He opposed public lands and wildlife protections. Trump gave him a top environment job

The Guardian – Politics

He opposed public lands and wildlife protections. Trump gave him a top environment job

Jimmy Tobias                            
<span>Photograph: Matthew Brown/AP</span>
Photograph: Matthew Brown/AP

 

In July 2017, William Perry Pendley, a crusading conservative attorney, delivered a speech to a group of rightwing activists in North Carolina in which he was completely candid about his ideological commitments.

He accused “the media” of selling “their soul to the greens”. And after criticizing the Endangered Species Act, he made light of killing endangered species.

“This is why out west we say ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’ when it comes to the discovery of endangered species on your property,” he said, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by the Guardian. “And I have to say, as a lawyer, that’s not legal advice,” he added, as some in his audience quietly snickered at the reference to the illegal extermination, and the burial, of endangered animals.

It has been almost three years since he gave those remarks, and Pendley is now the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, a powerful agency that oversees more than 240m acres of federal land belonging to the American people, manages mineral resources and is required to comply with environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Pendley has helped turn BLM into what one high-level employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, called “a ghost ship” in which “suspicion”, “fear” and “low morale” abound, despite the best efforts of career civil servants to support each other.

As Pendley and his superiors at the interior department press ahead with an effort to move BLM’s headquarters from Washington DC to Grand Junction, Colorado, the agency has hemorrhaged staff members and lost critical institutional memory, which many critics believe was the true purpose of the relocation effort all along.

“A skeleton crew is left” at BLM headquarters, said the employee. “So few people were able to move west that a lot of people retired early and a lot of people took other jobs, so my ballpark estimate is there is only about 20% of permanent employees left” at headquarters. As a result, the agency is failing to fulfill its most basic duties, like responding to public records requests and conducting oversight of state and regional operations, the staffer added.

Environmental and government watchdog groups are now responding with a lawsuit that calls into question the legitimacy of Pendley’s position. Last week a pair of environmental nonprofits sued the interior department, alleging that by repeatedly tapping Pendley as the BLM’s acting director, rather than officially nominating him for the position, the interior secretary has skirted the Senate confirmation process usually required for high-level executive branch appointments, and has violated federal law.

“The illegitimate Pendley appointment is particularly troublesome because he has forcibly moved the BLM Headquarters from Washington DC, to remote western Colorado,” said Peter Jenkins, a senior counsel at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, one of the groups that sued. “In doing so he uprooted the lives of scores of seasoned BLM staff and disrupted this already strained agency.”

An interior department spokesperson defended Pendley’s record.

<span class="element-image__caption">The Trump administration rolled back key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with saving the gray wolf, bald eagle and grizzly bear.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images</span>The Trump administration rolled back key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with saving the gray wolf, bald eagle and grizzly bear. Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images

 

“Mr Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the department and is committed to carrying out the administration’s priorities and achieving the BLM’s … mission for the betterment of the American people,” said Conner Swanson, the spokesperson. “Mr Pendley has provided a steady hand in facilitating important matters, from the BLM headquarters move west to its response to Covid-19.” Swanson has said that the lawsuit against Pendley is “baseless”.

Pendley, a tall man with a handlebar mustache and a penchant for cowboy boots, has remarked in the past that his “personal opinions are irrelevant” to his job at BLM.

“I have a new job now. I’m a zealous advocate for my client. My client is the American people and my bosses are the president of the United States and [interior] secretary [David] Bernhardt,” Pendley said during an appearance at the conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Fort Collins, Colorado, last year. “What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant. I have orders, I have laws to obey, and I intend to do that.”

Pendley has long opposed public lands and wildlife protections. After serving in the Reagan administration in the 1980s, he became the president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), a conservative litigation organization funded by conservative and industry groups including the Charles Koch Foundation and Exxon Mobil, according to research from the watchdog groups Documented and Accountable.US.

Under Pendley’s leadership, the firm was a persistent foe of federal land agencies, getting involved in dozens of cases on behalf of industry groups and private landowners to challenge environmental protections implemented by the interior department.

Pendley became something of a fixture among the anti-government set, writing numerous books extolling rebellion against public lands and the federal government. He has expressed sympathy in the past for the Bundy family, whose militant agitation against federal land ownership included the armed takeover of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in 2016.

He has compared climate change to unicorns because “neither exist”. And in a 2016 National Review article, he laid out a case that argued for the near-total abolition of federal public lands across the nation.

