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Nevada Wants U.S. To Remove Secretly Dumped Plutonium

Nevada officials are in federal court to try to get Trump’s Energy Department to remove one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium it secretly shipped to the state in aging tractor-trailers.

That’s just a small part of what could be as many as 3,300 shipments of nuclear material shuttled among states.

Federal documents appear to show a route on Interstate 40 west to near Needles, Calif., and then north on U.S. 95 to Nevada, but the fine print cautions that “this figure does not represent shipment routing decisions.”

Nevada officials worry that the secret shipment is just the first step in transporting to Nevada 34 metric tons of plutonium left over from the Cold War. Trump’s proposed budget for 2020 calls for restarting the licensing process to make Yucca Mountain in Nevada a nuclear dump.

“I don’t want Interstate 11 to become the plutonium expressway,” said Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada governor’s Agency for Nuclear Projects and Nuclear Waste Project Office.

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du denied Nevada’s request to immediately block all future shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to Nevada. Nevada has appealed the ruling.

“Nevada’s claim of irreparable harm to Nevada’s lands, environment and by extension Nevada’s citizens, is merely a theoretical possibility at this juncture,” Du wrote.

Vincent Fisher oversees the Office of Secure Transportation, the federal agency that trucked plutonium from a nuclear facility in western South Carolina in 35-gallon containers. A federal judge in South Carolina ordered that the plutonium be removed from South Carolina by Jan. 1, 2020.

The agency has shipped nuclear materials mostly without incident for decades. The Energy Department is spending $670 million to develop a new self-defense system for its trucks which could be ready by 2023.

The plutonium is being stored in Nevada at the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas. It might eventually be used to make plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons as Trump seeks to renew the nuclear arms race.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) has blocked appointments to vacant position’s in Trump’s Energy Department to protest the plutonium being shipped to Nevada. She said recently that Energy Secretary Rick Perry might be willing to remove the plutonium, but it’s unknown when that would happen or where it could be sent.

IMAGE: The Department of Energy ships nuclear materials through populated areas in specially modified tractor-trailers like this one (DOE photo).

 

Energy Department Threatens Whistleblower Who Exposed Secret Coal Scheming

A whistleblower leaked a photograph of a private meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a coal baron who’s also a major Republican donor. Now he’s being threatened.

 Photographer Simon Edelman used to work for the Department of Energy, headed by former Texas governor and failed presidential candidate Rick Perry.

But then Edelman leaked photographs of a secret meeting between Perry and Robert E. Murray, the owner of a major coal mining operation, and a longtime Republican donor and supporter of Donald Trump. The pictures show Perry and Murray embracing and exchanging an “action plan” drafted by Murray — essentially, a list Murray’s list of demands for changes to policy and regulations he wanted that would benefit the coal industry.

After those photos surfaced, Edelman was let go. The Department of Energy seized his personal laptop and escorted him out of his office in the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. His employment agreement was terminated, even though he was supposed to be employedfor two more years.

Then, according to a complaint filed with the inspector general of the Department of Energy, the threats started.

In one phone call that was recorded, an official at the Energy Department pushed for him to turn over the drive and said, “I would suggest that doing it sooner rather than later would probably be a good thing for you.”

Photos taken by government employees as part of their official duties are in fact in the public domain, and do not belong to any specific agency, the head of the agency, or the president and his administration.

Whistleblower Edelman alerted Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) about the department’s actions, and now they’re pushing for the department, and Perry, to come clean about why the photographer was really fired.

It’s not difficult to understand why such a meeting would be a huge embarrassment for the Perry, the Energy Department, and the Trump administration.

Murray contributed $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration and personally held a fundraiser for him during the campaign. Before that, he also financially supported Perry’s political career.

After the Sago Mine disaster in 2006 where 12 miners were killed and only one survived, Murray lobbied against the push in West Virginia to pass safety legislation.

His company, Murray Energy, operated the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah that collapsed in 2007, trapping six miners. Before the collapse, the mine had received 64 violations and racked up $12,000 in fines.

After President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, Murray laid off 156 workers and alleged that the Obama administration was engaged in a “war on coal.”

Murray sued John Oliver and HBO over an episode of the program Last Week Tonight that exposed his shoddy safety record and habit of suing journalists who write about his business.

He has also has long been a fixture on right-wing outlets like Fox News.

It is the troubling track record of someone involved in the mining business, let alone exerting an undue influence on the entire Department of Energy, the presidency, and the government. Murray is not someone who should have that kind of influence over the lives of mine workers, who have already gotten a raw deal from Trump after a campaign of absurd promises.

The Trump administration is in bed with the worst of the worst of corporate America. Trump and his team have shown time and again that they will not hesitate to cover up and hide massive corruption. In this case, it seems the Energy Department is willing to go so far as to threaten a whistleblower who dared to tell the truth about it.

