Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

The Guardian

Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

Joseph Stiglitz   September 8, 2017

We should have learned the lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy – we need political action to help prevent disasters

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/0a18bfbbe19beec30b1e5e4d4e3a1a4fb34e1150/415_0_6065_3639/master/6065.jpg?w=620&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=b5df99c1c88c2089a16b95b1b60cb7aeUS CBP Air and Marine Operations aircrew evacuate stranded residents trapped by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Photograph: Donna Burton/Zuma/Avalon.red

Tropical Storm Harvey has left in its wake upended lives and enormous property damage, estimated by some at $150 to $180 billion. But the storm that pummeled the Texas coast for the better part of a week also raises deep questions about the United States’ economic system and politics.

It is ironic, of course, that an event so related to climate change would occur in a state that is home to so many climate-change deniers – and where the economy depends so heavily on the fossil fuels that drive global warming. Of course, no particular climate event can be directly related to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But scientists have long predicted that such increases would boost not only average temperatures, but also weather variability – and especially the occurrence of extreme events such as Harvey. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded several years ago, “There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” Astrophysicist Adam Frank succinctly explained: “Greater warmth means more moisture in the air which means stronger precipitation.”

To be sure, Houston and Texas could not have done much by themselves about the increase in greenhouse gases, though they could have taken a more active role in pushing for strong climate policies. But local and state authorities could have done a far better job preparing for such events, which hit the area with some frequency.

In responding to the hurricane – and in funding some of the repair – everyone turns to government, just as they did in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Again, it is ironic that this is now occurring in a part of the country where government and collective action are so frequently rebuked. It was no less ironic when the titans of US banking, having preached the neo-liberal gospel of downsizing government and eliminating regulations that proscribed some of their most dangerous and antisocial activities, turned to government in their moment of need.

There is an obvious lesson to be learned from such episodes: markets on their own are incapable of providing the protection that societies need. When markets fail, as they often do, collective action becomes imperative.

And, as with financial crises, there is a need for preventive collective action to mitigate the impact of climate change. That means ensuring that buildings and infrastructure are constructed to withstand extreme events, and are not located in areas that are most vulnerable to severe damage. It also means protecting environmental systems, particularly wetlands, which can play an important role in absorbing the impact of storms. It means eliminating the risk that a natural disaster could lead to the discharge of dangerous chemicals, as happened in Houston. And it means having in place adequate response plans, including for evacuation.

Effective government investments and strong regulations are needed to ensure each of these outcomes, regardless of the prevailing political culture in Texas and elsewhere. Without adequate regulations, individuals and firms have no incentive to take adequate precautions, because they know that much of the cost of extreme events will be borne by others. Without adequate public planning and regulation, including of the environment, flooding will be worse. Without disaster planning and adequate funding, any city can be caught in the dilemma in which Houston found itself: if it does not order an evacuation, many will die; but if it does order an evacuation, people will die in the ensuing chaos, and snarled traffic will prevent people from getting out.

America and the world are paying a high price for devotion to the extreme anti-government ideology embraced by Donald Trump and his Republican party. The world is paying, because cumulative US greenhouse-gas emissions are greater than those from any other country; even today, the US is one of the world’s leaders in per capita greenhouse-gas emissions. But America is paying a high price as well: other countries, even poor developing countries, such as Haiti and Ecuador, seem to have learned (often at great expense and only after some huge calamities) how to manage natural disasters better.

After the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the shutdown of much of New York City by Sandy in 2012, and now the devastation wrought on Texas by Harvey, the US can and should do better. It has the resources and skills to analyze these complex events and their consequences, and to formulate and implement regulations and investment programs that mitigate the adverse effects on lives and property.

What America doesn’t have is a coherent view of government by those on the right, who, working with special interests that benefit from their extreme policies, continue to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Before a crisis, they resist regulations and oppose government investment and planning; afterwards, they demand – and receive – billions of dollars to compensate them for their losses, even those that could easily have been prevented.

One can only hope that America, and other countries, will not need more natural persuasion before taking to heart the lessons of Hurricane Harvey.