Given his long history of legal advocacy on behalf of extractive industries, Pendley brought with him a 17-page recusal list of past clients, employers and investments when he took control of the BLM in 2019. The list included groups such as the American Exploration & Mining Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. It has been nearly impossible for the public to know whether Pendley has abided by his recusal list, however, because the BLM has failed to release his detailed official calendar to the public.

Though Pendley has long been a committed conservative, he has not always had kind words for Donald Trump. In a 2016 op-ed in the Daily Caller, for instance, he said then-candidate Trump “is not fit to pull off Reagan’s boots”.

Apart from Pendley’s role in moving BLM’s headquarters to Colorado, the agency under his leadership has also repeatedly proposed land management plans that heavily promote the energy industry. In March, for instance, conservationists in Montana came out aggressively against a BLM resource management plan that they believe is far too friendly to corporate oil and gas interests, according to the Billings Gazette.

In a statement issued earlier this year, Representative Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the House natural resources committee, expressed his concerns over Pendley.

“Anyone who wants our land management agencies to be functional in the future needs to recognize the seriousness of what Secretary Bernhardt, acting director Pendley, and their subordinates are doing.”

Trump seizes on pandemic to speed up opening of public lands to industry

The Guardian – Business

Trump seizes on pandemic to speed up opening of public lands to industry

Jeremy Miller, The Guardian        April 30, 2020
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

 

The Trump administration has ratcheted up its efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic to overhaul and overturn Obama-era environmental regulations and increase industry access to public lands.

The secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt, has sped efforts to drill, mine and cut timber on fragile western landscapes. Meanwhile, the EPA, headed by the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, has weakened critical environmental laws and announced in March that it would cease oversight of the nation’s polluters during the Covid-19 crisis.

The rollbacks appear to follow a playbook put forth by influential conservative thinktanks, urging the White House to use the pandemic as justification for curtailing, or eliminating, environmental rules and oversight. President Trump should have “the ability to suspend costly regulations without extensive process”, according to a recent report by the Heritage Foundation.

Critics, such as Melyssa Watson, executive director of the Wilderness Society, accuse the administration of using the pandemic as a smokescreen to further its pro-industry agenda. “From rolling back EPA’s pollution standards, to pushing for more oil and gas drilling and stifling the public review process, the federal government is fast-tracking rollbacks that deserve public scrutiny,” she said.

While millions of acres of public lands across the country have been shuttered to visitors, they remain open to oil and gas companies. And despite plummeting oil prices, the Bureau of Land Management has announced no plans to cancel, or even scale back, upcoming auctions that would make hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands across the western US available to energy companies.

One of the most controversial sales would offer up 150,000 acres in southern Utah to energy companies. Some of the parcels are located within a half-mile of Canyonlands national park. The bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

Environmentalists, however, say that the push to drill near the iconic red rock landscapes of Arches and Canyonlands is not only destructive but also unnecessary in light of an oil glut that has swamped storage capacity, driving oil prices last week into negative territory for the first time in history.

“The idea that it would be ‘critical’ work to speed up oil production on public lands while the planet drowns in oil tells you all you’d ever want to know about the corruption, both intellectual and actual, of the Trump administration,” said the climate activist and author Bill McKibben.

In addition to ramping up oil and gas development on public lands, the Department of Energy announced plans last week to “revitalize” the US uranium mining and processing industry. Such a scheme, say environmentalists, puts uranium-rich Grand Canyon national park and Bears Ears national monument at extreme risk.

“Enriching special interests with taxpayer resources so they can plunder national treasures like Bears Ears and the Grand Canyon will harm our land, water and public health,” said America Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for the Wilderness Society. “To do so in the face of a global pandemic is an abuse of public trust.”

The water demands of the uranium industry are significant. Depending on the method of extraction, a mine can require hundreds, even thousands, of gallons per minute. Those requirements are particularly onerous considering that the largest uranium deposits are found in some of the most water-starved parts of the country.

Another rule change takes aim at the western forests. In March, the BLM announced a proposal that would allow the BLM and US Forest Service to destroy large parcels of piñon and juniper forests across the western US with minimal environmental review.

Other recent Trump administration actions threaten air and water quality and herald a drastic increase in carbon emissions. At the end of March, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to roll back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards that would have increased the average fuel efficiency of the American vehicle fleet by more than 6 miles per gallon. Referred to by the EPA as “the largest deregulatory initiative of this administration”, the reduction in fuel efficiency standards will result in close to a billion additional tons of carbon emissions per year.

