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Westlake Legal Group > Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Israel’s Energy Dilemma: More Natural Gas Than It Can Use or Export

TEL AVIV — For decades, Israel was an energy-starved country surrounded by hostile, oil-rich neighbors.

Now it has a different problem. Thanks to major offshore discoveries over the last decade, it has more natural gas than it can use or readily export.

Having plenty of gas is hardly a burden, and it offers a cleaner-burning alternative to Israel’s longtime power sources. But it presents challenges for a country that wants to extract geopolitical and economic benefits from a rare energy windfall, including building better relations with its neighbors and Europe.

Part of the problem is timing. Just as Israel prepares to produce and export large amounts of gas, the United States, Australia, Qatar and Russia are flooding the market with cheap gas. The other is math: Israel’s 8.5 million people use in a year less than 1 percent of the gas that has been found in the country’s waters.

“We have a surplus of gas,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview. “Israeli waters are swimming in gas, and what we have discovered is only the beginning.”

Noble Energy, a Houston-based company that made its first discovery of gas in Israel in 1999, has found more than 30 trillion cubic feet of gas off the country’s coast over the last decade. Some experts say new discoveries could double that.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157490415_f1d7669e-6bfd-4504-8147-1f659ba9572f-articleLarge Israel’s Energy Dilemma: More Natural Gas Than It Can Use or Export Solar Energy Pipelines Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Offshore Drilling and Exploration Noble Energy Inc natural gas Israel International Trade and World Market Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A platform under construction in the Leviathan natural gas field, which should be connected to the mainland by the end of the year.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

As a result, Israel is phasing out diesel and coal-fired electricity, replacing it mostly with gas-fired generation and some solar power. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is considering banning the import of gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2030 and gradually switching to vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas or electricity.

Israel is also stepping up exports to neighbors like Jordan and Egypt. There are even plans to supply gas to a power plant in the West Bank for Palestinian customers.

Yet these efforts will make only a dent in the country’s reserves.

“We want to export,” said Jacob Nagel, former head of Israel’s National Security Council. “The question is: How much will it cost? Is it possible? How much time will it take?”

For decades, Israel depended on Russia and other sources for fuel, while its industries and homes relied on coal and oil power plants that blanketed its cities with smog. The switch to gas has helped clear the air in cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa that have converted diesel-fueled plants.

CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times
The Orot Rabin power plant in Hadera relies on Russian coal transported by ship.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Israel’s biggest coal plant — in Hadera, a coastal city — will be converted over the next three years, cutting national coal consumption by 30 percent. Officials say they expect to eliminate coal use in 11 years.

In Hadera, improvements are already noticeable after gas replaced oil in one part of the plant and officials installed a scrubber, an exhaust-cleaning device. The beach is no longer caked with sticky black tar, and a yellowish tinge on the horizon is gone.

Guy Stansill, a 38-year-old vegetable farmer at the nearby Sdot Yam kibbutz who can see the plant’s chimneys from his kitchen window, hopes it’s for good. His 5-year-old son, Tayo, has asthma but is breathing better now that the plant is reducing its emissions.

“Reducing the coal industry will be better for the air and health,” he said, though he worries about a possible spill from drilling and gas processing offshore.

But his wife, Lee Kush, thinks the country ought to be investing more in renewable energy. “We have so much sun,” she said. “Why use gas at all?”

Tayo Stansill, right, has asthma, but his condition has improved since one part of the nearby power plant switched to natural gas and officials installed an exhaust-cleaning device.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Israeli officials acknowledge that the gas will compete with cleaner solar energy. But they argue that the plentiful supply of electricity from gas-fired power plants will encourage the use of electric vehicles, reducing pollution.

“Electric cars are a big market for electricity, so at the end of the day it’s a big market for gas,” said Ofer Bloch, president of Israel Electric, the state utility.

The Israeli government says it is committed to the Paris climate accord, and is close to getting 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by next year. Environmentalists say the country could do better.

The Leviathan field, Israel’s largest, will be connected to the mainland by pipeline by the end of the year, and that should speed the use of gas in transportation, which has been minimal so far. Fifteen garbage trucks in Haifa are running on compressed natural gas. The country has imported 59 such buses from China, and has ordered another hundred or so.

CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times
Israel has begun switching to buses and trash trucks that run on compressed natural gas, a possible prelude to a ban on the import of cars powered by gasoline and diesel.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

But because it has a small industrial base and its residential use of gas is limited because of mild winters, Israel needs to export more to take advantage of its energy bounty.

There are many hurdles.

Last year Noble and the Israeli company Delek Drilling signed a 10-year deal to deliver gas to Egypt by pipeline beginning later this year. Some of that fuel may be re-exported from two Egyptian terminals.

Energy executives say they are optimistic that Egypt’s growing population, now 100 million, will make it a big market, and that gas can bring the two neighbors closer even as Egypt, with its own recent large-scale finds, becomes a bigger producer.

The importance of the Egyptian market was underscored by a trip to Cairo in January by Mr. Steinitz, the first official visit by an Israeli minister since the 2011 unrest that shook the Arab world. He and representatives of five other Mediterranean countries and the Palestinian Authority had met to form an association to coordinate regulations on gas pipelines and trading.

Still, officials acknowledge that doing business with Egypt is risky. A gas pipeline between the countries was sabotaged in 2012.

Israel could seek to sell gas to Asia, where demand is growing, but public opposition has blocked plans for an export terminal on the small, densely populated shoreline.

That leaves pipelines as the best option.

Concrete barriers help protect an Israeli gas pipeline. Houston-based Noble Energy and the Israeli company Delek Drilling signed a 10-year deal to deliver gas to Egypt by pipeline beginning later this year.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Israeli policymakers long favored a proposal to build a pipeline to Europe through Turkey. But relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have deteriorated in recent years, closing that option, at least for now.

The most ambitious proposal is to build the world’s deepest and longest gas pipeline, to Italy through Cyprus and Greece. That project has the support of the European Union, Cyprus and Greece, but investors are reluctant to invest the estimated $6 billion to $7 billion it would cost.

“There is a question mark on the financials of this pipeline and the returns for its shareholders,” said Mathios Rigas, chief executive of Energean, a Greek energy company that produces gas off Israeli shores.

Mr. Rigas said he favored building a terminal in Cyprus connected to Israeli and Cypriot fields. But that would be costly and take up to a decade. It would also probably face opposition from Turkey, which is drilling in waters claimed by Cyprus.

“The gas needs someplace to go,” Wesley Johnson, Noble’s Leviathan asset manager, said at a recent conference in Houston.

But some Israeli experts doubt that the country will become a big exporter and would be happy to see the gas remain at home.

“I don’t see anything wrong with leaving the gas for future generations,” said Gal Luft, a former Israeli military officer and an energy expert. “We’re talking about deepwater gas in the most volatile region in the world. So let’s be humble.”

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U.S. Oil Companies Find Energy Independence Isn’t So Profitable

HOUSTON — For decades, elected leaders and corporate executives have chased a dream of independence from unstable or unfriendly foreign oil producers. Mission accomplished: Oil companies are producing record amounts of crude oil and natural gas in the United States and have become major exporters.

Yet the companies themselves are finding little to love about this seeming bonanza. With a global glut driving down prices, many are losing money and are staying afloat by selling assets and taking on debt.

The value of oil and gas stocks as a proportion of the S&P 500 over the last six years has dropped to about 4.6 percent, from 8.7 percent.

“It’s really a psychological punch in the gut,” said Matt Gallagher, chief executive of Parsley Energy, which has productive shale fields in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and has tripled output over the last three years. His company’s shares have tumbled to about $19 a share, from $38 in late 2016. “There’s a lot of risk in this industry, people are working very hard, and we feel we have made the right moves and it doesn’t show up in the share price.”

