28.09.2022
Don’t ‘gouge the American people,’ Biden warns oil industry as Ian nears

President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned oil companies against increasing gasoline prices as Hurricane Ian nears the Florida coastline, vowing to conduct investigations if fuel prices rise.

Biden, speaking at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, issued what he called “a warning to oil and gas industry executives: Do not — let me, repeat, do not — do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people.”

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, said companies have suspended about 190,000 barrels a day of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico as Ian, a Category 4 hurricane, barrels through the eastern Gulf of Mexico toward Tampa. That would equate to less than 2 percent of total U.S. oil production.

“This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse — no excuse — for price increases at the pump,” Biden continued. “None. If companies try to use this storm to raise prices at the pump, I will ask officials to look into whether price gouging is going on.”

Oil and fuel trade associations American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers did not immediately offer comment on Biden’s statement.

Background: Oil prices have fallen below $80 a barrel this week after hitting $122 in June. Gasoline prices, which had been a political thorn in the administration’s side as they reached a nominal record-high of $5.01 a gallon in June, have since fallen to an average of $3.76, according to travel association AAA.

The Biden administration had already called for an investigation into whether the oil industry had colluded to increase prices, though most oil companies no longer own many gasoline stations. Last year, it said it would increase its scrutiny of retail gas station company mergers to see if they were causing fuel prices to increase.

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  • 9 часов, 52 минуты назад 01.12.2022Energy & Environment
    Biden enters a new type of tango with Paris

    The smiles will be wide, the silverware glittering and the toasts will be to alliance and fraternité.

    Showing off a White House decked out for the holidays, President Joe Biden will host his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron for the first state dinner of his administration in what is planned to be a festive tribute to the United States’ oldest ally.

    But behind the outward good cheer, growing tensions surround their bilateral meeting Thursday.

    The war in Ukraine — now in its tenth month and with no signs of abating — has pummeled the global economy and fueled an energy crisis in Europe. And after nearly a year of trans-Atlantic unity, European leaders are starting to express frustration at their economic relationship with the United States. Macron is expected to press Biden on several areas of disagreement over trade ties and the war’s future.

    It is a tested alliance but one that has still proven strong. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reinvigorated bonds between the United States and Europe — as well as bolstered NATO — especially after a difficult period of isolationist and transactional foreign policy under former President Donald Trump. On a more personal level, Biden and Macron, despite a 36-year age gap, have grown close, illustrated by the U.S. president selecting France for his first state visit.

    As winter approaches, however, a chill may begin to set in.

    Due to its proximity to the war zone, Europe has borne the brunt of the economic impact and the continent is teetering on the edge of what could be a significant recession. A number of European leaders, including Macron, have begun pushing against a war expansion that could prolong the death toll and economic cost.

    The explosion of a stray air-defense missile in Poland two weeks ago offered an unsettling reminder of how close the war is to NATO territory. Hours after the blast, Biden and Macron joined other leaders on the sidelines of the G-20 in Bali, Indonesia to reaffirm their commitment to the alliance.

    Macron has signaled he desires the war to end diplomatically and not in the battlefield. In the run-up to Russia’s invasion, Macron took it upon himself to try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to prevent the conflict and has suggested he could play a role to try to bring the Russian leader to the bargaining table. But there are no signs the Kremlin is willing.

    “The G-7 is more unified at this point than since G-20 was created in 2008. But we’re not in any way moving toward a negotiated settlement,” said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a global risk assessment firm. “Strengthening the alliance doesn’t mean we’re any closer to ending the war, and the war is causing enormous damage.”

    Biden has repeatedly declared that peace talks would only begin when Kyiv signals it is ready for them, and Washington has helped bolster Europe’s lagging defense capabilities. This week, the U.S. approved $53 million to help Ukraine acquire electricity grid equipment to help against Russian attacks that have plunged the nation into darkness.

    The biggest diplomatic row between Washington and Paris came over last year’s agreement for Australia to purchase nuclear powered submarines from the U.S. and United Kingdom. The snub cost France 56 billion euros and forced Biden to try and smooth over relations.

    At least a portion of Biden and Macron’s meeting also will focus on minimizing the friction around trade issues. The tax incentives for clean energy included in the Inflation Reduction Act are of increasing concern for European leaders, who worry about sectors of their own economies shifting operations to the U.S.

