Saturday musings

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers. If your father has passed, remember something about him that makes you smile. On the day before Father’s Day, let me offer some random musings.

Amazon is buying Whole Foods. This might be scary to all grocers, especially those who pride themselves on premium products. Distribution of ordered food will have to be well crafted and closer to the consumers to make it work, but my guess is Amazon will do better at it than others.

The City of Houston is the leading US city on renewable energy with over 89% of its electricity produced by renewables. Yet, it has a lot to lose with climate change given its sea level position and porous natural defenses. With the fossil fuel distribution centers in its harbor, it is ironic that the centers are in jeopardy due to sea level rise caused by burning fossil fuels.

Since I cannot pass on a couple news items from the White House, it is reported our Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have been more than just evasive in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He may have perjured himself. When he said he had not met any Russian lobbyists, he failed to recall he had one over to his house for dinner twice. What is equally troubling is this lobbyist wrote a speech for then candidate Trump.

In trying to push the Senate on a repeal and replace of the ACA, the President described the House AHCA Bill as “mean.” Mind you, this is the same bill he celebrated with a party of GOP House members on the White House lawn. That was before the CBO said the AHCA would result in 23 million Americans losing health care coverage. Note to Senators, you may want to get the CBO results before passing anything. The AHCA was “mean” before the party.

Finally, we must remember our tragedies and learn from them. The shooting of Republican congressmen tells us violence is not the answer and we must stop the polarized rhetoric. The tragic fire in London means safety checks mean safety checks.  We must value human life and do everything in our power to make well planned improvements to buildings that meet all standards. And, we cannot forget the Flint lead poisoning in the water piping.  A half a dozen Michigan government have been charged with manslaughter over the death of one man, but the culpability and damage goes further. Leaders ignored reports of the problem after making a cost cutting decision retap the Flint River.

That is all for today. Have a great weekend and be safe.

 

 

A Tale of Five Cities

I am often bemused by folks that argue against renewable energy citing costs and jobs. Some say the industry is fledgling, but this does a disservice to the huge progress made over the last five years. Renewable energy jobs are growing at double digit rates per annum and the production costs continue to fall and are much closer to fossil fuel costs, and even cheaper when the present value of all costs (environmental degradation, extraction, transportation, maintenance, health care, litigation, et al) are factored in.

Yet, let’s set that aside and consider five cities in the US – Aspen CO, Burlington VT, Greensburg KS, Houston TX and Las Vegas NV. The first three cities are fully powered by renewable energy, where the last two have significant renewable energy portfolios.

Burlington was the first city to claim being 100% powered by renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro-electric. Per a November, 2016 Politico article, the electric utility has not had a rate increase in eight years for its 42,000 residents.

Greensburg came next, unfortunately they had to experience a tornado that leveled the town. As they rebuilt the town, they did so with a green mindset. So, using solar and the heavy wind across the plain states, helped electrify the town with renewable energy. Starting from scratch let them build for the future.

Aspen was the third city. I find this interesting as I read an article a few years back over the concern of climate change on the skiing industry. More often, climate change impact focuses on coastal cities. This city acted and has now pushed the envelope to 100% renewable energy.

Which brings me to Las Vegas. They got press stating they were 100% renewable energy powered, but that was somewhat of a misnomer. Yet, what they did do is still impactful. The 140 municipal buildings and facilities are now 100% powered by renewable energy. That is not the rest of the city, but it is a statement nonetheless.

Finally, let’s visit Houston, deep in the heart of oil rich Texas. Per The Guardian in an article this week, Houston is the leading city in the US in producing renewable energy through wind and solar power with 1.1 billion kWh. 89% of its electricity is renewable energy powered. They are in the top 30 in the EPA’s list of Green Partners leading six Texas cities on this list. As I mentioned recently, Texas gets just under 13% of its electricity from wind energy.

These are powerful stores, pun intended. Please remember them and tell others. We are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and we should highlight those leading the way.

The exact opposite of what is needed

Since tribal fervor gets in the way of good information sharing and debate, we end up with laws, bills and executive orders/ comments which are the exact opposite of what is needed. This troubles me greatly, as if you took the time to look at data and explained what the change would do, people would not be supportive of the change.

Here are a few working examples:

– Treating Muslim Americans poorly, blocking travel from Muslim countries, and criticizing the London Mayor who is an exemplar of successful Muslims in the western world make us less safer. Ostracizing Muslims feeds into the recruiting messaging for Islamic extremist groups; welcoming Muslims and involving them in conversations and diligence is making us safer.

– Defunding Planned Parenthood will increase the abortion rates, health care cost and poverty. Poverty is highly correlated with larger family size. Family planning reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies. Plus, women’s health for low income families improve which saves money.

– Cutting back on renewable energy investment and tax breaks will be dilutive to job increases and rural economies. Many of the solar and wind energy jobs are occurring in rural settings where they are needed. The market for solar and wind energy continues to rapidly grow as the prices fall. Investment in these areas is accretive to growth.