Joseph E Stiglitz is a Nobel prizewinner in economics, professor at Columbia University, a former senior vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank, and one-time chair of the US president’s council of economic advisers under Bill Clinton

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Severe Wildfires Spread in Western States During Unprecedented Drought


Severe Wildfires Spread in Western States During Unprecedented Drought

https://resize.rbl.ms/simage/https%3A%2F%2Fassets.rbl.ms%2F10845638%2Forigin.jpg/1200%2C630/MUrJvTIQOSj0P%2Fbh/img.jpgSmoke obscures much of the Pacific Northwest on Sept. 6, 2017. NASA / Goddard, Lynn Jenner

By Climate Nexus     September 8, 2017

An intense and deadly fire season continued to exhaust Western firefighters this week as drought envelops the region.

Officials reported Wednesday that more than one million acres total have burned during Montana’s fire season. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency last week, calling this “one of the worst fire seasons” in the state’s history.

As The Guardian reported, fires and drought are stunting crop yields and endangering cattle in one of the country’s most important agricultural areas. Climate change is intensifying drought conditions in the West: an exceptionally warm spring and summer helped to dry out the landscape after a wet winter. High temperatures and dry conditions increase the chance of a fire starting and can help an existing fire spread.

“Thinking about temperature trends due to human-caused climate change, we think that the western United States is 1.5 [degrees] Celsius, or 3 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than it would be in absence of climate change,” Park Williams, a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told The Atlantic.

“And there’s a heat wave on top of that,” said Williams. “Because of the exponential influence of temperature, that means that this heat wave is having a way worse influence on fire than it would in absence of human-caused warming.”

Wildfires Are a Climate Change Wake-Up Call


David Suzuki: Wildfires Are a Climate Change Wake-Up Call


Dr. David Suzuki    August 16, 2017

Wildfires are sweeping BC. Close to 900 have burned through 600,000 hectares so far this year, blanketing western North America with smoke. Fighting them has cost more than $230 million—and the season is far from over.

It’s not just BC. Thousands of people from BC to California have fled homes as fires rage. Greenland is experiencing the largest blaze ever recorded, one that Prof. Stef Lhermitte of Delft University in the Netherlands called “a rare and unusual event.” Fires have spread throughout Europe, North America and elsewhere. In June, dozens of people died in what’s being called Portugal’s worst fire ever. Meanwhile, from Saskatchewan to Vietnam to New Zealand, floods have brought landslides, death and destruction.

What will it take to wake us up to the need to address climate change? Fires and floods have always been here, and are often nature’s way of renewing ecosystems—but as the world warms, they’re increasing in frequency, size and severity. Experts warn wildfires could double in number in the near future, with the Pacific Northwest seeing five or six times as many.

In the western U.S., annual average temperatures have increased by 2 C and the fire season has grown by three months since the 1970s, leading to “new era of western wildfires,” according to a recent study led by University of Colorado Boulder wildfire experts, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change doesn’t necessarily start the fires—lightning, unattended campfires, carelessly tossed cigarette butts and sparks from machinery are major causes—but it creates conditions for more and larger fires. Lightning, which causes up to 35 percent of Canada’s wildfires and is responsible for 85 percent of the area burned annually, increases as temperatures rise, with studies showing 12 percent more lightning strikes for each degree Celsius of warming.

Drier, shorter winters and earlier snowmelt extend fire seasons. As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, some of which it draws from forests and wetlands, and increasing precipitation is not enough to offset the drying. This means fuel sources ignite more easily and fires spread faster over greater areas. Outbreaks of pests such as mountain pine beetles—previously kept in check by longer, colder winters—have also killed and dried forests, adding fuel to the fires. Because trees and soils hold moisture on slopes, fires can also increase the risk of flash floods when rains finally arrive.

The human and economic impacts are staggering—from property destruction to firefighting and prevention to loss of valuable resources and ecosystems. As human populations expand further into wild areas, damages and costs are increasing.

Health impacts from smoke put people—especially children and the elderly—at risk and drive health care costs up. Wildfires now kill more than 340,000 people a year, mainly from smoke inhalation.

