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Can ExxonMobil Be Found Liable for Misleading the Public on Climate Change?

Scientists at the biggest U.S. oil company understood as early as anyone that fossil fuel emissions were heating up the earth’s atmosphere.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-07/will-exxonmobil-have-to-pay-for-misleading-the-public-on-climate-change

Last fall, ExxonMobil executives hurried along the hushed, art-filled halls of the company’s Irving, Texas, headquarters, a 178-acre suburban complex some employees facetiously call “the Death Star,” to a series of emergency strategy meetings. The world’s largest oil explorer by market value had been hit by a pair of multipart investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times. Both reported that as early as the 1970s, the company understood more about climate change than it had let on and had deliberately misled the public about it. One of Exxon’s senior scientists noted in 1977—11 years before a NASA scientist sounded the alarm about global warming during congressional testimony—that “the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The two exposés predictably sparked waves of internet outrage, some mainstream media moralizing, and the Twitter hashtag #ExxonKnew. The Washington Post editorial page, for one, chided Exxon for “a discouraging example of corporate irresponsibility.” Bill McKibben, the founder of the environmental group 350.org, which spearheaded protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, wrote an impassioned article in the Guardian accusing Exxon of having “helped organize the most consequential lie in human history.”

Kenneth Cohen, then the company’s vice president for public and government affairs, convened near-daily meetings to form a response. “We all sat around the table and said, ‘This feels very orchestrated,’ ” says Suzanne McCarron, who succeeded Cohen when he retired at the end of last year. McCarron still seems shocked that her company could come under sustained attack. “We wanted to know who’s behind this thing,” she says. While Exxon tried to identify its new nemesis—made difficult, perhaps, by the release of the two reports being coincidental—the executives also decided to nitpick the journalism and sent lobbyists to Capitol Hill to argue their side. That didn’t go so well. “I couldn’t get any journalist to actually evaluate the coverage,” Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers says, with evident frustration.

The crisis might have died down, a week or two of bad PR and nothing more, but several politicians saw an opening. On Oct. 14, four weeks after the first InsideClimate report, Democratic Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, both from California, asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a federal racketeering investigation of Exxon. “It occurred to me that this looks like what happened with the tobacco companies a decade ago,” Lieu says. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton added her support for a Department of Justice inquiry. “There’s a lot of evidence that they [Exxon] misled people,” she said two weeks later.

Stoked by 40 of the nation’s best-known environmental and liberal social-justice groups—including the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council—the anti-Exxon animus only intensified. And if there wasn’t a coordinated campaign before, now there was: The groups all signed an Oct. 30 letter to Lynch also demanding a racketeering probe. (Lynch has since asked the FBI to examine whether the federal government should undertake such an investigation.) The same day, Lieu and DeSaulnier tried to interest the Securities and Exchange Commission in a fraud probe against Exxon, a request that’s pending. Five days later, on Nov. 4, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened a formal investigation into whether Exxon had misled investors and regulators about climate change.

“We cannot continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to treat our atmosphere like an open sewer or mislead the public about the impact they have on the health of our people and the health of our planet,” former Vice President Al Gore said at a subsequent news conference organized by Schneiderman. Compelled by the New York AG’s subpoena, Exxon has so far turned over some 1 million pages of internal documents.

Hours after Schneiderman issued his subpoena, Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson went on Fox Business Network. “The charges are pretty unfounded, without any substance at all,” he said. “And they’re dealing with a period of time that happened decades ago, so there’s a lot I could say about it. I’m not sure how helpful it would be for me to talk about it.” These remarks themselves weren’t terribly helpful—certainly not to Tillerson’s company.

McCarron and her colleagues can sound a tad overwrought when discussing all this. “The goal of the coordinated campaign is to delegitimize the company by misrepresenting our history of climate research,” she says. “Tackling the risk of climate change is going to take a lot of smart people, and we’ve got some of the best minds in the business working on this challenge.”

A company that has 73,500 employees and reported $269 billion in 2015 revenue would seem not to have much to fear from a bunch of tree-huggers and a grandstanding state AG. And yet the #ExxonKnew backlash comes at a financially perilous time for Big Oil. A glut-driven collapse in crude prices has rocked the entire industry. On July 29, Exxon announced second-quarter profit of $1.7 billion, its worst result in 17 years. That followed a rocky spring when ferocious wildfires reduced production in the oil-sands region of western Canada. (The frequency and intensity of such fires may be related to climate change, Exxon’s Jeffers acknowledges, adding, “But we just don’t know.”)

Most important, though, #ExxonKnew comes as climate change, after being on a legislative back burner, has gotten hot again. Signs of this include President Obama’s rejection last November of the Keystone pipeline from western Canada, the Paris summit in December that produced an international agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and the U.S.-China plan, finalized on Sept. 3, committing the world’s two largest economies to implement the Paris accords. It’s too soon to say how much of a danger Schneiderman’s investigation poses to Exxon or if the corporation will ever be charged billions of dollars for carbon pollution. But it can’t ignore the risk of the sort of litigation storm that engulfed Big Tobacco in the 1990s. ExxonMobil doesn’t want to become the Philip Morris of climate liability.

#ExxonKnew has taken shape over the past year, but Peter Frumhoff traces its roots to January 2007. That’s when the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit, published a 64-page report alleging that Exxon used the cigarette industry’s tactics to “manufacture uncertainty on climate change.” Founded in 1969 by physicists worried about nuclear issues, the UCS has branched out over the years. Frumhoff, a 59-year-old Ph.D. ecologist, serves as its director for science and policy. He dresses in grad-school casual and seems highly amused by Exxon’s notion that he’s a central player in a conspiracy against the company. For starters, Frumhoff is a snap to track down and operates quite openly—violations of the conspirator’s imperative to plot in secret.

The 2007 report, which Frumhoff oversaw, compared Exxon to cigarette manufacturers that only five months earlier had been found liable by a U.S. district judge for violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). “ExxonMobil has underwritten the most sophisticated and successful disinformation campaign since Big Tobacco misled the public about the incontrovertible scientific evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease,” the report asserted.

With a relatively modest expenditure of $16 million from 1998 to 2005, Exxon helped fund a network of some 40 advocacy organizations that raised doubts about the growing scientific consensus that global warming is caused by carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions, the UCS found. Exxon, Frumhoff says, is “sort of the poster child for combining a very large contribution to the [climate] problem with an arrogant organizational culture and a significant investment in disinformation to avoid regulation.”

The idea of “making oil the next tobacco” percolated quietly for several years and reemerged in June 2012 in sunny La Jolla, Calif., Frumhoff says. It was there that he co-convened a meeting of scientists and lawyers who discussed not only the parallels between fossil fuels and cigarettes, but also the method used to wound tobacco: the amassing via litigation of internal corporate documents showing that cigarette companies concealed the hazards of smoking. “Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups,” an online report summarizing the La Jolla meeting stated. Even “a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light.”

