Richmond, California Files Lawsuit Against Chevron, Others For Climate Damages

From DeSmogBlog By Farron Cousins • Tuesday, January 23, 2018 – 11:33

Chevron logo on gas truck

The city of Richmond, California is the home of oil giant Chevron’s domestic headquarters. It also happen to be the ninth city in the United States to file a lawsuit against fossil fuel companies for their contributions to global climate change.

The lawsuit filed by the city lists Chevron as the lead defendant, but 28 other oil, gas, and coal companies are listed in the suit as co-defendants. Richmond joins eight other municipalities in the United States in filing similar climate-related charges against fossil fuel companies. All but one of the communities are in the state of California.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt explained that the city has roughly 32 miles of shoreline, which makes the city especially vulnerable to the threat of rising seas. The city is surrounded by water on three sides.

The grievances listed in the suit by the City of Richmond are as follows:

Sea level rise endangers City property and infrastructure, causing coastal flooding of low-lying areas, erosion, salinity intrusion, higher risk of liquefaction during seismic events, and storm surges. Several critical City facilities, existing roadways, wastewater treatment facilities, residential neighborhoods, industrial areas including the Port of Richmond and the Chevron Refinery, highways, rail lines, emergency response facilities, and parks have suffered and/or will suffer injuries due to sea level rise expected by the end of this century …

Defendants have known for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels … Instead of working to reduce the use and combustion of fossil fuel products, lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the damage associated with continued high use and combustion of such products, and ease the transition to a lower carbon economy, Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes … Defendants are directly responsible for 215.9 gigatons of CO2 emissions between 1965 and 2015, representing 17.5 percent of total emissions of that potent greenhouse gas during that period.

Richmond, along with the other cities that have filed lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, are using the same tactics that were used to hold tobacco companies accountable for the effects of smoking.

The ultimate costs for the care of citizens who developed deadly illnesses due to smoking fell onto cities and states, which were the ones that sued the companies to recover those costs incurred over decades.

The cities involved in the recent climate lawsuits are seeking the same kinds of financial damages for the costs these communities expect to incur due to climate change. Meanwhile, the same scenario is currently playing out in the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

No stranger to suing Chevron, the City of Richmond filed a major suit against the company in 2012 after a massive fire at its refinery resulted in thousands of people seeking treatment for respiratory disorders, including smoke inhalation, after the fire covered the city in a blanket of thick smoke.

That suit alleged that the company operated with a complete disregard for safety standards and public health while doling out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives.

That very same argument can and will be made against the fossil fuel companies targeted in these climate damage lawsuits.

Main image: A Chevron truck. Credit: David NeubertCC BY 2.0 

Nearly Half of California’s Vegetation at Risk From Climate Stress, By Kat Kerlin on January 25, 2018  read full UCDavis article her

  • Slashing emissions to Paris climate agreement targets could reduce impacts on CA vegetation 20-30% per new UC Davis, USGS, CDFW, NPS study
  • Cutting emissions so that global temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce those impacts by half, with about a quarter of the state’s natural vegetation affected.
  • It projects that at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, vegetation in southwestern California, the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains becomes more than 50 percent impacted by 2100, including 68 percent of the lands surrounding Los Angeles and San Diego.
  • Areas projected to be more resilient include some coastal areas and parts of northwestern California.
Current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are putting nearly half of California’s natural vegetation at risk from climate stress, with transformative implications for the state’s landscape and the people and animals that depend on it, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis. However, cutting emissions so that global temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce those impacts by half, with about a quarter of the state’s natural vegetation affected.

The study, published in the journal Ecosphere, asks: What are the implications for the state’s vegetation under a business-as-usual emissions strategy, where temperatures increase up to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, compared to meeting targets outlined in the Paris climate agreement that limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

“At current rates of emissions, about 45-56 percent of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles,” said lead author James Thorne, a research scientist with the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. “If we reduce the rate to Paris accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28 percent of the lands at climatic risk.”…

…“This is the map of where we live,” Thorne said. “The natural landscapes that make up California provide the water, clean air and other natural benefits for all the people who live here. They provide the sanctuary for California’s high biodiversity that is globally ranked. This map portrays the level of climate risk to all of those things. In some cases, the transformation may be quite dramatic and visible, as is the case with wildfire and beetle outbreaks. In other cases, it might not be dramatically visible but will have impacts, nevertheless.”…

…the data is helping the agency understand not only which parts of the state are vulnerable to climate change, but also which areas are more resilient, such as some coastal areas and parts of northwestern California, so they can ensure they remain resilient….