Fires also emit CO2, creating feedback loops and exacerbating climate change. Boreal forests in Canada and Russia store large amounts of carbon and help regulate the climate, but they’re especially vulnerable to wildfires.

Suggested solutions are wide-ranging. The authors of the PNAS study recommend letting some wildfires burn in areas uninhabited by people, setting more “controlled” fires to reduce undergrowth fuels and create barriers, thinning dense forests, discouraging development in fire-prone areas and strengthening building codes.

These adaptive measures are important, as are methods to prevent people from sparking fires, but our primary focus should be on doing all we can to slow global warming.

According to NASA, Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.1 C since the late 19th century, with most warming occurring over the past 35 years, and 16 of the 17 warmest years occurring since 2001. Eight months of 2016 were the warmest on record. Oceans have also been warming and acidifying quickly, Arctic ice has rapidly decreased in extent and thickness, glaciers are retreating worldwide, and sea levels have been rising at an accelerating pace. Record high temperature events have been increasing while low temperature events have decreased, and extreme weather events are becoming more common in many areas.

Today’s wildfires are a wake-up call. If we are serious about our Paris agreement commitments, we can’t build more pipelines, expand oil sands, continue fracking or exploit extreme Arctic and deep-sea oil.

There are over 341,000 wind turbines on the planet: Here’s how much of a difference they’re making

CNBC    Business

There are over 341,000 wind turbines on the planet: Here’s how much of a difference they’re making

Anmar Frangoul, CNBC     September 8, 2017 

https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/nJRtd7rNhzmWt0N.UlXYQQ--/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9ODAw/http://media.zenfs.com/en-US/homerun/cnbc.com/30b70f07fba1dd7029038eb9086fa436William Campbell | Corbis News | Getty Images. Sustainable Energy takes a look at the nuts and bolts of wind power.

From the intense heat of the Californian desert to the green hills of Scotland, wind turbines are popping up all over the world.

Humans have been using wind energy for thousands of years. Today, its scope and scale is big and getting bigger. According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), at the end of 2016 more than 341,000 wind turbines were spinning and generating energy.

CNBC’s Sustainable Energy takes a look at the nuts and bolts of wind power – how turbines work, wind energy’s impact on the environment, and its role in the planet’s energy mix over the coming years.

Offshore and onshore

With their considerable height and large blades, modern wind turbines are instantly recognizable.

How they produce energy can be broken down into several parts. Put simply, when the wind blows, a turbine’s blades turn around a rotor. As the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) explains, the rotor is connected to a main shaft, which in turn rotates a generator to produce electricity.

Wind energy can be produced both offshore and onshore. While the U.S. offshore wind industry is still in its infancy – America’s first offshore wind farm only began commercial operations last December– it is well established in other parts of the world.

According to the GWEC, at the end of last year Europe was home to 3,589 offshore wind turbines. Furthermore, almost 88 percent of the world’s offshore installations were based off the coast of 10 European countries.

The U.K. is a world leader in offshore wind, representing just shy of 36 percent of installed capacity, with Germany and China close behind.

Environmental impact

The GWEC says that in 2016 wind power helped the planet avoid more than 637 million tons of CO2 emissions.

The executive director of Renewable UK explained to CNBC how wind power had several plus points when it came to the environment.

“Wind energy doesn’t require a fuel source… once we’re built we don’t need to mine for anything and we don’t need to burn fossil fuels which, as we know, are contributing to climate change,” Emma Pinchbeck said.

“It’s sustainable as a form of energy production, but then it’s also fairly sustainable as a form of infrastructure because of how we build it,” she added. “The amount of energy that goes in to building a wind farm is ‘paid off’ after one year of generation from that wind farm.”

There are some drawbacks, however. To give just one example, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) acknowledges that wind power has a “significant” part to play in the U.K.’s efforts against climate change, it adds that available evidence suggests that wind farms “can harm birds in three possible ways – disturbance, habitat loss and collision.”

The future

Looking forward, the GWEC says that in the European Union, 520,000 people are expected to be working in the wind industry by 2020.