Days earlier, the EPA announced that it would suspend enforcement of environmental regulations during the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing industrial firms – from oil refineries to small manufacturers – to self-monitor and avoid penalties for violations if they can prove that those violations somehow resulted from the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a nationwide phenomenon,” the EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, wrote in a letter to Congress. “Diverting EPA staff time to respond to individual questions about routine monitoring and reporting requirements would hinder EPA’s ability to focus on continued protection of human health and the environment.”

Others see it differently: “This is an open license to pollute,” said the former EPA administrator and current National Resources Defense Council president Gina McCarthy. “The administration … is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”

Opinion: McConnell’s threat is a warning for Social Security and Medicare

MarketWatch -Brett Arends’s ROI

Opinion: McConnell’s threat is a warning for Social Security and Medicare

By Brett Arends            April 30, 2020

Repudiating state retirement obligations is just the beginning

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Bankruptcy before pension bailouts. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sparked a political firestorm last week when he said U.S. states should file for bankruptcy, if need be, rather than taking federal aid, which could amount to states scaling back or pulling the plug on their pension obligations.

“There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt last week. “I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” he added.

So, the big retirement news of the moment is that the top Republican in Congress would prefer that public pensions default on their obligations to retirees. What’s more, he made the remarks on exactly the same day that Social Security and Medicare trustees warned their funds are going to be depleted before most middle-aged people ever see a nickel.

But the state pension systems are small potatoes compared with the real retirement story: Social Security and Medicare.

And McConnell was speaking just as the trustees of those two systems warned that they, too, are running out of money and will need a lot of extra cash. Just don’t call it a “bailout.”

Without extra money, Social Security will exhaust its trust funds in 15 years, the trustees warn. Medicare’s Hospital Insurance fund will be exhausted in just six.

Either taxes will have to be raised, the money will have to be borrowed, or Social Security and Medicare benefits will have to be cut. Without additional funds, the cuts to monthly Social Security checks would come to around 25% per person, the trustees warn. The average Social Security benefit is $1,400 a month. Cutting that by 25% would take it down to $1,150.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the federal budget was a sea of red ink, The trump administration was already forecasting about $5 trillion in extra deficit spending between 2020 and 2025. The Congressional Budget Office was warning in January it expected the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2030. In 2016 it was $13 trillion.

McConnell’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

The senate majority leader is already on record calling for ”adjustments” to Social Security and Medicare.

“I make no apologies,” he has said. “These very, very popular entitlement programs at some point are gonna have to be adjusted.”

If McConnell is re-elected this fall, his next senate term will last until 2026. If the GOP retains its majority he would in position to continue as majority leader at a time when the funding crisis over Social Security and Medicare may come to a head.

McConnell may paint federal spending in California, Illinois and New York as a “bailout” or “aid.” But those states make huge contributions to the federal budget every year. According to the Internal Revenue Service, Californians paid $457 billion in federal taxes in 2018, New Yorkers $281 billion and Illinoisans $161 billion.

The figure from Kentucky, McConnell’s state: Just $35 billion.

The average resident of Illinois paid 63% more in federal taxes than the average resident of Kentucky.

The Rockfeller Institute says Kentucky is the third biggest moocher off the federal taxpayer, getting back $2.40 in federal spending for every $1 it pays in taxes. The only states that get back more are Virginia and Maryland—in other words, suburbs of Washington, D.C.

McConnell’s campaign is currently boasting about all the federal aid he’s getting for the state.

“ICYMI: Kentucky Receives Billions To Combat Coronavirus,” his re-election site  says. “Thanks To Sen. McConnell, Billions In Relief Lifts Every Corner Of Kentucky,” it adds. And it continues:

“As our nation grapples with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Mitch McConnell has worked to ensure Kentucky has the resources necessary to fight against this terrible disease…He recently announced that Kentucky families, workers, hospitals, and businesses will receive more than $2.7 billion in relief funds to combat this virus with even more to come for states and local communities across the U.S..”

Critics note that pension systems in states such as Illinois are subject to abuse, fraud, waste and worse.

Yet as the Utility Workers’ Union of America points out, pensions are not “gifts” from employers or taxpayers. “[T]hey are deferred compensation won at the bargaining table.”

A spokesman for the Illinois State Employees’ Retirement System admits that 2.5% of beneficiaries, or just under 2,000 out of around 75,000, collect more than $100,000 a year. But most of the recipients are teachers, police officers, firefighters and other middle-class individuals. While teachers’ have their own system, the average pension paid by SERS to everyone else is $38,826.

And if politicians are going to try and squeeze retirees making that, they’ll squeeze pretty much anybody.

