A Portrait of Government with Legislators on the Take

Posted In: Politics, National,   From Issue 772   By: Robert E Martin

27th June, 2013     0

Compiled by Robert E. Martin
Privacy For Sale
As the federal government's collection of data has expanded in the past decade under the Patriot Act and other surveillance programs, one set of companies has witnessed a big financial benefit: the private contractors who work with the Department of Defense and National Security Agency to analyze the data. According to the Washington Post, as much as 70% of the NSA's budget goes to pay private contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton, the company Edward Snowden - the leaker who released information on the PRISM surveillance program, worked for. Since passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, Congress has repeatedly voted to extend the government's authority to collect data on citizens.
An analysis by Maplight - a non-profit who's mission is to track the influence of spending by private entities on elected Congressmen and Senators - shows the following companies listed as doing 'top secret work' made contributions to campaign committees to current members of Congress.
Lockheed Martin * $5,024,244 / Boeing $4,589,154 / Northrup Grumman $3,356,354 / SAIC, Inc $1,374,561 / Accenture $1,057,582 / Computer Sciences Corp $609,273 / Booz Allen Hamilton $81,174. Total: $16,092,342.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) as the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Armed Services has received $422,854 more than any other member of Congress. Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Albert 'Dutch' Ruppersberger (D-MD) as the Ranking Member on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has received $225,919, the second most in Congress.
Congressional Republicans have received $9.004,805 from the companies while Democrats have received $7,049,887.  So much for checks and balances.
Representatives Backed by Big Banks Vote to Deregulate Overseas SWAPS
Last week by a vote of 301-124 the House of Representatives passed the SWAPS Jurisdiction Certainty Act - an odious bill would create new requirements for the Dodd-Frank rule-making process and limit the scope of regulation of U.S. banks on derivatives and transactions known as swaps, which created the financial meltdown of 2007-08.
The bill would direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities & Exchange Commission to issue rules jointly on cross-border derivatives trades by U.S. financial institutions. The SEC recently issued rules on cross-transactions that only involve non-U.S. dealers. And the CFTC is currently pursuing tougher rules on cross-border swaps that would require U.S. banks with overseas branches to follow U.S. regulations when conducting all swaps transactions. This new move would force the CFTC to weaken its rule in order to match the SEC's rule that exempts cross-border transactions from U.S regulations.
According to an analysis from Bloomberg News, more than half of all derivatives trades by the biggest American banks are conducted by overseas affiliates. The new bill is, of course, supported by the American Bankers Association, The Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is opposed by Americans for Financial Reform, Public Citizen and many others. House members voting yes on the measure received on average 102% more money from interest groups supporting the bill than house members voting no.  House member Scott Garrett (R-NJ) the bil sponsor received $416,249 from supporting interests.
Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Passed by the House - Bill Would Circumvent Environmental Review
Towards the end of May the House of Representatives approved HR3 - a bill that would deem TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline project approved for construction without a presidential permit and without further environmental review.
While the bill has little chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate and faces a veto threat from the White House, an analysis of campaign contributions from interest groups that have taken a position on HR 3 show that interest groups in support of the bill contributed 4.9 times more money $40,346,629 to members of the House than interest groups in opposition $8,241.587.
Speaker John Boehner received $1,240,543 from interest groups in support of the measure - more than any other member of the House.
The Ongoing Nightmare of Hydraulic Fracking in Michigan
In spite of claims that Michigan has the best oil and gas rules in the nation, the recent application of High Volume Slickwater Fracking flowback to roads in the headwaters of the North Branch of the Manistee River in the State Forest in Northern MI has drawn renewed criticism of MI Department of Environmental Quality's Oil and Gas regulation. 
According to correspondence from the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals (OOGM) of the DEQ, between May 15 and June 13, 994 bbls (1 bbl is equivalent of 42 gallons or 40,068 gallons or approximately 2 rail road tanker cars) of flowback and brine were applied as a dust-control agent in the area of the headwaters of the Little Manistee River.
In a risk assessment for biological and chemical impacts of gas extraction, Dr. Ronald E Bishop, Ph.D. CHO wrote:  “Some chemicals in ubiquitous use for shale gas exploration and production, or consistently present in flowback fluids, constitute human health and environmental hazards when present at extremely low concentrations. Potential exposure effects for humans will include poisoning of susceptible tissues, endocrine disruption syndromes, and elevated risks for certain cancers.
In a letter dated June 13th to Team Services LLC Kalkaska, Ray Vugrinovitch, Senior Geologist of the OOGM called for revocation of a permit for Application of Oil Field Brines for Ice and Dust Control in Oliver Township, Kalkaska Co., “…It has come to my attention that the well is still producing so-called flow back water from hydraulic fracturing. Because of the unknown composition of the flow back water; the uncertainty regarding impacts to soil, groundwater and surface water, of the compounds used during hydraulic fracturing, use of brine from the State Excelsior 1-25 HD-1 must be discontinued immediately…. brine from the Excelsior well that has been moved to a central holding site prior to use (on roads) must be disposed of by injection into a disposal well”.
Joanne Cromley, Co-chair of Don't Frack Michigan called the incident “horrific”.  “Did people or animals come in contact with this?  What has the OOGM done to clean this up?  How can we be assured this will never happen again?”
New unconventional high-volume slickwater fracking uses up to 7 million gallons of freshwater combined with 80 to 330 tons of chemicals and proppants under enormous pressures to blast open tiny fractures in tight shales to release methane gas.  The formula for the industrial frack fluid is closely guarded industry secret, although it is known that chemicals include toxins and carcinogens.
The formation targeted in Kalkaska Co. is the Collingwood, a deep dense shale holding tiny pockets of gas.  These gas fields could not be developed profitably until the oil and gas industry were given exemptions in 2005 (commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole) from Federal Laws including the Clean Air, Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Acts.  Exemptions have also been granted from highway safety rules under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In Michigan, oil and gas waste products (drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes that are associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil and natural gas) are exempted from Hazardous Waste disposal regulation pursuant to R 299.9204(1), so flow back from the fracking process that returns to the surface (between 40 and 80% of the fracking flow back or between 1.5 million and 5.6 million gallons) is not routinely analyzed for chemical content.
Thirty seven counties participate in application of gas and oil “brine” on roads.  It is not clear what procedures, if any, are in place to prevent future releases of fracking flow back into the environment.   In spite of the unknown composition of fracking flowback and its unknown effect on the environment and public, in spite of exemptions from environmental and public safety laws, in spite of the increased burden of massive volumes of toxic wastewater and flowback produced by High Volume Slickwater Fracking, the MI Oil and Gas Regulations Part 615 has not been amended to reflect any changes in the fracturing procedures or methods used by the industry.


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