Monday, July 25, 2016

Oyster projects, like their subjects, looking to grow

At  locations along the Jersey shore, IN New York Harbor, on Chesapeake Bay and in other states, volunteer organizations have joined with university researchers and shellfish businesses to test the best ways to restore the oyster to at least a fraction of its former bounty.

Associated Press writer Wayne Parry has this update on these promising efforts:

LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. - Oysters were once so abundant in New Jersey that vacationers would clamber off trains, wade into the water and pluck handfuls to roast for dinner. Their colonies piled so high that boats would sometimes run aground on them, and they were incorporated into navigation maps. Even earlier, Native American tribes would have oyster feasts on the banks of coastal inlets.
But over the centuries, rampant development, pollution, overharvesting and disease drastically reduced the number of oysters, here and around the country; many researchers and volunteer groups estimate oyster populations are down 85 per cent from their levels in the 1800s.

In this July 20, 2016, photo, Nate Robinson, a staff member at Stockton University's marine field station, cuts open metal cages of whelk shells with tiny oysters growing on them in Little Egg Harbor, N.J. Efforts to restore once-abundant oyster populations are underway throughout the United States, and researchers and volunteers say they are optimistic the small-scale efforts will pave the way for a major comeback of oysters, whose populations have dwindled drastically from levels seen in the 1800s. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

That has sparked efforts throughout the coastal United States to establish new oyster colonies, or fortify struggling ones. Though small in scale, the efforts are numerous and growing, and they have a unified goal: showing that oysters can be successfully restored in the wild, paving the way for larger-scale efforts and the larger funding they will require.
While a main goal is increasing the numbers of succulent, salty shellfish bound for dinner plates, oysters also serve other useful purposes. They improve water quality; a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. They also can protect coastlines; the hard, irregular oyster beds serve as speed bumps that obstruct waves during storms.
"It's many years and millions of dollars away, but it is attainable," said Steve Evert, assistant director of the Marine Science and Environmental Field Station at New Jersey's Stockton University, one of hundreds of organizations working to start or expand oyster colonies.
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Most of the projects are small-scale, funded by government grants and volunteer donations. Helen Henderson, of New Jersey's American Littoral Society, which is growing an oyster reef in Barnegat Bay, hopes successful demonstration projects can lead to an exponential increase in funding for bigger projects.
"Nature has shown us this can be done; we're just giving it a kick-start," she said. "Hopefully funding will flow from that once we can show successful outcomes, and we can really make a difference on a much larger scale."
The Barnegat Bay Partnership put up $52,000 for the oyster project Stockton is undertaking in New Jersey; matching funds came from the university, the Littoral Society, and a shellfish business that has invested many times that amount on equipment and oyster seedlings.
Fledgling oysters need to attach themselves to a hard surface in order to grow, preferably a three-dimensional one with plenty of nooks and crannies.
The projects usually involve dumping shells onto the sea bed, where free-floating oyster seed attaches to them, though some projects pre-load the shells with tiny oyster seedlings before dumping them at a reef site. Some involve transporting more mature oysters from established colonies to new sites.
Oyster restoration projects are underway or have recently been completed in San Francisco Bay; Puget Sound near Seattle; New York Harbor and the Hudson River; in coastal salt ponds in Rhode Island and the state's Narragansett Bay; in the Carolinas, as well as Florida and the other Gulf Coast states; New Hampshire; and particularly in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia, where some of the nation's biggest oyster restoration programs have been underway for years.
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Thousands march in Phila. seeking change from the DNC

EnviroPolitics brings you the sounds and sights of yesterday's big protest march in downtown Philadelphia--on the eve of today's opening of the Democratic National Convention. Click the arrow in the middle of the picture to launch the video.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thousands to march today for stronger DNC enviro stance


Environmentalists from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states will arrive by buses this morning--on the eve of the opening of the Democratic National Convention--to join in the ‘
March for a Clean Energy Revolution.’

