Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

The Tillerson confirmation hearing reminded me at times of hearings for Supreme Court justices in that Tillerson refused to answer the vast majority of questions about his views or what he would do as Secretary of State. At the same time, he gave plenty of evidence that he would be a disastrous Secretary of State. Here are some specific pieces that jumped out:

1. Tillerson claimed that Exxon did not lobby against sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Sen. Corker interrupted to note that, actually, Tillerson had called him personally to discuss sanctions. When Sen. Menendez later confronted Tillerson with records showing that Exxon lobbied on the sanctions, Tillerson still claimed ignorance, saying he didn’t even know whether the company would have lobbied for or against the sanctions. This is damning for Tillerson because there are only two possibilities: Either he is lying, or he is a shockingly poor manager – someone who was unaware of his company’s position on an issue of enormous importance, sanctions that compromised a $500 billion oil exploration deal. AP did a good fact check on his statements.

2. On climate change:

Tillerson continued to dispute and deny settled climate science, claiming to Sen. Markey that it’s “inconclusive” that climate change makes extreme weather more likely.

Sen. Kaine set out to grill Tillerson on climate denial — and particularly allegations that Exxon knew fossil fuels cause global warming as early as the 1970s and yet to this day is funding groups that deny and cast doubt on climate science. He quickly hit a dead end because Tillerson simply refused to answer whether those allegations are true or false. His first line was that he no longer works for Exxon and the question would have to be put to them. When Sen. Kaine asked, “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?” Tillerson responded, “A little bit of both.”

Tillerson refused to say that the U.S. should be an international leader on climate. He said only that we should keep “a seat at the table.”

In response to Sen. Shaheen’s question about complying with international agreements to end subsidies for fossil fuels, Tillerson said he wasn’t aware of any U.S. fossil fuel subsidies. Only tax code provisions that apply to all industries. Another place he strangely lacks key knowledge about his own company and industry.

Tillerson told Sen. Markey that he doesn’t think climate change is an imminent security threat. That might be the most disqualifying thing he said all day. We can’t have a Secretary of State who doesn’t take seriously the most terrible threat to U.S. security.

3. Tillerson refused to answer countless questions about bad international actors — for example whether Putin is a war criminal for bombing civilians in Syria and whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s well-documented extrajudicial killings constitute human rights violations. He dodged every question, no matter how well-known the underlying facts, by saying he needed access to classified government information before he could render a judgment. I don’t recall a single instance in which Tillerson was willing to say that someone has engaged in human rights abuses or is war criminal. It’s not my area of expertise, but I thought he come across as ill-informed (if not simply unconcerned about serious problems in the world) and overly reliant on a pre-fabricated dodge that was often a poor fit for the question he was being asked.

Since President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, people have been speculating about how Tillerson and Exxon might deal with an ethics problem: Tillerson has around $180 million worth of Exxon stock that will vest over the next decade. He can’t hold on to it if he becomes Secretary of State because that would create a clear conflict of interest: He’d have a strong interest in boosting Exxon’s stock value.

Yesterday, Exxon and Tillerson struck a deal that media outlets are characterizing as severing Tillerson’s ties with the company. The basic terms are that Tillerson’s non-vested stock will be cashed out and the money placed in an irrevocable trust, with a slight discount, from which Tillerson will receive payments over 10 years. If he goes back to work in the oil and gas industry within 10 years, he forfeits the remaining money and it goes to a charity of the trustee’s choosing. In other words, Tillerson gets payments over time that aren’t linked to Exxon’s performance, and he has a strong incentive not to go back to his industry, so he won’t favor it while in office.

But maybe it’s not that simple.

We found a discrepancy in the documents Exxon filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The filling contains two agreements, one between Exxon and Tillerson, and one between Exxon and Northern Trust Company, which will serve as the trustee. The contract between Exxon and Tillerson says the CEO will forfeit all remaining assets in the trust if he works for the oil and gas industry in the next 10 years. But Exxon’s agreement with the trustee says that Tillerson forfeits the trust assets if he engages in “competitive” employment in the oil and gas industry – in other words, employment with any company other than Exxon.

So which is it?

The difference matters. If, under the trust agreement’s terms, Tillerson can continue to receive payments if he returns to work for Exxon during the next ten years, but not if he works for any other oil or gas company, then he retains a strong interest in Exxon. Not only would he want Exxon to perform well during his tenure as secretary of state, he’d have an incentive to advance the interests of the only company in the field where he could work – and still receive the huge trust payments – over the next ten years. That’s a far cry from eliminating his interest in the company.

Senators should ask some tough questions about this deal at Tillerson’s confirmation hearing.

 

Note: Under Exxon’s current policies, the company couldn’t re-hire Tillerson as an employee because it has a mandatory retirement age of 65. But the company presumably could hire him as a consultant or contractor.

Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and several others are introducing a resolution that links the current denial of climate science to the campaigns by tobacco companies and chemical and lead companies to deny the now well-known harms of tobacco and lead products (primarily lead paint and leaded gasoline). Today and tomorrow, nineteen senators are taking to the Senate floor to speak out on the network of climate denial groups. Follow and support the effort with #WebofDenial and #TimetoCallOut.

You can become a citizen co-sponsor of the resolution here.

Here’s my statement on the effort:

We applaud Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others who are calling attention to the web of denial surrounding the harms from fossil fuels. They are right to draw parallels between the campaign of deception on climate science and those on tobacco and lead products. Climate denial follows a script written by Big Tobacco and the chemical and lead industries: Fund a network of phony think tanks, research institutes and policy shops to sell lies and distortions, foster doubt and stall solutions to clear, immediate dangers to public health.

