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Pay attention to the growing wave of climate change lawsuits

VOX | Posted on February 27, 2019

In 1998, 46 states and the District of Columbia signed on to the largest civil litigation settlement in US history, the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Stunning in its scope and scale, the agreement forced the four largest tobacco companies to stop advertising to youth, limit lobbying, restrict product placement in media, and fund anti-smoking campaigns. It also required them to pay out more than $206 billion over 25 years. Tobacco companies had in previous decades successfully swatted down hundreds of private lawsuits. But states found an opening by suing companies for the harm they caused to public health. 

Former Iowa Sen. Danielson to lobby for wind energy group

AP News | Posted on February 27, 2019

Former Iowa Sen. Jeff Danielson says he has taken a job as a regional state policy director for the American Wind Energy Association, a national trade group for the wind energy industry. Danielson, who unexpectedly resigned Feb. 14 after 15 years in the Senate, says in a statement he will lobby to help expand wind power in the organization’s 12-state central region.By state law he is prohibited from lobbying Iowa lawmakers for two years and the AWEA says it will “comply with any and all state regulatory requirements.”

Texas Taxpayers Pay The French Government For Wind Power And Then Pay The Grid To Take It

Forbes | Posted on February 26, 2019

At least 57 times in 2017, and many more last year, Georgetown’s residents paid EDF, a company owned 84.5% by the government of France, around 6 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity produced in the middle of the night when demand was low—so low, in fact, that because of tax incentives and government subsidies, the price for power was negative. Put simply: Texas taxpayers paid the French government for power and then, to add insult to injury, paid the grid to take the excess power off their hands.

Under Trump's Tariffs, The US Lost 20,000 Solar Energy Jobs

Forbes | Posted on February 26, 2019

2016 was the best year on record for solar energy in the United States. A report from the U.S. Department of Energy at the time showed that solar energy was responsible for a much larger share of employment in the electric power sector (43%) than the whole of the fossil fuel industry combined (22%). With such robust numbers, it seemed as though solar energy, and renewables more broadly, were about to revolutionize the energy sector in the United States and lead the push towards cleaner energy and lower carbon emissions.However, solar energy jobs have stagnated and dipped for two consecutive years since the Department of Energy’s initial report, with a loss of 10,000 jobs in 2017 followed by a further 8,000 in 2018. Although some job losses were foreseen as a result of project finalizations in several states, the biggest contributing factor was President Trump’s tariffs on solar panels . The first shot fired in what would become a wide-ranging trade war with China in 2018, the U.S.’ decision to add a 30% tariff on foreign-produced solar panels had a negative effect on its domestic solar industry, which heavily relies on cheap imports.

Icahn-Backed Refiner Saves $189 Million on EPA's Biofuel Tweaks

Bloomberg | Posted on February 26, 2019

CVR Energy Inc., backed by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, saved $189 million under the U.S. biofuels mandate last year. That’s largely thanks to a campaign he helped ignite to lower costs for compliance. CVR Energy, an independent oil refiner majority owned by Icahn Enterprises LP, spent $60 million on biofuel credits necessary to fulfill the mandate in 2018 -- a 76 percent drop from the company’s $249 million tab in 2017, a Feb. 21 regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows. Other oil refiners also have highlighted a decline in prices for the credits in quarterly filings and conference calls.Icahn was for a time the public face of a push to overhaul the Renewable Fuel Standard. The 2007 energy law compels refiners to blend escalating amounts of biofuel with petroleum or instead buy credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). The price of those credits surged to record levels in 2016, prompting Icahn to send a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in August of that year decrying the market as “rigged” and “the mother of all short squeezes.”

Documents detail multimillion-dollar ties involving EPA official, secretive industry group

Politco | Posted on February 25, 2019

The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator. Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution. Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post.

House Opens Inquiry Into Proposed U.S. Nuclear Venture in Saudi Arabia

The New York Times | Posted on February 21, 2019

Top Trump administration officials have pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the vigorous objections of White House lawyers who question the legality of the plan and the ethics of a venture that could enrich Trump allies, according to a new report by House Democrats. The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.

US Dept. of Transportation cancels nearly $1 billion grant for California's high-speed rail project

CNN | Posted on February 21, 2019

The US Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it is canceling $929 million in grant funds for California's high-speed rail system, escalating the Trump administration's efforts to regain all the federal money for the canceled rail project.If built, the high-speed rail system would have run from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The department added in a statement that it "is actively exploring every legal option to seek the return from California of $2.5 billion in Federal funds (Federal Railroad Administration) previously granted for this now-defunct project."The statement from the Department of Transportation heightens the Trump administration's quest to recoup federal money spent on the project that was originally granted in 2009. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he was scrapping the project because it was too costly and would take too long.

MnDOT: State should have 194k more electric vehicles in a decade

Minneapolis Public Radio | Posted on February 21, 2019

Minnesota transit officials have a bold new goal for electric vehicles in the state: electrify 20 percent of all cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks in a decade.An effort to tackle climate change and move away from fossil fuels, the Minnesota Department of Transportation's proposal, released last week, calls for a 3,200 percent increase in the amount of electric vehicles by 2030.The electric vehicle target comes a month after a new state report shows that personal vehicles are among the largest greenhouse gas sources in Minnesota — emitting 23.3 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2016.

Puerto Rico solar customers score a win in fight over ‘abusive’ contracts

Energy News Network | Posted on February 21, 2019

The 436 consumers who filed a complaint with the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (NEPR) against Sunnova Energy Corporation, a residential solar panel leasing company, were right. The NEPR recognized in a report the web of problems the complainants faced: the equipment did not provide the service or savings promised to consumers. They had put their signature on a tablet for an alleged credit check, but the company used the signature to stamp it on a contract that they had not been shown. The clients found out that, to challenge the invoices or seek any remedy, they had to go through an arbitration process (outside the courts and the NEPR) and pay lawyers’ fees. Thus, they ended up tied for 25 years to an energy purchase agreement that they had not seen before signing and from which there was no escape.