Jim Thorne, Hyeyeyong Choe, Ryan Boynton, Jacqueline Bjorkman, Whitney Albright, Koren Nydick, Alan Flint, Lorraine Flint, Mark Schwartz. The impact of climate change uncertainty on California’s vegetation and adaptation management. Ecosphere.  DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2021  Volume 8, Issue 12 December 2017 e02021

Congressional Committee Members Pushing LNG Exports Bills Have Deep Financial, Revolving Door Ties

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce held a subcommittee hearing on two bills to expedite permitting for exports of natural gas. Domestic production of this fossil fuel has been booming in recent years, mainly thanks to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) opening up vast reserves in shale formations.

Several former and present committee staffers have either taken oil and gas industry-sponsored trips as staffers or spun through the government-industry revolving door between Congress and the lobbying sector. And all of the politicians backing the two bills under consideration have taken tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil and gas industry for their 2018 mid-term election campaigns.

The hearing featured testimony from Charlie Riedl of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a group founded by the American Petroleum Institute, along with other industry representatives. Only one climate advocate spoke at the hearing, which also featured testimony from representatives of the U.S. Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE).

Both bills, the Unlocking Our Domestic LNG Potential Act (H.R. 4605) and Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act (H.R. 4606), implicate DOE and FERC directly, agencies with direct oversight of the permitting process for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. H.R. 4605 calls for expedited permitting of conventional, large-scale LNG shipments, in part by cutting DOEfrom the approval process. H.R. 4606, on the other hand, pushes for so-called “small-scale” LNG exports (based on the tanker size, not volume exported from a site) to be deemed in the “public interest” under Section 3(c) of the Natural Gas Act, which would exempt them entirely from FERC and DOE regulatory reviews.

Parallel Push from Energy Department

The DOE itself, as previously reported by DeSmog, has proposed a regulation that essentially mirrors the goals of H.R. 4606. In a bizarre twist to that story, many of the public comments submitted to the DOE in support of that proposed rule appear to be anonymously written copy-pastes from previous industry-authored materials. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S.Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LAalso introduced a bill in October much like H.R. 4606, titled the Small Scale LNG Access Act.

Small-scale LNG does not mean smaller levels of exported gas but instead refers more specifically to the type of tank carrying the gas abroad. The leading company in this emerging industry is Tellurian, which was co-founded by Charif Souki, founder and former CEO of the pioneering LNG export company, Cheniere.

Tellurian did not disclose lobbying for this legislation in particular or small-scale LNG more broadly in its most recent lobbying disclosure, which lists its lobbyists as Ankit Desai and Majida Turner. Desai served as a campaign finance bundler for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, while Turner formerly served as an assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, Spencer Abraham. But the company has explicitly stated previously that its business plan revolves around the export of small-scale LNG and that the term is a misnomer.

So people have started talking about small-scale and mid-scale and we’ve sort of chuckled at that. As you would imagine, there is nothing small scale about LNG,” Tellurian CEO Meg Gentle said in a March 2017 interview. “It’s just making the refrigerator component itself a little bit more modular, repeatable and standardized. But we’re still using the largest [General Electric] turbines, the largest storage tanks ever built.”

DOE Supports Bills, Upton Mentions Puerto Rico

Industry connections also exist among the DOE members who testified at the LNG bills’ hearing. Steve Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy for the DOE, formerly worked as head of research and development for the shale gas drilling company CONSOL Energy. He spoke at the hearing in support of both bills.

“When it comes to fossil fuels, the United States has become the world’s largest combined producer of oil and natural gas, resulting in an abundance of reliable and affordable energy resources available for domestic use and for export,” said Winberg in his statement to the committee. “The Department appreciates the ongoing bipartisan efforts to address our nation’s energy challenges, and looks forward to working with the committee on the legislation on today’s agenda and any future legislation.”

Credit: Steve Winberg, U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy; U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy

Also at the Subcommittee on Energy hearing last week, Chairman and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) said that expediting permitting for small-scale LNG exports was necessary because it would allow LNG to flow to Puerto Rico, whose electricity grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria last fall and is now under repair.

“As we learned on our trip, Puerto Rico’s grid was in very rough shape to begin with and many of their power plants were so outdated they were still burning petroleum,” Upton said in his opening remarks. “I believe there is real potential for Puerto Rico to expand their use of natural gas, and these bills — especially the small-scale LNG bill — can be part of the solution.”

Upton has received over $1 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry throughout his congressional career, including $10,000 from Energy Transfer Equity (a subsidiary of pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners, owner of the Dakota Access pipeline and co-owner of the proposed Lake Charles LNG export terminal), $5,000 from Halliburton, and another $5,000 from Koch Industries for his 2018 re-election campaign. Upton has received $101,950 in campaign contributions from Energy Transfer Partners over his career in Congress.

