A lump of coal is less in use

A good news environmental story that began almost ten years ago is coal use is on the demise. Sadly, legislators who have a say in coal states have not been forthcoming with coal miners making commitments that are not reflective of market conditions. Two stories frame this topic:

A Fox News piece by Dan Springer from September entitled “Coal Industry continues sharp decline despite Trump’s promised revival,” notes the following:

“But since he (Trump) took office, U.S. coal consumption has hit a 41-year low and coal plant closures have actually accelerated. The next to fall, in December, will be Colstrip units 1 and 2, which have been keeping the lights on throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Shutting down one-third of the capacity of the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi comes even after Trump scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and his administration pledged $39 million to make coal plants run cleaner.

‘There’s nothing he can do about it,’ said Randy Hardy, an energy consultant and former head of the Bonneville Power Administration. ‘The market economics are so compelling that absent massive federal government subsidies to keep coal alive, you couldn’t do it economically.'”

Recently, a Houston Public Media piece by Florian Martin called “Wind energy on track to surpass coal power in Texas,” noted the following:

“Both (Coal and wind energy) now make up about 20% of the state’s energy mix, with wind just 0.3 percentage points below coal. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, said wind power has increased dramatically in the past 12 years, up from 3% in 2007. But in the short-term, it’s cheap natural gas that’s responsible for the decline of coal.

‘The real story has been, if coal went down from over 32% down to 20%, that slack was picked up by natural gas,’ he said. Natural gas made up more than 47% of the energy mix last year.

Krishnamoorti said he expects coal to decline further and for renewable energy to make modest gains in the next few years. ‘If wind can just maintain where it is, it’s going to surpass coal in 2020,” he said. “It’s a question of, can it get that next bump up to sort of go through this significant expansion.’ Krishnamoorti said wind power’s growth has slowed down in the past few years due to the end of tax credits that helped it.”

Links to both articles are below. I have written earlier, that if measured as a country, the state of Texas would be the fifth most prolific wind energy country in the world. And, California is among the world leaders in solar energy, also if measured as a country.

What is lost in all of this is the decline of coal is not a surprise, nor has it taken place over night. So, it frustrates me that legislators in a position of power have not shot straight with coal miners and done something more to help the transition. The wind blows and sun shines in these coal producing states. And, that is where the job growth is, not in coal energy.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/coal-industry-decline-trump-revival

Wind Energy On Track To Surpass Coal Power In Texas

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday in the park (a muddy one to ponder muddy agreements)

The weather report for Saturday is better than our rainy Friday. Even if the sun emerges through the morning clouds, it may leave very muddy walking paths. So, as I take a muddy stroll, join me as I ponder a few muddy things.

Agreements between multiple parties are hard and take work. They are not perfect, but they provide opportunities to improve them. Leaving them when your co-signers ask you not to must be for very important reasons. Under the tutelage of the current US president, previous agreements are “disasters,” primarily because he did not work on them. Another key reason is multiple party agreements require give and take and focus on relationships.

Early on, the US pulled out of an agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership with Asian countries, the US, Australia and Canada. It was an imperfect agreement, but was defined to better enable competition with China. What is still very underreported is the other ten or so countries went forward without the US and signed a refined agreement, which is now in effect.

Around the first of June, 2017, the US president decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. We are one of a handful of countries who have decided not to be a part of this historic agreement. Remember the song, “You and me against the world?” That is the US. Ironically, the announcement was the day after Exxon Mobil shareholders voted to require management to share with them progress on addressing climate change (this followed two similar votes for energy companies in May).

Other agreements like NAFTA have been modified and rebranded, but the changes are not as material as the pomp and circumstance promoted. The agreement allowed for change and could have been repurposed a year earlier had the president not interjected last minute changes. This is a good example that agreements allow for parties to make changes at certain times. They need not be thrown out, especially when the throwing out is more optics than substance.

Finally, the Nuclear agreement with Iran and six countries, including the US, was also imperfect. But, it allowed for dialogue, auditing and commerce. Against the wishes of the six other countries and his key advisors in the Defense department, the president pulled out of the agreement. He also chastised the other five non-Iranian partners for not so doing and imposed more sanctions. So, rather than have a better, but tenuous relationship with Iran, we have escalating tensions with “no off ramp” per former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

Agreements require hard work, collaboration and respect for the relationships. By their nature, they are long term in scope. When they are viewed through a transactional lens, especially one bent on perception than reality, their imperfections can be highlighted. If you have concerns (and all parties have them), the answer is go to your partners and suggest to fix them. Devaluing the relationship is extremely shortsighted and can be dangerous. That last word is on many people’s minds today.

A royal push for climate change action

Strong on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the United States and United Nations climate change conference in Spain, a royal member of the UK family is making a very public statement backed with funds to match. In an article by Simon Perry in People Magazine, of all places, a very important global mission was revealed in an article called: Prince William Unveils Ambitious New Environmental Mission: ‘The Earth Is at a Tipping Point and We Face a Stark Choice’.

