Category Archives: Climate Change

GAO: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News
[Editor: This came to us in an E-Alert from Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who wrote, “The red lights are flashing – hottest summers and fall, greatest hurricane force, worst fires in history of California, lives lost, air pollution killing millions, and all of this is costing us billions… …rising sea level will affect structures near the Benicia waterfront at 6 feet above current sea level.  Our water (sewer) will be affected by rising sea level before 2050.  Our water supply may be uncertain.  We can mitigate and adapt….”  – RS]

US Government Accountability Office: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

By Michael Biesecker, Associated Press, October 23, 2017 8:13 pm
california wildfires
Sarah Boryszewski is helped by her father Gerald Peete as they dig for belongings in the remains of Boryszewski’s home in Coffey Park, Friday Oct. 20, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Northern California residents who fled a wildfire in the dead of night with only minutes to spare returned to their neighborhoods Friday for the first time in nearly two weeks to see if anything was standing. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

WASHINGTON — A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.

A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year’s three major hurricanes and wildfires, expected to be among the most costly in the nation’s history.

The report predicts these costs will only grow in the future, potentially reaching a budget busting $35 billion a year by 2050. The report says the federal government doesn’t effectively plan for these recurring costs, classifying the financial exposure from climate-related costs as “high risk.”

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” the study said. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

GAO undertook the study following a request from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“This nonpartisan GAO report Senator Cantwell and I requested contains astonishing numbers about the consequences of climate change for our economy and for the federal budget in particular,” said Collins. “In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. We are experiencing a real change in the sea life, which has serious implications for the livelihoods of many people across our state, including those who work in our iconic lobster industry.”

The report’s authors reviewed 30 government and academic studies examining the national and regional impacts of climate change. They also interviewed 28 experts familiar with the strengths and limitations of the studies, which rely on future projections of climate impacts to estimate likely costs.

The report says the fiscal impacts of climate change are likely to vary widely by region. The Southeast is at increased risk because of coastal property that could be swamped by storm surge and sea level rise. The Midwest and Great Plains are susceptible to decreased crop yields, the report said. The west is expected to see increased drought, wildfires and deadly heatwaves.

Advance copies were provided to the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided no official comments for inclusion in the GAO report.

Requests for comment from The Associated Press also received no response on Monday.

President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, announcing his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords and revoke Obama-era initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed officials such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom question the scientific consensus that carbon released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.

Earlier this month Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White of Texas to serve as his top environmental adviser at the White House. She has credited the fossil fuel industry with “vastly improved living conditions across the world” and likened the work of mainstream climate scientists to “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.”

White, who works at a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies, holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature.

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Trump Names Climate Denier to Head White House Environmental Council

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Trump Names Climate Denier Kathleen Hartnett-White to Head White House Environmental Council

By Steve Horn, October 13, 2017 09:32

President Donald Trump, as first reported by EnergyWire’s Hannah Northey‏ on Twitter and as stated in a White House press release, has named Kathleen Hartnett-White to chair the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Hartnett-White, as previously reported by DeSmog, is a prominent climate change denier and former Chairman and Commissioner of the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) under then-Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry now heads up the U.S. Department of Energy and is reported to have advocated for her to run CEQ. She is also an outspoken advocate of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and of exporting oil and gas to the global market.

Long seen as the presumptive front-runner to take the CEQ role, Hartnett-White also worked on President Trump’s presidential campaign on his Economic Advisory Team. And her name was once floated to head up the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well, currently led by Scott Pruitt.

The head of the CEQ coordinates interagency science, climate, and environmental policy, and is tasked to oversee things like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process and agencies’ compliance with that law. The CEQ as an entity itself was actually a creation of NEPA, mandated by that law.

Though CEQ oversees the NEPA process, it remains unclear how seriously Hartnett-White will take the NEPA review process, for decades seen as a bedrock of U.S. environmental regulation since NEPA became law in 1970.

Hartnett-White has long positioned herself as an opponent of environmental and climate actions taken by regulatory agencies. She currently works as a fellow-in-residence at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which receives fundingfrom ExxonMobil, the Heartland InstituteKoch Industries and others. White also helped head up the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Fueling Freedom Project, which had among its stated goals to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” and “end the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant.”

In September 2016 during campaign season, Politico’s Morning Energy reported that Hartnett-White was “among a small group of people who have Donald Trump’s ear on energy policy.” Hartnett-White and Stephen Moore, who also worked on Trump’s campaign, co-authored a 2016 book titled, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy. The book promoted fracking and said the U.S. shale gas bounty could be worth $50 trillion, a statement which has been called false by an energy analyst who crunched the numbers.