According to his 2017 financial disclosure forms, Upton has tens of thousands of dollars in investments in oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, EOG Resources, and Schlumberger.

Committee Revolving Door, Industry Trips

Many current and past staffers on the Subcommittee on Energy have either worked for the oil and gas industry or taken trips sponsored by it.

The most prominent among them is Maryam Sabbaghian Brown, currently the Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for Sempra Energy, which owns the proposed Cameron LNG export facility in southwest Louisiana and the proposed Energí a Costa Azul LNG export site in Baja California just south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexico. Brown formerly served as chief legal counsel for the subcommittee. Her husband, Stephen Brown, works as Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the pipeline company Tesoro. Beyond her subcommittee work, Brown in the past served as a policy adviser for U.S. House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-WI).

According to Sempra’s quarter three lobbying disclosure form, Brown lobbied the DOE and Congress on both a “General discussion of legislative proposals to facilitate permitting of natural gas infrastructure” and a “General discussion of liquefied natural gas (LNG).”

Additionally, the Subcommittee on Energy’s recently departed lead staffer, Tom Hassenboehler, previously worked as a lobbyist for America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and now co-heads a lobbying and consulting firm named The Coefficient Group.

Ben Lieberman, who serves as legal counsel for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, was one of several staffers who has taken industry-sponsored trips. In his case, Lieberman took a day-long trip sponsored by the American Exploration and Production Committee (AXPC) to visit a fracking site owned by Pioneer Natural Resources located in the Eagle Ford Shalenear San Antonio, Texas, according to ethics forms reviewed by DeSmog. Wyatt Ellertson, a research associate for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also went on a 2017 trip to Texas sponsored by AXPC, according to disclosure formsreviewed by DeSmog.

Greg Zerzan, another legal counsel for the committee, formerly served as a lobbyist for Koch Industries. Furthermore, committee deputy staff director Mike Bloomquist has served as a lobbyist for ANGA and subcommittee Senior Adviser and Staff Director Rick Kessler formerly lobbied for TesoroSunoco, and Chevron.

Co-Sponsor Cash

The co-sponsors of both bills have also taken tens of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry for the 2018 campaign cycle.

For example, in the 2018 race alone, the oil and gas industry has donated $41,200 to U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), $79,800 to U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), and $144,450 to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). The one Democrat backing the bills, U.S.Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), has taken $51,500 from the oil and gas industry for the 2018 election cycle. That includes $5,000 each from ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Halliburton, and another $2,500 from Koch Industries.

It is not clear if the bills will go beyond the introduction and hearing phase even with the myriad industry ties working in their favor, particularly during an election year, or if the bills are simply what is known as “message bills,” introduced into the ether mostly for public relations purposes. The Rubio-Cassidy bill, for example, has not gone beyond the introduction phase and has gained no additional co-sponsors since October.

The DOE‘s proposed small-scale LNG rule is still under consideration, with the public comments received now under review.

Superbug Risk Rises as Big Pharma Fails to Disclose Antibiotic Waste Leaked From Factories

By Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg

Many of the world’s leading drug manufacturers may be leaking antibiotics from their factories into the environment, according to a new report from a drug industry watchdog. This risks creating more superbugs.

The report surveyed household-name pharmaceutical giants like GSK, Novartis and Roche as well as generic companies which make non-branded products for the NHS and other health systems.

None of the 18 companies polled would reveal how much antibiotic discharge they release into the environment, according to the independent report from the not-for-profit body, the Access to Medicine Foundation. Only eight said they set limits for how much could be released in wastewater.

Only one disclosed the name of its suppliers—a move which is seen as important as it would make companies accountable for their environmental practices.

Commenting on the report, Dr. Mark Holmes, a veterinary scientist at the University of Cambridge, said, “Antibiotic resistance is complex but if we are to deal with this challenge every sector must do their bit. The pharmaceutical industry has been a key player in improving public health but a failure to address environmental impacts of antibiotic pollution could undo much of their good work.”

Changing Markets, an NGO which has campaigned on the issue of pharmaceutical waste, said, “Pharmaceutical companies have a clear responsibility to tackle pollution in their supply chains, not least because of the considerable human health impacts associated with untreated waste from pharma manufacturing, prime among the creation of drug-resistant bacteria. From our own research in India and China, where most of the world’s generic drugs are made, we know this is an ongoing problem and that very little progress is happening on the ground.

“As the report also highlights, there is a crying lack of transparency about pharmaceutical supply chains which means that we know practically nothing about where our drugs are made. This is a scandal and pharmaceutical companies will face increasing calls to do something about it.”

