NYC-area Lutherans resolve to divest from fossil fuels; culmination of efforts begun shortly after last year’s People’s Climate March
June 1, 2015 (New York, NY) – On Friday, March 29, the annual Assembly of the Metropolitan New York Synod, one of the most populous geographical divisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), resolved to divest from fossil fuels within five years. The Synod Assembly also voted to ask the national body of the church to do the same at the Churchwide Assembly in 2016.
Reverend John Z. Flack, pastor of Our Savior’s Atonement in Washington Heights, Manhattan, introduced the two resolutions from the floor of the Assembly. One resolution calls on the Metro NY Synod to “cease any new investments in companies whose primary business is the exploration, extraction, production, or refining of coal, oil, or natural gas,” and to “ensure that, within five years, directly held or commingled assets” in such companies “are removed from its portfolio.” The resolution also urges member congregations to follow these steps.
The second resolution calls upon the 2016 Churchwide Assembly “to urge that, by May 1, 2017, all ELCA congregations and independent, cooperative, and related Lutheran organizations and investment corporations” take these same steps to remove fossil-fuel investments from their portfolios.
Both resolutions passed with very little opposition.
The resolutions were the culmination of work begun shortly after the People’s Climate March, a gathering of 400,000 people in New York City last September, calling attention to what many now refer to as the “crisis” of climate change. As Gerard A. Falco, Chair of the Synod’s Environmental Stewardship Committee, explained, “Lutherans, from our Synod and from across the country, were deeply involved in organizing the People’s Climate March and making it the success it was. The march galvanized public opinion, and our committee decided to build on that momentum to get these divestment resolutions passed.”
About $289,000 of the Synod’s current investment portfolio will be immediately re-allocated in response to the Assembly’s action. Altogether, the Synod’s investments total about $12 million.
With the passage of these resolutions, the Metro NY Synod joins the New England and Oregon Synods – and many other congregations and religious bodies, both in the US and abroad – in divesting from coal, oil, and natural gas companies because of their damaging effects on the climate. This religious divestment movement parallels the strong student-led campaign to divest colleges and universities, and the growing campaign to divest state and municipal pension funds.
Robert Rimbo, Bishop of the Metro NY Synod, said “With this action, our Synod joins the chorus of those who acknowledge that ‘if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.’ This is a fiscally responsible step, but it’s also the right thing to do. As Christians, we are called to care for all Creation. As Luther himself wrote, ‘God is essentially present in all places, even the tiniest tree leaf,’ so ‘to do harm to Creation is also to assault God. And when humans assault God, there is only one outcome, and it is not a good one for humans.’ With these resolutions, we’ve taken a further step in living out our Lutheran vocation.”
The Metropolitan NY Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America covers the five boroughs of New York City and Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties. The Synod has approximately 64,000 baptized members in 190 congregations served by about 300 pastors and 100 rostered lay leaders. For more information, visit http://www.mnys.org/. For the texts of the resolutions, go to http://tinyurl.com/MNYS-ELCA-resolutions.
US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies
Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidises granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals
By Damian Carrington and Harry Davies, 12 May 2015 07.00 EDT
The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change.
A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidises were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.
The Guardian has found that:
A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6bn (£1bn) in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8bn.
ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana are benefitting from $119m of state subsidy, with the support starting in 2011, when the company made a $41bn profit.
A jobs subsidy scheme worth $78m to Marathon Petroleum in Ohio began in 2011, when the company made $2.4bn in profit.
“At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said senator Bernie Sanders, who announced on 30 April he is running for president.
Sanders, with representative Keith Ellison, recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135bn of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8bn on lobbying, much of it in defence of these giveaways,” according to Sanders and Ellison.
“Subsidies to fossil fuel companies are completely inappropriate in this day and age,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an NGO that analyses the costs of fossil fuels. OCI found in 2014 that US taxpayers were subsidising fossil fuel exploration and production alone by $21bn a year. In 2009, President Barack Obama called on the G20 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies but since then US federal subsidies have risen by 45%.
Tax credits, defined as a subsidy by the World Trade Organisation, are a key route of support for the fossil fuel industry. Using the subsidy tracker tool created by the Good Jobs First group, the Guardian examined some of the biggest subsidies for specific projects.
