Thursday, January 16, 2020

World's biggest investment firm BlackRock to shun fossil fuels as it steps up efforts to tackle climate change and calls for 'a fundamental reshaping of finance'

Good news for keen investors.  Selling off fossil fuel shares will drive their price down -- making them a good buy for realistic investors

The world's biggest investment manager BlackRock has said it will sell-off shares in coal firms and other major polluters as it called for a 'fundamental reshaping of finance' to tackle climate change.

Chief executive Larry Fink warned company boards they must step up efforts to counter climate change in his annual letter to business bosses.

Fink said they need to act or will face increased wrath from investors concerned about how unsustainable business practices might cut their future wealth.

He said BlackRock itself, which looks after $7trillion (£5.4trillion) of clients' money, will exit investments that present 'high sustainability-related risk', including thermal coal producers.

Fink's intervention comes at a time when City firms are increasingly facing pressure to do more to combat climate change.

Large asset managers such as BlackRock own vast quantities of shares and therefore have a great deal of leverage over companies, including fossil fuel producers.

However BlackRock and investment heavyweight peers such as Vanguard and State Street have been criticised for not doing enough to guide the firms they invest in up until now.

'We don't yet know which predictions about climate change will be most accurate nor what effects we have failed to consider,' Fink stated in the letter. 'But there is no denying the direction we are heading.

'Every government, company and shareholder must confront climate change.'

He went on the say that questions around climate change are driving 'a profound reassessment of risk and asset values'. 

'In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.' Fink added.

The letter also specifically aligned BlackRock with the goals set out in the 2016 Paris climate agreement despite this not being the official policy of its home nation the United States, which under President Donald Trump has backed away from the accord.


Could Janet Mills of Maine be the next governor to hop off the TCI bandwagon?

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu left the multistate Transportation & Climate Initiative in a blaze of glory last month. The Republican governor’s brash exit — he declared TCI a “financial boondoggle” – prompted the natural question: Who could be next?

Of New England’s other governors, Mills seemed to sound the most cautious tone last week about TCI, which would impose a new fuel cost at the wholesale level by establishing a system of carbon pollution allowances for up to a dozen states. The new revenue would help subsidize alternative forms of transportation, such as electric buses and car-charging stations.

Mills, a Democrat starting her second year as Maine’s governor, has made curbing climate change a major priority.

That’s similar to the primary goal of TCI: to reduce carbon emissions from the region’s cars and trucks by up to 25 percent over a decade. But in a brief statement on Friday afternoon, press secretary Lindsay Crete said “the challenges of climate and transportation issues for rural states like Maine are unique, and the state will be appropriately cautious when considering these issues.”

She declined to elaborate. One potential translation: Our residents are heavily reliant on cars, so there might be better ways of doing this.

Tony Buxton, an energy lawyer at Preti Flaherty in Portland, Maine, said “it’s asking a lot of her to support TCI” during the governor’s first two years in office, especially given her other environmental efforts. (Mills worked with Buxton at his law firm before she became governor.) He noted that Maine is the least dense state, in terms of population, east of the Mississippi. Driving is essential.

But Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and a TCI champion, cautioned against reading too much into Mills’ words. Mills wants to see Maine be carbon-neutral by 2045. To pull that off, Henry said, she’ll have to turn to the transportation sector.

So what do the other New England governors think?

Of course, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is fully on board: TCI is a cornerstone of his $18 billion transportation funding plan, and his energy secretary, Katie Theoharides, is leading the effort. (The Baker administration expects up to $500 million in new annual revenue from TCI, starting as soon as 2022.)

Baker opposes a straight gas tax increase — something the House of Representatives is expected to advance on Beacon Hill in the coming weeks. TCI, however, acts like a gas tax because those pollution credits will likely drive up costs at the pump, possibly by anywhere from 5 cents to 17 cents a gallon.