Oops! Rick Perry Regrets Calling For Energy Department’s Elimination

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to run the Energy Department, said during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday that he regrets having called for the department’s elimination during his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

“After being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination,” the former Texas governor said in his opening remarks to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Perry, 66, was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, making him the longest-serving governor of the oil-producing state in its history. He is seen by Trump as a person who can usher in energy jobs.

As energy secretary, he would also lead a vast scientific research operation credited with helping trigger a U.S. drilling boom and advancements in energy efficiency, and would oversee America’s nuclear arsenal.

Perry’s proposal to get rid of the Energy Department caused what has become known as his “oops” moment during a November, 2011 Republican presidential candidate debate when he could not remember all of the three Cabinet-level departments he wanted to eliminate.

After mentioning the departments of Commerce and Education, he said, “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” A few minutes later in the debate Perry said with a laugh, “By the way that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Perry is expected to face questioning by senators on how he would create jobs in the industry and bolster U.S. energy security. Trump, who takes office at noon on Friday, has championed increased production of oil, gas and coal.

Perry is also likely to face questions about his stance on climate change. Like several other Trump Cabinet appointees, Perry is a self-professed climate skeptic. Democrats are concerned about the future of climate science research at the department’s lab network that sprawls across the country.

A questionnaire the Trump transition team sent to the department in December demanded names and publications of employees who had worked on climate issues. After an uproar by critics who said it amounted to a witch hunt, the team disavowed the survey.

Department leadership under Perry would represent a pivot from being run by learned scientists to a person who is known for close ties to energy interests.

Current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist who led technical negotiations in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, while the previous head, Steven Chu, is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a background in lab work and management. Perry resigned from the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline opposed by Native Americans and environmentalists. He has said that, if confirmed, he will divest his interests in two pipeline companies.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Crony Cabinet Watch: Rick Perry’s Texas Giveaways

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Donald Trump’s selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy has prompted many Democrats to question Perry’s qualifications for the position. While he governed a state rich in fossil fuels and wind energy, Perry has far less experience than President Obama’s two energy secretaries, both physicists, in the department’s primary work, such as tending the nuclear-weapons stockpile, handling nuclear waste and carrying out advanced scientific research. That’s not to mention, of course, that Perry four years ago called for doing away with the entire department.

However, there’s one realm in which Perry will have plenty of preparation: doling out taxpayer money in the form of government grants to the energy industry.

What often gets lost in all the talk of the Texas job boom under Perry is how much economic development strategy was driven by direct subsidies to employers who promised to relocate to the state or create jobs there. Of course, many states have for years engaged in the game of luring companies with tax incentives. But by the count of a 2012 New York Times investigation, Texas under Perry vaulted to the top, giving out $19 billion in incentives per year, more than any other state.

Perry’s economic development largesse came in many forms, but among the most high-profile were two big pots of money that he created while in office. In 2003, he founded the Texas Enterprise Fund, which he pitched as a way to help him close the deal in bidding wars for large employers thinking of moving to the state. Over the course of Perry’s tenure, which ended in early 2015, the fund gave out more than $500 million. In 2005, Perry created the Emerging Technology Fund, which was intended for start-ups. It gave out $400 million before being shuttered last year by his Republican successor, Greg Abbott.

Disbursements from both funds were controlled by Perry, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. The technology fund had a 17-member advisory board, all appointed by Perry. With such scant oversight, it did not take long for political favoritism and cronyism to creep into the programs. In 2010, the Texas Observer reported that 20 of the 55 Enterprise Fund grant recipients up to that point had contributed directly to Perry’s campaign or the Republican Governor’s Association, of which he became chairman in 2010. Also in 2010, the The Dallas Morning News reported that some $16 million from the Emerging Technology Fund had gone to firms backed by major donors to Perry. For instance, after Joe Sanderson received a $500,000 Enterprise Fund grant to build a poultry plant in Waco in 2006, he gave Perry $25,000. And the Emerging Technology Fund gave $4.75 million to two firms backed by James Leininger, a hospital-bed manufacturer and school-voucher proponent who had helped arrange a last-minute $1.1 million loan to Perry in his successful 1998 run for lieutenant governor and contributed $239,000 to his campaigns over the ensuing decade.

In theory, companies receiving Enterprise Fund grants were accountable for their job-creation pledges and had to make refunds when they fell short. In practice, the numbers proved hard to quantify and few companies had to make refunds. The watchdog group Texans for Public Justice determined that by the end of 2010, companies had created barely more than a third of the jobs promised, even with Perry’s administration having lowered the standard for counting jobs. And in 2014, the state auditor found that $222 million had been given out to companies that hadn’t even formally applied for funds or made concrete promises for job creation. “The final word on the funds is that they were first and foremost political, to allow [Perry] to stand in front of a podium and say that he was bringing jobs back to Texas,” said Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice. “From the very start those funds lacked transparency and accountability.”