Several more years passed before a passel of climate documents surfaced, not courtesy of a prosecutor’s subpoena, but as a result of journalistic digging: those reports in InsideClimate (21,000 words in length) and the Los Angeles Times. The two organizations reported that after accumulating climate knowledge for a decade or so, Exxon changed course beginning in the late 1980s, just as public debate over greenhouse gas emissions heated up.

By the 1990s, top Exxon executives were publicly raising doubts about the sorts of findings the company’s own scientists had made. In October 1997, Lee Raymond, then Exxon’s CEO, said in a speech in Beijing, “Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will change in the 21st century and beyond.” Arguing against the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an early attempt to forge an international agreement on emission reductions, he added, “It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”

Working separately from InsideClimate, the Los Angeles Times showed how Exxon incorporated climate change projections into its Arctic exploration plans in the 1990s while publicly undermining such projections.

The overlapping investigative journalism efforts appeared as delegations from countries around the world were getting ready for the December climate talks in Paris. On the sidelines of the Paris summit, McKibben, the author-activist, co-hosted a mock trial of Exxon in which he served as a prosecutor. “This is not just some run-of-the-mill, usual corporate malfeasance,” McKibben said at the trial. “It’s hard to imagine a set of corporate practices that could have done more damage.” Exxon, needless to say, was found guilty.

By its public-relations staff’s own admission, Exxon spent last fall and winter in a largely reactive mode, scrambling to respond to each new revelation or congressional request for an investigation—and never succeeding in offering an alternative narrative. “It was like playing whack-a-mole,” spokesman Jeffers says.

Seeking to illustrate how InsideClimate “cherry-picked” evidence, the company’s communications team pointed Bloomberg Businessweek to a half-dozen alleged examples.

One focused on the site’s account of the late James Black, the Exxon scientist who told management in 1977 of the “general scientific agreement” about man-made global warming. Exxon accused the publication of failing to include qualifications feathered into Black’s work, such as his noting that “a number of assumptions and uncertainties are involved in the predictions of the greenhouse effect.” But InsideClimate did prominently note that Black’s “presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change.” Exxon also accused the organization of erroneously asserting that the company had “stopped” doing carbon research in the late 1980s. But InsideClimate had written, correctly, that the company “curtailed” its in-house research program during that period. (“Curtail” doesn’t mean “stop.”)

Exxon has also accused InsideClimate and the Los Angeles Times of having financial conflicts of interest. The Times articles were researched and written in collaboration with an environmental-reporting project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and that program has taken substantial grants from environmentally oriented foundations, such as those funded by the Rockefeller family. Despite the source of their original wealth—in 1870, John D. Rockefeller created Standard Oil, the corporate forerunner of Exxon—the Rockefeller charities in recent years have taken strong stands against the fossil fuel industry. The Rockefeller Family Fund gave Columbia Journalism School $550,000 to help pay for its fossil fuel reporting project but exercised no editorial control, says Lee Wasserman, director of the fund. The Los Angeles Times initially failed to disclose the funding of the Columbia reporting project, though the newspaper eventually linked to the financial details online. Since 2013, the separate Rockefeller Brothers Fund has provided InsideClimate with $200,000 a year; that fund had no say over what the website published, according to David Sassoon, InsideClimate’s founder and publisher.

As its attacks on journalists fizzled, Exxon tried sending lobbyists to dozens of congressional offices to counter #ExxonKnew on Capitol Hill. Lieu, the California Democrat seeking federal investigations, is still shaking his head over a November visit from four Exxon emissaries. The lobbyists handed out a 10-page presentation titled Managing Climate Change Risks, which sought to underscore the company’s carbon-reduction bona fides. “It was a really surreal meeting,” Lieu says. The lobbyists “came in and said, ‘We believe in climate change and that it’s being caused by humans, and we support a carbon tax.’ I thought to myself, Where is this coming from? Is this like some white-hat department that no one else at Exxon knows about?”

Lieu hadn’t been keeping up with the evolution of Exxon’s climate-related positions since Tillerson replaced the hard-nosed Raymond as CEO in 2006. In 2007, Exxon began cutting off funding for some nonprofits that deny widely accepted science on global warming. The company in 2009 for the first time endorsed a tax on carbon emissions, a stance vehemently opposed by Republicans in Congress and therefore dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. At the Exxon annual meeting in Dallas in May, the silver-haired Tillerson went out of his way to tell shareholders that “the risks of climate change are serious and they do warrant thoughtful action.”

Strictly speaking, though, #ExxonKnew isn’t a campaign aimed at what the company is saying or doing today. #ExxonKnew focuses on discrepancies between past actions and past statements. That historical inquiry, Lieu says, deserves the authority and force of a government investigation. Exxon’s lobbyists didn’t change his mind.

Exxon executives say their view of #ExxonKnew as a conspiracy was confirmed by the gathering of 15 state attorneys general and Gore in New York on March 29. Schneiderman, the host, says he organized the event simply to educate fellow state officials about his Exxon investigation. At the news conference, he sounded like he’d already decided to take the company to court: With “morally vacant forces” blocking climate action in Washington, he said, states were obliged to devise “creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry.”

Schneiderman also arranged for private briefings for the visiting AGs. These closed-door sessions featured a talk on climate science by Frumhoff and a legal backgrounder by Matt Pawa, a private plaintiffs’ attorney who in 2013 won a $236 million groundwater-pollution verdict against Exxon. The company’s public-affairs representatives see great significance in Pawa’s also having attended Frumhoff’s 2012 gathering in La Jolla. “You see the same people showing up at planning meetings over the years,” Jeffers says. Schneiderman says he doesn’t know anything about the La Jolla session and that his office routinely consults with outside experts.

A more consequential aspect of the prosecutors’ conclave was the announcement by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude Walker, that his tiny Caribbean territory had launched a parallel investigation of Exxon. In theory, the Virgin Islands has ample reason to be anxious about climate change: Warming, rising ocean waters could swamp its homes and resorts in coming decades. But in practice, the territory proved itself inadequate to the task of confronting Exxon.

In March the Virgin Islands issued a sprawling, loosely worded subpoena that demanded the company’s correspondence with scores of conservative and free-market organizations, including FreedomWorks, the Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. In a separate subpoena, it sought documents directly from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning group that’s cast doubt on mainstream climate science and formerly received financial support from Exxon. This focus on communication opened the door for Exxon’s New York law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to seek to kill the islands’ subpoenas on First Amendment grounds. Paul Weiss filed court papers in Texas on April 13 condemning the Virgin Islands’ attempt “to deter ExxonMobil from participating in ongoing public deliberations about climate change.” (The more precisely tailored New York subpoena didn’t explicitly name nonprofits with which Exxon may have communicated.)

