The Extinction Chronicles

An impartial record of articles and events leading up to the end…

The Extinction Chronicles

Oil-soaked birds found near oil spill at refinery after Ida

A summary issued Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency said it had received 43 notifications of significant inland oil spills and chemical releases in its jurisdiction after Ida.

A tricolored heron is covered in oil.

An oiled tricolored heron is observed at the Alliance Refinery oil spill in Belle Chasse, La. | Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries via AP


09/10/2021 09:21 AM EDT

Louisiana wildlife officials say they have documented more than 100 oil-soaked birds after crude oil spilled from a refinery flooded during Hurricane Ida.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said Thursday that a growing number of oiled birds had been observed within heavy pockets of oil throughout the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, as well as nearby flooded fields and retention ponds along the Mississippi River.

Jon Wiebe, a biologist running the state restoration program, said 10 oiled birds have been captured and transported to a rehabilitation location for cleaning. Five additional dead birds were recovered and bagged as evidence, he said.

Wiebe said efforts to capture and save more birds are ongoing. The affected species include black-bellied whistling ducks, blue-winged teal and a variety of egrets. Other animals were also seen covered in oil, include alligators, nutria and river otters.

A summary issued Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency said it had received 43 notifications of significant inland oil spills and chemical releases in its jurisdiction after Ida. The agency’s compliance arm has issued 10 requests to facility operators seeking information to determine whether federal environmental laws were violated during the storm, potentially triggering penalties and fines.

That is a small fraction of the 1,539 reports of pollution a U.S. Coast Guard hotline has received since the Category 4 storm made landfall made landfall Aug. 29 at Port Fourchon, the primary port for the offshore oil and gas industry. The Coast Guard said Thursday it was actively supervising the cleanup and mitigation efforts at 564 sites. Another 197 reports were listed as unverified because there was no remaining evidence of pollution.

The Associated Press first reported the spill at the Alliance Refinery on Sept. 1 after reviewing aerial images captured by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aircraft. In the days after the hurricane, Phillips 66 repeatedly sought to downplay reports of damage at the company’s sprawling refinery.

Asked about reports of levee failures near the refinery the day after Ida hit, Phillips 66 spokesman Bernardo Fallas told AP there was “some water” in the facility and stressed that operations were shut down in advance of the storm.

Asked two days after the storm about potential environmental hazards emanating from the facility, Fallas referred a reporter to a statement on the company’s website saying its response is focused “on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees and our surrounding communities.”

On Day Three, after the AP sent Phillips 66 aerial photos showing extensive flooding at the refinery and what appeared to be petroleum in the water, Fallas conceded the company could had “discovered a sheen of unknown origin in some flooded areas” of the refinery and that all pollution had been “secured and contained within refinery grounds” at that time.

A Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality assessment team sent to the refinery last week reported a sizable spill of heavy crude oil at the site was being addressed with booms and absorbent pads. A levee meant to protect the plant had breached, allowing floodwaters to flow in during the storm and then back out as the surge receded.

Despite the gap in the levee remaining open for days after the storm, Fallas once again asserted Thursday no oil spilled beyond the land owned by Phillips 66.

“The breach has been secured,” Fallas said Thursday. “Clean-up crews continue to remove oil and sheen contained within some flooded areas of the refinery. There has been no offsite impact. We continue to work with all appropriate regulatory agencies.”


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No estimate for how much oil might have spilled from the refinery has yet been made public by state or federal regulators. When fully operational, the Alliance Refinery can process more than 255,000 barrels of crude oil per day into gasoline and other petroleum products.

The company listed the aging refinery for sale last month, before the storm hit, citing poor market conditions. The facility remained shut down Thursday, with no timetable to reopen.

Following inquires from AP, Fallas also confirmed Thursday that a Phillips 66 pipeline in an uninhabited area outside Paradis, Lousiana, leaked during Ida. Records show the company reported to the Coast Guard on Aug. 31 that 2,700 barrels of isobutane, a liquified flammable gas often used to fuel camping stoves, had spilled.

“The site was isolated and brought under control last week,” Fallas said Thursday. “The product vaporized to the atmosphere when it was released; there was no impact to soil or water. The pipeline remains shut down while repairs are underway.”

As Biden Names Advisers, Climate Activists Push Back on Fossil Fuel Influence

Silhouette of Joe Biden reaching out to fossil fuel executive while protester calls to him
The Biden transition’s picks and agency review teams so far are a mixed bag when it comes to climate change.

BYCandice BerndTruthoutPUBLISHEDNovember 19, 2020SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

Environmental groups are ratcheting up a pressure campaign against President-elect Joe Biden’s potential cabinet picks who have ties to the fossil fuel industry as Biden names new White House staffers this week. Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who will serve as Biden’s director of the Office of Public Engagement, sparked immediate backlash from climate activists, including Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash, who called the pick “a betrayal.”

Richmond, a co-chair of the Biden-Harris transition team who will give up his seat to become a senior White House adviser, has been an ally of oil and gas companies and received nearly $341,000 in campaign donations this cycle from the sector — more than any other industry that donated, according to OpenSecrets. To make matters worse, Richmond was also one of a few Democrats who voted in favor of authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline.

The newly named staffers are the latest development in a transition process that continues despite Trump administration roadblocks, and Richmond is not the only name sparking environmentalists’ ire: More than 70 groups signed a letter this week urging Biden not to include former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in his incoming administration.

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Moniz, who has been informally advising the Biden campaign since May, is a contender not only to reprise his role as the nation’s top energy official but also for a new international climate envoy post. He was the principal architect of Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, and has served as a consultant for oil and gas giant BP and currently sits on the board of the electric utility Southern Company.

Many of the same organizations also signed onto a separate open letter to Biden’s transition team urging him to remove former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp from consideration for the role of agriculture secretary, noting that she “has raised $633,000 from the fossil fuel industry— more than any other incumbent Senate Democrat during her two elections.”

Environmentalists are cautious about another leading contender for energy secretary, a former Google executive who previously led an Energy Department office that funded research and development of experimental power projects. Stanford University engineering professor Arun Majumdar was named to lead the Biden transition team for the agency and is also on Biden’s short list. Majumdar shares connections to Moniz through the Energy Department, Moniz’s nonprofit, and holds positions at private equity and venture capital firms, LittleSis found.

