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May, 2016:

Exxon Mobil’s Shareholders Meeting Was Totally Overrun by Climate Demands

It’s impossible for fossil fuel executives to get some damn peace and quiet. At its annual shareholder meeting in Dallas, Texas, Exxon Mobil faced investors’ demands that the company get serious about climate change adaptation and regulation.

Since 1997, Exxon Mobil has fended off similar demands from its shareholders, but not at this scale. Wednesday’s meeting included the largest coalition of climate-activist investors yet of two-dozen large shareholders representing $8 trillion under management. But eight of the nine climate shareholder resolutions still failed.

The one proposal that passed, at 62 percent of the vote, allows shareholders who hold 3 percent or more of the company’s shares for more than three years to nominate up to a quarter of the board’s directors every year. In theory, this could allow for a climate activist to become a director at the company.

One climate resolution that failed suggested a company report on how climate policies would impact its business. It was the second-most popular resolution, yet earned just 38 percent of the vote.

Other proposals included calls for more transparency on Exxon’s hydraulic fracturing activities, lobbying, diversity and makeup of the board, and its plans to adapt to a renewable energy economy.

The shareholder resolutions came from the New York City’s comptroller’s office, religious groups, and investing firms demanding the company prepare for a future of climate change regulations.

Father Michael Crosby, a Franciscan priest from Milwaukee, presented a proposal asking for a climate expert to be put on the company’s board. “Not one person has any expertise on climate,” he said of the board. “Exxon Mobil has a chance to restore the public’s trust, it’s a time for conversion.”

Sister Patricia Daly, a Dominican nun from Caldwell, N.J., presented a resolution asking Exxon to adopt a policy acknowledging the 2 degrees Celsius target. “Our company has chosen to disregard the consensus in the scientific community,” she said. “As the world moves forward, Exxon Mobil stands still.”

“Many of the world’s largest investors are voting against the [Exxon] management today,” said Edward Mason, head of responsible investing for the Church of England.

The board recommended to deny all proposals presented.

“For many years now, ExxonMobil has held the view that the risks of climate change are serious, and do warrant thoughtful action,” said Exxon CEO and chair Rex Tillerson during the shareholder’s call Wednesday morning. But asked to cut the company’s ties with groups promoting climate denial, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Tillerson declined.

All the while, the company insisted it’s serious about climate change, touting its three-decade commitment to climate research in a slide shown below. Tillerson left some things unsaid: While the company internally recognized manmade climate change as real, it advocated for skepticism publicly.

Oil giants have faced growing pressure to acknowledge climate change — both Royal Dutch Shell and BP passed similar resolutions last year. Chevron also voted on shareholder demands on climate on Wednesday.

Though Exxon remains firm, it will see continued pressure from activists and worried investors. Outside the meeting in Dallas, climate activists swarmed, demanding that the company change its ways.

Sludge facility contractor Veolia begins HK$2 billion legal proceedings against gov’t

Hong Kong’s Secretary for the Environment, Wong Kam-sing, spoke with pride at the official opening of the HK$5.5 billion state of the art Sludge Treatment Facilities (STF) last week. The facilities are to be renamed in less malodorous terms as the T Park with the T standing for transformation. “It signifies Hong Kong’s dedication to ‘transforming’ waste into energy, which is a key part in the waste management strategy for Hong Kong,” Wong said at the opening ceremony at which Chief Executive CY Leung officiated.

But one aspect of this world class project Wong did not elaborate on is that Veolia, the main contractor, that built the STF, has started legal proceedings against the Hong Kong government to recover HK$2 billion in cost overruns associated with the project. Mediation proceedings are expected to start soon.

The STF which is located at Tsang Tsui near Tuen Mun, was built by a joint venture in which Veolia had 60% and Leighton 40% under the auspices of a 15-year design build and operate contract. It has been quietly operating since April 2015, and is currently incinerating 1,200 tonnes of sludge per day that would otherwise be sent to landfills.

The sludge is delivered by trucks from Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works and ten other wastewater treatment facilities. This is a considerable improvement over the situation 25-30 years ago when most of Hong Kong’s raw sewage went straight into the sea. The STF has a maximum capacity of 2,000 tonnes making it the largest facility of its kind in the world.

Hong Kong’s efforts in this area are gaining international recognition. In April this year, the STF together with Stage 2A of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, won a Distinction award in the category of Wastewater Project of the Year at the 2016 Global Water Awards. In addition, the architectural design of the STF was acknowledged by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers with the presentation of the Grand Award in this year’s Structural Excellence Award.

The EPD is naturally pleased to have one of the key elements of its waste infrastructure in place. However, the joint venture that built the STF is believed to be less than happy at the way events have turned out.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

The project was more than a year late. According to people familiar with the STF, this was in large part due to delays by the EPD and other government departments in providing the permits and consents that were necessary to proceed with the project. As a result, the contractor incurred higher charges and significant costs in implementing work-around measures.

Immigration Department

One difficulty the contractor faced was that it had anticipated building a barging point at the site since both the nearby Pillar Point power plant and WENT landfill have permanent barging points. But its application to the Lands Department was not successful. This meant that, instead of delivering large sections of the incinerator to the site on barges, the incinerator had to be taken apart and delivered to the site in smaller pieces by trucks.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

T-Park. Photo: GovHK.

