occasions in the past three years, Rendell has failed to disclose oil and gas industry ties in op-eds that advocated for oil and gas interests. In both cases, newspapers later had to append disclosures noting the conflicts of interest – a relatively rare step for a publication to take.

Continue reading Ed Rendell again fails to disclose oil and gas ties, this time in boosting Philly Energy Hub

The Flint water crisis and the billionaires behind Governor Rick Snyder

In March 2014, the city of Flint began sourcing its water from the Flint River, a decision that would have ostensibly saved the city $5 million over two years, at the behest of state-appointed Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. Soon after the switch, residents began complaining of water with a rank smell and taste, and samples tested in coming months were found to contain fecal coliform bacteria, trihalomethanes (a disinfection product), and high levels of lead. The latter has been found in the bloodstreams of Flint’s children and infants.

Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency on December 15, but evidence indicates that officials in Snyder’s administration not only acknowledged the severity of crisis in Flint for months prior – they tried to cover it up.

Last September, the ACLU found that officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality manipulated lead tests from Flint so as not to attract the ire of the Environmental Protection Agency. And emails sent last July by Snyder’s Chief of Staff, Dennis Muchmore, revealed that the administration was aware of the severity of the crisis months before it decided to switch Flint’s water source back to Detroit.

Now, as Michigan state police go door-to-door delivering bottled water and water filters to Flint residents, people are calling for Snyder’s resignation and even his arrest.

As these demands intensify, it’s worth examining the network of out-of-state billionaires propping up Snyder. It includes not only far-right bogeyman David Koch, but prominent centrists and Democratic donors that fund work around environmental, public health, and education issues. In fact, some of these Snyder donors are major funders of organizations that have taken action around the Flint water crisis, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. Below is a list of notable donors, all of whom maxed out to Snyder’s 2014 campaign (a full list is here).

Given the scale of crisis and the nature of their philanthropic interests, will Snyder’s billionaire network continue to stand behind their guy in Michigan?

Michael Bloomberg

Billionaire and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg brought Snyder along to the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner as his guest. Bloomberg is a major donor to environmental causes, donating $30 million to the Sierra Club earlier this year and $6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund in 2012. The Sierra Club called for an investigation of the Flint water crisis in October. Bloomberg has also given more than $100 million to the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, which was renamed in recognition of his support. An associate professor at the school’s environmental, Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, is a leading researcher on the link between lead poisoning and cardiovascular disease.

Katharine Rayner

Rayner inherited a multibillion dollar stake in Cox Enterprises. She currently serves on the board of the New York Public Library and gifted a million dollars to a team at the University of Michigan’s biomedical research center researching treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). A study from 2010 found that long term exposure to lead may increase one’s risk of developing ALS.

Daniel Tishman

Tishman, also an extremely wealthy New Yorker, made his money in construction and development. He is chairman of the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which announced in November that it was joining with the ACLU of Michigan and Flint residents in suing the city and state over the water crisis. Tishman has also established a scholarship for “sustainable development” in his family name, and currently serves on the boards of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Real Estate Roundtable and the New York Building Congress.

Eli Broad

This Los Angeles billionaire is a major player in the education reform movement, and he recently announced through his foundation that he wants at least 50 percent of L.A. public school students educated in charter schools over the next eight years. The Broad Foundation also maintains the Broad Medical Research Program, which researches treatment for ulcerative colitis (chronic intestinal inflammation) and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions may develop from, or be exacerbated by, lead poisoning. His wife, Edythe, also maxed out to Snyder.

Hank Paulson

After stints as CEO of Goldman Sachs and then Secretary of the Treasury, Paulson now serves on a number of different boards, including the Nature Conservancy (where he is chairman) and the Energy Transitions Commission, a fossil-fuel industry funded organization that promotes “low-carbon” urban development.

How the defense and security industry is tied to police biosurveillance in California

Top national security officials in the United States are leveraging recent terror attacks in the West to advocate for greater surveillance at home and militarism abroad. On December 6, days after ISIS-inspired murders in San Bernardino, President Obama announced that he would “urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.” A month earlier, following the massacres in Paris, the Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Counsel and Commissioner of the New York Police Department, William Bratton, called the attacks a “game-changer” and advocated for an intelligence-gathering offensive.

The call for beefed up security among law enforcement coincides with a rising war effort in Syria, with the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia increasing airstrikes over the last month and, in some cases, putting boots on the ground. These have been boom times for the defense industry; the stock values of war and security technology makers have generally risen since the Paris attacks. This includes well known arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, but also communication-focused firms like L-3 Communications and Booz Allen Hamilton.

A growing segment of both the defense and security industries is biometrics: The software (facial identification algorithms, mobile networking, databases of irises and fingerprints) and hardware (eye, fingerprint, and palm scanners, license plate readers, and many, many cameras) that will further integrate police and soldiers into one militarized backbone. Some of the smaller companies that are now supplying biometric technology to local police were started by veterans of the defense industry. Others have even more direct ties to the military-surveillance complex.