Domestic oil production has increased by more than 60 percent since 2013, to over 12 million barrels a day, making the United States the biggest producer of oil and natural gas in the world and slashing imports. That growth has also reduced the clout and profits of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia, enabling President Trump to impose sanctions on Iran and Venezuela without risking higher gasoline prices or shortages.

Rising tensions with Iran after attacks on two oil tankers and a United States surveillance drone have lifted oil prices, but there has been little impact on the supply outlook so far.

Oil executives say the United States is set to become an even bigger factor because a further five million or so barrels of daily crude oil production are on the way in the next few years. Russia would have to drill deep into the Arctic to keep up, a prohibitively expensive proposition, and experts don’t think Saudi Arabia can increase production significantly.

But the share price of Exxon Mobil, the largest American oil company, is barely above where it was a decade ago. In years past, investors might have celebrated Occidental Petroleum’s proposed acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum, which has some of the most lucrative oil fields in the country. Instead, Occidental’s shares have fallen by about 10 percent since that deal in early May.

In the last four years, roughly 175 oil and gas companies in the United States and Canada with debts totaling about $100 billion have filed for bankruptcy protection. Many borrowed heavily when oil and gas prices were far higher, only to collectively overproduce and undercut their commodity prices. At least six companies have gone bankrupt this year, and Weatherford International, the fourth-leading oil services company, which owes investors $7.7 billion, is expected to file for bankruptcy protection on Monday.

In a February call with analysts, Weatherford’s chief executive, Mark A. McCollum, seemed exasperated. “I don’t waste a lot of time thinking or planning how to fail,” he said. “The elephant in the room for the entire sector is we’re not generating returns that our investors expect.”

One concern is that the industry will be forced to leave oil and gas in the ground as climate change prompts environmental restrictions on drilling or a shift to alternative fuels.

“The psychology has turned,” said David Katz, president of Matrix Asset Advisors, a New York investment firm that owns Occidental shares. “When you talk to investors they are concerned about oil companies spending money on something that will be in decline. There are more concerns that electric cars and hybrid cars are going to get more and more popular.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group OILJOBS-SS-slide-JUL1-articleLarge U.S. Oil Companies Find Energy Independence Isn’t So Profitable Stocks and Bonds Shale Prices (Fares, Fees and Rates) Permian Basin (North America) Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Greenhouse Gas Emissions Drilling and Boring

Pioneer Natural Resources is a major producer in the Permian Basin. Its chief executive foresees an industry consolidation unless investor sentiment grows more favorable.CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

That is a tectonic shift from just a few years ago.

In the early 2000s, experts like T. Boone Pickens warned that world demand for oil would outstrip production and that American output was in a long decline. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP drilled in deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico, invested in Canadian oil sands and sent teams to explore in places as far-flung as the Arctic Circle, Azerbaijan and Equatorial Guinea.

Investors assumed that fossil-fuel reserves could only become more valuable over time. With energy demand rising in China, India and other developing countries, oil prices rose to over $140 a barrel, and oil stocks soared.

That all changed when companies like Mitchell Energy, EOG Resources and Chesapeake Energy began experimenting with drilling for oil and gas in shale fields. Not only did that reverse the production decline in the United States, but it also encouraged Wall Street investors to shower money on the industry. In 2014 alone, investors lent North American exploration and production companies more than $17 billion, according to IHS Markit, a consultant.

Shale production upended the global oil market once dominated by OPEC, and oil prices fell sharply.

Energy experts say annual global oil demand is growing about 1.2 percent, which is not enough for American oil companies to produce more oil profitably. Demand was growing roughly three times as fast in the early 2000s, but greater fuel efficiency and an economic slowdown in China have reduced the world’s thirst for oil.

That slowdown has been particularly hard for smaller companies not lucky or smart enough to invest in the most productive fields. Because shale wells decline rapidly, executives also liken this business to running on a treadmill that never stops — they need to drill new wells constantly to maintain production and continue to generate revenue.

“It’s a race,” said Raoul LeBlanc, director for energy at IHS Markit. “But there’s not enough money to grow aggressively and give money back to shareholders at the same time.”

The race is all the more arduous with oil prices hovering around $60 a barrel after rising above $75 last year.

Rystad Energy, a consulting firm, found that 36 of the 40 shale oil companies it looked at in the first quarter of this year could not generate enough revenue to sustain their businesses, reduce debt and reward their investors with dividends or share buybacks.

Energy experts say oil companies could make a comeback in the next few years, even if it is only a temporary one. Advanced technologies could bring down costs of production while increasing output. Production in countries like Venezuela and Mexico could continue declining, allowing American companies to gain market share.

But the industry faces a long-term challenge from climate change.

Chevron and other large American oil companies are investing in carbon capture and sequestration to bury greenhouse gases or produce new fuels, though such technologies are expensive and unproven on a large scale.

Large oil companies, which generate a lot of cash and still pay investors healthy dividends, can afford such investments. But many smaller businesses, including those that pioneered shale drilling, don’t have the money or technical expertise to make similar changes.

Since last year investors have called on companies to cut expenses, reduce debt and pay higher dividends or buy back more shares. In response, the industry has dropped the number of rigs it commissions to drill new wells in recent weeks.

Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major producer in the Permian Basin, says a major industry consolidation may be coming.

“Most of the companies,” he said, “can’t deliver what the investors are asking for.”

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As Coal Fades in the U.S., Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground

America’s coal-burning power plants are shutting down at a rapid pace, forcing electric utilities to face the next big climate question: Embrace natural gas, or shift aggressively to renewable energy?

Some large utilities, including Xcel Energy in the Upper Midwest, are now planning to sharply cut their coal and gas use in favor of clean and abundant wind and solar power, which have steadily fallen in cost. But in the Southeast and other regions, natural gas continues to dominate, because of its reliability and low prices driven by the fracking boom. Nationwide, energy companies plan to add at least 150 new gas plants and thousands of miles of pipelines in the years ahead.

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A rush to build gas-fired plants, even though they emit only half as much carbon pollution as coal, has the potential to lock in decades of new fossil-fuel use right as scientists say emissions need to fall drastically by midcentury to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

“Gas infrastructure that’s built today is going to be with us for 30 years,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

“But if you look at scenarios that take climate change seriously, that say we need to get to net zero emissions by 2050,” he said, “that’s not going to be compatible with gas plants that don’t capture their carbon.”

In some states, policymakers are now pushing to leave gas behind to meet ambitious climate goals. Last week, New York lawmakers passed a sweeping energy bill that calls for the state to switch to entirely carbon-free electricity sources by 2040, following states like California and New Mexico that have passed similar laws.

Since 2005, most power companies have lowered their carbon dioxide emissions significantly, in large part by shifting from coal to gas. Coal plants have become uncompetitive with other kinds of energy generation in much of the country, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to save them by rolling back federal pollution regulations.

But in a recent analysis, David Pomerantz, the executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewables group, looked at the long-term plans of the 22 biggest investor-owned utilities. Some in the Midwest are planning to speed up the rate at which they cut emissions between now and 2030. But other large utilities, like Duke Energy and American Electric Power, expect to reduce their carbon emissions at a slower pace over the next decade than they had over the previous decade.

“I really think gas is at the crux of it,” Mr. Pomerantz said. “You’ve got some utilities looking at gas and saying, ‘No thanks, we think there’s a cleaner and cheaper path.’ But then you’ve got others going all-in on gas.”

Last fall, in North and South Carolina, a pair of utilities owned by Duke Energy filed plans with state regulators to continue retiring coal plants and largely replace them with more than 9,500 megawatts of new natural gas capacity by 2033. The utilities also plan to add a smaller amount of solar capacity, about 3,600 megawatts, over the same time frame.

“Right now, gas is still the most cost-effective option for us,” said Kenneth Jennings, Duke’s director of renewable strategy and policy.

Westlake Legal Group how-electricity-generation-changed-in-your-state-promo-1545597148124-articleLarge As Coal Fades in the U.S., Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground Xcel Energy Inc wind power Solar Energy Sierra Club PJM Interconnection natural gas Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming environment Energy and Power Duke Energy Corporation Coal American Electric Power Co Inc Alternative and Renewable Energy

How Does Your State Make Electricity?