This created additional welding work which could have been manageable but the contractor then suffered a further setback at the hands of the Immigration Department which refused to grant visas for foreign specialist welders. They were necessary as boilers operate under high pressure and therefore require very specific welding qualifications that are not available in Hong Kong. Even though this was pointed out to the Immigration Department, the visas were refused. The contractor therefore had to train local welders to overcome this issue. Even then very few passed the required test leading to significant delays in the installation of the boiler.

Fire Services Department

There were also problems with the Fire Services Department (FSD) in getting a Dangerous Goods License and Fire Services Certificate. The FSD was not familiar with the STF’s incinerator since there are no others like it in Hong Kong. Veolia therefore had to train FSD officers to enable them to better understand the plant and what the fire risks are. The contractor had to organise a trip to Europe to visit incineration plants with FSD officers and again a year later as the FSD officers had changed. This also generated significant delays.

Surplus power

One of the key features of the STF touted by the EPD is that it is a waste to energy plant. Indeed, waste-to-energy has become the central mantra of the EPD’s waste management strategy. However, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project that was completed in 2008 notes: “As the surplus power is anticipated to be minimal and it would be unlikely for CLP to purchase the surplus power, the surplus power would not be sold. Therefore, no power transmission line will be constructed outside the STF site.”

While it was always envisaged that the plant would generate its own electricity, the idea of exporting it appears to have been an afterthought and to have first surfaced in the tender documents. But it is clear that there is no economic incentive for this move given the small amount involved – a maximum of 2MW per day when the plant is operating at maximum capacity possibly in ten years’ time. It is a political initiative to try and broaden the appeal of the EPD’s environmental strategy.

The EPD appears to have left it to the contractor to discuss this issue with a reluctant CLP. This is why the need for an export transmission line only became evident relatively late in the day. As a result, people say it took a long time for CLP to produce the final requirements as to where the connections should be located resulting in long delays before the design of the electrical plant could be finalised.

The EPD’s response to the claim appears to have been to do literally nothing and to pretend it didn’t exist. Faced with this inaction the contractor initiated mediation proceedings as stipulated in its contract.

‘Standard ploys’

But Veolia is not alone in encountering delayed payments by the Hong Kong government which has a number of standard ploys for dealing with claims. One approach is to attempt to bully contractors by pointing out that aggressive pursuit of a claim might hinder consideration for future government contracts. Another tactic is to delay payment for as long as possible in the hope this will encourage the contractor to settle for a lower amount.


The problem has become so pervasive that 14 international chambers of commerce in Hong Kong sent a letter to Jasper Tsang, the president of the Legislative Council, last February outlining their concerns. The letter pointed out that the delays in payment to contractors was jeopardising the health of consultants and contractors and the whole construction supply chain and could lead to financial problems, the need for layoffs and job losses.

The letter was sent to Tsang in the belief that it was the filibustering and political posturing in Legco that was delaying the approval of funds to be paid to contractors.This is certainly one reason. Another is the chronic culture of risk aversion and self-preservation that pervades the civil service which discourages people from taking big decisions.

The management of the STF project and the handling of its claim is a prime example. The default position of ministers is to avoid taking decisions, and thus responsibility, which could result in criticism, public humiliation and possibly harm their pensions. This aversion to risk is immediately picked up by their civil servants who know they cannot rely on support from their seniors. So for the same reasons they too will avoid involvement with ‘risky’ projects and taking responsibility for decisions.

Government departments can just about bring themselves to ask Legco for additional funds so long as they can justify it in terms of increasing costs of materials and labour. But this approach is unlikely to be successful with Veolia’s claim since it involves additional funding amounting to some 40% of the original price of the project. That will take some explaining. The EPD appears to have taken the view that if the mediation process is able to achieve a settlement, this will make it easier to approach Legco for funds.

The EPD is still smarting from the mauling it received at the hands of the Public Accounts Committee in December 2015 when it was accused of deliberately misleading Legco over the remaining life of Hong Kong’s landfills. It denied the accusation but the experience has increased the EPD’s reluctance to return to Legco since it is aware its reputation has been undermined and that it will be subjected to close scrutiny.

None of this bodes well for an early resolution of the STF claim or indeed other infrastructure related claims. Nor will it enhance Hong Kong’s reputation as place in which to invest and do business. The Hong Kong government has already acquired a reputation for being a slow payer. This will encourage contractors to further pad their tenders as they factor in government risk. This will ultimately increase the cost of Hong Kong’s infrastructure to the taxpayer.

It is unlikely this situation will improve in the near future since there is nothing to suggest that the political situation in Hong Kong will improve sufficiently to allow Legco to get on with its work in a less partisan manner. Further the civil service is unlikely to break out of the current culture which is paralysing government and exerting a dead hand over Hong Kong.