Pandemic: Less air pollution means thousands fewer die

AFP – World

Pandemic: Less air pollution means thousands fewer die

Marlowe Hood, AFP                                  

 

Paris (AFP) – There will be 11,000 fewer deaths in European countries under coronavirus lockdown due to a sharp drop in fossil fuel pollution during April, according to research released Thursday.

Measures to halt the spread of coronavirus have slowed the region’s economies to a crawl, with coal-generated power falling by nearly 40 percent, and oil consumption by a third.

“This will result in 11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution,” said lead author Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

Globally, oil use has declined by about the same amount, with drops in coal consumption varying by region.

An unintended boon of shuttered factories and empty roads has been more breathable air.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and small particle pollution known as PM2.5 — both toxic by-products burning coal, oil and gas — fell 37 and 10 percent, respectively, according to the findings.

“The impacts are the same or bigger in many other parts of the world,” Myllyvirta told AFP. “So we are looking at an even larger number of avoided deaths.”

In China, for example, NO2 and PM2.5 levels declined by a 25 and 40 percent during the most stringent period of lockdown, with an even sharper fall in Hubei Province, where the global pandemic began.

Air pollution shortens lives worldwide by nearly three years on average, and causes 8.8 million premature deaths annually, according to a study last month.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates 4.2 million deaths, but has underestimated the impact on cardiovascular disease, recent research has shown.

Worst-hit is Asia, where average lifespan is cut 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India, and 3.8 years in Pakistan.

In Europe, life expectancy is shortened by eight months.

“Our analysis highlights tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way,” Myllyvirta said.

– Pollution and COVID-19 –

The happenstance evidence that less air pollution saves lives should guide governments deciding on how to reboot their economies, noted Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“When we eventually take off our face masks, we want to keep breathing clean air,” she said, commenting on the findings.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet with out relying on fossil fuels.”

Compared to other causes of premature death, air pollution worldwide kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol.

Another study comparing more than 3,000 US counties, meanwhile, found that PM 2.5 pollution is directly linked with higher COVID-19 death rates.

One extra micron per cubic metre corresponded to a 15 percent jump in COVID-19 mortality, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported earlier this month.

The results “suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” they wrote.

PM 2.5 particles penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular respiratory problems.

In 2013, the WHO classified it as a cancer-causing agent.

In India’s Uttar Pradesh — home to 200 million — small particle pollution by itself slashes life expectancy by 8.5 years, while in China’s Hebei Province (population 74 million) the shortfall is nearly six years, according to the Air Quality Life Index, developed by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago.

All but two percent of China’s cities exceeded WHO guidelines for PM2.5 levels, while 53 percent exceeded less stringent national safety limits.

The UN says PM2.5 density should not top 25 microgrammes per cubic metre (25 mcg/m3) of air in any 24-hour period. China has set the bar at 35 mcg/m3.

The new analysis from CREA matches weather conditions and changes in emissions to data on the damages to health linked to exposure to air pollution.

Wisconsin is not ‘clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections’

USA Today – Business

Fact check: Wisconsin is not ‘clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections’

Eric Litke, USA TODAY                       

As tends to happen in Wisconsin politics these days, the battle over reopening the state is headed to the courts.

The state’s Republican-led Legislature filed suit Tuesday, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stop Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration from extending the stay-at-home order into late May.

Evers had issued a “Safer at Home” order March 24, which restricted movement and business activity in the state through April 24. On April 16, that order was extended to May 26, this time signed by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald made their case for an injunction blocking Palm in a joint statement released the same day as the lawsuit. After referencing “public outcry” and condemning Evers for “unprecedented administrative overreach,” the three-paragraph statement ends with this:

“The constant stream of executive orders … are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections.” (Read the statement here posted on Facebook.)

We’ll leave the determinations on scope of authority to the courts, but the last bit of that is clearly a data-based claim.

Are infections “clearly” on the decline in Wisconsin?

The COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin

At the time of the joint statement, COVID-19 had resulted in 242 deaths in Wisconsin, with 4,620 people testing positive for the disease.

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, said the decline claim was based on hospitalization data and the hospital resource usage estimated in a model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The oft-cited model, last updated April 17, projected Wisconsin’s peak resource usage to be somewhere between April 10 and April 18. It’s an estimate based on the institute’s formula, not a firm calculation based on actual figures. The model has drawn some criticism for its methodology, which experts say could make it ill-suited to help determine when to ease social distancing restrictions.

But let’s examine actual data for Wisconsin, starting with the hospitalization numbers Beyer cited.

