Germany's target for renewable energy sources to deliver 65% of its consumed electricity by 2030 seemed on track Wednesday, with 52% of electricity coming from renewables in 2020's first quarter. Renewable energy advocates, however, warned the trend is imperiled by slowdowns in building new wind and solar plants.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Financial companies are increasingly being recognized — by their clients, shareholders, regulators, and the general public — as climate actors, with a responsibility to mitigate their climate impact. For the banks highlighted in this report, the last year has brought a groundswell of activism demanding banks cut their fossil fuel financing, at the same time that increasingly extreme weather events have further underscored the urgency of the climate crisis. Nevertheless, the report reveals that the business practices of the world's major private-sector banks continue to drive us toward climate disaster.
- The City of Angels Funds Some Hellish Fossil Fuel Projects ... ›
- European Investment Bank Will Stop Funding Fossil Fuel Projects by ... ›
- Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in ... ›
By Robert Reich
Both our economy and the environment are in crisis. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few while the majority of Americans struggle to get by. The climate crisis is worsening inequality, as those who are most economically vulnerable bear the brunt of flooding, fires and disruptions of supplies of food, water and power.
- 7 Solutions to the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Ways to Fight the Climate Crisis in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- The Climate Emergency Won’t Wait for the Press to Play Catch-Up - EcoWatch ›
- The Climate Emergency Won’t Wait for the Press to Play Catch-Up - EcoWatch ›
- We Can Solve Water Scarcity in the U.S., New Study Says - EcoWatch ›
By John R. Platt
Both eyes open. Look for potential threats coming from all sides. Be prepared to change course at a moment's notice.
- Trump Named 'Worst President for Our Environment in History' by ... ›
- Trump Administration Removes Federal Database That Tracked ... ›
- Food Safety Advocates Decry USDA Rule Allowing Big Ag to Self-Regulate on GMOs - EcoWatch ›
- 'Another Blow to the Black Community': Trump Waives Environmental Law That Gives Public a Voice in Infrastructure Projects - EcoWatch ›
On average, around half of all early deaths from poor air quality in the U.S. are associated with pollution produced out-of-state, a new study has found.
- Disbanded Air Pollution Panel Finds EPA Standards Don't Protect ... ›
- U.S. Air Quality Is Headed the Wrong Way - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Million More Americans Breathe Unhealthy Air Since Last 'State of ... ›
- EPA Rejects States' Health Concerns Over Upwind Coal Air Pollution ›
- Polluted U.S. Neighborhoods Haven't Improved in 40 Years ›
The world is using up more and more resources and global recycling is falling. That's the grim takeaway from a new report by the Circle Economy think tank, which found that the world used up more than 110 billion tons, or 100.6 billion metric tons, of natural resources, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
- Waste Crisis: Americans Create 3x More Waste Than Global ... ›
- Malaysia Sends Plastic Waste Back to 13 Wealthy Countries, Says It ... ›
- U.S. Coal Consumption Plummets to 40 Year Low - EcoWatch ›
By Andy Rowell
After weeks of inaction and ineptitude as his country burns, as a billion animals die, with entire species potentially wiped out, and with dozens of people dead and communities and lives ripped apart, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally slumbered into action.
- Barclays Pressed to Divest From Fossil Fuels - EcoWatch ›
- Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in ... ›
Hey President Trump, here's some of that global warming you were asking for. As much of the northern hemisphere shudders through a blistering winter, in Australia, where it's the middle of summer, temperatures for the month of January were the hottest on record, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology confirmed Friday.
The extreme weather has sparked wildfires in the drought-ridded south. Australian Open tennis players fainted, vomited and hallucinated, heat-stressed bats literally fell out of trees and wild horses died en masse from thirst. Meanwhile, the tropical north has been battered by historic flooding and rainfall.
