Quantcast
The Prirazlomnaya platform is the first Russian project for developing the Arctic shelf. Credit: Gazprom

By Nika Knight

Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company's Russia operations.

"Ka-ching! Payout time," tweeted Rachel Maddow in response to the Wall Street Journal report.

Exxon was previously granted a permit to bypass the sanctions in 2014. Tillerson has said that he would recuse himself from Russia-related matters for two years as Secretary of State.

The permit application also comes as calls grow for a government shutdown over the ties between Trump advisors and Russian officials. The FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign's Russia connections.

And beyond the Trump campaign's apparent Russia ties and the implications of Tillerson's potential role in granting his former company the permit, environmentalists also pointed out the devastating climate impacts of further drilling in the Black Sea.

"If the Trump administration allows Exxon to move forward with extreme offshore oil drilling in Russia despite sanctions, the United States Congress must resist," said Greenpeace USA climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages in a statement. "Removing barriers to Exxon drilling in the Russian Black Sea with a state-controlled company like Rosneft would not only jeopardize global progress on climate change and provide momentum for a similar waiver in the Russian Arctic, it would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences."

"Members of Congress must stand up for the separation of oil and state," Ages urged.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Politics

President Donald Trump's top advisors and cabinet officials will debate whether the U.S. should pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.

The landmark accord, which aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, was agreed upon by nearly 200 countries in 2015.

The Hill reported that the meeting is aimed at hammering out a growing divide in the administration between those in favor of the deal and those opposed to it. The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday but had to be postponed as some participants are traveling with the president to Milwaukee.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to " cancel" the Paris climate agreement. The president, who once said climate change is a "hoax" and is working to dismantle environmental regulations, has surrounded himself with like-minded advisors and cabinet appointees such as senior adviser Steve Bannon and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who said last week "we need to exit" the deal.

POLITICO's sources said that the EPA chief is concerned that the Paris agreement could harm his legal position as he works to repeal President Obama's Clean Power Plan that regulates emissions from power plants.

On the other hand, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, a White House special adviser, have are urged the president to stay in the deal, as Bloomberg reported.

Trump's current position on the Paris deal is unclear, but the New York Times reported that the pro-Paris view is gaining favor.

"We do not currently believe the Trump administration plans to withdraw from either Paris agreement," wrote Kevin Book, an analyst at DC-based ClearView Energy Partners in a memo to clients on Monday.

Incidentally, some major oil and coal producers have voiced support of the climate agreement, including Cheniere Energy Inc., ExxonMobil Corp., which was previously led by Tillerson, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc.

Coal baron Robert E. Murray, however, has opposed the deal as "just a way for other countries to get American money."

And Joseph Bast, the president of the climate change-denying Heartland Institute, commented that "President Trump should run, not walk, away from the Paris climate treaty."

"Most scientists do not believe global warming is a crisis that merits current efforts aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much less the draconian cuts envisioned by the Paris climate treaty," Bast said.

As Trump mulls the decision, other world leaders are prepared to ramp action in case the U.S. pulls out.

"No matter how other countries' policies on climate change, as a responsible large developing country China's resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.

Similarly, Piyush Goyal, the Indian Minister for power and coal said that India is "pursuing religiously" its goal of developing 225 gigawatts of clean energy by 2022, adding "it's not subject to some other country's decision."

Environmental groups have also weighed in on the deliberations. As the world's largest economy, the United States' withdrawal from the accord could significantly weaken the global pact.

"The United States is the world's largest historic climate polluter," said Friends of the Earth senior political director Ben Schreiber. "Our country has a moral imperative to take action proportionate to our responsibility for this crisis."

"Our commitments under the Paris Agreement were already woefully inadequate given our responsibility and the severity of the problem," Schreiber added. "By holding this meeting, Trump has communicated to the rest of the world that the U.S. is a climate pariah. We call on world leaders to use every political and economic means available to compel Trump to act in accordance with what climate science and justice demand."

