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Posted on on June 1st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (

Energy & Environment
E.P.A. Proposal Will Put Bigger Trucks on a Fuel Diet


The national emissions lab in Ann Arbor, Mich. Proposals for fuel economy in big trucks are expected to require innovation. Credit Laura McDermott for The New York Times

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Inside the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory here, a mammoth contraption, with steel rollers, advanced electronics and exhaust tubes, is nearing completion.

The project — an enormous “truck treadmill” — is the new centerpiece of the Environmental Protection Agency’s complex. One of the largest vehicle testing centers in the world, the truck lab will play a crucial role in shaping and enforcing a major new environmental mandate by the Obama administration that could dramatically transform America’s trucking industry.

Related Coverage: Jamie Holland and her husband, Jarrod, of Wilmington, N.C., got rid of their older, nonturbocharged cars and replaced them with more fuel efficient turbo models: a BMW for her and a Ford for him.
Wheels: Carmakers Find That Turbos Are a Powerful Path to Fuel EfficiencyFEB. 26, 2015
President Obama announced the development of tough new fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks while in Maryland on Tuesday.
Obama Orders New Efficiency for Big TrucksFEB. 18, 2014

This week, the E.P.A. is expected to propose regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty trucks, requiring that their fuel economy increase up to 40 percent by 2027, compared with levels in 2010, according to people briefed on the proposal. A tractor-trailer now averages five to six miles a gallon of diesel. The new regulations would seek to raise that average to as much as nine miles a gallon. A truck’s emissions can vary greatly, depending on how much it is carrying.

The hotly debated rules, which cover almost any truck larger than a standard pickup, are the latest in a stack of sweeping climate change policy measures on which President Obama hopes to build his environmental legacy. Already, his administration has proposed rules to cut emissions from power plants and has imposed significantly higher fuel efficiency standards on passenger vehicles.

The truck proposals could cut millions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution while saving millions of barrels of oil. Trucks now account for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in the United States, even though they make up only 4 percent of traffic, the E.P.A. says.

But the rules will also impose significant burdens on America’s trucking industry — the beating heart of the nation’s economy, hauling food, raw goods and other freight across the country.

It is expected that the new rules will add $12,000 to $14,000 to the manufacturing cost of a new tractor-trailer, although E.P.A. studies estimate that cost will be recouped after 18 months by fuel savings.

Environmental advocates say that without regulation, the contribution of American trucks to global warming will soar.

“Trucking is set to be a bad actor if we don’t do something now,” Jason Mathers, head of the Green Freight program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But some in the trucking industry are wary.

“I’ll put it this way: We told them what we can do, but they haven’t told us what they plan to do,” said Tony Greszler, vice president for government relations for Volvo Group North America, one of the largest manufacturers of big trucks. “We have concerns with how this will play out.”

The E.P.A., along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, began its initial phase of big truck fuel economy regulation in 2011, and those efforts have been widely seen within the industry as successful. But meeting the initial standards, like using more efficient tires, was not especially difficult by comparison.

The proposed rules will ask much more of the industry. They will require more investment and innovation, like tweaking engines and transmissions, improving aerodynamics and using lighter materials. More disruptive options, like recycling engine heat to drive a secondary turbine, or moving away from diesel itself, are also under consideration. Already, some bigger fleets like that of the United Parcel Service have started outfitting some of their trucks with natural gas.

To win over industry players, regulators say they have made efforts to engage companies up and down the supply chain. They have held hundreds of meetings and have tried to shape their proposal in a way that would help truck-related businesses.

“Fuel is either at the top or near the top of truck operators’ costs,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the E.P.A.’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. Reducing those costs, he added, was good for business and the environment.

Mr. Obama led the cheerleading for his truck rules. In a speech last year signaling the rules, he said, “Because they haul about 70 percent of all domestic freight — 70 percent of the stuff we use, everything from flat-screen TVs to diapers to produce to you name it — every mile that we gain in fuel efficiency is worth thousands of dollars of savings every year.”

John C. Wall, chief technical officer at Cummins, a leading manufacturer of truck engines, said his company had “tried to engage proactively in the development of the regulations” and had found federal officials to be open-minded about what the company thought could be achieved.

Others in the industry, though, hold a different view.

John Yandell Jr., president of Yandell Truckaway in Pleasant Hill, Calif., said that fuel is the second-highest cost for his family business and that he would love to get better mileage on his fleet, which operates short-haul regional routes. But, he said, he is skeptical that can be achieved in the near future in a way that is affordable for him, if at all.

“Twenty years ago, my trucks were getting five miles per gallon; today they are getting around 6.2 to 6.4,” he said, but getting up to nine or 10 seemed like a pipe dream. “Talk is cheap, but I don’t see how they get there.”

Getting there, however, is a priority for Mr. Obama. The administration also hopes that ambitious government targets can help drive the innovation needed to achieve them. After the 54.5 m.p.g. requirement for cars and light trucks was announced in 2009, a wave of new research and development happened in Detroit, as automakers rushed to develop new hybrid, electric and super-efficient gasoline engines.

The new truck rules are intended to spur the same rush to innovation among the companies that build the 10-ton tractor-trailers that haul things as varied as timber, steel and frozen fish.

But as with any new environmental rules, the details are complicated and will take time to sort out. The public will be asked to comment on the proposed rules before the final version is put in place sometime next year.

Back at the testing lab, the truck treadmill was put through its paces. A semi truck was fastened down with thick chains secured to even thicker steel anchors. A driver started the engine, which roared as the truck sat atop enormous metal rollers that allowed the wheels to spin in place. Orange tubes, intended to collect the exhaust fumes when the formal testing begins, hung from the ceiling.

“This was a hole in the ground before Christmas,” said David Haugen, director of the E.P.A. lab’s testing and advanced technology division. “Now we’re ready to make history.”

Aaron M. Kessler reported from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Coral Davenport from Washington.


Posted on on March 9th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

The following article says basically that with more consciousness about healthy eating, there was a switch with more emphasis on subsidies to organic food, fruit and vegetables. This is nice we say – but far from what is needed.

The article also says that a new use for excess land of the farming industry is for growth of industrial hemp. You can bet that this is intended for the large industrial farms as well.

Any Farm Bill is rather a farm industry Bill – it addresses the large producers and makes it difficult for the true small farm-family to  make ends meet – as they are not included in the subsidies. Also, the commodity farmers produce mainly for export and for animal feed – not for direct human consumption in the US. Also, they are located far from where US consumers are located, and undercut with lower pricing efforts to produce locally.

Sustainability requires the production of vegetables and fruit for consumption in New York City for instance – that these are produced on city roofs and in New Jersey and Connecticut small farms – family owned – perhaps part-time work. Rather then subsidizing the production of lettuce in California so it is shipped to New York, why not give a premium to New York growers for saving the transportation fuel when replacing the distant producer?

What I am saying here is that the whole thinking of backing an industry – rather then striving to answer a sustainability needs – damns any farm support legislation that comes out from US Congress – and for fairness sake – in foreign States as well.



Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, shepherded the bill through Congress over two and a half years, with the help of broad bipartisan support. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.


Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif. The new farm bill gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.

In addition, money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation’s organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.

Programs that help food stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables — to get healthy food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food — all received large bumps in the bill.

The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.

“This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who negotiated, prodded, cajoled and finally shepherded the bill through Congress over two and a half years. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions. I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”

The bill also eased a 75-year-old restriction on growing and researching industrial hemp, paving the way for several states to begin pilot growing programs for this variety of the cannabis plant, which can be refined into oil, wax, rope, cloth, pulp and other products.

At the same time, hunting programs were protected in the farm bill, which attracted the rare approbation of the National Rifle Association. The bill also ties conservation requirements to crop insurance benefits, which many environmental groups praised. “I think this is the new coalition,” Ms. Stabenow said.

While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats in Congress, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.

“We kind of overperformed with younger new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association.

Ms. Batcha pointed to a provision sought by her organization to exempt organic producers from having to pay assessments for certain marketing programs, which received broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats. The support surprised her, she said, but showed the popularity of organic product.

“I think we should let consumers make their own decisions about what kinds of foods they purchase,” said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “And if there’s a market for organic products, we should support it.”

Over all, healthy food has become more politically popular because of efforts to combat childhood obesity and diabetes and a growing national interest in the farm-to-table movement promoted by the first lady, Michelle Obama, and other national figures.

“The average member of Congress, whether they are urban or suburban, knows that is what their constituents want,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Even the most ag-centric member of the Agriculture Committee knows that is what helps sell the bill when it gets to the floor.”

For farmers of fruits and vegetables, oddly referred to in ag-speak as specialty crops, the ability to participate in crop insurance programs, which were expanded as direct payments to farmers were ended, is a major victory.

John King, a co-owner of King Orchards, which specializes in Montmorency cherries in Central Lake, Mich., was previously able to get insurance only for his apples. His cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and raspberries went uncovered.

In 2012, the combination of a bitterly cold winter and a March heat wave resulted in Mr. King’s greatest losses in the farm’s 34-year history, wiping out all of his stone fruit and a third of his apple crop. “Crop insurance did not even cover half my labor bill for the year,” said Mr. King, who has already signed up for the maximum insurance for 2014.

“Over the years the big-program crops have been able to get what they want while for specialty crops it has been, ‘Tough luck as you freeze,’ ” Mr. King said. “Well, we grow the stuff people eat and want to eat, and we do need some financial cover from this increasingly precarious weather situation.”

On the farm bill, Ms. Stabenow was able to come to an agreement with her Republican counterparts in the Senate as well as the House, where the most conservative members sought large cuts to the food and nutrition program that makes up about 80 percent of the bill.

Ms. Stabenow had to fend off the most conservative House members, who at one point wanted drug testing for food stamp recipients. (Ms. Stabenow told them that she would agree only if every recipient of farm bill dollars was also tested.) But she also had to deal with some liberals who pushed back against any cuts to the food stamp program, including a provision that had allowed some states to inflate residents’ food assistance by counting the costs of utility bills that residents did not actually have.

“I appreciate passionate advocates,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But I believe it helps to be the first one to call out situations where there is not accountability.”

Ms. Stabenow was so persistent, her colleagues, supporters and Senate aides said, that some senators began to fear her approach as she moved purposefully between the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms just off the Senate floor. The clerks there would bet over drinks whether she could get her bill passed.

In general, the bill reflects the diverse agricultural landscape of Ms. Stabenow’s home state, which plays a leading role in movements like community gardens in schools and offers a program that gives food stamp recipients double credit for food and vegetable purchases — a model for the federal farm bill.

“I give her a lot of credit,” Mr. Hoefner said. “She made it clear from the get-go that these items needed to be in the bill.”


Posted on on July 26th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

First posted on July 24, 2013. We have now an add-on from the New York Times of today – July 26, 2013.


Failure of an American City: Investing Lessons From Detroit’s Bankruptcy:
Last week, Detroit filed for bankruptcy and the largest driver of Detroit’s demise is one simple, startling fact

by Morgan Housel
Contributor, The Motley Fool, July 24, 2013.