The DOE’s Wind Vision Report says that wind could potentially support more than 600,000 jobs by the year 2050 and help avoid 12.3 gigatons of greenhouse gases.

Unsurprisingly, Renewable UK’s Pinchbeck was incredibly positive about the future when it comes to renewables. “If I were an investor and I wanted to put my money on what the cheapest forms of energy were going to be, not just today but in ten years’ time, it would be in renewables by a country mile,” she said.

70% of Australia’s Homes are Now Powered by Renewable Energy

9 million households. Read more: http://bit.ly/2vIqeQr

Posted by EcoWatch on Thursday, September 7, 2017


World’s Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant Approved for Australia

https://resize.rbl.ms/simage/https%3A%2F%2Fassets.rbl.ms%2F10245353%2Forigin.jpg/1200%2C600/01MLSSc7V90AbYmz/img.jpgCrescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada. SolarReserve

Lorraine Chow August 16, 2017

The South Australian state government has approved the construction of a 150-megawatt solar thermal power plant.

The AU $650 million (US $510 million) structure will be built in Port Augusta and is slated for completion by 2020. It will be the largest such facility in the world once built.

California-based SolarReserve was awarded with the contract. The company is also behind the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada, the world’s first utility-scale solar thermal power plant.

Solar thermal plants are different from traditional photovoltaic panels on rooftops and solar farms around the world. These plants, also known as concentrated solar plants (CSP), consists of a large field of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to heat molten salt, which then produces superheated steam to drive a generator’s turbines.

A major advantage to this type of power plant is how it can store up to eight hours of molten salt thermal energy storage, allowing for power usage when needed.

“The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines,” said sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia. “This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.”

This technology is critical for South Australia, which has been plagued by blackouts. Australia itself also has a major gas shortage looming and its decades-old coal plants are shutting down, sparking potential price hikes and putting energy security at risk.

Looks like the state is firmly placing its bet on renewables. The state government also recently approved the construction of the worlds largest battery farm in the Riverland region with help from Tesla.

The death rattle of the Trump evangelicals

THE WEEK   Opinion: The death rattle of the Trump evangelicals

Paul Waldman    September 7, 2017

http://api.theweek.com/sites/default/files/styles/tw_image_9_4/public/AP_16216747033701.jpg?itok=1EjszNVx&resize=1260x560AP Photo/Evan Vucci

One of the many fascinating results of the 2016 election was that despite his history of enthusiastic sinning and his transparently phony professions of faith, Donald Trump won 81 percent of the votes of white evangelical Christians, which no candidate had matched since the question has been asked in exit polls. There are multiple reasons why, but at their root lies a changing society that has many conservative Christians feeling threatened and outnumbered.

Just how outnumbered? As a large new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows, a remarkable shift has taken place: White Christians are no longer a majority of Americans.

If you’re a millennial, that may not strike you as odd, since depending on where you live, you’ve probably grown up in a world where you took a good deal of diversity for granted. But if you’re over 40 or so, it’s positively earth-shaking. As the authors of the study note, in 1976, fully 81 percent of Americans identified as white and members of a Christian denomination. Today it’s only 43 percent.

That’s the result of two things happening simultaneously. The first is that America’s racial demographics are steadily evolving, with minority groups, particularly Hispanics, increasing their proportion of the population. In 1980 Hispanics were only 6.5 percent of the population, but today they’re over 17 percent.

At the same time, the population is becoming less religious. The group of religiously unaffiliated people — which includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they don’t belong to any particular faith — has been rapidly growing, and now encompasses a quarter of the population. Even more importantly, young people are much less religious in general and much less likely to identify as Christian than older people. Take a look at this striking chart:

While 63 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are white Christians, only 24 percent of those under the age of 30 are, a group far outnumbered by the 38 percent of young adults who are unaffiliated. Unless there’s some kind of dramatic Christian awakening that produces millions of converts, that means that in the future the ranks of Christians in general and white Christians in particular are likely to shrink.