A spokesman for Governor Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island said she is “fully committed” to the TCI goals, including an aggressive approach to lowering carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott has expressed concerns about TCI in the past. He didn’t mention TCI by name in his state-of-the-state speech last week, but raised a few eyebrows when he said he prefers “incentives, not penalties” to transition Vermont to a greener future. TCI might be the last thing Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont wants to talk about right now. Lamont is trying to shore up support for a transportation bill that would revive tolls in Connecticut, a bill that could be taken up by lawmakers later this month. The tolls would only be for larger trucks, at 12 bridges in the state, but they still face resistance. (Lamont earlier wanted broader tolling.)

A spokesman said Lamont is still weighing TCI, but has ruled out supporting a gas tax increase as the primary way to fund infrastructure improvements.

Sununu, meanwhile, seems to be enjoying the controversy: He said he’s happy other governors are “rightfully sounding the alarm on this new gas tax.”

Most of these states need legislative approval to join TCI, although the precise number remains unclear. There could be a 50/50 split in New England. Conservation Law Foundation attorney Staci Rubin says her group’s legal analysis shows Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut likely do not need legislative approval, while the other three states potentially will.

Publicly, at least, Baker’s people seem unconcerned about defections, even though they want a critical mass of state participation.

A spokeswoman said the administration is pleased by broad support seen among environmental and business communities, and the “robust participation” by the various Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The group is accepting public comments on TCI rules through the end of February, and expects to figure out who is out and who is in this spring. The caution expressed in Maine indicates TCI’s boosters might still have some persuading to do.


Warren Says She's Willing To Ban Construction of New Homes in America

She's a vicious would-be tyrant with no respect for ordinary people

If your home isn’t carbon neutral, Elizabeth Warren might not let you build it. And if that means no new homes get built, she’s OK with that.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, the Massachusetts senator and fading presidential candidate talked about her Thunberg-lite plan to help end climate change. (Climate crisis? Catastrophe? What are we going with these days?)

During her appearance, Warren was asked what she’d do to “change the tide of U.S. policy on the issue of climate change” and acted as if she’d been thrown the softball of all softballs.

She promised “to do everything a president can do all by herself, that is, the things you don’t have to do by going to Congress.” This includes putting an end to energy mining and drilling on federal lands or offshore and “not having a coal lobbyist as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

You might not be surprised to learn that’s a dig at Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s EPA administrator, who was previously an attorney representing a coal producer.

Warren then moved on to her plan for housing, which she said was borne out of the dire predictions scientists have been making.

“What scares me is every time you go back to the scientists, they tell you two things,” the senator said. “It’s worse than we thought, and we have less time.

“That means we’ve got to be willing to do things, for example, like regulation. By 2028, no new buildings, no new houses, without a zero carbon footprint.”

And she’s coming for your car and electricity bill, too.

“By 2030, trucks — light-duty trucks and cars, zero carbon footprint. By 2035, all production of electricity, zero carbon footprint,” Warren said.

“We do three regulations, we can cut our carbon footprint by 70 percent,” she said.

Oh, and there was also talk of some vague idea of social justice — because schemes like this always need to be undergirded with some such vague idea.

“We also need to make environmental justice really at the heart of our climate plan,” Warren said.

“A central part of the plan for me is I want to put a trillion dollars into cleaning up the places that collectively we have destroyed as a nation and bringing them back,” she said.

Just out of morbid curiosity, I looked at the section of Warren’s campaign website dealing with environmental justice and then rather wished I hadn’t.

“We didn’t get here by accident. Our crisis of environmental injustice is the result of decades of discrimination and environmental racism compounding in communities that have been overlooked for too long,” Warren says on the site.

“It is the result of multiple choices that put corporate profits before people, while our government looked the other way. It is unacceptable, and it must change.”

Warren advocates a “just transition” for all Americans via her flavor of the Green New Deal, which should be interesting when the economically vulnerable and marginalized individuals she claims to care so much about see the price of an electric car or a carbon-neutral home.

