Category Archives: Keeping Watch on Earth News

Under Cover of Pandemic, Fossil Fuel Interests Unleash Lobbying Frenzy

DeSmogBlog, by Dana Drugmand, April 2, 2020
Worker power washing drill pipe
A worker power washes drill pipe at Citadel Rig 6 in the Alpine High region of the Permian Basin, Reeves County, Texas. Credit: Justin Hamel © 2020

Thousands of Americans are dying, millions have filed for unemployment, and frontline health care workers are risking their lives as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the U.S. In the midst of this crisis, the fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil and gas sector, has been actively seeking both financial relief and deregulation or dismantling of environmental protection measures.

A new briefing by UK-based think tank InfluenceMap summarizes this fossil fuel lobbying during the time of the pandemic, pointing to specific examples of how fossil fuel interests around the world are using the cover of the coronavirus crisis to advance their agenda.

InfluenceMap, which tracks and measures corporate influence over climate policy, focused on recent corporate lobbying for both financial interventions and relating to climate or energy regulations. “The oil and gas sector appears to be the most active globally in the above two lobbying areas, demanding both financial support and deregulation in response to the COVID-19 crisis,” the report states.

In the U.S., the top oil and gas producer in the world, this activity has been particularly pronounced. While the oil and gas sector is struggling amid plummeting prices and demand, the struggle is due to factors far beyond the pandemic, and mostly of the industry’s own making.

Many shale companies had amassed large debts that allowed them to rapidly spend and expand production, for example. And the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil’s stock hit a 10-year low in late January, and a 15-year low by March 5, before the pandemic reached a crisis point in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have looked to use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to shore up the petroleum producers. In mid-March, the President announced his intention to buy up crude oil to fill the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Democrats and climate advocates slammed as a reckless bailout of Big Oil.

Republicans in Congress tried unsuccessfully to give away $3 billion in the recent economic stimulus package to fund that emergency oil stock-up, but the package still contains nearly $500 billion for broad corporate interests with little oversight that oil companies will likely look to access. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sent a letter on April 1 to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging him to use the CARES Act stimulus funds to support oil and gas companies.

The rapidly declining coal industry, with many companies already bankrupt, has likewise turned to the government for financial assistance. The National Mining Association wrote to President Trump and Congress asking to suspend royalties and fees, including payments that support victims of black lung disease. Congress did not include the trade group’s requests in the stimulus package, but the group has said it will continue to make its demands.

Beyond seeking their own financial relief through the government’s coronavirus response, fossil fuel interests are using front groups to push back against attempts to include clean energy or climate-related measures in the economic relief bills.

U.S.-based think tanks linked to fossil fuel-based interests such as [the] Koch brothers have been active in opposing support for green energy programs in the U.S. federal government’s response to the crisis,” InfluenceMap said in a emailed statement. The InfluenceMap briefing cites a new project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) called Life:Powered, which promotes fossil fuels and was originally launched under the name “Fueling Freedom” in 2015 “to combat the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.”

A coalition of over two dozen right-wing, free market think tanks, led by TPPF and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sent a letter to Congress on March 23 under the umbrella of the Life:Powered project urging lawmakers to reject any incentives or support for “unreliable ‘green’ energy” in the latest stimulus package. The letter includes several false claims about renewable energy and argues, “climate change is not an immediate threat to humanity.”

Some of these same conservative free market groups, members of the State Policy Network, have been buying ads on social media attacking efforts to use the COVID-19 economic relief efforts to also address climate change, which medical experts have said poses “unprecedented threats to public health and safety.”

Life:Powered Facebook ad about oil price war
A Facebook ad from Life:Powered and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, promoting a petition in favor of the U.S. oil industry.

Deregulation is another form of assistance the oil and gas industry has pursued. And whether by weakening existing climate policies like Obama-era clean car standards or waiving environmental compliance requirements, the Trump administration has granted much on the industry’s wish list.