We should note that America is still easily the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies; when it comes to faith, we look more like a developing country than like our peers in Europe. One key reason is probably our tradition of religious liberty and the proliferation of faiths in America; in much of Europe for much of recent history, religion meant only the strict and stodgy Catholic Church or your country’s official Protestant denomination, which many populations were only too eager to turn away from as their societies progressed into the modern age. In America it was always possible to reject the religion of your parents and still find a church more to your liking somewhere else.

But up until now, white Christians knew that their faith, at least in the broadest terms, was the default setting for the country. Slowly that began to change, and with that change came the emergence of a new ideology, one that says that if we’re a diverse society, then maybe everyone’s traditions should be worthy not just of grudging tolerance, but of actual respect. Maybe — just to take one example — when a department store is decorating for the holidays, they’ll put up a sign that’s inclusive of everyone, and not exclusive to Christians.

Many Christians greeted that kind of change by saying, “Well of course that’s how we ought to act.” But not all of them. Spurred on by the grievance-mongers at Fox News, many decided that a “Happy Holidays” sign was a deeply offensive attack on their religion and symbolized everything terrifying about their diminished status.

Then came Trump. He didn’t mince words about having an inclusive society; instead, he just said outright that he was going to advocate for Christianity. When he went to Liberty University in January 2016, he was roundly mocked for referring to “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians” (no biblical scholar he), but what really mattered was what he said afterward. “Is that the one?” he asked the crowd. “Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like.” No other candidate could not just pander but literally announce the fact that he was pandering — and still wind up winning the target of that pandering by an overwhelming margin.

If Trump does what they want, they don’t much care whether he’s sincere. “How about all those department stores?” he asked at a post-election rally, standing amid a forest of Christmas trees. “They have the bells and they have the red walls and they have the snow, but they don’t have ‘merry Christmas’? I think they’re gonna start putting up ‘merry Christmas.'” But if current trends continue, the Democratic Party will get more and more diverse while the GOP will continue to be the party of white Christians, a shrinking portion of the electorate.

That may not be an immediate threat to Republicans in places where they dominate, particularly in the South and Midwest. But it shows that in the years to come, they’re going to find themselves more and more alienated from a nation that’s changing around them. So far, they show little inclination to do much about it.

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Harvey’s floodwaters give way to festering piles of garbage

Yahoo News, Associated Press

Harvey’s floodwaters give way to festering piles of garbage

Brian Melley and Paul J. Weber, Associated Press     September 7, 2017

View photos:   In this Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, photo, Steve and Sherri Blatt pose for a photograph among the debris from theirs and their neighbors’ homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Harvey’s record-setting rains now have the potential to set records for the amount of debris one storm can produce. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HOUSTON (AP) — Roiling waters in the streets have given way to festering piles of garbage on the curbs.

Harvey’s record-setting rains created heaps of ruined possessions that now line entire neighborhoods, some nearly up to the rooftops of the homes that were swamped. All that sodden drywall, flooring, furniture, clothing and toys adds up to an estimated 8 million cubic yards in Houston alone, enough to fill the Texans’ football stadium two times over.

Texas and city officials have pledged to make a priority of the monumental task of cleaning it all up, though they stopped short of giving specific timelines, mindful that such cleanups have dragged on longer than anticipated after other major storms.

“We want to get it removed as quickly as possible,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Thursday.

For now, the piles big and small have become evidence, of sorts, of the losses from more than 200,000 damaged homes up and down the Texas coast.

Not only are the heaps eyesores, but they are starting to give off a musty funk. And the longer they sit, officials warn, they could become havens for mold, not to mention snakes, rats, skunks and other critters. The junk could also turn into projectiles if, heaven forbid, another hurricane strikes.

“I just can’t stand it anymore,” said Peggy Lanigan, who took a break from clearing out her Houston home that flooded for the first time in 22 years.

The city is pushing to complete a “first pass” of debris removal within 30 days, said Derek Mebane, deputy assistant director of Houston’s solid waste department. He said collecting subsequent piles could take months and warned that if Hurricane Irma causes extensive damage in Florida, the cleanup in Houston could be slowed if resources are diverted. While local crews do the pickups, FEMA covers 90 percent of the costs.

