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Tue, 2013-12-10 14:48Kevin Grandia
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Survey Lists the Best and Worst Financial Funds When it Comes to Climate Change Risk

Is your pension fund or insurance company a leader or laggard when it comes to avoiding risky bets on the future impacts of climate change?

A new survey released today finds that many major institutional investors, like retirement funds and insurance companies, are putting their investments (read: your money) at risk by not addressing the negative financial impacts posed by climate change and atmospheric disruption.

The survey, called the Global Climate Investment Risk, is based on data acquired from 460 funds who were invited to provide data, either from members of those funds or using publicly available information. Each fund is rated from AAA to X based on investment mix and recognition of the financial risks that climate change will have now and into the future.

Conducted by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), the survey concludes that, of the 460 funds, only 5 received a AAA rating, while 173 funds are rated “X.”

Mon, 2013-08-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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BP Launches Massive PR Campaign To Demonize Oil Spill Victims

BP, the oil giant that, along with Halliburton and Transocean, was responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, is crying foul in the claims process of settlements for the victims of the spill.  The company has launched a massive public relations offensive to paint themselves as the victims in this situation.

According to The Hill, BP CEO Bob Dudley said recently that the entire claims process has been “absurd,” and that his company has been more than generous with their payments.  BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell said:  “While we remain committed to paying legitimate claims, we did not agree to pay for fictitious losses, or for claims that are based on fraud or tainted by corruption.”

While the overall PR war may appear to be aimed at the victims along the Gulf Coast, the real targets of BP’s campaign are trial lawyers.  They have even enlisted the help of the largest business lobby and strongest advocates for “tort reform”, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill reports that a recent ad placed by BP in The Washington Post quoted National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, saying, “Too often these days, the tort system is nothing more than a trial-lawyer bonanza, and that’s not fair to individuals seeking redress and no way to encourage investment in manufacturing to create tomorrow’s high-paying jobs.”

The reason that the company is trying to paint the claims process as plagued with fraud is that they had underestimated the amount of claims that they would have to pay out, and their settlement fund is quickly running dry.  This means that subsequent payments will have to come directly out of the company’s profits, a move that is not sitting well with shareholders who were promised that the price tag would not exceed $8 billion

Fri, 2013-07-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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Louisiana Sues Oil Companies For Wetlands Damage in Gulf Showdown

After decades of operating with complete disregard for the environment, the dirty energy industry finally has to face the music for destroying the wetlands that form a natural barrier against storm damage in the state of Louisiana.

The suit, filed by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, claims that the oil and gas industry's irresponsible pipeline placement, drilling, and excavation methods have eroded and polluted vital wetlands in Louisiana. 

The New York Times has more:

The board argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage done by cutting thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. It alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water into freshwater areas…

The suit argues that the environmental buffer serves as an essential protection against storms by softening the blow of any incoming hurricane before it gets to the line of levees, flood walls, and gates and pumps maintained and operated by the board. Losing the “natural first line of defense against flooding” means that the levee system is “left bare and ill-suited to safeguard south Louisiana,” the lawsuit says.  The “unnatural threat” caused by exploration, it states, “imperils the region’s ecology and its people’s way of life — in short, its very existence.”

The suit alleges that the wetlands, which took more than 6,000 years to form, provide vital protection for the state from the impacts of severe storms, floods, and hurricanes.  The degradation caused by the dirty energy industry’s activities leaves the state more vulnerable to the effects of severe weather. 

Thu, 2013-05-16 11:24Kevin Grandia
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10 Reasons Canada Needs to Rethink the Tar Sands

alberta tar sands oil sands

As a Canadian it blows my mind that we can have the second largest deposits of oil in the world, but our government remains billions in debt and one in seven Canadian children live in poverty.

Sun, 2013-03-17 11:13Farron Cousins
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Kochtopus Tentacles Reaching For Media Outlets

Rumors are swirling around the Internet that Koch Industries is hoping to acquire a powerful new asset:  The Tribune Company.  The Tribune Company owns a large swath of newspapers across America, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Times, two papers with an extraordinary reach.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Koch Industries is considering purchasing Tribune because they are intensely interested in the clout that could be gained through the editorial pages of their papers.  However, Think Progress notes that a spokesperson for the company refused to confirm or deny the rumors, stating that they cannot comment on “deals or rumors of deals,” so there is no official word on a buyout at this time.

The decision to purchase a large media outlet like The Tribune Company would be a logical one for the Koch Empire.  They would be following in the footsteps of oil giants Chevron, Exxon, and Halliburton, who have all at some point sat on the boards of major media outlets. 

A media buyout for Koch would allow them to control the message machine, which could be a disaster for America.  In the past, corporate-controlled media outlets have been forced to shelve or otherwise censor stories that could damage the reputation of prominent board members and advertisers, thereby withholding valuable, pertinent information from the American electorate.  Owning their own media outlets would effectively silence any critical voice against the Koch brothers in those markets.

