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.
- Trump Bails Out Oil Industry, Not U.S. Families, as Coronavirus ... ›
- Trump Blasted for 'Morally Bankrupt' Multibillion-Dollar Big Oil ... ›
- Oil and Gas Companies Indirectly Bailed Out by the Fed - EcoWatch ›
- North Dakota to Spend $16 Million in Pandemic Relief Funds on Fracking - EcoWatch ›
The Trump administration on Tuesday reached a deal with major airlines to give $25 billion in relief to help the crippled industry.
Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines and Southwest Airlines say the funding will help keep hundreds of thousands of employees on payroll as American travel has plummeted during the pandemic. A Guardian analysis last month found that Delta, American, United, Southwest and Alaska Airlines – which were key to leading the charge for the bailout – have given nearly $45 billion to shareholders and executives over the past five years.
For a deeper dive:
- Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution ... ›
- Airlines Push to Loosen Carbon Restrictions Amid Pandemic ... ›
- United Airlines Will Invest in Carbon Capture Technology ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
by Andrea Germanos
The Trump administration on Friday released a new land use plan for southwestern Colorado that community and conservation advocacy groups warn is a "dangerous" pathway towards increased fossil fuel extraction that makes no "climate, ecological, or economic sense."
Published officially Friday in the Federal Register, the Bureau of Land Management's "Approved Resource Management Plan" for the Uncompahgre Field Office affects 675,800 acres of public lands and 971,220 acres of federal mineral estate and spans six counties. It gives a 20-year blueprint for how the land can be used for purposes such as oil and gas drilling as well as livestock grazing, and was issued by the Interior Department over objections raised in public comments.
The advocacy groups opposed to the plan say that expanding fracking in the region over the next decades will not only add fuel to the planetary climate crisis, but will also adversely impact local organic agriculture and endangered species.
"This plan, unconscionable as the connections between fossil fuel emissions and global climate change become clearer every day, has the potential to exponentially increase greenhouse gas pollution in the region over the next decade, when we need to be drastically reducing emissions," said Melissa Hornbein with the Western Environmental Law Center.
According to the groups,
The plan would allow fracking on more than half of the 675,000 acres of public land and almost a million acres of federal minerals that it covers, and coal extraction on another 371,000 acres. The BLM's environmental impact analysis fails to tally direct and indirect climate pollution that would result from fossil fuel production.
According to Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, the plan is "exactly the type of federal action that is responsible for accelerating climate and environmental degradation, which cannot be allowed to stand if we have any hope of protecting present and future generations, rare and irreplaceable ecosystems like the North Fork, and meeting Colorado's goals for a clean and renewable energy future."
The new plan sets up a clash between Colorado's new law calling for a halving of carbon emissions by 2030 and what the advocacy groups say could be a 2,300% increase over the next decade in climate pollution as a result of the BLM's proposal for increased oil and gas extraction.
"Ultimately," said Rebecca Fischer, climate and energy program attorney for WildEarth Guardians, "the Trump administration is testing Colorado's commitment to its new climate law, and its success depends on the state stepping up to defend bold climate action."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Fracking Fight Continues in Colorado - EcoWatch ›
- A Must Read Account of Fracking Colorado - EcoWatch ›
- 2020 Elections Will Determine Which Party Dominates Public Land Debates - EcoWatch ›
Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world's dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.
Researchers in Hong Kong report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that cutting fossil fuel use in China would benefit not only the climate but also the fisheries along all the country's coasts.
The finding is significant because many countries concerned about the loss of their coastal and lake fisheries caused by dead zones have been concentrating only on reducing agricultural fertilizer run-off from fields and sewage discharges, which are known to load the rivers with nutrients.
When the nutrients reach lakes or the open sea they feed algae, which rapidly grow into huge green masses. When these so-called algal blooms die they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up nearly all the oxygen in the water.
This process, known as eutrophication, leads to hypoxia, a level of oxygen that is too low for most organisms to survive. Fish usually swim away to healthier waters, but life forms which cannot easily move simply die.
NOx emissions from fossil fuel burning and fertiliser manufacture lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog and acid rain, and contribute to global warming through the greenhouse effect.
What the new research shows is that while fertiliser and sewage are very important in creating dead zones, the aerial input of NOx makes a bad situation far worse.
The report's lead author, Yu Yan Yau, an MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong's Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), and her colleagues studied the South China, East China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.
They found that the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from fossil fuel burning on the mainland increased the amount of organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the sea by 15%, and increased the dead zones by 5%. The South China Sea was the most sensitive to fossil fuel burning.
The good news in their research was that cutting this burning would considerably reduce the size of the dead zones.
Yu Yan Yau said: "I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries, which are severely affected by hypoxia."
