Trump administration rejects ban on harmful insecticide, dozens of farmworkers get sick

ThinkProgress

Trump administration rejects ban on harmful insecticide, dozens of farmworkers get sick

Chlorpyrifos is linked to neurotoxic symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and confusion.

By Esther Yu Hsi Lee, Immigration Reporter at ThinkProgress.     May 15, 2017

More than 50 farmworkers in California became sick from pesticide drift, Kern Golden Empire reported, one month after a controversial pesticide was deemed safe to use by the Trump administration.

On May 5, workers harvesting cabbage on a farm near Bakersfield were exposed to a “pesticide odor” from mandarin orchards in the west sprayed with Vulcan, an organophosphate-based chemical. The active ingredient in Vulcan is chlorpyrifos, a chemical linked to human health problems manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. Chlorpyrifos was slated to be banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.

Approximately 12 people with symptoms of vomiting and nausea were decontaminated, but 11 of those 12 refused any further treatment, according to an incident log on the Kern County Fire Department webpage. One person was taken to the hospital while more than half of the farm-workers left before medical personnel arrived on scene. The Kern County Fire Department, Kern County Environmental Health and Hazmat responded to the area for a mass decontamination.

“I’m not pointing fingers or saying it was done incorrectly. It was just an unfortunate thing the way it was drifted,” Efron Zavalza, Supervisor and Food Safety Specialist at Dan Andrews Farms where the incident occurred, told the publication. “The wind came and pushed everything east and you know we were caught in the path.”

“Anybody that was exposed, that was here today, we encourage them to seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait. Particularly if you’re suffering from any symptoms. Whether it’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately,” Michelle Corson, Public Relations Officer, Kern County Public Health, said.

Chlorpyrifos — a widely-used organophosphate insecticide in use for over 50 years — is used on a variety of crops like oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, and broccoli. It can cause neurotoxic symptoms in humans like nausea, dizziness, and confusion. When exposed to high dosages, humans can suffer from respiratory paralysis or death. A study by researchers at Columbia University found that exposure was linked to brain function and lower IQ among children. For years, environmental groups have pressured the EPA to look into the correlation between pesticide usage and problems that could affect workers on an organic and cellular level.

Also at ThinkProgress: Dow Chemical gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, now wants pesticide risk study buried.

During the Obama administration, EPA scientists recommended taking chlorpyrifos off the market. Despite the scientific evidence, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected the ban on chlorpyrifos on the grounds that the agency needs to “provide regulatory certainty” for the thousands of U.S. farms that rely on chlorpyrifos. Dow Chemical donated $ 1 million to fund Presdient Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony. In a letter to the Trump administration sent in April, Dow Chemical asked the administration to “set aside” and ignore research showing that the pesticide could be harmful to endangered species.

Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers

The Nation

Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers

On almost every measure, Trump is making life worse for the working class.

By Robert Borosage   May 12, 2017

Donald Trump has ginned up a continuous din in his first four months as president, with each outrage or grotesquerie immediately followed by another.

Amid the furors, it is easy to lose track of the key standard by which Trump will be judged by his key voters: his oft-repeated campaign pledge that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” These pledges have continued since Trump became president. He told the Conservative Political Action Conference that “the forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.” In the flood of reviews of Trump’s first 100 days, which focused heavily on his scandals and gaffes, few noted that he failed on this measure.

The working people who were crucial to Trump’s victory may not be impressed by more evidence that he’s a scoundrel. Most of them considered him a scoundrel when they voted for him. Their hope was that he might be their scoundrel, in contrast to the “corrupted politicians” and “failed political elite” that he railed against.

Trump understands this. That’s why so many of his stunts and boasts—the Carrier deal to keep 800 jobs here, posturing over the North American Free Trade Agreement, claiming credit for new jobs stemming from corporate decisions made long before he was elected—are designed to be seen and loved by working people. But these stunts cover the reality: Trump is shafting the very working people who supported him.

Consider these key measures.

Jobs

Trump constantly promises “lots of jobs,” and boasts of cracking down on companies moving jobs abroad. Trump officially buried the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that was dead anyway. He issued a “Buy America, Hire America” executive order, but that just called for a review, not action.

Beneath the noise, workers are getting betrayed. Trump has introduced no jobs bill. His much-ballyhooed plan to rebuild America was glaringly absent from his first budget, which actually cuts spending on infrastructure. He has abandoned the End the Offshoring Act he promised in the first 100 days, which would use tariffs to discourage companies from moving abroad. Worse, he’s backed off pressuring China on the unprecedented trade deficits we suffer, and in so doing sacrifices American jobs for China’s supposed help with North Korea. Rather than ripping up NAFTA, he now says he’ll renegotiate it, with his Commerce Secretary bizarrely suggesting that the TPP might serve as the “starting point.” His tax proposal would end taxation on profits reported abroad, giving companies even more incentive to ship jobs or create tax dodges abroad.

Worse, Trump has refused to use the power that he has. The federal government spends about $470 billion per year on contracts with firms that employ about one of five workers in the private sector. The president has the power to make his pledge of “Buy America, Hire America” a centerpiece of our procurement policy. As research by Good Jobs Nation shows, 41 of the top 100 recipients of federal contracts engage in offshoring of jobs. Those companies received $176 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2016, which is over one-third of all federal contract spending. Trump could issue an executive order excluding firms that offshore jobs from qualifying to bid on federal contracts. That would have an immediate and profound effect on offshoring. Instead, Trump bloviates, but doesn’t act.

Wages

Trump promised workers good jobs with good wages, but he has acted repeatedly to drive down wages. He won’t ask the Republican House to vote on raising the minimum wage. He supports the right-wing push for a “right to work” law, designed to weaken unions. Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court justice, will no doubt provide the fifth vote for gutting public-sector unions. Trump joined the Republican Congress to repeal Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplace” executive order, which was designed to protect federal contract employees from wage theft and workplace injuries. And the Trump administration has moved to delay—the first step to overturning—the Department of Labor’s overtime rule that would have guaranteed a 40-hour week and overtime pay for 4.2 million additional workers.