The Record's Scott Fallon focuses on the contingent from Bergen County, New Jersey for the following report:

When hundreds of New Jersey environmentalists decided to march at a major political convention this summer, they did not choose Cleveland where Republicans gathered in support of Donald Trump and a platform that calls coal a “clean” energy source.

When hundreds of New Jersey environmentalists decided to march at a major political convention this summer, they did not choose Cleveland where Republicans gathered in support of Donald Trump and a platform that calls coal a 'clean' energy source.

They will instead be in Philadelphia on Sunday as Democrats gather for their convention to criticize party leaders for failing to ban fracking. They are calling on the Democrats to adopt a more aggressive plan to shift the nation away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

“We recognize that sometimes people compromise, but this was very disappointing,” said Eric Fuchs-Stengel, executive director of the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization, many of whose members will be heading to the march in Philadelphia.

Criticizing the party that more often champions their issues is not new among environmentalists: They have routinely condemned President Obama’s support for the oil and gas industry that have expanded significantly under his tenure.

But the organizers of the March for a Clean Energy Revolution said their best chance at getting their message across is with the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

“The Republican platform is so far away from where we need to be, we thought we would have a better opportunity to actually change people’s minds by being in Philadelphia,” said Jim Walsh, mid-Atlantic region director of Food & Water Watch, one of the advocacy groups organizing the protest.

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Fracking, the process by which fossil fuels are extracted from underground rock formations, resonates with many New Jerseyans, who have seen their state become a major transportation hub in recent years for natural gas fracked in Pennsylvania along with crude oil fracked in North Dakota.

Several pipelines have been built or expanded to handle the glut of Pennsylvania natural gas, including one by Tennessee Gas that cuts through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the New Jersey Highlands. Chemicals, discharged water, drill fractures and other waste from Pennsylvania fracking is transported to several sites in New Jersey to be processed.

In addition, up to 35 trains every week haul millions of gallons of volatile Bakken crude oil through some of the most densely populated areas of New Jersey, including Bergen County, on their way to East Coast refineries. The oil trains, which didn’t exist before North Dakota’s oil boom six years ago, have raised concerns from local firefighters and emergency management leaders after several fiery derailments elsewhere in the U.S.

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have come out in force against a proposal to build the Pilgrim Pipeline that would transport millions of gallons of fracked oil each day from Albany, N.Y., to the Bayway Refinery in Linden.

Democratic leaders have long viewed natural gas as a bridge fuel between coal — which produces much greater air pollution as well as greenhouse gases — and renewables like solar and wind power. The platform, which will be adopted at the convention, calls for the U.S. to be run entirely on clean energy by mid-century, to eliminate special tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and to extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewables.

That did not go far enough for some including many supporters of Bernie Sanders who called for a ban on fracking and fought to include it as the platform was being hashed out this month.

Fossil fuel lobbyists and local labor leaders say the pipeline projects created hundreds of temporary construction jobs in New Jersey while oil trains have helped resuscitate refineries. And they say that fracked fuels have made the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil and have brought down gasoline and home heating costs. The price, opponents say, is worse air pollution, contaminated well water and the risk of a catastrophic fire.

Fracking was long thought to be impossible in New Jersey because the gas-rich Marcellus Shale rock formation barely crossed under the Delaware River from Pennsylvania. That changed in 2012 when a report by the U.S. Geological Survey said an underground formation stretching from Trenton to Bergen County may contain more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. No energy companies have yet expressed interest in drilling in the state.

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Anti-fracking advocates to march down Market Street


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump developing federal purge list; EPA in his sights

If he wins the presidency, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would seek to purge the federal government of officials appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama and could ask Congress to pass legislation making it easier to fire public workers, Trump ally, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday.