Her supervisor, Dr Benoit Thibodeau, added: "Low levels of oxygen are observed in many coastal seas around the world and it is important to find better ways to tackle this problem.
"While we understand that sewage and nutrient input from the Pearl River drive most of the hypoxia in the Greater Bay Area, we observe low levels of oxygen in regions that are not directly under the influence of these sources. Thus it is important to investigate the impact of atmospheric deposition more locally."
These findings will be important to many countries that are trying to rescue their coastal fisheries from dead zones. There are about 400 of these globally, including parts of Europe's Baltic Sea.
The largest is in the Arabian Sea, covering about 63,000 square miles, and the second largest a vast area in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi Delta, where a dead zone devoid of marine life develops every summer.
Every year winter rains wash fertilizer from fields in the US corn belt into the river. Combined with sewage overflows, this creates a huge quantity of nutrients that sweep down the river into the sea.
Depending on the size of the winter floods, scientists try to predict the extent of the resultant dead zone. However, the banks of the lower river are also crowded with heavy industrial sites, many burning large quantities of fossil fuels and creating large amounts of NOx, something that previously has not been taken into account.
If the Hong Kong research is correct, then cutting the pollution from these industries will also reduce the size of the Mississippi's dead zone.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
- Oceans Losing Oxygen at Breathtaking Speeds - EcoWatch ›
- Devil in the Deep Blue Sea: How Many Dead Zones Are Out There ... ›
Methane levels in the atmosphere experienced a dramatic rise in 2019, preliminary data released Sunday shows.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that methane levels increased by 11.54 parts per billion (ppb) in 2019 over 2018 levels, the largest increase since 2014. "Last year's jump in methane is one of the biggest we've seen over the past twenty years," Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system science at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, told Bloomberg.
"It's too early to say why, but increases from both agriculture and natural gas use are likely. Natural gas consumption surged more than two percent last year." In the United States, the fossil fuel industry is the largest source of methane pollution, and emissions from the oil and gas sector have grown at least 40% over the last decade.
For a deeper dive:
- Carbon Emissions Rise to Highest Level in at Least Three Million ... ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
- Methane Emissions Soar 32% Despite Lockdowns and Green Pledges - EcoWatch ›
By Ajit Niranjan
Two main risk factors are currently known to raise the chance of dying from the novel coronavirus that has brought the world to a halt: being old and having a weak immune system.
Air pollution makes the second of those more likely.
"If you live in a polluted area, your lungs are compromised like somebody who smokes, so you're more susceptible to the coronavirus," said Kofi Amegah, an epidemiologist and air pollution expert at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Dirty air, which claims more than 7 million lives a year, could make Covid-19 more deadly by contributing to chronic health conditions that leave patients weak in the face of infection.
The European Public Health Alliance said last week that air pollution is likely to cut survival chances from Covid-19.
Research on previous outbreaks has also suggested bad air makes viruses more deadly and spread further. A study of SARS-CoV-1 victims in 2003 found that patients were twice as likely to die in regions where air pollution was high rather than low. Even in regions that were only moderately polluted, the risk of dying was 84% higher.
If a similar dynamic exists for Covid-19, it could add pressure on the critical care units of hospitals in smoggy cities with rapidly rising cases, such as Madrid, London and New York. It could also spell trouble for countries in the global south where most people burn wood, dung, kerosene or coal indoors to cook and heat their homes.
In northern Italy and the Chinese city of Wuhan, home to high levels of pollution and some of the most severe outbreaks to date, preliminary data suggests that particulate matter may already have played a role in overwhelming health care systems.
PM2.5 — particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, less than the width of a human hair — can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream, raising the risk of developing heart and lung disease.
The case fatality rate in China was nine times higher for people with cardiovascular disease and six times higher for patients with diabetes, hypertension and respiratory disease than it was for people without underlying health conditions, a joint study by the World Health Organization and China found in February.
In Italy, health officials reported in March that 99% of a sample of patients who died from Covid-19 had an underlying illness — with almost half the deceased having suffered from three or more — though the sample was not drawn randomly and may not represent the population. The most common ailments were high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
The WHO says the pandemic is too recent to draw a link between air pollution and the deadliness of Covid-19, but this shouldn't stop countries from acting.
"Whether or not we have this correlation between Covid-19 and air pollution, we need to reduce air pollution no matter what," Maria Neira, director of public and environmental health at the World Health Organization, told DW.
"Stop smoking and reduce the levels of air pollution — that is a recommendation we can make even without having more evidence."
Together with ozone pollution, PM2.5 particles shave almost three years off our lives, a study in the journal Cardiovascular Research found last month. The global loss of life from outdoor air pollution is 10 times greater than that of all forms of violence put together.