Health Care

The cruelty of Trumpcare has received significant attention. As Thomas Edsall details, Trump’s base face the most risk if this bill passes. The plan takes health insurance from millions of people, savages Medicaid, hikes premiums particularly on older workers, and undermines coverage of preexisting conditions in order to provide the wealthy with a massive tax break—$7 million a year for the 400 richest Americans with annual incomes over $300 million. Low-wage whites are a majority of the Medicaid recipients in four states—Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—that gave Trump his victory. Older workers with modest incomes who don’t get insurance from their employers will fare the worst under Trumpcare. Nate Cohn of The New York Times found that voters hit the hardest by this health-care plan, and would get at least $5,000 less in tax credits, supported Trump by a margin of 59 to 36 percent.

Retirement

One of Trump’s first acts in office was to delay implementation of the fiduciary duty rule that requires that investment advisers not cheat their clients with retirement accounts. The rule would have saved workers an estimated $17 billion per year in unnecessary fees and costs. Trump signed a repeal of the Department of Labor rule that assisted local governments in setting up public IRA programs to aid 55 million private-sector workers without a retirement plan at work.

These assaults are only part of the story. Trump’s budget makes childcare more expensive, and cuts after-school and summer programs. He’s joined with Republicans in Congress to repeal occupational protection rules for miners and construction workers. He has called for cuts in everything from education to protection of clean air and clean water. He would cut the Department of Labor budget by 20 percent, dramatically reducing enforcement of worker rights, occupational health and safety laws, and protection against wage theft. The Economic Policy Institute’s report on Trump’s first 100 days provides a more detailed indictment.

This war on workers isn’t a bug but a feature of a White House that has turned its economic plan over to Goldman Sachs alums and stocked its cabinet with “billionaires, bankers and bigots,” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Trump could have pushed to forge a bipartisan coalition to back his populist promises. Instead, he chose to let the Republican majority in Congress, driven by the radical Freedom Caucus, define his priorities. In his first months in office, he has betrayed the voters who put him there.

The question is when they will finally understand what has happened. Trump keeps posturing as a populist. The outrage of the day—from Comey to the Kushner family business in China—captures media attention. Policy is complicated, but the story is clear. Trump is betraying his promise on jobs and shafting workers. Progressives should make certain this reality isn’t lost in the din.

Another Day, Another Pipeline Spill

EcoWatch

Another Day, Another Pipeline Spill

By Joshua Axelrod    May 12, 2017

After months of protests and passionate pleas for the government to recognize and analyze the threats Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) could pose to fresh water resources and numerous others, news came this week that before even fully opening, the pipeline had already leaked.

A few states away, in Ohio, the same company’s effort to build a natural gas pipeline has been put on hold after 18 leaks and a massive spill of drilling fluids into a pristine wetland convinced state and federal regulators to largely shut down the company’s construction of the project. And even as this happens, we’re facing similar threats as the Trump administration and TransCanada try to ram Keystone XL through America’s heartland.

All of this feels like déjà vu. Back when Keystone 1 opened, for example, it experienced its first leak within months. A few years later, it experienced a major rupture in South Dakota, spilling at least 17,000 gallons of oil into a farmer’s field. At the time, it was revealed that TransCanada, Keystone’s owner and operator, had been warned about potential problems with the steel pipe it had used to build the line, as well as the welds holding the line together.

And DAPL isn’t the only new oil pipeline rearing its ugly head and threatening our precious resources with the risk of an oil spill. Keystone XL has come back from the grave under President Trump and the State Department’s rubber stamp cross-border permit. Enbridge is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper (Line 67) and Line 3 pipelines in Wisconsin and Minnesota. And the list goes on and on.

So why does this keep happening? The easy answer is: oil pipelines leak. They always have and they always will. They are complex projects that span thousands of miles and are held together by welds that commonly fail. They use materials sourced from manufacturers around the world that are almost always found to have anomalies. They carry substances that create conditions that can accelerate corrosion. They are impacted by external conditions like moisture and freezing and thawing and intense summer heat. All the technology in the world will not stop an oil pipeline from leaking. And what’s worse, the best technology available today to detect a leak almost always fails to do so.

This week’s leak is another example in a growing list that proves the concerns of Native Americans, farmers, ranchers and the public about the impacts these projects can have on water resources are real and pressing. For months, leaders from Standing Rock and elsewhere raised serious concerns about DAPL, its threat to water resources and the likelihood it would spill only to see those concerns not addressed by the current administration. Now, those same concerns are being ignored in the case of Keystone XL—which would cross one of the most important aquifers in the U.S.

America doesn’t need new pipeline capacity to meet today’s oil demand. And that underlying fact will only become more established as energy efficiency rises, vehicle electrification increases and renewable energy production grows.

Joshua Axelrod is a policy analyst for the Canada Project at Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare

LA Times

U.S. judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare

Michael Hiltzik, Contact Reporter   May 12, 2017

Aetna claimed this summer that it was pulling out of all but four of the 15 states where it was providing Obamacare individual insurance because of a business decision — it was simply losing too much money on the Obamacare exchanges.

Now a federal judge has ruled that that was a rank falsehood. In fact, says Judge John D. Bates, Aetna made its decision at least partially in response to a federal antitrust lawsuit blocking its proposed $34-billion merger with Humana. Aetna threatened federal officials with the pullout before the lawsuit was filed, and followed through on its threat once it was filed. Bates made the observations in the course of a ruling he issued on Monday blocking the merger.

Aetna executives had moved heaven and earth to conceal their decision-making process from the court, in part by discussing the matter on the phone rather than in emails, and by shielding what did get put in writing with the cloak of attorney-client privilege, a practice Bates found came close to “malfeasance.”

