Interesting contradictions per John Oliver

Our world is filled with interesting contradictions. It is especially apparent when people ignore facts or try to tell you other so-called alternate facts. Here are a few that I find amusing courtesy of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight:”

– The Kentucky Museum on Coal is powered by solar energy. They save $13,000 per annum on energy cost using renewable energy.

– Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA notes that 50,000 coal jobs have been created under this President, when there are only 76,000 jobs to begin with. The correct answer is 1,300 jobs, which is positive, but 48,700 lower than advertised.

– While coal energy CEOs like to blame President Obama, it should be noted coal jobs have been on the decline for decades. And, 50% of more recent job losses have been due to natural gas, 18% due to renewable energy and the rest due to technological improvements. That means 32% of the job losses are on the shoulders of the coal CEOs.

– As one coal company went into bankruptcy to reorganize, the CEO petitioned the court to allow him to cancel a non-union retiree medical and life insurance plan to save $3 million, but permit them to set up a retention bonus plan for management for $11 million.

– While the President has touted his interest in serving the needs of coal miners, his proposed budget eliminated funding for an Appalachian retraining program for displaced coal workers.

As Oliver points out, there is a huge distinction between actions that support the coal industry and actions that help coal workers. The President and others owe these coal miners the truth. Their jobs are going away and we need to work on career redevelopment.

We step over quarters to pick up nickels around here

I was struggling for a title for this post, as it started out with a concept I call “dialing for dollars.” What do I mean by that? In publicly traded companies, at the end of every quarter, the accounting staff goes dialing for dollars. Each year, various departments or “responsibility centers” set up an estimate of their expenses for the year. These amounts are typically accrued over the course of the year as expense items. At the end of each quarter, the accountants call you if you have not spent the money accrued for that quarter or year-to-date.

Why do they do this? They are looking to reverse excess accruals into income for the quarter. The company is having difficulty meeting the expected Earnings Per Share performance for the quarter, so they are looking to make the number any legitimate way they can. When a company does not meet their short-term expectations, even by a penny or two, the capital markets may reduce their share price. Yet, this unhealthy focus is usually harmful to longer term success, as it shortens the focus of the leadership. It makes leaders more like managers and usually waters down risk taking, as you don’t want to not meet your goals.

I have a friend in retail company who summed it up this way. He said “we step over quarters to pick up nickels around here.” Investments are often not made if the results are not profitable in the same fiscal year. Think about that for a second. You may have a great idea for the company that will produce profitable results either through revenue gain or expense reduction, but if it is not “accretive to earnings” (meaning adds to earnings) in the same year, it may not get done. So, the company would rather step over a quarter that will be earned next year for a nickel today.

The key reason is most incentive plans are short term in nature. Coupling that with impatient investors who read analysts’ expectations, leaders do not have the time to overcome an error that hurts earnings and causes them to miss estimates. They become more pensive and take fewer risks. This is one reason so many companies are sitting on cash these days as a leader does not want to invest poorly. When you hear their reasons, you have to take them with a grain of salt and a healthy does of skepticism. The CEO might say I am not investing because of uncertainty in the economy, because of Obamacare, or because of regulations. Excuse making like this has gone on for years and is largely poor-mouthing gamesmanship. The leaders do this, so when they achieve success, they can appear to have overcome obstacles.

Yet, I digress. The focus on short-term profits hinders progress toward long term goals. This happens not just in publicly traded companies, but in other enterprises as well. A good example is investing for a cleaner energy future. The profits in “drill baby drill” are huge for fossil fuel companies, so they are riding that horse for as long as they can. However, that is not the best answer long term, as the cost of not moving more quickly to alternative energy will outweigh the short-term benefits these companies gain now.

One of the hardest parts of this equation is the costs and profits are not always borne by the same entities. Developers want to get in, make their money and get out. Their typical modus operandi is to leave the problems for someone else. Fracking is a great example, where the fracking company makes a huge profit and the land owner makes a nice nest egg, but the problems are left for the community at large through less usable water, poisoned water, air quality concerns, and landscape degradation. We are only beginning to see the negative results of fracking which will be a gift that keeps on giving in a negative way.

So, we need leaders to be leaders and look longer term. How can we create sustainable earnings? How can we be good community citizens and help the lives of everyone? How can we make money without harming others? If we allow them to continue focusing on short-term, the long term problems will not get solved. And, then it will cost more money to fix things. Eventually, someone will have to pay the fiddler while we dance to the music today.