Moreover, about nine in 10 premature deaths caused by air pollution — including toxic gases NO2 and SO2 — hit people in low and middle-income countries. Even within rich cities in Europe and North America, working class, black and ethnic minority communities tend to breathe the dirtiest air.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, women are particularly exposed to pollutants from indoor cooking.
"For these women, their lung systems are compromised," said Amegah from Ghana's University of Cape Coast, adding that if Covid-19 spreads they will be especially vulnerable.
"We pray and keep our fingers crossed we don't see the levels [we're seeing] in northern Italy and China."
As well as weakening the body, airborne pollutants could even act as a carrier of the new coronavirus and allow it to survive in the air attached to particulates, a team of Italian researchers suggested in March.
High concentrations of particulate matter in parts of northern Italy in February may have "boosted" the spread of the epidemic this way, according to a position paper published by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Other scientists have cast doubt on this, pointing out that there are no reported cases of this coronavirus spreading in the air and that people are the main vector of transmission.
"It's good to reduce air pollution to promote health, even to help decrease preconditions that could aggravate coronavirus, such as asthma, but I cannot see [air pollution] as an important contribution to the discussion about containment of the virus," said Jos Lelieveld, director of atmospheric chemistry at the Max Planck Institute and lead author of the study on deaths from air pollution.
As coronavirus cases rise exponentially around the world, lockdowns to stop its spread have reduced pollution levels.
Satellite images of China and Italy show striking drops in NO2, a toxic gas that inflames the airways, as governments closed factories and kept cars off the streets. The drop in air pollution in China may even have saved more lives than were lost from Covid-19, a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed suggested on Friday, though this comparison does not factor in the lives that would have been lost had the coronavirus spread unchecked.
Not all of the fall in air pollution seen from space can be attributed to lockdowns, either. Air pollution is higher in colder months anyway because people heat more and drive cars more often, so it tends to fall around this time of year, said Christian Retscher of the European Space Agency.
"Certainly, we see an effect of the coronavirus on NO2 … We see an additional effect [but] we don't know the precise number."
While lockdowns have helped clean the air, it is also uncertain how long they will keep pollution levels down.
"Once the crisis is over, and we see this in China, there's a temptation to compensate for the weeks and months lost," said Zoltan Massay-Kosubek, a policy expert for clean air and sustainable transport at the European Public Health Alliance.
Nonetheless, this shows that air pollution can be reduced and lives saved, said the WHO's Neira. "Now we need to maintain that — not the fact that we'll be confined, but reducing the air pollution levels outside."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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At several points in the history of our planet, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused extreme global warming, prompting the majority of species on Earth to die out.
In the past, these events were triggered by a huge volcanic eruption or asteroid impact. Now, Earth is heading for another mass extinction — and human activity is to blame.
I am an Earth and Paleo-climate scientist and have researched the relationships between asteroid impacts, volcanism, climate changes and mass extinctions of species.
My research suggests the current growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions is faster than those which triggered two previous mass extinctions, including the event that wiped out the dinosaurs.
The world's gaze may be focused on COVID-19 right now. But the risks to nature from human-made global warming — and the imperative to act — remain clear.
Past Mass Extinctions
Many species can adapt to slow, or even moderate, environmental changes. But Earth's history shows that extreme shifts in the climate can cause many species to become extinct.
For example, about 66 million years ago an asteroid hit Earth. The subsequent smashed rocks and widespread fires released massive amounts of carbon dioxide over about 10,000 years. Global temperatures soared, sea levels rose and oceans became acidic. About 80% of species, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out.
And about 55 million years ago, global temperatures spiked again, over 100,000 years or so. The cause of this event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, is not entirely clear. One theory, known as the "methane burp" hypothesis, posits that a massive volcanic eruption triggered the sudden release of methane from ocean sediments, making oceans more acidic and killing off many species.
So is life on Earth now headed for the same fate?
Comparing Greenhouse Gas Levels
Before industrial times began at the end of the 18th century, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sat at around 300 parts per million. This means that for every one million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 300 were carbon dioxide.
In February this year, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 414.1 parts per million. Total greenhouse gas level — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide combined — reached almost 500 parts per million of carbon dioxide-equivalent
Author provided / The Conversation /CC BY-ND
Carbon dioxide is now pouring into the atmosphere at a rate of two to three parts per million each year.
Using carbon records stored in fossils and organic matter, I have determined that current carbon emissions constitute an extreme event in the recorded history of Earth.
My research has demonstrated that annual carbon dioxide emissions are now faster than after both the asteroid impact that eradicated the dinosaurs (about 0.18 parts per million CO2 per year), and the thermal maximum 55 million years ago (about 0.11 parts per million CO2 per year).