From Waste to Energy – Development & Use of Renewable Energy in Sewage Treatment Facilities

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Misdirected energy: Hong Kong City University roof collapse highlights danger of adding vegetation in a bid to go green

Adding greenery may be too much for a roof to bear, compounded by laxity over the submission of building plans for structural changes

The giant rooftop that collapsed at a City University sports centre and left three injured has highlighted the potential threat of adding rooftop vegetation, a novel way to fight the heat-island effect, to old buildings.

The accident, which could have injured hundreds of people originally scheduled to attend a dinner event on Saturday night, also called into question the lack of government supervision of this kind of rooftop vegetation, which is promoted by the Environment Bureau.

At the City University, the vegetation was understood to have been added last year to the top of Chan Tai Ho Multipurpose Hall, which was completed back in the 1990s.

While the roof was not designed to hold anything substantial – as indicated in the building plan submitted to the government in 1989 – vegetation that would have required a roof five times stronger was nonetheless planted last year, as part of the university’s pledge to go green.

“The figures showed that the rooftop was not supposed to hold a lot of [vegetation],” said Vincent Ho Kui-yip of the Institute of Surveyors.

Ho said the current building regulations relied heavily on owners’ own initiative in submitting a plan for approval if they altered a building’s structure. But the Buildings Department would never know if owners skipped this procedure.

He said the department should remind owners to resubmit plans for new structures.

Professor Jim Chi-yung, an expert on urban soil science and a staunch advocate of green roofs, said it would be “very risky” to install a green roof on a structure – especially an existing one – that did not meet loading capacity standards.

“The roof must be able to take the weight of the dead loads of soil, vegetation and drainage as well as the life loads, which include people walking on it,” Jim said. “The loadbearing capacity must be bigger than the sum of the dead load and life loads.”

He added that the drainage design for a green roof could be an Achilles heel, as it was often not done properly. Poor drainage could lead to water gathering on the roof, leading to dangerously high loading which could jeopardise the roof structure.

But experts asked the public not to panic over the environmentally friendly measure.

“It is already an accepted practice around the world,” said Leung Man-kit of the Green Building Council’s policy and research committee.

City University said on its website that the green roof top “could achieve an energy saving of about 60 kWh/sq m per year, a reduction in CO2 emissions of about 3.2 tonnes per year, [equivalent] to planting 137 trees”.

The Buildings Department could not confirm whether a new plan was submitted before the university added the rooftop vegetation. The university said on Friday night that the contractor had made proper assessments.

Slimy, grimy and good for the city: Hong Kong plant treating 1,200 tonnes of sludge daily to welcome the public

State-of-the-art facility to feature guided tours, rooftop garden and spa services

A waste treatment facility located next to a Hong Kong landfill is due to open to the public and reveal that it offers even more than processed sludge.

Located next to West New Territories Landfill [1] in Tuen Mun, T.PARK [2] is set to offer the public a chance to learn about the state-of-the-art facility featuring interactive guided tours, a rooftop garden with views of Deep Bay and neighbouring Shenzhen, and even spa treatment services.

The facilities are due to open to the public free of charge on June 29. An online reservation is required in advance.

While T.PARK is set to be unveiled, its sludge treatment operation has been up and running since April last year. The HK$5 billion project was approved by the Legislative Council [4] in 2009.

Currently it absorbs 1,200 tonnes of sludge daily – the output of the city’s 11 sewage treatment plants. It reduces the volume of sludge by 90 per cent before the waste by-product is transported to the adjacent landfill.

The facility can treat up to 2,000 tonnes of sludge daily, a figure projected to be achieved by 2030.

The publicly funded project adopts a “full life cycle” approach as it employs renewable energy, mainly from heat discharged during the incineration of sludge.


Steam generated from the incineration process is then used to drive a turbine capable of producing enough electricity to power not just the facility but also 4,000 households.


Wastewater is also processed in the project through a seawater desalination plant and reused for irrigation, flushing and cleansing purposes.


The estimated annual operating cost is HK$220 million for the next 15 years. French waste management company Veolia is overseeing the project’s design, construction and operation.
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Exxon’s Lawyer in Climate Science Probe Has History Helping Big Tobacco and NFL Defend Against Health Claims

Ted Wells, an attorney hired by ExxonMobil to represent the company against accusations it lied about the climate risks of burning fossil fuels, also represented the tobacco industry in the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, DeSmog has found. Wells also defended the National Football League (NFL) in the infamous “Deflategate” matter as well as in litigation over the far more serious issue of concussions.

Wells has represented ExxonMobil since at least December 2015, following New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s announcement that his office would probe Exxon’s role in funding climate change denial despite its long-held understanding and pioneering research into climate change.

Wells’ name also appears on an April 13 legal filing Exxon submitted in response to a subpoena issued by the Virgin Islands’AG Office, a sign the “private empire” has retained him for the wider probe being carried out by a group pf Attorneys General.

Wells has made a career out of working on behalf of clients with legal claims often flying in the face of well-established science, with legal industry trade publication Inside Counsel referring to him as a top attorney-for-hire for crisis situations in an April 2007 article.

A DeSmog investigation has also found parallels in legal and public relations defense tactics deployed by Wells on behalf of those past clients and the tactics currently being utilized for his current big-ticket client, ExxonMobil.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian of science who has long studied the denial industry and wrote the indispensable book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” sees Exxon’s hire of Wells as a positive and as a potential sign the company sees the writing on the wall.