One example cited in the InfluenceMap briefing is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent policy suspending civil enforcement of environmental rules and relaxing compliance requirements. The American Petroleum Institute sent a letter to President Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler specifically asking for relief from environmental compliance.

Outside the U.S., corporate interests including oil and gas have also used the pandemic to lobby for their agendas, which run counter to the Paris climate agreement and actions necessary to address climate change. Examples cited in the InfluenceMap briefing include:

  • The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) recently sent a letter to the president of the EU Commission asking for laxer timelines for complying with the EU vehicle climate regulations.
  • Oil and Gas UK produced a business outlook report that referenced the COVID-19 crisis, while arguing that protecting the UK oil and gas industry is essential in ensuring the sector can contribute to providing the UK with net-zero emissions solutions.”
  • The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Chief Executive Andrew McConville referenced the need for measures to ensure economic recovery from COVID-19 pandemic while commenting in favor of a draft government commission report published on Australian resource sector regulation. APPEA stated support for a number of findings, including advice against bans on natural gas exploration. McConville argued the report constituted an ‘an important contribution as we consider vital recovery measures.’”
  • Several Canadian oil and gas companies and the Business Council of Alberta are calling on the Canadian federal government to postpone any regulatory changes or tax increases including a planned increase to the carbon tax. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has also been gunning for a $15 billion bailout package from the federal government.

Trump Meets With Oil CEOs

President Trump is scheduled to hold an in-person meeting Friday, April 3 with the heads of leading oil and gas companies to discuss their concerns, such as the Russia-Saudi Arabia oil price war and depressed demand as a result of the pandemic response.

According to Greenpeace USA, the executives expected to meet with Trump personally earned at least a combined $100 million in 2018 alone between salaries, bonuses, stock options, and other compensation.

Where the rest of the world sees a global health and economic crisis, fossil fuel CEOs see an opportunity to line their pockets,” Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said in a statement. “We cannot let our government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic be driven by corporate executives looking to exploit a crisis for their own gain instead of supporting health care providers and working families. Nurses need masks. Hospitals need ventilators. Workers need paychecks. People need help all over this country. And what is Trump doing? He’s making sure oil executives have golden pandemic parachutes. It’s disgraceful.”

Main image: A worker power washes drill pipe at Citadel Rig 6 in the Alpine High region of the Permian Basin, Reeves County, Texas. Credit: Justin Hamel © 2020

California Governor and Superintendent of Schools: Coronavirus will keep schools closed through academic year

Not a mandate, but likely…

Click on image to go to KCRA article – “California schools won’t reopen before end of academic year, Newsom says”
Click on image to go to Sacramento Bee article – “Coronavirus will keep California schools closed through academic year but learning will go on”

 

Benicia residents get phone alerts: 6-county shelter in place extended to May 3

Order does not include Solano County

By Roger Straw, March 31, 2020

My cell phone went off twice around 1:40 pm today with an emergency notice that our coronavirus shelter-in-place was being extended to May 3.

This was a little confusing, given that Solano County issued a statement just yesterday (on March 30) extending our Shelter at Home Order through April 30th.  ?Why would the County extend for just 3 days??

A little googling reveals that once again, a group of Bay Area counties acted jointly, exclusive of Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties.

According to ABC News Bay Area, “The new restrictions applied to six Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo. Those six counties, plus the City of Berkeley (which operates its own public health department) announced the shelter-in-place orders would be extended to May 3 in their jurisdictions.  Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties had not announced such extensions, as of Tuesday afternoon.

The new 6-county order adds new restrictions to what residents are allowed to do as they shelter in place.  Again according to ABC News Bay Area: “In addition to the restrictions put in place for the original three-week shelter-in-place order, officials are now requiring:

    • Funerals are limited to 10 people in attendance
    • Playgrounds, dog parks and picnic areas have to close to the public
    • Don’t use golf courses, or public tennis and basketball courts
    • When it comes to sports that require you to share a ball, only play them with members of your household
    • Most construction is banned
    • All essential businesses that are still open must develop “social distancing protocol” before April 3

What is considered an “essential business” has been expanded to include:

    • “Providers that enable residential transactions” (like notaries, title companies, and real estate agencies)
    • Funeral homes and cemeteries
    • Moving companies
    • Rental car companies
    • Rideshare services

Someone should compare these new 6-county restrictions to the restrictions covered in our Solano County Shelter at Home OrderPlease send your comparison to the editor, rogrmail at gmail dot com.