Aetna tried to leverage its participation in the exchanges for favorable treatment from DOJ regarding the proposed merger. — U.S. District Judge John D. Bates

The judge’s conclusions about Aetna’s real reasons for pulling out of Obamacare — as opposed to the rationalization the company made in public — are crucial for the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act. That’s because the company’s withdrawal has been exploited by Republicans to justify repealing the act. Just last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) cited Aetna’s action on the “Charlie Rose” show, saying that it proved how shaky the exchanges were.

Bates found that this rationalization was largely untrue. In fact, he noted, Aetna pulled out of some states and counties that were actually profitable to make a point in its lawsuit defense — and then misled the public about its motivations. Bates’ analysis relies in part on a “smoking gun” letter to the Justice Department in which Chief Executive Mark Bertolini explicitly ties Aetna’s participation in Obamacare to the DOJ’s actions on the merger, which we reported in August. But it goes much further.

Among the locations where Aetna withdrew were 17 counties in three states where the Department of Justice asserted that the merger would produce unlawfully low levels  of competition on the individual exchanges. By pulling out, Aetna could say that it wasn’t competing in those counties’ exchanges anyway, rendering the government’s point moot: “The evidence provides persuasive support for the conclusion that Aetna withdrew from the on-exchange markets in the 17 complaint counties to improve its litigation position,” Bates wrote. “The Court does not credit the minimal efforts of Aetna executives to claim otherwise.”

Indeed, he wrote, Aetna’s decision to pull out of the exchange business in Florida was “so far outside of normal business practice” that it perplexed the company’s top executive in Florida, who was not in the decision loop.

“I just can’t make sense out of the Florida decision],” the executive, Christopher Ciano, wrote to Jonathan Mayhew, the head of Aetna’s national exchange business. “Based on the latest run rate data . . . we are making money from the on-exchange business. Was Florida’s performance ever debated?” Mayhew told him to discuss the matter by phone, not email, “to avoid leaving a paper trail,” Bates found. As it happens, Bates found reason to believe that Aetna soon will be selling exchange plans in Florida again.

As for Aetna’s claimed rationale for withdrawing from all but four states, Bates accepted that the company could credibly call it a “business decision,” since the overall exchange business was losing money; he just didn’t buy that that was its sole reason. He observed that the failings in the marketplace existed before Aetna decided to withdraw, but that as late as July 19, the company was still planning to expand its footprint to as many as 20 states. In April, top executives had told investors that Aetna had a “solid cost structure” in Florida and Georgia, two states it dropped.

While the Department of Justice was conducting its investigation of the merger plans but before the DOJ lawsuit was filed, “Aetna tried to leverage its participation in the exchanges for favorable treatment from DOJ regarding the proposed merger,” Bates observed. During a May 11 deposition of Bertolini, an Aetna lawyer said that if the company “was not ‘happy’ with the results of an upcoming meeting regarding the merger, ‘we’re just going to pull out of all the exchanges.’”

Not such a veiled threat? Aetna’s Mark Bertolini tells the DOJ what will happen if it blocks the Humana merger. After the DOJ sued to kill the deal, Aetna cut back even more.

In private talks with the DOJ, Aetna executives continually linked the two issues, even while they were telling Wall Street that the merger was “a separate conversation” from the exchange business. Bertolini seemed almost to take the DOJ’s hostility to the merger personally: “Our feeling was that we were doing good things for the administration and the administration is suing us,” he said in a deposition.

Bates found “persuasive evidence that when Aetna later withdrew from the 17 counties, it did not do so for business reasons, but instead to follow through on the threat that it made earlier.”

The threat certainly was effective in terms of its impact on the Affordable Care Act, since Aetna’s withdrawal has become part of the Republican brief against the law. That it says so much more about Aetna executives’ honesty and integrity probably won’t get cited much by GOP functionaries trying to repeal the law. Aetna is at least partially responsible for placing the health coverage of more than 20 million Americans in jeopardy; that it did so at least partially to promote a merger that would bring few benefits, if any, to its customers is an additional black mark.

If there’s a saving grace in this episode, it’s that the company’s goal to protect the merger hasn’t worked, so far. The DOJ brought suit, and Bates has now thrown a wrench into the plan. Aetna has said it’s considering an appeal, but the merger is plainly in trouble, as it should be.

Trump takes aim at monuments with oil riches

The Salt Lake Tribune

Trump takes aim at monuments with oil riches

By JENNIFER DLOUHY Bloomberg News     May 10, 2017

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah boasts stretches of red-and-yellow sandstone so brilliant they appear to be ablaze and rock structures so precarious they appear to defy gravity.

The rugged terrain south of the Colorado River also has reserves of oil and natural gas that are currently off limits to new leasing — restrictions that may end as the Trump administration reviews 27 large-scale monuments his predecessors set aside for protection.

Industry groups and Republican lawmakers have praised President Donald Trump’s order to review those monument designations, calling it a welcome reconsideration of federal overreach.

Yet, environmental groups are concerned Trump will scrap or scale back those designations, and the net result will be a boost to the fortunes of oil drillers and mining companies.

“Oil and gas is definitely a factor — particularly given that with Trump it’s been something he’s talked about consistently,” said Tim Donaghy, a research specialist with Greenpeace. “They’re going to try to knock down as many barriers as possible to expanded oil and gas drilling.”

Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, presidents can set aside land to protect historic landmarks, structures or other objects of historic or scientific interest.

Most recent monument proclamations have barred new mining claims and oil, gas and mineral leases, but typically protect existing rights, according to an assessment by the Congressional Research Service. Unlike national parks, which must be established by Congress, each monument has its own rules for how the land can be used.

Presidents of both parties have used the law to designate increasingly large parcels of land, raising the hackles of Republican lawmakers worried the protections will constrain energy development and animal grazing on the sites.

Former President Barack Obama issued protections for a record amount of Western land — much of it also rich in oil or minerals.

