News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

US climate pal China is paving over live coral reefs with concrete to build new islands for itself. Philippines complained to the UN but China says it won't engage on the matter-BBC

3/31/15, "China building 'great wall of sand' in South China Sea," BBC
"China's land reclamation is creating a "great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, a top US official says, leading to "serious questions" on its intentions. 

US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris made the comments in a speech in Australia on Tuesday night. 

China has overlapping claims with neighbours in the South China Sea. It has been reclaiming land in contested waters - something it said last year was "totally justified" as it had "sovereignty" over the area.

In recent months images have emerged of Chinese construction on reefs in the Spratly Islands to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use, including an air strip.

Several nations, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan, also claim ownership of territory in the Spratly Islands.
Adm Harris described China's land reclamation as "unprecedented".

"China is building artificial land by pumping sand on to live coral reefs - some of them submerged - and paving over them with concrete. China has now created over 4sq/km (1.5 sq miles) of artificial landmass," he said.

"China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months."

He said that considering China's "pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states" in the South China Sea, the scope of the building raised "serious questions about Chinese intentions".

The row over territory in the South China Sea has escalated in recent years, raising regional tensions.

The Philippines has filed a complaint with UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration -  

but China says it will not engage with the case.

In Vietnam, anti-Chinese violence broke out last year after China moved a drilling rig into disputed waters of the Paracel Islands.

Last year, responding to a BBC report on the land reclamation, China's foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China's operations in the Spratly Islands fell "entirely within China's sovereignty and are totally justifiable".

Asked whether the reclamation was for commercial or military use, Ms Hua replied that it was "mainly for the purpose of improving the working and living conditions of people stationed on these islands"." map from BBC


Congratulations to Bob Murray of Murray Coal et al. winning court decision v EPA. Establishment Republicans having long since merged with Democrats, ordinary citizens are left to discover that EPA considers its records to be private and uses that view as a legal defense

3/27/15, "MEMORANDUM ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO STAY DISCOVERY," US District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Wheeling. Judge Bailey
Murray Energy et al Plaintiffs, Gina McCarthy as Admin. of EPA Defendant:
page 17: "This Court is unpersuaded by the EPA’s argument that had the EPA conducted the employment evaluations, the plaintiffs would not be entitled to the information. The EPA fails to point out any theory by which this information could be secreted from the plaintiffs or any other person. We do not live in a secret society, and the plaintiffs would have the ability to receive the information through the Freedom of Information Act, if not through other means."...via Junk Science

Ecological refugees of Tibet are forced into ghettos by Chinese government as they dam Tibet rivers for mining and manufacturing. Tibetans are forcibly deprived of land, protests are violently dispersed-NY Times Op-ed, Buckley

"Ecological refugees” are shunted into ghettos."
3/30/15, "The Price of Damming Tibet’s Rivers," NY Times Op-ed, Michael Buckley, New Delhi

"CHINA has more than 26,000 large dams, more than the rest of the world combined. They feed its insatiable demand for energy and supply water for mining, manufacturing and agriculture.

In 2011, when China was already generating more than a fifth of the total hydropower in the world, the leadership announced that it would aim to double the country’s hydropower capacity within a decade, so as to reduce its heavy dependency on coal-fired power plants. Since the waterways of mainland China are already packed with dams, this new hydropower output could come from only one place: the rivers of Tibet.

Rivers gushing through deep canyons at the edges of the Tibetan plateau hold the highest hydropower potential in the world. The headwaters of seven major rivers are in Tibet: They flow into the world’s largest deltas and spread in an arc across Asia.

Two of the continent’s wildest rivers have their sources in Tibet: the Salween and the Brahmaputra.

Though they are under threat from retreating glaciers, a more immediate concern is Chinese engineering plans. A cascade of five large dams is planned for both the Salween, which now flows freely, and the Brahmaputra, where one dam is already operational.

The damming does not benefit those who live in Tibet. The energy generated is transferred to power-hungry industrial cities farther east. Tibetans are forcibly deprived of their land; protests against hydropower projects are prohibited or violently dispersed.

Even more alarming are projects to divert the waters of Tibet’s rivers for use in mines, factories and other industries. At the eastern edge of Tibet, a planned mega-diversion from south to north would move water from the Yangtze to the Yellow, China’s two greatest rivers. Other plans call for diversion of water from the Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong — all rivers that cross national boundaries. Including China itself, up to two billion people downstream from Tibet depend on these rivers. 

Damming and diverting them will have a severe impact on their lives and environment, especially when you consider that rice and wheat require water-intensive cultivation.