An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Shutterstock
The Next Mass Extinction Has Begun
Current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are not yet at the levels seen 55 million and 65 million years ago. But the massive influx of carbon dioxide means the climate is changing faster than many plant and animal species can adapt.
A major United Nations report released last year warned around one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction. Climate change was listed as one of five key drivers.
The report said the distributions of 47% of land-based flightless mammals, and almost 25% of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.
A diagram showing the weakening Arctic jet stream, and subsequent movements of warm and cold air. NASA
This allows north-moving warm air to cross the polar boundary, and cold fronts emanating from the poles to intrude south into Siberia, Europe and Canada.
A shift in climate zones is also causing the tropics to expand and migrate toward the poles, at a rate of about 56 to 111 kilometres per decade. The tracks of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones are likewise shifting toward the poles. Australia is highly vulnerable to this shift.
Uncharted Future Climate Territory
Research released in 2016 showed just what a massive impact humans are having on the planet. It said while the Earth might naturally have entered the next ice age in about 20,000 years' time, the heating produced by carbon dioxide would result in a period of super-tropical conditions, delaying the next ice age to about 50,000 years from now.
During this period, chaotic high-energy stormy conditions would prevail over much of the Earth. My research suggests humans are likely to survive best in sub-polar regions and sheltered mountain valleys, where cooler conditions would allow flora and fauna to persist.
Earth's next mass extinction is avoidable — if carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically curbed and we develop and deploy technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But on the current trajectory, human activity threatens to make large parts of the Earth uninhabitable - a planetary tragedy of our own making.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Dave Cooke
So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.
The Rule, by the Numbers
The administration recognizes this is a bad deal for the country — even their own cooked books couldn't make this look like a good idea:
- American drivers will burn an additional 2 billion barrels of oil, resulting in 900 million metric tons of additional global warming emissions;
- Vehicle prices could be reduced by $1,000, but consumers would pay more than $1,400 more in fuel, a net loss and obviously a terrible deal;
- Accounting for miles traveled, the rule results in more premature deaths from air pollution (up to 1600), than offset by the agencies' (optimistic) estimate of less than 800 avoided traffic fatalities;
- The rule cuts automotive revenue by $50 billion dollars, resulting in job losses in the auto sector of 10,000-20,000 in 2030, a number which excludes the even worse macroeconomic job losses which would accrue;
- The net benefits of the rule are actually negative, resulting in $10-20 billion in net monetized harm to the country, which is actually a worse outcome than most of alternatives the agency considered!
And on top of all this, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSHTA) found time to incorporate special corporate giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, the only industry slated to benefit from this rule in the first place.
The Final Rule Is Not Necessarily Better Than the Proposal
There will likely be a lot of reporting that says that this final rule is better for the environment than the proposal, but this is wrong. On paper, the Trump administration has replaced its proposal to halt required progress entirely after 2020 with a rule that requires 1.5 percent improvement per year, a rate which is of course lower than the automakers have averaged now for more than a decade. But paper targets don't matter — what matters is what happens in the real world. And all this rule is doing is maintaining the status quo.
While ostensibly increasing the requirements of the rule, the Trump administration has also increased flexibilities and credits granted to automakers compared to the proposal, credits which the industry requested and which we've shown could be as bad as the rollback. Incredibly, they've even granted credits that no automaker asked for, for natural gas vehicles that no one currently sells (of course, that was a handout to the oil industry, just like the rest of this rule). While they didn't grant all automaker requests, they did extend through 2026 the decision to ignore emissions from the electricity powering EVs and increased the number of technologies eligible for credits not captured by standards test procedures (so-called "off-cycle credits") while simultaneously reducing the public scrutiny on those emissions, even though recent data on some of these credits calls into question their value.
Awarding automakers these flexibilities and loopholes makes the miniscule change in stringency completely toothless. Consumers will continue to be railroaded by this change in policy.
The Economy Is in a Tenuous Position — This Rule Will Make It Worse
Right now, the economic outlook is uncertain — we are shedding jobs by the millions, and even after we come out of this pandemic, we will likely be dealing with a recession. The administration's policy just compounds that economic pain for consumers by ensuring they pay more at the pump. This is exactly the wrong policy at the worst time — what we need to be doing is helping consumers pay less in fuel so they can put those saving back to work in our local economies.
Consumers will pay thousands more for fuel as a result of this rule, which hurts the economy and negatively impacts job growth. The only people that benefit from the administration's finalized rule are the oil companies.
The Safe Rule Is Unsafe
One of the biggest, dumbest points made in the original proposal was that this rule would save lives. But the administration admits now that such claims were total nonsense. Even by their own fuzzy math, the "tens of thousands of lives saved" from the proposal have been reduced to just a few hundred, and now that they've finally bothered to calculate the adverse health impacts, they've found that up to 1600 people would die prematurely thanks to the additional air pollution from this rule (a number that is likely a significant underestimate).