Republicans objected to what they have termed a “land grab,” and Trump made reconsidering those designations an initial priority. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is traveling through Utah this week to see the sites, complete with a hike to Bears Ears’ “House on Fire” ruins.

More than 90 percent — or 1.34 million acres — of the Bears Ears national monument overlaps with potential reserves of oil, gas and coal, according to an analysis of U.S. government data by Greenpeace that was reviewed and checked by Bloomberg. The area also contains significant uranium resources, according to the Center for American Progress.

Those fossil fuels could lurk under some 2.7 million acres of five monuments, including Bears Ears, that are now under review, spanning an area bigger than Yellowstone National Park, according to Greenpeace’s analysis.

The energy resources were illustrated by U.S. Energy Information Administration maps of dense oil and gas formations known to contain the fossil fuels and sedimentary basins likely to. The analysis also drew on U.S. Geological Survey data that shows recoverable coal.

Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, has focused his ire on Bears Ears, the remote, stretch of desert designated by Obama just a month before he left office.

Although environmentalists and some indigenous groups backed giving Bears Ears monument status, Bishop said out-of-state support drowned out local voices of opposition.

“They’re trying to make this monument to protect it from being raped by oil and gas development, which is so ludicrous,” Bishop said in an April interview.

Bishop has argued in favor of a similar, slightly smaller package of land protections, worked out with local officials. The set aside, which would need congressional approval, would allow recreation and grazing on some territory and tribal protections in another.

Oil and mineral leasing would be banned in the protected zone but encouraged in other areas in the state.

 

EcoWatch

Trump Order Could Open Up Area Larger Than Yellowstone to Drilling

May 10, 2017.  An investigation by Greenpeace, published Wednesday by Bloomberg, has revealed that more than 2.7 million acres of iconic U.S. land could be at risk from fossil fuel exploration following Donald Trump’s decision to review the protection on dozens of national monuments.

By overlaying government maps of oil, gas and coal deposits with the boundaries of the 27 national monuments on Trump’s list, Greenpeace’s investigation shows for the first time the full extent of the land potentially at risk from fossil fuel exploration.

Last month, Trump issued an executive order requiring the Department of Interior to review all large monuments designated by U.S. presidents under the Antiquities Act since 1996, suggesting they may pose a barrier to energy independence.

“These are the spectacular landscapes whose rugged contours and breathtaking views have defined America’s history and identity for centuries,” Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols said.

“They are the common heritage of everyone in our country and must be preserved for future generation. Yet instead of protecting them, Trump wants to carve up these beautiful lands into corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry. This out-of-touch billionaire may be about to hand over America’s national treasures to the same industry that’s already putting them at risk by fueling more climate change. ”

The analysis shows that a swath of protected land larger than Yellowstone national park could be opened up to drilling—with six national monuments affected by the executive order sitting above fossil fuel reserves. These include some of the most iconic lands in the U.S.—from the spectacular rock formations of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante to Carrizo Plain, the last remnant of a vast grassland that once stretched across California.

The analysis also reveals that, in some cases, the area of potential interest to fossil fuel prospectors covers the vast majority of the monuments. Around 90 percent of Bears Ears, 100 percent of Canyons of the Ancients, 42 percent of Grand Staircase; and 98 percent of San Gabriel Mountains sit above potential deposits of oil, gas and coal.

The research is published as Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is visiting two of the national monuments on Trump’s list, Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of them in Utah, as part of the review.

Sec. Zinke has 120 days from the signing of the order to report back on whether monuments should be rescinded or resized, although he will report back on Bears Ears within 45 days.

Months before President Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument last December, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved drilling applications by one of the U.S.’ largest independent oil companies on land that is now within the monument boundaries.

Since President Clinton created it in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument in Utah has been fiercely opposed by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has personally lobbied Trump and Zinke to scrap it. One of the reasons behind the desire amongst Utah Republicans to do away with Grand Staircase is the coal seam that runs through the monument.

Carrizo Plain, a remote area of California grassland famous for it’s spectacular springtime wildflowers, was declared a monument by President Clinton in 2001. The Bureau of Land Management’s 2010 resource management plan estimated that there were 45 oil wells within the monuments boundary—including 15 producing wells—that pre-date its designation. The monument is also surrounded by a number of large oil fields, including California’s largest, which lies just a few miles away.

In the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana, plans to expand existing oil and gas operations within the protected area’s boundaries were at the center of a legal battle between conservation groups and the Bureau of Land Management.

“People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want unpolluted access to the public lands they love as citizens and own as taxpayers,” Nichols said. “People must resist the latest in a trend of senseless rollbacks by the Trump White House and demand the Interior Department protect the land and water for people in their states and across the country. Trump is on the verge of jeopardizing true national treasures, but the people who live, worship, work, play and rely on these public lands and waters will ensure that he will not succeed.”

Tesla solar roof prices come in cheaper than some had expected

CNBC Business

Tesla solar roof prices come in cheaper than some had expected

Robert Ferris May 11, 2017

Tesla (TSLA) said Wednesday that the first two styles of its solar roof will be priced at about $21.85 per square foot.

That price is slightly lower than the $24.50 per square foot price Consumer Reports had said Tesla would need to meet to compete with asphalt roofs, once savings from electricity bills were factored in over the roof’s expected lifetime.

Many had expressed skepticism that Tesla’s product would be as affordable as the company claimed. But after the release of the pricing, Tesla shares closed up more than 1 percent Wednesday.

Tesla said it is releasing the first two styles of the glass tiles — “black glass smooth” and “textured” versions — out of the four planned styles the company has shown off to the public.

A curved, reddish “Tuscan” style and a style that resembles slate rock tiles are expected “in early 2018,” according to Tesla.

The shingles have three layers — a high-efficiency solar cell, a specially designed film to mask the cell from viewers on the ground, and a top layer of tempered glass. Tesla has said it will sell the roof alongside other products, such as its Powerwall wall battery.

