Monday, May 22, 2017

Former DuPont Worker Claims Retaliation For Pesticide Complaints

A woman files suit saying she lost her job after repeatedly reporting misuse of pesticides on the company’s North Shore farm.

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A former employee of DuPont Pioneer on Oahu is suing the company, claiming she was retaliated against for raising concerns about its use of pesticides.
According to her complaint filed Friday, Shannell Grilho started working full-time for DuPont Pioneer on the North Shore of Oahu in December 2013. That’s when she was asked to start applying herbicides including Roundup, Liberty and Honcho.

“During the applications of herbicides, the PLAINTIFF (and other DUPONT PIONEER employees) was exposed to considerable amounts of air-born herbicide that covered her clothes, skin, eyes, and face, and which she ingested and inhaled because of the method of application,” the complaint says.

The complaint says Grilho requested training and personal protective equipment but her request was denied. During safety meetings, she was told to stay 500 feet away from boom sprayers and to move away if she smelled the chemical, she said.
But Grilho’s complaint alleges her supervisor reprimanded her when she tried to follow those safety instructions. Her supervisor allegedly ordered Grilho to “remain working in the shade-house when the boom sprayers came closer than 500′ and when she could smell the chemicals drift into her work area.”
The complaint says Grilho was told not to use two-way radios to discuss her concerns about the herbicides. Her supervisor allegedly ordered Grilho “to contact him directly by telephone so that others would not hear the conversation about PLAINTIFF’s safety concerns.”
The complaint says Grilho reported her boss and was transferred to different work that was more physically demanding. A new supervisor allegedly required Grilho to work “in even closer proximity to the boom sprayers.
“PLAINTIFF could smell and feel the spray from the boom sprayers as it settled on and around her,” the complaint states. Grilho was allegedly forced “to work in areas that were supposed to be evacuated because hazardous chemicals had been applied to the area in the past 24-hours.”

The complaint says Grilho continued to report the perceived safety violations and was told to stop doing so. Eventually she and her husband both lost their jobs with the company.
A spokeswoman for DuPont Pioneer declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The suit could fuel concerns about the seed industry’s use of pesticides on genetically modified crops and their potential effects on public health and the environment.
Residents of West Kauai reached settlements last year with DuPont Pioneer for property damage caused by dust blown from the company’s fields.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a complaint by Earthjustice that the seed industry’s application of pesticides on agricultural fields disproportionately harms Native Hawaiians.
The EPA sought to fine Syngenta Seeds $4.8 million after several Kauai employees were sickened by exposure to chlorpyrifos in January 2016. The federal agency is also investigating separate incidents involving alleged misuse of pesticides by Monsanto and Syngenta Seeds in Hawaii.
The seed industry has successfully staved off efforts to increase state pesticide regulations. Hawaii lawmakers rejected calls from environmental activists this year to mandate that the companies disclose what pesticides they apply, where and in what amounts.
Read the complaint below:

The Death of the Republic

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By Chris Hedges

The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Hercules and had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin could orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd.

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. 

Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.

Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. 

Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. 

The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

'The offer was too good to refuse': A major Russian money-laundering case was unexpectedly settled in New York

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A major money-laundering case set to go to trial last week in New York was suddenly settled three days earlier, with both the US government and the defendant, the Russian firm Prevezon Holdings, claiming victory. 
The asset-forfeiture and money-laundering case was scheduled to begin last Monday, but it was unexpectedly settled for close to $6 million, a little under half of the amount initially sought by the government. The US attorney's office characterized the settlement as a win for anti-corruption efforts in a statement issued late Friday. 
"Under the terms of this settlement, the defendants have agreed to pay not just what we alleged flowed to them from the Russian treasury fraud, but three times that amount, and roughly 10 times the money we alleged could be traced directly into U.S. accounts and real estate," said acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon H. Kim.
But Prevezon interpreted the settlement as proof that the company had done nothing wrong. It said it considered the "surprise" offer from prosecutors "too good to refuse."
"It was a surprise," said John Dillard, a spokesman for Prevezon's attorneys. "We were getting ready for opening statements and fully expected to try the case. In fact, we were looking forward to it."
"We reluctantly agreed to accept the government's offer when it became clear that the fine proposed was no more than we would have spent fully litigating the case, and that no admission of guilt, forfeiture or continued seizure of any assets was required," Dillard added. "Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse."
The investigation into whether Prevezon, a real-estate company incorporated in Cyprus, laundered millions of dollars into New York City real estate garnered high-profile attention given its ties to a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme and Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death aroused international media attention.
Magnitsky uncovered the scheme in 2008 on behalf of one of his clients at the time, the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital. He was later thrown in jail and died in custody, and an independent human-rights commission found he had been illegally arrested and beaten. The Kremlin maintains that Magnitsky died of a heart attack.
(The founder of Hermitage, William Browder, sought justice for Magnitsky in the US and Europe after he died. In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the president to deny visas to, and freeze the assets of, Russians believed to have been complicit in Magnitsky's death.) 