Stronger climate advocates are reportedly being considered for a number of departments and feature elsewhere on the transition’s agency review teams. The New York Times reported this week that Michèle Flournoy, a potential pick for defense secretary, and Lael Brainard, a potential Treasury pick, are both proponents of aggressive climate policy.

Meanwhile, Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy Executive Director Cecilia Martinez heads the team reviewing the Council on Environmental Quality. Maggie Thomas, who worked on presidential candidates Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren’s climate policies, is on the team for the Department of Interior.“We are under no illusions that everything we’re saying is being listened to, but we definitely want to continue that dialogue and continue to push them.”

The Biden team is zeroing-in on less traditional environmental agencies and have included dozens of climate experts on teams ranging from Justice to Agriculture. Climate activists were particularly heartened to see such climate policy wonks as the Center for American Progress’s Andy Green and the Roosevelt Institute’s Todd Tucker on teams for agencies like Treasury and Commerce, for example.

Environmentalists hope to see financial-sector appointees be fully vetted in regard to their commitment to Biden’s climate plan — including ensuring such appointees are fully divested from fossil fuel industry investments and ties. In fact, the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition released a set of criteria and questions for potential Treasury and financial-sector appointees this month designed to do just that.

Collin Rees, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, is one environmental activist actively dialoguing with the Biden transition team about its agency review teams and potential appointees. He worked on the recent letter against Moniz and on the Stop the Money Pipeline financial-appointee criteria. He told Truthout the conversations he’s had with the transition team have been mixed thus far.

“They’re absolutely willing to talk to us and understand that we’re an important part of the base that got him elected,” Rees said. “We’ve certainly felt like we’ve been able to have that conversation, but it’s Joe Biden; he’s a lifelong politician. He is very much seeking other input as well, so we are under no illusions that everything we’re saying is being listened to, but we definitely want to continue that dialogue and continue to push them.”

Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, which helped to shape Biden’s revised climate plan as part of the Biden-Sanders unity task force, has released its own climate mandate outlining a number of progressive cabinet picks for key agencies. The list includes Sen. Bernie Sanders for labor secretary, California Rep. Barbara Lee for secretary of state, and Mustafa Santiago Ali of the National Wildlife Federation for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.

Biden’s top candidate to lead the EPA is said to instead be Mary Nichols, California’s climate and clean air regulator, who has been floated by other climate groups as a favorable pick. Still, the EPA’s agency review team includes Michael McCabe, despite his serving as a consultant to DuPont in the company’s fight against regulations of toxic chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).“Biden’s climate plan during the election was more popular than he was, and it just goes to show that people want bold action.”

The Sunrise Movement is also calling for the establishment of an Office for Climate Mobilization modeled after a World War II-era executive office formed to coordinate all government agencies involved in the war effort. The Biden team is seriously considering the creation of such an office or a similarly-styled coordinating council modeled after the national security and economic councils.

“The first and most important thing that Joe Biden can do right now is show he is serious about forcefully addressing the climate crisis, and a part of doing that would be establishing an Office of Climate Mobilization,” said Neha Desaraju, a decentralized communications coordinator with the Sunrise Movement. “Biden’s climate plan during the election was more popular than he was, and it just goes to show that people want bold action.”

The Biden team is expected to tap Ali Zaidi, a former climate adviser in the Obama White House who now serves as deputy secretary of energy in New York State, as the new office’s “climate czar,” according to The New York Times.

Still, climate advocates and progressives are wary of former corporate lobbyists like Steve Ricchetti, Biden’s campaign chairman who will soon be counselor to the president. Ricchetti was Biden’s vice-presidential chief of staff in the Obama White House, but his history as a registered lobbyist made him controversial at the time because it violated the administration’s ethics rules.

Other corporate lobbyists listed on Biden’s transition agency review teams send mixed signals about whether or not Biden will actually hold to a Roosevelt-style presidency which promises a climate and economic stimulus-driven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an all-of-government approach becomes all the more challenging if Democrats are unable to take the Senate after Georgia’s January 5 special election.

How the president spends his crucial first 100 days is already being shaped by corporate representatives from Lyft, Airbnb, Amazon Web Services and WestExec Advisors, whose tech industry experience dominates a key agency review team for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB’s little-known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) plays an outsized role determining all regulations across the federal government.“You always have to work through the Vacancies Act in order to make sure the government is as functional as possible on day one, and that’s even more the case when you’re taking over for the most incompetent and corrupt president in American history.”

OIRA’s behind-the-scenes power can’t be overstated, as its team of fewer than 50 economists use cost-benefit analysis to determine whether protecting people and the planet from toxic chemicals and emissions is “worth it.” The Office proved a powerful administrative gatekeeper during the Obama administration, blocking or delaying agency rules that could have furthered the administration’s climate goals. No matter how aggressive new appointees at the EPA or Energy Department might be, experts say corporate capture of OMB will bog down bold climate action.

The OMB agency review team member with the most experience is arguably Bridget Dooling, with 10 years of OIRA experience in both Democratic and Republican administrations. She’s now a research professor with the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, working under Susan Dudley, President George W. Bush’s OIRA head. The Center is funded by Charles Koch and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

“Obama’s OIRA was probably the worst set of appointments in his entire eight years as president,” says Jeff Hauser, who heads the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group tracking the Biden transition. “So OIRA under Obama did a lot to hinder the best efforts of [former Obama EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson and the EPA in the first term.”

Hauser cautions, however, that the transition process is still far from over, and that Democrats must be ready to utilize the Vacancies Act and Recess Appointments Clause to maneuver around Republicans who are likely to block Biden’s agency nominations.

Even in a scenario in which the Democrats have a Senate majority, Biden is going to have an executive branch where most of the Senate-confirmable positions won’t be confirmed in the first couple months, Hauser says. “Regardless, you always have to work through the Vacancies Act in order to make sure the government is as functional as possible on day one, and that’s even more the case when you’re taking over for the most incompetent and corrupt president in American history,” he tells Truthout.“We’re really hoping that this is Joe Biden’s FDR moment. If you look at FDR’s New Deal, a lot of that was passed as executive action, not through Congress.”