“Call me an optimist, but I think this is good news,” she told DeSmog. “The tobacco industry was successfully prosecuted, and, perhaps with that history in mind, the NFL has recently agreed to a major settlement with its players. So perhaps Mr. Wells will guide Exxon towards a sensible path towards the future, rather than a misguided retreat into the past.”

Dan Zegart, a senior fellow at the Climate Investigations Center and author of the book “Civil Warriors: The Legal Siege on the Tobacco Industry,” told DeSmog: “Bringing in Ted Wells is a sign that ExxonMobil isn’t thinking settlement — they’re going to fight these attorney general actions tooth and nail. This is a guy who will throw up every possible defense for Exxon, like he did for tobacco. Every move in this playbook has been pressure-tested over decades.”

Exxon Representation

This is far from the first prominent lawsuit for which Wells has offered his billable services to Exxon, a company which funded climate denial to the tune of $31 million, by conservative estimates, between 1998 and 2014.

In the early 2000’s, Wells counseled ExxonMobil in a federal corruption case, with an ex-Mobil official named J. Bryan Williams pleading guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy as part of corruption that was at the time endemic in Kazakhstan.

Wells proclaimed Exxon’s innocence in the case outside of the courthouse after Williams’ guilty plea, distancing himself from Williams by stating that “Exxon Mobil had no knowledge of the over $7 million in secret payments that he received and hid in secret bank accounts.”

Wells, too, provided legal representation to Exxon in the lawsuit filed against it by citizens of Indonesia who alleged they had been tortured by private security guards on the company payroll.

That case, which reached the U.S. Court of Appeals, became somewhat moot when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case that the Alien Tort Statute does not offer non-U.S. citizen victims of human rights abuses committed abroad by U.S.-based corporations a path to legal justice in U.S. courts.

More recently, Wells represented Exxon in New Jersey in a lawsuit filed against the company by the State of New Jersey in 2004, which alleged the corporation’s responsibility for rampant statewide pollution. This culminated in an August 2015 $225 million settlement, far less than the $8.9 billion asked for by the plaintiffs.

NFL Science Denial

Yet for most of the U.S. population, Wells is best known for the “tough guy” role he has played in the “DeflateGate” case on behalf of the National Football League (NFL). It turns out that story, like Exxon and like the tobacco wars, has an anti-science spin too.

In that case, famed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faces a four-game NFL suspension for allegedly deflating footballs in a 2015 playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts in order to gain a competitive edge. Wells has provided theNFL with legal representation for the ongoing saga.

But contrary to the NFL‘s crackdown on cheating narrative, the science points to the fact that Brady and the Patriots actually may not have cheated. It all centers around what is known as the “Wells Report” — an investigation by Ted Wells of the allegedly deflated footballs.

That report’s findings have come under question by numerous scientists, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and even the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

The most ardent criticism of the study centers around the scientific report outsourced to a firm called Exponent Inc. that the Wells Report relies upon to make its case. The tobacco industry also used Exponent Inc. research to claim secondhand smoke does not cause cancer.

“The first thing you know is that when Exponent is brought in to help a company, that company is in big trouble,” Cindy Gage, owner of an environmental and agricultural consulting firm in California, told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.

While Wells represented the NFL for “DeflateGate,” he also provided his legal services for the much more scandalous — from a human health and public interest perspective — concussion lawsuit the NFL faced, brought against it by over 4,800 former players. That lawsuit ended with a $1 billion settlement, which some players have appealed, and some have pointed to as being rife with loopholes allowing the NFL to get out of trouble on-the-cheap.

A recent New York Times investigation pointed to myriad links between the tobacco industry and the NFL, including overlap in lobbyists and legal representation, though Wells’ name goes unmentioned in the article. Wells’ law firm, though,responded

to the article in a letter published by Politico.

“Tossing around unsubstantiated allegations of links between an industry and Big Tobacco is reckless and dangerous. Like all broad-brush attacks, it undermines reasoned, fact-based debate,” reads the March 28 letter. “In short, there is nothing in the Times’s story that can fairly, credibly and objectively support the false and defamatory charge that the NFL had ties to the tobacco industry.”

Wells and Big Tobacco

Just over a decade ago, Wells went to bat for Philip Morris in the United States v. Philip Morris lawsuit filed against the company by the DOJ in a case ending with a prosecution, but with actual penalties tantamount to kid glove treatment. The treatment, which came from DOJ political appointees, motivated lead DOJ prosecutor for the case Sharon Eubanks to resign from her post.

In court documents reviewed by DeSmog, Wells’ tobacco arguments parallel, in many ways, those Wells made for Exxon in its April 13 response to the Virgin Islands’ subpoena. Much of that line of argumentation over a decade ago in the tobacco case centered around proving or disproving that Philip Morris would likely commit fraud in the future if left unprosecuted, a key tenet of a successful RICO prosecution.

