Tag Archives: industry

Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

The latest reports suggest that coal has the equivalent of black-lung disease: the condition is chronic, and the long-term prognosis is dire.

Power companies plan to shutter more than 10 big coal plants in 2018, extinguishing a major portion of coal burning in the United States (see the map below). According to projections released by the Energy Information Administration this week, coal-fired plants will produce less than 30 percent of the electricity Americans use this year. Back in 2000, coal provided more than half of our electricity. Cheap natural gas has knocked coal out of competition.

2018 will be a bad year to be a gray dot.

EIA

This year is expected be a big one for coal-plant retirements but, as you can see below, so was 2015, and 2012, and, well, much of the past decade.

Pretty much all the plants shutting down are fossil-fuel plants.EIA

“Coal in the U.S. might not be dead, but it is in a death spiral,” said Alex Gilbert, of the energy research firm SparkLibrary. “Coal’s demise is inevitable, but it can still emit significant greenhouse gas and other emissions on its way out. The main policy question now is whether the death spiral should be a decade long or decades long.”

What pushed coal power into the death spiral? In a word, fracking. A crackdown on toxic pollution and the rise of wind and solar power, too. If you look at this map of plants scheduled to open this year, it’s all renewables and gas.

Look at all those renewables… and gas plants.EIA

Gilbert said coal companies also played a supporting role in the dirty fuel’s demise. “Coal’s decline is mainly due to market competition with natural gas with regulations playing a secondary role,” he said. “Fundamentally, however, coal is dying because the industry decided to fight changing times. Instead of innovating into a 21st-century compatible energy source, they played politics.”

So, what does all this mean for greenhouse-gas emissions? Well, even if we stop burning coal, it wouldn’t be enough to solve our emissions problems. And as we squeeze carbon out of our electrical system, carbon emissions from cars, industry, and heating are all going up. That’s consistent with a long term trend.

“Between 2005 and 2016, almost 80 percent of the reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. came from the electric power sector,” wrote Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters of the Rhodium Group, a company which analyzes energy trends. To get greenhouse-gas emissions down, other sectors have to play a larger role.

Rhodium Group

This year, people are expected to drive more, and a growing economy will cause industry to ramp up. All told, the United States is likely to pump out more greenhouse gases this year, according to the new data from the EIA.

“After declining by 1.0 percent in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7 percent in 2018,” the EIA wrote.

It looks like our biggest problem is no longer coal. It’s cars.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

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The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

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2 independent studies say climate change worsened Hurricane Harvey’s rains.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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2 independent studies say climate change worsened Hurricane Harvey’s rains.

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

Citing the risk of conflicts of interest, the EPA administrator instituted a sweeping change to the agency’s core system of advisory panels on Tuesday, restricting membership to scientists who don’t receive EPA grants.

In practice, the move represents “a major purge of independent scientists,” Terry F. Yosie, chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post. Their removal paves the way for a fresh influx of industry experts and state government officials pushing for lax regulations.

The advisory boards are meant to ensure that health regulations are based on sound science, but that role may be changing. As of Tuesday, the new chair of the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, an independent consultant, who has argued that reductions in ozone pollution have “no causal relation” to public health.

The new head of the Science Advisory Board is Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who has said that air pollution doesn’t matter because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”

The figureheads of science denial were on hand to celebrate Pruitt’s announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, called the move a “special occasion.”

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Climate change is exacerbating global inequalities and making people sick.

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God help us, Donald Trump tried to dispense energy facts again.

And pretty much nobody is happy about it, except maybe Nestlé.

Since 2011, 23 national parks had ended the sale of plastic water bottles to cut down on trash and litter. Before the ban took effect at the Grand Canyon, for example, water bottles made up 20 percent of the park’s total waste. But on Aug. 16, the Trump administration ended the six-year-old policy that enabled the ban, welcoming plastic bottles back to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks.

Bottled water companies had lobbied against the Obama-era policy for years. Coincidentally, the National Park Service’s statement on the reversal echoes the industry’s arguments: “It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.”

Lauren Derusha Florez, Corporate Accountability International* campaign director, is calling for park superintendents to resist. “We know that many of our parks want to do away with bottled water,” she wrote in a blog post. “Let’s make sure they know that we support them in that move, even if the current administration doesn’t.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Florez as the campaign director at the Sierra Club.

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God help us, Donald Trump tried to dispense energy facts again.