The White House meeting comes as activists gear up for the April 29 Peoples Climate March in the nation's capitol and in sister marches around the country.

"An overwhelming majority of people in the United States support staying in the Paris agreement," 350.org executive director May Boeve. "It's one of the animating reasons why so many people are joining the Peoples Climate March this April 29th in Washington, DC and across the country."

"As the Trump administration deliberates isolating the U.S. from the rest of the world, movements for climate, jobs and justice are mobilizing to continue to build bold solutions that protect our communities and tackle climate change," Boeve said. "We know this deal is critical to defending our climate and communities—this is about our very survival."

White House Press Sec. Sean Spicer said last month that Trump will make a decision about the Paris agreement ahead of the Group of 7 leaders' meeting in late May.

Sponsored

In a decision released Wednesday, ExxonMobil lost its bid to have their complaint against Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey heard by a sympathetic Texas judge.

"The decision is a major blow to Exxon's efforts to distract from the valid investigations into whether the company lied to the public and its investors about the dangers of global warming," Jamie Henn, 350.org strategic communications director, said.

"Instead of coming up with more bogus legal maneuvers, Exxon should comply with the Attorneys General requests, including handing over Tillerson's secret 'Wayne Tracker' emails."

In an effort to distract from the Attorneys General investigation into if the company lied to its shareholders and the public about its knowledge of global warming, ExxonMobil had filed a complaint asserting that the investigation against it was a politically motivated conspiracy designed to "silence" it.

Despite his obvious sympathy to the oil giant, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade was forced to admit in a decision this afternoon that Exxon's complaints against the Attorneys General should be transferred out of Texas to the Southern District of New York because "a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred" in New York City.

As part of its complaint, ExxonMobil had issued a subpoena to 350.org in December in an attempt to gain access to the organization's emails. 350.org promptly filed a motion to quash the subpoena and issued a statement asserting our First Amendment rights to speak out and advocate for the public interest. That motion is currently pending in the Southern District.

Wednesday's decision is a blow for Exxon, who had obviously hoped to fight the Attorneys General on their home turf in Texas rather than comply with the investigation. The announcement comes just days after the embarrassing revelation that while CEO of the company Rex Tillerson used a secret email alias "Wayne Tracker" to discuss climate change and other sensitive issues.

"The public deserves the truth about what Exxon Knew," Henn said. "The company is arguing we want to silence them, but it's just the opposite: We want them to speak clearly and honestly about their track record of climate denial so we can get to work solving the problem. Instead of continuing to follow the Big Tobacco playbook of deceit and deception, Exxon should come clean and own up to the damage it's caused."

350.org will keep up pressure on ExxonMobil to comply with the existing investigations, as well as advocate for more Attorneys General to launch their own inquiries into what Exxon knew.

"With Rex Tillerson now guiding our international climate policy as Secretary of State, this case is more important than ever," Henn continued. "If Tillerson used a secret email to discuss Exxon's climate coverup, that would turn out to be an absolute bombshell. We could be on the verge of seeing an acting Secretary of State getting pulled into a fraud investigation. And this isn't just any old fraud: Exxon's crimes are on a planetary scale."

Caricature of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo credit: Flickr

Is dealing with climate change too inconvenient for the Trump State Department?

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which has been monitoring changes to federal websites ever since Donald Trump took office, noted significant new changes to the State Department's climate change website.

Climate Central reported that these are the first changes to the Office of Global Change as documented by EDGI. The changes started on Jan. 24 and continued until Feb. 2, the day after former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson took over the State Department on Feb. 1, according to Toly Rinberg, a researcher and coordinator for EDGI's Website Tracking Team.

The office's revised page has scrubbed its mention of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean energy, protect communities from the impacts of climate change and work with partners to lead international climate change efforts.

