Volume 1, July 1, 2019, Issue 13 

Note to readers: Due to the July 4th holiday this is the only issue published this week.

Populist leaders will need bigger walls.  A United Nations report is warning that the world is risking a “climate apartheid” scenario in which the wealthy can pay to avoid the consequences of global warming while the rest of society suffers.

“Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger,” U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said in a report released last week.

The report says that extreme climate change threatens to push “more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030,” according to Alston, who added that it will “have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.” (The Hill)

Wanting it both ways. ExxonMobil is working to encourage a major Washington lobbying group to support policies addressing climate change, according to a top company official.

Facing public, investor and legal pressure, oil companies are increasingly backing action on the issue of climate change while remaining members of trade associations, e.g., the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), whose positions don’t align with that shift.

Royal Dutch Shell, under pressure from activist investors, announced earlier this year it was leaving AFPM, citing “material misalignment” on climate policies. Exxon is opting to stay and try to influence the group’s positioning, Nick Schulz, Exxon’s director of stakeholder engagement, said at a recent conference. Exxon also supports the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and a carbon tax. (Axios)

It’s hard to take these steps by major oil companies seriously when they continue to work against the transition to renewable energy sources for power production and improved vehicle fuel efficiencies.

Support by Exxon and other oil majors for a national carbon tax also ring hollow when their support is linked to a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of freedom from civil damage lawsuits.

Speaking of Exxon. The company announced a joint development agreement with Global Thermostat LLC to fund and research the latter’s direct air capture technology, a carbon capture innovation that the oil giant wants to use at an industrial scale. Exxon did not disclose the amount of Exxon’s investment. (Houston Chronicle)

At it again. Just a few weeks into California’s dry summer season, fires linked to PG&E Corp. have already started to break out.

More than 2,000 acres burned in Monterey County this week, with power lines blamed as the cause. Earlier this month, a transformer burst into flames in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and ignited a brush fire. In San Jose, falling PG&E wires may have scorched a house and an acre of land. Yahoo Finance)

You’re on your own. Chubb is set to become the first of the big US insurers to announce a ban on coverage for coal companies. (Financial Times)

A way around. The Senate passed a defense bill that would require an increased response from the government to harmful chemicals that have leached into the water in at least 43 states.

Included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is language that would push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a national drinking water standard for a class of chemicals known as PFAS or forever chemicals, that have been linked with cancer and other health problems.

The legislation — S. 1790, with a manager’s amendment from Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) — also includes provisions to encourage the distribution and reuse of carbon dioxide and to affect Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversight of a dam in Inhofe’s home state. (MSN)

By adding the provisions to the Defense, Authorization supporters are hoping to avoid a veto that would certainly be issued were they passed as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

The House has yet to act.

Also hitching a ride. Part of the Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate also included Senator John Barrasso’s Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act (S. 383).

The Act gives EPA authority to streamline permitting of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide. Barrasso said the legislation will ensure the continuing use of coal and not leave it stranded. (Wyoming News)

A hoped-for break in the line. Michigan has filed a lawsuit asking for an Enbridge Inc oil pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes to be decommissioned, Michigan’s attorney general said on Thursday.

The Line 5 oil pipeline ships 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and propane and is a critical part of Enbridge’s Mainline network, which delivers the bulk of Canadian crude exports to the United States. (MSN)

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would establish a 50% renewable energy standard (RES) across the U.S. by 2035.

The bill would establish annual targets starting in 2020 requiring renewables generation for utilities based on their size. 17.6% of U.S. electricity was powered by renewables at the end of 2018, according to the Energy Information Association. (Utility Dive)

More Trump-inspired trade problems for renewables. The World Trade Organization ruled against seven states’ renewable energy policies. The measures include biodiesel incentives in Montana, nudges for Michigan-made clean-energy manufacturing and other plans in California, Delaware, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Washington state. (Washington Post)

The WTO now becomes the enemy of both the right and the left.

Trump could have headed off the problem had it decided to invoke Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT).

Whether the White House could be convinced to invoke Article XX now that the decision has been made is anyone’s guess.

When it suits. The Department of Agriculture is touting its involvement in climate change research benefiting corn growers, days after critics blasted the agency for keeping climate-related work quiet.

In an announcement about hundreds of new inventions, licenses, and patents generated in USDA laboratories, the department noted a USDA-funded project at Cornell University that’s developing a tool for corn farmers in 26 states to measure greenhouse gas emissions and soil carbon.

The research project at Cornell, now in its fourth year, has shown that tillage, for instance, has a greater impact on soil carbon levels in the top layers than crop rotation and removal of residue such as leftovers from corn stalks. (E&E News)

This is the same agency that has been in the news about refusing to release dozens of studies that used the term climate change.

Look after your own waste. Under an EPA proposal published in recent days, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division would get the go-ahead to oversee the disposal of the waste produced by coal-fired power plants within its borders. The proposal carries a 60-day public comment period; a public hearing will be held Aug. 6 in Atlanta. EPA will make a final decision within about six months. (E&E News)

The decision raises a host of questions, including whether the state has the resources to police the disposals and whether state personnel will be pressured by the politicians to look past infractions.

The biggest question is, why is EPA shedding its responsibility? Although given it’s the Trump administration, the answer is probably the obvious one.

Come fly with me? Start-up plane manufacturers are edging their way into the aviation market by way of short-haul electric aircraft that could inspire technology for all-electric commercial air travel in the not-too-distant future.

Eviation Aircraft is one of them; the Israeli startup announced last week that Alice, its first all-electric plane, will take flight in 2022. Alice planes will carry nine passengers up to 650 miles and currently sport a hefty $4 million price tag. (E&E News)

Mayors’ buying club. An onslaught of municipalities — 127 cities and 15 counties — announced they would buy more than 2,100 electric vehicles by 2020, both generating increased demand for EVs and demonstrating a public dedication to electrification.

The localities span 38 different states and will carry out the purchases in partnership with the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative, an effort established last year by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

19 + 1. G20 leaders on Saturday agreed a final declaration after a fight between the EU and U.S. on climate change that risked collapsing the leaders’ statement.

The text maintains a “similar” commitment to fight climate change as in previous declarations in Buenos Aires and Hamburg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference at the end of the summit.

Under the compromise struck at the last minute on Saturday, heads of state from 19 of the 20 countries backed the Paris Agreement, while the United States secured a carve-out under an ‘agree to disagree’ framework — the same solution as in previous G20s since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected.

Until Saturday morning, the G20 had been at risk of ending without a declaration, as U.S. President Donald Trump tried but failed to get other countries to join his camp and oppose the Paris Agreement.

The other countries Trump tried to convince were Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Australia.