Internet data centers are fueling drive to old power source: Coal

The Washington Post

Internet data centers are fueling drive to old power source: Coal

Antonio Olivo – April 17, 2024

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. – A helicopter hovers over the Gee family farm, the noisy rattle echoing inside their home in this rural part of West Virginia. It’s holding surveyors who are eyeing space for yet another power line next to the property – a line that will take electricity generated from coal plants in the state to address a drain on power driven by the world’s internet hub in Northern Virginia 35 miles away.

There, massive data centers with computers processing nearly 70 percent of global digital traffic are gobbling up electricity at a rate officials overseeing the power grid say is unsustainable unless two things happen: Several hundred miles of new transmission lines must be built, slicing through neighborhoods and farms in Virginia and three neighboring states. And antiquated coal-powered electricity plants that had been scheduled to go offline will need to keep running to fuel the increasing need for more power, undermining clean energy goals.

“It’s not right,” said Mary Gee, whose property already abuts two power lines that serve as conduits for electricity flowing toward the biggest concentration of data centers – in Loudoun County, home to what’s known as Data Center Alley. “These power lines? They’re not for me and my family. I didn’t vote on this. And the data centers? That’s not in West Virginia. That’s a whole different state.”

The $5.2 billion effort has fueled a backlash against data centers through the region, prompting officials in Virginia to begin studying the deeper impacts of an industry they’ve long cultivated for the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue it brings to their communities.

Critics say it will force residents near the coal plants to continue living with toxic pollution, ironically to help a state – Virginia – that has fully embraced clean energy. And utility ratepayers in the affected areas will be forced to pay for the plan in the form of higher bills, those critics say.

But PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator, says the plan is necessary to maintain grid reliability amid a wave of fossil fuel plant closures in recent years, prompted by the nation’s transition to cleaner power.

Power lines will be built across four states in a $5.2 billion effort that, relying on coal plants that were meant to be shuttered, is designed to keep the electric grid from failing amid spiking energy demands.

Cutting through farms and neighborhoods, the plan converges on Northern Virginia, where a growing data center industry will need enough extra energy to power 6 million homes by 2030.

With not enough of those green energy facilities connected to the grid yet, enough coal and natural gas energy to power 32 million homes is expected to be lost by 2030 at a time when the demand from the growing data center industry, electric vehicles and other new technology is on the rise, PJM says.

“The system is in a major transition right now, and it’s going to continue to evolve,” Ken Seiler, PJM’s senior vice president in charge of planning, said in a December stakeholders’ meeting about the effort to buy time for green energy to catch up. “And we’ll look for opportunities to do everything we can to keep the lights on as it goes through this transition.”

A need for power

Data centers that house thousands of computer servers and the cooling equipment needed for them to run have been multiplying in Northern Virginia since the late 1990s, spreading from the industry’s historic base in Loudoun County to neighboring Prince William County and, recently, across the Potomac River into Maryland. There are nearly 300 data centers now in Virginia.

With Amazon Web Services pursuing a $35 billion data center expansion in Virginia, rural portions of the state are the industry’s newest target for development.

The growth means big revenue for the localities that host the football-field-size buildings. Loudoun collects $600 million in annual taxes on the computer equipment inside the buildings, making it easier to fund schools and other services. Prince William, the second-largest market, collects $400 million per year.

But data centers also consume massive amounts of energy.

One data center can require 50 times the electricity of a typical office building, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Multiple-building data center complexes, which have become the norm, require as much as 14 to 20 times that amount.

The demand has strained utility companies, to the point where Dominion Energy in Virginia briefly warned in 2022 that it may not be able to keep up with the pace of the industry’s growth.

The utility – which has since accelerated plans for new power lines and substations to boost its electrical output – predicts that by 2035 the industry in Virginia will require 11,000 megawatts, nearly quadruple what it needed in 2022, or enough to power 8.8 million homes.

The smaller Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative recently told PJM that the more than 50 data centers it serves account for 59 percent of its energy demand. It expects to need to serve about 110 more data centers by July 2028.

Meanwhile, the amount of energy available is not growing quickly enough to meet that future demand. Coal plants have scaled down production or shut down altogether as the market transitions to green energy, hastened by laws in Maryland and Virginia mandating net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and, for several other states in the region, by 2050.

Dominion is developing a 2,600-megawatt wind farm off Virginia Beach – the largest such project in U.S. waters – and the company recently gained state approval to build four solar projects.

But those projects won’t be ready in time to absorb the projected gap in available energy. Opponents of PJM’s plan say it wouldn’t be necessary if more green energy had been connected to the grid faster, pointing to projects that were caught up in bureaucratic delays for five years or longer before they were connected.

A PJM spokesperson said the organization has recently sped up its approval process and is encouraging utility companies and federal and state officials to better incorporate renewable energy.

About 40,000 megawatts of green energy projects have been cleared for construction but are not being built because of issues related to financing or siting, the PJM spokesperson said.

Once more renewable energy is available, some of the power lines being built to address the energy gap may no longer be needed as the coal plants ultimately shut down, clean energy advocates say – though utility companies contend the extra capacity brought by the lines will always be useful.

“Their planning is just about maintaining the status quo,” Tom Rutigliano, a senior advocate for clean energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said about PJM. “They do nothing proactive about really trying to get a handle on the future and get ready for it.”

‘Holding on tight’ to coal

The smoke from two coal plants near West Virginia’s border with Pennsylvania billows over the city of Morgantown, adding a brownish tint to the air.

Nearby sits the 502 Junction substation, connected to those plants and a third one about 43 miles away via existing power lines, which will serve as a terminus for a western prong of the PJM plan for new lines that will extend to another substation in Frederick, Md., then south into Northern Virginia.

The owner of one of the Morgantown-area plants, Longview LLC, recently emerged from bankruptcy. After a restructuring, the facility is fully functioning, utilizing a solar farm to supplement its coal energy output.

The other two plants belong to the Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. utility, which had plans to significantly scale down operations there to meet a company goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third over the next six years.

The FirstEnergy plants have been equipped with carbon-capturing technology but they’re still among the state’s worst polluters, said Jim Kotcon, a West Virginia University plant pathology professor who oversees conservation efforts at the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter.

The Harrison plant pumped out a combined 12 million tons of coal pollutants like sulfur and nitrous oxides in 2023, more than any other fossil fuel plant in the state, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. The Fort Martin plant, which has been operating since the late 1960s, emitted the state’s highest levels of nitrous oxides in 2023, at 5,240 tons.

After PJM tapped the company to build a 36-mile-long portion of the planned power lines for $392 million, FirstEnergy announced in February that the two plants will continue operating until 2035 and 2040, citing the need for grid reliability.

The news has sent FirstEnergy’s stock price up by 4 percent, to about $37 a share this week, and was greeted with jubilation by West Virginia’s coal industry.

“We welcome this, without question, because it will increase the life of these plants and hundreds of thousands of mining jobs,” said Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “We’re holding on tight to our coal plants.”

Since 2008, annual coal production in West Virginia has dipped by nearly half, to about 82 million tons, though the industry – which contributes about $5.5 billion to the state’s economy – has rebounded some due to an export market to Europe and Asia, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said his association will lobby hard for FirstEnergy’s portion of the PJM plan to gain state approval. The company said it will submit its application for its power line routes in mid-2025.

More than 200 miles to the east in Maryland, environmental groups and ratepayer advocates are fighting an effort by PJM to extend the life of two more coal plants – Brandon Shores and Herbert A. Wagner – just outside of Baltimore, which were slated to close by June 2025.

PJM asked the plants’ owner, Texas-based Talen Energy Corp., to keep them running through 2028 – with the yet-to-be determined cost of doing so passed on to ratepayers.

That would mean amending a 2018 federal court consent decree, in which Talen agreed to stop burning coal to settle a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club over Clean Water Act violations. The Sierra Club has rejected PJM’s calls to do so.

“We need a proactive plan that is consistent with the state’s clean energy goals,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter, which has proposed an alternative plan to build a battery storage facility at the Brandon Shores site that would cut the time needed for the plants to operate.

A PJM spokesperson said the organization believes that such a facility wouldn’t provide enough reliable power and is not ruling out seeking a federal emergency order to keep the coal plants running.

With the matter still unresolved, nearby residents say they are anxious to see them closed.

“It’s been really challenging,” said John Garofolo, who lives in the Stoney Beach neighborhood community of townhouses and condominiums, where coal dust drifts into the neighborhood pool when the facilities are running. “We’re concerned about the air we’re breathing here.”

Sounding alarms

Keryn Newman, a Charles Town activist, has been sounding alarms in the small neighborhoods and farm communities along the path of the proposed power lines in West Virginia.

Newman, who in the late 2000s waged a successful campaign to stop a plan for a 765-kilovolt line extending through the area into Maryland before the data center boom, sees the battle in terms of the more affordable, quieter lifestyle she and her neighbors cherish.

Because FirstEnergy prohibits any structure from interfering with a power line, building a new line along the right of way – which would be expanded to make room for the third line – would mean altering the character of residents’ properties, Newman said.

“It gobbles up space for play equipment for your kid, a pool or a barn,” she said. “And a well or septic system can’t be in the right of way.”