Here is the Jan. 2 description of the office:

"The Office of Global Change(OES/EGC) works on a broad range of international climate change issues, under the guidance of the Special Envoy for Climate Change. The United States is taking a leading role by advancing an ever-expanding suite of measures at home and abroad. The President's Climate Action Plan highlights unprecedented efforts by the United States to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean sources of energy that create jobs, protect communities from the impacts of climate change, and work with partners to lead international climate change efforts. The working partnerships the United States has created or strengthened with other major economies has reinforced the importance of results-driven action both internationally and domestically and are achieving measurable impacts now to help countries reduce their long-term greenhouse gas emissions."

And here's what the current page says now:

"The Office of Global Change represents the United States in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in many other international forums on climate change, including the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization. The office also leads U.S. government participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assesses scientific and technical information related to climate change. The office is further responsible for coordinating a number of bilateral and regional partnerships on climate change, as well as U.S. foreign assistance related to clean energy, adaptation and sustainable landscapes."

Notable changes have been made to the Obama-era Office of Global Change website Republished with permission from EDGI

Under Tillerson's leadership, Exxon issued several statements that supported the Paris climate agreement. However, Tillerson has not explicitly endorsed the global climate action accord.

The rewritten text reflects how the State Department is apparently distancing itself from domestic and international action on climate change, which the White House recently described as a "waste of your money."

It seems that the new role of the Office of Global Change is to—borrowing a phrase from Tillerson himself—have " a seat at the table" for international forums on climate change negotiations.

During his confirmation, Tillerson said that it is "important that the U.S. maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response."

On the face of it, Tillerson's carefully worded comment might sound like he is in support of climate action, but the phrasing is broad enough to allow the U.S. to rewrite the terms of the deal or withdraw from it altogether, which is likely what Trump wants to do.

As Tillerson later said during his hearing, climate science is "not conclusive" and said the reason to maintain a seat at the table was "so we can judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly."

Various government websites have been purged of climate change information ever since Trump took over. Within minutes of the president's inauguration, the White House's webpage removed pretty much all references to climate change and replaced it with "An America First Energy Plan."

EDGI has noticed changes on other government websites, including text describing two rules regulating the oil and gas industry that was removed from an Interior Department page.

[Editor's Note: EcoWatch has been informed about a tracking error by EDGI revealing that the significant website rewriting occurred before Feb. 1, which would be before Tillerson took office. This article has been updated.]

Sponsored

Nearly a decade after it first applied for a presidential permit, TransCanada is getting the green light from the Trump administration for its $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

POLITICO reported Thursday that the U.S. State Department's undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, will approve by Monday the cross-border permit needed for the project to proceed.

Reuters reported an update Friday saying President Trump will announce the approval of the tar sands pipeline at the White House today with the CEO of TransCanada.

Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, recused himself from the Keystone decision since Exxon stands to profit from the pipeline.

The Keystone XL was blocked by President Obama two years ago because the pipeline would "not serve the national interests" of the United States.

But the November election changed everything. On Jan. 24, President Trump signed an executive order that invited TransCanada to reapply for a presidential permit. The company did so two days later.

Environmental groups and grassroots citizens have long opposed the pipeline, painting it as a symbol of the threat of climate change.

Once complete, the 1,200-mile pipeline will carry Alberta tar sands to processing and export facilities in the southern U.S.

"Keystone carries Canada's oil through an unnecessary pipeline likely made of foreign steel, all while polluting our heartland, treading on the rights of Indigenous people and private landowners," said Greenpeace USA climate campaign specialist Diana Best in reaction to today's development.

"It isn't what this country wants or needs. President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline because of public outcry," she said. "We cannot let the Trump administration undo the progress that people all over the country have made to ensure we avoid catastrophic climate change."

Best suggested that the president should shift his energy policy to prioritize renewables instead.

"Instead of pushing bogus claims about the potential of pipelines to create jobs, Trump should focus his efforts on the clean energy sector, the key to America's future growth," Best said. "Trump's energy plan is more of the same—full of giveaways to his fossil fuel cronies at a time when renewable energy is surging ahead. Renewable energy is not only the future, but the only just economy for today. Keystone, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and fossil fuel infrastructure projects like them will only make billionaires richer and make the rest of us suffer."