The book also claimed that all of the net jobs gained in the U.S. between 2007-2012 can be linked to the fracking revolution, which they wrote has spawned “millions of new jobs in the energy sector.”

But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during that time period, the number of oil and gas industry workers ranged from a low of about 140,700 jobs in 2007 to a high of 194,700 in 2012.

Image Credit: Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy

Hartnett-White Is a Climate Science Denier

Not only a fracking promoter, Hartnett-White has also called carbon dioxide in the atmosphere a major benefit for society.

No matter how many times, the President [Obama], EPA and the media rant about ‘dirty carbon pollution,’ there is no pollution about carbon itself! As a dictionary will tell you, carbon is the chemical basis of all life,” White wrote in September 2015.

Our flesh, blood and bones are built of carbon. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the gas of life on this planet, an essential nutrient for plant growth on which human life depends. How craftily our government has masked these fundamental realities and the environmental benefits of fossil fuels!”

Likewise, Hartnett-White gave a talk for the Texas Public Policy Foundation in November 2015 on a panel titled, “Not a Pollutant: CO2 is the Gas of Life.”

In a September 2016 interview with Politico, Hartnett-White advocated for the creation of a ”blue ribbon commission” on climate change, similar to the “red team-blue team” one being floated by Pruitt’s EPA. The commission, Hartnett-White told Politico, would create an “alternative scientific methodology” to the one used by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She has also stated on the record that the UN has “revealed themselves” as advocating for communism.

Six years ago at a forum convened by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), funded by the Koch Family Foundations, Harnett-White actually even went so far to say that there “there is no environmental crisis—in fact, there’s almost no major environmental problems.” (starting at about 18:55).

Extreme Power Abuse from AFPhq on Vimeo.

Past as Prologue

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, someone with similarly pro-fossil fuels views also ran CEQ. Before taking over the helm at CEQ in the Bush White House, Philip Cooney served as a lawyer and lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API), which itself has a long track record of funding climate change denial.

Cooney came under a cloud of scandal and resigned when it was revealed that he had heavily edited scientific data showing a link between carbon emissions and global warming in official U.S. governmental reports.

“In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved,” reported The New York Times. “In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.”

Soon after he resigned, Cooney was hired by ExxonMobil, another key funder of climate change denial.

Harnett-White, too, has some instructive history to look back upon. In 2007, she came under fire for lack of climate and environmental action while chairing TCEQ. This motivated the watchdog group Public Citizen to create a billboard image near the TCEQ headquarters demanding to “Get White Out” and also build a website by the same name.

Public Citizen said she had not done enough to halt issues such as climate change or slow mercury and air pollution. They also stated that she had tried to erode democracy by eliminating the right to comment publicly on a proposed project unless one lived within two miles of its proposed site.

Chairman White has failed to lead our environmental agency in the right direction. Instead of acting to curb the serious threat from global warming, the TCEQ buried its head in the sand, and determined that global warming impacts would not have to be considered in the contested case hearings for any of the coal plant permits,” Get White Out’s website said of her tenure.

The paper of record in Dallas, Texas, The Dallas Morning News, agreed with this sentiment in a July 2007 editorial written at the end of Harnett-White’s tenure at TCEQ, chiding her track-record in harsh terms.

“She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health,” wrote the paper. “Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan.”

In an example perhaps paralleling the Cooney situation most closely, during Harnett-White’s tenure at TCEQ, the agency regularly lowered the statistical data — as compared to federal EPA data — for the amount of alpha radiation traceable in drinking water in places such as Harris County, Texas.

“For years, tests performed by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed the utility provided water that exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation,” reported the broadcast news outlet KHOU, based out of Houston, in 2011. “However, the TCEQ would consistently subtract off each test’s margin of error from those results, making the actual testing results appear lower than they actually were.”

In her interview with KHOU, Hartnett-White defended TCEQ‘s actions on this issue during her tenure there.

As memory serves me, that made incredibly good sense,” said Hartnett-White. “We did not believe the science of health effects justified EPA setting the standard where they did. I have far more trust in the vigor of the science that TCEQ assess, than I do EPA.”

As mandated by the U.S. Constitution’s “advise and consent” clause, Hartnett-White will go through a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing process, during which she will likely face questions about her past record of denying climate change and promoting fossil fuels. The Environmental Working Group says it is dismayed by the choice.

At least Butch and Sundance had to put some effort into robbing banks and trains,” Ken Cook, EWG‘s president, said in a press statement. “If Hartnett-White joins Administrator Pruitt, polluters will stroll through the front doors of both the EPA and the White House, no questions asked, as the rampant looting of environmental and public health protection policies continues.”

Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot

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GRANT COOKE: CBR permit denied and new Green Inudstrial Revolution developments impact Benicia

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Grant Cooke: CBR permit denied and new Green Inudstrial Revolution developments impact Benicia

By Grant Cooke, September 22, 2016
P1010301
Grant Cooke

History, or at least precedence, was made Tuesday evening when the Benicia City Council denied Valero a land use permit to bring in volatile Bakken and Tar Sands crude oil from North Dakota and Canada by train.

In what appeared to observers to be a stunning change of heart, the council unanimously agreed with the Planning Commission’s earlier recommendation to reject Valero’s project permit.

With other Northern California cities —and San Luis Obispo—watching carefully, the council’s action set a precedent and reaffirmed a city’s right to regulate local land use and protect the health and safety of its citizens.

The decision may have marked the first significant rejection by a California small town of a fossil fuel company’s proposed major business expansion, and probably notes the diminishing power of the industry in local and state politics.

Interestingly enough, the most prominent rejection by a small town of an oil company’s intended expansion occurred in Denton, Texas. Denton, a quiet and prosperous suburb of Dallas, in the middle of America’s oil patch, banned fracking (a method of shale gas extraction that uses large amounts of water pumped at high pressure into channels drilled into rock to release gas) within the city limits in 2014.

Benicia council’s decision has signaled the city’s first steps away from its past dependence on the fossil fuel industry and its Company Town identity, and marks a tentative step toward a new reality. While local, the decision was significant and reflects the growing momentum of the megatrend known as the Green Industrial Revolution, which is replacing carbon dependent economies with those powered by renewable energy.

Despite the decision, and for years to come Benicia’s tax revenue will still be highly dependent on fossil fuel, and so the developments of the Green Industrial Revolution with its twin drivers of carbon emission reduction and non-carbon energy expansion will have enormous consequences. As the Green Industrial Revolution expands, it will lead to the decline of the fossil fuel industries and correspondingly to the reduction of Benicia’s tax base and carbon-dependent economy.

Here are some other recent events furthering this expansion, and while not local, all have a bearing on Benicia’s future.

The first event happened at the recent G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China. The G20 meeting, which occurs annually, brought together the world’s 20 major economies to discuss international problems and potential policies and solutions. Leaders from the U.S., the European Union, China, Japan and Russia among others, came together for the two-day summit. Next year’s meeting is in Germany.

Woodrow Clark, my writing/business partner, is a member of the B20, a G20 subgroup that focuses on international business and economic issues. As a member of the group that delivered a policy report at the Hangzhou meeting, Woody had a front row view of the historic G20 meeting. Among the policy discussions that the meeting generated, there were some remarkable initiatives. One was that Russia agreed to join the US and China, along with the EU in addressing climate change. I imagine that India will also commit to GHG reductions next year at the G20 meeting in Germany.

This is an expansion of the initial US/China agreement from December’s UN Climate Conference in Paris. It increases the pressure on the fossil fuel industry, which is already beset by plunging oil prices, corrupt and chaotic politics, and furthers the rapid development of non-carbon renewable energy. Its impact on Benicia is indirect, unlike a report from Japan’s Eneco Holdings, LTD, which was part of the G20 Executive Talk Series. (Here’s the link to the vertical edition http://g20executivetalkseries.com )

A second development was also part of the G20 meeting and featured the showcasing of a remarkable chemical breakthrough by Eneco Holdings, LTD, from Japan. The company has the potential to be one of Asia’s largest energy companies with their development of a nano-emulsion technology. It appears that the company has succeeded in making a “complete fusion” between water and oil through the ultra-miniaturization of components at the molecular level. In simple terms, they have succeeded, where all others have failed, in mixing water and oil into a combustible fuel. The result is a mixture that is 70 percent water and stable enough to be a used in internal combustion engines. Further, it is safe and environmentally friendly, emitting about half the carbon, nitrous oxide, and sulfur dioxide released in traditional internal combustion gasoline and diesel combustions. Additionally, when produced in large quantities it will be significantly cheaper than conventional gasoline and diesel.

Originally produced for the Japanese market, Eneco’s Plasma Fusion fuel is being tested and used in China and other parts of Asia. With clean emissions levels, it is ideal for the heavily polluted Asian megacities, and should rapidly grow into a viable alternative to conventional gasoline and diesel. Just imagine how healthy West Oakland’s port area would be without its diesel contaminates? Regardless, this emulsion fuel will be a transitional fuel to hydrogen powered vehicles.