There is one major difference. If left unchecked, climate change will be far more terrible. Tobacco and lead products have killed or poisoned millions. Today’s climate deniers risk much more terrible harm: heat, drought, famine, disease, mass migration and violent conflict on a scale that threatens human civilization as we know it. If the deniers have their way, they even risk human extinction.

We wholly support senators who are calling out climate denial as the despicably immoral action that it is – and those who are working to mitigate catastrophic climate change by moving the U.S. quickly to a 21st century, zero-carbon energy infrastructure. That shift will create jobs, stimulate the economy, lower energy prices for consumers and, most important, help us preserve our own habitats and civilization.

There may be no greater patriotism in American today than fighting climate change, and no greater disservice than denying the problem and stalling solutions.

And here’s a shareable graphic from our patriotic friends at Desmogblog:

 

sunset-powerlines-prettyYesterday the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) and the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) released a report detailing which of America’s top 25 investor owned utility companies are choosing to adapt to the changing business landscape as a result of climate change and which are not.

The report, titled The Top 25 U.S. Electric Utilities: Climate Change, Corporate Governance and Politics shows that while some utility companies are taking steps to change their business practices to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, others are digging in their heels and going so far as to spend heavily in politics and engage in litigation to protect the status quo.

“Rather than changing the energy mix or seeking innovation that can reduce capital costs, some utilities are deploying their resources toward court battles and political influence,” says IRRCi’s Executive Director, Jon Lukomnik.

This report aims to be a resource for investors looking to know more about a certain company’s policies regarding climate change and for companies to see how they stack up against their peers. The 117- page report uses 12 metrics to measure each company’s climate change orientation including but not limited to potential legal liability, political activity spending and public policy position disclosure, corporate political activity governance, and litigation.

Continue Reading

Yesterday, House and Senate Republicans revealed a new tactic in their war against the Clean Power Plan, the EPA proposal to curb carbon pollution: Pass legislation permitting states to “just say no” to the rule, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been urging the states to do. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) each released legislation that would let states opt out of the Clean Power Plan, purportedly to protect their electricity consumers (among other reasons).

Is this the same party that just proposed slashing support for public housing, food assistance, and home energy bills? Yes, and it hasn’t suddenly decided to help struggling American families. These new pieces of legislation are every bit as anti-consumer.

Whitfield released a “discussion draft” that would exempt a state  from the Clean Power Plan if the governor determines that complying would “have a significant adverse effect” on ratepayers by raising electricity rates or on reliability of the state’s electricity grid. Portman filed an amendment to the Senate budget resolution suggesting that states should be allowed to opt out of the Clean Power Plan if, among other things “ a Governor or legislative body of a State determines that the requirements of that section [section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the Clean Power Plan] would increase retail electricity prices with a disproportionate impact on low-income or fixed-income households . . . .”*

Both pieces of legislation reflect major misunderstandings of the Clean Power Plan, and they would harm consumers considerably. Here’s why:

The Clean Power Plan will benefit consumers by mitigating climate change. Climate change poses a severe threat to American consumers, and in particular to vulnerable populations. A few of the most salient risks include:

  • higher taxes and market prices to cover the costs of widespread damage to infrastructure and other property from extreme weather;
  • diminished quality and higher prices for food and water, heightening food insecurity for America’s most vulnerable populations; and
  • increased illness and disease from extreme heat events, reduced air quality, and increased food-borne, water-borne, and insect-borne pathogens.

The Clean Power Plan will benefit consumers by curbing carbon pollution, which will mitigate these harms. The Plan will also reduce other forms of pollution from the nation’s dirtiest power plants, like emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. As a result, it will boost public health further, reducing both premature deaths and non-fatal cardiovascular disease.

The Clean Power Plan will lower consumers’ electricity bills. The Clean Power Plan should lower consumer costs, not raise them, because it will spur improvements in energy efficiency. Although electricity prices may rise modestly under the Plan, consumers will use less electricity, resulting in lower bills overall. The EPA projects that the Plan will lower consumer bills by 8.4 percent by 2030. A Public Citizen analysis suggests that the EPA  estimate is conservative, overestimating the cost of efficiency programs and underestimating how much progress the states can make on efficiency. Consumer costs are likely to decline by even more than the agency projects.

States should serve their consumers and protect vulnerable populations. If these consumer benefits don’t materialize, then it is likely the states, not the EPA, that will bear responsibility. The states can take a lead role in implementing the Clean Power Plan by writing their own compliance plans. State policymakers can choose to implement the Plan in a manner that benefits or harms consumers and protects or burdens vulnerable populations. State governments have a responsibility to serve their citizens and protect vulnerable communities. The amendment is wrong to excuse the states from those duties and suggest that the responsibility for harming consumers lies with section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, a statute that protects the public by safeguarding our health.

What’s really going on here is a familiar story: Congressional Republicans are using consumer protection as an excuse to advance the interests of fossil-fuel companies. Undermining the Clean Power Plan would harm American families, making them sicker and raising the cost of basic household needs like food and electricity.

*Technically, the Portman amendment would permit the Chairman of the Budget Committee to revise the allocations in the budget resolution in light of later legislation permitting states to opt out of the Clean Power Plan for the reasons above. Members of Congress often discuss these matters as if they actually make law rather than just contemplate hypothetical future legislation.

 

© Copyright . All Rights Reserved.