Throughout the tobacco RICO case, in legal filings and in the courtroom, Wells emphasized how Philip Morris’ behavior had changed and how it had become more a socially responsible corporate entity. In the main, Wells said Philip Morris had done so by withdrawing from the industry-manufactured debate on smoking as it relates to health and addiction, as well as by deferring to the judgment of the public health community on smoking’s human health impacts.

As a document obtained from University of California-San Francisco’s (UCSF) Legacy Tobacco Documents Library details, Wells cross-examined Philip Morris’ “point person“ — General Counsel Denise Keane — about its public relations website. That site attempted to convey that the company no longer participated in the scientific denial of tobacco’s human health impacts.

“The company’s purpose was, number one, to make in a very public way its commitment to no longer being part of what I would call an old world, but to take a step that would codify really for all purposes going forward the fact that it was going to be aligned with the public health community, that it was going to communicate the message of the public health community,” Keane testified under oath at a January 19, 2005 hearing. “And when we talk about what’s on the website, you know, to me, the guiding principle is communicating the message of the public health community.”

But first and foremost, it appears the website existed for Philip Morris’s public relations purposes. A 2008 academic paper published in the journal Public Health Nursing by Ruth Malone and Elizabeth Smith, both professors at UCSF, concluded the website’s existence did not signify any sort of radical shift in company culture on public health.

That paper cites a June 1999 memorandum published in the UCSF tobacco archives, which describes the rationale behind the website.


“The objective of this is to increase the awareness of our social programs and to improve the public perception of our company in the US during these very challenging times resulting from the very negative environment for our tobacco business,” reads the memo. “Hence, we want to capitalize on this advertising campaign by inviting viewers to a Website, where they can learn more about these programs and Philip Morris in general.”

ExxonMobil currently appears to be positioning itself as having moved away from the “old world,” announcing it would be hiring a new climate change researcher in the midst of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announcing his office had opened an investigation on Exxon.

Keane also declared, under cross-examination by Wells, that her company had, under the auspices of an October 2, 1997 Statement of Position, withdrawn from the debate it had manufactured on the human health impacts of tobacco use. As Wells put it in his opening statement for the federal trial, this served as proof Philip Morris had entered into a ”permanent irreversible” dawn of a “new era.”


A similar notion of involvement in public policy “debate” before it had reached an overwhelming scientific consensus arose in Exxon’s response to the Virgin Islands’ subpoena signed off on by Wells on April 13, with the word “debate” used 11 times by the company’s legal team.

Free Speech Attack?

Like with the Philip Morris precursor, Wells and the Exxon legal team attempted to convey the company’s shift from student of climate change science, to funder of climate denial and attacks on science, and then the shift back again to being a responsible corporate citizen concerned about climate change impacts and policy solutions.

“ExxonMobil has publicly and repeatedly acknowledged risks related to climate change” in recent years, Wells and his legal team wrote in response to the Virgin Islands’ AG Office subpoena, citing three example of such acknowledgment in recent years. In so doing, Exxon also claimed the Virgin Islands’ AG Office had launched an attack on its free speech rights and its ability to take part in such debates in earlier years.

“The chilling effect of this inquiry, which discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate, strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment,” wrote Wells and the Exxon legal team.

The Virgin Islands rebutted Wells and Exxon in an April 25 response.

“Your argument that this investigation targets protected speech mirrors arguments that were decisively rejected in the United States’s case against tobacco, which held tobacco companies financially responsible for and imposed sweeping injunctive relief to address a decades-long scheme by those defendants to misrepresent the scientific facts regarding smoking,” reads the letter signed by Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker. “If ExxonMobil knowingly deceived consumers and investors about climate change, it, too, is not above the law.”

Numerous conservative groups — some with ties to the climate change denial echo chamber such as Koch-funded groups like Competitive Enterprise Institute, Pacific Legal Foundation, and Heritage Foundation — have also called the Virgin Islands subpoena a First Amendment attack.

So too did the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the National Review Magazine. The Free Speech in Science Project, a group whose funding stream has yet to be revealed, has also pushed a First Amendment argument.

“Doubt is Our Product”

The tobacco industry is now infamous for writing in a 1969 memo that “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.” Yet, Exxon has even said in its own late 1970s studies that “there is no doubt” that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was harmful.

If doubt is the product, then Wells has produced a legal career representing and defending doubt — from the tobacco wars, through to the NFL‘s concussion crisis and now into today’s “ExxonKnew” saga.

Wells did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

This piece first appeared at DeSmogBlog.

UK energy from coal hits zero for first time in over 100 years

Coal-generation hit historic low several times last week in what experts say are the only occasions since the first coal-fired generator opened in London in 1882

The amount of electricity generated from coal in the UK has fallen to zero several times in the past week, grid data shows.

In what green energy supporters have described as a “historic turning point” for the UK’s power system, coal-fired electricity first fell to zero late on Monday night and for the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to data from BM Reports.

On Thursday, there was no electricity from coal for more than 12 and a half hours, more than half the day, with it making no contribution to the UK’s power supplies late at night when demand was low and for a period in the day, the data shows.

It is thought to be the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world’s first centralised public coal-fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London, in 1882, according to the Carbon Brief website which reports on climate science and energy policy.

