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New York Attorney General’s Shifting Approach to Climate Pro[er]secution

September 1, 2016

Climate Change Weekly #223

With other state attorneys general ultimately failing to support New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation of Exxon for its past climate research, the New York Post reports Schneiderman is shifting the focus of his (illegal) legal assault.

Legal action has been pursued by very few of the 17 attorneys general (AGs) who joined Schneiderman at a March 29 press conference to announce joint efforts (under the banner “AGs United for Clean Power”) to persecute Exxon and others that have written skeptically concerning the dangers of purported human-caused climate change. Most of those AGs refused to sign on to Schneiderman’s suggested “division of labor,” and they also rejected his “Common Interest Agreement” to hide collaboration with environmental groups. Only two of the 17 took substantive action after the press conference, and they now have halted their legal proceedings against Exxon. The Virgin Islands AG closed his probe and withdrew his subpoenas, while the Massachusetts AG suspended her investigation.

Emails obtained by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI) reveal several AGs questioned from the beginning Schneiderman’s strategy for going after Exxon.

Although Iowa’s AG signed on to the AGs United for Clean Power press release, his office expressed skepticism concerning Schneiderman’s legal approach and grandstanding ways. Shortly after a briefing by Schneiderman and environmentalists discussing their proposed strategy on March 28, the day before the press conference, Iowa’s deputy attorney general, Tam Ormiston, wrote in an e-mail to a colleague, “Eric [Schneiderman] is himself the wild card.”

Also prior to the March press conference, the director of communications for Virginia’s AG expressed concern the draft press release suggested the AGs would be working together on investigations, when in fact, “At this point, we don’t know what we’re going to agree to, or really what Virginia’s laws and our authorities could allow us to do, so it makes me nervous to say we’ve ‘agreed to work together’ on key investigations.” Vermont’s AG suggested the entire event should be scaled back to avoid publicity, giving states more time to understand the legal basis for Schneiderman’s investigation.

“These emails help explain why Schneiderman found himself going from seventeen Doppelgängers one day, to being almost completely alone within mere weeks of his bombastic ‘publicity stunt’ press conference with former Vice President Gore,” said Chris Horner, senior legal fellow for EELI. “His untethered political crusade was just too much for even like-minded activist AGs he personally selected.”

Now alone in his crusade to harass climate realists, Schneiderman has shifted the focus of his investigation from what Exxon knew about climate change based on research it funded to what Exxon is saying about its future prospects in the face of climate change. Schneiderman says, according to the Post, “Exxon might be overstating the value of its reserves, by failing to discount for the risk that climate warriors might drastically limit the use of carbon fuels. Collectively, he [Schneiderman] says, Big Oil may be ‘overstating their assets by trillions’ – for ‘massive securities fraud.’”

As the Post says: “It’s a ludicrous stretch: Predicting such political risk is far from a science – and the company discloses the assumptions behind its valuations. Even if Exxon turns out to be wrong ... it’s not fraud.”

Indeed, if Exxon needs any support for its view the company has a bright future, it need look no further than the May 2016 G-7 Summit in Japan, at which the world’s top industrialized countries announced new plans to promote investments in oil and gas projects to ensure the availability of a steady supply.

-- H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: New York Post; Watts Up With That; Energy & Environment Legal Institute; and Environment & Climate News


IN THIS ISSUE …

London climate change conference covers science and ethics ... Court upholds social cost of carbon calculationAntarctica confounds climate modelsAnother solar company fails despite billions in subsidies‘Dead’ coral reef rebounds


LONDON CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE COVERS SCIENCE AND ETHICS

Sorry for the last-minute notice!

An international multidisciplinary conference, New Dawn of Truth: The London Conference on Climate Change: Science & Geoethics, will be held in London on September 8–9, 2016. The event, organized by The Independent Committee in Geoethics, takes place in the Main Hall of Conway Hall at Red Lion Square (Holborn) in central London. Speakers will include many leading climate scientists, including Nils-Axel Mörner, Nicola Scafetta, Piers Corbyn, Thomas Wysmuller, Madhav Khandekar, and Christopher Monckton of Benchley.

You can still register – for free – by informing Nils-Axel Mörner.

Extended abstracts of talks plus commentary notes are available here. For more information, go to https://geoethic.com/london-conference-2016/.


COURT UPHOLDS SOCIAL COST OF CARBON CALCULATION

In a case challenging energy conservation standards recently issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) for commercial refrigeration equipment, a federal court this week upheld the rules themselves and the approach the government uses to calculate the social cost of carbon when it issues regulations.

The social cost of carbon is meant to capture the economic damage of a ton of carbon emissions. The cost estimate, which in 2015 was $36 per ton, serves as the justification for countless regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, fuel-economy rules for automobiles and trucks, and energy-efficiency rules for appliances.

DOE estimated the refrigeration efficiency standards would cost manufacturers $93.9 million to $165 million annually, while projecting total benefits in excess of $4 billion.