The product will come “with a warranty for the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first,” the company said in a blog post.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that Tesla would begin selling its solar roof tiles. Musk has previously said that he wanted to do for solar power what Tesla was attempting to do with electric cars — develop an alternative-energy product that would rival or exceed conventional ones in attractiveness and utility.

However, the news comes during an interesting, even trying, time for some U.S. solar companies. A recent report from GTM Research said the second half of 2016 showed the first significant decline for U.S. solar companies.

For Tesla, one of the obvious barriers to achieving that is cost. Previously, Consumer Reports had determined that a textured glass tile solar roof should cost no more than $73,500, including installation, to be competitive with an asphalt roof. That price factors in the about $2,000 a year a household would save on electricity bills in some of the country’s more favorable solar markets, such as California, Texas and North Carolina.

The company also created a “Solar Roof Calculator” that allows customers to gauge the cost of an installation. Tesla plans to offer financing in late 2017, but in the meantime, customers can finance with a personal loan, a home improvement loan, a home equity line of credit, or a second mortgage.

Whether there is demand for a solar roof still remains something of an open question.

“I do think that this is going to be competitive in specific geographic locations, mainly based on costs of electricity,” said ARK Invest analyst Sam Korus, in an interview with CNBC. “The fact that they are starting in California makes perfect sense, since you have a lot of sun and high energy costs.”

Tesla’s recent decision to scrap the door-to-door sales common in the solar energy industry also may end up serving as an advantage, Korus said. “One of the biggest hindrances to residential solar was the cost of selling it and installing it, so getting rid of that door-to-door sales force is definitely a step in the right direction.”

For now, Tesla is taking orders online, but the company has said before that it plans to offer solar products in its stores as well. Customers coming to the stores to buy cars are conceivably already inclined to consider installing solar panels on their homes.

Tesla is not the first company to attempt a solar panel that is integrated into a roof, and recent history is littered with failures, said Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov, in an email to CNBC.

He said companies such as Energy Conversion Devices, Ascent Solar (ASTI), Solarion and MSK were all built on the anticipation that demand for “building-integrated photovoltaics” (BIPV), an industry term for such products, would surge.

But demand did not surge. Energy Conversion Devices was liquidated, Ascent Solar is trading at around 1 cent per share, Solarion was acquired in bankruptcy, and MSK was bought by Suntech, which later went bankrupt, Molchanov said.

Molchanov also said that Tesla’s disclosed numbers are “rule of thumb estimates” that need to be taken with a grain of salt. Costs will always vary depending on the actual roof — which Molchanov said is true of rooftop solar generally.

Also, he added, Tesla’s numbers are projections that will have to be updated once actual manufacturing and installation begins.

“Again, bearing in mind how lackluster BIPV adoption has been historically,” he said, “at this point I wouldn’t expect significant sales until 2020 or so.”

Bloomberg

Tesla’s Solar Roof Sets Musk’s Grand Unification Into Motion

Tom Randall  May 11, 2017

Tesla has begun taking orders for its transformative new solar roof. The pricing is competitive, and it marks the final piece in Elon Musk’s vision for a grand unification of his clean-energy ambitions—combining solar power, home batteries, and electric cars.

“These are really the three legs of the stool for a sustainable energy future,” Musk said. “Solar power going to a stationary battery pack so you have power at night, and then charging an electric vehicle … you can scale that to all the world’s demand.”

Tesla opened up its online store and began taking $1,000 deposits for two of four options unveiled in October: a smooth black glass and textured-glass roof tiles. From most viewing angles, the slick shingles look like standard roof materials, but they allow light to pass through from above onto a solar cell embedded beneath the tempered surface. The first installations will begin in the U.S. in June, though orders are being accepted from countries around the world for 2018.

The cost of Tesla’s solar roof is critical for determining whether it will be a niche product for the wealthy or the key to unlocking a residential solar market that has been slowing in the U.S. The pricing unveiled Wednesday was less than many analysts were expecting, including at Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Consumer Reports. When taking into account the energy savings and lifetime cost of ownership (Tesla guarantees it will outlast your home) it’s an affordable option in many areas of the country.

“The pricing is better than I expected, better than everyone expected,” said Hugh Bromley, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance who had been skeptical about the potential market impact of the new product. Tesla’s all-in cost for active solar tiles is about $42 per square foot, “significantly below” BNEF’s prior estimate of $68 per square foot, Bromley said. Inactive tiles will cost $11 per square foot, and Tesla says to expect an overall average of roughly $22 per square foot.

About That Pricing

Tesla’s solar shingles may open doors to wealthy American suburbs, where aesthetics matter and visible solar panels are sometimes prohibited. But they’re not yet for everyone. The solar roof still comes with a considerable upfront price tag. Replacing the roof of a 2,000 square-foot home in New York state—with 40 percent coverage of active solar tiles and battery backup for night-time use—would cost about $50,000 after federal tax credits. It would pay for itself with $64,000 of energy produced over 30 years, according to Tesla’s website calculator, but that requires a bigger mortgage and some long-term planning.

In this case, a Tesla solar roof is not only more expensive upfront than a traditional roof—contradicting a claim Musk made last year—but it’s potentially more expensive upfront than a traditional roof with solar panels on top, too. That’s because a Tesla solar roof may require more square feet of active solar generation to satisfy the same energy needs as traditional solar panels. Even though the Panasonic solar cells Tesla uses are some of the best in the industry, they must be spaced further apart than on traditional panels to account for the edges of each shingle, BNEF’s Bromley said. Tesla didn’t disclose the electricity output per square foot or the price per watt of power capacity.

All told, Bromley figured, a traditional solar setup might be 30 percent cheaper than the Tesla roof. But Tesla’s will look better and come with a lifetime warranty, whereas normal roofs are typically replaced every few decades. “A 30 percent premium could well be acceptable,” Bromley said, especially for eager customers like Tesla’s car-buyers who are willing to pay $35,000 for a base version of its upcoming Model 3.