We are in the middle of a public health crisis that's devastating our economy, and the administration is finalizing a rule that will undermine both public health and the economy. If that isn't some of the most backwards nonsense ever, I don't know what is.
Fighting It out in the Courts
As with so many of the administration's wrongheaded rollbacks, this one will end up in the courts. There continue to be a mountain of errors in the policy and a number of corners cut to avoid public scrutiny and sideline the administration's own experts.
This policy is bad for consumers, bad for public health, and bad for the environment. And we will continue to fight it in the courts because this country deserves better.
Reposted with permission from Union of Concerned Scientists.
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Human Cooperation Can Restore Climate Patterns: The Case of the Ozone Layer and the Southern Jet Stream
Emissions from the chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used as refrigerants and aerosols didn't just burn a hole in the ozone layer. They also shifted the Southern Hemisphere's jet stream south towards Antarctica.
Now, a study published in Nature Wednesday found that the 1987 Montreal Protocol banning those substances wasn't just successful in helping to repair the ozone hole. It also paused this jet stream shift.
"This is an object lesson in how the international community should react to global environmental challenges," the study's authors concluded. "Restricting dangerous emissions and changing business practices is also the way to combat global warming caused by greenhouse gases."
Previous research had shown that the jet stream in the Southern Hemisphere had been shifting south by one degree of latitude each decade until 2000, The Guardian reported. This caused changes to storms and rainfall in South America, East Africa and Australia.
But after 2000, the shift stopped, and researchers were able to use a combination of models and computer simulations to determine this pause was down to the shrinking ozone hole, and not natural causes, ScienceAlert explained. In fact, the shift may have even begun to reverse.
This is a relief to some parts of the world.
"The 'weather bands' that bring our cold fronts have been narrowing towards the south pole, and that's why southern Australia has experienced decreasing rainfall over the last thirty years or so," Ian Rae, an organic chemist from the University of Melbourne who was not involved in the study, said, according to ScienceAlert! "If the ozone layer is recovering, and the circulation is moving north, that's good news on two fronts (pun not intended)."
In Chile and Argentina, the reversal will bring more rain and less ultraviolet light, but farther north in South America and in parts of East Africa the change could actually reverse the greater rain and area available for agriculture that it had brought, The Guardian explained.
On a global scale, however, the news is a hopeful example of how we might act on the climate crisis.
"This is good news, definitely," paper reviewer Alexey Karpechko of the Finnish Meteorological Institute told The Guardian. "It shows our actions can stop climate change. We can see coordinated action works. It is a strong message to us as emitters of greenhouse gases. This shows we can manipulate the climate both ways: in a wrong way and by reversing the damage we have done."
However, our failure to act collectively on greenhouse gasses so far means that the reversal in the jet stream's shift is not guaranteed to last: While the recovering ozone layer pushes it back to normal, greenhouse gas emissions draw it south again.
"We term this a 'pause' because the poleward circulation trends might resume, stay flat, or reverse," lead author Antara Banerjee, a NOAA scientist and visiting fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a university press release. "It's the tug of war between the opposing effects of ozone recovery and rising greenhouse gases that will determine future trends."
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A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
If seen through to completion, the Tanah Merah project will generate an estimated $6 billion in timber and create a plantation almost twice the size of London, at the heart of the largest tract of intact rainforest left in Asia. It will also release an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at a time when Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions from deforestation.
Since March of last year, the Digoel Agri Group, founded by a politically connected Jakarta family and now backed by an investor from New Zealand, has bulldozed 170 hectares (420 acres) of rainforest in a section of the project previously spared from land clearing, satellite imagery shows.
The clearance amounts to a fraction of the 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) allocated for the project, now controlled by several different conglomerates. But it signals that deforestation could quickly accelerate after a decade of false starts by other investors.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.
Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.
The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border investigation by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.
A subsequent report found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.
Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.
On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.
Jackson Iqbal de Hesselle, 32, a member of the Rumangkang family, which is behind Digoel Agri, said its operations were clean. "We're obeying the rules," he said in a recent interview at the firm's office in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
However, while there are no apparent links between Digoel Agri and the previous investors, its ability to operate is partly predicated on the allegedly compromised licensing process that went before.
The legal basis of Digoel Agri's activities rests partly on decrees rezoning the land to allow development, issued by the Ministry of Forestry in 2012, following requests from earlier investors. The applications were based on the plantation permits that were allegedly falsified.
As of late last year, Indonesian authorities had yet to investigate the allegations, officials from several agencies said at the time.