The first three paragraphs from the article (see link below) are as follows:

“On Tuesday, the royal unveiled a multimillion-dollar international award to harness the best ideas for tackling the biggest environmental challenges in the world.

William, 37, has set his sights on spending the next decade rewarding visionaries and innovation. Called Earthshot, it will be awarded to five winners a year for the next decade, generating what William hopes will be 50 solutions by 2030.

‘The earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve,’ William said in a statement. ‘Remember the awe inspiring civilizations that we have built, the life-saving technology we have created, the fact that we have put a man on the moon. People can achieve great things. And the next 10 years presents us with one of our greatest tests: a decade of change to repair the earth.’”

The case for change to reward climate change action innovation was echoed when “Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, added in a statement, ‘We have a very small window, 10 years, to jolt earth onto a path of sustainability. It can sound terrifying – or it can sound like one of history’s greatest opportunities. Yes, the challenges are daunting. But how we react is still, in this sliver of time left, entirely up to us – and that is what the Earthshot Prize is all about. It’s about this opportunity in front of us, right now, to choose to put our energies towards taking action and uncovering solutions, to choose to create the future we want over settling for the one that we fear.’”

It is good to see more public figures cite the need to act, especially with the recalcitrant US president who is beholden to the fossil fuel industry. Fortunately, good things are happening around the globe and in the US, but more is needed to address the climate change impact which is already happening. I applaud the future King. We all should.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/royals/prince-william-unveils-ambitious-new-environmental-mission-the-earth-is-at-a-tipping-point-and-we-face-a-stark-choice/ar-BBYun7r?ocid=spartandhp

Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.'”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.'”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

“Before his death, legendary Fed chief Paul Volcker issued one last warning to the US”

The following reprint of an article is worth the quick read. It is from a very reputable source, retired Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker, who passed away this week. An article with the above title was written bu Joseph Zeballos-Roig in Business Insider about Paul Volcker and a caution he left for us all. It speaks volumes.

Per Zeballos-Roig, “Volcker condemned President Trump’s efforts – without naming him – to pressure the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates in an attempt to juice US economic growth, already undergoing its longest sustained expansion.

‘Not since just after the second world war have we seen a president so openly seek to dictate policy to the Fed. That is a matter of great concern, given that the central bank is one of our key governmental institutions, carefully designed to be free of purely partisan attacks,’ the former Fed chairman wrote.

Volcker said he trusted the members of the Fed will fend off any attempts to interfere in its monetary policy decisionmaking so it may act ‘free of partisan political purposes.’

Trump has repeatedly assailed Jerome Powell, the current Fed chair, for not cutting rates. Back in August, Trump called Powell an ‘enemy’ of the United States comparable to China, the Washington Post reported.

The former Fed chair painted a very bleak portrait of the nation’s political environment, noting ‘forces’ are rolling back environmental and other protections considered emblematic of American democracy.

‘Increasingly, by design or not, there appears to be a movement to undermine Americans’ faith in our government and its policies and institutions,’ Volcker wrote.

‘We’ve moved well beyond former president Ronald Reagan’s credo that ‘government is the problem,’ with its aim of reversing decades of federal expansion.’

He went on: ‘Today we see something very different and far more sinister. Nihilistic forces are dismantling policies to protect our air, water, and climate. And they seek to discredit the pillars of our democracy: voting rights and fair elections, the rule of law, the free press, the separation of powers, the belief in science, and the concept of truth itself.’

Volcker was best-known for waging a campaign to subdue inflation in the late 1970s and early 1980s as Fed chairman. He later sought to keep regulations in place to oversee the financial industry and became an advocate for financial reform.

The former Fed leader later chaired Obama’s Council of Economic Advisory Board after the banking system teetered on the edge of total collapse in 2008.”

Per Reuters – More foreign firms halted U.S. deals amid Trump administration scrutiny: report

Last week, Alexandra Alper of Reuters Financial News shared findings within a concerning report. The “report released by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), shows that foreign companies abandoned roughly 14 percent of U.S. investments that were investigated by CFIUS in 2017 ‘in light of CFIUS-related national security concerns.’ The percentage in 2018 was 11 percent.

Those figures were sharply up from the period immediately before Trump took office. About 4 or 5 percent of such transactions probed by the committee were dropped annually from 2014 to 2016, the report showed. The Committee, led by the Treasury Department, reviews foreign investment in the United States for national security issues.”

I have raised this issue previously – when any entity makes it more burdensome to deal with, other entities will explore other options. The tariff wars are causing suppliers and customers to find other avenues. John Deere sales are down in the US, but up in South America as more agricultural products are being bought there.

On foreign investment, if we have companies jump through too many hoops, they will take their money elsewhere. These are headwinds to our economy and our growth has been softening.

Coupled with overall global softening, it should give us concern.