As with most data sets, labeling something an upward or downward trend depends entirely on which part of the data one pluck out. So here’s what we found looking at both recent days and the full month of April.

HOSPITALIZATIONS

This is the lone metric that shows a decline over the last couple of weeks.

After rising to start the month, the daily tally leveled off around 440 per day from April 9-14.

The number then dropped for two days before holding steady between 357 and 361 from April 17-21.

CONFIRMED CASES

The daily numbers move up and down a bit but have stayed largely consistent throughout April.

Zooming in to the last six days (April 15 to 20), Wisconsin had between 147 and 170 new confirmed cases per day. The tally was lower the days before that due to a lower number of tests being performed.

The most recent tally released prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald was April 20, with 153 cases, up six from the day before. That’s on par with the April average of 157 new cases per day.

DEATHS

Wisconsin has averaged 10.7 coronavirus deaths per day throughout April, with daily tallies ranging from six to 19.

The week prior to the statement from Vos and Fitzgerald, Wisconsin averaged 10.9 deaths, including 10 on April 20.

Our ruling: Partly false

We rate this claim PARTLY FALSE because some of it is not supported by our research. There are a lot of ways to slice the coronavirus data, but the claim that Wisconsin “is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections” is an exaggeration. Hospitalizations, though flat for several days before this claim, were indeed down slightly from a previous peak. That’s the element of truth here. But the two indicators most in line with the reference to a decline in “infections” weren’t. New cases and deaths in the week before this claim were roughly in line with both the preceding week and the averages for the month of April.

In this Wednesday April 15, 2020, photo, State Street is mostly empty around noontime due to the coronavirus pandemic in Madison, Wis.
In this Wednesday April 15, 2020, photo, State Street is mostly empty around noontime due to the coronavirus pandemic in Madison, Wis.

Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

Bloomberg – Business

Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

Akshat Rathi, Bloomberg                
Renewables Are the Only Winners in Historic Decline in Energy Demand

(Bloomberg) — The coronavirus lockdown will cause the biggest drop in energy demand in history, with only renewables managing to increase output through the crisis.

As people around the world consume less oil, gas and coal, electricity generated from the wind and sun will keep flowing, resulting in an unprecedented 8% decline in global carbon dioxide emissions this year, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.

“The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement released from the organization’s headquarters in Paris on Thursday.

The pandemic has infected at least 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 200,000 people as of April 29. With no drug to treat Covid-19 and a vaccine not expected until at least the end of the year, reducing the interactions between infected people is the only effective way to control the spread.

Those measures, however, have severe impact on economic growth and energy demand. Each month of lockdown on the scale of what’s in place this month reduces annual energy demand by 1.5%, IEA estimates.

The institution that advises nations on energy policy says that demand is likely to fall 6% in 2020, which is seven times the scale of the drop suffered in the 2008 financial crisis. In absolute terms, it’s like losing the energy demand of India. Rich countries will show a steeper decline, with the U.S. falling 9% and the European Union losing 11%.

While all sources of energy — oil, coal, natural gas, and even nuclear — will see a decline, renewable energy is likely to be the bright spot. And though emissions will fall drastically, the IEA expects a sharp rebound without government policies pushing for a green recovery. Here are the key highlights from IEA’s report:

Oil Glut

Global oil demand is poised to slump by 9 million barrels a day, or about 9%, to the lowest level since 2012. By the end of March, road transport activity was down about 50% around the world, while air travel in some European countries had plunged more than 90%. As lockdowns continue, April will see the deepest decline, with fuel consumption slumping almost a third to the lowest since 1995.

With demand in freefall, even prodigious efforts being undertaken by the OPEC cartel and its allies to stabilize markets won’t be enough to shield the global oil industry from chaos, the agency warned. Some producing regions will suffer a “disorderly production shutdown,” it said.

Coal Trend

Global coal demand is heading for its biggest fall since World War II — about 8% — as the case for burning the dirtiest fossil fuel is further undermined by the pandemic. The fuel’s share in the electricity mix has fallen in India, China, Europe, and parts of the U.S. These four regions have large and varied electricity markets, and yet uniformly coal becomes the biggest victim when demand falls.

Burning coal for power in several European countries has become unprofitable and socially untenable — crowded out by cheap gas and the proliferation of renewable energy as well as powerful environmental movements. The pandemic has only served to hasten its demise.