An Apple Store for Solar

Tesla has been adopting an Apple Store strategy for solar power since acquiring SolarCity Corp. last year for $2 billion. The idea is to cut down on SolarCity’s high costs of identifying new customers, by attracting them passively through its upscale auto stores in shopping malls and other high-traffic locations. Initial trials found the new strategy was 50 to 100 percent more effective than at the best non-Tesla locations selling SolarCity products. Tesla has already halted SolarCity’s door-to-door sales of solar panels, and over the next six months more than 70 stores will be staffed for solar sales.

Production will begin at Tesla’s Fremont solar plant in California and then shift this summer to its new factory in Buffalo, New York, with additional investments from Tesla’s partner, Panasonic. Musk said initial sales will be limited by manufacturing capacity. As production ramps up into 2018, sales will begin in the UK, Australia, and other locations, along with the introduction of sculpted terracotta and slate versions of the solar roof.

The tempered glass in Tesla’s tiles is designed to conform to the toughest durability standards for both roofs and solar products, according to Tesla. The roof itself is guaranteed to outlast your home, while the power production of the solar cells is covered under a 30 year warranty, according to the company’s website. Glass, as Musk likes to point out, has a “quasi-infinite” lifetime, though the underlying solar cell will degrade over time.

Among other tests, the company shot the tiles with a hail cannon. The video below compares Tesla’s solar tile (left) with traditional commercial slate and terracotta tiles. Each 2-inch hailstone is traveling at 110 miles per hour at the time of impact.

Shots Fired—From a Hail Cannon

The basic premise of Tesla’s strategy is to make solar ownership more attractive and affordable by eliminating the redundancy of installing both a roof and solar panels. Tesla will manage the entire process of solar roof installation, including removal of existing roofs, design, permits, installation and maintenance. The company estimates that each installation will take about a week.

“What is the future that we should have?” Musk asked on a call with reporters. “What do we think the world should look like?”
In the future, he declares, every rooftop should be beautiful, and they all should produce electricity. The pricing must come down further to make that vision a reality. But it’s not so far off, and the price of both batteries and solar cells continues to plummet as those industries scale up globally. If these new solar roof prices are simply Tesla’s opening bid to its early adopters, glass solar shingles may indeed be the asphalt of tomorrow.

More from Bloomberg.com: Tesla’s Solar Roof Pricing Is Cheap Enough to Catch On

Business Insider

Tesla’s new Solar Roof comes with a warranty that lasts forever

Matthew DeBord, Business Insider   May 11, 2017

Tesla announced on Wednesday that it has begun taking orders for its new solar roof.

The solar tiles that make up the roof were designed to be extremely durable — they’re made of glass, after all.

A new solar roof will also be expensive up front compared to a conventional roof, but Tesla says that it will last for 30 years, the length of a standard US mortgage, or longer.

Much longer.

Tesla has an enormous amount of confidence in its tiles. So much to that the company is offering what it calls an “Infinite Tile Warranty.”

“Made with tempered glass, Solar Roof tiles are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles,” Tesla says on the solar roof site. “That’s why we offer the best warranty in the industry — the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first.”

CEO Elon Musk put it more bluntly: it’s “infinity or when your house falls down.”

To prove the toughness of its solar tiles, Tesla fired baseball-size hailstones at its tiles and traditional roof tiles — at 110 mph.

The old-school tiles didn’t make it. The Tesla tiles, according to Musk, laughed off the impact.

Dakota Access pipeline has first leak before it’s fully operational

The Guardian

Dakota Access pipeline has first leak before it’s fully operational

Sam Levin in San Francisco, The Guardian May 11, 2017

Leak raises fresh concerns about hazards to waterways and outrages indigenous groups, who have long warned of threat to environment.

The Dakota Access pipeline has suffered its first leak, outraging indigenous groups who have long warned that the project poses a threat to the environment.

The $3.8bn oil pipeline, which sparked international protests last year and is not yet fully operational, spilled 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station, according to government regulators.

Although state officials said the 6 April leak was contained and quickly cleaned, critics of the project said the spill, which occurred as the pipeline is in the final stages of preparing to transport oil, raises fresh concerns about the potential hazards to waterways and Native American sites.

“They keep telling everybody that it is state of the art, that leaks won’t happen, that nothing can go wrong,” said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has been fighting the project for years. “It’s always been false. They haven’t even turned the thing on and it’s shown to be false.”

The pipeline, scheduled to transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois, inspired massive demonstrations in 2016 and was dealt a major blow when the Obama administration denied a key permit for the project toward the end of his presidency. But shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the new administration ordered the revival of the pipeline and worked to expedite the final stage of construction.

The Standing Rock tribe, which has fought the pipeline corporation Energy Transfer Partners and the US government in court, has argued that the project requires a full environmental study to assess the risks of the pipeline. But under Trump, who has close financial ties to the oil company, the project recently completed construction by the Standing Rock tribe’s reservation in North Dakota and has been loading oil in preparation for a full launch.

The April spill, which was first uncovered this week by a local South Dakota reporter, illustrates the need for the more robust environmental assessment that the tribe has long demanded, said Hasselman.

“It doesn’t give us any pleasure to say, ‘I told you so.’ But we have said from the beginning that it’s not a matter of if, but when,” the Earthjustice attorney told the Guardian on Wednesday. “Pipelines leak and they spill. It’s just what happens.”

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota department of environment and natural resources, said the spill was relatively minor and was caused by a mechanical failure at a surge pump.

“It’s not uncommon to have a small release at a pump station,” he said, adding that the company responded immediately and cleaned up the liquid petroleum. The spill occurred inside a “secondary containment area” and there were no environmental impacts, he added.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe chairman Dave Archambault II said the spill is another sign that the courts should intervene.

“Our lawsuit challenging this dangerous project is ongoing, and it’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen – not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our resources but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk,” he said in a statement.