The US government had been investigating the $230 million scheme that Magnitsky uncovered — and what happened to the proceeds — for nearly four years. Prosecutors said the funds from the elaborate scheme had been laundered via shell companies and real-estate purchases.
The trail ultimately led to Manhattan, where then-US Attorney Preet Bharara accused Prevezon in September 2013 of receiving "at least $1,965,444 in proceeds from the $230 million fraud scheme" in early 2008 via wire transfers from at least two suspected shell companies through the Southern District of New York. The company then invested those funds "in various New York properties," according to the complaint.
The Russian government declined to provide the US government with evidence of Russian money flows that would strengthen the case against Prevezon. Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer representing Magnitsky's family, was able to photograph documents contained in a Russian case file targeting two individuals involved in the $230 million scheme that traced the money to Russia.
Gorokhov mysteriously fell from a window in Moscow just over a month before he was due to testify in the Prevezon case. But the documents he photographed were admitted into evidence just days before Prevezon agreed to settle.
The settlement came as a surprise to some. Louise Shelley, an illicit finance expert who was set to testify in support of the US government, told CNN the day after the case was settled that she was concerned about the possibility that "political pressure" had been applied to the US attorney's office. She added that she thinks Prevezon "won something" because there was "no recognition of wrongdoing."
Reached by Business Insider last week, however, Shelley said only: "I cannot talk about it." She did not respond to further questions. 
Jamison Firestone, Magnitsky's law firm partner, flew into New York last week from London to serve as a government witness against Prevezon. But the case was settled shortly after he arrived.
"It was definitely my shortest trip across the pond," Firestone told Business Insider. 
"There's a part of me that very much wanted to testify and get all this dirty stuff out there and cause maximum damage to these people and everyone who’s related to them," Firestone said. He relayed how he had been present when the Russian government raided his law office "and beat up one of my lawyers" looking for documents related to Magnitsky's work nearly a decade ago. 
"I've filed complaints against some of the people involved in this whole story, I've seen the money flows," Firestone said. "I have mixed feelings from a personal standpoint, but I respect the government's decision ... and it sent a strong message that if you’re going to launder money, don’t do it here."
An official at the US attorney's office, who requested anonymity to discuss the case freely, said that the settlement saved taxpayers "the expense of a trial," and reiterated that the settlement was "for many multiples more than the amount of proceeds of the Russian tax fraud alleged to have been laundered through real estate purchases in New York."
"In other words, it's a very good outcome for the government," the official said. 

Browder, who founded Hermitage and spearheaded the Magnitsky Act, told Business Insider that "the government's conduct was absolutely correct and successful."
"The amount of money the US government could trace to this crime was roughly $1.9 million," Browder said. "It would’ve been a stretch, even in a good trial, for them to get the full $14 million they were aiming for. So for the government to get triple the amount of money that they found [had been laundered] without having to go through a jury trial ... it was a no brainer."
"Any Russian with illicit money will now be terrified to bring it to America," Browder added. 
 Still, not everyone was convinced that the government's decision to settle was a good one. 
"I would have liked to see the case come to a public trial so that sun could shine on the evidence and details of the alleged wrongdoing," said John Cassara, a former intelligence officer who served in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
"Periodically, we need the publicity that big 'impact' cases generate to heighten awareness of money laundering methodologies, corruption, and suspect modus operandi," said Cassara, who now sits on the board of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center for Sanctions and Illicit Finance. 
Cassara said he didn't know the strength of the Justice Department's case against Prevezon (Firestone said he thought it would have been an "easy kill" for the government) and that he is "sure they weighed the pros and cons" before opting to settle.
But, Cassara said, "three times the amount that was allegedly laundered cannot be considered a win."
"According to estimates approximately $5 trillion dollars is laundered globally every year. In comparison, what is $5.9 million?" Cassara said. "We probably recover about 1% of the money laundered globally. We have to keep things in perspective. Our efforts to combat international money laundering are failing and this case did nothing to turn the tide." 