"We will resist these projects with our allies across the country and across borders, and we will continue to build the future the world wants to see," she concluded.

Greenpeace is asking the State Department to provide documentation about the justification for Tillerson's recusal and any waivers obtained or requested.

Although TransCanada might have secured the permit, POLITICO noted that the company still needs approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission to build the pipeline through the state.

Additionally, Jane Kleeb, the president of Bold Alliance and Nebraska Democrat Party chair told the publication that construction will likely be delayed from landowners in the state who are unhappy with TransCanada's use of eminent domain along the route.

"Trump's decision will galvanize Americans, and further stiffen resistance to Trump's campaign to sacrifice our planet for Big Oil profits," Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said. "The fight over Keystone XL is not over."

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard agreed. "It takes money to build a pipeline, and the opposition movement to stop fossil fuel projects like Keystone will do everything it can to deprive TransCanada of any new funding for this ill-fated and unnecessary pipeline," Leonard said.

"TransCanada may have a permit, but can they find the funding? Financial institutions should have learned by now that it's risky to hitch themselves to a project that already faces historic on-the-ground opposition from private landowners and Indigenous sovereign nations and could unlock a massive environmental, health and climate disaster. Keystone was stopped once before, and it will be stopped again."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune shared the same sentiment. "This project has already been defeated, and it will be once again. The project faces a long fight ahead in the states, but the fact remains that the American people do not want more fossil fuels, we do not want our private and public lands destroyed by a pipeline carrying the dirtiest fuel around, and we do not want our future and our children's future to continue be threatened by climate change."

By Andrea Germanos

A New York State judge on Wednesday ordered ExxonMobil to turn over a year's worth of emails it now admits it lost from an alias account used by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was CEO of the company—a "bombshell" revelation, according to a lawyer for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who's investigating the oil giant's climate cover-up.

Schneiderman's office discovered Tillerson's 2008-2015 use of the email alias "Wayne Tracker" to discuss climate change and other matters as part of its ongoing probe.

Exxon previously blamed the email loss on a technical glitch.

"Exxon has failed to produce management documents from critical time periods when Exxon is known to have been formulating and publicizing key policies and related representations regarding the company's resilience to the impacts of climate change and climate change regulations," Schneiderman said in a letter to the court, according to Bloomberg.


Justice Barry Ostrager of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan "ordered ExxonMobil Corp. to work with New York's attorney general to recover lost emails" and gave the company until the end of the month to produce the documents, Reuters reported.

Ostrager also "ordered Exxon to deliver sworn statements and records from its staffers responsible for monitoring the 'Wayne Tracker' emails, so state investigators could determine how they were lost," the New York Post wrote.

Greenpeace USA said the order was "a step in the right direction."

"Exxon has withheld information from the public for long enough. It's time for the oil company to come clean in the courts about what it knew about climate change and what it withheld from the public and shareholders," said Greenpeace USA climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages.

"Justice Barry Ostrager took a step in the right direction by asking Exxon to be transparent with Attorney General Schneiderman," she continued. "This country needs more attorneys general who, on behalf of the people, are ready to face off with one of the biggest polluters in the world."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Sponsored

The House Science Committee will hear testimony March 29 that will question whether climate change is a human induced phenomenon. The hearing, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method, is a just another prong in the current effort to undo the environmental progress made during the Obama years.

It coincides with the efforts of the Trump administration, which has proposed to strip the federal budget of any monies that would be targeted to cutting carbon dioxide emissions. To that end, the president has signed executive orders to weaken Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would cut CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030, and eliminate rules to cut methane emissions from natural gas drilling.

Witnesses at next week's hearing will represent all points of view, including Judith Curry, who has serious doubts about climate change and has criticized other scientists for not expressing the same cynicism, and Climate scientist Michael Mann, who was invited by the Democrats on the committee. Mann is a professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, who told the New York Times earlier this year that if human-induced climate change was not part of the equation, the amount of warming in 2016 would have less than one-in-a-million odds of occurring. "One could argue that about 75 percent of the warmth was due to human impact," Mann told the Times.