NGOs scrutinizing the project assert that officials rushed into reallocating the lands to new investors without properly considering the allegations of irregularities in the licensing process and the environmental and social impacts the project would have.
Arie Rompas, the head of forest campaigns at Greenpeace Indonesia, called the Tanah Merah project a "public scandal" and said the permits underlying it should be examined and revoked.
"There is still an opportunity to save this area," he said.
Enter the Rumangkangs
Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who died in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.
At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.
The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, accompanying surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.
A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.
His letters to the district government in 2014 claimed the local Auyu people were anxiously waiting for the project to begin. By this time, the land concessions that would be transferred to the Rumangkangs were majority-owned by Tadmax Resources, a Malaysian logging and property conglomerate. Minority stakes were retained by the Menara Group, an enigmatic Jakarta firm that brought the project to life in 2010.
Over the next three years, the permits held by Tadmax and Menara were revoked by the district and provincial governments. The stated rationale for cancelling them was the companies' failure to begin operating. However, bureaucrats at the Papua investment agency had also raised concerns that some of the permits had been falsified.
Tadmax and Menara have not responded to repeated requests to comment on these allegations.
By 2017, the concessions previously held by Tadmax and Menara had been reallocated to the Digoel Agri Group.
In early 2019, Tadmax and Menara challenged this decision. A letter to the central government from Dr. Sadino & Partners, a law firm representing the joint investors, accused officials of illegally revoking the permits. They also argued that anyone using the same land on the basis of new permits — like the ones underlying Digoel Agri's operations — was committing a crime.
Jones and Jackson insisted that Digoel Agri was in compliance with the law and had obtained the permits it needed to begin operating, from the district and provincial governments.
Ordinarily, to convert rainforest to a plantation, Digoel Agri would also have needed to apply to the forestry ministry in Jakarta to rezone the land for development. But by the time the Rumangkangs arrived in Papua, this process had already taken place.
The Menara Group and its co-investors had obtained decrees rezoning the land from the then-minister in 2011. These decrees were issued on the basis of permits that provincial government officials have repeatedly reported were falsified.
In an interview last year, Sigit Hardwinarto, the ministry's director-general of forest planning, said the rezoning could be reviewed if the allegation that the permits had been falsified was reported to his department.
The rezoning of the land is a legacy of the administration of President Yudhoyono and then-Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan. During his tenure, Zulkifli reportedly rezoned 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of land for conversion to oil palm plantations.
Yudhoyono's successor, President Joko Widodo, and the new forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, have sought to strike a different path. In 2018, Widodo signed a three-year moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for oil palm plantations.
The policy had been announced in the wake of Indonesia's 2015 fire and haze crisis, in which Indonesia's vast peat swamps burned as a result of agricultural fires from the oil palm and timber plantation industries. Toxic smoke from the fires drifted into neighboring countries, creating a public health crisis.
The moratorium explicitly barred the forestry ministry from rezoning land for oil palm development. It also instructed the cabinet to review all existing oil palm permits with an eye toward possibly revoking them. Several weeks after the president first declared he would sign the moratorium, in 2016, Siti singled out the Tanah Merah project as one that merited scrutiny.
In comments posted on her personal website, Siti referred disparagingly to the fact that the project appeared to have been established so the licenses could be "traded" to Malaysian investors, and said the president had instructed her to prioritize implementing the moratorium in Papua.
"We really have to safeguard [the forests of Papua] and must formulate and implement a development concept in Papua to the best of our ability," she quoted Widodo as telling her.
However, neither these policies nor the allegations around the Tanah Merah project have stymied its progress under the direction of new investors. NGOs monitoring the implementation of the moratorium have noted limited progress in Papua.
"There has been no significant progress in how this policy is implemented," said Arie, the Greenpeace campaigner. "The Tanah Merah project should be a strong case to see how this [policy] can be carried out seriously and effectively."
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.
"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."
The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.
Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.
The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.
North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.
Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.
Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project
On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.
He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.
"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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A new international study has pinpointed an enormous chasm in the amount of resources the rich use versus the poor — both within their own countries and compared to an international population, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy.
The researchers found that the wealthiest tenth of people use up about 20 times more overall energy than the bottom ten percent, no matter where they are, according to the BBC. The greatest part of the disparity is in transportation, where the wealthiest tenth consume 187 times more fuel than the poorest ten percent.
The researchers from the University of Leeds parsed data from the World Bank and the European Union to calculate the energy consumption of residents in 86 different countries, both highly industrialized and developing countries, according to the study. The researchers also looked at what energy-intensive goods and services different income groups use and how the different income groups spend their money.
The results showed a huge disparity in energy use as income climbs. The study found that as income climbs, people spend more of their money on energy-intensive goods, such as vacations or new cars or second homes that require heating and cooling — all of which leads to increased inequality in energy use, according to the study.