- Thirsty Koala Becomes the Face of Australia's Heat Wave - EcoWatch ›
- Extreme Heat Wave Roasting Australia at Record Breaking 120.74 F ... ›
- Australia's Rains Restore Critically Endangered Woodlands ›
That is because the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has approved plans to dump one million tonnes (approximately 1.1 million U.S. tons) of sludge into the World Heritage Site. The decision comes in the same month that runoff from flooding in Queensland, Australia threatened to smother part of the reef and two years after the unique ecosystem was weakened by back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by climate change.
Trump Administration Reversed Existing Methane Regulations<p>Methane emissions have become <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/08/14/fracking-shale-gas-drilling-methane-spike-howarth" target="_blank">a much bigger issue</a> in the last decade since the <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> boom in shale <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/oil-and-gas">oil and gas</a> produced by <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/fracking" rel="noopener noreferrer">fracking</a>. Despite <a href="https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/21/investing/trump-energy-plan-obama-oil-boom/index.html" target="_blank">overseeing a huge rise in oil and gas production</a>, the Obama administration acknowledged the methane problem and <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/05/12/administration-takes-historic-action-reduce-methane-emission-oil-and-gas-sector" target="_blank">proposed and adopted new methane emissions regulations</a>, which the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2019/09/10/key-facts-trump-epa-plan-obama-methane-leaks-rule" target="_blank">Trump administration has since repealed</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has staffed regulatory agencies with former industry executives and lobbyists who have been quite successful at rolling back environmental, health, and safety rules.</p><p>Last August former coal lobbyist and current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/andrew-wheeler" target="_blank">Andrew Wheeler</a> <a href="https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-proposes-updates-air-regulations-oil-and-gas-remove-redundant-requirements-and-1" target="_blank">explained the reasoning</a> for removing the Obama methane rules.</p><p>"EPA's proposal delivers on President Trump's executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," Wheeler said. "The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use."</p><p>The problem with this free-market assumption is that Wheeler is wrong about the industry's financial incentive to limit methane emissions.</p>
Even the Remaining Regulations Are Controlled by Industry<p>While the Trump administration has rolled back many regulations for the oil and gas industry, the regulatory system in the U.S. was already designed to protect industry profits — not the public or environment. When the federal government creates regulations, the process can be heavily influenced by industry lobbyists, and if they don't agree with the regulations, there are many ways they can get them revised to favor their companies.</p><p>While Exxon <a href="https://www.axios.com/exxon-epa-regulate-methane-emissions-oil-gas--0befdde6-e0fe-49db-a200-38299853b43d.html" target="_blank">did publicly say </a>in 2018 that it didn't support repealing the existing methane regulations, the company also wrote to the <span style="background-color: initial;">EPA</span> voicing support for certain aspects of the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/american-petroleum-institute" target="_blank">American Petroleum Institute's</a> (<span style="background-color: initial;">API</span>) comments on the issue, and the <span style="background-color: initial;">API</span> <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/08/oil-gas-lobby-split-by-trump-rollback-of-methane-rules/" target="_blank">approved removing the regulations.</a> In that letter Exxon used the same language it is now using with its propsed regulations, saying any rules need to be "cost-effective" and "reasonable." But if the regulations are cost-effective, will they actually be effective in reducing methane emissions in a meaningful way?</p>
Excerpt from Exxon letter to EPA about methane regulations. ExxonMobil<p><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-safety-rules-on-oil-drilling-were-changed-some-staff-objected-those-notes-were-cut-11582731559" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a> recently highlighted the influence that the oil and gas industry and its major U.S. trade group the American Petroleum Institute can have over regulations. After the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government put into place new safeguards known as the "well control rule" in order to prevent another disaster during deepwater offshore drilling.