As it stands now, clearing even just one Houston street can take days. Some piles are so massive that a single stack of debris from one home can fill an entire truck.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner this week pleaded for help, asking for anyone with heavy equipment suitable for debris removal to reach out.

The trash will go into the city’s existing landfills. San Antonio trucks have been sent in as part of an agreement between the two cities to help each other in disasters, the mayor said.

Soon after the storm hit, state officials suspended some environmental rules on waste removal that they said could impede the pace of disaster recovery, which raised concerns among environmentalists.

Trash looters are another concern. Some homeowners spray-painted messages on mattresses to leave them alone because the debris is needed for insurance claims. Others posted signs saying they were just drying out items they intended to save.

Mike Martinez said a king-sized mattress that had been floating in his bedroom days earlier was taken from his yard along with a La-Z-Boy sectional couch. The $5,000 sofa still looked brand new after the flood but was like a sponge if you sat on it. He couldn’t understand why anyone would take it because it’s contaminated with floodwater and probably mold.

“It was like a parade of people going by looking at the devastation,” Martinez said. “Then there was a parade of people picking up the garbage.”

Overturned sofas, listing mattresses and toppled chairs dominate the rubble while smaller, more intimate items hide in the cracks.

The piles also created a sort of archaeological record of the households from which they came. There’s a moldering red cooler, a beat-up blue kiddie pool, a pornography stash spilling onto the street. Brand-new golf balls, a full jar of mangoes and a twisted artificial Christmas tree. A book titled “The Inheritance of Loss” seemed particularly poignant.

Sherri Blatt’s main concern is that it could be a long wait before the mess is carted away. “This is too long,” she said. “Once all the stuff is gone, I’ll feel safe.”

Almost on cue, a garbage truck rumbled around the corner. But it wasn’t there for flood debris — only for the trash that hadn’t been picked up in a week and was adding its own odor to the mix.

Weber reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Juan A. Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.

For complete Harvey coverage, visit https://apnews.com/tag/HurricaneHarvey .

Get the best of the AP’s all-formats reporting on Irma and Harvey in your inbox: http://apne.ws/ahYQGtb .

Under Trump The EPA is More About Politics Than Science


Under Trump The EPA is More About Politics Than Science

L. Lanktree, Newsweek September 5, 2017  

A former Trump campaign aide is now vetting hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money the EPA gives out to worthy environmental science and projects each year. It could mean that thousands of science projects are in jeopardy under the Trump administration.

John Konkus—a public relations expert who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in Florida’s Leon County—has told agency staff he’s scrubbing climate change “the double C-word” from projects the EPA funds, according to The Washington Post.

In late August the energy and environment website E&E News revealed a directive from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt instructing all grants to be routed to Konkus. If Konkus “has any concerns, comments, or questions on the solicitation,” it reads, he will intervene in the grant process.

https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/6.pqo0s1FLmlWPvd8dsIqQ--/Zmk9c3RyaW07aD00Mjc7dz02NDA7c209MTthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg--/http://media.zenfs.com/en-GB/homerun/newsweek_europe_news_328/6d287ac5960628f187e2d4b9834124b6Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview for Reuters at his office in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Konkus’ title at the agency is deputy associate administrator for public affairs, placing him in the EPA’s communications department. From 2013 to December 2016 he served as executive vice president at the political consultancy Jamestown Associates. Konkus joined the EPA in early February after acting as Pruitt’s “sherpa” during his confirmation hearings.

President Donald Trump, Pruitt has questioned the very existence of climate change and whether it is man made. President Donald Trump outlined his plan to cut $2.4 billion from the EPA’s budget in 2018 last March. About half of the agency’s annual $8 billion budget goes to grants.

Konkus is now making decisions about which scientific projects are worthy of funding. So far he has cancelled nearly $2 million for university and nonprofit organization projects.

An EPA spokeswoman pointed out to The Post that the figure represents just 1 percent of grants that have been given since Pruitt took office.

The new policy is a break with tradition and shows a politicization of the grant process. Public relations are not usually involved in funding decisions.