This being Texas, it was not surprising that many of the leading beneficiaries of the taxpayer funds were in the energy industry. Citgo got $5 million from the Enterprise Fund when it moved to the state from Tulsa in 2004, even though it made clear that it had strategic reasons to move there regardless of the incentive. Chevron got $12 million in 2013 after agreeing to build a 50-story office tower in downtown Houston — a building that three years later remained unbuilt.

Most revealing of the problems associated with the Perry model of taxpayer-funded economic development, though, may have been a $30 million grant in 2004 to a lesser-known outfit called the Texas Energy Center. The center was created in 2003 to be a public-private consortium for research and innovation in so-called clean-coal technology, deep-sea drilling, and other areas. Not coincidentally, it was located in the suburban Houston district of Rep. Tom DeLay, the powerful House Republican, who, it was envisioned, would steer billions in federal funding to the center, with the help of Washington lobbyists hired by the Perry administration, including DeLay’s former chief of staff, Drew Maloney.

But the federal windfall didn’t come through, and the Enterprise Fund grant was cut to $3.6 million, which was to be used as incentives for energy firms in the area. Perry made the award official with a 2004 visit to the Sugar Land office of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, one of the consortium’s members, housed inside the glass tower of the Fluor Corporation. In 2013, when I visited Sugar Land for an article on Perry’s economic development approach, his administration still listed the Texas Energy Center as a going concern that had nearly reached its target of 1,500 jobs and resulted in $20 million in capital investment.

There was just one problem: There was no Texas Energy Center to be found. Here, from the 2013 article in The New Republic, is what I discovered:

The address listed on its tax forms is the address of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, inside the Fluor tower. I arrived there late one Friday morning and asked for the Texas Energy Center. The secretary said: “Oh, it’s not here. It’s across the street. But there’s nothing there now. Jeff handles it here.” Jeff Wiley, the council’s president, would be out playing golf the rest of the day, she said. I went to the building across the street and asked for directions from an aide in the office of DeLay’s successor, which happened to be in the same building. She had not heard of the Texas Energy Center. But then I found its former haunt, a small vacant office space upstairs with a sign on an interior wall — the only mark of the center’s brief existence.

Later, I got Wiley on the phone. There has never been any $20 million investment, he said. The center survives only on paper, sustained by Wiley, who, for a cut of the $3.6 million, has filed the center’s tax forms and kept a tally of the jobs that have been “created” by the state’s money at local energy companies. I asked him how this worked — how, for instance, was the Texas Energy Center responsible for the 600 jobs attributed to EMS Pipeline Services, a company spun off from the rubble of Enron? Wiley said he would have to check the paperwork to see what had been reported to the state. He called back and said that the man who helped launch EMS had been one of the few people originally on staff at the Texas Energy Center, which Wiley said justified claiming the 600 jobs for the barely existing center.

In at least one instance, this charade went too far: In 2006, a Sugar Land city official protested to Wiley that, while it was one thing to quietly claim the job totals from a Bechtel venture in town, it was not “appropriate or honest” to assert in a press release that the Texas Energy Center had played a role. “There is a clear difference between qualifying jobs to meet the [Energy Center’s] contractual requirement with the state and actively seeking to create a perception of [it] as an active, successful, going concern,” wrote the official, according to Fort Bend Now, a local news website. In this case, reality prevailed, and Wiley declined to count the Bechtel jobs.

Today, the $20 million in capital investment from the Texas Energy Center has vanished from the state’s official accounting of Enterprise Fund impact, but the 1,500 jobs remain, part of the nearly 70,000 jobs that the state claims the fund has generated.

Drew Maloney, the former DeLay chief of staff who lobbied for federal funds for the Texas Energy Center, is now the vice president of government and external affairs at the energy giant Hess Corporation.

And Perry is on the verge of being put in charge of vastly larger sums of taxpayer dollars to disburse across the energy industry. (Requests for comment from the Trump transition team went unanswered, as did a request to Jeff Miller, an unofficial Perry spokesman who now works for Ryan, a Dallas-based tax consultancy that helps clients, including ExxonMobil, get tax incentives from Texas and other states.) The Department of Energy has a budget of around $30 billion, oversees a $4.5 billion loan guarantee program for energy companies, and distributes more than $5 billion in discretionary funds for clean-energy research and development. (The loan guarantee program was the source of the $535 million loan that solar-panel maker Solyndra defaulted on in 2011, but it has had plenty of successes as well.) Many of the department’s programs have well-established standards for disbursement, but as secretary, Perry would have a say over at least some of the flow of dollars.

Trump himself, in announcing his nomination of Perry, said he hoped Perry would bring his Texas strategies on energy and economic development to Washington. “As the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state,” Trump said, “and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as secretary of energy.”

Related stories: Read about how Trump’s Commerce pick has a big conflict of interest,check out the deregulation philosophy of his Labor choice, and learn about the family business links of his Transportation secretary.

IMAGE: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry discusses his economic plan at a National Press Club luncheon speech in Washington in this file photo taken on July 2, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File photo