The record lows in coal power generation come as the UK enters the summer months, which sees lower demand for electricity, and with more than half of the country’s coal capacity out of action, for example for planned maintenance.

But there have also been a series of recent closures of coal-fired power plants as they become less economic, while plants such as Drax in North Yorkshire have partially switched to burning “biomass”.

The government has said it wants to see coal phased out by 2025, as it is the most polluting way of generating electricity.

There has also been an increase in the amount of renewables on the system, with a record 27% of the UK’s power coming from sources such as wind power in the last quarter of 2015.

Estimates of the power now being generated from solar panels, from household arrays to large scale farms, also show it is regularly outstripping coal during the day, reaching 6.8 gigawatts (GW) at a midday peak this week compared to a high of 3GW output from coal.

Solar is limited to generating power during the day, but analysis from Carbon Brief found that over the course of a week, the clean technology produced more power last week than coal.

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of renewable electricity supplier Good Energy said: “This week marks an historic turning point for energy in the UK.

“Coal formed the backbone of the industrial revolution and was the fuel that powered Britain into the 21st century. But it’s time to begin to say farewell.

“Our energy is becoming cleaner and greener, with wind, solar and other renewables generating more of our electricity than ever before. We are celebrating this news as it shows that our future can be fossil fuel-free.”

AGs’ motives questioned as Exxon climate change ‘fraud’ probe recalls tobacco windfall

After winning an $800 million settlement last year against Hess Oil, Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker was eager to find what he described as other litigation “targets.”

He found one such deep pocket in Exxon Mobil. But his investigation into whether the company engaged in climate change “fraud” is drawing accusations that the end game for Mr. Walker and other like-minded attorneys general is a mammoth payday modeled after the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Mr. Walker has been the most aggressive member of AGs United for Clean Power, an unprecedented coalition of 17 attorneys general aimed at pursuing fraud accusations against Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel companies.

“I believe this $800 million settlement gives the Virgin Islands Attorney General a lot of credibility in being involved in the inner circle of this because he’s proved that he can shake down a major company,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of Mr. Walker’s targets.

And the Exxon investigation may be just the beginning.

“In talking about widening the investigation, the goal is to bring in the entire oil industry. It’s not just Exxon they’re after,” Mr. Ebell said.

Already comparisons have been drawn between AGs United for Clean Power and the state officials who secured the 1998 deal in which five major tobacco companies agreed to pay $10 billion per year indefinitely to the states.

“It was a combined effort in which the state attorneys general played the crucial role in securing a historic victory for public health,” said former Vice President Al Gore Jr. at the coalition’s March 29 press conference in New York City.

“From the time the tobacco companies were first found out, as evidenced by the historic [Surgeon General’s report] of 1964, it took 40 years for them to be held to account under the law,” Mr. Gore said. “We do not have 40 years to continue suffering the consequences of the fraud allegedly being committed by the fossil fuel companies where climate change is concerned.”

Pushing for a parallel effort at the federal end is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, who reiterated his call Wednesday for the Justice Department to launch a probe into the oil-and-gas industry.

“There are obvious similarities between the fossil fuel industry’s denial of its products’ climate effects and the tobacco industry’s denial of its products’ health effects,” Mr. Whitehouse said in a speech on the Senate floor. “These similarities are sufficient that a proper inquiry should be made about pursuing a civil lawsuit like the one the Justice Department brought and won against Big Tobacco.”

Given the sizes of the industries involved, however, the tobacco settlement could look like peanuts next to the prospect of a financial windfall from the fossil fuel business.
“You need to compare the relative size of the oil industry and the tobacco industry,” Mr. Ebell said. “Tobacco is tiny compared to oil. So if they could get $10 billion out of the tobacco industry, think of what their goals are for the oil industry.”

A questionnaire obtained by the free market Energy & Environmental Legal Institute shows that Mr. Walker had already served Exxon Mobil with a subpoena and was actively seeking other companies to investigate when coalition members met in March.

“We are interested in identifying other potential litigation targets,” Mr. Walker said in response to a question asking for input on the coalition’s goals “beyond the federal/EPA advocacy and litigation.”

The only independent in the coalition — the rest are Democrats — Mr. Walker also said he was “eager to hear what other attorneys general are doing and find concrete ways to work together on litigation to increase our leverage.”

Born in England and educated in New York, Mr. Walker was appointed attorney general in August 2015 by Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp. Months later Mr. Walker secured an $800 million settlement with Hess after the company closed its St. Croix refinery despite receiving what he called “billions of dollars in tax breaks.”

He said the settlement would be used in part to create an “environmental response trust that will deal with cleanup of the site and help convert part of it to solar development, we hope.”

At the press conference he described Mr. Gore as “one of my heroes,” while New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Mr. Walker brought “tremendous energy” to the climate change coalition.

“We have launched an investigation into a company that we believe must provide us with information about what they knew about climate change and when they knew it, and we’ll make our decision about what action to take,” Mr. Walker said.

He described the investigation as “David and Goliath, the Virgin Islands against a huge corporation, but we will not stop until we get to the bottom of this and make it clear to our residents as well as the American people that we have to do something transformational.”