The Reuters news service reports:

Christie, who is governor of New Jersey and leads Trump's White House transition team, said the campaign was drawing up a list of federal government employees to fire if Trump defeats Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“As you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people,” Christie told a closed-door meeting with dozens of donors at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters and two participants in the meeting.

Christie was referring to Trump's starring role in the long-running television show "The Apprentice," where his catch-phrase was "You're fired!"


The Trump campaign did not respond for comment.

Christie also said that changing the leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency, long a target of Republicans concerned about over regulation, would be a top priority for Trump should he win in November.

Trump has previously vowed to eliminate the EPA and roll back some of America's most ambitious environmental policies, actions that he says would revive the U.S. oil and coal industries and bolster national security

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We thought 'dormant clause' described Santa in summer

To win a point in some now forgotten environmental discussion, a friend referred to the "dormant clause." You know what that is, don't you? he asked with a devilish grin. Of course, I replied weakly before recalling an engagement requiring my  attendance.

Dormant clause, what the hell is that, I wondered. Summertime for Santa?

Well, now I know. And for the rest of you who also did not go to law school, three attorneys at K&L Gates explain what the dormant clause is and how it has become a key point in court challenges over how far states can go to regulate green house gas (GHG).

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Ankur K. Tohan, Alyssa A. Moir and Gabrielle E. Thompson
set up their article with the following four pellucid paragraphs before diving deeper into the legal thicket.

"Many states have enacted their own laws to regulate greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission reductions.  Although the specific requirements of each state law differ, many of the laws incentivize the use of renewable energy and discourage, or even prohibit, the use of non-renewable energy.
"As these laws have been passed, several state-imposed renewable energy standards have been challenged on the ground that they impermissibly limit interstate commerce.  These legal challenges, which raise complicated issues of federalism, have had mixed results.  Nonetheless, these cases ask a question that is becoming increasingly pressing: what are the limitations on a state’s authority to regulate GHGs?
"Recently the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on that issue in North Dakota v. Heydinger.[1]  In Heydinger, North Dakota, along with electric power cooperatives and coal companies, filed suit against Minnesota challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of Minnesota’s 2007 Next Generation Energy Act (“NGEA”), a statute that regulates aspects of the use and generation of electric energy.[2]  The challenged provisions prohibited any person from importing or committing to import power from an out-of-state, new large energy facility, or from entering into a new long-term power purchase agreement that would increase Minnesota’s statewide carbon dioxide emissions.[3]  If an entity could demonstrate to the Minnesota Public Utility Commission’s satisfaction that it would offset prohibited carbon dioxide emissions, it could be exempted from the prohibitions.[4]  The plaintiffs in Heydinger argued that the GHG provisions of the NGEA violated the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[5] 
"The Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.”[6]  Although the Commerce Clause does not expressly limit authority of states to regulate interstate commerce, the United State Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause to contain an implicit limitation on state authority.[7]  This implicit limitation is known as the dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from passing laws that unduly interfere with interstate commerce.[8] "
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New support coming for grassroots solar program, PACE


A year ago, Gov. Chris Christie issued a conditional veto
that cut the heart of legislation that would have e
nabled property owners in New Jersey to obtain 10 to 30-year private financing (through special assessments attached to municipal property taxes).

That financing would have covered 100 percent of the cost of the installation of clean energy and resiliency improvements without any initial investment by the property owner.

Those involved with the national PACE (Property Assessment Clean Energy) program explain that it gives property owners the ability to install more extensive systems than they likely could afford under traditional financing programs and that the resulting saving in energy costs often outpaces the financing costs from day one of the project.

NJ Gov gets bill to boost private, clean-energy investment

Now the Obama administration is trying to bring it back to life

writer Heather Smith explains:

The Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE, was created in 2007 when Berkeley, California, realized the same tools used by neighborhoods to pay for big projects like street paving could also be used to pay for installing solar panels. People in homes with panels had to pay more in property taxes, but they saved money through lower energy bills.

They started “acting like East-Coast bankers,” said Gov. Jerry Brown of California, on a White House call to announce the plan. “After the mortgage meltdown, they’re so fearful they won’t step up to the plate.” PACE didn’t go away, but it was frozen, like Han Solo in carbonite.
So, how to fix this? As part of its “Clean Energy Savings for All” initiative, the Obama administration persuaded the Housing and Urban Development Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs to support the program. As a result, the pool of people who can get a mortgage to buy a house with PACE-funded solar panels has widened to veterans and anyone with a HUD-backed mortgage.
“They’re doing what Fannie and Freddie say you can’t do,” said Brown. “Someday Fannie and Freddie will get on board.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Pay to Play in Pa: Enrich yourself with public money

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writers Mark Fazlollah, Craig R. McCoy, and Dylan Purcell report:

For decades, millionaire Main Line businessmen Richard Ireland and Brian McElwee have plied politicians with campaign money while landing government contract after contract.

None of it has provoked much attention. But now the two little-known partners are drawing scrutiny beyond political circles.
In the latest probe into "pay to play" in Pennsylvania, federal prosecutors and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have subpoenaed a host of documents from the businessmen.

Prosecutors have deployed a former Pennsylvania treasurer against them. Before Rob McCord pleaded guilty last year to corruption charges, he secretly recorded Ireland as they talked over contracts, according to people familiar with McCord's undercover work.

Investigators have even gone back 15 years, to a watershed moment in Ireland and McElwee's business history.

That's when another state treasurer, Barbara Hafer, dramatically increased state business given the two men - after each, on the same day, made a $150,000 campaign contribution to her.

For connecting Treasury to an investment firm they once owned, the two men eventually pulled in $2 million a year in finder's fees for that single placement alone.

Their donations to Hafer were the biggest one-day donation she ever received from anyone.

A detailed look at McElwee and Ireland's thriving business model - an operation marked by $3 million in campaign donations since 2000 - shows how the clubby culture has benefited select businesses and political figures in Pennsylvania.

In the lexicon of high finance, Ireland and McElwee are known as "finders." They have been paid big finder's fees for serving as middlemen, connecting financial professionals with government officials who control public money and where it is invested.

The two men also have earned millions in finder's fees for helping financial advisers win contracts to manage billions of dollars in public money, including funds from Bucks,
Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and SEPTA - all the while contributing to politicians who were influential for each entity.

Critics, such as the SEC, good-government groups, academics, and others, have long worried that the pay-to-play culture means financial advisers nationwide aren't being selected on merit to manage public money, but because of political juice.

Craig Holman, a finance expert with
Public Citizen, a national government-watchdog organization, said that when pay-to-play becomes business as usual, some firms avoid government contracting because of the corruption taint, and taxpayers get less for their money.

"I've seen more pay-to-play scandals in Pennsylvania than any other state," Holman said. "It hurts government, it hurts taxpayers, and it hurts legitimate businesses."

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Should nuke plants get subsidies like solar and wind?

salem nuclear power plant
Tom Johnson reports in NJ Spotlight:

