Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.

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Media please focus on the big issues

With a man occupying the White House who has hard time with truth, civility, history and criticism, there is a bounty of things the media could focus on. And, that is part of the problem. I look at various news feeds and sources and see too many pedestrian foibles that get discussed. Yet, the countless criticisms dull our focus on the more important issues.

My concerns are several, so let me highlight those areas:

– we are borrowing from our future to make a long performing economy a little better, doing the opposite of what is needed to limit our debt from increasing from $21 to $33 trillion by 2027.
– we have ignored our allies and reasonable voices in the US to pull out of various multiparty agreements hurting trade, environment and security.
– we have pulled back several regulations making it easier for industries to pollute and ignoring the federal government’s role in fighting climate change.
– we have blamed immigration for a host of problems and focus on remedies that won’t help people or solve problems.
– we have held up the constitution as sacrosanct, while ignoring the sections on protecting the rights of all citizens, protecting the right and importance of the media and ignoring the clearly defined roles of the three branches of government. It is of vital importance to respect the judiciary’s pursuit of truth, even if the President does not like it.
– we have continued down a path which ignores truths and facts tolerating a man who makes more than a few decisions off misinformation and even disinformation. Governing well is hard enough when we use real facts, it is nigh impossible when we make things up.

Of course, there are other issues, but I attempted to group several concerns into larger categories. In closing, please remember these three cautions – we cannot shrink to greatness, we cannot continue to pee in our global swimming pool, and we must respect the rights and opinions of all people, not just people who agree with you or compliment you.

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

The week that was

Looking back at the week ending April 27, 2018, a few things jump out at me as examples of larger problems.

The US Congress heard a speech from a President that spoke of staying the course on America’s global role in security, free trade and environmental issues. He also warned of the unhealthy focus on narrow nationalism and promoted the ideals of the American experiment. Unfortunately, the speech was given by Emmanuel Macron of France and not the US President.

Yet, the US President did make news when he nominated another poorly vetted candidate this time for the VA director role. He was already a curious choice, but he and the White House were obviously not prepared for the discovery of potential peccadillos in his past. This is a recurring problem for the White House where too many candidates withdraw, should not have been nominated or are approved with some later being fired or resigning as past or new problems surface. It should be noted there are too many articles and biographies that do not define “due diligence” as a strength of the President.

Between two tragedies in Canada and the US, it shows that terrorism need not be imported. Four people died at a Waffle House in the Nashville area, while  ten people died on the streets of Toronto. The larger problem that is revealed time and again, it is very difficult to stop a motivated lone assailant. The only thing that has a chance is an invested community who cares about what happens there. Neither of these people were from an actively tracked hate group, which number over a thousand. Nor were they part of an extreme religious terror group.

On Thursday, a boyhood and even adult idol of mine, Bill Cosby, was found guilty of three counts of sexual impropriety. While the trial involved only one of his victims, the number totals over 60. This is very sad  that someone so present in the public eye for fifty years could harm so many people.

Finally, an unconfirmed report out of China notes that one reason North Korea may be eager to give up nuclear testing is they blew up their testing site. The report said an underground blast may have punctured a hole in a mountain and released some radioactive material. From what others have noted is Kim Jong Un likely does not want to give up the nuclear weapons they created and their conventional forces could do great damage by themselves to South Korea. But, this unconfirmed report is interesting nonetheless and offers a potential explanation for a willingness to talk. Setting this aside, Kim Jong Un wins by getting on the world stage in a meeting room. Yet, talking is far better than the alternatives for keeping a lid on things.

Many other interesting things have happened. Our friend Jill has an excellent summary on Ben Carson’s housing plan which will triple the rents for people in need. Maybe he should have remained a surgeon where he could help people.

That’s all folks. Have a great weekend.

 

A Portugese Energy Company knows about US Growth

An article in Reuters earlier this week noted a Portugese energy company that knows first hand where energy growth is occurring in the United States. It may be surprising to the current White House, but not the market, the growth is not in the coal energy sector.  Per Timothy Gardner’s article “EDP bullish on US renewable power despite Trump’s support for coal” in Reuters, the following quote is compelling.

“‘U.S. renewables represent the growth engine of our company,’ António Mexia, who since 2006 has run the power utility EDP (EDP.LS), one of Portugal’s biggest companies, said in an interview on Tuesday.

U.S. wind and solar power projects represented 65 percent of new investments last year at EDP’s renewables arm EDPR (EDPR.LS), and are expected to continue at that rate in 2018 and in 2019, Mexia said. EDPR operates renewable projects in 11 other countries in Europe and the Americas.”

This is not inconsistent with other measures in America as solar and wind energy growth have risen with the continual fall in pricing. And, it is showing up in recurring double digit job growth in solar and wind energy.