Report accuses Pentagon of running multi-billion dollar slush fund for military operations

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By Jordan Shilton

A report in Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post accuses the Pentagon of operating a multi-billion dollar slush fund which it has accrued over the past seven years by overcharging the armed forces for the cost of fuel purchases. The $5.9 billion it has built up since 2010 has been used to fund military operations in Syria and Afghanistan, effectively avoiding any of the budgetary oversight requirements necessary to obtain additional funding from Congress.
The most significant expenditures from the fund identified by the Post were a total of $1.4 billion used in 2016 to maintain the United States’ brutal occupation of Afghanistan and the use of $80 million to train Islamist militias in Syria in 2015 with the aim of toppling the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
The explosion in spending on the Afghan war illustrates the deepening crisis of the more than 15-year-old US occupation of the impoverished, war-torn country.
Billions of dollars have been spent on waging a ruthless counter-insurgency war against the resistance of the local population to the US presence, led by the Islamist Taliban. This has included the expenditure of vast sums of money to establish and prop up a corrupt puppet regime in Kabul, which is struggling to exercise authority over more than a few major cities, is deeply reviled by wide sections of the population, and is losing ground to the Taliban. Just last month, Taliban fighters carried out their bloodiest attack on the Afghan army since 2001, killing upwards of 200 soldiers.
The $80 million redirected by the Pentagon to Syria helped continue to fund a US training program to create a Sunni militia capable of fighting ISIS and ousting Assad. The program proved to be an unmitigated disaster, managing to train only 150 of the original target of 5,000 fighters. Most of these fighters were captured by al-Qaida or other groups when they were sent into Syria, or deserted.
This setback only caused Washington to intervene even more aggressively, first by funneling aid through its Gulf allies and the CIA to Jihadi proxy forces to wage war in Syria, and later by bolstering the presence of US ground forces. Under President Trump, the number of US ground forces in Syria has more than doubled and he has relaxed restrictions on airstrikes, leading to a dramatic spike in civilian casualties.
The sharpest criticism of the Pentagon’s slush fund came from Navy officials, who described the surplus built up by the Pentagon as a “bishop’s fund.”
The Post noted that the Defense Logistics Agency, the body responsible for selling fuel, sets a fixed price which is often substantially higher than the commercial rate and is intended to remain in place for a year. Before 2009, no major discrepancies arose, but from 2010 onwards, the DLA began setting prices at levels sometimes $1 per barrel above the commercial rate.
A review of Pentagon purchasing data found that the branches of the armed forces had been charged $23 billion more for fuel between 2010 and 2016 than commercial airlines would have paid.
While Pentagon officials acknowledged that around three-quarters of this covered additional costs, such as specialized fuel requirements and overheads, this still left a $5.9 billion surplus. The only time Congress appears to have directly intervened was in 2015, when it requested the Pentagon to return $1 billion to reflect reduced fuel prices.
The Defense Department’s use of such a fund to meet the costs of military operations is only the latest example of the increasing ability of the military-intelligence apparatus to act outside of any accountability to Congress. Despite the US gargantuan defense budget, which dwarfs those of all of its nearest competitors, the Pentagon has over recent years taken advantage of accounting methods to allocate tens of billions more in funding to military operations beyond the funds approved by Congress.
Under the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans included a so-called parity regulation as part of their 2011 budget deal which stipulated that any increase in defense spending had to be accompanied by a corresponding rise in domestic budgets. To avoid this requirement, the Pentagon increasingly relied on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, which is designed to cover the costs of foreign wars. Reports suggest that the Pentagon now uses $30 billion of OCO annually to supplement its base budget.
Such developments could only take place under conditions where there is a bipartisan consensus to retain the US military as a force capable of waging war around the globe. Both the Democrats and Republicans, speaking on behalf of the super-rich oligarchy in the United States, are fully committed to the increasing resort to military violence in a desperate bid to offset Washington’s economic decline and retain its hegemonic position against its geopolitical rivals in every region of the world. Under conditions in which Washington has been waging virtually uninterrupted war for a quarter-century, the maintenance of even a semblance of democratic control over the military’s operations is increasingly impossible.
President Obama initiated the US intervention in Syria, expanded the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, launched air and drone strikes on at least eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa, and facilitated the bloody Saudi onslaught on Yemen, where tens of thousands of civilians have died.
In a revealing finding that shows how routine the waging of war has become for the US military, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Pentagon’s accounting systems do not recognize a difference between wartime operations and routine expenditure, which was traditionally covered by the base defense budget.
The GAO wrote that the Defense Department internally reallocated $146 billion in operations and maintenance (O&M) funding between 2009 and 2015, but added, “[T]he effects of such realignments on base obligations were not readily apparent because DOD did not report its O&M base obligations to Congress separately from its O&M overseas contingency operations (OCO) obligations used to support war-related programs and activities.”
Even greater sums of money are to be allocated to the military under Trump’s budget proposal, to which the Democrats have offered virtually no opposition, of an annual defense spending increase of $54 billion, equivalent to almost 10 percent of the existing budget. Such additional funds will pay for the escalation of the conflict in the Middle East, where the US is seeking to maintain its dominance over one of the most energy-rich regions of the world against its chief rivals, Russia and China.
On Friday, Defense Secretary James Mattis put forward a plan for the waging of war by the US across a region stretching from Central Asia to West Africa. Presented as a fight against Jihadi “terrorism,” it is in reality only one step in the global military strategy of US imperialism, which carries the increasing risk of triggering a catastrophic world war between the major powers.