A FirstEnergy spokesperson said the company would compensate property owners for any land needed, with eminent domain proceedings a last resort if those property owners are unwilling to sell.

Some have accepted that more power lines will come through and seem open to selling to FirstEnergy and moving away.

Pam and Gary Gearhart fought alongside Newman against the defeated 765-kilovolt line, which would have forced them to move a septic system near FirstEnergy’s easement. But when Newman showed up recently to their Harpers Ferry-area neighborhood to discuss the new PJM plan, the couple appeared unwilling to fight again.

Next door, another family had already decided to leave, the couple said, and was in the midst of loading furniture into a truck when Newman showed up.

“They’re just going to keep okaying data centers; there’s money in those things,” Pam Gearhart said about local governments in Virginia benefiting from the tax revenue. “Until they run out of land down there.”

In Loudoun County, where the data center industry’s encroachment into neighborhoods has fostered resentment, community groups are fighting a portion of the PJM plan that would build power lines through the mostly rural communities of western Loudoun.

The lines would damage the views offered by surrounding wineries and farms that contribute to Loudoun’s $4 billion tourism industry, those groups say.

Bill Hatch owns a winery that sits near the path of where PJM suggested one high-voltage line could go, though that route is still under review.

“This is going to be a scar for a long time,” Hatch said.

Reconsidering the benefits

Amid the backlash, local and state officials are reconsidering the data center industry’s benefits.

The Virginia General Assembly has launched a study that, among other things, will look at how the industry’s growth may affect energy resources and utility rates for state residents.

But that study has held up efforts to regulate the industry sooner, frustrating activists.

“We should not be subsidizing this industry for another minute, let alone another year,” Julie Bolthouse, director of land use at the Piedmont Environmental Council, chided a Senate committee that voted in February to table a bill that would force data center companies to pay more for new transmission lines.

Loudoun is moving to restrict where in the county data centers can be built. Up until recently, data centers have been allowed to be built without special approvals wherever office buildings are allowed.

“They’re great neighbors, great taxes, all that sort of thing,” Phyllis Randall (D), chair of the county board, said about the industry before a February vote to set that plan in motion. “But somehow, someway, it started to get away from us.”

But such action will do little to stem the worries of people like Mary and Richard Gee.

As it is, the two lines near their property produce an electromagnetic field strong enough to charge a garden fence with a light current of electricity, the couple said. When helicopters show up to survey the land for a third line, the family’s dog, Peaches, who is prone to seizures, goes into a barking frenzy.

An artist who focuses on natural landscapes, Mary Gee planned to convert the barn that sits in the shadow of a power line tower to a studio. That now seems unlikely, she said.

Lately, her paintings have reflected her frustration. One picture shows birds with beaks wrapped shut by transmission line. Another has a colorful scene of the rural Charles Town area severed by a smoky black and gray landscape of steel towers and a coal plant.

“It feels like harassment,” Gee said. “But there’s no one we can call for help.”

Climate impacts set to cut 2050 global GDP by nearly a fifth


Climate impacts set to cut 2050 global GDP by nearly a fifth

Marlowe Hood – April 17, 2024

A new study shows that climate change will cause massive economic damage within the next 25 years (Frederic J. BROWN)
A new study shows that climate change will cause massive economic damage within the next 25 years (Frederic J. BROWN)

Climate change caused by CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere will shrink global GDP in 2050 by about $38 trillion, or almost a fifth, no matter how aggressively humanity cuts carbon pollution, researchers said Wednesday.

But slashing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible remains crucial to avoid even more devastating economic impacts after mid-century, they reported in the journal Nature.

Economic fallout from climate change, the study shows, could increase tens of trillions of dollars per year by 2100 if the planet were to warm significantly beyond two degrees Celsius above mid-19th century levels.

Earth’s average surface temperature has already climbed 1.2C above that benchmark, enough to amplify heatwaves, droughts, flooding and tropical storms made more destructive by rising seas.

Annual investment needed to cap global warming below 2C — the cornerstone goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement — is a small fraction of the damages that would be avoided, the researchers found.

Staying under the 2C threshold “could limit average regional income loss to 20 percent compared to 60 percent” in a high-emissions scenario, lead author Max Kotz, an expert in complexity science at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), told AFP.

Economists disagree on how much should be spent to avoid climate damages. Some call for massive investment now, while others argue it would be more cost-effective to wait until societies are richer and technology more advanced.

– Poor countries hit hardest –

The new research sidesteps this debate, but its eye-watering estimate of economic impacts helps make the case for ambitious near-term action, the authors and other experts said.

“Our calculations are super relevant” to such cost-benefit analyses, said co-author Leonie Wenz, also a researcher at PIK.

They could also inform government strategies for adapting to climate impacts, risk assessments for business, and UN-led negotiations over compensation for developing nations that have barely contributed to global warming, she told AFP.

Mostly tropical nations — many with economies already shrinking due to climate damages — will be hit hardest, the study found.

“Countries least responsible for climate change are predicted to suffer income loss that is 60 percent greater than the higher-income countries and 40 percent greater than higher-emission countries,” said senior PIK scientist Anders Levermann.

“They are also the ones with the least resources to adapt to its impacts.”

Rich countries will not be spared either: Germany and the United States are forecast to see income shrivel by 11 percent by 2050, and France by 13 percent.

Projections are based on four decades of economic and climate data from 1,600 regions rather than country-level statistics, making it possible to include damages earlier studies ignored, such as extreme rainfall.

– A likely underestimate –

The researchers also looked at temperature fluctuations within each year rather than just averages, as well as the economic impact of extreme weather events beyond the year in which they occurred.

“By accounting for these additional climate variables, the damages are about 50 percent larger than if we were to only include changes in annual average temperatures,” the basis of most prior estimates, said Wenz.

Wenz and her colleagues found that unavoidable damage would slash the global economy’s GPD by 17 percent in 2050, compared to a scenario with no additional climate impacts after 2020.

Even so, the new calculations may be conservative.

“They are likely to be an underestimate of the costs of climate change impacts,” Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, commented to AFP ahead of the study’s publication.

Damages linked to sea-level rise, stronger tropical cyclones, the destabilisation of ice sheets and the decline of major tropical forests are all excluded, he noted.

Climate economist Gernot Wagner, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York who was also not involved in the study, said the conclusion that “trillions in damages are all locked in doesn’t mean that cutting carbon pollution doesn’t pay.”

In fact, he said, it shows that “the costs of acting are a fraction of the costs of unmitigated climate change”.

Global GDP in 2022 was just over $100 trillion, according to the World Bank. The study projects that — absent climate impacts after 2020 — it would be double that in 2050.

Climate change damage could cost $38 trillion per year by 2050, study finds


Climate change damage could cost $38 trillion per year by 2050, study finds

Riham Alkousaa – April 17, 2024

FILE PHOTO: French lake dries up due to winter drought, threatening farming and tourism

BERLIN (Reuters) – Damage to farming, infrastructure, productivity, and health from climate change will cost an estimated $38 trillion per year by 2050, German government-backed research finds, a figure almost certain to rise as human activity emits more greenhouse gases.

The economic impact of climate change is not fully understood, and economists often disagree on its extent.

Wednesday’s study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), which is backed by the German government, stands out for the severity of its findings.

It calculates climate change will shave 17% off the global economy’s GDP by the middle of the century.

“The world population is poorer than it would be without climate change,” Potsdam climate data researcher Leonie Wenz, a co-author on the study, said. “It costs us much less to protect the climate than not to.”

At an estimated $6 trillion, the cost of measures to limit global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) of pre-industrial temperatures by 2050 would be less than a sixth of the cost of the estimated damage caused by allowing warming to exceed that level, the report said.

While previous studies have concluded climate change could benefit some countries’ economies, PIK’s research found almost all would suffer – with poor, developing nations the hardest hit.

Its estimation of damage is based on projected temperature and rainfall trends, but does not take into account extreme weather or other climate-related disasters such as forest fires or rising sea levels.

It is also only based on emissions already released, even though global emissions continue to rise at record levels.

As well as spending too little to curb climate-warming emissions, governments are also under-spending on measures to adapt to the impact of climate change.

For the study, the researchers looked at temperature data and rainfall for more than 1,600 regions over the last 40 years, and considered which of these events were costly.

They then used that damage assessment, along with climate model projections, to estimate future damage.

If emissions continue at today’s rate – and the average global temperature climbs beyond 4C – the estimated economic toll after 2050 amounts to a 60% income loss by 2100, the findings suggest. Limiting the rise in temperatures to 2C would contain those losses at an average of 20%.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, Editing by Rachel More, Katy Daigle and Barbara Lewis)

New study calculates climate change’s economic bite will hit about $38 trillion a year by 2049

Associated Press

New study calculates climate change’s economic bite will hit about $38 trillion a year by 2049

Seth Borenstein – April 17, 2024

FILE - People watch the sunset at a park on an unseasonably warm day, Feb. 25, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
People watch the sunset at a park on an unseasonably warm day, Feb. 25, 2024, in Kansas City, Mo. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - A man buys a cool drink from a roadside vendor on a sunny day in Mahawewa, a village north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 29, 2024. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)
A man buys a cool drink from a roadside vendor on a sunny day in Mahawewa, a village north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb. 29, 2024. A new study says climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

Climate change will reduce future global income by about 19% in the next 25 years compared to a fictional world that’s not warming, with the poorest areas and those least responsible for heating the atmosphere taking the biggest monetary hit, a new study said.