Neither side is likely to persuade the other during the hearings. Each side is dug in, with the Trump administration's point person being the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He said earlier this month in an interview on CNBC that "I would not agree that (carbon) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists have said that the matter is settled: "Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities."

Trump's response? He has proposed to cut EPA's budgets budget by roughly 30 percent, from $8.1 billion to about $5.7 billion, while also slashing the agency's workforce from 15,000 to 11,800. Among the programs to be shed: Energy Star, which is a globally recognized symbol for the 5 billion products that have met the highest energy efficiency standards. Its supporters say it is a $54 million a year program that saves $34 billion a year in electricity costs.

"The new administration has concerns about the EPA but they have never been about Energy Star," Lowell Ungar, senior policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said in an earlier interview. "This helps consumers across the country: rural, urban, coastal and middle of country. Why threaten a program that saves consumers money?"

It's important to note that not all Republicans are against action on climate. After all, the EPA was created under Republican President Nixon in 1972.

A conservative group called republicEN is trying to sway conservatives to think differently. The organization believes that the denial of climate science is anathema to both American and conservative causes. As such, it said the loudest voices are drowning out those of the most reasonable, which includes much of the national electorate.

There are "small government" solutions, the organization said. Eliminating subsidies to all energy sources would correct market distortions, the group touts.

Meantime, 13 Republican members of the Climate Solution Cause—a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives which explores policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate—are pressing forward, having just invited EPA Administrator Pruitt to Florida to see the effects of rising tides.

"We can't deal in alternative facts, or alternative realities," said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, in a release by republicEN. "We have to deal with whatever there's consensus about as a starting point in legitimate debates that do exist." Sanford criticized Republican reluctance to take on the issue, "Even though the scientific consensus has been clear ... You talk to old-timers, and they say it's changing."

Photo credit: Our Children's Trust

Attorneys representing 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States served request for production of documents to the U.S. government and the American Petroleum Institute (API), asking both defendants to turn over the "Wayne Tracker" emails, as part of discovery in the climate case.

As ExxonMobil explained Tuesday, the email address pseudonym "was put in place for secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials and the former chairman for a broad range of business-related topics." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office stated in a March 13 court filing that Rex Tillerson used the "Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com" pseudonym "to send and receive materials regarding important matters, including those concerning to the risk-management issues related to climate change …"

While risk-management issues related to climate change are important to the New York Attorney General's investigation, attorneys representing youth plaintiffs suspect the emails will also reveal the deep influence of the fossil fuel defendants over U.S. energy and climate policies and the defendants' private acknowledgement that climate change was caused by their product, both of which are important to the youth's case. To the latter point, the fossil fuel defendants have refused to take a position on whether climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels, even when pressed by federal judges to answer that question.

As reported by Bloomberg, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office stated that Sec. of State Rex Tillerson used a pseudonym, "Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com," for emails while he served as ExxonMobil's CEO. Because ExxonMobil is a member of API and Tillerson served on the Board of Directors of API through December, he was a player in Juliana v. United States even before he was confirmed as Secretary of State, which caused him to become a named government defendant.

Plaintiffs are asking the U.S. government and API defendants to turn over any of Tillerson's pseudonym emails in their custody by April 16.

During a Feb. 7 case management conference, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin relayed his understanding about the discovery youth plaintiffs are seeking to Frank Volpe, Sidley Austin attorney representing API:

"... there's a subset of their substantive due process case that involves what did you know and when did you know it and did someone cover it up, did they create this danger …"

"When looking for evidence of a cover up, emails from Rex Tillerson's pseudonym about climate change are just the kind of evidence the court needs to see," Julia Olson, plaintiffs' counsel and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said.

The 21 youth plaintiffs, ages 9 to 21, received national publicity last week about their case in The Washington Post and National Geographic.

Juliana v. United States is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children's Trust, seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox