Tag Archives: industry

Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry but figures show its future is as bleak as ever Long-term growth and hiring prospects remain weak despite administration’s policy changes to make energy sector more competitive at expense of environmental concerns

us-coal.jpgEarth moving equipment sits by a coal pile at the Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A year after Donald Trump was elected President on a promise to revive the ailing US coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary up-tick in foreign demand for US coal rather than presidential policy changes.

US utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 percent of the market for US coal.

”We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities,“ said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest US utilities. “The future for coal is dictated by economics… and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Coal plants now make up 47 percent of AEP’s capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 percent by 2030.

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends. As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major US coal companies.

“The government is no longer against us,“ he said. ”We now only have market forces to contend with.”

Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The President started the process of killing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidise power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site. The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.

While the full impact of Trump’s coal policy could take years to understand, the changes so far are unlikely to boost domestic demand, energy analysts and utility officials said.

Trump has cast the coal industry as a victim of burdensome regulation.

The industry has lost more than 40 percent of its work force in less than a decade and seen production drop to its lowest levels since 1978. Its share of the power market has fallen to less than a third from about half in 2003.

“We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” Trump said at a rally in Virginia in August of 2016.

So far, progress has been limited.

US coal production is on track to rise more than 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, to 790 million tonnes, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). But 2018 output is expected to decline.

The number of coal miners has also risen slightly to 51,900 in October, up about 2,200 since November 2016 – but down about 70 percent from a 1985 peak, according to the Labour Department.

On 1 November, Trump cited the modest production increases in a Tweet, saying, “It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!”

But these increases are largely attributable to demand for US coal from Asian steel mills after temporary outages from their usual suppliers in Australia, according to James Stevenson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

During the first six months of 2017, Asian countries took in 7.5 million short tonnes of US coal, up 97 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the EIA.

That demand will soon fade, Stevenson said.

“We are not going to get a repeat of 2017,” he said of the spike in exports.

Forecasts from utilities and the US government reveal little reason for hope of a sustained coal rebound.

Utilities are expected to shut down more than 13,600 megawatts of coal plant capacity in 2018. That follows a loss of nearly 8,000 MW this year and 13,000 MW in 2016, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.

By 2025, coal-fired power plant capacity will dip to 226,380 MW, down about 30 percent from 2011, according to EIA.

Three Texas coal plants owned by Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant are among the latest to close, bringing the number of plants that shut, or plan to, to 265 since 2010 – a figure higher than the 258 plants that remain, according to the Sierra Club, which has campaigned against coal.

Vistra said the closures were forced by lower prices for natural gas and renewable power – and not by environmental regulations.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, has shut down more than 5,400 MW of coal capacity since 2011 and plans to shed another 2,000 MW by 2024.

Over the next decade, Duke plans to invest $11 billion in new natural gas and renewable power – and nothing in new coal-fired generation, said spokesman Rick Rhodes.

A 2 November report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – which has two of the largest coal producers in its district, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal – said coal-fired power plants “may eventually become obsolete.”

Coal companies believe they can survive despite the troubling market outlook.

Peabody expects a “modest number” of coal power plant retirements in the coming years, with some of that lost capacity shifting to remaining plants that will increase output, spokesman Vic Svec said. Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi offered a similar forecast.

Robert Murray, the chief executive of privately-held Murray Energy – one of America’s biggest underground miners – said Trump could do more for the industry. The administration, Murray said, should end tax breaks for wind and solar power and reverse an EPA finding that carbon emissions endanger human health.

But Trump’s tax bill last week preserved most solar incentives, which have bi-partisan backing. And the EPA has so far steered clear of the so-called “endangerment finding” on emissions that is the basis of many fossil-fuel regulations, given the breadth of scientific evidence that would be needed to reverse it.

Murray Energy, meanwhile, announced on 31 October it will buy a 30.5 percent stake in a coal-mining partnership in Utah called Canyon Consolidated Resources.