Environmental activists are looking to executive action as the primary tool for passing bold climate policy, since even if Democrats win Georgia’s runoff races, the party will hold the Senate by only a razor-sharp margin. “You’re going to be writing [conservative Democratic Sen.] Joe Manchin’s climate policy,” says Oil Change International’s Rees. “It’s going to be a pretty tough situation for any ambitious climate policy even if [Democrats win the Senate] and is perhaps at best a toss-up.”

Rees and other environmental leaders are backing a list of 10 executive actions that Biden could take in the first 10 days of his presidency to constrain fossil fuel production, implement a just transition and build out renewable energy infrastructure. Topping the list is a declaration of a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act. Such a move would allow Biden to expedite reversals of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and reinstate the crude oil export ban.

One of Biden’s first executive orders will reportedly be to revive an Obama-era mandate that every executive agency incorporate climate change into its policies. The president-elect has committed to 46 other executive-level actions mostly focused on reining in existing sources of pollution, such as aggressive methane pollution limits at oil and gas drilling sites, and barring new fossil fuel extraction on federal lands.

More recently, environmental groups authored a platform of executive actions to address climate equity and environmental justice without new legislation, major new appropriations or other congressional authority. “We’re really hoping that this is Joe Biden’s FDR moment,” Sunrise Movement’s Desaraju says. “If you look at FDR’s New Deal, a lot of that was passed as executive action, not through Congress.”“Let the Republicans play whack-a-mole. Let them try to rebuff all of the different [environmental rules] coming out.”

Among environmentalists’ top priorities for executive action in Biden’s first 100 days is putting a stop to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines once and for all. Biden could also unilaterally end regulatory subsidies for the fossil fuel industry that are funneled through executive agencies, the Export-Import Bank and the U.S. International Development and Finance Corporation. Activists likewise hope to see the president-elect implement an environmental equity screen for federal projects as well as a climate justice screen for low-income communities of color who disproportionately bear the brunt of toxic pollution.

It’s not just about undoing Trump environmental rollbacks; it’s also about moving much stronger rules forward. To do that, Biden will need to “flood the zone,” as RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus and a Democratic National Committee delegate, puts it. “It means everything and anything. Let the Republicans play whack-a-mole. Let them try to rebuff all of the different things coming out, but it basically means that the team has to be prepared to hit the ground running,” Miller told Truthout.

But the Trump administration is working against the clock to slow the incoming administration’s momentum. Trump appointees at the EPA and Interior Department are locking in rules changes that will make it harder for Biden to undo many of the 104 environmental regulatory rollbacks enacted over the past four years, including asking oil and gas companies to choose where they want to drill in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.“I can assure you that corporate America is making their preferences known.”

Now, the incoming administration will have to take even more aggressive steps to overcome the Trump administration’s obstacles. The Revolving Door Project’s Hauser says there’s a real opportunity for progressives to makes their voices heard and understand that they have real influence when it comes to the transition process.

“[The transition team needs] to be hearing from people, because I can assure you that corporate America is making their preferences known in a very consistent manner to the transition,” Hauser says.

Polestar points to “a disturbing lack of transparency” about EV carbon footprint

Polestar on Thursday said it would publish full details on the “climate impact” of its electric cars.

The move “sets new standards for other car makers to follow,” Polestar declared in a press release. Based on what Green Car Reports has seen released to consumers, that would indeed make it one of the first few automakers of any kind to do so.

“Polestar at the disturbing lack of transparency across the industry, as it is today impossible for a consumer to compare the climate impact of different cars,” the company said.

One issue Polestar highlighted was the differing methodologies used by various automakers to calculate the life-cycle carbon footprint of vehicles. That means emissions not only from driving, but from manufacturing as well.

Polestar has already published the methodology for its life-cycle emissions assessments, as well as results for the Polestar 2, its first all-electric production model. Similar reports will presumably be generated for each new Polestar EV.

Using its own methodology, the automaker calculated that the Polestar 2 actually has a higher manufacturing-phase carbon footprint than an internal-combustion Volvo XC40—based on the same Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform. That’s because of an energy-intensive battery production process, Polestar said.

However, once the car is delivered to the customer, and charged using renewable energy, emissions virtually disappear, Polestar noted. After 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles), the XC40 surpasses the Polestar 2 in total emissions, the company said.


2021 Polestar 22021 Polestar 2

That conclusion neatly lines up with other research on the carbon footprint of electric cars. One persistent myth that has been repeatedly debunked is that electric cars have higher lifetime emissions due to the manufacturing process, or from using coal-fired electricity grids for charging.

As a peer-reviewed process from the Union of Concerned Scientists has attested for years, electric cars have had a far lower lifetime carbon footprint than internal combustion vehicles—and recently, in nearly every set of conditions.

A study recently pointed out some of the errors in the data that some German automakers had been using to downplay the carbon gains of moving to EVs.

The most noteworthy of the studies that made some peculiar assumptions that don’t mirror the real world or the entire manufacturing ecosystem is a 2017 Swedish study.

Even outside of its lifetime carbon footprint, sustainability has been one of the hallmarks of the Polestar 2 and its materials choices and details.

Is having a certified number for lifetime carbon footprint an important part of your vehicle decision, and should other automakers follow suit? Let us know what you think in your comments below?

International Condemnation Of Global Shipping Grows As 47 Whales Confirmed Dead In Mauritius


On Monday, it was revealed that 47 whales have been found dead along the South East coast of Mauritius, including pregnant females and juveniles. The numbers continue to rise each day, around the crash site and sinking of the forward section of the Wakashio.

This come amid the extreme secrecy of the operation to salvage the rear of the vessel, disposal of the removed oil and clean up the oil along the coast. The lack of transparency about the methods being used for the cleanup is raising additional concerns about any longer term risk with the use of chemical dispersants. Comparisons are now being drawn between the cleanup in Mauritius and the hushed-up oil spill and cleanup operation in Venezuela earlier this month in its famous Morrocoy National Reserve.