Climate change’s economic bite in how much people make is already locked in at about $38 trillion a year by 2049, according to Wednesday’s study in the journal Nature by researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. By 2100 the financial cost could hit twice what previous studies estimate.

“Our analysis shows that climate change will cause massive economic damages within the next 25 years in almost all countries around the world, also in highly-developed ones such as Germany and the U.S., with a projected median income reduction of 11% each and France with 13%,” said study co-author Leonie Wenz, a climate scientist and economist.

These damages are compared to a baseline of no climate change and are then applied against overall expected global growth in gross domestic product, said study lead author Max Kotz, a climate scientist. So while it’s 19% globally less than it could have been with no climate change, in most places, income will still grow, just not as much because of warmer temperatures.

For the past dozen years, scientists and others have been focusing on extreme weather such as heat waves, floods, droughts, storms as the having the biggest climate impact. But when it comes to financial hit the researchers found “the overall impacts are still mainly driven by average warming, overall temperature increases,” Kotz said. It harms crops and hinders labor production, he said.

“Those temperature increases drive the most damages in the future because they’re really the most unprecedented compared to what we’ve experienced historically,” Kotz said. Last year, a record-hot year, the global average temperature was 1.35 degrees Celsius (2.43 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial times, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The globe has not had a month cooler than 20th century average since February 1979.

In the United States, the southeastern and southwestern states get economically pinched more than the northern ones with parts of Arizona and New Mexico taking the biggest monetary hit, according to the study. In Europe, southern regions, including parts of Spain and Italy, get hit harder than places like Denmark or northern Germany.

Only Arctic adjacent areas — Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden — benefit, Kotz said.

It also means countries which have historically produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions per person and are least able to financially adapt to warming weather are getting the biggest financial harms too, Kotz said.

The world’s poorest countries will suffer 61% bigger income loss than the richest ones, the study calculated.

“It underlies some of the injustice elements of climate,” Kotz said.

This new study looked deeper than past research, examining 1,600 global areas that are smaller than countries, took several climate factors into account and examined how long climate economic shocks last, Kotz said. The study examined past economic impacts on average global domestic product per person and uses computer simulations to look into the future to come up with their detailed calculations.

The study shows that the economic harms over the next 25 years are locked in with emission cuts producing only small changes in the income reduction. But in the second half of this century that’s when two different possible futures are simulated, showing that cutting carbon emissions now really pays off because of how the heat-trapping gases accumulate, Kotz said.

If the world could curb carbon pollution and get down to a trend that limits warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, which is the upper limit of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, then the financial hit will stay around 20% in global income, Kotz said. But if emissions increase in a worst case scenario, the financial wallop will be closer to 60%, he said.

That shows that the public shouldn’t think it’s a financial “doomsday” and nothing can be done, Kotz said.

Still, it’s worse than a 2015 study that predicted a worst case income hit of about 25% by the end of the century.

Marshall Burke, the Stanford University climate economist who wrote the 2015 study, said this new research’s finding that the economic damage ahead is locked in and large “makes a lot of sense.”

Burke, who wasn’t part of this study, said he has some issues with some of the technical calculations “so I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on their specific numerical estimates, but I think the big picture is basically right.”

The conclusions are on the high end compared to other recent studies, but since climate change goes for a long time and economic damage from higher temperatures keep compounding, they “add up to very large numbers,” said University of California Davis economist and environmental studies professor Frances Moore, who wasn’t part of the study. That’s why fighting climate change clearly passes economists’ tests of costs versus benefits, she said.

‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Los Angeles Times

‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Karen Kaplan – April 16, 2024

Donna Cooper holds up a dose of Wegovy, a drug used for weight loss.
Wegovy is part of a new generation of weight-loss medications that made some doctors optimistic about reversing longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in obesity. So far, the pricey drugs seem to have made those disparities worse. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

For the record:
9:10 p.m. April 15, 2024An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo of the University of Florida as Jigchuan.

The American Heart Assn. calls them “game changers.”

Oprah Winfrey says they’re “a gift.”

Science magazine anointed them the “2023 Breakthrough of the Year.”

Americans are most familiar with their brand names: Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, Zepbound. They are the medications that have revolutionized weight loss and raised the possibility of reversing the country’s obesity crisis.

Obesity — like so many diseases — disproportionately affects people in racial and ethnic groups that have been marginalized by the U.S. healthcare system. A class of drugs that succeeds where so many others have failed would seem to be a powerful tool for closing the gap.

Instead, doctors who treat obesity, and the serious health risks that come with it, fear the medications are making this health disparity worse.

“These patients have a higher burden of disease, and they’re less likely to get the medicine that can save their lives,” said Dr. Lauren Eberly, a cardiologist and health services researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “I feel like if a group of patients has a disproportionate burden, they should have increased access to these medicines.”

Why don’t they? Experts say there are a multitude of reasons, but the primary one is cost.

The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care.
The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Ozempic, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar and reduce their risk of serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes, has a list price of $968.52 for a 28-day supplyWegovy, a higher dose of the same medicine that’s FDA-approved for weight loss in people with obesity or who are overweight and have a weight-related condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, goes for $1,349.02 every four weeks.

Mounjaro is a similar drug approved by the FDA to improve blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes patients, and it comes with a list price of $1,069.08 for 28 days of medicineZepbound, a version of the same drug approved for weight loss, has a slightly lower price tag of $1,059.87 per 28 days. For now, at least, all the new drugs are meant to be taken indefinitely.

Read more: The new beauty regimen: Lose weight with Ozempic, tighten up with cosmetic surgery

Few health insurance programs cover the medications when prescribed to help people reach and maintain a healthy weight. Federal law requires that weight loss drugs be excluded from basic coverage in Medicare Part D plans, and as of early 2023, only 10 states included an antiobesity medication in the formularies for their Medicaid programs.

“If everybody had equal access, then this would be a way to help,” said Dr. Rocio Pereira, chief of endocrinology at Denver Health. “But without equal access — which is what we have now — it’s likely this is going to increase the disparity we see.”

U.S. obesity rates have been rising for decades, and they’re consistently higher for Black and Latino Americans. Among adults 20 and older, 49.9% of Black Americans and 45.6% of Hispanic Americans have a body mass index of 30 or greater, compared with 41.1% of white American adults and 16.1% of Asian American adults, according to age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity rates are also associated with income. In 2022, the age-adjusted rate was 38.4% for adults with household incomes between $15,000 and $24,999, compared with 34.1% for those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

The two are related, said Pereira, who studies health disparities in diseases related to obesity. Black and Latino Americans are more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods, where fast food is usually cheaper and more convenient than grocery stores.

“If you look at a map of the U.S. and plot out the neighborhoods where there’s no grocery store within a mile and there’s a high percentage of people who have no car, those are the areas where there’s the highest rates of obesity,” she said.

There’s also the time factor, she said: “Can you afford to cook your own meals, or do you have to work two jobs?”

An unusual experiment by the Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrated the degree to which physical surroundings can influence obesity risk, Pereira said. In the 1990s, hundreds of mothers who were living in public housing were offered housing vouchers they could use only in wealthier neighborhoods. Ten to 15 years later, the women randomly assigned to receive the windfall had significantly lower rates of severe obesity (14.4%) than women in a control group who weren’t offered vouchers (17.7%). They were also less likely to have a body mass index of 35 or higher (31.1% vs. 35.5%).

Two obese women talk in New York.
Two women talk in New York. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

The American Medical Assn. recognized obesity as a disease in 2013. People with the chronic condition are at heightened risk of cardiovascular diseaseType 2 diabetes, 13 types of cancer, osteoarthritis, asthma and other health problems. Researchers have pegged the annual medical costs associated with obesity at $174 billion in the U.S. alone.

Some people with obesity are able to lose weight by changing their diets and burning more calories through exercise. But that doesn’t work for people who have developed resistance to leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite.

“If you try to lose weight with diet and exercise, your body is going to fight you,” said Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Your leptin levels go down, and when leptin goes down, a signal goes to the brain that you don’t have enough fat to survive.” That prompts the release of another hormone, ghrelin, that triggers feelings of hunger.

Read more: Ozempic overdose? Poison control experts explain why thousands OD’d this year

Leptin resistance also makes exercise less worthwhile.

“Your body fights you by decreasing your total energy expenditure,” Apovian said. “When your muscles work, they work more efficiently. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you’re going to get really, really hungry. And you can’t fight that. Your body thinks it’s starving to death.”

The “breakthrough” drugs counteract this by impersonating a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, that’s involved in appetite regulation. Inside cells, the drugs bind with the same receptors as GLP-1, reducing blood sugar and slowing digestion. They also last longer than their natural counterparts.