Rover Pipeline Owner Disputing Millions Owed After Razing Historic Ohio Home

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By Steve Horn

After taking heat last fall for destroying sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline finds itself embattled anew over the preservation of historic sites, this time in Ohio.
Documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that Energy Transfer Partners is in the midst of a dispute with the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office over a $1.5 million annual payment owed to the state agency as part of a five-year agreement signed in February.
Energy Transfer Partners was set to pay the preservation office in exchange for bulldozing the Stoneman House, a historic home built in 1843 in Dennison, Ohio, whose razing occurred duing construction of the Rover pipeline. Rover is set to carry natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale — up to 14 percent of it — through the state of Ohio. The pipeline owner initially bulldozed the historic home, located near a compressor station, without notifying FERC, as the law requires.
FERC provides regulatory and permitting oversight for interstate pipeline projects like Rover, and as a result, is tasked with performing an environmental and cultural review. Because Energy Transfer Partners didn't notify the commission of the plan to tear down the historic home, citizens and other concerned stakeholders, including the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, did not have the ability to file a formal protest of the action.

“Negative Regional PR

In May 2015, Energy Transfer Partners purchased the Stoneman House from the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office for $1.3 million and bulldozed it just two weeks later, according to FERC documents. The $1.5 million annual payment owed to the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office was in addition to the initial cost of purchasing the home.
The annual payments were supposed to go toward history education programs administered by the office, as agreed upon by FERC, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Energy Transfer Partners, and the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office.

In a March 2015 email, an Energy Transfer Partners employee, whose name is redacted in a filing docketed with FERC, acknowledged that bulldozing the home could create “negative regional PR.”
“I agree that tearing down the house could be a politically risky strategy,” wrote the official. “[I]t may negatively affect the relationships with our reviewers and possibly result in some negative regional PR. We also told FERC that we would work with the [State Historic Preservation Office] to get to a place where there was no adverse effect.”

Asking for Dispute Resolution

In the past few weeks, FERC, Energy Transfer Partners, and the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office have exchanged several letters related to the conflict over payment owed for razing the Stoneman House, which the parties agreed upon in the Memorandum of Agreement.
On April 28, Lox Logan Jr., executive director and CEO of the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, requested that FERC help with formal dispute resolution over the issue.
“The Ohio State Historic Preservation Office has been in repeated contact with representatives from Rover LLC regarding the fulfillment” of the monetary commitments outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement [MOA], wrote Logan. “As of this date, no efforts have been made to meet those obligations. As the lead federal agency with jurisdiction over this undertaking, we are notifying you of this dispute.”
William Scherman, an attorney for the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, currently is serving as legal counsel to Energy Transfer Partners and sent his own letter, which Energy Transfer Partners provided to DeSmog, to FERC on May 10. The letter also requested that FERC step in to resolve the dispute. Scherman previously served as FERC general counsel and chief of staff under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“Certain facts regarding the generation and completion of the MOA and the handling of the mitigation monetary provision were misleading and in error, and therefore we do believe that there is an impasse to resolution at this time,” wrote Scherman. “Rover believes any additional contribution is unwarranted and unfair, and Rover is willing to vigorously defend itself against any attempts to leverage any additional contribution.”
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a firm best known for providing legal counsel to Chevron in the ongoing litigation between attorney Steven Donziger and indigenous plaintiffs in Ecuador against Chevron. That lawsuit and complex litigation battle, which has now dragged on for nearly 25 years, centers around the legacy of oil pollution and contamination in the country.
FERC, in turn, responded on May 17 to the letters from the Preservation Office and Energy Transfer Partners, giving them a three-week dispute resolution period. 
“If this dispute is not resolved by the end of that period, Commission staff will provide its recommended final decision on the dispute, along with all documentation it deems relevant to the dispute, to the [Advisory Council on Historic Preservation] for its review and comment,” reads the FERC letter.

