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Meet the members of Congress who’ve invested the most in the energy industry

The Washington Post has a nifty tool that allows you to see the investments of members of Congress. Which is not to say that a congressmember will necessarily act on behalf of the companies and industries they're invested in. It is, instead, to say that if a congressmember did take action on one such company’s behalf and the company’s value increased as a result of that action, the congressmember would see direct benefit.

It is also to say that, yes, it happens.

A California congressman helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.

A Wyoming congresswoman co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.

And a Pennsylvania congressman co-sponsored a natural gas bill as Exxon Mobil negotiated a deal that paid millions for his wife’s shares in two natural gas companies founded by her great-great-grandfather.

Those lawmakers were among 73 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Seventy-three of the 535 members of the House and Senate. That's 13.6 percent.

The Post breaks down investments by industry. Below is a graph of investments in energy and natural resources -- but see the interactive version for much more data. The size of the bubble is the amount of investment; the color denotes political party.


Obama says clean energy is not a socialist plot: A play in one act

empty stage

Scene: Interior, leadership chamber, underground Socialist headquarters, deep beneath the Department of Labor. Long table in dimly lit room. Around the table sits a very diverse group of people.

STAFFER runs in, holding a sheaf of papers. The assembled people look at him, expectantly.

Staffer, catching his breath: Well. He denied it.

(Murmurs. A few soft "no"s.)

Nancy Pelosi: What'd he say?

Staffer, reading from piece of paper: "President Obama quipped Sunday night that energy efficiency initiatives are not a 'socialist plot' ..."

(Groans, mumbling.)

Pelosi: And the report is accurate?

Staffer: (Nods.) Agent Clooney was in the room. It gets worse. He also said, "I’m big on oil and gas, and developing clean coal ..."

(Immediate wailing.)

Al Gore, crying out: His chip has failed!

Staffer: That was my thought.

Eyes turn to Steven Chu, who anxiously stabs at the buttons of a device with a lot of blinking lights.


Chickens raised in New York backyards lay polluted eggs

The plan to raise your own chickens in New York City seems like a good one until you realize that the chickens are not bopping around a verdant field lined with oak trees. They are in Queens.

And, lo:

Preliminary results from a New York State study show that more than half of the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike their store-bought counterparts. While lead is a naturally occurring element that gets ingested in a variety of ways, it has been well established to be harmful to humans, even in very low quantities. …

Individual homeowners who keep chickens in their backyards have little way of knowing whether their eggs might be contaminated unless they have them tested themselves. The researchers tested only 58 eggs from community gardens because those eggs were accessible and that was the number of eggs that met the criteria of their study.

That's the Times revealing the obvious. You are putting chicken feed on the ground in the Bronx. Of course the stupid bird is eating horrible things.

I don't know why someone at Grist created this photo of Ryan Gosling holding a chick, but I think it works here.
Read more: Cities, Food


Gas prices hit new high in California yesterday and today and probably tomorrow

And what's the deal with airline food?!

Oop. Sorry. Hang on. Wrong script.

Gas prices, am I right? Here is a page of dumb jokes about gas prices that I found by Googling "dumb gas prices jokes."

This weird person uses the controversial "two hands" approach to pumping.

But, seriously. Gas prices in California have just hit an all-time high for the third day in a row, reaching $4.67 a gallon. Which is pretty crazy. It means that you can get a day pass to Universal Studios Hollywood for only … 17 gallons of gas. (Goddamn, that tour's expensive.)

Why? The Los Angeles Times explains -- and has some good news.

California drivers may soon catch a break.

The Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, which shut down Oct. 1 in a power outage, resumed operations Friday. Analysts blamed the closure, as well as reduced production this summer at a major Northern California refinery, for much of the state’s price hikes.

"Reduced production this summer" refers to that Bay Area refinery that exploded in August. Like how there was reduced production in Hiroshima in 1946.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


BP sells disaster site to pay bills from another disaster

In 2005, a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded. Fifteen workers were killed, 150 others were injured. That refinery is in the news again today because BP has finalized its sale -- so that the company can pay legal costs from its most recent deadly accident.

From The Guardian:

BP has agreed to sell the Texas City refinery, where 15 people died in an explosion in 2005, to Marathon Petroleum Corporation for $2.5bn (£1.55bn).

The sale includes part of BP's retail and logistics network in the south-east US. The deal forms part of a $38bn selling spree BP embarked on after the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The company has now made disposals worth more than $35bn, which will help pay for liabilities and fines related to the Deepwater Horizon spill. BP has also been keen to scale down its refining operations where profit margins are thin.

SOLD: One refinery, partly exploded.