Gas Hit

Natural gas consumption was falling in the first quarter even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, mainly due to a mild winter in the northern hemisphere. The lockdowns accelerate that decline, with global demand expected to decrease by 5% this year — the first annual drop in consumption since 2009 and a huge shock to an industry that has grown accustomed to continued growth.

Much of this decline will come from power generation as the increasing shift toward renewable energy and low overall power demand is squeezing out the role of natural gas in production. Europe is expected to see a drop of 7%, whereas North America’s decline is likely to be less severe, propped up by ultra-low prices.

Renewables Brighten

Even as overall demand has decreased, renewables in many countries get first priority to feed electricity into the grid. That means producers of solar, wind and hydro power can sell all of the power they produce even as fossil-fuel generators turn down or shut off completely to prevent a system overload. Solar and wind farms have also benefited from windier and sunnier conditions than normal in some places.

In 2019, along with nuclear, low-carbon sources overtook coal for the first time ever. With the boost renewables get this year, the lead is set to extend, leaving low-carbon sources responsible for 40% of global electricity generation.

It hasn’t been all positive for the sector. Like much of the global economy, the coronavirus has disrupted the supply chains for wind and solar farms. About 11% of the world’s wind turbines were shut this week because of the virus, according to Bloomberg NEF. Work to build new wind farms has also been disrupted by restrictions on workers and regulatory processes being delayed. That could lead to a slowdown in new renewable energy projects coming online this year.

Emissions Fall

With fossil-fuel use taking such a big hit, it’s no surprise that emissions will fall. An 8% decline is larger than most early estimates, and bigger than what the most ambitious scenario to keep global warming under check demands. Yet, that decline probably is not enough to hold off further increases in the earth’s temperature or the stock of greenhouse gases that have built up in the atmosphere, the IEA said.

The more ambitious target set under the Paris climate agreement — keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius — will require halving annual global emissions by 2030 and hitting net-zero emissions sometime around the middle of the century. Without deep structural changes, emissions are expected to rise again when economies recover.

“Governments can learn from that experience by putting clean energy technologies — renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture — at the heart of their plans for economic recovery,” Birol said. “Investing in those areas can create jobs, make economies more competitive and steer the world towards a more resilient and cleaner energy future.”

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

A Farmers Point of View to the Covid Crisis.

COVID-19 INCREASES ILLINOIS FARM LOSSES TO POINT THAT FARMS MAY BE LOST

By Brad Weisenstein, Editor        April 24, 2020

Farmers have always proven resilient and ultimately will survive the virus and anything state government lobs at them.

Empty meat cases and grocery store shelves are the first hint most people get that the coronavirus is impacting farmers. Those who guess the laws of supply and demand are in farmers’ favor would be wrong.

COVID-19 is closing processing plants that can’t stop their workers from getting ill. Supply chains cannot switch overnight from getting milk into small cartons for schoolchildren to putting it in plastic jugs for the supermarket. Pork and beef destined for restaurant plates can’t be easily diverted into deli cases.

Nearly all commodity prices are in negative territory from a year ago, with corn down about 20%, cattle more than 30%, milk down more than one-third and hogs at nearly half what they were.

“I’m in the tractor now and just planted 11 acres while we were talking,” Illinois state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said this week. “If I only lose $100 an acre on this corn, it will be a miracle.”

Not planting isn’t an option, because he already locked into seed, fertilizer and chemical contracts before the pandemic. He raises grain and livestock on land farmed by his family for more than 100 years. His grandma in 1905 drove a team of mules to haul the logs for his house and barn.

He also expects to lose money on his cattle. He can usually sell quarters or halves of beef to families and have them processed within a few weeks, but now the soonest processing appointment is nine weeks away and that’s another nine weeks of feed.

But his real sympathy is with the dairy farmers. He never played sports, because there was milking to do for the first 43 years of his life.

“On a dairy farm everything is booked around the cows: weddings, funerals, parties. The cows are part of your family, like a pet. And you treat them that well because that’s your livelihood,” Meier said.

But from his childhood when his and every farm had dairy cattle, to 1985 when there were still nearly 4,000 dairy farms in Illinois, to now with fewer than 800 left and dropping fast, things can only get bleaker as a result of the virus. He said dairy farmers saw years of low milk prices, then had a few months in which they made money before the coronavirus hit, then prices dropped and his neighbors were again losing money.

“Farming is one of the most dangerous professions and has one of the highest suicide rates,” Meier said. “You’re going to see a lot of bankruptcies, just like with small business owners. You have a lot of these folks who inherited what their parents built through tough times for 80 years, and they are proud and can’t lose the family legacy. You’ll see many more bankruptcies if this thing goes into July. And suicides.”