A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners told DeSmog that it will “decline to comment as we continue to work with all parties” on resolving the issue. 
FERC has responded to our letter. We’re entering into dispute resolution with FERC at this time,” Emmy Beach, public relations manager for the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office, told DeSmog. “At this point, the matter is up to FERC to decide what happens next.”
For its part, Energy Transfer Partners has offered a blanket $2.3 million payment which would go to the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office and $1 million of it would go directly to all the 18 counties through which Rover crosses. The other $1.3 million would go toward historic preservation efforts statewide in Ohio.

Trump’s rural voters fighting to keep their land from a growing web of pipelines

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Norm MacQueen would seem to fit the profile of a property owner comfortable with an oil and gas pipeline running through his land. A retired oil refinery employee, MacQueen worked amid risky conditions for more than 20 years, as a pipe fitter and a welder.
But early last year, MacQueen learned that an oil company, Sunoco, was planning to install two more pipelines past his family’s home in eastern Pennsylvania, where one already runs. According to MacQueen, Sunoco’s agents told him the company will force his neighbors and him to sell the rights to some of their land – through a process called eminent domain – if they don’t agree to turn it over.
“These oil companies have so much power,” fumed MacQueen, standing in his yard on a recent weekday. “They think they can do anything they want.”
Eminent domain is often used by governments to gain right-of-way for projects such as highways or government buildings. But state and federal regulators who authorize pipeline projects also typically grant the private companies that are building them the right to use eminent domain to secure needed right-of-way.
That means rural and suburban landowners from Pennsylvania to the Dakotas are finding it increasingly difficult to combat an ever-growing network of pipelines that companies are racing to build to accommodate the prodigious amounts of oil and natural gas that fracking is producing.
MacQueen, who voted for President Donald Trump, says he has no problem with the need for pipelines. His beef is with what he calls the industry’s “bullying tactics” and its mixed safety record. He and others describe a process in which agents pressure them to sign easement agreements and then threaten court action if they don’t agree to the offered terms.
“People used to be surprised, and now they are just angry,” said Lynda Farrell, who heads a Pennsylvania group called the Pipeline Safety Coalition that advises landowners affected by pipeline projects. “They are angry at their legislators. They are angry at the powers that be that allow this to happen.”
Those “powers that be” might include Trump, an unapologetic user of eminent domain as a private developer who owes his election in no small way to the owners of the farms and yards these pipelines would run through. Trump wooed rural voters by pledging to be attentive to their concerns, but one of his first acts as president was to expedite the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which have employed eminent domain to secure needed land.
And the White House is squarely on the side of pipelines. For the last three months, Trump’s aides have been reviewing proposals to help expedite various infrastructure projects nationwide. Unions and industry groups have provided the White House with their favored proposals, which include pipeline projects in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and other states, according to documents obtained by McClatchy.
Tens of thousands of landowners could soon find themselves in the paths of new pipelines. As of 2016, more than 34,000 miles of new oil and gas pipelines were in the planning stages, according to Pipeline and Gas Journal, an industry trade publication. Many are being spurred by the rich deposits of gas in the Marcellus shale region of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Lawmakers in some states are pushing back. Georgia and South Carolina recently passed laws banning private companies from using eminent domain for oil pipelines. Both states were taking aim at a project by the Kinder Morgan pipeline company – suspended after Georgia’s law was signed – that would have carried gasoline and diesel fuel from South Carolina to Florida.
Eminent domain has become an issue in the Virginia governor’s race, where the five leading candidates are split over the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a joint venture of Dominion Resources and Duke Energy that would ship natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. Two of the candidates – one Democrat and one Republican – have come out against the use of eminent domain for the project.
GOP politicians face a particular conundrum with pipeline proposals. For years, the tea party and other GOP allies have campaigned to end what they call government “takings” of private property for economic development. Republicans were highly critical of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision – known as the Kelo case – that allowed local governments to use eminent domain if it served a “public purpose” or “public benefit.”
But Republicans are also big supporters of energy interests. In Pennsylvania, Texas, the Dakotas and many other states, the fracking industry and pipelines are seen as major job creators, supported by business groups and construction unions.
Ilya Somin, a property rights expert and law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, said that some in both parties had been less than consistent in supporting property rights when energy projects were involved. But the passage of the Georgia and South Carolina laws, he said, shows that a bipartisan coalition is emerging on the issue, making unlikely allies out of environmentalists and tea party activists.
“Pipeline takings are starting to get much more attention,” said Somin. “It is not my view that all pipeline takings should be categorically banned. But they should be much more tightly constrained than they are now.”
Utilities and other pipeline developers gained the ability to use eminent domain during World War II, when oil and natural gas was needed to support the war effort and postwar industrialization. The authorization remained after the war ended. One of the earliest big interstate gas pipelines was financed by a group of wealthy Texans in 1949. The Transco pipeline now stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to New York and is owned by Williams Cos., an Oklahoma-based energy company.
Williams and other pipeline developers describe their projects as “the safest, most reliable and efficient manner of transporting energy products.” More than 15,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscross the United States. Mishaps are rare, they argue.