    “That could really hamper collaboration and burden sharing on the war effort,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a Europe expert at Washington’s Brookings Institution. “And it’s all the more disturbing because this is an administration that has worked really well with Europe.”

    Macron has been one of the most vocal critics of the IRA, accusing the U.S. of pursuing a protectionist policy. On Wednesday, he sat down for lunch with members of Congress, company executives and government officials in Washington and warned that such help for U.S. firms could “kill a lot of jobs.”

    “This is super aggressive for our business people,” said Macron. “You will perhaps fix your issue, but you will increase my problem.”

    Paris and Brussels, headquarters to the European Union, would like Washington to tweak the IRA so that European companies can also benefit from American aid, like manufacturers in Canada and Mexico. A particular flashpoint has become the IRA’s credits for the manufacturing of electric vehicles. This fall, U.S. and EU officials established a joint task force to discuss the new law while the White House insisted that the legislation would help American allies, too.

    “It’s not a zero-sum game,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said in a recent press briefing. “I mean, clean energy — that’s a tide that raises all boats, the more we can transition to a clean energy economy around the world. And there’s plenty of opportunity for everybody in that.”

    Officials on both sides of the Atlantic, though acknowledging policy differences, stress the two leaders have a warm relationship. Macron, for a while, tried to cozy up with Trump but that relationship grew strained. He and Biden have spent time together at a series of summits, with the French president spotted throwing his arm around his American counterpart’s back as they walked together at the G-7 in Germany in June.

    Energy, however, has become the biggest crisis across Europe, which has become substantially dependent on Russian fuel. After the war began, supply dwindled and prices soared, exacerbating inflation that was already rising as economies emerged from the Covid pandemic. The U.S. has stepped in to help replace Russia as one of the continent’s biggest natural-gas purveyors. But its shipments of liquefied natural gas came with much higher prices.

    In the past, France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the U.S. of inflating the place of gas sold to Europe, warning against “American economic domination.” And an Elysée official said Macron will ask the Biden administration to find ways to reduce the gap between the price of gas sold in the U.S. and the final price of natural liquified gas exported to Europe.

    “There is some posturing. Macron wants to have his own voice and not just follow in the steps of the big guy [Joe Biden],” said Nicole Bacharan of the Paris-based National Foundation for Political Science. “It’s an eternal dynamic. The old power that became a medium one with relation to the U.S. France needs to have its own voice, to express and to exist.”

    Clea Caulcutt and Giorgio Leali in Paris contributed to this report.

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  • 3 дня, 7 часов назад 28.11.2022Energy & Environment
    Dream Homes and Disasters: Is the Government Ready to Confront Climate Risk?

    SAND SPRINGS, Okla. — Mandy Graham knew her spacious, attractive dream house on the Arkansas River was in a 100-year floodplain, but when she bought it in 2017 — with the help of a federally funded flood insurance plan — it had been just 31 years since Tulsa’s largest-ever flood.

    By her math, that meant she had 69 years to go before there would be anything to worry about.

    Two years later, the rains came and didn’t stop until her home was under 6 feet of water.

    Local officials would later tell the hundreds of people who lost their homes that the Town and Country development in the suburbs of Tulsa never should have been built. A dried-up streambed runs smack through the middle of the subdivision — it functioned as a flood superhighway when the Arkansas crested its banks. All told, the flooding in May 2019 damaged 913 homes in the Tulsa area, destroying 335 of them, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    “There’s hundreds of houses over there, you know?” Graham said, referring to Town and Country. “If people actually thought it was gonna flood, would they live there?”

    For decades, lawmakers and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., have resisted taking harsh action to pull federal insurance funding from especially vulnerable areas, even as climate change made a mockery of 100-year projections of the type that Graham counted on. Now, in the wake of disasters including the deadly Kentucky floods and Hurricane Ian, official Washington is openly wrestling with what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people who are living in areas that climate change is making too risky to inhabit. The fate of Graham’s home, and many thousands of others, is in the balance.

    It’s a question with implications far beyond those whose homes are endangered. If large numbers of communities are rendered undesirable because of their climate, local and regional real estate markets could tank. Expensive public infrastructure like water treatment systems and roads could be abandoned or become obsolete as people relocate. Heavy taxpayer spending is likely. Yet many experts say that proactively steering people away from places climate change is making nonviable will seem a bargain compared with the costs of rebuilding in the shadow of past and future disasters, floods and droughts.