Finally, Exxon had its counterpunch: that hostile outsiders had attacked the company’s free-speech rights. There’s a reason Theodore Wells, the Paul Weiss partner who’s led Exxon’s legal defense (and has represented such clients as Philip Morris), is known as one of the craftiest people in his profession. However unlikely the image of Exxon as victim, that’s how Wells decided to characterize his client—and it worked. On April 22, the Washington Post carried two opinion pieces on the topic: a column by George Will headlined “Scientific Silencers on the Left Are Trying to Shut Down Climate Skepticism” and one by Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman, respectively general counsel and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, condemning “the environmental campaign that punishes free speech.” In the following days, dozens of similar broadsides were issued from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, the Heritage Foundation, and many others.

Once again, politicians followed. In mid-May, the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology began investigating what it called “a coordinated attempt to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, and scientists of their First Amendment rights.” The only company the panel mentioned by name was Exxon. Committee staff members and Exxon’s McCarron say that despite the company’s widespread lobbying of Congress, it didn’t ask the panel or its chairman, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), to begin the probe. First elected in 1986, Smith has received almost $685,000 in career campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By early July, the Virgin Islands had turned tail and withdrawn its subpoenas of Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Trying to put the best spin on his humiliating retreat, Virgin Islands AG Walker said via e-mail that extricating itself from the subpoena imbroglio will allow his office to “use our limited resources to address the many other issues that face the Virgin Islands and its residents.” Wells didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Schneiderman now finds himself under investigation, too. When the New York AG’s office refused to cooperate with the science committee, Smith issued subpoenas to Schneiderman; Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who’d launched her own investigation of Exxon; and eight nongovernmental organizations, including the Rockefeller funds, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 350.org. “Unfortunately, the attorneys general have refused to give the committee the information to which it is entitled,” Smith told reporters on July 13. “What are they hiding and why?”

Not a thing, according to Schneiderman, who says Smith’s inquiries evoke 1950s-era communist hunting by the House Un-American Activities Committee: “They have no evidence of any cabal, no evidence of any misconduct.” As for the science panel’s concern about Exxon’s First Amendment rights, Schneiderman says the federal government’s successful RICO case against the tobacco companies made “very clear that the First Amendment doesn’t give you the right to commit fraud.”

If Schneiderman continues to resist the House committee’s document demands, the confrontation could end up in court—a fight the New York official sounds eager to have. He’d have an excellent chance of winning, too. It’s unusual for a congressional panel to interfere with a pending state investigation, says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former federal prosecutor who advocates putting Exxon under a microscope. Smith “is trying to subvert the power of state government [and] do something he is not entitled to do under any kind of discovery rules,” Whitehouse says. More succinctly, Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University, says, “Congress has no authority over the conduct of state law enforcement.”

Exxon, for its part, has been cooperating with Schneiderman’s subpoena because the company’s lawyers at Paul Weiss advised their client that it had no choice, according to a person familiar with the situation. Schneiderman is investigating under the broad provisions of a 1921 state law called the Martin Act, arguably the most potent securities-fraud statute in the country. Named for sponsor Louis Martin, an otherwise-forgotten state assemblyman, the law forbids “any fraud, deception, concealment, suppression, [or] false pretense.” Crucially, it doesn’t require a prosecutor to demonstrate that a defendant consciously intended to defraud investors or regulators. New York’s top court has interpreted it to cover “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty.”

Schneiderman doesn’t have a slam-dunk case. “The New York attorney general has a plausible theory, but he’ll need more than the results of the journalistic investigations,” says Michael Gerrard, a law professor at Columbia who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “It’s not enough to show that Exxon had internal knowledge of climate change when external knowledge was widespread. The government would have to show that there were things that only Exxon knew and that were material to investors and that Exxon kept from investors. Such evidence might be there, but we don’t know yet.”

One potential defense that Exxon is floating: Since the 1970s its scientists have published climate findings in more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. What Exxon knew, the argument would go, the wider scientific world also knew. The company didn’t keep secrets the way the tobacco industry did.

Few complicated securities-fraud cases go to trial; the risk of losing and the costs of extended litigation impel settlement. With those risks in mind, Exxon and New York may eventually look to a separate case resolved by Schneiderman’s office in November. The attorney general found after a two-year investigation that coal producer Peabody Energy provided incomplete information to investors by saying in public reports that it couldn’t “reasonably predict” the risks it faced from climate-related regulations. St. Louis-based Peabody, which in April declared bankruptcy amid a collapsing coal market, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing and didn’t face pecuniary punishment. The company did agree to provide more forthcoming disclosures to investors.

“It’s really too soon to tell” whether the Peabody settlement provides a model for the Exxon case, Schneiderman says. He expects to amass evidence in the Exxon investigation of “a much more sophisticated ongoing policy of deception” than what his office found inside Peabody—wrongdoing that could warrant seeking substantial money damages. Exxon has kept that alleged policy in place through recent years, Schneiderman says, pointing to a 2014 company report claiming that international efforts to reduce climate change wouldn’t oblige fossil fuel producers to leave enormous amounts of oil in the ground untouched.

Exxon denies any deception took place and isn’t ready to talk settlement, McCarron says. She calls Schneiderman’s comments “an attack on the integrity of the company” and says Exxon “will pursue all available legal options to defend ourselves.”

World first for Shetlands in tidal power breakthrough

Nova Innovation deploys first fully operational array of tidal power turbines in the Bluemull Sound

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/world-first-for-shetlands-in-tidal-power-breakthrough

A power company in Shetland has claimed a breakthrough in the race to develop viable offshore tidal stations after successfully feeding electricity to local homes.

Nova Innovation said it had deployed the world’s first fully operational array of tidal power turbines in the Bluemull Sound between the islands of Unst and Yell in the north of Shetland, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic.

It switched on the second of five 100kW turbines due to be installed in the sound this month, sending electricity on a commercial basis into Shetland’s local grid.

Existing tidal schemes use single power plants or installations rather than a chain of separate turbines. A French company, OpenHydro, says it too is very close to linking two tidal machines, off Brittany, to build a more powerful 1MW array.

After a series of commercial failures in Scotland’s nascent marine power industry, including the collapse of two wave power firms, Pelarmis and Aquamarine, Nova Innovation’s announcement was applauded by environmental groups.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “News that power has been exported to grid for the first time by a pair of tidal devices marks yet another major milestone on Scotland’s journey to becoming a fully renewable nation.

“With some of the most powerful tides in Europe, Scotland is well placed to lead in developing this promising technology, which will help to cut climate emissions and create green jobs right across the country.”

The islands, which are not connected yet to the UK grid, get most of their electricity from a diesel-fuelled power station which is supplied by tankers, despite having some of the world’s strongest and most reliable wind, wave and tidal resources.

Shetland has also been the site of one of the UK’s most bitter disputes over renewable power. Thousands of islanders campaigned against an ambitious scheme backed by the local council to build the 370MW Viking windfarm, involving 103 turbines erected on the main island.