Plans to ship coal to China face a hurdle: The West Coast

Coal companies are in a bit of a bind. Well, a few binds, really, but let's just focus on one at a time, shall we? Demand for their product domestically has dropped significantly of late, as prices of natural gas have remained low. But demand remains high overseas: In Europe, certainly, but particularly in Asia. So if you are running a coal company (which, if you are: Hello!), there's an obvious solution. Take all that coal and ship it to China and India.

Or maybe it's not that easy. From The Hill:

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that coal exports rose 24 percent in the first six months of the year. Exports to Asia experienced a small increase, but insiders said that is largely due to the lack of Pacific Northwest export terminals.

And there's the problem. The route from Montana coal deposits to the furnaces of Beijing must pass over a high barrier. Not the Rockies. The liberal West Coast.


Finally! Chipotle signs deal to pay tomato pickers more

A red vegetable.

After a long, grueling fight and many protests, good news to report: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) signed an agreement with Chipotle that affirms better working conditions for the people who pick the chain's tomatoes. From the Denver Post:

Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill reached agreement Thursday with a farmworker-based human rights organization to join the group's Fair Food Program. ...

For six years, the CIW had invited Chipotle to join the Fair Food Program. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said [on Tuesday] that the company, despite not joining, was in compliance because for three years it has purchased from growers who have signed on to the program.

The pact comes in advance of the winter tomato-growing season, when most of the nation's tomatoes come from growers in Florida.

We've covered the Fair Food Program fight before, most recently at the end of last month. We described what the agreement entails:

Food companies that join the program enter binding contracts with the CIW. They agree to pay a penny more per pound directly to the workers, which doesn’t sound like much but significantly raises their take-home pay. The program also requires shade tents and ice water in the fields, health and safety monitors, sessions to educate workers about their rights, and a confidential enforcement program run by the Fair Food Standards Council in nearby Sarasota. A grower who doesn’t stick to the agreement risks losing his ability to sell to the 10 big fast food and grocery retailers who have signed on.

At that point, the workers insisted that they were in the fight for the long haul. "We’ll continue these demonstrations until Chipotle signs," one organizer said at the time -- and they did.


Green group buys up Wyoming oil leases to stop drilling

When Tim DeChristopher won a 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction for oil and gas leases, there was one catch: He didn't have the money to pay for what he won. For that little bit of civil disobedience, DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in jail.

The Trust for Public Land, in contrast, intends to pay the money. From the Associated Press:

The Trust for Public Land plans to buy out 58,000 acres of oil and gas leases owned by Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Co. for $8.75 million, the San Francisco-based group tells The Associated Press.

The announcement opens a fundraising effort by the trust. Almost half the money needs to be raised if the deal is to be closed at the end of the year as the agreement requires. …

The deal would end PXP's plan to drill 136 gas wells near the Hoback River headwaters inside Bridger-Teton National Forest, [near Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming]. Opponents said the project would pollute the air, harm wildlife and taint pristine streams in a rolling landscape of meadows and forest.


More jobs lost as wind tax credit nears expiration. Congress, you listening?

Tennessee Valley Infrastructure Group Inc.

The slowdown in the wind industry due to the imminent expiration of a key tax credit is spreading beyond manufacturers of turbines. From Reuters:

Kaydon Corp, a maker of specialty ball bearings for wind turbines, said it would shut a South Carolina plant and record a charge of $47 million to $52 million due to the impending expiration of a renewable energy tax credit and weak markets.

The renewable energy production tax credit, which expires at the end of this year, provides a tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. …

"(While) wind energy will be a viable market in the long term, it will be challenged by continued regulatory uncertainty in the United States, including the impending expiration of the Production Tax Credit and a weak global economy," Chief Executive James O'Leary said in a statement.


Texas grandmother arrested for trespassing on her own land to protest Keystone

Daryl Hannah got arrested yesterday while blocking TransCanada's construction of its Gulf Coast tar-sands pipeline. But the more interesting story is that Eleanor Fairchild was arrested, too.

Tar Sands Blockade
Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year-old grandmother and landowner.

Who's Eleanor Fairchild? No one you've heard of. The important part isn't who she is, it's why she was arrested and where she was when it happened. Fairchild was arrested for trespassing. And when it happened, she was standing on her own property.

From CBS News:

Hannah and landowner Eleanor Fairchild were standing in front of heavy equipment in an attempt to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on Fairchild's farm in Winnsboro, a town about 100 miles east of Dallas. They were arrested for criminal trespassing and taken to the Wood County Jail, Bassis said. Hannah also faces a charge of resisting arrest, according to jail records.

Let's repeat that: Eleanor Fairchild, 78, was arrested for standing on her own property.

Read more: Climate & Energy