– Regulation is not the enemy. Inefficient and ineffective regulation are. Dodd Frank needs improvement, but we need to be mindful of the changes. The ACA needs improvement, not repeal. Very few industry leaders advocate for regulation – it does not mean they don’t need them, especially when greed exists. We need to govern our regulation either paring, repealing or improving where needed. Here is an example – when Erskine Bowles was asked to head the Small Business Administration he reduced the application for assistance from 42 pages to two.

– Pulling back from global leadership will make the world less safer. America helps provide guardrails to global crises. The more we abdicate responsibility, the less safe it becomes for America and the rest of the world. We must be engaged and collaborative.

I have many other examples. What do you think? What are your examples?

 

Mr. President, we need YOUR loyalty

The headline of Reuters Financial News quotes what James Comey said the President asked of him. “I need your loyalty. I must have your loyalty.” As I read this and thought of the growing evidence that is revealing a very uncomfortable alliance between our President and Russia, I want to the turn the question back on the President, “We need your loyalty.”

To be frank, I don’t think we have it. I don’t think the President’s first loyalty is to the United States of America. I think it is first and foremost to Donald Trump. Investigations will eventually reveal why the President is so beholden to Vladimir Putin.

My belief is it gets down to money. It always does. Either he has been promised various opportunities for investment in Russia or loan forgiveness or his various funding sources either show he is compromised or his debts are more significant than he lets on and they are placing pressure on him. His unhealthy devotion to all things Russian is more than curious.

What we do know is our President is acting more like a guilty man than an innocent one. His people have not been very forthcoming and have routinely changed their stories about Russian relationships. The President has admitted he had obstructed justice, even if it may not be legally determined yet. And, we know that our intelligence community believes with high confidence the Russians interfered with our election.

The truth will be revealed over time. But, I think it is a fair question to ask our President. “Do we have your loyalty?”

Nicaragua, Syria and the USA

The company you keep matters. Rather than be in the company of other world leaders to help save the planet, the President of the United States decided to be in the company of Nicaragua and Syria. It should be noted Nicaragua wanted the Paris deal to go further. So, we are joined at the hip with Syria.

Going against the wishes of the majority of Americans and even a majority in his own party, the current incumbent in the White House decided to withdraw the United States of America from an agreement it helped forge with China.

Rather than work with others under the Paris Climate Change Accord, the President has decided the children and grandchildren of the world do not matter. He has decided that reneging on a major step forward is better than working with others. His reasons ring hollow, especially when he speaks of his actions to help the environment and trying to save an industry that market forces are diminishing the demand.

I feared this decision from well before the election. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy as costs continue to fall. Fortunately, businesses are telling him they are not changing forward moving plans because that is what their customers want.

What is most interesting about the timing, two days ago, over 62% of Exxon-Mobil shareholders overruled a management recommendation and said they must report to shareholders the impact climate change is having on their business. This follows similar votes at Occidental Petroleum and PPL, a Pennsylvania based utility. So, owners of companies are making a statement as are customers.

It is a pity that this President has cemented his legacy with such a horrible decision for our country and planet. He will not be remembered well and it has already begun. He should have listened to his daughter, whose children will have to hear how their grandfather harmed the planet.

A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.

 

 

Interesting thing is happening at energy company shareholder meetings

An interesting development occurred at annual shareholder meetings of two major companies in the energy business – PPL Corp, a utility serving Pennsylvania and other states and Occidental Petroleum Corp. A shareholder instigated vote took place at each firm and passed over the recommendations against it by their Boards of Directors. The proposal is for each company to share formally a report on what they intend to do about climate change.

Per the website “Financial Advisor” the following was reported earlier this month about the Occidental vote:

“The proposal received the backing of Occidental’s largest shareholder, $5.4 trillion asset manager BlackRock Inc. BlackRock, which owns a 7.8 percent stake in the oil explorer, said it took action due to the “lack of response” on the issue by the company and a lack of improvement in its climate-change related reporting following a similar proposal last year which received more than 40 percent support.”

The shareholder proposals are at the impetus of CalPERS, one of the largest pension trust funds in the world and a major investor in each company. Other state pension trust funds are supportive of CalPERS’ push. A similar vote was taken recently at Royal Dutch Shell and was defeated, with another vote scheduled at ExxonMobil. It should be noted that institutional investor groups are recommending against these proposals, but two have passed.

With a White House at odds with the rest of the world on climate change, we will need a groundswell of advocacy. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy due to falling prices and rapidly increasing jobs. And, some of these same companies are advocating the US stay in the Paris Climate Change accord. Yet, the US cannot leave the table. To assure that we remain, we need these kinds of shareholder votes and other advocacies.

The White House has now canceled two meetings to discuss the future of our involvement in the Paris Climate Change. I believe this is in reaction to the push back from business. We cannot backtrack on this and other environmental issues. Let’s push forward and, if the President does not want to play a role, we and the rest of the world can leave him behind.