That scheme finally won legal approval in 2015 but construction has yet to begin; it is waiting for a UK government announcement on new energy supply deals and the installation of a national grid connection to mainland Scotland.

Nova Innovation said the two turbines installed so far were operating at 40% of their installed capacity. The company hopes its turbines, which were cofunded by the Belgian renewables company ELSA, will be sold worldwide now they have been commercially proven.

“We are absolutely delighted to be the first company in the world to deploy a fully operational tidal array,” said Simon Forrest, the firm’s managing director.

UK government could approve Hinkley Point but delay Essex project

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/29/uk-government-could-approve-hinkley-point-delay-essex-project-bradwell-china

The government is considering a proposal to detach development of the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant from an agreement allowing China to build a reactor in Essex.

The proposal is one of the options under consideration after Theresa May delayed approving the £18bn Hinkley Point project last month, according to a report in the Times (£).

The prime minister is concerned about China’s involvement with the project to build Britain’s first nuclear power plant for a generation in Somerset and a further agreement for China to build reactors in Bradwell, Essex, and Sizewell, Suffolk.

The government enlisted China last September to fund a third of Hinkley Point in a deal meant to ease financial pressure on EDF, the French builder of the plant, and forge closer links with China.

But May, who raised objections to the deal when she was home secretary, called a surprise review soon after becoming prime minister.

An option under consideration in Whitehall is to approve Hinkley Point but delay a decision on the Bradwell reactor to allow a discussion about its effect on British security, the Times said.

Any attempt to split Hinkley Point from the agreement to let China build reactors in Britain would endanger the whole deal because the Bradwell plant was meant to be a showcase for China’s nuclear technology in Europe.

Tension over Hinkley Point means May risks an awkward first G20 meeting of world leaders as prime minister. The meeting, on 4 and 5 September, takes place in the Chinese City of Hangzhou and will be hosted by Xi Jinping, China’s president, who signed the Hinkley Point agreement last year.

EDF, the French state-owned energy group, approved the building of Hinkley Point in July after months of doubts about whether it was financially strong enough to take on the giant project.

On Sunday, Vincent de Rivaz, EDF’s UK chief executive, called on the UK to set aside concerns about Chinese involvement in the project.

“We know and trust our Chinese partners.” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. De Rivaz said there were “enormous benefits for the UK” from the involvement of China, which has the largest civil nuclear programme in the world.

China has made clear its frustration over May’s decision to delay a decision on Hinkley Point. The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, wrote that relations with Britain were at a “crucial historical juncture”.

May then wrote to Xi and China’s premier, Li Keqiang, promising closer business and trade ties between Britain and the world’s second-biggest economy.

May’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, last year raised concerns that Chinese state-owned companies were investing in sensitive infrastructure.

Timothy wrote on the ConservativeHome website: “Rational concerns about national security are being swept to one side because of the desperate desire for Chinese trade and investment.”

Coal Executive Says His Industry Must Confront Climate Change

Richard Reavey says climate denial is eerily parallel to the tobacco industry’s old tactics, which hurt that business long-term

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-executive-says-his-industry-must-confront-climate-change/

It’s one thing when environmentalists say that fossil fuel companies’ positions on climate change are similar to Big Tobacco’s past deflections about the hazards of smoking.

It’s another entirely when it’s done by a coal official, who says his industry should heed tobacco’s costly lessons.

That’s what Richard Reavey, vice president of public affairs of Cloud Peak Energy Inc., a major coal miner in the western United States, appears to have done on June 29, 2015, when he presented a 24-page slideshow at an industry conference organized by the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute in Snowmass, Colo.

Reavey said one of his goals for the presentation, titled “SURVIVAL IS VICTORY: LESSONS FROM THE TOBACCO WARS,” was to encourage the industry to move past debating climate change and talk to critics of the industry about addressing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

“The tobacco industry spent a lot of time in the bunker not listening to its critics, denying that there was any legitimate concern about smoking and health, and effectively trying to parse hairs and debate science,” Reavey said in an interview, “instead of trying to get to where they finally got to, which was that recognition that regulation was a legitimate goal of the public health community and something that the industry could live with.”

Coal companies should take a proactive strategy and talk about solutions, such as carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technology, Reavey said.

“There’s no good that comes from continuing to be in that kind of binary debate,” he said.

Reavey said the roughly 250 listeners to the June presentation had a swath of reactions. Some saw his suggestions as savvy and others glossed over it. Some in the crowd, “troglodytic types,” Reavey said, maintained that climate change is still debatable.

“I don’t really understand their point of view,” he said.

Before coming to Cloud Peak, Reavey worked in public relations for Philip Morris International Inc., the cigarette and tobacco company, when the Department of Justice was suing the industry in the 1990s.

“The parallels are remarkable and eerie,” one slide reads. It says tobacco was and coal is under attack from “well funded, well organized NGO opposition driving regulatory policy, media messaging, and shaping public opinion—often with poor/no science.”

Reavey said he wasn’t comparing behavior of coal and tobacco firms. “The analogy I drew was between the tactics of coal’s opponents and the opponents of tobacco,” he said.

Analogies between fossil fuel companies’ knowledge of climate change and cigarette-makers’ knowledge that smoking caused cancer are common in environmental circles.

Congressional Democrats held a briefing in June on the subject—an event titled, “Oil Is the New Tobacco” (ClimateWire, June 23). And some believe fossil fuel companies could be legally liable if they knew about climate change dangers but suppressed that information. That possibility is the crux of the investigations by New York and Massachusetts attorneys general into Exxon Mobil Corp.

The fossil fuel industry bristles when it’s compared to the tobacco industry. And some environmentalists are suspicious about Reavey’s motivations.

Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental advocacy group, said he came across the slideshow online last summer.

“It was unbelievable seeing it in writing,” Zimmerman said, adding that he’s familiar with the tobacco-to-oil analogy, but that the link to coal seems new.

Zimmerman seized on Reavey’s “poor/no science” line when reading the document.

“It’s maybe not an explicit denial, but it’s certainly an implicit denial,” Zimmerman said. “He’s still trying to undermine the science.”

Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigations Center and a former Greenpeace campaigner, read Reavey’s presentation, too.

“What he’s saying is ‘Coal, you can survive, look at tobacco,’” Davies said. “It’s a guy coming from tobacco sort of trying to teach coal,” he added. “Instructing them to go heavy on the clean coal, it buys you credibility, it buys you time.”

Concrete step on cleaner fuel

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=172942&story_id=47015608&con_type=1&d_str=20160818&sid=4

The first contractor in Hong Kong to use B5 biodiesel in its batching plants and equipment said it has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5,529 tonnes between 2013, when it started using the cleaner fuel, and the end of last year. The reduction is equivalent to one person taking 5,119 return flights between Hong Kong and Melbourne.