Oprah Winfrey walks onstage during the 55th NAACP Image Awards in March
Oprah Winfrey credits the new generation of medications for helping her keep her weight under control. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

The first so-called GLP-1 receptor agonist was approved in 2005 to treat diabetes, and early versions had to be injected once or twice a day. Ozempic improved on this by requiring an injection only once a week. After clinical trials showed that the drug helped people with obesity achieve substantial, sustainable weight loss, the FDA approved Wegovy as a weight management drug in 2021.

Mounjaro and Zepbound also mimic GLP-1, along with a related hormone called glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide, or GIP.

Read more: Ozempic rehashed the fierceness of diet culture and body shaming in Latinx culture

Linda Morales credits Ozempic and Mounjaro for helping her lose 100 pounds and drop from a size 22 to a size 14. The 25-year-old instructional aide at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood said she started to become overweight in middle school and carried 293 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame when she was referred to the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health at Cedars-Sinai two years ago.

She is no longer breathless when she climbs stairs, has an easier time when she goes bowling and fits comfortably into the seat on the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Thanks to the medications, she is no longer on a path toward Type 2 diabetes.

Her job with the Los Angeles Unified School District comes with health insurance that covers the pricey drugs and charges her a copay of $30 a month for her Mounjaro prescription. She said she could swing a monthly payment of up to $50, but beyond that she’d have to stop taking the drug and hope the lifestyle changes she’d made would be enough to sustain the weight loss she’s achieved so far.

“It would definitely get hard for me, for sure,” Morales said.

Indeed, even when the drugs are covered by insurance or patients qualify for discounts from pharmaceutical companies, researchers have found that they often remain out of reach.

In one study, Eberly and her colleagues examined insurance claims for nearly 40,000 people who received a prescription for GLP-1 copycats. Patients who had to pay at least $50 a month to fill their prescriptions were 53% less likely to get most of their refills over the course of a year compared to patients whose copayments were less than $10. Even patients whose out-of-pocket costs were between $10 and $50 were 38% less likely to buy the medicine regularly for a full year, the team found.

In another study of insured patients with Type 2 diabetes, those who were Black were 19% less likely to be treated with these drugs than those who were white, while Latino patients were 9% less likely to get them, Eberly and her colleagues reported.

Read more: Forget gym memberships. Employees want Ozempic in their benefits packages

In some parts of the country, Black patients with diabetes are only half as likely as white patients to get GLP-1 drugs, according to research by Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo at the University of Florida, who studies health disparities in pharmaceutical access. The disparity was greatest in places with the highest overall usage of the medications, including New York, Silicon Valley and south Florida.

“In those places, the drug is actually widening the gap,” she said.

Researchers have spent years documenting racial disparities in the use of effective treatments for obesity, such as bariatric surgery. Newer drugs such as Ozempic simply bring the problem into sharper focus, said Dr. Hamlet Gasoyan, an investigator with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Value-Based Care Research.

“We get excited every time a new, effective treatment becomes available,” Gasoyan said. “But we should be equally concerned that this new and effective treatment reduces disparities between the haves and have-nots.”

Red state coal towns still power the West Coast. We can’t just let them die

Los Angeles Times

Red state coal towns still power the West Coast. We can’t just let them die

Sammy Roth – April 16, 2024

Colstrip, Montana, Monday, December 4, 2024 - The Colstrip Power Plant delivers power to Washington State and faces a possible shutdown or reduction of capacity, putting in doubt the future of a century old community that has thrived on it's existence. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
The Colstrip coal plant lights up the night, generating power mostly for Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In the early morning light, it’s easy to mistake the towering gray mounds for an odd-looking mountain range — pale and dull and devoid of life, some pine trees and shrublands in the foreground with lazy blue skies extending up beyond the peaks.

But the mounds aren’t mountains.

They’re enormous piles of dirt, torn from the ground by crane-like machines called draglines to open paths to the rich coal seams beneath. And even though we’re in rural southeastern Montana, more than 800 miles from the Pacific Ocean, West Coast cities are largely to blame for the destruction of this landscape.

Workers at the Rosebud Mine load coal onto a conveyor belt, which carries the planet-wrecking fuel to a power plant in the small town next door. Plant operators in Colstrip burn the coal to produce electricity, much of which is shipped by power line to homes and businesses in the Portland and Seattle areas. It’s been that way for decades.

“The West Coast markets are what created this,” Anne Hedges says, as we watch a dragline move dirt.

An aerial view of the coal mine outside Colstrip that feeds the town's power plant.
An aerial view of the coal mine outside Colstrip that feeds the town’s power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

She sounds frustrated, and with good reason.

Hedges and her fellow Montana environmentalists were happy when Oregon and Washington passed laws requiring 100% clean energy in the next two decades. But they’re furious that electric utilities in those states are planning to stick with coal for as long as the laws allow, and in some cases making deals to give away their Colstrip shares to co-owners who seem determined to keep the plant running long into the future.

“Coal is not dead yet,” Hedges says. “It’s still alive and well.”

That’s an uncomfortable reality for West Coasters critical of red-state environmental policies but not in the habit of urging their politicians to work across state lines to change them — especially when doing so might involve compromise with Republicans.

One example: California lawmakers have refused to pass bills that would make it easier to share clean electricity across the West, passing up the chance to spur renewable energy development in windy red states such as Montana and Wyoming — and to show them it’s possible to create construction jobs and tax revenues with renewable energy, not just fossil fuels.

Instead, California has prioritized in-state wind and solar farms, bowing to the will of labor unions that want those jobs.

It’s hard to blame Golden State politicians, and voters, for taking the easy path.

But global warming is a global problem — and whether we like it or not, the electric grid is a giant, interconnected machine. Coal plants in conservative states help fuel the ever-deadlier heat waves, fires and storms battering California and other progressive bastions. The electrons generated by those plants flow into a network of wires that keep the lights on across the American West.

Also important: Montana and other sparsely populated conservative states control two U.S. Senate seats each, and at least three electoral votes apiece in presidential elections. Additional federal support for clean energy rests partly in their hands.

Those are the practical considerations. Then there are the ethical ones.

For years, the West’s biggest cities exported their emissions, building distant coal generators to fuel their explosive growth. Los Angeles looked to Delta, Utah. Phoenix turned to the Navajo Nation. Albuquerque turned to the Four Corners region.

That wave of coal plants — some still standing, some demolished — created well-paying jobs, lots of tax payments and a thriving way of life for rural towns and Native American tribes. All are now struggling to map out a future without fossil fuels.

Mule deer roam through the town of Colstrip, not far from the power plant.
Mule deer roam through the town of Colstrip, not far from the power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

What do big cities owe those towns and tribes for producing our power and living with our air and water pollution? Can we get climate change under control without putting them out of business? What’s their role in the clean energy transition?

If they refuse to join the transition, how should we respond?

A team of Los Angeles Times journalists spent a week in Montana trying to answer those questions.

We explored the town of Colstrip, hearing from residents about how the coal plant and mine have made their prosperous lives possible. We talked with environmental activists who detailed the damage coal has caused, and with a fourth-generation rancher whose father fought in vain to stop the power plant from getting built — and wrote poems about his struggle.

Coal is going to die, sooner or later. For the sake of myself and other young people, I hope it’s sooner.

And for the sake of places like Colstrip, I hope it’s the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of the story.

Coal pays the bills. For now

For a community of 2,000 people, Colstrip doesn’t lack for nice things.

The city is home to 32 public parks and a gorgeous community center, complete with child care, gym, spin classes, tanning booth and water slide. The spacious health clinic employs three nurses and two physical therapists, with a doctor coming to visit once a week. There’s an artificial lake filled with Yellowstone River water and circled by a three-mile walking and biking trail.

Everybody knows where the good fortune comes from.

The high school pays homage to the source of Colstrip’s wealth with the hashtag #MTCOAL emblazoned on the basketball court’s sparkling floor. A sign over the entrance to campus celebrates the town’s 2023 centennial: “100 Years of Colstrip. Powered by Coal, Strengthened by People.”

“We have nothing to hide,” Jim Atchison tells me. “We just hope that you give us a fair shake.”

Jim Atchison steps out of his office in Colstrip.
Jim Atchison steps out of his office in Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide than Atchison, who for 22 years has lived in Colstrip and led the Southeast Montana Economic Development Corp. He’s soft-spoken and meticulous, with a detailed itinerary for our day and a less ironclad allegiance to coal than many of the locals we’ll meet.

They include Bill Neumiller, a former environmental engineer at the power plant. We start our day with him, watching the sun rise over the smokestacks across the lake. He moved to Colstrip 40 years ago, when the coal plant was being built. He enjoys fishing in the well-stocked lake and teaching kids about its history, in his role as president of the parks district.

The plant, he says, pays the vast majority of the city’s property taxes.

“It’s been a great place to raise a family,” he says.

So many people have similar stories — the general manager of a local electrical contractor, the administrator of the health clinic. I especially enjoy chatting with Amber and Gary Ramsey, who have run a Subway sandwich shop here for 30 years.

“It takes us two to three hours to get through the grocery store, because you know everybody,” Gary says.

He didn’t plan to spend his life here. Sitting at a table at Subway, he tells us he grew up in South Dakota and went to college in North Dakota before taking a job teaching math and coaching wrestling in Colstrip. He planned to stay for a year or two.

Then he met Amber, who was working part-time as a bartender and doing payroll at the coal plant.