Yet Konkus is not the only political appointee at the agency. Pruitt is staffing the upper ranks of the agency, which regulates America’s energy and oil and gas industry, with climate change deniers.

At the end of August former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Cathy Stepp was appointed to head one of the EPA’s regional offices. “Her qualifications?” a release from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asked, “Stepp doubts human activity is the primary cause of climate change.”

While Stepp was serving in Wisconsin the EPA had to step in twice to spur her to deal with issues such as manure-contaminated drinking water. She also told her department to remove information from their website talking about how carbon emissions impact climate change. Fines for violating environmental rules shrank during the six-years Stepp headed Wisconsin’s DNR.

Over the weekend the EPA took a page from President Trump’s playbook and began attacking journalists from the Associated Press who reported that the EPA had not yet visited toxic dumps in and around Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey made landfall August 25.

A majority of the sites, AP reporters found, were accessible by foot or vehicle. The EPA accused the newswire of ‘fake news.’

Since Trump’s inauguration the EPA’s news releases have taken a decidedly pro-energy industry turn, New Yorker magazine fact checker Talia Lavin pointed out in a series of tweets Saturday. The press releases, Lavin said, show an EPA “that has near utterly abdicated its duty to regulate” that industry.

In calling the AP’s reporting false and targeting Biesecker, the agency “is engaging in political smearing of the press and critics,” she said.

In late August a group of Democratic Senators accused Pruitt in a letter of taking “deliberate steps to thwart transparency” at the agency, including forbidding “staff from taking notes during meetings, so that they do not create records of your questions or directions.”

When questions about Konkus’ qualifications to evaluate scientific and other environmental projects applying for grants were put to the EPA by E&E News, a spokesperson said, the “grants are being reviewed to ensure they adhere to the Trump administration’s goals and policies and the EPA’s back-to-basics agenda.”

Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs

Inequality.org     Taxation Report: Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs

The 24th annual Institute for Policy Studies ‘Executive Excess’ report offers a first-ever look at the jobs record of U.S. firms that pay taxes near the rates the Trump White House favors.

by Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati, Research & Commentary         August 30, 2017

House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing to cut the statutory federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. President Trump wants to slash the rate even further, to just 15 percent. Their core argument? Lowering the tax burden will lead to more and better jobs.

To investigate this claim, we set out to analyze the job-creating performance of the 92 publicly held American corporations that reported a U.S. profit every year from 2008 through 2015 and paid less than 20 percent of these earnings in federal corporate income tax.

These 92 corporations offer an ideal test for the proposition that lower tax rates encourage corporations to create jobs. By exploiting loopholes in the existing federal tax code, all these firms have reduced their tax rates to the level that Speaker Ryan and President Trump claim will stimulate job creation. Did these reduced tax rates actually lead to greater employment within the 92 firms? We crunched data available from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy to find the answer.

Our findings appear in the just-published 24th edition of the annual Institute for Policy Studies Executive Excess report. And what exactly did we find? Download report and graphics. Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs

Tax breaks did not spur job creation.

  • America’s 92 most consistently profitable tax-dodging firms registered median job growth of negative 1 percent between 2008 and 2016. The job growth rate over those same years among U.S. private sector firms as a whole: 6 percent.
  • More than half of the 92 tax-avoiders, 48 firms in all, eliminated jobs between 2008 and 2016, downsizing by a combined total of 483,000 positions. 

Tax-dodging corporations paid their CEOs more than other big firms.

  • Average CEO pay among the 92 firms rose 18 percent, to $13.4 million in real terms, between 2008 and 2016, compared to a 13 percent increase among S&P 500 CEOs. U.S. private sector worker pay increased by only 4 percent during this period.
  • CEOs at the 48 job-slashing companies within our 92-firm sample pocketed even larger paychecks. In 2016 they grabbed $14.9 million on average, 14 percent more than the $13.1 million for typical S&P 500 CEOs.

Job-cutting firms spent tax savings on buybacks, which inflated CEO pay.