The company and the state made no announcements about the spill after it occurred.

Walsh said the department only releases public notices of spills when there is an imminent threat to a waterway or public health. This was the pipeline’s first spill in the state, he said.

Energy Transfer Partners did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. A spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the corporation maintains that the pipeline is safe and that the leak was contained in the proper manner. The Associated Press also reported that no other Dakota Access spills have been documented in any other states.

The company has fought in court to keep information about the status of the project confidential.

Hasselman said these kinds of spills should be immediately disclosed.

“What kind of oversight and accountability is there if no one even finds out about these things until weeks later?”

Related from The Guardian. Keystone XL: Republican ranchers join the fightback in South Dakota. https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2017/may/03/keystone-xl-republican-ranchers-join-the-fightback-in-south-dakota-video

International Business Times

Shock as Dakota Access Pipeline spills oil before it even comes online

Brendan Cole, International Business Times May 11, 2017  

The Dakota Access Pipeline has suffered its first oil leak before it has become fully operational, with indigenous groups saying it shows how much the project threatens the environment.

Although state officials said the spill on 4 April was relatively small and quickly cleaned up, opponents of the project says it raises further concerns about the hazards to Native American sites.

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Dave Archambault, said the spills are “going to be nonstop”, the pipeline threatens its water and cultural sites, and the courts should intervene.

“With 1,200 miles of pipeline, spills are going to happen. Nobody listened to us. Nobody wants to listen, because they’re driven by money and greed,” he said.

“Our lawsuit challenging this dangerous project is ongoing, and it’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen – not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our resources but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk,” he said in a statement.

The pipeline, which will take oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois, got the green light for completion from President Donald Trump.

The project has been beset by protests and a lawsuit by four Sioux tribes wanting to close it. It is set to be fully operational by 1 June.

Jan Hasselman, a lawyer for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said: “They keep telling everybody that it is state of the art, that leaks won’t happen, that nothing can go wrong. It’s always been false. They haven’t even turned the thing on and it’s shown to be false.”

However Energy Transfer Partners said that the pipeline is safe and that spilled oil was contained while no other spills have been reported along the pipeline, the Associated Press reports.

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota department of environment and natural resources, said the spill was caused by a mechanical failure at a surge pump, saying: “It’s not uncommon to have a small release at a pump station”.

Elon Musk is about to reshape the solar panel industry with these beautiful roof tiles

Yahoo Business

Elon Musk is about to reshape the solar panel industry with these beautiful roof tiles

Alistair Charlton, International Business Times May 10, 2017

Tesla will begin accepting orders for its innovative new glass solar roof tiles today, 10 May, with UK delivery and installation starting in 2018.

Company boss Elon Musk tweeted the news, adding that the glass roof tiles will only be available in black at launch, with either a smooth or textured finish. Two other finishes, called Tuscan and French Slate, will be available to order in the US towards the end of 2017.

The new solar panels look like regular tiles and cover the entire roof of a house, but are in fact solar panels which gather energy from the sun and store it in a Tesla Powerwall fitted to the side of the building. This can then be used to power the house and take it ‘off-grid’ for some periods of the day.

As the technology evolves it is hoped electricity harvested during the day could be used to recharge a Tesla car each night.

The electric car maker says the tiles should cost no more than fitting a new regular roof, and the main selling point is how they look like regular roof tiles, lacking the ugly aesthetic of traditional solar panels.

Musk said on 10 May: “Tesla solar glass roof orders open this afternoon. I think it will be great,” before adding: “UK delivery and installation next year…black glass smooth and textured will be first. Tuscan and French Slate in about six months…Solar roofs can be ordered for almost any country. Deployment this year in the US and overseas next year.” Musk ended his tweets by confirming to a Twitter user that a corrugated iron option will be coming later.

The CEO, who is also boss of rocket company SpaceX and a tunneling venture called The Boring Company, said he would have more news to share “in about 10 hours”, at roughly 7pm BST.

This news comes just a month after Tesla and Panasonic jointly revealed a new type of solar roof panel. Not as subtle as the tiles discussed today, these panels are larger and sit proud of the roof, but still manage to remove much of the ugliness associated with regular solar panels.

The panels’ design was first developed by a company called Zep Solar, which was acquired by SolarCity in 2013. Solar City, with Musk installed as chairman, was itself acquired by Tesla for $2.6bn (£2bn) in late 2016. They will be constructed at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 facility in Buffalo, New York from this summer, where the solar tiles will also be manufactured later in 2017.

Ohio officials: it will take decades for wetlands to recover after major pipeline fluid spill

ThinkProgress

Ohio officials: it will take decades for wetlands to recover after major pipeline fluid spill

The state has fined the company behind Dakota Access $430,000 for wetlands destruction.

By Samantha Page, Climate Reporter     May 9, 2017

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has told Energy Transfer Partners — the same company building the Dakota Access Pipeline — that it owes the state $430,000 for “inadvertent” damage to pristine state wetlands.

Last month, construction on the 800-mile Rover pipeline discharged more than two million gallons of a clay-like substance used for drilling into wetlands in a rural area about an hour south of Cleveland.

“It’s a tragedy in that we would anticipate this wetland won’t recover to its original condition for decades,” Ohio EPA spokesman James Lee told ThinkProgress. “And had [ETP] more carefully followed best practices and been prepared to respond to the bentonite release, this likely would not have occurred on the scale that we are dealing with now.”

Last week, the state sent a proposed order, requiring a contingency plan to prevent future spills and outlining penalties.

At the time, ETP said bentonite is “a nontoxic, naturally occurring material that is safe for the environment” and denied that the discharge was dangerous. The company also contends, according to a letter from the Ohio EPA to federal regulators, that the state lacks the “authority to enforce violations of its federally delegated state water pollution control statutes.” It does not deny that the spill occurred.