“Forty years later, I’m still here,” he says. “We raised our kids here.”

The power plant's smokestacks are visible from miles away in the town of Colstrip.
The power plant’s smokestacks are visible from miles away in the town of Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

John Williams was one of the first Montana Power Co. employees to move to Colstrip, as planning for the plant’s construction got started. Today he’s the mayor. He’s well-versed in local history, from the first coal mining in the 1920s — which supplied railroads that later switched to diesel — to the economic revitalization when the Portland and Seattle areas came calling.

Unlike many of the other Colstrip lifers who share their stories, several of Williams’ kids have left town. But one of his sons lives in a part of Washington where some of the electricity comes from Colstrip. Same for another son who lives in Idaho.

It’s hard for Williams to imagine a viable future for his home without the power plant.

“I believe they are intimately tied together,” he says.

And what about climate change, I ask?

Nearly everyone in Colstrip has a version of the same answer: Even if it’s real, it’s not nearly as bad as liberals claim. And without coal power, blackouts will reign. West Coast city-dwellers don’t understand how badly they need us here in Montana.

Atchison is an exception.

Yes, he’s dubious about climate science. And yes, he wants to save the mine and power plant. His office is plastered with pro-coal messages — a sign that says, “Coal Pays the Bills,” a magnet reading, “Prove you’re against coal mining: Turn off your electricity.”

But he knows the market for coal is shrinking as the nation’s most populous cities and most profitable companies increasingly demand climate-friendly energy. So he’s preparing for a future in which Colstrip has no choice but to start providing it.

“We have one horse in the barn now,” Atchison says. “We need to add two or three more horses to the barn.”

A conveyor belts carries coal from the Rosebud Mine to the Colstrip power plant.
A conveyor belts carries coal from the Rosebud Mine to the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ever since President Obama started trying to tighten regulations on coal power, Atchison has been developing and implementing an economic diversification strategy for Colstrip. It involves expanding broadband capacity, building a business innovation center and broadening the local energy economy beyond coal. The transmission lines connecting Colstrip with the Pacific Northwest are an especially valuable asset, capable of sending huge amounts of clean electricity to the Pacific coast.

“Colstrip is evolving from a coal community into an energy community,” Atchison says. “We’re changing. We’re not closing.”

Already, Montana’s biggest wind farm is shipping electricity west via the Colstrip lines. A Houston company is planning another power line that would run from Colstrip to North Dakota. Federal researchers are studying whether Colstrip’s coal units could be replaced with advanced nuclear reactors, or with a gas-fired power plant capable of capturing and storing its climate pollution.

West Coast voters and politicians could speed up the evolution, for Colstrip and other coal towns. Instead of just congratulating themselves for getting out of coal, they could fund training programs and invest in clean energy projects in those towns.

They’ll never fully replace the ample jobs, salaries and tax revenues currently provided by coal. But nothing lasts forever. One hundred years is a pretty good run.

Some inconvenient truths

“Great God, how we’re doin’! We’re rolling in dough,

As they tear and they ravage The Earth.

And nobody knows…or nobody cares…

About things of intrinsic worth.”

—Wally McRae, “Things of Intrinsic Worth” (1989)

Growing up outside Colstrip in the 1970s could lead to strange moments for Clint McRae, the son of a cowboy poet.

He was a teenager then, and Montana Power Co. was working to build public support for Units 3 and 4 of the coal plant. One day his eighth-grade teacher instructed everyone who supported the new coal-fired generators to stand on one side of the classroom. Everyone opposed should stand on the other side.

McRae was the only student opposed.

“And then [the teacher] gave a lecture about how important the construction of these plants was and handed out bumper stickers that said, ‘Support Colstrip Units 3 and 4,'” McRae tells me, shaking his head. “It was terribly uncomfortable.”

Rancher Clint McRae was raised outside Colstrip and has followed in his father's footsteps.
Rancher Clint McRae was raised outside Colstrip and has followed in his father’s footsteps. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Later, his mom was doing laundry and found a pro-coal bumper sticker in his pants pocket. She showed it to his cattle rancher father, Wally, “and I guess he went over there [to the school] and kicked ass and took names,” McRae says with a laugh.

Fifty years later, he’s carrying on his dad’s legacy.

We spend a morning in the Colstrip area on McRae’s sprawling ranch, admiring sandstone rock formations and herds of black angus cows. The scenery is harsh but elegant, rolling hills and pale green grasses and pink-streaked horizon lines.

“This country has a sharp edge to it,” McRae says, quoting a photographer who visited the property years ago.

The land has been in his family since the 1880s, when his great-grandfather immigrated from Scotland. He hopes his youngest daughter — who recently moved back home with her husband — will be the fifth generation to raise cattle here.

“And we just had a grandchild seven months ago, and she’s the sixth,” he says.

Rancher Clint McRae contemplates the environmental threats facing his family's land.
Rancher Clint McRae contemplates the environmental threats facing his family’s land. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

McRae wears a cowboy hat and drives a pickup truck. He tells me right away that he’s “not the kind of person who participates in government programs unless I absolutely have to.” He’s certainly got no qualms about making a living selling beef.

But McRae and his forebears defy stereotypes.

His father, Wally, not only raised cows but was also a celebrated poet, appointed by President Clinton to the National Council on the Arts. In the 1970s, he joined with other ranchers to help found Northern Plains Resource Council, an advocacy group. They were moved to act by a utility industry plan for nearly two dozen coal plants between Colstrip and Gillette, Wyo.

“I and others like me will not allow our land to be destroyed merely because it is convenient for the coal company to tear it up,” Wally McRae said, as quoted in a 50th-anniversary book published by Northern Plains.

Now in his late 80s and retired from the ranch, Wally’s got every reason to be proud of his son.

Clint has fought to limit pollution from the coal plant his dad couldn’t stop — and to ensure the cleanup of dangerous chemicals already emitted by the plant and mine. He’s written articles calling for stronger regulation of coal waste, and slamming laws that critics say would let coal companies pollute water with impunity. Like his father, he’s a member of Northern Plains.

McRae wants me to know that even though he and his dad “damn sure have a difference of opinion” with many of the people who live in town, “it was never personal.” The coal-plant employees are friends of his. He doesn’t want them to lose their jobs.

“Our kids went to school together, played sports together,” he says.

Rancher Clint McRae opens a gate on his family's land outside Colstrip.
Rancher Clint McRae opens a gate on his family’s land outside Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But even though McRae believes “we can have it both ways” — coal generation coupled with environmental protection — he’s not optimistic. And history suggests he’s right to be skeptical. Various analyses have found rampant groundwater contamination from coal plants, including Colstrip. Air pollution is another deadly concern. A peer-reviewed study last year estimated that fine-particle emissions from coal plants killed 460,000 Americans between 1999 and 2020.

Then there’s the climate crisis.

McRae doesn’t want to talk about global warming — “that’s not my bag,” he says. But he’s seen firsthand what it can look like.

In August 2021, the Richard Spring fire tore across 171,000 acres, devastating much of his ranch and nearly torching both of his family’s houses. He was on the front lines of the fast-moving blaze as part of the local volunteer firefighting crew. Temperatures topped 100 degrees, adding to the strain of dry conditions and fierce winds. McRae had never seen anything like it.

Two and a half years later, he’s still building back up his cattle numbers and letting the grass regrow.

“It burned all of our hay. It was awful,” he says.

McRae has a strong sense of history. As we drive toward the Tongue River, which forms a boundary of his ranch, he points out where members of the Arapaho, Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne tribes camped before the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, a few years ahead of his great-grandfather’s arrival in Montana. A few minutes later he stops to show off a series of tipi rings — artifacts of Indigenous life that he’s promised local tribes he’ll protect.

McRae is acutely aware that this wasn’t always ranchland — and that it probably won’t be forever.

“It’s gonna change,” he says. “Whether we embrace it or not.”

The wind and the water

Sturgeon. Bubbles. Salamander. Jimmy Neutron.

Those are “call signs” for some of the 13 employees at the Clearwater wind farm, where 131 turbines are spread across 94 square miles of Montana ranchland a few hours north of Colstrip. The nicknames are scrawled on a whiteboard in the trailer office.

Raptor. Goose. Sandman.

Clearly, they have fun here. And it’s an industry where you can make good money.

Turbines spin at sundown at NextEra Energy's Clearwater wind farm, which sends power from Montana to Oregon and Washington.
Turbines spin at sundown at NextEra Energy’s Clearwater wind farm, which sends power from Montana to Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Clearwater’s operator, Florida-based NextEra Energy, won’t disclose a salary range. But as of 2022, the median annual wage for a U.S. wind turbine technician working in electric power was $59,890, compared with $46,310 for all occupations nationally.

“If someone wants to stay close to home and still have a good career, we provide them that opportunity,” Alex Vineyard says.

Vineyard lives in nearby Miles City and manages Clearwater for NextEra, America’s largest renewable energy company. Clad in a hard hat, sweater vest and orange work gloves, he drives to a nearby turbine and walks up a staircase to show us the machinery inside. The tower is 374 feet high, meaning the tips of the blades reach 582 feet into the air.

Not far from here, hundreds of construction laborers are finishing the next two phases of the Clearwater project.