To make matters worse for Americans, court rulings have told us that media outlets can legally distort or censor news stories at their whim, as FCC guidelines for honest reporting are not actually laws.  In short, the media is legally allowed to lie and hide the truth from American citizens, even when their personal health and safety is at stake. 

Wed, 2013-03-13 20:20Farron Cousins
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Ryan Budget Includes Mandatory Approval Of Keystone XL, Other Dirty Energy Giveaways

In what is becoming an annual tradition, Republican Representative Paul Ryan has put forth his budget plan for the coming fiscal year.  Ryan’s previous budget proposals were approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but rejected along party lines in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate. 

Not unlike his previous budget plans, the new Ryan budget would be a disaster for the environment.  In addition to cuts to crucial environmental and health programs, the budget would mandate immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Like other proponents of the pipeline, Ryan cites the “large” numbers of American jobs that would be created by the construction and maintenance of Keystone XL.  However, the massive job boon from Keystone is an industry myth, as reports – even those from TransCanada – show that the pipeline would only create a few thousand permanent jobs, so few that it would have almost zero impact on the unemployment rate in America.  Ryan claims that the pipeline will bring at least 20,000 new jobs to America, and an additional 118,000 in indirect jobs.  The State Department says that, in the end, only 35 new jobs would be created from the pipeline. 

As Ben Geman at The Hill points out, the inclusion of Keystone XL shows how entrenched the modern Republican Party has become with the oil industry, and how essential the pipeline is in the Party’s negotiations with Democrats.

Sun, 2013-03-03 12:00Farron Cousins
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The Environmental Impact Of The Sequester Cuts

The failure of elected officials in Washington, D.C. to reach a deal on the “sequester” led to an automatic $85 billion cut to the federal budget on March 1st.  And, unfortunately, environmental initiatives and other projects were the first to be placed on the chopping block.

Environmental programs within the United States – everything from wildlife refuges to clean air and water programs – have already been grossly underfunded for years, and the sequester cuts are only going to make things much, much worse for our environment.

One program that was gearing up to be cut less than 24 hours after sequester took effect was the Bureau of Labor Statistics green jobs survey.  This program allowed the administration to track the creation and tally of jobs within the clean energy and other “green” sectors, a program that many Republicans in Washington had wanted to cut from day one. 

But those cuts are just the beginning.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the mandatory cuts are going to severely hurt investment and research into lightweight automobile construction and fuel cell technology, investments that were aimed at helping increase automobile fuel efficiency and reducing our gasoline consumption.  Those programs will now have to wait to receive funding.

Chu said that the cuts the Energy Department is facing would significantly slow down the country’s quest to become energy independent, a goal that 64% of Americans (from both sides of the political aisle) favor.

Thu, 2013-01-31 15:26Farron Cousins
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Record Fines For BP In Gulf Disaster Deal

After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.  The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.

The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions more in financial penalties for the company.

Wed, 2013-01-09 10:47Farron Cousins
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Dirty Energy Lobby Optimistic About Obama’s Second Term

Despite the years that they have spent attacking President Obama, the dirty energy industry is incredibly optimistic that the White House is going to give the oil and gas industry everything they want in Obama's second term.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), said that his group is confident that the Obama administration’s second term will turn into a boom for the natural gas industry.  As we’ve pointed out in the past, Gerard’s vision for America is to have a dirty energy lobbyist strategically placed in every district in the country.

The Hill has the latest from Gerard:

Thu, 2012-12-13 11:05Carol Linnitt
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Van Harten: Canada "Recklessly" Entering Trans-Pacific Partnership, FIPA

Last week Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced Canada had “officially joined the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations” after more than two and a half years of talks by previously engaged nations. The 15th round of talks, involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam, wrapped up yesterday in Auckland. 

The TPP has already been the cause of significant concern in the U.S. where citizen groups and elected leaders have argued the agreement is shrouded in secrecy, leaving the American public to speculate about its consequences. This summer, after members of Congress complained corporate access to the trade documents superseded their own, leaked portions of the agreement began to circulate online. 
 
At the time Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said, “the outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations.”
 
During those two years, while Canada was vying for a seat at the TPP table, America made arguments that seemed to anticipate the furor Canadians would soon feel after the announcement of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, or FIPA
 
Much like FIPA, the TPP grants unprecedented power to corporate entities with access to international tribunals that have the authority to overrule Canadian decisions regarding domestic policies that may apply to environmental regulation or reform, finance and labour policies and First Nations rights.
 
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert, Gus Van Harten told DeSmog that Canada is currently on track to become “the most locked in developed country in the world in investor-state arbitration.” He added, Canada is “proceeding recklessly” into this enfeebling agreement which will give “almost all foreign corporations in the country exceptional leverage to pressure governments behind closed doors.”
 
The Harper government is selling out Canada's long term sovereignty and prosperity in what appears as a thoughtless gamble, without so much as a financial risk assessment. As Van Harten puts it below, “We do not intend to slip on the sidewalk in winter, but we still check for ice.”
 
I asked Professor Van Harten 5 questions about the TPP and its relation to the politically-contentious FIPA

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