The deal might help the companies cut costs, but it’s unlikely to help workers: Murray said about 200 of 1,000 jobs in Utah could be lost.

By Timothy Gardner/Reuters

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Advertisements

Tobacco Industry Makes Strides in Trump’s Washington

Tobacco companies have moved swiftly to strengthen their grip on Washington politics, ramping up lobbying efforts and securing significant regulatory wins in the first six months of the Trump era.

Day one of Donald Trump’s presidency started with tobacco donations, senior figures have been put in place within the Trump administration who have deep ties to tobacco, and lobbying activity has increased significantly.

“As in so many areas, the promise to drain the swamp has been an extraordinary hypocrisy,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, who supported anti-tobacco legislation and was one of the US attorneys general to broker a hundred-billion-dollar settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s. “Many of his appointees have deep commitments to the tobacco industry,” he said.

“Tobacco industry influence in Washington is pervasive, in many different ways,” Blumenthal said. “They have an active presence on the Hill, they meet frequently with administrative agencies, on hugely significant issues such as regulation of e-cigarettes, tobacco packaging and warnings.”

America’s largest cigarette manufacturers, Reynolds American and Altria Group, donated $1.5m to help the new president celebrate his inauguration. The donations allowed executives to dine and mingle with top administration officials and their families.

Not long after Trump promised to transfer power from Washington to the American people, a wave of spending in pursuit of influence was unleashed. In the first quarter of 2017, tobacco companies and trade associations spent $4.7m lobbying federal officials. Altria, the company behind Marlboro, hired 17 lobbying firms. Reynolds, makers of the Camel brand, hired 13, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Since then, tobacco companies have been putting points on the scoreboard. Politicians and officials with deep ties to the tobacco industry now head the US health department, the top attorney’s office and the Senate, even as tobacco useremains the leading preventable cause of death.

Agencies in charge of reviewing large mergers let a windowslip by in which they might have requested information about a $49bn merger between Reynolds and British American Tobacco (BAT). That merger, expected to be voted through by shareholders next week, will make BAT the biggest listed tobacco company in the world, and puts proceeds from eight out of 10 cigarettes sold in the US into the pockets of two companies: Altria and BAT.

Advocates and opposition politicians fear public health wins in curbing smoking could be vulnerable to a more emboldened industry.

There are also concerns that most at risk are poorer and more vulnerable citizens whose health insurance coverage could be weakened by Republican reforms.

“With the new Trump administration and Congress trying to roll back health and safety regulations, generally the tobacco industry is seizing the opportunity to mount its own assault on the programs and policies that have reduced smoking in this country,” said Vince Willmore, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The Food and Drug Administration has twice delayed legal briefs to defend regulations of e-cigarettes, products cigarette makers say are the future. Summer deadlines for cigar and e-cigarette makers to file applications with the FDA, which regulates the products, have all been delayed by the Trump administration

And the high-profile attorney Noel Francisco, who once argued for Reynolds that including a quit-line phone number on cigarette packs amounted to government advocacy against smoking, has been nominated for the post of solicitor general, the government’s top attorney.

In the past two decades, the tobacco industry has increasingly steered donations to Republicans. The past two election cycles, 2014 and 2016, were the most partisan ever. Tobacco companies made 84% of their donations each cycle to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Since 1990, $57m has been donated exclusively to Republicans, 74% of the industry’s total donations.

Proposals from Republican lawmakers for health reform, which the president has attempted to broker, have threatened to cut $126m that the Centers for Disease Control uses to educate Americans about the harms of tobacco use. Cuts Republicans proposed to Medicaid, a public health program for the poor, could imperil smoking cessation coverage for people already far more likely to smoke than middle- and upper-class Americans.

Trump himself, notoriously secretive about his personal wealth, has revealed that he had investments in tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International, its American spinoff Altria Group, and Reynolds American Inc.

In the past three years, Trump’s financial disclosures show he earned up to $2.1m from tobacco holdings in diversified portfolios. Trump said he sold his stocks this spring (although he did not provide proof).