That’s going to be especially true when you consider that the only reasonably cheap option for green energy is nuclear, and Elizabeth Warren will be having none of that.

“We’re not going to build any nuclear power plants and we’re going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels,” she said during CNN’s mammoth climate town hall back in September.

I wonder how much of Warren’s bluster on the environment is naïveté and how much of it is cynicism.

On the naïve side, this isn’t affordable or practical. It would lead to a mass voter revolt once the bills started coming due.

On the other hand, there’s also the element of cynicism. This has no chance of happening on the timetable Warren is proposing — certainly not with congressional approval, given that there are even some Democrats who would blanch at such an obviously self-defeating suite of environmental laws.

However, when you consider how serious of a candidate Elizabeth Warren is, consider that this is a woman who wants to ban regular old buildings in favor of carbon-neutral ones, all while solving serious social issues — one of which presumably is homelessness. Good luck.


Flushing '10 times!' What's really behind Trump's tirades about toilets

Impeachment wasn't all that was on President Donald Trump's mind in the hours after the House voted to approve the charges against him. He was also thinking about toilets.

Speaking at a campaign rally that night in Battle Creek, Michigan, Trump delivered a lengthy rant about a bevy of regulations governing bathroom and kitchen appliances.

"Sinks, right? Showers, and what goes with a sink and a shower?"

"Toilets!" the crowd chanted back.

"Ten times, right, 10 times," Trump continued, referring to the number of flushes he claimed were sometimes required because of water-saving federal regulations. "Not me, of course not me. But you," he added while pointing to a random audience member.

While Trump's remarks may seem a tad unusual, they echo a long-standing concern in some conservative circles.

For the better part of two decades, libertarian-minded conservatives have taken aim at the regulations and energy standards Trump now decries — and they're overjoyed to see him use the power of the presidency to shine a light into America's bathrooms and kitchens.

"I've never flushed a toilet 10 times," said Daniel Savickas, the regulatory policy director for the libertarian advocacy group FreedomWorks. "But I think what he's getting at is the heart of the issue. People do have to run their appliances multiple times because of water efficiency standards. I don't think people are flushing their toilets 10 times, but they're definitely reusing dishwashers, flushing multiple times, at least. And that has drawbacks across the economy."

Leading environmentalists don't see it quite the same way. They point to the positive impact of the regulatory policy, primarily improved water conservation and lower bills for consumers. And the products are just as good as their less efficient predecessors, they said.

"I don't know what product they're using but I don't have to run it two or three times," former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President George W. Bush, told NBC News. "My dishwashers do just fine, thank you. I do it once. My dishes are clean and everybody's healthy. I don't know what they're talking about."

The more than 20-year battle Trump has given oxygen to centers on a series of regulations and energy standards starting with the 1992 Energy Policy Act signed by President George H.W. Bush. That law set new limits on how much water a toilet can utilize and, in 1994, kicked into effect a standard that said new toilets, showerheads and faucets had to have water-saving designs. Since then, the federal government has regulated water flow of faucets and showerheads.

Today's toilets can use as little as 1/5th the water as earlier models, which the EPA's website says "happen to be a major source of wasted water in many homes." Recent advancements allow for toilets to use even less water than what is the current federal standard, according to the EPA, which also promotes the water-saving abilities of newer showerheads and faucets online.

Since the 1990s, when then-Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich. — backed by influential conservatives like then-Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Ron Paul, R-Texas — sought to repeal the restrictions, conservatives have taken aim at those standards.

"Frankly, the toilets don't work in my house," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency in the Obama administration, during a 2011 congressional hearing. "I blame you, and people like you who want to tell me what I can install in my house, what I can do."

Trump pushed that issue to the forefront when he told reporters in the White House last month that the EPA would be "looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms," insisting that "people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once" and that "they end up using more water."

Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator under President Barack Obama, said in an interview, "Pardon the pun. This administration is throwing regulations and really great innovative programs that the federal government has used to push innovation forward, down the toilet."