The now bankrupt city of Detriot, Michigan.

In 1948, Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer called Detroit’s automobile industry, “a symbol of the way in which the American economy could best provide the average American with a steadily increasing abundance of the things he wants and needs.”

Last week, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

Pundits this week pointed fingers at a city that promised too much, spent with abandon, and relied heavily on a single industry. They cite a poorly run government, myopic city planners, and even fraud. In most cases, they are right.

But the largest driver of Detroit’s demise is a simple, startling fact: the city’s population declined 65% in the last six decades.
No city can survive such an exodus; it’s actually amazing Detroit’s finances lasted this long.

The Motor City was home to 1.9 million people in 1950, at the time nearly identical in size to Los Angeles. Today, 700,000 inhabit Detroit, or less than a fifth the size of L.A. That works out to 2.2 people leaving Detroit every hour, 24 hours a day, for the last 63 years.

If the number of people who left Detroit in the last sixty years formed their own city, it would be the nation’s ninth largest, ahead of Dallas, Texas.
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The financial woes linked to Detroit’s shrinking population have been known for decades. A 1991 article in the Times-News was prescient: “Detroit’s population loss could be financial disaster,” it wrote.

And Detroit tried to avoid its fate. Total city spending was cut by more than $1 billion, or 33%, between 2006 and 2010, including a 77% reduction in “recreation & culture” spending, a 72% cut in capital outlays, a 41% reduction in spending on roads, and a 44% cut in “health & welfare” spending.

But the city made pension promises during a period when its taxpayer base was more than twice the size it is today. With an unemployment rate of 16% — more than double the nationwide average — there is a shrinking base of workers left to tax. And with a median income of $27,000, or about half the nationwide average, those who are employed have little income to tax. According to Detroit News, nearly half the city’s 305,000 properties didn’t pay their tax bill last year.

Seventy-seven of Detroit’s city blocks had only one owner who paid property taxes in 2012. You cannot run a city like this.

What Detroit’s fall means for investors may be more symbolic than direct.

Investors hold some $1 billion in Detroit general obligation bonds, and $5.3 billion of bonds backed by the city’s water and sewer revenue. That’s barely a rounding error in the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market. And not all of Detroit’s bonds’ value will be lost; part will be recovered post-bankruptcy, and parts are backed by bond insurance companies. The direct investing fallout from the city’s bankruptcy is nil.

Symbolically, Detroit teaches us three things about investing.

First, Detroit shows how organizations that can’t adapt eventually crumble.

Before it was a technology hub, San Francisco relied on shipping, and before that, gold mining. Before New York was the financial capital of the world, it was the garment capital of the world.

Detroit enjoyed the auto boom, but never found its second act.

Adaptation is a key trait to any organization’s survival, including companies. We’re always looking for companies that adapt to changing circumstances. Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) started as an online bookstore and adapted into the world’s largest store, period. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) started as a DVD-by-mail company and adapted into a streaming video service. History provides two constants: change, and punishment for organizations that don’t adapt to change.

Second, Detroit provides a sad lesson in the need to save for one’s self. Tens of thousands of retired Detroit public workers wait anxiously for word on if, and how much, their pension benefits may be cut. Their story may not be unique. According to Credit Suisse, 97% of S&P 500 companies with pension plans are underfunded. The Congressional Budget Office wrote in 2011 that, “By any measure, nearly all state and local pension plans are underfunded.”
The hard lesson is that you can only truly rely on one person — yourself — to save for retirement and look after your investments.

Last, Detroit was overwhelmingly reliant on the auto industry. When the fate of three companies — General Motors (NYSE: GM), Ford (NYSE: F), and Chrysler — turned, so went the entire city’s fate. Evan Soltas of Bloomberg wrote, “Detroit’s dependence on cars wasn’t exactly the problem. It was dependence itself. Cities should never go all in on any industry, cars or otherwise. It didn’t realize that until it was too late.”

The same mistake often trips up investors. We preach diversification at The Motley Fool because a lack of it can be one of the surest routes to disappointment.

William Goetzmann of Yale and Alok Kumar of the University of Texas once showed that the least diversified investors underperform the most diverse investors by an average of 2.4% annually.

Things change unexpectedly, and often for the worse. Diversification is the best way to mitigate that risk.


Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times
Come See Detroit, America’s Future.
Published: July 25, 2013 2 Comments

DETROIT — I KNOW an old woman who hasn’t opened her windows in a decade, afraid that what’s outside will climb inside. Inside, there is the stale odor of dead air.

I know another woman who called me about a corpse lying outside her window for six and a half hours. This was because of cutbacks at the morgue. No dignity in death here. They do it better in Baghdad.

The latest trend? When a person is murdered, he is thrown into an abandoned house, and it is set on fire. There are tens of thousands to choose from.

I know of an 11-year-old boy who was shot, the bullet going clean through his arm. The cops stuffed him in the back of a squad car and rushed him to the hospital. That’s how we do it. There was no ambulance available. About two-thirds of the city’s fleet is broken on an average day.

I know a cop who drives around in a squad car with holes in the floorboards. There is no computer, no air-conditioning, the odometer reading 147,000 miles. His bulletproof vest has expired. His pay has been cut 10 percent.

I knew a firefighter who died in a fire, but not from the fire. He died when the roof of an abandoned house collapsed on him and his brethren could not find him because his homing alarm was broken and did not sound. He suffocated.

In our town, the 911 dispatch system recently went down for 15 hours, and no one seemed to give a damn. When the system is running, the average wait is 58 minutes. Firefighters can’t use hydraulic ladders on fire trucks to do their jobs unless there is an “immediate threat to life.” In a fire — imagine that. The ladders haven’t been inspected in years.

If this were New York, these stories would have ricocheted around the world. But this is Detroit and, of course, nobody gives a damn. Even here people have been conditioned to accept these things as normal, a nuisance, the buzz of a fly.

This numbness, in a peculiar way, is a sign of strength. People here manage to get along somehow.

So we went broke, bust, bankrupt. We’ve known that in Detroit for years. Only now it is official with a Chapter 9 filing last week. The biggest municipal default in United States history — at least $18 billion. Suddenly, America gives a rip.

How did it get this way, I’m asked? After all, it was just 99 years ago that Henry Ford offered the workingman $5 a day and profit-sharing. How, in less than a century, did it come to this?

The short answers: municipal mismanagement, race riots, white flight, black flight, dead flight (people routinely disinter their deceased and relocate them to the suburbs). There were the overreaching unions and management that couldn’t balance a ball. Proof? The multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry. Thank you, American taxpayers!

Then there is our spectacular civic corruption: A former mayor, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, waits for a bed in federal prison, convicted of extortion, racketeering and bribery. He looted the city of millions of dollars and stole the future of thousands of children. They can send him to hell for all I care. I don’t want to pay for his upkeep. But thank you, taxpayers! You will pay for it. And the ex-mayor’s team of super lawyers will also be paid with the public dime.

So Detroit files for bankruptcy. What does this mean? Pay close attention because it may be coming to you soon, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia. In 2011, Moody’s calculated the unfunded liabilities for Illinois’s three largest state-run pension plans to be $133 billion. (It is expected to be even larger this year.) That’s the size of six Detroit bankruptcies — give or take a few hundred million.

Of Detroit’s debt of at least $18 billion, about $7 billion is secured by collateral like casino revenues and utility taxes. That means creditors — read: big banks — will get paid. Of the remaining $11 billion dollars or so in unsecured debt, about $9 billion is owed to retirees and current municipal workers, people like firefighters and police officers. These debts come in the form of promised pension checks and health care benefits, all backed by a false, unsecured promise. These are the people who are likely to lose out.

In simple math, do we sacrifice 30,000 former and current workers to save a city of 700,000 people and their progeny? Most Detroiters will tell you yes. Don’t judge. We feel bad about it. But we’re simply Americans. We are a gaunt dog. We are desperate. And you are watching and studying us.

Pension checks will be much smaller than planned and health care benefits will get foisted off on Medicaid and Obamacare. Thanks again, taxpayers!

There is hope up here on the Great Lakes. We have fresh water, profitable auto companies, more than $130 billion a year in trade with Canada crossing through our city, a world-class research university and, eventually, a clean balance sheet. Hey, it helps to be first. What do you have, Atlanta?

So come visit Detroit, my fellow Americans. Come take a look at your future. Come give the tires a kick. And if you want your money back, come strip copper pipes and wiring from the abandoned buildings — if you can find any copper. Chances are, someone beat you to it.

Charlie LeDuff, a reporter at the TV station WJBK and a former New York Times correspondent, is the author of “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”


Posted on on May 18th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining oil sands oil, is piling up along the Detroit River.

WINDSOR, Ontario — Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River.

   Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Brian Masse, a member of the Canadian Parliament, wants a bilateral agency to investigate the pile accumulating in Detroit.

Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.

“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.

Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.

Residents on both sides of the Detroit River are concerned that the coke mountain is both an environmental threat and an eyesore.

“Here’s a little bit of Alberta,” said Brian Masse, one of Windsor’s Parliament members. “For those that thought they were immune from the oil sands and the consequences of them, we’re now seeing up front and center that we’re not.”

Mr. Masse wants the International Joint Commission, the bilateral agency that governs the Great Lakes, to investigate the pile. Michigan’s state environmental regulatory agency has submitted a formal request to Detroit Bulk Storage, the company holding the material for Koch Carbon, to change its storage methods. Michigan politicians and environmental groups have also joined cause with Windsor residents. Paul Baltzer, a spokesman for Koch’s parent company, Koch Companies Public Sector, did not respond to questions about its storage or the ultimate destination of the petroleum coke.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.

Tony McCallum, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, played down the impact of Keystone XL. “Most of the Canadian oil earmarked for the U.S. Gulf Coast is to replace declining heavy oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela that produces the same amount of petcoke, so it doesn’t create a new issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Much of the new coking investment has gone into refineries in the Midwest to allow them to take advantage of the oil sands. BP, the British energy company, is building what it describes as the second-largest coke refinery in Whiting, Ind. When completed, the unit will be able to process about 102,000 barrels of bitumen or other heavy oils a day.

And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.

“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said. One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.

Lorne Stockman, who recently published a study on petroleum coke for the environmental group Oil Change International, says, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth,” he said.

Rhonda Anderson, an organizing representative of the Sierra Club in Detroit, said that the mountain’s rise took her group by surprise, but it had one benefit.

“Those piles kind of hit us upside to the head,” she said. “But it also triggered a kind of relationship between Canada and the United States that’s allowed us to work together.”



Posted on on March 15th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


The White House Friday, March 15, 2013
How we shift America off oil:America’s auto industry is in the midst of a change for the better. Right now, car dealers are offering customers twice as many hybrids as they were five years ago and seven times as many cars that can go 40 miles or more on a gallon of gas. Last year, General Motors sold more hybrid cars than ever before and Ford is working hard to keep up with demand for its fuel-efficient vehicles.