There’s been a major shift in how America makes electricity over the past two decades. Each state has its own story.

One challenge with using more solar power, he noted, is finding a way to supply electricity when the sun isn’t shining. Although Duke is installing some large lithium-ion batteries to store solar energy for less-sunny hours, the company says batteries still haven’t reached the point where they’re as cheap or effective as gas power, which can run at all hours.

Mr. Jennings also said that it can be tough to add wind power in the Carolinas, where the terrain is less favorable than the wide-open Midwest and lawmakers have limited the construction of new turbines on mountain ridges and near military bases along the coast.

Opponents of Duke’s plans, including environmental groups and local renewable energy producers, have urged state regulators to push the utility to reconsider. They have sharply disputed Duke’s analysis, arguing that the utility is downplaying the potential for solar, wind and batteries.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_154785057_5d6d2308-b381-4df2-9c79-c606b4319b1c-articleLarge As Coal Fades in the U.S., Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground Xcel Energy Inc wind power Solar Energy Sierra Club PJM Interconnection natural gas Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming environment Energy and Power Duke Energy Corporation Coal American Electric Power Co Inc Alternative and Renewable Energy

Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Station has four coal-fired units in Apollo Beach, Fla.CreditZack Wittman for The New York Times

A similar fight is unfolding in Florida, where the local Sierra Club is challenging a proposal by Tampa Electric to replace two older coal units with a large new natural gas plant. The Sierra Club’s pitch to the governor, who still has to approve the plan: Florida can’t afford to deepen its reliance on gas at a time when climate change and sea level rise are threatening the state’s coast.

For Tampa Electric, the choice is complex. The utility plans to get 7 percent of its power from solar by 2021, but says that until storage technologies improve, gas will form the backbone of its energy mix as it tries to meet energy needs in a fast-growing part of the state.

These disputes are popping up in states around the country. Over the last decade, groups like the Sierra Club have tried to persuade utilities and regulators that they could save money by retiring coal and shifting to a cleaner mix of gas and renewables. Now they’re running the same playbook against gas, arguing that the costs of wind, solar and batteries have declined so drastically that it’s time to stop building new gas plants, too.

So far, results have been mixed: Regulators in Arizona and Indiana have recently blocked plans for new gas plants, agreeing with opponents that utilities hadn’t fully considered alternatives and that large new gas projects could be a risky bet at a time when clean energy technology is improving fast.

But last year in Michigan, regulators approved DTE Energy’s plan to build a new $1 billion gas plant, rejecting analyses by outside groups that the utility could save ratepayers money by scrapping the plant and making greater use of wind, solar and energy efficiency.

Vast stretches of solar panels at Babcock Ranch’s solar farm in Florida in earlier this year.CreditZack Wittman for The New York Times

At the same time, some utilities are discovering on their own that it can make financial sense to take a more ambitious leap toward renewable energy.

Last year in Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, or Nipsco, opened bidding to outside energy developers and found that adding a mix of wind, solar and batteries would be cheaper than building a new gas plant to replace its retiring coal units. (The company will keep its older gas plants online to fill in gaps when wind and solar aren’t available.) Doing so, the utility estimated, would reduce its emissions 90 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We were surprised by that,” said Joe Hamrock, the chief executive of the company that owns the Nipsco. “Renewables in our particular situation were far more competitive than we realized.”

Mr. Hamrock noted that his utility had advantages that others might not have: Its territory sits near land that’s ripe for wind development, making it easier to build new turbines close by without the need for lots of costly new transmission lines. “The answer we got might look very different for someone just 100 miles away,” he said.

Indeed, things look very different nearby in the vast regional grid known as PJM that serves 65 million people from Ohio to New Jersey. There power plants compete in a largely deregulated market and companies are expected to build over 10,000 megawatts of new gas plants by 2024 to take advantage of cheap natural gas from the nearby fracking boom in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“The shale gas revolution has, frankly, caused a delay in the growth of renewables here,” said Stu Bresler, senior vice president for operations and markets at PJM Interconnection, which oversees the system. Wind and solar make up less than 6 percent of the region’s generating capacity, well below the national average.

State legislatures are also increasingly weighing in on which energy sources get built. To date, 29 states have enacted laws that require their utilities to get a certain fraction of their power from wind and solar.

Now, some states are going further. Over the past year, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington have all passed laws aimed at getting 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources by midcentury, which would eventually mean phasing out conventional gas plants.

Yet even utilities that are already shifting more heavily into renewables say that it will be challenging to get rid of gas altogether.

Last year, Xcel Energy, which serves eight states including Colorado and Minnesota, said it would shut down all its remaining coal plants in the years ahead and push to go completely carbon-free by 2050, saying that renewable energy, helped in part by federal subsidies, had fallen so much in price that this was now the cheapest option.

While the utility thinks it can get 80 percent of the way to its emissions goals by 2030 with a mix of wind, solar, batteries and its existing nuclear plants, it will still rely on natural gas to provide the rest of its power and is building a new gas plant in Minnesota to balance out its supply.

Ben Fowke, the chief executive of Xcel, said that getting to 100 percent carbon-free power will likely require new technology that can supplant natural gas as a cost-effective backup fuel. Some possibilities include burning clean hydrogen instead of gas in power plants, developing techniques that enable carbon produced by gas plants to be captured and stored underground, advanced nuclear power or the invention of new energy storage techniques.

Perfecting that technology would likely require big new investments in research and support from policymakers, he said. “But I’m convinced we can get there.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

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A Plan to Mine the Minnesota Wilderness Hit a Dead End. Then Trump Became President.

ELY, Minn. — In the waning months of the Obama administration, a Chilean conglomerate was losing a fight with the United States government over a copper mine that it wanted to build near a pristine wilderness area in Minnesota.

The election of President Trump, with his business-friendly bent, turned out to be a game-changer for the project.

Beginning in the early weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the administration worked at a high level to remove roadblocks to the proposed mine, government emails and calendars show, overruling concerns that it could harm the Boundary Waters, a vast landscape of federally protected lakes and forests along the border with Canada.

Executives with the mining company, Antofagasta, discussed the project with senior administration officials, including the White House’s top energy adviser, the emails show. Even before an interior secretary was appointed to the new administration, the department moved to re-examine leases critical to the mine, eventually restoring those that the Obama administration had declined to renew. And the Forest Service called off an environmental review that could have restricted mining, even though the agriculture secretary had told Congress that the review would proceed.

An Interior Department spokesman said it simply worked to rectify “a flawed decision rushed out the door” before Mr. Trump took office. Several senior department officials with previous administrations, however, said they were surprised by the swift change of course for the little-known Minnesota project, which was not a focal point of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

For the family of the billionaire Andrónico Luksic, which controls the Chilean conglomerate, the policy reversals could provide a big boost to its mining business. Since the change in administration, the Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals Minnesota has significantly ramped up its lobbying in Washington, according to federal disclosures, spending $900,000.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00CLI-HOUSE-luksic-articleLarge A Plan to Mine the Minnesota Wilderness Hit a Dead End. Then Trump Became President. Zinke, Ryan (1961- ) Wilderness Areas Wetlands washington dc United States Politics and Government Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald J Tidwell, Thomas L Renting and Leasing (Real Estate) Minnesota Mines and Mining Lobbying and Lobbyists Kushner, Jared Kushner, Charles Interior Department Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming Forests and Forestry Forest Service environment Chile Carbon Dioxide Banco de Chile Bachelet, Michelle Appointments and Executive Changes

Andrónico Luksic’s plan for a copper mine in Minnesota was blocked by President Barack Obama. His fortunes have since shifted.CreditMartin Bernetti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ivanka Trump, left, and Jared Kushner, second from left, two of the president’s closest advisers.CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

But the mining project’s breakthrough, already unpopular with environmentalists, has drawn additional scrutiny and criticism because of an unusual connection between Mr. Luksic and two of Mr. Trump’s family members.