Alex Vineyard manages the Clearwater wind farm for NextEra, America's largest renewable energy company.
Alex Vineyard manages the Clearwater wind farm for NextEra, America’s largest renewable energy company. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“You can see where we build wind sites. It’s not downtown L.A.,” Vineyard says, the sunset casting a brilliant orange glow behind him. “Generally it’s rural areas — and there are limited opportunities for kids in those areas. Not a lot of great careers.”

Wind will never replace coal. The construction jobs are temporary, the permanent jobs far fewer.

But they’re better than nothing. A lot better.

As much as West Coast megacities owe it to coal towns like Colstrip to bring them along for the clean energy ride, coal towns like Colstrip owe it to themselves to take what they can get — and not let stubbornness or politics condemn them to oblivion.

Fortunately, they’ve got the power grid on their side.

In today’s highly regulated, thoroughly litigated world, long-distance power lines are incredibly hard to build. They can take years if not decades to secure all the necessary approvals — if they can get those approvals at all. As a result, wind and solar developers prize existing transmission lines, like those built to carry power from Colstrip and other coal plants to big cities.

The Clearwater wind farm offers a telling case study.

Two of Colstrip’s four coal units shut down in 2020 due to poor economics, opening up precious space on the plant’s power lines. That open space made it easier for NextEra to sign contracts to sell hundreds of megawatts of wind power to two of Colstrip’s co-owners, Portland General Electric and Puget Sound Energy — and thus get Clearwater built.

An electrical substation flanks the Colstrip power plant.
An electrical substation flanks the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Montana wind is especially useful for Oregon and Washington because it blows strongest during winter, when those states need lots of energy to stay warm. On that front, Clearwater has been a huge success. During its first winter, it had a capacity factor of 60%, meaning it produced 60% of all the power it could possibly produce, if there were enough wind 24/7.

Sixty percent is a lot — “like a home run,” Puget Sound Energy executive Ron Roberts says.

He and his colleagues want more. Puget Sound plans to build more Montana wind turbines to serve its Washington customers — again taking advantage of the Colstrip power lines.

West Coast states need to keep investing in exactly this type of project if they hope to persuade their conservative neighbors to stop fighting to save coal. The more they can bring the benefits of wind and solar power to the rest of the West, the better.

And what about those low-wind, cloudy days when wind turbines and solar panels aren’t enough to avoid blackouts?

Carl Borgquist has a plan for that.

I meet up with him near Gordon Butte — a flat-topped landmass that juts up 1,025 feet from the floor of Montana’s Musselshell River valley, four hours west of Colstrip but just over five miles from the coal plant’s power lines. There are already wind turbines atop the butte, built by the landowning Galt family with Borgquist’s help.

Borgquist assures me as we drive to the top that I’ll soon understand why this steep butte is perfect for energy storage.

“It will intuitively make sense, the elegance and simplicity of gravity as a storage medium,” he says.

Carl Borgquist admires the views from atop Gordon Butte, where he's got plans for a pumped storage project.
Carl Borgquist admires the views from atop Gordon Butte, where he’s got plans for a pumped storage project to augment Montana wind power. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There will be two reservoirs — one up on the butte, another 1,000 feet below. They’ll be filled with water from a nearby creek.

During times of day when there’s extra power on the Western electric grid — maybe temperatures are moderate in Portland and Seattle, but Montana winds are blowing strong — the Gordon Butte project will use that extra juice to pump water uphill, from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. During times of day when the grid needs more power — maybe there’s a record heat wave, and not enough wind to go around — Gordon Butte will let water flow downhill, generating electricity.

It’s called pumped storage, and it’s not a new concept. But compared with other proposals across the parched West, this one is almost miraculously noncontroversial. No environmentalists making hay over water use. No nearby residents crying foul.

Borgquist still needs to sign up a utility customer, or he would have already flipped Gordon Butte to a developer better suited to build the $1.5-billion project, which will employ 300 to 500 people during construction. But Borgquist is confident that before too long, one or two of the Pacific Northwest electric utilities preparing to ditch Colstrip will see the light.

“I’ve been waiting for the market to catch up to me,” he says.

Let’s hope it catches up soon. Because even though pumped storage won’t keep us heated and cooled and well-lit every hour of every day, neither will wind, or solar, or batteries, or anything else. No one technology will solve all our climate problems.

The sooner we learn that lesson, the sooner we can move on to the hard part.

The Colstrip power lines run near Gordon Butte.
The Colstrip power lines run near Gordon Butte, carrying coal-fired electricity — and increasingly wind energy — from Montana to Oregon and Washington. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The art of the deal

I find myself wandering the halls of the state Capitol in Helena. Christmas is a few weeks away, and there’s a spectacular tree beneath the massive dome, flanked by murals of white settlers and Indigenous Americans.

On a whim, I step into Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office and ask if he’s in. Gianforte has fought to keep the Colstrip plant open, and I want to ask him about it. I’m also curious to meet a man who easily won election despite having assaulted a journalist.

One of his representatives takes down my contact info. I never get an interview.

Despite the state’s deep-red turn in recent years, Montanans have a history of environmental consciousness, owing to their love of fishing, hunting and the great outdoors (as seen in the film “A River Runs Through It”). They approved a new state constitution in 1972 that enshrined the right to a “clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

To the frustration of Gianforte and his supporters, that right may include a stable climate.

This time last year, a Montana judge revoked the permit for a gas-fired power plant being built by the state’s largest electric utility, NorthWestern Energy, along the banks of the Yellowstone River. The judge ruled that the state agency charged with approving the gas plant had failed to consider how the facility’s heat-trapping carbon emissions would contribute to the climate crisis.

NorthWestern Energy says this gas-fired power plant on the Yellowstone River is needed to help keep the lights on.
NorthWestern Energy says this gas-fired power plant on the Yellowstone River is needed to help keep the lights on for homes and businesses. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Legislators responded by rushing to pass a law that barred state agencies from considering climate impacts.

The Yellowstone River gas plant moved forward, but the law didn’t last long. A few months after it passed, another judge ruled in favor of 16 young people suing the state over global warming, agreeing that the legislation violated their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

“This is such a solvable problem,” says Hedges, the Montana environmentalist critical of coal mining. “It’s just that nobody wants to solve it.”

Hedges is a leader of the Montana Environmental Information Center, where she’s spent three decades battling for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate. It was her advocacy group, along with the Sierra Club, that sued Montana over the state’s approval of the Yellowstone River gas plant, setting off the chain of increasingly consequential court rulings.

But as mad as she is at Gianforte — and at the local utility company executives who insist they need coal to keep the lights on in Montana — Hedges is at her most caustic when discussing the Pacific Northwest environmentalists who, in her view, have failed to do everything they can to get the Colstrip power plant shut down.

That includes the Sierra Club, which, Hedges says, has shifted its focus too quickly from shutting down coal plants to blocking the construction of new gas plants — even in places such as Montana, where coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, isn’t dead yet.

Hedges’ frustration also includes the Washington state lawmakers who passed a much-lauded bill, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, requiring electric utilities to stop buying coal power by 2025 — only to sit idly by as some of those utilities then made arrangements to give away their shares in the Colstrip plant to coal-friendly co-owners rather than negotiate agreements to shut the coal units.

“So they’re not actually decreasing carbon dioxide emissions even a little tiny bit. They are allowing this plant to continue, instead of using their vote to close this source of pollution. It’s maddening,” Hedges says.

A lone tumbleweed blows through piles of coal at the Rosebud Mine outside Colstrip, a few miles from the power plant.
A lone tumbleweed blows through piles of coal at the Rosebud Mine outside Colstrip, a few miles from the power plant. Coal is prepped for transport at the mine. Coal is transferred to a truck at the mine. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Washington officials say they tried to get Colstrip shut down but were stymied by the plant’s complicated six-company ownership structure, and by the Montana Legislature’s staunch support for coal. Sierra Club activists, meanwhile, say they’re still pushing for Colstrip’s closure, and for coal shutdowns across the country — even as they also oppose the construction of gas plants.

“From a climate perspective, gas is just as bad as coal,” says Laurie Williams, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

To avoid a future of ever-more-dangerous fires, floods and heat, we need to ditch both fossil fuels — fast.

This is the hard part. This is the part that will require compromise — for conservatives who believe anything smacking of climate change is woke liberal propaganda, and for liberals who want nothing to do with conservatives spouting that belief.

So how do we do it? How do we stop clashing and start cooperating?

First off, West Coasters need to engage in good faith with the people who have supplied their power for decades — and strike deals that might persuade those red staters to move on from coal. Deals like building more wind farms in Montana and not as many back home, even if that means fewer union jobs and lower tax revenues for California, Oregon and Washington.

It’s great that the coastal states are targeting 100% clean energy, but it’s not enough. They must bring the rest of the West along for the ride, or it won’t matter. Every solar farm in California is undermined by every ton of coal burned at Colstrip.

The lesson for folks who live in Colstrip and other Western coal towns, might be even more difficult to swallow.

L.A. and Phoenix and Portland have funded your comfortable lifestyles a long time. Now they want something different.

If Colstrip wants to stick around, it needs to start offering something different.