Zero Zone Inc., a small commercial refrigerator equipment manufacturer, joined an association of manufacturers to challenge the standards in court, objecting the social cost of carbon calculations upon which they were based were “irredeemably flawed” – and therefore “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act – in part because DOE did not limit its calculation to the United States. When making cost–benefit calculations to justify new rules, the federal government doesn’t ordinarily account for global damages or benefits, and a purely domestic social cost of carbon would likely be less than $5.00 per ton. The manufacturers argued it was arbitrary and unlawful to consider global costs.

The court disagreed, ignoring U.S. regulatory and judicial precedent, and upheld the rules. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case and overturns the ruling, or the next administration withdraws the social cost of carbon standards, this ruling is likely to harm domestic businesses and ordinary Americans by raising the costs of energy and products both absolutely and in relation to international competitors.

And all of this may be unnecessary since, as I pointed out in Climate Change Weekly #217, recent research shows calculations of the social costs of carbon grossly overstate Earth’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide, and the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide may be greater than the purported costs. DOE didn’t include, and the court did not require, a calculation of the benefits of rising carbon dioxide levels.

SOURCES: Bloomberg.com


ANTARCTICA CONFOUNDS CLIMATE MODELS

Antarctica is one of the world’s largest land masses. Its huge volume of ice influences ocean currents and affects sea levels, and thus an accurate accounting of the amount of Antarctica covered by ice is critical to estimating possible future climate changes.

New research shows scientists have grossly understated the amount of Antarctica covered by ice. A new NASA survey shows just .18 percent of Antarctica is not covered by ice – far less than the 1 percent previously estimated. Antarctica’s exposed land is just 8,396 square miles, approximately the size of the island of Fiji.

The survey team developed a methodology enabling them to determine on an ongoing basis whether an exposed structure is rock or ice, therefore making it easier to show any changes in ice volume or coverage.

SOURCES: Nature and Interesting Engineering


ANOTHER SOLAR COMPANY FAILS DESPITE BILLIONS IN SUBSIDIES

The heavily subsidized solar energy giant SunEdison is on the verge of collapse, with the company between $1 billion and $2.5 billion short of covering its debts. In an August 11 bankruptcy hearing, presiding judge Stuart Bernstein called the company “hopelessly insolvent.”

Bernstein wrote, shareholders “have lost money on their investments, and hope that an official committee will capture value for them in the end. The appointment of an Equity Committee, however, will not create value where it does not exist.” As a result, the judge noted, it is “substantially unlikely” shareholders will avoid significant financial losses.

SunEdison and its subsidiaries have received nearly $650 million in government subsidies and tax credits since 2000, making it the 13th most subsidized company in the United States during that period. The company’s shares tumbled 95 percent during the past year, with its market value falling from a high of $10 billion in July 2015 to around $400 million as of March 2016.

This is yet another example of how market realities shatter government-backed green pipedreams. Neither the climate nor the economy has benefitted from SunEdison – and neither will miss it.

SOURCE: Daily Caller


‘DEAD’ CORAL REEF REBOUNDS

Climate alarmists claim increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will cause oceans to become more acidic which, when combined with ocean warming, will decimate coral reefs unable to adapt to climate change. Time and again this fear has been shown to be misplaced. Most recently, The New York Times reported the Coral Castles reef between Hawaii and Fiji, which had been declared dead in 2003, is now teaming with life.

While 2015 was declared the hottest year on record by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutes, researchers studying Coral Castles in early August 2016 “were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples -- unmistakable signs of life,” noted Jan Witting, the expedition’s chief scientist. “Everything looked just magnificent.”

Coral Castles’ recovery is not the first “miracle’”coral resurrection. As Watts Up With That points out, a 1998 heat wave caused corals worldwide to bleach, “killing” nearly 16% of the world’s corals, the vast majority of the relatively hardy Porites coral in French Polynesia’s Rangiroa lagoon included. Marine biologist Peter Mumby, who studies the reef, predicted it would take the Porites nearly 100 years to recover; they instead recovered in 15 years. “Our projections were completely wrong,” Mumby said “Sometimes it is really nice to be proven wrong as a scientist, and this was a perfect example of that.”

While the 1998 heat wave appeared to kill corals on the outer reefs of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean, by 2005 they’d made a full recovery. Those corals have subsequently survived a category-five cyclone and bleaching events in 2010 and 2011.

Indeed, so many coral reefs worldwide are recovering from bleaching, one Hawaiian coral researcher labeled the recovery the “The Phoenix Effect,” with corals springing back to life from virtually imperceptible fragments of themselves.

No one knows for sure what climate changes coral reefs can adapt to, but reefs have survived millions of years through far more dramatic changes than we are currently experiencing.

SOURCES: New York Times; Watts Up With That; and BBC.com

Article Tags
Environment
Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org

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