Just before Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Luksic added a personal investment to his portfolio: a $5.5 million house in Washington. Mr. Luksic bought the house with the intention of renting it to a wealthy new arrival to Mr. Trump’s Washington, according to Rodrigo Terré, chairman of Mr. Luksic’s family investment office, which handled the purchase.

The idea worked. Even before the purchase was final, real estate agents had lined up renters: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

The rental arrangement has been a point of concern for ethics experts and groups opposed to mining near the Boundary Waters, and has focused national attention, particularly among some Democrats in Congress, on an otherwise local debate.

The Wall Street Journal first reported about the house in March 2017. At that time, Twin Metals was suing the federal government over the mining leases, but the Trump administration’s direction on the mine since then had only begun to take shape.

In recent months, the scrutiny has grown. In March, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, wrote a letter with other lawmakers to the interior and agriculture secretaries raising significant concerns about the proposed mine.

The letter said the two departments’ actions “blatantly ignored scientific and economic evidence.” It also mentioned the “interesting coincidence” surrounding the rental of the Luksic house to Mr. Trump’s relatives. Separately, a group in Minnesota opposed to the mining, Save the Boundary Waters, has called the rental arrangement “deeply troubling” and has seized on it to cast doubt on the administration’s actions.

The White House and representatives for the couple declined to answer questions about whether the rental deal had been reviewed by ethics officials. “Both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump follow the ethics advice they received when they entered government service,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Mr. Terré called the lease a simple real estate transaction that happened to involve the incoming president’s family. “I do not believe there was anything unethical or inappropriate about this business transaction,” he said.

Both Mr. Mirijanian and Mr. Terré said the rental was not related to the Minnesota mine. “There is no correlation in any way,” Mr. Mirijanian said. They were “two entirely unrelated matters” and tying them together was “based on unfounded rumors and speculation,” Mr. Terré said.

An Interior Department spokeswoman said that neither Mr. Kushner nor Ms. Trump been involved in discussions about the mine.

Nonetheless, several ethics experts said they would have cautioned Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump against renting the home, given the Luksic family’s business before the administration.

“There may be nothing wrong,” said Arthur Andrew Lopez, a federal government ethics official for two decades who is now a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “But it doesn’t look good.”

Antofagasta hopes to mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which encompasses more than a million acres of lakes and forest.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

The Boundary Waters hold a special place in American geography: More than a million acres of lakes and forests provide a rich habitat for thousands of species, including the gray wolf and Canada lynx. But below the surface and beyond lies richness of another sort, an estimated four billion tons of copper and nickel ore — believed to be one of the world’s largest undeveloped mineral deposits.

The mining giant controlled by the Luksic family, Antofagasta, took full control of the project in 2015, and its executives have called it the company’s “most advanced international opportunity.” Antofagasta, which is publicly traded in London, is poised to benefit from the growing use of copper in renewable-energy technologies like wind and solar. It lists Mr. Luksic as a board member, and his younger brother, Jean-Paul Luksic, as chairman.

The company has spent more than $450 million so far on the project, run by the subsidiary, Twin Metals Minnesota. It says the project will generate hundreds of mining jobs.

The promise of employment resonates in Minnesota’s Iron Range, which has lost a quarter of its mining jobs since 2000. “The mining industry brings a tsunami effect for the community with regard to jobs, schools, everything,” said Andrea Zupancich, the mayor of Babbitt, a town of 1,500 near the proposed mine.

Antofagasta’s environmental record, however, has raised concerns. In Chile, the company’s Los Pelambres copper mine has suffered toxic spills, according to environmental groups. The company said the mine had experienced only “minor incidents involving limited spills” which were not toxic, and said it was proud of its environmental record.

In a 2016 analysis, Thomas Tidwell, who was then chief of the United States Forest Service, warned of risks to the Boundary Waters from the proposed Twin Metals mine, including the leaching of harmful metals. Mining, he concluded, risked “serious and irreplaceable harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness.”

Twin Metals called the analysis “riddled with errors” and said “environmental risks will be properly managed.”

Still, the fears have divided nearby residents. “In the summer, we drink out of this water,” said Susan Schurke, who runs Wintergreen Northern Wear, an outdoor clothing company. “Once that’s tainted, it’s over. How can we risk that?”

When the Obama administration moved to block the project in 2016, Twin Metals sued. The company said in a statement then that the administration’s move threatened jobs and would “hinder access to one of the world’s largest sources of copper, nickel and platinum — resources of strategic importance to the U.S. economy and national defense.”

Just as the mining company’s hopes appeared to be on the ropes, it got a welcome surprise: Mr. Trump’s election, and the promise of a pro-industry agenda.

“In 100 years, this water is going to be far more valuable a resource here than copper,” Sullen Sack, a wilderness educator, said.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
A map of the Boundary Waters at Ely Outfitting Company in Ely, Minn.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times The region has lost a quarter of its mining jobs since 2000.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

With a new administration on its way to Washington, Mr. Luksic contacted a real estate broker he knew for help with an investment idea: buying residential properties in Washington, including a luxury home, to rent out.

With the help of the broker, Rodrigo Valderrama, Mr. Luksic’s family investment office, which through corporate entities owns a portfolio of real estate in the United States, bought two condominiums in the capital. One was never rented and the other was later sold at a loss.

As for the luxury home, Mr. Valderrama spent weeks touring homes and alerting brokers that he had an interested client. One house he saw was on Tracy Place, in the Kalorama neighborhood, being handled by the real estate firm Washington Fine Properties.

Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner were using the same firm for their hunt for a house to rent. With Mr. Kushner’s parents tagging along, they saw the six-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot Kalorama home as well.

In the space of a week, Mr. Luksic’s representatives agreed to buy the house and closed on the all-cash transaction, while their would-be tenants waited for the purchase to be complete.

The two sides, working through brokers, agreed on rent of $15,000 per month. Mr. Terré described it as being in the “high range” for the area, which some real estate agents confirmed. Still, that rent was significantly lower than what the couple had discussed paying for another more expensive house, according to interviews.

The home rented by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington.CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

Mr. Terré said both sides were aware of each others’ identities before the rental deal was finalized. “We disclosed our name and the name of my boss,” he said in a telephone interview. Mr. Mirijanian said the couple had decided to lease the home before knowing the landlord’s identity. He did not directly respond to questions about whether they learned of that identity before signing the lease.

Mr. Luksic has written on Twitter that he does not know Mr. Trump or any member of his family, and only met Mr. Trump briefly at a New England Patriots football game years ago. Mr. Terré said Mr. Luksic “has not had any interactions with the Trump White House.”

Critics of the Luksic family say they were suspicious of the Washington investments because of Mr. Luksic’s past in Chile, where he has faced claims of attempts to win favor with the family of a former Chilean president. The Luksic family, one of the world’s wealthiest, has interests spanning banking, manufacturing, energy, shipping and beer.

Mr. Luksic came under fire for meeting with the son and daughter-in-law of Michelle Bachelet, who was running to be president of Chile at the time, as they sought a $10 million loan for their company from Banco de Chile, which is controlled by the Luksic family conglomerate. After Ms. Bachelet’s 2013 election, the bank approved the loan.

A spokesman for Ms. Bachelet said an investigation into the meeting didn’t lead to any charges. Representatives for Mr. Luksic said that he never discussed the loan with Ms. Bachelet, and that regulators found “there was absolutely nothing irregular about the bank’s approval of the loan.”

The Trump administration’s efforts to smooth the way for Antofagasta’s mining ambitions began less than two weeks after the inauguration, when Interior Department officials began re-examining the leases, the government emails show.

The message from an early meeting, according to an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity, was that officials should prepare for a change in direction.

Officials also made sure the incoming interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, not yet in the job, was briefed. In an email, one Interior Department official described that effort as a “fire drill.”