    “There are places too risky for human habitation,” said Chad Berginnis, executive director for the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

    But Washington is taking a cautious approach. It’s a tricky business, prodding people to leave places where they’ve lived for decades, in some cases raising families and watching relatives grow old and die. And for now, Congress is trying to use carrots rather than sticks. Lawmakers recently put “unprecedented” funding — $3.5 billion — behind efforts to move people out of harm’s way, said David Maurstad, who is FEMA’s deputy associate administrator of resilience, while federal officials have begun nudging people away from such vulnerable areas as coastal Washington state, the Mississippi River Delta in Missouri and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

    “It shows the importance that people are now recognizing in doing something before disaster strikes,” Maurstad said in an interview. “We can’t just rebuild back in the same spot, especially if we know that it’s currently at risk — or that in the near future it’s going to be at risk.”

    The fact that official Washington is finally addressing the concept of some areas being too vulnerable to insure is noteworthy, according to people who work in a competency known as “resilience” — essentially, preparing communities to live with a changing climate.

    “The interest level has never been higher,” said Rob Moore, director of the water and climate team at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. “Those funding streams are now stable for the first time in their history.”

    But a POLITICO investigation of federal programs showed that many of the taxpayer-backed programs are riddled with inconsistencies and bureaucracy, often impeding intended outcomes. That’s come to a head in Tulsa County, where Graham’s former Town and Country development is located.

    The county secured part of a $36.4 million federal grant for disaster recovery allowing it to pay flood victims to leave their damaged homes behind, returning the land to a floodplain that will absorb the water. Such a move would save on the cost of future rebuilding and repairs, and spare county resources. Yet three years after the 2019 flood, while many have shown interest in receiving compensation in order to leave, no one in Tulsa County has collected a check.

    The bureaucracy — local officials ensuring they align with federal guidelines, helping homeowners supply necessary information required for the grants — has moved slowly. Amid the delays, people who once entertained taking government cash to leave reversed course, even if it meant spending tens of thousands of dollars to hoist their homes higher.

    Federal and local officials acknowledge the process can take years given the checks and balances in place — Tulsa officials said a speedy buyout takes 18 months, but more often it’s three years. FEMA data for Tulsa County backs that up: The 28 most recent buyouts in the county took 34 months on average from initiation to close. FEMA’s Maurstad said the national average is 18 to 24 months.

    “These don’t happen in the time frame that we would want them to happen,” he said. “We’re looking at our programs to look at ways that we can reduce the complexity and help local governments in the state get through these programs.”

    Given the long waits and uncertainty, however, the private company assisting Tulsa County actually advises prospective buyout winners to sell their flood-damaged homes if they find a willing buyer — perpetuating flood dangers the county and federal government are straining to solve.

    One eligible homeowner is Mary Marris, 67. She watched her Town and Country home get flooded on TV from Atlanta, where she was visiting her son at a rehabilitation facility for a spinal cord injury. The 1986 flood had severely damaged her home already, but Marris and her husband dropped the flood insurance coverage that would have paid up to $250,000 in 2016. They’d made it 30 years — and weren’t they in the 100-year floodplain anyway?

    After a second devastating blow, she was prepared to think twice about rebuilding. So when the county first contacted her about a buyout, Marris saw it as a lifeline.

    “I was ready to go,” she said. “Throw in the towel.”

    But years passed, and no money came. Her son, Chance, pleaded with her to keep the family home, recalling childhood memories of bounding down the backyard into the maw of the Arkansas River, where he would spend endless days fishing. He still lives nearby, but on higher ground.

    Marris, like many others, decided to stay in her home. It was more than a structure, more than shelter. It meant family — even more so now. Her 64-year-old sister, Helen Dorsch, decided to buy the neighboring, flood-damaged property.

    “We just wanted to take a gamble,” Dorsch said.

    If the federal government wants to get people out of harm’s way, it has to contend with human emotion. It throws people’s perception of danger, of risk, off-kilter. People will tolerate a lot to remain in their community, in a place of comfort. Even if it could bankrupt them. Or worse.

    But as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe, a once-taboo strategy known as “managed retreat” is getting more serious consideration in Congress and the federal government. The concept refers to relocating entire communities as climate change threatens make some places uninhabitable, whether because of rising seas or dwindling water supplies. But those involved acknowledge that the obstacles to enact such a retreat are daunting.

    The families in low-lying areas of Oklahoma that were washed away in 2019 are often cited as examples of how far people will go in order to stay in their homes, even after disasters expose the risks.

    With its stilt-like structure and wooden staircase leading to a canary-yellow front door 14 feet above the ground, the royal blue home of Craig and Mary Chase looks suitable for coastal Carolina. But it sits in a secluded 18-acre pecan orchard in Collinsville, Okla., with two large garages — one for the RV, one for the boat — sitting below the deck.

    The Chases lived in that RV for months after the flood with their two dogs and two cats. The county enacted provisions to keep homes safe from flooding by requiring that families like the Chases raise their homes to 9 feet above ground — a high standard. But the Chases opted to stay. They interviewed 20 builders before anyone accepted the challenge — and added an additional 5 feet in elevation, just in case.

    “I feel for those people that went through the floods in Kentucky,” Craig Chase said while seated in his living room. He imagines telling them: “You have no idea what you’re about to embark upon.”

    “You have to really love where you live, to fight for it,” added Mary Chase. “And fight is the key. It’s a total fight.”

    Leaving was never an option for Mary Chase. Her family had claims there since the Oklahoma land rush — the couple’s parcel was the last of her family’s once-vast holdings.

    “His family were like, ‘Why do you ever want to move back there?’ Friends were like, ‘You’re insane to build back there,’” she said before answering her own question: “It’s all I’ve ever known.”

    The few examples of U.S. managed retreat have been piecemeal — not the holistic type of retrenchment academics envision. And results have been mixed where the federal government directly intervened, such as with ongoing relocation efforts of a native community in Isle de Jean Charles, La., endangered by sea-level rise.

    Still, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is exploring managed retreat for the Gulf Coast in a series of workshops, hoping its inquiries will yield broad recommendations for successfully executing such a plan. The bipartisan infrastructure law also has set aside funding to help native tribes facing severe climate change threats to relocate — the Biden administration selected those tribes earlier this month.

    Yet for the most part, the federal government is addressing retreat from the edges and margins. When a disaster happens, there’s stricter flood standards for rebuilding with federal dollars. Or there’s more money available to buy out flooded homes. Or there’s new permission to use funds for developing stronger building codes. Or there’s sharply increasing flood insurance premiums that could make living in some places much more costly.

    “We’re in a period of time where we’re in a transition about how we think about disaster recovery,” FEMA’s Maurstad said, adding that managed retreat is “certainly a more acceptable discussion than what it was in the past.”

    Managed retreat is a hard concept to swallow. On top of all the complicated dynamics of cultural attachment, communities and place, the term itself suffers from a branding issue. Who wants to admit they’re retreating, a word synonymous with defeat?

    Even places like Tulsa, which have enacted policies designed to entice people to relocate, only do so after a disaster strikes.

    “It was losses that got them there,” said Roy Wright, president of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, who was previously chief executive of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. “You’re only going to be dealing with this relocation reality where disasters are happening, where losses are happening. Nobody is going to have the foresight.”

    Gary McCormick, Tulsa’s senior special projects engineer, said most people remain resistant to a buyout unless they actually experience a flood.

    Yet the city still notifies homeowners of their flood risks and offers buyouts. New federal funding will help them do more. McCormick walks homeowners through the flood maps and the risks, spelling out the costs for damage. Some take the city up on the offer. Most don’t.

    “They’re still just resistant,” McCormick said. “That’s frustrating. Just being one who wants to help people, keep them out of harm’s way, keep them from flooding, and experiencing all that goes with that.

    “The optimum solution is just to move people out of harm’s way,” he added.

    But there’s a major divide between experts like McCormick and elected leaders. In Florida, elected officials are pledging to rebuild. Many want to restore communities right in Ian’s footprint. It’s only natural: People have to live somewhere, and these somewheres were people’s homes.

    Given how many people elected to stay put in Sand Springs, many people will also likely choose to return to Florida’s Gulf Coast — even if the federal government is growing more assertive about the perils people face by remaining in place.

    “The signal from the federal government is that we’re taking resilience seriously,” said Natalie Enclade, executive director at BuildStrong Coalition.

    But the view on the ground from places like Tulsa reveals major faults in the execution, which Enclade said boils down to: “Throw money at it, hold our nose and close our eyes — and hope it gets better.”

    The federal grant that Joe Kralicek is using for the buyouts in Graham’s old Town and Country neighborhood is over-subscribed — 180 people in the county have signed up, but Kralicek only has funding for 60.