I have cited the significant increase in wind energy across our plains states, but this is following the forecast of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who appeared on “60 Minutes” more than five years ago. He noted that natural gas expansion is a bridge to wind energy. It is just buying us time to get the infrastructure ready and prices to get more effective. It should be noted that several states get over 10% of their electricity from wind energy, with Iowa  at just under 33% leading in percentage of total and Texas at 16% producing the most wind energy due to its size.

In California, North Carolina, Florida and other southern states in the east and west, solar energy is growing significantly. California, by itself, would be one if the most prolific solar countries. And, Tesla is more of a battery storage company than car company. Elon Musk went live with a massive battery storage site to help a French company power southern Australia with solar energy. It truly is a global industry, so seeing a Portugese company invest here in the US is not unusual.

The growth in energy jobs are in renewables. It would be nice if this was more publicly recognized by all of our elected leaders, not just the ones who are not funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Draining the swamp is hard with so many Yertle the Turtles

One of Dr. Seuss’ popular children books has a lesson for us all and a few have called it an important business book. Briefly, “Yertle the Turtle” is about a leader named Yertle who stands on the backs of his servant turtles to see his realm. Yet, as the stack grows, he continues to ignore the complaints of Mack the turtle on the very bottom. Of course, the stack falls and Yertle comes tumbling down. The moral to the story is not hard to decipher.

I mention this swamp example because the President was elected, in part, because he was going to drain the swamp. Setting aside why people believed an imperial man would deign to do basic things for the masses, what he has done is appoint people to be his Department secretaries whom are also used to nice things. He hired a bunch of Yertles making it hard to drain the swamp standing on the backs of others.

At least five of his cabinet members have come under fire for lavish expenditures on the taxpayers’ dime. HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned over his frequent desire to travel with charter flights. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is still on the job, but took seven military flights costing $800,000, one of which was coincidental to a city in the path of the recent solar eclipse (a certain Carly Simon song lyric comes to mind in “You’re so vain.”)

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been the quietest of appointees until it was learned he was installing palatial furniture totalling $165,000 in his office. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also traveling well being $200,000 over budget robbing from emergency funds to pay for it.

Not to be outdone, EPA Director Scott Pruiit also likes to travel well and goes with  an entourage. Part of that is due to security reasons as he does not care for people reminding him his role is to protect the environment, not business. But, he is getting flak for his devious way to provide lucrative raises to two key staffers (and then deny it) and renting a luxury condo from a fossil fuel lobbyist at a very favorable rate. It should be noted that several Mack the turtles were reassigned when they complained of ethical concerns in the EPA.

These Yertles have always liked nice things, but so does their boss. His predecessor took a huge amount of grief for his travels and golfing. Yet, that has been dwarfed by the biggest Yertle in the White House who does not spend much time there as it is actually a step down in luxury to him. That speaks volumes.

It is hard to drain the swamp when you have so many Yertles doing the draining. And, this is without even considering the measures taking by these men to grease the skids for business reducing regulations, selling off rights to public lands and providing a huge tax cut. The friends of the Yertles are Yertles as well. Unfortunately, the Macks of the world only matter as props in this value enhancement for the Yertles. Not much is trickling down, just the opportunity for the Macks to stick their nose in the mud.

 

 

 

While Trump distracts, Pruitt pees in our swimming pool

One of my greatest fears of this President going in has been a retrenchment on dealing with climate change and environmental protections. While other concerns have surfaced on his watch, my initial fears are warranted. Selecting Scott Pruitt, a state attorney general who has sued the EPA multiple times, is not conducive to protecting the environment.

Announcing the future pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord was an ominous step. Taking climate change science information off the EPA website is another. Reshuffling climate change scientists to less productive positions is another.

Yet there is more. Allowing coal companies  to dump pollutants in our waterways is a metaphor for the new EPA. Pruitt is letting people pee in our pool. And, just this week, there are two announcements worth noting.

First, The Huffington Post has reported an internal memo from a direct report to Pruitt  that tells EPA people to play down the science behind the climate change conclusions. This is not dissimilar to the governors of Wisconsin and Florida telling their staffs they could not use the terms climate change and global warming in dealing with the public. And, it is not dissimilar to George W. Bush’s Council on the Environment altering reports that used the words global warming or climate change.

Second, it is reported that the miles per gallon requirements placed on new cars introduced by President Obama will be rolled back. US car companies celebrate the announcement, but the environment and people will suffer. And, what is not discussed, our auto industry will fall behind as foreign car companies will move ahead with better mpg requirements. It should be noted, twelve states are prepared to sue the EPA on this change should it go through, one being California.

Pruitt is supposed to be the leader of the EPA. His people have to be one demoralized group to see a man who obviously cares less about the environment, let industry pollute more. Yet,  on a bright note, cities, states and businesses are moving climate change and environmental issues forward, more than picking up the slack caused by this anemic administration.