The administration’s efforts are documented in part in thousands of pages of government emails and calendars, many obtained through records requests by Louis V. Galdieri, a documentary filmmaker, and the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.

A key meeting occurred in early May, when Antofagasta’s chief executive, along with other executives and lobbyists, discussed the issue with the White House’s top adviser on domestic energy and the environment, Michael Catanzaro. The company said it wanted to reverse the Obama-era decisions, which it said were illegal and inflicted “undue damage.”

Rock core samples taken by Twin Metals as part of preparations for mining.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
Near the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge outside Ely. Dogsledding in the Boundary Waters wilderness is popular in winter.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times A slab of taconite iron ore, a major local industry in decades past, on display in Babbitt, Minn.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

The next month, Interior Department officials learned that the White House had “expressed interest in the Twin Metals matter,” according to an email sent by a department lawyer marked “TIME SENSITIVE.” Soon after, top interior appointees traveled to the Minnesota site.

That December, the department reversed course on denying the company’s leases, and Twin Metals withdrew its lawsuit. The Interior Department formally renewed the leases last month, with some restrictions.

Twin Metals scored another victory in September when the Forest Service cut short its mining-ban review. An agency spokesman said it had determined that neither the study nor a ban was needed.

A Twin Metals spokesman, David Ulrich, said the company’s outreach was part of a long-running effort to share its views with the federal government. Obama administration officials had also visited the mining site, he said.

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“We are confident that this world-class mineral resource can be developed safely and with a minimal impact to the environment,” he said in a statement.

The mine still faces a yearslong permitting and approval process. Engineers have been drilling boreholes and wells to study the region’s geology and water, and the company is preparing an operating plan.

“The last administration created some challenges,” Mr. Ulrich said during a tour of the site on the Boundary Waters’ edge. “But it was never not moving forward.”

On a trip to Minnesota in April, Mr. Trump was jubilant about the restoration of mining.

“Under the previous administration,” he said at a truck factory, “America’s rich natural resources were put under lock and key.” The changes since then, he said, were “really pretty amazing.”

Moonrise over Garden Lake, on the edge of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

Reporting was contributed by Lisa Friedman in Washington, Jesse Drucker and Kate Kelly in New York, and Pascale Bonnefoy in Santiago, Chile. Kitty Bennett and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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Automakers Say Trump Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits

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WASHINGTON — Many of the world’s largest automakers joined together Thursday to tell President Trump that one of his most sweeping deregulatory efforts — his plan to weaken pollution standards for automobiles — threatens to hurt their profitability and produce “untenable” instability in one of the nation’s most important manufacturing sectors.

In a letter signed by 17 companies including Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volvo, the automakers asked Mr. Trump to go back to the negotiating table on the planned rollback. It represents the most forceful statement to date by the auto industry against Mr. Trump’s effort to weaken the tailpipe pollution rules, one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to fight climate change.

Mr. Trump’s new rule, which is expected to be made public in the coming weeks, would all but eliminate the Obama-era auto pollution regulations, essentially freezing mileage standards at about 37 miles per gallon for cars, down from a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The policy makes it a near certainty that California and 13 other states will sue the administration while continuing to enforce their own, stricter rules — in effect, splitting the United States auto market in two.

For automakers, a bifurcated market is their nightmare scenario. In the letter to Mr. Trump, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times, they warned of “an extended period of litigation and instability” should his plans be implemented.

The letter was delivered to the White House on Thursday morning, the same time as a similar letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, according to a senior auto industry lobbyist who was not authorized to speak about the matter because the letters had not yet been made public.

“We strongly believe the best path to preserve good auto jobs and keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans is a final rule supported by all parties — including California,” the letter says.

To Mr. Newsom, the companies wrote, “We are writing with a desire to resurrect discussions” on the plans.

A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said Thursday afternoon that he was unaware of the letter and therefore unable to respond to questions about it. Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the agency that runs the state’s tailpipe pollution program, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The automakers’ letter is the latest unusual turn in Mr. Trump’s quest to roll back regulations on auto manufacturing, an industry he has vowed to support, only to be told by that same industry that his efforts may do more harm than good. Some industry chief executives and lobbyists have been privately telling the White House the same thing for months, but Thursday’s letter represents the most forceful pushback by the industry in their efforts to temper the president’s plan.

“Our thinking is, the rule is still being finalized, there is still time to develop a final rule that is good for consumers, policymakers and automakers,” said Gloria Bergquist, a vice president at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

But criticizing the president’s plan comes with risk for the automakers. The White House has courted their support for his moves, and, in particular, executives at auto companies have said they expect to be asked to stand with Mr. Trump in the Rose Garden when he announces the rollback — just as they once stood with Mr. Obama in 2009 when he announced the creation of the pollution rules.

Privately, some officials have said that they fear auto industry criticism of Mr. Trump’s rollback could lead the president to retaliate by imposing tariffs on auto imports. That, too, could be painful for the industry, because many cars and components are now made or partly assembled across the border in Mexico or Canada.

In asking Mr. Trump to rewrite his planned rollback of the pollution rule in such a way that it could be supported by the environmentally progressive state of California, the automakers effectively withdrew their support for Mr. Trump’s current plan and asked the president to make a deal with a state that he appears to relish antagonizing. Mr. Trump has variously described California as “ridiculous,” “out of control” and “the state that has wasted billions of dollars.”

Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, has said repeatedly that the state intends to sue Mr. Trump over the weakening of the auto pollution rules. In one such remark this year, he said he was “prepared to defend our national clean car standards even if the Trump administration intends to go AWOL.”

While two of the nation’s Big Three companies signed the letter, the third, Fiat Chrysler, which has been more supportive of the administration’s plan, did not. Other automakers who signed the letter include BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 06CLI-AUTOS2-articleLarge Automakers Say Trump Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Toyota Motor Corp Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Newsom, Gavin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming General Motors Ford Motor Co environment Carbon Dioxide Automobiles Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Air Pollution

The president during a March 2017 meeting in Michigan with auto industry executives.CreditNicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The automakers conceded in their letter that they were seeking to solve a crisis of their own making. Soon after Mr. Trump took office, chief executives from Detroit’s top automakers personally asked him to loosen some elements of the Obama-era regulations.

However, the Trump administration went further than the industry expected, using the rollback to attack California’s legal authority to set its own rules. Since the 1970 Clean Air Act, California has had special privileges to write its own pollution regulations.

The Trump administration last year unveiled a draft plan that would have rolled back the Obama rule and stripped California of the right to set tougher state standards. In subsequent months, both sides said they hoped to negotiate their way to a final plan that would lead to one national standard, avoiding potential courtroom showdowns.

But in February, the White House announced that it had ended talks with California, essentially ensuring that the final outcome would lead to litigation.

The Car Industry Is Under Siege

June 6, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 00auto-1-threeByTwoSmallAt2X Automakers Say Trump Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Toyota Motor Corp Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Newsom, Gavin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming General Motors Ford Motor Co environment Carbon Dioxide Automobiles Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Air Pollution

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Automakers Tell Trump His Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits

Want climate news in your inbox? Sign up here for Climate Fwd:, our email newsletter.

WASHINGTON — Many of the world’s largest automakers joined together Thursday to tell President Trump that one of his most sweeping deregulatory efforts — his plan to weaken pollution standards for automobiles — threatens to hurt their profitability and produce “untenable” instability in one of the nation’s most important manufacturing sectors.

In a letter signed by 17 companies including Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volvo, the automakers asked Mr. Trump to go back to the negotiating table on the planned rollback. It represents the most forceful statement to date by the auto industry against Mr. Trump’s effort to weaken the tailpipe pollution rules, one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to fight climate change.

Mr. Trump’s new rule, which is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks, would all but eliminate the Obama-era auto pollution regulations, essentially freezing mileage standards at about 37 miles per gallon for cars, down from a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The policy makes it a near certainty that California and 13 other states will sue the administration while continuing to enforce their own, stricter rules — in effect splitting the United States auto market in two.

