Fed's Corporate Debt-Buying Could Mean Billion-Dollar Big Oil Bailout
By Jessica Corbett
As calls for a People's Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country's Big Oil companies "stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout" thanks to the Federal Reserve's plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.
The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
According to FOE's report, The Big Oil Money Pit:
Of that amount, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin enjoys direct control over a comparatively small $46 billion reserved for aviation and industries deemed essential to "national security." But the remaining $454 billion went to the Federal Reserve, which will use the money to implement emergency lending programs for corporations and municipalities. Secretary Mnuchin must approve these lending programs and wields considerable power over their design, but the money itself will move through the Fed.
After weeks of unprecedented human suffering and an ongoing failure to support frontline workers, the Fed announced on April 9, 2020 how it would spend the first $195 billion of the slush fund. A full $75 billion would go to buy corporate debt. But because the Fed can leverage money appropriated by Congress, the real size of this program is $750 billion. Considering that a majority of the money from the first stimulus [is] still unspent, there is plenty of room for this program to grow.
FOE found that the fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Conoco "are together eligible for a maximum $19.4 billion in benefits, based on their credit ratings and outstanding long-term debt."
NEW ANALYSIS: Trump’s admin just announced a $750 billion corporate slush fund -- money that will enrich oil execs… https://t.co/9fz8NWZzDv— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1586967067.0
The Fed has hired BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, to administer part of its debt-buying efforts related to the pandemic. "As BlackRock begins purchasing 'high yield' exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to bolster corporate debt markets," FOE warns, "energy companies (predominantly oil and gas) stand to benefit disproportionately as the largest single issuer of junk bonds, at 11% of the entire U.S. market."
Other key takeaways from the report include:
- There are 12 fracking-focused oil and gas companies that could potentially qualify for the new program. Together, they may be eligible for over $24.1 billion in potential benefits.
- Major fracking company Continental Resources, whose debt was recently downgraded to below investment grade by S&P, is potentially eligible for as much as $1.5 billion under new, weaker standards announced by the Federal Reserve.
Echoing climate campaigners' comments after President Donald Trump met with fossil fuel executives at the White House earlier this month, FOE senior policy analyst Lukas Ross said in a statement Wednesday that "oil company bailouts are simply throwing good money after bad."
"Congress and the Democrats must stop this endless stream of handouts to an industry that is exploiting a public health crisis for financial gain," Ross declared. "These potential payoffs to major campaign contributors are the least efficient way of re-starting the economy and will just serve to enrich oil executives."
"Oil companies are trying to punt the financial reckoning of their fracking debacle and Congress should not enable their addiction with public tax dollars," he added. "Instead of pumping money into an irresponsible industry that plays shell games with its debt, Congress should focus on providing direct support to workers and communities on the frontlines of coronavirus."
As the Trump administration has tried to spend billions of taxpayers dollars to "fill up" the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and major banks are reportedly preparing to take over fossil fuel assets with CARES Act funding, climate action advocates have charged that "we need a people's bailout, not a polluters' bailout!"
Hundreds of community leaders, lawmakers, and groups—including FOE—have joined the demand for Congress to pursue a people's bailout guided by five key principles:
The response to one existential crisis must not fuel another. Let's not perpetuate the status quo of fossil fuel pr… https://t.co/VJPOCAFuxd— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1586888707.0
The new FOE report includes some specific calls to action directed at Congress:
- Prioritize direct aid to still neglected workers and communities on the frontlines of the crisis.
- Engage in aggressive oversight to ensure BlackRock does not benefit unfairly from purchasing its own products or needlessly bolster fossil fuel assets.
- Eliminate Secretary Mnuchin's authority to waive crucial protections banning companies receiving bailouts stock buybacks.
- Make future stimulus aid conditional on new and binding protections for workers and the environment.
- Make oil, gas, and coal companies ineligible for support from existing stimulus programs, unless it is conditioned on a phaseout of existing production and an iron-clad commitment to existing pension and environmental liabilities.
"Much more work needs to be done, both to support workers and families in the face of COVID-19 and to prevent a runaway bailout of the fossil fuel industry," the report says. "Congress cannot afford to wait."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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