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Two years ago, Inside Climate News and L.A. Times investigations found that while ExxonMobil internally acknowledged that climate change is human-made and serious, it publicly manufactured doubt about the science. Exxon has been trying unsuccessfully to smother this slow-burning PR crisis ever since, arguing the findings were “deliberately cherry picked statements.” But the company’s problems have grown to include probes of its business practices by the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now, science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran have published the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of Exxon’s climate communications that adds more heft to these charges. Exxon dared the public to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” in a company blog post in 2015. The new paper, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications,” in the journal Environmental Research Letters, takes up the challenge. Oreskes and Supran systematically analyze nearly 40 years of Exxon’s scientific research, reports, internal documents, and advertisements, and find a deep disconnect between how the company directly communicated climate change and its internal memos and scientific studies.

“The issue of taking things out of context or cherry-picking data is an important one, and one all historians and journalists deal with,” Oreskes tells Mother Jones. “When ExxonMobil accuses journalists of cherry-picking, there is a way we can address that. There are analyses we can do to avoid these issues. Well, if you think the LA Times is cherry-picking [examples], we’ll look at all of them. Nobody can say we are selecting things out of context.”

Their content analysis examines how 187 company documents treated climate change from 1977 through 2014. Researchers found that of the documents that address the causes of climate change, 83 percent of its peer-reviewed scientific literature and 80 percent of its internal documents said it was real and human-made, while the opposite was true of the ads. The researchers analyzed ads published in the New York Times between 1989 and 2004. In those ads, 81 percent expressed doubt about the scientific consensus, tending to emphasize the “uncertainty” and “knowledge gap,” while just 12 percent affirmed the science.

The same pattern holds for how Exxon has addressed the seriousness of the consequences of climate change. Downplaying the impacts is another tactic climate deniers tend to use to call for more delays in implementing policies that curb fossil fuel use. Sixty percent of Exxon’s peer-reviewed papers and 53 percent of its internal documents acknowledge serious impacts — a 1982 internal document lists flooding and sea-level rise and a 2002 paper lists coral reef bleaching and the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet among them — but Exxon’s ads were more likely to claim, “The sky is not falling.”

Oreskes and Supran write that Exxon “contributed quietly to the science and loudly to raising doubts about it.”

This distinction is important, argues Supran. “Exxon’s response to the allegations from journalists and investigators was a kind of gloss or straw man,” he says. “They were contributing to climate science. The problem was the company still had a much louder doubt-promoting position in public. It was the discrepancy that confused people.”

Exxon did not return a request for comment on the study before publication, but in the past it has dismissed similar criticisms by pointing to its decades of promoting climate science research, which the paper does not dispute.

Of course, Exxon’s media strategy has shifted over time, and the company adopted a more uniform position where executives acknowledged climate change is human-made when it became untenable to say otherwise. Oreskes and Supran also included one issue that’s caused more recent trouble for the industry than its advertising campaigns. There’s intense debate over what are known as “stranded assets,” a term used to describe assets that have become anachronisms when faced with new business realities. In this case, it is the serious risk that Exxon’s business model is overvalued and incompatible with the world taking serious action to limit global warming. Two dozen of the company’s publications and internal documents acknowledged stranded assets, but it is not mentioned in any of the ads through 2004.

Shareholders actually sued Exxon last fall over stranded assets, claiming the company was aware it would not be able to extract all its fossil fuel reserves but its public statements dismissing the risks were “materially false and misleading.” And shareholders have stepped up the pressure in other ways, too: This May, two-thirds of shareholders voted to force the company to publish an annual report on its climate impacts. The moment was a rare defiance of Exxon’s management, which opposed the report, and maybe a step toward more transparency.

Oreskes, who’s written extensively about industry campaigns to undermine scientific findings, says that Exxon’s message inevitably changes over time as it adapts to new circumstances and old positions become discredited. But Exxon is still following the same general playbook. “They are promoting a different kind of doubt,” she says. “It’s a doubt that says, ‘There’s climate change, but we have to still use fossil fuels because there’s no alternative.’” But, Oreskes adds, there are alternatives.

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

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Trump halted a study of coal’s health effects in Appalachia

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Trump administration has told the National Academy of Sciences to stop working on a study about the potential health risks for people living near mountaintop coal-removing sites in Central Appalachia.

“Everyone knows there are major health risks living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites,” Bill Price, the senior Appalachia organizer at the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “It’s infuriating that Trump would halt this study on the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, research that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years.”

In 2014, a West Virginia University study found that dust from mountaintop removal coal-mining sites was linked to increased incidences of lung cancer. The following year, the state formally asked the Obama administration for help in studying these health effects, and in 2016, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) gave the NAS $1 million to determine the human health effects for people living near coal mine operations.

But last week, in an Aug. 18 letter to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the OSMRE said that the Department of the Interior has begun an agency-wide review of all its grants and cooperative agreements that exceed $100,000, as part of the department’s “changing budget situation” and that the agency should halt all work on the study. The NAS says that it is ready to resume work on the study when the review is complete.

