Molly Redden

Molly Redden

Reporter

Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

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Molly Redden is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Previously, she worked for The New Republic, covering energy and the environment and politics, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Washington City Paper, and Slate. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and watching too much television. She tweets at @mtredden.

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Jury Finds Tea Party Senate Candidate Who Rand Paul Endorsed Misled Investors to the Tune of $250,000

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 9:50 AM PST

On the stump, Greg Brannon, the tea party candidate in North Carolina's competitive Senate race, preaches personal responsibility and rails against out-of-control government spending.

So a recent jury verdict that held Brannon responsible for misleading two investors who gave him a quarter million dollars is quite a blow to the image Brannon has tried to craft of a crusader for better financial decisions in government.

Brannon, a full-time OB-GYN, is best distinguished from the rest of the GOP primary candidates vying to replace Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by his extreme beliefs: He has said public education "does nothing…other than dehumanize" students and that food stamps are "slavery." Recent GOP primary polls have Brannon trailing the front-runner, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, by single digits. Endorsements from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and conservative leaders such as RedState editor Erick Erickson have given Brannon a significant fundraising boost.

His legal troubles are linked to Neogence Enterprises, a defunct technology company Brannon cofounded several years ago. The company tried to develop a smartphone application which Brannon pitched as a "social augmented reality network connecting people, places and things" and a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity. Last week, a civil jury concluded that Brannon had led two investors to believe that Verizon was considering preinstalling the application on certain smartphones. (The Raleigh News & Observer first reported the verdict.) Although Neogence pitched Verizon, the cellphone carrier never, in fact, made that offer.

The jury cleared Robert Rice, Neogence's former CEO, of similar wrongdoing. Brannon's case defense probably foundered due to emails he sent bragging of Neogence's potential partnership with Verizon. "I know all of you are BUSY!!!" Brannon wrote in one email. "I need you to give a few minutes to look at this potential. THANK YOU for your TRUST!! Greg."

The two investors who brought the suit are a former classmate of Brannon's from medical school, Larry Piazza, and the husband of one of Brannon's patients, Sam Lampuri. In court, Lampuri, a Raleigh plumber who gave Brannon $100,000, testified that Brannon "pretty much spoke about Neogence every time my wife was in stirrups." Brannon must now repay Piazza and Lampuri a total of $250,000 plus interest.

Brannon has boasted about his personal connection with his patients before. In a fall 2013 fundraiser for Hand of Hope, his nonprofit crisis pregnancy center, Brannon said, "When I see little girls that come here, boyfriends that do show up are my favorites. Then I can whoop on them with love. How many people have we got married over the last 20 years just by riding that boy's rear end?"

Brannon's campaign did not respond to requests for comment last week. In the run-up to the trial, Brannon told the News & Observer, "I can't wait for my day in court." After the verdict, he said, "I cannot wait to go to the appeal process."

GOP Congressional Candidate: Protecting Gays From Workplace Discrimination is "Segregation"

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 8:43 AM PST

Cresent Hardy was expected to be the milquetoast candidate in the Republican primary for Nevada's 4th district—especially compared with his competitor for the GOP nod,  Niger Innis, who said that the fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling was "very much like the civil rights revolution."

But on Tuesday, Hardy, a Nevada state assemblyman, gave Ennis a run for his money. In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Hardy called the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a federal bill passed by the Senate that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, "segregation."

"When we create classes, we create that same separation that we're trying to unfold somehow," Hardy told the Sun. "By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws."

In the same interview, Hardy vowed that he "will always vote against same sex marriage because of my religious beliefs, the way I was raised…For me to vote for it would be to deny the same God that I believe in."

As a state assemblyman, Hardy was one of just 13 assembly members to vote against a Nevada bill banning housing and job discrimination against transgender people. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed that bill into law in May 2011.

Hardy and Innis are competing to challenge first-term Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. The sprawling 4th district, which covers northern Las Vegas suburbs, leans Democrat, although Horsford was elected in 2012 with a scant 50.1 percent of the vote. While Innis is running as an outsider, Hardy is squarely backed by the Republican establishment, having racked up endorsements from Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller, and Rep. Mark Amodei.

Natural Gas Is Dirtier Than We Thought—But It's Still Better Than Coal

| Thu Feb. 13, 2014 12:00 PM PST

For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has underestimated US emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. That's the argument of a new analysis appearing in the Feb. 14 issue of Science, which also finds that a big factor behind the lowball estimates is the EPA's poor grasp of methane leaks from the natural gas industry.

The analysis, which examines more than 200 existing studies, is the first to take a broad view of scientific knowledge of methane emissions, and it has critical implications for the use of natural gas. Gas has been touted by its proponents as a cleaner alternative to traditional fossil fuels such as coal—President Obama hails it as a "bridge fuel" that will allow the country to transition to cleaner energy sources—since burning natural gas for energy emits far less carbon dioxide. But because methane, a main component of natural gas, is such a powerful greenhouse gas, the new evidence of narrows the gap between the climate change contributions of gas and coal.