Rivers support entire ecosystems. They carry tons of nutrient-rich silt downstream, a cocktail of elements needed for growing plants: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Silt is essential for agriculture and for bolstering the deltas against rising sea levels. Dams block silt, and they block fish migration. The Yangtze is China’s biggest freshwater fishery, but since the Three Gorges Dam that spans it was completed in 2012, the downstream population of carp has fallen by 90 percent, according to Guo Qiaoyu of the Nature Conservancy in Beijing.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh heavily depend on rivers sourced in Tibet. More than 60 percent of Cambodia’s annual fish catch derives from Tonle Sap, a lake that is replenished by the annual flooding of the Mekong. Over the last decade, as new Chinese dams have come online on the Mekong, the fish catch has plummeted. The waters rise and fall at the whim of Chinese engineers.

Then there are the direct human costs of damming and diverting: Whole communities must be relocated from areas flooded by a reservoir. They are often shifted to degraded land, where they live in poverty or have to relocate once again. By some estimates, hydropower projects have forced some 22 million Chinese to migrate since the 1950s.
In Tibet, since the 1990s, at least a million nomads and farmers — a sixth of the population — have been relocated from grasslands to make way for mining ventures and hydropower projects. These “ecological refugees” are shunted into ghettos. Moreover, China claims complete sovereignty over Tibet’s rivers, oblivious to protest from Tibetans and from the people downstream.

The United Nations has done too little, too late. In 2014, the Watercourses Convention came into effect, spelling out guidelines for transboundary water sharing, but it is nonbinding. More to the point, China is not a signatory — and neither are most nations of South Asia.

This will end badly for the nations downstream from Tibet, which are competing for scarce water. Damming and water diversion could also end badly for China, by destroying the sources of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers.

The solution to these complex problems is simple: Since these enormous projects are state-run and state-financed, China’s leaders can cancel them at will. Though campaigns by Chinese environmentalists have stopped some dam projects, the pro-dam lobby, backed by Chinese consortiums, is powerful. There are alternatives to disrupting the rivers: China has made great investments in solar and wind power, but has not significantly deployed them in Tibet.

China’s leaders need to consider the costs of forging ahead with these projects. The health of these rivers is of vital concern to all of Asia."

"Michael Buckley is the author of “Meltdown in Tibet: China’s Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems From the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia.” 
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 31, 2015, on page A25 of the New York edition."...via Lucianne


Monday, March 30, 2015

Unregulated marijuana growing in California is exacerbating drought conditions and endangering aquatic species including federally listed salmon and steelhead trout per peer reviewed study-UK Independent

3/30/15, "California is in one of its worst-ever droughts because people are growing too much weed," Independent UK, Ben Tufft

"The current drought in California, one of the most severe on record, could have been exacerbated by marijuana cultivation, scientists say.

Some marijuana farms are sucking more water from the ground than can be replaced, threatening the state’s water entire supply, according to a study published in the Public Library of Science journal.

The amount of water being used to cultivate marijuana was said to be “unsustainable” in the report.

Smaller streams were found to be completely “dewatered” by the demands of marijuana farming, while larger streams experienced substantial “flow diversions and increased temperatures”.

In some areas the water use was so extensive, fish and other aquatic wildlife were threatened.

The study warned: “Continued diversions at a rate necessary to support the current scale of marijuana cultivation in northern California could be catastrophic for aquatic species.”

Marijuana is illegal to use recreationally in California, but the cultivation of marijuana in California has increased rapidly since 1996, when the use and growth of medical marijuana was legalised.

Marijuana is considered particularly water intensive compared to other crops. Wine grapes, for example, require roughly half as much water as marijuana plants.

California consistently outranks all other states for the number of marijuana plants that are eradicated by law enforcement.

The main areas of cultivation are on private property, located in the northwest of the state, primarily because it is “remote, forested, and sparsely populated”.

Therefore, it is often difficult for authorities and scientists to accurately gauge the extent and the impact of the farming.

The state authorities do not regulate marijuana farms and it had been seen as unrealistic to expect that growers would register for permits to divert water.

But that is now changing following concern over the effect on the environment.

The California Water Resources Control Board is developing a permit that growers in 10 northern counties will be required to obtain.

And water diversion permit checks are being stepped up, with fines starting at $8,000 for each transgression."


"In the most impacted study watersheds, diminished streamflow is likely to have lethal or sub-lethal effects on state-and federally-listed salmon and steelhead trout and to cause further decline of sensitive amphibian species."