Already, there were concerns about the controversial decision to deliberately sink the forward section of the Wakashio in an undisclosed location off the coast of Mauritius. Two days later, scores of dead dolphins and whales started drifting dead onto the shores of Mauritius.

Concerns about Wakashio salvage operation


  •  This follows major demonstrations at the weekend in Mauritius and around its embassies around the world at the weekend, that attracted over 100,000 marchers (around 10% of the country) according to a report in the UK’s Independent newspaper. The protesters had marched peacefully on the streets of the capital, demanding justice and accountability for the environmental impact of the pollution, including the dead whales and dolphins.
  • This comes as international ocean NGO, Sea Shepherd revealed there was over 203,000 tons of ballast water on board the vessel when it hit the reefs of Mauritius (200 times the amount of oil leaked). Given concerns and international laws created in recent years to stop the harmful spread of marine disease through the release of ballast water, it is unclear whether this ballast water was safely removed from the vessel. Ship owner, Nagahsiki Shipping have not responded to media requests for comments.
  • At the same time, it is also being reported locally that the salvage team may have used seismic blasting in the sensitive areas around the Mauritian coast as part of the salvage operation. This is an area famed for its whale nursing sites, and several pregnant female Melon-headed whales and juveniles have already been found washed up in the past few days. If it is true that such seismic blasting had been undertaken, serious questions will need to be asked under whose authority such tests were conducted, and whether a thorough environmental impact assessment had been done of the area prior to the test, when there are dozens of luxury Five Star Hotels along Mauritius’ East Coast that offer tourists Dolphin and Whale Watching tours in the area.


International NGO criticism of global shipping

The international NGO community have also started to raise serious questions about the role of the global shipping industry in this incident. In a statement to Forbes, global ocean protection NGO, Ocean Conservancy has called for a full and independent investigation into the whale and dolphin deaths in Mauritius.

Chris Robbins, head of Science Initiatives at Ocean Conservancy and who worked for a decade on oil spill response and ecosystem restoration after the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy highlighted the risk to dolphins in particular following a major oil spill.

“Marine mammals like dolphins were among the most severely impacted marine species affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster and recovery is estimated to take decades. Marine mammals are exposed to toxins in oil through inhalation, ingestion, aspiration and skin absorption, resulting in immediate death or sub-lethal effects such as lung disease, damage to the immune system and reproductive failure.

Right at the outset, Ocean Conservancy recognized that long-term monitoring is essential to tracking the recovery of impacted species such as marine mammal populations, as well as the broader marine ecosystem. Dolphins are long-lived and, as we saw in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the health effects of the spill could ripple throughout local dolphin populations for years to come.”

De-carbonizing the international shipping fleet

Ocean Conservancy has also gone on to call for bold shipping reform, echoing calls from other international environmental groups such as GreenpeaceWWF and Sea Shepherd for the same, citing the heavy engine fuel used as one of the main reasons this disaster was so extensive.

“In the ongoing uncertainty about science being used to assess the impact of the oil spill in Mauritius, one thing is crystal clear: we need to transition rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This includes, as a priority, de-carbonizing the international shipping fleet.

We estimate that full de-carbonization must occur by 2034 to remain within the 1.5 Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement. Accordingly, that will entail replacing all HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) burning ships with cleaner green fuels like hydrogen or ammonia, which will also dramatically reduce the risk of a spill affecting marine mammals.

 Japan and the Japanese based Nagashiki Shipping, owners of the MV Wakashio, have a key role to play in all of this. As one of the largest shipbuilding nations along with China and the Republic of Korea, Japan can set the standards to prevent the next Wakashio, and publicly commit to accelerating the IMO’s international timeline for full decarbonization. This spill should be a wakeup call for all shipbuilding nations.”

This statement from Ocean Conservancy, echoes WWF’s call for justice for the ocean including calls to reform of the ‘flags of convenience’ regime, a system that many have argued for years has allowed ship owners to behave with impunity on the world’s oceans.  A range of legal and financial instruments have been highlighted by WWF for how a country like Mauritius can attempt to restore this unique ecosystem, based on other lessons from the Western Indian Ocean.

Warning about collateral damage from oil spill cleanup operations

Ocean Conservancy’s Chris Robbins went further and cautioned about many of the secondary effects of an oil spill clean up operation that he had learned from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy, that ended up causing even more harm.

He listed these in an article on the Ocean Conservancy site where he listed a five-point plan, for how Mauritius should think about its response to the Wakashio oil spill.

“There are some lessons from the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy that can be applied to the unfolding tragedy in Mauritius on how to respond to the spill from the standpoint of response, clean up, documenting damage, holding the responsible party accountable and building a long-term restoration plan.”

So far, there has been no additional comments from either the vessel owner, Nagashiki Shipping company, or the multi-billion dollar ship operator that had leased the vessel, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, on the deaths of the dolphins or whales.

Notably, there has also not been a public statement on the oil spill from several other major UN or other ocean protection organizations, 37 days into this major ecological crisis.


Mauritius: Anger and questions as 17 dead dolphins wash ashore

By Yasine Mohabuth
BBC News, Mauritius

Published23 hours ago
image captionResidents woke up to the sight of dead dolphins
At least 17 dead dolphins have been found on the coast of Mauritius, prompting debates about whether a recent oil spill was to blame.
Environmental campaigners say the deaths were either caused by the oil spill from a Japanese-owned ship or by authorities sinking part of the vessel.
But the fisheries minister said “at first glance” the deaths appeared to be unconnected to the spill.
He said at least two of the dolphins had shark bites.
The carcasses are currently undergoing a post-mortem.
It is rare for so many dead dolphins to be found at the same time. Two were found in May 2019.
These are the first reported deaths of dolphins since the shipwreck. Up to now, many fish and crabs have been found dead.
The sight of the dolphins caused anger among residents.
image captionMany tourists swim with dolphins in Mauritius
“Waking up this morning to witness so many dead dolphins on our seashore is worse than a nightmare,” resident Nitin Jeeha told the BBC.
“I have seen around eight to 10 dead dolphins. Are there more in the lagoon?”
Although many of the dolphins were found dead, some were discovered weak or dying on the shore.