“Communities living with daily health threats were counting on finally getting the full story from the professionals at the National Academies of Science,” Price said. “To take that away without warning or adequate reason is beyond heartless.”

Not only can coal have an impact on public health, burning it releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has been aligned with climate skeptics, and throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump expressed support for the coal industry.

When he announced a new agenda for the EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt told a group of coal miners that “the coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners.” At an Iowa rally in June, Trump promised to put coal miners back to work. “We’ve ended the war on clean, beautiful coal,” he said.

Bill Price, from the Sierra Club, says that revoking this study demonstrates the administration’s real priorities when it comes to coal. “It appears that the only people Trump cares about in Appalachia are coal executives,” he wrote, “not the people who’ve lived and worked here for generations.”

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Trump halted a study of coal’s health effects in Appalachia

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You can expect to see more Oroville-style dam disasters in our future.

The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.

In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.

In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.

“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”

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You can expect to see more Oroville-style dam disasters in our future.

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This young girl just wants to know if Congressman Jason Chaffetz believes in science.

The industry is growing so fast it could become the largest source of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, wind power won the top spot for installed generating capacity (putting it ahead of hydroelectric power), according to a new industry report. And in the E.U., wind capacity grew by 8 percent last year, surpassing coal. That puts wind second only to natural gas across the pond.

In the next three years, wind could account for 10 percent of American electricity, Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a press release. The industry already employs over 100,000 Americans.

In Europe, wind has hit the 10.4 percent mark, and employs more than 300,000 people, according to an association for wind energy in Europe. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania lead the way for European wind growth. In the U.S., Texas is the windy frontier.

“Low-cost, homegrown wind energy,” Kiernan added in the release, “is something we can all agree on.”

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This young girl just wants to know if Congressman Jason Chaffetz believes in science.

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Banning Lobbyists Might Sound Like a Good Idea. But Here’s What Trump Is Missing.

Mother Jones

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On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s transition team announced one phase of the president-elect’s plan to “drain the swamp” of corruption—a prohibition on registered lobbyists serving in his administration and a five-year lobbying ban for Trump officials who return to the private sector. Trump’s plan effectively doubles down on a policy that the Obama administration already has in place—one that many good government groups and lobbyists alike believe may have created a new problem: un-lobbyists—that is, influence-peddlers who avoid registering as lobbyists to skirt the administration’s rules.

Obama, like Trump, campaigned on a platform of aggressively rooting out the influence of lobbyists. After taking office, he put in place several major good-government initiatives, including a ban on lobbyists serving in his administration and a two-year cooling-off period before ex-administration officials could register to lobby. Once Obama’s lobbying rules took effect, there was a sharp decline in the number of registered lobbyists. Industry insiders and watchdog groups that track the influence game noted that the decrease was not due to lobbyists hanging up their spurs as hired guns for corporations and special interests. Rather it appeared that lobbyists were finding creative ways to avoid officially registering as such. There was no less influence-peddling going on, but now there was less disclosure of the lobbying that was taking place.

The problem lies with the definition of who is a lobbyist. The federal government requires anyone who spends more than 20 percent of their time on behalf of a client while making “lobbying contacts”—an elaborate and specifically defined type of contact with certain types of federal officials—to register as a lobbyist and file quarterly paperwork disclosing their clients and the bills or agencies he or she sought to sway. But by avoiding too many official “lobbying contacts” and limiting how much income that kind of work accounts for, lobbyists can shed the scarlet L, describing themselves as government affairs consultants or experts in advocacy and public policy. In 2014, the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics examined the trend of the “un-lobbyist” and found that 45 percent of the lobbyists who had shed their designation in the previous year still worked for the same employer. In many cases, the lobbyists didn’t leave their jobs, CRP found, they just changed their titles.

The Trump plan, which just tacks three years on to the Obama administration’s existing ban, does stop short of the Obama rules in one area. Under Obama’s policy, people who had been registered lobbyists could not work for agencies they had previously lobbied, though he did offer “waivers” to certain officials. According to Trump aides, registered lobbyists will be eligible for administration jobs if they de-register as lobbyists. The Washington Post reports that Josh Pitcock, a close aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, took the step on Monday, sending the Senate Clerk’s office notice that he is no longer a lobbyist for the State of Indiana.

In the end, said Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, the Trump plan may only perpetuate the problem of un-lobbyists.

“People are going to react to the Trump thing in the same way,” Painter notes, by saying, ‘I’ll figure out a way to not be a lobbyist.'”

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Banning Lobbyists Might Sound Like a Good Idea. But Here’s What Trump Is Missing.

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