3/18/15, "Impacts of Surface Water Diversions for Marijuana Cultivation on Aquatic Habitat in Four Northwestern California Watersheds,"


"Marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) cultivation has proliferated in northwestern California since at least the mid-1990s. The environmental impacts associated with marijuana cultivation appear substantial, yet have been difficult to quantify, in part because cultivation is clandestine and often occurs on private property. To evaluate the impacts of water diversions at a watershed scale, we interpreted high-resolution aerial imagery to estimate the number of marijuana plants being cultivated in four watersheds in northwestern California, USA. Low-altitude aircraft flights and search warrants executed with law enforcement at cultivation sites in the region helped to validate assumptions used in aerial imagery interpretation. We estimated the water demand of marijuana irrigation and the potential effects water diversions could have on stream flow in the study watersheds. Our results indicate that water demand for marijuana cultivation has the potential to divert substantial portions of streamflow in the study watersheds, with an estimated flow reduction of up to 23% of the annual seven-day low flow in the least impacted of the study watersheds. Estimates from the other study watersheds indicate that water demand for marijuana cultivation exceeds streamflow during the low-flow period. In the most impacted study watersheds, diminished streamflow is likely to have lethal or sub-lethal effects on state-and federally-listed salmon and steelhead trout and to cause further decline of sensitive amphibian species."


parag. 6, "In northern California, unregulated marijuana cultivation often occurs in close proximity to habitat for sensitive aquatic species. Because of this proximity and the water demands associated with cultivation, we chose to focus on the cumulative impacts of low-volume surface water diversions associated with marijuana cultivation. We evaluate these water demands at a watershed scale to determine whether they could have substantial effects on streamflow during the summer low-flow period. In addition, we discuss which sensitive aquatic species are most likely to be impacted by stream diversions and describe the nature of these impacts."...


Sunday, March 29, 2015

UN Green Climate Fund will finance coal plants. Japan, China, and Saudi Arabia insisted fossil fuel projects be allowed-UK Guardian

Japan, China and Saudi Arabia say new coal plants must be among green energy projects financed by global Green Climate Fund which in turn is funded by taxpayer dollars:

3/29/15, "UN green climate fund can be spent on coal-fired power generation," UK Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg

"The UN fund to help developing countries fight climate change can be spent on coal-fired power plants– the most polluting form of electricity generation – under rules agreed at a board meeting.
The green climate fund (GCF) refused an explicit ban on fossil fuel projects at the contentious meeting in Songdo, South Korea, last week.

“It’s like a torture convention that doesn’t forbid torture,” said Karen Orenstein, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth US who was at the meeting. “Honestly it should be a no-brainer at this point.”

The fund was set up as part of the ongoing UN climate negotiations to help developing countries finance clean energy and measures to help adapt to climate change.

Its website states: “The fund will promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

It has struggled for support, however, with industrialised countries paying only about 1% of the $10.2bn (£6.9bn) committed at the UN climate negotiations in Lima last December. The deadline for contributions is 30 April.

With no clear rules on climate finance, much of the funds can be channelled to dirty energy, campaigners say.

Japan designated $1bn in loans for coal plants in Indonesia as climate finance, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Last week Japan counted another $630m in loans for coal plants in India and Bangladesh as climate finance.

Japan claims the projects are less polluting than older coal-fired plants and so qualify as clean energy. 

Japan is of the view that the promotion of high-efficiency coal-fired power plants is one of the realistic, pragmatic and effective approaches to cope with the issue of climate change,” Takako Ito, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, told AP.

Campaigners say the lack of clear rules makes a mockery of the fund. “Many people think it’s crazy that they are not going to have a no-go zone,” (Karen) Orenstein said. “The fact that the GCF won’t say it is problematic both for the integrity of the fund, and also reputational risk.”

Japan, China and Saudi Arabia opposed such a ban, she said.

The board agreed to set a minimum benchmark for the greenhouse gas emissions cuts that projects must achieve, but not until 2016. Meanwhile, they will apply an “assessment scale” to the first projects, which are set to be approved in October." via Hockey Schtick


French Conservatives win in key local voting, Government Left Loses. French PM: "National Front's popularity is a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape"-BBC

3/29/15, "French local elections: Exit polls suggest Conservative win," BBC

"France's Conservative UMP Party and its allies appear to have come first in the final round of departmental elections.

The UMP, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, appeared set to secure at least 65 local councils, exit polls suggested, up from 41.

Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front also appeared to have made gains, while the ruling Socialists and their allies may lose about 30 departments.

These elections are seen as a test case ahead of 2017's presidential election.

Paris and Lyon, France's two biggest cities, were excluded from Sunday's election.

The National Front appeared to have won a significant number of seats in Sunday's second round of elections, but did not appear to have gained control of any councils, the exit polls said....

French Prime Minister Manual Valls admitted it was "incontestable" that the Socialist Party had lost ground.