Yet when a pipeline leaks or breaks, the results can be catastrophic. In 2010, eight people died when a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California. Last year, a man was seriously burned when a gas pipeline owned by a Texas company exploded in Salem Township, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Rural landowners often cite such accidents when asked about their pipeline resistance. “Sure, they tell us it is safe,” said Marvin Winstead, who owns a 70-acre farm in Nash County, North Carolina. “But if I put a gun down here and asked you to play Russian roulette, would you do it?”
Marvin Winstead, owner of a North Carolina farm that a gas pipeline is slated to cross
Like many of his neighbors, Winstead has been approached by land agents employed by Dominion, which is partnering with Duke Energy on the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. So far, Winstead has refused to sign an easement agreement and is preparing for legal proceedings.
“If they take me to court and the judge rules in their favor, I won’t have any choice but to accept it,” he said. “But I am not going to swing open the gate at this time.”
To the south of Winstead’s farm, Barbara Exum also has been approached about signing an easement agreement for the pipeline. Along with safety concerns, she fears the easement could reduce the value of her property in Kenly, North Carolina, which includes her house and a 30-acre family farm.
“Before this, I knew all about eminent domain, but I never had any idea it could be used this way,” she said. “This is a private company, seeking private property.”
Not all landowners are resisting use of their land for pipelines. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to cross the farms and yards of some 2,900 property owners in Virginia and North Carolina. Over the last two years, nearly two-thirds of them have signed easement agreements, said Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for Dominion Resources. To highlight some satisfied landowners, the Virginia-based company has produced videos of them.
Ruby said there were two primary drivers of the project: abundant gas production in the Marcellus shale, but also regulatory demands that electric utilities retire their coal-fired power plants. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will allow Dominion and Duke Energy to close several of these plants and replace them with cleaner gas-fired generation stations, he said. Some 80 percent will be used by utilities for electricity generation and the rest will go to natural gas utilities, to supply homes and businesses.
Aside from compensating landowners for the use of their property and construction disruptions, Dominion has made 300 adjustments to its planned route, Ruby said. “Eminent domain is always an absolute last resort,” he added. Such proceedings can occur only after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a permit, or “certificate,” for the project, which the pipeline developers are expecting to receive by this fall.
spokesman for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline
In Pennsylvania, seven major pipeline projects are under construction or regulatory review. One of the most controversial is the Mariner East 2, which would add two pipelines along the route of the Mariner East 1 pipeline in the southern part of the state.
Built in the 1930s, this pipeline formerly shipped petroleum east to west from Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery, near Pennsylvania’s border with Delaware. Sunoco briefly started idling the refinery in 2011. The next year, Energy Transfer Partners – the same company that’s building the Dakota Access pipeline – purchased Sunoco and soon came up with a novel way to repurpose the old pipeline.
Energy Transfer recognized that the Marcellus shale was producing a glut of what’s known as “natural gas liquids” – products such as propane, ethane and butane. It also knew there was a demand for these liquids in Europe, particularly among plastics manufacturers and gasoline refiners.
So the company re-engineered its pipeline to run west to east, and started transferring natural gas liquids to Marcus Hook, where they were being loaded into ships heading to Europe.
In Marcus Hook, town leaders are celebrating the project and the jobs it has created. But along the pipeline route, numerous landowners were surprised to learn that a different kind of product was running through their property. Many are just becoming aware that the company is planning to build two new pipelines along that same route, to ship more natural gas liquids overseas.
At a recent meeting in Chester County, Pennsylvania, along the pipeline route, more than 100 residents gathered to discuss safety concerns. Several speakers noted that the Mariner East 1 pipeline had been built in the 1930s, when the area had far fewer people. Now there will be two new pipelines, carrying explosive liquids, running within 50 feet of homes and a retirement community, and within a few hundred feet of schools.
“This thing was routed with nobody looking at the safety of the route,” said Seth Kovnat, an engineer who serves on the Pipeline Safety Advisory Committee for Middletown, one of the townships where the new pipelines would run.
Sunoco declined requests for a direct interview and would respond only to emailed questions. In an email, spokesman Jeffrey Shields said the company’s pipelines and safety checks went beyond federal safety requirements. “We exceed numerous safety requirements in regard to welding, pipeline monitoring, pump station design, integrity testing, release detection and emergency response,” he wrote.
Asked why the Sunoco pipeline should be considered a “public good” with authority to use eminent domain, Shields said the issue had already been addressed by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which determined that the Mariner East pipelines “provided a public utility.” Some propane shipped by the pipeline is used within Pennsylvania, although the bulk of the project’s liquids are shipped overseas.
Although Sunoco says it works to monitor leaks and avoid accidents, Norm MacQueen is dubious. In April of 2015, MacQueen noticed a strange smell wafting through his yard in Edgmont Township, Pennsylvania, where a Sunoco refined-products pipeline is buried. “It smelled like hydrocarbons,” he recalled.
MacQueen contacted Sunoco, and an hour or so later a crew arrived and confirmed the leak. They then brought in extra crews, made a temporary repair to the pipeline and later installed monitoring wells. “Their smart pig didn’t find the leak. I found it,” said MacQueen, referring to a device that pipeline companies use to inspect their lines.
A year later, Sunoco dispatched a land agent to inform MacQueen about the two new pipelines the company plans to build through his land. The agent, he said, said eminent domain was likely if MacQueen didn’t sign an easement agreement.
Not wanting to go to court, MacQueen and his wife eventually agreed to sign. He said he was far from comfortable with the outcome.
“This is a crazy situation,” he said. “I don’t feel too safe living here next to this line.”