"There needs to be serious consideration to how to change the vastly unequal distribution of global energy consumption to cope with the dilemma of providing a decent life for everyone while, protecting climate and ecosystems," Julia Steinberger, a professor at the University Of Leeds and author on the paper, said in a University of Leeds statement.
The data showed that the top ten percent not only used 187 times the energy for transportation as the bottom ten percent, but the top ten percent actually used more than half the energy used for transportation. Most of that energy use came from fossil fuels, according to the University of Leeds.
When it came to energy use for cooking and heating, the disparity was not as great, but the wealthiest ten percent did use roughly one-third of the energy. That most likely came from the size of their home, according to the BBC.
"This study tells relatively wealthy people like us what we don't want to hear," Kevin Anderson, a professor from the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, England who was not involved in the study, said to the BBC. "The climate issue is framed by us high emitters – the politicians, business people, journalists, academics. When we say there's no appetite for higher taxes on flying, we mean we don't want to fly less. The same is true about our cars and the size our homes. We have convinced ourselves that our lives are normal, yet the numbers tell a very different story."
The authors of the study say the numbers show a need for policies that will curtail excess energy use. It shows a need for improved public transportation, higher taxes on bigger vehicles, and frequent flyer penalties for people who take the most vacations, according to the BBC.
While the world often wags a finger at China and India for their dependence on coal energy and their outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the average citizen uses far less energy than most Europeans. The study found that only 2 percent of Chinese citizens and 0.02 percent of Indian citizens are in the top 5 percent of energy consumers.
That is a stark contrast from the UK where 20 percent of the public is in the top 5 percent. Germany has 40 percent of its citizens in the top 5 percent, while every single person in Luxembourg is in the top five percent, according to the study.
The research shows that the rich will have to change their behavior and their consumption habits for countries to wean themselves from fossil fuels and move to a zero-carbon economy.
"Growth and increased consumption continue to be core goals of today's politics and economics," Anne Owen, an author on the paper and a professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. "The transition to zero carbon energy will be made easier by reduction in demand, which means that top consumers will play an important role in lowering their excess energy consumption."
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And while the oil giant has been responsible for massive methane releases, Exxon has now proposed a new regulatory framework for cutting emissions of this powerful greenhouse gas that it hopes regulators and industry will adopt. As Exxon put it, the goal is to achieve "cost-effective and reasonable methane-emission regulations."
So, why is Exxon asking to be regulated?
The answer may be simply that Exxon is very good at public relations. As industry publication Natural Gas Intelligence reported, this announcement "comes as energy operators face increasing pressure from lenders and shareholders to engage in decarbonization by following environmental, social, and governance standards."
ExxonMobil is proposing new rules to cut methane emissions. We think it makes sense for industries to work together… https://t.co/NnLNZ2yO5O— ExxonMobil (@ExxonMobil)1583281279.0
Exxon's proposed regulations have three main objectives: finding and detecting leaks, minimizing the direct venting of methane as part of oil and gas operations, and record keeping and reporting.
Casey Norton, Exxon's Corporate Media Relations Manager, explained to DeSmog that Exxon's proposal was not expected to be adopted as-is by regulatory agencies. "This is a starting point for conversations with policy makers and other regulators," he said. "For example, New Mexico, Argentina, the EU, who are all considering new regulations for methane emissions."
Under President Trump, the federal government last year rolled back Obama-era rules for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and for restricting these emissions during drilling on public lands.
This isn't Exxon's first foray into voluntary regulations of methane. The corporation's natural gas subsidiary XTO started a voluntary methane emissions program in 2017. In June 2018, XTO noted that the voluntary program, which was mostly about replacing leaking valves, had reduced methane emissions by 7,200 metric tons since 2016.
However, leaking valves are not the biggest source of methane emissions. In February 2018, four months before XTO was touting the success of its methane reduction program, the company experienced the second largest methane leak in U.S. history. A gas well it operated in Ohio suffered a blowout, releasing huge amounts of the heat-trapping gas.
Did XTO's voluntary program accurately report this? As The New York Times reported, "XTO Energy said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked."
But a group of scientists using satellite data eventually did pin down the amount released — 120 metric tons an hour for 20 days. That adds up to roughly 50,000 metric tons more released than the 7,200 metric tons in reductions XTO was claiming months later. That one leak was estimated to be more than the methane emissions of the total oil and gas industry of countries like Norway.
As DeSmog reported, XTO is also flaring the most natural gas of any company in the Permian oil field (natural gas is almost 90 percent methane). While flaring isn't as bad for the climate as directly venting the methane into the atmosphere, it is increasing the levels of carbon dioxide and toxic air pollutants and is another problem the industry is saying it will address even as the practice continues on a large scale.