Gammon Construction is the first and only company in Hong Kong that uses the environmentally friendly B5 biodiesel in all of its plants, road vehicles and equipment, such as excavators, in its railway, housing, airport, bridge and other project sites.

Emma Harvey, manager of Gammon’s group sustainability and corporate social responsibility, said using B5 biodiesel also helps reduce landfill waste aside from cutting carbon emissions.

“Another benefit in its use is reducing waste oil that will end up in landfills,” she said, adding B5 biodiesel use has enabled Gammon to reduce its diesel carbon emissions by about 5 percent.

Gammon has also brought B5 biodiesel to retail filling pumps in Hong Kong with its fuel partner Shell. Last November, they introduced this clean fuel to a petrol station in Tsing Yi. Next month, a second petrol station near the airport will offer B5 biodiesel.

Last year, about 15 percent of Gammon’s land vehicles, mostly mixer trucks, used B5 biodiesel. They consumed about two million liters of B5 biodiesel last year.

Gammon procurement head Susan Siu Kit-ling said: “B5 biodiesel costs 30 HK cents more per liter [than ordinary diesel], but this can be offset by reduced usage with the higher efficiency of this fuel type.”

She said Gammon undertakes from time to time planning studies on construction equipment, aimed at reducing diesel consumption.

Siu said waste oil comes mainly from local food producers or grease trap waste, oil and grease separated in wastewater. Gammon only imports waste oil if local supply is not stable. Waste oil helps produce B5 biodiesel. More than 95 percent of Gammon’s timber and plywood requirements for form work carry Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. These wood types have a shorter life cycle and have less adverse impact on the environment.

Gammon also uses low-carbon materials, like low-carbon concrete and cement. It has been awarded the Carbon Care Label Certificate by Carbon Care Asia in 2014 and 2015 for its endeavors in creating low-carbon construction processes and for helping reduce carbon emissions.

$40m Waste to Energy Research Collaboration in Singapore

Singapore’s National Environment Agency has joined forces in a Collaboration Agreement with the NTU Singapore to develop a S$40 million waste to energy research facility.

https://waste-management-world.com/a/video-40m-waste-to-energy-research-collaboration-in-singapore

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) has joined forces in a Collaboration Agreement with the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) to develop a S$40 million ($30 million) waste to energy research facility.

According to the NEA the facility will be the first of its kind in Singapore and is planned to enable the translation of emerging waste to energy technologies, such as the use of syngas in demonstration and test-bedding projects.

Possible projects to be conducted at the facility include turning waste and biomass into synthetic gas, cleaning and upgrading syngas to run an gas engine or turbine for higher energy recovery efficiencies, the utilisation of slag in engineering applications, novel flue gas treatment module for lower emissions, low-grade heat recovery and using a gas separation membrane to extract oxygen from air.

History of Collaboration
The collaboration agreement was signed by Ronnie Tay, CEO of NEA, and Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of NTU’s Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI).

“NTU has an established track record of industry collaboration and for translating research into impactful commercial applications,” commented Prof Freddy Boey.

“It will provide local institutions and industries access to the world-class research facilities and expertise at NTU, helping them to innovate and develop clean solutions that are globally competitive,” the professor continued.

Expected to be commissioned by late 2018, it is hoped that the facility will be an open platform to support research and its translation, as well as personnel training to build technical competencies in waste to energy.

Ronnie Tay added: “We hope that this facility will provide stakeholders such as research institutes, academia and industry with a platform to collaborate in and create more effective and sustainable waste management solutions through research, development, demonstration and test-bedding.”

New Evidence Suggests Big Oil Didn’t Borrow Big Tobacco’s Playbook to Lie to the Public About Climate Change—They Actually Wrote It

In a major blow to ExxonMobil, documents reveal that the common tactical playbook is decades older than previously assumed.

http://www.alternet.org/environment/new-evidence-suggests-big-oil-didnt-borrow-big-tobaccos-playbook-lie-public-about

A recent analysis of more than 100 industry documents conducted by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, has revealed that the oil industry knew of the risks its business posed to the global climate decades before originally suspected.

It has also long been assumed that, in its efforts to deceive investors and the public about the negative impact its business has on the environment, Big Oil borrowed Big Tobacco’s so-called tactical “playbook.” But these documents indicate that infamous playbook appears to have actually originated within the oil industry itself.

If that is true, it would be highly significant—and damning for Big Oil—because the tactics used by the tobacco industry to downplay the connection between smoking and cancer were eventually deemed to have violated federal racketeering laws by a federal court. The ruling dashed efforts by Big Tobacco to find legal cover under the First Amendment, which just happens to be the same strategy that ExxonMobil and its GOP allies are currently using to defend the company against allegations of fraud. If the playbook was in fact created by the oil and gas industry and then later used by ExxonMobil, it ruins the company’s argument of plausible deniability, making it highly likely that the company violated federal law.

This latest development is a major blow to Big Oil, which has been trying to rebuff comparisons to the tobacco industry. It also comes as a group of state attorneys general are pursuing an investigation into possible fraud committed by ExxonMobil. The probe, which could ultimately extend to include other oil and gas companies, was launched in November by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has since been joined by 16 other state AGs in a historic national coalition seeking to find out if America’s largest oil company intentionally hid critical climate-related information about their future business from investors and the public.

Environmentalists and corporate accountability advocates have cheered the investigation, contending that ExxonMobil has engaged in a decades-long campaign of climate denial and deception, ultimately delaying action on climate change and putting the planet at risk.

“We began with three simple, related questions,” says Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, about the recently analyzed documents, which are housed at the tobacco industry document archive at the University of California, San Francisco medical center. “What did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? What we found is that they knew a great deal, and they knew it much earlier and with greater certainty than anyone has recognized or that the industry has admitted.”

Sowing seeds of doubt about climate science

“Big Oil created the organized apparatus of doubt,” Muffett said. “It used the same playbook of misinformation, obfuscation and research laundered through front groups to attack science and sow uncertainty on lead, on smog, and in the early debates on climate change. Big Tobacco used and refined that playbook for decades in its fight to keep us smoking—just as Big Oil is using it now, again, to keep us burning fossil fuels.” To wit: Exxon’s own Corporate Citizenship Report from last year revealed that the company is still funding climate denial groups.

The documents suggest that the tactics in question were developed by the Smoke and Fumes Committee, a group launched 70 years ago by the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade association that represents the U.S. fossil fuel industry, to study oil industry pollution and present its own spin to the public. If that is the case, it appears those same tactics were likely co-opted by the tobacco industry, which was later found guilty of committing fraud following a racketeering lawsuit filed in 1999 by the Department of Justice. The documents reveals that the deceptive actions taken by the oil industry so many decades ago prevented the possibility of early action on climate change—action that may have prevented potentially millions of climate-related deaths across the globe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. The World Health Organization estimates that around 6 million people worldwide die from tobacco-related illnesses. Between 2030 and 2050, WHO estimates that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 deaths per year, from heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea. That number does not include the deaths caused by climate-related natural disasters, which have more than tripled since the 1960s, resulting in over 60,000 deaths each year, mainly in developing countries.

Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University is also the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Sr., founder of the American oil giant Standard Oil Company, out of which ExxonMobil was born. Earlier this year, Goodwin decided to divest her shares of ExxonMobil stock and use the proceeds to fight climate change and climate denial. In an interview with AlterNet, she contrasted the impact of tobacco and fossil fuel:

In the large picture … tobacco and fossil fuel emissions are quite different. Tobacco kills people one by one. Climate change will increasingly cause events like hurricanes that will destroy large swathes of property, kill numbers of people, make many homeless. While it can be argued that smoking tobacco is a matter of individual choice, the production and use of fossil fuels is more obviously a social issue. In the long run, producers of fossil fuels will have to lose. The only question is how much the people and ecologies of the world will lose before our economies cease to make the situation worse.

U.N.: Climate change is “irreversible”

While the climate situation can certainly become worse, the actions of ExxonMobil and Big Oil have helped to put the planet on what many scientists are now saying is an unstoppable path. In 2014, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offered a grim assessment: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” That has left environmentalists not only angry at the oil industry, but also wondering how the narrative might have been different had the industry been honest and open about its early findings.

“It’s increasingly clear that the fossil fuel industry knew a lot more about the causes of climate change—and its effects—much earlier than anyone else,” said Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, about CIEL’s findings. “It pains me to think how much better shape the planet and vulnerable communities could be in if the fossil fuel industry had taken positive action based on this knowledge instead of trying to profit from it.”

Climate activist Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, has been a long-time critic of the oil and gas industry. “The ongoing revelations about the depth of oil industry research into—and obfuscation of—the greatest crisis humans have ever faced are hard to read; thanks to them, we wasted vital time,” he said in a press statement.

In a CIEL video, Muffett explains how “the world’s most powerful industry used science, communications and consumer psychology to shape the public debate over climate change,” noting “it begins earlier, decades earlier than anyone recognized.” He points out that in 1968, API commissioned a report titled “Sources, Abundance, and Fate of Gaseous Atmospheric Pollutants,” which revealed rising levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuel, in the atmosphere. The report’s authors, Elmer Robinson and R.C. Robbins of the Stanford Research Institute, warned of significant climate risks posed by the continued use of fossil fuel. “If the earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans, and an increase in photosynthesis,” they wrote, adding, “there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”

Notably, Muffett said, is the fact that the report’s authors “recognized that the most important remaining uncertainties were technological: How would we respond and how would we modify our technology to reduce emissions?” Now, nearly half a century later, the question becomes: Why did the oil industry hide this information from the public? Of course, we know the answer to that question: Profits. Instead of responding responsibly to the dire warnings that came with this information by moving the nation’s energy portfolio and infrastructure to a low-carbon future, the oil industry kept on drilling, kept businesses and consumers burning their primary retail products, which continued to pollute the environment and damage the Earth’s climate.

Seventy years of denial and deception

The question for Schneiderman and his fellow state attorneys general is, did ExxonMobil, and possibly other oil companies, intentionally mislead investors, consumer and the public, hiding the damning scientific evidence that their own industry paid to discover? With CIEL’s analysis of industry documents, it appears that Big Oil may be even guiltier than originally suspected, as the group traced the origins of the 1968 API report to a meeting of oil and gas industry executives in Los Angeles more than two decades earlier, in 1946.

That was the year API established the Smoke and Fumes Committee. “Faced with growing public concern about air pollution,” Muffett said, “the industry embarked on what would become a well-funded, carefully coordinated, multi-decade enterprise of funding scientific research and using that research to promote public skepticism of environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly and potentially unnecessary.”

One of the tactics used by the oil industry was to delay any climate action that might harm its business by sowing seeds of doubt. “The worst thing that can happen, in many instances, is the hasty passage of a law or laws for the control of a given air pollution situation,” wrote Vance Jenkins, executive secretary of the Smoke and Fumes Committee, in a 1954 trade journal article about smog pollution.

The ties between the oil and tobacco industries run deep. In the 1950s, Monroe J. Rathbone, the president and director of Standard Oil, sat on American Cancer Society’s committee on smoking and public policy. In 1968, Esso Research and Engineering Co., an affiliate of Standard Oil, filed a patent claim for a new type of cigarette filter, made out of polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer that was first synthesized by Phillips Petroleum, an American Oil Company. In 1979, R.G Baker, the chair of British American Tobacco, the second largest tobacco company in the world, also sat on the board of Exxon, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company. In the 1970s, R.J. Reynolds, America’s second-largest tobacco company, diversified into the energy business, acquiring American Independent Oil Company, Burmah Oil and Gas Company and Burmah Oil Development, Inc.

In a CIEL video, Muffett explains the key events that reveal the oil industry didn’t just borrow the tobacco industry’s playbook, but was actually behind behind it all along:

As evidence mounts of the oil industry’s decades-long campaign of climate deception and denial, Exxon and its allies assure us that oil is not the new tobacco. The 14 million documents at the Tobacco Archives prove Exxon right: Oil is not the new tobacco. But six decades ago, tobacco was the new oil. In December 1953, tobacco executives met in a New York hotel room to hatch a plan to confront the rising tide of science linking smoking with cancer. To help craft that plan, tobacco turned to PR firm Hill and Knowlton. Hill and Knowlton, in turn, drew on its long expertise supporting the oil industry. Richard Darrow, the principal architect of tobacco’s strategy, also represented Hill and Knowlton’s biggest oil company clients.

In the years that followed, the tobacco conspirators looked repeatedly to oil industry campaigns on smog, lead and other air pollutants for models, for resources and for people. They turned to Stanford Research Institute, a key player in the oil industry’s “Smoke and Fumes” effort to develop a suitcase-sized testing kit that would sample smoke without attracting attention. They turned to Truesdail Laboratories, which in 1958 was doing the earliest documented climate research for the American Petroleum Institute, and to a former Standard Oil executive who recommended an array of scientists for the tobacco industry’s scientific advisory board, nearly all with proven links to the oil industry and many of whom would go on to work for tobacco.

Suffice it to say, CIEL’s analysis has uncovered the deep and complex relationship between the oil and tobacco industries that goes back many decades, and continues to this day. From advertising campaigns and marketing tactics to PR firms and scientists, the two industries have shared a wealth of information, strategies and human resources. The relationship was formed on mutual dependence, which consistently placed profits above public and environmental health. As Muffett points out, “For Big Tobacco, gas stations were vital retail outlets. For Big Oil, cigarettes were their biggest retail product after gasoline.”

“These documents are the tip of an evidentiary iceberg that demands further investigation,” said Muffett. “Oil companies had an early opportunity to acknowledge climate science and climate risks, and to enable consumers to make informed choices. They chose a different path. The public deserves to know why.”