The permitting process for pipelines crossing state boundaries is complicated and involves input from states as well as numerous federal bodies, including, depending on where the line goes, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which serves as the lead agency.

Ohio EPA director Craig Butler has sent a letter to FERC asking for the agency’s support in holding ETP accountable.

“In light of Rover [ETP]’s restarting drilling operations today, and Rover’s position that the state is without any authority to address violations of environmental laws, we are asking FERC to review the matter and to take appropriate action,” Butler wrote Friday.

Butler also pointed out that, in addition to spilling bentonite, the company has engaged in “impermissible open burning,” and air pollution violation. He told the Washington Post that ETP’s response to the violations was “dismissive” and “exceptionally disappointing.”

These are exactly the kind of incidents and actions that worry environmentalists who are trying to stop pipelines going through sensitive areas. ETP’s Rover pipeline is just one of the myriad natural gas and oil pipelines that are under construction in the United States. Improvements in hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling have spurred a boom in natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale basin under Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as an uptick in Oklahoma and Texas, which were already big oil and gas producers.

When finished, the Rover pipeline will bring 3.25 billion cubic feet of gas each day from the region through West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan to Ontario, Canada.

Neither FERC nor Energy Transfer Partners responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment Tuesday.

Related: New gas infrastructure is going to completely undermine U.S. climate goals, thinkprogress.org

Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016 (Trump Won by 22,748)

The Nation

Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016 (Trump Won by 22,748)

A new study shows how voter-ID laws decreased turnout among African-American and Democratic voters.

By Ari Berman  May 9, 2017

Prior to the 2016 election, Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., a 58-year-old African-American man, moved from Illinois to Wisconsin, which implemented a strict voter-ID law for the first time in 2016. He brought his expired Illinois photo ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card to get a photo ID for voting in Wisconsin, but the DMV in Milwaukee rejected his application because the name on his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway,” the result of a clerical error when it was issued. Holloway ended up making seven trips to different public agencies in two states and spent over $200 in an attempt to correct his birth certificate, but he was never able to obtain a voter ID in Wisconsin. Before the election, his lawyer for the ACLU told me Holloway was so disgusted he left Wisconsin for Illinois.

Related Article

Georgia Can’t Block New Voters From Registering in the Ossoff-Handel Runoff  

By Ari Berman

Holloway’s story was sadly familiar in 2016. According to federal court records, 300,000 registered voters, 9 percent of the electorate, lacked strict forms of voter ID in Wisconsin. A new study by Priorities USA, shared exclusively with The Nation, shows that strict voter-ID laws, in Wisconsin and other states, led to a significant reduction in voter turnout in 2016, with a disproportionate impact on African-American and Democratic-leaning voters. Wisconsin’s voter-ID law reduced turnout by 200,000 votes, according to the new analysis. Donald Trump won the state by only 22,748 votes.

The study compared turnout in states that adopted strict voter-ID laws between 2012 and 2016, like Wisconsin, to states that did not.

While states with no change to voter identification laws witnessed an average increased turnout of +1.3% from 2012 to 2016, Wisconsin’s turnout (where voter ID laws changed to strict) dropped by -3.3%. If turnout had instead increased by the national no-change average, we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016.

This reduction in turnout particularly hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The lost voters skewed more African-American and more Democrat. For example, Wisconsin’s 2016 electorate was 6.1% more Republican, and 5.7% less Democrat, than the group of ‘lost voters’. Furthermore, the WI electorate was 3.7% more White and 3.8% less African American than the group of ‘lost voters.’ This analysis suggests that the 200,000 lost voters would have both been more racially diverse and have voted more Democratic.

(Priorities USA is a progressive advocacy group and Super PAC that supported Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012. The study was conducted by Civis Analytics, a data science firm founded by the chief analytics officer for Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.)

Though Wisconsin saw the most dramatic reduction in turnout among voter-ID states, it was reflective of a worrisome broader national trend.

In states where the voter identification laws did not change between ’12 and ’16, turnout was up +1.3%. In states where ID laws changed to non-strict (AL, NH, RI) turnout increased less, and was only up by +0.7%. In states where ID laws changed to strict (MS, VA, WI) turnout actually decreased by – 1.7%.

The drop in turnout in these six states led to 400,000 fewer votes relative to turnout in states where ID laws did not change. In Mississippi, Virginia, and Wisconsin, strict voter-ID laws had an especially pronounced negative impact on African-American voters.

In counties where African Americans make up less than 10% of the population AND there were no changes to voter ID laws, 2016 turnout was up +1.9% from 2012, but in similar <10% African American counties where ID laws changed to be strict, total turnout decreased by -0.7%. In counties where African Americans make up more than 40% of the population, however, 2016 turnout was down -2.2% from 2012 in states where ID laws did not change, but down -5 points in states where ID laws changed to be strict.

The study also compared turnout in Wisconsin to Minnesota, which has very similar demographics but no voter-ID law, and found “turnout in African-American counties dropped off at significantly higher levels than in their Minnesota-counterparts.”

It’s important to note that this study was conducted by a Democratic Party–affiliated group and has not been peer-reviewed or gone through the typical academic vetting process. While some studies have shown big reductions in turnout among minority voters because of voter-ID laws, others have not. But the Priorities USA study is consistent with a 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office, which found that strict voter-ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 percent, enough to swing a close election, with the largest drop-off among newly registered voters, young voters, and voters of color.

This study provides more evidence for the claim that voter-ID laws are designed not to stop voter impersonation fraud, which is virtually nonexistent, but to make it harder for certain communities to vote. This matters greatly today, because 87 bills to restrict access to the ballot have been introduced in 29 states this year, including voter-ID laws in 19 states. Arkansas and Iowa have already passed strict voter-ID laws in 2017.

“Americans’ fundamental right to vote is under attack by Republican governors and state legislatures around the country,” said Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA. “Under the false pretense of combating voter fraud, Republicans are passing laws that make it more difficult and time-consuming for average citizens to participate in the democratic process.”