"The French have declared... their anger at a daily life that is too difficult," he said. He vowed to redouble efforts to boost the economy, and said his focus was "jobs, jobs, jobs".

He added that the rise in the National Front's popularity was "a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape and we will all need to draw lessons from it".

Mr Sarkozy said voters had "massively rejected" the policies of his successor as president, Francois Hollande.

"Never has our political family won so many councils," he told supporters. "The repudiation of those in power is without question."...

Bastions of the Socialists like the Nord department around Lille have swung to the right, as has President Hollande's own fiefdom of the Correze in central France."... 


3/29/15, "French Conservatives Win Key Local Voting, Gov't Left Loses," AP, by Sylvie Corbet and Elaine Ganley, Paris

"Former President Nicolas Sarkozy blasted the "lies, denial and impotence" of France's governing Socialists after estimates showed his conservative party and their allies chalked up wins across France in Sunday's local elections that saw the left lose nearly half of its councils. The far-right National Front edged forward in its bid to create an army of grassroots support, but fell short of its dream to capture its first council.

Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls conceded that the mainstream right won the voting. "It is incontestable," Valls said, bemoaning divisions within the left that he said proved costly.

The Socialists even lost its hold on the council in Correze, President Francois Hollande's home away from home in the French heartland, taken back by the right, the Interior Ministry said.

Valls' political fief, the Essonne, south of Paris, appeared headed for a victory by the rival right.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration National Front, may be in for a bitter surprise, apparently failing to win a single council, even the southern Vaucluse where her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, one of three party lawmakers, is a major figure. The National Front chief was triumphant after last week's first round when her party took 25 percent of the vote, second behind the mainstream right. Still, her party can claim as many as 90 councilors around France.

The Interior Ministry, counting results of 66 of 98 regions, said Sarkozy's UMP and its allies won 46 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for the left and 20 percent for the National Front. Sarkozy, in a victory statement, said the right would prepare a changing of the guard "to redress the country, stop the decline that the most archaic socialism in Europe has plunged it into."

Estimates suggested the anti-immigration National Front could win up to two councils with scores that Valls said were "clearly in progression."

The political stakes were high despite the local vote as Hollande's left tried to save itself after failing to boost the lagging French economy or increase jobs and Sarkozy's right eyed a comeback, and each side tried to fend off the anti-immigration National Front which comes off a series of electoral victories.

The elections were a "critical step for the patriot movement on the road to power," National Front leader Marine Le Pen said. "The goal is near, reaching power and applying our ideas to redress France."

Valls had called on voters to choose anyone running, even a rival conservative, to block a National Front candidate, and he suggested the large victory by the right was partially because of his calls for solidarity against the far right. Sarkozy refused to reciprocate, telling supporters to simply abstain if a candidate from his UMP party wasn't running.

Valls said the French economy was showing signs of improvement, and vowed to march onward with his program. "Jobs. Jobs. Jobs," Valls said, announcing plans for a new measure in the coming days addressing public and private investment.

Turnout was lower three hours before polls closed, measured at 41.94 percent compared to 42.98 percent in the first round, the Interior Ministry said.

Voters cast ballots to choose 4,108 local council members across the country for the 98 councils. Candidates appear on ballots in pairs — one man, one woman — to ensure that 50 percent of council members are women.

Le Pen, who wasn't a candidate in the election but looked toward the 2017 presidential race, said Sunday that new council members would help win future elections, saying her party is the "only real opposition" to the powers that be in France.

Regional elections are set for December, and all parties are laying the groundwork for 2017 presidential voting."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

German fossil fuel capacity reaches all time high in 2014

3/28/15, "Debacle: As Germany adds 70 gigawatts of Green Electricity, its fossil fuel capacity reaches new record high!" Pierre Gosselin, No Tricks Zone

Fraunhofer Institute energy page, via Hockey Schtick

Debacle: As Germany Adds 70 Gigawatts Of Green Electricity, Its Fossil Fuel Capacity Reaches New Record High! - See more at:

With passage of Trans-Pacific Partnership, US towns and cities will be subject to UN and World Bank tribunals. Republicans and Obama admin. seek to fast track this, details secret from US citizens-NY Times

US towns and cities will be subservient to UN and World Bank tribunals. "Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a member nation would be forbidden from favoring “goods produced in its territory.”"

3/25/15, "Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.," NY Times, Jonathan Weisman

"An ambitious 12-nation trade accord pushed by President Obama would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and hurt their business, according to a classified document.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership — a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s remaining economic agenda — would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia. Under the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings federal, state or local — before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Backers of the emerging trade accord, which is supported by a wide variety of business groups and favored by most Republicans, say that it is in line with previous agreements that contain similar provisions. But critics, including many Democrats in Congress, argue that the planned deal widens the opening for multinationals to sue in the United States and elsewhere, giving greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.