And now the same company is recommending that the rest of the industry and regulators adopt their approach to regulating methane emissions.
"It is not target-based, it is not volume-based," Exxon's Norton said. "Again, it's starting a conversation, saying these are things that you can look at."
Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at Cornell University whose work focuses on methane emmissions in the oil and gas industry, drew attention to areas of Exxon's framework he thought were lacking. For starters, he pointed out that the proposed framework does not mention emissions from "imperfect well casings and from abandoned wells," which Howarth says "can be significant." He also noted that the proposal does not describe "a methodology for characterizing any of these emissions; there are techniques for doing so, but there is not much demonstrated use of these techniques by industry."
Finally — and this is the real danger with any sort of industry self-regulation — Howarth said there must be some type of independent oversight to assess actual emissions instead of relying on the industry to self-report. XTO's well blowout in Ohio is an excellent example of why this third-party verification is critical. Without oversight, the "system is ripe for abuse," according to Howarth.
Sharon Wilson of environmental advocacy group Earthworks documents the oil and gas industry's current widespread practices of flaring and venting methane. Sharing her concerns about Exxon's methane emissions proposal, she told DeSmog,"Exxon's recent announcement is too little too late when it comes to the climate crisis they've help cause and are still making worse. Reducing methane emissions by any percentage is not enough when Exxon continues to expand sources of the same climate pollution."
Wilson called for the company to support federal and state rules to cut methane.
Trump Administration Reversed Existing Methane Regulations
Methane emissions have become a much bigger issue in the last decade since the U.S. boom in shale oil and gas produced by fracking. Despite overseeing a huge rise in oil and gas production, the Obama administration acknowledged the methane problem and proposed and adopted new methane emissions regulations, which the Trump administration has since repealed.
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.
"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."
The problem with this free-market assumption is that Wheeler is wrong about the industry's financial incentive to limit methane emissions.
The unreal natural gas prices in the #Permian get even more unreal: Nat gas at the Waha hub (near El Paso) have ho… https://t.co/Zfj0XfXIJh— Javier Blas (@Javier Blas)1554326358.0
There is too much natural gas, aka methane, flooding world energy markets right now. Current prices to buy it are lower than the costs to produce it. The methane currently produced in Texas' Permian Basin spent a good portion of last year at negative prices. There is no financial incentive for producers in the Permian to voluntarily cut methane emissions in the current market environment.
That is why Permian producers are flaring (openly burning) it at record levels as well as directly releasing (venting) methane into the rapidly warming atmosphere. So much for letting the free market address the issue.
Even the Remaining Regulations Are Controlled by Industry
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.
While Exxon did publicly say in 2018 that it didn't support repealing the existing methane regulations, the company also wrote to the EPA voicing support for certain aspects of the American Petroleum Institute's (API) comments on the issue, and the API approved removing the regulations. 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?
Excerpt from Exxon letter to EPA about methane regulations. ExxonMobil
The Wall Street Journal 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.
In 2019, the Trump administration revised the rule, weakening it, 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 undergoing a legal challenge.)
Industry crafted protocol. Just the thing Exxon is now proposing.
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.
Reuters reported on internal communications at Boeing which revealed the airplane maker simply would not let simulator training be required by regulators:
"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.
"Boeing will not allow that to happen. We'll go face to face with any regulator who tries to make that a requirement."
Boeing got its way. And 346 people died.
Nearly a year after a second crash of a Boeing 737 MAX that led to its grounding, the full extent of the company’s… https://t.co/uUHyItbBrD— The Daily Beast (@The Daily Beast)1583592004.0
For the past six years, I have reported on the failed regulatory process governing the moving of dangerous crude oil by rail (and even wrote a book about it). The only meaningful safety regulation that resulted from a multi-year process was requiring oil trains to have modern electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.
As I reported, shortly after this regulation was enacted, Matthew Rose, CEO of the largest oil-by-rail company BNSF, told an industry conference that "the only thing we don't like about [the new regulation] is the electronic braking" and "this rule will have to be changed in the future." As per the wishes of Matthew Rose, that rule was repealed despite the substantial evidence clearly showing this modern braking system greatly increases train safety.
A recent op-ed from an editor at the trade publication Railway Age referred to these oil trains as a "clear and present danger." Nevertheless, these trains hauling volatile oil through North American communities are still operating with braking systems engineered in the late 1800s.
Exxon Touts 'Sound Science' Despite Its History
Exxon's methane proposal states that any regulations should be based on "sound science." This statement is coming from a company whose scientists accurately predicted the impacts of burning fossil fuels on the climate decades ago and yet has spent the time since then misleading the public about that science.
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.
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.
"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."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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