Antibiotic waste from pharmaceutical manufacturing leaking into the environment is a neglected driver of antimicrobial resistance—or AMR—according to a global report published in 2016 by ex-finance minister Lord Jim O’Neill. This is because residues of antibiotics in the environment expose bacteria to levels of the drugs that fuel the emergence of resistance. The “superbugs” that form as a result can spread all over the world. To tackle the problem, Lord O’Neill called for regulators to set minimum standards around the release of waste and for manufacturers to drive higher standards through their supply chains.

AMR has been described as one of the greatest health problems facing the world. Without effective antibiotics, infections become more difficult to treat and common medical procedures like joint replacements, C sections and chemotherapy care for cancer—which rely on the drugs to kill infection—could become too risky to carry out.

Last year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on a study which revealed “excessively high” levels of antimicrobial drugs—as well as superbugs—in wastewater from a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad. The quantities found were strong enough to treat patients, scientists said. This followed an earlier report of resistant bacteria in the wastewater of a factory there which supplies the NHS with antibiotics.

It found none disclosed their actual discharge levels—information the authors said is “valuable and vital” as it could allow governments and researchers to understand the relationship between discharge and the development of superbugs.

Three generic drug companies—Cipla, Lupin and Sun Pharma—did not show any evidence of a strategy to minimize the impact of their antibiotic manufacturing on the environment, the report found, although Cipla promised to develop one this year.

Of particular concern were external companies that work for the main drug companies. Third-party companies manufacture and supply most drug firms with the key components of antibiotics, known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs); and external waste treatment plants, which many drug companies use to process their discharge from antibiotic manufacturing. Some companies have on-site wastewater treatment.

Only eight companies set discharge limits for antibiotic waste, and for half the companies these limits only apply to their own sites, rather than their suppliers’ too. Only two companies—GSK and Novartis—require their external waste treatment plants to follow their limits. Sanofi and Roche, for example, do not monitor the discharge made by their external waste treatment plants, the report noted.

The Medicines Company was the only one willing to identify its third-party manufacturers, a move the report said would enable governments and researchers to assess the impact of individual manufacturers on antibiotic resistance. The report noted that pharmaceutical companies that sell antibiotics “may be able to exert considerable influence over the environmental risk management of their suppliers.”

The large pharmaceuticals polled were GSK, Johnson and Johnson, Merck & Co, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi and Shinogi. The generic companies were Aspen, Aurobindo, Cipla, Dr Reddy’s, Fresenius Kabi, Lupin, Macleods, Mylan, Sun Pharma and Teva.

Access to Medicine is an Amsterdam-based NGO that receives funding from the UK Government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Jan. 25, 2018 New Report: Taxpayers Deserve Climate Impact Information for Fossil Fuel Development on Public Lands

A new report released Thursday by The Wilderness Society provides an in-depth look at the significant lifecycle emissions resulting from the development of fossil fuels on U.S. public lands, and the need for the federal government to account for and make available such data to the American public.

“The U.S. federal government is one of the largest energy asset managers in the world, and yet they are actively keeping their shareholders—American taxpayers—in the dark when it comes to energy development and its associated climate-related risks on our public lands,” said Chase Huntley, energy and climate program director at The Wilderness Society.

According to the report, greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil, gas and coal developed on public lands is equivalent to one-fifth or more of total U.S. emissions; meaning if U.S. public lands were a country, it would rank fifth in the world in total emissions behind China, India, the U.S. and Russia.

Limited data on federal fossil fuel resources and production is publicly available, and recent behavior from the new administration suggests even less will be released. Meanwhile, land management agencies have been directed to ignore commonsense guidance for estimating carbon emissions and climate impacts for energy leases. Moreover, there is currently no systematic effort to track nor disclose the carbon consequences of energy leasing on public lands.

“Hiding data on emissions and production from the American people prohibits them from meaningfully engaging in land management decision processes,” Huntley said. “Just as shareholders have the right to key information regarding financial risks to their portfolios, American taxpayers deserve adequate information on how their energy assets are being managed.”

Along with the report, The Wilderness Society has utilized the limited data available to create the Federal Lands Emissions Accountability Tool (FLEAT).

The new tool, now available on The Wilderness Society website, provides the best available estimate for greenhouse gas emissions from energy production on U.S. public lands, allowing the user to explore the data by location and different fuel types.

litlnemo / Flickr

Non-Stick Chemicals Used in Pans, Food Wrappers Linked to Weight Gain

Perfluorinated chemicals, also known as PFASs or PFCs, are used to make everyday items—such as food wrappers, textiles, pots and pans—repel water and grease. But these chemicals have been linked to a host of health problems, including high cholesterol, hormone disruption and even kidney and testicular cancer.

Now, researchers at Harvard University found evidence that the environmentally persistent chemicals—found in the drinking water of more than six million Americans—may play a role in weight gain, especially for women.