That trend is a key example of how innovation helps to drive business success — and creates jobs for the middle class in America. But it’s one thing to make a car more fuel efficient. It’s another thing altogether to move cars and trucks off oil entirely.

And that’s the next step. Here’s how President Obama is proposing to get us there:

Infographic: The Energy Security Trust

At a time when the sequester is forcing laboratories and science facilities across the country to scale back on their work, we need to keep investing in research.

Because if we can meet this goal, the benefits are clear. We’ll help diminish the burden of spiking gas prices. We’ll reduce our reliance on foreign oil. And most importantly, the kind of technological breakthroughs the Energy Security Trust will work to produce won’t just create jobs — they could create whole new industries.

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Posted on on December 16th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

President Obama used his weekly Saturday address to repeat his impassioned but vague call to take “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” some gun control advocates said they hoped the shooting would be a catalyst for change.

“We genuinely believe that this one is different,” Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s different because no decent human being can look at a tragedy like this and not be outraged by the fact that it can happen in our nation. And because this time, we’re really poised to harness that outrage and create a focused and sustained outcry for change.”

But supporters of gun control sounded similar notes after other recent mass shootings — including one early last year in Tucson in which six people were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was wounded — only to see little or no action. And as governors condemned the Connecticut shooting and expressed sympathy for its victims, their statements, from Democrats and Republicans alike, were more likely to mention prayer than gun laws.

That same day, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that would allow guns in cars at the Statehouse garage. Earlier in the week, a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois. And Florida officials announced that they would soon issue their millionth concealed weapon and firearm license — or, as a state news release put it, the program would be “One Million Strong.”

Exception was in Colorado, which had started a debate on gun laws earlier in the week. Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, had said on Wednesday that he believed “the time is right” for state lawmakers to consider new gun restrictions.

Mr. Hickenlooper, who had appeared cool to the idea immediately after the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora that killed 12 people and wounded dozens, said he hoped lawmakers would take up the issue in the next legislative session, when Democrats will control both houses.

“After the shootings happened in Aurora in July, everyone was just so empty that it didn’t feel appropriate to start talking about racing right into the sometimes contentious arguments of appropriate gun control or inappropriate gun control, depending on which side of the fence you’re on,” Mr. Hickenlooper said Saturday. He added that he hoped lawmakers would examine issues like public access to assault weapons, magazines that hold a great deal of ammunition and armor-piercing bullets, and how the state can help the mentally ill and keep them from doing harm.

With gun control efforts seen as unlikely in Washington, where the Republicans who control the House oppose them, the next frontiers of the debate may be in states like Michigan, where the bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in school is being weighed by Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

Don Wotruba, the deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the group was calling on the governor to veto the bill. “Putting children in closer proximity with more guns is a risk that shouldn’t be taken,” he said in an interview.


The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School has finally grabbed the Nation’s attention – something that Hurricane Sandy did not do.

The Republicans blame their loss in the Presidential elections on the Hurricane and we find no evidence that this was the case – but we say that had the elections been held today instead, they might have been wiped out – just a Sandy closer to home.

Today’s Sunday TV programs all dealt with the woman that collected guns and made them accessible to her sick-genius son.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on Meet the Press, said that he did put his money to work for candidates to Congress that were ready to take on the National Rifle Association. He explained that good laws and readiness to enforce them have reduced killings by guns in new York City to the point that it is now best in the country on the reduction of crime. He said it clearly – The Comforter in Chief is first The Commander in Chief and criticized the Preasident for not having put forward an actual plan to combat what is killing per year in the US more people then all the Vietnam War did in its time.

Bloomberg said that he decided to back President Obama only after he interviewed both – The President and Mr. Romney – and had the feeling that Obama knew what he has to do. But then, Obama did not go come up with a program to back up his rhetoric.

In New York City, if someone is found with a loaded concealed weapon – he gets an automatic 3.5 years.

THE PRESIDENT HAS IN HIS POWER TO ACT UPON WHAT HE TELLS THE PEOPLE THAT HE INTENDS TO DO. HE FIRST HAS TO TELL THE PEOPLE WHAT HE WANTS TO DO, AND THEN DO IT THROUGH EXECUTIVE ORDERS. My feeling was that Mayor Bloomberg, now an Independent, is ready to take the argument on a ride to the White House in 2016. He has the money and made it clear in public that he has the readiness. While the NRA’s only reason for existence in 2012 was to try to unseat President Obama, Bloombeg sees them weakened now to the point that an Obama who is not up for reelection anymore, ought to push Members of Congress to fight as if the NRA has no power over them – and indeed it does not anymore.

David Frum, who worked for President G.W. Bush said that when he grew up in Canada nobody there understood the US interest in weapons. Recently 300,000 people bought guns in one day in the US. 31 Senators for the Gun-lobby refused to speak on the Sunday programs – so they are stiff scared finally! This at a time that there is evidence that 40% of the guns sold in the US are sold at gun-shows or via the internet – no documents of any kind needed.

What is needed? For a starter something like a drivers’ license  that requires tests of health (specifically mental health), a test of skills, and a minimum age. Also, clear understanding of spacial exclusions – like schools.

We would like to see Senator John Kerry take over the leadership in Congress and the fight against folks like Senator John McCain.

For first horn – President Obama ought to nominate Susan Rice for the Secretary of State position and fight for her; forget the leveling off on the taxation of the rich. The specter of a Middle East Bazaar  bargaining between positions saying that rich is an income of one million/year or a quarter million/year are just unseemly. We would say that a special extra gun-control security tax would be fitting the present need as a clear add-on. We would then suggest that a similar add-on would qualify for climate-change effects as well because of the delayed action of dealing with the subject. Rich should be defined at the $150,000  level and taxed higher as the income is higher. Running a State is indeed the responsibility of those that were privileged to get a higher income as they got were they are mainly not by wins at the lottery, but because of the sweat of the great majority – the “others” that make up more then 95% of the Nation.  PRESIDENT OBAMA IS NOW IN THIS POTENTIALLY UNCOMPROMISING POSITION BECAUSE OF THE CONFLUENCE OF OPPORTUNITIES THAT SHOULD NOT BE MISSED –  HIS CLEAR INDEPENDENCE OF NEED TO BOW TO HIS DETRACTORS, AND THE DISASTERS OF SANDY & SANDY.


Posted on on November 22nd, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

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Invitation to COP18 (Doha, Qatar) Side Event: Clean Energy Policies that Work.

From:  victoria.healey at   of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory

November 21, 2012
The Clean Energy Solutions Center, ClimateWorks, and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership are pleased to invite you to the following side event to be held at COP18:

DATE:   4 December 2012
TIME:   Doha – 11 a.m. – Noon   Washington, D.C. – 3 – 4 a.m. London – 8 – 9 a.m.     Tokyo – 5 – 6 p.m.
You may use the following URL to check your local time:

PLACE:  The U.S. Center, Doha, Qatar

If you are unable to attend in person, video streaming capabilities are provided through the following link.

Twitter: Follow @US_Center and use hashtag #AskUSCenter to participate in Q&A.

Join the Clean Energy Solutions Center ( , the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), and the ClimateWorks Foundation for this COP18 side event on clean energy policy best practices and resources.  Learn about the wealth of clean energy policy information (country policy data, policy and incentives databases) and tools (interactive resource maps, no-cost virtual expert assistance) provided on the Clean Energy Solutions Center.  The ClimateWorks portion of this event will focus on “Policies that Work” from two sectors: transportation and appliance efficiency.

Speakers (in alphabetical order):

•       Eva Oberender – Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership  (REEEP)
•       Francisco Posada Sanchez – International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)
•       Laura Segafredo – The ClimateWorks Foundation
•       Veronica Westacott – Australia’s Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET)

•     Moderator: Ron Benioff, U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Posted on on November 21st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

The world is watching the United States as Israel continues its assault on Gaza. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The world is watching the United States (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Mitt Romney addresses supporters during a campaign rally, 04/24/12. (photo: Getty Images)
Mitt Romney addresses supporters during a campaign rally, 04/24/12. (photo: Getty Images)

go to original article

Poetic Justice: Romney to Finish Election at 47 Percent

By Greg Sargent, The Washington Post

writes: “When all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup.”

21 November 2012

hen all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says new votes in from Maryland put Romney at 47.56 percent. He predicts with certainty that with all of New York and California counted, Romney will end up below 47.5 percent of the vote.

Rounded, of course, that would put the final tally at 51-47. Anticipating this moment, Markos Moulitsas has inaugurated the ‘Romney 47 percent watch.

At risk of piling on, a 47 percent finish would represent a perfect conclusion to the Romney political saga. If Romney ran a campaign of unprecedented dishonesty and lack of transparency, virtually all of it was geared towards misleading people about the true nature of his – and his party’s – actual beliefs and governing agenda. This was the case on multiple fronts, from Romney’s dissembling about the size of the tax cut he’d give to the rich, to his evasions about the overhaul he and Paul Ryan planned for the safety net, to the obscuring of the massive upward redistribution of wealth represented by the Ryan agenda – the GOP’s central governing blueprint for nation’s fiscal and economic future.

It was fitting that Romney himself unmasked his own apparent beliefs and the broader ideological implications of the larger GOP agenda and the ideas driving it – in private remarks to those who would likely benefit from his policies most. As Jonathan Chait put it at the time:

This is not a random gaffe, a joke gone bad, or even a terrible brain freeze. It is Romney exposed for espousing a worldview that is at the heart of his party’s mania. The idea he summed up at that fund-raiser was a combination of right-wing fever dreams …the Ayn Randism, the fact-free class warfare, the frantic rage at a changing America. The Republican Party is going down because its candidate was seen advocating exactly the beliefs that make the party so dangerous and repellant.

Romney’s widely criticized post-election remarks – in which he claimed Obama won by giving core Dem constituencies gifts – were essentially a reprise of the 47 percent remarks. Romney reiterated in overly blunt terms what many Republicans and conservatives have been saying for years – and got disemboweled by his own party after detailing these views out loud, a fitting coda to his candidacy.

And consider the numbers themselves. The Romney victory was always based on the hope that a whiter-than-2008 electorate would ensure that Obama’s victory was a demographic fluke. Yet Obama’s constituencies – many of whom make up Romney’s fabled 47 percent – turned out to add up to the majority, confirming that these ongoing changes are real and inexorable, a sign of what America is really becoming. If Romney’s described electorate – the job creators and the makers of America who were supposed to be enraged at all the moochers and the takers – ends up totalling 47 percent, we will have come full circle.


Posted on on October 30th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

October 29th, 2012

TRENDING: Romney speaks with FEMA

Davenport, Iowa (CNN) – Mitt Romney spoke Monday with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the National Weather Service as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the U.S. East Coast.

Romney joined the representatives from the agencies, as well as officials from the Department of Homeland Security, on a 20-minute phone call at 4 p.m. ET while the GOP nominee was in Davenport, Iowa for an event, according to campaign spokesman Kevin Madden.