Shell’s proposed $4bn plant in Pennsylvania is set to benefit from tax credits of $66m a year for 25 years. Shell has bought the site and has 10 supply contracts in place lasting up to 20 years, including from fracking companies extracting shale gas in the Marcellus shale field. The deal was struck by the then Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who received over $1m in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. According to Guardian analysis of data compiled by Common Cause Pennsylvania, Shell have spent $1.2m on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2011.
A Shell spokesman said: “Shell supports and endorses incentive programmes provided by state and local authorities that improve the business climate for capital investment, economic expansion and job growth. Shell would not have access to these incentive programmes without the support and approval from the representative state and local jurisdictions.”
ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery is the second-largest in the US. Since 2011, it has been benefitting from exemptions from industrial taxes, worth $118.9m over 10 years, according to the Good Jobs First database. The Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal has expressed his pride in attracting investment from ExxonMobil. In state election campaigns between 2003 and 2013, he received 231 contributions from oil and gas companies and executives totalling $1,019,777, according to a list compiled by environmental groups.
A spokesman for ExxonMobil said: “ExxonMobil will not respond to Guardian inquiries because of its lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”
The Guardian is running a campaign asking the world’s biggest health charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to sell their fossil fuel investments on the basis that it is misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding more oil, gas and coal when current reserves are already several times greater than can be safely burned. Many philanthropic organisations have already divested from fossil fuels, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund whose wealth derives from Standard Oil, which went on to become ExxonMobil.
A spokesman for Marathon Petroleum said: “The tax credit recognises the enormous contribution we make to the Ohio economy through the taxes we pay and the well-paying jobs we maintain. We have more than doubled the 100 new jobs we committed to create.” The spokesman said the company paid billions of dollars in income and other taxes every year across the US.
“Big oil, gas, and coal have huge influence on politicians and governments and they get that influence the old fashioned way – they buy it,” said Kretzmann. “Through campaign finance, lobbying, advertising and superpac spending, the industry has many ways to influence candidates and government officials seeking re-election.”
He said fossil fuel subsidies were endemic in the US: “Every single well, pipeline, refinery, coal and gas plant in the country is heavily subsidised. Big Fossil’s lobbyists have done their jobs well for the last century.”
Ben Schreiber, at Friends of the Earth US, said. “There is a vibrant discussion about the best way to keep fossil fuels in the ground – from carbon taxation to divestment – but ending state and federal corporate welfare for polluters is one of the easiest places to start.”
Schreiber also defended subsidies for renewable energy: “Fossil fuels are a mature technology while renewable energy is nascent and still developing. It makes sense to subsidise technologies that are going to help solve climate change, but not to do the same for those that are causing the problem.”
Often dismissed as unwise by oil industry proponents and criticized as a distraction even by supporters of action on climate change, the divestment movement is no longer being ignored.
Look no further than CeraWeek, an annual get-together of North America’s fossil fuel elite. On April 22, amid discussion panels such as “Asia: Still the Promised Land for New Energy Investment?” or “Canada’s role in the rising North America energy powerhouse,” there was also a session dedicated to divestment and the implications for energy companies. The conversation analyzed how sustainable the business model is for fossil fuel companies as the world moves towards regulating carbon emissions.
The attention paid to the divestment at CeraWeek suggests that the growing publicity and success from the environmental movement’s ability to secure divestment commitments from universities, banks, pension funds, churches, and other wealth funds are starting to be perceived as a threat by the fossil fuel industry.
A few weeks earlier, The Guardian made a splash with its “Keep it in the Ground” campaign, a very firm declaration in support of divestment. The Guardian Media Group vowed to divest its £800 million fund as well.
The growing concern over carbon pollution raises the possibility of a regulatory or tax crackdown, both at the national and international level. Newsweek reported on April 21 that HSBC wrote in a private note to its clients that there is an increasing risk that fossil fuel companies will become “economically non-viable.” As a result, HSBC advised its clients to divest from fossil fuels because they may be too risky. If investors fail to get out of fossil fuels, the bank says, they “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history.’” As the divestment campaign builds up steam, major oil and gas companies are starting to see the writing on the wall.
But there could be a way to adapt. The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) just published a “blueprint” for fossil fuel companies to adapt to a carbon-constrained world. The blueprint provides several recommendations. For example, oil companies should avoid high cost projects such as the struggling Kashagan field in Kazakhstan or expensive oil sands projects in Canada. High-cost projects put companies at risk when they are hit with unforeseen events, such as an oil price crash, a decline in demand, or a change in tax regimes. Instead, companies should invest in lower risk projects with higher rates of return, CTI says. CTI also insists that corporate governance within fossil fuel companies is critical – management needs a clear-eyed prognosis of how exposed their assets are to a potential scenario in which their oil and gas reserves are no longer wanted.