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EVERY YEAR, FACEBOOK gathers hundreds of developers, corporate allies, and members of the press to hear CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of our shared near future. The gathering is known as “F8,” and this year’s iteration included some radical plans, one of which could’ve been pulled from a William Gibson novel: Facebook is working on a means of using your brain as an input device.
Such technology is still many years off, as is, apparently, Facebook’s willingness to publicly think through its very serious implications.
Details on how the Facebook brain/computer interface would function are scant, likely because the company hasn’t invented it yet. But it’s fair to say the company has already put a great deal of effort into considering what capabilities such an interface would have, and how it would be designed, judging from its press announcement: “We have taken a distinctly different, non-invasive and deeply scientific approach to building a brain-computer speech-to-text interface,” the company says, describing the project as “a silent speech interface with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text,” with a stated goal of allowing “100 words per minute, straight from the speech center of your brain.” This process will be executed “via non-invasive sensors that can be shipped at scale” using “optical imaging” that can poll “brain activity hundreds of times per second.”
“The privacy of text” is an interesting turn of phrase for Facebook, which has, like its competitor Google, built itself into a multi-hundred-billion-dollar company more or less on the basis of text typed into a computer not being private but rather an excellent vector through which to target advertising. For its thought-to-text project, Facebook claims it’s built a team of “over 60 scientists, engineers and system integrators” from some of the most esteemed research universities around the U.S. (headed by a former DARPA director, no less). Privacy concerns drove some of the very first questions from journalists after the F8 announcement, including in this passage from The Verge:
[Facebook research director Regina] Dugan stresses that it’s not about invading your thoughts — an important disclaimer, given the public’s anxiety over privacy violations from social networks as large as Facebook. Rather, “this is about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain,” reads the company’s official announcement. “Think of it like this: You take many photos and choose to share only some of them. Similarly, you have many thoughts and choose to share only some of them.”
Facebook was clearly prepared to face at least some questions about the privacy impact of using the brain as an input source. So, then, a fair question even for this nascent technology is whether it too will be part of the company’s mammoth advertising machine, and I asked Facebook precisely that on the day the tech was announced: Is Facebook able to, as of right now, make a commitment that user brain activity will not be used in any way for advertising purposes of any kind?
Facebook spokesperson Ha Thai replied:
We are developing an interface that allows you to communicate with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text. Specifically, only communications that you have already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain. Privacy will be built into this system, as every Facebook effort.
This didn’t answer the question, so I replied:
My question is this: Is Facebook able, as of right now, to make a commitment that user brain activity will not be used in any way for advertising purposes of any kind?
To which Thai replied:
Sam, that’s the best answer I can provide as of right now.
Fair enough — but also an implicit answer that no, Facebook is at least at the moment not able to assure users that their brain activity will not be appropriated to sell ads. This is of course not an indication that the company will do this, only that it is not prepared to rule it out. And to be sure, this is still a hypothetical — it’s possible the company’s neural keyboard will remain somewhere between vaporware and marketing stunt, as has been the case with its solar-powered flying internet relay, or Amazon’s national delivery drone fleet.
But while the tech may be far off, its privacy implications aren’t far fetched — ignore at your own peril Facebook’s history of experimenting with the thoughts of its users, whether by deliberately manipulating their emotions or by putting their faces on advertisements without consent (“They trust me — dumb fucks,” Zuckerberg famously quipped to a friend via IM as he built Facebook in his Harvard dorm).
Facebook’s interest in mental typing was certainly noted by neuroethicists; for them, it helped underline that recent breakthroughs in brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, really will bring what was once a science fiction scenario into the real world.
“I worry a little about whether we’ve given enough thought about what it means to no longer have control over a zone of privacy,” Dr. Eran Klein, a neurology professor at Oregon Health and Sciences University and neuroethicist at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, told me. “One of the things that makes us human is we can decide what stays in our mind and what comes from our mouth.”