For automakers, a bifurcated market is their nightmare scenario. In the letter to Mr. Trump, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times, they warned of “an extended period of litigation and instability” should his plans be implemented.

The letter was delivered to the White House on Thursday morning, along with a similar letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, according to a senior auto industry lobbyist who was not authorized to speak about the matter because the letters had not yet been made public.

“We strongly believe the best path to preserve good auto jobs and keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans is a final rule supported by all parties — including California,” the letter says. To Mr. Newsom, the companies wrote, “We are writing with a desire to resurrect discussions” on the plans.

A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said Thursday afternoon that he was unaware of the letter and therefore unable to respond to questions about it. Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the agency that runs the state’s tailpipe pollution program, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The automakers’ letter is the latest unusual turn in Mr. Trump’s quest to roll back regulations on auto manufacturing, an industry he has vowed to support, only to be told by that same industry that his efforts may do more harm than good. Some industry chief executives and lobbyists have been privately telling the White House the same thing for months, but Thursday’s letter represents the most public pushback by the industry in their efforts to temper the president’s plan.

“Our thinking is, the rule is still being finalized, there is still time to develop a final rule that is good for consumers, policymakers and automakers,” said Gloria Bergquist, a vice president at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

But criticizing the president’s plan comes with risk for the automakers. The White House has courted their support for his moves, and, in particular, officials at auto companies have said they expect to be asked to stand with Mr. Trump in the Rose Garden when he announces the rollback — just as they once stood with Mr. Obama in 2009 when he first announced the creation of the pollution rules.

Privately, some officials have said that they fear auto industry criticism of Mr. Trump’s rollback could lead the president to retaliate by imposing tariffs on auto imports. That, too, could be painful for the industry, because many cars and components are now made or partly assembled across the border in Mexico or Canada.

In asking Mr. Trump to rewrite his planned rollback of the pollution rule in such a way that it could be supported by the environmentally progressive state of California, the automakers effectively withdrew their support for Mr. Trump’s current plan and asked the president to make a deal with a state that he appears to relish antagonizing. Mr. Trump has variously described California as “ridiculous,” “out of control and “the state that has wasted billions of dollars.”

Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, has said repeatedly that the state intends to sue Mr. Trump over the weakening of the auto pollution rules. In one such remark earlier this year, he said he is “prepared to defend our national clean car standards even if the Trump administration intends to go AWOL.”

While two of the nation’s Big Three companies signed the letter, the third, Fiat Chrysler, which has been more supportive of the administration’s plan, did not. Other automakers who signed the letter include BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Volkswagen.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 06CLI-AUTOS2-articleLarge Automakers Tell Trump His Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Toyota Motor Corp Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Newsom, Gavin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming General Motors Ford Motor Co environment Carbon Dioxide Automobiles Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Air Pollution

The president during a March 2017 meeting in Michigan with auto industry executives.CreditNicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The automakers conceded in their letter that they were seeking to solve a crisis of their own making. Soon after Mr. Trump took office, CEOs from Detroit’s top automakers personally asked him to loosen the some elements of the Obama-era regulations.

However, the Trump administration went further than the industry expected, using the rollback to attack California’s legal authority to set its own rules. Since the 1970 Clean Air Act, California has had special privileges to write its own pollution regulations.

The Trump administration last year unveiled a draft plan that would have rolled back the Obama rule and stripped California of the right to set tougher state standards. In subsequent months, both sides said they hoped to negotiate their way to a final plan that would lead to one national standard, avoiding potential courtroom showdowns.

But in February, the White House announced that it had ended talks with California, essentially ensuring that the final outcome would lead to litigation.

The Car Industry Is Under Siege

June 6, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 00auto-1-threeByTwoSmallAt2X Automakers Tell Trump His Pollution Rules Could Mean ‘Untenable’ Instability and Lower Profits United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Toyota Motor Corp Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Newsom, Gavin Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming General Motors Ford Motor Co environment Carbon Dioxide Automobiles Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Air Pollution

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Joe Biden Issues Climate Plan That Aims Beyond Obama’s Goal

Westlake Legal Group 04biden-climate1-facebookJumbo Joe Biden Issues Climate Plan That Aims Beyond Obama’s Goal United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Trump, Donald J Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Presidential Election of 2020 Obama, Barack Greenhouse Gas Emissions Green New Deal Global Warming environment Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has faced criticism from Democratic presidential rivals about his commitment to combating climate change, on Tuesday unveiled a plan centered on reinstating the climate policies of the Obama administration — but he included some unexpected proposals that would push significantly beyond what the previous White House achieved.

Mr. Biden, who in tone and substance is one of the most centrist candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, has insisted he is no moderate when it comes to protecting the environment, though progressives have been skeptical. Polls show that fighting climate change is a top priority for Democratic voters, and Mr. Biden selected the issue for his second policy rollout, after an education plan he released last week.

“On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track,” his campaign wrote. “He will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change — he will go much further.”

[Elizabeth Warren said as president, she would invest $2 trillion in climate-friendly industries over a decade.]

Mr. Biden’s plan calls for the United States to entirely eliminate its net emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution by 2050, the same goal put forth in the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate change proposal championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

By comparison, Mr. Biden’s former boss, President Barack Obama, had pledged to the world that the United States would lower its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Mr. Biden would also call for an investment of $1.7 trillion over 10 years into clean energy and environmental justice programs, designed to help minorities and poor people disproportionately harmed by pollution, paid for by a rollback of President Trump’s tax breaks for corporations.

“This definitely goes further than the Obama administration in terms of aspiration,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard.

Mr. Biden’s plan is not as ambitious or detailed as those of some of his more environmentally minded competitors, but some of its goals are similar. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who is basing his campaign on fighting climate change, has called for the nation to eliminate its net carbon emissions by 2045.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping American politics with our newsletter.]

“This clearly demonstrates that Biden and his people recognize the polling that Democrats in the primary electorate are skewed to the left, and the polling demonstrates that they care about climate change,” Mr. Stavins said.

Before Mr. Biden released his proposal, prominent liberal politicians and activists expressed doubts about his commitment to a bold environmental policy.

A Reuters report last month said Mr. Biden was seeking a “middle ground” to combat climate change, which his campaign called a mischaracterization of his position. But that reporting appeared to prompt Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is also running for president, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to make oblique swipes at Mr. Biden.

Over the weekend, speaking to a crowd at the California Democratic Party’s convention, Mr. Sanders seized on the phrase “no middle ground,” applying it to a spate of progressive priorities, remarks that were widely seen as a rebuke of Mr. Biden.

“We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no middle ground,” he said.

Mr. Biden has stressed on the campaign trail that he was an early advocate for combating climate change, frequently referring to work he did on that issue dating to the 1980s, when he was a Delaware senator. He will campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday and is expected to highlight the proposal on the trail. The last time he was in the state, in mid-May, he advised Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to “look at my record” on the issue.

In the previous administration, Mr. Obama won accolades from environmentalists and enmity from Republicans for bypassing Congress and using his executive authority to instate the nation’s first major federal climate change policies, including regulations to curb planet-warming pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks. He was also a lead broker of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which committed nearly every country to putting forth plans to reduce emissions.

Mr. Trump, who campaigned on pledges to deregulate industry and regularly mocks the established science of human-caused climate change, has moved to roll back those environmental rules and withdraw from the Paris accord.

Mr. Biden’s plan calls on Congress to mandate cuts in fossil fuel pollution, a move that could stave off the criticism leveled at Mr. Obama that he abused his authority in enacting climate change policy through executive branch regulations. But it is hard to see how a Congress with at least one chamber controlled by Republicans would pass such a plan when Mr. Obama failed to push it through while both chambers were controlled by his own party.

Mr. Biden’s plan contains few specifics about what such legislation would entail, beyond saying it would establish “an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than 2025.”

