The Department of the Interior announced it’s putting a moratorium on coal mining leases on federal lands to do a full review of the government’s mineral leasing policies, citing concerns over global warming.
The Interior Department wants to “better understand and manage carbon emissions on public lands” and cited an “independent analysis” to justify its concerns about carbon dioxide emissions from coal mining. The analysis suggests carbon dioxide emissions “could amount to 28 percent of the nation’s annual total energy-related emissions.”
There’s just one problem. That “independent analysis” was published by a left-wing environmental group, The Wilderness Society, in 2012 to get government officials worried about greenhouse gas emissions on federal lands. The Interior Department disclosed this to free market group The Western Energy Alliance, which was critical of the government for relying on reports from environmental activists to effectively ban new coal mining on federal lands.
“Now any reasonable person knows that The Wilderness Society is not a disinterested, independent body; it’s a special interest with a legitimate viewpoint, but one that clearly lobbies for policies that prevent fossil fuel development on public lands,” the group’s spokeswoman Kathleen Sgamma said in a statement.
What’s even more interesting, however, is The Wilderness Society and The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded by Democratic operative John Podesta, only commissioned the report and a consulting firm called Stratus Consulting actually wrote it. Stratus has been steeped in controversy in recent years after the company admitted to falsifying a report in a $19 billion lawsuit against oil giant Chevron.
In 2013, Stratus admitted to providing false statements against Chevron at the behest of Steven Donziger, a trial lawyer representing Ecuadorian villagers in the suit against Chevron. Stratus admitted to being pushed by Donziger to write a report in a way that made it look like it was written by a court-appointed independent expert.
“I now believe that the damages assessment in the Cabrera Report and Cabrera Response is tainted,” Ann Maest, managing scientist for Stratus, wrote in a court declaration. “Therefore, I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador Project.”
Stratus’ executive vice president Doug Beltman told the court Donziger ordered that portions of the group’s report be drafted in the first person to appear as if it were written by Richard Cabrera, the court-appointed independent expert. Stratus’ research was used as evidence Texaco’s operations polluted lands and contaminated water in Ecuador.
“Donziger stressed to me and Ann Maest the importance of Stratus ensuring that no one learn of Stratus’ involvement in any aspect of the Cabrera Report or Responses,” said Beltman.
“Stratus believes that the damages assessment in the Cabrera Report and the entire Cabrera process were fatally tainted and are not reliable,” the company said in a statement. “Stratus disavows the Cabrera Report, has agreed to cooperate fully and to provide testimony about the Ecuador litigation.”
Stratus was hired by Donziger who represents Ecuadorians in a massive lawsuit alleging Chevron is responsible for environmental damages caused by its subsidiary Texaco from 1964 to 1992. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001. Stratus’ research was used as evidence Texaco’s operations polluted lands and contaminated water in Ecuador.
“I disavow any and all findings and conclusions in all of my reports and testimony on the Ecuador Project. I deeply regret that I allowed myself and my company to be used in the Lago Agrio Litigation in the way that we were,” Beltman wrote in his court declaration.
Chevron countersued Donziger and Stratus for fraud and racketeering. Chevron dropped the suit against Stratus after the company retracted its tainted findings.
Despite admitting to falsifying data, Stratus’ research has still been used by government agencies and liberal groups as evidence against mining and oil and gas drilling.
The Environmental Protection Agency relied on Stratus’ research in a 2013 review of the environmental impacts of the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Ala. EPA’s report did not end up looking favorably on mining for gold in the region.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) relied on Stratus’ research to claim in a 2014 report that flaring methane from natural gas operations on federal lands increased in the last five years and that fugitive methane emissions were much higher than official estimates.
CAP’s report was rebutted by Katie Brown with the oil industry-backed education group Energy In Depth. Brown pointed out that CAP’s findings were misleading because natural gas production has been falling on federal lands and ignored peer-reviewed studies showing methane leakage rates were extremely low.
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