Was the oil spill to blame?

Environmental activists told the BBC they thought so.
The MV Wakashio ran aground on coral reef on 25 July at Pointe d’Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife.
The area contains wetlands designated as a site of international importance by the Ramsar convention on wetlands.
Oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo said the dolphins smelled of fuel.
“In my opinion, this situation will continue to deteriorate as time goes on,” he was quoted by local media as saying.
Environmentalist Sunil Dowarkasing said either the oil spill from the bulk carrier or the sinking of its bow last week caused the deaths.
image captionThe authorities decided to sink the bow of the vessel last week
“The scuttling probably disturbed marine mammals in their natural habitat. There will be after-effects, and this is just the beginning,” Mr Dowarkasing added.
Greenpeace Africa has warned that “thousands” of animal species are “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security and health”.
But Sudheer Maudhoo, the nation’s fisheries minister, said initial tests on the dolphins indicated that there was no link between the oil spill and their deaths.
He noted that there were shark bites on at least two of the mammals but further tests would be needed to identify the cause.

Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling

The decision sets up a fierce legal battle over the fate of a vast, remote area that is home to polar bears, caribou and the promise of oil wealth.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A decision on Monday overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.
Credit…Christopher Miller for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development, a move that overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.

The decision sets the stage for what is expected to be a fierce legal battle over the fate of the refuge’s vast, remote coastal plain, which is believed to sit atop billions of barrels of oil but is also home to polar bears and migrating herds of caribou.

The Interior Department said on Monday that it had completed its required reviews and would begin preparations to auction off drilling leases. “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

Environmentalists, who have battled for decades to keep energy companies out of the refuge, say the Interior Department failed to adequately consider the effects that oil and gas development could have on climate change and wildlife. They and other opponents, including some Alaska Native groups, are expected to file lawsuits to try to block lease sales.

“We will continue to fight this at every turn,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.”

Though any oil production within the refuge would still be at least a decade in the future, companies that bought leases could begin the process of seeking permits and exploring for oil and gas.

President Trump has long cast an increase in Arctic drilling as integral to his push to expand domestic fossil fuel production on federal lands and secure America’s “energy dominance.” Republicans have prized the refuge as a lucrative source of oil and gas ever since the Reagan administration first recommended drilling in 1987, but efforts to open it up had long been stymied by Democratic lawmakers until 2017, when the G.O.P. used its control of both houses of Congress to pass a bill authorizing lease sales.

“ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends on Monday.

It remains unclear how much interest there will be from energy companies at a time when many countries are trying to wean themselves from fossil fuels and oil prices are crashing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Exploring and drilling in harsh Arctic conditions remains difficult and costly.

Nevertheless, by proceeding with the lease sales, the Trump administration has made the Arctic refuge a potential issue in the presidential campaign, and the region’s fate may ultimately hinge on the election’s outcome. The Democratic nominee for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has called for permanent protection of the refuge. However, even if he were to win the White House, it could prove difficult for his administration to overturn existing lease rights once they have been auctioned to energy companies.

The administration’s push to open up the refuge has been backed by lawmakers in Alaska, as well as by local energy firms and other Alaska Native groups, who have said that drilling could provide much-needed jobs and revenue for the state, where oil production has declined since the 1980s.

“Thousands of Alaskans are employed in our oil industry, and their livelihoods depend on the good-paying jobs created by our state’s reserves,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. “Today, we are one step closer to securing a bright future for these Alaskans and their families.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge spans 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska. The fight over drilling centers on 1.5 million acres in the refuge’s coastal plain, which is believed to contain the largest onshore reserves of oil in North America that remain untapped.

Opponents say that opening the refuge to development would be a step backward in an era when the world should be burning less oil in order to avoid drastic global warming. They also say drilling could harm vulnerable wildlife in the area, including polar bears, which are already struggling because of climate change, and Porcupine caribou herds that use the coastal plain as a calving area.

“There’s no good time to open up America’s largest wildlife refuge to drilling and fracking, but it’s absolutely bonkers to endanger this beautiful place during a worldwide oil glut,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
ImageDavid Bernhardt, the interior secretary, at the White House in January.  “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” he said on Monday. 
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

For decades, Democrats in Congress had blocked proposals to open the refuge. But in 2017 the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress included a section in a tax bill authorizing the Interior Department to establish a plan to sell leases in the coastal plain. Under the law, the agency must conduct at least two lease sales of 400,000 acres each by the end of 2024.

As part of the process, the Department of Interior was required to conduct a review of the potential environmental effects of drilling. The final version of that environmental impact statement was released in September and recommended that oil and gas leasing be allowed in the 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain.

In its review, the agency said that activities associated with oil and gas development — including new roads and truck traffic, as well as air, noise and water pollution — could potentially harm wildlife. But it suggested that there were ways to blunt the effects, such as limiting the use of heavy equipment for one month of the year during caribou calving season.

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Environmentalists have criticized the agency’s review as insufficient, saying it was largely based on older research and failed to address several concerns. For instance, critics have noted, the environmental impact statement does not provide an estimate of how many polar bears could potentially be killed or harmed by exploration in the coastal plain.

Drilling opponents have also said that the Interior Department downplayed the risks of climate change in its review. For example, the agency estimated that the refuge could produce as many as 10 billion barrels of oil over its lifetime, but argued that the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be minimal, since most of that oil would simply displace oil being produced elsewhere in the country. In comments submitted to the agency, the attorneys general from 15 states, including New York, called this displacement theory “completely unsupported.”

3 issues may thwart Trump’s ANWR plan


Heather Richards and Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporters

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2020ANWR. Photo credit: Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would open nearly all of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing.

But it didn’t say when.

Timing is just one of the major questions lingering after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a record of decision authorizing the first-ever oil and gas leasing program in the refuge.

From oil prices to politics, a minerals auction in ANWR is full of uncertainties. Allowing development in the ecologically rich landscape between the Brooks mountain range and the Arctic Ocean has been a key part of President Trump’s energy dominance agenda. But with the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, many drillers are still waylaid by an oil price bust, and critics have vowed to fight the Interior approval.