Climate activist Anne Hedges stands in a public park near the Colstrip power plant.
Climate activist Anne Hedges stands in a public park near the Colstrip power plant. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It’s easy to see why that’s a scary prospect. After we finish exploring the coal mine with Hedges, we drive into town and stop at one of the immaculately maintained public parks. The power plant’s two active smokestacks aren’t far, looming 692 feet over a swing set and red-and-blue bench with the letters “USA” carved into the backing.

“The climate doesn’t care who owns the power plant,” Hedges says, as steam and carbon and soot spew from the stacks.

The climate won’t care any more when Houston-based Talen Energy — which operates the plant, and which didn’t respond to requests for a tour or interview — becomes the facility’s largest owner next year, acquiring Puget Sound Energy’s shares.

Our ability to solve this problem doesn’t depend on which company is profiting off all that coal.

What it does depend on is our willingness to make hard choices, ranchers and miners and activists setting aside their differences and writing the West’s next chapter together, rather than fighting so long and so hard that the tale ends badly for everyone.

Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Cowboy poet Wally McRae learned that the hard way.

Maybe 50 years from now, his great-grandchildren will wax poetic about the beauty of Colstrip without coal.

The early-morning sky glows red over the town of Colstrip.
The early-morning sky glows red over the town of Colstrip. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

2 foods Michael Pollan always buys organic to reduce his exposure to harmful chemicals


2 foods Michael Pollan always buys organic to reduce his exposure to harmful chemicals

Hilary Brueck – April 15, 2024

  • Michael Pollan has been investigating how US farmers grow plants and raise livestock for 17 years.
  • As a result of what he’s seen, he has changed his diet in a few key ways.
  • When he shops for wheat, bread, and strawberries, he tries to find organic versions.

When Michael Pollan is shopping for his family, he tries to buy organic food.

But he knows that’s not always realistic — and that the word “organic” is not a synonym for healthy or pure. It is mired in agro-politics.

Though organically grown foods tend to be slightly more nutritious and better for the health of the planet, they aren’t always. Organic farming techniques generally also lead to lower yields, meaning farms produce less food, and it’s more expensive to buy.

Still, there are a couple of items Pollan will avoid if organic options aren’t available. That’s largely because the non-organic versions are often so laden with toxic chemicals, he told Business Insider, ahead of the release of his new documentary, “Food, Inc. 2,” which came out April 12.

“I just think it’s a good idea to keep synthetic pesticides out of your diet to the extent you can,” Pollan said. “There are practices in American agriculture that if people really knew about them, they would be outraged.”

strawberry picking
Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

After roughly 17 years of studying the food industry, Pollan can’t stomach non-organic strawberries anymore. They “are usually grown with some pretty nasty chemicals, soil fumigants and things like that,” he said.

Strawberries, with their delicate, permeable, soft skins have been a staple on the Environmental Working Group’s controversial “Dirty Dozen” list for years because the non-organic versions tend to have some of the highest surface pesticide levels of any fresh fruit or vegetable on the market.

As a result, demand for more organic strawberries has surged in recent years; organic strawberry acreage in California tripled between 2008 and 2019. (But nutrition experts stress there are still plenty of health benefits to eating regular strawberries, and giving a conventional berry a quick rinse in the sink can help reduce your pesticide exposure).

Organic strawberries aren’t grown that differently from conventionals — except when it comes to the fertilizers and weed killers farmers use. Typically, organic strawberries in the US are cultivated without soil fumigants or herbicides.

“In general, organic soils, they don’t get their fertility from chemicals, they get their fertility from compost and manure and things like that,” Pollan said. “Not in every case, but in many cases, they have more nutrients.”

wheat in field
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pollan said he also buys organic flour and bread.

Conventional wheat hasn’t gotten the same bad reputation that strawberries have. It’s not listed on the Dirty Dozen list, in part because it’s not really considered fresh produce, and we don’t tend to eat it raw.

But studies suggest that conventional grains tend to harbor higher levels of cadmium, a toxic metal found in soil, than organic versions. Pollan worries, in particular, about the level of glyphosate that’s in conventional wheat at harvest.

“Wheat farmers have taken to spraying glyphosate on their crops to kill it — it’s a weed killer and plant killer,” he said. “We’re carrying body levels of glyphosate that are much higher than they used to be.”

Scientists are still arguing about whether this trend is worrisome, and some big grainmakers in the US are already phasing out their use of pre-harvest glyphosate, but Pollan is not waiting around.

“They’re taking this toxic pesticide, which has been linked to lymphoma and is banned in many countries, and they’re spraying it on our food right before harvest, very close to the time we’re going to eat it, he said. “It’s a very good argument for buying organic wheat and organic bread.”

Vietnam handles it’s fraudsters: Is America listening? Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Associated Press

Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Aniruddha Ghosal – April 11, 2024

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thing Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

The New York Times

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman, Shane Goldmacher and Rebecca Davis O’Brien – April 10, 2024

Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)
Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

Allies of former President Donald Trump are discussing ways to elevate third-party candidates in battleground states to divert votes away from President Joe Biden, along with other covert tactics to diminish Democratic votes.

They plan to promote independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “champion for choice” to give voters for whom abortion is a top issue — and who also don’t like Biden — another option on the ballot, according to one person who is involved in the effort and who, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

Trump allies also plan to amplify the progressive environmental records of Kennedy and expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein in key states — contrasting their policies against the record-high oil production under Biden that has disappointed some climate activists.

A third parallel effort in Michigan is meant to diminish Democratic turnout in November by amplifying Muslim voters’ concerns about Biden’s support for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. Trump allies are discussing running ads in Dearborn, Michigan, and other parts of the state with large Muslim populations that would thank Biden for standing with Israel, according to three people familiar with the effort, which is expected to be led by an outside group unaffiliated with the Trump campaign.

Many of these third-party-boosting efforts will probably be run out of dark-money entities that are loosely supportive of Trump. Both the Trump campaign and the main super political action committee supporting the former president, MAGA Inc., are already aggressively framing Kennedy as a far-left radical to draw potential Democratic voters away from Biden.

Whatever the mechanism, the Trump team’s view is simple and is backed by public and private polling: The more candidates in the race, the better for Trump. Biden’s team agrees. And in a race that could be decided by tens of thousands of votes — as the last two presidential elections have been — even small shifts in the share of votes could change the result.

“There is no question that in a close presidential race, independent or minor party candidates can have a disproportionately large impact,” said Roger Stone, who is Trump’s longest-serving political adviser and who has worked on third-party campaigns, including advising Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2012.

Republican donors are pouring funds into Kennedy’s independent bid for the presidency. He has raised substantially more from donors who previously supported Trump than he has from those who backed Biden. Some are big names in Republican politics who have so far given relatively small amounts, including $3,300 last August from Elizabeth Uihlein, whose family is among the GOP’s biggest contributors.

Timothy Mellon, the largest single donor to Kennedy’s biggest super PAC, is also the largest backer of MAGA Inc. Mellon, a reclusive billionaire from one of America’s wealthiest families, has over the past year given the Kennedy super PAC $20 million and the Trump super PAC $15 million, as of the most recent disclosures that were filed in March. Another prominent Kennedy backer is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of who worked with Trump on his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump himself is intensely interested in the third-party candidates, according to aides. He is eager to know what their effect is expected to be on the race and how they are polling, although his engagement beyond asking questions of those around him is unclear.

Trump has been worried about the Libertarian Party pulling conservative voters away from him in November. But Richard Grenell, who is the former acting director of national intelligence and who is expected to play a big role in any second Trump administration, has been using his connections with Libertarian activists and donors to try to persuade them to attack Biden more than Trump, according to people familiar with his efforts.

Other Trump supporters are trying to help third-party and independent candidates with the expensive and arduous process of gathering the signatures needed to get on state ballots. Scott Presler, the conservative activist whom Lara Trump said she wanted as an early hire at the Republican National Committee, publicly reached out on social media to Stein and Cornel West, a left-wing academic who is running for president as an independent, to offer his help in collecting signatures to get them on the ballot.

Presler could not be reached for comment.

The moves by Trump allies come as the Democratic Party, alarmed by the potential for third-party candidates to swing the election, has mobilized a team of lawyers to scrutinize outsider candidates, including looking into whether they’ve followed the rules to get on state ballots.

For decades, third-party candidacies have loomed large in U.S. presidential elections. The best known in modern history is Ross Perot, whose run as a billionaire populist independent in 1992 garnered 19% of the vote and helped Bill Clinton win with only 43% of the popular vote. Ralph Nader, a Green Party candidate, siphoned votes away from Vice President Al Gore in the nail-biter 2000 presidential race against George W. Bush.

And in 2016, Stein, as the Green Party candidate, gave a meaningful — and arguably election-deciding — boost to Trump by drawing progressive voters away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That year, billionaire businessperson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a supporter of Trump, helped fund efforts to bolster Stein.

Polling shows that third-party candidates could play an especially large role in 2024. Most Americans are unhappy with the choice between Trump and Biden. Voters are increasingly disillusioned with the two major parties, and trust in American institutions has eroded over the past 30 years. Those trends provide an opening for candidates who style themselves as anti-establishment outsiders willing to blow up the system. Trump took advantage of similar conditions in 2016.

In a Quinnipiac University poll in late March, Biden and Trump both received less than 40% of the vote in a hypothetical five-way race, with Kennedy getting 13%, Stein receiving 4% and West capturing 3%.

In the multicandidate race, Trump led by a single percentage point; Biden led Trump by 3 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head race.

“The path to victory here is clearly maximizing the reach of these left-wing alternatives,” said Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who also served as Trump’s campaign chair in 2016.

“No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do,” Bannon added. “Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these guys get, the better it is for us.”

Brian Hughes, a spokesperson for Trump, described Kennedy as a “leftist and liberal with a history of supporting an extreme environmental agenda.” He said more broadly of the Democratic push to challenge outsider candidates, “While Joe Biden and his allies claim to defend democracy, they are using financial and legal resources to prevent candidates access to the ballot.”

“President Trump believes any candidate who qualifies for the ballot should be allowed to make their case to America’s voters,” he added.

For months, the Trump team has been privately polling various iterations of third-party tickets in battleground states. It has concluded that candidates floated for the Green Party and No Labels, which recently abandoned its effort to field a presidential candidate, pulled substantially more votes from Biden than from Trump.

A person briefed on other polling by Trump allies said that while it varies by state, Kennedy also pulls more votes from Biden than from Trump. The person cited as an example the Trump team’s recent private polling of voters in Arizona. Trump loses Hispanic voters by a close margin in a head-to-head contest against Biden there, but he wins Hispanic voters on the full ballot in Arizona — an indication that third-party candidates draw more heavily from Biden’s core constituencies than from Trump’s.

Still, Kennedy is seen as more of a potential threat to Trump. He has spent the past few years appearing on conservative news media programs and talking about issues like his fierce opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. Advisers to Trump say that many Republican voters don’t know anything about Kennedy’s liberal views on gun control and the environment, and the Trump team hopes to bring back some of those voters after framing Kennedy as a liberal Democrat.

Allies of Trump and Biden are in a tug of war to define Kennedy, who has far more support than any other third-party candidate.

Democratic lawyers and operatives, many of whom have privately said that neither Gore nor Hillary Clinton had teams that took third-party candidates seriously enough, are fighting hard to keep Kennedy off the ballot. The Democratic National Committee hired Lis Smith, a veteran communications operative, and tasked her with branding Kennedy as a pro-Trump spoiler candidate.

Kennedy’s campaign and the super PACs backing him have paid an array of lawyers and consultants to secure ballot access. One of the consultants, Rita Palma, was captured in a video detailing a strategy to encourage New York voters to support Kennedy: “The Kennedy voter and the Trump voter, our mutual enemy is Biden.” Palma outlined a hypothetical scenario in which Kennedy would win enough electoral votes to prevent either Trump or Biden from winning 270 electoral votes, pushing the decision to Congress in what is known as a contingent election.

On her account on the social platform X, Palma has expressed support over the years for both Kennedy and Trump. In posts first reported by CNN on Tuesday, she had endorsed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and described Sidney Powell, who has pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts related to Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, as “my person of the decade.”

Stefanie Spear, a spokesperson for the Kennedy campaign, described Palma as “a ballot-access consultant” for upcoming signature collection efforts in New York. Of Palma’s remarks about the hypothetical scenario, Spear said Palma’s statements “in no way reflect the strategy of the Kennedy campaign.”

Spear did not respond to requests for comment about the Trump allies’ efforts to elevate Kennedy, or to inquiries about Palma’s support for Trump’s claims about the 2020 election.

Many conservative news media personalities and influencers recently turned against Kennedy after he decided to run as an independent instead of as a Democrat and it became apparent that he could pull votes from Trump.

Still, one complication with attacking Kennedy is that Trump has made clear that he likes him.

Trump put out a statement on Truth Social, his social media platform, that called Kennedy “a radical-left Democrat,” but he has mostly laid off him otherwise. Trump has called Kennedy a “very smart person” and has even privately floated him as a potential running mate, though his advisers view that prospect as extremely unlikely.

An outside group aligned with Trump asked a question about a Trump-Kennedy ticket in a poll several weeks ago, according to a person with knowledge of the survey. The results were not particularly striking. Trump had told an ally that he believed Kennedy could help him with voters who were upset with him for his support of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I like Trump-Kennedy. I like the way that sounds,” Trump told another ally recently. “There’s something about that that I like.”

Trump’s Big Lie About Biden Implodes After MAGA Ally Admits Truth

The New Republic – Opinion

Trump’s Big Lie About Biden Implodes After MAGA Ally Admits Truth

Greg Sargent – April 11, 2024

Steve Bannon no doubt thought he was being deviously clever. Speaking with The New York Times this week, he elaborated on a sophisticated plan that Donald Trump’s allies have developed for boosting third-party candidates, so they siphon votes from President Biden.

A key part of this scheme, Bannon noted, entails boosting expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein by highlighting oil production under Biden to pull environmentally concerned voters away from him. As Bannon put it:

No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do. … Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these [third-party candidates] get, the better it is for us.

Whoa, that’s some serious 11-dimensional chess, Steve! Except for one thing. If you think for a second about Bannon’s quote—that “oil production under Biden is higher than ever”—it entirely undermines one of Trump’s biggest lies: the claim that Biden’s effort to transition the United States to a decarbonized economy has destroyed the nation’s “energy independence,” leaving us weak and hollow to our very core.

This saga captures something essential about how MAGA-world fights the information wars. You’ll note that Bannon is not even slightly troubled by the idea that telling the truth about Biden’s record to one set of voters—left-leaning, green-minded ones—might contradict one of Trump’s most frequent lies to countless others.

It isn’t just that for Bannon, assertions should be evaluated purely for their instrumental usefulness. It’s also that he apparently has total confidence that voters who really need to hear the truth he uttered—those in the industrial and Appalachian heartlands who are the targets of Trump’s propaganda—never, ever will, even if he admits to it right in the paper of record.

It’s hard to overstate how central Trump’s story about “energy independence” is to his campaign. His basic claim is that under his presidency, we produced record levels of oil, inherently making us strong, whereas under Biden, we’re seeing a “war on American energy” responsible for many ills: deindustrialization, vulnerability to leftist enemies within, dependence on China and other nefarious “globalist” actors, and all-around national decline.

In reality, Biden’s green policies are facilitating billions of dollars in investments in rebuilding the industrial base via green energy manufacturing, which is creating a whole lot of advanced manufacturing jobs for people without college degrees—exactly the targets of Trump’s demagoguery. Those policies are driving a manufacturing boom, ironically in red-leaning communities. Green manufacturing makes us stronger, not weaker—more prepared for a future in which climate change becomes a more pressing threat, not just to the world, but to our own national interests.

Importantly, all this is happening while the U.S., under Biden, is producing more oil and more natural gas than ever before. Incidentally, as Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler details, Trump wasn’t even that responsible for the recent oil boom anyway: It started before his presidency, thanks to new energy technologies.

“The U.S. is now producing more oil and gas than it ever has, and exporting more than ever,” Jesse Jenkins, an energy expert at Princeton University, told me. “We’re a net exporter of all fossil fuels. So we’ve achieved that long-sought goal of physical energy security.”

Now the idea of “energy independence” is confusing to begin with. Even if we export more than ever before, oil is a global commodity, which inevitably makes us vulnerable to international shocks. But the answer to that is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, not to drill more, as Trump wants. Regardless, by Trump’s own metric—that “energy independence” is good, that net exports of fossil fuel energy make us definitionally strong—we’ve achieved more of this under Biden. And critically, his policies are at the same time transitioning us to a post-carbon economy.

Bannon knows all this. Yet Trump and his allies keep repeating the contrary story. “They obviously know this narrative is a crock of lies,” Jenkins said.

It’s worth stressing that some progressive voters might nonetheless be reasonably upset about oil production under Biden. But the broader story remains that Biden is moving us toward a decarbonized economy by using the levers of government to boost demand and production of renewable energy sources over time.

“What’s important to note is that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are falling,” Jenkins says. That both this and robust oil production and exports are occurring simultaneously, he notes, would probably be viewed positively by moderate voters, including in Appalachia and the industrial Midwest.

That is, if those voters hear any of this through the fog of MAGA agitprop. Trump’s attacks on Biden’s energy “weakness” are designed to tell a meta story that has little to do with policy details: Trump will protect us from an array of shadowy forces associated with green energy—leftism, China, ill will toward good ol’ American fossil fuel–guzzling SUVs—while Biden is making us vulnerable to them.

You can see how this works in Trump’s proposal for across-the-board tariffs. These would hike prices for American consumers—they would impose a tax—even as Democrats have opted for green policies that move away from the more traditional policy of a carbon tax. Yet as Brian Beutler and Matthew Yglesias explain, Trump can still present his tariffs as a form of protection and Biden’s green agenda as a form of vulnerability, because each of these policies “code” that way for many voters.

Bannon understands all this. Strikingly, he declares that “no Republican knows” that oil production is so high under Biden, which is another way of saying that no Republican voters know that Trump is lying in their faces. Bannon and other MAGA propagandists are making sure of that. They are using their influence over information flows to those voters to ensure that the truth never reaches them. And they’re absolutely confident in their ability to succeed.