For Trump’s inaugural celebration, Reynolds American gave $1m. Altria Group gave $500,000. The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been fiercely pro-tobacco in recent years, gave $25,000.

Vice-President Mike Pence was already well acquainted with the tobacco lobby. In 2001, Pence argued that “smoking doesn’t kill”. Two months later, Pence met with tobacco lobbyists who steered donations his way.

mike pence email
Pinterest
Tobacco lobbyists discussed donating to Mike Pence in a 2001 email. Photograph: University of California San Francisco Truth Tobacco Industry Documents

Over his career, Pence received $39,000 in donations from RJ Reynolds, a Reynolds American subsidiary, and more than $60,000 from the tobacco company-aligned National Association of Convenience Stores, both among his top donors. Pence owned up to $250,000 in stock in a family business, a chain of 210 convenience stores doing business as Tobacco Road. The company later went bankrupt.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who has had a high-profile role in developing health reform proposals, has long cast votes that favor tobacco interests. McConnell once threatened to derail negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in support of tobacco. McConnell is from Kentucky, one of the top tobacco-growing states in the country. In January, his former chief of staff was hired by Altria.

Trump’s health appointments also have deep links to tobacco companies. The health secretary, Tom Price, in 2009 voted against a 62-cent cigarette tax hike that would have helped pay for public health insurance for poor children. He called the law a blow to “hard-working Americans” meant “to feed [Obama’s] reckless agenda”. Until 2012, Price owned at least $37,000 in shares in Philip Morris International and Altria, Mother Jones reported, and during his career as a state legislator and Georgia congressman he received more than $37,000 in donations from tobacco companies and related political action committees. In March, Price’s former deputy chief of staff was hired as a lobbyist for Reynolds.

In addition to his vote against the cigarette tax, Price also voted against allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco, a vote that would have a large impact on e-cigarettes. Price now leads the department in charge of enforcing those regulations.

Reporting to Price, as the head of the FDA, is Scott Gottlieb. Before he headed the FDA, Gottlieb worked primarily for the investment bank Winston & Company, which helped raise $4.7m for the e-cigarette company Kure in 2016, according to Bloomberg News.

Gottlieb then became a director at Kure the same year. Writing about the FDA, he argued in Forbes that anti-tobacco “activists have managed to infiltrate the middle ranks of the agency’s center”, and suggested e-cigarettes could be an alternative for smokers.

Attorneys appointed to defend the FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco products have, in some cases, come directly from the law firm that once fought them – Jones Day. The firm’s attorneys represented Trump during the campaign as well as RJ Reynolds in suits against the US government. Now, 11 lawyers from the firm have been appointed to various government agencies, American Lawyer reported.

Until Francisco’s nomination for solicitor general, he represented both RJ Reynolds and its parent company, Reynolds American Inc. The companies were two of just 16 sources of income, including his law firm Jones Day, from whom Francisco reported earning more than $5,000 a year.

Francisco has had “a profoundly important involvement with the tobacco industry”, said Blumenthal.

Francisco argued on behalf of Reynolds in a continuing case. In one instance, he successfully argued against a graphic warning design on cigarette packs, which are common in other developed nations, because the warnings included a phone number where people could seek help to quit.

Francisco argued the message veered into advocacy because it told people to “live a certain way”, according to the Seattle Times.

“The government is trying to send a powerful message: quit smoking now,” Francisco reportedly said.

Even the dark “American carnage” speech Trump gave at his inauguration was written by a one-time tobacco advocate: his speechwriter Stephen Miller argued against a cigarette sales ban while he attended Duke University in 2007.

“Smoking, while risky and potentially lethal, is not nearly as dangerous as special interest groups and their cohorts in government have made it out to be,” Miller wrote. “The real risks are the fascistic tendencies that prohibit smoking in even private establishments.”

From The Guardian

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Charter-Time Warner Cable Merger Faces Fierce Opposition From New Coalition

Image: Variety Magazine

The conventional wisdom has been that Charter Communications faces a smoother regulatory approval process in merging with Time Warner Cable than Comcast did.