The agency’s final environmental review of the leasing plan was published last fall, as Interior raced to fulfill a 2017 congressional mandate to hold an oil and gas auction in ANWR’s coastal plain.

The record of decision sets “where and under what terms and conditions” a leasing program can take place in the 1.6-million-acre region. There are multiple questions it did not answer, however, leaving the fate of drilling up in the air. Here are three of them:

When is the sale?

The looming presidential election may pressure Interior to lease the land quickly, as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has voiced opposition to the prospect of drilling in the refuge.

“The Trump administration is hell bent on getting parts of ANWR leased for drilling before it leaves office on January 20,” said Robert Percival, head of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Environmental Law Program, in an email.

Percival pointed out that it is harder and potentially costlier for the federal government to revoke a lease once it is held by an oil company.

“And they would love to have the drilling start before a new administration can stop it, so that the area will no longer have a pristine character,” he added.

Bernhardt noted yesterday that the political landscape wasn’t guiding ANWR decisionmaking, but he did not specify a date for the sale beyond the congressionally mandated deadline of 2021 and the possibility of getting one in this year.

Interior staffers have said they were left out of ANWR decisions in recent weeks, with details limited to a tight political circle helming the agency (Energywire, Aug. 12).

That approach hasn’t changed with the release of the record of decision yesterday, some say.

“We have heard nothing yet on a lease sale” on the coastal plain, one senior Interior official said yesterday, noting that there has also been silence on the timeline for an anticipated 2020 sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), west of ANWR.

The lack of open planning is “frustrating,” the official said.

There is also polarized but sustained political pressure on Alaska’s congressional delegation to advance an ANWR sale.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) is up for reelection and will likely put his weight behind the first sale, given the state’s desire for good news on the fossil fuel front, said Larry Persily, an Alaska-based oil and gas columnist and longtime observer of the state’s resource-rich North Slope.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, leveraged her position as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to push the ANWR leasing program through Congress three years ago but has since warned that drilling might not happen until 2030. She’s “astute enough to know there are major impediments to this,” said Persily.

Murkowski said over the summer that she was “struggling” with the idea of supporting Trump in the upcoming election after a largely peaceful protest outside the White House was dispersed with tear gas.

The president responded in a series of tweets in June promising to campaign for anyone who runs against her when Murkowski comes up for reelection in 2022.

“I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” Trump tweeted.

Given the political bombast surrounding ANWR, opponents of drilling say they are preparing for the administration to advance a sale soon.

“They’ve said they are going to be aggressive in their leasing and companies could try to get in, and that is very consequential,” said Brook Brisson, a senior staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska.

Carl Tobias from the University of Richmond School of Law said environmentalists could stall the administration by taking Interior to court.

“I don’t think we are going to be seeing any real leasing for a long time,” he said.

Will drillers bite?

A near-term ANWR sale would come at a poor time for the oil and gas industry, experts note, as the sector grapples with a drop in oil demand due to the coronavirus crisis.

Bernhardt said in a call with reporters yesterday that oil drillers look at long-term projections when weighing whether to bid on drilling rights.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty also played up the coastal plain’s long-term energy potential in a statement yesterday.

“While the industry has been hard hit by the recent pandemic and low prices, it is critical that the government continue to meet its leasing obligations — such as the statutory mandate to carry out lease sales for ANWR,” she said.

But others say persistent challenges for Alaska’s oil sector could hurt chances for a sale. Many of the deep-pocketed oil and gas producers equipped to drill in the far north have already left the state.

Earlier this year, British oil supermajor BP PLC finalized the sale of its assets to Texas-based Hilcorp Energy. That came after Chevron Corp.’s North Slope departure, leaving just ConocoPhillips remaining from the so-called Big Three operators (Energywire, Dec. 11, 2019).

ConocoPhillips is focused on the NPR-A, where it recently won approval to advance the $6 billion Willow oil project. The company has expressed interest in delving deeper into the reserve and has favored plans to open more protected areas of the NPR-A’s Teshekpuk Lake area to oil and gas production.

“That’s probably where they see their future,” Persily said. “It’s more affordable [than ANWR]. It’s less contentious, and it fully occupies Conoco’s time up here.”

Waning interest in developing big, expensive oil projects in places like the Arctic could kill the prospects for the first ANWR lease sale, said Persily.

Still, a lease sale could draw at least some interest, he said. But actual development still seems unlikely.

“The leases could be cheap if there is not a lot of interest from deep-pocketed people, but even if you get it for a dollar, why would you do it if it’s going to cost you billions before you know if there is oil there?” he said.

There are other potential pitfalls for the industry: There is a ballot measure this year that could hike taxes on oil production.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have tried to make investment in ANWR as unpalatable as possible from a public relations perspective.

The largest U.S. banks, and several in Europe, have committed to not directly fund oil and gas development in the Arctic following an extended campaign by the Sierra Club and others (Climatewire, March 4).

It’s unclear what that attempt to pressure not just banks but energy companies may have on ANWR bids, said Brisson of Trustees for Alaska.

“Is any company going to risk its reputation?” she said.

Who will sue?

Critics of BLM’s decision to allow oil and gas leasing in the Arctic refuge say it has several fatal flaws that could imperil it in court.

“The law requires the agency to carefully analyze, disclose and mitigate the numerous inherent harms that opening up this amazing place to oil drilling will cause. But the agency ignored these obligations,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in an email.

For example, she said, the agency failed to take a “hard look” at how oil spills or seismic activity planned in the heart of polar bear habitat would affect the vulnerable species. The plan also did not take into account the increased stress on the animals from the project and how those stresses will negatively affect a species already at risk from rising global temperatures.

Monsell criticized BLM for making assumptions in its analysis that she said underestimate the climate effects of the project.

The federal agency could also face challenges over its pace for moving forward with drilling and for failing to work closely enough with the Fish and Wildlife Service in its decisionmaking.

“BLM ignored agency scientists again and again in this process, including calls by FWS for significant information gaps to be closed before a program is adopted,” Brisson said in an email. “This is only one way that BLM rushed to adopt this program.”