Continue reading How the defense and security industry is tied to police biosurveillance in California

A special holiday treat for analysts!

Our lead developer and co-founder Matthew Skomarovsky gave us all a special holiday gift from our wish list. Our relationship categories have expanded to include… [drum roll] …hierarchies!

Yes, you can now add hierarchical relationships between organizations, a critical tool for mapping out winding and convoluted corporate structures. To add a hierarchy to an organization’s profile just add a relationship as normal and select ‘hierarchy’ from the menu of choices.

All existing child/parent hierarchy data was converted to this new relationship format and these relationships will now load when using Oligrapher, our power mapping tool.

Happy hierarch-ing analysts!

Current analysts: Be sure to re-bookmark the LittleSis bookmarklet in order to have this relationship category show up when editing.

Ferguson prosecutor has deep family ties to police brutality cases

Following the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, critics observed that prosecutor Bob McCulloch acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor seeking an indictment. In doing so, he may have been channeling his younger brother.

LittleSis has learned that Joe McCulloch, who is an attorney, has represented several Missouri cops in high-profile police brutality cases. In at least two cases, he worked alongside current members of Darren Wilson’s legal team, and he takes legal referrals from Wilson’s union. Additionally, the McCullochs’ cousin, Thomas Moran, was at the center of a major police brutality case in the 1990s – he was charged in the beating of a 19-year-old developmentally-disabled black man, and acquitted by an all-white jury in Kansas City.

Critics calling for McCulloch’s recusal have previously pointed to his ties to the police through family members and the killing of his police officer father by a black robbery suspect. But his personal ties to police brutality cases raise additional questions about whether he was inappropriately biased in his handling of the Ferguson case.

Continue reading Ferguson prosecutor has deep family ties to police brutality cases

Bill Richardson stands up to the global climate crisis…by joining the board of an oil and gas company

Two weeks ago we reported on former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s failure to disclose his Advisor and Chairman positions at consulting firm APCO Worldwide, in his TIME op-ed promoting exporting liquified natural gas (LNG). From December 2012 to January 2014, APCO was contracted by the Ukrainian State Agency for Investment and National Projects for $330,000 to consult on improving the image of an LNG infrastructure project in the country. In November 2013 Richardson was busted for not disclosing this conflict of interest in an article he authored for the Financial Times on exporting LNG to Europe. The Financial Times was forced to issue a correction.

It seems that Richardson has yet to learn his lesson, and is in fact poised to benefit from his high-profile stance supporting LNG exports. On “Platts Energy Week TV” Sunday, Richardson supported speeding up the Department of Energy’s review process for LNG export terminal applications and stressed the role of LNG in providing security to countries in Europe:

“I think it’s important that the United States, as a nation, either pass legislation or executive orders that make it easier to construct these LNG terminals, export natural gas and oil, and increase our energy friendship with these countries that are really fearful of what’s going to happen to them, like what happened to Ukraine.”

You can view the full interview below:

Continue reading Bill Richardson stands up to the global climate crisis…by joining the board of an oil and gas company

Senators speak out for LNG exports, bring in big bucks from oil and gas industry

As the west scrambles for a geopolitical response to Russia’s play for the Crimean peninsula, advocates for the oil and gas industry have used the situation to redouble the push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). Framing the issue as a matter of protecting a fledgling democracy and ensuring security for United States allies, oil- and gas-affiliated pundits, lobbyists, and politicians have begun banging the drum to increase gas exports as a way for the United States to win this standoff with its Cold War rival. However, approving more LNG export facilities is unlikely to have any effect on the current crisis as construction of terminals will take years and billions of dollars and there is no way to ensure that gas will go to Ukraine or any European country when it fetches a higher price in Asia.

Though increased gas exports would not likely score the US a geopolitical win in Crimea, it would help the oil and gas industry to increase their bottom line by selling natural gas, which is currently barely profitable to drill for, to high-priced Asian markets.

As Republic Report’s Lee Fang showed, many in the commentariat calling for exports as a solution have ties to oil and gas lobbying groups and Koch-funded think tanks. We wrote last week on former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who penned an op-ed arguing to use LNG to “[secure] regional independence from Russia,” without disclosing that his employer had been employed as recently as December as a consultant to Ukraine on an LNG project.

Members of Congress have also been speaking out on the issue and have introduced several bills in the House and Senate to expedite Department of Energy approval of LNG export permits. We found that some of the legislators most vocal about LNG and Ukraine have been the recipients of large amounts of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry – the five profiled below have brought in more than $1.5 million since 2009.

Continue reading Senators speak out for LNG exports, bring in big bucks from oil and gas industry