COVID-19 relief through the federal CARES Act includes $16 billion in payments to farmers and $3 billion in commodity purchases for food aid programs. Meier has his doubts that the money will make it past food processors and into the hands of farmers, especially with markets being depressed. He saw the same dynamic with the small business loans, which he said saw 12,000 bars and restaurants applying in Illinois with 700 getting funds – and only one of those in the legislative district he represents.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker just extended the state lockdown until May 30. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it could be well into June.

Meier said Illinois’ economy can’t wait that long. He said a regional approach is needed, meaning what’s happening in cities that are virus hot spots should not dictate what’s happening in rural communities. He noted there are a lot of smart business leaders available to help decide what can open safely, when and how.

But hiking the minimum wage in July and then potentially adding billions in extra progressive state income taxes on Illinois’ more than 100,000 small businesses will make the economic pain even worse.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert opposes the progressive tax for the harm it can do to the state’s 72,000 farms, arguing the only “fair tax” is one that treats everyone the same instead of imposing arbitrary government standards. Meier said the double punch of wage and tax hikes will turn Southern Illinois into a desert of bankrupt farms and shuttered storefronts.

“How are they supposed to pay bills if they are closed and then July 1 pay the higher minimum wage and by-the-way here’s a progressive tax hike. I don’t know where the money’s supposed to come from,” he said.

Farmers have always proven resilient and ultimately will survive the virus and anything state government lobs at them. There just may be fewer of them, with the results visible at a supermarket near you.

Protect Americans’ credit scores amid the coronavirus pandemic

Yahoo Money

Democrat senators to credit bureaus: Protect Americans’ credit scores amid the coronavirus pandemic

By Janna Heron and Aarthi Swaminathan                   

FICO changes could impact your credit score

Two Democratic senators are urging the national credit reporting agencies to help safeguard the creditworthiness of Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a letter obtained by Yahoo Finance.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) sent a letter to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, inquiring about the actions they are taking to make sure Americans’ credit isn’t damaged permanently if they have trouble paying their bills on time during the crisis.

“If American families and consumers are piled under a mountain of debt during this pandemic and once it ends, the country will struggle to emerge from a deep recession,” Warren and Schatz wrote. “This means that when the crisis is over, months of late or missed payments could add up to not just a mountain of debt, but a cratering credit score that takes away the shovel they might use to dig themselves out.”

Read more: Free credit reports amid coronavirus: Here’s why that’s important

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, participate in the press conference in the Capitol to call for the elimination of student loan debt at public higher education institutions on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 

The bureaus maintain the credit reports of consumers that help calculate a credit score, which lenders use to approve new credit and at what terms. The reports are a history of all your credit obligations, including how many accounts you have, how much you owe, and how often you make on-time payments.

While Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Yahoo Money, the trade group representing the companies did.

“The companies just received the letter from the Senators and are reviewing it now. We share the Senators’ concerns about how the crisis will impact consumers and we have taken actions to help, including providing increased free access to credit reports, as they announced last week,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association. “We have also increased our training of banks and other creditors to help them understand their obligations under the law and to make sure they have tools to help consumers.”

2020.04.27 Letter to Experi… by Aarthi on Scribd

 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a number of protections for homeowners, renters, and student loan borrowers, the senators pointed out, but “won’t help countless American families and consumers who have other debts that received no protections, including auto loans, credit card debt, payday loans, and other forms of debt.”

The act does amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to halt harmful credit reporting during the COVID-19 crisis under specific circumstances. If your creditor offers an accommodation on your payments because of the coronavirus, the creditor must report your account as current to the credit bureaus as long you weren’t already behind on payments.

But you have to reach out to your creditor first and agree on the terms of hardship accommodation to avoid negative reporting. You can’t just stop paying your bills with no repercussions, and you must maintain your end of the deal.

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

 

The three credit bureaus said last week they are offering free weekly credit reports for all Americans for the next year to help them monitor the accuracy of their credit histories. The bureaus said they sent additional guidance to creditors on reporting during a national emergency.

Equifax also announced earlier this month that it would no longer hurt your credit score if a mobile, wireless, cable, and internet company requested your credit report to open a new account. Before these were considered hard inquiries and could ding your score. When contacted earlier by Yahoo Money, Experian said it had changed its policy in a similar manner, while TransUnion declined to comment.

Sen. Warren and Schatz have requested responses to their letter no later than May 1.

