Briefly

Stuff that matters


Jeffer madness

Jeff Sessions has deep ties to a big electric utility, and that could create major conflicts of interest.

Confirmation hearings began Tuesday for Sessions, the president-elect’s pick for attorney general. In addition to asking questions about the Alabama senator’s racist, homophobic, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant positions, Democrats might want to probe Sessions’ connections to Southern Co., one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S.

The company, worth $47.8 billion, is the senator’s single largest corporate campaign donor, Bloomberg reports; Southern’s PACs and employees have funneled nearly $175,000 to his political campaigns since 1997. If Sessions is confirmed as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he would be in a position to do favors for the company. Southern would be seriously affected by the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from electric utilities. And a power plant Southern is building in Kemper, Mississippi, is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sessions has also received campaign contributions from ExxonMobil, which has been accused of hiding its knowledge of climate change from shareholders and the public. There have been calls for the Justice Department to investigate Exxon’s actions, but they wouldn’t get anywhere under Sessions, who last year came out loudly against any such investigations.

As Jamie Henn at 350.org said, “There’s never been such a strident advocate for the fossil fuel industry nominated for the role of attorney general.”


C'mon

Trump, Monsanto, and Bayer walk into a tower.

The leaders of the two major companies met with the president-elect and promised 3,000 new jobs and billions in research investment if regulators approve their proposed merger, Politico reports.

In September, Bayer made the offer to buy Monsanto and form what the clever people at Vox call a Ginormous Merged Organization, or GMO. Regulators both in the United States and Europe are scrutinizing the deal. It’s just one of many huge agribusiness mergers in the works, which could either stifle innovation and screw farmers, or supercharge innovation and set farmers free (Brad Plumer lays out the arguments on both sides).

This latest news looks a lot like a quid pro quo: If there’s anything Trump can do to lower the regulatory hurdles (quid), he’ll be able to claim responsibility for a little increased investment in the heartland (quo). But it might also piss off Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley, who have been suspicious of the deal, and that could hurt Trump’s larger political ambitions.


Take the money and fund

Obama is spending another $500 million to fight climate change before Trump can stop him.

The State Department announced Tuesday that it will send the money to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, which helps developing nations shift to cleaner energy and adapt to climate change.

The announcement comes just three days before Donald Trump is scheduled to take the Oval Office. Trump said during his campaign that he would defund international climate action, including the Green Climate Fund, which is the main international financing group working to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In 2014, the U.S. pledged to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. The Obama administration made a $500 million payment in March of last year, and now this new payment brings the U.S.’s total contribution to $1 billion. Trump and his fellow Republicans are not likely to follow through on the other two-thirds of the commitment, but they can’t take this money back.


Can't bayou me love

The Dakota Access fight is moving to Louisiana.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company that’s trying to build the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), is also currently attempting to construct a stretch of pipeline in Louisiana that would ultimately carry oil from DAPL to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

If approved, the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension would transport up to 480,000 barrels of crude a day across 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly supply 300,000 households with drinking water. It would also permanently destroy 77 acres of wetlands in the watershed of Atchafalaya Basin, the largest natural swamp in the U.S.

Energy Transfer Partners argues that the pipeline is the safest way to transport the oil, and that it would bring jobs to the area. But while it would create about 2,500 temporary jobs, it would only bring in 12 permanent ones.

Locals are understandably concerned about the impact on wetlands, water supplies, and fishing grounds. Hundreds packed into a public hearing on the proposed pipeline last Thursday in Baton Rogue, including members of indigenous communities, climate activists, fishermen, and rice farmers. A number of them said that if the Army Corps of Engineers grants a permit for the project, activists will fight back aggressively, turning the Atchafalaya Basin into the next Standing Rock.


Dumb and dumber

Coal-loving Wyoming legislators are pushing a bill to outlaw wind and solar.

On the first day of the state’s legislative session, nine Republican lawmakers filed legislation that would bar utilities from using electricity produced by large-scale renewable energy projects.

The bill, whose sponsors are primarily from the state’s top coal-producing counties, would require utilities to use only approved energy sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric, and oil. While individual homeowners and small businesses could still use rooftop solar or backyard wind, utilities would face steep fines if they served up clean energy.

Wyoming is the nation’s largest producer of coal, and gets nearly 90 percent of its electricity from coal, but it also has huge, largely untapped wind potential. Currently, one of the nation’s largest wind farms is under construction there, but most of the energy will be sold outside Wyoming. Under this bill, such out-of-state sales could continue, yet the measure would nonetheless have a dampening effect on the state’s nascent renewable energy industry.

Experts are skeptical that the bill will pass, even in dark-red Wyoming, InsideClimate News reports.

One of the sponsors, Rep. Scott Clem, is a flat-out climate change denier whose website showcases a video arguing that burning fossil fuels has improved the environment.


Breaking up is hard to do

Will this massive iceberg collapse soon? Get your bets in now.

USA Today reports that an Irish bookmaker is offering 6-to-1 odds that this will be the month that an iceberg the size of Delaware splits off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf, a massive sheet of ice along the Antarctic Peninsula. When it does go, it will be one of the 10 largest ice-shelf calving events in recorded history.

Paddy Power, the chain of betting shops offering the odds, says: “You don’t have to be Captain of the Titanic to spot this is a serious problem for the planet, so we thought we’d do our bit to raise some awareness.” But the company is having some fun with the topic too, saying it’ll be “the biggest break-up since Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”

When it does happen, it won’t usher in sea-level-rise apocalypse — at least not right away. “Because ice shelves are actually floating, they are already in the sea level budget, so they don’t contribute to sea level rise when they break up,” Kelly Brunt, a NASA geophysicist, told Wired.

Still, when it does collapse, the previously adjoining glaciers may melt more quickly — and if all the ice that Larsen C now holds back melted, global sea levels could rise by four inches.


The monuments man

President Obama is giving us a parting gift: a bunch of new national monuments.

The Obama administration announced on Thursday that it will create national monuments at three sites that are important in the history of African-Americans in the South and it will protect two areas on the West Coast to bolster climate resilience.

Two of the sites are in Alabama and will commemorate terrorist attacks by segregationists on African-Americans and civil rights activists. Another, in Beaufort, South Carolina, honors the history of African-American educational advancement during Reconstruction.

These are just the latest of the Obama administration’s many acts to celebrate locations of civil rights struggle and advancement. Last year, Obama created a national monument at the Stonewall Inn in New York City to honor gay rights history. Earlier this week, the Department of Interior established Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, where the Underground Railroad conductor lived in Auburn, New York.

Obama’s announcement on Thursday also included expanding the California Coastal National Monument, where increasing the expanse of undeveloped land on shorelines will help the area better cope with rising sea levels and more severe storms. And the president is expanding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.

Obama has protected more land under the Antiquities Act than any other president, by far.