</p><p>In 2019, the Trump administration revised the rule, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/05/03/720008093/trump-administration-moves-to-roll-back-offshore-drilling-safety-regulations" target="_blank">weakening it</a>, even though, as the Journal reported, federal regulatory staff did not agree "that an industry-crafted protocol for managing well pressure was sufficient in all situations, the records show." The staff was ignored. (And the move is <a href="https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/suit-filed-over-well-control-rule-repeal" target="_blank">undergoing a legal challenge</a>.)</p><p>Industry crafted protocol. Just the thing Exxon is now proposing.</p><p>This type of industry control over the regulatory process was also brought to light after two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed and killed 346 people. Boeing had fought to make sure that pilots weren't required to undergo expensive and lengthy training to navigate the new plane.</p><p><a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boeing-737max/designed-by-clowns-boeing-employees-ridicule-737-max-regulators-in-internal-messages-idUSKBN1Z902N" target="_blank">Reuters reported </a>on internal communications at Boeing which revealed the airplane maker simply would not let simulator training be required by regulators:</p><p>"I want to stress the importance of holding firm that there will not be any type of simulator training required to transition from NG to MAX," Boeing's 737 chief technical pilot said in a March 2017 email.</p><p>"Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."</p><p>Boeing got its way. And 346 people died.</p>
Exxon Touts 'Sound Science' Despite Its History<p>Exxon's methane proposal states that any regulations should be based on "sound science." This statement is coming from a company whose scientists <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken" target="_blank">accurately predicted the impacts of burning fossil fuels</a> on the climate decades ago and yet has spent the time since then <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/09/03/study-finds-exxon-misled-public-withholding-climate-knowledge" target="_blank">misleading the public</a> about that science.</p><p>The current regulatory system in America does not protect the public interest. Letting Exxon take the lead in the place of regulators doesn't seem like it's going to help.</p><p>Megan Milliken Biven is a former federal analyst for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that regulates the oil industry's offshore activity. Milliken Biven explained to DeSmog what she saw as the root cause of the regulatory process's failure.<br><br>"Regulatory capture isn't really the problem," Milliken Biven said. "The system was designed to work for industry so regulatory capture isn't even required."</p>
- Methane Reporting Gap Widens in Oil and Gas Industry - EcoWatch ›
- EPA Expected to Allow More Methane Emissions From Oil and Gas Industry - EcoWatch ›
Formosa Plant May Still Be Releasing Plastic Pollution in Texas After $50M Settlement, Activists Find
On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.
After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.
Diane Wilson kayaking to the fence line of Formosa's Point Comfort plant to check for nurdles newly discharged from the plant on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Their suit against <a href="http://www.fpcusa.com/" target="_blank">Formosa Plastics Corp. USA</a> resulted in a $50-million-dollar <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b58f65a96d455e767cf70d4/t/5de5306c5fb6fb30a7bdd7dc/1575301231792/Final+consent+decree.pdf" target="_blank">settlement</a> and a range of conditions in an agreement known as a consent decree. Key among the conditions was the company's promise to halt releasing the nurdles it manufactures into local waterways leading to the Texas Gulf Coast by Jan. 15.</p>
Formosa's plastics plant is seen dominating the landscape in Point Comfort, Texas. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Wilson described the occasion as "day one of the zero discharge settlement." As of that date, Formosa could be fined up to $15,000 a day if it were found still discharging nurdles. That would put the multi-billion-dollar plastics maker in violation of the court settlement made after <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> District Judge Kenneth Hoyt determined the company had violated the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Clean-Water-Act" rel="noopener noreferrer">Clean Water Act</a> by discharging plastic pellets and <span style="background-color: initial;">PVC</span> powder into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek in a June 27 ruling last year.</p><p>The deal, signed by Judge Hoyt in December, represents the U.S.'s largest settlement in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by private individuals against an industrial polluter. The settlement mandates that both Formosa and the plaintiffs agree to a monitor, remediation consultant, engineer, and trustee for ongoing monitoring of the plant.</p>