The Republican Response to Climate Change is “Mindless” per a Former GOP Governor/ EPA Head

The above quoted phrase is from an interview with former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman who was the keynote speaker at the Charlotte Chamber’s annual Energy Summit. Whitman also served as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush. After her discussion which she promoted the use of nuclear power as a part of an all of the above strategy that must include more alternative energy, she was interviewed by Bruce Henderson of The Charlotte Observer. The questions below and responses are from this interview which was reported under the title “Ex-EPA chief Whitman promotes nuclear power” in the November 16, 2013 edition.

“Q. What’s your view of climate change?” A. Climate change is real. If you don’t think that, you haven’t been outside or read the newspaper or watched television for the last couple of years. We are getting more frequent, more severe storms and droughts and floods, all of that. But Earth’s climate has been changing since it was formed. We had an ice age. That went away and we weren’t around to screw that up. However, to think that what we’re putting into the atmosphere is not having an impact on climate change and Earth’s ability to regulate itself I think is being naive. The point is, the climate is changing, the sea level is rising, we’re losing the ice caps, and we need to prepare.

Q. How do you explain the conservative Republican response to climate change? A. The response is mindless. It is absolutely clear now – you can’t find a credible scientist who says that climate change isn’t occurring. You will find a difference as to what degree they believe the human impact is exacerbating a natural trend. It was Ronald Reagan who made climate change a regular part of the National Security Council agenda. (Republicans) should own environment anyway if you go back to the first public lands set aside, Abraham Lincoln and Yosemite, and then you have Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon who established the EPA. It’s our issue. Its more a (current) reaction to, we don’t want government anywhere, anytime, anyhow that the hard-line libertarian streak is fueling.” 

Since her purpose is to shake up her party, I will leave her words to resonate as is. As an Independent voter who left the Republican party in 2006, one reason being its stance on global warming, I find that her attempts to help the GOP join the conversation that is already occurring refreshing and long overdue. Bruce Henderson’s article can be found on www.charlotteobserver.com if interested in reading the full interview.

A Few Takeaways from Gasland II and USA Today Article on Droughts

If you have not seen the documentary film on the real story of fracking by Josh Fox called Gasland II, which premiered on Monday night on HBO, you need to find the opportunity to watch. Seeing Gasland, his first film, is not a prerequisite, but that is worth watching as well. Fox has blended scientists and fracking experts with local, state and federal officials and the people impacted by fracking into a powerful story line. Below, I will highlight a few takeaways, but I will add to them some thoughts from an excellent piece in the USA Today by Wendy Koch called “High and Dry in Texas” which was printed July 10, 2013. Please note, I will flavor these takeaways with other research and reading I have done over the past 18 months.

Gasland II Takeaways

  • The fracking industry has known for some time the flaws in the fracking processes and has numerous internal memoranda and papers that indicate this. This is a key reason, Vice President Dick Cheney, the former President of Halliburton had language inserted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that exempted frackers from the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and said they did not have to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process.
  • The fracking industry employs a highly capable Public Relations firm who has represented the smoking industry and who the fossil fuel industry has employed to dissuade public opinion on climate change. They are responsible for the disinformation campaign to create debate over the issue and the commercials and ads that talk about how “safe and secure” fracking is.
  • Per a fracking expert who worked at Schlumberger, the largest fracker in the world, the cement used around the fracking casing to hold in the toxic water and gas fails 5% of the time immediately – he notes with 10,000 wells that is 500 failures and that is what is happening in Pennsylvania. Over time, the fail rate is higher as the pressure of the new processes is much greater than the older methods.
  • Per several Congress people, the fossil fuel industry has so much clout that the Congress people echo what they are told by the industry. One Congressman said “the fossil fuel industry owns the Republican Party.” Yet, the trouble goes further, as they also have an unhealthy influence of the Democrats including the President.
  • Several former government officials Former Governors Ed Rendell and Tim Ridge of Pennsylvania now represent public relations and lobbying interests for the fracking industry. This is an incestuous business which is unhealthy for us citizens as who is guarding the henhouse?
  • The EPA study showed fracking is causing the water to be toxic and the toxins in the water and in people’s bodies are the same as used in fracking fluids.  The disappointing part is the EPA was told to stand down on their latest report on Pennsylvania which was not publicized and led to the resignation of Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA who was fighting this battle. The lower level EPA officials said they have been pressured to not pursue these issues, but have told families off the record in PA, fracking is causing their water woes and is found in the unpublicized reports.
  • While the President should be commended for his latest push on climate change action, he should be held responsible for his latest blind push into more fracking. This is highly disappointing that he is not more evenhanded in his review of this issue and has allowed the EPA or is responsible for bullying the EPA. This disappoints me to no end.
  • A key story to me, of which I was not aware, is the impact of fracking on climate change. I knew once you had obtained the natural gas to burn, while the burning was imperfect, its one saving grace is it is much better than burning coal. A Stanford scientist said that thesis is based on incomplete science. He said burning natural gas does release fewer toxins than burning coal, but when you add in the regularly occurring leakage of methane into the air from the imperfect fracking process, the process is actually worse than burning coal. This comment deserves much study, as the fracking scientists speak of the inability to contain all of the gases released.
  • Like Gasland, the people who live on and by fracking sites have been screwed and deserve better. In western states, these people do not even own the mineral rights under their land, so they do not get much compensation at all. This is the real fracking story. These folks have been lied to by the fracking industry, they have been lied to by the state and local officials and they have been betrayed by the EPA and elected officials. When industry masks the impact of what they are doing and the dangers their actions pose to humans, that is criminal.