Any inadvertent spillover from our inner monologues to online servers could have profound consequences: In society, “if you have a prejudice but you’ve worked diligently to squash that prejudice, that says something good about your character,” Klein pointed out. But if, thanks to your handy Facebook Neuro-Keyboard, “all those prejudices are open for other people to see and be judged, it opens up a whole different way of evaluating people’s moral character and moral choices.”
The importance of thinking things but leaving them unexpressed or unarticulated is fundamental to humanity, society, and morality — and it’s a line Facebook has stomped all over in the past. In 2013, Facebook published a study detailing how it had been recording and storing not just text that had been typed and published on its website, but also text users had written but then decided against publishing and deleted for whatever reason. The study’s authors lamented that “[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation” in such cases of “self-censorship.” Should users trust a company that so failed to grasp the essential intimacy of an unpublished thought with a line into their brains?
Facebook’s assurance that users will be able to easily toggle between thoughts that should and should not be transmitted to Facebook’s servers doesn’t ring true to Klein, who points out that an intrinsic part of speech is that you don’t have to think about each word or phrase before you speak it: “When we’re engaged in a conversation, I don’t have this running dialogue that comes up before my mind’s eye that I say yes or no to before it comes out of my mouth.” Facebook’s announcement made it seem as if your brain has simple privacy settings like Facebook’s website does, but with speech, “if you have to make a decision about every little thing, it becomes exhausting,” and would carry what neurologists call a “high cognitive load.” Klein added that, far from being able to switch between public and private thoughts on the fly, “the only way these technologies really will become part of our second nature is if they become subconscious at some level,” at which point Facebook’s “analogy with photographs” — that “you take many photos and choose to share only some of them” — “breaks down, because then you’re not consciously choosing each thing to let through the sieve.” The whole thing comes down to a sort of paradox, according to Klein: For this technology to be useful, it would have to be subconscious, which precludes the kind of granular privacy decisions described in Facebook’s PR comments.
Howard Chizeck is a neuroethicist and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, where he also co-directs the school’s Biorobotics Laboratory. Like Klein, Chizeck thinks Facebook might be overestimating (or oversimplifying) how easy it could be to switch your brain into some sort of “privacy mode” for consciousness: “I doubt that you can precisely choose words you want to ‘think’ to an external system, versus verbal thoughts that occur otherwise.” Chizeck added that such activity “may look sufficiently different in different people’s brains, and under different conditions” (e.g., if you’re drunk or exhausted) so as to make Facebook’s project difficult to ever pull off. Even if it does prove possible to somehow cherry pick thoughts intended for speech, Chizeck adds that there’s a risk of other thoughts bleeding through (and onto Facebook’s servers): “Even if it is possible to see words that are desired to be sent, other brain signals might also be monitored … which is a privacy concern.”
As for the advertising potential (and other spooky what-ifs), Klein doesn’t think it’s too soon to start asking Facebook for serious answers about its serious research. “I would favor assurances that they need to be transparent about what they’re actually recording and how it might be used for advertising,” even in these early days. The necessity to make brain-to-text input streamlined and subconscious makes the advertising implications even dicier: “If it’s subconscious, you don’t have conscious control over what information companies get about you … so you could be targeted for ads for things you don’t even realize that you like.”
Both Klein and Chizeck said that Facebook, rather than deferring on the most obvious privacy questions, should set out its principles on brain research from the get-go. “I think that they should design their system, from the beginning, with privacy a consideration,” said Chizeck. “Ultimately I think that there is a need for standards (developed by an industry/professional society/government consortium), with mechanisms for self-enforcement by industry, and oversight by government or third parties.” Klein also thinks it’s important for private sector entities like Facebook conducting what could become pioneering scientific work to establish ground rules in advance, to “lay out ahead of time what their values are and what the vision is.” Klein concedes that Facebook “can only predict so much, but I think that if you just let the technology drive everything, then I think ethics is always the dog trying to catch the car.”