Mr. Walker has issued three subpoenas, including one to Exxon that calls for its communications with more than 100 universities, academics and think tanks. Exxon is challenging the subpoena, saying it violates the company’s First Amendment rights.

Matt Pawa, a lawyer affiliated with the Climate Accountability Institute who briefed the attorneys general before their press conference, said that Exxon needs to “come clean about its commercial relationships with those it has paid to peddle its message of climate denial.”

“Commercial speech is different, and the First Amendment does not protect fraud,” Mr. Pawa said in an email. “Exxon paid various individuals and groups as part of a sophisticated and far-reaching disinformation campaign on global warming.”

Despite his position as the Virgin Islands‘ top law enforcement official, however, Mr. Walker isn’t necessarily waiting for all the evidence before making a judgment on the oil industry’s guilt.

“We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuel. Vice President Gore has made it clear we have to rely on renewable energy. That’s the only solution,” Mr. Walker said. “It’s troubling that as the polar caps melt, you have companies that are looking at that as an opportunity to go and drill, to go and get more oil. Why? How selfish can you be? Your product is destroying this earth.”

Mr. Schneiderman launched his own state investigation last year into whether Exxon covered up its knowledge of the risks of global warming and lied to investors about the impact to its bottom line from catastrophes produced by climate change.

Exxon has denied suppressing climate change research, while skeptics argue that no scientific connection has been established between disasters like hurricanes and elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mr. Ebell said the playbook for the climate change investigation mirrors that used in the tobacco litigation: First, stop Exxon from defending itself and funding its supporters, and then make a deal.

Exxon officials have come out in support of a carbon tax and announced that the company would no longer fund skeptics’ groups, “so what’s left, except to get a settlement?” he asked.

The difference is that there are many more reputable scientists and researchers today disputing the impact of greenhouse gases than there were disputing the health effects of smoking.

“Now with the tobacco settlement, there was an actual basis for that case. The tobacco industry had concealed things, it knew about the health effects of smoking tobacco for a long time, and it had lied under oath,” Mr. Ebell said. “This is entirely different, but you can see we’re going down the same road here.”

Fossil Fuels May Not Dwindle Anytime Soon

The U. S. Energy Information Administration foresees continued dominance for coal, gas and oil

Based on its latest projections, EIA said global carbon dioxide emissions from energy activities will rise from 36 billion metric tons in 2012, the baseline year used for the 2016 outlook, to 43 billion metric tons in 2040.

Rapid economic growth in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging countries will drive global energy consumption to nearly double by 2040, according to new projections released yesterday by the Department of Energy.

But the associated rise in carbon emissions will not keep pace with overall energy consumption, thanks to a shifting global energy portfolio that relies less on coal for power generation and more on natural gas and renewable energy resources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its 2016 International Energy Outlook.

Based on its latest projections, EIA said global carbon dioxide emissions from energy activities will rise from 36 billion metric tons in 2012, the baseline year used for the 2016 outlook, to 43 billion metric tons in 2040.
That’s a 34 percent increase in energy-related CO2, compared to a 48 percent increase in overall energy consumption from 2010 to 2040, when EIA says the world will consume a record 815 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy.

But some critics of EIA’s methodology say the projections on global energy use and CO2 emissions failed to adequately account for major international policy initiatives, including last year’s pledge by nearly 190 U.N.-member countries to make sharp reductions in energy-sector greenhouse gas emissions.

In a public rollout of the data at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski said that the agency used more sophisticated modeling tools for the 2016 report than previously available, especially in the transportation sector, and that the world’s demand for fossil fuels will continue to grow.

“Even in the aftermath of Paris, I think that our numbers suggest that growth and need for petroleum in transportation and industry is still going to be pretty strong,” he said. “Those numbers could come down over time, but it’s still really hard to compete with the energy density that’s in oil.”

Don’t count out fossil fuels

Among other things, the new report portends continued rising demand for natural gas, along with sustained growth in wind, solar and nuclear energy production. Renewables, led by wind and hydro power, are projected to be the fastest-growing energy resource over the next two decades, according to EIA, expanding by 2.6 percent annually through 2040.

Nuclear will also see solid growth, at 2.3 percent annually, underscored by China’s commitment to add 139 gigawatts of nuclear capacity to its grid by 2040. Natural gas, long the No. 3 source of global energy behind oil and coal, will by 2030 become the world’s No. 2 resource as coal consumption plateaus with the onset of new international carbon regulations.

Consumption of oil and other forms of liquid petroleum will fall modestly over the next 24 years, from 33 percent of total marketed energy consumption in 2012 to 30 percent in 2040. Oil will continue to be a primary fuel for the transport sector, as well as a key fuel for industrial uses in emerging countries.

But experts cautioned against the idea that fossil fuels will become 20th-century energy anachronisms by the middle of the 21st century. In fact, fossil fuels will still account for 78 percent of global energy use in 2040, even as the growth in non-fossil fuels exceeds that of oil, coal and gas.

“Abundant natural gas resources and robust production—including rising supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane—contribute to the strong competitive position of natural gas,” EIA said in the outlook.
While considerably diminished from a decade ago, coal-fired power generation is expected to grow by 0.6 percent annually over the coming years and will account for between 28 and 29 percent of global power generation by 2040, compared to 40 percent in 2012.