    It’s a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. That means it comes with income restrictions: At least 70 percent of the state’s $36.4 million HUD Community Development Block Grant must benefit low- and middle-income people. Many who are interested, whose homes are decimated, are ineligible for income reasons. The HUD program is so complicated that most governments fail to spend the money it offers.

    So Kralicek, who is the emergency manager for Tulsa and Tulsa County, is looking at another program through FEMA. But the county is struggling to come up with the money to cover the 25 percent federal match FEMA requires. Instead, Kralicek is using some of the HUD grant as the match for the FEMA award.

    That means people like Barb Jackson are left in limbo as local officials juggle the complicated buyout process.

    The 79-year-old Jackson officially retired from teaching in Tulsa Public Schools in 2016 after earning enough to redo the kitchen and pay for other renovations to the home. But the floods ravaged it — and contaminated the land, fouling the air.

    The county said she would have to elevate the home to prevent future flooding. Jackson moved out instead. Living on a fixed income, she’s making mortgage payments for the first time in her life. She said she worries nonstop about money and grieves the loss of her home. The result has been anxiety, depression and three hospital visits since the flood.

    The buyout would bring peace of mind and stability, even if it won’t bring Jackson’s home back. “It gave me hope,” she said. But she’s still waiting.

    “I’m devastated. And even though people say get over it, you can’t get over it. So it’s like losing a family member,” she said. “Everything was paid off. And at my age, starting over again, I feel like I’m in a pit and can’t climb my way out.”

    One way to push people to make rational decisions is to force them to pay more if they don’t.

    In October 2021, FEMA rolled out its long-awaited revamp to the federal flood insurance program, known as Risk Rating 2.0. The effort aims to align insurance premium pricing with the actual flood risk homes face. FEMA hopes doing so will limit losses to the chronically indebted, taxpayer-funded federal flood insurance program and also signal to would-be homeowners that some places face significant danger.

    “There is no greater risk-communication tool than a pricing signal. When we distort the price, we distort their understanding of risk,” said Wright, the former FEMA flood insurance chief.

    FEMA is also weighing new regulations that would expand the federal floodplain, which could include increasing minimum requirements for elevating homes to reduce flood risk. Those rules could be a “game changer” by requiring stricter building standards to reduce flood risk for hundreds of local governments, said Berginnis of the Association of State Flood Plain Managers. The rules have remained largely unchanged since 1976, before the broader public even heard of global warming.

    The White House also has convened an interagency effort to update building codes. The Biden administration hopes it can entice local and state governments to adopt the types of measures that kept many Ian-whacked Florida buildings upright.

    Meanwhile, Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have sponsored legislation that would more quickly purchase severe repetitive loss properties to lessen the taxpayer burden on bailing out those homeowners. The bipartisan infrastructure law also gave FEMA authority to start a new pilot program in flood-ravaged states that connects flood victims more quickly with federal dollars.

    But such modest steps aren’t nearly enough to overcome the many pitfalls.

    While the federal government encourages new building codes, they’re merely voluntary. Roughly 30 percent of construction in the U.S. today occurs in places with outdated building codes, said Gabriel Maser, vice president of government relations with the International Code Council, which develops model codes. Only one federal agency — FEMA — includes minimum standards for building codes, though a federal government-wide standard “is certainly something we’ve raised” with the administration, Maser said.

    When Oklahoma accepted federal funds for the buyout program, it rejected ICC’s recommendation to require local governments that would receive those dollars to update their codes, in part because the codes were seen as too costly.

    Risk Rating 2.0 also brought unintended consequences. The new pricing worked as intended: Premiums rose for homes with more flood risk. But more than 300,000 people responded by dropping coverage. Many of those people were in Florida. The number of Sunshine State policies fell by 3 percent — roughly 48,000 homes — between the October 2021 rollout and Ian’s landfall on Sept. 28, according to First Street Foundation, a group that analyzes flood risk.

    The federal government also has not set common language, targets or standards for how to assess future climate risk with the hundreds of billions of dollars they’re shoveling to states through the infrastructure law.

    That’s led some to fear that infrastructure will fail in future climate conditions — that the government is doubling down on places people should be leaving.

    “We are in the position of doing buyouts now in part because of development choices that we all made in the past,” said Anna Weber, a policy analyst at NRDC who works on floods. “We don’t want to be making development choices today that put us in the same position 30 years from now.”

    Ironically, a lesson from Tulsa’s past could serve as a model for flood-fighting in America.