Diane Wilson is seen with volunteers before their meeting across the street from Formosa's Point Comfort manufacturing plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>After calling the group's meeting to order, Wilson gave an update on how requirements of the consent decree were progressing. The volunteer team of nurdle monitors, who have been collecting nurdles discharged by the plant for the last four years, listened eagerly. Wilson said that Formosa had missed the Jan. 15 deadline to deliver the waivers they needed to sign, which would grant them permission to monitor on the company's property along the fence line. Without the signed forms, the group put off their on-the-ground monitoring trip. Instead, they headed for the banks of Cox Creek, where Wilson set off in a kayak to check on one of the plant's outfalls.</p>
Ronnie Hamrick picks up a mixture of new and legacy nurdles near Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Pointing along the creek's edge, Ronnie Hamrick, a member of the San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper and former Formosa employee, showed me how to distinguish new plastic pellets from the legacy nurdles from past discharges. The new ones are brighter and white compared to the older ones, which take on a dull gray color. Old nurdles were plentiful along the creek's banks despite cleanup crews deployed by Formosa in that area. Newer ones were easy to find in the water after Hamrick pushed a rake into the marsh, stirring them up from below the water's surface in Cox Creek.</p>
Ronnie Hamrick holds a few of the countless nurdles that litter the banks of Cox Creek near Formosa's Point Comfort facility. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>When Wilson returned from her kayak, she showcased her find: The nurdles she had just collected from the Formosa outfall were bright white, making them easy to distinguish from the older ones littering the bank where she had launched her kayak. She plans to turn them over as evidence of newly discharged nurdles to the official monitor once one is selected in accordance to the consent decree.</p>
Lawsuit Against Formosa’s Planned Louisiana Plant<p>On that same afternoon, Wilson learned that conservation and community groups in Louisiana had sued the Trump administration, challenging federal environmental permits for Formosa's planned $9.4 billion plastics complex in St. James Parish.</p><p><a href="https://www.wwltv.com/article/tech/science/environment/environmental-groups-challenge-formosa-permit/289-7189b6e0-9b09-4c02-b2c9-8b197f80b1da" target="_blank">The news</a> made Wilson smile. "I hope they win. The best way to stop the company from polluting is not to let them build another plant," she told me. </p><p>The lawsuit was filed in federal court against the Army Corps of Engineers, accusing the Corps of failing to disclose environmental damage and public health risks and failing to adequately consider environmental damage from the proposed plastics plant. Wilson had met some of the Louisiana-based activists last year when a group of them had traveled to Point Comfort and protested with her outside Formosa's plastics plant that had begun operations in 1983. Among them was <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/07/formosa-sunshine-plastics-sharon-lavigne-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Sharon Lavigne, founder of the community group Rise St. James</a>, who lives just over a mile and a half from the proposed plastics complex in Louisiana.</p><p>Back then, Wilson offered them encouragement in their fight. A few months after winning her own case last June, she gave them boxes of nurdles she had used in her case against Formosa. The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups in the Louisiana lawsuit, transported the nurdles to St. James. The hope was that these plastic pellets would help environmental advocates there convince Louisiana regulators to deny Formosa's request for air permits required for building its proposed St. James plastics complex that would also produce nurdles. On Jan. 6, Formosa received those permits, but it still has a few more steps before receiving full approval for the plant.</p>
Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, holding up a bag of nurdles discharged from Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas plant, at a protest against the company's proposed St. James plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Dec. 10, 2019. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>In their Jan. 15 lawsuit, the groups, which also include Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Healthy Gulf, point out that a <a href="https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/counties/calhoun/federal-judge-describes-formosa-as-serial-offender-in-ruling/article_8c6187b0-9964-11e9-a9d9-930b3ae798e8.html" target="_blank">Texas judge called Formosa's Point Comfort plant a "serial offender"</a> of the Clean Water Act. They also cite another Formosa facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which has been in violation of the Clean Air Act every quarter since 2009. </p>