The plan’s most aggressive initiatives call for flexing the United States’ trade and foreign policy muscles to compel other countries, particularly China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide polluter, to reduce emissions. Combining climate change policy with trade policy, the plan calls for the imposition of “carbon tariffs” on goods imported from heavily polluting economies, a move that would directly affect Chinese imports.

“We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate objectives,” the Biden campaign wrote. “Biden will not allow other nations, including China, to game the system by becoming destination economies for polluters, undermining our climate efforts and exploiting American workers and businesses.”

While the idea of placing tariffs or quotas based on the level of carbon dioxide pollution associated with specific imported goods has long been discussed in Washington, it has never been enacted, in part out of fear of sparking a trade war. But Mr. Trump has already started the process to tax nearly everything China sends to the United States.

The plan calls for the United States to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and to take the lead in pushing members of the pact to regularly strengthen their pledges to reduce planet-warming pollution, although such a mechanism is already built into the original text of the accord.

A Biden administration would convene a world summit of the most heavily polluting economies, the campaign said, and the president would urge those nations to commit to even more ambitious pollution reduction plans.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Biden Issues Climate Plan That Aims Well Beyond Obama’s Goal

Westlake Legal Group 04biden-climate1-facebookJumbo Biden Issues Climate Plan That Aims Well Beyond Obama’s Goal United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Trump, Donald J Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Presidential Election of 2020 Obama, Barack Greenhouse Gas Emissions Green New Deal Global Warming environment Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has faced criticism from Democratic presidential rivals about his commitment to combating climate change, on Tuesday unveiled a plan centered on reinstating the climate policies of the Obama administration — but he included some unexpected proposals that would push significantly beyond what the previous White House achieved.

Mr. Biden, who in tone and substance is one of the most centrist candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, has insisted he is no moderate when it comes to protecting the environment, though progressives have been skeptical. Polls show that fighting climate change is a top priority for Democratic voters, and Mr. Biden selected the issue for his second policy rollout, after an education plan he released last week.

“On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track,” his campaign wrote. “He will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change — he will go much further.”

Mr. Biden’s plan calls for the United States to entirely eliminate its net emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution by 2050, the same goal put forth in the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate change proposal championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

By comparison, Mr. Biden’s former boss, President Barack Obama, had pledged to the world that the United States would lower its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

[Make sense of the people, issues and ideas shaping American politics with our newsletter.]

Mr. Biden would also call for an investment of $1.7 trillion over 10 years into clean energy and environmental justice programs, designed to help minorities and poor people disproportionately harmed by pollution, paid for by a rollback of President Trump’s tax breaks for corporations.

“This definitely goes further than the Obama administration in terms of aspiration,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard.

Mr. Biden’s plan is not as ambitious or detailed as those of some of his more environmentally minded competitors, but some of its goals are similar. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who is basing his campaign on fighting climate change, has called for the nation to eliminate its net carbon emissions by 2045.

“This clearly demonstrates that Biden and his people recognize the polling that Democrats in the primary electorate are skewed to the left, and the polling demonstrates that they care about climate change,” Mr. Stavins said.

Before Mr. Biden released his proposal, prominent liberal politicians and activists expressed doubts about his commitment to a bold environmental policy.

A Reuters report last month said Mr. Biden was seeking a “middle ground” to combat climate change, which his campaign called a mischaracterization of his position. But that reporting appeared to prompt Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is also running for president, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to make oblique swipes at Mr. Biden.

Over the weekend, speaking to a crowd at the California Democratic Party’s convention, Mr. Sanders seized on the phrase “no middle ground,” applying it to a spate of progressive priorities, remarks that were widely seen as a rebuke of Mr. Biden.

“We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no middle ground,” he said.

Mr. Biden has stressed on the campaign trail that he was an early advocate for combating climate change, frequently referring to work he did on that issue dating to the 1980s, when he was a Delaware senator. He will campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday and is expected to highlight the proposal on the trail. The last time he was in the state, in mid-May, he advised Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to “look at my record” on the issue.

In the previous administration, Mr. Obama won accolades from environmentalists and enmity from Republicans for bypassing Congress and using his executive authority to instate the nation’s first major federal climate change policies, including regulations to curb planet-warming pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks. He was also a lead broker of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which committed nearly every country to putting forth plans to reduce emissions.

Mr. Trump, who campaigned on pledges to deregulate industry and regularly mocks the established science of human-caused climate change, has moved to roll back those environmental rules and withdraw from the Paris accord.

Mr. Biden’s plan calls on Congress to mandate cuts in fossil fuel pollution, a move that could stave off the criticism leveled at Mr. Obama that he abused his authority in enacting climate change policy through executive branch regulations. But it is hard to see how a Congress with at least one chamber controlled by Republicans would pass such a plan when Mr. Obama failed to push it through while both chambers were controlled by his own party.

Mr. Biden’s plan contains few specifics about what such legislation would entail, beyond saying it would establish “an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than 2025.”

The plan’s most aggressive initiatives call for flexing the United States’ trade and foreign policy muscles to compel other countries, particularly China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide polluter, to reduce emissions. Combining climate change policy with trade policy, the plan calls for the imposition of “carbon tariffs” on goods imported from heavily polluting economies, a move that would directly affect Chinese imports.

“We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate objectives,” the Biden campaign wrote. “Biden will not allow other nations, including China, to game the system by becoming destination economies for polluters, undermining our climate efforts and exploiting American workers and businesses.”

While the idea of placing tariffs or quotas based on the level of carbon dioxide pollution associated with specific imported goods has long been discussed in Washington, it has never been enacted, in part out of fear of sparking a trade war. But Mr. Trump has already started the process to tax nearly everything China sends to the United States.

The plan calls for the United States to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and to take the lead in pushing members of the pact to regularly strengthen their pledges to reduce planet-warming pollution, although such a mechanism is already built into the original text of the accord.

A Biden administration would convene a world summit of the most heavily polluting economies, the campaign said, and the president would urge those nations to commit to even more ambitious pollution reduction plans.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Rally for Green New Deal in Washington

Westlake Legal Group 02aoc-facebookJumbo Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Rally for Green New Deal in Washington United States Politics and Government Sunrise Movement Presidential Election of 2020 Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria Greenhouse Gas Emissions Green New Deal Global Warming

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the popular freshman Democrat from New York who is trying to use her star power to move the Democratic Party to the left, will headline a rally next week in Washington in favor of the Green New Deal, as she seeks to shore up support for the expansive climate legislation that has been met with skepticism by members of both parties.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, has long aligned herself with Sunrise Movement, the collection of young, hard-charging activists who are pressuring Democrats nationwide to take bolder actions to address climate change after years of what they see as an inadequate response.

The May 13 rally at Howard University, the final stop on the group’s nationwide “Green New Deal Tour,” will make the case for the bill in the backyard of Capitol Hill, where party establishment figures such as Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, have been more wary of their party’s progressive flank than many in their rank-and-file.

“From fire-scarred California to areas of the plains devastated by flooding, people are hungry for a big vision to transform our economy in line with science and justice demands,” said Varshini Prakash, a co-founder of Sunrise Movement. “I’m thrilled to be joining Representative Ocasio-Cortez to close out the tour and lay out what’s next in the Green New Deal campaign.”

Shortly after Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s election in November, she joined Sunrise Movement protesters in Ms. Pelosi’s office, helping to raise the organization’s national profile.

During other stops on the group’s tour, a video has played in which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez describes her vision of the coming decade, which includes a transition to a green economy and other items on the liberal wish list, like “Medicare for all,” a federal jobs guarantee and publicly funded elections.

The Green New Deal aims to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but it also seeks to address problems such as economic inequality and racial injustice by prioritizing historically disenfranchised communities. Critics say the legislation is too ambitious and has dim political prospects in a Congress where Republicans control the Senate.