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the agency is working across other federal agencies to "ensure American consumers have more choice when purchasing water products."

It's not just bathrooms that have sparked the president's ire.

Conservative groups such as FreedomWorks, through its "Make Dishwashers Great Again" campaign, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have been influential in getting the Department of Energy to consider creating a new class of dishwashers with shorter wash cycles to get around existing standards.

Sam Kazman, the general counsel at CEI, said Trump's "sentiment" is right on, even if some of his specific claims were "overblown." He pointed to more than 3,200 comments submitted to the Energy Department as part of the effort to create a new dishwasher class as evidence the standards are causing public anger.

"This is based in reality, and it's based in the problems that the real people are having, and the folks who think there is no problem or who actually maybe designed and advocate these regulations, probably eat out a lot," Kazman said. "I think, basically, if the efficiency regs are producing better devices, devices that do save money and operate just as well, you do not need laws that mandate them."

Current dishwasher standards require that standard-size products use no more than 5 gallons of water per cycle, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Consumer Reports found that modern dishwashers use about half of the water and energy as those made 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has previously sought to eliminate funding for Energy Star, an EPA program allowing companies to put the program's label on appliances that meet energy efficiency standards. It's a label that many dishwasher manufacturers seek to obtain for their appliances. The Energy Star-labeled dishwashers save an average of more than 3,800 gallons of water over the appliance's lifetime, according to Energy Star.

"Why you would want to draw back on something like (Energy Star) is beyond me," Whitman said, adding the program "gives the consumers a choice to be part of an effort to reduce our use of water and energy. It gives them a way to save money on both energy and on water. It's a consumer choice option to help improve the environment."


Australian Federal government minister: Greta Thunberg and Climate Activists Just Want to ‘Upend Society’

The real concern of environmental activists like Greta Thunberg is not climate change, but to “upend society” and “move away from capitalism,” Australia’s Resources Minister Matt Canavan said Tuesday.

He spoke after the Swedish teenage climate worrier unsuccessfully tried to force German telecommunications group, Siemens, to drop its role as a contractor for the giant Adani coal mine now being planned for Australia’s north.

Canavan intervened and secured the company to stay and complete railway signalling at the site, but not before he took a passing swipe at the intervention of Thunberg.

Canavan told Sky News in Australia “common sense has once again prevailed,” and said the “likes of Greta Thunberg” claim to be concerned with emissions reduction remains a fallacy

“Their policy prescriptions aren’t actually about reducing carbon emissions, it’s about the radical massive changes to our economy and society”, he said:

The Adani mine, which received final environmental approval in June, is expected to produce at least 10 million t of thermal coal every year.

Nationally, the Australian coal mining industry employs 50, 400 people, when thermal and coking operations were combined, Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data for November showed, with exports going mainly to China, India, Korea, Japan and Chile.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who once once famously brandished a lump of coal in parliament, crying, “This is coal – don’t be afraid!” has also vowed climate protesters like Greta Thunberg would not be dictating the country’s energy or trade policy.

As Breitbart news reported, last month he backed Adani and coal production.

“We won’t embrace reckless targets and abandon our traditional industries that would risk Australian jobs while having no meaningful impact on the global climate,” he said in an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph.

“In short, we will continue to act responsibly on climate change, avoiding extreme responses and get the balance right.”

Coal exports were worth an estimated AUS$67 billion (US$45.9 billion) to the nation’s economy in the 2018 – 2019 financial year, overtaking iron ore as Australia’s most valuable export.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

""Why you would want to draw back on something like (Energy Star) is beyond me," Whitman said"

Because the efficiency of appliances (and toilets) is none of the Federal Government's goddamned business. The Federal Government takes on entirely too much, and does a lot of it badly. Including important things like securing the borders, providing good medical care for the men and women wounded in the defense of the country, and keeping the road network in some kind of order. The obvious solution is to narrow the government's focus, and stop dabbling in every trendy cause that comes bouncing downtime pike.