Additionally, the record of decision takes up the most expansive of the scenarios Interior considered in its environmental analysis by opening nearly all of the coastal plain’s acreage for drilling.

That route has already been flagged as problematic by some critics who say the administration is overstepping limitations meant to protect the refuge.

Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted that the record of decision is poised to barrel past a technical 2,000-acre surface footprint limitation set up by Congress.

Similar accusations of flawed analysis were a common theme in responses to Interior’s announcement from conservationists and watchdog organizations. Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, deemed the program a “fool’s errand.”

The Trump administration has lost several high-profile energy battles in the courts, from industry regulations to pipeline projects, based on failures to follow process, some observers noted yesterday. It’s a weak spot that several appeared ready to exploit.

The administration’s record of decision on the oil and gas leasing plan repeats the “the same errors” that it made before losing oil pipelines like Keystone XL, which was halted due to problems with Endangered Species Act compliance, said Jessica Girard, director of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, in a statement.

“The fight is not over,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement. “We have attorneys on this case, and the courts will get to hear about the corrupt and illegal ways the Trump administration has used to open the Sacred Place Where Life Begins for drilling.”

Mauritius oil slick spreads 10 km from where ship ran aground

By TAKASHI ISHIHARA/ Correspondent

August 15, 2020 at 14:34 JST

Play Video

A team of Japanese officials found oil that leaked from a Japanese cargo vessel washed up along a mangrove forest off the coast of Mauritius. (Video footage provided by Japan International Cooperation Agency)

JOHANNESBURG–A disastrous oil spill from a Japanese-owned cargo ship in the pristine waters of the scenic Mauritius coastline now stretches 10 kilometers north of where the vessel ran aground on July 25.

A team of Japanese officials dispatched to help clean up the fuel polluting world-renowned reefs held a news conference Aug. 14 to explain what they had found so far.

Six employees of the Foreign Ministry, the Japan Coast Guard and the Japan International Cooperation Agency departed Japan on Aug. 10 at the behest of the Mauritius government for help.

A videoconferencing system was used for the news conference.

The team said oil had been found as far north as 10 kilometers from the site where the ship owned by Okayama-based Nagashiki Shipping Co. ran aground in the Indian Ocean on July 25. Fuel oil began leaking from around Aug. 6.

“A major issue will be removing the oil and cleaning up the mangrove forests and shoreline,” said Junji Gomakubo, a Foreign Ministry official serving as team leader.

The team determined that almost all of the oil remaining on the ship had been recovered and the next step would be to remove the vessel, now in danger of breaking up, from the waters.

The team is trying to gauge the extent of the damage to determine what other measures need to be taken.

Team members are having to wear face masks and protective clothing, and are restricted in their movements, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese team: Mauritius oil cleanup won’t be easy

Japanese experts assessing the impact of an oil spill caused by a Japanese ship off Mauritius say they have no idea how long it will take to clean up contaminated areas.

Specialists in maritime anti-pollution measures began working at sites where oil from a ship operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines washed ashore. The vessel ran aground off the Indian Ocean island nation on July 25.

The team reported its initial findings online on Friday, three days into the survey. One member said the contamination is widespread, with oil reaching some 10 kilometers north of the stranded ship.

He said the vessel suffered such severe damage that an attempt to retrieve it from shallow waters of only 10 meters deep would be challenging.

Another expert said mangrove swamps are inundated with oil, making it difficult to gain access and clean the entangled roots of the trees.

ExxonMobil Is Still Bankrolling Climate Science Deniers

ExxonMobil says it believes “the risk of climate change is real,” and it is “committed to being part of the solution.” The largest investor-owned oil company in the world also says it supports a federal carbon tax and the Paris climate agreement.

Then why, after all these years, is the company still financing advocacy groups, think tanks, and business associations that reject the reality and seriousness of the climate crisis, as well as members of Congress who deny the science and oppose efforts to rein in carbon emissions?

According to the company’s latest grantmaking report, it gave $772,500 to 10 such groups in 2018, which does not include its annual dues to trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes a carbon tax. In addition, ExxonMobil continued to promote gridlock directly on Capitol Hill. Two-thirds of the $1.65 million it spent on congressional election campaigns during the 2017-18 election cycle went to climate science deniers.

The shred of good news here is that ExxonMobil’s 2018 denier grant budget was half of what it spent in 2017 and the lowest amount since 2012. But if the company were truly serious about addressing climate change, it would cut off such funding completely. Likewise, it would support federal lawmakers who want to curb carbon emissions, not those standing in the way of government action.

So what did ExxonMobil get for its money in 2018?

Underwriting Climate Denial at the U.S. Chamber

In 2014, ExxonMobil pledged $5 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Capital Campaign over a five-year period on top of its annual dues, despite the lobby group’s history of misrepresenting climate science and the economics of transitioning to clean energy. Last year, the company kicked in $350,000 for the Capital Campaign and another $15,000 for the Chamber’s Corporate Citizenship Center, bringing its total 2018 donation to $365,000.

Two years ago, the Chamber sponsored a widely debunked report that wildly inflated the cost of adhering to the Paris climate agreement to the U.S. economy. President Trump used that report as his primary rationale for refusing to honor the U.S. commitment to the accord.

Earlier this year, however, the Chamber posted a new statement on its website that suggested that the business lobby is softening its position. “We stand with every American seeking a cleaner, stronger environment — for today and tomorrow,” the Chamber now asserts. “Our climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes. Inaction is simply not an option.” The website also features the Chamber’s definition of an effective climate policy, which it says should include, among other things, “large-scale renewables, energy storage and batteries,” and should “encourage international cooperation.”

Does that mean the Chamber has finally come to its senses? Not quite. It opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced coal power plant carbon emissions, and supports the Trump administration’s move to repeal it. And although a Chamber spokesman told Politico in August that it is “absolutely important for the U.S. to remain in the Paris climate agreement,” he added that the “Obama administration’s pledge was unrealistic [and] was going to have a negative impact on our economy. And so we’d like to see that revisited.” In other words, the Chamber would like the United States to remain a party to the agreement so that it can try to weaken the U.S. commitment to it.

