Analysis | The Energy 202: Big businesses face pressure to avoid investing in areas Trump wants to develop
By Dino Grandoni
An airplane flies over caribou from the porcupine caribou herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / AP)
A dozen-and-a-half senators wrote letters to 11 of the largest U.S. banks asking them to back down from financing any oil and gas activity in an unspoiled expanse of Arctic wilderness.
"The scale of your banks' assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks," the group of a senators, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), told Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and six other banks in a letter sent last Thursday.
The Trump administration is preparing to lease off portions of a 1.6-million-acre coastal plain in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The nearly pristine wilderness is home to polar bears and caribou that some ecologists worry will be disturbed by noisy seismic testing and sprawling pipeline networks. A controversial provision in the 2017 tax bill, passed by a GOP-led Congress, required at least two lease sales in the refuge within seven years.
The lawmakers' push comes amid heightened attention among investors about how climate change will impact the bottom lines of corporations in which they have a stake.
Democrats hope these banks follow the lead of one key peer: In December, Goldman Sachs said it is ruling out financing new drilling or oil exploration in the entire Arctic, which is the fastest-warming region on Earth.
But that's not the only pressure point. The world's largest asset management firm, BlackRock, said last month it would divest from coal burned in power plants and make climate change a "defining factor" of its investing strategy.
And just last week, a group of investors representing nearly $113 billion in assets under management issued a similar letter to energy, mining and timber companies. Their warning: Don't invest in certain federally controlled areas once protected but now open to development by the Trump administration.
These areas include not only the oil-rich Arctic refuge but also Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest where the U.S. Forest Service wants to allow new logging, and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a popular lake-pocked forest near where the administration wants to allow a copper and nickel mining operation.
The institutional investors, which include several religious funds as well as a fund established by the late oil heir David Rockefeller, warned companies that many of the administration's rollbacks of public land protections are legally precarious, and may be struck down by the courts or the next presidential administration. The letter went out to ExxonMobil, the timber company Weyerhaeuser and 56 other firms, according to Reuters.
"Many of these projects are mired in litigation," the letter stated, "challenging the legality of any current or future industrial activity initiated in these regions and providing evidence of the risks associated with conducting commercial development on lands that the American public has deemed valuable for protection."
President Trump displays a now-controversial Hurricane Dorian map during a news conference inside the Oval Office in September 2019. (Tom Brenner/ Bloomberg News)
- Sharpiegate, cont'd: The order for NOAA to issue the statement came from White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney at the request of the president, The Post previously reported.
- Ongoing investigations: While the House Science Committee looks into the political pressure exerted on NOAA, the agency itself is internally investigating whether there was a violation of its scientific integrity policy, which prohibits politics from interfering with scientific findings and sharing those findings.
- Key quote: "Corey Pieper, social media lead at the NWS, alerted the public affairs office that the forecast image was 'doctored.' Susan Buchanan, the director of the office, replied: 'Are you sure they were doctored?' Pieper responded: 'Yes, that was doctored.' "
- Their approach: “Republicans believe in the power of innovation; Democrats know we also need regulations, and that the current law isn’t well-suited to the job,” McKinley and Schrader write. “We need a new approach that combines these ideas — innovation and reformed regulations — in a pragmatic way.”
- Reaction: The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit international environmental advocacy group, called the proposal “promising” but adds, “Representatives suggest that innovation investments would come first and standards would follow. We don’t see any reason to wait to put standards in place. We can increase support for innovation and put standards in place at the same time, which are important to increase private-sector innovation.”
The Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant refinery is closed. (Mark Makela/Reuters)
- Previously: When the plant closed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported it would have a “huge impact on the Philadelphia economy and on regional fuel markets. The 335,000-barrel-day refinery, the largest on the East Coast, employs more than a thousand people directly, including nearly 700 hourly union workers, and thousands of contractors. The plant has long been a thorn in the side of environmentalists and neighbors who say it is a health risk.”
- What was said: After meeting with local unions, Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, told the Wall Street Journal that he would “love” the property to remain a refinery. “Without putting a finger on any scale, we will be available to help in any way we can,” he said.
- Play the tape: At last year's speech, Trump said, “My Administration has cut more regulations in a short time than any other administration during its entire tenure. Companies are coming back to our country in large numbers thanks to historic reductions in taxes and regulations. We have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world. And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy.”
Grapes ripen on the vine. (The Winery at Bull Run)
A team of researchers from the National Academy of Sciences discovered that by reshuffling where certain heat-tolerant grape varieties are grown, potential losses at 2 degrees of warming could be halved, and cut by a third if warming reached 4 degrees.
- How they did it: “The team used vintner and researcher archives to build a model for when each would bud, flower and ripen in wine-growing regions around the world under three different warming scenarios. Then it used climate change projections to see where those varieties would be viable in the future.”
- To quote: Mike Heny, a longtime Virginia winemaker isn't sure whether consumers will be amenable to these changes: “A mutt is better than a purebred when the going gets tough. But people aren’t into drinking the mutt wines as much. At the end of the day, we have to make wines that people love.”
A television screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange showing Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
- Upcoming: The Fed is researching the impacts of a changing climate and plans to hold its first-ever conference on the topic in November, Bloomberg reports.
A spotted seal waits near a pool to be fed at Seal Land, a marine shelter, in Hokkaido, Japan. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
- On the one hand: Sea ice along Japan’s northern coastline is receding, allowing seals to swim through the La Pérouse (or Soya) Strait to the Sea of Japan along Hokkaido’s western coast. The seals go there to eat salmon and octopus from fishermen’s nets.
- But on the other... The ice melting could be bad for spotted seals long term. Spotted seals raise their newborn pups on the ice in mid-March. “Poor quality or insufficient sea ice could reduce survival rates,” Denyer and Kashiwagi write. In addition, from seasonally melting sea ice comes phytoplankton, the base of the marine food web.
Adam Saurazas, left, and Nick Semanco haul sleds of hunting equipment to their blind in the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Stevens, Pa. (Kyle Grantham/For The Washington Post)
- Demographics at play: “The financial troubles are growing as baby boomers age out of hunting, advocates say, and younger generations turn instead to school sports and indoor hobbies such as video games,” Sellers writes.
- Washington's response? Bipartisan bills aimed at finding new funding and recruiting hunters have been considered federally, including legislation by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) that would allow states to appropriate revenue from taxes on guns.
- The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place in Iowa on Feb. 3.
- Trump will address Congress at his last State of the Union of this term on Feb. 4.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight holds a hearing on “Management and Spending Challenges within the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” on Feb. 5.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on Feb. 5.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds an oversight hearing on the Energy Department’s role in advancing biomedical sciences on Feb. 5.
- The New Hampshire Democratic debate will be on Feb. 7.