The investigation continues

ExxonMobil and its allies on Capitol Hill—a coterie of GOP legislators who have received political contributions from the oil industry—have attempted to stop the AGs’ fraud probe by claiming the investigation is a violation of the company’s First Amendment rights.

In June, ExxonMobil filed a complaint in federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who had subpoenaed the company under consumer and securities fraud statutes, in an effort to secure company records going back 40 years. In its lawsuit, which is seeking an injunction to stop Healey’s probe, ExxonMobil said Healey’s investigation is “nothing more than a weak pretext for an unlawful exercise of government power to further political objectives,” adding that the attorney general is “abusing the power of government [and] … has deprived and will continue to deprive ExxonMobil of its rights under the United States Constitution.”

Unfortunately for ExxonMobil, the First Amendment claim has already been discredited. In United States vs Philip Morris Inc., a federal appeals court found that the First Amendment does not protect fraudulent statements. Likewise, Healey’s office has dismissed ExxonMobil’s claims.

“For many months, ExxonMobil has engaged in an unprecedented effort to limit the ability of state attorneys general to investigate fraud and unfair business practices,” said Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, Healey’s communications director.

“Our investigation is based not on speculation but on inconsistencies about climate change in Exxon documents which have been made public,” Gonzalez said, and echoing the tobacco lawsuit, added that “the First Amendment does not protect false and misleading statements in the marketplace. Exxon’s assertion that we cannot investigate it because the company has not engaged in business here in Massachusetts is completely preposterous.”

However, a similar battle between ExxonMobil and U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker ended in a ceasefire, as Walker agreed to withdraw a similar subpoena in exchange for ExxonMobil’s withdrawal of its lawsuit against him. Walker’s withdrawal hasn’t been viewed as a setback for the ongoing probe, as legal experts contend that the primary battlefields will be Massachusetts and New York. So far, Exxon is cooperating with New York’s investigation and has already relinquished more than 700,000 pages of documents to Schneiderman’s office.

But 100 or so recently analyzed documents may reveal the true origin of Big Tobacco’s infamous playbook.

Watch CIEL’s “Smoke and Fumes” videos to learn more about its analysis of those documents:

Nuclear cover-up: environment ministry slaps penalties on errant crew over failures at Guangdong plant

Fourstaff members at a nuclear power plant in Guangdong have been punished for breaching ¬operational guidelines and trying to cover up the failures, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said this week, more than a year after the incident took place.

Three staff at the Yangjiang nuclear power plant in Guangdong, about 220km north of Hong Kong, were given administrative warnings, while the crew’s leader, Wei Haifeng, was stripped of his senior nuclear operator’s licence, a severe punishment.

Their actions caused a heat ¬removal pump on one of the key reactors to stop functioning for six minutes at the plant, the first to go online in China after the 2011 -Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The operators then tried to cover up the incident by failing to log it as required, the ministry said.

The incident did not result in a radioactive leak or pose a direct public safety threat, two nuclear experts said.

According to the ministry, the breaches occurred on March 22, 2015 when the reactor was undergoing maintenance. The pump is a crucial part of the reactor’s water cooling system.

The plant’s developer, China General National Power Corp, told the South China Morning Post the incident did not affect plant safety because it occurred during maintenance. It also said it did “thorough analysis and a deep ¬review” after the incident and initiated a “safety culture re-education” campaign among all staff.

It said the incident was discovered during “self-assessment” in February and it reported it to the ministry’s nuclear safety bureau “in a timely manner” for sake of “credibility and transparency”.

But some experts warned the incident exposed human weaknesses in nuclear safety in China.

China has embarked on a ¬nuclear power spree, aiming to develop 58 million kWh of nuclear power capacity by 2020 to ¬account for 5 per cent of overall energy supplies.

It is also promoting its nuclear technology overseas.

Revealing further details about the incident, a former National Nuclear Safety Administration employee said that as soon as the pump stopped working due to the crew’s operational error, an alert popped up in the central control room. Controllers immediately contacted the maintenance crew, asking what happened. Meanwhile, backup pumps started to avoid dangerous overheating.

Wei, the crew leader who received the heaviest punishment, had worked more than a decade to earn his senior operator’s licence, a qualification that can cost millions of yuan to obtain. His experience should have prevented him or his subordinates from carrying out the “suicidal” operation which would almost guarantee the shutdown of the main pump, the expert said.

“Why did they do this, that’s the question asked by many people in the industry. Even a cadet would have known it could lead to severe consequences,” the expert said.

“Like captains in airlines, operators in nuclear power plants also receive regular mental health checks. If they are unhappy at work or at home, they must report it. None of them filed any reports.”

The ministry imposed the penalties on July 26 and posted a notice on its website on Tuesday.

Kai Ji-jung, chair professor of nuclear engineering at City University, said a residual heat ¬removal pump was mainly used to cool the system as a backup in the case of an accident or power failure, so a six-minute stoppage under normal operations was not too big a technical safety issue.

“The bigger safety issue is the breaching of regulations as an operator is required to report this to the regulatory body within a given time frame,” he said.

“This reporting is required to ensure the quality of operations. A lot of small things being allowed to happen may indicate that there are problems with the operators.”

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan questioned why Hong Kong was not informed under the notification mechanism it has with Guangdong over nuclear accidents or events in the province.

“The fact that it was covered up is frightening. No one knew about this until a year later,” Yeung said.

“You cannot have ¬effective regulatory oversight without transparency.”

The Security Bureau said it was aware of the event but would not say if the plant informed the Hong Kong government.

Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai, chairman of Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station and Lingao Nuclear Power Station Nuclear Safety Consultative Committee, said such human errors needed to be rectified but his was a learning experience for the plant’s operators.

Xu Yuming, deputy secretary general of the China Nuclear Energy Association in Beijing, said the public reporting of the incident showed improved transparency on the government’s side.

“I think it is a good thing that the ministry reported the incident in a high-profile manner … It shows the government is serious about strengthening management of nuclear plants to improve safety standards.”

The notice about the punishment was among a series of administrative orders and notices published on its website. The ministry did not reply to requests for comment and information on Thursday.

Hu Xinmin, senior manager at Hong Kong-based electricity industry consultancy The Lantau Group, said: “Lessons should be learned from the Fukushima disaster, where post-accident investigations found that small procedural non-compliance incidents were not property reported to the national authority, contributing to a culture of complacency.”

Wang Biao, dean of the Sino-French Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Technology in Zhuhai, said: “It is normal that non-compliance incidences and their consequences are reported to the public this way, since safety is paramount from the government’s point of view. It must be noted that in every nuclear plant, there are multiple backup cooling pump systems, so even if one fails, the other systems will kick in to prevent any major problems.”

The Yangjiang nuclear power station went into commercial operation in March 2014. It was based on the CPR-1000 design found in most Chinese nuclear reactors commissioned since 2010.