USA Today Article – High and Dry in Texas

  • This piece focuses on the significant droughts in Texas where towns have run out of water. She discusses how climate change appears to have influenced these droughts. Per a study not noted, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did a joint global study on climate change published last spring. The study noted while not all long term weather patterns can be attributed to man-influenced global warming, the evidence showed that climate change had impacted and made the droughts in Texas more severe.
  • She also notes the significant amount of fracking done in the state has contributed to the drought. Fracking takes 2 to 6 million gallons of water to frack with per frack. Critics have noted that fracking water is only 1% of the state’s usage, but she cites references that in the fracking areas, that percentage of overall water use for fracking is more like 20%. In other words, in the vicinity of fracking 1/5 of the water used is used for fracking.
  • The article notes it is only going to get worse as the planet heats up and more fracking is done in Texas. The problem that she notes and noted in Gasland II about the town of Dish, TX, is the elected officials and industry are not admitting there is a problem. If you don’t admit there is a problem, it is very hard to intervene. And, this is not just in Texas. Frackers and farmers are fighting over water in Kansas, Oklahoma and California.

I would encourage each of you to see these documentary films (at least Gasland II) and read as much as you can about fracking, including this article. If you concur with what I am about to say, please reach out to your state representatives, governors, federal elected officials and let them know of your concerns. My comment is simple. Fracking is not safe and cannot be made safe. The industry knows this and does not want you to know this. And, if you still wonder, go back to my Vice President Dick Cheney comment – if fracking were so safe, why Vice President Cheney did you feel the need to exempt frackers from the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and give them a hall pass on disclosing the chemicals they use in fracking? In trial law, that is called the smoking gun.

 

 

That’s Some Pig – a neat idea for an old problem

Taking a page from “Charlotte’s Web” which was reviewed recently by my blogging friend Emily at www.emilyjanuary.wordpress.com, I felt the first web message from Charlotte the spider of “Some Pig” was appropriate about an innovative idea courtesy of Bio-Adhesive Alliance (BAA). BAA, a spin-off company from North Carolina A&T University, has won both the ACC Clean Energy Challenge and Charlotte Venture Challenge for an inventive and replicable use of pig manure. Combining pig waste with crushed stone, BAA has developed a liquid asphalt that can be used in road repair work. For more on the story, please click on the link to The Charlotte Observer article from last week:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/07/02/4128418/in-entrepreneur-competition-winner.html

As reported in The Charlotte Observer, BAA beat out 100 competitors for first place awards totalling $125,000. The judges noted BAA’s solid understanding of the market need, coupled with a replicable idea and executable plan that carried the day. The Department of Transportation loves the idea as the product is far cheaper than petroleum products, so more repair work can be done at lesser cost. Plus, pig manure when unused would reside in huge lagoons of muck, that are not helpful for the environment in such massive, centralized quantities. This has also presented problems when flooding due to hurricanes or stalled weather systems occurred, as the lagoons would bleed into the water supply. Some of the waste is being used in biofuels, yet the “dare I say” appeal of this use, is it is very replicable and cost-effective.

This was the second good eco-energy idea I read about out of NC in the past week. The NC Biofuel Center has had success using reed grass found near the shore to convert into Ethanol. Apparently, these reed grasses contain three times as much ethane potential as corn and are in abundance. Plus, we can use corn more for what it is intended and find the ethane from other forms of plants such as the reed grasses. Innovation is the key to unlocking our renewable energy future and when I see ideas like this that are not only inventive, but are scalable and sustainable, it gives me hope that we can shed our significant reliance on fossil fuels. These ideas can be showcased to others, while gleaning elegant renewable eco-energy ideas from abroad.

Now, if we could only find us more pigs like “Wilbur” and protectors like Charlotte the spider, BAA’s solution will grow and we will be able to repair many more roads while filling fewer waste lagoons. That’s “Some Pig.”