The presidential candidate received updates on the progress of the Category 1 hurricane, as well as the status of federal, state and local disaster relief efforts, Madden said. Romney was further briefed on the potential effects to states and communities in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

Romney’s comments about FEMA, made at a CNN Republican primary debate in June 2011, received renewed attention Monday. At the time, Romney said he favored states taking on a large role in disaster relief. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” he said.

Asked Monday whether Romney held the same position he did at the June 2011 debate, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg explained the candidate believes “states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions.”

“As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most,” Henneberg said. “This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”

While Romney canceled his campaign plans in Virginia on Sunday, in addition to an event in Wisconsin Monday night, he still held a rally in Iowa Monday. The campaign said the event was attended by 2,250 people, according to a count of those who went through security.

“I was speaking today with the National Weather Service and the folks at FEMA as they’re preparing for the landfall of a very dangerous hurricane. It’s going to affect a lot of families, it already has,” Romney said at the event.

He continued: “And the damage will probably be significant and of course a lot of people will be out of power for a long time and so hopefully your thoughts and prayers will join with mine and people across the country as you think about those folks that are in harm’s way.”

The former Massachusetts governor encouraged supporters to donate to the American Red Cross. “We love our fellow Americans, wish them well!”

President Barack Obama, who also canceled campaign events, spoke to reporters in the White House Briefing Room earlier Monday, saying “millions of people” will feel the storm’s impact. He held a briefing Sunday at FEMA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and met with officials on Monday in the White House Situation Room.


Posted on on August 26th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

If we ruin the air, what will our children breathe?


Sunday, August 26, 2012.

Watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from a hotel tucked in among the dry scrub hills of San Diego, I have a chance to reflect on life here in Southern California, on climate changes and on what’s in store for future generations.

I’m here with a group of 22 Japanese university students who will spend a month studying English at San Diego State University, and I’ll stay a week while they settle into their classes and host families.

As always, I’m charmed by the students’ optimism and contagious excitement. Meeting other young people from around the world who share their same giddy enthusiasm, they’re beginning to shape their individual hopes and dreams.

Tonight they are with their host families, giving me some time off.

From my hotel, I watch streams of cars on the highways that crisscross the valley below and gaze up at jets as they climb into the sky from the city’s airport. Darkness has begun to blot out the urban sprawl, replacing it with a blanket of twinkling lights and a sky of vibrant orange and yellow hues.

Were the students here now they would be posing for smartphone snapshots with the sunset as a backdrop, and I’d be enjoying the buzz of their excitement.

But I have been reading “The Weather Makers: Our Changing Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth” and I can’t help thinking about the environmental legacy we are leaving these kids and future generations.

My thoughts focus on the 24/7 exhaust from the cars and planes and I wonder how much these emissions are magnifying the colors of the sunset.

In my head I hear my 17-year-old son grumbling, “Dad, you think too much!” But he and his peers are the reason my thoughts focus on what our fossil-fuel addiction is doing to the planet.

Readers familiar with this column know that I am not a climate-change skeptic. I have talked to too many experts, read too much research and seen too many parts of our world to doubt that human greenhouse-gas emissions are playing a key role in the global warming that is driving planetary climate change.

If you disagree, or still question whether human activities are a primary cause of climate change and the transformation of ecosystems worldwide, I doubt I can convince you otherwise. But perhaps Tim Flannery can, the author of “The Weather Makers.”

Though much research has been done since Flannery’s book came out in 2005, it is still solidly on track as a primer for climate change, its causes and effects. If fault must be found, Flannery’s commitment to detail might frustrate some readers. For others, the details prove the premise.

For example, he spends a chapter on frogs and toads, detailing how warming ocean temperatures along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast pushed cloud banks above the coastal forests, ending the misty conditions that were essential to the survival of numerous frogs species, including the golden toad. They have vanished.

“The golden toad was the first documented victim of climate change,” Flannery writes. “We killed it with our profligate use of coal-fired electricity and our oversize cars just as surely as if we had flattened its forests with bulldozers.”

But Flannery is not a sentimental tree-hugger. Simply he can see the trees in the forest, and the forest as a whole, and he can explain how each individual and the entire ecosystem are mutually dependent.

Moving from macro to micro and back, Flannery helps the reader understand our planet’s atmosphere, its oceans, it terrestrial ecosystems, and how the three are inextricably interconnected. Examples such as the golden toad help the reader to connect the dots and understand how rising levels of carbon dioxide affect the planet.

Flannery, who is chief commissioner of the Australian Climate Commission, was named Australian of the year in 2007, and is currently a professor, holds the Chair in Environmental Sustainability at Macquarie University.

With “Weather Makers” on my mind, I flew to Los Angeles then on to San Diego, where I was reminded how addicted Americans are to their cars, and to carbon dioxide.

Unlike Japan, where you can go just about anywhere using public transport, most everyone in L.A. uses a car to get around. L.A. has the second worst traffic congestion in the United States, with drivers wasting approximately 56 hours per year in traffic jams, according to the Time NewsFeed website. The only city worse than L.A. is Honolulu, where drivers spend as much as 58 hours a year stuck in traffic.

In San Diego, too, which boasts a reasonably good bus and train network, cars are nearly essential. On the flight from L.A. to San Diego, I sat next to a university student who laughed when I asked if she uses mass transit. Every member of her family has a car, she said — all eight of them.

But fossil-fuel use is not the only environmental problem in California: For first-time visitors it may be a surprise to see how dry L.A. and San Diego are. Both cities are built on scrub-covered plains and hills, with deserts just a stone’s throw away.

So where do they get their water?

In San Diego, 50 percent comes from the Colorado River, 30 percent from northern California, and just 20 percent from local sources.

Los Angeles is even less self-sufficient. Only about 10 percent of its water is sourced locally, meaning that without water pumped in from the north and east, L.A. would simply dry up and disappear.

With extreme drought already a spreading problem on the American West Coast, what will happen if climate change reduces precipitation in the mountains of California and in those that fill the Colorado River, California’s lifeline?

The day after I arrived in San Diego I was invited to a surfing competition held on the beach in La Jolla at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The event was held to raise money for the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center, which sits on the hills above Scripps.

It was a perfect California day for me, visiting the famed Scripps institute, seeing my first surfing competition and having a chance to support research into cancer, a disease that has touched many of my family and friends.

But again, “Weather Makers” brought to mind thoughts of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean acidification. Flannery looks back 55 million years to the oldest climate aberration known to scientists, a time when acidification caused the entire ecosystem of the deep oceans to suffer massive extinctions.

I took up this same topic three years ago in September 2009, when I first learned about acidification from Sven Huseby and his documentary, “A Sea Change: Imagine a World Without Fish” (

Acidification results as we burn more fossil fuels, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, causing the oceans to absorb more carbon.

“Carbonic acid lowers the natural pH (alkalinity) of our oceans. That decreases the available calcium carbonate that is essential for the formation of bones in fish, shells on crustaceans, and reef material from corals. The effects of the addition of CO2 to the ocean ripple across many species, including humans who rely on the sea for both sustenance and economic survival,” explains Husby’s website.

So where to from here?

“The best evidence indicates that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2050,” writes Flannery. But how can we make the dramatic cuts in fossil-fuel use and CO2 emissions that are necessary?

“The transition to a carbon-free economy is eminently achievable because we have the technology we need to do so. It is only a lack of understanding and the pessimism and confusion generated by special-interest groups that is stopping us from going forward,” he insists.

Wind, solar and geothermal are a few of the alternatives available. More important, conservation is key. From energy to water, simply using less is essential.

Less demand for energy, less nuclear, less fossil fuels, more alternative sources of energy. If Japan can lead, perhaps other nations can muster the political will to follow.

For the generations that will inherit our climate, this seems the least we can do.

Special thanks to Stephen Harris, a Tokyo-based lawyer and keen observer of all things legal and environmental who gave me his dog-eared copy of “The Weather Makers.”
Stephen Hesse teaches in the Chuo University Law Faculty and is director of the Chuo International Center.
He can be reached at


Posted on on August 24th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Romney jokes about his birth certificate; Obama campaign accuses him of embracing ‘birtherism’.

If you want to read image-inducing excrement in US politics – you can find this at:

The America that believes each of its people ought to be born in a Michigan hospital – and known to everyone – is the kind of State that will be gone by the end of the 21st century.


Posted on on May 25th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

from: Jocelyn Kettlewell

Romney’s Bain Capital Made Billions While Bankrupting Nearly One-Quarter Of The Companies It Invested In.

2012 GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, who has a large lead in the polls heading into the New Hampshire primary tomorrow, has been taking heat from both Democrats and his Republican challengers for his time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that he headed. Bain’s modus operandi was to invest in companies, leverage them up with debt, and then sell them off for scrap, allowing Bain’s investors to walk away with huge profits while the companies in which Bain invested wound up in bankruptcy, laying off workers and reneging on benefits.

Last week, Reuters profiled one company, Worldwide Grinding Systems, that went belly up after Bain invested in it. The company not only lost 750 jobs, but the federal government had to come in to bail out its pension fund, while Bain walked away with millions in profits.

And according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, this was far from an isolated incident. In fact, 22 percent of the companies in which Bain invested wound up either in bankruptcy or shutting their doors entirely, while Bain itself has made billions of dollars for its investors:

The Wall Street Journal, aiming for a comprehensive assessment, examined 77 businesses Bain invested in while Mr. Romney led the firm from its 1984 start until early 1999, to see how they fared during Bain’s involvement and shortly afterward.

Among the findings: 22% either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses. An additional 8% ran into so much trouble that all of the money Bain invested was lost. […]

The Journal analysis shows that in total, Bain produced about $2.5 billion in gains for its investors in the 77 deals, on about $1.1 billion invested. Overall, Bain recorded roughly 50% to 80% annual gains in this period, which experts said was among the best track records for buyout firms in that era.

Adding insult to injury, Bain would hide its profits in tax havens, not even paying the rate it was supposed to on the profits it made laying off workers.

Romney has tried to spin his firm’s record of destruction as simply the way “free enterprise” works, claiming that Bain, overall, created 100,000 jobs. However, the campaign recently admitted that the 100,000 statistic is bogus, cherry-picked from a few successful ventures. One of Romney’s former partners at Bain has even said, “I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation…The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors.”


Romney’s Regressivism

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

25 May, 2012

ine to nail Romney with Bain Capitalism. But let’s not forget Romney’s budget proposal, which mimics Paul Ryan’s. Take a moment to make yourself aware of both, because they’re eye-opening and scary.

Both would restore the military budget, slash Medicare (turning it into vouchers that shift costs to the elderly) and Medicaid (turning it over to the states but without enough money to keep it going), cut programs for the poor (food stamps, Pell grants, etc), and yet at the same time cut even more taxes on the super rich.

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s plan would give a $250K tax cut, on average, to everyone now earning over a million dollars a year.

Yet Romney’s plan would also – according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities – increase the federal budget deficit by more than $3 trillion over the next ten years. (Romney says he’ll close tax loopholes, but he assiduously avoids saying which ones – which means he won’t really close any.)