    The city’s population exploded almost overnight in the 1950s and 1960s as it annexed neighboring communities, moving into the Mingo and Joe creek watersheds. By the 1980s, flooding occurred nearly every year. Then the great 1986 flood forever changed the flat, mid-sized city carved by creeks and fueled by oil and gas money.

    The wreckage from that catastrophe was so severe that citizens taxed themselves with a stormwater fee to pay for new drainage infrastructure — and to buy out, demolish and relocate flood-prone homes.

    All told, Tulsa has purchased more than 1,000 flooded properties since the 1970s. Its 2019 hazard mitigation plan targeted 88 additional properties — buildings that have made more than one $10,000 claim through the federal flood insurance program. Those efforts and other investments this year made Tulsa the second community in the country — the other is Roseville, Calif., near Sacramento — with FEMA’s top rating for reducing flood risk, cutting its residents’ insurance premiums by 45 percent.

    “There’s no way we could have accomplished as much as we did in that time without the federal partnership,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in an interview. Tulsa has since applied for more federal funding for flood prevention, including a $20 million grant from FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, which received $2.3 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure law — a nearly five-fold increase from 2019 levels.

    Kralicek grew up in one of those flood-prone homes. The entire Tulsa neighborhood where that home once rested is now a park, a natural sponge.

    “A lot of these buyouts are really local government going, ‘You know what? We messed up by letting people build houses in that neighborhood. That should have never happened,’” Kralicek said.

    Yet people keep moving to these places, in part because the government has done a poor job publicizing the risks.

    Some of Graham’s neighbors in the Town and Country development weren’t legally required to buy flood insurance because they were in the less risky 500-year zone. But FEMA’s flood maps are outdated, with thousands more homes facing flooding than FEMA’s maps acknowledge. When the 2019 flood hit, the bank repossessed Graham’s neighbor’s uninsured home.

    “I could never live in that neighborhood ever again. Even just driving down there gives me so much anxiety, even just to check on the house and stuff like that,” said Graham, who is still waiting on her buyout from the federal government. “I don’t think that that neighborhood ever should have been built. You’re building homes just for them to be destroyed.”

    Kralicek partly blames the destruction on developers who fight against tougher building codes. He cites a statistic that has become dogma to resilience experts: Every dollar spent on bolstering buildings and infrastructure against disasters saves $7 in damages and recovery costs.

    But that doesn’t mean every community heeds the advice. Local governments depend on property tax revenue, meaning there’s an incentive for growing the tax base. Major organizations like the Farm Bureau resisted state legislation that would have funded flood mitigation projects through a new fee on county property owners, saying it would burden farmers.

    Kralicek, though, sees flood buyouts as part of an economic development plan. Disasters are costly. Avoiding damage frees up funds for other purposes.

    “Human beings are terrible at assessing risk,” Kralicek said. “We’re awful at it. Which is why things like casinos do so well.”

    Recent federal policy changes might help to limit those losses. But until there’s a wholesale rethink of how — and where — cities, towns and counties develop, there will be more hardship.

    “The piper is gonna come call, and at some point you got to pay,” Kralicek added. “And you just got to figure out who’s paying.”

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  • 4 дня, 23 часа назад 27.11.2022Energy & Environment
    Biden gives Chevron permit to restart Venezuelan oil sales

    The Treasury Department granted permission Saturday for oil giant Chevron to produce and export oil from Venezuela following the South American country’s decision to restart talks with opposition groups.

    The move could help ease global oil prices and speed the declines in U.S. gasoline prices, which have been a political burden for President Joe Biden since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

    The decision to allow Chevron to resume shipments from the South American nation comes ahead of a Dec. 5 deadline for tightened sanctions on Russia that could roil the world’s oil markets. The G-7 and European Union are moving to restrict Russian petroleum exports and impose a price cap on petroleum sales.

    Under the expanded license issued by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Venezuelan state oil company, PdVSA, is prohibited from receiving profits from the oil sales generated by its joint venture with Chevron. It keeps in place broader sanctions on PdVSA.

    The moves by Venezuela’s Maduro regime to restart talks with the opposition “are important steps in the right direction to restore democracy in the country,” Treasury said, which the U.S. welcomes “as part of our longstanding policy to support the peaceful restoration of democracy, free and fair elections, and respect for the rights and freedoms of Venezuelans.”