The chapter in the draft of the trade deal, dated Jan. 20, 2015, and obtained by The New York Times in collaboration with the group WikiLeaks, is certain to kindle opposition from both the political left and the right. The sensitivity of the issue is reflected in the fact that the cover mandates that the chapter not be declassified until four years after the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes into force or trade negotiations end, should the agreement fail.

Conservatives are likely to be incensed that even local policy changes could send the government to a United Nations-sanctioned tribunal. On the left, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, law professors and a host of liberal activists have expressed fears the provisions would infringe on United States sovereignty and impinge on government regulation involving businesses in banking, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and other sectors.

Members of Congress have been reviewing the secret document in secure reading rooms, but this is the first disclosure to the public since an early version leaked in 2012.

“This is really troubling,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat. “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”...

Such “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” accords exist already in more than 3,000 trade agreements across the globe. The United States is party to 51, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. Administration officials say they level the playing field for American companies doing business abroad, protect property from government seizure and ensure access to international justice.
But the limited use of trade tribunals, critics argue, is because companies in those countries do not have the size, legal budgets and market power to come after governments in the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership could change all that, they say. The agreement would expand that authority to investors in countries as wealthy as Japan and Australia, with sophisticated companies deeply invested in the United States.

“U.S.T.R. will say the U.S. has never lost a case, but you’re going to see a lot more challenges in the future,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. “There’s a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for these companies.”

One 1999 case gives ammunition to both sides of the debate. Back then, California banned the chemical MTBE from the state’s gasoline, citing the damage it was doing to its water supply. The Canadian company Methanex Corporation sued for $970 million under Nafta, claiming damages on future profits. The case stretched to 2005, when the tribunal finally dismissed all claims.

To supporters of the TPP, the Methanex case was proof that regulation for the “public good” would win out. For opponents, it showed what could happen when far larger companies from countries like Japan have access to the same extrajudicial tribunals....

Civil courts in the United States are already open to action by foreign investors and companies. Since 1993, while the federal government was defending itself against those 17 cases brought through extrajudicial trade tribunals, it was sued 700,000 times in domestic courts.

In all, according to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States would be empowered to bring cases against governments here. Those are as diverse as timber and mining companies in Australia and investment conglomerates from China whose subsidiaries in Trans-Pacific Partnership countries like Vietnam and New Zealand also have ventures in the United States.

More than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

A similar accord under negotiation with Europe has already provoked an outcry there.

Senator Brown contended that the overall accord, not just the investment provisions, was troubling. 

“This continues the great American tradition of corporations writing trade agreements, sharing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of consumers, public health and workers,” he said.
Under the terms of the Pacific trade chapter, foreign investors could demand cash compensation if member nations “expropriate or nationalize a covered investment either directly or indirectly.” 

Opponents fear “indirect expropriation” will be interpreted broadly, especially by deep-pocketed multinational companies opposing regulatory or legal changes that diminish the value of their investments.

Included in the definition of “indirect expropriation” is government action that “interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations,” according to the leaked document.

The cost can be high. In 2012, one such tribunal, under the auspices of the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum a record $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a member nation would be forbidden from favoring “goods produced in its territory.”

Critics say the text’s definition of an investment is so broad that it could open enormous avenues of legal challenge. An investment includes “every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has the characteristic of an investment,” including “regulatory permits; intellectual property rights; financial instruments such as stocks and derivatives”; construction, management, production, concession, revenue-sharing and other similar contracts; and “licenses, authorizations, permits and similar rights conferred pursuant to domestic law.”

“This is not about expropriation; it’s about regulatory changes,” said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch and a fierce opponent of the Pacific accord. “You now have specialized law firms being set up. You go to them, tell them what country you’re in, what regulation you want to go after, and they say ‘We’ll do it on contingency.’”

In 2013, Eli Lilly took advantage of a similar provision under Nafta to sue Canada for $500 million, accusing Ottawa of violating its obligations to foreign investors by allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs.

All of those disputes would be adjudicated under rules set by either the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law....

There are other mitigating provisions, but many have catches. For instance, one article states that “nothing in this chapter” should prevent a member country from regulating investment activity for “environmental, health or other regulatory objectives.” But that safety valve says such regulation must be “consistent” with the other strictures of the chapter, a provision even administration officials said rendered the clause more political than legal.

One of the chapter’s annexes states that regulatory actions meant “to protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health, safety and the environment” do not constitute indirect expropriation, “except in rare circumstances.” That final exception could open such regulations to legal second-guessing, critics say."