This is truly nuts, and it represents not conservativism but regressivism – a lurch backward toward the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.


Posted on on March 8th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


Dogging Mitt Romney.

Published: March 7, 2012

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter on the roof of the car.

Seamus, the dog-on-the-roof, has become a kind of political icon. You cannot go anywhere without running into him. There are Seamus T-shirts and endless Web sites. This week, the story was a New Yorker cover, with Rick Santorum playing the role of the Irish setter.

Neil Swidey, the Boston Globe reporter who first broke the Seamus story in 2007, wrote recently that he had been avoiding a return to the topic for fear that some day the dog would wind up in the lead of his obituary.

Which I can totally understand.

The story took place in 1983, when the Romney family made a 12-hour pilgrimage from Boston to a vacation home in Canada. Romney, his wife, Ann, and five sons were in the station wagon. Seamus was in a crate, or kennel, on the roof.

At some point — possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip, was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog, then returned to the highway.

“It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management,” Swidey wrote.

People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose.

Anyhow, we are now at a post-Super-Tuesday lull in the campaign, and I am ready to answer Seamus questions.

Haven’t you brought this episode up like about 10 million times already?

I’ve made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney. This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get.

It’s as though you’re saying this is the most important fact about a possible future president of the United States.

You could argue that the Seamus story puts Romney in a more human context. This is not just a quarter-billionaire with approximately the same gift for the common touch as Scrooge McDuck. This is a real person. A person who once drove to Canada with the family dog tied to the roof of the car.

In a kennel, right?

“This is a completely air-tight kennel, mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself,” Romney told Chris Wallace in a Fox interview that began with Wallace, a dog owner, demanding: “What were you thinking?”

Wait a minute, if the kennel was air-tight, how did Seamus breathe?

Excellent question. Also hard to envision the animal continually trying to leap on top of the station wagon in order to enjoy its delights.

So that’s it from Romney?

He did once suggest that the Seamus publicity was a plot by PETA to get even with him for allowing rodeo performances at the Winter Olympics in Utah.

I bet President Obama would never put Bo on top of a car.

Yes, the Obama campaign has been eager to point this out. Although, really, if you’re the president of the United States, you can give the dog his own helicopter if you want to.

I should note that when it comes to presidents and dogs, Romney would have to go a long way to match Lyndon Johnson, who once held up his beagles by the ears for photographers.

Is it even legal to drive around with a dog on top of your car?

Chris Wallace did ask Romney if he knew that he was breaking a Massachusetts law against cruelty to animals. Mitt did his heh-heh-heh thing and pleaded ignorance. The law is actually kind of vague. But I will point out that a member of a group called Dogs Against Romney drove to a protest in Colorado with a model of Seamus on top of his car and was stopped by the police.

I heard a rumor that when the family got to Canada, Seamus ran away.

Seeking sanctuary? Mitt’s sister, Jane, told Swidey that the dog developed a tendency to wander, and that she took Seamus to her home in California where there was more space. She also gave The Globe an extremely cute picture of Seamus cuddling with some kittens.

Does Romney have a dog now? I’m not sure I want to see Seamus II in the White House.

Romney occasionally says, “We love our pets. Heh. Heh. Heh.” The Romney camp hates talking about Seamus-related issues, but there’s no evidence of an actual family dog at the present. If there is one, I’d hate to think of how it travels when they fly between campaign stops.


Does above story depict qualities required when evaluating   alternatives on issues like a nuclear Iran or Global Warming?


Posted on on January 28th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

2012 China Plug-In Electric Vehicle Forum, March 8-9, 2012, Shanghai Pudong, Ramada Plaza.
For more details, Please contact: Fox Shen, Tel: +86 21 5180 7937, Fax: +86 21 5180 7791
Email: Event Website:

THE 29th INTERNATIONAL BATTERY SEMINAR & EXHIBIT in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – March  12-15,  2012 Fax, Mail, Call, E-Mail To: Florida Educational Seminars, Inc., Mr. Thomas DeVita 2300 Glades Road, West Building Suite 260, Boca-Raton, FL 33431 Tel: 561-367-0193, Fax: 561-367-8429Seminar Web Site, E-Mail:


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The 2nd China EV Charging Infrastructure & Grid Integration Forum 2012 (22-23, March Shanghai) will gather 200+ decision makers; 30+ speakers, providing you with a precious platform to build up partnerships and promote the adoption of your products and services; achieve success in China beyond 2012!
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E-mail: Event Website:


The 2nd Israeli Power Sources Conference (Batteries, Fuel Cells & EVs) will be held in the Daniel Hotel Herzelia , May 31st , 2012 – Program download


Posted on on January 28th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Used Electric Car Batteries Could Be Crucial In Future Energy Storage


By Emma Hutchings on January 23, 2012

Nissan North America, ABB, 4R Energy and Sumitomo Corporation of America have formed a partnership to evaluate whether used electric car batteries could provide residential and commercial energy storage solutions and back-up power sources, making electric vehicles even more sustainable. Their aim is to develop a prototype to effectively reuse lithium-ion batteries taken from the Nissan LEAF.

Used Electric Car Batteries Could Be Reclaimed For Energy Storage

As electric vehicle batteries have up to 70% capacity remaining after 10 years of use, they can be used beyond the lifetime of the vehicle for other applications. The companies are going to test their use in smart-grid energy management systems and battery energy storage. They plan to develop a LEAF battery storage prototype with a capacity of at least 50 kilowatt hours (kWh), enough to supply 15 average homes with electricity for two hours. Ken Srebnik, senior manager at NNA Corporate Planning, said:

It’s important to Nissan that we manage the complete lifecycle of the electric vehicle battery pack, even beyond its use in a Nissan car. Innovations in energy storage systems are becoming more viable as the electric grid gets smarter, and Nissan is proud to work with ABB, 4R Energy and Sumitomo to help bring these possibilities to market.

via PSFK:


Posted on on January 10th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

New cars were unveiled at the Detroit auto show on Monday.

Wanted or Not: Alternative-Fuel Cars Flood Auto Show.

Published, The New York Times on-line,  January 9, 2012

DETROIT — In the race to claim ever-higher fuel-economy numbers and keep up with government regulations, automakers are rolling out hybrids and electric cars aplenty at this week’s Detroit auto show.      If only buyers were arriving as fast as the cars.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Stefan Jacoby, chief executive of Volvo Cars, showed the XC60 plug-in hybrid concept car on Monday in Detroit.

Clockwise from top, Rebecca Cook/Reuters; Geoff Robins, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; Tannen Maury, via European Pressphoto Agency

New cars unveiled at the Detroit auto show on Monday are, clockwise from top, the Mercedes-Benz E-400 hybrid, Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, and BMW Active Hybrid 3.

Hybrid sales waned as gasoline prices ebbed in 2011, declining to 2.2 percent of the market from 2.4 percent a year earlier, according to the research firm LMC Automotive. Meanwhile, sales of the Nissan Leaf electric car and theChevrolet Volt plug-in each fell short of expectations.

Analysts do not expect the segment to grow significantly this year: the combination of gas prices below $4 a gallon and higher upfront costs for the cars is not attracting consumers.

But that is not deterring Toyota, Honda, Ford Motor and several European carmakers from introducing new hybrid and plug-in models.

“The market is going in one direction and fuel-economy regulations are going the other direction,” said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of the automotive information Web “Just because people start building more of something doesn’t mean the segment grows.”

Regardless, the automakers have little choice but to develop and try to push more hybrids as they prepare for fuel-efficiency requirements that call for significant increases later this decade. Advances such as Ford’s EcoBoost technology have increased mileage for gas-powered engines — the new Fusion midsize sedan it unveiled Monday can get 37 miles to the gallon, Ford said — but bigger gains are needed.

“Internal combustion can’t get all the way there, so you need an alternative,” said Russell Hensley, a partner with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. “The only alternative we have at the moment is electrification.”

In a report Monday, McKinsey listed “uncertainty around future adoption of hybrid/electric powertrain technology” as one of several challenges facing automakers and their suppliers in the coming years.

McKinsey said hybrids could account for up to a quarter of sales by 2020, with battery-powered cars making up 5 percent. But it said internal-combustion engines would dominate the industry through at least 2030. “The demand is in its infancy,” Mr. Hensley said.

Hybrids and electric cars typically cost at least several thousand dollars more than their conventional counterparts. BMW said Monday that its ActiveHybrid 5 would be priced at $8,700 above the gas-powered 535i. The Volt costs nearly twice as much as the similarly sized Chevy Cruze, after a $7,500 federal tax credit.

Most consumers want to be able to recoup the additional cost of an alternative-technology vehicle within a year, Mr. Anwyl said. At today’s gas prices, the payback generally takes several years, if not more.

Automakers said shortages of batteries and other parts also held back sales in 2011.

“We have a bottleneck with the batteries,” said Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Nissan, adding that he expects supplies to increase as the Leaf enters new markets in the United States and production of the car and battery begins in Tennessee later this year.

“A lot of consumers are thrilled that they have the option of buying an electric car,” Mr. Ghosn said. “We sold 9,700 the first year. We can double that.

“I am much more optimistic on the prospects for electric cars than many people. We are very, very far from our potential.”

General Motors has said it wants to sell 45,000 of the Volt this year, despite falling short of its 10,000 target in 2011. G.M.’s chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, said on Sunday that the company would build only as many Volts as the market called for.

“We’re going to match production with demand,” Mr. Akerson told reporters. “There are new variables in the equation, so we’ll see.”

Sales of the most popular hybrid, the Toyota Prius, declined 3.2 percent in 2011, after disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, where it is built. The Prius accounted for almost half of all hybrids sold.

On Tuesday, Toyota will unveil the Prius C, a smaller version. It began selling the larger Prius V in the fall and plans to bring out a plug-in Prius this spring.

Toyota also is showing off a plug-in hybrid concept called the NS4 on Tuesday. Its premium brand, Lexus, on Monday unveiled a hybrid concept sports coupe.

Honda showed off two cars, the ILX and NSX, that will be the first hybrids ever for its upscale Acura brand. Honda said it planned to build a new plant in Ohio to assemble the NSX.

Volkswagen unveiled a hybrid version of its Jetta compact car Monday. BMW brought two new hybrids and a pair of electric concept cars to Detroit. Mercedes took the wraps off two E-Class hybrids, though one will not be sold in the United States, and a tiny electric pickup truck concept for its Smart brand. Volvo is showing a plug-in hybrid concept.

Ford is taking away the hybrid option on its small sport utility vehicle, the Escape, but it is bringing out hybrid and plug-in versions of the Fusion, which it introduced Monday. The plug-in Fusion will get the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon, Ford said.

“We still believe electrification is going to play a big role in the industry, both to meet CAFE requirements and because of consumers’ sensitivity to gas prices,” said Mark Fields, the president of Ford’s Americas division, referring to the government’s corporate average fuel economy regulations. “We want to give people an opportunity to choose, and we have a manufacturing strategy that allows us to be flexible with what we produce. Whatever way the market goes, we will be able to respond.”