The state subsidizes solar installations through a surcharge on consumers’ utility bills, an expense that likely will be expanded to finance offshore wind farms some day. Do nuclear plants, the biggest source of carbon-free electricity, merit similar help?
Public Service Enterprise Group believes so. The owner of three nuclear plants in South Jersey, it is pushing for this type of incentive, one that is winning support in various states. Just last week, the New York Public Service Commission’s staff proposed so-called zero-emission credits to help keep nuclear units in upstate New York afloat.
In New Jersey, however, a state long burdened by high energy costs, any proposal to boost bills to customers faces steep odds. Economics aside, there also is a part of the public that would be glad to see more nuclear plants shut down for a range of environmental and safety reasons.
Such an event would have far-reaching implications, some argue. If nuclear units are shuttered, they would likely be replaced by fossil-fuel-burning natural-gas plants, hindering efforts to fight climate change. Those new plants also would boost costs to consumers, according to PSEG.
Not so fast, say skeptics of a zero-emission incentive. For one thing, the circumstances here in New Jersey are different. PSEG CEO, Chairman, and President Ralph Izzo acknowledged as much last month at an NJ Spotlight Roundtable, when he noted that his company’s nuclear plants are profitable, unlike the New York units.
But PSEG still contends energy policies fail to value nuclear as a carbon-free source of electricity, providing 97 percent of the power in the state with no greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global climate change. Giving nuclear units financial incentives only levels the playing field with solar and other fuels, according to PSEG.
Many are unconvinced. “I don’t think frankly it has legs in New Jersey,’’ said Steven Goldenberg, an energy attorney who often has been an adversary of PSEG, noting the issue of subsidies for nuclear is part of an ongoing national debate.
“This is something that requires a national solution. If you establish a value, it should be done on a national basis,’’ Goldenberg said.
Such a concept would move the national debate over a carbon tax on fossil fuels -- an idea that has gone nowhere -- to establishing a positive incentive to keep the nuclear industry viable.
That, too, may not be feasible -- given the subsidies that could be handed out under a zero-emission incentive. In New York, the incentive for four nuclear units would amount to $965 million over two years. The incentives would increase over a 12-year period, rising to $805 million in each of the two final two years.
“It’s a pretty generous subsidy to reflect the value of nuclear power,’’ noted Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glenrock Associates in New York City “It’s not a drop in the bucket.’’
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Staff from the commission defended the incentive, saying the advantages of the zero-emission credits -- carbon reductions, supply-cost saving, and property-tax benefits — far exceed the costs to the tune of $4 billion.
New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand said the different conditions in New Jersey and on the regional grid fail to demonstrate a need for any new incentives. Among other things, PSEG’s nuclear units are still receiving lucrative capacity payments for their power, unlike those in New York. Both Brand and Goldenberg also argued that any state subsidies to help the nuclear sector would run into problems with PJM Interconnection, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the courts. They noted that federal courts struck down a New Jersey law, which sought to encourage building of natural-gas plants by awarding them ratepayers’ subsidies.
Finally, they question why customers ought to have to pay new financial incentives for the nuclear units when they just finished paying off about $3 billion to PSEG for stranded costs stemming from deregulation.
Paul Rosengren, a spokesman for PSEG, said the company has not had a chance to review the New York proposal. “Clearly, something has to be done to make sure the tremendous environmental benefits of nuclear are maintained,’’ he said.
Surprisingly, Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a frequent critic of PSEG, is open-minded about the concept of helping nuclear plants. “We need to keep them going as we transition to renewables, but the concern is it should not be at the expense of renewable energy,’’ he said.

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ExxonMobil still funding climate science denial groups

ExxonMobil and the climate science denial machinery that it has helped to build over the years are now under more scrutiny than ever before.
Organization ExxonMobil Funding  1997-2015
AEI American Enterprise Institute $4,199,000
CEI Competitive Enterprise Institute $2,100,000
US Chamber of Commerce Foundation $2,000,000
ALEC American Legislative Exchange Council $1,804,200
American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research $1,779,523
Frontiers of Freedom $1,272,000
Annapolis Center $1,198,500
National Black Chamber of Commerce $1,100,000
Atlas Economic Research Foundation $1,082,500
Manhattan Institute $1,065,000
George C. Marshall Institute $865,000
Heritage Foundation $870,000
National Taxpayers Union Foundation $775,000
Heartland Institute $686,500
Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy $680,000
National Center for Policy Analysis $645,900
CFACT Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow $587,000
Communications Institute $515,000
Washington Legal Foundation $495,000
Center for American and International Law (formerly called the Southwestern Legal Foundation) $491,650
George Mason Univ. Law and Economics Center $475,000
FREE Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment $450,000
National Center for Public Policy Research $445,000
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory $417,212
Mercatus Center, George Mason University $405,000
International Policy Network - North America $390,000
Citizens for a Sound Economy (FreedomWorks) $405,250
Acton Institute $365,000
Media Research Center (Cybercast News Service formerly Conservative News) $362,500
Institute for Energy Research $337,000
Congress of Racial Equality $325,000
Reason Foundation / Reason Public Policy Institute $356,000
Hoover Institution $370,000
Pacific Legal Foundation $300,000
Capital Research Center (Greenwatch) $265,000
Federalist Society $240,000
Center for Defense of Free Enterprise $230,000
National Association of Neighborhoods $225,000
National Legal Center for the Public Interest $216,500
Center for a New Europe-USA $170,000
American Council on Science and Health $165,000
Chemical Education Foundation $155,000
PERC Property and Environment Research Center (formerly Political Economy Research Center) $162,500
Weidenbaum Center (formerly Center for the Study of American Business) $190,000
Cato Institute $140,000
Federal Focus $125,000
Fraser Institute, Canada $120,000
Media Institute $140,000
American Spectator Foundation $115,000
International Republican Institute $115,000
Center for the Study of CO2 and Global Change $100,000
Environmental Literacy Council $100,000
Tech Central Science Foundation $95,000
American Conservative Union Foundation $90,000
Landmark Legal Foundation $90,000
Independent Institute $85,000
Free Enterprise Education Institute $80,000
Texas Public Policy Foundation $80,000
Institute for Study of Earth and Man $76,500
Independent Women's Forum $75,000
Consumer Alert $80,000
Mountain States Legal Foundation $75,000
Advancement of Sound Science Center $50,000
American Friends of the Institute of Economic Affairs $50,000
Free Enterprise Action Institute $50,000
Regulatory Checkbook $50,000
Arizona State University Office of Climatology $49,500
Lindenwood University, St. Charles, Missouri $40,000
Africa Fighting Malaria $30,000
Institute for Senior Studies $30,000
Science and Environmental Policy Project $20,000
Lexington Institute $10,000
Institute for Policy Innovaton $5,000
GRAND TOTAL $33,799,735
Graham Readfearn reports for DESMOG:

At its most recent
AGM, the oil and gas giant faced a barrage of questions and resolutions over its position on climate change. Then there is the not insignificant matter of investigations by a group of attorneys general that allege the company lied about its knowledge of the risks of burning fossil fuels. ExxonMobil is retaliating.
The company has pleaded innocence, with CEO Rex Tillerson telling the company’s shareholders that his views on climate science were perfectly in line with the United Nations.
But the latest disclosures on donations by ExxonMobil, reported publicly here for the first time, show it continues to support organizations that claim greenhouse gases are not causing climate change, or that cuts to emissions are a waste of time and money.
Organizations including the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Black Chamber of Commerce — all organizations with a record of misinformation on climate science — all received grants in 2015 from ExxonMobil. The 2015 tally brings the total amount of known Exxon funding to denial groups north of $33 million since 1998.
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In 2007, after years of criticism, ExxonMobil claimed to have turned a corner on the science.
In a corporate responsibility report, the company said: “In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”

ExxonMobil still funding denial

But many climate change campaigners and scientists have illustrated how the company continued to support organizations spreading climate science denial.
Now the oil giant is facing lawsuits from a team of state attorneys general after investigations by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times showed the company’s own scientists were aware of the risks of burning fossil fuels in the 1980s.
A DeSmog investigation found evidence that Exxon’s knowledge went even further back – to the late 1970s.
In May, the world’s biggest earth sciences organization, the American Geophysical Union, was forced to reopen talks over its financial ties to ExxonMobil after a stinging letter from two members of congress.
More than 200 scientists had signed a letter asking AGU to cut sponsorship ties to ExxonMobil over its decades-long funding of organizations pushing doubt about the causes and implications of climate change.
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