"Correction: March 27, 2015 An article on Thursday about provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as outlined in a classified document, that would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States over actions that hurt their business or investment expectations misstated when the document was made available to members of Congress. Drafts were available for review soon after being written; it is not the case that the latest document was not made available until last week."

"A version of this article appears in print on [Thurs.] March 26, 2015, on page B1 of the New York edition."...


"For TPP, the main concerns are Vietnam and Mexico."

3/17/15, "Putting the TPP on the Right Track," Politico, "There is a real choice to be made between two different approaches to international trade." by Simon Johnson and Ohio Rep. Sander Levin

p.1 of 2: "Here are some of the salient challenges to getting TPP right. 

First, on the incorporation of international labor standards, recent experience in Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia illustrates how important oversight and enforcement are — and how difficult progress can be when enforcement is weak and follow-through is slow. For TPP, the main concerns are Vietnam and Mexico. 

(p. 2) Vietnam represents the first time the U.S. is negotiating a broad trade agreement with a command economy. As a country that has never allowed workers to choose their own representatives and where the single labor union is part of the Communist Party, Vietnam will require not only major changes to its laws and practices, but also regular monitoring of compliance by a panel of experts.

And if TPP is to serve as a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico willl need to change its labor laws and practices, to properly implement its TPP obligations....

Third, we must preserve the sovereign right of governments to develop legitimate regulations under the TPP’s investment rules. 

The investor-state dispute settlement mechanism creates an arbitration process, through which companies can claim that a country has broken those rules and seek monetary compensation — and a proliferation of such cases in recent years serves as a wake-up call

One of several important changes would be to ensure that, in the event of a dispute, both governments involved — the host and the home country for the company — can jointly agree that a case is inappropriate and should be dismissed....

Fifth, we must meaningfully address currency manipulation — direct government intervention in the currency markets to weaken one’s currency for the purpose of boosting exports and limiting imports. Currency manipulation has cost the United States millions of jobs over the past decade and a half. China manipulated its currency most dramatically in this time period — accumulating the largest stock of foreign exchange reserves the world has ever known. In earlier episodes, Japan, South Korea and others manipulated their currencies."...

1/13/14, "Noam Chomsky: Obama Trade Deal A 'Neoliberal Assault' To Further Corporate 'Domination'," Huffington Post, Zach Carter, Ryan Grim

"The Obama administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is an "assault," on working people intended to further corporate "domination," according to author and activist Noam Chomsky.

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky said during an interview with HuffPost Live. 

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP pact with 11 other Pacific nations for years. 

While the deal has not been finalized and much of it has been classified, American corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have already voiced strong support for the TPP, describing it as a free trade deal that will encourage economic growth. The Office of U.S. Trade Representative has also defended the talks, saying the TPP will include robust regulatory protections. 

But labor unions and a host of traditionally liberal interest groups, including environmentalists and public health advocates, have sharply criticized the deal. 

Chomsky argues that much of the negotiations concern issues outside of what many consider trade, and are focused instead on limiting the activities governments can regulate, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power.
“It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke," Chomsky said. 

"These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what's leaked about the TPP indicates that it's not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

The Obama administration is treating the precise terms of the deal as classified information, blocking many Congressional staffers from viewing the negotiation texts and limiting the information available to members of Congress themselves. The deal's only publicly available negotiation documents have come to light through document leaks. Recent documents have been published by WikiLeaks and HuffPost.

According to these leaked documents, the TPP would empower corporations to directly challenge laws and regulations set by foreign nations before an international tribunal. The tribunal would be given the authority to not only overrule that nation's legal standards but also impose economic penalties on it. Under World Trade Organization treaties, corporations must convince a sovereign nation to bring trade cases before an international court. Chomsky said the deal is an escalation of neoliberal political goals previously advanced by the WTO and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"It's very hard to make anything of the TPP because it's been kept very secret," Chomsky told HuffPost Live. "A half-secret, I should say. It's not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the legislation. To them, it's perfectly public. They're, in fact, writing it. It's being kept secret from the population. Which of course raises obvious questions."

Several members of Congress, including Obama's fellow Democrats, have attacked the intense secrecy surrounding the talks. But others want to give the TPP the "fast track" to passage; Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation on Thursday that would prevent members of Congress from offering legislative amendments to whatever final trade deal Obama reaches. 

But the move to fast track the TPP hit headwinds in the House, where no Democrat has agreed to co-sponsor the legislation. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the fast track bill cannot pass without Democratic support. Chomsky quipped that of course the administration and lawmakers would want to speed up a sweeping trade deal that may be more in the interest of corporations than the public.