    Venezuela sits on some of the biggest oil reserves in the world, but mismanagement of the oil sector by the government and sanctions imposed by the U.S. has sharply cut its exports.

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the move but warned Caracas to live up to its new promises.

    “If Maduro again tries to use these negotiations to buy time to further consolidate his criminal dictatorship, the United States and our international partners must snap back the full force of our sanctions that brought his regime to the negotiating table in the first place,” Menendez said in a statement.

    Chevron, which has maintained a presence in Venezuela during the sanctions imposed by the U.S., said it had received the permit.

    “We are determined to remain a constructive presence in the country and to continue supporting social investment programs aimed at providing humanitarian relief,” Ray Fohr, a Chevron spokespereson said in a statement.

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  • 1 неделя, 4 дня назад 20.11.2022Energy & Environment
    ‘Small victory for humankind’: U.S., EU agree to climate payments

    SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Countries meeting in Egypt clinched a deal early Sunday that could send billions of dollars from wealthy countries to help developing nations treat the symptoms of climate change — but are still debating efforts to address the underlying disease.

    In a victory for the countries that are burning, drowning and sweltering under the already-rampant impacts of global warming, the nearly 200 governments gathered here agreed to establish a new fund to aid the victims of climate change, sweeping aside decades of objections from the United States and Europe.

    “It is a small victory for humankind,” said Avinash Persaud, special climate envoy to the Prime Minister of Barbados. The announcement was met with loud applause in the summit meeting hall, after the talks had stretched through all of Saturday into the wee hours of Sunday local time.

    Delegates then begged for half an hour to review the final draft of a deal on which they had pinned any hope of this conference delivering a signal to the world that governments intend to hasten their efforts to cut greenhouse gas pollution or shift away from fossil fuels.

    The deal came together after weeks of grumbling by developing nations about U.S. stinginess, a slight melting of frosty relations between Washington and Beijing, and a last-minute threat by European negotiators to abandon the talks. Appearances by President Joe Biden and incoming Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva punctuated the U.N. summit, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry came down with Covid-19 at the critical moment, and delegates complained about food shortages and a river of sewage that ran through the negotiation compound.

    In swallowing the climate damage fund, the United States and European Union were forced to break with decades of entrenched resistance to paying out for damage caused by their own greenhouse gas pollution — unwilling to be pinned for any form of liability. Trans-Atlantic unity was tested and split by an organized bloc of 134 developing countries, mustered by flood-struck Pakistan.

    The EU made a midweek switch to back the creation of a fund, further isolating the U.S., which eventually relented in a move that POLITICO reported early Saturday.

    Later in the day, European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans was claiming credit for a move “to bridge the gap between the different positions.” The Europeans’ maneuver, he said, “led to an opening.”

    Filling the new fund with cash will be the next fight. The U.S. and other developed countries will be under pressure to pledge direct funding under the deal, which does not require congressional approval.

    The deal is already facing criticism back home from Republicans, who have uniformly opposed Biden’s climate agenda and are due to take control of the House in January.

    “Sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to a U.N. sponsored green slush fund is completely misguided,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “The Biden administration should focus on lowering spending at home, not shipping money to the U.N. for new climate deals. “Innovation, not reparations, is key to fighting climate change,” he added.

    After the fund was agreed the morning call to prayer rang out over Sharm El-Sheikh. Ministers and diplomats huddled over legal language, trying to decide whether they could swallow a deal that — despite a historic new fund — was less than many had hoped for.

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  • 1 неделя, 5 дней назад 19.11.2022Energy & Environment
    News The Buckshee

    Governments around the world reached a preliminary deal Saturday on paying the most vulnerable nations for the damage they’re suffering from climate change, negotiators said near the end of talks here.

    Seve Paeniu, finance minister of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, confirmed Saturday that a deal had been reached to create a fund for payments, one of the most contentious issues at this month’s United Nations climate summit in Egypt.

    Such an agreement would be a significant reversal from the United States, which for decades has opposed the idea of paying countries for climate damage out of concern it would expose the world’s largest climate change driver to legal action. But it capitalizes on President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, which has sought to ensure that those most vulnerable to pollution and rising seas, hotter temperatures and deeper drought receive assistance.

    The talks in Egypt set the stage for more conclusive negotiations at the next U.N. climate summit, scheduled for late 2023 in the United Arab Emirates. Those talks will try to develop more details on the design of the new fund.