Bill Vlasic contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 10, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Alternatives: Wanted or Not.


Posted on on January 1st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


– John Quincy Adams

But America cannot ask for others to apply to transparency rules it does not have itself: The issue of shell companies that acquire rights to extract minerals and oil & gas.


“Chesapeake’s effort to hide its involvement isn’t illegal. To the contrary, the company’s maneuvering exemplifies how U.S. corporations routinely can conceal financial and corporate transactions through the use of shell companies. President Barack Obama has called on other nations to improve corporate transparency, but under state laws governing corporate formation in America, privately held businesses aren’t required to disclose the individuals or companies who really own them.”

Why should other government be serious about their own infringement of transparency decency if the US itself does not obey to rules it asks for others to apply to?

Energy Giant Hid Behind Shell Companies in ‘Land Grab.’

By Joshua Schneyer and Brian Grow, Reuters

31 December 11…

ate in the summer of 2010, hundreds of farmers in northern Michigan were fuming.

All had signed leases with local brokers permitting drillers to tap natural gas and oil beneath their land. All were demanding thousands of dollars in bonuses they had been promised in exchange. But none knew for certain whom to go after.

That’s because the company rejecting their leases hadn’t signed them to begin with. In fact, the company issuing the rejections wasn’t much of a business at all. It was a shell company – a paper-only firm with no real operations – called Northern Michigan Exploration LLC.

One jilted land owner, Eric Boyer-Lashuay, called to complain to the broker who had handled his lease. Northern, he recalls saying, is “a shell company … a blank door with no one behind it.”

Today, he puts it this way: “It was all a fake, all a scam.”

Northern has voided hundreds of land deals, and was indeed a facade – a shell company created so that one of America’s largest energy companies could conceal its role in the leasing spree, a Reuters investigation has found. Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation’s second-largest gas driller, was behind the entire operation.

Chesapeake had created one shell company that set up another, Northern Michigan Exploration. Next, Northern hired brokers who signed leases with residents such as Boyer-Lashuay. And those brokers were under strict orders not to divulge Chesapeake’s role, records reviewed by Reuters show.

In fact, the effort in Michigan was directed from the very top – by Chesapeake’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon. In corporate filings that Chesapeake made public earlier this year – nine months after McClendon’s agents began signing Michigan land leases – McClendon is named as the chief executive officer of Northern, the shell company that voided hundreds of those leases.

Chesapeake’s effort to hide its involvement isn’t illegal. To the contrary, the company’s maneuvering exemplifies how U.S. corporations routinely can conceal financial and corporate transactions through the use of shell companies.

President Barack Obama has called on other nations to improve corporate transparency, but under state laws governing corporate formation in America, privately held businesses aren’t required to disclose the individuals or companies who really own them.

Chesapeake’s own website advises land owners that their “main consideration” before leasing should be “to discover who will ultimately be producing your minerals.” But Chesapeake’s strategy made that extremely difficult for the Michigan land owners.

Legal scholars say the operation serves as an intriguing test case of the use of shell companies.

The tactics “raise moral and ethical questions about how entities can be used,” says Joshua Fershee, a contract law professor at the University of North Dakota.

Others, including Chesapeake, defend the need to use shell companies and front companies – contractors with local ties who do business on behalf of a larger corporation. John Lowe, a professor of energy law at Southern Methodist University, calls it “business as usual.”

“Shells aren’t just a device to pull the wool over land owners’ eyes,” Lowe says. “You have to weigh some of the unfortunate cases against the fact that these companies can facilitate doing business, making it easier and probably cheaper to obtain leases. If I were a regulator, I’m not sure I’d change anything or try to limit the use of shells.”

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, says he will be “arguing for some intervention” to control the use of shell companies in such deals.

“Private property owners who enter into these transactions with good faith shouldn’t be getting duped by a front company,” says Grijalva, a member of the House Committee for Natural Resources. “It’s deception and you can’t call it anything else. It’s a good example where the intervention of government to require disclosure and binding contracts is needed.”

Intent to Renege?

The effort to secure leasing rights in Michigan was part of Chesapeake’s national “land grab,” a term the company has used in its filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Chesapeake’s Michigan land rush quickly ended. In court this month, lawyers for land owners alleged that lease agreements were voided after Chesapeake learned a well it drilled in the state had come up dry.

Bonuses promised to land owners went unpaid, according to court documents submitted by lawyers for the land owners. Northern Michigan Exploration, the Chesapeake-affiliated shell company, rejected more than 97 percent of the leases its Michigan agents had signed with farmers and other land owners, the documents allege.

More than 800 Michigan land owners – many of them elderly farmers – had their leases terminated by Northern, Reuters found.

As a consequence, owners missed opportunities to lease their land to other oil firms. At least 115 have sued, alleging that Chesapeake breached their contracts and defrauded them. On average, they each had been expecting $95,000 in bonuses, those lawsuits show.

The near-blanket cancellation of the contracts raises the question of whether Chesapeake ever intended to pay if it failed to find oil or gas immediately, says Mark Gergen, a contract law professor at the University of California-Berkeley law school.

“It suggests they might have had a strategy going in of not honoring their agreements,” he says. “The shells would have facilitated that” because Chesapeake could blame the shells for the cancellations, suffering no damage to its reputation.

Chesapeake says it acted properly. It says some land owners were paid bonuses. It also disputes “canceling” any Michigan contracts; rather, some contracts were “rejected” because property titles didn’t pass muster, its corporate counsel says.

In written responses, Chesapeake says it sometimes uses shell companies to “keep a low profile” and avoid tipping off competitors and “speculators” about its land-leasing and drilling efforts. Such tactics are common in real estate, scholars say.

But now, Chesapeake also is using shells as a legal defense to shield itself against land-owner lawsuits. The energy giant has said in court that it was Northern Michigan Exploration, not Chesapeake, that canceled the leases.

If land owners prove that they should have been paid, at issue is who will be held accountable: Chesapeake, a corporation with $37 billion in assets, or Northern, a shell company with no publicly documented assets.

“If Chesapeake knew from the start there was a good chance it would renege on leases and used (Northern) to avoid liability, that is improper,” says North Dakota law professor Fershee.

The burden now rests with lawyers for the land owners to prove that – to not only demonstrate that Chesapeake was directing the shell companies but also to show that Chesapeake used the shells to commit fraud.

Staying Hidden

To understand the role shell companies play in Chesapeake’s business, Reuters reviewed hundreds of pages of lease agreements, rejection letters and contracts, and more than a thousand pages of court records.

Reporters also interviewed more than three dozen land owners, lawyers and “landmen,” those who scout for areas rich with oil and gas and strike deals with land owners.

The northern part of Michigan has a long history of smalltime drilling. But the three-month land-leasing frenzy here last year was driven by speculation that the state’s Collingwood Shale area might hold large amounts of oil and natural gas.

In recent years, shale drilling has created the biggest grab for resources in the U.S. since the California Gold Rush. Thousands of so-called “shaleonaires” have grown rich by leasing their land and collecting royalties from gushers.

Chesapeake is the single biggest player in that rush, employing about 4,500 landmen. Its CEO, McClendon, started his career as an oil landman, as did former President George W. Bush.

Chesapeake says it has paid more than $9 billion for land leases. Its holdings include about 15 million acres in at least 23 states – a drilling area nearly the size of Ireland. Since 2008, Chesapeake has raised $13 billion by selling off a portion of those leases to energy firms as far away as China and Australia.

The business is risky. Chesapeake often slips into a shale play early, committing hundreds of millions of dollars before it knows whether wells in the area will be gushers or dry holes.

Risky Profile

The company’s filings show it spent $6.95 billion acquiring “unproved” properties last year, more than double what it spent the previous year.

Such huge spending, coupled with U.S. natural-gas prices at 27-month lows, underscores Chesapeake’s aggressive financial risk profile, according to Standard & Poor’s. It rates Chesapeake’s corporate debt BB+, a category considered junk status.

Some analysts balk at the difficulty of following the company’s land transactions, including deals made through shell companies. The use of shells can make the moves hard to trace in financial statements.

In October, Reuters asked Chesapeake about its land-leasing in Michigan. In a written response, Chesapeake said then that it had spent about $400 million to acquire leases there, a figure it has neither disclosed nor is required to disclose in SEC filings. Company spokesman Michael Kehs declined to answer other questions submitted this month.

Left unanswered: Whether shell companies affiliated with Chesapeake have any assets.

“There are red flags when it comes to Chesapeake’s transparency, convoluted ownership of shell entities and transactions shareholders can’t see,” says Phil Weiss, an equities analyst with Argus in New York, who downgraded the firm’s shares to ‘sell’ on November 16. “I’d never know what happened in Michigan by looking at Chesapeake’s filings.”

Shell of a Shell

Chesapeake’s land strategy was pieced together in part from documents that emerged in the Michigan lawsuits. Since early in the legal fight, Chesapeake has denied it conducted business in Michigan. It also denied that Northern, the shell company that voided leases en masse, was its “wholly owned subsidiary.”

For months, plaintiffs’ lawyers couldn’t figure out how Chesapeake could seemingly deny direct control of Northern. The answer lies behind the corporate veil of shell companies.

Chesapeake doesn’t directly own Northern; rather, Northern was incorporated by another shell company – one that Chesapeake owns and had created a year earlier. That firm, LA Land Acquisition, is the beginning of a complicated chain of shells and front companies – local contractors – operating on Chesapeake’s behalf:

* In April 2009, Chesapeake begat LA Land Acquisition Corp., a Delaware entity with no discernible assets.

* A year later, in April 2010, LA Land formed Northern Michigan Exploration, another shell company with no known assets.

* Northern subsequently hired a local land-lease company, O.I.L. Niagaran.

* O.I.L. then hired another local company, Western Land. Both O.I.L. and Western negotiated with land owners here.

The firms agreed not to disclose the energy giant’s role to land owners, according to a May 2010 contract between Chesapeake and O.I.L. and other records reviewed by Reuters.

In incorporation papers filed in Michigan, Northern’s address is listed as the office of a law firm in Lansing. John Pirich, a Lansing lawyer listed in state records as the representative of Northern, declined comment.

The connection between Chesapeake, LA Land and Northern appears in a February 8 SEC filing, made public five months after Michigan land owners first filed suit. It shows that LA Land, which lists McClendon as a director, is the “sole member” or owner of Northern, which lists McClendon as its CEO.

Chesapeake didn’t say why it used multiple intermediaries in Michigan. Lawyers say layers of shell and front companies can be used to cap liability when the companies behind the shells face lawsuits.

“The shells can complicate and delay things,” says Gergen, the Berkeley law professor. “Chesapeake is probably betting that plaintiffs won’t have sufficient resources or staying power to collect.”

Drilling Race

Last year, Chesapeake was competing for land in Michigan with the Canadian driller EnCana. In May 2010, EnCana announced that it had already leased 250,000 acres in the state.