“It’s very understandable that it should be kept secret from the public,"
Chomsky said, "why should people know what’s happening to them?”"


TPP to be followed by US-EU version, TTIP:

3/28/15, "A new US-EU free trade agreement could make countries subservient to corporations," Business Insider, Don Quijones, Wolf St.

"After eight rounds of secret negotiations, Washington and Brussels are still struggling to breathe life into the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). According to current European Union President, Latvia, the chances of the agreement being signed by the year-end target are growing perilously slim.

The potentially game-changing trade deal is aimed at radically reconfiguring the legal and regulatory superstructures of the world’s two largest markets, the United States and the European Union – for the almost exclusive benefit of the world’s biggest multinational corporations.

However, resistance continues to mount on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. Wikileaks’ perfectly timed exposé of the investment chapter of TTIP’s sister treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), could derail White House efforts to gain fast track approval to bulldoze the treaty through Congress. 

This time, even the mainstream media seems to be paying an interest, with the New York Times in particular publishing a broadly critical report.

On the other side of the Atlantic, things seem to be going from bad to worse — at least for the treaty’s supporters. Even the U.S.’s ever-faithful ally and fellow Five-Eye member, the United Kingdom, is beginning to express reservations about TTIP. Earlier this week an all-party committee of Members of Parliament released a scathing report on the trade agreement. The Business, Innovation and Skills committee said the government needed “stronger evidence” to back up its claim that TTIP would bring a boost of £100bn a year to the UK.

The report also warned that the case had yet to be made for the highly controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), a provision that elevates individual foreign corporations and investors to equal (or arguably superior) status with a sovereign nation’s government. If signed, it would allow companies to skirt domestic courts and directly “sue” signatory governments for compensation in foreign extrajudicial tribunals."...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Companies quit China natural gas exploration, prices and policies mandated by Communist China gov., complex geology made it difficult for companies to survive

3/27/15, "Here’s Why Royal Dutch Shell And BP plc (ADR) Are Cutting Investments In China,"

"The 50% plummet in crude oil price since June 2014 is forcing energy companies to cut back on their investments in China. With the fall in oil price, profit margins for these companies have fallen sharply, offering lower rates of return. The cost of production in China is considered to be high, plus the country is geologically riskier compared to other countries.

The North Dakota region has become the shale oil hub in recent years. Energy companies began using hydraulic fracturing techniques which allowed them to drill deeper into the surface and extract more oil. After gaining success in the US, energy companies started to explore other options of shale oil.

Royal Dutch Shell plc (ADR) (NYSE:RDS.A) invested substantial amounts in China. The oil giant went on to develop numerous businesses involving production and selling of oil products. The company also signed a production sharing contract with PetroChina Company Limited (ADR) (NYSE:PTR).

This was during the time when crude oil price was above $100 per barrel. Energy companies during this period rushed to China to make investments in the region. Shell’s former CEO Peter Voser in 2013 claimed gas development to be a top priority in the country.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, China has the world’s largest technically recoverable shale gas reserves and with the natural gas demand rising in the area, the country aimed on shifting its dependence to natural gas from coal.

However, Shell faced numerous challenges in the area. The geology surrounding the Chinese shale reserves is very complicated. The companies lack data on the area, which leads to higher costs of shale oil production. Other problems that energy companies face are the shale prices set by the government. This prevents the companies from making adequate profits and discourages investment
According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the energy experts of China, Zhongmin Wang, said that China’s two largest oil companies have made losses amounting to $1 billion on shale through 2013 due to the government policies. In addition, most of the shale areas have higher population densities making it difficult to operate in them.

With the recent challenges faced by the company in terms of lower crude price and costly production, Shell was forced to cut back on its investment activity in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, Shell now aims on selling its Chinese lubricant brand of business along with its operations. 

In addition, the company has sold the joint venture with PetroChina in Australia which involved exporting liquefied natural gas.

In addition to Shell, many other energy companies have also sold operations in China. One of them is BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP). The company is yet face a penalty for its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its Russian operations are also hurt due to the US sanctions. With the falling crude oil price, the London-based oil major is finding it difficult to survive in China. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the British oil major has announced to withdraw from three exploratory blocks in the South China Sea, writing off $100 million in exploration costs.

Hess Corp. (NYSE:HES) is also planning to quit a deal that it signed with PetroChina for shale oil exploration. Noble Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NBL) and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (NYSE:APC) have decided to sell operations in China."


3/26/15, "Oil Producers Sound Retreat From China," Wall St. Journal," Brian Spegele, Beijing

"Shell, others slash investments in country amid falling prices, shaking China’s energy ambitions." 

