Rick Perry Rejoins Pipeline Company After He Steps Down From Trump Admin Energy Department
By Sharon Kelly
Former Trump administration Energy Sec. Rick Perry, who resigned from his cabinet-level post effective last month, has joined the board of directors of the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to a filing made today with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Energy Transfer.
Before joining the Trump administration, Perry had served on the board of Energy Transfer, the pipeline company behind controversial projects including Dakota Access, Bayou Bridge, and Mariner East, but resigned to become Secretary of the Department of Energy. On January 1, 2020, Perry was appointed as a director of LE GP, LLC, the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to today's SEC filing, made after the market closed. ("Energy Transfer is structured as a master limited partnership," Bloomberg reports.)
The news comes on the same day that Pennsylvania regulators announced a record $30.6 million fine for Energy Transfer over an explosion of the company's Revolution pipeline. State regulators said they would resume permitting for the firm's Mariner East project.
Energy Transfer is currently seeking to roughly double the flow of fossil fuels along its Dakota Access project, raising the pipeline's capacity to 1.1 million barrels a day, up from the 560,000 barrels of oil currently flowing through the Dakota Access system.
Perry first joined the board of the company, then known as Energy Transfer Partners, in February 2015, as he was facing state-level felony charges, dismissed a year later, for abuse of power during his term as Governor of Texas.
In 2017, after being chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Department of Energy, Perry said that he regretted his previous statements about eliminating the very department he would go on to lead. During his tenure in the Trump administration, Perry sent a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to speed the approval of a proposal which would ensure that nuclear and coal plants received compensation for the "resilience" they give to the power grid, The Washington Examiner reported.
Speaking at CERAWeek, an annual energy conference in Texas, in March 2018, Perry said "clean" fossil fuels are the future, and a focus on renewables isn't the answer. "Listen, we support renewables," he told the audience, but suggested that the focus under the Paris Agreement was not the right approach. "What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" he asked, pointing to projections that fossil fuels aren't going anywhere soon.
The Revolving Door Spins
The Trump administration has come under fire over revolving door concerns before — often involving the hiring of former corporate lobbyists for government roles. "At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump's first term, his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows," ProPublica reported in October.
Other former high-level Trump officials have also come under fire for accepting roles in industries previously under their purview, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In July last year, Bloomberg reported that Zinke began working as a consultant for oil and mining firms after leaving the Interior Department, drawing criticism from good governance watchdogs. Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly similarly drew condemnation when he joined the board of Caliburn International, operator of the largest U.S. center for housing migrant children, after playing a role in policy debates over the separation of migrant children from their families. And former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was reportedly in talks in September 2019 to work as a consultant for a Kentucky coal mining executive, according to The New York Times.
A January 28, 2017 executive order issued by President Trump requires executive branch appointees to pledge that they will not lobby agencies where they previously worked for five years.
'Historic' Fine for Energy Transfer Announced in Pennsylvania, Permitting Bar Lifted
Perry joins a company with a troubled track record when it comes to the law.
On the same day as the SEC filing announcing Perry's new role, Pennsylvania announced that it had reached an agreement with ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC, an Energy Transfer subsidiary, over the 2018 explosion of the Revolution pipeline, part of the state's expanding network connecting the shale gas industry and the plastics and petrochemical industry.
The agreement includes a $30.6 million fine, one of the largest in commonwealth history — dwarfing the $13 million in prior fines issued as of September last year by state regulators for environmental violations during Mariner East pipeline construction. It also lifts a permit bar that blocked Energy Transfer from obtaining new permits for its pipeline construction projects, including an ongoing expansion of its Mariner East pipeline system.
"The settlement announced Friday means the company can also begin the process of repairing the Revolution pipeline, which links shale wells in Beaver and Butler counties to an Energy Transfer gas processing plant in Washington County," the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports.
In August, state auditors reported that Revolution pipeline's permits were "reviewed and authorized" by a county-level office that lacked authority to review so-called "gathering" pipelines like Revolution.
Pennsylvania environmentalists decried the commonwealth's lifting of the permit ban, which was established in early February 2019 after Energy Transfer struggled to repair the site of the Revolution blast and repeatedly created sinkholes that exposed buried portions of the Mariner East 1 pipeline project.
"There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities," Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement when the bar was announced. "This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated."
Last month, Energy Transfer and its security contractors were charged with criminal conspiracy, bribery, and other related offenses in the state over allegations centering on alleged intimidation tactics used by the firm's security guards, who also served as Pennsylvania state constables, in what prosecutors referred to as a "buy-a-badge" scheme. "We do not believe these charges have any merit," an Energy Transfer spokesperson told The Intercept when those charges were announced.
"Given the disastrous environmental degradation Energy Transfer caused with its Revolution pipeline, the company has lost its social license to operate," Joseph Otis Minott, attorney for the Clean Air Council, said in a statement today on Pennsylvania's agreement with Energy Transfer.
Reposted with permission from DeSmogBlog.
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By Alexandra Rowles
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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