  • Many of the firms in our tax-dodging sample funneled their tax savings into stock buybacks, a financial maneuver that inflates the value of executive stock-based pay. On average, the top 10 job-cutters in our sample each spent $45 billion over the last nine years repurchasing their own stock, six times as much as the S&P 500 corporate average.

Several specific major corporations jump out from our analysis. ExxonMobil, for instance, emerges as particularly poor corporate “citizen.” The oil giant paid an effective tax rate of only 13.6 percent during the 2008-2015 period, at the same time cutting more than a third of its global workforce (the company does not reveal U.S. jobs data).

After pumping nearly $146 billion into stock buybacks, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, now the U.S. secretary of state, took home $27.4 million in total compensation in 2016, 22 percent more than he collected in 2008.

But ExxonMobil hardly stands alone. AT&T actually emerges as the top job-cutter among the tax-dodging corporations we analyzed. The telecommunications giant managed to get away with an effective tax rate of just 8.1 percent over the 2008-2015 period, while cutting more jobs than any other firm in our sample.

After accounting for acquisitions and spinoffs, AT&T had nearly 80,000 fewer employees in 2016 than in 2008. Instead of making job-preserving investments, the firm shoveled profits into stock buybacks ($34 billion over the past nine years) and massive CEO paychecks. AT&T chief Randall Stephenson pulled in $28.4 million in 2016, more than double his 2008 payout.

General Electric, meanwhile, stashed enough corporate earnings in overseas tax havens to achieve a negative effective tax rate during the 2008-2015 period. How can a tax rate be negative? GE received more dollars back from Uncle Sam than it paid into federal coffers. How did GE repay the taxpayers of America for their generosity? The company spent $42 billion repurchasing its own stock, a neat move that helped boost CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s pay to nearly $18 million in 2016.

What about jobs at GE? The company’s employee count has dropped by about 14,700 over the past nine years.

CEOs of large American corporations have for far too long been rigging the rules to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers, workers, and communities. America needs a serious unrigging. In this year’s Executive Excess report, as in previous editions, we’ve included a “scorecard” of CEO pay reforms that would help end the job-killing games that U.S. corporate executives play.

Our nation also desperately needs a tax reform debate that dispenses with the fantastical notion that corporate tax cuts will automatically create good jobs for American workers. Policy makers should be focusing instead on ensuring that corporate America pays its fair share of the cost of job-creating public investments in infrastructure and other urgent needs.

A solid first step would be to eliminate loopholes that grant preferential treatment of foreign profits. U.S. corporations should have to pay what they owe on their current offshore holdings and not be allowed to defer these payments indefinitely. By continuing to allow offshore tax sheltering, policy makers are shifting the tax burden onto ordinary Americans and creating a disincentive for job creation in the United States.

Beyond closing loopholes, we need new innovative policies — a tax on Wall Street speculation, for instance — that would help generate much-needed revenue for investments in real jobs. Americans for Tax Fairness is now offering online an array of promising ideas on how to reform tax rules to help make them work for all of us, not just big companies and their CEOs.

Corporate Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs!

Institute For Policy Studies   August 30 2017

What you think of Bernie Sanders or his supporters isn’t important. The truth, however, is:

What Donald Trump and corporate CEOs don’t want you to know is that Corporate tax cuts don’t create jobs. They go into the pockets of wealthy CEOs who cut American jobs. Virtually every major corporation that has paid little or no taxes since the financial crisis in 2008 has laid off thousands of workers; they’ve created very few jobs.

Republicans have been trying to sell the same, lame load of snake oil for at least a century. Nearly 100 years ago, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge & Herbert Hoover rode a wave of support for this flawed philosophy into creating wealth disparity at almost the same level we have now straight into the Great Depression. It has never worked & never will because the real purpose of it isn’t to create jobs or better wages. Nor is it because they honestly believe the wealth will “trickle down”. It never was.

Corporate Tax Cuts Don't Create Jobs

Here's what Donald Trump and corporate CEOs don't want you to know: Corporate tax cuts don't create jobs. They go into the pockets of wealthy CEOs who cut American jobs.

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, August 30, 2017