A Charter-TW Cable combination would not be as mammoth, New York regulators have already signed off on the merger and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, a vocal opponent of the Comcast deal, supports this one.

But some opponents are raising the volume on their opposition, particularly when it comes to what the potential combination would mean for the growth of online video services.

On Thursday, Dish Network, USTelecom, Public Knowledge and a number of other groups launched the Stop Mega Cable Coalition, with members sharing criticisms of the transaction, but differing on whether they would like to see the deal blocked outright or subject to stringent conditions.

More from Variety.com

Posted by Libergirl

Living near fracking sites increases infant birth defects – study

Although fracking already attracts controversy as an allegedly bio-hazardous industry, a new study takes it up a notch by showing that the practice can badly impact the health of unborn children.

Image: wikipedia

Babies still in their mothers’ wombs living within a 10-mile range of fracking wells are in much greater danger of congenital heart defects (CHD) and neural tube defects (NTD). This was surmised in a recent study correlating birth data with geographical locations of gas wells and congenital conditions.

The study, called “Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado”comes from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) and Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), and explores three variations of birth defects, fetal growth and pre-term birth.

Some of the resulting conditions include endocardial cushion defect, pulmonary valve atresia and stenosis. It also turns out that if a pregnant mother lives within a 10-mile radius, the chances of the baby inheriting CHDs go up by 30 percent.

The Colorado study elicited data from sampling nearly 125,000 births in the period between 1996 and 2009.

“Fracking causes babies to be deformed – the more we learn about fracking, the worse it gets,” Gary Wockner, the director of the Clean Water Action program in Colorado, told environmental business portal Ecowatch.com while commenting on the research.

More from Russia Today

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Research says ADHD greatly over-diagnosed

The report shows the number of kids diagnosed and treated for ADHD has skyrocketed in just over two decades.

In 1990 there were roughly 600,000 prescriptions written for kids said to suffer from ADHD.

That number stands at more than 3.5 million today.

That ranks ADHD as the second most diagnosed long term illness among children, trailing only asthma.

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Keith Connors told The New York Times.

Connors is a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University and was himself an early leader in making the diagnosis more mainstream.

But research shows roughly 5% of the population suffers from ADHD while the CDC points out 15% of high school age kids have been diagnosed and treated.

Money seems to be one of the main culprits.

Drug companies have targeted parents with ads that promise better grades and less acting out if kids are treated.

Some have gone to celebrity endorsements and even teachers to give their product more impact.

More from krmg.com

Posted by Libergirl

McDonald’s Scam on America

Image: Alternet

You’ve got to feel for  McDonald’s. Every time the misunderstood corporation tries to offer its’ low-wage employees a hand, it backfires. First the  fast food giant was ridiculed this past summer for  dispensing helpful budgetary advice to its struggling workers (in a nutshell: get another job). Now the company is in hot water again after a recorded call to its’ McResource helpline, in which an employee who reported not being able to make ends meet was advised to sign up for food stamps and other government assistance programs, went viral online. Strangely though, the very people who ought to be most upset about this state of affairs – small government loving republicans who don’t want anyone relying on federal assistance for anything – have raised little or no objection.

When Nancy Salgado, the employee at the center of this latest storm, called the McResource line to tell them she was having to ration food and couldn’t take her kids to the doctor, the helpful employee on the other end of the line didn’t offer to raise her wages or sign her up for health benefits, but  advised her instead about the various federal government programs she could avail of. While it’s not news that hugely profitable corporations like McDonald’s are only too happy to rely on the American taxpayer to subsidize  the non-living wages they pay their workers, (Salgado earns $8.25 an hour) the blasé nature of the phone call still sparked considerable outrage, but not from budget conscious Republicans.

More from Alternet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us on Deadly Junk

Image: Alternet

Food giants have used food science to train Americans for a lifetime of extra calories, pounds and health risks…From Alternet

Posted by The NON-Conformist