Construction underway to expand Formosa's Point Comfort plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>The new plant slated for St. James Parish "is expected to emit and discharge a variety of pollutants, including carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, into the air and water; [and] discharge plastic into the Mississippi River and other waterbodies," the lawsuit alleges.</p>
Silhouette of Formosa's Point Comfort Plant looming over the rural landscape. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p><a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/08/gas-oil-plastics-lng-refining-climate-emissions-50-new-coal-plants" target="_blank">DeSmog's Sharon Kelly reported</a> that out of all the new or expanding <span style="background-color: initial;" rel="background-color: initial;" data-verified="redactor" data-redactor-tag="span" data-redactor-style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> refineries, liquefied natural gas (<span style="background-color: initial;" rel="background-color: initial;" data-verified="redactor" data-redactor-tag="span" data-redactor-style="background-color: initial;">LNG</span>) export projects, and petrochemical plants seeking air permits, Formosa's St. James plant would top the list of air polluters.</p><p>"Wilson's victory against Formosa was very encouraging," Sharon Lavigne told me over the phone. She plans to cite it as one of the many reasons why the St. James Parish Council should reverse its 2018 decision to grant Formosa a land use permit for the sprawling plastics facility. She and others will address the council over a multitude of issues at its upcoming Jan. 21 meeting.</p>
From the Gulf Coast to Europe<p>Just a day after Wilson found apparently new nurdles in Point Comfort, <a href="https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/2020/01/plastic-soup-foundation-takes-legal-action-against-structural-plastic-pollution/?fbclid=IwAR2y6oYqp-hOEZdjCJTVZf2Tl9B0U_NiCSS2Oliy8ecREKSzLObxmWWL8ac" target="_blank">the Plastic Soup Foundation, an advocacy group based in Amsterdam, took legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution in Europe</a>. On behalf of the group, environmental lawyers submitted an enforcement request to a <a href="https://www.dcmr.nl/en" target="_blank">Dutch environmental protection agency</a>, which is responsible for regulating the cleanup of nurdles polluting waterways in the Netherlands.</p><p>The foundation is the first organization in Europe to take legal steps to stop plastic pellet pollution. It cites in its enforcement request to regulators Wilson's victory in obtaining a "zero discharge" promise from Formosa and is seeking a similar result against Ducor Petrochemicals, the Rotterdam plastic producer. Its goal is to prod regulators into forcing Ducor to remove tens of millions of plastic pellets from the banks immediately surrounding its petrochemical plant.</p>
Detail of a warning sign near the Point Comfort Formosa plant. The waterways near the plant are polluted by numerous industrial facilities in the area. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>Besides polluting waterways, the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/10/28/petrochemical-industry-america-rust-belt-plastics-fracking-climate" target="_blank">ongoing build-out of the petrochemical and plastics industry</a> doesn't align with efforts to keep global warming in check.</p><p>Wilson and her fellow volunteers plan to keep monitoring the Point Comfort plant until it stops discharging the tiny plastic pellets into Texas waters entirely. </p>
Nurdles on Cox Creek's bank on Jan. 15. Wilson hopes her and her colleagues' work of the past four years will help prevent the building of more plastics plants, including the proposed Formosa plant in St. James Parish. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p>I reached out to Formosa about whether it was aware its Point Comfort plant was apparently still discharging nurdles but didn't receive a reply before publication.</p>
A sign noting the entrance to the Formosa Wetlands Walkway at Port Lavaca Beach. The San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper describes the messaging as an example of greenwashing. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog<p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/18/diane-wilson-formosa-point-comfort-texas-plastic-pollution-settlement" rel="noopener noreferrer">DeSmogBlog</a>.</em></p>
- New U.S. Oil and Gas Emissions Could Nearly Erase Environmental ... ›
- Plastics Plant Will Bulldoze Over Black History in 'Cancer Alley ... ›
- Fire at Plastics Plant Sends Toxic Smoke Over North Texas - EcoWatch ›
By Shawn Olson-Hazboun and Hilary Boudet
A year after Washington state denied key permits for a coal-export terminal in the port city of Longview, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would proceed with its review—essentially ignoring the state's decision.
This dispute pits federal authorities against local and state governments. It's also part of a larger and long-running battle over fossil fuel shipments to foreign countries that stretches up the entire American West Coast.
Susan Vineyard / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Justin Mikulka
Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.