Sue Brown, who owns 370 acres near Cheboygan, Mich., was bombarded with offers. “Landmen swooped in on this area like hornets out of hell,” Brown says. “They’d be waiting in my driveway, completely paranoid that I was going to sign with somebody else.”

That month, she and her husband were among the earliest farmers to sign a lease with a local broker working on behalf of Chesapeake. They received a $500-per-acre bonus.

Brown’s contract featured a non-disclosure clause, forbidding her from revealing her offer to neighbors. She had no idea Chesapeake was behind it. The lease has been honored, she says.

As the frenzy intensified in June 2010, some Michigan bonuses rose to $3,000 an acre, up 200-fold from before the boom. Chesapeake’s decision to remain hidden may have been a legitimate attempt to keep prices from going even higher, some experts say.

“It’s common to take leases through a shell corporation or through a landman company,” says Lowe, the professor of energy law at SMU’s Dedman Law School in Dallas. “If you’re a farmer or a rancher and you see a big, deep-pocketed oil company pull up in your driveway, then your price goes up.”

‘Dry Hole’, Abrupt Shift

After prices surged in Michigan, EnCana decided in July 2010 to pare back its leasing effort, a company spokesman says. According to allegations in several lawsuits against Chesapeake, CEO McClendon looked to take advantage of the opening.

He began to aggressively renegotiate or delay the completion of his own Michigan deals, the lawsuits allege.

The lawsuits by Michigan land owners also suggest a specific reason why Chesapeake’s interest cooled: Through an affiliate, Chesapeake drilled an exploratory well in Michigan last July that came up dry. Chesapeake has not publicly disclosed the drilling results and declined to comment on the matter. But in the weeks after the exploratory well was drilled, Chesapeake’s shell-within-a-shell – Northern – began rejecting leases en masse, letters sent to land owners show.

In some cases, Northern claimed that land owners missed a signing deadline, even though landmen had told them when to sign. Leslie and Sarah Schrier, a farming couple in their 80s who live near Brutus, Mich., had their lease voided weeks after a landman and a notary public drove to their farm to watch them sign ahead of the deadline, they say.

Also affected was John O’Hair, a former judge and chief county prosecutor in Detroit. He leased his 140-acre family farm in Antrim County, Mich., to O.I.L. in a contract that offered an $84,000 signing bonus. If successful wells were drilled, the O’Hairs would receive 12.5 percent royalties.

O’Hair had leased the same land to O.I.L. a few years earlier without a hitch. This time, months passed and no bonus check arrived.

O’Hair complained to O.I.L.’s president, Dwain Provins. The response: O.I.L. was working for another firm, whose name and role were secret, O’Hair recalls. That firm had voided the lease, he was told, because one of O’Hair’s in-laws appeared to own a stake in his property. Provins declined comment.

“It was a completely bogus claim,” says O’Hair, 82. “I’d leased the land previously to O.I.L. with no issues.”

More months passed before O’Hair learned the truth from lawyers he had hired: O.I.L. was doing the bidding of Northern and Chesapeake.

By August 10, 2010, transcripts from court hearings show, at least one of Chesapeake’s middlemen in Michigan seemed regretful that he had entered into business with the company.

The broker, David W. McGuire of O.I.L. Niagaran, voiced concern about Chesapeake’s directives, court records indicate. He told McClendon that Chesapeake was asking O.I.L. to default on contracts that Chesapeake never intended to pay, according to the court records.

McGuire told McClendon that he had “never been put in a position like this,” court records show. His comments were recounted in court this month by lawyers representing land owners.

McGuire did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Letters Connect Shell, Cheaspeake

By mid-August, Northern began sending out rejection letters to land owners. Many were signed by the man listed as Northern’s “senior landman,” David W. Bolton. He also was a landman for Chesapeake itself. In an email exchange with local brokers, he used the address– a Chesapeake address. He’s also on a 2010 list of Chesapeake employees.

Bolton did not respond to email or phone messages requesting comment.

The lease-termination letters from Northern were a giant ruse, says Kevin Koonce, a landman who worked for a Chesapeake contractor in Michigan.

Koonce says he worked in Michigan from September to November 2010. He wasn’t there to lease land. By the time he arrived, Koonce says, Chesapeake’s strategy was to abandon leases it had already signed.

“Our instructions were to flunk the title if there was a word misspelled,” Koonce says. He says he decided to speak publicly about the situation because he objected to the approach.

Emails reviewed by Reuters show Koonce’s firm was fired in December 2010 for not signing any land owners to drilling leases in another state. He has filed an affidavit on behalf of Michigan land owners who are seeking to collect on their leases.

Koonce says his instructions to flunk leases came from a supervisor at another broker working for Chesapeake in Michigan. Koonce says he and eight other brokers participated in a conference call on October 27, 2010, with the supervisor. During the call, he says, they were ordered to speed up the rate of lease cancellations.

Neither the supervisor nor the other brokers on the call responded to emails requesting comment, and Chesapeake declined to comment on Koonce or his allegations.

One land owner whose lease was rejected was Mildred Lutz, a 93-year-old widow who lives near Alanson, Mich. She says she was told her $97,000 bonus wouldn’t be paid because her late husband didn’t sign the lease and the family trust, which owned the land, is in both her name and her husband’s. Never mind that the landman drafted the lease in July 2010 – a month after her husband’s death.

“He knew my husband had passed away and I would be the sole owner of my property,” Lutz says. Chesapeake’s lawyers have said the Lutz lease had clear formatting and title flaws.

In its letters to land owners, Northern offered several reasons for voiding leases: disputes over property ownership; improper formatting of leases; and claims that properties fall outside a geographic target area.

In some cases, Northern claimed that land owners had missed a signing deadline, even though they signed leases at a time and place specified by the company’s leasing agents.

In scores of other letters, Northern says leases were void because of “unsubordinated” mortgages on property. That means a property – like the approximately 70 percent of U.S. real estate that is mortgaged – isn’t owned free-and-clear.

In a written statement, Chesapeake general counsel Henry Hood says a mortgage is a valid title defect “if the mortgage pre-dates the lease and is not expressly subject to and subordinate to the lease.” In previous filings with the SEC, Chesapeake said it generally scrutinized titles late in the process, before drilling, and not before paying out bonuses.

Chesapeake’s main competitor in Michigan, EnCana, told Reuters that it honored the vast majority of leases it signed in the state and has faced no lawsuits that allege it reneged on any leases there.

EnCana “very rarely” voids any lease it has signed, spokesman Alan Boras says.

Low Prices, Good Deals

As Northern continued to reject leases, another company emerged in late October and went on a Michigan land-buying spree.

The hundreds of rejected leases had depressed land prices from the summertime high, and a company called Crystal Lake Resources became one of the top buyers of public land at a state auction on October 26, 2010.

The state land up for auction was also in the Collingwood Shale formation, not far from the land that Northern no longer wanted to lease from private land owners.

According to records from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Crystal Lake bought drilling rights on 30,000 acres for $20.97 an acre. That’s a 99 percent discount on the price promised to some land owners whose leases were canceled by Northern.

Incorporation records show Crystal Lake was formed on October 25, 2010, a day before the public auction. Its Lansing address is the same as Northern’s, the Chesapeake shell company that had been canceling private leases.

In a response to one Michigan lawsuit, Crystal Lake Resources is identified as a lease buyer for Northern.

In the months since its Michigan buys, Crystal Lake has also been busy signing land leases in at least one North Dakota county.

There, in Hettinger County, clerk Sylvia Gion says Crystal Lake’s leases have been assigned to one company: Chesapeake.


Posted on on December 16th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

China Imposes New Tariffs on U.S. Vehicles

Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New duties will mainly affect General Motors and Chrysler, and BMW and Daimler of Germany.

By , Published The New York Times: December 14, 2011

GUANGZHOU, China — The Chinese government increased trade tensions with the Obama administration Wednesday evening by unexpectedly imposing antidumping and antisubsidy tariffs on imports of sport utility vehicles and midsize and large cars from the United States.

David Gray/Reuters, Imported Buick cars in China, covered with dust.

The new tariffs, totaling up to nearly 22 percent of the import prices, will probably have a mainly symbolic function, rather than reducing the already skimpy sales of such vehicles in China. Other tariffs and taxes already in place have limited sales of American imports by helping raise their retail prices by about three times what the same cars and S.U.V.’s sell for in the United States.

Still, firing a trade volley at American exports of automobiles, one of the most politically sensitive industries in international trade, can only escalate trade hostilities between China and the United States.

China’s move drew immediate criticism from the Obama administration.

“We are very disappointed in this action by China,” said Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative. “We will be discussing this latest action with both our stakeholders and Congress to determine the best course going forward.”

The Commerce Ministry of China, which has conducted a two-year trade investigation of the American imports, gave no explanation for its decision to impose the duties. Ministry officials could not be reached for elaboration Wednesday evening.

The duties would mainly affect General Motors, which exports Cadillac S.U.V.’s and cars to China; Chrysler, which exports Jeeps; the BMW Group of Germany, which exports BMW S.U.V.’s from South Carolina; and Daimler of Germany, which exports Mercedes S.U.V.’s from a factory in Alabama.

Because of the high Chinese tariffs and taxes already in place, the vehicles are sold only in the thousands or even hundreds in China, and only to the most affluent. (A Jeep Grand Cherokee that begins at $27,490 at dealerships in the United States costs $85,000 or more in China.)

The White House announced last week that it would ask the World Trade Organization next Monday to open an inquiry into Chinese restrictions on imports of American broiler chickens.

More significantly, Chinese government agencies and companies have been furious about a current American investigation into whether Chinese solar panels exported to the United States might have received illegal subsidies or been dumped in the American market at prices below the cost of manufacturing them.

American officials have previously examined the methodology of China’s two-year-old antidumping and antisubsidy investigation of American-made automobiles and have found “significant problems,” said Ms. Guthrie, the United States trade spokeswoman.

One challenge for China, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a member of the World Trade Organization, is whether Wednesday’s action will be allowed under W.T.O. rules.

The trade organization places many limits on a member nation’s ability to impose antidumping and antisubsidy measures, particularly on goods from countries that the W.T.O. has declared as having market economies, like the United States.

“Dumping” might be hard to demonstrate, given that the prices of the American vehicles — even before China’s tariff and tax markups — tend to be higher than in the United States.

The Chinese accusation of subsidies may be linked to previous comments by Chinese officials questioning whether the Obama administration provided too much federal assistance to G.M. and Chrysler two years ago during the global financial crisis.

China started the automotive trade case two days after President Obama imposed steep tariffs on surging imports of Chinese tires in September 2009. After an inquiry, the W.T.O. ruled this autumn that the American tariffs on tire imports had complied with international trade rules.

The new tariffs China imposed Wednesday will be antidumping duties of 8.9 percent for G.M. vehicles, 8.8 percent for Chrysler, 2.7 percent for Daimler and 2 percent for BMW.

The ministry separately imposed additional antisubsidy duties of 12.9 percent for G.M. and 6.2 percent for Chrysler.