The third development that will have a significant impact on the fossil fuel industries is the continual plunge in the price of solar panels. Last week at a meeting, a solar developer told me that panel prices are now the lowest they have ever been in California, plus they are functioning at their highest levels of efficiency.

Driven by the economic principle of Zero Cost Margins—once the equipment is paid for, the rest of the energy is free—solar and renewable energy are expanding at the rate of Moore’s Law, or doubling about every 18 months. Developing and developed nations are rapidly adopting renewable energy, mostly wind and solar, as a replacement for fossil fuels. In about 20 areas in the world, particularly in Asia, solar and renewable energy are less expensive than fossil fuel. Even Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are developing large solar power generation sites.

Because of Russian aggression and threats of shutting off the natural gas supply, Europe has accelerated its transition from fossil fuel and atomic energy to wind and solar. Germany is a major user of solar energy despite the northern climate, and the United Kingdom is building the world’s biggest offshore wind farm called Hornsea off the Yorkshire coast. Hornsea will be the world’s first offshore wind farm to exceed 1 GW in capacity and will produce enough energy to power well over 1 million homes.

Closer to home, the United States’ Pacific coastline has enough wind and tidal resources to power most of the nation’s needs, and by adding solar to the mix, the U.S. could easily generate enough electricity for centuries to come. Roughly speaking, wind power costs about 2 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour and solar about 5 to 6 cents. PG&E charges around 22 to 24 cents per kilowatt hour, so it’s just a matter of time before on-site or distributive energy overtakes traditional energy delivery.

Further, the carbon industries and the large central utilities have flawed business models that are dependent on ever increasing growth and they cannot adapt to the lower prices available from renewable energy, or the increasing efficiency of vehicles and buildings. This is why Clark and I have written extensively on energy cost deflation and the shrinkage and decline of the carbon industries and the large central utilities.

Finally, we come to Sept. 8’s monumental signing by Gov. Jerry Brown of Senate Bill 32, the legislation that has catapulted California into a leadership role of the international efforts to slow global warming. SB 32 will force the state’s trillion-dollar economy, one of the biggest in the world, into a much smaller carbon footprint. In fact, the legislation requires the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, a much more ambitious target than the previous goal of hitting 1990 levels by 2020. Cutting emissions will affect nearly all aspects of our lives, accelerating the growth of renewable energy, prodding people into buying electric autos, and pushing developers into building denser communities connected to mass transit. (Details: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-jerry-brown-signs-climate-laws-20160908-snap-story.html ).

One other key element to California’s pursuit of clean air and reduced greenhouse gases is the state’s cap-and-trade program. The program requires the state’s heavy polluters to buy carbon offsets, or credits, to release emissions into the atmosphere, creating an additional operating cost for the oil and utility industries.

SB 32 and the expansion of cap-and-trade will have dramatic impacts on the state’s fossil fuel industries. Likely many of us are driving our last conventional gasoline powered vehicle, with the next one probably powered by electricity or hydrogen. It’s not hard to predict that since the Bay Area’s refineries are the heaviest of the area’s polluters, that the combination of reduced revenue from shrinking demand and increased costs of production and operation will eventually lead to refinery closings.

The fossil fuel industries won’t give up easily, there’s trillions of dollars at stake. Many of the industries leaders and the more prescient investment bankers know that the fossil fuel era has peaked and started to decline, which is why Russia overran the Crimea and is poised to take over Ukraine. Which is why the U.S. and Canada are being besieged by the fossil fuel interests to ignore or eliminate environmental and safety protections that hamper production.

Which is why Valero pushed so hard to transport volatile Bakken crude by rail cars through the densely populated Sacramento corridor and cram the trains into Benicia and a refinery that is not designed or equipped to deal with them. The industries, the refineries and all connected to the fossil fuel era, know that the incredibly lucrative period when oil was king and black gold flowed from the sand is coming to an end.

Bringing this back to Benicia, we see a city that is dependent on Valero for tax revenue and its governing process glimpsing a new reality. Small cities like Benicia that have been so dependent on the fossil fuel industries for so much and for so long, struggle to change. Other cities like those in the deindustrialized Midwest that have suffered sudden collapses of their major companies and tax bases have had to reinvent their economic drivers or just blow away. But it’s hard for a city like Benicia with its apparent prosperity and ease of living to understand that its fossil fuel base is in decline and that the future is elsewhere.

Grant Cooke is a longtime Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also an author and has written several books on the Green Industrial Revolution. His newest is “Smart Green Cities” by Routledge.
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