“We’ve been clear since our campaign started — the Democratic Party needs to lay out a clear and bold vision for America,” said Corbin Trent, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman. “And that’s not only the best path for our planet — but it’s the best path strategically and electorally to take the Senate and White House.”

The rally comes at a critical time for Sunrise Movement and its allied organizations, which are trying to use the current lack of a clear leader in the national Democratic Party as an opportunity to push for progressive causes.

The Green New Deal had been a major talking point in the Democratic presidential primary, but the conversation has lurched back toward the center in recent weeks, particularly with the entry of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who remains the race’s pacesetter in terms of early fund-raising and polling.

While Mr. Biden has not taken an official stand on the Green New Deal, his surrogates have repeatedly dismissed the idea, and said the better electoral strategy for Democrats would be a clear focus on reversing the presidency of Mr. Trump, not embracing new and controversial policies.

But recently in South Carolina, in a sign of the grass-roots pressure Mr. Biden may face, he was asked at a rally if he would pledge not to accept donations from the fossil fuel industry. Mr. Biden said that he would, and that he had long supported the idea of publicly funded elections.

Former Representative Beto O’Rourke, who is also running for president, recently took the same pledge Mr. Biden said he supported, after repeated pressure from activists including members of Sunrise Movement. Mr. O’Rourke had previously received donations from oil and gas executives.

“We don’t want there to be any real or perceived conflicts of interests,” Mr. O’Rourke said in his video announcing he had signed the pledge. He also singled out youth activists for helping push him on the issue. “Thank you for your advocacy and leadership.”

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Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace

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WASHINGTON — Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.

As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.

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Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, Brazil. In most major land habitats, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century.CreditLalo de Almeida for The New York Times

The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems. But it goes further by detailing how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.

“For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which conducted the assessment at the request of national governments. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.“

A previous report by the group had estimated that, in the Americas, nature provides some $24 trillion of non-monetized benefits to humans each year. The Amazon rain forest absorbs immense quantities of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of global warming. Wetlands purify drinking water. Coral reefs sustain tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean. Exotic tropical plants form the basis of a variety of medicines.

But as these natural landscapes wither and become less biologically rich, the services they can provide to humans have been dwindling.

Humans are producing more food than ever, but land degradation is already harming agricultural productivity on 23 percent of the planet’s land area, the new report said. The decline of wild bees and other insects that help pollinate fruits and vegetables is putting up to $577 billion in annual crop production at risk. The loss of mangrove forests and coral reefs along coasts could expose up to 300 million people to increased risk of flooding.

The authors note that the devastation of nature has become so severe that piecemeal efforts to protect individual species or to set up wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient. Instead, they call for “transformative changes” that include curbing wasteful consumption, slimming down agriculture’s environmental footprint and cracking down on illegal logging and fishing.

“It’s no longer enough to focus just on environmental policy,” said Sandra M. Díaz, a lead author of the study and an ecologist at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. “We need to build biodiversity considerations into trade and infrastructure decisions, the way that health or human rights are built into every aspect of social and economic decision-making.”

Scientists have cataloged only a fraction of living creatures, some 1.3 million; the report estimates there may be as many as 8 million plant and animal species on the planet, most of them insects. Since 1500, at least 680 species have blinked out of existence, including the Pinta giant tortoise of the Galápagos Islands and the Guam flying fox.

Though outside experts cautioned it could be difficult to make precise forecasts, the report warns of a looming extinction crisis, with extinction rates currently tens to hundreds of times higher than they have been in the past 10 million years.

“Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before,” the report concludes, estimating that “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.”

Unless nations step up their efforts to protect what natural habitats are left, they could witness the disappearance of 40 percent of amphibian species, one-third of marine mammals and one-third of reef-forming corals. More than 500,000 land species, the report said, do not have enough natural habitat left to ensure their long-term survival.

Over the past 50 years, global biodiversity loss has primarily been driven by activities like the clearing of forests for farmland, the expansion of roads and cities, logging, hunting, overfishing, water pollution and the transport of invasive species around the globe.

In Indonesia, the replacement of rain forest with palm oil plantations has ravaged the habitat of critically endangered orangutans and Sumatran tigers. In Mozambique, ivory poachers helped kill off nearly 7,000 elephants between 2009 and 2011 alone. In Argentina and Chile, the introduction of the North American beaver in the 1940s has devastated native trees (though it has also helped other species thrive, including the Magellanic woodpecker).

All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people, the report found, and 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

And with humans continuing to burn fossil fuels for energy, global warming is expected to compound the damage. Roughly 5 percent of species worldwide are threatened with climate-related extinction if global average temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the report concluded. (The world has already warmed 1 degree.)

“If climate change were the only problem we were facing, a lot of species could probably move and adapt,” Richard Pearson, an ecologist at the University College of London, said. “But when populations are already small and losing genetic diversity, when natural landscapes are already fragmented, when plants and animals can’t move to find newly suitable habitats, then we have a real threat on our hands.”

The dwindling number of species will not just make the world a less colorful or wondrous place, the report noted. It also poses risks to people.

Volunteers collected trash in March in a mangrove forest in Brazil. The loss of mangrove forests and coral reefs along coasts could expose up to 300 million people to increased risk of flooding.CreditAmanda Perobelli/Reuters

Today, humans are relying on significantly fewer varieties of plants and animals to produce food. Of the 6,190 domesticated mammal breeds used in agriculture, more than 559 have gone extinct and 1,000 more are threatened. That means the food system is becoming less resilient against pests and diseases. And it could become harder in the future to breed new, hardier crops and livestock to cope with the extreme heat and drought that climate change will bring.

“Most of nature’s contributions are not fully replaceable,” the report said. Biodiversity loss “can permanently reduce future options, such as wild species that might be domesticated as new crops and be used for genetic improvement.”

The report does contain glimmers of hope. When governments have acted forcefully to protect threatened species, such as the Arabian oryx or the Seychelles magpie robin, they have managed to fend off extinction in many cases. And nations have protected more than 15 percent of the world’s land and 7 percent of its oceans by setting up nature reserves and wilderness areas.

Still, only a fraction of the most important areas for biodiversity have been protected, and many nature reserves poorly enforce prohibitions against poaching, logging or illegal fishing. Climate change could also undermine existing wildlife refuges by shifting the geographic ranges of species that currently live within them.

So, in addition to advocating the expansion of protected areas, the authors outline a vast array of changes aimed at limiting the drivers of biodiversity loss.

Farmers and ranchers would have to adopt new techniques to grow more food on less land. Consumers in wealthy countries would have to waste less food and become more efficient in their use of natural resources. Governments around the world would have to strengthen and enforce environmental laws, cracking down on illegal logging and fishing and reducing the flow of heavy metals and untreated wastewater into the environment.

The authors also note that efforts to limit global warming will be critical, although they caution that the development of biofuels to reduce emissions could end up harming biodiversity by further destroying forests.

An elephant in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy at the foot of Mount Kenya, outside Nairobi. More than 500,000 land species do not have enough natural habitat left to ensure their long-term survival.CreditTony Karumba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

None of this will be easy, especially since many developing countries face pressure to exploit their natural resources as they try to lift themselves out of poverty.

But, by detailing the benefits that nature can provide to people, and by trying to quantify what is lost when biodiversity plummets, the scientists behind the assessment are hoping to help governments strike a more careful balance between economic development and conservation.

“You can’t just tell leaders in Africa that there can’t be any development and that we should turn the whole continent into a national park,” said Emma Archer, who led the group’s earlier assessment of biodiversity in Africa. “But we can show that there are trade-offs, that if you don’t take into account the value that nature provides, then ultimately human well-being will be compromised.”

In the next two years, diplomats from around the world will gather for several meetings under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global treaty, to discuss how they can step up their efforts at conservation. Yet even in the new report’s most optimistic scenario, through 2050 the world’s nations would only slow the decline of biodiversity — not stop it.

“At this point,” said Jake Rice, a fisheries scientist who led an earlier report on biodiversity in the Americas, “our options are all about damage control.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

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