Trump administration taking advantage of coronavirus crisis – polluters winning big

U.S. dramatically rolls back rules for polluters – companies can now monitor themselves during the outbreak.

Letters from an American, by Heather Cox Richardson, March 26, 2020  

March 26, 2020

Heather Cox Richardson, American historian and Professor of History at Boston College and Author, Letters from an American

The United States now leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases. At least 83,377 people have tested positive for the virus, a leap of 17,166 cases. At least 1,295 have died. As nurses and doctors struggle on the front lines of this pandemic, Trump and his supporters insist that fears of the disease are overblown. In Louisiana, a pastor of a Baton Rouge megachurch is continuing to hold services in defiance of orders from Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards against large gatherings. Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church says he is not worried about Covid-19. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

The United States now leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases. At least 83,377 people have tested positive for the virus, a leap of 17,166 cases. At least 1,295 have died. As nurses and doctors struggle on the front lines of this pandemic, Trump and his supporters insist that fears of the disease are overblown. In Louisiana, a pastor of a Baton Rouge megachurch is continuing to hold services in defiance of orders from Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards against large gatherings. Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church says he is not worried about Covid-19. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

The Labor Department reported last week’s unemployment claims, and they are higher by far than expected. More than 3.28 million workers filed unemployment claims, and the system is so backlogged many cannot get through. The unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 from last month’s 3.5%.

Despite the jobs numbers, investors regained faith in the markets. On Thursday, the stock market rose again for the third day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 1,351 points, or about 6.38%. With an all-over rise of more than 20% since Monday, the market is out of the bear territory it had entered with the falls of recent weeks.

Investors might have been cheerful about the market in part because the Trump administration has drastically rolled back rules for polluters in this crisis. Companies can now monitor themselves during the outbreak. The Environmental Protection Agency will not issue fines for breaking certain laws for reporting violations of air, water, or hazardous waste violations. The new order asks companies to “act responsibly.” Compliance is retroactive to March 13.

This EPA order dovetails with other regulatory rollbacks taking place while we are focused on the deadly pandemic. The administration is rushing through regulations to weaken environmental laws since Congress can overturn a regulation or federal rule within 60 days of it being finalized, and Republicans are increasingly concerned that voters will turn against them in the 2020 election. So they are in a hurry to get their rollbacks on the books before the 60 day mark.

The House of Representatives is set to take up the Senate’s $2 trillion emergency relief bill. The House is not currently in session, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed to a voice vote, which would not require all 430 members of the House to return to Washington. But at least one representative, Thomas Massie (R-KY), is considering opposing the bill out of concerns about its cost, which would require the presence of all the representatives for a roll call vote.

All eyes are on the coronavirus as we become the nation hardest hit by it.


Notes:

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/house/489793-house-leadership-advises-members-to-return-to-washington-as-massie-weighs-roll-call-vote-on-stimulus-package

layoffs: https://washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/unemployment-claims-coronavirus-3-million/

EPA: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/climate/epa-coronavirus-pollution-rules.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-leaders-seek-to-expedite-emergency-aid-package-amid-uncertainty-about-gop-lawmaker-delaying-measure/2020/03/26/392c9dba-6f7d-11ea-a3ec-70d7479d83f0_story.html

jobless claims: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/unemployment-jobless-claims-economy-stimulus-small-business

stock market: https://www.cnn.com/business/live-news/stock-market-news-today-032620/index.html

Tony Spell: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/louisiana-pastor-defies-coronavirus-order-draws-over-1-000-people-n1168501

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