The ministry’s statement said that all of the new duties would be calculated on vehicle prices that include China’s existing 25 percent import tariff for all family vehicles. So buyers will effectively pay the new antidumping and antisubsidy taxes on other Chinese taxes in addition to paying the new taxes on the value of the car.

China’s import tariff is much higher than those of other big auto manufacturing nations. The United States, for example, assesses a tariff of 2.5 percent on imported cars, minivans and S.U.V.’s.

The new Chinese duties will apply to sport utility vehicles and cars with engines of 2.5 liters or greater that are imported from the United States. The duties will be in place for two years, through Dec. 14, 2013, according to the ministry’s announcement.

BMW said that it anticipated little effect from the duties, Daimler said that it was studying them, and Chrysler had no immediate comment.

General Motors said in a statement that it was “working with relevant authorities to understand the impact of the Chinese government’s decision.” G.M. added that it would “seek a solution consistent with a constructive global trade environment, which we believe is important to both China and the U.S.”

G.M. is a leading producer of automobiles in China, through a series of joint ventures with Chinese partners. The company’s statement said that imports from the United States represented “less than half of 1 percent of its domestic production in China.”

By contrast, Chrysler’s sales in China are solely imports. The company was not allocated any factories in China when Daimler dissolved its merger with Chrysler in 2007.

As a result, Chrysler’s sales in China are tiny — only 13,686 Jeeps, 10,970 Dodges and 284 Chryslers in the first 10 months of this year, according to LMC Automotive, a British consulting firm.

Bill Russo, a former Chrysler executive who oversaw the company’s operations in China until 2008 and is now an industry consultant in Beijing, said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening that while some Chinese trade actions might benefit Chinese industries, it was unlikely that the latest move was done to help Chinese automakers.

Imported S.U.V.’s and cars cost so much more than Chinese models that “people are not shopping these on price,” Mr. Russo said. “No local company makes a product even close.”

Imported models already cost much more in China compared with their home markets because of steep Chinese tariffs, value-added taxes and a system of sales taxes that range from 1 percent on fuel-sipping subcompacts to 40 percent on large sport utility vehicles and sports cars.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry’s announcement on Wednesday was the latest in a series of zigzags on trade policy this autumn, as Chinese officials have struggled over how confrontational a stance to take now that the Obama administration has begun to challenge Chinese trade policies more aggressively.

Just three days ago, President Hu Jintao gave a conciliatory speech to observe China’s W.T.O. anniversary. Mr. Hu said that China would further open up its international trade.

But last week, the Commerce Ministry strongly criticized a recent preliminary decision by the United States International Trade Commission, which concluded that imports of Chinese solar panels had hurt American solar panel manufacturers. That decision moves the United States one step closer to imposing antidumping and antisubsidy duties on Chinese solar panels early next year.


Posted on on July 13th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

From the US we got – Small Car, Big Changes: When full-scale production of the Chevrolet Sonic begins in August at General Motors Corporation in the USA, it will be the only subcompact car produced in the United States.

They say: “To make it profitable, General Motors created a two-tier pay structure in which 40 percent of the entry-level workers are paid less, and revamped the assembly process. The assembly line for the Sonic is about 500,000 square feet, which is about half the size of a typical plant.”

How wrong can GM be, and how hopeless the US economy is in its steps?
See – all what they did was reduce the size of the assembly line, the size of the car, and the salaries they pay their labor force. I bet that these innovations will increase the cost of the car. That is very dandy according to old time economists – but it will not fly in a market in which consumers have a right to buy or not to buy.

Will Washington have to close the US doors to better imports – more desirable to knowledgeable consumers?
When I read this, I just came back from seeing a vehicle that was parked in front of the Maria Hilfer Church on the Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna’s 6th district. The vehicle was a really small Peugeot iON – it says that it is iDEAL for the new urban mobility. Why so? This is because it is 100% electric.
This little car can do 130-150 Km on a charge that takes 10 minutes on fast charge or 3 hours if you do it by yourself from the regular electric outlet.  For these purposes the car has two different electricity intakes that you can use at will. It will cost you just 2.5 Euro if you do it yourself – if you do it at a charge station fast – it will cost you more, but as said – if you do it by yourself it will cost you one tenth of the cost of gasoline.
Sure, these are prototypes and as such cost much money – I was quoted 35.000 Euro for the vehicle – but then all sort of incentives are being contemplated and if you drive a lot your gains will be from the gas you save – our gains will be from the CO2 that you do not spew into the air.
In Europe, governments do think of air quality as a common good and consider savings in health costs part of the National governing plan. So much as we must point out that the 100% electric Peugeot – no hybrid gimmick please – is being shown off in Austria by the OEVP Party which is the minor member of the rulling coalition in the Austrian government.
The OEVP holds onto the Foreign Ministry (Mr. Michael Spindelegger),  the Environment Ministry (Mr. Nikolaus Berlakovich), the Energy Ministry (Mr. Reinhold Mitterlehner), and the Science and Research Ministry (Mr. Karlheinz Töchterle) – all important in the sponsorship of improvement of mobility in Austria. They do not hold on to the portfolio of  Transportation Ministry – but how can that Ministry behave in any other way then accepting pro-electricity arguments when these are interrelated to an Eco-electric Power law that promotes enhancement of solar and wind energy in Austria. Such a law was just past last Thursday in the Austrian Parliament – so the electric cars have indeed a future here and Austria will help paving the way for the increased introduction of electric mobility in other places as well.
The OEVP campaign’s motto is “JA, E” or YES to Electric Cars and the EKOSTROM LAW.
The poster picture shows a little car that has a long wire with an electric plug at its end. POWER TO THESE AUSTRIANS!

Strange as it may seem – the OEVP which is the more Conservative – the Black Party – in the Austrian Coalition they have with the Socialist centrists of the OESP – or the Red Party, come through as trying to “out-greene” the opposition Austrian Green Party.
For further references:    –

But I do not end here, this morning I was at an event at the Austrian Diplomatic Academy where the two Foreign Ministers of Austria and Croatia, Messrs. Michael Spindelegger  and Gordan Jandrokovi?, both holding also onto the positions of Vice Chancellor and Vice Prime Minister in their specific countries, where celebrating the agreed upon track for Croatia’s accession to the EU.

In the process I heard that the bilateral discussions will deal also with the environment and climate change.

Then I learned from Vjekoslav Majetic, Director General of a Croatian firm DOK-ING that makes industrial equipment they sell globally – that they contemplate making small electric cars. Would this not be an ideal case of leap-frogging?
Croatia come to the EU with the outlines to build an assembly line for small electric cars?


Posted on on June 30th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

People understand that the future is with electricity driven motor vehicles. Without waiting for improvements of the motor vehicle batteries, systems are being put in place for a two-minutes battery change and we just posted about such work in Austria that extends the reach of electro-mobility from private cars to community busses. Nevertheless, the market for electro-mobility is growing fast – the limit being the hold back by auto manufacturers that do not supply fast enough these vehicles – the plug-inns and the hybrids. Hybrids, we are informed now, have despite all of this sold already two million vehicles in the United States by May 2011. We follow closely advances in the EV market via the Israel based

Shmuel De-Leon Batteries, Fuel Cells & EV Industry website.

By coincidence last night, proudly,  Mr. Ludwig Plessner gave me a ride here in Vienna, in his Hybrid vehicle – after an event with former Vice-Chancellor Erhard Busek, now President of the European Forum Alpbach, at the Austrian People’s Party OEVP Political Academy led by former Defense Minister Fasslabend. As we mentioned in the past – in Austria the Greens and in some parts of the People’s Party – OEVP – there is active push for EV mobility.

Now we learn that motor vehicle industry in the US – Michigan State based – is organizing a joint effort to lower the costs of the battery. We think that honest research by the industry is highly welcome but hope for competitive research market-driven rather then some joint effort that can hide a common interest in innaction as long as the public still buys petroleum fuel based motor vehicle propulsion. We also hope the news about the new Michigan effort does not stall the development of battery-switching systems that were started by BETTER PLACE when the auto-motive industry did not co-operate and in practice killed its earlier efforts in developing plug-in EV vehicles as was shown eloquently in the film “Who Killed The Electric Car?”

The news that brought us to post this article are:

Translating Technical Solutions Into Commercial Opportunities For Reducing The Cost Of Electric Vehicle And Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Batteries – an industry conference.

September 27-28, 2011, Troy, Michigan

The mission of EV Battery Tech USA: 4th Global Cost Reduction Initiative is to understand how lessons learnt from current generation batteries can drive down the cost of the battery in the short-term and to introduce real-life examples of battery performance to examine energy density, battery life, battery testing, cell degradation and failure and battery safety improvement.

The initiative will also examine cost reduction solutions at the level of battery materials, manufacturing, thermal management and charging. EV Battery Tech is the only EV summit designed to address specific issues raised by an advisory panel of leading vehicle OEMs.

Speakers at the summit will be:

  • Incorporating battery usage in the real world through post-launch case examples
  • Analyzing technical solutions for improving energy density
  • Evaluating cost-effective battery life extension and battery life testing practices
  • Examining alternatives to battery safety testing methodologies
  • Breaking down costs associated with development of the cathode, anode and electrolyte
  • Introducing recent developments on quality assurance and reliability throughout the manufacturing cycle
  • Discussing improved battery performance through advances in thermal management
  • Introducing how the battery can be optimized for level 3 charging
  • Assessing recycling opportunities, raw materials cost reduction and transportation issues to harmonize the supply chain

Confirmed Speakers include:

  • Takehito Yokoo, General Manager of Advanced Powertrain, Toyota
  • Ted Miller, Senior Manager of Energy Storage Strategy and Research, Ford
  • Zafer Sahinoglu, Senior Principle Member Research Staff, Mitsubishi
  • Cheng Tung, Director of Cell Integration, CODA Automotive
  • Egil Mollestad, Chief Technology Officer, Think
  • Albert Lam, CEO, Detroit Electric
  • John Pohill, CEO, Venturi Autmobiles N. America
  • Naveen Munjal, Managing Director, Hero Electric
  • Ian Wright, CEO, Wrightspeed
  • Anil Ananthakrishna, Chairman & CEO, Ekovehicles
  • Paul Dagrepoint, Development Design Engineer, Li-Ion Motors
  • Kent Snyder, Battery Technical Expert, Ford
  • Jackton Lu, Founder & CEO, Lujo EV R&D
  • Alvaro Masias, Energy Storage Research Engineer, Ford
  • Peter Van Den Bossche, Secretary of TC69, IEC
  • Dr. Jim Miller, Senior Technical Advisor, US Department of Energy
  • Dr. Jeffrey Chamberlain, Department Head, Electrochemical Energy Storage Major Initiative, Argonne National Lab

Intertek and Primet Precision Materials are confirmed as program launch co-sponsors.  Primet Precision Materials previously co-sponsored the 3rd EV Battery Tech: Global Cost Reduction Initiative.  Their continued involvement is a clear testament to the value and return on investment received from previous activity in the series.