"Our best guess is that methane emissions in this country are about 50 percent more than the EPA [estimates]," says Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and the lead author of the analysis. Methane emissions could plausibly be anywhere between 25 to 75 percent more than what EPA measures have shown, Brandt adds. "That amounts to something like 7 to 21 million excess tons of methane every year." Brandt and his co-authors, he says, did not have enough evidence to determine what proportion of total excess methane is released by the natural gas industry, as opposed to by other energy sectors, agriculture, or landfills.

But the study concludes that natural gas as a fuel source still contributes less to climate change than coal. "We don't believe that the evidence suggests that burning coal is better," Brandt says. "There's just not support for that." The reason is that while methane is the more damaging greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which coal emits in huge quantities when burned, stays in the atmosphere for a much longer period of time. Coal is a "cleaner" fuel only in the near-term—a period of 20 years or so. Brandt says that over a period of 100 years, natural gas—leaks and all—would still be a less greenhouse gas-intensive source of energy than coal.

Still, Brandt cautions, natural gas is not a long-term energy solution for keeping climate change in check. "Uncontrolled use of gas over a century or more isn't a good thing, from a climate change perspective," Brandt says. "Most climate change scenarios suggest that this can't be a solution for 100 years."

The analysis also concludes that even under the most conservative estimates of methane leaks from the gas sector, keeping diesel-powered powered vehicles, such as buses, on the road contributes smaller amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than switching to gas-powered buses.

The researchers believe that only a small percentage of methane leaked by the gas sector is coming from the controversial hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—process itself. Rather, accidental leaks that occur as the industry moves and processes natural gas likely account for the biggest proportion of these emissions. One study cited by the analysis found that less than 1 percent of individual pieces of equipment at a single natural gas plant were responsible for nearly 60 percent of its leakage. Brandt says new technology that quickly identifies these "superemitters" is the best hope for reigning in the industry's emissions.

As for why the EPA underestimates methane leaks in the gas industry, the analysis notes that the agency can only measure emission rates at wells and plants where the operators volunteered to allow the EPA on site. In one instance, the EPA asked 30 natural gas companies to allow them on site, but only six cooperated.

North Carolina Protected Duke Energy from Pollution Complaints Before the Company's Coal Ash Disaster

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 8:23 AM PST
A coal ash dump site in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Last year, North Carolina's top environmental regulators thwarted three separate Clean Water Act lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy, the largest electricity company in the country, to clean up its toxic coal ash pits in the state. That June, the state went even further, saying it would handle environmental enforcement at every one of Duke's 31 coal ash storage ponds in the state—an act that protected the company from further federal lawsuits. Last week, one of those coal ash storage ponds ruptured, belching more than 80,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Now environmental groups and former regulators are charging that North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke for 30 years, has created an atmosphere where the penalties for polluting the environment are low.

The Associated Press reports that McCrory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked three federal Clean Water Act suits in 2013 by stepping in with its own enforcement authority "at the last minute." This protected Duke from the kinds of stiff fines and penalties that can result from federal lawsuits. Instead, state regulators arranged settlements that carried miniscule financial penalties and did not require Duke to change how it stores the toxic byproducts of its coal-fired power plants. After blocking the first three suits, which were brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the state filed notices saying that it would handle environmental enforcement at every one of Duke's remaining North Carolina coal ash storage sites—protecting the company from Clean Water Act lawsuits linked to its coal waste once and for all.

The Dan River disaster became public on February 3—one day after Duke officials had been alerted that a pipe beneath a coal ash storage pit of nearly 30 acres had ruptured. "The company reports that up to 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water drained out, turning the river gray and cloudy for miles," the AP reports. "The accident ranks as the third largest such coal ash spill in the nation's history."

The AP story suggests that McCrory's settlements with Duke are part of a pattern of regulatory slackness. A former North Carolina regulator who recently left to work for an environmental advocacy group after nine years working for the state told the AP that under McCrory, who took office in early 2013, she was often instructed not to fine or cite polluters, but instead to help them reach compliance standards. The article continues:

Since his unsuccessful first campaign for governor in 2008, campaign finance reports show Duke Energy, its political action committee, executives and their immediate families have donated at least $1.1 million to McCrory's campaign and affiliated groups that spent on TV ads, mailings and events to support him.

After winning in 2012, McCrory has appointed former Duke employees like himself to key posts, including state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker.

His appointee to oversee the state environmental department, Raleigh businessman John Skvarla, describes his agency's role as being a "partner" to those it regulates, whom he refers to as "customers."

"That is why we have been able to turn DENR from North Carolina's No. 1 obstacle of resistance into a customer-friendly juggernaut in such a short time," Skvarla wrote in a letter to the editor of the News & Observer of Raleigh, published in December. "People in the private sector pour their hearts and souls into their work; instead of crushing their dreams, they now have a state government that treats them as partners."

McCrory hit back, telling the AP that his administration is "the first in North Carolina history to take legal action against the utility regarding coal ash ponds." Duke Energy has also made large donations to Democrats, giving $10 million for the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

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