Backing Denial at the American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute, an 80-year-old, free market think tank in Washington, D.C., has received more money from ExxonMobil than any other climate science denier organization. In 2018, ExxonMobil gave the organization $160,000, bringing its total to $4.65 million since 1998.

Economist Benjamin Zycher, an Enterprise Institute staff member who writes regularly about climate issues, argues that a carbon tax would be “ineffective” and has called the Paris agreement an “absurdity.” He also routinely cites largely debunked papers by John ChristyJudith Curry and other outlier scientists to buttress his attacks on what he calls “climate alarmism.”

Last fall, for example, Zycher took aim at the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment — a periodic, congressionally mandated analysis of peer-reviewed climate science by 13 federal agencies. The report warned that by the end of this century, unchecked climate change could cause tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. The Trump administration issued it the day after Thanksgiving in the hope that it would receive limited attention.

Zycher took issue with the report’s conclusions in a blog post on the think tank’s website, citing “systematic evidence on climate phenomena” that he says the report ignored. His “evidence” included half-truths, cherry-picked facts and fabrications. Contrary to Zycher’s claims, human activity is responsible for more than half of the increase in average global temperatures since 1950; sea level rise has accelerated due to climate change; and although there has been little change in the frequency of hurricanes globally, research suggests there has been an increase in hurricane intensity over the past 40 years.

Zycher also posted a column belittling a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood that charges ExxonMobil with defrauding investors by publicly claiming to incorporate climate risks in its business decisions while downplaying or ignoring them for internal planning purposes. The lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial on October 22, alleges that ExxonMobil inflated its value, falsely assuring investors that its oil and gas reserves would not become “stranded assets” that would have to be left in the ground. Zycher accused Underwood of “picking an unpopular target and then trying to find a way to convict it of something,” and suggested that she filed the suit to advance her career.

Financing the Manhattan Institute’s Specious Case Against Renewables

The Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based think tank, received $75,000 from ExxonMobil last year for its Center for Energy Policy. Since 1998, the company has given the Libertarian policy shop more than $1.3 million.

Like the Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute opposes the Paris climate accord. Senior Fellow Oren Cass, who regularly testified before Congress against Obama administration climate efforts, alleges the international agreement is “somewhere between a farce and a fraud.” The think tank is also an outspoken opponent of renewable energy, routinely calling for an end to federal subsidies for wind, solar and electric vehicles. At the same time, it is mum about the significantly bigger subsidies the oil and gas industry has been receiving over the last 100 years.

Cass’s colleague, Senior Fellow Robert Bryce, has been bashing wind power for years and, like President Trump, he wildly overstates its threat to birds. In fact, the top human-caused threats to birds are climate changebuildings, power lines, misapplied pesticides, communications towers, and oil and gas industry fluid waste pits. Bryce never mentions that. It would undermine his bogus argument.

Still another Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Mark P. Mills, wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in May titled “What if Green Energy Isn’t the Future?” In it, he maintained that, “using wind, solar and batteries as the primary sources of a nation’s energy supply remains far too expensive.” In fact, renewables are now the cheapest type of new electricity generation for more than two-thirds of the world, according to a June report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By 2030, Bloomberg researchers project, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and [natural] gas almost everywhere.” Mills also failed to factor in the cost of doing nothing to curb carbon pollution. The top 10 largest climate change-related disasters in 2018 alone cost at least $85 billion in damages.

Aiding and Abetting Congressional Gridlock

On top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars ExxonMobil gave to climate science denier groups last year, the company continued to fund deniers on Capitol Hill. As noted above, 67 percent of the $1.65 million it spent during the 2017-18 election cycle — roughly $1.1 million — went to the campaigns of 189 climate science deniers. It then spent $11.15 million in 2018 to lobby lawmakers, more than any other oil and gas company.

One of the most talked-about climate proposals in Congress today is a carbon tax, and despite ExxonMobil’s professed decade-long support for one, it has consistently funded senators and representatives who oppose the idea. Since 2013, there have been at least five nonbinding resolutions in Congress on such a tax. Each time, a majority of ExxonMobil-funded legislators, ranging from 75 percent to 93 percent, voted against it. The most recent example of the company’s upside-down funding priorities is the outcome of a July 2018 nonbinding resolution in the House stating such a tax would be “detrimental” to the U.S. economy. Once again, a majority of ExxonMobil-funded lawmakers favored the resolution, which passed by a 229-to-180 vote. This time, 78 percent of the 174 House members who had received ExxonMobil campaign contributions since 2013 voted for it.

ExxonMobil first announced its support for a carbon tax in 2009 in a cynical attempt to derail a cap-and-trade bill in Congress, and last year, the company announced it would give $1 million over two years to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a political action group created to promote a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The proposal — developed by the Climate Leadership Council, a coalition of corporations, environmental groups and former government officials — would levy a carbon fee starting at $40 a ton in exchange for dropping all “stationary source” (non-transportation) carbon pollution regulations and granting the fossil fuel industry immunity from climate lawsuits.

In a surprise move, however, the Climate Leadership Council and Americans for Carbon Dividends recently deleted the provision shielding the fossil fuel industry from liability, apparently abandoning coalition co-founders BP, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, which are facing more than a dozen lawsuits for billions of dollars in climate change-related damages. It remains to be seen what ExxonMobil will do now, but based on past experience, the company likely will continue to finance lawmakers who cite fraudulent reports by the groups it funds to make their bogus case that climate change is not a threat. In other words, ExxonMobil will keep bankrolling climate science denial to make sure nothing happens on Capitol Hill.

Author’s note: Besides the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($365,000), American Enterprise Institute ($160,000) and Manhattan Institute ($75,000), ExxonMobil gave grants in 2018 to the following seven climate science denier groups: American Council on Science and Health ($60,000), Center for American and International Law ($12,500), Federalist Society ($10,000), Hoover Institution ($15,000), Mountain States Legal Foundation ($5,000), National Black Chamber of Commerce ($30,000) and the Washington Legal Foundation ($40,000).

Correction: This article has been updated to correct figures from ExxonMobil’s grantmaking report.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.