Business & Technology

Nice work if you can get it

Wis. utilities want customers to cover all fuel volatility

Wisconsin’s five regulated electric utilities have asked to have fuel increases in gas and coal costs automatically passed along to their customers rather than wait until they can file a formal rate case. Their regulator said no. In a bizarre bit of doublespeak, the utilities argued that passing 100 percent of fuel volatility risk along to their customers would be good because: Executives at several Wisconsin utilities said the changes could benefit shareholders and customers by reducing volatility. It certainly would reduce volatility for their shareholders. But customers? Not surprisingly, consumer groups have opposed the measure, again raising the specter …

Bush admin proposes rule that could delay workplace toxics standards

Last week, the Bush administration published a proposed rule that would add an extra step to the process of creating federal standards for toxics and other hazardous substances in the workplace. The rule, which was reportedly rushed so it could take effect before President Bush leaves office, has been widely criticized by unions and other worker advocates as an unnecessary delay that ultimately won’t help workers. “It’s a terrible idea,” said workplace safety professor David Michaels. “It will lead to more delays in setting new standards, and it gives parties that oppose new regulations an opportunity to confuse the regulatory …

Industry groups sue Interior over polar bear

The U.S. Interior Department has been sued yet again over polar bears, this time by five industry groups that say the agency’s regulations for protecting bears unfairly single out Alaska businesses’ contribution to climate change. When the polar bear was declared a threatened species because of climate change, Interior went to great lengths to note that the ruling should not be used to block greenhouse-gas-spewing fossil-fuel development. To that end, the agency specifically exempted industrial projects from undergoing related reviews in every state — except for Alaska. The American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Mining Association, National Association …

In landmark deal, utility will disclose climate-change risks

In a first-of-its-kind deal, utility Xcel Energy has agreed to give its investors detailed information about the risks that climate change poses to business. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed Xcel and four other utilities in September, asking them to determine whether their plans to build new coal plants posed undisclosed risks to investors — from lawsuits and the cost of complying with carbon regulations to the impacts of drought and rising seas. So far, Xcel is the only one that has agreed to analyze and disclose potential impacts. The landmark agreement “sets a new industry-wide precedent,” says Cuomo, …

Yakety yak, will Brita take 'em back?

Campaign calls on Brita to recycle water filters

With so many tons of disposable plastic being sent to landfills these days, six ounces doesn’t seem like a lot. Especially when you’ve bailed on bottled water in favor of a Brita pitcher and reusable bottle. But don’t you still hate throwing out that filter every three months? Beth Terry does. She wrote in her blog Fake Plastic Fish about her frustration at being unable to recycle her Brita filter cartridges, and discovered she was far from alone. Terry then joined with other activists to start TakeBackTheFilter.org, a movement to pressure the Clorox Co., which owns Brita North America, to …

Two of world’s richest men visit Canadian oil sands

The richest and third-richest men in the world made a surprise visit to an oil-sands operation in the Canadian province of Alberta on Monday. Investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who are said to have a combined worth of $120 billion, “were exercising curiosity, basically saying, ‘Wow, this is neat,'” says Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Buffett has recently said he is interested in investing in oil sands; he invests in American oil company ConocoPhillips, which owns significant oil sands assets. If the bigwigs are interested in investing in alternatives to conventional oil, we …

Monsanto finds a buyer for its rBGH business

Pharma giant Lilly snaps up Posilac for ‘at least’ $300 million

A week or so ago, commenting on news that Monsanto was looking to unload its much-despised bovine-growth-hormone business, I offered this nugget of wisdom: Whatever company buys it probably won’t have Monsanto’s deep pockets. Hmmm. What’s that word again? Oh, yeah — W-R-O-N-G. (Hat tip to Jill of La Vida Locavore.) Today, Monsanto announced that Eli Lilly, one of the biggest of the Big Pharma companies, had bought Posilac (brand name for rBGH) for $300 million. AP reports that Monsanto could get additional cash for Posilac down the road, if it turns out to be a winner for Lilly. And …

Mayor has big clean-energy goals for NYC

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted clean energy Tuesday at, aptly, the National Clean Energy Summit. He said his city has issued a formal request to companies for ideas on how to source electricity from the wind, sun, and waves. “Perhaps companies will want to put wind farms atop our bridges and skyscrapers, or use the enormous potential of powerful offshore winds miles out in the Atlantic Ocean,” Bloomberg said, adding, “I think it would be a thing of beauty if, when Lady Liberty looks out on the horizon, she not only welcomes new immigrants but lights their way …

The SUV bubble

No schadenfreude over the death of SUVs

You know your product is in trouble when the housing analogies come out: The market for sport utility vehicles is starting to look a lot like the housing market, spreading pain to consumers, automakers and dealers … I am not sure this post qualifies as schadenfreude — since that has been defined as “largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate.” There is nothing unanticipated about high oil prices. That is, the death of SUVs isn’t like, say, Martha Stewart going to jail. What has happened to SUVs — “Sales of SUVs are …