Global oil companies are unwinding some big bets they made on China."...(subscription)

In August 2014, China cut shale gas expectations:

8/7/2014, "China finds shale gas challenging, halves 2020 output target," Reuters

"China has halved the quantum of shale gas it expects to produce by 2020 after early exploration efforts to unlock the unconventional fuel proved challenging, according to an industry website and a government source.

China, believed to hold the world's largest technically recoverable shale resources, is hoping to replicate the shale boom that has transformed the energy landscape of the United States. 

About four years of early evaluations and drilling have so far yielded one large find - Fuling field - in the most prospective gas province of southwest Sichuan, but experts say the Fuling success is hard to repeat due to complex geology and high cost of production....

The revision, which is pending government finalization, would be negative for oil service sector companies that were hoping to cash in on the major drilling activity needed to reach the earlier target.

"This is clearly negative for sentiment for some of the China oil service sector firms such as Anton Oilfield ," said Scott Darling, head of Asia Oil and Gas research of JPMorgan in Hong Kong. "This admission on shale gas reflects the challenges facing China’s natural gas market."...

The government's efforts, led by the Ministry of Land and Resources, to open up the shale gas sector to independent players have had small success, as the blocks the ministry has to offer are of poorer quality and would entail hefty exploration costs.

Attempts by international firms to participate in the shale gas development have not been wholly fruitful either, with Royal Dutch Shell and Hess Corp the only foreign firms that have landed production sharing contracts, while most of them, including Exxon Mobil and BP, have barely progressed beyond the preliminary stage of studying the blocks."


Gallup poll, 74% of Republicans with college degree say idea of man caused global warming is exaggerated, 5 year survey, March 2010-March 2015, 6000 interviews

3/26/15, "College-Educated Republicans Most Skeptical of Global Warming," Gallup, by Frank Newport and Andrew Dugan

"Republicans with higher levels of education are more likely than those in their parties with less education to say that the seriousness of global warming is "generally exaggerated." By contrast, Democrats with some college or more are less likely than those with less education to believe the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated.

Seventy-four percent of Republicans with a college degree say it is exaggerated, compared with 57% of those with high school education or less saying the same. Democrats are much less likely in general to say that the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated, but those a college degree (15%) are significantly less likely to say this than those with a high school education or less (27%).

The relationship between education and views of global warming among independents is generally similar to that shown among Republicans.

These opposing trends by party suggest that higher levels of education reinforce core partisan positions; in this case, Republicans' strong tendency to question or deny global warming and Democrats' inclination to affirm it. The trends also suggest that partisanship rather than education is a main lens through which Americans view global warming and its effects, particularly for those who claim allegiance to one of the two major political parties.

These results come from an aggregation of more than 6,000 interviews conducted as part of Gallup's annual Environmental Poll conducted each March from 2010 to 2015. Over that time, Americans' views about the seriousness of global warming have been steady: 43% on average have said it was generally exaggerated, 24% generally correct and 31% have said it was generally underestimated. Longer term, though, Republicans' and Democrats' views about global warming have increasingly diverged.

Educated Republicans Less Likely to Worry About, Believe in Global Warming

The tendency for Republicans with college education to be skeptical of global warming is evident in other Gallup trends
For example, although Republicans tend to be much less likely to worry about global warming than others, Republicans with a college degree are even less likely to worry about global warming "a great deal" than their fellow Republicans. Republicans with more education are also about half as likely as those with a high school education or less to say global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, more likely to say that global warming's effects will never occur, and more likely to say that global warming is caused by natural changes in the environment rather than by human activity.

The relationship between education and views on global warming among Democrats is in the opposite direction: The most educated Democrats are slightly more likely than less educated Democrats to worry about global warming and to believe it will be a threat in their lifetime. Highly educated Democrats are also much less likely to believe that global warming is the result of natural changes rather than caused by humans. Very few Democrats, regardless of education, say the effects of global warming will never happen....

Bottom Line

Given the scientific nature of global warming, it is not surprising that Americans' understanding and interpretation of its effects could be related to their education levels. Among Republicans and Democrats, education levels have opposite effects, with higher educational attainment linked to more doubt about global warming among Republicans but a greater sense of its reality among Democrats.

In other words, education appears to harden the partisan battle lines, rather than build common bridges. College graduates who are Republicans are actually more likely than college graduates who are Democrats to say they understand a great deal about the issue, but well-educated Republicans find this understanding leads them in a different direction than it does Democrats....

Education does not mitigate the partisan divide in beliefs about global warming but instead strengthens it.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted in March of each year between 2010-2015, with an aggregated random sample of 6,154 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods."



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