“Our economic revival depends on millions of Americans’ ability to resume their lives after the pandemic abates and the economy reopens,” the letter concluded. “Permanently marred credit scores pose a risk to individuals and to our collective recovery.”

Janna is an editor at Yahoo Money and Cashay.

Huge amounts of methane leaking from U.S. oil fields, study shows

CBS News – Business

Huge amounts of methane leaking from U.S. oil fields, study shows

Jeff Berardelli, CBS News                        

Oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin, the largest oil-producing area in the United States, are spewing more than twice the amount of methane emissions into the atmosphere than previously thought — enough wasted energy to power 7 million households in Texas for a year. That’s the result of a new study by researchers at Harvard University and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Permian Basin stretches across a 250-mile by 250-mile area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, and accounts for over a third of the crude oil 10% of the natural gas in the U.S.

The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, also found that the rate of leakage of methane gas makes up 3.7% of all the gas extracted in the basin, which is about 60% higher than the national average leakage rate. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and since the Permian Basin is so large, this excess waste is a significant contribution to our already warming climate.

“These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin,” said study co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

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Environmental Defense Fund

To map the methane emissions, the team employed a space-borne sensor on a European Space Agency satellite called the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) from May 2018 to March 2019.

Since 2005, the rapid increase in oil and natural gas production in the United States has been driven primarily by hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) and horizontal drilling.

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Methane plume in California detected by a NASA satellite. NASA

While some see the leaked methane gas as a big waste of natural resources, others are focused on the danger posed by methane. Methane is an extremely powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas, much more potent than its more well-known counterpart, carbon dioxide (CO2).

There is 225 times less methane in the atmosphere than there is CO2, but because of its powerful heat-trapping qualities, methane is contributing about 25% of the current rate of global warming.

Since the Industrial Revolution, global methane concentrations have doubled due mostly to human activities like livestock farming, decay from landfills, and from burning fossil fuels.

“I am very concerned about increasing methane emissions,” said Dr. Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist and expert on methane from Cornell University, who was not involved with the study. “Methane is 120 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, compared mass-to-mass for the time both gases are in the atmosphere,” he explains.

According to Hamburg, the methane gas escaping the Permian Basin is so excessive that it has tripled the typical heating impact it would have otherwise had through burning the gas. Evidence of this massive leakage undercuts the case made by proponents of natural gas who tout its cleaner-burning qualities over that of its normally dirtier-burning cousin, coal.

“The most up-to-date thinking is that for comparing coal and natural gas to generate electricity, gas is worse than coal if the methane emission rate is greater than 2.7%,” said Howarth. However, this research found the Permian Basin’s emission rate is higher than that — 3.7% of the gross gas extracted. Therefore, the leakage in the Permian Basin is so high it makes gas and oil emissions more intensive than even coal.

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The Permian Basin, stretching across West Texas and southeast New Mexico, provides more than a third of U.S. crude oil. Environmental Defense Fund

“After staying level for the first decade of the 21st century, methane emissions have been rising quickly over the past decade,” said Howarth, “My research indicates that shale gas development in the U.S. is responsible for at least one-third of the total increase in these emissions globally.”

The Harvard/EDF paper attributes the high methane leakage rate to extensive venting and flaring, resulting from insufficient infrastructure to process and transport natural gas.

On the other hand, the paper concludes, the higher-than-average leakage rate in the Permian Basin implies an opportunity to reduce methane emissions through better design, more effective management, regulation and infrastructure development.

But over the past few years, regulations on fossil fuels have gone in the opposite direction. “Trump’s EPA has proposed to substantially weaken or even eliminate regulations, adopted during the Obama administration, to control methane emissions from oil and gas facilities,” said Romany Webb, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

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Environmental Defense Fund

Webb says the Texas Railroad Commission — the state’s oil and gas regulator — has its own rules controlling venting and flaring. Venting and flaring is permitted up to 10 days after completion of well drilling; after that operators can apply for an exemption from the commission. “Recently, the number of exemptions granted by the commission has increased dramatically, leading to concerns that it is simply acting as a rubber stamp,” said Webb.

“To detect emissions takes sophisticated approaches and highly trained personnel,” Howarth said. “To date, the best any government has done is to come up with regulations that rely on industry self-reporting. I find that rather useless.”

If the world has any hope of meeting the target for reducing emissions outlined in the Paris climate agreement, reducing CO2 cannot accomplish this alone — the climate responds far more quickly to methane, explains Howarth. To keep the level of warming below the international goal of 2 degrees Celsius and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, controlling methane leakage is essential. Without it, humanity is bound to fall short.