Natural gas and renewables, including hydropower, are also expected to claim between 28 and 29 percent of total global power generation by 2040, with the remainder coming from existing and new nuclear plants.
“This is going to happen in many places around the world, and it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a significant amount,” Sieminski told energy policy experts and journalists gathered at CSIS’s granite-and-glass headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue.

In one of the first high-level analyses of how U.S. carbon regulation will affect global energy markets, EIA projects that U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan would further shave coal consumption by roughly 1 percent after 2020 while driving a comparable increase in renewable energy deployment.

“It changes the global numbers a little bit, it changes the U.S. numbers more, and it particularly changes coal in the U.S. by more,” Sieminski said. “You can see coal plateauing.”

Critics slam projections

Among the world’s three largest coal users—the United States, China and India—only India is projected to see an overall increase in coal consumption by 2040. China is expected to begin reducing its use of coal after 2025, while the United States is already seeing a downward trajectory in coal use, one that could grow steeper if the Clean Power Plan is upheld in court.

While U.S. markets and policy will continue to be critical benchmarks for global energy, the United States will not be among the fastest-growing energy markets going forward, EIA found.

In fact, by 2040, nearly two-thirds of all of the world’s energy use will be in developing countries outside the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Among non-OECD members, Asian countries like China, India and Indonesia will account for 55 percent of all new energy use through 2040, the analysis found.

Increasing oil and liquid fuels consumption for industry and transportation will be particularly strong in countries like China and India, Sieminski said, where rising incomes and a proliferation of privately owned cars and trucks has led to significant increases in vehicles miles traveled (VMT).

But critics like David Turnbull of the climate-focused nonprofit group Oil Change International said EIA should have given stronger consideration to shifting national and international climate policies, especially over the last several years.

“We all know that we’re moving in a different direction now,” Turnbull said. “The Paris Agreement was a clear indication that the fossil fuel era was ending. To make a projection that ignores some of these major shifts in public opinion, in energy markets, in renewable energy policy, is leaving out a big piece of the picture.”

A spokesman for EIA stressed in an email that the agency did not ignore the Paris accord or other international agreements in its analysis.

In fact, the report makes clear that EIA “has tried to incorporate some of the specific details,” such as renewable energy goals put forward in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, in its 2016 IEO reference case. “However, a great deal of uncertainty remains with regard to the implementation of policies to meet stated goals.”

In his comments at CSIS, Sieminski acknowledged that long-term projections like those in the IEO are imperfect and that policy and technology changes can lead to radically different outcomes than the best analysis can predict.

“There’s probably a lot of flex in these numbers,” Sieminski said. “Does that mean that we are wasting taxpayer dollars doing it? The answer is no. It’s hugely valuable to policymakers, it’s hugely valuable to the public.”

Widening scandal over vehicle emissions threatens climate accord

Governments are counting on regulatory action and voluntary pledges by companies to meet climate targets. The scandals and shortcomings involving carmakers show the pitfalls of the strategy.

Goals set by governments that signed the Paris climate change agreement last month were based on figures determined to be attainable. A widening scandal involving carmakers that cheated on testing to make their vehicles appear more environmentally friendly than they actually were could weaken the accord or even make it meaningless.

About one-fifth of greenhouse gases causing global temperatures to rise come from emissions related to the transport sector. Confidence and trust have been shaken, which is reason for increased oversight and research into better mobility solutions.

Millions of cars, most of them diesel, are likely to be recalled for buybacks or repairs.

Volkswagen in the US and Mitsubishi in Japan have so far been the biggest casualties, but investigations are now also under way in Europe into diesel vehicles manufactured by Daimler, GM and PSA Peugeot Citroen. About 630,000 cars made by Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Porsche and VW are voluntarily being recalled to tweak software involved in emissions of nitrogen oxide. There is good reason to suspect that petroldriven vehicles that produce carbon dioxide gases, the main cause of global warming, will be next.

VW has been the face of the scandal, its admission last September after US investigations that it had installed software in 11 million diesel cars worldwide to deceive environmental regulators causing outrage. It has set aside US$18.2 billion to deal with the fallout and its share price has plummeted. Mitsubishi Motors’ stock value has also plunged, hit by last month’s revelation that the firm falsified test results to overstate the fuel efficiency of 625,000 vehicles produced for the Japanese market by between five and 10 per cent. What that means for emissions in Japan is unclear, but the US Environmental Protection Agency is more certain about the impact of VW’s cheating; it contends the firm’s diesel cars were emitting up to 40 times more nitrogen oxide than they were supposed to. In Europe, carmakers deny wrongdoing, although a British study has found 37 models, while meeting legal limits in the laboratory, exceed levels by up to 12 times when on the road.

Governments are counting on regulatory action and voluntary pledges by companies to meet climate targets. The scandals and shortcomings involving carmakers show the pitfalls of the strategy. Watchdogs have a crucial role in keeping authorities and firms on track. Encouraging the development of better technologies and more sustainable transport systems is as important.

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