    But with major aspects of the negotiations still ongoing in Sharm El-Sheikh, particularly on a program to encourage steeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is leading the talks, cautioned against banking any single aspect of the agreement.

    “I don’t want to speculate or to prejudice the ongoing discussions and negotiations,” he said.

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  • 1 неделя, 5 дней назад 19.11.2022Energy & Environment
    U.S. eyes shifts on climate payments, in possible breakthrough at summit

    SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — The struggle to reach a new global agreement on climate change took a significant turn as the United States showed openness to making payments to nations suffering irreversible damage from the planet’s warming, negotiators at the U.N. summit here told POLITICO.

    The U.S. helped draft a proposal that calls for supplying such payments to developing countries, U.K. and European officials said late Friday night as text of a potential agreement circulated to reporters in this town on the Red Sea. Negotiations in the nearly two-week-long summit are continuing on Saturday, a day after the original deadline.

    Many details of the plan would still need to be worked out, including the exact mix of public and private funding that could go into a pot of money meant to help countries cope with the losses inflicted by climate change.

    The proposal may still fail to satisfy critics from developing countries who say the U.S. is continuing to shirk its responsibility for all the greenhouse gases it has pumped into the atmosphere since the 19th century. Another potential sticking point is the U.S. insistence that China — now the world’s top carbon polluter — must be among the countries opening their wallets.

    Still, the idea that the U.S. would even consider supporting the creation of a climate damage fund is a potentially seismic shift in its thinking after 30 years of opposing the concept. It could also attract fierce criticism back home, where Republicans hostile to President Joe Biden’s climate agenda are due to take control of the House in January.

    A State Department spokesperson said late Friday that delegates at the summit were continuing to negotiate, but did not confirm that the draft text was a U.S. proposal.

    However, a U.K. official told POLITICO that officials from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia wrote the text together after being convened by Alok Sharma, a British member of Parliament who ran last year’s U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

    The draft being circulated, which has not yet been formally proposed to the summit’s Egyptian presidency, would expand the sources and methods of financing disaster-struck communities. It calls for a two-year process that would end in the establishment of “a fund that is effective and attracts contributions from a wide variety of Parties and sources, including both public and private.”

    The document also says a task force should be established to design the fund and charged with “expanding sources of funding,” in a nod to the U.S. concerns about China paying.

    The U.S., which is the world’s biggest contributor to climate change historically, has raised worries that a fund would open it to legal action for harm caused by its fossil fuel emissions dating back to the start of the Industrial Revolution. The text includes an explicit clause that exempts donor countries from “liability and compensation.”

    Many of the proposal’s provisions address U.S. concerns about relying solely on public money to fill the fund. U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry — who was conducting talks via phone from isolation after coming down with Covid-19 — has said getting that funding through Congress would be politically difficult.

    The draft calls for “Enhancing the responsiveness” of bilateral, multilateral and international financial institutions, which alludes to development banks such as the World Bank, where the U.S. is the largest shareholder. It also calls on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to “contribute to funding arrangements… responding to loss and damage.”

    Kerry has argued that multilateral development banks need to put more money behind renewable energy and efforts to adapt to droughts, rising seas and other effects of climate change in the developing world. He called on them this week to have a plan to overhaul their climate strategy by April.

    The document also calls for the use of “debt deferment” by multilateral lenders in the wake of climate disasters that strike heavily indebted nations, an idea championed earlier in the two-week conference by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and seconded by French President Emmanuel Macron.

    The draft falls short of a demand made Tuesday by a bloc of 134 developing countries, including China, that called for establishing a fund at the talks in Egypt rather than at a later date. That fund would be designed by a working group in which the balance of power was held by the poorer countries who would be the recipients. The EU has slammed that proposal for shielding China from paying into it.

    The EU then made a counterproposal to immediately create a new fund, but with only “the most vulnerable countries” as recipients. It also conditioned the fund on global greenhouse gas emissions peaking before 2025 and would expand its donor base beyond the wealthiest industrialized nations — both issues that challenge long standing red lines for China.

    One climate activist at the talks, Harjeet Singh of the Climate Action Network International, derided the text leaked Friday as “a further watered-down version of what the European Union presented earlier.”

    “Instead of establishing a new fund at COP27, as demanded by developing countries, it only offers a vague process to defer the decision,” said Singh, the group’s head of global political strategy. “Such a proposal undermines the urgency of action required to respond to the needs of people facing climate emergency.”

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