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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1999329/nuclear-cover-environment-ministry-slaps-penalties-errant-crew-over

Hong Kong must seize the opportunity to cut fossil fuel use in favour of renewable energy

Albert Lai and John Sayer say the city’s negotiations for new terms and conditions with its two power companies offer a great chance to develop the green energy sector

Imagine if our chief executive announced that everyone had to pay an extra HK$5,600 next year for their electricity to cover the cost of dealing with the effects of fossil fuel use. While this is unlikely to happen, the government is nevertheless subsidising the use of fossil fuels here. Data from the International Monetary Fund shows that this annual subsidy came to more than HK$40 billion in 2015.

Electricity generation accounts for 54 per cent of the city’s fossil fuel consumption. As almost all local power generation uses coal and natural gas, we can conclude that power generation and consumption benefit from more than half of the HK$40 billion subsidy.

As a comparison, we note that the subsidy is equivalent to nearly 80 per cent of our health care budget – a good share of which is spent on treating the effects of poor-quality air on our lungs and hearts.

Attributing the real cost of fossil fuel use is important for several reasons. The profits that the two power companies are allowed to make are based on a formula in their respective scheme of control agreements, which is related to their capital investment and costs. If power companies and other direct users do not pay the real cost of the impact of fossil fuel use, the public has to bear this cost either directly in their bills or indirectly through taxes, which the government uses to clean up the effects of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel subsidies stand in the way of changes needed to achieve the goals set at last year’s Paris climate summit of a net-zero carbon economy this century, according to both the UN and the World Bank.

In Hong Kong, the scheme of control agreements will expire in 2018, providing an important opportunity for change. The city has the potential for solar, wind, tidal and wave power. The key lies in shaping a beneficial renewable energy policy and an enabling market environment.

To shape policy, we can learn from the experience of similarly developed economies. First, market access and diversification is important. Beyond 2018, power company regulations should give priority access to all who are willing and able to generate renewable energy, with a guaranteed connection to the grid.

Second, investment in renewable energy must be supported by a guaranteed price for clean electricity. Guangdong province, for one, pays twice the rate for solar power as for coal-generated electricity.

Third, a redirection of existing funds is needed. The Environment Bureau wants to revise the scheme of control agreements so the return on fixed assets is lowered from 9.9 per cent to around 6 per cent. If all or part of the reduction went into a feed-in tariff fund, it could provide a stable source of funding to encourage the development of renewable energy in Hong Kong.

At a rough calculation, with 2 per cent return on revenue paid into such a fund, about HK$30 billion a year would be generated. Assuming the government would contribute another half, an annual HK$45 billion fund could be created. If the average feed-in tariff is set at HK$2.50 per kWh, the fund would be sufficient to buy 1.8 billion kWh of clean electricity per year. This would kick-start renewable energy power generation by raising its contribution to 4 per cent of total production.

Fourth, providing space for community participation is vital. Citizens and businesses with suitable rooftops could take advantage of clean energy programmes. The government could allot space in housing estates, public facilities and other suitable areas for groups to form social enterprises and plan community-based investment in solar or wind power facilities.

Germany has invested heavily in renewables, which now account for a third of its energy use. Some 92 per cent of Germans support the transition. One of the main reasons is that the government placed great emphasis on opportunities for ordinary citizens to participate in creating and benefiting from renewable energy programmes through funding and investment schemes.

In Hong Kong, there are 17 reservoirs suitable for the installation of floating solar power plants, similar to those now appearing elsewhere. Offshore waters are also suitable for the installation of wind farms.

Finally, there’s green finance for the new era. With a stable feed-in tariff, renewable energy schemes are predictable enough to attract green funds from around the world.

To allow more people to share the fruits of renewable energy development, the government could consider issuing green bonds.

There are many advantages to the transition to renewable energy. A transformation of our energy system to multiple technologies and diverse suppliers will stimulate the economy and create green jobs.

The power companies may see asset growth stemming less from generation and more from an expanded role as providers of a smart grid. A new energy model for Hong Kong can reduce pressure on the government to import power from the mainland. It will also mitigate pubic calls to merge the two existing power companies, or to separate power generation and distribution.

For the public, implementing a feed-in tariff does not increase electricity tariffs. On the contrary, introducing more diverse renewable energy sources would reduce future vulnerability to increases in gas prices and electricity costs. The public would also benefit from reduced pollution and avoid hefty health care costs.

Meanwhile, local business can find new opportunities in engineering design, equipment supply, installation and maintenance in the fast-growing renewables sector.

For the financial sector, the development of local renewable energy projects is the best opportunity for Hong Kong to become a credible green finance centre. By 2030, it is estimated the world needs US$2.4 trillion invested in renewable energy to reach targets set in Paris.

China’s National Energy Administration has set a national average target for utility companies to generate 9 per cent of total electricity from renewables by 2020, not including hydroelectric or nuclear power. For Guangdong province, the target is 7 per cent.

In this context, the plan outlined above for Hong Kong to put in place incentives to generate 4 per cent of its power from renewables should be seen as only a first step in the right direction.

Who in Hong Kong will have the decisiveness, courage and vision needed to set ambitious targets for renewable energy development? After all, Hong Kong’s contribution to national and international reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately be even more important for the city’s development and the well-being of its people than the next chief executive election.

Albert Lai is policy convener at the Professional Commons. John Sayer is director of Carbon Care Asia
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1998542/hong-kong-must-seize-opportunity-cut-fossil-fuel-use-favour

ExxonMobil profits nosedive 59% due to “volatile industry environment”

https://www.energyvoice.com/oilandgas/115717/exxonmobil-profits-nosedive-59-due-volatile-industry-environment/

US energy giant ExxonMobil today revealed a 59% drop in second quarter earnings, blaming low crude prices and weak returns from refining.

ExxonMobil said its global upstream earnings slumped 82% year-on-year to $294million (£223million) during the three months.

Downstream earnings came to £625million, down £516million from the second quarter of 2015.

But ExxonMobil, which has an interest in about 40 producing North Sea oil and gas fields, said it posted slight increases in oil production and sales in Europe.

Global production volumes held firm at 4 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day and income from chemical remained strong at £910million.

The company also managed to cut its spending by 38% to £3.9billion during the period.

It ended the quarter with net earnings of £1.29billion compared to £3.18billion a year ago.

And ExxonMobil booked pre-tax profits of £1.8billion, down 65% year-on-year, on revenues of £44billion.

Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer, said: “While our financial results reflect a volatile industry environment, we remains focused on business fundamentals, cost discipline and advancing selective new investments across the value chain to extend our competitive advantage.

“The corporation benefits from scale and integration, which provide the financial flexibility to invest in attractive opportunities and grow long-term shareholder value.”

ExxonMobil paid out £2.3billion in dividends to shareholders.

The company employs more than 6,500 employees and 1,500 contractors in the UK and has a base in Aberdeen.