It is far from clear whether or not the oil majors will heed CTI’s advice on adapting their companies. In mid-April, 98 percent of BP’s shareholders voted in favor of an initiative that would force the company to disclose which of its assets would become “unburnable” in a low-carbon world. The results of that analysis will be much anticipated. ExxonMobil undertook a similar study, but summarily dismissed the likelihood that its assets would be affected in the future by climate action.
“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, said in a March 2014 statement. In other words, investors have little to fear — ExxonMobil will be fine.
However, much has changed since then. The divestment movement has gathered quite a bit of momentum as protests hit more campuses and city halls. The U.S. and China reached a landmark agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. More countries will set policies to reduce energy demand ahead of international negotiations in Paris later this year. Oil prices have crashed, highlighting the vulnerabilities of many over-leveraged oil companies. And clean energy continues to make inroads, amid falling costs for solar, wind, and energy storage.
Oil companies ignore the divestment campaign – and other threats to their business models – at their own peril.
North America’s Oil And Gas Industry Has Taken Over 7 Million Acres Of Land Since 2000
By Katie Valentine, April 24, 2015 at 12:28 pm
Millions of acres of land across the U.S. and Canada has been taken over by oil and gas development in the last 12 years, according to a new study.
The study, published Friday in Science, tallied up the amount of land that’s been developed to house drilling well pads, roads, and other oil and gas infrastructure in 11 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. It found that between 2000 and 2012, about 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) have been turned over to oil and gas development, a stretch of land that, combined, is equal to three Yellowstone National Parks.
This land takeover can have ecological consequences, according to the report.
“Although small in comparison with the total land area of the continent, this important land use is not accounted for and creates additional pressures for conserving rangelands and their ecosystem functions,” the report states. “The distribution of this land area has negative impacts: increasing fragmentation that can sever migratory pathways, alter wildlife behavior and mortality, and increase susceptibility to ecologically disruptive invasive species.”
Most of the land converted into drilling operations was cropland and rangeland — a term that encompasses prairies, grassland, shrubland, and other ecosystem types — and roughly 10 percent was woodland. Wetlands, according to the report, were mostly spared by oil and gas developers, though a very small amount have been converted into oil and gas sites.
Land takeover due to oil and gas development can have a number of negative consequences, the report states. It removes vegetation that’s important for food, habitat, and carbon storage, and it also fragments ecosystems in such a way that can disrupt the natural behavior of wildlife.
According to the report, oil and gas development reduced the study area’s net primary production (NPP) — the rate at which an ecosystem produces plant biomass, which the report calls “a fundamental measure of a region’s ability to provide ecosystem services” — by 4.5 teragrams (9,920,801,798 pounds). The amount of vegetation lost from rangelands amounts to about five million animal unit months (the amount of vegetable forage required to feed an animal for one month), which “is more than half of annual available grazing on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.”
“The loss of NPP is likely long-lasting and potentially permanent, as recovery or reclamation of previously drilled land has not kept pace with accelerated drilling,” the report states.
Steve Running, co-author of the study and ecology professor at the University of Montana, told Midwest Energy News that the upward trend of oil and gas development is concerning in terms of land use, especially if serious efforts to reclaim land aren’t taken.
“The point we’re trying to make with this paper is not so much that some huge fraction of current land area has been de-vegetated, as much as the trajectory of drilling, (consuming) a half-million acres per year,” he said. “If we continue that to 2050, you get to some seriously big amounts of land.”
Right now, there’s not much known about to what extent oil and gas areas in the U.S. are being reclaimed after they’ve been developed, said Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, another co-author of the report from Oklahoma State University. And, he said, there isn’t much work at the federal or state level to regulate or enforce this reclamation. Some states — including Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, and West Virginia — do require oil and gas companies to submit plans for reclaiming land after they’re done drilling. But others, like Colorado, don’t require these plans.
“You’d expect there would be both state- and federal-level policy,” Running told Midwest Energy News. “But we’re not aware of a clear policy on this. We don’t see any active discussion or regulatory planning of how that’s going to be done, who will do it and when it will be done. Beyond policy, is there actual enforcement. We are not aware that any state or federal policies are actively following this.”